Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Traveling "North by Northwest."

We're departing for sites "North by Northwest," as was the title of one of my favorite Hitchcock movies from 1959 with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. We'll be caravaning with seven other couples north through Kansas and Nebraska, with a brief stop at the Pioneer Village Museum in Minden, Nebraska.  From there we'll head northwest across Nebraska and into South Dakota, with a scenic tour of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the wild west town of Deadwood.  The next leg of the journey will take us into Gillette, Wyoming, for the 2012 North American Heartland Owners Rally and a gathering of more than 135 RVs.  We'll be blogging as we go.  So come back to this site frequently and enjoy the trip with us.  Here we go!
To insure we’d have access to the coach on the morning of departure, we left it in Guthrie for the week following the last camp out due to the road construction in front of our storage facility.  We returned to Guthrie the night before leaving and intercepted the convoy of fellow RVs as they passed the north Guthrie exit on I-35. 

We drove 260 miles to Salina, Kansas, where we spent the first night at Sundowner West RV Park.  This park is alright for an overnight stay, but not recommended for anything more. 
Friendly conversation and relaxation at the RV park (above photo).
First evening dinner hosted in Larry & Donna Keever’s coach (above photo).

Susan suggested that each couple host a planned meal along the route to Gillette.  The host couple would provide the main course, while the others would furnish a side dish or dessert.  The plan worked well and saved everyone a considerable expense.

We left Salina early the next morning and drove approximately 184 miles to Minden, Nebraska. 
Minden is mostly an agricultural community, but we came to see something more interesting -- the “Pioneer Village,” which is a collection of American artifacts dating back to 1830.  Harold Warp, a successful business man, founded the non-profit foundation in 1953 so that future generations could see the progress of American man. 
The collection contains more than 50,000 items housed in 28 buildings on 20 acres, and all mechanical items, including autos, are said to be in “operating condition.”  Here’s an assortment of pictures depicting the collection . . . .
The above picture is an actual “Model K” Ford, which is very rare.  Henry Ford sold less than 150 of these between 1906 – 1907 for $2,800.
An authentic “gypsy wagon.”
Below is a horse-drawn street car that was actually used in New York City in 1832.  
The grounds are breathtaking.  Large trees provide an abundance of shade.  Susan and I enjoyed hand-dipped ice cream as we took a break from exploring the grounds and buildings. 
Above is a “pen” collection. 
Walking cane (above picture).  An assortment of pipes (below).
Above is a collections of cook stoves.  An assortment of washing machines were situated upstairs.
Below are two gas heaters.  The heater on the left is similar to the one used by my grandmother in New Mexico; the heater on the right is similar to the one used by Susan’s grandmother in Jones, Oklahoma (Yes, they just happened to be sitting next to each other).   
The above carousel is steam-powered and said to be the oldest in existence, but it is reminiscent of the one once used at Springlake Amusement Park in Oklahoma City.
My mother, brother, and I used to watch OU football games on a Sony television identical to this one. 
The sign above the cars reads: “All cars is this row are Fords in their order of development.”
I’ve never before seen so many collectible cars assembled in one location.  It was truly amazing!
Even snowmobiles and motorcycles.
1957 Chevy!
Note the primitive air-conditioner attached to the outside of the passenger window. 
Lincoln Mark IV.  I had one similar to this in 1976, and still believe it was the most beautiful example of an American automobile I’ve owned. 
Cars, cars, and more cars!
Susan’s dad restored Farmall tractors.  His prize possession was his “H” model, like the one pictured above. 
Susan waves from the back of a home-made motorhome, circa 1942.  It has dual rear wheels, lapboard siding, a 55-gallon drum for a sewage tank, and gasoline motor. 
Our good friends, Bill & Phyllis Haivala, strongly recommended we visit Harold Warp’s “Pioneer Village” on our trip “North by Northwest,” and we recommend you do, too, if you ever make it up that way.  It’s one of those “rare finds” you don’t want to miss.
The “Pioneer Village” has an adjoining motel, restaurant, and RV park, where the group spent the night.  After an evening meal and good night’s rest, we were up early the next morning to continue our journey.  Below, the “Great Platte River Archway Monument” on I-80 near North Platte, Nebraska.
We settled into an RV park in Bridgeport, Nebraska for the 3rd night of the trip.  Jim & Bette McGee, fellow Heartland owners from George West, Texas, joined us and we had hot dogs on the grill for dinner.  Jim & Bette are also headed to Gillette for the rally. 
The park is clean and has concrete pads, which provide for quick and level set-up.  But, the trains on the ridge ran all through the night.
We caught up with Bob & Jan Samples the next morning, and along with Johnathan and Angela Bonanno, we caravaned into Custer City, South Dakota.  
Bob and Jan Samples (above).
Johnathan & Angela Bonanno (above).
Me & Susan (above).

