Back to my other point . . . unfortunately, South Dakota isn't one of the most central of states and,
despite all of its scenic and historic treasures, it isn't at the top of many
people's lists of vacation destinations. I think it should be.
Although I've been traveling all over the country since I graduated from
college several eons ago, I didn't have the sense to visit
until almost three years after moving to "nearby" Billings, Montana at the age
of 50. That's
still a six-hour drive from the monument but at least it was in the
ballpark. If you've ever driven through the remote and humongous state of Montana, you
know what I mean.
Even so, it wasn't until October of 2002, when Jim and I decided to check
off another marathon or ultra on our "50 States" list by running the Mount
Rushmore Marathon, that we added a visit to the monument itself almost
as an afterthought. I mean, we were that close (holding thumb near
forefinger) that we might as well go see it in person . . .
After that visit we were sorry that neither of us had ever taken
a special trip to the monument earlier in our lives, or at least detoured
from 1-90 on one of our more recent trips between Billings and
the eastern part of the country.
If you haven't been there, go see it and enjoy the surrounding
area. If you're a runner or hiker, there are hundreds of miles
of trails through the Black Hills National Forest; two of
them stretch for more than 100 miles (Mickelson and Centennial
trails). There are even several footraces of various lengths,
including the relatively new Lean Horse 100-miler. More about
Now we're in the beautiful Black Hills area of southwestern
South Dakota again, taking care of some business in Rapid City.
We don't plan to go back to the monument again this week but
we'll be very close and hope to catch glimpses of the carving
from Custer State Park tomorrow. We'll still feel that
overwhelming sense of pride in our country, even from zoom-lens
Mount Rushmore and the Great Faces/Great
are featured on South Dakota's vehicle
ON THE ROAD, CHAPTER 2
This is the second, and shortest, of many "chapters" in our
Summer 2009 Road Trip. (I'm referring to our three-day stay in
the Rapid City area, not the length of this entry!)
We left Los Alamos on Monday morning, another bright, warm
spring day in northern New Mexico. We needed to get over to
I-25, which we'd follow north through the entire length of
Colorado and into Wyoming. Time to break out the maps . . .
Jim prefers computer software; I still prefer real paper maps.
Shot out my side window of the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota
There is no fast or direct route to I-25N from Los Alamos. We
could go back south through Santa Fe and hop on the freeway,
retracing part of the route when we arrived ten days earlier, but it'd be adding on a
lot of unnecessary miles. I talked Jim into going the most
direct, and hopefully scenic, way but with the disclaimer that I
had no clue how fast it would be. We had plenty of time:
two days to knock out about 800 miles.
My way was definitely the most direct you can get through a
mountain range on paved roads, and probably more scenic than an interstate
going through a valley far to the east of the Sangre De Cristo
Range, but it was somewhat slow. It took us 3˝
hours to drive about 140 miles to the freeway. Some of the
mountain roads required lower speeds to negotiate, especially
with a camper, and some were being repaired. Little towns along
the way also slowed us down but added to the ambiance.
I'm glad we went that way! I wasn't in any hurry and I enjoyed
OK, Sue, what route did you take? For travel buffs like my
brother, here is the route from Los Alamos:
- We drove east on Hwy. 502 and north on 30 to Espanola; both roads
are smooth and fast.
- We went east across the Rio Grande and north on 68 toward Taos. We
loved the scenery north of Velarde , where the river is close to the
road. It was running high, fast, and muddy with spring snowmelt from
the nearby mountains. We saw caution signs for elk and bighorn sheep
along the road. We were alert for both but spotted only deer.
Windshield shot of the Rio Grande
near Velarde, NM
- We missed an unmarked detour south of Taos and had the pleasure
(?) of driving a couple of bonus miles through narrow streets full of
kitschy stores and fawning tourists before getting to the road we wanted, Hwy.
