After a week of snow/sleet and rain we are very happy to see the sun. We are also happy to have a warm camper to sleep in and keep the pine cones and snow bombs off of our heads!
Fort Welikit is starting to fill up with campers. Now that May is here, we imagine it will just get busier and busier. We cannot help but remark on the interesting people that make up the camping/RV population. First, there were a few snowbirds passing through just heading back to a northern clime after spending the winter in Arizona. One couple had two big beautiful dogs in their travel trailer, and the first thing they did after finding their parking spot was to raise the American flag. They were retirees, he from the dry-wall business, and they happily let me give their dogs some scratches and told me about their adventures. The lady gave me a book she had finished that a camper in another park had given her. This is one campground community tradition. Read a book, put your name and date inside the cover, and pass it on. Cool!!
Several days later, a single gentleman pulled up in a little Scamp trailer pulled by a Subaru, and the first thing he did was put out the Stars and Stripes on the front of his rig. The man said he was on day 12 of a 90-day bucket list trip. He was travelling from Lenore, North Carolina to spend 30 full days travelling around Alaska. He planned 30 days up, 30 days there, and 30 days back. His wife didn’t want to spend 90 days in the Scamp and was going to fly to Anchorage and meet him in a few weeks. He was enjoying his trip and had some great stories about the bad spring weather he experienced driving across the plains. He spent a few days exploring the lovely Black Hills and he was on his way.
One of our favorite campers so far was a young man from Southern California named Adam. Adam’s dad drove with him from Orange County and flew home. Adam stayed by himself here in a TENT in the snow for a week while he waited for his slot to join the Hot Shot Tatanka Wild Fire Fighting Unit south of Custer. He is 21 years old and had never been out of California before this trip. He was super excited start his new career and to go and make his way in the world. I worried about him freezing in the snow, and we had him come in for dinner one night. After talking with him we no longer worried about him. Camping here in a tent in the mountains was his right of passage; his big adventure. I’m sure it will give him some bragging rights if anyone questions his toughness and commitment to his new occupation. Wouldn’t you know, the sun came out and it warmed up here the day he was allowed to check into his dorm. God Speed, Adam!
Yesterday, two other groups of work campers arrived. We were excited to meet our new co-workers, Bill and Vicki from Massachusetts, and Bill and Sonia from Minnesota. Both couples are full time RV-ers, and like us, this will be their first work camping experience. We look forward to getting to know them better and are very happy they are here…..more stories to come we promise!
Meanwhile, we are hoping for excavation on the Hoten Holler Homestead this week.
It’s April in the Black Hills, and if you judge by the reaction of most of the locals, snow is not out of the ordinary this time of year.
Even 7 days of snow in a row, which you can see is the forecast. Believe me, we are not complaining. There is nothing quite so beautiful as the big fluffy white stuff weighing down the boughs of the pine trees. It is peaceful, lovely, and yes, it is cold. We are happy to be living in the trailer, as there are some hearty souls here that choose to tent camp despite the snow/sleet/rain mix.
Still, there are some adjustments to camper living in the weather. First of all, when it gets below freezing, the outside hoses must be disconnected to prevent ice freezing the hose and backing up into the piping in the trailer. So nearly each day, Dave goes out to refill our fresh water tanks to ensure we don’t run out of the water that is normally supplied directly from the campground spigot. Second, it is imperative to ensure the propane tanks for the heater have some gas in them. We don’t want to end up freezing in the middle of the night. Fortunately, as work campers, we get propane at cost and we have two tanks, each lasts several days depending upon how much we use them….this week they have been used quite a bit. Third, it gets quite messy in a little space going in and out of the snow. Boots pick up snow and mud, and there is no sidewalk so directly out the door there is no good place to clean them before coming in. We have a rug to wipe our feet on, but have resorted to putting down plastic bags to place our muddy boots upon when we take them off so we don’t track up the whole place.
The last and most interesting piece of camping in the snow is how often we get bombed. Hold on now, I’m not talking about drinking ourselves silly, I’m talking about the constant barrage of snow bombs and the noise they make on the camper roof. We are really camping in the forest. The trees surrounding the trailer are tall and green, and they collect a ton of snow. When the wind starts blowing, that snow falls out of the trees and onto the roof of the camper. The metal roof of the camper makes it sound worse than it is, but it really sounds like we are being attacked with bombs. We are getting bombed hourly….ha ha.
