Sunday, July 27, 2014

Campground Review: Sweet Briar Recreation Area Mandan, ND

If you're traveling east on I-94 through North Dakota just before you get to the town of Mandan, ND if you take exit 134 then turn north on the road the exit dumps you on within a mile or so you'd see the Sweet Briar Recreation Area.  Morton County has set up campsites around the west side of Sweet Briar Lake for first-come free camping.

Sweet Briar Lake from the Tank's campsite.
In mid-July I found an almost perfect campsite equipped with a fire ring, picnic table and trash can and settled in for a week or until my food ran out (about a week).

Here's the Sweet Briar campground data sheet:

Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         Yes
Fresh Water:                            Yes
Trash Service:                          Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes-vault toilets
Showers:                                 No
Dump station:                          No
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                      No
Pool:                                       No
Shade:                                    Yes
Verizon reception:                   4G-4 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              4 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                       Free, I stayed 7 days

Hard to see but there's a Verizon cell tower within sight of the lake.
The weather during my stay at the rec area was just perfect, days in the low 80's and nights in the upper 50's.  It generally gets breezy in the afternoons here on the plains.

A gravel road runs along the west side of the lake providing site access.
 One noteworthy point regarding the campsites themselves is how large they are and how much space is between them, a welcome change from state parks where you get up close and personal with your neighbors.

I was only 1/4 way to the next site when I took this--tons of room!
The county put in a hand-shaped fishing pier that has five fingerlike spokes to allow shore fishing and to double as a boat ramp.  Locals came out fishing in good numbers every evening during the week.

I saw a lot of perch caught from this pier during my stay.

Pelicans cluster at the end of one of the pier "fingers".
If you want access to drinking water at the rec area a little effort IS involved:

The water tasted fine!

No idea what these stakes are for --do the grow grapes in ND?
Often times when I've stayed a few days at a campground I can tell I'm ready to move on but not at this one!  Sweet Briar Rec Area was such a great camping experience I really considered going into town for groceries then coming back, but in the end I called it a successful week and pointed the Tank east again along I-94.  If you travel east or west along I-94 through North Dakota you will thank yourself for taking a few days to camp at this great county park!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Glendive, MT

My favorite neighbors, back when I still owned my sticks and bricks, were Shawn and Kelly.  They never failed to invite me to their backyard pool BBQ's and were/are just the friendliest folks you'd ever meet.  Both of them grew up in Glendive, Montana and had spoken highly of the town so I had to check it out given that it was on my route into North Dakota.  Glendive is a small town of just under 5000 folks in Dawson County in Eastern Montana tucked between the Yellowstone River and the Badlands.  I took I-94 into the town and spent my first night there at the Jaycee West Park which abuts the Yellowstone River.  The town permits overnight camping in the park although, unfortunately, the dump station had been permanently closed.

Really nice tennis complex at Glendive's Jaycee West Park.
Shawn had provided me with Glendive dining recommendations, Frosty's In and Out or Gust Hauf, I drove past Frosty's but settled on lunch at Gust Hauf located on West Bell St.

Gust Hauf...good burger and great onion rings!
One thing that you immediately notice about Glendive is a lot of references to dinosaurs around town.  I texted Shawn about it and he said there had been a lot of dinosaur fossil finds in the nearby Makoshika State Park and recommended I camp there and check out the park, which I took him up on.

Makoshika means "badlands" in Lakota Indian language.
The really nice state park is located just east of Glendive and I spent a night there.  Unfortunately, the temperature during the day was in the high nineties (the Tank's interior thermometer hit triple digits for the first time!) and the campsites at Makoshika don't have electric hookups so I limited my AC-free stay to the one day. 

The park is right on the edge of the Badlands.
Makoshika State Park encompasses 11,500 acres but since I only stayed one day there I didn't feel it was fair to review the park but the trails and area I did see were really beautiful.

Makoshika is the state's largest state park.
One of the park's hiking trails.

Beautiful weather--if a touch hot!
I really enjoyed my stay in Montana!  The state is huge and it takes forever to drive across.  Glendive is about on the North Dakota border and I pointed the tank east on I-94 with the AC blasting to alleviate the mid-90 degree heat.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Campground Review: Itch-Kep-Pe Park, Columbus, Montana

I next headed east along I-90 to the small Montana city of Columbus which is about 30 miles southwest of Billings.  The Columbus Kiwanis built and maintain a small park right on the Yellowstone River with the hard to pronounce name of "Itch-Kep-Pe" Park.  I've no idea what the name means and my Google efforts to find out came up empty so I'll just assume it's an Indian word(s).

