Category Archives: South Dakota

Falls Park

Donna took a rest day on Tuesday after riding 85 miles over three days. She had plans to meet her friend Elizabeth Hagen for lunch. I did some light maintenance on her bike – washed it, cleaned and lubed the chain and adjusted the derailleur.

Other than that, we didn’t make any plans because the forecast called for bad weather. The dire warnings of severe thunderstorms likely to hit Sioux Falls Tuesday afternoon turned out to be a false alarm as the storms stayed to the north. So we went out to explore.

We rode the Spyder over to Falls Park – a city park on the Big Sioux River where it cascades through a series of Sioux Quartzite rock formations. Sioux Quartzite is a very dense stone consisting of silica-cemented quartz sandstone – it’s said to be the second hardest rock – only diamonds are harder. The stone beds at the falls are very resistant to erosion and the rocks in the area probably haven’t changed much in 10,000 years.

We parked in the lot behind the Falls Overlook Cafe. When we pulled in, we saw an Alpine Coach pull into the park ahead of us. We talked briefly with the owner. He and his wife were from Pennsylvania and were on a five-month long trip that took them down to the southwestern US and now they are completing the loop back to Pennsylvania.

We walked along the paths in the park and checked out the falls. The Big Sioux River is contaminated with decomposing organic matter and agricultural runoff – swimming in it isn’t advised. At the falls, I noticed some of the water was the color of tea – probably due to tannins from decomposing twigs and tree branches. Donna noticed excessive foam on some pools of water – most likely another by-product of decomposing organic matter acting as a surfactant. Both tannins and surfactants are naturally occurring when water is exposed to plant matter or peat.

At the information center there’s a small gift shop and a viewing tower. The tower is about five stories high and gives a great view of the park and surrounding area.

Falls Park from the viewing tower – downtown in the background

In the photo above, the Falls Overlook Cafe is the building on the left. Behind it you can see the ruins of the Queen Bee Mill. This seven-story structure was built in 1881 at a cost of $500,000 – a staggering sum in those times. It processed 1,500 bushels of wheat per day, but closed down in 1883 due to inadequate water to power it and a shortage of wheat. It changed hands several times but never was successful. In 1956 it was destroyed by fire which consumed the upper floors and roof. Later, the upper walls were knocked down to prevent them from falling.

A look at the falls from the foot bridge spanning the river

These closer views reveal the color from tannin

Although the heat and humidity was oppressive, the walk through the park and observation tower were well worth the effort. You can take an elevator to the top of the tower and the breeze up there felt good.

We left the park and rode downtown to Woodgrain Brewing Company. This is a microbrewery with a 10-barrel system and a nice pub at the corner of Phillips and 9th in the Plaza Building. We were a little surprised to see they share the first floor with Bluestem Capital – a financial planning firm. One door out of the pub leads you across the Bluestem reception area where you’ll find the restrooms. Now that’s a little different!

Woodgrain Brewing makes their own brews onsite and strives to use locally sourced ingredients including local hops and yeast strains developed by a local microbiology company. I had a pale ale and an IPA – the pale ale wasn’t my cup of a tea – a little green. The IPA was well balanced and I liked it. Donna had a lime kolsch that she thought was a little bitter and a milk stout that she enjoyed.

Wednesday we had more storm warnings for the afternoon. Donna went out on her bike and rode 28 miles. I had errands to run. I had passport photos made at Walgreens, then went to the post office to turn in my passport application – my old passport is expired. I’m a bit worried about how that will turn out. We don’t have a permanent physical address, only a mail forwarding service address. I don’t know what the US State Department will make of that. If they don’t issue me a passport, I’m out $110 – they don’t make refunds if an application is denied – and I won’t be making any plans to cross the border in either direction.

Once again the severe weather passed to the north of us. Donna caught up on laundry using the park’s laundromat and I completed my errands. We hung out and had a quiet evening.

There’s a construction crew on the highway next to the RV park. They start work early – around 6am and they are noisy! A jackhammer at 6am is not nice. Today I need to make a 100-mile round trip on the Spyder – I’m going to Madison to pick up mail at MyDakotaAddress. We usually have them forward our mail whenever we’re stationary for a week or so, but I’ve been waiting for our registrations and license tabs to arrive. So I’ll ride up there and retrieve our mail.

We also have to finish stocking up supplies for the RAGBRAI next week. The ride across Iowa takes us through many small towns and groceries are sure to be in short supply as thousands of people come through.

The forecast for today calls for a high of 90 degrees with thunderstorm warnings again tonight. I’ll pack up the trailer and we’ll head to Orange City, Iowa tomorrow morning.

Sioux Falls Bicycle Loop

One of the truths we’ve found over the past four years of travel is there are many points of interest to see no matter where you are in this country. We are currently in Sioux Falls, South Dakota which is a case in point. Sioux Falls lies in the southeast corner of the state, 15 miles west of the border with Minnesota and even closer to Iowa to the southeast.

Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota with a population of about 175,000 – there are about 250,000 people in the metro area. The city is named after the cascading falls on the Big Sioux River which loops around the city.

The Big Sioux River flows down from the north and runs along the west side of the Sioux Falls Regional airport south of I-90. It continues south on the west side of the city for about 10 miles before it loops around to the east then heads back north on the east side of the city. It flows north all the way back to the east side of the airport before turning east then looping south again into Iowa and eventually drains into the Missouri River.

So, the river flows around the city on three sides – but it actually loops completely around the city. This is due to a diversion channel that was completed in 1961 that diverts water from the river on the north side of the airport and directs it south east to intersect the river on the east side of the city. This diversion channel was made to prevent flooding in the city – water can be channeled back into the Big Sioux northeast of the city instead of flooding the city. The channel has a dam on the west end and a 118-foot spillway on the east end. It’s just about three miles long.

