It’s 110 (bleeping) degrees Fahrenheit outside today without a cloud in the sky. It’s hot! Who would’ve thought Al and I would still be sitting in Phoenix, Arizona during the first week in June? Certainly not I. Thank goodness we have a flexible mindset and were able to readjust our plans after this most recent delay.
But it’s fricken hot 🥵 No sugar coating it by saying it’s a dry heat. Even an oven is a dry heat. Oh well, this ain’t our first rodeo experiencing extreme desert heat. We lived in Las Vegas, Nevada in the nineties. You learn to adjust.
Our initial plan was to depart Phoenix in mid-May and point the RV toward Wisconsin, but a few things happened that derailed those plans. First and foremost is that nasty virus that shut the country down … shut the world down. We wanted to wait for some level of normalcy to return (even just a glimmer) before we hit the road.
In reality, we didn’t mind changing our departure date until after Memorial Day Weekend because one of Al’s sister’s recently (April) moved to Phoenix. We were enjoying visits with her and her husband and assisting any way we could as they settled into their new home. So a couple of extra weeks in the valley spent with family would actually be fun.
Extending our stay turned out to be a good thing, a very good thing, as I encountered a potential little hiccup in my health. A couple of medical tests later followed by a teleconference with my doctor and we were once again good to go and set a new departure date. (I’m fine BTW)
The truck was ready. The RV was ready. Al and I were ready, and after one final gathering with the family to say our goodbyes, we’d be hitting the road a couple of days later, or so we thought. The day prior to rolling, Al lost a crown while eating a relatively light lunch. No peanut brittle involved. Well, he didn’t exactly lose it, it ended up in his hand instead of being securely attached to the tooth in his mouth.
Poor Al! However, after three uncomfortable hours in the dental chair enduring some major work, he’s doing great and currently waiting on the permanent crown to be ready for installation. Turns out, that old crown and root canal were most likely older than the dentist. Now that’ll make ya feel old! 😆 So obviously, that tooth was something that needed to be taken care of before traveling and we’re glad we were still in the valley when the crown fell out.
As soon as Al gets his new crown installed, my crowned king and I will be hitting the road. Fingers crossed 🤞 we won’t encounter any more faux pas. We’ve already encountered one too many for my taste!
Do you have a favorite RV travel destination? That’s a question we seem to be asked frequently and it’s not an easy one to answer. There are so many variables that make a place special and memorable. With that said, favorite destinations are truly a personal experience based on individual opinion. Of course, I do have a list of faves.
I have friends that have been brought to tears when they first set eyes on the Grand Canyon while others don’t see the big deal. In addition to the actual place, I feel a lot has to do with one’s frame of mind. For example, if you and your partner are quarreling or you have a child who’s being difficult, no matter how beautiful the scenery may be, you probably won’t have the fondest memories of that particular destination.
On the flip side, let’s say all the stars align, the sky is filled with rainbows, and you’re surrounded by dancing unicorns, even staying in a Cabela’s parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota can turn into a fun and memorable place to spend a birthday. Yep, been there, done that!
A favorite destination; the Black Hills in South Dakota
I was around fourteen years old the first time I visited the southwest corner of the state of South Dakota. My parents had just upgraded from a popup travel trailer to a Class A Motorhome and this would be our first family vacation with the new RV. It would also be our first time traveling outside of the Midwest. We lived in the Chicago suburbs at the time, and our vacations for our family of five always revolved around my dad’s love of fishing in Wisconsin.
And guess where I am today? I’m back in Hayward, WI … the very place that I spent many childhood summer vacations, but that’s for another post.
That family vacation was an unforgettable trip to the Black Hills and Custer State Park. Ever since that trip, I had always wanted to return but didn’t get a chance until my daughter and I visited during the summer of 2010, and then I returned in 2015 with Al in tow. And guess what? I was recently able to return again in June of 2019.
A revisit to a favorite destination, but first a stop in Nebraska
Anytime I have an excuse to visit the Black Hills in South Dakota, I’m all in. Well, in reality, I don’t need an excuse but a reason sure does help with any trip route planning. And a fine reason we had on our trek from Arizona to Wisconsin to stop for a spell in the Black Hills in mid-June and connect with blogging pals. Once again, we were offered the opportunity to stay on private property from someone we had never met before. Oh yeah, twist my arm! I love my blog community. ❤
But first … Since we had well over 400 miles and nearly eight hours of driving time to get to our South Dakota destination, we broke up the drive into two days and knew just the place to overnight; the Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska. This is the original store and home to the founders of Cabela’s. Unfortunately, Bass Pro purchased Cabela’s in 2017 and closed the headquarters in Sidney putting a bunch of employees out of work. Sidney is a small town and this acquisition has had a definite impact on the community in a negative way.
Sure looks like Nebraska to me!
Great campsite at the Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska
Considering Al had a few outdoorsy things he wanted (when doesn’t he?), he thought he’d help the local economy by purchasing a few items. Ah, but we didn’t stop there. Since we would be boondocking at Jim and Barb’s, we opted to spend a little on a campsite and get a full hook-up site for the night in their campground in lieu of staying for free in the parking lot. (I think it was around $32 for the night) This is a great spot to overnight with numerous restaurants within easy walking distance and a Walmart just down the road. Plus, it’s super easy to get on and off Interstate 80.
Beautiful property with a unique building
The next day, we had no trouble finding Jim and Barb’s lovely property located not far from Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. We arrived just in time to reconnect with Jim and Diana whom I had previously met in Sedona this past April. They would be leaving the next morning. Needless to say, that evening we all enjoyed happy hour together … good conversation and tasty margaritas.
