Summer Road Trip 2018: 5400+ Miles

The trip begins by packing the truck and trailer with everything we can think that we could possibly need for two plus months on the road. We will leave in the morning, May 19th. Instead of taking the steep, winding and often treacherous I-17 to Flagstaff, we head to the east side of Phoenix and take the Beeline Highway which angles northeasterly to Payson. Dave looks out over the “Rim” when we stop at a Forest Service picnic area to stretch our legs.Lunch in the shade at the city park in Holbrook before getting onto Interstate 40. Our stop for the night is at Gallup at the USA RV Park. We have full services but the park is pretty ordinary. Albuquerque/Bernalillo KOA, our next stop, is a frequent park for us. The park is easy to get in and out of, has pull-through sites, is well run with clean restrooms and showers, has full services and is close to our favorite restaurant the Range Cafe. Their blue corn tortilla enchiladas, New Mexican style, always are a good entree choice.

Since I wanted to stop at Ojo Caliente, that was our destination the next day. It was a pretty short driving day from Bernalillo to Ojo which is north of Santa Fe. We were able to find our campsite in their sandy campground and get into our suits for a good soak in the multiple hot pools. It was an overcast and cool day so the pools were appreciated. We had a nice dinner that night at Ojo’s fine restaurant.

It was a long day of driving north from Ojo Caliente into Colorado and then east to Walsenburg. Across southern CO to Rocky Ford and north to our destination of Brush for the night. The central and northern Colorado grasslands looked lush with water in all the farm and ranch ponds and catchments. The city campground in Brush had full hookups but was pretty much just a parking lot with services along the outside edge. There was a park nearby but we were too tired to explore after the 7 hour drive.

Another long day with a time change to Central Daylight time the next day. North and east from Brush we are finally in our home state of Nebraska. Lilacs and spring blossoms greeted us in all the small towns as we made our way north through the Sandhills. East to North Platte then north to Thedford, Dunning, Brewster and Ainsworth and ultimately Springview in far north central Nebraska.

The 50th Kenaston Jamboree brings us to this small cowboy town. We find a nice grassy camping spot with electric service, fresh water and showers at the city campground near the high school where the Jamboree is held.

Dave, Vern Billingsley and Tesa Heldenbrand play fiddles while Mike Heldenbrand accompanies on guitar.

The Kenaston family has organized a jamboree to benefit the KeyaPaha County Historical Society each year for fifty years. Roger, Sharon and Vanessa Kenaston and their children have decided that this year is the last since their parents have passed away and none of the remaining family lives close by. Dave has jammed and entertained with this family for years and he wanted to be there for this last performance.

Picking in the park near the Historical Society Museum. Jay (playing fiddle with Dave on banjo) and Joyce Kelly were there with Jim and Judy Malone. Roger and Sharon Kenaston played dobro and bass. Vanessa Kenaston sang and played guitar. Many friends and villagers were on hand to listen on a warm day at the end of May.

The evening began with a wonderful pot luck dinner for the musicians and friends hosted by the Historical Society folks. The fiddlers began the entertainment with all fiddlers on stage then each musician performed a few of their favorite tunes. We saw many musician friends that we have known for years and may not see again. Cousin Mick Zink was on hand to watch as was my sister Sandy and friend Bonny. We had a good visit. The last reunion is over.

Sandy and kitty, Jelly(bean). We had a fun few days visiting with Sandy in Atkinson NE, camping with full services at the Oregon Trail RV Park, we head the Tacoma west. We stop briefly to visit Dave’s cousins Bob and Maggie McKee in Gregory, SD where Dave’s mom was born and where her family had a hardware store and bank. West and north to Interstate 90 at Murdo. Our next stop for coffee, pie and free water is at Wall Drug in Wall, SD.

kOn to Spearfish, SD for three nights at the beautiful City Park and Campground there. Full services are offered with showers, hiking trails and the State Fish Hatchery close by.

A visit to the hatchery is a must. Wood ducks vie with fish for food nuggets thrown by tourists.

The statues depict restocking fish by hatchery workers who transported cans full of fish to remote streams by horseback. The hatchery grounds were beautiful in spring bloom and fresh after a shower. While in Spearfish we visited Rod and Sandy Garnett who have moved here from Laramie where he and Dave taught at the University of Wyoming. We also travelled up scenic Spearfish Canyon to Bridal Veil Falls.

