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Thursday, May 23, 2024

MAY VACAY - Camping At Sandy Rec Area near McGregor MN

My last blog post was more of a review on the Corps of Engineers recreation area named Sandy Lake, in North Central Minnesota.

You can go to my last blog at this link for more information and particulars on the campground itself:

https://kareninthewoods-kareninthewoods.blogspot.com/2024/05/campground-review-big-sandy-lake-corp.html?m=0

Here we are set up on campsite number 36. Most of the sites are pretty level. This one had a little slope up and then it leveled out once you got up in the rear portion of the campsite. So we unhooked the trailer and left it near the road. We backed the motorhome in until it was level. (The trailer has both a hitch lock, a lever lock, plus a very loud and flashing light alarm if anybody tries to even move it!)



The edge of our site was overlooking a pond and marsh area rather than lakeside. The marsh was full of frogs and it was a delightful cacophony of sounds of birds singing and frogs chirupping and croaking day and night. The mosquitoes were not too bad at all, and we didn't even need to take out a Thermacell or put on spray.

It feels like home when we roll out the awning, unfold the mat, and set up the lawn chairs.



Steve took out the Blackstone griddle to start supper. He usually does the outdoor cooking and I do the prep work inside and gathering all of the utensils needed. He really enjoys using the griddle more than a grill. So much so, that we don't even carry a grill with us anymore. Just the flat top griddle. 



Done to perfection! He did up some tenderloin while I baked potatoes and chopped up some salad. Food always tastes so much better when it's cooked outdoors.



After dinner we sat back with a beverage or two of our choice. We found this plastic traveling wine glass with a sippy lid on top. Eliminates spills and keeps bugs from flying into my wine!



Relaxing under the awning is probably one of our favorite things to do. It's like an outside living room and we watch the birds, a few squirrels here and there, and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. We recently picked up this larger patio mat at Menards, a Midwest big box home improvement store. It is 10x12.



Imagine our dismay when we looked down on the second morning and saw that a hole had been chewed right through it by some little critter! There must have been an acorn or something underneath there and they were determined to get it?



Our other recent acquisition is our Starlink satellite dish. We keep our dish portable and do not mount it tight to the roof of the motorhome like some do. We can move it around the campsite into an open area, but still keep the motorhome parked in the shade. 

By not mounting it permanently, we can use it at home as well. 

Our Spectrum service at home was going up to $120 a month! The Starlink dish with the "roam"  feature that you can take it anywhere is only $150 a month! So we canceled the Spectrum at home, and for $30 more a month, we have portable internet that we can take anywhere as long as we have a somewhat clear view to the northern sky. We set it out on our little folding table and it works perfectly every time. Within 5 minutes it aligns itself to the satellites and we have a clear fast signal.



We use the Starlink signal for our cell phones for data as well as making VOIP calls. Inside of the motorhome it operates both of our Roku sticks on the TVs as well as my laptop and our Wi-Fi thermometer. Now we can tell what the temperature is inside of the motorhome if we are ever out and about. Great thing to have if you have pets... We also have a Wi-Fi outlet that we can plug a fan into and turn that on remotely from our phones if we are out and about.

These are some really good speeds!

 

We went to sleep with the frogs chirping in the marsh and slept in this peaceful quiet campground with only four or five other campers in the entire Northern Loop. Early in the morning I heard one person leaving to go fishing. But we rolled over and went right back to sleep. 

Once we did get up, Steve treated us to one of his wonderful breakfasts.


Here's a little hint we learned when cooking inside of the camper. You know how the dang smoke alarms go off all the time? Especially when you're doing bacon or toast?  Save a couple little disposable shower caps next time you are at a hotel, or pick up a pack for a dollar or two at any chain store or dollar store. 

Put the shower cap up around the smoke alarm while you are cooking! Just be sure to take it back down when you are done. I keep them in a little container in the drawer right with my kettles and fry pans. That way I remember to put them up and take them off.



The second evening it was getting a little clouded up and was going to start raining. But that's okay. We curled up inside to watch some HGTV and Magnolia shows. This one is "Farmhouse Fixer" featuring Jonathan Knight who used to be a member of New Kids on the Block. Now he does some interesting house and barn restorations on his own TV show. 