A barndominium in the works. Jim and Barb have been RVing full-time since 2014. A couple of years ago, they purchased their dream property in South Dakota and are now in the process of building a home … a unique home that is part barn (that will fit two RVs) and part house. Actually, it’s quite perfect for those of us that love RVing, and it’s something Al and I have often talked about building. Our problem is we can’t pick a location.
The more Jim blogged about their “barndominium”, the more I wanted to see it … and of course, meet Jim and Barb. It really is a great idea and will meet their needs perfectly. They still intend to continue RVing and traveling regularly.
A view of the build showcasing the beautiful location
Fishing Jim’s RV is in the background. Michigan Jim’s is in the foreground. We see the RV garage part of the building.
Al helps Jim install a window
Outside the living quarters
Inside the living area
(To enlarge photos in a gallery, simply click on any image)
During our five day visit, the building process needed to continue. While Barb ran errands (visiting lumber yards, picking up doors, etc.), Al helped “fishing Jim” install some windows. Why “fishing Jim”? When there are two different “Jim’s” on the premises, ya gotta have a way to differentiate the two. So while I call Jim, the property owner, “fishing Jim”, I call the visiting Jim, “Michigan Jim”. Seems to work when I’m communicating with my husband. He always knows which Jim I’m referring to, and yes, Al and Jim did talk fishing, but that was after the other Jim returned to Michigan.
So, while everyone was busy working on the barndominium, I went out exploring with my camera. Hey, I did my part by offering some very helpful and important tidbits. As a former home builder, I’m full of all kinds of useful (and non-useful) information.🤣
Actually, door swings, placement of electrical switches, and cabinet layout are rather important and I gave Barb some suggestions on how to ensure an end result that she’ll be happy with. I think we’ve all visited a place where the light switch is in an awkward location or even behind a door. It’s all about the planning and attention to little details and that’s my expertise. Oh, and I’m really good at pointing a finger and telling people what to do. Just ask Al!😏
However, it wasn’t all about the build. We did have time for some fun together. One evening we saw a comedic play at the Black Hills Playhouse. Another day, Al and Jim did some backroad exploring with the Jeep and then Jim took me on a 4×4 drive in the four-wheeler in search of photo-ops. This image is for you Jim.
A great campsite
Our five-day stay in the Black Hills whizzed by. We would’ve loved to stay longer, but 1. we didn’t want to overstay our welcome having just met these lovely folks in person for the first time, and 2. rain was expected and with rain comes a very muddy driveway … that’s the real reason we bid farewell. If it hadn’t been for the impending rain, they may never have gotten rid of us … but shhh, don’t tell them that or we may not be welcome back.
Come on, with a campsite like this, why would we be in a hurry to move on? It’s obvious why Jim and Barb fell in love with the property. If it weren’t so darn far away from our children and the winters weren’t so nasty cold, we would consider buying land in the area. Yes, we really do like the Black Hills that much … in the summer, that is.
Thank you, Jim and Barb for opening your home to us. We enjoyed meeting you, hanging out, and hope to do it again. Oh, and let’s not forget about the handsome neighbors.
But why are South Dakota’s Black Hills one of my favorite vacation destinations? I’ll share more photos and information about the area in my next post.
There are lots of things that I love about RVing and near the top of that list is traveling with my home in tow. I sleep in my own bed, cook in my own kitchen, and have all my necessities within easy reach around me. All the comforts of home with an ever-changing yard, but that’s not the best part…
Our journey continues
It was day two of our summer excursion. The day before was a long nine-hour drive from Phoenix, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’m grateful Al and I slept well and woke up with energy. Sleeping in our own bed makes a huge difference and the good night’s sleep had us ready to tackle another long day of driving.
It was a little before 6:00 a.m. when I put the kettle on the RV stove to heat the water for coffee. When we’re boondocking and other RVs are nearby, we won’t start our generator this early in the morning so that we could use our drip coffee maker. (This post contains affiliate links) So, when I don’t have the power for the Cuisinart coffee maker, I use the pour-over coffee brewing method … just as tasty.
After a quick breakfast and one cup down, we were once again rolling with our second cup of coffee in our travel mugs. We knew we had at least a six-hour drive in front of us and a destination that was new to us. Even though we were familiar with the general area, we weren’t familiar with the specific piece of private property where we’d be spending the week.
The best thing about RVing
If you follow other RV blogs, join any RVing Facebook groups, or read any RV Forums, then you’ve probably heard from others that as much as we all enjoy the freedom of the RV lifestyle, most of us will agree that the best thing about RVing is the people we meet and the friendships that are made. It’s the best, and it’s unlike any other lifestyle.
There’s something about the camaraderie of the RVing community that turns complete strangers into true friends in a short amount of time.
Al and I spent our winter in an RV Park in Phoenix. Many of our neighbors were doing the same while others were there for shorter time frames. One such neighbor, Dick and Steph, were only there for a couple of months. They were on a snowbird trial run to test out the desert southwest with their RV. (By the way, they loved it and will return to Phoenix next winter.)
Noticing their Colorado license plates, I was quick to stop and chat to see what part of Colorado they were from. Turns out they live just west of where we used to live in southern Colorado. During one of their last days in the park, we discussed our upcoming summer travel plans. When I made mention that we’d be in their neck of the woods near the beginning of June to tackle our storage units, they were quick to offer their property as a place for us to stay.
Seriously? These were folks we barely knew and yet they were offering us the opportunity to stay on their land for as long as we needed to. Well, twist my arm! This scenario was so much better than staying at the Lake Pueblo State Park where we’d need reservations to get us through the busy weekends. Dealing with those storage units would be stressful enough without adding in the stress of a time frame.
The only real downside was the distance. The state park was only a fifteen-minute drive to the storage facility while Dick and Steph’s place would be over an hours drive. We’ll take it!
An emotional, yet fun week
After getting settled in and getting acquainted with Dick and Steph’s beautiful home and property, it was time to take the hour and twenty-minute drive to the storage facility. We spent about five-hours that first-day pulling box by box out of the jam-packed unit on the left.
