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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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Ray J says
Excellent post, we are due for our South Dakota renewal in the spring (2016) gotta love the DMV in South Dakota:) The first time I think there were three people in the place!
This is our 2nd experience with the SD DMV and I have nothing but good things to say about them. Last time it was a single guy in Custer who did our licenses. This time the nice folks in Rapid City. So easy, so painless and everyone was friendly. I’ll never be able to go back to CA again.
As still semi attached CA – we laughed at your description of the renewal process!!! When we first became SD’ians, we stayed in Custer, and drove up to the DMV near Box Elder. As were going up a hill, the local radio talked about a traffic back up that was about 3 miles away from us. So, we braced ourselves as we crested the hill, to see below us a traffic light and construction, with maybe 10-12 cars backed up! Welcome to SD traffic!!
Great shots, great write up’s, looks like and Paul continue to have fun…
Note: Loop B Gros Ventre, outside loop on the East end. Three days in a roll the 5 Moose’s have been within 50′ of our coach. Coffee, moose, and one bull moose with a great rack – nice way to start a day! What we can’t figure out, is if Glen knows someone in every campground? He was in Loop B visiting a couple in a Dynasty/Camary Toad – and impressive solar panel system… We’ll keep and eye out for him in Madison next week:)!
Sounds like you got a prime spot in Gros Ventre! Glen was visiting some mutual buddies of ours there (I know who, but wouldn’t want to break their identity here on the blog). That boy gets around 🙂
David and Kathy says
We really like our new domicile South Dakota. It’s like an adult state.
How is your health care issue evolving in South Dakota
Health care is still a MAJOR issue. It’s not looking good for 2016 so far, but I won’t know for sure until Open Enrollment. I’ll be writing another detailed post about health care in the next month or so.
David Lee says
Nina, I’ll be very interested in what you find out about health care insurance in South Dakota. I’m retiring from the US Postal Service in December of this year, then my wife and I are hitting the full-time road. I was all set to move our “residency” to SD, but I’ve been reading bad things about doing that. I’ll be able to have a group policy, so I think we’ll be good, but I’ve seen on various forums and websites that South Dakota has really jacked up their license and registration fees on those who are choosing to move there. It remains to be seen where we end up.
License and registration fees did go up (quite a bit) this year, but SD is still cheaper than either TX or FL in those areas. The health-care for younger (pre-Medicare) fulltime RVers is a problem though. If you have access to a group plan thro’ your old work, I’d definitely take it.
Jerry Ericsson says
Never been down that way, going to have to make the trip now though since you have shown us the way. By the way have you ever heard of “The Enchanted Highway” in North Dakota? It is a short (by Dakota Standards) Stretch of highway running from Reagent ND to Gladstone I would guess about 40 or so miles. All along are giant sculptures made by a local farmer using things from around his farm and scrap iron. A HUGE family who’s legs dwarf a person standing under them, body made of grain bins welcomes the visitor, then there are Deer, Pheasants larger then a house, Northern Pike, Teddy Roosevelt and a Covered Wagon with horses, and flocks of birds at the end that will keep your camera’s clicking for hours. There are probably more now, as that farmer is one busy fellow. He has sort of retired, but student groups at local High Schools have come to the rescue and under his tutelage are keeping the icons of the prairie coming.
Yup, I’ve heard of it. In fact “The Enchanted Highway” is on our “list” for when we eventually make it to ND (which we do plan to do at some point). Definitely my kind of attraction!
scott Helmann says
Glad you enjoyed Rapid City. Yes it is a nice place to live….. Just 399 more days and I will be traveling like you two! Love your post and the awesome pictures.
We truly enjoyed the downtown. It had both class and character. I’d love to spend longer time exploring the area. Maybe in the future…
We really enjoyed the relaxing drive on Highway 385 through Nebraska and the quirky Carhenge. Your route through eastern Colorado is one we’ve driven more times than I can count so I look forward to your take. Nice shots of Carhenge. The moody skies added an interesting feel.
385 was a wonderful drive. Great roads, very low traffic, pleasant scenery.
Jil mohr says
Glad u r enjoying the midwest… One of our favorite parts of the country….
Dan & Jen says
Once tried to get a movement permit for a vehicle we bought just over the CA border. They called out number 89 and another man walked up to the window. We compared tickets and he said, “They just called 489. You’ve got 589.” We drove home “illegally.” Got my license renewed in Yerington, NV, RealID and everthing…ten minutes.
Lovely land up that way and as always, amazing pictures.
Yeah that sounds like CA. I used to dread going to the DMV there. Never easy even with an appointment. Sounds like NV has the same good service as SD.
