Category Archives: South Dakota

Deadwood, Spearfish and Lusk

I wrote my last post from the Elks Lodge in Rapid City on Thursday. That night, our friends Mark and Emily Fagan (RoadsLessTraveled) stopped by with their dog, Buddy. We met Mark and Emily five years ago when we were in our first year of full-timing. Since then, our paths have crossed several times and now they’re in Rapid City at the America’s Mailbox campground nearby. The last time we got together was in Mesa, Arizona last March.

Buddy the dog was uncomfortable with Ozark the cat. So we sat outside and talked for a couple of hours. It’s always great to meet up with friends on the road and catch up on things.

On Friday Donna and I had appointments at the driver’s licensing office nearby. We could’ve changed our information online by scanning a form they gave at our new mail service (Your Best Address), but if we wanted the correct address to appear on our actual license we had to go to the office. This entailed a new application and a $15 fee. I had just paid and renewed my license in June, but there wasn’t any way around it. We paid up and walked out with new driver’s licenses in about 10 minutes.

Saturday morning we heard a lot of activity early – before 7am. The Rapid City Elks Lodge is unique in that it has an 18-hole golf course on the property that’s open to the public. Their restaurant and bar is also open to the public. I haven’t been to any other Elks Lodge that allows the public to have access to the bar unless accompanied by a member in good standing. Anyway, it turned out there was golf tournament there Saturday morning. They were setting up and some foursomes had early tee times.

The parking lot was filling up. I went to our trailer and put traffic cones in the spaces in front of it – if someone parked in front of the trailer, we wouldn’t be able to hook up. We were packed up and hooked up the trailer with no problem by 11am.

We’ve been re-watching the HBO series, Deadwood. This series is set in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s. Some of the characters actually existed – Seth Bullock was the sheriff, Sol Star was his partner in a hardware store, Al Swearingen owned the Gem saloon and casino. But other than that, the account is fictional and greatly embellished. We enjoy watching it and are on the third and final season.

We decided it would be fun to spend a day in Deadwood. I found a likely boondocking spot on Google Earth about six miles from Deadwood outside the Black Hills National Forest on Rochford Road. It was about a 50-mile drive, mostly uphill. We found the spot and it was a huge gravel parking area that was fairly level at one end. No other vehicles were there and no signs were posted. We set up and prepared to get the Spyder out to head back into town. We were at an elevation near 6,000 feet above sea level – our GPS showed 5,965.

At the back of the trailer, I looked at the sky to the southeast. It looked ominous. I checked the Radar Express app and saw we were about to get hit with a thunderstorm. We didn’t unload the Spyder and went back inside instead. About 20 minutes later, the skies opened up and it poured rain. It rained off and on the rest of the afternoon with a few bouts of pea-sized hail. We managed to get outside for a couple of short walks, but it was raining too hard most of the time to do anything. So much for our tour of Deadwood.

On Sunday morning, it looked like wind and rain would continue. We decided to head over to Spearfish. Mark had told me about the Walmart there and said it was a great spot to dry camp overnight. We drove down through the scenic Spearfish Canyon. A marathon event was being held, but lucky for us the runners were in the opposite lane from us going downhill. We dropped about 2,000 feet of elevation and found the Walmart at an elevation of 3,900 feet above sea level. We shopped a bit and hung out while the clouds slowly cleared. About half a dozen RVs overnighted there.

We were in no hurry to leave, so on Sunday morning, we got the Spyder out – it was finally dry outside. We rode into the historic downtown area and parked. We stopped at the visitor center, then took a walk and had a look around. We were mostly reconnoitering for future reference – we think we would like to spend some time here next year.

Centered on Main Street is the Matthews Opera House and Arts Center. This building dates back to 1906. Currently the Opera House hosts live music of all genres, an art gallery and theater.

Matthews Opera House and Art Center

After walking around, we rode the Spyder to the D. C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery. This hatchery was created in 1896 and is located on a beautiful park-like property. They had an underground fish viewing window in a pond where they keep adult fish for educational purposes. These were some of the largest trout I’ve ever seen at any hatchery. We were told some of the fish in the pond were 10 to 12 years old.

Fish viewing

The ponds and raceways are fed with fresh water from the Spearfish Creek which runs adjacent to the property. They had a fish car – a rail car that was used to transport fish across the country for broodstock and for stocking streams and lakes. They would load the car with large stainless steel milk jugs full of fingerlings in fresh water. The fish cars were in use until the late 1930s when trucks took over.

