Sunday, October 28, 2012

BalloonFest #1

And go south we Poteau, Oklahoma. In searching for places to stay, we learned that the Poteau (pronounced po' toe as in "I stubbed my po' toe!") Balloon Festival was scheduled for Friday and Saturday. We found a space at Long Lake RV Resort just south of town on Highway 59. I can say that there were grass, and trees, and a nice field for the dogs to run, as well as an asphalt pad for the RV. The only problem was...instead of a 50' space as we had been told, we found only a 35' one! Since our coach is approximately 38' without the truck, it was a little snug. We managed, though.

We were up early on Saturday morning. The winds were apparently too strong on Friday for the balloons to fly, so we hurried to the festival grounds to see if conditions were right for a lift-off. We weren't disappointed. One balloon was already aloft,


and these four weren't far behind. It was a lovely sight.

After breakfast we went exploring. We wanted to look at Lake Wister State Park, located a few miles from the town of Wister in Southeastern Oklahoma. On the way, though, we went through the town of Heavener (prounuonced Heevner). It was shown as the location of Heavener Runestone State Park. As we wound our way through the back streets of the small town, I remarked to John that this park would either be "nothing" or "a real jewel." Fortunately, it was the latter.

Created in 1970 and decommissioned as a state park in 2011, the location was turned over to the City of Heavener. A group of local citizens formed the Friends of Heavener Runestone to raise funds and assist the City in managing and maintaining the park. They are dedicated to protecting the visitor center and grounds, as well as the irreplaceable Heavener Runestone carvings.

During our visit, we learned that runes are characters used by Teutonic tribes of northwestern Europe. The Heavener Runestone is believed to be of Scandinavian origin, and several experts in such things think the carvings were made prior to 1000 A.D. That would support the claim that Vikings explored areas of southeastern Oklahoma at about that time.

The stone, thought to have broken off from the cliffs above and now resting in a beautiful little ravine, is protected by a shelter and a glass wall. In this photo, you can see most of the inscription.


And here is an exact duplicate of the carving, which is easier to read.


There is some controversy as to its meaning. It has been translated to mean "Valley owned by GLOME," and also "Valley of the boundary marker." It is similar to several other runestones which have been found in the area, and they continue to be a subject of study by experts in these things.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Heavener Runestone Park, and hope that you'll stop by if you're in the area. If you're interested in learning more about this site, please visit





Ok-la-ho-ma...where the wind...

Leaving Hutchinson was bittersweet. We had so much fun with all our friends, and after four visits, "Hutch" seems a lot like home. It was time to move on, though, so we departed on Wednesday, October 17, for another of our favorite places, Coon Creek Cove Corps of Engineers Park on Kaw Lake east of Ponca City, OK.

We enjoy Coon Creek Cove, and have visited several times. The spaces are large, with plenty of room to hike or bike and lots of birds to watch. This visit, we saw several flocks of Canada Geese, American Avocets, and hundreds of American White Pelicans.

The geese were in and out of the cove behind our RV site. They never stayed long, but as soon as one group left, another took its place.

The American Avocets were great fun to watch. The flock moved as one bird, wading, then putting their long, curved bills in the water together in search of food. They are very distinctive with their upturned bills and striking black and white striped backs.

And then there were the pelicans, hundreds of them. We had seen flashes of white in the distanct sky during the afternoon hours, but just at dusk the flocks moved into our cove. They didn't stay long. By the time I grabbed my camera and long lens, they had begun to move out into the lake. I managed to get a couple of shots...but nothing that could convey just how many birds there were. They were striking with their white plumage and black wingtips.... Maybe the next time they will arrive earlier in the day and stay longer.
They call it "Ok-la-ho-ma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains!" We recognized it right away. The wind was strong on Wednesday when we arrived at Kaw Lake, and stronger still on Thursday. We had sustained winds of 31+ mph with gusts to 50! The rig rocked, and when entering we had to hang on to the door to keep it from smashing into the side of the coach. By noon, dust from the recently-harvested and newly-plowed fields was swirling high into the sky. Morning's bright blue was being swallowed up by a dirty brownish-yellow haze. Our eyes were skritchy, and we could smell the dust on the wind. Just going out for our morning walk was a chore, so we cut it short and mostly stayed inside. By Friday, we had had enough. The dust had settled somewhat, but the wind still made being outside disagreeable, so we packed up and headed south, looking for better weather

From South Dakota to Kansas

From The Badlands, we headed south from South Dakota through Nebraska to North Platte, where we stayed for two days at Holiday RV Park, then to Grand Island where we spent a night at George H. Clayton Hall County Park, one of our favorite 1-2 night destinations.