Maybe Itch-Kep-Pe means "free but donations accepted"?
The park is free to camp at on a first come basis and is located just south of Columbus (follow the signs) between the Yellowstone River and the city golf course.

The rain-swollen Yellowstone River.
 Here's the (slightly expanded) data sheet on Itch-Kep-Pe Park:

Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         Yes (river)
Fresh Water Available:             Yes                             
Trash Service:                          Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes
Showers:                                 No
Dump station:                          No
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                      No
Pool:                                       No
Shade:                                    Yes
Verizon reception:                    4G, 2 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:               2 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                       Free (donations accepted)

As soon as you pull in and choose your camp site a campground host drives over and after asking if you plan to overnight gives you a one page handout with the campground rules.  Attached to the handout is a donation envelope (hint, hint) and an explanation that the park is maintained via donations.  I typically have no problem with this approach to "free" camping and the camping at the park was  enjoyable enough that I slipped some bills into the envelope and made my "deposit".

Donations cheerfully accepted!
The park consists of 30 or so campsites split into two sections with the "front" section seperated from the "rear" by about a half mile gravel road.  You drive right next to the city golf course on your way back to the rear section.

For a small town the golf course appeared really well maintained.
I stayed in the front section of the park - some online reviews of the park I'd come across mentioned that the city "youth" utilized the back section as a night party area in the summer...enough said, I value uninterrupted sleep.  That said the front section was very quiet and several families with children were camped there also.

The Tank's site in the front section --plenty of sun for the solar panels!
The one advantage that the "back" section of Itch-Kep-Pe had over where I stayed in the front was a more unrestricted access to the Yellowstone River.  Thick bushes and trees were all along the riverbank in the front section but the river was open in the back section, which is probably why the Kiwanis chose to put the park's boat ramp there.

This "back" section site was virtually on the Yellowstone River.
I stayed two nights at Itch-Ke-Pe Park and enjoyed the camping very much.  It would have been nice to have had the option to pay for electrical hookups because the heat was very oppressive and I definitely would have run the Tank's hardly ever utilized AC if it had been an option.  Instead the two fans I carry kept me fairly comfortable until the sun went down.  Only a couple miles off of I-90 Itch-Kep-Pe Park is a great free overnight option for travelers going east or west on I-90.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Campground Review: Delmoe Lake, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Butte, MT

As I continued my eastern trek into Montana I spent my first night at a casino just across the Idaho-Montana state line along I-90.  Not much to review about a gravel parking lot but they DID provide free hookups.  From the casino I continued to Butte and then up a 10 mile forest road through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest which is about 15 miles northeast of Butte.  Within the forest lies Delmoe Lake where the US Forestry Service maintains a beautiful campground.  It was July 3rd and I literally got the last campsite before the big holiday weekend.

A big part of my site was taken up by huge boulders.
Heres the Delmoe Lake data sheet:

Hookups:                                None
Fire ring:                                 yes
Water Access:                        yes
Dump station:                          no
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                 no
Store:                                     no
Pool:                                       no
Shade:                                    yes
Verizon reception:                   4G, 2 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              2 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      $8 per night for up to 16 days

My picnic table was a little slanted.
 There are 25 RV campsites at the campground which is located on the southern side of Delmoe Lake, some are situated right on the lakefront and some, like mine, are behind the lakefront sites.

View from my campsite through the lodge-pole pines.

When you "check-in" at the campground you fill out a fee envelope and insert a check made out to the US Forestry Service or cash for as many nights as you plan on staying, in my case 4.

Often it's tough finding kindling for campfires--not here!
The sunrises over Delmoe Lake in the dawn were pretty awesome!

The sun just coming over the hills surrounding Delmoe Lake.
The weather during my stay was just spectacular --80's during the day and high 50's at night.  Four perfect days in a row!

Boulders along Delmoe Lake's waterline.
The national forest is home to a growing population of black bears even though I never saw one.  A friendly Forest Service ranger stopped by my campsite to warn me against leaving my charcoal grill out overnight -- bears can smell food residue from the grill for up to a mile!

