We experience our first Harvest Host boondocking experience, recharge in a KOA and make our way to Deadwood where we experience our first (and possibly last) Xscapers Convergence.
After leaving Jordan, MN, on Friday we made our way slowly across South Dakota because we did not have reservations until Sunday. We made two stops on our way across the state, one boondocking and one with water/electric hookups. We ultimately are going to end up as far west as Cody, WY, but we stopped for a week in the Deadwood, SD, area for an Xscapers convergence at the Wild Bills Campground about 5 miles South of Lead (say it like in “lead-er-ship”) and Deadwood, both historic mining towns turned tourist traps.
Night 1 – Harvest Hosts: Porter Sculpture Garden
Our first night on the road we used our Harvest Hosts membership for the first time and stayed at the Wayne Porter Sculpture Garden in the “cow pasture” overlooking the gardens. We were Wayne’s first guests in the program and he was our first host. The location is excellent for a stop over and he was so hospitable to hosting us. The gardens are huge and he does charge a small fee to tour them, but he does provide a golf cart to do that. His largest and most iconic statute is the bull which can be seen for miles away on the highway. The generator worked well because it was in the 90’s out in the direct sun. However, the run time on it only gets us to about the middle of the night before running out of fuel.
|Campsite||Harvest Host: Porter Sculpture Garden
Our first Harvest Host experience!
Directions: 25700 451st Ave., Montrose, SD 57048; take exit 374 off I-90, go South 1/2 mile and look for the dragon sign
|Nights Stayed||1: June 15, 2018 - June 16, 2018|
|Parking Site||Site was great, in the "cow pasture" overlooking the sculpture garden. The host is a great guy, the artist of the sculptures. We could not hear the highway, even when sitting outside. We were allow to run the generator. He offered water if needed at his spigot.|
|Attractions||Porter Sculpture Garden|
|Verizon Coverage||Good without boosting|
Night 2 – KOA: Belvidere, South Dakota
We had planned for a second night of boon docking as we continued the second day across the state of South Dakota on the edge of the Badlands. There is a popular parking spot that is literally on the edge of the cliffs we have learned about. However, the forecast looked pretty windy and we thought it would not be the safest idea. (As it turns out, one of the Xscapers did boondock there and got stuck there a couple of days in the mud. We made a good call.) So instead we went to the Belvidere KOA near the 1880’s Town just off of I-90. This also gave a chance to catch up on laundry and enjoy a cold dip in their pool. We did have some rain and storms later in the evening, which did not amount to a whole lot but it did complicate the morning hook up as it was continuing to rain. The travel across South Dakota went well, we used a couple of the rest areas just to get out and take a stretch and the weather was clear until we got to the western side of the state.
|Campsite||KOA: Belvidere, SD [Campendium]
1/2 mile north off I-90, Exit 170
|Nights Stayed||1: June 16, 2018 - June 17, 2018
5: July 9, 2018 - July 14, 2018
|Parking Site||June 2018: We were going to go to the Badlands boondocking, but we saw the severe weather forecast and decided to go to the KOA instead. This also gave us an opportunity to "recharge" after not having done laundry for a while. The park is now owned (as of three weeks prior) by new ownership.
July 2018: On our way West when we stopped here we thought it was a good spot for a recharge, the internet was good and the park while sparse of any big trees is really an oasis in the middle of South Dakota. This breaks up the travel segments between Cody, WY, and Wisconsin Dells, WI, well. With one more overnighter in the Jackson, MN, area.
|Restaurants||June 2018: There is a dining train car at the 1880's town, it had a good breakfast but our lunch wasn't so good. The air quality in the space is horrible. The KOA made some pretty good pizza and it is delivered to the campsite for you.
July 2018: Well, there really isn't much to choose from around here. We went North to Midland only to find the one "restaurant" on Main St. was closed on a Friday night.
|Attractions||1880's Town is just outside the KOA gates, we did not go through the attraction as we did that in our previous trip here. Otherwise, there are miles and miles and miles of farm fields to enjoy.|
|Remember for Next Time||Good laundry, nice pool.