I’m glad to hear your SD experience was a smooth and painless one. Good to know you’re all set up again for the next 5 years, too. That’s gotta be a good feeling.
I love your photos of Scott’s Bluff. I’ve never been there but have read and heard nothing but good things about this somewhat unknown gem of a National Monument. Being kind of remote and off the beaten path, I guess it just doesn’t get the attention and tsp raffia of some of the other more we’ll know National Parks. I do have it on my Wanderlist, tho. I’m glad you both enjoyed it.
I’m looking forward to what happened in Colorado, assuming it’s a good story that is. 🙂
Scotts Bluff was just lovely! Almost no one there, and so very pretty. I was really happy we got the chance to stop and see it.
We loved Rapid City, and were equally astonished at the speed of the DMV. We haven’t really hit more than the extreme corner of Nebraska, we must make it there.
We’ve only just touched the state ourselves. There are many more parts of NE that blog readers have recommended to me and which I’d like to come back and see: The Sand Hills Region, Fort Robinson State Park, Agate Fossil Beds….the list grows….
Dave Davis says
Well, you are good to go for 4 years. Why not just get whatever minimum health insurance you can get, or none at all. Get a good physical and clean bill of health, and take a chance for the next 4 years.
I’d love to have catastrophic nationwide insurance. That’s what we had before the rules changed, but unfortunately that isn’t available to us anymore. And going without insurance is something I’d never do. We’ll probably end up getting the local HMO-type insurance which is not really adequate for our travels, but may be the best we can do going forward. Anyway I’ll write in more detail about all this soon.
Sue lawson says
Incredible shots and wonderful, inspiring narrative!
Pam Wright says
After 1300 miles to renew your license, it is nice to have the process happen quickly and smoothly:) Glad you got to spend a little time in Nebraska. I really wanted to see Carhenge but it was an hours drive and our days were numbered because of the Balloon/Kite Festival and we couldn’t extend out reservation. So Carhenge was voted down. Oh, well, next time:) I love the look you got on the cars with the very dark clouds. Makes them look like toys and really brings out the colors. Great photography, Nina:) Glad you three had some time to see Scottsbluff. Super panorama:) Thanks a bunch for the shout out:)
Your 2-part series on Scotts Bluff NM was definitely part of our inspiration to visit. I love getting ideas from other bloggers!
Jeff T. says
Was in Rapid City yesterday. The CRV was sick and needed some attention. Love the price of diesel as well. We were planning to take 385 down through Nebraska but rig issues have forced us to head back to Olympia. An electric or mechanical gremlin that refuses to present itself when the techs are looking. We will go back to the S&B home and give Gracie to the mechanics for as long as they need to find and fix the issue. Then off to North Palm Springs, Quartzsite, and Tucson.
The balloon festival should be a blast.
Total bummer on the electrical gremlin! They can be super tough to track down. Hope your home-town mechanics find it.
Oh and the price of diesel! We paid $2.10 in a Flying J just outside Rapid City. Lowest price we’ve paid in 6 years!
Don’t forget to visit Bishop Castle on the way to Albuquerque!
Just looked it up. I’m thinking you mean the one in Colorado? We’re already way south of there so we’ll have missed it this time around. Looks real interesting though.
Bill (NC) says
Hey Nina, next time stop in Fairburn Nebraska, it’s a sorta active ghost town. Close by is a campground where you look for the famous Fairburn agates. Also lots of wildlife. Go south from thete to Crawford Nebraska and see the Veterans Park. You can camp there for free with electricity and free dump site. It’s a cool old fashioned cattle town. Sounds like yall are moving on!
Bill n Sadie plus Mic
Oh sweet! Sounds like just my kinda stop! Added to the ever-growing list.
Doug H says
You made it to my hometown of Scottsbluff. looks great, we were there in June, we stay in my Dads driveway but they have a couple of good campgrounds there and a state park south of town in the Wildcat Hills. You got a great Pano photo of the monument. If you ever get back there, go to the top and check out the views of the valley, Chimney rock to the east, several Mountain peaks to the west.
Carhenge was great visit also for us this summer, but one we probably wont do again. Have fun at the ballon festival. Looking forward to your posts for that.
Yeah I was kinda bummed we didn’t have more time there. I would’ve loved to stay an extra day and hiked to the top. Hopefully we’ll be back in NE in the future.
Did everyone go to Carhenge and Scotts Bluff this year? Wish we would have done our research when we traveled through Scotts Bluff last year. We had never heard of Carhenge until this summer. Great post!
