From Rapid City we are heading to Badlands National Park. But first the usual chores: food, loo, water, and diesel. Also a stop at a tyre shop to check the front wheel – we have a slow leak. Finally leave town by midday. We are driving the scenic route – not much traffic & not heaps to see, except the tiny ghost town of Scenic, then the southern section of Badlands. We finally reach the Info centre by 4pm. The free camping area is still open, but part of the road is closed so there will be a long detour. We have to resist the temptation to stop at any lovely lookouts – we can do them tomorrow. It is nearly dark when we arrive. Such a chilly night I am sure the heater goes nearly non-stop all night.
Wake to a nice clear day. It is not until we are outside we realise that the wind is very bitey. The long drop toilets are the craziest – I have nicknamed them f… freezers! There is usually an updraft – but today it has risen to a whole new level. It doesn’t stop us loving the park, just means we pull on jackets, hats & gloves at every stop. As usual I just love any kind of badland – and this one is spectacular. To top it off there is plenty of wildlife- We see heaps of bison, coyote, bighorn sheep (with some great horns), deer and some huge Prairie Dog Towns. We do a lot of the shorter walks, but decide it is too chilly to do the longer ones. Finally we head off back to the motorway. We then pop in to see Minuteman Missile National Historic Site- the tours for the day are fully booked, so we content ourselves with the movie & exhibits. Who would have thought missiles would become a Historic Site. But forgot to mention – this morning before we drove back through the park, we popped in to see one of USA weird & wonderful places as mentioned by Lonely Planet. Wall Drug! It started as a very quiet drug store in a tiny town & by using huge billboards offering free ice water it has now grown to a massive tourist attraction pulling in over 2 million tourists a year. We enjoyed all the memorabilia, photos, 5 cent coffee & slices of pie.
Next stop Murdo. Brian (the guy with the electric car) has very highly recommended the Car Museum there, so naturally John wants to go. We arrive by 4pm (but time change means it is 5pm). We have 1 hour before closing. As we hardly touch the surface of it all we stay in the carpark for the night. This would probably be our chilliest night yet – our water pipes start to freeze! After spending a few more hours at the museum we sit down with our maps to work out our next route. Everyone tells us to go south! We can’t pick up Wifi and check weather – so we make the decision to head south to sunny Nebraska.
First town is Valentine – and yes 1,000’s of letters every year arrive here to get stamped with “Valentine”. We stop at the huge Outdoor Outfitters. John doesn’t get a belt, but I come out with a pair of cowgirl boots (my weakness – shoes) finally on the road – passing the sand dune area. A lot of it is farmed, but it is still sand dunes – right here in the middle of the country. We end the day at a small free camp area beside a rodeo. Should be quiet – but NO. The trains pass continually. Each one hoots its horn 11-12 times going through town. I didn’t count – John did. Some are so heavy the whole motorhome shakes – it’s all that coal heading east. Still we manage to sleep OK.
The next morning we head to the city of Grand Island. So far in Nebraska our phones have not been working and we have been trying to check with Ashley if we should pop in and see any of her family. Finally in Grand Prairie – we get phone range & Wifi. As it is a gray drizzly day we stop for our usual errands. But this time we get ourselves some new bedding. A nice comforter will keep us extra snuggly at night. We haven’t heard from Ashley’s Aunt Peggy so we stop for the night at a convenient Wildlife Refuge just out of Lincoln.
We are woken in the morning (Saturday) by boats going out. And no they are not all fishing – some are shooting. So much for being a Refuge! Anyway, we have heard from Peggy and we head to their place. Breakfast out before returning to watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers play American football (not at all like ours!) It was great meeting you Mike & Peggy.
Early afternoon we leave as there is one last tour of the Senate Building at 2pm. No traffic in town of course – they are all home watching the game. Eventually leave town and start following more scenic routes (you know the roads with green dots beside them). Detour in to the very lovely old town of Plattsmouth. I head us down the wrong road & we find a yard with rows of very old cars. John gets chatting with the owner and before you know it he comes out with a Nebraska no plate to add to his growing collection on the side of GR2. By now it is getting late (the sun is now setting at 5pm) so we find a camp spot right beside the Missouri River well away from the craziness of Halloween (we forgot to stock up on sweets for any visiting kids)
Next morning we head to Omaha (Ashley’s old home town). She has sent us addresses for her house & school, & as they are not far off our route we do a drive by. Then head in to the city centre to explore. The markets are not open yet, but lack of traffic makes it easy for us to stop wherever we like. It certainly is a lovely city & the riverfront has had a great new upgrade. Iowa - the next state is across the river. We are now driving north on the Western Skies Scenic Byway – miles of beautiful rolling farmland. Mostly corn & most of it already harvested. Finally off the back roads, we put the capitol – Des Moines – in to the GPS and head in, again to the Capitol Building. Awesome! But no tour today – it is closed on Sunday. Our destination for tomorrow is the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum at Knoxville (I can hardly wait!!) so we decide to camp just past it at a State Park. By the time we reach Knoxville it is getting dark so we stay in the carpark overnight.
The Museum opens at 10am. I wasn’t going to go in, but I am told it is really good, which is true. There are some amazing cars set out really well. I was finished in about half an hour, John more like 2 hours. Sadly the racing has finished for the season. Finally we again head north along lots more scenic back roads. We particularly enjoy the little Dutch town of Pella with its very Dutch buildings complete with windmill & glockenspiel (sadly the clock wasn’t working) Next stop was the Amana Villages – a group of German villages – although cute they are very tourist orientated. By now it is getting late so we turn on to the motorway and head to the World’s Biggest Truck Stop – the Iowa 80 Truckstop. There is room here for 900 semis & there sure are plenty here tonight all buzzing. What a noise. We head right to the back for the night.
This morning we cross in to Illinois – I am starting to get some of these States confused. We keep checking the weather – it looks OK in Chicago so we think we continue heading north. Part of our ever evolving travel plan.
Coming soon: The Door Peninsula in Wisconsin then south through Milwaukee, Chicago and finally to Kansas City. (Probably no more route changes now as we are heading home soon)