We were thrilled with the warm, dry, sunny week we recently spent in Great Falls, Montana.
We are equally thrilled with the weather so far in Rapid City, South
Dakota. Both places have enjoyed above-average temperatures into the 80s
F. this month in one last gasp of summer.
Pedestrian bridge on bike path
over a dry creek at Ellsworth AFB
We plan to stay in the Rapid City area about two weeks, depending on
the weather. We're watching the forecasts carefully to make sure we get
out of the upper Plains and Midwest before early winter temperatures and
freezing precipitation arrive.
TRIP SUMMARY: GREAT FALLS, MT TO RAPID CITY,
We left the Gateway FamCamp (Family Campground) at Malmstrom AFB last Wednesday and arrived at Ellsworth AFB
Most of the 640 miles we drove were on I-90. We did about a third of
the distance the first afternoon, spent the night in Billings, MT, and
drove the remainder of the way on the second day.
We ran into some road construction on two-lane state highways (US 87
and 191) between Great Falls and our intersection with I-90 that slowed
us down about half an hour. A total of about 20 miles of I-90 were one
lane going eastbound but the speed limit was the slower speed we were
going with the RV anyway. The next time we go that route we'll have
smoother roads to drive.
Above and below: two views
of the Yellowstone River in Montana
Traffic was very light to moderate the entire way through Montana,
Wyoming, and the western part of South Dakota. "Rush hour" has a
whole different meaning in these sparsely-populated states in cities
with only 50,000-100,000 people.
Our travel weather was great both days -- sunny, breezy, and
up to the 70s-80s F. in the afternoons even through high desert terrain
ranging from 3,500-4,600 feet in elevation.
Forest fires caused enough haze the first day through Montana that we
couldn't see the Crazy Mountains or the Beartooth Range clearly but
visibility was good for driving and enjoying the scenery closer to us.
We were able to see the Bighorn Range clearly in Wyoming the second day.
I couldn't see any snow on the peaks. Montana, Wyoming, and South
Dakota all had warmer than normal temperatures this summer and less rain
than usual -- quite unlike where we spent the summer!
Some of the cottonwood trees along streams in Montana and Wyoming
have turned bright yellow, gold, and orange:
Most of the fields and range lands along our route are already tan or brown. The only
green grass is in low-lying areas near streams and land that's been irrigated.
Near the Wyoming-South Dakota border on I-90 we began seeing the dark
evergreen trees that define the Black Hills National Forest:
We spent just one night on the road in transit.
Nope, it wasn't a WalMart or Sam's Club but a Cabela's store that is adjacent to Sam's
Club in Billings and just off I-90.
The Cabela's we've visited out West have all had long parking spaces
on one side of the building for RVs or trucks with trailers. They have
nearby dump stations, potable water, kennels for dogs, and corrals for
horses. The spaces are primarily for ranchers and other customers to use
when shopping in the store but they all allow RVers to stay overnight if
Like WalMart, Sam's Club, Cracker Barrel, and other chains, Cabela's
knows it's good for business.
Jim saw this first -- train cars
passing in front of rolling hills that look like a load of grain!
The Cabela's in Billings is particularly handy because this parking
area is adjacent to the Sam's Club parking lot. We got permission to stay there, too,
but their lot isn't as spacious as some others where we've stayed.
We shopped in both stores that evening. (It is good for
business.) We hoped to find the louvered
tailgate we want for the truck at Cabela's but they are on backorder
there, too. I walked over to Sam's Club to get some items, thought of
some more I wanted, and went back a second time.
Sam's Club has diesel at this location but there isn't room to
maneuver with the camper attached. Jim unhooked the truck to fill the
tank with diesel at $3.95/gallon, the lowest we've paid in a good while
(still high historically, though). He also filled an extra five-gallon tank with diesel so we could get all
the way from Billings to Ellsworth AFB the next day without having to
stop at another service station with the camper attached. That's a handy
trick he's used several times this summer.
