My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Campers!

I am pleased to report that as both a learning experience and a fun outing, our inaugural camping adventure on Thursday with Girasole, our new little T@B trailer, was a success (though not without a bit of unanticipated excitement!) Naturally I had to record it for posterity. :-)

Here's BW putting the finishing touches on setting up our campsite under the watchful - if somewhat baffled - gaze of the girls...

And here BW conducts a final inspection of our portable dog kennel set-up, which met with everyone's enthusiastic approval...

We bought two of these for the kennel, used a few of the interlocking foam mats we'd purchased to go under their beds, and used an old tarp for a shady shelter. And we hauled all of it (plus more of the mats and our folding camp chairs) on top of the Jeep in our new soft cargo bag. BW's package-car loading days at UPS (memorialized on his water bottle, lol) sure came in handy...

The kennel was very handy for keeping the girls both safe and legal (the park has a leash law) while we were busy and overnight, though they were so very well-behaved (as we knew they would be) that they were quite content to just hang out with us, never wandering off or making a sound, even when other people walked by with their dogs. We camped along the Tongue River (I think; I'll explain later!) at Connor Battlefield State Park in Ranchester, about 20 miles north of Sheridan. It's a small campground, and when we arrived at around 2 that afternoon there were only two other campers there. A few more arrived during the night, but it stayed very quiet. Except for the trains! We didn't realize the tracks were just three blocks away, and trains went by all night long, blowing their whistles with gusto. The only thing that drowned them out was the thunder - I know, look at that cloudless blue sky, right? More on the unpredicted midnight storm coming up. Meanwhile, enjoy our peaceful campsite by day, like we did...

We also all enjoyed our walks around the park. Let me take you on a little tour…

This place wasn't always peaceful. This monument marks the site where an Arapaho village of about 500 inhabitants once stood...

At around 8 in the morning of August 29, 1865, in what is now known as the Battle of the Tongue River (or Connor Battle), the non-belligerent village was attacked by Gen. Patrick Connor, commander of the Powder River Expedition, and about 300 of his soldiers. Most of the young Arapaho men were gone, raiding ponies from the Crow along the Big Horn River. The women, children, and mostly elderly men who were left in the village were caught completely off guard by the attack and the indiscriminate firing by the soldiers, and many were killed, wounded, and captured. After the initial attack, the few able warriors in the village managed to put up an effective defense, retreating 12 miles up Wolf Creek while covering the escape of the surviving women and children. Most of the soldiers remained in the village, looting and burning about 250 lodges, while Connor and 30 or so of his soldiers and Pawnee scouts pursued the retreating Arapaho, who counter-attacked. When all was said and done, Connor claimed to have killed 63 Arapaho, including 35 warriors (the latter number one that historians believe was probably exaggerated), with a loss to himself of five dead and two seriously wounded.

The highly observant among you may have noticed that we happened to be camping there on the 149th anniversary of this tragedy, and its victims were very much on my mind. I agree with what this brief article about "The Connor Battle," states in its final sentence: "The tragic events of the past can be felt in this quiet and contemplative setting." And I take issue with calling an unprovoked attack on non-combatants a "battle." It's worth noting that as the Powder River Expedition began, Connor's orders to his officers were, "You will not receive overtures of peace or submission from Indians, but will attack and kill every male Indian over 12 years of age." (Connor's superiors countermanded this order). It's also worth noting that after this, the Arapaho did become enemies of the US Army (understandably!), attacking a wagon train three days later on Sept 1 and joining forces with the Cheyenne and Lakota (Sioux) in their successful attack on Fort Fetterman the following December.

I think the Arapaho may be continuing to exact a small measure of revenge, in that both times we've visited this park we've been attacked by a cloud of mosquitos whenever we stood before this monument. Didn't matter what time of day it was, and we didn't experience it anywhere else in the park!

All that history of violence and tragedy here stands in stark contrast to the playground that now also marks the spot. It was deserted the entire time we were there and so never disrupted the "quiet and contemplative setting"...

The bison appeared to be made for climbing with all its toeholds and handholds,
while the stagecoach was a unique alternative to typical playground equipment.

On the opposite side of the park is this nifty suspension footbridge that crosses the river (or creek?) to a residential area. The dogs were very brave about crossing it a few times, given that it sways and bounces noticeably!  

Despite the bouncing, the bridge provided a great vantage point for taking the next two photos. I have tried to do my homework on this, I really have - but I still don't know if this waterway, which wends its way around three sides of the park, is the Tongue River or Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek is a tributary of the Tongue River and the road that runs along this portion of the river/creek is "Wolf Creek Road." The river/creek is identified on various maps of the town and park as the Tongue River, Wolf Creek, and Five-Mile Creek (where'd that one come from?!) I'm guessing the portion beside our campsite where the water flows more rapidly is the Tongue River, and this more sedate portion opposite is Wolf Creek, but that's the best I can do. It's pretty, whatever it's called, especially with the evening sun shining on it and the Big Horn Mountains in the distance...