Fish car

We left Spearfish just before noon. Our route took us west into Wyoming on I-90 to Sundance where we left the Interstate and headed south on WY585 to US85. The road surface was smooth and traffic very light on this scenic byway. We drove through cattle ranch land and spotted dozens of antelope along the way. We pulled into the town of Lusk – population about 1,600 – around 3pm and found the Elks Lodge. We’re back up to 5,000 feet above sea level.

The Elks Lodge here is a brick building erected in 1910 that originally served as the high school. Their parking lot is fairly large and level and they welcome Elks members to dry camp. When we pulled in, I saw someone at the front door. I went over to ask about parking and he told me to pick anywhere I wanted. The lodge is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so we had the place to ourselves.

We got the coach and trailer lined up in a level spot and set up. Then we took a walk back into town and found the Stagecoach Museum. The Stagecoach Museum name is a bit of a misnomer as it contains much more than stage coaches. It is a collection of Old West and Wyoming memorabilia.

Much of the stage coach material revolves around the Cheyenne Black Hills Stage and Express Line owned by Russell Thorp. The stage ran a distance of 320 miles from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Deadwood, South Dakota. It started operating in 1876 and was owned by F. D. Yates. Later, Russell Thorp Sr. bought the line. It was interesting to read about the stage and I’ve included a photo with a letter describing the operation from Russell Thorp’s son – click to enlarge and read.

Cheyenne Black Hills stage coach

They had first class?

They also had some oddities on display. For example, fossil remains of a triceratops dinosaur found in Wyoming and a two-headed calf born in the area in 1942.

The wind picked up in the evening and we had gusts up to 30 mph overnight. Today is windy with thunderstorms moving in this afternoon. I have a theory that all of the smoke from the wildfires out west are collecting moisture in the particulates – like seeding clouds – and the result is higher than normal rainfall across the area. We’re going to move on to Cheyenne and hope it isn’t too windy or stormy.




90,000 Miles and Another Time Zone

I wrote my last post Tuesday morning. Then I walked to Hardee’s – about a block and a half away – for an order of biscuits and gravy. Before I knew it, the morning was getting away from me. Check-out time at Tower Campground is 11am and it was time for us to leave Sioux Falls. I had packed most of the things in the trailer the day before, but I still had a few things out. I also needed to dump and flush our holding tanks before I brought the slides in and the jacks up.

When we dropped the trailer in our site, I was able to back it in from the left and work it past a tree. Getting it out was going to be problematic. I had the trailer far enough back into the site that the wheels were well past the tree. Before I could turn the trailer left, I would have to have to get the wheels past the tree or else the trailer would clip the tree. There wasn’t much room – the road wasn’t wide enough to bring the coach straight back to the trailer.

Tree next to the trailer

Someone had left a car illegally parked beside the road on the right, making an approach from that direction difficult, but it was the only way out. I angled the coach back to the trailer tongue as best I could – it was nearly in a jack-knife position. It worked out though and we loaded the Spyder and left the park right at 11am.

I opted to head west on 12th Street which became highway 42. Instead of droning across I-90, I thought a drive through farm country would be nicer and we only had about a three-hour drive ahead of us. I had to make a jog south to Parker and pick up SD44 west. This took us through farm after farm until we hit SD45 north and found Kimball. We left the storm clouds behind us. Ditty’s Diner is off of I-90 at exit 284. It’s a small truck stop, diner and bar with a large, fairly level dirt lot. Our destination was Rapid City, but I didn’t want to do the 360-mile run in one shot. Ditty’s was a convenient overnight stop.

The only problem at Ditty’s was the dry and dusty lot. Trucks pulling in kicked up a lot of dust. We closed all of our windows and ran the air conditioner off of the generator. Our stay was uneventful and it was surprisingly quiet all night.

Wednesday morning Donna and I had breakfast in the diner then got back on the road around 9am. It was foggy out, but visibility wasn’t too bad. About 20 miles west on I-90, Nally – our RV specific Rand-McNally GPS – announced “Steep downgrade ahead.” At first I was puzzled, then I remembered, we were about to drop down and cross the Missouri River. Once we crossed the wide Missouri, I felt like we were officially in the west. I wrote about our first crossing here in our motorhome in this post.

Once we climbed out of the Missiouri River Valley, the terrain immediately changed. It was hilly and there were mountains in the distance. The corn and soy bean fields gave way to large cattle ranches with a few feed corn fields and canola. It began to rain. We stopped at the Pilot/ Flying J Travel Center in Murdo and filled up with 80 gallons of diesel. I’m happy to get away from the biodiesel B20 that we had to use in Indiana, Iowa and eastern South Dakota. In the western half of the state they pump 100% petroleum-based diesel fuel. B20 is 20% bio-mass-based fuel made from vegetable oils blended with petroleum diesel.

