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  1. Default Finally, a three week road trip

    Hey guys,

    I was initially planning to leave for a three week roadtrip with my girlfriend in August. We were planning to head to WI, MN, SD, ND. It's no longer an option now as it will be too cold (we plan to camp most of the time). Now we plan to head a bit south. We will start driving this weekend.

    Now, I have ordered a lot of travel brochures from different states. Right now, I am toying with the idea of doing a loop into NE, KS, AR, and MO. On the way back we can drive into KY bourbon country and tour the distilleries.

    I am looking to get some idea from the gurus here. Not necessarily specific, just a broad overview of the possibilities given our interests.

    Here are the contraints:
    a) Three week driving, starting point is DC.
    b) Mostly scenic areas, will be camping in National and state parks
    c) Don't mind the quirky stops

    What do you guys suggest? Once we decide on a broad route, then we can narrow it a bit more.


  2. #2

    Default Oooh, oooh, I know, I know.........

    Hello dinesh75,

    If you get as far west as NE, you must visit the Sandhills. In fact, it's a bit difficult to miss them as they comprise some 20,000 square miles of north-central NE. Grab an atlas or an online map and the Sandhills can be located in the middle between I-80 and I-90, with some spilling over onto the south side of I-80.

    To the far western side lies Chadron, NE, home of the Museum of the Fur Trade and the Sandoz High Plains Center (celebrating the writing of Sandhills native Mari Sandoz and her late 19th century/early 20th century upbringing just south of Rushville). Although Chadron and nearby Crawford lies west of the Sandhills, the high plains mesa and canyon country on that side are very, very nice, too. Chadron lies around 100 miles south of the Badlands/Black Hills portion of SD, too. At Valentine, NE you'll find a nice and very much a prototype small town/county seat, only the county it's the governmental center of features grassy hills, rivers, hundreds and hundreds of pothole lakes, and ranches of some 20,000 to 40,000 acres where the residents keep small aircraft for their errands to town.

    A logical loop would be to enter the Sandhills from I-90 (even if you decided not to go to the Black Hills/Badlands) thence south on US 83 from Murdo, SD. That section of US 83 crosses two reservations, and like it or not, that's something each and every American should see, to put it bluntly. Valentine is close to Fort Niobrara, on the Niobrara Scenic River, and I believe there's camping there. From Valentine, US 20 goes west to Chadron and Crawford, which is also home to Fort Robinson State Park. I camped there in July and the facilities are well-shaded and nice. From there one could venture south across the table-lands to Alliance to see Carhenge, thence east/southeast on NE-2, named Sandhills Scenic Highway. Along NE-2 lies Ellsworth, formerly a company store location for the gigantic Spade Ranch. A little east of Thedford lies Nebraska National Forest-Halsey unit, an experiment in forestation in that the entire Nebraska NF is hand-planted. There's a big NF campground at Halsey. Broken Bow, NE is a beautiful little village and a worthy stop. North of Mullen is a large reservoir (McKelvie) where another unit of the Nebraska NF and camping is located, along with the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. If one were to skip the Chadron/Fort Robinson/Carhenge end of the loop, running down US 83 from Valentine to Thedford makes a fine Sandhills traverse.

    You'd need to call ahead to see if they're still open this late in the year, but canoe rentals abound in Valentine for the Niobrara River and in Mullen for the Dismal River. On the Dismal, one can experience "tanking" which is a gentle float down the river in a large tank designed for watering livestock. I'm told there are boiling springs along the way, boiling in the artesian flow sense, not temperature sense.

    Lastly, along the way out or back, there is at least one ferry crossing of the Mississippi River, from Hickman, KY over to the Missouri side. I saw signage for others crossing between IL and MO north of Cape Girardeau, MO.

    I'm looking forward to hearing about where you go and as always to viewing your excellent photos.


  3. Default Thanks Foy

    Thanks again for the specific excellent suggestions. We are still deciding on the broad route to pick. However, I think we will swing by AR as there are two things I definitely want to check out there:

    a) Diamond crater SP
    b) Hot Springs NP

    Does anyone know of a list of attractions for states that we can look at? That might help us narrow down a route.