There are 80 public parks in Sioux Falls with Falls Park being the centerpiece. All along the Big Sioux River are greenbelts and much public land. A paved bicycle path makes a 19-mile loop along the Big Sioux and the diversion channel. This is what attracted us to this location. Donna can ride about half a mile from the Tower RV Park and join the bike path. This is perfect for her final training rides before she hits road for the Register Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). This year RAGBRAI begins on Sunday, July 23rd in Orange City and crosses the state from west to east, ending at Lansing, Iowa a week later on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Donna rode two loops of the bike path yesterday – one in each direction – and put in over 40 miles. It was hot and windy making for a challenging ride. Here are some pictures from her ride.

An oncoming cyclist on a tree covered lane

Kids exploring Falls Park

Information along the trail – click to enlarge

Spillway from the diversion channel

This is not the falls!

Downtown Sioux Falls area

Last night we watched a movie – Sully – which we thoroughly enjoyed. A thunderstorm blew in before we went to bed with high winds and hard rain. This morning it’s clear and sunny but with 86% humidity and the forecast calls for more thundershowers beginning around noon.

Donna is meeting her friend Elizabeth Hagen for lunch. I plan to do some maintenance work on her bicycle.

Settled in at Sioux Falls

After an uneventful night dry camping at Cabela’s in Mitchell, we packed up and continued east Friday morning. We could’ve gone south about 10 miles and hit SD42 – a two-lane country road through farmland but I got on I-90 instead. The country road would have been more scenic and it would have taken us directly to the entrance of Tower RV Park – our next destination – but I wanted to make a short detour on the way to stop at Blue Beacon Truck Wash on the northside of Sioux Falls.

Our coach and trailer were badly in need of a wash after driving through the construction zones on US212. Blue Beacon is a chain of truck washes specializing in big rigs. They mainly do commercial tractor-trailer rigs but also have pricing for RVs. There was a line of trucks waiting to enter one of the two wash bays, so we had a bit of a wait. We were only traveling 70 miles, so I didn’t mind waiting for a wash. I had the full wash on the coach and trailer including a Rain-X treatment. The cost was $70 and I think it was money well spent.

I had viewed the entrance to Tower RV Park on Google Earth, so I knew I couldn’t enter directly from eastbound SD42 – I had to go through a neighborhood to get us turned around and enter from the westbound lane. Check-in was quick and efficient. We were assigned site 309, a back-in site where we had to drop the trailer first. The paved pad was large enough for us to drop the trailer and back the coach in next to it.

Wide site 309

We checked in around 2pm and there were several open sites in the park. By 6pm that was no longer the case – the park was completely full. The park is convenient to I-29 and only a few miles from I-90. Saturday morning a few of the rigs pulled out after a one-night stop, but by Saturday afternoon the park was at full occupancy again. Even with the park full, it’s a quiet place. Well, there’s some road noise from I-29, but the constant chatter of cicadas nearly overrides it!

We chose to stay for a week here due to the location. We are about half a mile from the Sioux Falls Bike Trail which follows the Big Sioux River. Donna rode a about 25 miles on Saturday and about 20 miles again on Sunday. Heat is an issue – it reached 95 degrees on Saturday and about 90 degrees on Sunday. Donna is out riding this morning and plans to do a long ride of over 40 miles. She’ll take a day off the bike tomorrow, then ride Wednesday and Thursday before taking a break as we head out to Orange City, Iowa on Friday. On Sunday, she’ll start the RAGBRAI course which will take us across the state to Lansing, Iowa.

When Donna returned from her ride on Sunday, she told me she saw what appeared to be race cars at the fairgrounds about a mile from here. So after lunch, I rode the Spyder over to the fairgrounds and saw an autocross course had been set up in a large parking lot. Autocross courses are typically very twisty and are laid out with plastic cones. This course was relatively long with some very tight turns. There were more than 50 competitors. The skill level and equipment varied. Some were quite quick, others not so much. Each car runs solo racing against the clock to complete the course – there’s no wheel-to-wheel racing.

Lining up for a run

The average time to complete the course was in the upper 80-second range – 85 to 88 seconds by my reckoning. A couple of cars took over 100 seconds – these were driven by novices. The quickest car there was a Porsche 911 Turbo S. This car costs nearly $200,000 and boasts 580 horsepower. It was the only high horsepower car there to turn very quick times. Other high horsepower cars such as Corvettes and Camaros struggled for grip through the tight sections. Driver skill played a big part undoubtedly. The 911 Turbo S turned a quickest time of 73.0 and made several runs in the low 74s with a different driver. The only other car to run sub-75 seconds was a Honda S2000 that turned a 74.9 lap. This car handled well and had a skillful driver that was very smooth on the course.

Quickest car with a 73.0

Too much wheel spin for this one

80-second laps

This Miata ran well – high 70s

Quick S2000

I hung out for about an hour and a half before I decided to get out of the sun. While I was out, I made a stop at the liquor store.

I figured I would want to have a bottle of Scotch in the liquor cabinet so I could have a dram or two when we cross Iowa. I get spoiled by the price of liquor in California – it’s so much cheaper than just about anywhere else. Here in South Dakota, a 750ml bottle of Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch is $44 – in California I could get it for $10 less.

The liquor store had a special on a Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt Scotch that included a 750ml bottle of The Original and two 50ml sampler bottles containing The La Santa and The Quinta Ruban. The Original Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky is aged 10 years in oak casks that are sourced from forest land they own in the Ozark Mountains. They lease the casks to Jack Daniels and Heaven Hills to age bourbon for four years. The casks are then shipped to Ross-Shire, Scotland to age the Scotch whiskys.