Dave really must have angered the Snow Gods because as we were getting in his truck this morning, he got snow bombed right on top of his head and down the back of his coat. I have to admit I laughed a little….but he did too so we are doing good!
Warm weather is in the forecast too…..next Thursday! Ha!
We started off the day with some light work-camping duties. On the agenda, set up the covered wagon that people rent to camp in here at Fort Welikit. We put the frame together, strung up the canvasses, and Westward Ho…we have a covered wagon. It does not look too bad, although we prefer to sleep in the comfort of the Happy Camper.
Next, since it was our 2-week anniversary of living in said camper, we decided to give it the old spring cleaning. We did laundry, washed and reorganized dishes, cleaned the bathroom and shower, washed sheets and remade the bed, reorganized the outdoor storage, and finally swept all the dang rocks, dirt, and pine needles out the front door. The weather was just beautiful today so we opened all the windows and aired out the camper. It is fresh as a daisy, now!
We planned on doing a short hike around Stockade Lake in Custer State Park, but discovered we would have to pay $20 entrance fee, so instead we just drove through the park where we saw these beautiful and fearless antelopes on the side of the road.
After a few photo ops with the antelope, we continued driving through the park and down Highway 79 to Hot Springs. It was a gorgeous day for a drive; we returned via Hwy 385 through Wind Cave National Park. This proved to be a good decision as we saw many bison, some grazing so close to the road that when we pulled up to take a picture, we could have opened the door and given them an ear scratch. Instead, we just took these pictures….there are many signs along the road warning not to approach the buffalo, and many harrowing tales of people being mauled by these giants. After seeing them up so close it makes you wonder what is wrong with people that they would feel comfortable enough trying to pet the animals. They are huge, the size of a Volkswagon…..I mean the Volkswagon Bus!!!
We returned to Fort Welikit and a clean Happy Camper, and had a few beers with the campground manager in our “yard”. As usual, we watched 5-6 does chomping away in the campground. We really like our wilderness life. So far there haven’t been too many other campers but tourist season is coming.
For 26 hours per week, (13 hours each), we are provided by the campground full hookups. This includes electric, water, sewage, cable TV, and WiFi. We arrived here at this site on Friday 8th and started working the next day getting the campground ready to open for the season.
Today we woke up, had breakfast with coffee before starting our chores. First we went around the 19+ wooded acres picking up fallen branches using a golf cart (dubbed Uber) to transport to the burn pile. This took about two hours and working in the fresh mountain air was just what we needed. Then we had a break for some snacks and water before tackling the pine straw. We raked 13 campsites clearing out all the pine needles that had fallen since last season, more work than that sounds like.
We finally made it to Custer on Friday, April 8th. High winds prevented us from towing the trailer up the mountain on Thursday but we got set up in the campground before noon on Friday. Our Tundra did a great job towing the trailer!
When we arrived Steve, the campground owner, guided us into the site and helped with the initial setup. We are so new at this RV stuff we really appreciated Steve’s help with leveling the rig, water hookup, and the electrical connection. It took some time to get everything just right but we finally were able to get the truck unloaded and all the boxes of short-term essentials unpacked and stored in our now very limited space. We had read before that one of the biggest challenges to this lifestyle is dealing with the small space, how true.
We spent Friday getting comfortable in our new digs. Our first night in our camper, which we dubbed “Happy” went very smoothly. We have no TV in here yet, so we listened to classic country music on the radio and Dave cooked up some burgers and I made a salad (which was much needed after eating junk food for the last 10 days!).
At dusk, about 6 beautiful deer made their way around the campground and decided to graze about 6 feet from the Happy Camper. We enjoyed watching them while we cooked and drank a glass of wine. Shortly after they left, the sun set and we were in bed by 8:30. A wild Friday night at Fort Welikit!
Saturday morning, we started working right away with Steve to get the campground ready for the 2016 season. Our first day of work included cleaning/organizing the maintenance shed and de-winterizing some of the campground. We removed tarps from some of the wood carvings, put up flag poles and flags, and moved all the paints/chemicals from the office into the maintenance shed. (For those of you in the Southern climes, winter gets pretty cold here and the office is the only heated building year round – so at the end of the season Steve stores anything that may freeze in there.) 1.5 hours of work, and we were dismissed to enjoy the rest of the day!