The arrow is pointing to our campsite and "outfit," as they call a truck or a tow vehicle + trailer-of-any-kind combination in these parts...

While we relaxed at our campsite that evening, I noticed a white church steeple, nicely illuminated by the evening sun in the distance on the other side of the river, and took this photo of it with my telephoto lens...

Not long after, when we took the girls for another stroll across the suspension bridge to explore the surrounding neighborhoods, we came upon the church, which turned out to have a Mini-Me! lol...

As dusk fell, we went inside and prepared our first meal in Girasole - a complex affair that we slaved over for hours! ;-)~ We've enjoyed various Dr. McDougall soups at home for years and are happy that they, along with his delicious oatmeal, are also perfect for camping (just add hot water)! BW had snagged the chocolate goodies at the health food store the day before, but the beer was a spontaneous purchase. We've been told by several veteran RV campers that some people engage in this activity in order to socialize (so our main goal being to get away from people might prove tricky!), and we'd also heard that the colorful T@Bs are people magnets. Sure enough, we'd barely arrived and were setting up the dog kennel when a man from one of the two other campers in the park strolled over to visit and ask about our T@B, Scotch on the rocks in hand. He was joined later by his wife, who we'd hoped was coming to fetch his talkative ass but no such luck, she was there to join him (with a stinky lit cigarette in her hand, yuck). They were nice people, but a half hour of their uninvited, chatty company right after we'd arrived was a bit much! Anyway, a while after they left I said to BW, "I don't even like Scotch, but damn his drink looked good to me!" And BW said, "I thought so too!" And then together we said, "Let's get beer!!!" :-) Our site had no shade, Mr. and Mrs. Chatty Britches and the other camper having snagged the only two shady spots, and running our A/C really sucked the generator juice, so needing to get more fuel gave BW a great excuse to pick up some Fat Tire ale while he was at it. We enjoyed our simple meal on our new table (having ditched the heavy convertible table/bed platform that came with Girasole, installing bed rails and slats instead along with getting this lightweight folding table), by the light of our sweet new little 3-way LED lantern...

While we were noshing, BW remembered Girasole's stereo and jumped up to turn it on. It happened to be tuned to Sheridan's oldies station and he'd turned it on just as the chorus to Still the One was beginning! "We're still having fun after all these years…" :-) So of course we clinked our beer bottles and sang along! (And you can too, as I've put the video with lyrics at the bottom of this post!) :-)

It's all fun and games till a wicked thunderstorm that no one predicted appears overhead at 1am (a ghostly, meteorological anniversary reenactment of Connor's attack on the Arapaho, perhaps?) BW got up when he heard one of the dogs pawing at the fence (most likely Tess, who is terrified of thunderstorms), and that's when he saw all the lightning in our vicinity. A loud crack of thunder woke ME up, and the race was on. Willow and Josie can't safely or easily jump in or out of our Jeep anymore, so we bought this PetLoader a few weeks ago - best purchase we've made. But we had to get it untethered from the back of the Jeep and deploy it, put a harness on Willow (she still has bouts of vertigo and holding the top of the harness helps steady her as she uses the PetLoader steps), put collars and leashes on Tess and Josie, gather and shake off their beds and put them in the Jeep, and then load the girls - in the dark and the wind (luckily the rain held off), with lightning striking all around us and thunder crashing and banging overhead. Though our girls haven't used the PetLoader very often - and never under such challenging circumstances - they were real champs! Loaded right up and spent the rest of the night sleeping contentedly in the back of the Jeep. We rolled the windows down so they could catch the nice breeze, and although it rained most of the rest of the night we were all lucky that the inside of the Jeep stayed dry. I checked on them at 4 in the morning and wish I had a photo of our little angels snoring peacefully away, all lying with their butts touching in the middle of the Jeep with their bodies fanned out like flower petals. :-)

The next morning we had a muddy mess to contend with, but that's all part of the camping experience. It was chilly and overcast but the rain didn't resume, and as you can see in the reflection of Girasole's front window we even had a few tatters of blue sky flirt with us before it finally cleared up late that morning. I took photos of the pretty, chameleon-like sky and will share them as part of this week's SkyWatch post. Meanwhile, here is BW sipping his hot tea and being entertained by Willow's vain attempts to convince Tess it would be fun to mud-wrestle...

