Scotts Bluff Nebraska

What drives our urge to visit locations of national wonders and history? Could it be seeking a reason for individual existence beyond love or being a character within the story of another’s life experience? Could these places link us to the creation of earth itself, the history of mankind and plant the DNA of our own existence, scattered wherever we touch?

I found myself sitting outside in view of the national monument at Scotts Bluff Nebraska in quiet moments of thought. What have I been getting from our travels to historic landmarks? The sheer size of the landscape is impressive. We all know you can’t take a picture that does a view justice.   You must be here using all your senses to take it in. Something as little as hearing the patterns of blowing winds.  Catching the stray smell of wet rock near a meadow of flowers. Looking as the view fades to a blurry tunnel on the horizon, miles beyond where you are standing. Finally leaning against a boulder millions of years old. Drinking a bottle of iced water, having lunch after an exhilarating climb to an elevated place or down into a valley at the center point of the experience.

Scientists believe earth was created about four billion years ago. The bible and geological processes explain the creation. It was finally determined that Yellowstone National Park sits upon a super volcano that has had a large-scale eruption at least three times. The volcano stays put as the earth above moves as part of plate tectonics. This super volcano has had a massive eruption on average about every 600,000 to 800,000 years. And could be 40,000 years past due to erupt. The geology of Scotts Bluff and beyond has been affected by Yellowstone as volcanic ash covered the landscape, just as it will do again. Over millions of years the landscape was twisted and turned by erosion as well. The geology of Scotts Bluff offers a view of the Wildcat Hills area that spans a time period between 33 and 22 million years to the present.

In what I call recent history, mankind migrated to this continent, probably from several different directions. During modern history between 1840 to 1860 half a million people traversed over the Oregon Trail using ancient monuments such as Scotts Bluff for trail markers along the way. This trail branches off to California and was also the highway used by Mormons traveling to Utah or gold seekers heading to Montana linked to the Bozeman Trail.

Then in 1963 simple me was born. And now I stand in the pathway of a tiny portion of human history, between points within bluffs through which families migrated. Up to 30,000 died on this pathway. If stretched out along the 2000 mile trail, there would be a grave every 352 feet. Someday, as it has always happened, this place will once again be covered by geological forces. The landscape will change and maybe thousands of years later someone will visit here. Nearly all those who died on this trail have no markers. I will remember them. Not by name but through shared experience. They and I are a link in the chain.

View from National Monument Visitor’s Center. There is no fee to see the park!

There is a walking trail that takes you through a pedestrian tunnel to the summit. You can also drive to the top.

Photo on display in visitors center. Not sure what year it was taken but it was in color. There is a deep ravine in the trail which was common as thousands of wagons passed over it, rutting the pathway.

Robidoux RV Park – City of Gering Nebraska

At $23 a night with the weekly rate, Robidoux RV Park was a great find. All roads are paved and your spot has a concrete pad and patio. Full hookup utilities and some spots offer cable TV. Operated by the City of Gering which is a community next to Scottsbluff within view of the National Monument. An interesting comment is the City of Scottsbluff is spelled different than the monument (two words – Scotts Bluff). The city waters the lawn where campers have a thick carpet of grass with plenty of space between campers. Highways into the area, to include scenic US 26 Highway, are easy to navigate. We found plenty to do during the week to include eating at a couple local drive-ins and venturing out into the countryside. We also checked out the Riverside Park Campground but highly recommend Robidoux.

Our yard of thick grass at Robidoux RV Park
Views at dusk are interesting as the clouds pass over the Scotts Bluff Monument, in this case, backlit by the sun.

Day trip to Rebecca Winter’s Grave and Lake Minatare

On the way to Lake Minatare we stopped at a hard to find grave along the Oregon/Mormon Trail. You might know the Oregon Trail starts in Independence Missouri which is the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We Have toured the church and area several times as Independence is a suburb of Kansas City where we lived. Lots of history in Independence to include the Mormons starting off on the trail to Zion in Utah. Rebecca’s grave is outside Scotts Bluff near the transcontinental railway.