Scenic Highway 26 (Gold Rush Scenic Highway) through Chadron and Hot Springs is a beautiful route to Mount Rushmore out of Nebraska. Below are several pictures of what we saw along the way . . . .
Can you see the prairie dog in the center of the above picture?
This guy was riding a bicycle in the “middle of nowhere!”
Coming into South Dakota.
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We arrived at “Custer’s Gulch RV Park” about 1:15 p.m.  The Bonannos parked next to us and we set up camp.  The scenery is beautiful, but the wind is cold for June.  The temperature is about 64 degrees with a strong wind out of the north. 
The Samples are parked down the way from us.  They picked this park and made a good selection.  It’s centrally located in the Black Hills and near all the major attractions, including the monuments. 
The remaining four couples arrived around 6:00 p.m., and we prepared our evening meal to be shared in the park’s club house. 
Below is a picture of our neighbor across the road.  They have a small tent-type RV they tow with their 3-wheel motorcycle. 
Susan and I have been trying to travel to South Dakota and view Mount Rushmore the entire 15 years we’ve been married.  Today, we’re going to do it! 
What an amazing sculpture!  But, in all honesty, it appeared smaller than I expected.  Mount Rushmore was built between 1927-1941 by more than 400 workers at a cost of $989,992.32.  The rock is “Harney Peak Granite,” and was sculpted with dynamite and jack hammers.  Mount Rushmore is named after Charles E. Rushmore, a New York attorney who had been hired to check South Dakota land titles. 

We were told by several others to be sure and see it after dark.  So, our group all went together for the daily ceremony at dusk . . . .
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Thanks to Bob & Jan Samples for sharing pictures!
Above, the park ranger asked all current and former veterans to come down on the stage and be recognized as “America’s Heroes” and assist in retiring the flag. 

Below, the lights on Mount Rushmore after dark. . . .
Above, a bust of the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum.
We also saw the sculpture of Crazy Horse, which likely won’t be completed during our lifetime. . . .
Below, Susan and me with Johnathan & Angie Bonanno.
The area in and around Custer City is beautiful.  Several other small towns in the area, i.e., Hot Springs, Keystone, and Hill City, are also worth visiting.  Our group took a ride aboard the “1880 Train,” which is a genuine steam locomotive that traveled from Keystone to Hill City and back.  Here are some of the views . . . .
Below is an old mine shaft.
RVs have come a long way . . . .
Below, back in the station to take on water.
She’s just beautiful.  Not the train, Susan!
We had lunch at Cattleman’s in Custer City, . . . .
but the food didn’t compare to the evening meal prepared by our fellow travelers . . . .
And, homemade chocolate ice cream!
Before we left on this journey, I noticed the rear end of the 3500 HD sagging with the coach attached.  Although I’m within Chevrolet’s recommended weight limitations, I consulted my service advisor at Hudiburg Chevrolet, and he recommended the installation of air bags.  J&I Hitch in Oklahoma City had the best price on installation, including Firestone RideRite air bags, onboard compressor, air tank, and control panel with gauge . . . .
Not only did the air bags eliminate the sag, but they gave the truck a much softer ride.
Above, the air-compressor and tank are installed in one of the lockable storage boxes on the truck bed.
The control panel is mounted below the dash on the driver’s side.  40 psi seems to be about the right pressure when the Landmark is attached to the truck; otherwise, I carry between 20 – 30 psi when running empty. 

