Black Hills

Next stop is Custer State Park in the Black Hills. It’s a very nice park but like most state parks the fees are crazy. $21.30 for a tent campsite, not bad so far. Then $7 for non-resident reservation, sales tax, tourism tax and it’s up to $30. Then when I show up at the park it’s another $20 entrance fee.  After settling in to camp I take a drive around the wilderness loop to see the wildlife.

Prairie Dogs, this one was just sitting on his butt next to his hole while the other one was rubbing his back. He must be Mayor of Prairie Dog Town.


A few deer, one big bison sitting by himself next to the road, and an antelope.


Next morning, back on the wildlife loop looking for herds of bison. Found one smallish herd.


and tons of antelope and deer were out in the morning. I took a forest service unpaved road up into the bison grazing area, nice drive but no more bison.


Leaving the state park I found a campsite in the Black Hills National Forest, finally made a campfire


I went into the nearby town of Custer for some dinner.  After dinner I walked down Main St and there was a couple playing music in a small amphitheater in the town center. At first I thought they were random people playing for change, but they had a large poster of themselves and a PA set up. The music was so terrible I thought it was some kind of satire but everyone in the audience was tapping their feet and applauding each song. They mentioned that they had been married for 24 years and has been playing music for much of that time The guys’ guitar was out of tune and he kept mangling chords while singing out of tune. They were playing 60’s folk songs and the woman also sang out of tune and with odd phrasing of the lyrics. I kept waiting for her to whip out a tambourine or a cow bell but they probably save that for the finale. I had to leave after 10 minutes or so.


On the way out of Mitchell I stopped at the world famous Corn Palace. I had driven past it before  but never been inside. It turns out it’s a basketball stadium with a corn trinket flea market on the basketball floor when no games are going on.


Crazy wind on the way to the Badlands, stopped at the Minuteman Missile historic site on the way in. Some really interesting exhibits from the 60s thru the 90s when they were decommissioned.


then when I got to the campground it must have been blowing 30+ mph all afternoon. People were really struggling to put up tents, one family with a small kid across from me spent 2 hours trying before giving up and waiting for sunset when the wind finally died down somewhat.


Next morning I took the scenic drive through the Badlands, went on a couple of short hikes before it got too hot.  Saw a bunch of prairie dogs and a bighorn sheep


Half way through the drive I saw a dirt road marked “4WD High Clearance” that went up past a prairie dog down and decided to see where it would go. According to the map it led up to I-90 at the Minuteman missile silo which I wanted to see anyway, so I gave it a try.

It was mostly through the grass but at one point went up and through some of the Badlands formations



and a couple of very muddy spots. After an hour of offroad driving I came out onto pavement at the missile silo. Most of these were blown up and buried in 1993 but this one was saved as an exhibit. The silo door is partly slid back with a skylight window where you can look down into the silo and see the deactivated ICBM.


I had to stop in at Wall Drug but managed to get away without buying anything.

Next morning I went on a more challenging hike to The Notch. It’s not very long but the trail guide says people with a fear of heights should not attempt it. You have to climb a log ladder up a bluff


then walk along some ledges with a decent drop to the side. It wouldn’t be bad except the bluffs are so soft it’s barely stone so everything is covered in loose gravel on top of the smooth rock.


There is a nice view at the end from the notch high up on the bluffsIMG_8593.JPG

South Dakota

It’s been a busy few days. Kelsey complained that she didn’t get an official goodbye so I went up to Chicago from Starved Rock for the afternoon. We hit Eataly for pizzas then a stop at Molly’s Cupcakes.


I decided to go NW towards Badlands SD on I90, leaving Chicago in a pretty good thunderstorm I continued on along I90 to Madison WI and stopped at a Walmart. This one already had several RVs overnighting in the parking lot so I didn’t feel too weird pulling in and popping up my tent.