A calm Delmoe Lake as seen from my campsite.
I recommend camping at Delmoe Lake with the caveat that campsites are available on a first come basis, there are no reservations, don't show up at 6pm on a Friday and hope to get lucky.  On a busy weekend (like the 4th of July) it would be easily possible to drive the extremely bumpy 10 miles in to the campground and then not have any campsites available.  I realize now how lucky I was to get the very last available site but man was it worth it!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area George, Washington

About 7 miles north of the town of George, Washington (gotta love the name!) lies the 15,200 acre Quincy Lakes Wildlife Unit which is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The Unit boasts several small lakes and reservoirs and you are allowed to camp there free for up to 15 days.  I headed there after dropping Camping Buddy Becky off at her parents condo in Western Washington.

Free camping from March 1 to September 30.
The campground data sheet on the Unit:

Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                  No
Water Access:                         Yes (no drinking water)
Dump station:                          No
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                      No
Pool:                                       No
Shade:                                    No
Verizon reception:                   4G, 2 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              3 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      Free for up to 15 days

Geologically speaking, Quincy Lakes is the product of the erosion of lava flows by glaciers that gouged out the "potholes" which became the small lakes of the unit.  Most of the topsoil was scraped off during this process so there are no major tree stands, mostly scrub brush and and blue wheat grass.

Burke Lake, the sidewalk leads to a shore fishing dock.
I found an elevated camp site between Burk Lake and a small reservoir which gave a great view of the Unit.

The Tank's antenna is up because TV reception was great here!
Along with the lakes that were favored by local fisherman the Unit has some picturesque smaller ponds.

One of the small ponds near the Tank's site.
  The Unit was moderately crowded over the weekend portion of my stay but on weekdays I was the sole occupant.

This shot of the camp site gives a better idea of the terrain.
Here's another small pond and you can see the black basalt cliffs in the background.

Not a lot of trees but still pretty.
After camping in the fir trees of Western Washington transitioning to the semi-arid terrain of the Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area was pretty abrupt -- I had a hard time believing I was in the same state!  As you can probably tell from the pictures the weather during my six day stay was perfect (picture perfect!) with daytime temperatures in the mid-80's with low humidity and nighttime in the high 40's....great sleeping weather!  I would absolutely return to the Unit to camp again and would recommend it unreservedly as a fun camping/fishing/hiking site.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Campground Review: Dosewallips State Park Brinnon, WA

I drove north from the Columbia River to Olympia, WA where Camping Buddy Becky was visiting her parents.  After picking her up we drove the Tank north up scenic Highway 101 along the western side of the Puget Sound about 90 miles to Dosewallips State Park.  Dosewallips is derived from "Dos-wail-opsh", the name of a Twana Indian who legend says was turned into a mountain, forming ther source of the Dosewallips River which runs through the park.

The beautiful Dosewallips River.
The park has three separate camping areas, 40 full hook-up sites, a tent-only campground and another 100 no-hookup sites that are located adjacent to the Dosewallips River.

The Tank's full-service site in Dosewallips State Park.
Here's the Dosewallips data sheet:

Hookups:                                 20, 30 & 50 amp, water
Fire ring:                                  yes
Water Access:                         yes
Dump station:                          yes
WiFi:                                       no (a sign said yes but we couldn’t detect it)
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                  no
Store:                                      just campground items and ice cream
Pool:                                        no
Shade:                                     yes
Verizon reception:                    4g, 2 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:               2 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      $45/night for out-of-staters with hookups

The park extends on both sides of Highway 101 with camping on the west side of 101 and a beach fronting the Puget Sound on the east side.  At low tide the waterfront becomes a rich source of oysters and clams for residents and park goers.

Open season!

Oyster hunters with Puget Sound in the background.
There were two geocaches in the park and Camping Buddy Becky's sharp sight found both of them although we had to re-look for the first one after we realized the park extended to the east of 101 and there was a footbridge across the river.  Dosewallips State Park has 5500 feet of salt water shoreline and 5400 feet of freshwater shoreline (the Dosewallips River).  Salmon run up the river during their breeding season and there are steel head trout in it year around.  The park has 6 miles of trails through the pine forest surrounding it and we hiked most of them during our geocache hunt.  The trails and the grounds of the park themselves are extremely well maintained with grounds crew working on the landscaping both days we were there.

We greatly enjoyed our short stay at Dosewallips State Park.  Of all the state park systems I've stayed in over the last 13 months Washington's was the first to charge out of state campers more than state residents to camp, or maybe I just don't remember encountering the up-charge before.  At $45/night it's somewhat of a "premium" camping experience but Dosewallips State Park is really a beautiful campground.

Thanks for reading!