Today was not nearly as much fun as yesterday. I spent most of the day making reservations through the next couple states and it was slow and tedious. Peggy puttered around the trailer fixing stuff and taking care of family communications. We went to the gas station and liquor store. Some days are just dull.
Today we took a spin through the Badlands National Park of South Dakota. Despite the frightening name, the Badlands are a remarkable area where erosion and time have created a fanciful landscape, as long as you do not need to cross it on foot, on a horse or riding in a wagon. There are fabulous minarets, knife-sharp ridges, deep basins, narrow canyons and massive caves and holes within the soil that exhibit myriad pastel colors. There are many box canyons and virtually no level ground can be found. If I was coming through here during the pioneer days, I would have figured out a way around the Badlands because going through them would have been extremely challenging.
We spotted many prairie dogs, some vultures, Bighorn sheep and a mule deer fawn but no bison. The animals that live here must be very tough because the terrain is extremely convoluted and water is quite scarse. Even the park picnic areas we drove by had no water. However, the scenery is absolutely sensational and we drove the entire distance of UT-240 both ways to admire the scenery in the changing light.
The town of Wall, home to Wall Drug, is at one end of UT-240 but we have been there before and we elected to give it a pass this time. The last time we were there, we noted they sold original cowboy attire made in Asia, Indian crafts made in Taiwan, western fancy shirts made by dutiful Indonesians and lots of other foreign stuff like coffee cups and cheesy cowboy boots manufactured in far-flung exotic locations outside the U.S. They offer free ice water and 5 cent coffee to travelers passing by on the freeway. Wall Drug also has a gigantic advertising area along the entire freeway in South Dakota, some other locations within the U.S. and overseas. I saw a sign indicating it was only 6,200 miles to Wall Drug when I was boarding a sightseeing barge in Amsterdam. I understand they have signs in Iraq, too.
We took some photos in the Badlands. Click the asterisk to see them *
Today we took a spin through the Black Hills, a truly breathtaking locale. Two days ago we went through Custer State Park which is at the southern end of the Black Hills. Today we drove through the central section and it is spectacular. We drove past gorgeous Pactola Reservoir where we got some glimpses of an osprey fishing before pulling into Hill City, a particularly cheesy and ugly tourist trap that we zoomed through while ogling the abundance of businesses designed to separate visitors from their dollars. Hill City was the only disgusting part of today’s tour with the exception of some dead roadside deer being devoured by turkey vultures.
Not long after happily departing Hill City, we turned off on the Needles Highway. We soon got to Sylvan Lake, a beautiful scene straight out of fantasy stories. We stopped and ate some lunch alongside the lake. Continuing on Needles Highway, we started climbing, ultimately going above 6000 feet and into the section of the Black Hills called the Needles. The road and particularly the one-lane tunnels along this stretch are quite narrow and we folded in our side mirrors to get through the really narrow tubes.
Abundant fabulous rock formations throughout this area have sharp, pointy pinnacles at their tops and the roads snake around and through them. It is evident why Gutson Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, used this section of the Black Hills for his work. The scenery is stunning here.
We wandered around for the rest of the day, passing another time through parts of Custer State Park where we saw not less than a dozen and a quarter deer. No bison today but we still have plenty of time to scope out these four-footed monsters.
We got some Black Hills photos today and you can see them by clicking the asterisk *
Despite being camped near Rapid City, one of our favorite places, we had to perform chores today and exploring had to be deferred until later. Peggy did a couple loads of wash in the park laundry. I spent a good part of the day dealing with tire inflation on the truck.s and trailer’s 8 tires in addition to washing out and oiling our replacement air filter before using it to replace the strange OEM Ford filter. There were many dead bugs in the air filter canister so I washed and vacuumed those out. I spent the rest of the afternoon picking out the myriad colorful and crispy flying insects that have been smashed into the multiple radiators in our truck during two passes across the Midwest, home to many gigantic and goo-filled bugs. There was probably about a quart of these vermin. What originally seemed like about 30 minutes work turned into most of the afternoon and we are glad this misery is temporarily over.
Our agenda for today did not include doing the laundry or shopping or other mundane stuff so we were free to explore the Black Hills. Our first foray to this beautiful area was into Custer State Park, southwest of our RV park near Rapid City.