Lake Minatare is a state park. A local resident said it was worth the drive just to check out the inland lighthouse, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp. The lighthouse was built to give people hope during the great depression. The lake sits between what looks like sand bluffs. The beaches are huge along the lakeshore.

Drive to Robidoux Pass Through the Wildcat Hills and Trail Crossing

The title of this section sums up an interesting day spent in the truck, sometimes in four wheel drive, discovering less visited spots along the Oregon/California Trail. As wagon train after wagon train made it to Scotts Bluff each marked the occasion as a waypoint, knowing if they made it by July 4th they probably could make it over the Rocky Mountains before snow closed the passes. Just like those trails we hike today, sometimes they veer a little off course for better trail conditions. Pioneers traveled maybe 16 to 20 miles a day at this point in the trail. They avoided long detours when possible. The detours they did take, for example to an easier river crossing or between an opening in a mountain chain, would become the most established portions of the trail. Grazing land was hard to find at times. Mules and oxen were the preferred animals to tow trailers as they could live off prairie grass when horses had problems with it. Pioneers would move their livestock off the trail for a mile or more to find grazing land. Wagon trains might also select a spot well off the trail to avoid human waste and disease left behind by earlier travelers.

Louis and Clark forged the first trail (not the Oregon Trail) from the United States to the west coast but that trail was unusable by wagons. Fur traders had been using other trails, so did the buffalo and Native Americans which became parts of the Oregon trail. This route to the west was actually blazed beginning in Oregon, not Independence Missouri.

One could pass between the hills at Scotts Bluff or Robidoux Pass where the Robidoux family established a trading post, later moving it to another location. The military established a small fort in the area. Pioneers would continue on their way to larger Fort Laramie for repairs and resupply. They have been following the North Platte River.

An hour drive with the truck passed over land it would have taken the pioneers more than a day to travel. The roadways for us was sometimes gravel and sometimes thick dust that turns to mud just like it did for the pioneers. We drove through areas where I felt we were trespassing, but signs said just stay on the road through private lands. We never found a pioneer graveyard we were searching for but did find the intersection of the actual Oregon Trail and California Trail. This was mostly located in areas where cattle free-range even today.

Hmm, name spelled different “Roubadeau” vs. Robidoux as in Robidoux Pass and Trading Post – and RV Park.
A gold mine for us. We found where the California Trail split off from the Oregon Trail.

Day Trip to Agate Fossil Beds

Sioux County Nebraska is comprised of 2100 square miles and contains just one town. Imagine all the water nearly gone, save for a few watering holes. Animals, in this case dinosaurs, naturally flocked to those remaining water holes. The National Monument at Agate Fossil Beds was one of those remaining water holes. Bones were preserved, having not been crushed by glacier activity during various ice ages. As an added benefit, the park tells the story and displays American Indian artifacts during an age of friendship between rancher James Cook and Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota (Sioux) Indian Tribe.

A treaty was signed, giving safe passage to settlers traveling the Oregon Trail. The peace pipe they smoked is here at the visitor’s center. Artifacts from Red Cloud and his wife are here. The sister of Chief Crazy Horse helped bury him after his death at Fort Robinson Nebraska. She had only one item left from him. It’s here at the visitors center. I’m not much for American Indian History but admit the darkened room full of information and artifacts was a great experience added to the fossil displays. We skipped the walking trail to a couple mounds where fossils had been found as the heat was horrendous. This is the site where “smaller” dinosaurs roamed. The larger ones most of us know are out in Montana and other states.

Chief Red Cloud Clothing
Mounds where bones were located. There is a walking trail to the dig site.
For those that believe Nebraska is a fly-over state with not much to see. On this map of western Nebraska I can see many locations worth a stop, several within a reasonable drive from one another. Scottsbluff, Fort Laramie and Guernsey State Park, Alliance with Car Hinge, Agate Fossil Beds, Chadron State Park and National Forest with view of the foothills of the Black Hills, Fort Robinson west of Chadron. One could easily spend a month in the area of western Nebraska.

