Team VA's Wonderings

Sunday, September 17, 2023

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby


There’s a lot less access to Wi-Fi than I’d expected and writing this is more difficult than I remember. So this is a photo free post. I will try and fix that, or more likely dump a load of photos later. That’ll probably be when we reach Vancouver where we have little planned except haircuts (and maybe boxer shorts) and hopefully will have Wi-Fi in the campground, given the price of it!

Day 20

We’d originally planned to stay in Badlands and then head to Wind Cave national park, which is about an hour from Mount Rushmore. To give us a break from travelling with Casita, we decided not to change campground, but daytrip the other two. Today ended up being 6 hours in the car (the dogs are so good), but I think it was the better option.

The driving was a contrasting day of two halves-we headed out to the South of Badlands, passed through much of the less travelled parts of the park, a town that seemed completely abandoned and then ended up on an unexpected gravel road. For very long periods we saw no other traffic, and nowhere for petrol. I was starting to imagine the navigation had got it wrong and ending up in a dead end, but about 30 mins from Wind Cave we found a major road and fuel. We came back on the interstate.

The main attraction at Wind Cave is a massive underground cave system, which was closed for lift repairs (fortunately we knew that in advance). We hiked round with the dogs in pretty severe heat that was about 5 degrees cooler than Badlands. It was a pretty enough walk and we were pleased to see a bison from afar. We jumped in the car to head to Rushmore and about 5 minutes later came upon a bison traffic jam and got to them up close.


Along with some prairie dogs,


We’ve been surprised by how high the prairies are. Even since getting to US and switching the car back to the 19th century we’ve been at a minimum of 2,500 feet and have frequently been around 3,000 (it’s not that flat). Today we were in the Black Hills and went over 5,000, Andrea thought she even say 6,000. I expected the height to be in Rockies, so looked a few things up to make sure we weren’t imagining things and Banff (highest town in Canada) is around 4,500; the campground at Yosemite is 4,000; the so called mountain we lived next to for 8 years is 1,358 feet (414m). I think we’d have been on the limit of how high we could tow had we brought Casita along. As an aside, I am finding it impossible to talk about temperature in the US-I have a vague idea of a ready reckoner for Fahrenheit, but I left my abacus behind.

I’d wanted to see Rushmore for a long time: I had a secret agent book when I was (very) small. It basically had an invisible ink pen and pages of hidden words and pictures. Put the pen in the right place and hidden stuff was revealed by magic. There was a page, perhaps two with Mount Rushmore.

When you’re quite close there’s a road sign that says something like ‘Mount Rushmore Area was used in the filming of North by Northwest and National Treasure II’. Presumably at some they removed a sign because they thought adding National Treasure II was a good idea. It made me wondered what would have happened if they’d visited Rushmore in ‘Dude, where’s my car’.

It is impressive and the quality of three of the heads is very good (Lincoln doesn’t looked finished to me). I still can’t decide if ultimately it’s one of the greatest pieces of vandalism you’ll ever see. It could use a little more signage-foreign types may only recognise 2 of the 4 presidents (to be fair we skipped the visitor centre, which may explain all). Worth the visit though, and we got some good photos. (Dogs not allowed). There’s plenty of mountain left-you wonder how close they’ve coming to adding another president-surely some of them must have thought about it.

And finally on the way back-Wall Drug. Wall Drug is bizarre, but you fell you have to go. There are hundreds of billboards for it on the interstate, many of which are quite amusing (but instantly forgettable). There’s tourist tat, photos ops and Drug Store stuff. I had a milkshake, which was fine. Google it on a quiet day.

Day 21

So this was meant to be a bookend day-activities at dawn and dusk. However, the weather had other ideas. We were up early to catch sunrise out in the park, but that didn’t really work with the rain and clouds. We did the door and window trails which we couldn’t manage in Saturday’s heat.


In the evening we went back to the park for sunset and the rangers’ talk. We saw some lightning…..


Fair to say the weather has been variable-we sweltered when two days were over 40 degrees in a place with hardly any trees and then tonight needed the heating as it went into single figures.


We haven’t seen a rattlesnake, but we’ve seen a LOT of warnings about them. I don’t remember watching many cowboy films when I was a kid, but it seemed anything in the West had a scene with a Rattler, which was always desperate to bite some human who’d then shoot it. I suspect that trope did as much for rattlesnakes as Jaws did for sharks.

