Category Archives: Escape Pod Log

A ongoing log of our adventures camping with our little camper The Escape Pod.

North Shore Minnesota – Escape Pod Log 15 – Travel The Broke Dad Way

The North Shore and Grand Marais
Exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior, The Gunflint Trail, and Grand Marais, MN.

Today we venture forth to explore the North Shore of Minnesota. I have loaded up the Escape Pod, fueled up the Jeep, and loaded all of our gear. This will be our second outing since having the baby and I am still not used to all of the extra gear it requires to go camping with a baby or how much more time it takes to load that gear and get on the road. So yes we are running a bit behind schedule.  Don`t get me wrong I use the term schedule loosely as I don’t so much keep a schedule when I am traveling more so just a rough sketch of what it is we want to do in a given day while we travel.

Our starting point is just South of Duluth, MN and heading along the shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais, MN. We plan on setting up camp in Grand Marais and from there exploring the Gunflint Trail and if time permits Grand Portage, MN.

I am writing this while sitting outside in the sun waiting for a table at the Scenic Cafe just North/North East of Duluth.  We have heard very good things about the  New Scenic Cafe both by word of mouth and also on other blogs I have found while researching this trip. Very excited to finally get to try it out.

Later that day…

Well we were not disappointed.  The good things we heard about the New Scenic Cafe were not false.  We had about a 30 minute or so wait which I hear is a fairly normal occurrence which is a good thing, it means people enjoy eating there.  We were seated at a nice table that overlooked a very pretty garden area. The menu was smallish but filled with all kinds of wonderful selections. My wife and I both had sandwiches but before that I thought we would take our taste buds on an adventure and I ordered escargot. I am so glad we did because it turned out to be some of the best escargot I have ever had. Not that I have the chance to get it to often. Our sandwiches were well done as were our drinks.  We have already made plans to return to the Scenic again for a date night as soon as the baby is old enough to stay with grandma.

Once lunch was done we were on the road again and soon found ourselves in Two Harbors, MN.  We had to make a stop in Two Harbors at the local grocery store to pick up some charcoal for our dinner later that night.  We were in and out and on our way in quick order as we were excited to be back on the road and getting ourselves to Grand Marais and the campground.

I have to say that taking a ride up the North Shore in early October is not a bad way to spend a few hours of your time. The trees were all starting to change colors, there was not too much traffic on the roads, everything was still open and not yet closed for winter so there was a lot of options for stopping to eat, drink, or pick up supplies. I feel like this early October trip up the shore may become a tradition for us.

We arrived in Grand Marais around 3pm and found the campground very quickly. The Grand Marais Campground and Marina was the name of the campground we decided on and we are very glad we did. It is a good-sized campground with several options of camping spots. We picked one of the more expensive spots at $33.00 a night simply because it was closest to the water.  If a person was on a budget or did not care about seeing the water there are spots in the more wooded areas of the campground that run about $20 to $30 a night. I spent some time walking around the campground after we had set up and all of the sites were very nice, clean, not cramped, and easy to get into and out of.

I was excited because I was finally able to set up and use my new Coleman canopy we got for Christmas from my wife’s grandparents.

This was the first time I was able to use it short of a practice run in the backyard so I knew how to put it up and take it down. I have nothing but good things to say about this canopy. I can put it up all by myself in about 5 minutes or less, taking it down again takes marginally longer but I can still do it alone easily.

Campsite in Grand Marais Minnesota
The Broke Dad’s campsite in Grand Marais, MN. with the Escape Pod and our new Coleman canopy.

Another thing I really like about this canopy is my cook tables and our camping chairs fit into it and there is still room to move around.  I was given the pack away kitchen by Coleman for a wedding gift from my parents several years ago and it has made camping so much better. No I don’t get paid to review Coleman products I swear, it just happens I have several Coleman pieces of gear that I use.  The pack away kitchen I use is this one:

It actually takes me longer to set this little table up then it does the canopy but once it is set up it is one of the most useful pieces of gear I have for when we camp. I love to prepare all of our meals outside and this table makes it that much more of a joy.

Here is a photo of my camp kitchen in the middle of an epic breakfast making session.  It really is much more organized than it appears in this photo.

camp kitchen table
The Broke Dad’s camp kitchen in action. Yes, a little messy but functional.

The rest of that evening was spent grilling up chops for dinner and enjoying the campground.

The next morning we were up early and had a breakfast of fried potatoes, bacon, and eggs and then we were off to explore Grand Marais.