Next morning I continued on I90 stopping in at the Wisconsin Dells and ending at Mill Bluffs State Park.  It has a lake with a nice sand beach


unfortunately just as I was about to go for a swim clouds rolled in and it got quite chilly. Due to the surrounding bluffs cell and data reception was very spotty.

Next morning I hiked up to the top of Mill Bluff and found an excellent view along with cellphone reception


It seems a little much to go up 235 steps every time you want to send a text but I guess the pioneers were made of sterner stuff.

Leaving Wisconsin for Minnesota I crossed the Missippi River


Then continued on to Myre-Big Island State Park outside of Albert Lea. Not a bad spot but bugs were bad at sundown, lucky I have 98.3% DEET left over from Africa. There was a guy in a Tiny House in the campsite behind me, it was kind of lumpy looking like he made it himself after downing a six pack


Quite a big thunderstorm that night and rain well into the morning. I just stayed in the rooftop tent reading a book until there was a break in the rain, then packed up and headed for South Dakota.

Driving through a lot of rain and big winds I arrived at the Mitchell SD KOA. For those who don’t know Mitchell is home to the world famous Corn Palace. I’m planning a visit tomorrow then on to the Badlands.



On the road at last

Saturday was a big day, finally moving out. I took the first trip down the 3 flights of stairs to the parking lot at 7:00am and the last at 11:30pm. Added trim pieces to the rear drawers and finished the rear power. Two round trips out to Naperville and Westmont to take care of the last of my stuff then loading everything left into the Land Cruiser. Big sigh of relief when it all fit, barely. I was backing out of the lot for the last time when my downstairs neighbor came by with her dog, asking “Is this it? Are you leaving for good?” I said yes and she wished me luck and gave me a big hug. Not a bad way to set off on a big journey.

I finally stopped in at Kuma’s Corner and devoured an Iron Maiden burger, then headed off to the suburbs. First night sleeping in the rooftop tent at a Walmart in Naperville, then spent the morning with Lisa and the wiener dogs. Set out for Starved Rock in the afternoon and wound up at the Cozy Corners campground just outside Mathiessen State Park.


I ended up staying there for 4 days, relaxing in between repacking the truck and running errands. Everything fits much better now that I’ve got it somewhat arranged but there is still room for improvement.

Here is the storage setup in the back, 3 drawers and a slide out for the fridge/freezer. I am going to cover it in gray cloth for a more finished look, everybody sees the raw plywood and screw heads and says “Oh you made those yourself.” On the right side are USB and cigarette lighter power outlets.


The fridge slides out for easy access, it’s at the exact right height for me to see and reach in.


The slide and all of the drawers have heavy duty full extension sliders that lock in and out, good when parked on a grade. This is mostly the kitchen drawer with the office in the back.


Behind the front seats I have tools, spare parts, backpacking and climbing gear on the bottom then clothes in duffel bags on the top. On the far side are 2 5 gallon jerry cans for water. This pile should get smaller over time.


Inside of the tent. There is a light and fan on the top along with storage space. The sheets, pillows, comforter all stay in there when it’s closed. When I pull in somewhere I just pop the tent up, attach the ladder and I’m all set. There are screened windows all the way around which give great ventilation.



The falls and canyon at Mathiessen State Park


Council Overhang, where American Indians used to hold meetings out of the rain




Getting Close



I have submitted my resignation from work and have been working hard on my to do list getting ready to leave on the Big Trip. It’s been hard winnowing down all of my possessions into what will fit into a Land Cruiser, apart from some personal stuff my sister Leonie has graciously agreed to store for me. You can’t just make one pass through all of your possessions and say “keep this, get rid of that.”  It’s an incremental process, I’ve been through clothes probably 4 times now. I guess I won’t really know exactly what I can keep until the day everything is packed up and I set off down the road.

Also been doing a lot of work on the Land Cruiser, getting it ready for a long trip. Lots of preventive maintenance plus upgrades. This weekend I have to knock out the rear storage and power plus the last of the suspension upgrades and it should be ready to go.