Sheridan

Mint Bar

Mint Bar

Miles:  272

States:  Wyoming

We decided to visit Sheridan, Wyoming, because Rebecca wanted to see a Cowboy Town, and the internet suggests Sheridan is the prototypical Cowboy Town.

FLS_6366It may be, but our inquiries of various vendors along the main street (Main Street) suggested it was more of a retirement town.

We missed the rodeo by a week, so perhaps if we’d been a week earlier we’d have seen more cowboys.

That said, the town itself is pretty authentic. The most authentic establishment in town is the Mint Bar, a real cowboy bar.

There are scads of western and moderns sculptures all over town.

Our needs were, however, well met by the town. I found an oil-change shop that changed the oil in the Weg Wam in a matter of minutes, then I got the tires rotated at a tire shop for next to nothing.

The cherry on the ice cream was finding a bike shop where my handlebars were replaced, so my bike is once again ridable.

We found an outstanding brewpub in town, the Black Tooth Brewery, whereFLS_6345 they poured an IPA cleverly called Indian Paintbrush. The banners in the rafters suggested the brewery is a champion, and I concur. I thought the Indian Paintbrush was the best brew sampled so far in either version of the trip.

We went for a long walk along a series of walk-/bikeways through town, along Goose Creek, as well as a gulch, I suppose it might be, that has been converted into a series of ponds and wetlands between subdivisions.

The Wyo Theater in Sheridan was hosting the Wyoming Theater Festival. We saw the play “Utah,” by Sean Michael Welch, in an intimate setting with a seating capacity of maybe 30. The play was so well-attended they had to bring in another row of chairs.

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The play, set in a chain bookstore, was well-acted, humorous, and well-timed.

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A Good Day in the Badlands

July 16, 17

Miles:  175 and 272

Destinations:  Custer State Park; Sheridan

States: Wyoming

Wildlife:  Prairie Dogs, Longhorn Sheep, Antelope, Bison, Burros

Rebecca and Sharon from Phoenix.

Rebecca and Sharon from Phoenix.

We spent the morning driving the loop road through the Badlands.  The day was perfect: clear, sunny, and not too hot.

sheepWe saw a lot of scenery and a lot of animals.  We also took a couple of hikes, the Door (or was it the Window), the most popular walk in the park; and part of the Castle Trail.  Along the Castle trail we joined up with Sharon from Phoenix, who was on her way back toward home after a monumental solo trip (plus her cat, in a popup trailer), that ranged through the Everglades, Johnston County NC, and Acadia.

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We drove a beautiful back-road highway from the Badlands to Custer State Park. FLS_6162 Custer is one of the most spectacular state parks in the country.  It takes over an hour to drive the loop road through the park, which doesn’t even cover all the bases.  It’s loaded with wildlife, including a 2000-head bison herd.

From Custer we went to Mount Rushmore via the Iron Mountain road, which winds through lush green hillsides, climbs to a rocky promontory overlooking Mount Rushmore, then dives to the valley floor.

Rebecca fleeing charging buros

Rebecca fleeing charging buros

We completed the days’ trip with a nice back-country drive to Sheridan, Wyoming, the archetypical cowboy town.  Our route missed Devil’s Tower, although we did see it sticking up on the horizon some 20 or 30 miles in the distance.

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Leaving Corn Country

July 14

Miles: 356
Destination: Badlands Interior Campground

We drove across South Dakota today.

Martin Luther King bridge from crossing the Mighty Mississippi into St. Louis.

Martin Luther King bridge from crossing the Mighty Mississippi into St. Louis.

We debated staying in Chamberlain, a little over halfway between Ponca and our destination, the Badlands, but when we got to Chamberlain the Oasis there lacked a bit of charm. It did have a really nice grocery store, though.

So we pressed on to the Badlands.

Corn Palace

Corn Palace

Our campground is just outside the park, and it was a really nice surprise. It doesn’t have a lot of trees, and the spaces are fairly close to each other. But the weather has cooled down, and we have a strong air conditioner.

