We are back in Iowa at Lewis and Clark State Park. I had checked the DNR website and it looked like there would be plenty of midweek availability when we arrived Wednesday. So we were surprised to see the "Campground Full" sign at the entrance. Especially when it was obvious from looking that over half of the sites were empty. Doing our own exploration, we discovered that this weekend is a big trick or treat event in the park and they allow the locals who can afford it to come out and pay for "first-come, first served" sites for the week even thought they don't occupy them until Thursday or Friday. Therefore, about a quarter of the sites sit empty all week even though no one is using them. An interesting interpretation of 'walkup' and 'nonreservable.' We did not give up, however, and insisted that the host see if any of the reservable sites were actually available. Turns out that several were not reserved until Friday and were available. Apparently, it was easier on the host or staff to put up the 'Campground Full' sign.
It is too bad, because it is a very nice park. There is a floating replica of the Lewis and Clark keelboat, Discovery, and reportedly several other boats in the museum/visitor's center, although we have yet to find that open. There is a huge stump that surely must remain from the time of the 1804 visit.
Yesterday, we took a drive through part of the Loess Hills. This included two scenic outlooks and the visitor's center in Pisgah. After that, lunch at Dave's Old Home Filler Up and Keep on Truckin' Cafe. Today, it is homeward bound for us.
Now that Hamilton is such a hit, I wonder when they're going to do Lewis and Clark as a musical. Anyway, yesterday while the boys climbed hills in a golf cart, Harriet and I decided we would walk to the nearby Lewis and Clark Visitor's Center. We had passed it on our way into the campground and were sure it was just around the corner. Right. As I've said before, Merriwether and Bill were fortunate they had Sacajawea and not us as a guide.
Anyway, this campground runs about half a mile along the river and we are in the last sites but two. It is slightly uphill to the entrance registration shack. Then the road doubles back, steeply uphill to the highway. Then you follow the highway, very steeply uphill about a half mile to the center. We whined to the ranger overseeing the center and she was very sympathetic to our aches and pains.
The center includes displays about the Corps of Discovery, the nearby Gavins Point Dam, and local wildlife. One particularly interesting display was the original speech Lewis had given to the native Americans at this site, but had been lost from 1804 to 2003 when a family turned it in to the Oklahoma Historical society and it was returned to this area. Another display is of 1950s fallout shelter items because there was a large shelter under the dam and the Corps of Engineers was in charge of much of the Civil Defense material.
We are on the south bank of the Missouri at Nebraska Tailwaters campground below the dam of Lewis and Clark Lake--a COE lake on the border between South Dakota and Nebraska. We are near enough to Sioux City to pick up Iowa political ads so we must be getting close to home. All of the sites here are along the river, many nestled in huge cottonwoods.
After the deluge Friday night, the winds on Saturday were so high, there were whitecaps on Angostura Lake. Standing up was difficult. So we mostly hunkered in, although Ken braved the elements enough to produce a wonderful meatloaf for supper in his smoker. One of the features of our new trailer that has come in handy on nights we wish to share supper but not eat outside because of the weather is the comfortable dining space. The roll around table sets up easily for four with plenty of elbow room--something we didn't have at the dinette in our old Terry.
On Sunday, the winds were down, but it was time to move on. But as we moved east, we caught up with the winds and spent Sunday night north of Valentine, Nebraska high on a blustery hill at a private campground. Again we were not able to pick up any TV on the antenna, but Butch was able to watch the end of the golf tournament thanks to Ken's satellite. Yesterday we followed the wind again to this campground just south of Yankton, South Dakota. We were able to grill pork chops over a fire last night.
We have had a dearth of campfires on this trip, owing to burn bans, high winds, lack of fire rings, or all of the above. They lifted the burn ban the second day we were at Angostura, but only one of the following four nights was fit for a fire. We have not had any shortage of flies, however. Last night, eating outside, we had to fight them for every bite.
