Breezing Through The Midwest – South Dakota & Western Nebraska
“You really should go to see the Mammoth Site, plus there’s hot springs close to there…”
The very sweet lady had been chatting to us for ~10 minutes exchanging tips and info on the area. This was not so astonishing. People are known to be friendly in the Midwest after all. What was shocking, nay downright gob-smacking-I-must-be-frikkin-dreaming (especially for CA transplants like us) was that this was happening at the DMV during our 15-minute drivers license renewal process!
In CA we’d have been lucky to get into the DMV before withering away to skeletons (4 hour waits are not uncommon), and even luckier if the person at the counter wasn’t both surly and nasty. Here, everyone welcomed us when we opened the door (rather shocking) and the process was painless despite a small document snafu on our part. Literally 15 minutes later we were walking out of there with warm-off-the-press cards making us legal for another 5 years.
Renewing our licenses was the whole reason we’d made this ~1,300-mile detour to South Dakota, and we were both incredibly relieved it was over and completed. We immediately celebrated the monumental event with a trip to Independent Ale House, a most excellent little pub (with an outstanding draft list) in downtown Rapid City, SD. The vibe in this city is great and if we had more time we’d hang here longer. Plus there is TONS more to see in this area, but we had less than a week left to shoot ~800 miles (eeek!) south to Albuquerque, NM so we had to get rolling.
Our trip to SD had taken a mere 23 days from our windy start on the Washington coast, and although the time-frame was short it felt like we’d traveled a whole world away. We’d entered the Midwest and things are truly different here. This is the land of endless prairies, farms, and lots of gently-rolling grasslands. Folks have a slower pace here, and people routinely stop to chat and get to know you (doggie walks need to be planned for extra time). The radio gives you endless options, of country or religious stations that is, and soybean and wheat commodities futures are routinely quoted as part of the local news (they really are). Crickets hum and bounce around in the grass creating the effect of a constantly singing, writhing surface. Oh, and you can see for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles…or at least until the curvature of the earth breaks the view.
From here the next few days of our trip were going to take us through the heart of the Midwest and a totally new area (for us). We were entering Nebraska, a square-shaped state stuck almost exactly in the smack middle of the country. It was going to be fast, really fast (mere days) but we were going to see art, and (of all things) mountains. We couldn’t possibly do the state justice in that time, but we could certainly get a taste.
This is what we got up to…
Note/ For those following on maps we took easy (and very good) 2-lane roads the whole way following hwy 385 through grasslands, a national forest and multiple cute Midwest towns. Ever heard of red asphalt, by the way? It’s all related to the type of rocks used in the aggregate, and it’s a local thing. You’ll see plenty of it on this route.
Carhenge, Alliance NE
I first heard of this unique attraction from our blogger buddies The Lowes who passed through here mere weeks ago. As soon as I saw the pics I knew we had to come ourselves. A replica of Stonehenge made of cars in the middle of a random town in Nebaska…how much cooler can you get than that??
It’s described on their website as a “circle of cars, 3 standing trilithons within the circle, the heel stone, slaughter stone, and 2 station stones” and was built in 1987 by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father. The replica totally lives up to the mysterious hype and not only is is beautifully made, but there are several other excellent car-inspired art creations on the grounds. Plus it has RV parking, is free to visit and is 100% dog friendly. What’s not to like?
It’s just as cool, if not cooler than the replica we saw in Rufus, OR earlier this year, and has all the merits of true art. One RV buddy even mentioned to me that they were able to spend the night here (sunset beneath the sculptures would be awesome!), but I’m not sure that’s a common thing. Either way it’s random art in the countryside and to that I say a resounding yes, please! If you come this way, definitely make the short side-trip to come and see it!
NOTE/ Carhange is 100% dog-friendly. For more info about Carhenge click HERE.
Scotts Bluff National Monument, Scottsbluff NE
A mere 43 miles SW of the car art stop lies Scotts Bluff National Monument and it has something you’d never expect to see in this part of the Midwest…mountains! It was used as a landmark by Native Americans as well as emigrants on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails and it’s easy to see why. Between grassy plains and fields of wheat the Brule clay formations of the Monument rise like a phoenix from the ground. The cliffs are staggeringly steep and the highest peaks tower 800 feet above the river, their color varying from plain granite to pastel pinks.
We arrived just before sunset and rushed over with doggie to walk some of the trails before last light. The main road into the Monument had already closed (it closes at 4:30pm), but we were able to park by the visitor center and hike a few miles in before the rocks fell into shadow. Just fabulous!
For those with more time it’s worth spending a few days here to hike some of the extensive trails, just as our RV buddies Pam and John did earlier this month (read their 2-part blog series on Scotts Bluff starting HERE). If we weren’t on a time-crunch we’d certainly have stayed longer.
NOTE/ Scotts Bluff National Monument is 100% dog-friendly (all trails). There is a $5 entry fee for cars (free with America the Beautiful Pass). For more info on the Monument and entry fees click HERE.
And that…in a mere few days…was our supersonic trip from South Dakota through Western Nebraska. A quick taste of the state, but a good one don’t you think? From here we took another set of 2-lane roads down into Colorado (where we’re currently parked), but the experience of that drive was very different from our NE drive. That story however is for another blog post, so you’ll just have to come back to read what happened. Two more more park reviews coming up next…
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