I'm pretty sure that packing up, getting there, unpacking and setting up camp, then tearing it down, repacking, driving home and cleaning everything up took longer than our actual camping did! :-) But it was a great experience and we are really looking forward to our next one, a much longer trek to northern Montana, a little later this month. We'll see if Girasole is "Still the One" and if "we're still having fun" after that adventure! :-)


  1. Love that your first experience was (mostly) so positive.
    And wholeheartedly agree with you about that 'battle'. Massacre sounds closer to the mark.

    1. We were pleasantly surprised (except about the storm, though we certainly remained surprised!) :-)
      I'd say you're right about "massacre" being closer to the mark. I think calling it a "battle" is as obscene as calling hunting a "sport." I dislike it when language is dishonest, misleading, and manipulative like that.

  2. It's great to see the pictures of your little trek to Ranchester. Camping is always an adventure, but that's what makes it fun and memorable. Set up & tear down will get faster as you get more experience.

    1. We're counting on our set-up/tear-down skills to improve with practice, and hope they don't get too rusty over the winter! (We seem to keep adding more gear, too, which adds to the challenge of getting it all to fit!) :-)

  3. I've been looking forward to this post! The girls are so adorable and I'm really impressed with how well they did. I'm also impressed that they stay in their kennel! Emma would pretty much just bounce right out of that like Tigger. :)

    We hear a train by our house quite often, but it's far enough away that it doesn't disturb us. Having one so close is quite nerve wracking! The campsite looks really tranquil and I love that it's on a river. Very nice! Also great that there weren't many other campers there. That can make such a huge difference. You two are lucky that you can go during the weekdays when the kids are in school and things are quieter.

    What a sad story of that attack. I'm glad they put a memorial up for it but find it very odd that they also put the playground there. I've got to admit that the bison is pretty cool, though!

    Kudos to the girls for crossing that bridge so bravely! Emma would plow ahead on it but Rowan would have to get a lot of encouragement. I love the view from the bridge, with the mountains in the background. So pretty!

    I would have wanted a drink after the chatty pants couple and I never drink! lol Although people like that are usually nice, I think it's pretty rude to just mosey on over and take up a large chunk of your time like that. Very imposing! I hope they at least didn't ask to see inside the T@B.

    How sweet that Still The One was on when BW turned on the radio as you were eating. It sounds like such a perfect, happy memory. <3 The pups sleeping in the Jeep all snuggly & snoring is another great picture perfect memory. Adorable! What a fiasco to get them all in there but it sounds like they really came through it all so well. You've got to be one proud mama!

    I'm so happy for you both that you enjoyed things. I know how stressful it can be at times but it sounds like your first time went amazingly well! I'm looking forward to your next outing!

    1. And I was looking forward to your comment, knowing it would be a fun one full of details! :-) Had to laugh at the image of Emma bouncing out of the kennel like Tigger. :-) We bought the 42" tall ones, and that was probably overkill for our contented little couch 'taters. Even in their youth, I doubt any of them would have tried to jump over one a fraction of that height. Tess, however, might have bulldozed it down with her chunky bod. :-)

      We can hear the trains from our house too, but being 3 miles away is a lot different than being three blocks away! Good grief they were loud. Made me think of the scene in "My Cousin Vinnie!" :-) I thought Tess would freak about the bridge, but she just loves her walks so much I guess it didn't matter to her. Not surprised that Rowan would need a lot of encouragement.

      Oh, he hinted a lot about wanting to see the inside of the T@B, so I finally let him stick his head in. That's about all that's required for a tour of it! LOL People are always impressed at how much Little Guys managed to fit into such a tiny trailer.

      I wish I could have gotten a photo of the girls sleeping in the back of the Jeep, but I was surprised when they slept through my walking by and then shining my little flashlight on them! No way would my luck have held long enough to get the camera and get a photo. :-)

      Our next outing will be very different, but I hope it goes as well too! We're really looking forward to getting to seriously get down to this camping business next summer. Thanks for all your help and advice, Molly!

  4. Oh I used to camp frequently. Used those big old 4 cot tents. Loved every moment! Always had a dog or two along with the family. Now I sleep in my truck on long trips -- that is where I feel the safest. Like that metal feel surrounding me. I love the scene you paint of your dogs going up the petLoader and then curling up to sleep with you two while the storm swirls around everyone. Looking forward to your Montana trip -- hope the dogs will be along for that one too. --- barbara

    1. We had one of those big 4-cot tents when I was a kid, we did quite a lot of camping back then. Our first summer after moving to WY, BW worked as a wilderness guard for the USFS, and in one area that he patrolled he got to stay in a wonderful canvas tent with a wood stove, right beside a beautiful lake! I hiked up there and surprised him one evening by showing up with our dog Skeeter and dinner! And until now, that was the last time we camped out overnight together, so we're tickled to have the camper. Though we got it more for being able to travel places with the dogs than to go camping - the dogs will definitely be going with us on every overnight trip now, for as long as they are able! :-)

  5. oh how fun!!! the dogs look like they are enjoying the camping experience!! love that playground...wonderful photos!

