Friday, August 27, 2010

Badlands National Park

Time to move on, we hit the road early in order to get to the campground at Badlands National Park. All the sites are first come first serve and while there are some other options in the area we wanted to be sure to get a site. Arriving at the campground a little before noon all the sites except a few were open, however by the time we had eaten lunch and were ready to explore the park the choice sites were filling up quickly. By the time we returned after it was dark we found the campground to be just about full.

I had been really looking forward to visiting the Badlands and as expected it proved to be the most unique landscape we would encounter on the trip. We made a brief stop at the visitor center then encountered some pretty heavy rain just as we got into the most picturesque parts of the park. Once the rain stopped it was apparent that it had brought out more color variation than we would have seen otherwise, so perhaps it was a good thing. We also checked out nearby Wall Drug and had dinner at a nice locally owned restaurant in Wall. On the way back to the campsite we traveled through a unpaved stretch of the park and had an interesting phone message from my mother in-law. "You wouldn't happen to be in the Badlands would you?" Turns out they were in the park only about a 1/2 mile ahead of us on their way back to NY from a road-trip to Idaho. (Must be some Gypsy genes in there someplace!) Anyway we spent a couple of hours with them before heading our separate ways for the night. Amazing how small the world can be sometimes!

If you want to see more of our photos from the Badlands I've posted a bunch in the trip set on flickr.

Exploring the Black Hills

Over the next few days we visited a bunch of other places in the Black Hills working out of our campsite in Custer State Park. Some of the places we visited included the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, Jewel Cave National Monument, Bear Country, and the historic 1936 WPA Dinosaur Park in Rapid City. We also drove the wildlife loop Custer State park where we found ourselves stuck on the road in the middle of a huge herd of Buffalo. Once again I was glad that the Shasta was safe back at the campsite but a little sad at the missed photo opportunity.

I Just recently ran across a really cool old travelog that is posted on the Tin Can Tourists site. It describes a more ambitious cross country trip than ours that was made in 1937 towing a Travelo trailer. I'll post the link here because one of the places they camped at was in Rapid City near the then new Dinosaur Park. They also describe the partially completed Rushmore monument, and like us stopped for a night in Buffalo Bills hometown of North Platte.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse

The next morning we took the Iron Mountain Road up to see Mount Rushmore and then onto the Crazy Horse memorial. Iron Mountain Road is one of two scenic drives in the Black Hills that has these super narrow tunnels. Technically the Shasta would fit through all the tunnels and the photo opp potential is pretty amazing, but to keep things on the safe side we left the trailer at the campsite. (Secretly though.... I still wonder if we can find our way back here for a few hundred photos of the Shasta in these tunnels sometime!)

Mount Rushmore is simply amazing and is definitely not one of those landmarks that is smaller in real life than you thought it was. The sculpture exhibits on how the work was done and the study or reference models are really interesting as well. The Crazy Horse memorial is also an amazing piece of sculpture, but one that will be in progress for many years to come. Work has been underway for over 60 years and the original sculptors family is now continuing on his work.

South Dakota - arriving at the Black Hills

Shortly after we crossed the border into South Dakota we drove through some road and bridge construction zones with pretty rough driving on loose dirt. Then through the tight twisty turns of the beautiful town of Hot Springs with historic buildings on its main street that were built with locally made red bricks. Then through Wind Cave National park, or rather above Wind Cave. And finally at the end of the day we arrived at Custer State Park. Months ago we had made reservations at the Game Lodge Campground from which we could make day trips throughout the Black Hills region.

After making camp and getting a good nights sleep we woke the next morning to find a herd of Bison just over a split rail fence adjacent to the campgrounds restrooms. Based on what the rangers were saying this was a fairly small group compared to the herd that roams the park but to us this was really impressive and super close to our campsite.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chimney Rock & Carhenge

Back on the road but off the Interstate for a while as we are headed north up to South Dakota's Black Hills. On the way we stop at Chimney Rock, one of the most recognizable landmarks along the Oregon Trail. We missed the entrance road to the visitor center and learned something in the process. I had pulled off the road in a small gravel turnout and made a super tight u-turn, as we pulled back onto the paved road it was apparent that something was wrong. At first I thought it was our turn to have a flat tire as by this time in the trip we had seen a dozen trailers with flats on the side of the road. It turned out to be our emergency brake-away system, it that uses a small battery to fire off the electric trailer brakes if the trailer becomes detached from the tow vehicle. The trigger pin just got pulled out during the u-turn, something that had never happened to us before. We also learned that the Pacifica can drag the Shasta a bit when it's on loose gravel.