The next day, we spent four grueling hours going through more boxes. The task was a combination of tedious, grueling, and emotional which lead to a much-needed break on day three.
Our day off
Even though we had previously lived in southern Colorado and knew all about Bishop Castle, Al and I hadn’t personally visited. So Dick recommended the four of us enjoy a scenic drive to a castle.
Dick, Al, and Steph on the rear deck.
Al and me in front of the castle
Hmm … it’s an interesting structure surrounded by a lot of controversy. I don’t think it’s an attraction I would recommend driving out of the way to see, but since we were somewhat in the area, I found it to be a unique sight and fun day with our friends.
I do question the safety of the structure which is why government officials have tried to stop Mr. Bishop from keeping it open to the public. If you have even the slightest fear of heights, I wouldn’t recommend exploring the inside of the building. Nor would I recommend visiting with children even though we saw quite a few.
I don’t necessarily agree with some of the county’s tactics to close Mr. Bishop and his castle down, but I do understand the concerns. When we lived in Colorado, I remember watching our local news channel and hearing about Mr. Bishop’s problems with local law enforcement and county officials. Talk about an interesting story!
After our enjoyable day off, we had one more day at storage. Whew! We were sure glad when that task was done. We did widdle our stuff down to 1 1/2 units. Part of that half will be going to our children (at their request) which means we’ll be moving all our stuff to Phoenix. Nope, I’m not even going to talk about the plan to move everything from Pueblo to Phoenix this fall for fear of breaking out in hives from stress.
Perhaps I should do a blog post on How not to move into your RV full-time. Do as I say, not as I do!!! 🙄
Once the storage job was complete, we weren’t in any hurry to move on. After all, we had a full hook-up RV site and it was free … awesome! But the best part was hanging out with Dick and Steph and enjoying the amazing views. Our next few days were filled with laughs, good food, and great company. They even invited us to revisit anytime … always a good sign that we didn’t overstay our welcome.
We reluctantly bid farewell to our Cotopaxi, Colorado friends, and look forward to spending more time hanging out together this winter when all of us return to the Pioneer RV Park in Phoenix, Arizona.
Our next stop found us back in some familiar territory and making new friends. Once again, the common thread of RVing and this little blog of mine lead to a great overnight on private property just east of Colorado Springs. Kathy has been following my blog for a while even though she doesn’t write one herself. In the past, she has commented on various posts and we’ve even communicated via email.
She and her husband were full-time RVers for about a year. Their intent was always to purchase another home near Colorado Springs when their other house sold. Thus, while their new home was being built, they traveled around in their RV. Al and I knew very little about her and her husband, but to sum up our experience with our new friends, we enjoyed our visit so much so that we almost stayed another night, but we had plans which involved a time frame. By the way, their home and property are beautiful and we hope to reconnect with these fellow RVers sometime down the road.
RVing is a great way to travel and see the country, and although the list of things I love about the RV lifestyle is long, at the top of my favorites list are the people we meet. However, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the fabulous friends I’ve made via this RV blog who have also offered up their property and friendship.
During our RVing journey, we’ve met so many fine people that we enjoy hanging out with, as well as have developed some really amazing friendships … the kind of friends that I know would drive out of their way to come help us if we asked and we would do the same. Those kinds of relationships are rare and special … thank you!
Next up – South Dakota and meeting blogging pals for the first time!
Have you ever looked at a map and been so curious about a road or town that you just had to hop in the car and explore? Well, that seems to happen to me a lot. First off, I love maps and have had an interest in geography as long as I can remember. I’m always wondering what’s around the next bend in the road.
This summer we’ll be traveling to some familiar and some unfamiliar territory. As much as I love exploring new places, I equally enjoy returning to some old favorites. During the process of planning out our route and schedule for our summer excursion, I found my mind wandering …. squirrel. 😆
Hmm, where exactly did my mind wander off to? Colorado! Ah, the wonderful memories I have in that beautiful U.S. state. After all, Al and I called Colorado home for over twenty years and agree it was a great place to raise our children. These days, Arizona feels more like home to us, but a part of our hearts will always remain in Colorado.
So, while scouring the map, I was met with a flood of fond memories. Could I pick a favorite Colorado mountain town? Could I pick a favorite scenic Colorado drive? Absolutely NOT! I do however have some favorites. And those favorites on my list are mostly due to the memories that were created in those locations. Of course, there are so many more amazing places to visit in Colorado than what I’ve listed here, but that would take me days to share. So, let’s start with these five for now.
Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns
In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns; towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that lovely.
When we lived in Colorado Springs, we would take our children up to either Summit County or Grand County for winter fun.
While the kids were enjoying the slopes, Al and I would either sit by a roaring fire in the lodge or stroll the shops in a quaint mountain town. There’s no shortage of charm and character AND amazing views in Colorado.
I’m a bona fide flatlander and the thought of shooshing down a mountain slope with mini sleds strapped to my feet never did appeal to me. Once was enough for me! But my children grew up in Colorado, and therefore, they are avid snow skiers. However, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling were always a fun adventure that I never shied away from.
These days, Al and I save our visits to the high country for summer. As a matter of fact, some of these mountain communities have become even more popular during the summer months than they are during winter.
Summit County includes the towns of Frisco, Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone, Silverthorne and the village of Copper Mountain, and is located about a two-hour drive from Denver’s International Airport. So it’s super easy to get to and the area offers plenty to see and do.
As much as I enjoy visiting Breckenridge and think that it too is a must-see, I personally prefer the quaint mountain town of Frisco. Frisco is much more low-key and less touristy than Breckenridge. Thus, Frisco is our first stop on my “top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns” tour.
