Note: This is part five of a seven part series about our camping trip up north during the summer of 2018. I had originally written this as part of a much longer memoir manuscript, but as I continue to rework what has been been written, the original is taking a different shape. However, I still wanted to share everything our family experienced and learned while on that vacation. So as I take a writing break so I can successfully make the transition back into my classroom over the next few weeks, I’ve broken down and revised the 2018 summer journey, which was a very different adventure from our 2019 vacation.

Our first morning in Wisconsin we woke up to the coolest temperatures that we had experienced in months (it hadn’t been comfortably in the 60s in the morning in Houston for at least two months). We were all ready for a day of actual vacationing instead of hooking up the camper so we could travel to a new campsite in a new state. Since we were out of propane, we were stuck with cold breakfast instead of the cooked breakfast I had promised. But before we could explore, I had to figure out what to do about our propane tanks.

Nelson Dewey State Park is located just outside of a wonderful small town known for its ferry, which runs from the Wisconsin to the Iowa shores of the Mississippi River, and the festivals that it holds throughout the year. And it is still a very small town. Not quite a blink and you’ll miss it small town, but pretty close. When I pulled up to the one store that promised the possibility of propane, I had a pleasant conversation with the only person in the store and she promised that if I wanted to leave the tanks and pay for them, she would just put our names on them and then put them in the alley so we could pick them up after we were done adventuring. Just that simple.

I’m a big city girl. Even the smallest town that I’ve ever lived in, which was in central Wyoming, boasted a population of over 10,000. Where we lived in Wyoming, we were the metropolis that everyone from the surrounding towns came to visit when they needed more than basic supplies. I’ve never lived in a town where everyone literally knows everyone. It was refreshing to be trusted and to be told that I could trust a perfect stranger. And you know what? When we got back from our yet undetermined activities for the day, those propane tanks were waiting for us in the back alley, just as she had promised.

I returned to the camper and told the rest of the family that we needed to change into our hiking gear (long pants and shoes to guard from ticks, especially now that we were back in the North and Lyme country) before it got too warm for fully covered legs and feet. There was a hiking trail right across from our campsite, so I suggested that we try the 0.6 mile walk through the woods. We pushed the kids along the steep, overgrowth covered path, pointing out the overlooks with new views of the Mississippi River, the wild blackberries and raspberries growing along the path, and the deer bounding through the trees, distracting them from the gnats and mosquitoes that flew around our covered legs.

By the time we got back to the camper, the temperatures had increased just enough to justify ditching the pants for shorts so we could get back into the truck, this time without a camper behind us, and drive back towards Potosi, Wisconsin, home of the Potosi Brewing Company. One of our close friends, a big fan of the beer, told us that if we drove past we should stop, and with few places to eat within a 30-mile radius of our campsite (we were a little tired of the standard sandwich fare that had fed us for the past four days), we were ready to check out the tour and the restaurant. Unfortunately, the only tour available was the museum, but the kids completed a museum scavenger hunt and Jeff got to sample a couple of the brews. We left the brewery well-fed and happy with the change of pace.

Then we were headed back across the Mississippi River towards Iowa.

Ever since we bought our national parks passport book on a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, I have been a little obsessed. I plan entire vacations around where and if we will be able to stop at a national park or monument. But this wasn’t a vacation planned around national parks, it was a vacation planned around family. That didn’t change the fact that Effigy Mounds National Monument just happened to be an hour away from where we were camping. In my mind (not Jeff’s) that meant that we had to stop. After all, the park was a mere hour drive away for each of us to get a stamp and for the kids to get sworn in as Junior Rangers.

Unfortunately, I did not plan well for this particular excursion. While the park was a reasonable distance and a fantastic learning experience for all, I hadn’t taken into consideration that we probably should have taken better walking shoes and maybe bug spray, although the bugs weren’t nearly as bad as I had expected them to be. The initial loop for us to check out the overlook and the main mounds was a full two-mile loop, and we were doing it in flip-flops and sandals. We were clearly not prepared for an hour of walking, picture taking, and exploring, but we did it anyway, and mostly without complaining.

But even with the poor preparation, we learned a lot from a national monument that we would have never made a priority to visit. The hike took us through a tour of preserved burial grounds, leading to history lessons about burial practices both past and present. We peered over the ledge to get yet another view of the Mighty Mississippi River. And both kids made it through their Junior Ranger tasks with plenty of time to spare.

By the time we ate a dinner of French dip, which had been cooking in the crockpot the entire time we were gone, and started a campfire, the whole family was exhausted from a full day of activity.

But I wasn’t ready to head to bed. With a 24-hour laundromat only a couple miles away, it was time to dig into the growing pile in our bathroom shower. After five days, the pile was getting to be a little more than we could manage, and with two family members who are highly allergic to poison ivy, I decided that doing some laundry to stop the potential spread of more oils that we could have encountered on our morning hike through overgrown foliage would be helpful. Instead of falling asleep in front of a fire and enjoying the last cool night I was sure to experience for another three months, I found myself listening to the hum of machines and writing on my computer at the long plastic folding table in the middle of the room. And while I thrive on occasional quiet time, it was not what I was desperate to be doing on that particular evening.

When I returned to the camper, Jeff was waiting for me. We worked together to take care of the laundry, putting our own away while making semi-neat piles for the kids to put away in the morning. Then he pulled out the last two logs that he had saved for me and put them into the fire so I could enjoy a little of the campfire before heading to bed. With a relatively easy morning of travel ahead of us, it was a perfect end to our time in Wisconsin.

When Camping in Wisconsin Was the Highlight of Our Family Event Driven Vacation Mission: Wanderlust

Turning trips for family events into vacations was a way of life when I was growing up. It wasn’t so for my husband. So when I said I wanted to go to my cousin’s wedding in Iowa several years ago, I had to work extra hard to make at least part of the trip feel like a vacation. Wisconsin became the central focus of vacation planning.Music by Craig HarmannLinks to places mentioned in the episode:* Nelson Dewey State Park* Potosi Brewing Company* Elroy-Sparta Trail* Effigy Mounds National MonumentPlease “like” by clicking on the ❤ and share this post with your friends so that others can also find their Mission: Wanderlust.On the Journey is a reader-supported publication. To never miss a post and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Get full access to On the Journey at

2 Replies to “The Great Midwest Trip – Part 5”

Thoughtful and nuanced responses welcome!