I’m not a fan of biodiesel fuel. Low percentages have their pluses – it adds lubricity to the otherwise dry diesel fuel since sulfur content was reduced to 15ppm. Diesel fuel had good lubricating properties when higher sulfur content was allowed. B2 or B5 adds lubricity without all of the drawbacks of B20. The B20 fuel has lower energy density than petroleum-based diesel fuel, so fuel mileage suffers. The vegetable oil isn’t as stable as petroleum-based fuel – diesel fuel can be stored for long periods of time without deteriorating as long as it isn’t exposed to moisture but the vegetable component will break down relatively quickly – maybe after a few months.

At mile marker 175, we entered the Mountain Time Zone and gained an hour. Shortly after that, we broke free of the cloud cover and rain. We hit another milestone as well – our odometer turned over 90,000 miles on our Alpine Coach. We paid for three nights at the Elks Lodge in Rapid City. I dropped the trailer in their parking lot and we set up in site 8. They have 10 sites with 50-amp electrical service and water – no sewer. We have appointments on Friday to update our driver’s licenses with our new address. Other than that, we plan to relax and do a little shopping.

We’re at an elevation of 3,200 feet above sea level here. I think it’s the first time we’ve stayed overnight higher than around 1,500 feet above sea level since leaving New Mexico last April. The forecast calls for daily highs in the mid-80s and we may see rain Friday night before we leave on Saturday. I think we’ve had more rainy days this summer than any of the previous five summers we’ve spent on the road.


Our New Hometown

In my post last Thursday, I said I was looking forward to some relaxation. I mostly got my wish, but there were a few things that needed to be done. A change of address isn’t as simple as it sounds. There were several notifications that had to be made – financial institutions, insurance companies, pharmacy, vehicle registration and driver’s license, voter registration – I’m still coming up with things.

I also had a couple of small projects to tackle. Just before we arrived here in Siuox Falls, I was driving up I-29 with the cruise control set. As we neared the city and traffic volume increased, I tapped the brake pedal to cancel the cruise control – this usually works best as I can then press the resume button if I want to go back to cruise control without having to reset it. This time the brake pedal didn’t cancel the cruise control and I had to turn it off with the button on the steering wheel. I made a mental note to check it out after we settled in.

When I was dropping the trailer in our site, I set the engine speed to high idle. I did this by simultaneously pressing the cruise control “on” button and the “set” button. This increases the idle speed to about 1,000 rpm and keeps heat in the combustion chambers. Idling a big diesel slowly for extended periods can allow the cylinders to cool too much and unburned fuel can collect on the cylinder walls – eventually it’ll make its way past the piston rings and dilute the oil in the crankcase. Stepping on the brake pedal drops the engine speed back to the normal idle speed – around 650 rpm. Except this time it didn’t. I dropped the idle speed with idle control rocker switch and parked the coach. I had Donna check the brake lights – as I suspected, the brake lights weren’t working.

The control module for the cruise control receives a signal from the brake light switch. When you press the brake pedal, the brake light switch closes and activates the brake lights. I thought the brake light switch on our coach was probably a pressure switch hydraulically actuated by the master cylinder. I was surprised when I crawled under the coach on Thursday to find it wasn’t so, it was a simple, spring-loaded mechanical switch on the brake lever arm. The brake pedal is attached to a lever arm that’s shaped somewhat like a boomerang. The center of the arm is mounted to a pivot point and the other end of the arm is attached to the master cylinder pushrod. A switch is mounted against the lower portion of the arm – with the brake pedal in the normal (not on) position, the arm presses against the switch and opens it. When you step on the brake pedal, the arm moves away from the spring-loaded switch and it closes, completing the electrical circuit to the brake lights and sending a signal to the cruise control module.

Brake light switch

I had Donna step on the brake while I observed the switch, It was stuck in the open position. I pulled it closed and it started working again. I sprayed some WD40 on the switch rod and had her work the pedal a few times. All was good, job done.

Friday Donna rode her bike on the bike path. The paved path is only about half a mile from Tower Campground and runs along the Big Sioux River. It was hot out – the thermometer hit 86 degrees with high humidity. I mostly puttered around and relaxed with a book. In the afternoon we rode the Spyder to another local brewery – Granite City Food and Brewery. The place has a good reputation, but I found the beers to be average at best. I think they’re known more for the food they serve.

Speaking of food, later Donna fixed shrimp fennel and feta which she served over rotini. Yum!