Glenmorangie special offer

The La Santa is what Glenmorangie calls an Extra Matured whisky. The whisky is transferred into a cask that sourced from Spain where it originally held sherry. It’s aged for an additional two years and picks up flavor and complexity from the wine cask. Glenmorangie pioneered this technique in the 1990s – many other distilleries such as Balvenie started doing this around 2000.

The Quinta Ruban is similarly transferred to a secondary cask – in this case it’s a cask that held port wine before. The 50ml tasters are about 1.7 ounces – just enough for a sipper.

Highland Scotch like Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet and so on are typically very smooth and somewhat dry. Some Scotch afficionados prefer a more peaty or smoky profile and consider these Highland varieties to be an entry level whisky lacking complexity. I don’t care – I know what I like and it’s not an Islay Scotch full of smokiness.

The forecast calls for another hot day with a high of 95 degrees before it cools down to a more normal temperature in the mid-80s. I have a short list of things I want to get done before we move out of here. Donna’s main goal is getting her training rides in before she tackles the 411-mile ride across Iowa.

Corvette Caravan

Donna braved the heat in Rapid City, South Dakota – not to mention the hills – and went out on her bicycle again on Wednesday. While she was out I caught up on maintenance – I was past due to change the diesel fuel filter on our coach. Although we had only traveled about 7,000 miles since I last changed it, I try to keep to a 12-month interval on this filter. Our coach uses a Fleetguard FS1022 fuel filter which has about a two-quart capacity. A filter element of this size is surely capable of much more than 7,000 miles provided it hasn’t been subjected to heavily contaminated fuel, but the filter media also degrades with time.

Filter last changed 06-16

I was only a few weeks overdue. Changing the fuel filter is a messy affair. No matter how hard I try to keep everything contained, a few dribbles of diesel fuel always hit the ground – and my hands. So, I’m always mindful of where I do this job. I used a plastic catch pan and several paper towels and kept all but a few drops off of the ground. The residual fuel is put in an old oil container and recycled at an auto parts store. I write the month/year of the change on the filter canister so I don’t have to try and remember it or look it up in my log. The writing is a bit shaky – it’s not easy writing freehand on a curved surface.

New filter – good ’til 07-18

We thought about heading out to Hart Ranch for a barbecue and rodeo in the late afternoon, but by 3pm thundershowers were developing. We went into the Elks Lodge at 4pm for happy hour and rain drops started falling as we went in. Soon there was heavy rain and lightning. The weather vacillated between sunshine and gloom with periods of rain over the next hour and a half. We dined at the bar in the lodge.

A little sunlight on the clouds before the next thunder shower

Later we watched a couple more episodes of Homeland – we don’t have all of season six on our hard drive and soon will be in the dark on this series.

Thursday morning I was awakened early by our neighbor hooking up his fifth-wheel trailer and preparing to leave at 6am. At this point I just got out of bed. After wasting a bit of time on the web, I started prepping to leave. I took the Weber Q to the trailer and a few other odds and ends we had out – being mindful of noise for our other neighbors.

Donna got up and fixed a nice breakfast of eggs and leftover steak – lovely. We had everything buttoned up and left around 9:30am. I need to mention one glitch. Somehow I didn’t receive the usual renewal notice from South Dakota for our registrations and license tabs. It slipped my mind and only occurred to me when I made the appointment for Donna’s driver’s license. I renewed online but don’t have the new tabs yet and we’re expired as of June 30th!

As we were hooking up the trailer we saw a Rapid City Police car make a traffic stop right outside the exit from the lodge lot. We crossed our fingers that he would be done and gone before we left – I have a receipt for payment of the fees, but the fact is, we’re on expired registrations and plates.

He left before we pulled out. Apparently he was working Jolly Lane. He had just pulled over another speeder as we turned out of the lot onto Jolly Lane. Luckily he was focused on his traffic stop and we had no worries about our expired plates – we just need to get to the campground in Sioux Falls where we will receive our new tabs and registrations.

Our route took us east on I-90. I had originally thought about stopping somewhere near Chamberlain – about halfway between Rapid City and Sioux Falls near the Missouri River- but we changed the plan. We were headed for the Cabela’s lot in Mitchell, South Dakota.

We last visited Mitchell in 2013 when we arranged our wills with our attorney there. I wrote about establishing a domicile state here – we are all-in with South Dakota.

I noticed something interesting on the drive. I started to see Corvettes heading westbound – I would notice them approaching and realized many of them seemed to be caravaning. There would be groups of three to a dozen Corvettes heading west on I-90 – with an occasional single car.

Donna was engrossed in her laptop and didn’t see them. I finally mentioned it after seeing at least 100 Corvettes – mostly newer models, but some vintage – go by. I was a Corvette geek at one time – I had a 1965 big block roadster and a 1972 LT-1 T-Top. She looked it up online and found the Black Hills Corvette Rally. It starts in Sioux Falls and caravans to Spearfish, South Dakota. It started as a small event in 1971 and is now a big-time Corvette rally. Over 400 participate and I’m sure I saw more than 200 of them as they came past over the next few hours.

We stopped in Murdo at the Pilot/Flying J for fuel and lunch. I topped up our tank with 68 gallons of diesel fuel – pure diesel fuel. This is likely the last of pure petroleum diesel we’ll see for a while. We’re headed into the corn belt and all we’re likely to find is B20 diesel – 20% biodiesel mixed with petroleum. I’m not happy about that for a few reasons – but I’ll get into that in another post.

