Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Hills, Fish 'N Fry, Pig Wrestling

Enjoying the Black Hills

It was only an 80-mile drive through western South Dakota’s Black Hills to my next RV park, but oh what a beautiful and interesting drive! The high and barren plains landscape became hills and mountains of tall pine trees, and the hot, humid air became dry and cooler. In one direction the sky was blue with fluffy white clouds; in the other direction it was gray and stormy, giving credence to the weather man’s prediction of scattered thunderstorms.

As to the name of Black Hills, the original name given by the Lakota Indians was Paha Sapa, meaning hills that are black. However, thanks to recent abundant rains, a more appropriate name today would be Green Hills. The road, Highway 36, has very little traffic, allowing me to poke along without annoying faster drivers.

My first surprise was rounding a curve to discover buffalo (actual name is American Bison) blocking traffic. I’ve since learned that there are 1,500 of these critters living here. Traffic had come to a standstill, only occasionally creeping alongside buffalo when they gave enough room. It was a very slow, nerve-wracking drive in two different places. I did not envy the few motorcyclists that were making their way among these large animals.

Remember - double-click on photos to enlarge them.

The road also took me through a portion of the 71,000-acre Custer State Park. The Black Hills guide book says “There are few truly wild places left in this country; Custer State Park is one of them. Besides buffalo, the park is home to pronghorn, elk, mountain goats and burros.” The park terrain includes prairie fields, lakes, and granite mountains and spires.

The radio programming was interrupted by a weather alert – severe thunderstorm with possibility of large hail – for much of the Black Hills, including the area where I camped last night. The sky overhead continued to be fairly bright, but there were lots of dark, threatening clouds not too far away. With no other road options, I continued on.

My route – Hwy 36, 16-A and 385 took me through the touristy towns of Custer and Hill City. I also drove past the Crazy Horse Memorial – a mountain carving to honor American Indians and show “the white man that the red man has great heroes also.” Remember your American history lesson that told about the famous Indian fighter at the Battle of the Little Big Horn against Custer and the cavalry troops? The rock carving of Lakota leader Crazy Horse is 641 feet long and 56 feet tall, easy to see from the road.

Today’s destination was Fish ‘N Fry Campgrounds just five miles south of the historic town of Deadwood. Amazingly the major part of the thunderstorm missed me; just got a bit of rain along the way.

On to Fish ‘N Fry Campground

“We furnish fishing gear. You catch them, we’ll cook them” says the promo for this Black Hills RV park. My campsite backed up to a creek among the tall pine trees – a great place to be. I was eager to explore this campground and wasted no time getting hooked up.

I was greeted by two well-fed white ducks. I later learned that these ducks do not swim; will only get into the creek in places where their feet will touch the ground. And they don’t fly, either. They wouldn’t budge from the shadows, so the photo is pretty dark.

With camera in hand, I wandered the camp store with cafe, trout pond (70¢ an inch) and creek banks. The campground did get the thunderstorm before I got there, so things were pretty soggy. There didn’t seem to be any mosquitoes! And Verizon service was poor. It was a great overnight stop.

Heading west – Wyoming sunrise

Every new sunrise introduces another reminder that
my body and a rocking chair weren't made for each other.

After a quick stop at Walmart in Spearfish to check email, I continued west toward my high school classmate Rita’s RV park (Red Water Creek Campground) just outside of Beulah, Wyoming. I’ll be here for two nights.

The surprise on this drive was the brand-new Wyoming Visitor Center – the Grand Opening sign was up and I stopped. It is a beautiful huge building with helpful staff and numerous 3-D interpretive displays.

It is five miles north of I-90 on a paved highway and then 1 ½ miles east-ish on a well-maintained gravel road. There are 10 full-hookup campsites in this high prairie location. One site is occupied by a volunteer couple; I was the only other RV.

Peaceful, quiet, expansive sky often adorned with a variety of clouds, magnificent views in all directions, green grasses, Red Water Creek – what a special place! Oh, yes, the wooden “statue” of a motorcycle with an American flag in the park’s activity area.

Shortly after I arrived, Rita and two of her girlfriends arrived – with an invitation to go to the Pig Wrestling matches in nearby Sundance, Wyoming. You KNOW I said ‘yes’!

First we went to Rita’s cabin nearby – an awesome place she built; perfect for a Wyoming setting.

Pig Wrestling!

For a $5 fee, we laughed our selves silly at this small-town event held at the Sundance Fairgrounds. Let’s see if I can describe the fenced-in arena. It is not too big, maybe 35- to 40-feet in diameter and filled with well watered bentonite (a clay-type mineral that is mined in this area). It was slip-p-p-ery! Four people made up a team, and they had peewee, junior, women and men divisions. The arena was surrounded by bleachers and the judge/announcer stand.