Shrimp with fennel and feta over rotini

My friend David Hobden bought a new motorcycle and I’ve been following a road trip he’s on with his motorcycling buddy. Dave got a 2017 Indian – I think it’s the Chieftain model. They rode from Colorado Springs, Colorado down to Louisiana. The other day I saw a guy here in the park with an Indian Roadmaster. I talked to him for a bit and found out that the rights to the Indian name were obtained by Polaris and they have been building Indian Motorcycles since 2014. The Indian name was used by a few different manufacturers in the ’90s and early 2000s – some of them weren’t very well-engineered motorcycles.

Polaris made Victory motorcycles and their engineering is proven. The new Indians look like a great motorcycle, worthy of the name. The original Indian Motorcycle company made great bikes from 1901 to 1953. Interestingly, another guy here at the RV park has an antique Indian that he rides almost every day. One evening Donna and I walked down to his site and checked it out. It was a 1946 model. I’ve ridden motorcycles since I was a kid, but I don’t know if I could handle this one. The throttle is on the left grip, not the right. That’s because you need your right hand to grab the shift lever next to the fuel tank to shift gears while working the throttle with your left hand and the clutch with your left foot!

1946 Indian

Shift lever and knob next to the fuel tank

Saturday I set up the Traeger wood pellet fired smoker grill and prepared a rack of baby back ribs. That was my big project for the day! The temperature reached the upper 80s and I mostly stayed cool and read a book. Donna has been braving the heat and either walking the river trail or biking every day. I read two books over the weekend and watched the Moto GP race from Austria on Sunday. I got ambitious in the early afternoon and cleaned the Traeger and the Weber Q and relined them with aluminum foil.

Saturday evening Donna and rode I the Spyder to the fairgrounds and went to the PRCA rodeo. We enjoy rodeos – it’s an All-American experience although several Brazilian cowboys are on the professional circuit nowadays.

Monday I started packing and organizing the trailer. I had one more project – it was time to service the Spyder. Nothing is easy on the Spyder. You have to remove body panels – the tupperware – to get to anything. Then the engineers have packaged everything so tightly that the simplest tasks are a struggle. For example, the oil filter element is housed under a metal cap on the left side of the crankcase. The cap is held in place by two cap screws. Fine, except they routed the shift linkage and an oil line right in front of the cap. The lower screw cannot even be seen. I removed and installed it by feel only and had to wiggle the filter element out past the obstructions. Oh well, it’s a once-a-year task and I got it done.

Today we’ll be pulling out of here. I think we’ll dry camp overnight at Ditty’s Diner in Kimball as we head west. We already checked and they allow overnight parking in the large lot by the diner. Rain is forecast to move in from the east early this afternoon. Hopefully we’ll outrun it as we move west.


Mister, Can You Help Me?

Sunday was our last night at Griff’s Valley View RV Park. We really liked this place – it’s right on the bike trail, clean and well-maintained and did I mention quiet?  Donna seared a flank steak in a cast iron pan on our induction cooktop. She sauteed fresh green beans and cherry tomatoes that we bought at the farmers’ market the day before. She served the flank steak with pan gravy over mashed sweet potato and it was a winner!

Seared flank steak

After dinner, I put away our chairs – I had already packed the Weber Q grill and Donna’s bike in the trailer. I checked the lug nuts on the trailer wheels with a torque wrench – they were fine. For the first few thousand miles, the trailer lug nuts needed to be tightened periodically. Now they seem to have settled in.

A thunderstorm passed through in the wee hours of the morning. By the time we were up and had breakfast, it was drying outside. Donna went out for a morning run and we showered before hitting the road at a leisurely 10:45am.  We had a couple of possibilities in mind for an overnight stay on our way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Our route took us up I-35 about 20 miles before we turned west on US30 through Ames.

We decided we would head to Spencer and dry camp at the Walmart there. We stayed in Spencer last year when Donna rode across Iowa in the RAGBRAI event. Our route took us northwest toward Spencer in a stair-step fashion along divided US highways and two-lane county roads. It was all farmland. It’s amazing to me to see nothing but corn or soy beans for mile after mile. The terrain in Iowa isn’t as flat as you might think. There are gently rolling hills.

At the junction of IA3 and US71, traffic came to a stop. When I say traffic I mean all eight cars on the highway – there isn’t a lot of traffic through central Iowa farmland. The hold up was due to an oversize load on three trucks trying to negotiate the 90-degree turn. Once the trucks and escort vehicles got through the turn, they pulled off to the shoulder to allow the cars and trucks they held up to pass.

Once we were in Spencer, we made a right turn and headed east on 11th Street – which is still US71 – and found Walmart. We parked in the northwest corner at a level spot. Once I had us set up, I saw a commotion down the road where we made the turn. It was the oversize truck convoy coming through. Once again, after they made the 90 degree turn, they pulled into the center turning lanes and waited for traffic to clear before moving on.