We are currently camped on the high plains of Kansas, having spent four nights in Ogallala Nebraska on the way here. We are heading towards Abilene Kansas to visit Dwight Eisenhower, then on to Kansas City by September 7th just after the last major camping holiday when spots are easier to get.

R.I.P – Sgt. Scott Boyum has died at the age of 54 from a long illness. We were co-workers. I’ll visit his grave along with Don Mansell’s when we return to Kansas City.

Goodbye South Dakota – Hello Missouri

We left Custer South Dakota in late September and have made our way through Nebraska and Missouri to visit family in three separate locations. Soon we are starting our migration to southeast Texas although we have not decided upon a winter home. We have discussed spending time in the Alabama Gulf Shores area, depending on recent hurricane damage, and maybe moving to Florida from there. Our plan is to repeat last years travel patterns which is moving from spot to spot with perhaps a monthly stay at times.

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Ogallala to Fort Robinson Nebraska. RV Holding Tank Maintenance

Karen, Wyatt and I have moved off the Kansas Prairie and spent a few weeks in Nebraska on our way to South Dakota. The scenery just keeps getting better. We can only imagine what the rest of the country will look like once we get there during our journey of discovery. Near the end of this post I’ll discuss what I’m doing to maintain our waste water holding tanks and appreciate any comments regarding your own methods.

We traveled from US 36 Highway north on US 83 in Kansas. Both excellent roads. West on I-80 for about 60 miles to Ogallala Nebraska.  We then took US 385 all the way to Custer South Dakota with a side stop west of Crawford Nebraska at Fort Robinson State Park. Pulling our 15,000 pounds of  high-profile fifth wheel with a dually truck. In this part of the open country there can be random high winds. It was so nice to be away from the city traffic with changing views from prairie to big rocks known as buttes. Our return trip will include a drive through Nebraska’s scenic Route 2 between the sandhills beginning at Alliance Nebraska. I have already confirmed with Nebraska State Park staff that Route 2 will be no problem for us.

One might not think of Nebraska as being an RV destination spot. We did not see many RV’s heading north on US 385 from I-80 while the campground at Fort Robinson State Park was mostly full of locals. However, western Nebraska, especially Fort Robinson outside Crawford might very well be one to put on the list as a must see. I discovered it while route planning via US Highways and avoiding Interstates. When I went to my own list, compiled over six years of reading other’s blogs, this is what I found: Only notes to stop at the Strategic Air Command Museum and Omaha Nebraska. Both located in eastern Nebraska.

There is not much to see in Ogallala Nebraska which is a frontier town at the end of cattle drives out of Texas. We spent four nights at Country View Campground. Having just come out of the “wilderness” we wanted time to cleanup the rig and rest with full-hookups. Country View is definitely great for an overnight stop with quick access off I-80, large pull-through spots with little to no interstate road noise. We watched a YouTube video prior to arrival to make sure we did not miss anything in town. Downtown was a store front built to look like an old western town (closed for now due to the virus thing.) We toured Boot Hill Cemetery where the dead from gunfights filled the hill. There is a local lake which is popular but we skipped it. Notably is the underground history of the area. The Ogallala Aquifer covers 175,000 square miles under portions of eight states. It does not rain much in western Nebraska, receiving just 1/3 the annual rain totals of eastern Nebraska as not much rain makes it past the Rocky Mountains. Locals say the Aquifer is the main source of crop irrigation and in parts of the state the water is exposed at the surface in the form of springs.

Store front in Ogallala Nebraska. In the parking lot is a marker regarding the cattle drives from Texas.

They discovered graves down hill from the Boot Hill Cemetery while constructing roads. The hill itself is hard to remove for construction.