Frisco has a population of less than 3,000, sits at over 9,000 feet in elevation, and was incorporated in 1880 during the mining boom. Today it’s a gateway to several major ski resorts. Main Street offers plenty of unique shops, restaurants, and a historical park with a museum. During one of our RVing visits to the area a few years ago, Al and I discovered the Frisco Historic Park & Museum. This is a free, self-guided museum preserving Frisco’s heritage.
Just down Main Street is a local coffee shop we enjoy. After purchasing a couple of Lattes, we strolled over to the museum. Al and I aren’t huge museum-goers, but we found this historical park to be quite entertaining and worth the stop. I was particularly entertained by the fashions on display as well as learning the importance of red lipstick during World War II … boosting courage.
During WWII, women showed their support by wearing red lipstick. Popularized by the movie industry, women demonstrated their patriotism by wearing makeup, especially the red lipstick. While mascara and rouge were rationed, lipstick was kept in production because of its benificial effect on morale.
We spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds and the buildings at the museum. Each building offered a little something different enlightening us on the town and its history over the past century. We found it to be a worthwhile stop, and we’ll probably return someday.
Scenic Road – Swan Mtn Road
Off Swan Mountain Road, between Breckenridge and Keystone, is a scenic overlook high above the Dillon Reservoir. The views from the Sapphire Point overlook are stunning. There’s a short loop trail that can be accessed from the parking lot. We hiked this trail in winter conditions several years ago and I remember the views being very nice.
Aside from the stunning views, there’s the entertainment from the chipmunks to consider. These little guys are used to folks bringing them sunflower seeds and aren’t shy about begging.
We timed our visit perfectly for a free Bi-Plane air show over the lake.
In the town of Dillon, along the shore is a great interpretive trail.
Lots to do and see
As many times as we’ve visited Frisco, we always discover some new shop, a new restaurant, or a new hiking trail. And the scenery never disappoints. During one of our visits, we attended a bi-plane air show which was so much fun to see.
Shopping is not a problem around Summit County. Between the towns of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne, you’ll find several groceries stores, including a Whole Foods. There’s also a Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, sporting good stores, and even an Outlet Mall.
My favorite is a little shop strolling in Breckenridge. We always look forward to picking up a treat at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and perhaps purchasing a T-shirt (or two) from a local store. I wonder if Al has noticed that I’m encroaching on his half of the closet…. ssshhh, that’ll be our secret!
The dining options are endless. You’ll find everything from fast food places, to chain restaurants, to independent breweries, to fine dining, and everything in-between. Our biggest problem was always deciding where to eat because of all the choices.
Lodging: When we would visit the area during the winter, we usually stayed at one of the chain motels in Dillon like the Comfort Inn. There are so many lodging options through-out Summit County. You’ll find motel chains, ski-in-ski-out condos, high-end resorts, and private properties available. Yep, no shortage of lodging, but keep in mind premium pricing on weekends … all those Front Range dwellers like to head up to the high country on weekends.
Camping: Parts of Summit County are within the White River National Forest (Dillon Ranger District). There are five different campgrounds located around the Dillon Reservoir, as well as some dispersed camping further into the national forest. We never found any boondocking sites that we felt would comfortably accommodate our 31′ Fifth Wheel. Thus, we’ve always stuck with one of the campgrounds. With several campgrounds to choose from, we’ve never had a problem showing up without a reservation, but that’s for dry camping, no hookups, and no dump station on-site. Weekends might be a problem though without a reservation.
The Heaton Bay Campground does have one loop that has electric, it’s big rig friendly, and the most popular campground in the area. You’ll definitely need a reservation to stay here. The Lowry Campground, least popular and least desirable, also has some electric sites.
Campgrounds Peak One and Prospector are both large campgrounds with a mixture of sites (small, large, level, unlevel) and dry only. For those of you with big RV’s and setup with solar, you might want to consider the Pine Cove Campground. This is nothing more than a paved parking lot style of place, but it sits right along the shores of the Dillon Reservoir with spectacular views. Because the RV’s are parked so close together, generator use is frowned upon at Pine Cove CG.
For those interested in full-hookups and/or doing a little bit of winter camping, Tiger Run Resort might be worth checking out. Just be forewarned, it is pricey, but then again, it’s located in Breckenridge where everything is pricey.
In next Sunday’s post, we’ll move up the road to Grand Lake, Colorado … the west-end gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
I love road trips with my daughter. We always manage to find plenty of adventure, and trust me, this recent road trip was filled with lots of laughs, challenges, and new experiences for the both of us.
The last time Ashton and I took a road trip she was still in college living in Fort Collins, Colorado. That trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota has always held the fondest of memories for this mother and daughter duo. We never imagined that we could possibly top that road trip.
But oh boy, we topped it indeed. What an adventure. One for the books!
It all started when Ashton drove up from Phoenix to pick me up in Prescott Valley, Arizona, where Al and I are currently camped with the RV.
She had her new Honda CRV (lovingly named Charlotte) all loaded up with everything we needed for our camping trip. She and I had been planning and preparing for this trip for the past several weeks, and just like her mom (me), Ashton is well-organized.
Wednesday – May 17thAfter loading my personal belongings into Charlotte along with a few items into the cooler, we hit the road. As the lunch hour neared, I received a text message from hubby thanking me for the yummy food left in the frig. Say what? I had a feeling all along that I was forgetting something. I managed to load the cooler with the freezer items, but totally forgot about the frig; the egg salad, lettuce, and turkey in the RV refrigerator were left behind. At least Al was a happy camper with a full tummy.
Having traveled this route in Arizona many a time, I knew exactly where we were going to stop for a picnic lunch, or so I thought ….. The plan was to stop at the famous Horseshoe Bend overlook for some photo-ops and a picnic, but as we neared the turn for the overlook, there was a line of cars and RV’s stretching down the highway waiting to enter the parking lot. Egad …. no thanks! And with the food targeted for our lunch left behind, it was time to come up with an alternative plan.