We didn’t tow as much this week, but for the third week in a row we did over 1,500km driving. Next week we’re hoping will be the last big one for a while-nearly 1,700km of towing more than we expect to do in the following 3 and a half weeks. In fact, hopefully next week is the biggest of the whole trip

Day 22

We didn’t really need another day in Badlands. It’s a great place, but without heading out into the backcountry or revisiting we had kinda covered it. However, given the journeys before and after were two day treks and the wind was very strong today, it was good to do a final walk in the park and talk it easy before heading back towards Canada

Day 23

Today was a 3 state day, I’m not sure if we’ll be doing that again or not. We started in South Dakota, spent about 45 minutes crossing the North Eastern corner of Wyoming and ended up in Montana for the night. Long way today, and longer tomorrow, so it just seemed right to spend the night at a Winery. We had a tasting and in a red letter day, I got my first new t-shirt of the trip. Now just need to work out which one to retire.

Day 24

The last two days have clearly bounced Casita and the car about a fair bit-one of the extended mirrors fell off on a Montana highway, one of the curtains fell down and we lost the plug that holds the sewer hose in the rear bumper (fortunately the hose stayed in place). We’ve at least short term fixes for all of those.

Grasslands National Park is our only stop in Saskatchewan; feel a bit guilty than we cut out nearly 700km of Manitoba and Saskatchewan with our Badlands detour, but it was well worth it, This feels like our most remote campsite: we checked in at the visitor centre in Val Marie, which is isolated in itself (I spoked to one of the rangers who was off to Swift Current to do his shopping-that’s 125km away). The campsite is then about 30km from the visitor centre, and the last 15km on a gravel road. We were getting a little nervous as we got further and further from any services, well anything apart from grass and gravel road. We thought that we’d reserved an electrical site, but it just didn’t seem possible that they’d run electrical cables under the park all this way to a campground with about 20 sites. We’d used the air con last at the winery, so the battery wasn’t ready for us to do 3 nights off grid at Grasslands and then another at the next winery. Happily, the campsite, while very isolated, did provide electricity so we quickly abandoned plans to eat all the food in the freezer so we could turn it off.

Day 25

This is a very different stop. Most of our campsites have been almost glades, surrounded by trees. Here it is very open and there are no trees (so much like Badlands), but the landscape is very different. The plains undulate enough to make it interesting and reveal the wildlife as you pass through. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but this has been more akin to a safari trip and probably as a result is Andrea’s favourite so far.

Yesterday there was a question if staying in such a remote spot was a good idea, especially as tomorrow we’ll head back through Val Marie to reach another park of the park. Now we’re glad we are in the park as it has enabled us to head out at first light to see the animals. Today we saw a lot of deer early on as moved through the park, doing little walks here and there. As the day moved on we saw prairie dogs emerging from their warrens. They’re different here compared to Dakota-they seem chubbier and more gopher-like. Still not seen a rattler, which we’re still being warned about-I’m unclear what they do when it gets to -40 in the Saskatchewan winter. So far we’ve only spotted a few solitary bison/buffalo.

We really enjoyed it and the wildlife isn’t limited to outside the campground, which is fenced. As we left this morning someone was taking photos of the deer just outside, at dusk we saw a coyote on the hill beyond the fence and inside we we even watched a prairie dog from our kitchen window.

This is also supposed to be a great star spotting place, but the clouds have put the mockers on that tonight, perhaps tomorrow.

Day 26

Another dawn start for a safari across the Saskatchewan savannah and today we found the bison herd; the tail end were crossing the road in front of us (and dumping on it too).

We went back to the visitor as we needed some Wi-Fi and had a good chat with a ranger on the wildlife we’d seen-he suggested some walks for today, although we didn’t see a lot on them.

The something breaks every time we move is getting a bit wearing. Today we found a decent chip/crack in the windscreen that presumably happened yesterday or Thursday as we drove on the gravel road. No idea where or when we’ll be able to fix that, so for now we’ll have to hope it doesn’t hit again on that spot.


As usual, we could have stayed here longer but tomorrow, we’ll be back on the Trans Canada highway. I wonder if they do t-shirts?

Day 27


Far from anywhere.

The perfect timing for the car to have a malfunction.

Yesterday we’d put some petrol in. The tank was touch and go to get to the nest town where there was supposed to be petrol, and we have learnt that just because the map says there’s a petrol station, it doesn’t mean there is one, or that the petrol pumps are still there or that there won’t be police tape type stuff all around stopping you getting to a pump. We notmally fill up before half empty, we never get to a quarter full, you don’t want run out of fuel with a trailer behind you in the middle of nowhere. So that’s my excuse.

