RV Adventures to the National Parks – Day 2: Hays, Kansas to Keystone, SD

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We were able to stay the night without running the generator (the generator is required for the air conditioning when not hooked up to 110V) because it was already reasonably cool. We easily pulled up stakes…as there were none…and headed west and then north.

According to the map (we primarily work off of maps, as our GPS lady, a British gal named Jane…while having a very nice voice… is frequently high), some of the roads we were traveling were designated as “scenic”.

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We assumed that different states may have different thresholds for what constitutes a scenic road. But as we continued, something told us we weren’t in Kansas anymore. It was a big sign that said “Welcome to Nebraska”. Anyway, soon the landscape changed dramatically.

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Despite being behind schedule still and trying to catch up, as we reached Gothenberg, Nebraska, we could not help but pull off and visit the Pony Express Station.

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The Pony Express, it turns out, only lasted for 18 months and its fate was sealed with the advent of the telegraph. We actually had a nice conversation with the man who worked there and learned a good deal, but were forced to get back on track. In fact, there wasn’t even time to visit the Sod House Museum. (The bison and the horseman are fake, by the way) And now that I look at the picture, it doesn’t even look like a complete building.

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The man gave us a few options for heading to Mt. Rushmore. One path went along a river valley which made up a portion of the Oregon Trail, which sounded kind of historic, but I didn’t want to take the chance of dying from dysentery, so we instead decided to head north towards Interstate 90 which runs across South Dakota. This would let us see what the Badlands were about…and then we could decide if it was worth stopping.

Throughout South Dakota, there are repeated billboard pleadings to visit a place called Wall Drug, which has historically claimed to offer “free ice water”. Hmmm, it didn’t seem terribly enticing. Maybe if we were on foot.

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For those who have ever driven Interstate 95 south of Virginia and are familiar with “South of the Border”…well, there’s your Wall Drug. Wall Drug billboards were rivaled only by those for something called “The Ranch Store”, but we were coming in behind schedule and were just going to take a quick peek at the Badlands.

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Wait, “feed the prairie dogs”? I guess we can squeeze in a few minute stop. It turns out that prairie dogs eat unsalted peanuts. At least at the Ranch Store. Unfortunately, my daughter is allergic to peanuts. But no worry, as the Ranch Store lady is quite familiar with peanut allergies and substituted 2 bags of Cheetos to feed our furry friends. The prairie dogs are very laid back and not terribly scared of people. This is going to be great!

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Hmmm…

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Oh well. On to the Badlands Loop. We picked up a park guide which explained that the road through the park was a blessing and a curse because it was built without any input from engineers or any other type of “expert”.

“Early motorists along the Badlands Loop Road traveled through tunnels carved into the formations. Since the road’s layout defied engineering logic by being based on scenery rather than stability, the road is constantly shifting. Though the tunnels are long gone, the sense of adventure remains. ”

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After passing on Wall Drug, we made it to Kemp’s Kamp in Keystone, checked in, and then headed out to see Mt. Rushmore at night to see their late program. Here is downtown Keystone.

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We arrived at Mount Rushmore as it became dark. A storm was coming and it had already started to rain, which canceled the night program, and gave this interesting view of the stoned Presidents.

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Most, if not everyone, had already left the park, allowing us to have the entire place to ourselves. We met a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd named Aba, tasked to sniff down anybody smelling suspicious. Thank you for your service, Aba.

As the storm started to get worse, we returned to the RV. Just as we entered and shut the side door, there was at once the sound of what could only be described as a team of monkeys jumping up and down on the roof, beating it with baseball bats. I was immediately seeing dollar signs for what was certain to be the total destruction of Mr. El Monte’s recreational vehicle by way of gigantic hail. I looked out the side window and was relieved to see that the hail was only about dime size. The roof, it seemed, was made of sheet metal only slightly thicker than tin foil. Relieved, we made it back to Kemp’s Kamp and turned in for the night.

Day 3: Keystone, SD to Custer, SD

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