BACK "HOME" IN RAPID CITY
We love this area in the spring and fall. This is at least the fifth
time we've camped at Ellsworth AFB, which is just east of Rapid City in
the town of Box Elder (box elders are a type of maple tree).
The longest weíve camped here was for three weeks last fall. The weather
was exceptionally nice then, too.
Our only "complaint" now is the wind, which can be quite ferocious at
times. We didn't have as much choice of a site this time and our
position has the door and lots of windows to the west, the side where
the wind is prevalent and the sun is hottest in the afternoon.
We arrived mid-afternoon last Thursday. Six
sites were available out of about 28 back-in sites in the original part
of the campground, which has three loops. There are seven new
pull-through sites farther from the office and restrooms/laundry room;
all those sites were full when we got here. That's OK. We prefer the
In the four days we've been here the
campground has stayed pretty full. We arrived just in time.
All the sites are relatively spacious and have
concrete pads surrounded by grass. The cost is $20/night for full
hookups, including 50-amp electricity. We were able to use another Air
Force coupon for one free night. If we stay 14 days, we'll get another free night.
We get lots of TV stations with just our camper
antenna (we don't have a satellite dish). We also have a strong Verizon
phone and MiFi signal. The campground's free WiFi signal is rather weak
at our site.
Some of the
RV sites in the original campground loops
with seven pull-thru sites; the original sites are just beyond these.
Diesel is more expensive here than in Billings
-- $4.07/gallon at Sam's Club, $4.11/gallon at Aafee's on base,
$4.25/gallon and up at Flying J and other stations in town. South
Dakota's fuel taxes must be higher.
We've seen several of the folks here who were at
Malmstrom AFB when we were there; all are heading east to their
homes or south for the winter.
I already mentioned the wind. It's been very windy
most of the time since we arrived and for a
couple weeks before that.
Friday's gusts of 40+ MPH were enough to repeatedly rock the camper as
they hit us broadside. The campground host remarked that at least it's not
as bad as the 60 MPH winds they had in May and June . . .
After the sun sets between 6:30-7 PM (very early!!) the wind dies down
substantially. That's a relief.
below: Jim took these photos of a B-1 bomber flying over the base.
Temperatures have been in the mid-70s F. here so far, which is about ten
degrees warmer than normal. In early September it was 100 F. for several
days when we were about freezing in Alaska at Denali National Park! (I
periodically tracked the weather in several places in the Lower 48
during the summer.)
It could easily drop
down to freezing quickly here, too. We're staying alert to any
forecasts about Arctic blasts from Canada so we can escape in time.
AUTUMN IS OFFICIALLY HERE
Although the temperatures are still summer-like, golden leaves and
shorter days arrived in South Dakota before the official beginning of
fall a couple days ago. I can't believe how soon it gets dark now
-- by 7:30 PM this far east in the Mountain Time Zone.
The sunsets are pretty, and easily seen from our campground (above) or down at
the ponds, but the early darkness is depressing to us after 20+ hours of
sunshine a day in Alaska in June and early July.
We've had autumn colors and diminishing hours of daylight since the
middle of August in Alaska and Canada. By the time the fall colors are
gone in Virginia (late November) it'll probably be the longest period of time
either of us has
ever spent in this season.
in the upper left sky is a B-1 bomber.
in another direction from the campground
Better that we find ourserves in eternal spring or fall, however, than
That's what folks from South Dakota to Alaska
will soon be experiencing
and Jim and I do our best to avoid.
GOT OUTA ALASKA
JUST IN TIME
Meanwhile, we heard/read yesterday about extensive flooding this past
week from high rainfall in the Mat-Su Valley, Kenai Peninsula, and
Jim found a dramatic video of rushing water in a creek near Seward,
where they've gotten an average of an inch of rain a day for the past
month! The road to Exit Glacier is under water. A guy in a bulldozer was
trying to move rocks so a bridge doesnít wash out. Talkeetna looks like
itís underwater; residents have been evacuated from that town.