View of the Badlands from our campsitel

View of the Badlands from our campsitel

The site where we’re staying is fantastic. It is at the end row, with an unobstructed view of the range of jagged peaks that is the Badlands, probably five miles away at most.

I’ll make this a photo blog entry, assuming I get an internet connection anytime soon.

Tomorrow we explore the Badlands, and finish the day at Custer State Park, where we should have good access to Mount Rushmore.

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Hot Time in Nebraska

July 14

Destination: Ponca State Park, Nebraska
Miles Driven: 160

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Rebecca overlooks the Missouri

The night we spent on the salt lake in Nebraska was not the warmest night of the trip, but there was something off about the night’s sleep.

The air conditioner wasn’t working.

Now, I understand that camping isn’t about the comforts of home. And the trip on which we are embarking is not going to be centered in locales that are dreadfully hot.

But given the troubles we’d encountered – broken elbows, broken bikes – we didn’t want to proceed with a broken camper.

We made numerous calls to RV service centers near Lincoln, and received similar results: “We don’t have any space on the lot.” “I can fit in you in August.”

Then Rebecca contacted Fremont RV Center in South Sioux City, Nebraska, a mere hundred miles from where we were camped, almost on the way to the next planned stop. “I’m getting a shipment of air conditioners today or tomorrow. Come on by and we’ll see what we can do.”

Take your RV to Fremont in South Sioux City

Take your RV to Fremont in South Sioux City

When we got to South Sioux City, the guys at Fremont RV center, who were pretty much slammed with work the same as all the other centers we tried, dropped what they were doing and took a look at our problem. “Compressor’s shot.”

It happened they had a pallette of new air conditioners on the garage floor, and they slapped one on in relatively no time. It wasn’t the same brand or form factor as ours, but it would, and did, fit. And our after-market warranty from Good Sam’s paid half the bill.

While we were hanging out watching the air conditioner replacement, an old camper drove up and asked Fremont RV if they had a cover for his air conditioner. His had been disfigured by a blast of wind a few days earlier. His air conditioner was a Duo-Therm, a brand you won’t see many places, especially not in an RV center. You might be able to order one from Pleasure Way. But as it happens, ours was a Du-Therm as well, so they were able to replace his cover with the cover from our shot air conditioner.

The day, I might note, was probably the hottest we’ve experienced this year, including back home.

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Rebecca found us a good prospect, Ponca State Park, located on the Missouri River an hour or so out of town, which is where we stayed the night. The campground was pleasant, with a swimming pool we were able to utilize.

The Ponca park is located on one of the few unmodified stretches of the Missouri. there’s a spectacular view of the river from a high bluff. The park also has a very interesting nature center.

There’s corn in them there hills

July 13
Miles driven: 474
States: Kansas, Nebraska

They’s a lot of corn out here.

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We drove across Missouri and across the Missouri River into Kansas City, Kansas, where we lunched at the El Camino restaurant. If you recall the story of the pasties in the U.P., the burrito I had was the Mexican equivalent, containing potatoes and carrots in addition to the meat. It was also the opposite: Our lunch was served faster than a barbecue sandwich at Stamey’s in Greensboro, and it was delicious. It was the best burrito I’ve ever had.

We didn’t really need to go into Kansas, except to mark it off Rebecca’s list of states visited, but the restaurant was worth the trip.

El Camino

El Camino

We then headed for Nebraska City, Nebraska, to stay at a campground on the river, but decided against it and headed further west for Branched Oak Park west of Lincoln. The route took us through Lincoln at rush hour, which was surprisingly uncongested, and right by the University of Nebraska football stadium on the way out of town.

We got a very nich camp site right on the lake, which is comprised of salt water due to ancient sea beds. Although it seems like every lake between Tennessee and here should be salt, given the sedimentary layer that dominates the landscape.

oaks1We were just settling into a nice dinner when the power went off. Luck would have it, the problem was not with the van, it was with the park. So we upped anchor and moved the Weg Wam to a different campground in the park on the lake, which we finished the night in comfort and awoke to a bright sunrise across the lake.