    Thanks again!

  4. #4

    Default Hunting for diamonds


    The geologist in me would make a trip to Crater of Diamonds SP in a New York minute. The last 3 years of my mineral exploration/mining career were spent largely on diamond exploration jobs in several states other than AR. Be aware, however, that my understanding of what the park is about and what it looks like could be underwhelming. Kimberlites are areally very small, many only a few acres. The surface exposure at CODSP is < 40 acres and has the outward appearance of a muddy farm field. I say this purely because some folks have visions of the Kimberley Pipe in South Africa in mind and can end up disappointed at the modest visual impact of CODSP.

    I've never been to Hot Springs NP, but I have spent a little bit of time north of there in the Ozarks: Magazine Mountain, Buffalo River (a National Wild and Scenic River), and up at the MO state line at Mammoth Spring, where we viewed the spring emanation itself (At some 9,000,000 gallons per HOUR, it forms a 10 acre lake and the lake empties to form the Spring River, a popular flatwater canoe and kayak run). It was actually 29-30 years ago that the wife and I spent some weekends up there, so I suppose plenty could have changed. I'd still happily give it another look if I were in the region.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Attraction Lists

    Don't forget that RTA has lists of about 2 dozen attractions for each state that range from the obvious to the never heard of. And I have been to Crater of Diamonds State Park, and agree with Foy's description. If you really plan to dig (actually sift dirt in a field that is plowed daily) for diamonds, bring plenty of water, a comfortable chair, a shade umbrella, and your own tools.


  6. Default Back from the trip!

    Hey guys,

    My gf and I came back from our very nice 3 week long road trip. We went to SD and NE. Here is a breakdown of our travels:

    a) Left Gaitherburg, MD on 9/28. Spend the night in Maumee (near Toledo) OH.
    b) Drove through Madison, and stopped at Gail Ambrosius chocolatier. Bought a few chocolates. Extremely delish. Spent the night in La Cross, WI. We stayed in the Econolodge and they had themed rooms. We picked the sheikh room, quite neat but silly.
    c) This part on was quite scenic now, as we headed into the less populous areas. Stopped for lunch at Sioux Falls, SD. We stopped at Mitchell, camped there for the night. Mitchell is the home of the only corn palace in the world. oooh.
    d) Then we drove into Badlands NP. Camped for three nights in the main campground and one night in the primitive campground. The primitive campground was completely overrun with Bison when we got there. Badlands was just fantastic, quite scenic.
    e) Then we drove to Rapid City, hoping to see the South Dakota school of mines Geology museum. Unfortunately, it was close due to renovation. Were very bummed out.
    f) We decided to head towards NE. So drove down 79 and spend the night in Hot Springs. We swam for a few hours in Evans Plunge, a thermal pool. It was just awesome. The next day we went to the Mammoth site (in the same town). Was quite interesting.
    g) From Hot Springs, we drove to the Pine Ridge reservation to see the Wounded Knee Massacre memorial. Got delayed due to horrendous construction. We just reached the site when it was getting dark so we started driving out. We had to drive through the town of Pine Ridge at night and it was just creepy. We started driving on 87S and just around the NE border, we passed a town that was just not lit. I could make out people just sitting by the road and drinking. It was just terrible to see those things. It truly is a third world inside the US.
    h) Once we entered NE, we decided to head to Chadron, NE. We took 20W. Spent the night in a Motel 6. The people were extremely friendly and gave us an enormous suite for the price of a cheap room. Highly recommended!
    i) Then we decided to go to Agate Fossil Bed, so we had to pass through Crawford and Fort Robinson SP. We were intrigued by the beauty of the state park as we drove by. Agate was just lovely and the exhibit in the visitor center was one of the best I had seen. Storms had started to roll in and we were caught in a hail storm on our hike. Was quite exciting as we ran back around a mile with hail pelting us. Fun!
    j) We decided to head to Alliance to see Carhenge! We cut through a dirt road from 29 to 71 late in the evening. Just before sunset, the clouds cleared in the horizon and we were bathed in the most beautiful light I have ever seen. The golden light turned to red and then pink and then faded. Just beautiful.
    k) We reached alliance at around 8:30 pm. One of the creepiest places I have seen (think children of the corn). I couldn't see a soul in sight. Even the motel we stayed in seemed super seedy. Luckily no one broke into the car.
    l) Heard the weather report that it was going to be cloudy and rainy the next day. So we decided to head to Valentine (couple of waterfalls there). So off went. Took route 87N and saw the famous carhenge! Then headed towards Valentine.
    m) First we went to Smith Falls and took some pics. Spent the night in Trade Winds Motel. Just a very nice motel and it was locally owned which made up feel very nice. The next morning, checked out and visited the Snakehead falls which was also very nice. Drove on the forest road till we hit 20W and headed to Fort Robinson!
    n) Camped there for 2 nights. Just amazingly beautiful and serene. We were the only people in the campground and we would hear the elk bugling. It was pleasantly chilly at night and a nice campfire was such a treat. That area is just so diverse and beautiful with so many things to do. I could have easily spent an entire week there, esp in season.
    o) We decided we should head back east. So we drove along NE 2 E, the Sandhills scenic byway. Was neat but felt a bit monotonous. We were amazed by the number of freight trains we saw, going parallel to the highway. We made a quick stop at the Nebraska National forest visitor center. After passing Grand Island, we hit 80E. Spent the night in Lincoln, NE.
    p) Stopped for lunch in KS city, and spent the night in St. Louis, MO. The next day we visited two St. Louis specialities. Ted drewe's custard and Goeey louie's. Both were just awesome. But had quite the sugar rush by end of both!
    Then we headed towards Lexington, KY to visit my Gfs' family friends. We spent the night at RedRoof inn. Since we were in the south, we experienced good old southern hospitality (outright hostility and racism). My gf was talking about the constant evil eye I was getting. Had dinner with the family friend at an Indian restaurant which was surprisingly good.
    q) Decided to do a few bourbon tours. We first went to Woodford reserve, which was really interesting and neat. We were kinda getting late, so we went to Buffalo Trace and just did the tasting without the tour. Bought lots of bottles of bourbon. Aaaaaah :). Headed out and spent the night in Charleston, WV.
    r) Started driving and stopped at the Iskcon temple close to Wheeling. Was a neat experience. Had lunch there. Reached home at around 9:00pm, all exhausted!

    So there you have it. My longest road trip ever. First time with a companion. Both turned out to be good :). Took plently of pictures and am processing them slowly. Will post links once I am done.

    Many thanks to suggestions here. They were such a big help in forming a road trip plan.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Thanks !

    Thanks for the report, overall it sounds like you had a pretty good time !

    Look forward to the pictures !

  8. Default

    Hey guys,

    I have processed a few of my pics from Badlands NP.

    Have a look.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Great pictures!

    I was out in the black hills/badlands right around the same time - columbus/native american day weekend. I wish I would have had more time, especially for the badlands.

    How was camping in the Badlands? I drove through the primative area, and also saw the buffalo, and it looked like an ok campground, but we wanted to get to the other end of the park. The main campground looked very overrun and crowded. Fire's also aren't allowed there, and it was a pretty cold night by the time we were through, so we decided to stay at a Private Campground located on the Reservation to the south.

  10. #10

    Default I'd missed the October report!

    Hi dinesh75,

    Glad to see you made it out to western NE. I'll spend more time at Fort Robinson SP next time I'm out that way, as well as in the Sandhills themselves. I hate I had to cut the return trip from MT short in July 2010, as I had a nice +100 mile gravel and sand road traverse in mind.

    I experienced scenes similar to what you saw along the SD-NE border in both Crow Agency and Lame Deer, MT, on a Friday afternoon/evening in July. Shocking is the only word which comes to mind. It's just difficult to believe anybody lives like that in the United States. Unfortunately, seeing is believing.

    You've certainly had your share of poor treatment in KY, haven't you? Be aware not all of the South is like that. Come on down to NC soon, won't you?

    Raleigh, NC

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