Thursday May 10, 2018
The last few days have been a bit crazy. We left Oacoma around 10:00 am Monday and pointed Moho’s nose toward Wall, home of Wall Drug, and not much else. We were about thirty miles from Wall when a trucker pulled up beside us, honked his horn and pointed at our motorhome. It’s the universal signal for “you have a flat tire or some other problem with your vehicle.”
We have a tire pressure monitoring system in our motorhome, so we thought the problem was with our toad. It turned out that one of the bay doors on the passenger side of our motorhome was open. We always double-check the bay doors to make certain they are locked before we leave, so even though the door was locked, it managed to swing open. About that time a pickup truck pulled in behind us. Harry walked over to let the driver know he had the situation under control, when the man handed Harry a pair of shoes that had fallen out of the bay when the door opened. Harry thanked the man for his kindness, closed and relocked the bay door, and we went on our merry way. About fifteen minutes later, a woman pulled up beside us in her car and blew the horn and pointed at our motorhome. By now Harry knew the routine, so he pulled off the road again, and sure enough, the bay door had opened up once more. To make matters worse, we were parked on a slope, and water was pouring out of our fresh water tank via the overflow hoses. Harry examined the lock, and discovered it was not making good contact with the latch. He “Harry-rigged” it as best he could, and we drove on toward Wall. I was assigned the task of staring at the side view mirror for the next twenty-five miles to make certain the bay door hadn’t opened again. Boy, was that ever fun.
We reached Wall without further incident, and parked behind Wall Drug Store. We had heard mixed reviews about this roadside attraction, so we decided to see it for ourselves. It was a waste of time. What started out as a small town drugstore has grown into an indoor shopping mall, with one difference: all of the shops operate under a single entity. It was basically one souvenir shop after another, and I am not a fan of souvenir shops.
The Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, where we planned to boondock for three nights, was about seven miles from Wall Drug, on South Dakota Highway 240. We unhooked our Jeep, left the motorhome in Wall Drug’s rear parking lot, and drove to scout out the location. We had the GPS coordinates for the spot, including landmarks, and easily found the turnoff for the area approved for overnight parking. It proved to be way better than I expected. It is basically a large pasture with a dirt road that has been packed down, no doubt by heavy rigs. The grassy area along the bluff had also been packed down, and even though it was supposed to rain that night, we had no qualms about camping there.
Our only problem was that we had lost about fifty gallons of water from the time we left Oacoma until we reached Wall. We knew we’d lost a good bit of water when we pulled over on the side of the interstate the second time, but Harry reasoned that we’d probably also lost a lot of water going up and down the hills on I-90, what with the water sloshing around in the tank. In hindsight, we discovered it doesn’t pay to fill your fresh water tank to the brim before your departure.
We drove back to town to get our motorhome. I’d heard that some campgrounds allow RVers to dump their tanks and fill up their fresh water tank for a fee, so I called a local campground to see if they offered that service. I was told we could fill up our fresh water tank for five bucks. It sounded like a bargain. The campground was only two blocks from Wall Drug, so we tooled over there and added about 35 gallons of water to our fresh water tank.
Then off to boondock we went. We found a level spot along the bluff, and were able to lower our jacks and push out the slides, something I had not expected. There were only two other RVs there when we arrived, and both vehicles were well over 100 yards away for us. We’d only been there about an hour when we received a wind advisory warning for our area with gusts of 50-55 miles per hour expected.
The wind seemed to come from out of nowhere, and it was relentless. Harry retracted the slides to prevent damage to the slide awnings, and we hunkered down and waited out the first wave. That may sound crazy to some of you, but driving a high profile vehicle during a windstorm is more dangerous than sitting still. When the winds finally slowed down to somewhere around 25 miles per hour, we were hit with a deluge. Between the rain pounding on the roof and the wind howling, it sounded like a freight train bearing down on us.
The rain moved out the next morning, but the wind never let up the entire time we were there. I’ve read about windstorms on the prairie, but to experience one is hard to put into words. At times, the wind was so strong I had to use both hands to close the door on our motorhome. The grasslands were beautiful, as were the views looking down on the Badlands, but I’m not sure I’d want to boondock there again.
Yesterday we visited Badlands National Park. There are three entrances to the park, all located in South Dakota. We were less than a mile from the Pinnacles Entrance. In fact, when we looked off to our left as we were leaving the park, we could see our motorhome sitting on the bluff.
I was curious who dubbed this area the Badlands, so I did some research. It seems the Lakota People were the first to call the area “mako sica” or “land bad.” French Canadian fur trappers also called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.” One look at this vast area of gullies, ridges, jagged peaks, and spires, and you will understand how the Badlands got its name.
To be honest, the park wasn’t all that exciting. Probably because I’d spent the last two days staring down into the valley we were now driving through. While the colors of the rocks varied in different areas of the park, there really wasn’t much to see other than rocks, prairie grass, and a few animals: one antelope, two bison, and a passel of prairie dogs. I think maybe Yellowstone and Yosemite have spoiled me. What with the myriad of waterfalls and wildlife those two national parks have to offer, Badlands National Park was a bit of a letdown for me. Still, I’m glad we went, if for no other reason than to mark it off my list of national parks in the west we’ve visited.
No elk or bison paid us a call during our stay at Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, but last evening a small flock of longhorn sheep came to graze near our motorhome. They were obviously accustomed to humans, as they completely ignored us when we went outside for a closer look. While we watched the sheep enjoy their evening meal, we spotted a herd of Bison in the valley below us. They were too far away to get a decent picture, but we could see them clearly with our binoculars.
Like the old proverb goes, all good things must come to an end, so we got up early this morning, took our Navy showers, and had a quick bit to eat. As we were packing up to leave, we found ourselves in a bind. Our generator was running when we suddenly lost power in the motorhome. Without power, the slides will not retract. We had no idea what to do. Luckily, the problem happened during the week, so Harry called Thor Motor Coach, the manufacturer of our motorhome. They have a great tech support team, and after Harry explained the problem we’d incurred to the tech, the tech told Harry it sounded like the breaker on either the generator or the inverter had tripped. He told Harry to check both the breakers, and if that wasn’t the probably, to check the 30 Amp fuse that controls the slides. The guys said if that didn’t fix our problem to call him back.
The breaker on our generator had indeed tripped. Harry turned the breaker back on, and the power came back on in the motorhome. Then we tried to retract the slides, but they still didn’t work. Next Harry checked the fuse box. We only have one 30 Amp fuse, so Harry removed it and inspected it. It did not look like it had blown, so he reinserted the fuse and the slides started working again. We were extremely relieved.
With our latest quandary behind us, we left the Badlands and headed to Hill City, near Mount Rushmore. Thankfully, our trip to the Black Hills was uneventful.
Note: If you are interested in boondocking in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, the GPS coordinates are: 43.890031, -102.226789. The location is easy to spot. Head south out of Wall on South Dakota 240, and drive about 6.5 miles. Watch for two microwave towers on your left. There are two entrances to the grasslands, both on them on the left. The first gate is marked 7170, which has better roads than the second entrance, marked 7150. If the gate is closed when you arrive, just open it and make sure to close it behind you. This is a very popular boondocking spot, and according to what I’ve read, you are allowed to camp here for up to 14 days.