Today we’re going to move north about 60 miles to Deadwood, South Dakota.  The city of Deadwood, itself, is a National Historic Landmark.  In 1876, gold was found beneath a gulch of dead trees leading to the city’s name of “Deadwood.”  Deadwood was the home of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and famed sheriff, Seth Bullock.
We’ll be setting up camp at “Creekside Campground,” just six miles south of Deadwood.  It’s a small park run by a fellow named “Andy.”  We strongly recommend this park for Andy’s hospitality, cleanliness, well-kept grounds, and concrete pads. 
Deadwood was once a town of saloons, brothels, and gaming halls.  Not much has changed, well, except the brothels may no longer be in operation.  But Deadwood has lots of interesting history. 

To make the most of it, our group took a bus tour of the area.  Our tour guide, Mike, was the owner and driver. 
Mike knew a lot of facts about Deadwood.  Here’s a few:
Wild Bill Hickok had only been in Deadwood a few weeks when he was murdered in cold blood.  It seems that he had been a daily gambler in the “No. 10 Saloon,” and was keeping a constant winning streak.  Hickok always sat with his back against the wall when he played cards so nobody would sneak up behind him.  Tired of Hickok winning their money, several other gamblers arranged the tables and chairs so that Hickok had no other choice but to sit with his back to the door.  Jack McCall, aka: “The Coward, Jack McCall,” shot Hickok in the back of the head while he was holding the winning hand, 8s & Aces, later named “The Deadman’s Hand.” 
The historic location of “Saloon No. 10,” where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered on August 2nd, 1876 (Above photo).
Below is the actual chair where Wild Bill Hickok sat with his “Deadman’s Hand” when he was shot.
Above, Wild Bill’s grave in Mt. Moriah Cemetery high above the city of Deadwood.  Below, the grave of Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Canary Burke), American frontierswoman and close friend of Wild Bill Hickok. 
The grave below is that of a young girl who died of small pox in the late 1800s.  Although Calamity Jane was known to shoot, ride, and cuss better than any cowboy, she also exhibited a compassionate side and helped save the lives of more than 300 people suffering from small pox. 
Seth Bullock was appointed sheriff of Deadwood the day after Hickok’s murder.  Bullock stood approximately 6’6” tall, when most men of the day stood around 5’5”.  It is said that throughout his law enforcement career, Bullock never once had to draw his gun to arrest anyone.  His height and demeanor was enough to intimidate them into submission.  Bullock met President Theodore Roosevelt when he served as deputy sheriff of Medora, South Dakota, and they became life-long friends.  Roosevelt once said of Bullock, “Bullock is a true westerner, the finest type of frontiersman.”  Bullock did not want to be buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery.  Instead, he wanted to be buried high on a hill overlooking Deadwood across from Mt. Roosevelt.  The reason, he said, was so that he could rise from his grave each morning and greet President Roosevelt.  Bullock died from cancer in 1919 at age 70.
Above, the hill upon which Seth Bullock is buried high above Deadwood.  Below are additional pictures of Mt. Moriah Cemetery . . . .
Below, the base of Wild Bill’s grave decorated with flowers, poker cards, and other items.
Above is the grave of “Potato Creek Johnny,” John Perrett, credited with finding the largest gold nugget ever discovered in the Black Hills.  
Below is one of two Chinese graves that remain in Mt. Moriah “Potter’s field,” which is a place of burial for unknown or indigent people.   
The City of Deadwood is still alive with gunfights and casinos . . . .
The picture below is gun-shaped handles on the doors of the No. 10 Saloon. 
Below, our friend Johnathan hit gold in the Midnight Star Casino, owned by actor, Kevin Costner.
Well, there may even be a few brothels left in town!
The following picture is interesting because it depicts a “carriage stone,” which was used by women to step down from a horse-drawn carriage.
Below is the “Deadwood Mountain Grand,” which is a hotel, event center, and casino owned by country music duo, Big & Rich . . . .
Next stop . . . the 2012 North American Heartland Owners Rally in Gillette, Wyoming.  The rally is being held at the Cam-Plex, which is similar to a convention center/fairground in Gillette.  All attendees are Heartland RV owners. 
Heartland has techs here to perform minor repairs, as does Dexter Axle.  The only repairs needed on our coach at this time, which require professional attention, is the rubber E-Z Flex equalizer bushings and the Frigidaire convection oven.  The internal cooling fan of the oven started vibrating during use on this trip, and the rubber bushings are cracked and need replacement.  Because the coach is less than a year old and still under warranty, I’m surprised they need replacement so soon.  Nevertheless, I spoke with a Dexter tech today and he said they do need replacement when signs of cracking appear and he will try to take care of it before we leave. 