Dave was hired to teach a week at the Montana Fiddle Camp in Monarch the following week. Heading west on I-90 through northwest Wyoming and southeast Montana, we spend the night in Big Timber in the driveway of good friends Arn and Diane Berg. We had a great visit and good home cooked dinner and breakfast while watching Evening Grosbeaks visit the Berg’s feeder. It was so good to see them and to see Diane healing from cancer treatment. We look forward to camping with them this winter in Arizona.

Home canned pickled beets, chokecherry syrup and rhubarb crisp from the Berg’s were relished throughout our trip. The Crazy MountIns loomed in the distance as we left Big Timber.

The Yellowstone River was running high and fast beside the interstate highway.

North on Highway 89 through Wilsall, MT where the Shields River was out of its banks. North toward the Belt Mountains with lunch at White Sulphur Springs. Higher we climb into the Little Belt Mountains where the outdoor temperature dived to 39 degrees.

Montana Fiddle Camp. We set up camp at the church camp near Monarch along Belt Creek where the Camp is held.

Luci’s neighbors are all vintage trailers including a Silver Streak owned by the McGeehes, Jill Flikkema’s blue and white trailer and Penny Callender’s Airstream. The weather was beautiful most of the week so I hiked up the hill for a shot of camp.

Fred Buckley recited the camp rules on the first evening before the instructors took turns playing a sample of their specialty instrument and Dot gave an example of clogging.

This was the schedule of instruction, workshops and evening entertainment for the week.

The instructors; some pose, one meditates.

These were Dave’s students. The week concluded with the student concert.

Dave enjoyed playing some tunes with Suzanne McGeehee and Jill Flikkema.

Katelyn Buckley played bass with Dave and with the Buckley family band. Dave catches her making a face. His set list is taped to her bass.

Before breakfast is served, Chirps Smith and whoever is around plays music. Everyone missed having Warrie Means in camp this year to accompany Chirps. Dot requested that Dave compose a tune for Chirps to play and suggested the name be “Warrie in the Morning.” The tune/video can be found on You Tube.

The music-filled week is over and another set of heartfelt farewells. On to Great Falls, MT and the next big adventure. Dick’s RV Park and a shady pad for Luci will be our home for a couple of nights. This is a fairly nice park with short term and long term sites. We dropped our laundry off at a laundromat for a treat of not spending half a day in the laundromat. We picked it up after a day of visiting the Russell Museum and the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail Interpretive Center.

The Interpretive Center is full of great information on the entire 8000 mile Lewis and Clark journey to find a passage to the west coast and the return trip.

Dave discovered that a former student, Neil Hamm, from his teaching days in Neligh NE, now lives in Great Falls so he contacted him. Neil and his wife invited us over for dinner one night. They both had fun recollecting those high school days and sharing information about their present lives.

Fort Benton is our next stop. Our adventure begins as Luci is installed in the Canoe Launch Campground at the fairgrounds close to the Missouri River. We have electricity only but a nice pad with trees and shrubs for privacy. A pit toilet is available and showers are in a building nearby in the fairgrounds. The bluffs across the river are spectacular in the evening light.

Fort Benton calls itself the “Birthplace of Montana”. The Lewis and Clark expedition came through in 1805 and were likely the first white visitors to the area. A fur trading post and fort was established here in 1846 making Fort Benton an important site for traders both white and native. Steamboats eventually arrive here in 1860 after some channel work was done to remove boulders that caused obstruction to passage. A levee was built along the Missouri and the town eventually stretched for a mile along its banks.

We visited the very nice Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center.

The levee along Main Street in Fort Benton has many restored buildings from the early days as well as the restored fur trading fort, a pretty fancy Grand Union Hotel, a walking path to the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea. Other town and river history was on display and on informative signs. Dave is sitting on one of the many benches along the levee. In the background is the Woke Cup cafe located in the Culbertson House where we ate a few tasty meals.

On Wednesday evening along with nine others we met with our guides from the Missouri River Outfitters at the Grand Union Hotel where we got information about our canoe trip which begins the next day. The trip will be Thursday through Sunday spending three nights and four days on the river.

The next morning is misty as we wait for the outfitters to pick us up. Fourteen people and seven canoes along with all provisions for four days are transported to the canoe launch at Coal Banks Landing.

We divide up, two to a canoe with provisions in between and take off. Beautiful scenery that only can be seen from the river stretches out before us.

