Now this is boondocking. We drove 11 miles off the Interstate, down a forest road lined by brilliant yellows and red birches and oaks. Then we turned off that and went a mile and a half off down a washboard two-track, pulling into a state forest campground on a little circular lake aptly named Round Lake.
We haven't seen another car in miles. Its pouring rain. The heater is keeping out the 44-degree weather and we are toasty comfy in our Roadtrek eTrek, watching Game 4 of the American League Playoffs, rooting for our Tigers in the middle of nowhere.
I had no bars on my MiFi data card or my Samsung Note 3 smartphone. But when I put the data card in my Wilson Seek cell phone booster with its external antenna magnetically attached to the top of the Roadtrek, I suddenly have four bars of pure Verizon 4G connectivity.
In the middle of nowhere.
TV. The Internet. Lights and heat. Water. Food, Ciffeee. Our own shower and bathroom. The comforting sound of rain drumming on the roof.
This is why we Roadtrek. This is why we boondock. This is heaven, albeit a little wet.
The Pigeon River Country State Forest and surrounding land where we are camped is home to the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi River. The nearly 100,000-acre state forest contains native hardwoods and pines that are interspersed with fields and forest openings. It looks like the color up here peaked last week. But its still jaw-dropping gorgeous. The nice thing about boondocking is you can sleep with the blinds up. The morning came with the rain gone, the sun spotlighting the color across the fog shrouded lake. What a way to wake up.
I suspect there's another week or so of color left before they leaves start dropping fast.
Elk inhabit this forest year-round, but certain times are better for viewing than others. Probably the best month is September, when the males (bulls) are trying to establish dominance for mating rights with the females (cows). They are very active during this time, making loud vocalizations (bugling), and breaking brush with their antlers to impress cows and intimidate their rivals.
But even now, a month past the rut, they're still pretty perky. I awoke Friday morning to the sound of them bugling, their high pitched, nasally noises echoing through the piney woods around our campsite from somewhere towards the east..
The elk or wapiti is a large member of the deer family. Adult males may weigh up to 1/2 ton
Want to visit this place? Come up I-75 to Exit 290 at Vanderbilt, then drive east on Sturgeon Valley Road about 11 miles to the forest trail leading to Round Lake. There are a couple of pit toilets and an old fashioned hand water pump. But no amenities. We've been here before. In the summer, you might find one or two other campers here. But during the week and off season, chances are you'll be have the whole place to yourself.
If you want to visit one of the several designated elk viewing sites, continue east about three miles to Hardwood Lake Road. Turn left (north) and continue about one mile to the Forestry Field Office. This office has maps and information about elk viewing, but hours are variable depending on the season.