    1. Thanks, Tanya! It was fun, and once they kind of figured out what it was all about, the girls had a great time! :-)

  6. ohh! I love the trailer set up, very cool. Looks like everyone had fun :) (i'm a big fan of those McDougall's dehydrated soups, too!)

    1. Thank you, Johnny! We did, and now we're off on a longer adventure, 6 nights and 300+ miles. (I know that for you it would be an easy outing spent in luxury! I'm way behind on my visits to your blog, but have sneaked a peek or two recently and am in awe of the places you go, the arduous means of getting there, and the length of your stays. You are amazing!!)

      So which McDougall soup is your favorite? I love the Split Pea, BW loves Black Bean. :-)

  7. Wow, what an adventure! Love the area where you camped. Never knew of the Conner slaughter.....ugh! Anyhoo, I think you've found your niche as family campers ;-). Oh, Fat Tire is very good, si? xoxo

    1. It was nice, and a perfect place for our inaugural camping adventure! We'll see how this next one goes - 15 times further away and 6 times longer! And colder. Yes, Fat Tire is excellent, and I really like the company, too!

  8. This post was a lot of fun to read and the last one I’ll be able to read for while since I’ll be off to Detroit tomorrow and then to Germany. So it was really nice to be able to take my time reading it and enjoying ALL the details.
    It does sound like a lot of work but I’m thinking that since you’ll likely stay in one place more than one night in the future and also be faster at it as you do it more, the set-up&tear down to camping ratio will improve!
    It was such a tiny detail but I don’t want to forget to say that I thought the Mini-me church was adorable! I wonder what it was for.
    Your outfit is pretty snazzy looking and even though I’d seen a photo, it was more exciting to see it in situ! It sounds like you made some helpful changes with the bed and table and I bet you’ll think of more. It’s also nice that you have the bag for on the jeep with all the things you need to bring for the girls, it is equipment for five that you have on board!
    The Connor battlefield story was really interesting and I appreciated that you added so much detail to that story. It’s so sad but it’s also good that we remember lest we gloss over this history some day!!
    I wholeheartedly approve of beer and chocolate for dinner! I’m sure it was not pleasant to have it postponed by Mr and Mrs Chatty britches! You’ll have to post a sign that says “Visitor’s Welcome – to wave, smile and pass on by!”!! LOL
    I hope the trip to Havre goes splendidly. I’m also hoping your mom is doing well and continues to settle into her new home. Happy trails!!

    1. I'm glad you had time to read this one, since I never had a chance to tell you about it (well, till our phone call the other day!) :-)

      Staying on one spot for a while sure makes a difference. This experience we had camping on the way to and in Havre made us realize that, and while it's very nice to be able to hook up to water and power, we'd love to be able to boondock somewhere for about 3 nights or so, and have it at least mostly to ourselves. Staying put makes the time and effort of unpacking and setting up the tent and kennels feel worth it, and you get into a much easier rhythm, especially of storing and finding things! And you're right, we are hauling and setting up for five (the stuff for the girls is at least half of it, they just don't have as much clothing! LOL!)
      I agree with your comment about the history of the Connor "battle" and I love your idea of the sign! Maybe we could also get one of those "Go Away" door mats. ;-)

      As you already know, Mom is doing much better in her beautiful new home, and I hope that continues. I'd love to think she's completely settled long before winter weather arrives, because I know that's when she'll especially be in a far better, safer place there!
      Prost, enjoy a beer for us! :-)

  9. You´re so lucky having those beautiful places to camp. The pics are wonderful. Your furry babies are lovely and so well behaved <3.
    The camper is so cute and let me tell you that no other name than Girasole would have been so perfect for "her".
    No doubt that you, BW and the girls will enjoy many camper adventures from now on.
    By the way, is BW completely recovered from his operation?

    1. Hi, Sandra! Thank you for your compliment on our furry babies, we think they're lovely and very well behaved too (we're always getting compliments from people about how good they are!) :-)
      I'm tickled that you agree that "Girasole" is a perfect name for our camper! We took "her" on a 6-day trip up to Montana last month, and I fully intend to share that adventure in a blog post (or two) when I have time. I keep waiting for a cozy day, too, but they've all been so beautiful lately that I've been spending them outside, on long walks and bike rides! Winter will come soon enough…
      BW's shoulder is still sore, some days more than others, but feels much better then it did before the surgery. He's been told to expect it to take a year before it's pain-free. Thank you for asking about him! xoxo


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  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

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