Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Big Doin's and Big Trucks

We caught a break in the weather on October 11 and headed south.  It wasn’t long until we pulled into our destination, the Kansas State Fair Grounds in Hutchinson, KS.  The fairgrounds are large and grassy, with plenty of room for RVs,

good for a morning run,

and with a beautiful little pond where the dogs could enjoy a swim. 

We have been here for 9 of the last 11 years, meeting with friends at the Annual HDT (Heavy Duty Truck) National Rally.  

Some of these folks live and travel full-time in their RVs pulled by big, beautiful semi tractors.  Others, like us, travel only part-time, but we all love being on the road.  We enjoy our big trucks and the connection to others who share our passion for travel and adventure. This year, as in years past, Steve and Gail Dixon did a great job organizing and managing the rally and making everyone feel welcome.

The weather when we arrived was cold and rainy.  We even had snow Sunday night, but the rest of the week was beautiful.

We are young and old, from all parts of the country, with diverse interests and experience.   
Our days were full of seminars on a multitude of topics.  In addition to lots of truck-related sessions, our friends Jack and Danielle Mayer hosted a "for women only" session covering all aspects of the RV lifestyle.

Dale Bruss gave us important information about getting, and keeping our affairs in order while on the road or at home in our "sticks and bricks."

John brought folks up to date on various aspects of RV and truck insurance,

And Cec Burton addressed issues related to traveling with pets.

Happy hours and dinners gave us an opportunity to share fun and fellowship.

And there was still time for just hanging out, visiting and of course, working on trucks.

At least half the attendees, it seems, travel with pets.  The dogs all had a wonderful time, and 15 of them posed for their first-ever group portrait.

It was a bit like herding cats, but finally all the sniffing and tail wagging was done and they were (sort of) still for a minute (with a lot of help from their people) so we could take a picture.

Pumpkin wasn't up to posing with all those dogs, but she had no trouble facing down Milo from the top step of her RV.

And after many walks around the fairgrounds and ball-throwing sessions, 

the Bagley Pack posed for a couple of photos with their good border collie friend, Keyah Mayer.

We had a wonderful time, and look forward to returning next year.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Through The Arch and Beyond

We left Fort Robinson on October 6 and traveled south and east through the beautiful Nebraska sandhills.  The fall color of the grasses contrasting with the deep blue of the shallow freshwater ponds alongside the road take your breath away.

The rolling hills are home to cattle and horses in addition to the waving grasses.

And stands offering pumpkins added color along the roadside.

Just after we pulled into camp, it began to rain...and rain...and rain.  We spent a soggy three days in North Platte, NE, at the Holiday RV Park waiting for better travel weather.  While there we had the opportunity to visit the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument just outside Kearney, Nebraska.  What a neat experience! 

The museum spans I-80 at exit 275 and tells the story of the pioneers, adventurers and innovators who opened this part of the country.  

The stories are told in life-size "dioramas" in a several-story-high environment that leaves you wondering if you are seeing real people or mannequins

Stories include history of the settlers who traveled the Oregon, Mormon and Bozeman Trails; the building of the transcontinental railroad; the history of the Lincoln Highway and much more.  

Plan a couple of hours to explore it if you are passing this way.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Nifty Northwestern Nebraska

Our stay in the Black Hills has ended, but our adventures continue.  On October 1, on the advice of RV Friends Dave and Marlene Shaw, we traveled south some 106 miles to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, just west of the small town of Crawford in the far northwest corner of the state.  Rick and Linda Lorentz joined us there, and we were delighted to find a real gem of a state park nestled in the shadow of the Pine Ridge.

And we were glad that Dave, Marlene and Jake were able to drive over to share an afternoon with us.

Fort Robinson sits on 22,000 acres in far northwestern Nebraska.  The Pine Ridge, an escarpment between the White River and the Niobrara River, is a high tableland covered with ponderosa pine, with many cottonwoods in the canyon bottoms. 

Much of the Pine Ridge is protected, with no motorized vehicles permitted.  However, there are hiking and horseback trails that allow exploration.  John and I took the dogs for what we thought would be a hike along one of those trails, but that was not to be.  We were just a few yards down the trail when the Fort Robinson horse and mule herd spied us from their loafing area beside the windmill.

Fortunately, we looked up to see them trotting toward us, ears up, probably expecting treats.  

One of the mules, who appeared to be the dominant mare, laid her long ears back and increased her speed when she saw our dogs.  I’m sure she thought they looked a lot like coyotes.  

We quickly called them to us and put them in the car out of harm’s way.  Then we had a pet-fest with our new friends.  

One of the horses was especially intriguing.  He first appeared white, but then he turned and revealed himself to be a beautiful slate-gray.  His head was all white, though, which gave him a comical look.