We continued north on Highway 89 and stopped at the Walmart in the town of Page to pick up some lunch meat and groceries along with a couple of Subway sandwiches. We then had that picnic lunch at the Lake Powell scenic overlook. Not a bad plan B, but that weather was not looking good.
We encountered a steady stream of rain and wind our entire drive from Page, Arizona to Kanab, Utah. It was still drizzling when we arrived at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Much to my surprise, the campground was full, but they did have a primitive site for us which turned out to be perfect and gave us views and privacy.
Our previous practice pitching the tent in daughter’s backyard paid off in spades. We managed to battle the wind and rain like pros and had our shelter up in no time.
We held off inflating our air mattresses and brought our camp chairs into the tent.
As the rain pelted the tent and the nylon fabric whipped to and fro by the winds, Ashton and I sat inside our shelter wrapped in a blanket watching the weather pass by. We were warm, we were dry and we were on an adventure.
Eventually, there was a short reprieve in the weather and we wasted no time getting out to explore the sand dunes. The poor weather actually served to our benefit.
The Coral Pink Sand Dunes is an off-roader’s paradise. With 1,200 acres of dunes to explore, the steady roar of engines from ATV’s and dune buggies is to be expected. However, with the poor weather, we practically had the sand dunes to ourselves. There were a few other hikers out and about, but absolutely no OHV’s (off-highway vehicles). We didn’t need to share this amazing scenery with anyone. How cool was that!
It was quiet, peaceful, and down right beautiful. Ashton and I hiked, climbed, and explored the dunes. There wasn’t a single four-wheeler out on the dunes, allowing us to wander about without concern. What a treat and a privilege to be able to experience this unique landscape in solitude.
The shutter on our cameras clicked away as we admired the views. We were fascinated by the wildflowers and vegetation. The contrast of colors between the sweeping sand dunes and the mountain backdrop dotted with juniper pines captivated us. We drank it all in before the second wave of weather began to assault us.
Rain turned to sleet and eventually to snow. The winds were relentless and the temperature continued to drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. For cripes’ sake, this was the middle of May! For some reason, we found a great deal of humor in our situation and by 8:30 p.m. we were cocooned in our warm sleeping bags atop our four-inch thick inflated air mattresses and laughing. Yes, we were roughing it. No glamping for these gals…. at least not this time!
Just two weeks earlier as temperatures in Phoenix were hitting the triple digit range, daughter Ashton, a Colorado gal at heart, decided to take her ice/snow scraper out of her vehicle for the first time ever. Having grown up in Colorado and traveling regularly to higher elevations, she’s used to encountering inclement, unexpected weather anytime of year. We found the timing of her ice scraper removal just another laughable moment.
At some point during the night I woke up. I was a little disoriented and not sure when we had fallen a sleep. Probably in between giggles and story telling while the tent swayed hither and yon.
And now it was calm and quiet. No more wind or rain. It had to be about one or two in the morning. Not wanting to wake Ashton, I slowly unzipped the tent, and although I was shivering from the cold, I was awed beyond words the moment I exited the tent. The sky was incredibly clear and the stars shone brilliantly against the navy blue background. For a split second I thought about waking Ashton and had it been even slightly warmer, I would have. What a sight to behold and oh how I wanted to linger and drink in that breathtaking vision, but alas the warmth of the sleeping bag beckoned.
The next morning while we allowed the rising sun to melt the ice on Charlotte, we took another hike across the dunes. The sand was frozen and reminded us of walking on frozen snow. It was a very different experience from our hike the day before.
So how did we feel about tenting it in these conditions? I won’t lie, once it started sleeting the thought of a hotel did cross our minds, but in the end, I’m so glad she and I are both stubborn. Our experience at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes couldn’t have been any better (well, maybe a tad warmer). Sure, we were cold, but the weather added another dimension to our overall experience, and fortunately, we maintained our sense of humor which definitely helped.
And this was just our first stop. Next up, Zion National Park ….
Whew!!! The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, keeping hubby and me on our toes. I’ll share more about our shenanigans in an upcoming post. For today, I’ll focus on getting caught up on our travels.
In my last post, we were working our way south through western Nebraska; America’s Heartland. Much to our surprise, we found the prairies in this part of the country incredibly enjoyable.
As we meandered down Highway 385, there was virtually no traffic. We took in the scenery and although mostly agricultural, the land rolls with the occasional rock butte.There’s a beauty to the land AND the hard-working people who call this place home. The area is rich in farming and rich in history. The iconic Chimney Rock served as one of the most recognizable landmarks for the great western pioneer migration in the 1800’s.Chimney Rock is now a National Historic Site. This slender rock spire rises over 300 feet from a conical base and can be seen from nearly 30 miles away.Pioneers used Chimney Rock as a landmark to guide them along the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. The trails ran along the north side of the rock following the Platte River and continued on to Scotts Bluff, another important landmark.
It’s no secret that I’m not the history buff in this family, but I’m fascinated by the tale of those gutsy Pioneers. This was, after all Indian territory. As a matter of fact, the Lakota Sioux referred to Chimney Rock as Elk Penis, a name I find much more entertaining. Indians, rattlesnakes, and harsh weather were just the beginning of the difficult journey west for those enterprising pioneers. The fortitude and determination it took to embark on such an ambitious venture is astounding. Many made it to their destination, and many did not.
So while the Pioneers of the 1800’s could park their horses and covered wagons anywhere they saw fit, hubby and I need to abide by rules and laws governing where we can park our modern-day horse and covered wagon.
Free overnighting with electric AND water…..
