Tuesday, September 18, 2007

South Dakota

On Thursday, we drove from Chamberlain, SD, to our new home for a week, Hart Ranch, just outside of Rapid City, SD. It was all interstate, so we made great time.

Since we had the time, we stopped in Wall to check out the “world famous” Wall Drug. That place is really something. It’s at least one square city block in size and seems to be made up of a lot of what used to be other stores. You just walk from one into the next and so on. They’ve got it all: a restaurant, 5-cent coffee, every souvenir item you could possibly want, a playground, minimal grocery items, and on and on and on. Now we can say that we’ve been to Wall Drug!

For the last 30 miles or so before getting to Wall, the interstate parallels the northeast part of the Badlands. There were areas of it that we could see from the road and we also took off on a scenic stop to check it out. I didn’t take any pictures as the distance was too great and they wouldn’t have turned out. And at that time we were still thinking of driving back to do the scenic byway through there.

It was a great moment when we came over a hill and could see mountains in the distance. It was like coming home. We both commented on it. What a beautiful sight.

Our campground is terrific. We’re in a valley south of Rapid City. There is an Equine Center bordering the campground so we get to see and hear the horses from time to time, and that’s cool.

So Friday we were off to play tourist. We drove northwest up to Spearfish, which is the northern-most point on our whole trip. From there we headed south on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. This was a beautiful drive. It was actually a lot like being in the Colorado Rockies.

We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls.

We also stopped in Savoy, which is little more than a hotel and conference center. It was beautiful there.

We drove up the gravel road for about a mile to see another waterfall: Roughlock Falls.

Once out of the Canyon, we drove back to the northeast to Deadwood. We tried our hands in several of the casinos, but didn’t win anything to brag about. We didn’t lose it all, though.

Friday was our 30th wedding anniversary, so we decided to find a restaurant and eat out. This is not as easy as it may seem. We didn’t want to be driving all over Rapid City, getting lost and who knows what. We went up to the office and went through their book of restaurants in the vicinity. We settled on The Gaslight in Rockerville. If you are ever up in these parts, THAT is the place to go. We had a fabulous meal.

On Saturday morning we headed south to Mt. Rushmore. I had been there nearly 40 years ago (argh!) and it has certainly changed. The Avenue of Flags has a flag and information about each of the 50 states.

And then there are the faces themselves. It was awesome.

And here’s proof that I didn’t lift these pictures off some other web site!

After getting our fill of the presidents, we headed towards Custer to see the Crazy Horse Memorial. I saw that 40 years ago, too. At that time, you could see where the arm would be, that was pretty leveled off. Now the face is complete and tons of rock have been removed as well.

I’m guessing we were at least a mile away from the monument. Here’s what the carving will look like – someday!

We learned that the four faces of Mt. Rushmore would roughly fit inside the head and hair of Crazy Horse. That gave me a new perspective of how enormous this memorial is and will be. I don’t think it will be completed in my lifetime.

We had lunch in Keystone and then headed back home.

Sunday was work-day again: cleaning, laundry, catching up on this and that. And then we had to watch the Bronco game. I think people around here are about as big of fans as people in Denver. We were thrilled to get the game on the local channel. And yet again the game came down to a field goal in the last seconds – this time it was overtime!

We returned to Deadwood on Monday. On the drive, we noticed that the trees were beginning to turn. It was a beautiful drive through Boulder Canyon. Once at the casinos, I actually had some good luck early in the day, but that passed. So we left our budgeted amount behind and will try again another day. This seems to be the story of our gambling lives.

As we were getting close to our campground, we had to slow way down to allow these guys to cross the road. We had seen wild turkeys in Kentucky but didn’t get any pictures of them. These guys hung around long enough for us to get several.

Did I mention the cold? Overnight temperatures here have been in the 40s and one night it even dipped into the 30s. Brrrr. Fortunately, the days warmed up pretty well and we had sunny skies to enjoy this beautiful part of the USA.

Our next stop will be the Denver area for about 10 days. So we’re trying to get organized and get things settled so we can be away from the coach for most of that time. It will be great to see family and dear friends while there.