We will stay here today, the boys may play golf, and of course we need to visit the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center nearby. Tomorrow we will continue on to Lewis and Clark State Park in Iowa. Do you sense a theme here?
Perhaps we should have bought a camper with an ark option. Yesterday around supper time, a storm siren went off in the campground. We kept our eye on the radar and thought (wished) we might get missed but that was not to be. Very high winds and hard rain (or maybe hail) hit with such a fury, the camper was rocking, and, even though we are on a slope, there was so much water running down the hill that we had our own water feature. It subsided somewhat, but periodic onslaughts continued through the evening--none quite as bad as the first.
We have no TV reception here so we hunkered in with DVDs of the first season of Downton Abbey--great distraction.
Earlier in the day, Butch and I made the laundry trek, and I must say, the Quality Cleaners Laundry in Hot Springs, SD is a gem. Very clean, everything working, walls painted with soap bubbles and clothespins, current magazines and area brochures, ATM, and Wi-fi. Make a necessary evil much more pleasant.
Yesterday, we took an hour drive up to Custer, SD and beyond to see the progress on the Crazy Horse Monument. We had been there 45 years ago and Ken and Harriet about 20 years ago. However, we had to make do with the photo display in the museum because the weather was not cooperating. The view of the mountain is shown here.
Then, after an excellent lunch in Custer, we took the wildlife loop through Custer State Park and caught one glimpse of a group of pronged antelope. Period. After we left the loop we did come across a herd of buffalo who were busy stopping traffic, but the loop itself was a bust. Apparently we have done something to offend Mother Nature.
Today we will try some laundry and gassing up the truck in nearby Hot Springs. Perhaps that will be more successful.
On Sunday, we left Montana and headed to Wyoming and Devils Tower. (Funny little factoid: This was the first national monument and sometime early in the last century, a clerk left the apostrophe out of Devil's and it was never put back in.) Devils Tower is one of those natural features that we see so often in photos that we tend to think 'yeah, yeah, yeah' but it really is a 'wow!' in person. We stayed at a KOA campground right at the base, and yesterday morning drove up to the visitor's center. After looking around there, we took the 1.3 mile hike around it. The weather was perfect and fall color beginning to show. We did not make any mashed potato models.
We then packed up and headed back east. Our plan was to spend several days in the Black Hills at one of the campgrounds in Custer State Park. We did not have reservations, thinking it wouldn't be a problem during the week at this time of year, but a call to the park informed us that all of the campgrounds were full. So now we are at Angostura State Recreation Area just south of the Black Hills. We are still in the Mountain Time Zone--we think, although that is frequently up for debate. Good thing we don't have to be anywhere on time.
It's a pretty campground and we deliberately chose sites close to the shower house because there's no water hookups and we will be here for several days. However, after we set up, we discovered that the nearby shower house is closed for the winter; the one that's open is at the other end of the campground. Also, there is a fire ban--something we've been seeing since Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota so no campfires here. But we are all looking forward to a little downtime and maybe even a little laundry.
We are in Big Sky Country at Hardin, Montana, near the site of Custer's last battle. We spent yesterday afternoon touring the battlefield. Although I spend quite a bit of time as a teacher on the Westward Movement in American History, it is certainly an eye-opener to see the size of the area where the Battle of Little Bighorn was fought. Sad that the Indian Memorial is in a less prominent place than that to Custer, especially considering that the direction of the battle was not one of Custer's best decisions.
They show a 25 minute video at the visitor's center--well worth the time. Good exhibits there too. But we have survived the battle and will continue on to Devil's Tower.
Our campground was pleasant and had little shelters that Harriet referred to as mangers. We visited with some nice folks from Michigan who are doing about the same loop as us, only the opposite direction. They were headed for Indian Trail Campground in Medora and then Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park after that. Also met a couple from Ottumwa who are returning from six months of work camping in Oregon and after a visit with kids in Iowa, will head to Alabama.
