Photo: One of many storms we ran into in the Dakotas. This one is near Lemmon, South Dakota.
After lunch at Wolf Point, Montana, we drove as far as Williston, North Dakota, where we stayed at nearby Lewis and Clark State Park. The park itself is located in a nicely sheltered lush green valley created by the Missouri River but, because of government cutbacks to state parks, a group of locals has decided to take its maintenance upon themselves. They’re doing a great job too.
While Janice was out walking there she encountered the biggest snake she’d ever seen in the wild. I know, you may be thinking that I’ve cried wolf before over a couple of minor dinosaur incidents but this was the real deal…really!
Photo: Lewis and Clark State Park.
Photo: We entered North Dakota from Montana, driving east. Later we re-entered from South Dakota, driving north.
The next day we drove the very scenic but winding Route 22, on to the historical, quaint, western-themed little town of Medora, at the edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
We set up at Cottonwood Park, and then rode our bikes around Medora which is full of shops, restaurants, museums, hotels and other businesses dedicated to passing on the rich western frontier history of the area.
A couple of frustrations reared their heads in the afternoon. The bathtub in the trailer seemed to be leaking almost every time we used the shower and the new American cell phone wouldn’t allow us to call Canada. The bathtub issue was cleared up the next day when I applied some caulking around the edges of the tub. The cell phone would have to wait until we got to a larger center.
The next day, June 11th, we bought an Annual US National Park Pass, at a cost of $80.00, and then took a drive around Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park is incomparably beautiful and is home to large herds of bison and wild horses. We hiked to one trailhead that offered stunning views of Green River but the wind was howling and the slanting rain felt like snow.
Photo: Green River from the chilly viewpoint.
We stopped for lunch where a lone bison slept by the side of the road and then took two more short hikes in the welcome sunshine before completing the loop back to town. We saw our first wild turkey there, trailing a couple of chicks.
Photo: A somewhat miffed bison stares Janice down at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Miffed, because Janice had just finished running him down for a short ride.
In the late afternoon we took another tour of the town, on foot this time, stopping at Boot’s Bar for a drink. Much of the town is made up of the original wooden façade buildings, making the experience like walking through a Wild West movie. Boot’s Bar is typical of one of these edifices. People were sidling up to the bar where a big, burly bartender poured American size drinks and served up unshelled peanuts. It was obvious that the house rules encouraged patrons to discard the shells on the old plank floor, a custom with which we enthusiastically complied.
Photo: Janice takes a shot of courage at Boot’s Bar, at Medora, North Dakota, in preparation for Bison Busting.
We left Medora on a soggy Sunday and drove seven hours to the Black Hills, South Dakota, which were wetter yet. We’re now hunkered down just south of there, waiting out the rain at the Crooked Creek campsite between Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument. We’ll wait for it to clear before going to see the sights because it’s just too dreary now.
Photo: We entered South Dakota from North Dakota, driving south. Later, we exited, driving northeast.
Native Americans considered the Black Hills to be magical and sacred because, viewed from the prairie, the treed hills appear black.
Later in the day we stopped at the Mangy Moose Tavern where we sat at the bar and engaged some other tourists from Ontario. The drinks were cheap, and so generously free-poured, that we left after two with a buzz that we had to walk off around town before getting back into the vehicle to head home.
The sky still hadn’t cleared the next day so, still frustrated with no long distance cell service, we drove to the Rapid City Walmart and returned the phone. On the way back we stopped at The Kosmos, a commercial enterprise where crooked buildings and warped points of view cause gravity, apparently, to be vanquished so that water and balls appear to run up hill. It’s worth the price of admission, especially for kids.
Photo: Janice defies gravity at The Kosmos, just a couple of miles from our campsite, where water runs up hill and pendulums swing one way only – an apparent vortex – combined with plenty of smoke and mirrors, to be sure.
On the way home we stopped in at Hill City for Mexican food before the skies closed in with another deluge of rain. Thoroughly drenched, we scurried for the truck. When we got back to the trailer Janice set to making pork roast and baking cookies. Later, we tried to Skype with our mothers, but the Internet connection was insufficient. Blogging and emailing are also a hit-and-miss process at campsites with weak Internet connections. A hint for fellow travelers: Telus Webmail has very little room to store messages, and it somehow lost my complete address book. I’m going to have to re-enter the whole works.
The weather stubbornly refused to cooperate so we took a drive south to Badlands National Park where the bizarre, spooky specters that form the landscape there would have been much better revealed by even the tiniest amount of sunlight and its’ contrasting shadows. The light was too flat to photograph any real definition or vivid colour.
Photo: Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
On the way home we stopped at the historical and much advertised Wall Drugs. It turned out to be nothing more than an enormous complex of western themed shops and restaurants where tons of tacky trinkets were being unloaded onto thousands of milling tourists.