Grand Marais for being such a small town really has a lot going on. The first thing that catches your attention about the town is the fact that even though it is way up north Minnesota, literally a stones throw from the Canadian border it feels like a coastal village on the Maine shoreline. It is like one minute you are in Minnesota and the next you are on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, minus the pelicans.

The next thing that impressed me about Grand Marais was the abundance of quaint little shops to visit and get lost in. Everything from antique shops to art galleries, three art galleries for sure that we visited.  There were shops selling fresh made fudge, shops set up to outfit you for a trek into the wilderness, and shops where you could learn how to paint or do pottery plus many more we did not get a chance to see.

Lunch time was spent at the Harbor House Grille. If you find yourself in or near Grand Marais I highly recommend a visit here if for no other reason then to try their maple bacon creme brulee it is beyond amazing. If you have time to sit and have a full meal I was very happy with that as well. I had the smoked trout sandwich and my wife had the smoked salmon burger, both of which were fantastic.  The neat thing about the Harbor House is it is literally a house that has been converted into a restaurant and it is so cozy it makes you feel right at home.  I heard that going for lunch is recommended if you don’t like to wait or are not a fan of crowds as things can get very busy there during dinner hours as it is a popular place to eat in Grand Marais.

Lunch was over and we decided to walk out to the “lighthouse”.   Not really an official lighthouse but a navigational light with no house on the end of a concrete, steel, and rock pier that is called Artists Point. It was well worth the hike out to the light. The wind was blowing just enough that it was creating some decent waves that would crash against the wall and/or rocks creating some very beautiful water effects.

I was able to avoid getting wet except once a rogue wave caught me off guard and my shoe got wet.  This walk is unfortunately not handicap accessible, we had our stroller along and that was a no go.

I would say you should be fairly confident climbing uneven terrain as well if you are planning on taking this walk, there are stairs and uneven rocks to walk over and climb on as you move out towards the light.

I brought my dog with me and she thought it was the best walk we had ever been on. Plenty of places and little shallow pools of water for her to play in. I spent easily an hour or more just hanging out on the point taking photos and videos it was such a beautiful and perfect day.

We decided to head back to the camper after our walk on the point. Grilled up some steaks we bought at the local market and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and reading.

The next morning we woke up to rain. We had half anticipated this due to weather reports but were kind of hoping those reports would be wrong. We had saved a drive up the Gunflint Trail for this day just in case it did rain we figured if it was raining we could still enjoy our day driving and enjoying the scenery from the dry cab of our Jeep.

It was an excellent decision since the rain did not let up until almost noon it gave us time to slowly drive up the Gunflint.   It was raining out but not raining so badly that we could not see the beautiful scenery outside.  By mid-morning we had made our way up a good portion of the Gunflint and had the chance to take some side trips to recon a few campgrounds so we could have an idea which ones we would want to stay at in future trips up the North Shore.

If anyone is planning a vacation that includes the Gunflint Trail I would not worry about which campground is better than another.  I visited at least 5 of them on our trip up and every one of them was just as beautiful as any other.  I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them.  Some of the campgrounds do have some better campsites then others but in my opinion all the spots have something wonderful about them.  Another thing I noticed was that all of the National Park campgrounds up on the Gunflint trail are all very well taken care of and in all the National Park campgrounds I have stayed in over the years I have never seen any with as many restrooms as the ones up there. It felt like for every two camping spots there was a restroom set up. Is that a strange thing to notice? Maybe but I couldn’t help but mention it.

I took The Broke Dog on a hike along Iron Lake starting at the Iron Lake Campground.  Not a soul around but her and I, my wife opted to stay back with the baby as we went exploring.  The dog loved the trail and the freedom to run without restraint.  It was a fun hike and I have plans to return to this campground and camp so we can explore further.  We were there on a Wednesday in the beginning of October and there was nobody else there.  I would say you could find a camping spot pretty much anywhere on the Gunflint this time of the year without any problem at all.

On the way back to Grand Marais from the Gunflint Trail we stopped for lunch at My Sister’s Place.  We chose this particular restaurant because it was featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel which is one of my favorite shows and I wanted to have what he had when they filmed Bizarre Foods there.  The Goober Burger which is a hamburger with peanut butter and mayo on it.   I know it sounds like a very odd combination but I was bound and determined to try it and try it I did.  My review of it? It was AMAZING. I was so surprised by how good it was, if I could have eaten two of them I would have.  If you have the chance to stop at My Sister’s Place I would highly recommend trying the Goober Burger.