Each team had one minute to catch its pig and put it in a barrel in the center. Before letting a pig (small ones for peewees, a bit larger for juniors, and pretty big for adult women and men) was let into the arena, the pig was smeared with some of the slippery bentonite.

Enough said, I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

Between divisions, there was time for people watching. Our favorite sight was of this “smiling face”

Day two at Red Water Creek Campground

I did motorhome chores in the morning before Rita picked me up for a drive to nearby Hulett, not too far from the Devil’s Tower National Monument. We enjoyed lunch on the patio overlooking the golf course at the local country club. My cheeseburger (caramelized onions and pepper jack cheese) and fries were worthy of a photo!

Mileage update

So far I’ve driven nearly 5,000 miles, been through and camped in 17 states. I’ve also made a nearly 5,000-mile unplanned airline trip from Minneapolis to Reno and back.

Tomorrow morning I’m headed south through Wyoming on Highway 85.

I’m loving every mile and every adventure!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good Grief! It’s been 23 days

I'm finally back

Yep, 23 very busy days since my last posting – I’ve been getting lots of “flexibility” practice. But first before I get you caught up, I send sincere thanks to various friends and family members who have sent emails of concern – was I OK? Where was I? How come no updates?

My last post was shortly after I left Blackhawk COE Campground in Wisconsin. After crossing the Mississippi River at La Crosse, my destination for the night was Maple Springs Campground near Preston, Minnesota. It was a rainy drive and because of a detour, five of those miles were on gravel roads. Jeremiah was mighty dirty by the time I arrived. My campsite was a grassy area and after an all-night rainstorm it became puddles and mud. There was no Verizon phone or Internet service.

It was a lovely campground and the trails along a creek would probably be interesting, but between the rain and the mosquitoes I was stuck inside. I had no reason to stay a second night. I decided to drive on to Medford, Minnesota, to my cousin’s family farm complex – three houses, four generations, hundreds of acres – farming corn, soybeans and raising hogs. Yes, I would do that, if I could! As I tried to leave, Jeremiah would not budge due to the mud. Thankfully, one of the campground owners used a tractor to get me on solid ground.

If you’ve been looking at weather maps these past few weeks you’ve probably noticed all the thunderstorms, tornadoes and rain in the Midwest. Thankfully I’ve not been near any tornadoes, but the heavy rainfall has caused flooding in many areas and closed some roads.

Days at the farm

I arrived at Cousin Gloria’s just in time for their annual fish fry. Her son-in-law, Denny, had caught a variety of fish this past winter. He has what has been described as a deluxe ice-fishing house that is kept at a northern Minnesota lake. What a delicious meal! I had a most enjoyable time for several days visiting relatives who love to play progressive rummy, watching the hogs being loaded for delivery to become ham, bacon and pork chops, picking green beans and rhubarb from their garden and relaxing. The only undesirable things were the mosquitoes and gnats. Jeremiah was parked in the yard under some wonderful shade trees. And while Cat would have liked to be outside, the farm dogs make quick work on any cats that appear.

PHOTO – hogs loading

July 9 - On to St. Peter, Minnesota

It was only a 50+ mile drive from Medford to St. Peter to visit with former New Mexico neighbors Mary and Aaron Everett. Along the way I passed this "double steeple" church. Years ago two churches decided to merge - and they moved and placed the two church buildings back-to-back.

Jeremiah was parked at the City Campground after checking in and paying the camping fee at the Police Station. Mary and Aaron picked me up and we spent the afternoon and the next morning visiting and walking through the Gustavus Adolphus College Campus.

The highlight of the campus tour was seeing Perry the Corpse Flower that is located in the college’s Nobel Hall of Science greenhouse.

Even though it was about two weeks from its actual “bloom” and “stink”, it was fascinating to see. According to an Internet article, 12 days after my visit, this amazing and rare, nearly 7-foot-tall flower started to open and emit its repulsive odor. “The [event] drew flies and about 5,000 curious visitors all day on July 22; and then began its natural decline with obvious signs of wilting and less odor three days later.” You can find a photo and more information at Or check this time-lapse video at: If those links fail, go to

Mary and Aaron are well-traveled, and along the way they collect key chains. Here's a photo of the collection in their St. Peter home. They have another collection at their New Mexico home.

An unscheduled trip to Gardnerville, Nevada

The second day I was in St. Peter, I got a call from my sister Linda that her husband Bob had had a pulmonary embolism and was in the Carson City hospital and not expected to live. I drove right back to my cousin’s in Medford, parked Jeremiah, left cat and was on Southwest Airlines the next morning. The flight from Minneapolis to Reno seemed extra slow since I was eager to be with Linda. Bob never regained consciousness and died a couple days later. I spent the week with Linda helping with arrangements and such. We did take time off for relaxing and time with her three sons who live nearby.