Back at camp we crossed a walking bridge over the Spring River and took a long, brisk walk on the bike path that continues for sixty-some miles around the Black Hills. After dinner we drove to Keystone, another historic western town on the doorstep of Mt. Rushmore. We were hoping for the weather to clear in time for sunset on the mountain so we strolled around town for an hour, stopping in for expensive drinks at yet another historic saloon where we watched a couple of Waylon and Willie wannabes. Still, the low clouds refused to reveal the mountain just a mile or so away.
Photo: One more historic bar at Keystone, South Dakota
Photo: Following criticism from my friend, Bill Lyle, about having too much white bread in his life, and asking about the seamier side of the trip, I include this photo of the inside of Ruby’s Saloon in Keystone, South Dakota. I can’t show anything more provocative, Bill, because, after all, this is a family site.
The glorious sunshine we awoke to the next morning changed everything. We hurried to the mountain where we gawked in reverence as we approached the base of the massive monument. It took four hundred men fourteen years to blast and carve their way through the granite until the four presidents finally revealed themselves, proudly and sternly gazing over the surrounding landscape. The scale of Mt.Rushmore is colossal, astonishing, well worth the wait.
Photo: Mount Rushmore, close-up, by morning.
We were all done at the mountain by 9am so we loaded up the trailer and drove north, retracing our route of a few days earlier, through Silver City to Deadwood, famous for being the stomping grounds of Wild Bill Hickok. Calamity Jane and others also hung out there and, just outside of town lies the infamous Boot Hill.
We walked around the town for an hour or so and, while there is a lot of history and some fascinating old architecture in Deadwood, most of the town is dedicated to gambling; the clinging, clanging and blinking of which wears thin on our nerves quicker than you can say “Bingo.”
Photo: An upsatirs window at Deadwood.
Photo: Downtown Deadwood.
Sturgis hadn’t been on the to-do list but, seeing as it was on our route and it was lunch time, we lucked out by stopping at The Knuckle Saloon, where, we both agreed, we split the best bacon and cheeseburger that either of us has had in a very long time, maybe ever.
Having had several biker friends recount outlandish stories about rallies they’ve attended at Sturgis over the years, it was laughable that there was a Cushman Rally on when we were there. Cushmans are classic miniature, mostly pastel-coloured mini-motorcycles.
Photo: Janice poses with a couple of Cushman motorcycles as she knuckles up for a possible dust-up in the Knuckle Saloon at Sturgis.
Photo: Inside the Knuckle Saloon.
Photos: The memorabilia and décor inside the Knuckle Saloon at Sturgis, pictured here, will definitely keep you occupied over the course of a lunch or dinner.
From Sturgis we headed north to the town of Faith, South Dakota, which sounded like a good place. It was boring and drab looking though, with no-see-ums, or whatever other type of miniscule irritants they have there, harassing us as soon as we exited the vehicle. We continued north to Shadehill Lake and State Park instead, close to the North Dakota border.
We spent an idyllic afternoon swimming and lazing around before hunkering down later with one eye on the Comfort Station due to a tornado warning. Man, do they get some wicked storms in the Dakotas. A tornado did touch down about twenty-five miles from us. The poor people camped near to us whose tent had been ripped from a couple of its pegs must have found the lightning flashes, torrential rain and tumultuous thunder extremely unnerving.
It was while we were swimming in the lake the next day, in the proximity of a woman and her three kids, when the ten-year-old looked at me and said, “Hey, watch this, Old Dude.” After careful consideration I let him live.
Photo: The calm before the storm, just before the sky darkens and tornado warnings are issued.
Photo: Two days prior to turning 61, Tim contemplates a ten-year-old kid saying, “Watch this Old Dude.”
The next day, no sooner had we gotten on the road than the radio, in its’ harsh automated fashion, began issuing more tornado warnings. We stopped in Lemmon to fill up, but when we enquired of the station owner what we should make of the warnings, she said, “Well you’re in the tornado belt, you’re going to have to ignore them and hope for the best.”
As we picked up the highway eastward, our jaws dropped at the most ominous black cloud formation imaginable ahead of us. The rain began pounding us with what sounded like little rubber hammers. We thought the windshield was going to cave in. Janice wanted me to stop but I figured; the more quickly we drove through it, the better. Ten minutes later we popped out on the other side of the wickedest, windiest, side-ways-rainiest, blackest storm we ever hope to pass through again – scary. Later we discovered that it did force some water in through the trailer windows, even though they were closed.
Photo: The rain sounded like rubber hammers on the windshield.
Photo: Janice counts her blessings after surviving another horrific storm in South Dakota.
We drove for hours trying to outrun the tornado warnings that day, but to no avail. As we crossed into North Dakota, the entire state was under tornado watch. Tornados were coming down within fifty miles on either side of us. Dire warnings that began with an annoying but undeniable series of bleeps, like you might expect to hear on a submarine before it dives, told of where and when the tornados were expected to touch down. These warnings were issued every twenty minutes on all of the radio stations, which kept us on a thin edge all day.