We’re supposed to put 91 fuel in the car-I think Audi did a deal with the petrol stations to make us buy more expensive petrol, but why take the risk. Sometimes that’s not available, so we use the 87, which the manual say is OK, at a push. Val Marie’s station is completely unmanned and has one pump that isn’t diesel; it has no number, which worries me a bit; in one place it describes the fuel there as regular (no lead), which sounds like the 87; in another it says if it ethanol unleaded, which worries me some more. For some reason I ignore the voice in my head to put about 10-15 litres in, which would give us enough margin to fill up at a more normal station and put over 50 litres in instead.


Today is a short drive. Drama free, it would have been the easiest drive we’ve had. We have a final safari and walk with the dogs, a hearty breakfast, hitch up and set up.


About 10 minutes in, going up a decent incline, a yellow light comes on. Andrea looks it up in the manual and it says there’s something wrong with the emissions, the catalytic converter could be damaged, and we should straight away drive slowly to an Audi dealer. Balls.


It’s probably the weird petrol? Maybe the fact I topped up the oil yesterday? Perhaps if we can get some 91 in the tank to dilute the weird stuff, the light will go away? Although, our fuel economy is suddenly way better than normal (perhaps because we’re driving a little slower?), so that’s gonna take a while to have effect. We call roadside assist, hoping for a blessing to just keep driving, or for someone to come and magic it right so we can just keep driving. She knows less than we do; it’s yellow, so it’s not too bad, but I can’t tell you how far you can drive without causing a problem. All the dealers are closed, it’s Sunday so you can’t call them. We can tow you 50km (that’d get us to Val Marie, which doesn’t have a garage, let alone an Audi dealer). She likes our idea of driving (about 150km) to a Canadian Tire, as they should have a mechanic who might know something. We ask where are the Audi dealers are so we can try and plan our options, but she can’t tell us without an exact address, we’re struggling to find the address of anything in Val Marie when we get cut off from Roadside Assist. The second person is more helpful, he says they’ll tow us up to 200km (if we have the coverage-bit vague there); he also manages to tell us where the Audi dealers are (at least 400km away, closest in Regina is East, 2nd closest in Saskatoon is not at all on our way and furthest in Calgary means binning Waterton lakes). So we’re rather left to make it up for ourselves. The idea of getting close enough to a dealer for a tow, having the car towed there, getting another tow for the roulette and hoping they’ll fix the car on Monday morning lacks appeal.  So we plough on to Canadian Tire, where there are no mechanics on a Sunday: the guy there is concerned and says mixing petrols is bad (I check the manual and he isn’t 100% right there), he suggests we put an additive in the petrol and that should help. So we do that and get some 91. Checking the map we plough on-if we head to our Harvest Host, it’s on the way to Calvary, I mean Calgary so it doesn’t make a lot of odds. As long as the car doesn’t die.

The Harvest Host is great, there’s wine tasting, beer and pizza. We have a great afternoon and sleep surprisingly well having found a dealer in Calgary we can call at 7.30.

Day 28

Thing is there’s wind forecast and we want to be off before 7.30

We had a brainwave about the engine light-we made the time zone work for us. Andrea called our dealer in Quebec, who was 2 hours in the future. He basically said ‘well if the light isn’t red, you should be OK’. It wasn’t the most convincing, but we took it as a greenlight to go to Waterton Lakes, rather than abandon it and go to Calgary where the next Audi dealer is. Part of the reasoning being if we’ve already stuffed the catalytic converter, we shouldn’t let it spoil our trip. We hitch up and plan to call the Audi in Calgary at 7.30.

And wadda you know, something we did yesterday (mixed in some 91 fuel, put in the stuff recommended at Canadian Tire, swearing at the car) had worked and the light didn’t come on.

However, we did get 6 other error messages. 3 said lights on the trailer weren’t working, they were; the other 3 said some of the tech that senses what’s going on around us wasn’t working and we needed to see service-well that stuff is normally turned off in trailer mode, so we figured the car was moody at being used more in 2 months, than it was used to in 8 months previously. I said I thought the car was being a bit adolescent, and sure enough when we changed drivers, it seemed to accept that we weren’t going to give it a rest and all the errors miraculously disappeared.

Of course, then someone overtook us and now we have a second chip on the windscreen-I think we’ll be lucky if it doesn’t need replacing, but on the bright side at least we didn’t get it fixed in Val Marie. Odds of two chips in 4 days feel slim.