We headed up US-16 for a bit before turning off onto US-16A and started up a skinny track called Iron Mountain Road. It is a unique road in that it has numerous one-lane tunnels, curlicue turns that have the road pass directly over itself and some single-lane one way sections. It would be a very challenging road for anybody wanting to go faster than about 25 miles per hour as shown by some idiot motorcycle driver who came around one of the hairpin corners in our lane and almost got to make a fast trip to the bottom of the canyon while correcting his path back into his lane. I gave him the finger. He could have scratched our truck and, since he would have been dead if I had not stopped, we might have had to repair it at our cost. We are unable to discern why a moron on a Harley would speed around a tight, blind corner in the oncoming traffic lane.
On the way up into Custer State Park, we kept getting glimpses of Mount Rushmore on the adjacent ridge. It is a very impressive carving. Fortunately, Donald Trump is not one of the presidents on this gorgeous sculpture. We finally entered the state park, took the Wildlife Loop Road and started seeing the myriad animals that have this gorgeous place as their home. Us elderly, nearsighted types spotted pronghorn antelope, solitary and herds of bison, some burros left over from a former business venture that ferried folks into this country prior to roads, prairie dogs and numerous deer. The surrounding scenery is spectacular including the massive rock formations and pinnacles that dot the landscape. We are delighted to be back in this wonderful part of the U.S.A.
We took a few pictures of our friends and you can see them if you click the asterisk *
Today was another travel day so we pulled stakes and headed north through the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska. As usual, what I expected was nothing like what is there. The Sand Hills rise to elevations above 4000 feet and near the border the terrain turns into tall bluffs surrounding massive pastures. Vistas are huge. For most of the time we were on the road in the Hills, we were not bothered by any other persons, cars, trucks, trains or rural electrification. We could see for miles and the scenery was quite stunning.
Eventually, we crossed into South Dakota and the scenery got even better. We soon could see the Black Hills to the west of our course and we continued skirting them until we got to Rapid City. We visited Rapid City on our 2015 trip around the country and had hoped to return. Today we got our wish.
We turned off US-18/US-385/SD-79 south of town and headed southwest on US-16 for a few miles until turning into the Happy Holidays RV Park. It is a large park with full hookups, nice roads, big spaces, a pool, a store and wifi so we were pretty happy. We have shade, the temperatures are much lower than the last 3 months and we are back in the west where humidity doesn’t make fat guys like me sweat as if a whore in church.
There’s some photos of the Sand Hills you can see if you click the asterisk *
We drove up onto Scott’s Bluff again today, hoping the visibility had improved from yesterday. It hadn’t. We imagine the air quality is a lot worse over in Colorado where beleguered folks not being paid enough are trying to estinguish rampant fires throughout the state.
The rest of the day we spent doing chores like going to the liquor store, going to the grocery store, going to a meat market and fueling the truck. We went over to Scottsbluff for the food but came back to this side of the Platte to get fuel. It seems like the same town but the part on the north side of the river is Scottsbluff and this side is Gering. We head north tomorrow, toward South Dakota.
We took a few pictures today. See them by clicking the asterisk *
Scott’s Bluff National Monument was our primary destination for today. Scott’s Bluff should not be confused with Scottsbluff, a small city on the eastern slope of Scott’s Bluff which is a massive projection of sandstone, siltstone and volcanic ash that has endured longer than the surrounding plains. Back when extraordinarily durable people driving wooden wagons pulled by oxen were traveling west for free stuff, like land and gold, they would see Scott’s Bluff as the first visible landmark since they left the Missouri River frontier town of St. Joseph. It is a long walk.
The Bluff sticks up 800 feet above the Platte River which meanders along the north Monument border. There is a saddle where the current Oregon Trail Road passes through the Bluff and that’s where the wagons went because going around the bluffs meant getting into the boggy sections and deep sand along the Platte. Oregon Trail is also the road we took to get to the only entrance into the Monument.
We used our geezer pass to enter the park, saving five bucks. We took the very serpentine road through three curved tunnels and along some truly impressive drop-offs on our way up to the top of Scott’s Bluff. Scottsbluff was visible right at the foot of the Bluff but not much else because the air is clogged with dense smoke emanating from some horrible fires occurring in the adjacent state of Colorado. However, even with reduced air quality, the views are breathtaking and maybe some day we will get back to enjoy them when visibility isn’t so crummy.
