After we left Winterset, IA, we made a one-night stop in Onawa, IA at Lewis & Clark State Park. This park is located on an oxbow lake near the Missouri River. An oxbow lake is a former section of river that was isolated to become a lake when the river changed course. The campground has mostly electric-only sites with gravel pads with a few full hookup sites mixed in. Although the roads are kind of narrow, the sites are nicely spaced. There is also a newer section with a dozen or so paved pull-throughs and full hookups. We opted for a pull-through, even though we didn't need full hookups for only one night, because we didn't want to unhitch the toad. The pull-throughs were also a little farther from the lake and seemed a little quieter.
We were on the road a little after 9:00 the next morning on our way to Snake Creek Recreation Area in South Dakota. Driving 125+ miles across the bottom of South Dakota to our next stop presented us with one of those unexpected discoveries about our "home" state. The South Dakota we explored two years ago conjures up a mental image of the Badlands, Custer State Park, Needles Highway and the Black Hills where you see Mt. Rushmore and where Crazy Horse is being carved out of the mountain. We weren't prepared for the acres of farmland for as far as the eye could see. From tilling to planting to fertilizing to harvesting, we saw men working hard in the fields. There were also ranches raising cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. Although these ranches were huge, their homes were modest and many homesteads were abandoned. Many of the farmers were using John Deere equipment and having some knowledge of the different pieces from our trip to the John Deere Pavilion, we had a better understanding of their different purposes.
Researching South Dakota on the internet, we learned that the Missouri River travels through the middle of the state. Almost one third of the region west of the Missouri River, a semiarid, treeless plain, belongs to Native Americans, most of whom live on reservations. Much of the remaining area is occupied by large ranches where cattle and sheep ranching provide the major source of income, with soybean and wheat farming second in the production of revenue. In the more productive region east of the Missouri, livestock and livestock products are the primary sources of income. Actually, it was the rumors of gold in the Black Hills in the late 19th century that stimulated cattle ranching in order to feed the large influx of people seeking their fortunes in gold.
Snake Creek Recreation Area is located on Lake Francis Case which is on the Missouri River. There are 115+ campsites, a few of which are tent sites with no hookups, but most have electric. We didn't know there were two campgrounds until afer we got there. We had reserved a lakeside site in what turned out to be the older section (north). The north campground has a mix of paved and gravel pads with 30 amp electric. The south campground has all paved pads, 50 amp electric, and smaller trees so there is almost no problem with satellite. The sites in both campgrounds are widely spaced and the campground was fairly quiet during the week, although we can imagine it gets fairly full of young families, boaters, and fishermen on the weekends. The photo below shows our lakefront site...
...and this was the view of the lake from behind our rig.
Snake Creek Recreation Area is out in the middle of nowhere. We needed to keep our rooftop antenna plugged into our cell phone to barely get service with one bar. It was a good time to rest up in pleasant surroundings, although the mosquitoes were a little fierce. Paul was getting over his chest cold, and he couldn't resist sharing it with Margery. She was now up at night coughing, so the daily naps were good for us both.
We spent three days at Snake River then moved on to Spearfish, SD. When we came to South Dakota our first year of full-timing, we didn't have time to make it to Spearfish. Spearfish is about 2 hours from Gillette, so it made a good place to stop for a few days just before the Escapade in Gillette.
We stayed at Chris' Camp in Spearfish. The campground has paved interior roads and gravel pads and there is a small patch of grass between sites. The campground has quite a few trees, but when we told the owner we needed an unobstructed view of the southern sky for satellite, he immediately knew what we needed and escorted us to a great site.
The next morning we drove about an hour west into Wyoming to see Devils Tower. Devils Tower was proclaimed the first national monument in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion, which means it was molten lava that flowed upward into sedimentary rock layers. As the magma cooled, vertical cracks were formed. The cracks later created the columns that can be seen along the sides after erosion of the surrounding sedimentary layers left the magma tower exposed. The tower rises 867' from its base and stands 1267' above the Belle Fourche (pronounced Bell Foosh) River, which runs nearby.
Devils Tower is the name given to the tower by Col. Richard Dodge in 1875. Bear Lodge is one of many names given to the tower by Native Americans. According to Kiowa legend, the vertical marks on the sides of the tower were left by a bear trying to climb the tower while chasing seven sisters.
Devils Tower can be seen rising majestically from the landscape from several miles away. From the Visitor Center, there is a 1.3 mile trail around the base of the tower. This trail is not to be missed as it provides up-close views of the tower from all angles so you can see the changing shadow patterns on the vertical columns as you walk around the base.
We are pleased to announce that Margery was able to make the walk easily. Look Ma, no scooter and no walking poles!
The tower is popular with climbers; but since the tower is considered sacred to many Native American groups, climbers are asked to refrain from climbing during the month of June, which is traditionally a month of Native American ceremonies. The first ascent of the tower was made on July 4, 1893 by William Rogers and Willard Ripley. Paul is using one of the sight tubes to spot the remnants of their ladder on the side of the tower.
The photo below is a telephoto shot of the ladder, which is the thin, light line running down the center. It doesn't look like it would have even been sturdy enough when it was first built!
The site of Devils Tower National Monument also has a 40 acre prairie dog town. As you look out across the field, you can see dozens and dozens of prairie dogs popping up looking back at you. Of course, these cute little animals aren't dogs at all. They are rodents which are closely related to ground squirrels. They get their name from the barking-like warning sound they make.
This little fellow below walked right up to Paul. Seconds after the photo, with the sound of gravel crunching under Paul's shoe, the prairie dog took off like a shot.
After returning from Devils Tower, we took a drive down Spearfish Canyon, which runs south of Spearfish into the Black Hills National Forest. Spearfish Canyon was carved through three layers of rock by Spearfish Creek. The upper level is tan PahaSapa Limestone, the middle layer is mauve Engelwood Limestone, and the bottom is brownish Black Hills Sandstone. Unfortunately, it was late evening when we drove through the canyon so we didn't get to see the full colors. However, on the occasions when we rounded a bend where the sun was still shining on the rocks, the views were spectacular.
Spearfish is a pleasant town with an older, picturesque downtown and a more modern suburbs. The town is small and easy to get around. In this area rolling prairie ranch land meets the Black Hills, which provides some beautiful and diverse scenery. We needed to head on to Gillette for the Escapade, but the Spearfish area is definitely on our list for further exploration.