The final night we spent enjoying the campground, relaxing, and spending time enjoying the beautiful evening.  The wind was coming in strong from the west which was creating some pretty fantastic wave action on the west side beach next to the campground.  i grilled up some Steaks The Broke Dad Way and we watched the sunset into the lake while enjoying dinner.

Sunset on the west beach
Sunset on the west side beach off the Grand Marais Recreation area campground and marina.

The next morning we were up early and on the road south towards Duluth, MN and home.  We made a stop along the way at Gooseberry Falls State Park since it was another fall day we did not want to miss the opportunity to see the falls and the fall colors all at the same time.  We were very glad we decided to stop, it was breathtaking.  The falls were wonderful and the colors were even better.  We hiked along and around the lower and upper falls, there is a nice circle tour hiking path you can take that takes you along one side of the falls, across the river at the bottom of the falls, up the other side and across a bridge near the top of the falls. Was a very fun hike and the views were stunning.

Gooseberry falls on the North Shore of Lake Superior
Middle falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Overall I would say our trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior and around Northern Minnesota  was the perfect getaway.  It was a wonderful way to spend a long weekend away from the hustle and bustle of work and responsibilities. I am already looking forward to planning our next trip up that way to explore even further.

Thank you for following The Broke Dad Blog and reading the Escape Pod Log. Please feel free to leave comments as I would enjoy hearing from my readers.


 

Escape Pod Log 14 – Council Bluffs, IA

Our first full day of our honeymoon adventure. We made it to Council Bluffs, IA and spent the night camped out in the back lot of the Camping World here.  I think you can safely call it camping actually.  Unlike overnight parking at a Wal-Mart here you could safely put out your grill, slide outs if you have them, hang out and enjoy the evening if you really wanted to.  We were the only ones here and the security patrol which came around every hour was very nice and not very concerned about what we were doing just that we were safe while we were here.  That was actually a really nice addition.

Put together my new charcoal grill we got as a wedding gift from my brother`s family and grilled up a couple of really good steaks we found on sale at a Target on our way through St. Paul, MN. Topped that off with an excellent salad and some mashed potatoes my beautiful bride made us. All in all it was pretty much a perfect meal.

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Now it is 6:30am on the 2nd of June and we are packing up and getting ready to roll out on our way towards Denver. Weather looks like it is going to be wonderful all day today but might be seeing rain the rest of the week. We are discussing driving straight through Colorado and going right to Utah to avoid the rain but we will see what happens. We are not doing anything at all until I finish my first few cups of coffee though that is for sure. Why rush, I am on vacation.

Escape Pod Log 13 – Worst Blogger Ever – Adventure 2015

Alright so I am really bad at keeping up with my blog. I always have the greatest intentions of blogging or updating everyday, but then my trip starts and I get involved in 1000 different things and the next thing you know the trip is over and I am back to work doing my thing and the next adventure rolls  around and I open my blog up realize I never finished blogging the last trip I was on. So yeah. I am the worst blogger ever.

This year I am going to make an honest effort to keep up with things. I have a new keyboard for my tablet, I have been very focused on keeping up with my writing, I am much more organized this year then ever before, and it will be just me and my new wife on our honeymoon, no kids, no dog, nobody but the two of us so that leaves a little more time for the blog. Of course being on a honeymoon and all maybe there will not be much time for a blog but one never knows.

Last years adventure ended up being very fun but also ended up being about 75% driving. We have decided that in future trips we do not want to drive across Montana nor Wyoming as those two states are HUGE, and no offense to those who love those two states, they offer very little to do for the road tripper between main destinations such as Glacier NP and Yellowstone. Of course we only have one route to form our opinion from as it was the first time we had ever been there so maybe other routes across those states are better. One thing we did like about both states though was the camping selections, all very nice, all very affordable, and all very clean and wonderful.

This year we head off west once again. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and then back home.   Getting very excited to be on the road again. The Escape Pod is already loaded up and ready to go out in the drive.

Escape Pod Log 12 – Glacier National Park

We arrived at Glacier National Park to find it very rainy and very cold out. We came into site of Glacier heading west on Hwy 2 from Malta, MT and followed it down the east side of the park to a National Park campground by the name of Two Medicine Campground.

The campground was fairly busy but not full and we were able to secure a wooded site next to a river. We could not see the river from our camper due to all of the trees but we were able to hear it and walk to it on a short path. The boys were immediately out of their shoes and wading in the river before I even had time to start setting up the camper for the night. They lasted about 15 minutes in the frigid waters before they were back to the camper talking about how they could not feel their feet anymore.