In addition to helpful techs on hand to assist with minor repairs, the rally offers many other helpful things, i.e., seminars on RV maintenance and safety, full-time RV life, RV accessories, and just good fellowship.  We ran into several new friends we met recently at the Inaugural Oklahoma Heartland Rally held in Thackerville, Oklahoma, including several from Texas. 
As evident in the above pictures, we’re parked on grass sites with gravel roads.  When the wind blows, like it has the past few days, it makes for a pretty dusty place. 

Folks have traveled long distances to attend this rally.  We met Richard and Barbara Wright from New Jersey, and noticed several other members who traveled in from Canada . . . .
I’m always interested in what the new coaches have to offer.  Here are a few of the models on display . . . .
Our friends, the Bonannos, were interested in the BigHorn pictured above and below.  This model has a forward living room, which is very rare in a 5th wheel coach . . . .
Another couple in our group from Oklahoma, Rex and Stacy Hasty, traded in their Sundance coach for this unit and hope to take delivery on Saturday.  Congratulations to Rex & Stacy!
My favorite is the new Landmark San Antonio (pictured below); probably because I already own last year’s model.  This coach is simply beautiful, and of course, Heartland made a few improvements to tempt me.
A few 5th wheel haulers are also on display, but these vehicles are owned by attendees and not for sale.  Nevertheless, they’re pretty to look at!
I’ve got to get a set of air horns like these!
Like a Samboree, the Heartland Rally offers vendors with items for sale (pictured below).
And plenty of food . . . .
I’m afraid I’ll gain several pounds before we get home.
The rally organizers asked all members to wear their rally shirts to dinner . . . .
Tony and Erika Dorsey
Larry and Donna Keever
Gary and Vickie Tidball
Orville and Barbara Wright
Rex and Stacy Hasty
Johnathan and Angela Bonanno
And yours truly, Jerry & Susan Magill.

This evening’s entertainment is “Kenny Miller.”  Kenny does several several musical impersonations of famous singers like Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, and Elvis Presley.  He’s really good!
Today is the final day of the rally for us.  Others will be leaving on Sunday, but Susan and I will travel to Devils Tower with the Bonannos and spend a couple of nights at the base, where we’ll regroup with the Samples.  Before leaving, however, the rally organizers arranged a bus tour of one of the local coal mine operations.
We’ll be viewing the Eagle Butte Mine, which is owned by Alpha Cost West, Inc., just north of Gillette.  This mine has been in operation since 1978.  Wyoming has more than 1.4 trillion tons of coal. 
Our tour guide is employed by Alpha Coal West and is very knowledgeable about the coal industry and the mine’s operations.
The first stop is outside the mine area at the viewing center . . . .
Unlike eastern U.S. coal, which contains 3-10% sulfur, the seam of coal being mined in Wyoming is only 0.2-0.55% sulfur, thus making it more environmentally friendly.  However, low sulfur coal doesn’t burn as hot as eastern coal, so many power plants mix the two to stay in compliance with EPA regulations.  Much of the coal mined here is transported by train to several other states, including Oklahoma. 

