USA by Van

I will travel the USA for the next 2 / 3 years and will use this blog to share my campervan conversion and also my planning and adventures.



Helena MT – Part 2

I had a great 6 weeks in Montana and Helena specifically.  I met many great people and had a fantastic time.  If I was offered the possibility of “do overs”, I would pass on the option as everything was awesome.  If I was offered the possibility of an “add on”, I would have added more fishing.

Some Montana wrap up pictures:

The sky the night before the earthquake.  Foretelling?


Montana single track – Trout Creek



Van Life – Pretty tough



One Wild Van Camper:



And finally, yes, “van down by the river”:





Skull Tree – Bob Marshall Wilderness

I mentioned in a previous post (Bob Marshall Wilderness) that I would post pictures of skull tree, which I came across during a hike.  Research notes that a local artist finds the skulls, paints animal pictures on them and then attaches them to the tree. Not something one would expect to see on a wilderness hike.

Trail to Tree:




Pics of Paintings:



Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area – Hidden Gem


Kristy recommended I visit this area based on input from some of her friends.  What a hidden gem.  I spent three days and two nights in the area.  The more time you spend here the more the natural beauty “pops” out.  I will be back.

The area straddles the Montana and Wyoming Border.  There are no roads that drive through the area from north to south.  You can access either one end or the other by car.  By water, you can see the whole canyon from start to finish.

I stayed at the southern end of the recreation area.  It has two campgrounds, a marina, and a canyon overlook.  There are two locations to put in watercraft, one at the marina and one at a more remote location called Barry’s Landing.

One campground is close to the marina and the other is near Barry’s landing.  I stayed at the campground near the marina.  The marina area has a little store / restaurant and a beach area for swimming.  The marina store rents out kayaks, paddle boats, etc.  The beach area has a life guard on duty.

To see the canyon from the rim, there is one drive up overlook area.  You can also get to the rim from various hiking trails.  I recommend using the hiking trails.  The roads are great for road cycling.  Minimal traffic with some good climbs.

At the marina, there is a boat tour through the canyon.  It is a 2 hour tour and takes you into the heart of the canyon and back.  Well worth the price.  The captain will take his time looking for wildlife along the way and if he finds any he will idle the area for awhile.

I watched a sunset one night from the start of the color to the end of color.  It took around 2 and a half hours.  Pretty cool.

Some pics:





Bob Marshal Music Fest – Fun in the Sun

I attended the second annual Bob Marshall Music Fest in Seeley Lake, Montana.  The location is beautiful as it sits between the Mission Mountains and the Swan Mountains.  The village of Seeley Lake is small but offers everything one needs.  I will return to explore this area.

The festival is smaller than the Butte folk festival but still offered some great music.  They offer camping right at the Festival grounds.  Luckily,one stage was under a big circus type tent, as the sun was out full force.

Deer Tick was the headliner on Saturday night.  I also enjoyed the Birds of Chicago, Cold Hard Cash, Ballroom Thieves and the Dead Winter Carpenters.

The feel of the Fest is very laid back.  I had a great time conversing with some locals, especially Fred / Becky and Rachelle (a free spirit).  They gave me great tips about the area for my next visit.

Bob (who I met at the Butte Music Fest) showed up on the second day.  Kristy and Evan joined the group on the last day.  We all had a great bit of fun together.

Some pics from the Festival are:IMG_1295

A 3 band Fest:


Evan and I:


Bob and I:IMG_1322

Sunday Morning wake up:


Love the sunsets in Montana:


Band pics: Cold Hard Cash, Birds of Chicago and Deer Tick



Glacier National Park – Outstanding

Four days and 3 nights in Glacier.  Will be back for a longer stay.  Love this place.  A few more people than my last visit in the mid-8o’s.

The trip from Helena takes you through the Mission Valley.  The Mission Mts guide the way.

Pic of Mission Mts:



Stayed at Hungry Horse Reservoir the first night as reservations were full in Glacier. The next day a picked up a first come first serve campsite at Apgar campground in Glacier.  If you are in the park by 8 in the morning you will snag a campsite somewhere.   A ranger told me that Apgar is the biggest so you  have the best chance there.

The view from myth campsite at Hungry Horse and a fantastic sunset.  Gravel road to campsite of 20 miles but remote and quite.  Good place for a kayak or paddle board:


The first day in Glacier I drove the Going to the Sun Road.  Really busy, with no place to park at he Logan Pass Visitor Center.  Free shuttles are available (stop at a visitor center for info).  I will use the shuttles next time.  They make stops at the trails and other areas of interes.

Pics from the road:







Did a few day hikes.  Liked the Avalance Lake trail.  About 5 miles round trip, trail its in good shape, and not much elevation change.  The trail follows the stream to the lake which is in a cirque and waterfalls feeding into the lake.



Rode my mountain bike on a number of the bike trails around Lake McDonald.  After I was finished, I stopped at the viewing / beach area in Apgar Village.  A lady I talked with worked in the park for a few years and comes back every year since.  She told me that two off duty Rangers were attaked by a grizz on the trail which I just rode.  One did not make it.  I did not think about bear spray for the bike ride.   I will next time.