Until next time: happy trails!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Missouri River

It was an easy drive from the Lake Okoboji area to Chamberlain, SD. Almost all of it was interstate across southern Minnesota and South Dakota. It was nearly all farm land, and very pretty in it’s own right. When we were fairly close to Chamberlain, it was like we crossed a line. It seemed that I just blinked and the whole landscape was completely different: rolling hills and bluffs and then the river below. It was something.

We’re lucky enough to be parked in a great little campground in Chamberlain, backing up to the Missouri River. We have a beautiful canopy of trees and lots of shade. Here’s a picture we took Wednesday morning.

Unfortunately you can’t see the river behind us. But we got more pics of that. This is from the back of our camp site.
We have some cement steps behind us which go down to the river itself. We walked down there and got this shot.
Then we went off on a drive. I mapped out a little circle we could do to see more of the river and this general area. We first stopped at a park just south of the town. This is looking back towards Chamberlain.
We continued on to the next town, Fort Thompson. What I didn’t know (I swear!) was that there was a casino there. I wasn’t surprised, though. There’s a “casino” in the gas station across the road from our campground. We figure there are 3 or 4 machines inside. But I digress. This was an Indian-run casino and was actually very nice. It was small, but had a nice variety of machines. We enjoyed a nice lunch and we left the casino with the same amount of money we went in with. A victory! And we had fun, too.

We drove back home over a couple of dams right outside Fort Thompson. Then we headed south, back to I-90. This terrain was largely hay fields and pastures for cows and quite a few horses, too. There were hardly any trees at all.

When we were driving in on I-90, there was a rest area just before we got off with a sign that promised an “overlook”. I wondered what kind of view it could have, probably just the river. But after seeing the terrain change once here, I realized there could be a great view. So we went to that overlook on our way back home. This is what we saw.

We really didn’t expect anything marvelous when we planned the two-night stay here. We just wanted a place midway between Okoboji and Mt. Rushmore. We got WAY more than we planned on. What a country!

Fun Fact (there may be a test at the end): The capital of South Dakota is not pronounced “Pee-air”, it’s “Peer”, only one syllable. See how much we are learning on this trip!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lake Okoboji, Iowa

Our next stop on this three-month adventure was Lake Okoboji, Iowa. Referred to as the Iowa Great Lakes, this string of lakes is located in the north-northwestern part of the state. In fact, it’s so far north that if you aren’t careful where you drive, you’ll end up in Minnesota.

We stayed at Cutty’s Okoboji Resort, a membership only RV park. It was a really nice campground except for the incredibly hard water. They even had a disclaimer on the front of the park map stating that you may have to change your water filter frequently due to the high mineral content. And they were not kidding – you could taste it even just showering.

The resort was great though, very pretty grounds and they had everything. It was pretty empty. I guess their high season ends at Labor Day. But it did pick up on Friday afternoon; there was almost a parade of incoming RVs then.

We explored the area to find some fishing spots we’d enjoyed a year and a half ago when we were there with my younger sister and her husband. We found the spillway where we’d had such good luck before and then stopped at the store to get our fishing licenses.

The weather took a turn after we arrived and got fairly chilly. We toughed it out on Saturday morning at the spillway but had no bites at all. After lunch we went back out in search of a place Julian remembered from the first time we were here. We didn’t find it, but decided to fish off the fishing docks on Spirit Lake. It was beautiful there, but the fish weren’t biting there either.

Sunday morning we went to a location our neighbor at the park told us about. It was on the south end of Upper Gar Lake. It was windy and still cold and we never got a bite. We left when the little “tween” girls came to fish. They just kept getting in the way, so we gave up. It wasn’t like we were fighting over the multitudes of fish, so what the heck.

Our campground had cable and we had three different CBS stations, each carrying a different NFL game. We were thrilled to find the Denver Broncos playing on one of those channels. We got to watch the entire game and if you saw it, you know that it came down to the final second – literally. What a finish! We sure enjoyed it.