We found the new Cabela’s in Mitchell south of I-90 – my how Mitchell has grown! They have a large RV lot on the southeast side of the store and the directions for RV parking from Spruce Street off exit 332 are well-marked. When we arrived, we found a couple dozen or more RV stalls of at least 70′ in length. There was only one other RV when we arrived at 3:45pm – an Airstream trailer with no vehicle or signs of people. The sites all have a slope to them, nothing too drastic. I didn’t want to put the jacks down in the hot asphalt, so we just used a couple of 2″ wood pads under the front tires to reach a reasonably level attitude. We lost another hour on the road as we’re in the Central Time Zone now.

Later we walked a few hundred yards to El Columpio – a Mexican restaurant. It was surprisingly good and the prices were great. They even had Mexican cervesas (beer). When we returned there were a few more RVs in the lot. In my last post I mentioned a fifth-wheel trailer pulling a cargo trailer – well, this time we saw a motorhome pulling a travel trailer! I’m not sure what the story is, but  we saw what appeared to be a couple with an older woman sitting outside. I’m guessing the couple have the motorhome and the travel trailer is a mother-in-law unit.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that

This morning we have cool temperatures in the 60s with a breeze blowing in from the east. We’ll be bucking headwinds again today but we only have about 70 miles to go. We’ll check in at Tower RV Park in Sioux Falls where we’ll spend the next week.

Back to South Dakota

We pulled out of the Broadus, Montana city park around 10am Sunday. Our route had us continue down US212 where we traversed the northeast corner of Wyoming before we reached South Dakota. We saw several antelope in the fields along the roadside this time – I expected to see them the day before but didn’t.

We drove through the town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota which has the distinction of being near the designated geographic center of the United States of America. This designation was  bestowed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1959 – after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. The geographic center of the 48 contiguous states is Lebanon, Kansas.

We drove through town on US 85 next to a truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer which had a cargo trailer attached to it – you don’t see that very often! We turned southeast at SD34 while the trailer pulling a trailer went straight down US85. We hit I-90 at Whitewood west of Sturgis. A little while later, the trailer pulling a trailer passed us at about 70mph. He must have taken US85 due south and got on I-90 west of Spearfish. Ours was definitely the shorter, faster route.

We pulled into the Elks Lodge in Rapid City around 1:30pm. I parked in the front lot while we figured out how to set up. This is a very nice lodge – one of the largest and cleanest lodges we’ve visited. This is the first lodge we’ve been to where the bar is open to the public. This is due to the golf course on the lodge property which is also open to the public. The RV lot is for Elks members only.

We dropped the trailer in the main parking lot and backed the coach into site four. We have 50amp electric service and fresh water, no sewer hook up. We paid for four nights and shouldn’t have any worries about sewer. The 50 amp electric service was needed – we had to run the generator on the road to power the front roof air conditioner. Once hooked up, we ran both roof A/Cs – it was 100 degrees outside! The average high temperature in July for Rapid City is 85 degrees – we were in for a few days with highs above average.

We had a problem with one of the basement compartment doors over the last couple of days on the road. The door popped open a few times. I adjusted the plate the latch attaches to, but it still wasn’t very secure. On Monday, I found an Ace Hardware store and bought a flat brass bar one-inch wide. I had them cut a three-inch section. I glued this flat bar to the latch plate effectively extending the height of the plate. The door latches securely now and shouldn’t be a problem down the road. While I was out, I picked up a few groceries.

Meanwhile, Donna was out for a bike ride in the 90 degree heat. She planned a route looking at a map and headed out for a 24-mile ride. Little did she know her route included some steep climbs! She got through it though.

I went online Monday and found the local Department of Public Safety (DPS) licensing office. I found out they take appointments for driver’s license exams and renewals. Donna lost her driver’s license back in November in San Diego – she figures it must have slipped out of the slot in her purse when she pulled her cell phone out. I scheduled an appointment at the DPS office a few miles from the lodge for 10am Tuesday morning. They advise arriving 10 minutes prior to the appointment time.

We walked into the DPS office 12 minutes before 10am. They had a sign telling us to take a number after we completed the application paperwork. Donna had already completed the application so she took a number. Then I saw another sign telling us to notify a clerk if we had an appointment. Donna told a woman at the counter she had an appointment and gave her name. She was told that she would be next in line.

We sat down to wait and within two minutes Donna’s name was called. The woman at the counter entered Donna’s application in her computer terminal, took her photograph and printed her new driver’s license in less than ten minutes! I’ve never experienced such efficiency at a government agency.

We were back on the Spyder and on the road a couple of minutes past 10am. We headed up US16 and turned off at 16A. We were headed to Mount Rushmore. We visited the monument in 2013 when we first hit the road as full-timers (post).

Once we got through the tourist town of Keystone, we hit a traffic jam trying to enter the monument. There was a crew painting new road lettering and arrows and they had a lane closed. This confused the traffic as it was forced to converge into two lanes from three – the two lanes that are for entry to the monument. Through traffic had to go around the crew, then get out of the entry lane at the entrance and get back on the highway. We baked in the sun for 20 minutes trying to enter.

When we were here before, we paid the $10 fee to park and were planning to show our National Parks pass inside but there was no entrance fee. This time I showed my National Parks pass and was told the pass doesn’t do anything for me at the monument – everyone has to pay for a parking permit to enter the monument. So I paid $10 again. We walked through the monument viewing area. We both thought the famous sculptures looked like they had been cleaned since our last visit.