We headed to Deadwood in the Northern Black Hills to participate in the Forks, Corks and Kegs Food and Wine Festival. Jen won VIP tickets by calling into the local TV station at 5AM. Sometimes it pays to get up early! We picked up our passes at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Hotel and proceeded to pub crawl through the historic town of Deadwood. The town is basically one string of buildings through a canyon. The buildings are old, western in style, and there is a lot of history and romance. Deadwood remains a gambling mecca, and it is very touristy. We enjoyed the food and wine parings and the chance to stroll through all the old hotels, and ended up back at the Deadwood Mountain Grand for a wine tasting. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the 70’s…what a fun way to start out our first weekend in the Black Hills.
Sunday – 9 April 2016 – Rainy and high of 54F.
Brrrr….It was a chilly Sunday morning at Fort Welikit. We stayed in the camper until about 8AM and then went to help Steve organize the campground office and store to get ready for the 2016 season. He showed us how the reservation system works and we were happy/surprised to see that much of the campground is booked almost through the entire summer. We are enjoying the peace and quiet for now, but once the season starts it looks like it will be quite busy! After logging some of our work-camping hours in the office, we headed out in the drizzle to drive down to Stagecoach Springs and visit our property.
As we headed south down Hwy 89, the temperature began to climb and by the time we were at Stagecoach Springs, it was about 10 degrees warmer, and sunny! We went to Cowboy Dave and Linda’s house and it was so nice to be reunited with our friends. They told us about the winter, calving season, and all the goings on in their lives, and we told them about our crazy journey to get here. We were happy to hear they still have two pregnant cows, so hopefully we will get to be present for their births in the next month or so.
Eventually, Cowboy Dave told Pilot Dave to go get the ATV and we loaded up Cowboy Dave, the two of us, and their sweet dogs, Arrow and Hercules. We drove up to our future build site. Cowboy Dave has some great insight about building, preparing for weather, winter winds and summer heat, and cow-proofing our future residence. He pointed out that there may be an old road surface that would have been used by the Corps of Civil Engineers in the 1940s, which would serve as a great driveway (and cost less than starting a new road!). We are so happy that he and Linda are going to be our neighbors.
We got back to Cowboy Dave and Linda’s “High Lonesome Ranch” about 5pm, which was cow feeding time. Cowboy Dave told Pilot Dave it was time to get to work and that he should go get Bob to feed the cows. Bob is Cowboy Dave’s tractor. Pilot Dave was like a little kid at Christmas. He hopped up on the tractor and drove it to the barn where Cowboy Dave and I climbed up in the loft and loaded the bucket with hay bales. Pilot Dave then drove the tractor out into the field and to the round feeder. We unloaded the bales and spread them according to Cowboy Dave’s direction. Hay around the outside, alfalfa in the center and on top, so the cows think they are getting all the good stuff (alfalfa) and not just plain old hay.
Then, Cowboy Dave called his cows, “HEYYYYAAAA, HUP HUP, HEYAAAA, HUP HUP!!” His call was as loud as you could imagine; his voice carried over the fields and pretty soon there was a line of cows running toward the feeding pasture, answering his call and looking for supper! What a spectacular day!
Our spirits were high, and as we arrived back at our campsite at dusk, we had the usual welcoming committee of 6 beautiful deer. They watched us pull into the drive next to the camper and just kept eating. They are not afraid of us, and actually looked at us as if we may have some potential in feeding them something in the future.
It was cold that night. Dave drained the water lines to ensure we didn’t have any pipe blow outs as the temps dipped into the high 20’s. Happy Camper did great. The heater worked well and we woke up comfortable and safe for another beautiful Black Hills Morning…..even though it is Monday, we are looking forward to getting to work!
On Friday morning March 25th we picked up the U-Haul truck and a 6×12 trailer. Around noon the safe moving company that we hired showed up and moved our gun safe from the bedroom and loaded it in the truck. To us it was worth the money to have a professional move an 800lb safe so no one got hurt. This was a big relief to get this done!
Saturday morning was rainy and the forecast was not looking good for loading, but by 1200 the rain stopped and it looked like we could get some work done. Around 11 Andy, my friend from work, and Neil, our neighbor came over and we got started. We had a plan where the bigger items were going on the truck and the plan was to just have our friends help for just an hour or so with the heavy stuff we could not move ourselves. However, once we got started we just kept going and we got so much done on the first day of loading! Sunday it rained all day, loading would have to wait!
