Not all campgrounds are created equal. Sometimes, we encounter some that clearly weren’t made for modern-day big rigs like ours. They have narrow roads, low-hanging tree branches, and tight turns. The state park in Traverse City, Michigan, comes to mind.
Thomson Causeway Campground in Thomson, Illinois, is not one of those. An Army Corps of Engineers campground, it offers plenty of room for big rigs and features expansive views of the mighty Mississippi River — for only $20 a night for 50-amp electric hookups, a necessity in this incredibly humid area. It also offers access to potable water and a dump station.
The Thomson Causeway Recreation Area is actually built on an island in the Mississippi. The Woodland Indians used this island for hunting, trading, and rituals. You can even find Indian burial mounds on the premises.
Clinton: Iowa’s Easternmost City
We chose Thomson Causeway for its proximity (across the river) to Clinton, Iowa, where we had friends we hadn’t seen in 15 to 20 years. We got together with Shawn and Christina and their amazing children many times to catch up, play games, eat, chat around a campfire, and sightsee.
Fulton, Illinois, and an Engineering Wonder
The Great River Bike Trail spans 60 miles along the river in Illinois. We took out our bikes for a 13-mile round-trip adventure on a portion of it to see Lock and Dam No. 13, an engineering marvel of the Army Corps of Engineers in Fulton. A series of 29 locks and dams stretch along the upper Mississippi from Minneapolis to Granite City, Illinois, to help boats gradually adjust to the 420-foot drop in the river’s water level.
We didn’t get to see a boat going through the lock but are glad we visited the structure nonetheless. It reminded us of our trip to Soo Locks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Our bikes survived the ordeal without running out of battery power, but we learned that distance was about the extent they can go on a single charge.
Wisconsin: Across the River from Dubuque, Iowa
We glimpsed our first view of the Mississippi River on our way westward in Dubuque, Iowa. We stayed at a campground in Cuba City, Wisconsin, across the river from Dubuque and ventured into the Iowa city for a pleasant evening on the river.
For a nightly fee of $50 for full hookups at the Wisconsin campground, we got to be packed in with other RVs like sardines. When we set up, all I could see outside my office window was the window of another RV. Thankfully for us, the RVs on either side of us left the next day, and those spaces stayed free until the night before our departure.
Despite the tight accommodations, we enjoyed our stay in Wisconsin, sampling different cheeses (and, of course, cheese curds), playing some pool, and photographing gorgeous sunsets.
One of the most important considerations when setting up an RV is how level the parking area is. We can take measures to prop up one side of our trailer or the other, but front to back is a different story.
Most RV refrigerators don’t work properly if the rig is more than 3 degrees unlevel. How do we know that? We had to look it up when we found ourselves 3 degrees off level while parked at our daughter Megan’s house in Tennessee.
When we arrived at our destination near Peoria, Illinois, to catch up with an old classmate of mine I hadn’t seen since high school, we kept that fact in the back of our minds. Wendy and her husband, Ted, invited us to moochdock on their property after reading about moochdocking on our blog. Wendy had warned me the property was sloped, but she sounded confident we’d be able to get mostly level.
After an hour of maneuvering in and out of different areas on the property, we finally settled on the most level spot: smack dab in the middle of their 80-yard-long driveway.
Knowing we’d need space to jockey into position, Ted and Wendy had moved their vehicles to the grass toward the front of the property before we arrived. But I’m pretty sure they had planned to move the cars closer to their house after we got settled. Because our home took up a chunk of their driveway, that was out. They were super gracious, though, to allow us to take over their driveway for a week.
How We Get Level
Once we get our rig pretty level side to side using our LevelMatePRO* device, we detach it from the truck, extend the middle and rear stabilizers and put pads under them, push a button, and watch the magic happen as the trailer levels itself using its Lippert Components automatic leveling system.
First, Tagalong levels front to back and then side to side. If the automatic leveler is unable to get level front to back, it flashes a red light and stops the whole procedure. And we’re stuck.
The problem? We can’t be more than 10 inches lower in the front than we are in the back before starting this process or the rig can’t level itself. With a nearly 42-foot-long coach, that’s not always attainable, which was the case at Ted and Wendy’s (and at Megan’s earlier in the year).
In this case, however, our LevelMatePRO confirmed our rig was pretty level front to back. (Tagalong tends to raise the front a little above level.) But, because the coach didn’t consider itself level, the middle stabilizers didn’t descend to the ground to stabilize the rig side to side.
When we experienced a similar situation at Megan’s, but on a larger and scarier scale, we purchased some Camco Stack Jacks* to prop under the rig to add some stability. Those came in handy in this situation. We also secured our tripod stabilizer in place to add more contact points with the ground for even better support. And, we always use X-Chocks* between the two tires for an added layer of stabilization.
After overcoming the leveling challenges, we set up our home for the week and caught up with Wendy and Ted. They taught us a new card game: a variation of golf. Instead of playing with nine cards per player where you try to get the lowest score, we played with four cards — for 18 rounds: the front nine and the back nine. It’s a much faster-moving game that quickly became part of our nightly routine while there.
Friends in Low Places
Ted and Wendy live on a beautiful piece of property in a farm country hollow. Because it’s a hollow, it’s not subject to severe storms such as tornadoes, but neither does it have superb internet or cellphone access. Knowing Wendy successfully worked from home, I hadn’t thought to ask about that before our arrival.
People in the area rely on DSL for their internet. DSL uses phone land lines to carry data, so it’s always on. Unfortunately, speeds can fluctuate, making it a less than ideal option for remote work. The connection made for decent internet most of the time, but it didn’t work so well for my Zoom meetings. (Ted and Wendy have issues with it on occasion, too.)
We attached our 25-foot cellphone booster antenna to the side of Tagalong, which helped some, but not a lot. After facing torturously slow speeds for a couple of days, I packed up my laptop and went to a local library to get through my workday. It’s nice to have options, and we’ve learned to roll with the punches and be flexible as a result of our RV lifestyle.
It’s All About People
Our leveling and internet troubles have all been worth it to get to see friends and family across the country we haven’t seen in months or years — friends like Ted and Wendy.
After leaving their place, we met some more wonderful people as part of Boondockers Welcome who quickly became friends. We spent a night at their expansive farm on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Upon our arrival, seven Great Pyrenees dogs greeted us, along with their owner. Also known as livestock guard dogs (LGDs), the pack we saw only represented half of the LGDs on the property whose job is to protect the cattle and sheep from coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions.
Our hosts invited us to join them for dinner in the small town. Over spaghetti and wings, we chatted about their farm, their Boondockers Welcome experiences, and our lifestyle. They plan to sell the farm and become full-time RVers.
A short drive the next day afforded us a super relaxing morning. We sipped coffee outside while reading and taking in the views around us, feeling extremely blessed at the experiences we get to enjoy and thankful for the best travel day ever.
* As Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.