OK, back out to the spillway on Monday morning. It wasn’t as cold, but the fish just weren’t there! So we went home and had lunch. Julian just wasn’t satisfied, so we headed back to Sawmill Park at Gar Lake in the afternoon. And we were really glad we did. With some patience we finally caught a few fish. Between us, we got one small walleye, two sheepshead and two small perch. It was fun, but there was nothing to bring home and eat. But here’s a picture of the first sheepshead I caught.

You’ll just have to trust me that we caught those other fish.

Today is moving day – we’ve come about 230 miles west into central South Dakota. The town is Chamberlain, which in fact is smaller than David City, Nebraska, where I grew up. We are parked right on the Missouri River. It’s very cool here. We’ll be exploring tomorrow and I’ll post more information and pictures after we get to Rapid City, SD.

In the meantime: Happy Trails! (I know ours have been!)

P.S. Karen, you should try The Outrigger restaurant when you get there – it was great!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Family Time in Lincoln, NE

We spent the 29th, Julian’s birthday, on the road to St. Joseph, MO. It turned out to be a long (and beautiful) day of driving, so we had dinner in and went to bed early.

We added extra days to our stay there so that we could go to the local casino – sort of a birthday present to Julian. So Thursday morning we were off to Terrible’s St. Jo Frontier Casino. We got all sorts of perks when we signed up for their players club. Everyone gets a t-shirt or a baseball cap just for signing up. But Julian got a whole bunch of points as well as a coupon for a free meal at the buffet – just because it was his birthday month! Pretty cool! We had a good time and the buffet was good, but we went home empty handed (yet again).

It was time for a real Birthday Dinner. It seemed like we just hadn’t had time to really stop and celebrate his big day. So after looking through all the dining info we could find, we decided to go to The Old Hoof and Horn Steakhouse, the oldest restaurant in St. Joseph. What a good decision that turned out to be. The combo appetizer that we had was to-die-for good. Julian had fried whole catfish (one of his favorites) and a small cut of prime rib. He was in heaven! And that’s how it should be for a birthday dinner.

On Friday, we did the mundane stuff. We cleaned the coach, Julian bought the groceries, I did the laundry, and Heidi lay around on the couch. All this before noon, too! Then we went for a drive. They touted the Parkway that runs through the city. So we took the maps and went for a drive. It wasn’t what I expected, but we did see more of St. Joe. At the far end was a city park that was really cool. They had it all: a pond with a water fountain, an open air amphitheater, lots and lots of grassy areas, a playground and a building that we guessed was used for parties, weddings, etc. It was very cool to drive through there.

Saturday morning found us on the road again. It was only about 150 miles to Lincoln, NE. Arriving in Lincoln was quite a sight. As we neared the downtown area, we could see little that wasn’t red. Everyone was dressed in red. All the banners and flags were red. It was opening day for Nebraska University football. In truth, it was great fun to see all the fans heading towards the stadium. This town is crazy for its football team.

After getting set up and organized and cleaned up, we were off to my younger sister’s house for dinner and a few games of pool. What fun to see family!

My other sister lives in Norfolk, NE – you know, of Johnny Carson fame. We drove up to see her on Sunday. We took her out to lunch and had a great visit with her. It was a pretty quick trip, but we sure enjoyed spending time with her.

On Labor Day it was our turn to entertain. We invited my brother and his wife (who also live in Lincoln) and my younger sister and her husband to the campground for a cook-out. We had a great time. The weather cooperated; the temperature stayed under 90°. We had shade and a slight breeze from time to time, making it totally enjoyable to sit outside the coach all afternoon. And then we got this picture before everyone left.
That’s Doris, my brother Jim, my sister Karen, her hubby Bill, Julian & Heidi and me.

Julian and Bill went fishing in Bill’s boat on Tuesday afternoon. This proved to be a very successful outing. Julian caught a 7-pound channel catfish which became dinner for the four of us. It was pretty darned good – and you can’t get a fresher meal.
We had a great weekend with my family. It just went way too fast.