Steve fired up the popcorn popper, and we had a nice evening curled up inside while listening to the rain on the roof.



In the morning, it was still rainy drizzly and dreary outside. But that's okay. I set up my folding Lifetime table from Home Depot. 

(P S. I don't get anything for mentioning a brand name or where I got it. I only say it so people don't have to take the time to write and ask me "where did you get that cool table???")

It folds up to only 2 ft by 2 ft by a few inches thick. It has five different adjustable heights to the legs. I can set one side longer for the front portion by the cab seats and one set of legs shorter for the portion that reaches into the living area of the motorhome.



I put my little sewing machine on there and spread out my quilting supplies. I have a little mat and an iron to press my seams flat. Sipping coffee, listening to soft music, and sewing a pretty quilt is a great way to spend a rainy day.



This little antique Singer Featherweight is the perfect size to take along camping. It stows away in a little case in the back of the closet along with my sewing gear. I do like it so much I take it into the house and sew on it in my she shed when we are at home too.



While I am sewing, Binney is curled up in her little safe spot. She likes the area in front of the passenger seat under the dash. We put her little bed there and she is happy as ever. Like her own little doggie den.


Nicholas, on the other hand, has to be out and about and checking everything. Steve spends his time indoors looking at Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Always on the hunt for a bargain! Nicholas is on patrol at every window, transferring from the loveseat, to the bed in the back, to upfront on the driver's seat to peek out and see what's going on.


And THIS is what he saw! Two big black and white furry cats in the motorhome next door!!!


They were keeping a close eye on Nicholas too...


On the fourth day, the rain let up and we had beautiful sunshine. We had noticed that over in the shower/bathroom building in the southern loop of the campground, there was a free laundry area. Yes, free! It was one washing machine and one dryer. A little sign said please limit yourself to one load per campsite per day. 

I put my paneer bags on my bike. They clip onto the frame on each side. The tops on roll down and clip shut. They can be left quite tall to carry cargo. Yes, even dirty laundry!



I loaded them up on each side and added a packet of laundry soap and a couple dryer sheets. What a fun way to do laundry?



When I peddled over across the dam to the Southern Loop, I was happy to see that nobody else was using the laundry. It's an open air alcove with a laundry sink and a folding table. I unloaded my stuff and popped it in the machine. There was a timer on the front that said the load would be done in 25 minutes. So I set the alarm on my phone for the same amount of time. Now I would know exactly when it was done to switch it over to the dryer, and not delay anyone else who might be wanting to use the washing machine.



I peddled on back to our campsite. It was turning into an absolutely beautiful day. Blue sky and white puffy clouds!!


This really was a nice comfortable campground to stay at for 5 days. With our half price America the Beautiful Senior Access Pass, it was only $13 a night. With electric and free laundry? That's a pretty good deal. 

We always keep a close eye on the weather reports for the area we are in, as well as what is coming up in the areas we want to go to next. 

It looked like North Central Minnesota, and into Northern Wisconsin, it was going to be rain rain rain for 4 to 5 days in a row including some severe thunderstorms heading on through by Tuesday. We had hoped to stay out and about until Thursday and get home before the Memorial Day rush and crazy people in the campgrounds. 

The more we looked at the maps and the more we looked at the weather, we decided to leave Big Sandy Lake Minnesota and head on east towards Duluth Minnesota. 

My mother's side of the family all came from Duluth and many of them still live in the area. We stopped in to see my Great Aunt Nancy. Technically she is my "second cousin" ... But when I would play with her daughter Colleen who was my age, I always was told Colleen was my cousin. So in my mind, that made Nancy my Aunt. So I have always thought of her that way.

She and cousin Larry had us in for a nice lunch visit, and sharing of good memories, and catching up since our last visit. Here we are by the beautiful maple tree that she had planted 10 years ago after the passing of her darling husband Dan.  Hugs goodbye and promises to stop again next time.


We headed on down through Duluth, in the famous "Bluff" area that my family had lived in for many years. Soon we transferred onto the brand new modern highway, instead of going on the aerial bridge. All these crazy big bypasses way up high in the air get traffic in and out of the Duluth and to the North Shore quickly. We headed it on East, towards Wisconsin.  It was starting to cloud up.