Donna in front of the state flags display

At the viewing pavillion

We didn’t stay long. We went back to Keystone for lunch at Peggy’s Cafe. We were disappointed in the food quality – not on our recommended list. I wanted to take the scenic drive down Needles Highway again but realized that would mean we had to fight our way through the traffic jam at the monument again.

I decided to ride the Spyder down 16A to SD87 and we could come up the Needles Highway from the bottom. This route took us through Custer State Park. At the park entrance there was a sign advising a fee for a park pass to use any of the parks facilities – through traffic on the highway didn’t need a pass. So I carried on without stopping.

At the turn-off to Needles Highway we were stopped and an agent told us we had to purchase a pass to enter the highway, even if we didn’t plan to stop. I didn’t recall paying anything four years ago when we drove down the highway. I paid $10 for a pass.

Needles Highway is very scenic – and it’s slow. The road is narrow and full of twists and turns. There are six tunnels – some a as narrow as eight feet seven inches. I don’t know how the tour buses which are eight feet six inches wide manage to get through, but they do.

I didn’t stop to take photos at the Cathedral Spires which are granite columns – needle like – towering along a section of road. I thought we would come back down the highway and I would get pictures then. We went all the way to Sylvan Lake before stopping to stretch our legs.

Sylvan Lake

We were hot and the route was longer than I anticipated. We didn’t have enough fuel to back-track down the highway. We cooled off in the shade and Donna even put her feet in the lake.

Donna cooling off in Sylvan Lake

We exited the highway at the top end and rode back to Rapid City. We had put in about 110 miles and spent four hours on the Spyder. We had enough sightseeing for one day – we were getting saddle sore.

We ended the day with grilled green chile turkey burgers cooked on the Weber Q for dinner and some leftover red potato salad.

Green chile turkey burger

I opened an IPA called Total Domination from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Oregon.

Ninkasi Total Domination

We’re thinking about going to a barbeque and rodeo later today – it depends on the weather. For the last three days, a thunder shower developed in the late afternoon. Usually it blows through quickly but we had a considerable amount of rain along with high winds, thunder and lightning last night.

Tomorrow we’ll head east and probably make an overnight stop near Chamberlain before we check in for a week in Sioux Falls.

Happy Hour

Yesterday we didn’t do any tourist activities. I took care of a few chores while Donna caught up on some work she needed to do.

After breakfast, I took a load of laundry to the campground laundromat. We have a Splendide combo washer/dryer on board, but it is limited to smaller loads. It really needs to be run every day, otherwise too much laundry piles up. The campground has full-size commercial washers and dryers, so I did all of our laundry at once.

While I was doing that I met our neighbor, Sheila Pennington. She and her husband, Charlie, have a Newmar Kountry Star motorhome a couple of sites down the road from us. They are from Hamilton, Ohio (near Cincinnati).  Sheila is just beginning her retirement and like me, she isn’t missing work at all. Charlie has an insurance agency and can work while on the road.

They’re on an extended vacation that they’ve been planning for more than a year. They will be on the road for three months. They plan to tour the northwest. Eventually they will meet friends and attend a Doobie Brothers benefit concert in Glen Ellen, California. We agreed to get together in the evening to share stories, snacks and adult beverages.

After I finished the laundry, I rode the scooter to Rapid City. I picked up a few items Donna needed at the grocery store. Finding a grocery store in Rapid City wasn’t easy. I should’ve looked online first. I thought I could cruise in to town and find a supermarket. After riding in circles in town I gave up and rode out to the store near the credit union I visited on Thursday. I knew there was a grocery store there.

I was out and about for a couple of hours. This gave Donna a chance to have some space and quiet time to get her work done. After I returned, I loaded the scooter into the trailer in preparation of today’s move. When I opened the trailer it was hot; the outside temperature was near 90. A strong wind was blowing from the south. With the trailer opened up, the wind quickly cooled it down.

Around 6PM Charlie and Sheila joined us. We sat at the picnic table in the shade and snacked. We talked for for about an hour before the flies and mosquitoes chased us indoors. I had a couple of glasses of the Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout I picked up in Custer State Park. I thought it was a local brew, but it turns out the be brewed in Tallgrass  Brewery in Kansas.

Buffalo Seat Stout

Buffalo Seat Stout

We continued to chat in their motorhome. It’s great how we meet new friends on the road. In addition to running an insurance agency, Charlie is a musician. He plays bass guitar. We talked about music and countless other topics for another hour in their coach. He showed me a beautifully crafted guitar stand made of wood that also is an amplifier! What a great concept, perfect for use in a motorhome. I wish I’d taken a picture of it.

Donna, Sheila and Charlie

Donna, Sheila and Charlie

Charlie and Sheila will stay here over the weekend, then head west to Yellowstone. We’re leaving this morning. Our plan is to stop at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, then continue on through Gillette to Sheridan, Wyoming. Tomorrow we’ll continue on I-90 into Montana.

 

 

 

Black Hills Tourists

Yesterday we closed out our first month on the road. Donna and I talked about how the time seems a bit warped. On one hand, it seems like the month flew by. On the other hand, when we think about all of the places we’ve been, the people we’ve visited and the things we’ve seen, it doesn’t seem possible that it all happened in only a month’s time.

I am humbled by the fact that more than 4,000 hits were recorded on this blog at the end of our first month. I hope our readers will continue to follow our travels and find our adventures interesting.

Yesterday I rode the scooter to Rapid City. I went to the Black Hills Credit Union to deposit checks. This has been an ongoing quest since we picked up our mail in Madison. The Black Hills Credit Union is affiliated with my credit union in Michigan. I made the 19-mile ride feeling confident that this task would finally be completed.