Once the camper was set up and we walked to the registration station and paid for the camping we returned to the camper to start dinner. I have a camp stove much like the Coleman brand that I found at a yard sale for $2 that I have been using for several years now and it has worked like a dream. I set it up outside of the camper usually on a small fold up table that we bring with us and hook a small portable propane tank to it. I bring 3 or 4 of these small tanks with me and they last a surprisingly long time before they are empty.

I carry two cast iron pans with me, 2 regular size sauce pans, and 1 small sauce pan, plus a tea kettle and a percolator for when I need to make a large amount of coffee at once. Everything I have in the camper with the exception of 1 of the regular sized sauce pans I have picked up over time at yard sales. I love finding cast iron pans at yard sales that are rusty and people are selling them for a few bucks. I can have a rusty pan looking like new in about an hour or less, which I find rather gratifying.

Two of my cast iron pans I have rescued from a life of rust and disuse.
Two of my cast iron pans I have rescued from a life of rust and disuse.

Anyway back to Glacier…we decided to have noodles with spaghetti sauce that evening and had purchased  a pound of mild Italian sausage at a grocery store along our route.  I browned the sausage in my cast  iron then added a jar of spaghetti sauce, I prefer garden vegetable versions but am not picky about brand.  I let the sauce get warm and when the water in the sauce pan is boiling I add a package of noodles.  We use an gluten free version of elbow mac type noodles that we like, gluten free because my wife is allergic to wheat so almost all of the cooking I do when she is with is gluten free.  Once the noodles are done it is time to eat.

We ate our meal in the camper that evening because it was pouring rain, I forgot to mention that I had to cook dinner while holding an umbrella. I do not have an awning on my little camper, if I am camping in the same spot for several days in a row.  I do have a free standing canopy I can put up that sits right next to the camper and works like a charm but if I am only camping for the night I don’t usually take the time to set it up.  Once dinner was done and we had everything cleaned up we pretty much just went to bed as it was already fairly late and we wanted to get an early start the next day.
The next morning we awoke to more rain, the camper was damp due to not being able to have the windows open very much and the condensation building up which I have found to be fairly common with my camper especially when the temperature drops to 50 or less.  That morning the temperature was sitting at a balmy 38 degrees inside the camper so things were feeling very damp.  I managed to get myself out of my warm (and dry) sleeping bag, get dressed, and get everyone else moving.  We were on the road in less then an hour and on our way to the south entrance of the park.
Going to the Sun Road ended up being closed off at the 16 mile mark so we only got to see a very small portion of it due to there still being to much snow blocking the road, so we saw what we could in the cold and the rain and then had a family meeting and decided our time would be better spent on the road heading to better weather. So after some photo ops, a few small hikes, and a stop at the visitors center to get the boys sworn in as Junior Rangers and to get their badges we were on our way south.

Escape Pod Log 11 – Malta, MT

Woke up this morning and headed out of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and headed North to see Fort Union Trading Post just outside of Wilston, ND. Fort Union is part of the US Park Service and is staffed by US Park Rangers wearing outfits of the period, it was a very fun visit.

We had the entire fort virtually to ourselves and because of that had the chance to sit with the ‘Trader’ in the trading post for quite some time and he had some very interesting facts and stories to share. He even shared a cup of old fashioned coffee with me that he had brewing over the open fire/cooking pit inside the trading post, I enjoyed that immensely and it very much made my visit to the fort something I will always remember.

The boys enjoyed the fort and became Junior Traders and earned their badges while we were there by going around and completing an activity book with questions all about fur trading, the fort, and local history. They had a lot of fun learning all about the different aspects of the fort and life back in the 1800’s.
After leaving the Fort the rest of our day was pretty much spent driving towards Glacier National Park, we are now in Malta, MT spending the night in the city park which offers camping for $3.00 a night.

We were going to stay in a campground by the name of the Edgewater, but the lady at the desk recommended that we come to the park since we did not need electricity or water hook ups. I am glad she sent us here  because this park is very nice and very quiet except for the cows that were mooing like crazy right before dark but they have since calmed down, it must have been feeding time at the farm across the river.
Tomorrow morning we will get up and drive the rest of the way to Glacier National Park.

Escape Pod Log – Log 9 – Schnell Recreation Area, ND

I had logged earlier that we were going to be taking our summer trip to Maine this year, well things have changed and we are currently on the road. Today was the first day of our journey and we have decided to head West, we hope to visit several of our beautiful National Parks in the next three weeks starting with Theodore Roosevelt National Park which we should arrive at tomorrow. We will then head off to points west in hopes of seeing Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton, and then turning back towards home and spending a few days in the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands.