The three trucks were hauling wind turbine blades. These long composite blades were probably for a GE 2-2.5 Mega-Watt wind turbine – it’s the most common in the US. The turbine utilizes three blades to power the generator as the blades are spun by the wind. The blades for a GE 2 – 2.5 MW turbine are 116 feet long. I don’t know how they got the trucks and trailers through 90-degree turns! I shot a couple of pictures as they drove past.

Wind turbine blade

Wind turbines use three blades because it’s the best compromise when you factor in efficiency, balance and tip speed. I never thought about how they get the blades to the site before.

We had a quiet night although once again, a thunderstorm passed through in the night. It was dry in the morning and we took our time getting ready for the road. Donna took a walk to a nearby park for exercise before we left.

As we drove through old downtown Spencer, Donna recalled riding through it last year. We stayed on US71 to the junction with US18 which took us west. I recognized a lot of this road – this was the route – in the opposite direction – we took to get to Spencer last year.

US18 took us through Canton, South Dakota. When I was a kid, I visited Canton in the summer of 1965 to stay with my great-uncle Ed. Ed and his wife Sadie lived in Canton where he was the county sheriff. I stayed with them for a week after spending a week at a cousin’s farm near Lennox.

We pulled into the Tower Campground around 12:30pm and were assigned site 207. The back-in site is paved and has a pad for a vehicle. We dropped the trailer without too much difficulty although we had to maneuver within inches of a tree. We were all settled in and relaxing by 2pm.

Strange reflections on our coach in site 207

The back-in sites here align with the site directly behind putting the back of our coach a few feet from the back of the coach behind us. We have a nice grassy area with a picnic table. We’re booked here for a week.

Donna prepared something new to us for dinner. She made blackened catfish and served it with green lemon rice.

Blackened catfish with lemon rice

We’re re-watching the HBO series Deadwood and sat through a couple of episodes before heading to bed. Lying in bed, we could hear voices from our neighbor. A group of people were sitting outside talking over each and telling tales. Some of them must have been funny, because the group would roar with laughter. By 11:30pm, I’d heard enough. The campground rule is quiet time after 10pm.

I went outside and found six or seven women sitting around a campfire in the site behind us. They must have thought they were alone in the woods or something. I asked them if they knew what time it was. One of them actually looked at her watch. I reminded them that quiet time was 10pm to 7am. One woman said, “We’re just sitting at the fire next to my coach.” I told her they were sitting at a fire 20 feet from my bedroom and needed to quiet down. Things like this happen sometimes in RV parks – people forget about neighbors and think they’re camped out when in reality they’re in a high-density area. Hopefully it won’t happen again.

Wednesday morning I was up early to shower and have a cup of coffee before I headed out to the Avera Healthcenter for my annual check-up. We have health insurance through Avera and it covers an annual physical here in South Dakota. That was the main reason for our stop here. Donna had three appointments for the day – the first one at a hair salon, followed by a mammogram and a visit to her doctor.

We worked out a plan where she walked 2 1/2 miles to the hair salon, then I rode the Spyder there to pick her up at 1pm to take her to the doctor about six miles away. I got to the hair salon a little early and was standing by the Spyder when an Asian women from the nail salon next door called out to me and asked if I would help her. She waved at me to follow her – I shrugged my shoulders and followed her into the nail salon.

She told me in broken English that she needed help putting up nail polish display racks and handed me a cordless drill and a handful of screws. I installed four racks for her and she offered me a pedicure. I declined as Donna would be ready to go any minute. It all seemed a little bizarre, but it made the wait interesting.

Donna had two appointments at facilities about a mile apart from each other. I dropped her off at the first place, then she walked to the second appointment and I planned to pick her up there around 3:45pm. Again, I arrived a little early, but I brought a book with me to fill the time. It’s a good thing I did – the doctor was running late and Donna hadn’t even got in for her 3 o’clock appointment when I arrived!

We were on our way 45 minutes later and stopped at Hydra Beer Company – a local brewery and tasting room – for a cold one. They have some good ales made onsite in their 10-barrel system. It was a good way to cap off a busy day.

We grilled green chile turkey burgers for dinner before watching a couple more episodes of Deadwood and then hit the sack. Thankfully it was quiet last night and I slept well – I needed it. Donna had to go out for one more appointment this morning for a fasting blood draw, then we can relax. The forecasts calls for sunny skies and upper 80s for the next week. I have a couple of projects in mind and we’ll go to the rodeo on Saturday. Other than that, I’m looking forward to some relaxed days.


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.