Next Stop –  Fort Robinson

I’ll not retype notes about the history of Fort Robinson listed on their website. The Fort was an active military post from the time of the Indian Wars and beyond World War 2. It housed the Red Cloud Indian Agency, holds the spot where Crazy Horse was killed, was the largest cavalry post for training with 30,000 horses. At one time half the war dogs used in WW1 were trained here and German POWs during WW2 were kept here. And it’s the location for the famous Buffalo Soldiers. The State of Nebraska bought the military post after it closed. The post is surrounded by rock formations known as buttes. It’s wide open with many of the original buildings still standing or reconstructed.

Currently, the officer’s homes and one enlisted barracks are used as a hotel or single family rental. It’s amazing and was well worth the one week stay. Fort Robinson is popular as a family reunion location because of the sleeping quarters you can rent. The indoor olympic size swimming pool is another good feature! There are added cost for some events, such as a pool pass or small fee for using the RV shower buildings. We camped in the Red Cloud Loop with full hookups. Found a great spot (#106) on a curve within the loop that is easy to back-in with no neighbors on one side.

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Most of the extra activities were shut-down due to the virus thing. Normally you can take a wagon or horse ride. Sit inside at the post theater for a live play. Museums are setup all over the post inside old buildings, most were open as was the post restaurant. This is no small Fort. Thousands of soldiers lived here and the buildings are spread-out down well kept paved roads. Bring your bike! There are day trips you can take from the post. We drove out to the Toadstool National Geological Park. Fort Robinson State Park covers 20,000 acres where we even found a nice creek for our dog Wyatt to swim in near the tent camping area.

1887 View of Fort Robinson

Yes, I took this photo but this one could be on a post card

Some areas of the State Park are identified with only markers, such as this area where military dogs were trained. I found this old photo on the Nebraska State Historical Society site.

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Soldiers Creek. No telling how many Indians and US Troops drank from here in the 1800’s.

About 30 miles down the road is Toadstool National Geological Park. It is located in the middle of nowhere. The first 2.5 miles of gravel road will get you thinking about turning around because it’s that rough to drive in a truck. We felt it was worth the trip. There are hiking trails within the park but not much shade. We only covered about a mile of the park. With our young dog we did not want him to overheat. I’ll describe the park as what the moon surface must look like.

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Trick I learned in the sun. Wear a cheap long-sleeved white T-Shirt.

While in western Nebraska we learned the area was formed by an ocean and volcanic activity. Lots of sand around here!

Now for some RV related business: Holding Tank Maintenance

We have finished our first year on the road. I’ll write about that later.  We traveled in this RV for six months prior to going fulltime. Waste water tanks and especially tank sensors, have been challenging to figure out.

Someone else already figured it out which is my preferred way of learning. I wish Lee over at the Camper Chronicles Blog had written this post earlier. He discusses tank treatments and much more. Click here for the article.

For the sake of keeping this short; I have two topics/challenges to discuss.  How to clean the tanks and how to get our tank sensors to work.  For those that do not have an RV –  waste water from the toilet and kitchen are stored in tanks until you dump them at a sewer connection. There are sensors in tanks that are supposed to indicate how much tank space remains. Our sensors are mounted outside the tanks in the form of pads. Our black tank, no matter how much I clean it, will not indicate below two-thirds full and the grey water tank sensor will not indicate below one-third full. In short, I give up on the sensors and have just learned how to know when they are approaching full.  No point in worrying about it.

My second point about the subject is I have learned the best way to clean a waste water storage tank is have clean water in it while traveling down the road in the RV. The water motion helps. I sometimes fill the black tank with fresh water after dumping and then drain it again. But be careful not to overfill it as water pressure varies by campground. I’ve learned to gauge how much water is going in the tank using an actual water gauge (counter) or just filling it for five to seven minutes. (Update – I have learned, and even found a warning sticker, that you should not flush the blank tank with the drain valve closed.  The risk of overfilling is too great.  You could cause damage to the tank or water can seep out of the connections where the pipes go into the tank. )

For now, every now and then I place about five gallons of a solution in each tank before traveling, preferring to use liquid dishwasher soap and Borax or Calgon when I can find it. I am still using Happy Camper for a black tank treatment as I do not have the nerve to not use a treatment.  So far, the only time our black tank smelled inside the camper was when it was nearly full.