Today we left home and drove approximately 9 hours, going northwest from Duluth, MN and Superior, WI and heading towards Fargo, ND. We are currently camped out at the Schnell Recreation Area which is a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground about an hour east of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I was here before back in 2012 when I took a three week trip with my kids and we were here with only one other camper. I liked the solitude so much I decided I wanted to do it again and we arrived here about 6:30PM this evening and we are the only people here. We have very much enjoyed the freedom of having the entire recreation area to ourselves. The boys have been loving running around all over the hills, the woods, and around pond which is not far from our camp spot. Belle our Australian Shepard has been going crazy running as fast as she can from the boys, to me, to the camper, to my wife, and back to the boys again, she has loved the wide open spaces and the freedom to run as fast and as far as she wants. We are now all tucked away in our Escape Pod, the boys are watching a movie, my wife is next to me reading on her Nook, I am typing out this blog, and Belle is passed out on the floor next to me.lonelyfield.jpg

Tomorrow morning we will wake up, have a breakfast of hash and eggs, clean up, and head towards Theodore Roosevelt in hopes of finding a great camping spot to spend the weekend at.  The boys are excited to see the buffalo, my wife is excited to see the prairie dogs, and I am excited to see the beauty of the park.  Even after seeing the likes of the Grand Canyon now with my own eyes I have to say Theodore Roosevelt is still at the top of my list of must see National Parks.

Hash and eggs in the escape pod.
Cooking breakfast The Broke Dad Way, in a cast iron pan. Hash, eggs, and potatoes.

Escape Pod Log 10 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

Have been having a great time at Theodore Roosevelt National Park the last couple of days. Camping at the Cottonwood Campground right in the park, drove around the park several times, each time seeing new and amazing things. Saw bison, turkey, deer, wild horses, prairie dogs, and lots of different types of small birds. We spent time geocaching in Medora, did a little shopping in the little shops around town, and even had dinner at one of the local eateries.
Tomorrow we pack up and head out north and then west towards Glacier National Park.

Escape Pod Log – Log 8

This blogging thing has been a bit of a challenge for me.  I attempt to keep a dynamic and interesting blog but every time I have tried I seem to run into distractions and then I forget to come back and blog on a regular basis. One of the biggest reasons this happens is that I always want to blog my roadtrip and vacation experiences but when I am actually on vacation I get so busy I never sit and take time to write in my blog and then when the vacation is over I have a hard time going back and documenting after the trip is over.

So here I am again going to try and make another attempt at this blogging thing.  Spring is coming and it is almost time to start working on the Escape Pod in preparation for our big trip out east to visit Maine and all points in between here and there.  The kids are excited to see the ocean and I’m excited to buy some lobster off a fishing boat and eat it right on the beach. So yes I am getting a bit excited and I’m thinking about blogging again.  Just got a new Galaxy 3 tablet and I’m hoping that with this I will be much better at keeping up with my blog.

Escape Pod Log 7 – RT66 – Quincy, IL

2nd full day of our Route 66 adventure. Haven’t actually made it to Route 66 yet but we are making slow progress. Spent the night in Quincy, IL and are going to cross the border into Missouri this morning. Hannibal, Missouri the birth place of Mark Twain is our first stop and then we will move down the mighty Mississippi to St. Louis.

Escape Pod Log 6 – Medora, ND

We took a side trip to Medora, ND on our 2nd day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

We were just going to go do a couple of Geocaches and maybe walk around and look at a few of the shops in town.  We found 2 Geocaches right outside of town and then went into town and started walking around. Hit a few of the shops and browsed the goods when we came upon the historical societies museum which is housed in the old court house. I decided to step inside and inquire about the museum, come to find out kids were free and it was only $3 for me to look around. So I decided that it was worth $3 for a look around the place. While I was paying the lady behind the counter asked me if the kids had the Medora Activity book yet to get stamped.  I told her we didn’t and what did she mean?  Come to find out that this year downtown Medora has put together a fun little book for the kids and on the back if they visit at least 3 of the participating museums and/or centers in Medora and get stamps that they can then go to the local ice cream shop (choice of two places) and get free ice cream.  Once the boys heard this there was no stopping them from getting that ice cream. We spent the next 4 hours visiting several of the area museums and I have to say it was a lot of fun.

I am very glad we ran into that deal and each place we visited was well worth the stop.  Several of the places are free of charge even. The ice cream ended up being pretty wonderful.  I would recommend a visit to Medora for sure if anyone finds themselves going through the area or visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park.