64 east. I loved this hilly, curvy road through the Carson National
Forest. Jim, who was driving, wasn't so fond of it, especially
the part where we got up to 9,000+ feet. After we dropped down
into the valley toward Eagle Nest (a town and big lake) the road was
more flat and very fast. We then had great views of New
Mexico's highest mountain, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak. We could see snow
on the surrounding peaks in the 12,000-13,000-foot range:
- Hwy. 64 between Eagle Nest and Ute Park was slow and winding
again. We saw a lot of antique cars on the road here, in the area for
a rally near Ute Park. My brother would love tooling around that
beautiful countryside in an antique car. The road was faster to Cimarron even though we
were back in the national forest again.
- At Cimarron we hung a left but continued on Hwy. 64 NE to the
freeway. We weren't sure if that tangent to I-25 would be wise, but it
was a great choice. We were on or paralleling the old Santa Fe Trail for over
thirty miles. Cool! That section of road is almost as fast as the
freeway, has great mountain views, and is flush with antelope all over
- We came out on I-25 at Exit 446, about ten miles south of the
I-25 was more interesting through southern Colorado than I
expected. I hadn't been that far south on it in recent memory.
Once we made it through the construction in Trinidad we could
enjoy the lush green range lands to the east and 9,000-14,000+
foot mountains in the Sangre de Cristo Range to the west:
To me, the Granddaddy of them all is Pike's Peak, near Colorado
Springs. It's one of five Colorado 14ers I've climbed. It just
shrieks "COLORADO!!" I love it. Too bad we wouldn't be stopping
INTO THE FRYING PAN
We could feel the heat as the day wore on. Through Colorado
Springs and Denver our temperature gauge read in the low 90s. We
heard on the evening news that various cities along the Front
Range and farther north came close to or exceeded their record highs Monday.
We wondered how we'd keep cool in the camper that night,
boondocking at the Sam's Club near Loveland, CO, where we've
stayed at least two times before. We could have run the AC with
our generator but by the time we got done restocking at Wal-Mart
and Sam's the temps had cooled down enough that we didn't need
to run it. It helped that our parking spot far from the store's
door was partly shaded by trees. Cody had cool grass to lie on
just outside the camper.
This place is so convenient we'll probably stay there again on
our way back to Colorado at the end of June. Maybe we should
lease a space in the parking lot!
After supper Jim invited me on a 3+ mile roundtrip walk to a
nearby neighborhood park that he found on Topo USA. For once,
I didn't take my camera. I didn't expect to see one of the best
sunsets over a lake that I've ever seen in my life! Jim had the
presence of mind to remember that our cell phones can take
pictures. I didn't have my phone, either -- but he had his, and he
took several photos of the magnificent display.
Unfortunately, the cell plan we have apparently doesn't allow us
to download those photos, only send them to another phone. Rats.
So here's a photo from the Black Hills instead!
That's a minor problem compared to the glitch we had with one of
the slide-outs. Our wall clock fell out of a box on the floor
while we were traveling Monday and got stuck when I opened the
slide. We're always very careful when we open the slides and
check to see if anything has gotten in the way. I couldn't see
the clock but heard the crunch. I was able to salvage the clock,
but the brief force sheared off another bolt and we couldn't
retract the slide.
The good (?) news is that Jim is by now fairly adept at
replacing sheared bolts in our three slides. He's had (too much)
practice the last six years. He keeps spare bolts and we both
have the drill down pat. I get the inside job, he gets
the one where you have to crawl under the camper and get dirty
. . .
THROUGH THE BLACK HILLS
We coped just fine with the heat and noise (earplugs!) in the
Sam's Club parking lot that night and hit the road on Tuesday
morning refreshed and full of anticipation. I love it when we
get to see something new!
We didn't have quite as many miles to drive the second day --
only 384, compared to 432 on Monday. It was a pretty quick trip
on I-25 to Exit 126 at Orin, WY.