Eventually we ended up at Abraham Lincoln State Park, just south of Bismarck, the site of a former cavalry outpost which includes Custer’s field residence. The park afforded us a nice site, out of the wild winds we’d been bucking all day.
After setting up we took a walk around the park. On our way back, just across from our site, a lone RVer was pulling in. I could see that his 5th Wheel was getting dangerously close to some heavy branches that would cause the unit damage. I jumped into his rearview mirror sight and yelled, “Whoa!” He stopped in time and after getting out and having a look he thanked me but quite curtly said, “Thanks, but I’ll do it myself.”
The fact that he was from Texas has nothing to do with the following events. It wouldn’t have mattered where he was from but trying to figure out the reasons for his actions became decidedly consternating.
I was getting a fire started while Janice began to prepare dinner. It wasn’t long before I noticed him still stubbornly trying to fit his RV into the same spot, the process necessitating him getting in and out of his vehicle many times. Despite repeated attempts he wasn’t really getting a better position. I walked over and suggested he might want to ask for a different site because it appeared that his unit was just too big for the oddball configuration of the one he was assigned. He seemed to like that idea. I thought he was about to act on it and I went back for dinner.
He didn’t ask for a different site though. Janice and I watched throughout dinner as he finally wiggled and squeezed the unit, partially, into the awkward space. He then spent an extraordinarily long time unhooking and leveling. We had finished dinner so I disappeared to do the dishes. When I returned to the fire Janice was still watching him, now completely absorbed and fascinated. After all of his efforts, he’d just discovered his water hose was too short to reach the outlet. After contemplating his dilemma for a few minutes, he went about the unpleasant task of un-leveling and re-hooking the unit.
By now, for us, it had become our private twilight theatre. Keen observers of human nature that we are, we watched, frustrated for him, as he inched close enough to the water to hook up. It was evident though, from the tilt of the unit, that leveling it was going to be more of a chore this time. We stopped watching as he took up the arduous task of unhooking and re-leveling. Eventually, peering back through the dusk, we could see he had finally finished. He stood back, looked upon the still slightly unlevel unit and immediately began un-leveling and re-hooking. Finally, unhooking the water hose, he got back in the unit and, incredulously, he exited the park, never to be seen again.
Today is Saturday, June 18th, my birthday. I’m starting to celebrate it by having a Starbuck’s (Fivebucks) coffee at Bismarck, North Dakota. The Internet connection here is the first we’ve been able to hook into for five days.
Later, driving north on Highway 83, we were bucking a strong headwind and not really coming up with anything to do for my birthday when I noticed a small sign on the highway that pointed west and said ‘Bluegrass Festival’. We passed it by but, a couple of miles later, after checking the map, we turned around and returned to the exit where we’d seen the sign. The deciding factor had been that the festival was being held at Cross Ranch State Park, where we could camp alongside the Missouri River.
The state park was a very nice facility but all of the official campsites, due to the festival, were full so we were relegated to the enormous overflow field. That turn of events turned out fine for us because we had lots of water on board and relatively empty holding tanks. Of course it saved us some money too.
The 20th Annual Missouri River Bluegrass Festival was being staged in a forested area where the recent rains had left large puddles that had to be ditched away. We joined the others inside the fenced area and were treated to some really good traditional and alternative bluegrass music. While bluegrass has never really been our scene, (we had our red wine in metal tumblers) we did enjoy some very entertaining and high quality music.
A Jam Session was announced for after the show and I was excited to bring out the Cajon, (a Peruvian box-drum that is played while sitting on it) and jam with some of the young alternative players I’d seen. The trouble was that none of the aforementioned musicians turned up. In fact, there were only a couple of the local players that showed, along with a whole host of other, relatively amateur musicians who only played traditional bluegrass, which was not a good fit for the Cajon. Basically, they played the same melody and, consequently rhythm, to twenty different songs.
It being my birthday, amplified by the fact that we were now sporting a bit of a buzz, we headed for the campground where we had heard there was another jam. There was no moon but, Cajon in hand, we embarked on the dark and slightly treacherous walk. Finally we honed in on where the music was coming from: a bunch of folks sitting around a campfire. We decided to hang back in the dark to see what kind of music was being played. It was too funny – they were so obviously drunk, slurring along to some barely comprehensible country song. We had a few giggles and decided to call it a night.
The next day we drove to Minot, ND where we camped alongside some Manitobans who were on an American shopping spree. True to form, they drank a lot of beer. When we joined them at the fire, they pointed out on the map all of the best camping spots around Manitoba.
The next day we jogged east to Rugby, North Dakota. From there we’re headed north on Highway 81 towards Manitoba where we’re scheduled to see Lynda and Guy at Swan River in a few days time. Rugby, by the way, is the geographical centre of North America. Tomorrow we should be in Manitoba…
Photo: Tim strikes a pose with the monument to the Geographical Centre of North America at Rugby, North Dakota.