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Scottsbluff and the Black Hills

Well, you just go offline for a day and look how things pile up. It’s not the easiest thing to juggle work and travel, especially when you’ve got to cover 2000 miles in a week. In fact, I’m realizing it’s pretty much impossible.

We’ve been starting as early as possible to get from place to place, but these western states are huge and it takes all day to cover just one of them. At stops I’ve been jumping into the trailer to check email and take care of the most urgent issues, and then catching up in the evening on the rest. But Monday, being Monday, struck with a vengeance and so after a nice visit to Scottsbluff National Monument, I blew the rest of the day in the Airstream (in the parking lot) dealing with business issues, while the temperature soared to about 100 degrees.

Scottsbluff parking.jpg

Scottsbluff, by the way, is an underappreciated national monument in a quiet part of Nebraska. It’s a major intersection of several historic trails, including the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail, and the Pony Express route. A shuttle bus can take you to the top of the bluff and there’s an easy hike down with superb views.

Scottsbluff view.jpg

By the time we were ready to move again, it was so late in the afternoon that we could drive only a relatively short distance, to Custer State Park in the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills are another great destination that deserve much more time than we gave them. Heck, just Custer State Park is worth a week. The park is huge, with numerous campgrounds, a lodge, and many other features. But our whirlwind travel schedule this week allowed us only to take a sip before heading out.

Custer buffalo.jpg

One particular feature of Custer State Park is the wildlife. Like its western cousin Yellowstone, Custer has a population of elk and buffalo, which appear everywhere.

This morning we took a marvelous route from Custer to nearby Mt Rushmore. Route 16A connects the two sites, and it’s a circuitous, narrow, shoulderless road with three single-lane tunnels. This road will test your trailer towing skills, let me tell you. If you are not extremely confident in your abilities, take Route 79 instead.

My favorite spot was the third tunnel. Following procedure, we honked our horn several times before entering, since it is a single lane (12 feet 4 inches tall, and 10 feet 6 inches wide, enough for a wide-body Airstream with a safety margin of one foot on each side). As we came out, we found ourselves windshield-to-windshield with a tour bus. The bus was in the left lane so that it could swing wide enough to make a 70-degree turn into the tunnel. We ended up taking the left lane at about 2 MPH to squeeze between the tour bus and a rock wall.

Mt Rushmore Airstream.jpg

Mt Rushmore … yes, it looks just like the photos. The park is free but there’s a mandatory $8 parking fee, which is not covered by national parks passes. Looking at a big granite mountain with faces on it is, for me, something of limited interest. But the park service has done a nice job leveraging the sculpture into a history lesson about the presidents.

The less said about driving I-90 in South Dakota, the better. I rarely confess to boredom, but must admit that this road rivals I-80 in Nebraska and I-55 in Mississippi for sheer tedium. No wonder so many people stop at Wall Drug. We stopped at Wall, SD, but we didn’t go to the famous tourist trap. Instead we parked on the street beside the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands Visitor Center and checked it out for a future trip. Ah! to be able to pause and explore the grasslands slowly. I’d like to spot the prairie chicken.

But not this trip. That seems to be our mantra now. We have to skip all the good stuff in the name of mileage. We are way behind on the schedule, but I managed to re-arrange some things that were scheduled for next week to give us a little more time. Still, we need to move on and thus with great reluctance we drove right past the Badlands National Park and the 40-mile scenic drive it offers.

It is raining now, a hard thunderstorm rain with frequent flashes of lightning. This is the first heavy rain we have seen in months, having been in the desert most of the winter. I find I don’t miss the rain. On our aluminum roof it is loud, but we are comfortable and safe inside with all our conveniences, including a movie for tonight (“Keeping Mum”). The torrential rain compelled us to stop sooner than we planned, so we are in the parking lot at Cabela’s in Mitchell, SD with a few other RVs. Perhaps before we leave we’ll get a chance to visit Cabela’s and the famous Corn Palace.

One Response to “Scottsbluff and the Black Hills”

  1. Randy Says:

    Rich,

    Some day you should go through this blog and make up some lists: boring highways, challenging roads, must see places, should avoid places, great camps, etc. I’d be willing to pay for an Airstream travel guidebook like that based on your life on the road. Maybe this could be a school in session project.

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