On closer inspection, I discovered he had been rolling in the soft mud around the water tank, changing the color of his right side.  The next time I saw him, he had shaken off the dirt and was again all white.

After our close encounter with the herd, we retreated to the White River Trail, which runs for miles along the river, skirting the back side of the campground.  It is a beautiful trail, and leads past the Ice House Ponds.

These small bodies of water are clear and cold, with lush stands of cattails and brush protecting their sides.  They are stocked with trout each spring, but we didn’t try to catch any this trip.

A couple of days later, we walked the same trail with Rick and Linda.  

We were admiring a couple of longhorn steers in an adjacent pasture, when over the hill came galloping a herd of bison.  

They made a brief appearance, then disappeared over the hill.  How lucky are we!  We got to see our bison stampede, and we didn’t even have to get up before dawn to see it, as we would have had to do in Custer State Park.  

Fort Robinson, named in honor of the first soldier lost in an Indian attack,  was established in 1874 to protect the Red Cloud Indian Agency and served from the days of the Indian wars until after World War II.  It has a colorful if tragic history.  


Fort Robinson was the site where in September of 1877, Crazy Horse, war leader of the Ogallala Lakota was bayonetted and killed while in custody after surrendering several months before.  There are differing versions of events leading up to his death, including that he was trying to escape and that he was murdered.  There are also a number of biographies of his life with conflicting accounts.  This memorial sits on the grounds of Fort Robinson at the site where he was reportedly killed.

Bundles of sage and prayer cloths have been left on the Crazy Horse memorial, along with a number of coins.  I understand the significance of the sage and prayer cloths to the native peoples, but not the coins.

Another blemish on the reputation of Fort Robinson was the January 1879 Cheyenne Outbreak.  Some 150 members of the Northern Cheyenne had been captured while attempting to flee back to their homeland.  When they refused to return to the reservation, they were held without food or wood for heat in an attempt to force them to comply.  The Cheyenne broke out of the fort rather than return to the reservation, but poorly armed and outnumbered, they were hunted down and returned to the fort or killed. 

However, not all of Fort Robinson’s history is concerned with the Indian wars.  In 1919 it became a remount facility, and developed into the world’s largest training, care and breeding center for Army horses and mules.  from 1935-1939, the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team trained at the fort.  From 1942 to 1946, it served as a training center for U.S. war dogs, and in 1943 it served briefly as a German POW camp.  In 1948, Fort Robinson was declared surplus and turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The state park was established in 1955, and has become a popular vacation spot in northwestern Nebraska.

There are a number of historic buildings on the park grounds.  Some are used for administrative purposes, and quite a few have been modernized and can accommodate from 2 to 60 people.  If you have family in the area, it would be a wonderful site for a reunion.

Fort Robinson State Park is also home to the Trailside Museum (University of Nebraska) which interprets the geology and natural history of the region.  We thoroughly enjoyed this small museum.  The first thing you see when you enter is this incredibly large Columbian mammoth skeleton.  

The real showpiece, though, are the skeletal remains of two mammoth bulls who died with their tusks locked together.  

A mural on the wall depicts what the struggle of these two titans might have looked like.

Discovered in 1962 on the Moody Ranch just north of Crawford, the “Moody Mammoths” remain the only example of large, extinct mammals locked in combat.  They were mature bulls, estimated to be between 45 and 50 years of age, and each weighed approximately 10 tons.  Also, each had one long tusk and one short one, which had been broken off previously.  The short tusks allowed the two bulls to become “locked” together, and when they fell, they could not get up because of their combined weight.  

The way the mammoth skeletons are displayed at the Trailside Museum is also unique.  One of the original skeletons stands at the entrance of the museum.  It is original except for the skull, which is a replica.  Both original skulls are part of the display showing how the mammoths were found with their tusks locked.  The second skeleton was divided in half, and represents the rib cage and other bones for each of the two mammoths depicted as they died in combat.  It allows us to see both the real size of these extinct mammals and how their bones looked when they were excavated.  

Another interesting sidelight…the two mammoths have been nicknamed “Cope” and “Marsh” in reference to two 19th Century paleontologists who were furious rivals in the discovery of fossils.

One of our other excursions was to an area known as Sowbelly Canyon.  Located some 30 miles west of Fort Robinson, and 2.7 miles northeast of the small town of Harrison, the canyon is a little-known portion of the Pine Ridge.  It is some 11 miles long, and has beautiful canyons and some rugged ridges.  

The canyon supposedly got its name when hungry soldiers who had been fleeing Indians were offered “sowbelly” (bacon) by the rescue party.  No matter how it got its name, it is an interesting off-the-grid excursion.