We find ourselves frequently using the site Campendium.com for camping reference and quickly noted a place to camp for the night. We find the Bayard town park easily. It’s located across from a large grassy picnic area in a small gravel lot with electric and water pedestals for 3 RV’s. What a great find and it’s located only 3 miles north of Elk Penis Chimney Rock.
As much as Al and I enjoyed our free campsite, later that evening we accused each other of having stinky feet…. that is, until a gust of wind brought the rather light stench to one of sheer on assault. Ah yes, we were quickly reminded that we were indeed camped in cattle country. The next day, it was time to take our clean feet and move on!
By the way… there were a total of four bloggers all traveling through this part of Nebraska within days of each other. For a different view on the same area, I’ve attached a link to the other bloggers. First up was Pam and John followed by Mona Liza and Steve, then us (although we didn’t visit Scotts Bluff), and lastly Nina and Paul. I find it interesting to read four very different and distinct blogging accounts on the same subject.
We continued our journey south through western Nebraska. We could not possibly pass through Sidney, Nebraska, without a quick stop at the original Cabela’s store. I love success stories and this is certainly a tale of the American dream.
Dick Cabela turned $45 worth of fishing fly materials into the number one outdoor retailer. You can read the entire story here.
We also appreciate the RV friendly facilities found at most Cabela locations. The Sidney store offers a couple of dump stations along with plenty of free overnight parking PLUS a campground complete with full hook-ups for a nominal fee.
On to Colorado……
We pulled into the North Sterling State Park in northeast Colorado. It was midweek with no ranger in sight and plenty of open campsites. We drove around looking for a nice site with a view and noting any reservation notices on the site posts. We pulled into site #6 which required a little creative leveling but nothing we couldn’t handle. A mere two hours later, the camp host came by and reluctantly said, “I’m sorry folks, but I’m going to ruin your day. I need you to move to another site”. Apparently, the ranger failed to post the reservation notices that morning and this site was already reserved for the evening. We responded in a very understanding manner.
With the camp hosts assistance, we found a site that was available for that night and into the up coming weekend. Within 30 minutes we were all set up in our new spot – site #49, which turned out to be equally as nice as #6 with even more spacing between sites and more privacy.
That evening the camp host dropped by bearing a gift of the most delicious full SLAB of BBQ ribs that he had slow cooked all day. Yum! A little visiting over drinks ensued.
The next day I was off on my adventure; an excursion I had planned a few months earlier and one not of interest to hubby.
I wasn’t optimistic about by sojourn to the Pawnee National Grasslands, but I was curious since a blogger recommended I might enjoy it. I drove, and I drove…. down this gravel road and that gravel road. I encountered one 18 wheeler after another. At one point, I was sandwiched between two. The cloud of dust was blinding at times.
You see, this is serious fracking country. Beneath the surface of the Pawnee National Grasslands are oil and gas reserves that are being extracted. The land is dotted with production facilities and evaporation ponds (the waters used for fracking turn toxic after use and need to be dealt with). Not exactly fitting of the scenic category.It took me awhile to find the trailhead to the famous Pawnee Buttes, but after a little meandering down various gravel roads I eventually found my destination. I spent 15 minutes looking around and talking to the cows before hopping back in the truck. No hiking for me. My interest had totally waned.
I wanted so much to like this place. I tried really hard to find the beauty, but after 4 hours of driving one gravel road after another and sharing the dust with semi-trucks, I turned tail and headed home. I would categorize this visit as a bust (aka failure, flop, fizzle, dud). Don’t get me wrong, there is a beauty to the land and I enjoy communing with cows, but the industrial aspect took away from the experience.
Perhaps birders might find this place of interest as the Colorado State Bird the Lark Bunting was flying around in abundance, or perhaps the western region of Pawnee NG offers something more photogenic, but the area I explored held little interest to me personally.
When I returned to the RV, hubby and I looked up reviews for the Pawnee National Grasslands and discovered the majority of the reviews were negative. I’m glad I went with an open mind and read these reviews AFTER my visit. Even though it was a bust, I’m still glad I visited. Not all places in Colorado can be labeled majestic.
My reminiscing didn’t end in the Badlands. The memories continued as Al and I moved on to South Dakota’s Black Hills and Custer State Park.
Not only did my childhood family of five visit this area umpteen years ago in dad’s new Motorhome, but five years ago my daughter and I visited during a gals road trip.
My daughter, Ashton, and I visit Mount RushmoreAshton was in college at the time and enjoying a break before heading off to Sydney, Australia, for a semester abroad. She and I hopped in my little red Toyota Tacoma and made the five-hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado to Custer, South Dakota.
Ashton and I had such a fabulous time during that visit that I couldn’t wait to return to the Black Hills someday. And return I did in early September……… with hubby in tow this time.
The three-day Labor Day weekend was nearing and since we were traveling via Plan B, without reservations, we had concerns about a place to stay. After an exhaustive search, we ended up finding a place to park at the Elks Lodge in Rapid City. The lodge offers ten RV sites on a first-come, first-serve basis and had an open spot for us. It wasn’t the picturesque setting I usually crave, but the lodge was really nice and even located on a golf course.
With the RV parked, Al and I ventured off exploring Custer State Park. Shortly after entering the state park, we needed to stop for pedestrians bison in the crosswalk…. smart guys, huh!
A managed herd of about 1,300 bison roam freely throughout Custer State Park. The herd is one of the largest publically-owned herds in the world. Bison are huge and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms). During the third week of September, the park holds a Buffalo Roundup. This is an event I’d love to attend someday.
During this recent visit, we spent a great deal of time in the truck taking in the sights by driving the scenic byways. The first was the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that twists and turns through rolling prairie and ponderosa pines.