On Monday we started the truck to move it and discovered it had a hole in the radiator, really?! We had a lot of our household stuff already loaded including that safe we paid to have moved. The thought of having to unload, rent a different truck and reload was not something we wanted to do. We called U-Haul and they sent a tow truck to take it to Pensacola for repair. They said it would be a 2-3 hour repair if they could find a radiator in the local area. Later that day U-Haul called and said the radiator they found also had a leak and there was not another within 100 miles of Pensacola. Best case, another radiator would be here by 11 on Tuesday and then a 2-3 hour repair. We are now a little worried we wouldn’t be able to finish loading and clean the house in time for closing on Thursday!
We got a call early Tuesday morning the part came in and the truck was fixed and on the way back to our house!! Andy and Chaps came over and we got started again and by the end of the day we had almost everything loaded except for what we plan to travel with and use in the RV once we get to Custer. Thanks for all the help Andy!
Wednesday March 30th: I had my final flight in the T-6B, a nice lunch with all the maintenance folks, and after that we headed back to the house for the final cleaning. The buyers wanted to do a final walk through at 4:30 and we finally got everything cleaned at about 4:15!
Thursday March 31st: We closed in the morning and finally got on the road around 10:30, a later start than we planned but at least we were headed out of town. The weather forecast was not great for our route especially in the northern part of Alabama but we had no choice, that was the route. On our second stop I locked the keys to the U-Haul inside the cab! That mistake cost us over 2 hours and we were not able to then make our planned stop of Jonesboro, AR. Instead, we decided to press on as far as we could get. As night approached, the skies began to fill with lightning and thunder, and we found ourselves fighting some heavy rain showers and high winds. As soon as it became completely dark, both of our phones sounded the emergency alert that we were in a tornado warning area. We decided to stop at the nearest hotel which was in Winfield, AL. As we scrambled to find a parking spot for the enormous truck and trailer, the Winfield tornado sirens sounded. We ran into the hotel where no one seemed too worried about the sirens, and fortunately were able to get a room for the night. We were exhausted and frustrated that we only covered 296 miles on a day we had planned for just over 500. We reminded ourselves….this is an adventure and there would be some setbacks. We said, “Tomorrow, we re-attack!”
So day 2 of what was supposed to be a 3 day journey, we travelled over 500 miles from Winfield, AL to Springfield, MO. We had great weather and some rough roads and traffic in Memphis, but we plowed on up and over the winding roads through the Ozarks, and stopped in Missouri. The next day we drove to Council Bluffs, IA in a 30 mph crosswind for 5 hours. Originally we had planned to stay 2 days in Council Bluffs so we could spend some time with Jen’s parents and brother. After driving a 26 foot U-Haul and trailer in nearly tropical storm force winds, we agreed we should stay 2 days even though we were a day behind. Plus, it was great to see Ron, Eileen, and Bill for a little while.
We left the Bluffs on the 4th, well rested and ready to go again. Fortunately we had waited the extra day as the entire state of South Dakota was in a high wind advisory on the day we had originally intended to travel. We would have been facing a 30 mph headwind the whole way, with gusts up to 40 mph! Instead, we had only slight winds on the 4th which made for an easier journey. Our morale was high as we crossed into South Dakota.
It is a fun road trip across I-90, filled with beautiful scenery, rolling hills, wildlife, and strange tourist attractions. We stopped at Al’s Oasis for a buffalo burger and ate lunch overlooking the Missouri River. We bypassed the Mitchell Corn Palace but we did stop for some ice cream at the iconic Wall Drug. We also laughed at all the signs for the Firehouse Winery in Rapid, including a series of signs that included this limerick (NO Kidding!):
“There once was a farmer named Lear
Who had a fine cow that gave beer.
Ports, Reds and others
came from her udders,
And pretzels came out of her rear!”
Well we finally made it to Rapid City! The storage unit we rented allowed us to park our U-Haul and trailer inside the gate the day we arrived and we scheduled the moving help for the 5th. We needed some rest!
On Tuesday the 5th we got up early and went to the storage unit and started sorting short term storage (what we may need in the RV) from long term storage. The moving helpers showed up right on time and what took 3 days to load was unloaded and neatly packed in a 10’x30′ storage unit in 2 hours flat! We can’t say enough good things about the Thomas and Sons Moving Company!