Since around Thunder Bay, the terrain has been pretty flat (Black Hills in South Dakota excepted). With so many thing to think about, we’d somehow missed that we’d be seeing the Rockies today. The start of Alberta was still very prairie and then suddenly there was a mountainous shape in the haze on the horizon. Initially we were saying ‘um, is that the mountains’, 10 minutes after that there was no question of any mirage and shortly after that it was as if a wall had been dumped to say that’s the end of the prairies. Normally there are foothills, forests or other obstructions to your view so the you can get used to the idea of mountains ahead, but here the mountains suddenly appear, rising up from the flat. It must have been a total WTF to any explorers when they first got here. There is simply no way round, and no question there is any way round. It also made us realise we have come a long way. We’re now about as far West as Calgary, which is a 4 hour 40 minute flight. I was chatting to someone from Texas and was ‘whew, that’s a long journey’, and then he said we flew; I’d actually forgotten that was a way of getting around-everyone else we’ve met has been going overland. Week 4 is now behind us and we’ve nearly driven 6,500 km, towing for over 5,300-we think that’s nearly a quarter distance.

Yesterday or the day before, we had a momentary panic when I couldn’t find the reservation for Waterton lakes before we checked and found it was first come first served. After Pukaskwa, we figured that’d be no issue and were looking forward to a full service pull through site (meaning Andrea doesn’t need to reverse in). What we got was a shambles. Arriving not long after 1 p.m. there was a queue of dozen or so RVs trailing back into the village. There were no more sites with electricity-there could have been, if they hadn’t decided to shut a large section of the campground for no apparent reason. There also quickly were enough sites for everyone in the queue, so after an hour in the queue we were pleased to get something with no services and lucky that we weren’t relying on electricity-we’ve enough juice in the battery to get us to Banff. We had an ice cream on arrival, just in case we’d need to turn the freezer off. I felt sorry for the people who were getting a site, who needed services, so were going back to the entrance to get in a queue at 8 a.m. the following day; I felt even more sorry for the people who got nothing and either had to turn around and head out of the park, or were parking overnight on the street in the village-no Walmart here; (I also felt sorry for the people working for Parks Canada who had to deal with all of us, they didn’t make these stupid decisions). I just don’t understand first come/first served, aside from anything else, it’s just quicker to book it online-we’ve known for more than 6 months we were arriving today. Anyway…

We seem to be inventing a companion meal to Brunch. We keep eating Lunner or Dinch, maybe Lupper or Sunch? Anyway, we skip lunch to get to the site and get set up and then if we’re lucky enough to be somewhere we can go out for a meal, we’re sitting down at 3 o clock or so. This is also why I keep getting so being with the blog: up at dawn, tiring drive, then a meal and a pitcher of beer means snoozing not writing. Waterton is a nice contrast to Grasslands-we can walk into the village and there are a number of pubby places and it could not be called flat.

Day 29

Waterton lakes is great, but I’ve written so much this is going to be brief and I’ll chuck in some photos.

We do a scenic drive and at the end visit a lake for ten minutes. When we get a back a Chipmunk is in the wheel of the car eating a nut or something. We scare it off so it doesn’t become a pancake 

On the way back we do a 3 hour hike, with some decent uphill to a lake where the dogs swim. It takes us through burnt forest, good forest, meadows and has some great views.

After that we’ve earnt hot dogs and ice cream for lunch and dinner at a pub, where only I seem to know the music-lots of Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam with a side of Nirvana, Soundgarden and skateboard rock-basically US 90s. It’s very passable, but given nearly all the clientele are 65+, and the staff under 25, you have to wonder.

Day 30

I am finding the ‘where are you from’ question philosophically difficult to answer. Oxford’s the nearest I have to a home town in the UK, but I was in my twenties before even moving there, so that confuses people; we started our journey in Quebec, but if I say we’re from there I get ‘no you’re not’, which is fair enough; if we’re near Casita I think I will start pointing to her. The other day someone said ‘you’ve kept you’ve accent’, which I’d never even considered before. Well, of course. Thinking about it, that’s probably only because we’ve been in a Francophone environment, so there’s been nothing to mess with my English (aside from Americanisms like elevator); Andrea told me years ago that my (never great) French accent had been Quebecoised.

Today we went on the other scenic drive and a few small trails, including Red Rock Canyon-more of a gulley really, but very pleasant again. 

Once again, I need to write this everyday, rather than once a week. My fingers ache.


  • Loving all your adventures xx

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:26 PM  

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