Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado, U.S. – The vastness of the prairie sky is addictive. Once you've spent a while surrounded by nothing but grass and sky you start to feel closed in whenever there is something else near you. We tried to go back to regular campgrounds, but you find yourself wanting more space, asking why are these things blocking my sky?
Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota, U.S. – Two weeks on a grassy expanse of earth at the edge of the badlands. It doesn't sound like much, but there's something about wide open spaces that makes time slow down. We swam, hiked, made new friends and briefly got the bus stuck in the mud.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota, U.S. – Wall Drug is a full city block of tourist junk and food. There's still free ice water, and the coffee is still 5 cents. The donuts are pretty good too. Bill Bryson sums up Wall Drug perfectly in The Lost Continent: "It's an awful place, one of the world's worst tourist traps, but I loved it and I won't have a word said against it."
Moningwanekaaning, Wisconsin, U.S. – Reflections on the greatest of the Great Lakes.
Nine Mile Lake Campground, Minnesota, U.S. – Unable to leave Lake Superior behind, we decided to head west and north, out of Wisconsin, into Minnesota, through Duluth and up to the north shore of Lake Superior.
Moningwanekaaning, Wisconsin, U.S. – The Ojibwe, who were here when the first Europeans paddled through, call Madeline Island Moningwanekaaning, which translates to Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker. This is where the bulk of the action takes place in the first three novels of Louise Erdrich's Birchbark Series, which, as I've mentioned before, our kids are obsessed with. It's one of the reasons that we came up here, to see where the characters of those books walked and ate and slept and swam.
Washburn, Wisconsin, U.S. – Back across the Upper Peninsula, out of Michigan, back to Wisconsin and more time at Lake Superior, where things were, as they often are up here, decidedly old school and awesome.
Carp River Campground, Michigan, U.S. – On our way southeast to Lake Huron, where we were meeting up with family, we first went northwest. Because that’s how we roll. We wanted to see Whitefish point, which had a lighthouse and shipwreck museum, though in the end we opted for the beach instead.
Andrus Lake, Michigan, U.S. – Enjoying the warm and ever-changing waters of Andrus Lake, and attending an Ojibwa powwow in St. Ignace.
Andrus Lake, Michigan, U.S. – We gambled a bit for the girls' birthday this year. We couldn't stay in Pictured Rocks anymore, we'd hit our two week limit the day before their birthday. We considered trying to stay anyway, bribe the camp hosts or something. In the end we rolled the dice and everything worked out.
Picture Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan, U.S. – We were looking for something cool to do for the girls' birthday, something along the lines of last year's train ride, when we stumbled across a billboard for a glass bottom boat shipwreck tour. Perfect. We checked the weather and made reservations for the next warm sunny day.
Picture Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan, U.S. – Trees, hammocks, Lakes Superior's crazy weather. Lately we've had plenty of time to sit around the north woods, watching the wind play in the leaves, the birds sharing food and building nests, the kids digging up earthworms for pets.
Harrington State Park, Wisconsin, U.S. – Going from northern Illinois into Wisconsin was the most dramatic climatic and seasonal change we've yet experienced on this trip. One day it was 103 and sunny, the next it was overcast and 60. A very welcome change.
Garden of the Gods, Illinois, U.S. – One of the few guidebook series I actually like is Smithsonian's various guides to "natural" America. The one for Illinois starts off with something to the affect: "Only one state has less public land than Illinois". I read that back when we were in Athens and I thought, okay, well, how bad can it be really? Turns out...
Babler State Park, Missouri, U.S. – We came to St. Louis for pretty much one and only reason, the City Museum. Surprisingly, it delivered, in a decidedly un-American way -- there was actual risk with your fun.
Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky, U.S. – Land between the Lakes is what is says it is: a huge chunk of land wedged between two large reservoirs. Most people come here for the water, we had the rest of the island, including herds of Buffalo and a work 1850s farm, pretty much to ourselves.
Meriweather Lewis Campground, Natchez Trace, Tennessee, U.S. – Surviving the Memorial Day crowds on the Natchez Trace.
Athens, Georgia, U.S. – The bus gets new brakes, finally, we visit Athens, couch-surfing, homeless style. It was wonderful to visit friends and family, but if anyone was wondering if we'd decide to move back, uh, yeah, that'd be a very emphatic no. We love the bus and we're still looking forward to what's around the next bend.
St. George Island, Florida, U.S. – We got tired of endless sunny days at the beach. I know that makes us sound like assholes, but sometimes you need to move on, even if where you are is beautiful. More puzzling to me is that I passed up a chance to help restore a wooden boat.
St George Island State Park, Florida, U.S. – If you were a bird returning from a warm sunny winter in Central America, at some point you'd have to head out over the Gulf of Mexico, starting from either Cuba or Honduras, either way, it's going to be a long flight over water. Millions of birds do it, every year, twice a year, a far more remarkable journey than any human as ever made and we hardly even notice them do it.
St. George Island, Florida, U.S. – Camping under a bridge, visiting with family and living indoors.
St Joseph State Park, Florida, U.S. – A year later we're very close to right back where we started, which feels natural to me. Everything moves in cycles. Time is a vast swirling whirlpool, spinning us all around and around, each time a little different than the last, but themes emerge, patterns emerge, events repeat, for us, in the world around us.
Camel Lake, Apalachicola National Forest, Florida, U.S. – Walking in the woods, the virtues of being barefoot, why Panama City isn't so bad, and the magic of ferns unfurling.
Grayton State Park, Florida, U.S. – Kids minding their own business, grownups who fail to do the same and spending all day in the sun, like you used to before the world got scared of the sun.