We've had a lot of discussion and research about possible campgrounds after Watford City. This is the time of year that many campgrounds this far north are closing, and the small town of Medora (179 residents, 5000 tourists) appeared to have only one campground open with electrical hookups. Yes, I'm a wimp and would prefer to be able to run my percolator and recharge my computer. Anyway, after our experience with the White Buffalo Woman in Watford City, we checked out the reviews and there were a number of negative ones about sites being muddy and no wifi even though they charged for it. So we were pleasantly surprised to arrive at the Red Trail campground and find many nice sites and excellent wifi.
After set up, we drove to the visitor's center at the Theodore Roosevelt South Unit and checked out the Roosevelt displays and his cabin. Then we took the 36-mile loop through the south unit. We saw splendid vistas, buffalo, prairie dogs, wild horses, a woman playing an Indian drum on one of the overlooks, and a buffalo hiding behind a fence on a ranch like he was going to jump out at one of his buddies. Beautiful spot--well worth the time.
We headed north and west yesterday, changing time zones twice, to Fort Union, a non-military fort used by the mountain men and fir companies to trade with the Native American tribes. It's located at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and was built in the 1830s. At the height of the fur trade, 25,000 buffalo robes a year went through the place. That doesn't include beaver pelts, in huge demand in the United States and Europe for men's hats. While in the area, we also visited the visitor's center at the confluence.
As you can see, it was a very grey day with intermittent rain, which turned into a downpour by the end of the afternoon. We stopped for lunch at a bar and grill in Alexander. The special of the day included tomato basil soup, which really hit the spot, and an excellent grilled chicken sandwich.
Then on to the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The scenery there was stunning in spite of the rain. This is part of the North Dakota Badlands and we drove the whole scenic route, stopping a couple of times.
Back to town and the grocery store. By this time, the rain was drenching and we were glad to return to our cozy campers.
The Traumatic Truck Troubles the last couple of days were made better by the helpful campground manager and the truck dealer calling at 9:00 in the morning to say his guy had worked late the night before to get the repairs finished. We packed up and were back on the road by 11:00. Things hummed along smoothly and we headed for a place we had found on the 'Net called Grassy Butte. We intended this as a jumping off spot to explore the North Dakota Badlands and the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers--another Lewis and Clark stop.
Grassy Butte is small. Very, very small. We spent some time trying to find someone who knew where this campground was. (The town appeared to cover about four square blocks.) At the post office, they thought it was part of the city park, and they were sure there were electrical hookups. We drove slowly around the small but pretty park, seeing no signs of campsites. So we gave up and decided to get lunch and talk it over at the nearby saloon.
We had pizza and met Bristol, a loving Golden Doodle. The bartender explained that campers needed to just pull up along the roadside and plug into the receptacles on the shelter, but they were only 15 amps. That wouldn't work for us. We pinpointed three likely prospects in Watford City, 30 or 40 miles to the north.
We drove through the beautiful North Dakota Badlands and arrived at Watford City. Our route took us through some road construction over what Ken is sure was part of the original Oregon Trail and finally arrived at our first choice, the White Buffalo RV Park. There was no one at the registration shack so we called the number listed and were soon greeted by the World's Crabbiest, Meanest Campground Owner/Manager. The woman pointed out a couple of available slots with slopes akin to the Alps. The price she quoted was $15 higher than the listings online. There were no picnic tables, fire rings or grills. The woman spouted the rules, which included no alcohol outside your camper, which would have been difficult anyway since there was hardly room between units to set up a lawn chair. We conferred and decided to look elsewhere. When we informed her of our decision, she told us to please leave as quickly as possible. Her parting words were that we would not find anything better.
Fortunately, she was wrong. A half-mile down the road was a small campground at the Watford City Park. There are full hookups, picnic tables, and grills. The sites are fairly level and there were plenty of empty spaces. We set up, and after a pleasant supper, celebrated the lovely evening and almost full moon with a little entertainment from our own itinerant guitar player, Ken, Harriet remedied the lack of a campfire by decorating a post with lights.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.