Skipping stones – ageless




Butte Music Festival

Attended the annual Butte Montana Folk Festival.  It is three days of music with performers on multiple stages.  Over the three days, you can pretty much see all of the acts as they perform multiple times each day.

The festival is free (encourage donations) and so is the camping at a number of city parks.

I arrived early on Friday to assure a camping spot.  When I arrived, I quickly became acquainted with the owner (Bob) of the spot next to mine.  I helped put up his shade tent and we had a few brews.  Really interesting gentleman.  He spends part of the year in the continental states and part of the year in the US Virgin Islands.  He was a news reporter, published 3 books, and still writes a weekly column for a Florida paper.

Bob had two friends (Steve and Michelle) who joined us later at the camp site.  He is an artist and she is a pharmacist.   They live in Colorado and are on a couple week mountain biking adventure and possibly some rafting.  Michelle was once a river guide and it still runs through her.

We made a great foursome during the whole weekend.  They were each well traveled , so we had great conversations.  Bob provided a number of tips for van travel.  Steve and and Michelle highlighted a number of great mountain bike trails from their recent travels.

Michelle recommended that I get an inflatable kayak for my travels ( a great idea).  She also recommended a trip through the Baja peninsula.   Hmm.

Picture of my van and Bob’s van at City Park:


A pic of Steve’s van – The Tiger


The standout at the festival was Doreen Ketchens from New Orleans.  She is a clarenet player and singer.  Her music just grabbed me.

The main stage was called the original, named after the original mine in Butte.  It operated for close to 100 years.  It was a terrific venue as the evening wore the red neon lights on the mining structure became brighter, the statue of the Virgin Mary light up on the mountain behind, and on Saturday night a full moon.

Pic of the “Original”:





Earthquake in Helena

Early on the morning of July 6th, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rolled through Helena. The epicenter was around 20 miles northwest.

It was the first quake that I have ever felt.  I was in a dream state when the quake hit and at first I incorporated the shaking and noise into my dreams.  However, it lasted long enough that I woke up and wondered what was going on.

After the big (initial shock), I went to my phone to see what just happened.  Just at that time a 4.8 aftershock hit.  The phone soon lite up with information.  By 8:00 a.m.  that morning, the earthquake tracking site showed close to 15 aftershocks from the same epicenter.

While it proved interesting, I do not want to be anywhere near another earthquake.



Bob Marshall Wilderness Area – “The BOB”

I spent 3 days at the east end of the Bob Marshall Wilderness area.  The locals call it the BOB.  The nearest town is Augusta, MT.

This section of the BOB is called the FRONT, sort of like the Front Range in Colorado.  The FRONT provides quick access to hikers and horse people for backcountry / wilderness travel.

The Sun River is dammed in this location creating the Gibson Reservoir.  The road from Augusta is 20 miles of gravel and then once on Forest Service land it is paved again.

Gibson Reservoir:

The entry way into the area is flanked by The Sawtooth Mountains on one side and Capital Reef on the other.  The Sun River cuts a path between the two.

Beautiful area!  There are two forest service campgrounds. The one further in and higher up has fewer mosquitos.  There was plenty of dispersed campsites throughout the area.  I liked easy access to the water and outhouse.

My campsite:

There were caterpillars coming down from high up in the pines.  They were connected by only a single strand and then blowing around in the breeze.  Ever thought you were hanging on by a thread?  These guys are.

The area is mainly used by folks with watercraft of some kind and those with horses.  There are also guest ranches in the area which provide horseback riding.  It looked like they provided the cowboy hats for the riders as they all had the same type and color of hat on, looking brand new.

Many trails start in this area and go back into the wilderness area.  I did short hikes on a number of them.  One really easy but yet gorgeous hike is Wagner Gulch.

Everyone recommended bear spray for hikes in this area, so I now own bear spray.  Watched a video on how to use.  It is not effective until the bear is within 30 ft.  Whew, hope I never face a grizzly that close, let alone hoping to have the composure to spray a charging grizzly when he is only 10 yards away.

Wagner Gulch has a pine tree called the “skull tree”.  A local artist gathers animal skulls and attaches them to a tree and then paints pictures of animal on the skulls.  Kind of creepy at first but the painted animals are cool.  I have pictures on my digital camera but do not have the means to transfer to the IPad.  I will add pics of the skull tree at a later time.

A couple of other pics from the area:

The fishing in the Sun River below the dam was not advisable during my visit as the water flow from the dam was considerable.  I am guessing it is better later in the summer or earlier in the season before the snow melt.

(July 2, 3, and 4th, 2017)





Decals Added

Kristy and Casey designed decals to add some color to the van.  They were attached to the van yesterday.   Looks great.  Thanks ladies!

Passenger Side:


Drivers Side:


A guy walking on the sidewalk during the installation stopped and gave a big smile.  He motioned to the decal and gave me the “is that yours” look.  I nodded back and he gave a big thumbs up.