Along with my checks I brought my Genisys Credit Union debit card, the bank routing number and my checking account number. To my dismay, the teller asked for my credit union member identification number. She couldn’t help me without that number! After a couple of failed attempts I was able to contact Donna and get my member identification number. Attempting to deposit these checks has really tested my patience. The people here in South Dakota are so friendly and genuinely apologetic when they can’t help and that makes it easy for me to keep cool.

When I returned from the credit union, Donna was working on her newsletter. She was having trouble with the formatting for viewing via smart phone. I don’t know how that works, but apparently there are certain things that have to be specially formatted to be viewed properly on a smart phone.

After eight or nine test versions were sent to my phone, she was still finding errors. I was getting impatient. It was after 11am, I was hungry and wanted to head toward Mt. Rushmore and get something to eat along the way. Donna decided to take a break and finish the formatting after we returned from our sightseeing trip.

During Donna’s early morning walk, she talked to the owner of the Heartland RV park (where we are staying). He gave her tips on which route to take to Mt. Rushmore and other sights to see. He told her I should stop by the office and he would give me a map.

While Donna was working I walked to the campground office around 10:30am. It was closed with a sign on the door saying they would return at 11:00am. There was a UPS driver at the door making a delivery. I talked to him and he suggested taking route 40 to Keystone, then go up the hill to Mt. Rushmore. He described Keystone as a “tourist town.”

I went back to office at 11:00am and found a note saying they would be back at 11:30! I gave up on getting a map of the local attractions and decided to follow the UPS driver’s advice. We rolled out of here a little after 11:00am. Route 40 was a scenic ride on a smooth winding road that gained elevation over the 20-mile ride to Keystone.

When we entered Keystone, I saw a sign that said the population was 397. As we rode through the town at 30mph, it didn’t look like a “tourist town” at all. It looked rather shabby and run down. With a population of 397, I didn’t think it would extend more than a few blocks. I was really hungry at this point and stopped at the first place that offered food.

We went into an establishment that was a combination antique/junk dealer, bar and restaurant. I use the term restaurant very loosely. The man behind the counter said he had pulled pork but it was cold (apparently he had only just turned on the crockpots) or he could serve us pizza. This wasn’t a good start to our day trip. Donna asked if there were any other places to eat nearby. To my surprise he said we just needed to go up the road to the “new Keystone.” Apparently we were in “old Keystone.”

A half mile up the road we found the “tourist town” the UPS driver described. The new Keystone is a couple of blocks of buildings with old west facades. It has numerous restaurants and shops including the usual souvenir shops and of course, Black Hills gold jewelry.

We had lunch at the Red Garter Saloon and were entertained by the staff and cowboy re-enactments in the street. We walked up and down the street to take it all in before we rode up to see Mt. Rushmore. My take on it is this; the “old Keystone” is where the population of 397 lives. The “new Keystone” is where they work. Without the new Keystone there wouldn’t be much reason to live in old Keystone.

When we entered the Mt. Rushmore parking lot we stopped at a toll booth and were charged $11 to park. I guess they justify the $11 fee by telling us it’s good for a whole year. I forgot about my National Parks Pass; actually I didn’t realize it would cover parking fees.

I remembered visiting Mt. Rushmore when I was kid in 1967. Things change over 46 years. My recollection is of an open parking lot and short walk to the viewing pavilion. There were telescopes that cost a dime for three minutes of viewing.

Today there’s a parking deck. The walk to the pavilion is longer and there are more buildings. They have the flags of the fifty states of the union displayed. You can rent headphones for an audio tour. There’s a trail you can hike called the Presidential Trail. The 10 cent telescopes cost 50 cents now.

State flags on the pavilion

State flags on the pavilion

My recollection might be flawed after all this time, but it seems to me that the sculptures have deteriorated. I remember being struck by the way Teddy Roosevelt was depicted with wire rim glasses. Now the wire rims are barely there. That’s not to say it isn’t still an an awesome sight. It’s incredible. It’s also an American icon with international appeal. We heard a few different languages spoken among the crowd there.

By the 25 cent telescopes

Here again after 46 years

From there we made the 11-mile ride to the Crazy Horse monument. This is another impressive sight. It’s a work in progress and won’t be finished in my lifetime. We backtracked to the Hwy 16 junction and followed it to Custer State Park and the Needles Highway.

At this point we were over 6,000 feet above sea level. The RV park we’re staying at is about 3,500 feet above sea level. The route we followed into Custer State Park was a winding road with tight switchbacks. The first switchbacks had speed advisories of 15mph. Then we saw 10mph as the switchbacks tightened. Eventually there was a switchback marked 5mph! This road was steep and tight. I wouldn’t want to take an RV up it.

We stopped at Sylvan Lake. I can’t describe the beauty of this lake. It was so peaceful and an awe inspiring sight. From there we rode the Needles Highway. This road has a few tunnels that are one lane, only 8 feet wide and about 12 feet high. At  one tunnel we saw a tour bus inching its way through! The driver had to fold the mirrors in for clearance. I don’t know how he made it.

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

We saw a mountain goat with two kids along the roadside. I also saw a bull bison five feet off the road (somehow Donna missed seeing him). We stopped at scenic overlooks with vistas beyond description. We took a break for ice cream at a shop along the way. Donna was gushing over the sights she had seen. She’s loving our new home state. I wish I could find the words to describe this magical place. I’ll just have to say, you must visit the Black Hills and Custer State Park.

Mountain goats

Mountain goats

Today will be a maintenance day rather than a tourist day. I’ll ride to Rapid City for groceries and do laundry here at the park. I also need to lube the rams on the hydraulic jacks and slide outs on our motorhome. Maybe I’ll find an interesting book to read at the campground office.