We stop for lunch at a landing with pit toilets. On exiting our canoes we have our first experience with Missouri Mud. It is up to our ankles. We were glad we were given warning to wear appropriate shoes.

Guide and historian, Keith Edgerton who teaches at Montana State University-Billings, takes us on a hike while guides Kelly and Nycole repack canoes. He shows us tepee rings on the bluffs above the river. Back on the river we paddle and exclaim about the beauty of the Missouri Breaks. I watch for birds. The guides point out the usual places eagles can be seen. I guess we saw 20 eagles along the river plus white pelicans, red winged blackbirds and herons.

This is a panorama of our tents at camp. Two to a tent with cots for each just fit inside with a narrow path between. Everything on the canoes is removed at each evening landing. The canoes were pulled out of the river and beached upside down in case of rain. We soon learn how to help unload the canoes and set up our tents and cots, find the camp chairs and then find the wine or beer and snacks. The crew then sets up the camp kitchen and puts out a really great meal complete with dessert and coffee.

Everyone gets a Missouri River Outfitters coffee mug. We visit and find out interesting things about our fellow campers. Two couples were from Canada. One Canadian couple were Cowboy Poets. His brother and wife were from Colorado. The male partner of the other Canadian couple escaped from Romania after WWII when he was a child. His partner was a horsewoman. Three friends (females) were sales representatives for Moda fabrics having an adventure. Amazingly, the poets, the sales reps and Dave and I know a woman in common who happens to be a quilter and a poet and the daughter of Harry Hansen (deceased) from Gordon NE, whose fiddles Dave plays. Guide Keith was best friends with one of the sales reps brother when they were kids in Kansas.

Keith reads from a well-used copy of Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose about the Lewis and Clark journey. The next morning we all go for a hike up a slot canyon, scrambling over and under boulders and eventually to a hole in the wall. It was interesting to see how the sandstone erodes by wind and water.


Back to the canoes and onto the river and more gorgeous scenery. It was awesome to be on the river feeling the current that Kelly said was about five miles an hour in the main channel. The senses are overwhelmed. We were hot, cold, dry and wet, muddy and exhausted all in a day. Thank heavens we don’t have to cook!

We put in for the night at a campsite with no pit toilet so after some creative use of the flora near our tents, Nycole gets the portable facility established and gives the “potty” talk. We are glad for the convenience.

Another beautiful evening. We watched the cottonwood’s cotton flying and had a good meal and enjoyed the campfire.

Our guides kept track of the weather forecast. Rain was coming so the next day was a half day on the River. We all had rain gear on but were soaked by the time we arrived at the landing for the day, unloaded the canoes and got tents set up.

The only thing to do was to get as dry as possible and snuggle down into sleeping bags and nap.

Fortunately, this landing had a shelter with two open sided rooms. The kitchen was set up on one side and the other was for gathering.

As miserable as the rainy day was, the scenery was still beautiful.

Our last day on the river. We will make Judith Landing by noon.

Kelly gets us all rounded up to pass on information about the swift eddy at Judith Landing and how to navigate it and get off the river. We’re almost done! At Judith Landing, we get unloaded and have a nice lunch followed by huckleberry ice cream bars brought from town. Into the van we pile and after about an hour we are deposited back at the Airstream. It was a great trip but Dave and I agree that we won’t need to do that again! Next task is laundering all the wet and muddy stuff. Good thing there is a laundromat in this little town.

One last meal at the Woke Cup and we are ready to part ways with the Missouri and Montana.

Up and out early, we take Montana Highway80 south and east from Fort Benton and eventually to Lewiston. We stop for coffee in Lewiston and visit the auction house where Kyle Shobe (University of Wyoming graduate) has his business. He was out of the office but we had a nice visit with his father. He gave us a CD that Kyle and his band, The Walk ‘Em Boys, had made. Back on the road on Highway 87/200 all the way to Glendive and onto Interstate 94 and Medora ND.

After 8+ hours on the road, the Medora Campground looks good. Full hook-ups and a good shower and a good night’s sleep and we are ready to go again.

This is Theodore Roosevelt National Park and we are exploring the badlands of the South Unit along the banks of the Little Missouri River. Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory in 1883 to hunt and returned after the death of loved ones to establish a cattle ranch. His love of this rugged land brought him back time and again. After he became President he founded the US Forest Service and signed the Antiquities Act under which national parks, national monuments, national forests and federal reserves were formed. This park named in his honor was created in 1947.

Buffalo roam here and the vistas are wide. We followed the scenic loop (36 Miles) enjoying the scenery.

That evening we had tickets to the Medora Musical, a must see event that occurs every night from June 1st to September (weather permitting). This is a professionally produced and performed entertainment that astounds. It is put on in an amphitheater accessed by an escalator that is two stories tall. The set and musicians are amazing to see in this rural setting.

The town of Medora is cute and reminiscent of a movie set. We had a fine dinner in hotel dining room but many opt for the “pitchfork steak fondue” at the Musical venue.

The next day we visit Chateau de Mores State Historical Site. It was the summer home and hunting lodge of a Marquis and his wife, Medora. It has been restored featuring original furnishings from 1885.

We also visited Teddy Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin. It was transported from his ranch and now sits near the visitor center to the Park. Many of his visitors scratched their names on door frames.

On June 21st we headed south on Highway 85 through a sparsely settled southwestern corner of North Dakota toward the Black Hills Of South Dakota.

It was a four hour drive shifting onto SD Highway 79 through Newell and on to Sturgis and our destination, Kickstands Campground for the Black Hills Bluegrass Festival.

We were parked near another Airstream whose owners, Sandy and Randy Bradley, were from Fairfield NE where Dave taught at the Sandy Creek Schools. We did not know them as it has been many years since our departure from Fairfield. They both work at the MARC near Clay Center.

The Festival entertainment was good with two professional family bands and Cottonwood, a semi- professional band from North Dakota. Our good friend Reid Buckley was playing mandolin and fiddle with the Cottonwood band.

Dave really enjoyed getting to play with a great dobro player, John, from Cincinnati OH who was camped just across the street. He had fun jamming with Bluegrass pals Rod, Kerry, Garth and Cal. The Hills were green and lush from recent rains as we made our way south from Sturgis to a relaxing campground at Roubaix Lake in the Black Hills National forest.

Our campsite had a nice gravel pad and pit toilets. It was a peaceful place with birds and chipmunks to watch. Dave had found a used book store in Fort Benton so we had books by Montana authors Doig and McGuane to read. We took a drive around the area stopping for coffee in Lead SD then circling back on dirt roads to our campground.

We stopped to walk on the Mickelson Trail for a ways. The Trail, a brilliant idea of a former governor, is built on an abandoned railroad bed and extends from Edgemont SD to Deadwood winding through the beautiful forest. I stopped to read the sign next to the road by our campground and found out that the CCC had a work camp here. Old fashioned pink roses were in bloom and were so fragrant. This is a nice place to unwind and refresh. As is our next camping stop.

South through the Black Hills on Highway 385 we passed through Hill City, the Crazy Horse Monument, The town of Custer to Pringle and southeast by Wind Cave to Hot Springs. Into Nebraska on Highway 71 to Crawford NE and our destination of Fort Robinson State Park.

This Nebraska State Park is located on the site of a former military base that was used during the Indian uprisings and during World War I to supply the military with horses. It must have been a plum assignment as it had polo grounds and a swimming pool. Now it is a great place for families to have reunions in restored officers quarters. A Lodge has a full meal service. We took in a musical at the fort playhouse and breakfast in the hills above the fort.

Early one morning, before the day got hot, we drove to Toadstool Geologic Park on dust, rutted roads that could have been treacherous if wet. Toadstool Park is stunningly odd with eroded sandstone formations. We hiked the loop trail.

We spent the Fourth of July with Sandy in Atkinson getting provisioned for our family weekend with our family at The Pines Resort at Long Pine Nebraska along spring fed Pine Creek.

Matt, Ross and I visited the trestle across Pine Creek on the Cowboy Trail. Do I look happy? Yes, it was great to have our kids and grandson and sister together for a whole weekend.

We visited, played cards, had campfires, ate some home cooked meals and rode inner tubes down Pine Creek.

What a great time. We missed having Katie, our granddaughter with us and brother Robb. We were sad to see everyone pack up and leave for their homes in Lincoln and Atkinson but it was so fun to see and catch up with them.

Well, that was our summer trip except for the getting home part through Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and finally Arizona. Home to good neighbors, Bob and Shirley, who watched our house and cousin, Bill McKee. The monsoon season had already dropped the first gullywasher of the season. We got a picture of the next big rain out our back window.

We are glad to be home.


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