We also make a stop at Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. As I planned out route I looked for some slightly oddball stuff to work in here and there and Carhenge was one that I was really excited about. What we found there was pretty cool and put smiles on our faces that finally wiped away any left-over tornado fears from the previous day. It was at Carhenge that we ran into one of the few other vintage trailers that we would see on the road during this trip. The trailer was a late 60's or early 70's Aristocrat owned by a family that had been to South Dakota and was on it's way back home to Colorado.

Scottsbluff, Nebraska

So, some days were tougher than others. After traveling all day we drop Shasta on a site at Riverside Campground next to the zoo in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska and then head out to catch the sunset at Scottsbluff National Monument. Once there we check in with the ranger and take the short drive up to the summit while the sky is getting noticeably darker. At the top, while we are getting out of the car our weather alert radio fires off a Tornado Warning! I look at the map and find that the tornado sighting is about 30 miles away and not heading directly towards us. We grab a couple of photos, then drive down to the visitor center while the radio is saying things like "if you are in a mobile home..." and " hail" and "..flood watch". What was the name of that campground? Riverside? Flood Watch, hmm..? Did you notice how close the trailer was to the river? What river, I didn't see a river? Must be one there? Oh yeah, forgot about the tornado... that's what we are really afraid of. (Remember we are from Buffalo, we know a lot about snow but nothing about stuff like this.) We stop at the visitor center, but we don't really see anything because we can faintly hear the rangers weather radio in the back office. We decide to head back to the campground, but then we think what will we do there other than worry too much. We sit in the car paralyzed for a while as for what to do. Then we notice that the sky looks to be getting lighter and the storm seems to be tracking away from us. Being pretty frazzled we decide to eat out and found a simple place with some good Mexican food. Once back at the trailer all is well, but soon some pretty severe thunderstorms roll through as we are going to bed just to use up any of our nerves that are left. When we get up the next morning it seems really quiet and we don't waste much time getting back on the road.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wyoming - just passing through

Leaving Colorado we spent a quick couple of hours passing through the southeast corner of Wyoming, near Cheyenne. We were on our way back into Nebraska for one night, and then north to South Dakota. After stopping at a rest area for a quick lunch we noticed that there were some pretty interesting clouds. Out here in the plains there's a lot more sky than at home.

Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado

While in Colorado the Shasta got a rest for most of a week while we spent some long-overdue time with family. We checked out a bunch of places in the Golden and Boulder area including Red Rocks, Celestial Seasonings, Pearl Street Mall, and the Coors factory. We also drove up the Peak to Peak highway to Este's Park and then spent much of the day on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. This park is simply amazing. We have been to a number a National Parks but to me how beautiful it was here really caught me by surprise. It's just a spectacular place and not to be missed.

Welcome to Colorful Colorado?

The sign said Welcome to Colorful Colorado. However, while the landscape had changed a bit what we saw didn't look look like the images that come to mind for Colorado. Turns out that an area called the Eastern Plains makes up close to half of the state. As with other recent state border crossings we noticed immediately that it looked different than Nebraska, yet it's hard to describe how. We found much of I-76 to be under construction and were really happy that I had recently installed a Friction Sway Control Bar based on strong recommendations from several folks at the Tin Can Tourists rally. The Friction Sway Control proved well worth the cost many times during the trip, especially in situations like this when big rigs were going the other direction at 75mph just across the yellow line. After a while we decided to stop for lunch and found the spot in the photo above close to a town called Crook. Desolate, but also very cool in it's own way, and definitely "someplace else" which was one of my goals for the trip.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

North Platte, Nebraska

The next morning we took a break from driving and did some local sight-seeing around North Platte. Scouts Rest Ranch and one of Buffalo Bills homes was adjacent to our small campground. We toured the home and barn which contain lots of photos and memorabilia from Buffalo Bill Cody's life and Wild West Show. We then headed across town to the Golden Spike Tower to take a look at the huge Union Pacific rail yard. As we drove around this hard-working town I noticed that there was an amazing array of well used vintage trailers around town that looked to still be still in occasional use by there owners. If you are looking for something special as a restoration project North Platte might be a good place to visit!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Nebraska - following the Oregon Trail

Another day back on the highway. Crossed the Missouri River at Omaha in fairly heavy traffic and construction but took note of a cool Union Pacific Railroad display with pair of locomotives up high on our right as we drove through. Noticed pretty quickly that Nebraska is a lot flatter than Iowa but still few trees and lots of corn. This stretch of Interstate follows the Oregon Trail as well as the Mormon Trail, and '49 Gold Rush trail ands we decide to make a stop to learn more at the Great Platte River Archway Museum. This museum is built in a huge arch over the highway and features exhibits about the trails that passed through the area. Pretty interesting but a bit sobering as to how difficult traveling was in those times. At the end of the day we were in the town of North Platte and made camp at Buffalo Bill Ranch State Park.