As the name implies, we saw plenty of wildlife on this scenic loop during this visit as well as previous visits. From buffalo …
to Pronghorn, and prairie dogs, to free-loading burros. You know how you’re never supposed to approach wildlife or feed them? Well such is not the case with these entertaining burros.
It’s ok to bring them goodies. Keep it healthy though. I forgot to bring the bag of carrots that I purchased especially for these guys. Once this burro realized I had no treats to offer, he was on to the next car.
Unlike other wildlife, the burros hang around one particular area in Custer State Park and a ranger at the visitor center is more than happy to brief you on that location and the do’s and don’ts.
After our successful wildlife viewing, we stopped at Stockade Lake for a picnic lunch. It’s a beautiful lake that allows boating and has a wooded campground. As pristine as Stockade Lake was I couldn’t wait to show hubby Sylvan Lake.
As a fourteen-year-old gal from Illinois, I thought Sylvan Lake was the most beautiful place that I had ever seen. My brother and I hiked and explored all around this little mountain lake. We were intrigued by the granite rock and boulders and the clean, clear, cool water.
We even rented one of those paddle boats. While my brother and I exercised our legs, my dad sat on the back with a fishing line in the water. Yep, dad brought his fishing gear. Nothing like trolling via sustainable energy; as long as brother’s legs and my legs held up that is. Dad was great in giving directions on where he wanted us to paddle and gave no thought to our weakening leg muscles.
On my recent trip to Illinois, dad and I shared some laughs as we reminisced about this trip.
After giving hubby the tour of Sylvan Lake and sharing some of my childhood memories with him, I had one more memorable item on my list that I had to show him for Al to fully comprehend.
We ventured over to scenic Needles Highway; named after the needle-like granite formation located just past Sylvan Lake. There are two one-lane tunnels along this stretch of road. Tunnel #5 is 8 feet 4 inches wide and 12 feet high. My dad drove his brand new motorhome through this tunnel back in the early 1970s. I remember my mom begging dad not to go through the tunnel and covering her eyes in fear. As children, we thought dad could do no wrong and found humor in mom’s dramatic behavior.
As Al and I waited for oncoming traffic to clear the tunnel, we pulled in the side mirrors on the F-250. When it was our turn, I slowly drove through the tunnel all the while I kept repeating, “I can’t believe my dad drove the motorhome through this tunnel”. I now understand why mom freaked out. I asked myself, was dad a skilled driver? Did his sense of adventure push him? Or was he just plain crazy?
In dad’s defense, I must add, dad did do his homework before driving through this tunnel. He spoke with a ranger. He jotted down all the dimensions on both tunnels and verified the Motorhome’s size. He also discovered a tour bus once a week would travel this route. I guess with that tidbit of information, that sealed the deal for dad and through we went with inches to spare.
As Al and I exited the tunnel, we were greeted with stunning views. Needles Highway traverses through rugged granite mountains, a diverse forest, and mountain prairie. This is a beautiful drive not to be missed, but a lot less stressful and much more fun in a small vehicle!
The next day hubby and I explored Iron Mountain Road. This scenic drive connects Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. “Experience the road that engineers once said couldn’t be built.” This road was built in the 1930’s and considered an engineering marvel at the time.
There are three tunnels to pass through and each one frames Mount Rushmore in the distance when entering from Custer State Park.
Iron Mountain Road is another very fun and scenic drive not to be missed. For anyone interested in engineering, construction, or design, this is a unique road. I loved all the log bridges, the tunnels, and the views.
South Dakota’s Badlands holds a special place in my heart. I was a mere 14 years old the first time this gal from Illinois laid eyes on this incredible land.
It was the first family excursion in my dad’s new pride and joy; a brand new motorhome.
That was an exciting adventure for our family of five, because this was a trip that didn’t entail fishing in Wisconsin, my dad’s favorite pastime. Family vacations ALWAYS centered around camping near fishing action. No fishing involved during this trip!
My brother was eighteen at the time and getting ready to head off to college. Dad put him in charge of navigating, which was a much better choice than my mother, who could get turned around in the blink of an eye; directionally challenged one might say. While the guys were up front driving and navigating my little sister, mom, and myself sat at the dinette table taking in the sights out of the motorhome’s big windows.
The barren, rugged land made mom quite uncomfortable. While the rest of us were oohing and aahing, she sat in silence. You see, mom and dad grew up in Germany, even my brother was born in Germany and this kind of vast desolation doesn’t exist in her homeland. This was like nothing she’d ever seen before and it made her feel uneasy.
We stopped at various pull-outs and scenic overlooks before it was time to decide where to camp for the night. Dad was definitely feeling adventurous during this trip and decided to take the twelve mile rutted and rough gravel-dirt road to the primitive campground. It wasn’t a campground, but merely a designated parcel of land allowing overnight camping. I don’t even remember there being a pit toilet, just raw open land. Ah yes, this is what us RVer’s now refer to as boondocking.This was definitely not mom’s idea of a relaxing vacation and I remember her freaking out as my brother and I took off exploring.
I wanted to see buffalo and maybe even a rattlesnake. I saw neither during that trip but wasn’t disappointed because the adorable Prairie Dogs captivated my attention.
So here I am, umpteen years later and oohing and aahing every bit as much, if not more, as I did years ago. I really wanted to camp at that same primitive campground from the family trip, but with temperatures in the 90 degree plus range, we opted to stay at the Cedar Pass Campground with electric hook-up so we could run our air-conditioning during the heat of the day.
However, a trip to the primitive Sage Creek Campground was in order. I had to refresh my memory. Unlike my last visit, this time I saw plenty of buffalo aka bison.
We turned off the main paved road onto a well maintained gravel road. The road was in much better condition than all those years ago. We continued the twelve miles down the road passing herds of buffalo in the distance. The sky was hazy with smoke drifting down from the Pacific Northwest wildfires.