It definitely seems to have been a bloggerville destination this year. Live Laugh RV just wrote their post on Carhenge 2 days ago, and there are probably more I haven’t seen (or likely more that I’ve totally forgotten).
Ed Hackenbruch says
I see that you are at Trinidad Lake State Park. We were just there the last week of August and the first few days of Sept. As we first turned into the entry way and came to their info sign we had a bobcat walk across the road in front of us. I grabbed the camera and went into the brush and finally found it and got a few pictures of it. Later on our way back from a day trip to Raton we saw a bear just a couple of miles south of Trinidad. After we left there we went to Cochiti Lake which is a COE park. Nice place, stayed for 2 weeks, saw a coyote and lots of roadrunners in the park.
How cool! We’ve definitely seen tons of rabbits here (Polly is going bananas), but no bigger wildlife yet. We’ll be on the lookout!
Great that the unpleasant task was so pleasant. And that it’s over! I was absolutely blown away by Scott’s Bluff.
Gary Hennes says
Must have just missed you. Was in the Rapid City DMV TUE AM 9/22. 8 in line in front of me, but still a very friendly pleasant experience, despite the fact they weren’t open MON, forcing another night’s stay. Should have arrived THU nite, gotten my one-nite stand in at Americas Mailbox in Box Elder and been on my way FRI.
What’s this about Health Care issues? I inquired about that, but was assured there would be no problem with Medicare Supplement due to SD residency.
We were at the DMV testing station that very same morning 9/22!
Regarding the health care issue, it’s only a problem for pre-Medicare folks like us. Post-Medicare you have nothing to worry about. If you want to read more check out my post about this from last winter:
Health Insurance & SD Domicile -> Area There Any Options Left For Younger Fulltime RVers??
We also went to Rapid City this summer (got my first case of poison ivy). The town is cool, hip and happening. We also loved the Independent Ale House. I love reading RV blogs. I love that we are all just crisscrossing this country, enjoying the beauty and the people. Getting out and living!
Totally agree on your assessment of Rapid City. The downtown had a very hip vibe. I really wish we could have spent more time there.
We spent a few days at Scott’s Bluff last year and before that I hadn’t read a post of anyone going there. This year I’m reading about tons of folks stopping by. Glad you guys were among them. We really enjoyed hiking every trail they had. It is amazing to see it just coming up out of the Earth. What a relief for the pioneers. Love your closing shot.
I hadn’t really heard about it until this past year either, and like you said tons of bloggers have passed through there now. I love discovering new stuff. This country continues to amaze me with its endless resources of beauty.
Hi Nina, love following your blog. Really liked the Devils Tower report. I lived up in the Rapid City area for a year many years ago. Just wanted to mention Custer State Park as a great place to hang around for a while, because of the wildlife and scenery and also Spearfish, SD which has a nice city campground and beautiful park and stream. Spearfish canyon is also really neat area to explore. The Black Hills are a great area. Thanks again, Dan
We went to Custer and the Black Hills our very first year on the road for around 2 weeks (it’s where we originally got our SD drivers license). Absolutely loved it! We haven’t been to Spearfish however and that’s a big gap in our SD travels. We’ll have to come back for that one.
Love those small towns and the ease of getting things done! Looks like you found all the best places on your quick buzz through the Midwest. It’s still not high on our list of travel desires, but should we find ourselves there, looks like we’ll have some interesting things to do, and easy roads to travel!
Time of year is key for us too. It was still hot when we traveled south, but thankfully not overly so. Mid-80’s most of the time this past week. Would not want to RV travel here in summer…or winter.
Ben Ferguson says
When we registered at the DMV last year, we went on Tuesday morning. There was a rush going on as they weren’t open on Mondays. You are right, they were very efficient and friendly. I said to the guy who helped me. “I suppose you get a lot of full timers like us.”
“You’re the tenth one I’ve done today.” was his response. They had been open for an hour.
We seem to be circling around each other this summer. Seems I read a post and you’ve just left where we’ve arrived 🙂 In Gering, NE now near Scottsbluff. Quick question … do you know if you can renew your driver’s license early in SD? Ours expire early next year but we’ll be in SD this week. Have fun and enjoy your posts!
YES you can. I can’t remember exactly *how* early, but my license isn’t due until end Nov and I was able to renew when we were there last month. I’m sure the SD DMV will have the info.
FYI – you can renew up to 180 days ahead of the expiration date for your drivers license – so we are!
Thanks for that detail. I renewed a month ahead, but wasn’t sure exactly how far ahead you could do it.
I had a “business of one ” insurance in Colorado when I was doing independent legal consulting. You could see if an agent could help you. They group other businesses together and it worked well for a group rate.