Silhouette of a (fake) bison along I-25 in
The rest of the route I planned was on what turned out to be
very good two- and four-lane roads through eastern Wyoming and
the scenic Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota (east on
Hwy. 18 through Lusk, Mud Creek Jct., and Edgemont, then north
on 89, 385, and 16 to Rapid City).
We were happy to find diesel prices along the way that were
substantially less than we had to pay in the Los Alamos area,
where they escalated to $2.43/gallon. We paid "only" $2.09
at a Shamrock station near Colorado City, CO and $2.18/gallon
at the Flying J in Cheyenne, WY. The difference in cost is
probably due to state taxes because Flying J usually has the
cheapest prices we see along freeways.
The only ultra-related part of this segment of our trip is
hoping to run on some of the Mickelson Trail while we are in the
area. All we knew before our arrival was that the
Lean Horse 100-miler uses part of the southern end of this
I should have researched the location of the trail before we
left Los Alamos. It isn't shown on our old AAA map and we
didn't realize until we got local maps later that it runs all
the way from Edgemont to Deadwood, a distance of 109 miles. You
can see quite a bit of it from the roads we were on Tuesday but
we didn't know to look for it until we got to Pringle. From
there to Hill City, where we turned east, we saw several miles
of the trail on one side of the highway or another:
Shot out my side window of the Mickelson
I was surprised how much of the trail that I saw was so close to
a busy highway. Tomorrow I plan to run on a part of the trail that
is farther away from the road.
I loved riding right through the heart of the Black Hills, so
named because the thick stands of spruce and pine look so dark
from a distance.
The forest is even quite attractive along the north and east edge
as you drive on I-90
between Rapid City and Spearfish.
The "hills" are more than just hills. The highest point in the
state, Haney Peak (7,242 feet), is located here, just a few miles from
Mount Rushmore. There are quite a few mountains from 5,000
and 7,000+ feet in the 1˝ million
acre Black Hills National Forest. No, it's not the Rockies but this is my kind of land, with
many remote mountainous forest nooks and crannies to explore off the tourist paths.
We couldn't avoid seeing some of
the more popular tourist attractions on our ride through the
Black Hills. The most prominent on Tuesday was the nine-stories tall
carving of Chief Crazy Horse between Custer and Hill City. We
haven't visited the memorial yet and won't have time on this
short visit, but after seeing the impressive sculpture from the
road I'd like to visit the site in the future. The face is
complete but the rest of the carving is a work in progress.
Upon completion, the chief astride
his horse will reportedly be the largest statue in the world.
The sprawling visitor complex includes scale models of the
sculpture, exhibits, the Indian Museum of North America, an
educational and cultural center, and the studio-home-workshop of
the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, who is working on the statue
at the request of modern Lakota chiefs.
We passed more commercialized attractions closer to Rapid City.
You know, the ones with caged bears and souvenirs like gaudy
t-shirts. Yuck! Fortunately, the beauty of the forest and the
attractiveness of the small city as you enter high on a cliff
from the south overshadow the tacky stuff.
We did plenty of research before arriving in Rapid City but we weren't sure where we'd stay
for the next three nights until we eye-balled a couple of
camping options. Wal-Mart was the first place that needed to be assessed,
since it was free.
Because this is
a popular county and state for full-time RVers to call their legal
residence, Wal-Mart encourages them to stay in their parking lot
for up to three days (and buy stuff in their store, of
course). I've never heard of that anywhere else;
RV newsletters, magazines, blogs, and other and websites always admonish
campers to be as discrete as possible at Wal-Mart so the
privilege isn't withdrawn: don't set up your lawn
chairs or grill, don't open up your slides, don't ever
unhook your tow vehicle (or "toad") and leave the camper
unattended, don't stay more than overnight . . .
In other words,
look like you're parking, not camping. So three nights at Wal-Mart, with the blessings of the city??