The coal seam of this mine is more than 120 feet thick in some areas, but coal is being taken only from the shallowest points near the surface to maintain low production costs.  Trucks with a capacity of 450 tons carry the coal from the mine to crushers, which transport the crushed coal by conveyor belt to silos for loading onto train cars . . . .
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The next two pictures weren’t part of the mine tour.  Susan and I stopped and captured these later on the trip as we passed a different area of the mining operation.  The conveyor belt can be seen in the bottom picture transporting coal to the crusher.  The coal travels by conveyer for almost 6 miles before reaching the crusher, then lifted into silos for loading aboard the trains.  Our view from I-90 gave the perspective that the seam of coal within the trench ran forever. 
The front-end-loaders and trucks used in this operation are some of the largest in the world . . . .
No sooner than the mine tour was over, we returned to the rally and prepped the coach for our next stop . . . Devils Tower.
Situated in far northeast Wyoming, “Devils Tower” is the nation’s first national monument.  Dedicated as such in 1906 by President Teddy Roosevelt, Devils Tower is actually the core of a volcano exposed after millions of years of erosion.  You may remember its image in the 1978 movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” 
On the road to Devils Tower . . . .
Devils Towers rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain and the summit is 5,112 feet above sea level.  Approximately 4,000 climbers visit the Tower each year. 

Climbing Devils Tower is currently unrestricted, but The National Park Service recognizes the fact that many Native American Tribes regard the Tower as a “sacred site,” and advocate closure of the park to climbing during the month of June.  June is a culturally significant time when many Native American ceremonies occur, and so far, the voluntary closure has been successful resulting in an 80% reduction in climbers during June.   

Susan and I joined the Samples and Bonannos to explore the Information Center at the base of the monument . . . .
Some Native Americans believe that six little girls were playing in the area when a bear began chasing them.  Praying for protection from the bear, the Tower began to rise from the ground out of the bear’s reach.  The bear’s claw marks remain visible as vertical streaks on the face of the Tower. 
Here are a few additional pictures of the Tower and its unique surface . . . .
Look closely at the following picture and you can see a bird flying near the top of the Tower.  The National Park Services issues warnings to climbers to be cautious of falcons and other birds that may attack climbers if they come too close to their nests. 
We camped near the base of the Tower at the KOA.
This is a great little park with spectacular views of the Tower from the campsites. 
The park offered a cafe, store, plenty of souvenirs, and a couple of interesting bears . . . .
We even saw a drunken cowboy in the park . . . .
Our neighbor just took delivery of his new 2012 Winnebago coach . . . .
The entire landscape around the park offers beautiful views.
I had to include the above picture because it reminded me so much of my daughter helping me with the RV so many years ago (same dress type, skinny little legs, and all)!

Final night at Devils Tower and charcoal broiled steaks on the grill.  This is what my plate looked like after dinner . . . .
Up early the next morning, and after a hearty breakfast at the KOA Cafe, we said our goodbyes (tearfully) to the Samples and our new friends, the Bonannos.  This has been a truly enjoyable and fun-filled vacation.  The Samples are headed toward Cody, Wyoming with a short visit to Little Bighorn in lower Montana, and the Bonannos are headed to Wisconsin for another rally.  Us, we’re headed home for a few days of rest, then we’re off to the Nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

After leaving Devils Tower, we drove approximately 300 miles and stayed the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  We encountered 50 mph wind gusts (crosswinds) while traveling south through Wyoming.  I generally cruise around 65 mph, provided all conditions are appropriate.  Today, we slowed down to 50 mph.  It’s not clear in the following picture, but we could see coal dust clouds blowing from the top of the train cars . . . .
Colorado and Wyoming are currently experiencing wild fires.  This is a view of the fire we saw in the distance to the west as we traveled through Wheatland, Wyoming.
Wyoming must have a difficult time with snow drifts during the winter season.  We noticed wooden barriers built at 45-degree angles to the northwest all along the west and north sides of the highways.
In other areas, we noticed sporadic rows of cedar and pine trees.  They look like small tree plantations, but because they are planted at 45-degree angles to the highway, the logical explanation is that they are also a type of snow drift break. 
Susan used her I-Pad to find an RV park in Cheyenne for the night.  We settled on “Terry Bison Ranch,” which is situated approximately 6 miles south of Cheyenne.  This would put us past Cheyenne and away from the morning rush-hour traffic. 

