Moving through the lower 48 from North Carolina to Montana with spectacular stops at Pipestone National Monument and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (pictorial video below)…

We officially began our trip to Alaska when we left North Carolina on April 16, 2023, after visiting with family and friends, enduring medical appointments, and seeing Karen’s mom through successful heart valve replacement surgery.

Our trek led us through West Virginia for one night so we could get it on our full-time RV traveling map and into Ohio to visit “The Mothership” (aka the Airstream factory) and have an extenuating issue with our truck’s transmission addressed. We then moved to Bear Cave RV Park in Michigan to meet up with some friends (Kelli and Bobby) before making our way to Iowa to visit Karen’s Aunt Jan and Uncle Thom. It was like Christmas morning when we got there because Madeline, Rachel, and, mostly, Amazon inundated their house with packages for us! Carl was able to get the second bank of lithium batteries installed as well as two new solar panels (replacing the one that mysteriously flew off somewhere) and DIY mudflaps on the Airstream and mudflap extenders on the pickup. He also helped my uncle with a couple of projects around their house. All in all, a busy but productive and fun week with them.

Pipestone National Monument

We then made our way into the southwestern tip of Minnesota to visit the Pipestone National Monument. What a gem in the middle of farm country. This is not a monument you just happen to stop in to visit on your way to somewhere else. You have to make a concerted effort to go there, but it is worth it.

Pipestone National Monument is a sacred site for American Indians. For hundreds of years, various tribes have come to this location to quarry “pipestone” to be carved into ceremonial pipes. The area is still quarried to this day by over 50 different tribes that are recognized by the American government and from which they have obtained a permit. They use old fashioned tools—different sized sledge hammers and chisels— staying away from more modern day techniques. This is to preserve the sacredness of the site as well as the ritual of what goes into forming the ceremonial pipes. Our visit included a tour of the grounds, an award-winning 22-minute film, a museum, and demonstrations of the pipestone being carved.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

After Pipestone, we made our way to North Dakota (along the way having a tire blowout on the Airstream). We boondocked (see our videos here) outside of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit, in Medora, ND. It was almost like the grasslands and the badlands converged into incredible vistas. We loved our boondocking spot and would stay there again. The South Unit of the park was simply lovely and full of wildlife, specifically bison and “brown dogs” (new baby bison!). I can honestly say I have never seen so many bison “patties” (if ya know what I mean). Theodore Roosevelt became a proprietor of two (maybe three) ranches in that area when he moved to ND in his 20s after his first wife and his mother died within a month of one another. It was his place to grieve and heal, and I could see why he connected so deeply with that area.

After a few days there, we left for Montana, stopping by the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to enjoy the scenic drive. And, since it wasn’t too far out of our way, we stopped at the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. The most interesting point of our visit there was how far away the Missouri River has shifted from the post in the last 150ish years.

We made it into Montana and spent the night next to a beautiful lake near Fort Peck, then moved to Shelby, MT for a couple of days before heading into Canada.

As for smoke from Canadian wildfires … A lot of smoke rolled into Bismarck, ND while we were getting new tires on our Airstream, but as we drove west to Medora, it started to dissipate. It was clear for the next few days, but the smoke had rolled in again the morning we woke up in the Fort Peck area. We could barely see the lake to which we were camping next. Again, by the time we got to Shelby that afternoon, the smoke had dissipated. Since we arrived in Canada, there have been no smoke issues.

Next installment … Banff National Park, the Icefields Parkway, and Jasper National Park