Thursday, June 30, 2011

On the Way to Custer, SD

(NOTE: There was a delay in posting yesterday's entry due to a blogspot problem, but the problem has been solved, and yesterday's entry made it in.)

A combination of increased experienced and weather-related detours has resulted in our doing more traveling off the interstate and on two-lane highways. These points--and the purchase of a GPS system geared for truckers--found us on US 83 heading north from Oakley, KS.

Highway 83 is a two-lane highway that runs from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada, and does so in a relatively straight line.

We left Oakley, KS, and drove through the prairie of western Kansas to Valentine, NE, near the border with South Dakota.

We headed through western Nebraska, surprised at how little traffic there was and how few towns there were along this 240-mile section of 83.

We spent one night in Valentine before beginning the last leg of our travels to Custer, SD. All the photos today were taken during the drive from Mundo, SD, to Custer, SD, along I-90.

Over the past three weeks, we had been in camp-grounds a few days before or after some very severe weather.

From Joplin, Springfield, and St. Louis, Missouri to Springfield, Illinois to Kansas City, Mo and Junction City, KS, we had been very fortunate to miss the most severe impact of weather conditions.

And this destination presented the most recent example of a close call. The night before we arrived in Custer, SD, Rapid City (35 miles to the north) had been hit with hail that was about three-quarters the size of a golf ball.

With this in mind, we were particularly watchful of the clouds we noticed on this drive on I-90 to Custer.

Even this unique billboard for the Firehouse Brewery did not lighten our concern about weather conditions in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

We made it through the thunder-storms with only a brief stopover at a Rest Area and pulled into the Broken Arrow Horse Camp and Campground as the skies cleared, eager to begin our three-week stay in the Black Hills.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Looking for the Niobrara Sea

"If you're going to see Monument Rocks, be sure to stop by Keystone Gallery; the folks there have a lot of stories about the area," was the advice of the campground owner at our stay in Oakley, Kansas.

Well, we did visit Monument Rocks (see yesterday's entry), and decided to make the short six-mile drive to the Gallery on US 83 (about 26 miles south of Oakley).

The drive to the Gallery combined the High Plains, gravel roads, and fields of winter wheat.

From the road, we could see for miles. At one point in the expanse of the plains, the only signs of a human presence were the Prairie View Cemetery and a tractor (photo below).

I don't know if it is the romance of a slower pace of travel, but a drive through the countryside on a gravel road allows--no, requires--one to observe the scenes around him or her: the roads made only for farm implements to navigate,

the roads that only the locals know and that give visitors pause (the sign read: "Minimum Maintenance Travel At Your Own Risk"),

and roads that cut a path through the amber waves of grain, marking the dividing line between farms and replacing the function of fences.

The road was "advertised" as traveling four miles to the Keystone Gallery, but at several points, it seemed as there was no end in sight.

But as the four-mile indication appeared on the odometer, we crossed US 83 and arrived at the former International Apostolic Holiness Church, built in 1916. Over the years, the church became known simply as the Keystone Church, named after the nearby town of Keystone.

Services were held in the church until the early 1950s, but the church sat vacant until Barbara Shelton bought it in 1980. Since then, she and husband Chuck Bonner have built a national and international reputation for the Keystone Gallery as a site for fossil discoveries.

When we met them, Chuck, musician ("Lonesome" Chuck Bonner) and artist, and Barbara, photographer, had just returned from a fossil expedition "down the road." And it is this fossil interest that led to an extended conversation (more of a presentation) with us.

I could have taken many photo-graphs, but I felt I would be taking advantage of their kindness. Their work has been addressed in publications and presented before university and museum experts.

Chuck's prize discovery (shown here) is this twenty-foot Mosasaur fossil found in the nearby area. Mosasaurs are extinct aquatic reptiles resembling giant lizards with paddles. They were plentiful in the Niobrara Sea and were dangerous predators.

And speaking of the Niobrara Sea, we learned that 80 to 85 milion years ago the great Niobrara Sea, also known as The Western Interior Seaway, covered Middle America. Stretching from Utah to Iowa, this inland sea allowed water travel from the North Pole all the way to the equator.

Chuck and Barbara were two pleasant, personable people who could lead a fascinating fossil expedition for novices and hold the attention of national and international experts in the field of fossils. (We were fascinated with the accounts of their finds and did not ask to take photos of these two marvelous people in their fossil dig attire.)

We want to return for one of those fossil hunts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Unexpected Wonder

It seems as though we have run into more bad weather in the past three weeks than we have in the past three years on the road. While we bring you up to date on our whereabouts, we will present some photographs of one of recent destinations.

After leaving Altoona, IA, we headed to Kansas City, MO, for a couple of days and to Junction City, KS, for three days.

In Kansas City, the tempera-tures were in the 90s, so we spent most of the time reading and planning our next stops.

Now part of my "personal development" the past several months has involved becoming more spontaneous in my time management. When we began our travels, I had reservations in RV parks for the first six months--we left Philadelphia on June 13, 2008, and I knew where we would be camped on, for example, November 12.

While this planning removed the worry of finding campgrounds filled when we called the day before a planned arrival, it did lock us into a routine that did not allow for extending a stay for a day or two due to our discovery of the beauty or history or music of a particular locale. Changing plans in this way would mean changing reservations at one or two or maybe even three of the next stops. (Yes, that many stops because the rates dropped if we planned to stay for a week or a month at the next consecutive stops, so if I cut a day off at the arrival, I would have to add one at the departure date, and this snowballs then--if that makes sense.)

Our stay in Junction City was difficult to plan. We were scheduled for a three-year check-up on the RV at the manufac-turer, and I was told that the items on the list of repairs that I had forwarded to the Service Department would take a little over a day to complete. But not knowing what else might be found, I was unsure how many, if any, extra days to allow for all the work.

Now added to that uncertainty was our objective of scheduling a two-week stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota--around the July 4th holiday. This was not a good time to work on spontaneity of reservation-making.

Long story short: I built in one extra service day in Junction City and made reservations for June 24-July 15 with two campground changes necessary for the two-week stay in the Black Hills because of the absence of open dates for the entire two weeks.

The repairs were minor, and we left Junction City as scheduled, headed due west on I-70 for Oakley, KS, for two nights. Since this stay included the "extra" day for any unexpected repairs, we had done no planning for the now "free" day in this small town.

From the campground owner, we learned that one of the "Eight Wonders of Kansas" was only about 25 miles away. "Just take highway 83 south for about 20 miles, then follow the signs and two gravel roads to the Rocks (photo #2 above). They're on private land, but there's no problem about parking and walking around," were her instructions.

We followed her directions and found the formations shown in the photographs. It was a perfect early summer morning--a moderate tem-perature, brilliant sun, and a clear blue sky. At times the sunlight appeared even more brilliant as it bounced off the alabaster rocks,
and in other locations, the shadows created depth and a quality of "The Unknown."

As we walked around these rock formations, which seemed to rise from the earth, we wondered how they were formed in the middle of what is now prairie.

We later learned that the sedimentary formations of Niobrara Chalk, some as tall as 70 feet, were created 80 million years ago when this area was part of a vast inland sea that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico as far north as Canada.

Shown here is a resident (a swallow, I think) of one of the nests built into spaces along the face of the rocks.

I don't know if there are official names to the various formations, but I have read references to this as Keyhole Rock (left and below).

The United States Department of the Interior has designated Monument Rocks as the first National Natural Landmark.

We would have liked to stay a couple more days in surprising Oakley, KS.