Peggy raided the Visitor Center and Bookstore but we escaped without getting impoverished. She is very good that way.
We got a few pictures of the Bluff. See them by clicking the asterisk *
We were on the road again today. The Sleepy Sunflower RV Park in Ogallala was one of the nicest small parks we have stayed in with great facilities and speedy wifi. Unfortunately, it is immediately adjacent to the interstate and there are nearby train tracks where locomotive operators toot their horns. At night the sounds from the nearby transportation assets can keep light sleepers awake.
We left Ogallala on US-26 westbound and followed it across Nebraska for about 85 miles of range land and then the terrain started to change. The surroundings changed to large sandstone bluffs and mesas with the Platte River running between them. We soon spotted a landmark, Chimney Rock, which Oregon Trail folks could see from miles away as they headed west. Chimney Rock does not really resemble a chimney so much as a big bullet or an obelisk but it is big and pointy.
Soon we were approaching Scott’s Bluff, the geological formation, and Scottsbluff, the town at the bottom of the bluff or Bluff. It is a massive wall bordering the flat terrain to the east and consists of several visible strata. We will be heading into the Scott’s Bluff National Monument tomorrow as long as we don’t get drunk.
We pulled our trailer into the Robidoux RV Park in Gering, a town adjacent to Scottsbluff and adjacent to Scott’s Bluff. The park is run by the city and is really quite nice. They have big spaces, extensive mowed grass, shade trees, full hookups and wifi that we haven’t tested yet. It costs $27/night with our geezer discount.
See today’s pix by clicking the asterisk *
We had a full day today. We started by driving into the downtown of Ogallala which is about 4 blocks long with too many empty storefronts. After some notary and post office visits, we headed north out of town toward Arthur, where Peggy’s father spent his childhood. On the way, we passed over the Ogallala Dam which holds back Lake McConaghy and empties into Lake Ogallala below the dam. We had just driven off the far end of the massive earthen dam when we looked up into a nearby dead tree and spotted a gorgeous bald eagle gazing out over the lake.
We wanted a closer look so we went into the state park that stretches between the highway and the lake shore and were rewarded with some great views until we spooked him and he buggered off. We left and continued our trip toward Arthur. We drove through gently rolling sand hills covered with grass and flowers into Arthur County which has one town – Arthur. There are 165 townies in Arthur and about 300 folks living out of sight resulting in a county population of about 450. It is the fifth most sparsely populated county in the U.S. One of the counties with an even rarer house is on Hawaii and it is under a sheet of lava.
Arthur is a tiny little joint with a nice city park. In the park, visitors can find the old county jail which is a one-room wood building with bars on the windows and a garden gate hasp on the door. Arthur doesn’t seem to be a hotbed of crime. We putted around town for a few minutes on the mostly paved roads, admiring the sights, one of which is a church made out of hay bales. They plastered the outside but the plaster exhibits cracking defects that suggest the structure might not be entirely sound.
Peggy’s grandmother was buried here long ago but we were unable to find her grave despite quizzing a local cop, the elderly ladies that worked at the newspaper and the staff at the county courthouse. The graveyard is quite old but records are funky and even the county experts admitted that there are more decedents that monuments in the graveyard.
After our failed grave search, we headed back toward Ogallala passing lengths of fence where local farmers have capped their fence posts with what must be hundreds of pairs of worn boots, sole up. We have no explanation for this behavior but the tops of the fence posts don’t seem to rot where boots protect them. We continued back towards Ogallala, this time stopping at Lake Ogallala State Park which is below the dam. At the bottom of the dam and powerhouse, there is a discharge pipe emitting a truly impressive stream of water about 8 feet across and going about 200 feet per second that spills into Lake Ogallala. As we approached this discharge pipe, we noted what started out as merely a suspicion of a farting spouse but which became a truly extraordinary and putrid stench. It was after we checked out the discharge and drove away that we realized the source of this eye-watering miasma was the discharged water.
Check out today’s pictures by clicking the asterisk *