One evening nephew Tim and his wife (also named Linda and on left in above photo with sister Linda) arranged to boat sister Linda and I across Lake Tahoe for dinner, another day nephew David and his twin girls took us to lunch, and I enjoyed visits with nephew Richard. A week later I flew back to Minnesota to continue my summer adventure trip.

Winnebago’s Grand National Rally

This was my fourth Winnebago National Rally and as always a busy, informative and interesting time. I had missed pre-rally week’s festivities, arriving on Day 1. I was pooped after my long Sunday flight – took nearly all day due to route scheduling and thunderstorms when we took on passengers at Denver – and mostly loafed and visited with friends on Monday.

Tuesday late afternoon was the “state row” parties; always a ton of fun and laughs. At the row parties, the states serve a variety of foods - usually those indicative of the state. At one booth they were serving alligator tail that had been breaded and deep fried. It was quite tasty. This year’s rally theme was Hollywood Legends and attendees really got into the spirit with costuming. Check out these photos.

During the week I got some motorhome items repaired/replaced: awning tension spring, refrigerator shelves adjusted, clear coat on motorhome hood replaced and a new propane detector installed. My volunteer jobs at the rally included a.m. coffee-donut area setup at 5:45 each morning and vendor hall take down on the last day. I made new friends and enjoyed friends from past rallies. It was a good week.

Hot Hurley Nights

Last Saturday, after the rally, I followed my RV friend Carol Rayburn to her mother’s home in Hurley, South Dakota. We parked across the street from the house. This small town’s annual celebration – named Hot Hurley Nights – was this weekend. Events we went to include a tractor parade, lunch in the park on Saturday, dinner at Simo’s Café, tractor pull, pork dinner in the park on Sunday, and music in the park afterwards. Some kids’ events included a scavenger hunt and a “money hunt.” For the money hunt, event organizers had put $40 to $50 worth of quarters on one half of the sand volleyball court – kids scrambled and dug for the loot.

At the one-and-only café in Hurley the Saturday night special is chislic (or sometimes spelled chislick). Red meat (in Hurley it was mutton) is cubed and deep-fried or grilled. It is usually served hot on a skewer or toothpick along with garlic salt and saltine crackers. This dish is virtually unknown outside the state of South Dakota. Locals say it is delicious - I chose to have a chicken salad sandwich.

Yankton, South Dakota

My next stop was to visit with Barbara and Wayne Nielsen at their home on the South Dakota side of the Missouri River just outside of Yankton. They gave me a super parking spot at their home. On Monday night we drove to Nebraska (just across the lake/river) for a delicious wall-eye dinner. Exceptional sights included an Osprey habitat set up to repopulate the area with this large bird (brought to the habitat shortly after hatching and a tour through the Lewis and Clark Campground where we spotted this bright orange motorhome! On Tuesday morning Wayne and I hiked a lovely trail.

Along the trail I spotted a plaque that had this to say about the Missouri River:

In the 19th Century, many travelers considered the Missouri superior to the Mississippi. They contend that the Missouri is, in reality, the main stream. One traveler, Charles A. Murray, wrote that “all who journey on it feel that the Missouri has been miss-used in having its name merged after its junction with the Mississippi; whereas the Missouri is the broader, the longer and in every respect the finer river of the two.”

After hiking and lunch, Jeremiah, Cat, Bucky the dummy, Mack the stuffed rooster and Fargo the stuffed horse pulled out toward my next destination – Al’s Oasis RV Park just outside of Chamberlain, South Dakota on I-90.

West across South Dakota

Originally I planned on taking back roads to Rapid City but that plan was scratched due to flooding and closed roads. Drats! I had to use I-90 – a monotonous road where one mile felt like 10 miles. Farming country became ranching/hay-growing country, hills became flat lands, and towns were few and far between. The only diversion was at Wall – home of the famous Wall Drug tourist area (free ice water, etc). I thought I should stop at Wall Drug, but the Dairy Queen was calling to me.

Heartland RV Park

I finally arrived at Rapid City (locals just say “Rapid”) and drove south 15 miles to Heartland RV Park. It is a good place to spend the night because the Internet is speedy and I’m hoping to get this posted. Tomorrow I’ll be driving through the Black Hills area to Fish ‘n Fry RV Park just south of Deadwood, SD.

MY DAYS TRAVELING BY RV are among my best. I see new places. I meet new people. I fill my head with new experiences that morph into memories. And I am richer for it. I am happy to live in a time where I can do something like this. – Chuck Woodbury, editor of RV Travel e-news.

Thanks for "traveling with me" - you can email me at