It also put us in the center of another dusty prairie field.  As if my allergies aren’t bad enough!  This place is truly rustic.  It bills itself as a “guest ranch,” and offers horseback riding, buffalo hunting, breakfast and dinner train rides on a real locomotive, a small, but antiquated, amusement park (rides appear very rusty and inoperable), restaurant and store.  Interestingly, you’ll find every type and value of coach parked next to one another . . . .
That’s our rear window next to an older Airstream with three new high-end motor homes on the other side. 

A $Million Dollar coach (Prevost) parked 3 spaces down from us . . . .
Up early on Tuesday morning and headed 302 miles south across Colorado to Raton, New Mexico.  We made a brief stop in Denver to visit my Aunt Annie & Uncle Lou. 
They have a beautiful home with a splendid view of the mountains (when not obscured by smoke from the wild fires).
After having dinner at our favorite on-the-road diner, Cracker Barrel, we pulled into Cedar Rail RV Park high atop Raton Pass.  What a view!
We stayed here last year on our way to Fun Valley, Colorado with our granddaughter.  Not what we consider a “destination” type park, but certainly a good overnighter. 

We’re making our way closer to home and headed for Amarillo in the morning.  I’m hoping to find a good truck/RV wash on the way.  We’ve traveled over 2,000 miles thus far, and both the truck and coach could use a bath. 

I think we’ve seen more trains on this trip than ever before.  While traveling through New Mexico, I coaxed the engineer to blow his horns as my brother and I did many years ago traveling Route 66 with our family.
Following a good night’s rest, we headed southeast toward Amarillo.  We stopped in Clayton, New Mexico for lunch at the “Rabbit Ear Cafe.” 
As indicated by the sign, they serve authentic “New Mexican” food.  There is a significant difference between the Mexican food we find in Oklahoma and that of New Mexico.  My largest disappointment is that Oklahoma Mexican restaurants serve sopapillas as a dessert; whereas, New Mexico restaurants serve them as bread with the meal.  New Mexican restaurants also have a practice of serving either red or green chili with meals. 
The “Rabbit Ear Cafe” is located at 402 North First Street, Clayton, N.M., and is one we recommend if you’re in the area. 
We pulled into the Oasis RV Resort, a very familiar campground to us, around 4 p.m. 
We’ve stayed here many times before, as it makes a great overnighter when traveling I-40 west.  Unfortunately, the Oasis is under new ownership and is not being maintained as well as it was before.  Additionally, the onsite breakfast is no longer served, and the frequent visitor discount is no longer honored.  
Another perk of staying at the Oasis still remains, however; its proximity to “The Big Texan” steakhouse . . . .
I’ve mentioned it before in earlier blogs.  Susan and I keeping returning because we haven’t had a bad steak yet.  Although, the service could have been much better this time. 
It’s our final day of travel for our trip “North by Northwest.”  Our last stop before reaching home is “Big Vern’s Steakhouse” on Historic Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas . . . .
We try to stop for lunch when we’re traveling through the area.  Big Vern serves a great chicken fried steak with real mashed potatoes and homemade rolls, and his steaks aren’t bad either! 

We’ll be home for just a few days to service the rig, pay the monthly bills, and get some much needed rest.  Then, we’ll be off to Washington, D.C.  My son, Keith, will accompany me in the RV, while Susan will fly out with a friend to attend “Continental Congress,” the annual meeting of The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  Susan serves as Regent of the Oklahoma City Chapter. 

Watch for the next segment of “The Adventure,” as we will keep you up to date as we make our way east to the Nation’s capital to join in the celebration of America’s independence.

Safe traveling!


  1. We enjoyed our visit to Custer and visiting the same areas you will be going to. Have a safe trip and ENJOY!!

    1. Thanks, Jay! Looking forward to seeing you and Stella in Gillette.

  2. Loved all the photos. The Pioneer Village Museum is one we need to see.