(Update 10/6/20) After writing this post I found a survey conducted in a major RV newsletter. About 2,000 RVers responded to the survey which found 78% of people use an RV holding tank treatment while half the remaining people either don’t use a holding tank treatment or sometimes use one. I still use a treatment (Happy Camper) nearly always, however at times when we are only stopped for a few days I might just use a few squirts of dawn dish soap. You should dump the black tank when it is at least 2/3rds full. When I dump the tank when not nearly full, I spend extra time filling it partially with fresh water and then dumping it (back flushing). It is not proper to flush a black tank at a dump station when other Rvs are waiting in line. When that happens I use the grey tank water to quickly backflush the black tank.

We are currently living in the Black Hills of South Dakota for a month. We plan to be back in Texas by November 1st with stops along the way. I’ve been thinking about what will become our one year on the road blog post. I’m leaning away from – we did this we did that – and will most likely get real and tell ya what can happen that will make you consider leaving the road – not that we are.

Summer Trip Planning – Nebraska and South Dakota

We don’t seem to plan our trips more than a month or two in advance and generally only book camping spots at destination parks prior to leaving the last one. We prefer to get to a new spot and see if we want to stay longer before figuring out where to stay next. Last summer we learned how difficult getting into the preferred weekend campsites where when school was out. Over the past year of RV travel we have also learned that we prefer weekly stays and avoid overnighters.  Generally, our attitude is to move into a state and “live there” for awhile. It takes a few days to learn our way around at each stop, take time to slow down and enjoy the area as well as not get in a terrible hurry to plan our next move. Among the most enjoyable experiences has been staying long enough in an area to find the hidden gems. This is our life and not a race around the country.  We finally came up with a plan for the 2020 summer while keeping in mind the virus thing could cause us to react to any changes.

So we have decided Nebraska and South Dakota will be our families home over the summer. I’ll get it out of the way and also pass along that our Cocker Spaniel Huck passed away a few days ago. The cancer got him sooner than we had hoped for. At 15 years old he lived a good life and was loyal to us to the end. Karen and I knew when his time had come. Up to the last  day Huck did his best to act like the dog he always was.  As I type this sentence I’m up early as we are leaving today for an overnight visit with family in southern Missouri and pickup our puppy Wyatt. We are leaving the fifth wheel and taking an overnight road trip. I’m not good with the emotions of loosing family members. I’m one of those people who gets mad about death but firmly know the emotional process includes different stages ultimately ending in acceptance and moving on.

Getting Ready for Wyatt

Karen went shopping for puppy stuff. Wyatt comes with a list of suggested food and vitamins per the breeder. My sister Mary donated some puppy stuff such as a soft sided kennel and playpen. We have other items to pickup from our 10×5 storage unit. It’s awesome this puppy will grow up not knowing anything but the RV life. There will be rules he has to follow and we will have to do our best not to confuse him during training.

We came to an agreement that we prefer not to put much on our calendar because we want to be flexible in planning this part of life’s journey.  There will be times when something drops into the schedule which is out of our control such as in October I was to testify in a murder trial. I had hoped this would be the last trial for the cases where I was the lead detective. I received news the trial was moved again to May of 2021. I’ll not spend much time thinking about the trial screwing with next springs plans and just find a way to work it in.

Planning for our summer began with Karen and I agreeing where we wanted to travel. The Midwest is close to home and a good place to be in case the virus thing takes off again. We have never spent time in South Dakota and there are things yet to see in Nebraska. So we picked a couple destination spots which include the area of the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota. We also want to spend time at Fort Robinson in northwestern Nebraska. I suspect we will book our spots at the busier parks before we leave which in part will help set the timing of each visit. The dates will be centered around the three areas previously mentioned.