Did I mention I stepped on a honey bee while Rebecca and I walked to the lake’s beach?

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Bike Mishap

July 12

Gabler State Park, Missouri

Miles Traversed:  383.

States:  Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch

This was supposed to be a posting about a leisurely drive from Nashville to St. Louis, culminating with a trip up the Gateway Arch, a ride on the riverboat Becky Thatcher, a brew at the Morgan Street brewpub, and a pleasant night at the Babler Campground.

We did make it up the arch, and we did have a reasonable IPA at the brewpub – although they were not serving their signature brew, a Pilsner.  And despite being unable to divine why you can’t reserve a campsite on the day you need it, but they also want you to believe you can’t get a site without a reservation, we were able to drive up to Babler state park unannounced and are spending the night here aboveboard.  The board ride didn’t happen – the Mississippi River is way up and the docks are underwater so no riverboats are running.  Which is just as well, given it took over two hours to get to spend five minutes peering from the top of the arch.

Striated limestone

Striated limestone

Or maybe you would have liked to have read more about the striated limestone the persists through Kentucky.

I had intended at one point in the journey to remark on the state of American highways, all of which seem to be under construction.

Unfortunately, it turned out that this post is about another bike mishap, one that resulted in another loss of limb.

Before you panic, neither Rebecca nor I, nor anyone else, was injured.

We were nearing St. Louis when Rebecca identified yet another bit of traffic congestion predicted by her iPad mapping device, so she routed us around the backup via an Illinois state road.

As we were tooling along, a flat-bed truck came roaring up behind us and started to pass.

“Why is that truck passing us?”

The woman in the passenger window was gesticulating wildly when the truck came up beside us.  She was twisting her arms in a steering charade.  Rebecca realized she was telling us something about our bicycles, and when I looked in the rear-view mirror there was only one bike in sight.

It turned out my bike had bounced its way out of the hold of the bike rack.  I thought it was lost, but the Velcro straps that hold the wheels in place had actually  kept hold of the bike.  It had been dragged however long it had gone with one handlebar grip scraping along the pavement so that the bike now is essentially missing a hand.

Bummer.

Martin Luther King bridge from crossing the Mighty Mississippi into St. Louis.

Martin Luther King bridge crossing the Mighty Mississippi into St. Louis.

Sharpen Your Pencils

July 11

Miles traversed:  376

States:  Tennessee

tennAs we ascended the Big Hill from Old Fort, we noticed a lot of brown trees along the mountainsides.  They mostly looked to be poplars, and it wasn’t obvious whether they were permanently distressed or simply giving up for the season due to lack of rain.  In any case, it is alarming to see that much brown on the Blue RIdge this early.

The highway into Tennessee (I-40) was remarkably down-sloping.  It was hard to believe the Pigeon River gorge could decline more than the rise of the escarpment on the Continental Divide side, but it sure seemed that way.

We camped just short of Nashville at Lebanon Cedars State Park.  The park protects a concentrated growth of red cedars (or junipers, as the park literature suggests).  It’s unclear how long the trees have been there; the park web site suggests the original stand of cedars was mostly cut down to make pencils.

It’s a nice park, and there are in fact lots of the “cedars.”  We hiked the Cedar Forest Trail, which might better be called the poison ivy trail, as there was a continuous stream of poison ivy along the edge of the trail at ankle level.

Jackson Cave

Jackson Cave

The geology of Tennessee, particularly in the lower lands below the Smokies, is comprised of layer upon layer of striated (if I may be so redundant) limestone  As you drive through the state, there are lots of cuts in the sides of the roads revealing these layers.  The Cedar Forest path rises a bit to a ridge line that is marked by small (four- or five-foot) ledges of this striated stone.

Shag-barked hickories (perhaps)

Shag-barked hickories (perhaps)

The first two thirds of the trail was marked by only a few cedars, although more than you’d normally encounter on a Sunday stroll – which is appropriate, since it was a Saturday.  We did encounter some interesting shaggy-barked trees, the leaf clusters of which suggested they were in the hickory family.  We finally came into the cedars proper, and indeed it was a forest dense in them.