Not only was the road very well maintained, the campground turned out to be a little more developed than all those years ago. There were picnic tables and pit toilets…. no water. The campground is used predominantly by tents, but is also accessible to RV’s.
Bison routinely meander through this campground causing a need to watch where you step…. fresh Bison droppings wouldn’t be fun to step in.
I assure you, on our next visit to the Badlands National Park we WILL definitely be staying at this campground. I’ll admit though, I did have an uneasy moment with one Buffalo.
I was sitting in the truck taking his photograph when he started to approach me; heading straight toward me and the driver’s side door. As his pace quickened in my direction, I dropped my camera and put the truck in drive, not waiting around to see what his intentions, if any, were. Perhaps we made eye contact a little longer than he liked or perhaps he just wanted me to scratch behind his ears horns. Didn’t matter, I was outta there!
Bison have been known to attack, so ample distance, a wide berth, and good judgment should always be heeded.
After my fun moment of reminiscing and communing with buffalo, we continued on the scenic drive to the town of Wall, located near the Badlands National Park western entrance. This is definitely a tourist attraction complete with plenty of souvenir and T-shirt shops.
Wall Drug is the focus of this tourist draw and although Al and I usually shy away from such venues, we found ourselves entertained. The story of the Hustead family is one of tenacity and the pioneer spirit. You can read their fascinating story here. We were also surprised to find a place where you can still get a cup of coffee for 5¢. Granted, we’re not talking designer coffee (aka Starbucks), but for a nickel it was a tasty cup of Joe.
Three T-shirts later (yeah, I have a thing for T-shirts), we headed back to camp. I spent the next couple of days close to camp observing natures beauty.
Upon first glance, the buttes, spires, and pinnacles of this steeply eroded land may look desolate. But if one looks closely, diverse and beautiful signs of life can be discovered.
There’s an abundance of rich and varied vegetation, including one of the largest mixed-grass prairies in the country.
And then there’s the bountiful wildlife. A watchful eye and a silent slow pace will reward onlookers.
This land of extremes, evokes a sense of mystery. While living in my RV surrounded by the Badlands, I immersed myself in this surreal landscape.
The weather can be extreme but when approached with a preparedness, the Badlands can offer an endless supply of pleasure and fascination.
Due to the smoke-filled, hazy skies and extreme heat during our visit, our explorations at Badlands National Park may have been minimal, but the visit was equally as memorable and special as my childhood experience.
I’m so glad we changed up the trip and added this stop to the itinerary. I know….. I’ll be back! (she said in a heavy Austrian accent)
I can’t believe it’s September already. It seems like just yesterday when I was in the planning stages for our Midwestern excursion. And here we are, it’s the middle of September and I’m back in Colorado where we started six weeks ago. It was pretty much an out and back trip…. Kind of like mimicking a boomerang one might say.
Let’s do a quick recap of the first part of our trip….. We pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park (Denver) at the end of July and after a quick overnight in a Cabela’s parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska, (forgot to add this stop on the above map – oops) we arrived at Starved Rock State Park. We took in a couple of days exploring this interesting Illinois State Park before driving up to the Paul Wolff Campground. I loved the location of this county park. It was an easy 20 minute drive to my dad’s place which allowed us to visit with him often, and if we had wanted to take the train into Chicago, the train station was only 5 minutes away.
After communing with cranes it was time to commune with friends in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where I was challenged to wear a Packers Jersey.
After my momentary lapse, we moved over to Algoma, Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan. This is where I discovered Door County and its magnetic personality. Quite frankly, I fell in love with the area and could’ve stayed a month. I can imagine the fall colors around here to be stunning and worth sticking around for.
As much as we considered hanging around Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a little leaf peeping, we decided to turn the RV around and head back west to assist our daughter with a project.
So with Plan B in mind…. It was time to say good-bye to the Midwest and mosey in a westerly direction. The morning of August 27th started off foggy as we began our journey west. We put in an eight-hour travel day (360 miles – 574 km) that first day, crossing the entire state of Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.
We stopped frequently and even enjoyed a road side picnic near Necedah, Wisconsin.
By dinner time that first day, we checked into a campsite at Myre-Big Island State Park, near Albert Lea, Minnesota. This is a heavily wooded state park and even though they market the White Fox Campground loop as the prairie loop, it is in no way situated in a prairie.
We originally intended to relax and spend two nights at this state park, but it was raining when we set up. It continued to rain all night and was expected to not let up for another day. So we hit the road early the next morning, wearing rain gear as we broke camp, and drove through the rest of Minnesota in a consistent and steady stream of rain.
A few miles into South Dakota, the rain stopped. We encountered sunny skies with a hint of haze caused by the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Just in time for a late lunch, we set up camp in the Cabela’s parking lot in Mitchell, South Dakota.
Cabela’s had a HUGE area for RV’s. The semi-trucks seemed to be parked off in another lot and there was even a separate area for equestrians complete with horse corrals. This turned out to be a great place to overnight, complete with pond.
Not only does it sound like we’re doing the Two-Step, it feels like we’re doing the Two-Step ….. country dancing across America’s Heartland.
Quick, quick across Wisconsin and Minnesota.Slow, slow as we explored South Dakota’s Badlands and Black Hills.
Quick, quick as we skirt through Nebraska,
and slow, slow as we settle into Colorado for the rest of the month.And come the end of September, it’ll be back to a quick, quick pace to Phoenix, Arizona to settle in for the winter. The slow meandering we had hoped to do on the way to the desert southwest won’t be possible due to assisting a family member.So once I catch my breath, I’ll fill you all in on our time between Door County, Wisconsin and Denver, Colorado. In the meantime, enjoy some of my photographs from our journey as hubby and I get back to Two-Stepping down the road 🙂 Game of Thrones: Season 5 Weber 50060001 Q1000 Liquid Propane Grill