In no time, we saw the familiar sign that we see at many entrances to Wisconsin from any direction at the borders. I have photos of us as children standing in front of this sign when we are like seven or eight or nine years old.


We kept a close eye on the weather. We have been planning to stop maybe somewhere along Saxon Harbor or even looping up into the Kewenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But the weather was looking worse and worse. There was a ridge of storm clouds following along just to the north of us heading in the same direction..


So we decided to keep scooting along and drive the entire distance back home to the east side of Wisconsin. We normally try to only drive 200 miles in a day. But with the oncoming storms we decided to bite the bullet and drive the entire 350 or so miles home.

We made it home by about 8:00 p.m. pulled in the driveway just as some raindrops started splattering on the windshield. 

Safe! 

861 miles total trip


In retrospect, we are glad we came home early. Horrible storms and tornadoes and straight line winds went through Wisconsin and the entire Midwest. We were home safe and sound and our motorhome tucked in alongside the garage.


Today the sun is out and Steve is taking care of the "bug removal" of the collection that stuck to us while we were out and about. 

Before and After

 



Ready for our next adventure!


Sunday, May 19, 2024

CAMPGROUND REVIEW - Big Sandy Lake Corp of Engineers Campground near McGregor MN

Tuesday, May 14th, we left Highland Ridge Corp of Engineer Park at 10:00 a.m. We headed West and crossed into Minnesota at St Croix Falls around 11:15 a.m. 

We worked our way around on back roads to avoid going through Minneapolis or St Paul. Big City driving isn't for us.

We headed on further west into North Central Minnesota. We had our eye on hitting a couple Corp of Engineer campgrounds.

We read the reviews for this one called Sandy Lake Recreational Area, located on Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, Minnesota. 

The campground is up on the north end of the lake where there's a dam. This helps control the flow of the water out of the lake. This whole system in this area is comprised of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. So the Corps of Engineers carefully controls the water flow throughout the entire region.


The campground itself is divided into two loops with two separate entrances. The two loops of the campground are connected by a walkway over the dam, but you cannot drive a vehicle over it. We took the first entrance, and checked out the campsites on the southern end of the campground. They are sites number 1 through 14 and are located on a little jutted out peninsula into the lake. There was a sign that said DEAD END .... But there was not any type of sign that said no turnaround or ability to get out once you pull onto this little road!!! We drove past about 7 campsites on each side, and we were faced with a fence. That was it. No cul-de-sac, no loop to turn around in, just a fence with parking for the tent sites beyond it. Oh my!

We were lucky we were in a small rig, even though we were pulling the cargo trailer. Instead of a three-point turn, Steve had to do about a seven or eight-point turn to get us out of there! So please be warned, don't go down that first road into sites 1 through 14 unless you absolutely know that is where you are camping!!! 

The sites are very short and not made for big rigs. But what is nice is that each one has it's own little fishing dock to walk directly out of your campsite right to your boat and go fishing. I'm sure they are very very popular sites. We just didn't expect the end of the road and no spot to turn around!


So we exited that area and drove on up to the other entrance for the Northern Loop. Ahhhhh this was more like it. The sites were nicely spaced apart, very deep, and pretty much level on every single one. It was lightly forested with trees that gave shade, but not heavily forested that you didn't get any sunshine. It was exactly what we were looking for...

The campsites are $26 a night, that includes electricity. There are dump stations on both loops of the campground. And there is a water filling station on the northern loop. We did notice a heavy chlorine smell to the water. Be forewarned. 

With our Senior Access America the Beautiful pass, we got the campsite for $13 a night. We decided that it was so nice we were going to stay for five nights which would carry us through the weekend. 

You have three choices on how you would like to pay for a campsite:

Number 1: you can check online to see if the site you like is available and that it is not reserved, and make the reservation online yourself. Using your credit card, there are no reservation fees when you do it online. 

Number 2: you can call the 1-800 phone number that is located on each post and do the payment over the phone to the staff at the Corps of Engineers office, and use a credit card over the phone to pay for your campsite. 

Number 3: there's a payment kiosk located in a hidden out of the way corner around behind a picnic shelter near the maintenance building. That kiosk can be used to pay for campsites on the spot, to buy daily access stickers, or to buy permits for using the boat launch. I believe it only takes credit cards, and not cash. You will see it in my video posted below. It's just in a very out of the way difficult spot to find unless you know what you're looking for!