Tomorrow, we’ll pack up and head to Wyoming.

 

Corn Palace

Yesterday was a busy day. In the morning, while I was writing my post, Donna alternated walking and running laps around the campground. When I get the urge to exercise, I usually lie down until the urge goes away. Despite this, because I’m more active throughout the day than before I retired, I’m continuing to lose weight and will need to buy new jeans with a smaller waist size.

After breakfast and showers, we left the campground at 9:15 am and rode the scooter to Mitchell. We rode north a few miles into Salem then headed west on highway 38 for 32 miles. The scenery was a recurring theme. Corn fields, then soy bean fields, then fallow land or grazing cattle punctuated by the occasional wooded plot. Repeat. The road was straight as an arrow for the most part. For me it was a boring ride, but Donna said she enjoyed the scenery.

Mitchell is bigger than Madison with a population of more than 15,000. My first order of business was to find a bank to deposit checks. We tried several banks and none of them had an ATM that would accept a deposit into my Chase account or my credit union. This is frustrating. I’m still holding the check for the sale of my BMW motorcycle.

After running through a few banks, we found the attorney’s office on Kimball Street. We walked in precisely at 10:30, our appointed time. The receptionist greeted us and knew who we were. She remembered talking to Donna about our new lifestyle and asked if we found parking for the RV. The estate planning with the attorney turned out to be a little more complicated than I anticipated. My affairs are simple, as most of my assets already have designated beneficiaries. Donna, on the other hand has passive income, such as royalties that will survive her. This requires the attorney to study her contracts before writing her will.

While we were in Mitchell, we decided to visit the Corn Palace. This is Mitchell’s main tourist attraction. I have to say it’s unique. The Corn Palace is basically a community center with an auditorium, basketball court and performing arts stage. They hold various events there. What makes it unique are the murals inside the building and decorating the exterior. These murals are made from corn. They are created with different colored ears of corn and stalks. The murals are stripped from the building and replaced with new ones every year. Admission is free unless a special event is being held.

Southwest corner of the Corn Palace

Southwest corner of the Corn Palace

We saw tour buses at the Corn Palace from Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Apparently it’s a popular stop on the tour bus routes.

Corn mural on the exterior wall

Corn murals on the exterior wall

One of many murals inside the palace made from corn

One of many murals inside the palace made from corn

We had lunch in Mitchell at Pizza Hut. Donna had the salad bar while I had pizza. It’s sad to say this was the best pizza I’ve had in a while, but it’s the truth. The place in Madison or the pub pizza in Salem was that bad.

Back at the campground Donna, e-mailed her contracts to the attorney (she had scanned them all before leaving Michigan). Then she spent the next hour doing a recorded interview for “HOW” magazine on organizing and productivity. I sat outside and watched the changing of the guard while she was on the phone.

When I say changing of the guard, I’m referring to the turnover at the campground. When we returned from Mitchell, the park was nearly empty. All afternoon I watched RVs pull in to the park and set up. This park seems to be an overnight way point for many RVers. We’ve been stationary here for six days now – a new record for us.

Today we have a change of plans. No big surprise as our plans often have a way of changing. Instead of returning to Mitchell to complete our legal matters, we’ll go back to Madison. We found out that the licensing department is open there on Tuesdays. We can obtain our new driver’s licenses and also meet with the insurance agent there. I reviewed her quote yesterday and will activate new policies.

Tomorrow we will break camp and drive west in the motorhome. We’ll make a stop in Mitchell to sign our documents at the law office, then head west toward Rapid City. This makes more sense than our original plan which had us backtracking to Madison.

I found good news online. In the Rapid City area there are several credit unions that are linked with Genisys. This means I can finally deposit my checks when we get there. I’m also hoping that when we go through the Badlands and into the Black Hills, my allergies will calm down. I’ve been miserable the past few days with itchy eyes and blocked sinuses.

Time for breakfast now and then we’re off to Madison.

Scooter Tour

Yesterday was a fairly lazy day. I wrote the blog while Donna practiced yoga. I’m suffering a bit from pollen allergies. I’m having a reaction to all pollens I was tested for – tree and grass pollens. I’m guessing the many thousands of acres of corn surrounding us are the reason.

Later in the morning, I rode the scooter over to Salem. Salem is a town of less the 1,500 people a few miles from here. I looked around Main street but it was pretty quiet. They have a park with a community pool. There appeared to be some kind of picnic event with more than 50 people at tables under a roof.

I decided to scooter over to the next town 10 miles to the east, Montrose. When I arrived there, I found it was smaller than Salem. I was hungry and looked for a place to eat. There was a restaurant but it only served dinner. The only place to get lunch was the Montrose Irish Pub. It seems like no matter where you go, you can find an Irish pub. When we were in France the the James Joyce Irish Pub was next to the Westin hotel where we stayed in Paris. They’re everywhere.

I thought it was a little early for an Irish pub, so I rode back to Salem. After searching the town for a diner, all I could find was fried chicken at the gas station/convenience store or pizza at the brew pub here. I decided it wasn’t too early for a pub after all. I could watch a little pre-season football as I washed down pizza with a pint of Guinness.

In the afternoon, Donna played piano. She has a digital keyboard that we set up in the bedroom. I set up an amp and played electric guitar for the first time since we left Lake George. I need to get back into practicing.

Later a new neighbor arrived. We chatted for a while. His name is Fred, He and his wife are from Yucaipa, California. They make an annual trip in their motorhome to visit family in Wisconsin. They’ve been doing this for the last ten years, Fred gave me a suggestion for our next campground in Hermosa, South Dakota.