So I went to my spreadsheet to check what others had to say about their visits to the area. During the five years of planning for our future in an RV it was fun following other’s journeys and keeping notes. If anyone sees holes in our plans please let us know!

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I know it’s hard to read – Clip of my spreadsheet for South Dakota. Plenty of blogs to refer back to for information.  My notes included links back to postings. Once we arrive in the area there will be time to research tours of interest. Searching RV forums such as IRV2 helps find suggestions.

Right or wrong from what I understand there are a couple ways to experience western South Dakota? One can stay centrally located at Rapid City. Or you can get closer to the Badlands staying near the Wall SD area and Black Hills by staying in or near Custer State Park. So far we have decided to split up and not stay centrally located.  Next I dropped a what-if plan into RV Trip Wizard.

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Knowing we prefer to travel 200 mile or less a day, we also researched stops between main destinations. However, we generally book those minor stops once we have arrived at our main destinations. Route planning begins here. I’ll be okay with longer drives if they are on interstates.

The above roadmap shows a journey beginning 7/19/20 and ending 9/27/20 taking off and landing in Platte City Missouri where we are currently staying. I’ve done my best to consider what is going on in the area as the trip includes visits during the busy season. I would have preferred to travel on either side of the busy dates but things did not work out. I’m hoping to avoid the Sturgis motorcycle rally and figure if the parks have spots then we should be okay. I’ve been hearing a lack of international travelers is helping and so far even AAA is forecasting fewer travelers this year.

Our plans are subject to change and we appreciate your comments. I’ve already started to watch YouTube video where people recorded drives down specific highways. Especially on US 385 and around Custer State Park. This trip will be in elevations we have yet to travel. Many stops will be for a week or more.

  1. Omaha Nebraska 7/18/20.
  2. Sioux Falls 7/26/20
  3. Left Tailrace COE campground Fort Thompson SD 8/2/20
  4. Sleepy Hollow RV Park Wall SD 8/16/20 (to see the Badlands)
  5. Custer SD area 8/23/20 (to see the Black Hills area)
  6. Fort Robinson State Park Nebraska 9/6/20
  7. Travel back to Missouri beginning 9/13/20 with two or three stops along I-80 to south I-29.

I suppose there is a chance we will book a one month stay in Rapid City SD but others posted moving into the Custer State Park area would be a good thing.

Karen usually reviews my camping spot recommendations and checks areas to find even better locations. Our budget is $25 per night on average. We have the America the Beautiful pass which helps. We don’t go much out of our way to make use of our Escapees, Goodsam or Passport America discounts. Remarkably I’m finding veteran or senior discounts to be most used!  So far we don’t boondock and have little issue with 30 amp electric only sites. With the virus thing and chance of being confined to a park long-term, we had been booking sites with full utilities but are moving away from that rule. I’ll get around to posting something about our purchase of a 30 gallon water bladder and electric water transfer pump which now eliminates any concern for spots that don’t include a water spigot.

Are you believing this! Finally diesel cheaper than unleaded. Local sign in Platte City Missouri June 2020.

Note: After I wrote this blog post I met a local from Nebraska at the campground in Platte City Missouri. He suggests I should look at driving Nebraska Highway 2 through the sandhills area after leaving Fort Robinson State Park. The sandhills area runs between Alliance to Grand Island Nebraska. I read up and found the drive on highway 2 is said to be among the top 10 scenic US routes. We also decided to take a route that begins with the visit to Fort Robinson in Nebraska then on to an area south of Custer SD, most likely in the Hot Springs area.  That way we can take day trips up to places of interest to include the Badlands. This makes the trip more flexible for us as we can later decide if we want to move the rig further north or return to Missouri or Texas before heading to a winter spot.