Posts Tagged With: South Dakota
The Rafter J-Bar Ranch, pictured above, is one of our favorite campgrounds. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, it offers wide-open spaces, every amenity a family could want (except most sites do not offer TV service), in a setting that rivals the best state parks.
Custer and his army stayed here in 1874 and it later became a stagecoach stop during the gold rush. Some of the original buildings remain. It later became a working ranch until it was converted to a campground in 1964.
For us, it was a nostalgic stop last weekend — we stayed here with our sons in 2001. That was one of our best family trips.
We sit in our trailer this evening in northwestern Montana at a tiny RV park wedged in a river valley surrounded by forested mountains. (I should also add I-90 and the railroad are here too.)
So, it seems like a good time for some notes from the trail:
Beautiful as advertised: Montana. We entered just north of Sheridan, Wyoming and drove the I-90 corridor across the state. Stunning mountain scenery, forests, rock formations and prairies. There were great views of the snow-capped Bighorn and Rocky mountains.
European RVers: In South Dakota, we were suddenly seeing many new Minnie Winnie motor homes, on the road and in RV parks. They seemed to be everywhere, no license plates yet. We found out that Winnebago advertises in Europe for fly-and-drive RV vacations. The renters get the RV for a few weeks at a much-reduced rate and the company gets the motor home delivered to a client. The renters can drive it as much as they want, but agree to deliver it to a city by a certain date.
Driving challenges: Driving a motor home or pulling a trailer can be exhausting. You have to choose your stops carefully. Some gas stations and cafe parking lots won’t work. I’ll take a country road, even if it has small-town stops, over a busy interstate anytime. Winds above 15 miles an hour, unless they are pushing you, are not easy. So, we watch the weather. We stayed an extra day once when 40-mph winds were forecast.
Is it worth it? We say a resounding “Yes!” When we compare RVing to long motel trips and eating out day after day, this life wins. Our own bed, bathroom, kitchen, food. No living out of suitcases. For us, the benefits far outweigh the driving hassles and work of setting up and taking down at each RV park.
Gas costs: Prices were lower once we left the west coast. California was the highest, Texas ($1.98) the lowest. We usually paid about $2.25 a gallon. Also, the cash and credit card prices were the same most of the way. No 10-cent charge for using credit.
Car brands: Once we left the west coast, we saw far fewer Priuses and Subarus.
Flags: We saw the Confederate flag frequently in the South.
Welcome: Twice in the South, when people found out we were from Oregon, they said, “Welcome to America!”
The drive to Mount Rushmore National Memorial gives visitors several frames for one of the world’s most spectacular engineering achievements. When you steer along Iron Mountain Road, go counterclockwise if you want the four presidents in your windshield.
A quick detour: Can you name the four presidents? (Answer below)
The 17-mile road was designed to connect three one-lane tunnels blasted in the rock. It features 314 curves, 14 switchbacks and three pigtails.
Sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s presidents measure 250 feet across and each head is 60 feet tall. Why were these four chosen? George Washington, for leading the struggle for independence. Thomas Jefferson, the idea of government by the people. Abraham Lincoln, ideas on equality and the permanent union of the states. Theodore Roosevelt, the emerging role of the U.S. in world affairs.
On our way to see the four stone heads, we explored the 71,000-acre Custer State Park. This place alone would be worth a visit to South Dakota’s Black Hills. We walked around Legion Lake, one of several lakes in the park, then picnicked next to a creek.
We began our day by hiking to Cathedral Spires, one of the park’s many treks that vary in length and degree of difficulty. They share a location as beautiful as any we have seen on our journey, which is nearing 8,000 miles.
Custer State Park in South Dakota is home to a herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. These magnificent animals can be seen roaming freely throughout the grasslands. The best way to view them is from the safety of your vehicle while driving the 18 mile Wildlife Loop Road…which is what we did today.
Park grasslands can only support about 1,450 buffalo, so the herd is carefully managed. Every fall the annual Buffalo Roundup takes place, allowing the park to brand and vaccinate the calves, inventory the grasslands and to determine how many buffalo will be sold at auction. The event is open to the public, and this year the roundup is scheduled for September 29…so you still have time to make your plans!
We saw a few other critters out today. A pronghorn was oblivious to my photo attempt. A herd of wild burros begged snacks from a fellow motorist and we waited as wranglers led trail horses across the road to fresh grass. All in all, I’d say we had a successful hunt!
From prairie dogs to a rattlesnake, the wildlife was out today during our roadside stops in Badlands National Park as we drove toward the Black Hills in South Dakota.
Then, a brief visit to Wall Drugs brought Sue up close to another kind of wild guy.
The town of Wall, South Dakota, on I-90, was named after the spectacular 50-mile mountain wall, or ridge, in the national park. Wall Drugs is a series of gift stores and eateries that attracts two million tourists a year. Its claim to fame began with billboard ads offering free ice water. The signs were originally modeled after the infamous Burma shave roadside ads. Today’s signs along the interstate are much larger and are posted for many miles.
Perhaps the wildlife at nearby Badlands National Park need a similar campaign. They see just one million visitors annually.
Badlands National Park appears rather suddenly among the grasslands of South Dakota. These seemingly harsh lands are the result of millions of years of earth’s ever-changing climate. This is a landscape of extremes.
We arrived yesterday to clear blue skies and warm temperatures, the first we’ve had in two and a half weeks. Pulling into the first parking lot we came to, we set off on two short walks, eager to get a taste of such a foreign landscape. Surprisingly, trail markers led us off the path to freely walk among the peaks and gullies. We later learned that Badlands is a sort of “open range” park. Visitors are allowed to walk anywhere as long as the environment is respected.
Day two found us on the Castle Trail, a 10 or 12 mile (depending on which map or trail marker you believe) round trip that led us through some of the spectacular park formations and out onto the open grasslands. We had hoped to see some of the wildlife that call the park home and were a little disappointed to only see a few deer in the distance. But, it was a gorgeous day and we were outside in an eerily beautiful national park…not a bad place to be!
To be honest, Tuesday’s drive, 320 miles across the fairly flat farmlands of northern Iowa, was uneventful. We were not tempted to pull off and explore. The two Misses rivers on either side of Iowa were beautiful, though.
As we left North Sioux City in southeastern South Dakota this morning, the landscape quickly became more engaging. A walk along the Missouri River led to a meeting with a fisherman who had bagged a 29-pound big head carp, aka Asian carp.
Then we saw a bridge across the river. It led to Nebraska. So we drove across and found the Gavins Point Dam (above) built by the Army Corps of Engineers. We drove across the dam, back to South Dakota, to explore more backroads leading to our campground in Kennebec.
The rolling hills of southeastern South Dakota (top photo) are cattle country. We passed many trucks with cattle carriers heading for market. Lots of livestock, many with calves, roamed the rolling hills.
As Sue prepares our pasta and salad dinner, the skies are turning mostly blue, just in time for our visit to the Badlands and Black Hills.
After nearly two weeks of cool, wet weather, warm and dry have returned!