The trip across the southern part of South Dakota and Nebraska was uneventful. We saw a few fields being harvested, but most had already been completed. As we came across the Nebraska Sandhills, we were disappointed to find them dry and dusty, not at all like our previous visit. There were a few of the lovely blue ponds nestled between the dunes. However, most were noticably smaller then two years ago. The drought has been here as well.  We did, however, see where a lot of the harvested corn is going.  The photo below is of a plant that makes ethanol from corn. 

We pulled into Hutchison on Thursday, at the same time that a cold front was arriving from the north. You can see the demarkation line in these clouds that welcomed us into town.

The 2012 Heavy Duty Truck (HDT) Rally, held for the fifth year at the Kansas State Fair RV Park, was a great success! This is a gathering of a group of indivduals affiliated with the Escapees RV organization. They come together several times each year to exchange ideas and enjoy the camraderie of folks who pull their RVs with heavy-duty trucks. Most of the RVs are fairly large and heavy, and the safety-conscious individuals who own them are aware that a large truck can pull, and stop, their rigs more safely than a pickup can.
This year, we counted 37 RVs pulled by HDTs, 7 RVs whose owners are considering switching to HDTs, and a several others with an interest in the options a heavy hauler offers.

Here is the annual "truck picture" with rally participants.

And some more pics of all of us attending seminars and having fun.







Monday, October 15, 2012

The South Dakota Badlands

We pulled out of Custer on Friday morning, September 28, and headed east. Our first stop was the obligatory visit to Wall Drug Store in Wall. 

It's a "happening," all right.  It covers several square blocks and offers everything from food to fudge to souvenirs.

We then paid a visit to the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitor Center. This national grassland, unlike the section of the Thunder Basin National Grassland we visited in Wyoming, has lots of grass.  The Visitor Center had interesting exhibits and plenty of information as well. For example, did you know that there are now 20 publicly-owned National Grasslands administered by the USDA Forest Service? Of these, 17 are located east of the Rocky Mountains from the North Dakota Badlands to north-central Texas. West of the Rockies, in Oregon, California and Idaho are three more.  The Buffalo Gap location is primarily a mixed-grass prairie, with tall and short grasses.  Even wearing their "winter colors," the grasses are beautiful. 

By afternoon, we were parked at the Badlands/White River KOA park four miles south of Badlands National Park.  Ordinarily we only stay in KOA parks for overnight stops, but this one is different. It has nice, big spaces, plenty of trees, a large fenced dog park and miniature golf. 

The park sits right on the White River, and normally there is fishing. However, this year due to the extreme drought the river has been dry for over 1 1/2 months. I don't know what it looks like with water in it, but dry it certainly is white as you can see in this view from the bridge.

We would have stayed longer, but unfortunately, the park was closing for the season, so we were only able to stay two nights. On Sunday, we moved to the Cedar Pass RV Park in Badlands National Park. Here is a great sunset shot John took from our campsite there right after a small shower passed over. 

Cedar Pass has 30 and 50 amp electric. However, water is only available from centrally-located faucets, and there are no sewer hookups. The views are great, though, and we enjoyed our stay there on Sunday night.

We were fortunate to be in the area for the full moon on September 30.  Here is a shot from our campsite at the Badlands/White River KOA.

And this is how the moon looks rising over the Badlands.

And moonset just after sunrise the following morning.

As you can see from these and the following pics, I really enjoyed the photo ops! The vistas are stunning, and change at each bend in the road. 


While in South Dakota we visited another location that has intrigued us. Not far from Badlands National Park is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  Following WWII, both the United States and the Soviet Union developed arsenals of nuclear missiles. By the late 1960s, the U.S. had deployed 1000 Minuteman I & II missiles.  We learned that these were located in missile silos in the Midwest and upper Great Plains, including 150 in South Dakota. Following the implementation of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991, all of South Dakota's missiles were deactivated and all but one of the silos destroyed. One, Delta-09 remains intact. A glass viewing dome allows one to look inside to see how the missile was stored in preparation for launch.

We also visited the building and underground bunker a few miles away where crews were stationed around the clock in case the missile needed to be launched. We were fortunate to have as our guide a volunteer who had previously served at these locations while he was in the military. He provided a wealth of information about just what procedures were in place to ensure that the missile could be launched if necessary, and to prevent an accidental launch.  The following is a photo of the bunker facility, which has been kept just as it was when the order came to deactivate the missiles.

And here is the sign (which you may have seen replicated elsewhere) on the door to the command center.

If you have a chance to visit the Minuteman Missile Historical Site, be sure to do so. It's fascinating and a little frightening to learn how very close our country came to nuclear war on more than one occasion. Do make a reservation, though. The tours of the underground bunker are limited to 6 people at a time, and fill up quickly.