The campground is very clean and the camp host is buzzing around all the time making sure absolutely everything is picked up or cleaned up. There were only three or four other campers in the entire northern loop during the week so it was very, very quiet.

Another thing we noticed, in various parts of the campground were tall racks with rakes and shovels on them. They were to use on your campsite and please bring them back and return them to the hanging rack. We have never seen that before in any other campground. Public rakes!

What we liked most is there were no noisy roads nearby and no big city noises. It was quiet and relaxing with the sounds of birds, frogs in the swamp, and yes, there were some mosquitoes. Not too bad yet though for this time of year in May. 

Here's a link to the website to get more information about the park:

Big Sandy Lake REC Area

On one of our 5 days, I did a little practice run using my faux GoPro camera on the handlebars of my bike. I started a separate YouTube channel that will just have my camping videos on. That way people don't have to sort through my videos of family and quilting and knitting and weaving and dogs etc. 

My new You Tube channel is called "What-A-View"  and that is also of course the same name as my blog, because of owning the Winnebago View.  So here's my little short test video. If you watch it and like it, please subscribe. 


I'm not monetized or anything to earn money. I'm just keeping it as a separate channel for camping videos. I loaded up about five or six other ones on the same channel that you might also find of interest?

Here are some more photos I took around the park if you don't care to watch the video. There are two very nice boat landings to launch boats into the southern portion that reaches into the lake. There is also another short steep boat landing to get into the northern part of the river access beyond the dam.



There are some nice large parking lots that are adequate for putting boats and trailers, as well as parking for some of the picnic areas in the park. There's also a very nice swimming beach with more parking and additional campsites over in that area too.



The playground equipment is located over in the middle of the campground, closer to the dam. But they have large fences up to keep the children away from the rushing water. 



In the pic below, the churning dam water is on the left, and the right channel is the lock. I don't believe the locks are operational right now for boats, because the water levels are high enough to just float on through. Otherwise, during times of low water, I am sure that the locks are used by the boats to get from one section to another.



There's a cute little visitor center that is open during the days that is a self-guided tour inside.



We found it extremely interesting to learn all about the locks and the history in the area.


Multi-paneled informational boards are situated inside of the visitor center.



There are also pamphlets and brochures underneath about other things to do in the area as well as the other Corps of Engineers parks in the same region.



The display of the lock wheel and motors was interesting to learn about, along with the levers that operated the lock doors.



Beautiful paddle wheel boats went up and down this section of the river and toured around the lakes in the old days.



Some sad parts of history had to do with the indigenous tribes that frequented the area. Sadly, when white man came they were displaced and moved onto reservations.



Some of the stories were extremely sad, there were tragedies involved with how many people who were mistreated during the transition.



A lot of historical artifacts in the area were found from these tribes. They were moved on further to the west and I believe eventually into North Dakota.



It was nice to see the displays of things that were everyday tools for them. We take so much for granted that we can just go to a store and buy something. They had to make everything they ever used.





This was a large motor that was used for operating the gates on the dam at in earlier years. Now it's all been replaced with newer machinery and technology.



Touring around the campground, down one of the peninsulas with tenting sites is this bird shelter overlooking the marsh. I don't think it's used for hunting, I think it's used for photography of the migratory birds.


The south side of the campground has a really nice shower building and flush toilets. Believe it or not, there's also a washer and dryer available in an alcove on the shower building. And it is FREE!!! They do ask that you limit yourself to one load per campsite per day. That way there's time for anybody else to access the machines and don't have to wait for multiple loads from one person. It's only one washer, and one dryer. But they are FREE!



On the other side of the dam, on the north side of the campground there are only pit toilets. They are very clean and neat, And they even have fans on the roof to help eliminate any unpleasant oders.



Here's another view of the boat ramp closest to the northern campground. There are also volleyball courts, badminton courts, horseshoes and buckboard (beanbag toss). Equipment is available at the office to play on these recreational areas.


Here we are nestled in our chosen site, number 36. I will write more on my next blog of our actual camping within the park. This was just basically an overview of the campground itself in case you were interested in coming here.


191 miles traveled today 

463 miles traveled so far