Interesting bridge with thick wooden arch
on Hwy. 16 south of Rapid City
Despite the temptation we decided we couldn't handle that
particular Wal-Mart lot for three days, especially in the heat. It was 93°
F. when we arrived in town Tuesday afternoon!! That's pretty
unheard of so early in the season in Rapid City, too. In fact,
most campgrounds in the area were just opening up for the
We are very happy that we decided
to stay at the FamCamp at Ellsworth AFB a few miles NE of town. We chose one of
the twenty-five level, paved sites with spacious grass "yards" and full
hook-ups. We had researched the campground on the internet and
knew that it opened only three days before our arrival. Usually
the weather is much cooler than this in May and there aren't
enough visitors to open it earlier. It was two-thirds full when
we got there.
There are a couple of trade-offs
we made camping at Ellsworth but they turned into assets.
First, the only available
sites when we
arrived that receive a reliable WiFi signal both had broken
water connections. We could have water at several other sites with no WiFi, or
fill our water tank before parking and have a strong internet
We chose WiFi! (If we'd been there
more than three days, however, water would have been more of a
Jim's laptop has a built-in WiFi
connection. My PC doesn't but Jim fixed that with a spiffy
Linksys wireless USB network adaptor with range booster by
Cisco, which he picked up for a good price at the nearby base
exchange (BX). We found a similar one at Sam's Club for the same
price. It's about the size of a thumb drive and connects to a
little base that you sit on your desk (or hang from the little
knobs on your camper window shades).
For the same amount of money it
costs us to get broadband internet service from Verizon each
month, we now have a faster, more permanent solution that is
ours to keep. Of course, the catch is that we have to be close
enough to someone's WiFi signal to snag it out of the air (with
their permission). We should also have WiFi for the month we're
staying at Foothills Campground in Wyoming, our next
destination. So Jim cancelled our broadband service until we
are camping somewhere without WiFi we can access from the camper. The gizmo will
pay for itself before we leave Foothills.
IT'S DA BOMB(ER)
The second trade-off at Ellsworth
AFB is the occasional VERY LOUD NOISE, so far only during daylight hours.
This is where the U.S. Air Force pilots do most or all of their B-1 bomber training.
ever been close to a B-1 bomber when it's taking off??!! Whoa,
baby. Get out the earplugs! Or be full of awe like us and stare
into the sky, transfixed, to watch them soar into the wild blue
Hmmm . . . from the creation
of the atom bomb (Los Alamos) to the home of our country's B-1
bomber training (Ellsworth AFB) in two days . . . strange
coincidence, and in no way planned.
Visitors can take a guided tour of
the Air Combat Command and see a Minuteman missile silo but we
didn't have time to do that on this visit. We did go into the
South Dakota Air and Space museum near the main gate to learn
more about aviation history at the base and view aircraft inside
and out, including a stealth bomber, General Eisenhower's
Mitchell B-25 bomber, and a variety of fighter, cargo, and
Jim checks out a Huey. He manned the radios
in Hueys with gunners and no doors in Viet Nam.
Jim was most impressed with the
huge B-1 bomber on the grounds and suggested the caption below:
"My New Ride"
You can see how big the bomber is with Jim and the truck nearby
We can highly
recommend the campground at Ellsworth AFB to other retired or active duty
military families. Getting through the security gate is not a
hassle, but you have to know to go in the "commercial" entrance if
you're in a camper. That's the only place a big rig can maneuver
through the concrete barriers. Camping is first-come, first-served.
arrive early in the week like we did, you should be able to get
a spot, even the week before a holiday (Memorial weekend is
We had good cell phone and TV
reception. The cost is reasonable for full hook-ups ($20/night)
and there may be a discounted monthly rate. The campground
laundry (behind the bathhouse) is clean, convenient, and less expensive than going to a
It's easier to find your way around
the base than some others where we've camped. We didn't have time this trip to
hunt for any running trails on base but there are plenty of
roads through the base housing areas that would have been
suitable for running. Jim's still recovering from the Jemez race and I plan
to run on the Mickelson Trail tomorrow.
Next entry: exploring Custer
State Park, famous for its roaming bison and begging burros, and
running on part of the
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil