We spent four nights at Wilson State Park located in central Kansas, not far from I70. I had to smile as I realized we were in the “Hell Creek” area, but camped near Tatanka Lodge, a large shelter where church services are conducted through the summer months. This portion of the state park has a cluster of campgrounds scattered in the hills surrounding a pretty lake. The steep hills don’t match the traditional view of flat land Kansas! In our case, though, the wind very much did fit the Kansas stereotype. We had lots of hot, dry wind with gusts rocking the camper and blowing one lawn chair clear across the road. Obviously, this isn’t an everyday occurrence, but we dealt with the wind (at times over 40 mph!) our entire stay.
There are only a few full hookup sites in this part of the state park and we were happily settled into one of them. Like most places, there were very few campers present during the week, but things got busier over the weekend when every spot, including camping cabins were booked. One thing you might want to know is that above the camping fee there’s a $5 a day entry fee. There’s a nearby Corps of Engineers campground with, I think, electric only that might be a better short stay.
I had no problem getting a satellite signal – keeping it was a different thing, as the strong winds tended to move the dish just enough to disrupt the signal. During one especially strong blast associated with a passing thunderstorm one of the guy wires I had put on it snapped. My Verizon had a weak but usable signal.
We enjoyed the star-lit nights and beautiful sunsets over the lake. The near record temperatures and constant winds rocking the camper, though, kept us inside through much of the day. Had the weather been more enjoyable I think we would have been quite satisfied with this stop. The weather, though, caused us to look forward to calmer, cooler days elsewhere.
There are some terrific drives in the Black Hills. We saw many on motorcycles which Scott thinks would be the perfect way to see the area. We, though, did it all in our Ford F350. We had some tight fits, but thousands of people enjoy these drives in all kinds of vehicles each year.
Iron Mountain Road runs between Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and Custer State Park. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable drive with winding roads with glimpses of Mount Rushmore which is framed by the tunnels. This drive has the famous pigtail bridges and wonderful Black Hills scenery. I really enjoyed stopping at a pull off and getting my first real glimpse of Mount Rushmore if only at a distance.
The state park’s Wildlife Loop road is another fun drive. It takes you through open grasslands and hills where much of the park wildlife live. There were cute prairie dogs popping in and out their holes as traffic continues by. We saw pronghorn antelope out in the field and a herd of burros (descended from the burros of years gone by which were used to transport visitors to the top of Black Elk Peak). When the rides were discontinued years ago the burros were released into park. The burros have become expert beggars. We watched as two of them went to a small car and stuck their heads in wanting food. The colts were cute but when people didn’t feed them they wandered down the road and back into the meadow area. Of course, the main wildlife attraction at Custer is the buffalo herds. We were amazed at the size of the animals. We saw several groups including some with calves coming down for water. A very pleasant drive.
Custer State Park has a long history and many buildings. We drove past the current State Game lodge, a beautiful building opened in 1922. We saw buildings that the CCC built in the 1930’s. My favorite stop was the home of Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first poet Laureate. He cut the trees, hauled the rocks and built the home himself and it is just as he left it in 1957 when he died. His poetry and books are the story of a man living an independent life. An interpreter is on site giving tours daily June through Labor Day.
Another fun drive was Needles Highway with its narrow tunnels. Most are single lane so must be approached with caution. We went through one called “keyhole” that was so narrow that Scott pulled the side mirrors in. We enjoyed seeing formations that look like needles made of granite. There are many picturesque vistas to be enjoyed.
These drives are so scenic that I know they can be driven again and again as they showcase the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota.
After driving nearly 200 miles across the corn and hay fields of the South Dakota Prairie we dropped into the Missouri River Valley and arrived at a beautiful lakeside campground on the outskirts of Pierre, SD. Farm Island Recreation Area is a pretty spot with large, level sites and 50 amp electrical hookups. There is a convenient water and dump station near the entrance. We arrived, happily with reservations, on an August Friday afternoon and the campground was nearly full. There were many families and the kids had a blast swimming in the lake. The lake is fed by the Missouri River. It has a sandy bottom and is pretty shallow for a good distance out – making it perfect for children. Because of the layout of the campground only a fourth of the sites are by the water. Because of that, people pretty much walk through those sites to get to the lake. I know some people get bent out of shape when that happens, but at this campground it’s just the way it is. We smiled and said “hello” and they smiled in return. By Sunday evening, though, that was all over. The place was nearly empty and we pretty much had the campground to ourselves the rest of our stay.
Here are a few things you might want to know if you plan on visiting Farm Island. In addition to the camping fee there is a South Dakota State Parks vehicle entry fee of $6 a day. Since we were intending to stay four days and then visit Custer State Park later on we got a $30 annual pass instead. There is also a $7.50 out of state booking fee. I had no problem getting satellite TV which is a good thing because I don’t think there was any over the air TV. My Verizon signal was solid. When I tested the water with our TDS meter it reported numbers as high as 1000. That’s really high and at the limit of what is considered fit for human consumption. I suggest you bring drinking water. Finally, the flies are real pests throughout this area. Be prepared to defend yourself unless the wind is blowing.
Our final day at Farm Island was “eclipse day.” We woke to a severe thunderstorm that was pretty scary – wind, hail, and a downpour. Really, we should have bugged out to one of the shower houses. However, the storm was on us before we knew it. After 10 or 15 minutes of (thankfully) small hail, things let up. We feared the heavy clouds would block our view of the eclipse which was at nearly 90% for the area. However, at just the right time the skies cleared and we had a good view of the impressive display of God’s handiwork.
We were at Beeds Lake State Park in Hampton, Iowa a couple of years ago and I did a review on it then. Things are the same as they were then, so this will be another short review. We had a back in site on our previous visit, but this time we ended up in a “parallel parking” site. We were here before over Independence Day and the place was packed. This time we arrived during the county fair which takes place close by and the place was full once again. Our parallel parking site worked out just fine, although I chose it because it was on the end of the row and with a bit more elbow room than most. The 50 amp electric was solid and restrooms and showers were okay. I had a decent 4G signal until each evening. At that point the signal was strong enough but I think all the fair goers were overloading the system. Because of trees I was unable to get the Dish western arc satellites so I swapped out LNB’s and aimed for the eastern arc which I got with no problems.
Our feeling about Beeds Lake is about the same as it was before: it’s a nice spot if you are okay with electric only, an odd parking setup, and being 10 miles or so off of I35.
Our stay at Fort Boonesborough State Park near Lexington, KY was a short but enjoyable one. The roads in this large campground are good and the sites are all paved. The campground has 161 sites. All have electric and water but only 18 of them are full hookup. Be sure to pay attention when making reservations if you want full hookups. The water hookups are shared between every other site and some of them are a long way from the campsite. I ended up getting out some hoses I haven’t used in a while to reach our spigot.
The road you turn on to get to the campground is at the bottom of a “trucks use lower gear” hill just before the Kentucky River Bridge. You will want to keep your speed down to make the turn onto Hwy 388 to get to the campground. Also, about half way down that same steep hill is the turn off for the Fort itself. You don’t want that first turn, but rather, Hwy 388. It is all pretty straightforward once you are actually arriving but, again, be ready for that steep downhill just prior to turning off to the campground.
While there is plenty of space between the individual campsites you might want to be aware that the back in sites aren’t all deep enough for a larger RV. Also, if the campsite description says the slope is moderate or severe you can believe it. Some of the sites are pretty steep. Again, be sure to read the site description when making reservations.
Of course, the reason for this state park is that this is the location of Fort Boonesborough which was constructed in 1775 by Daniel Boone and those he lead. Today the recreated fort is a living history museum. We thoroughly enjoyed looking around, watching an informative film, and especially chatting with the folks who gave us a glimpse into life at the fort. We think the fort is well worth the time and modest entry fee and highly recommend it to all traveling through this Kentucky bluegrass country.