Donna looked it up online and it looks like a nice place, It’s in a location that will allow us to make a day trip to Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument. It’s also conveniently close to Custer State Park while being far enough away to avoid the crowds. We’ll try to book a couple of days there.

I don’t have much excitement to post about. Maybe Donna will add a post today.

Site 33 - Campground America

Site 33 – Campground America

Why South Dakota?

In the USA, every state is a sovereign in our federal system. Each state has its own laws regarding things like taxation, marriage, inheritance and so on. A domicile is the status of permanent residence in a particular jurisdiction. This doesn’t mean you have to be physically present in that jurisdiction at all times, but you must have sufficient links to that jurisdiction to prove intent to remain or return there.

There are a number of ways to establish a residence, the most common being to live in a particular jurisdiction. Since we are living a nomadic way of life for the foreseeable future, we don’t want to buy or rent a home at this time. We’re establishing our state of domicile in South Dakota by 1) having a mailing address here 2) obtaining driver’s licenses 3) registering to vote 4) registering our vehicles 5) having an attorney draw up our will 6) obtaining vehicle insurance and declaring South Dakota as our state of residence on our health insurance.

It’s important to take these steps and not leave connections in other states. The main reason for this is taxation. I wouldn’t want my last state of residence, Michigan, to collect income tax from me.

That leads to the question, why South Dakota? It works for us for the following reasons:

No State Income Tax. There are other states without state income tax such as Florida, Texas and Washington. This quickly narrowed the field of which states we wanted to domicile in.

Mail Service. South Dakota has a few businesses that are set up specifically to cater to our nomadic needs. These businesses not only collect and forward mail; they also assist with licensing, vehicle and voter registration.

Driver’s License Requirements. A South Dakota’s drivers license is fairly easy to obtain and doesn’t have restrictions or special requirements for large RVs.

Jury Duty. South Dakota may send us a notice for jury duty but they will excuse a full-time traveler.

Vehicle Insurance. South Dakota is one of least expensive places to insure a vehicle. When the 50 states are ranked by insurance cost – most expensive to least expensive – South Dakota is number 47.

* I have to add a correction here. The above statistic does not reference vehicle insurance, it’s overall insurance costs. In the vehicle category South Dakota is ranked 16th.

Residence. South Dakota requires proof of being physically present in the state for only 24 hours before you can obtain your driver’s license. Pretty easy, right?

So, yesterday we rode the scooter over to Madison. Madison is a town northwest of Sioux Falls and is home to about 6,500 permanent residents. It’s also home to a business called “My Dakota Address.” We went there first and met with the proprietor, Terri Lund. Terri gave us a pile of mail that she had already received for us and prepared our driver license and registration documents.

We weren’t able to obtain our driver’s licenses since it was Friday and they only do driver’s licensing on Thursday in Madison. We’ll complete that task on Tuesday in Mitchell. We’ll need to bring a receipt from the RV park with  both our names on it. This will provide proof of our physical presence in the state.

Our new hometoen

Our new hometown

Yesterday was unseasonably cool. The scooter ride seemed like it would never end. From the campground, we bombed north on 81 at 60 mph for about 21 miles. The roads around here are mostly straight and fairly flat. Speed limits on secondary roads are mostly 65mph. It’s all farm land. When 81 ended, we headed east at 60mph for another 13 miles before we entered town.

Donna was chilled from the ride while we met with Terri and then walked over to the courthouse on the next block. I was hoping the walk would warm her up. We paid for our vehicle registrations and were given plates for the trailer and scooter. Our RV plate will take a couple of weeks since we opted for a personalized plate. Neither Donna nor I have ever had a personalized plate before, but we went for it. We’re doing a lot things we never did before.

We strolled around, looking at our new “hometown.” We stopped at an insurance agency that Terri recommended and gave them information so they could prepare a quote. Later I applied online for a quote from an agency in Sioux Falls that specializes in RV insurance. I want to have that wrapped up before we leave. Most insurance companies have a grace period of 30 days. Since we won’t be legal residents of Michigan, our vehicle insurance policies won’t be valid for long.

The people we talked to in town were very pleasant. It’s a nice place to call home. We had lunch at a pizza place called Skippy’s. I can’t give it more than a 2.5 on a scale of 5. The service was good but the pizza was bland. After lunch we walked a around. We boarded the scooter and looked for RV friendly parking – we’ll stop back in town with our rig to pick up mail again when we leave the campground.

We stopped at the Sunshine Grocery before leaving town. Donna wanted to pick up a few things for a special “balancing” diet she’ll be on for the weekend. I’ll have leftover pizza and balance it with beer!

One of the items in our pile of mail was a check from USAA for the sale of my BMW motorcycle. We bank with Chase and Genisys Credit Union and neither have a branch in the area. I want to deposit this check into the Genisys account and park the money there in case of emergency. I’m thinking about “what if” scenarios. Like, what if I lost my Chase credit card and debit card? How would I pay for things until they were replaced? I keep my Genisys debit card separate from my other cards. That way I always have an an account I can access if I need to.

After we returned to campground, I rode back a few miles to the town of Salem. I stopped in at a credit union to see if I could deposit the check through their ATM. They didn’t have one, but they directed me to the Dakota First Bank a few blocks away. When I inquired about making the deposit there, they said an ATM would be the way to do it, but not their ATM. It doesn’t accept deposits. I’ll try on Monday at a bank in Mitchell.

We’ll hang around the campground this weekend. Monday we have an appointment with an attorney in Mitchell to set up our estate plan. Tuesday we’ll return to wrap that up and get our driver’s licenses. Wednesday we’ll be back on the road.