Here are some photos:
Also note that Anchorage topped the Weather Channelís list of U.S.
cities with the worst summer 2012 weather! We can vouch for that but it
hasn't "dampened" our enthusiasm to return again.
Iím wondering if the Yukon Territory got a lot of rain, too, and what
the Alaska Highway looks like . . .
Sunset over one of the lakes on base
Sunset over the memorials to airmen from Ellsworth
AFB who have died in training or combat
That's not all the
bad-weather news in Alaska.
There is an article on the Alaska Dispatch website re: the
auto lottery at Denali National Park last weekend.
Each year a lottery is held to allow about 400 private vehicles to drive
back as far as conditions allow on the park road for three days during
the second or third week of September.
One day they had to wait until 10 AM for ice to melt on passes. Another
day there were 60 MPH winds at Polychrome Pass and some portable toilets
blew off the overlook. I don't know if the road was open all the way to
Kantishna on any of those three days or nor. It snowed while we were
there in early September and after we left we read about snow closing
the road for one or more days.
Full moon, migrating birds, and the last remnants
of sunset over the Rushmore Center on base
Sunrises can be pretty interesting around here,
Apparently the snow
has melted, or at least a bunch of it.
This later article describes flooding near the entrance to Denali NP and
deterioration of the Parks Hwy. at MP 240:
Before our trip to Alaska we would have barely noticed these news item.
Now I hunt for them.
Weíre not only keenly aware of what's happening in
places in Alaska where we visited, we genuinely care about what
happens there. That's true of every place we've truly enjoyed visiting.
CYCLING, HIKING, & OTHER
Because of the strong
winds some days we have done our bike rides and walks either
early in the morning or late in the afternoon/evening when the wind
isn't blowing so hard.
Cody heads down toward one of the pretty ponds on
Paved multi-use paths loop around and between the
Jim is able to get
lots of road miles on his bike on base and additional distance off-base
on some nearby country roads. For those rides he can just leave from our
For other cycling options
we'll have to drive to the nice bike path downtown and to the Black
Hills, where he can ride the 109-mile crushed gravel Mickelson Trail or
trails/roads through Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.
I plan to do some
hiking in the Black Hills with and without Cody, too.
At Ellsworth I like to walk him down to and around the four ponds shown
in these pictures. They're half a mile from our campsite, between the
Rushmore Center and the flight line. We can easily get in three or four
miles that way or add more distance through residential areas on base.
Itís very dry here, which is good for our continuing effort to dry out
the camper and everything in it but it's not ideal for the flora. The grass is mostly brown and crunchy
unless itís been irrigated. Two of the four ponds are only half full;
the other two are normal depth.
This is one of the low ponds. The contraption in
the foreground is a disc golf basket.
There is a whole disc golf course around the ponds
but I haven't seen anyone playing.
In the fields on base there are still a few flowers blooming Ė white and
yellow daisies, a few clover, purple vetch -- and
I canít believe the dandelions are still blooming after all the heat and
drought this summer. Dandelions are the cockroaches of the plant
kingdom. They're ubiquitous, growing anywhere and everywhere, and
they're hard to kill.
Above and below: red fox near the ponds
We've been busy with
lots of other things since we arrived here including mingling with other
folks in the campground, running various errands, shopping, steam
cleaning the Cameo carpeting, making further travel plans, and beginning our search for a
New puppy?! Yup,
that's a distinct possibility after we get back to Virginia.
Typical Lab: Cody loves swimming in the
Because we're "tripped
out" from all the driving to and from Alaska we might stay at our house
long enough to adopt a pup, get all of its shots, do initial training,
and maybe spend the winter in the Southeast instead of the Southwest
since our trip would have to be shorter.
We've talked to some
other folks about military campgrounds they like in Georgia and Florida.
We're ready for something different than our usual snow-bird treks to
southern Arizona and Texas.
Next entry: a
beautiful day hiking and cycling in Spearfish Canyon in the northern
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil