USA Road Trip: Crazy Women Camp ground
A 6 month USA road trip.
Week 13-The good, the bad and the ugly – or the Great Plains as winter approaches, fast!
When you are doing a trip like we are there are going to be good days, bad days and perhaps some really ugly ones. So far we have had only good days with a few patches of bad/ugly. Even a day like today, Sunday can be said to have started pretty ugly, but hopefully will end pretty good.
We woke with huge winds sweeping our camp site (Crazy Women Camp Ground in Gillette) at about 6.00. There we lay in our sleeping bags wondering what to do? Sit (or lie) tight and wait for the storm to die down or get up and pack the tent, etc. into Matilda.
We were divided as to what to do, Audrey all in favor of escaping as soon as possible into the relative safety of the van and me for staying put and waiting for the storm to blow over-a somewhat hopeless position as we could hear our deck chairs being ravaged by the storm and the tent trying to take off. The only things holding her down were the pegs, and we could hear them being removed one by one from the earth with every big gust. Soon it would only be only our combined weight holding the tent down. The problem was an obvious one, how do we get out of the tent and keep control of it at the same time? Anyway to cut a long story short we pulled the plugs on our mattresses, folded our sleeping bags and while Audrey packed away I passed things out of the tent at the same time adding my considerable bulk to anchor it down. We then managed to collapse the tent poles and fold the tent and poles, shove them into the van, jump in and sit in the van wondering if the option of a motel last night would perhaps have been a better one.
Finding the Church of Christ for worship also proved to be frustrating as the address 1 402, 7th Lane did not seem to exist, even to the locals from who we made inquiries in the area Eventually a phone call to the local preachers wife did not really help. A good example again of writing down carefully exactly what instructions you are given even if you get the general idea of what was said and have a copy of the towns streets available. Anyway eventually,with help from the local Pizza delivery man and his map and a moment of brilliance from Audrey we arrived in time for really good morning worship. The members were friendly, the worship well organized and the lesson from Ephesians 4:1-3 really challenging.
The predicted rain (75%) arrived after lunch but did not worry us as we worked on the computer and read the Sunday Newspaper and Magazines in the excellent Gillette Library. I also found out that this area by 1980 had the biggest coal mine in the country. As we traveled across the Plains we saw mines near the road and wondered what they were. In town the “Rockpile” museum had also puzzled us. By the way we did find out that ‘Moose Droole’ was a beer brewed at Blue Sky Brewery in Montana and according to the locals is something to indeed droole about! We still don’t know about the sign about a reward for wolves. Some research indicated that the wolf population has increased in some areas because they have been reintroduced and are now causing problems for the Ranchers. The Grizzly population in the greater Yellowstone area has also increased with hunting permits again being issued, much to the disgust of the Grizzly Huggers.
We have now seen most of the wildlife in this part of the world, except a bear, and have really enjoyed every sighting. Maybe there are not so many animals around as we had expected because hunting season is approaching and the animals can read the many notices at Motels and Restaurants saying “Welcome Hunters!” We have also seen many men at Wall-mart dressed in camouflage gear buying bullets and camping gear. We seem to spend a lot of time at the same counters to either inquire about fishing licenses or replacing essential camping gear that after 3 months is starting to take strain.
Tomorrow it is on to South Dakota and we hope to see the statue of Crazy Horse that is being carved/blown out of the mountain. The original sculptor has died (I think of old age- he started in 1948) but someone has taken his place. One prediction that we heard is that it should be completed by 2050 – hope the new guy is a young man! Also learned that when the heads of the presidents where sculpted at Mount Rushmore, the main tool used was dynamite.
Tried to encourage Audrey to also write her viewpoint as we travel but she declined as she says she can never get to use the computer. Life is indeed hard on the road. Big rain and really cold weather arrived this evening so we decided that Matilda at Wall-mart was the best option and we made certain that we arrived early before the ‘informal’ RV Park filled up.
A bad start to the day with some good parts including a pleasant brisk walk around the local town lake with some interesting birds spotted and the usual Canada Geese honking their way over in a perfect V- formation- not too bad at all!- I wonder what tomorrow will bring?
Tuesday was the worst weather we have experienced on our trip- rainy and windy and very cold. Time to dress in layers and then you can remove them as you warm up, but we did not remove them. Then the worst experience of the trip. As we came around a corner between Lead and Deadwood we saw a young Mule Deer that had been hit by a car and was lying in the road with a look of pain and fear that still brings cold shivers up my spine and causes Audrey to start crying every time she thinks about it. Fortunately we did not have to deal with the situation as another car- perhaps the one that had hit the Deer- had stopped and was waiting for assistance to put it out of its misery. It was a very subdued evening at our campsite at Bear Butte (pronounced ‘beaut’ as the Aussies would say it) State Park.
Wednesday was again cold with the legendary NW icy wind sweeping across the plains and taking us with it along route 34. When we got to Pierre, the capital of South Dakota we saw by means of a large display board that this is the place where ‘Dancing with Wolves’ was filmed. It has a magnificent building that houses the State legislature. The State Park at Pierre in called ‘Farm Island’ and is on the Missouri River and guess what this evening produced – yes another stunning sunset that sent us scurrying for our cameras.
Must tell you a bit about State Parks and National Parks having now visited more than most South Africans and probably as many as most on the planet – I am busy doing a count at present and will give the bare details later.
National Parks are the pride of America! From the first in America and in fact in the world, Yellowstone founded in the 1872, to the newest ones like Gunnison Black Canyon, declared one only in 1990’s, during Bill Clinton’s time in office. They are really great places to visit for their amazing beauty and offer a wide variety of sights from Caves to Canyons to Mountains, Swamps, Waterfalls and Monuments. The everglade in Florida comprises 6000 sq. km. and includes many local populations making it difficult to control. The trouble is that during every summer and often even into winter millions of Americans and foreign visitors flock to see these wonders. Yellowstone enjoys 3 million visitors each year and Smokey Mountains even more, with top place at a staggering 8 million!
Anything else that is left over, and is normally near an area of largish population, becomes a State Park and some are really beautiful and some one wonders why they are chosen at all. Camping in the State Parks is much more peaceful and usually a bit cheaper than National ones. They can, in my opinion, be divided into two broad categories. Firstly the Triple A category (like Farm Island tonight) that offers fishing and game watching and is close to a main town, every site has electricity and NB it has flush toilets and showers. Such a place does not come cheaply and at $22 a night compares with the price of Yellowstone. Then there are the category B,s that are pretty ordinary and cost anything from $8 to $18( Bear Butte last night was a good example), also on a dam but off the beaten track and offering only pit toilets, drinking water and camp tables – no electricity and coming in at the very reasonable $8. On our trip we have used both and in comparison to the cheapest rather dubious Motels at $40 have, this has in fact made our extended trip possible.
Every now and then we have found camping at a place like Hoh River, run by the National Forestry Department that have only pit toilets and no drinking water but come in free. They have often been at some of the most beautiful places and why they exist is a mystery to me, but who is complaining at the price they are a bargain and we sometimes were tempted to stay a few more days. Some BLM (Bureau of Land Management areas) and small towns (like Wessington Springs) where we are tonight have small campgrounds that they offer at nominal or no fee. The BLM ones provide access to rivers and hunting areas on public land and have at the most a pit toilet. Then some Forestry areas and even National Parks have what they call ‘primitive camping’ were you hike or bicycle in or park out of view of roads, and need to be totally self sufficient(spade and water of your own) – we have not gone this route mainly because of fear of Bears.
We visited the State Capital of South Dakota to get our power of attorney signed by an ‘Apostile’ who in this case is the Secretary of State for South Dakota. Everyone was most helpful and efficient and made us feel at home in this beautiful building and in their office. The state department offers self guided tours and as we did our own tour the people were very friendly and helpful and the building absolutely magnificent and security did not seem to be a problem as we enquired for directions at the Governor’s office! They also had great gardens and interesting statues and monuments honoring events and people from the past, not to mention a wonderful lake with some interesting birds.
Today on across the biggest mielie fields in the world, literally hundreds and hundreds of miles. Then a detour of the 34 East that lead to another detour because the exit for detour number two that we had to take to get back to our road East was where the road workers had got to just before we got there. So off we went North instead of South/ East on a double highway that had now become a single one (due to the road works) with no place to exit and certainly no place to turn. This was all happening at 65 miles an hour with Audrey desperately trying to find a way back to where we were heading. Perhaps it was the many miles of mieles/corn but eventually we were on a really small road with no idea it we were still in South Dakota on Minnesota and because our State maps did not show this detail, no idea which road to go! Perhaps we should have bought that GPS after all but somehow I don’t think even it could have helped us with road situations changing from minute to minute.
Along comes another car on this desolate road and so I jump out and give the universal sign for ‘I am totally lost-please help’ (hands in air and confused look on face). The car rushes by but then stops and reverses back, what a relief!’ What is the problem?’’We are lost and don’t know which way to go’. Where are you heading?’ ‘To Ohio.’
This was a place that the kind stranger could not fit into his frame of reference in rural South Dakota or Minnesota. Where are you heading now?’ ‘Haven’t got a clue, Southeast?’ Again a puzzled look and then a light dawned, ’Follow me to my house, my wife is good with direction’. I wanted to say that Audrey is also but thought this was not a good time to make such a comment as we seemed very lost. So off we go following a stranger to who knows where to find directions from his wife. She was in fact a star and after I explained to her how we got detoured twice off the 34 east and somehow needed to get back to it she gave us directions with great confidence and friendliness, ‘By the way, what State are we in?’ ‘Minnesota’, she replied with a mixture of amusement and surprise in her voice. Once we were pointed in the right direction we somehow found our bearings and realized that she was taking us quite a long way out of our way and so we happily turned right instead of left onto route 75 and soon were smiling again on our way to Ohio, but first heading towards Worthington and then into Iowa the13th State on our trip! With a few more detours trips we may even add a couple of extra States to the list.