There are automatic gates out at the end of the driveway that close at 10PM. You need to call ahead to get the gate code if you are going to arrive late.
|Verizon Coverage||Amazing, some of the best connectivity in the country on Verizon. Ping speeds 30-80 ms, downloads up to 80 Mbps and uploads nearly 40 Mbps|
|AT&T Coverage||Good with boosting|
|Cable Television||The KOA offers a decent channel lineup, analog service and is a decent amenity|
|WiFi Coverage||Camp WiFi is the usual spotty coming and going service, it is free|
Night 3-7: Deadwood, South Dakota
We made our last push across the state to Deadwood, but first we made a stop at the Minuteman Missile national site. This national park system facility is just a video and some exhibits, you can also go to the last remaining silo to peak down in the glass into it. Unfortunately, with the rain that site was closed. The museum is well done with a new video that premiered this year, interviewing players from the Cold War on both sides. Later in our week, we visited the South Dakota Air and Space museum on the Ellsworth Air Force Base where we took a bus tour onto the base and got down in the training simulator silo. This was a lot of fun and was probably far more interesting than just looking down into a hole through glass. The combination of the museum and then the base tour would be the best way to experience the Cold War Titan Missile program history.
We finally landed on the west side of South Dakota at Wild Bill’s Campground and Cabins, nestled in a valley about 5 miles from Deadwood and Lead, South Dakota. This site was selected by the Xscapers Convergence and it was beautiful but had some really functional issues. The sites were super cramped and cellular services were very sparse.
Our First (and our Last?) Convergence
Xscapers are the generation X off-shoot from the “Escapees” which are the baby boomers. This organization is of full-time RVers that share experiences given the common age and stage of life. A convergence is a group of Xscapers that come together for a period of time to share experiences together in the same camp area. This Black Hills convergence just happened to be on our route out to Cody, WY, at the time we were passing by it, so we decided to give it a try for the week.
Generation X (born 1965-1980) previously, when this was formed, for the most part were working full-time RVers that had to make a living on the road. Now the organization is “aging” to the point that some of Xers are retiring and not working while yet some still have almost 20 years to work. The group was formed out from the retiring Escapees and now it is encountering the same problem. You have working people who can’t play until the evening and people who don’t work any more and always want to play within the same group.
There were also a couple of other logistical problems with this convergence. The campground selected was at a park that had no Verizon (zero, even with boosting) coverage which most Xscapers use for work and AT&T was also bad. Fortunately, Jason has a “government” hotspot from the university with AT&T that works where our personal hotspot will not work. One couple we had hoped that we could connect with could not stay, because even after purchasing a new AT&T phone they could not work their day job.
We were very disappointed with the group in general from the outset of the week. We had a negative experience from the first interactions through the welcome to the week opening meet and greet. We attended a few “Escapees” events in Florida and everyone had “official” magnetic name tags, so we ordered the “Xscapers” versions from the organization, that seemed to just set up a negative with the group. It seemed like everyone was just hitting it off and we found out at the end of the night we were the only couple that were first timers at a convergence trying to break into the group. So we really never did connect with anyone through the existing clicks. The last straw that might make this our last convergence is that this seems to be an excuse to just get together without any structure and drink, use foul language and sexual innuendos. This came through in the meet and greet introduced ourselves and one of the Xscapers throughout the F-word, apologizes and another Xscaper corrected him saying don’t apologize and we encourage it here! There were other overt and graphic sexual displays that just set the tone for the week from this one event the first night. This continued into the postings online in the group’s Facebook chats as well. Not our cup of tea.
Like any business, organization or group it is what the people make of it. Likely these events are set off with a tone by the particular people who were there, maybe we will give another one a try someday. This one has left a really bad taste for us.
Another weather “first” for us this week, the campground owner has never seen the creek banks overflow in his 14 years here. We had tons of rain from Sunday through Wednesday and each day later in the week we had some rain every day. The tour guide at the missile silo also mentioned that he has never seen the Black Hills this green this time of the year as they would normally already be brown. We didn’t even get out of the trailer for two days since it rained so much. There is a local chain of Lynn’s Dakotmarts in the area, both in Lead and Sturgis, where we found Baldwin, WI, lettuce! The rain subsided enough to finally make our way out to see some sights when we got peaks of sun on Tuesday.
There are so many things to do in the tourist areas of Deadwood and Rapid City, but we really usually avoid those and try to find some driving tours to enjoy the scenery. The local Black Hills tourism group has published a great map of the Black Hills area that we used several times. We made a couple of tours including the Spearfish Canyon and the “Grand Canyon” which is actually in Wyoming.
The Spearfish Canyon reminds us of the Wisconsin Dells and the “Grand Canyon” area gets its nickname because it looks like the big one in Arizona. This was a rainy day, but the low clouds added to the beauty of the rock formations and kept the “tourists” to a minimum.
The “grand canyon” drive was our favorite because it was dirt forest roads and we didn’t see any people for almost two hours. We did encounter a local animal, the marmot and a few other mule deer. There are a number of signs for bighorn sheep crossing, but they don’t seem to exist in the wild and never saw those. We went over a pass at about 9000 feet and Jason did a little hiking but found a barbed wire fence laying down in the grass scratching up his leg.
The Homestake mine is now the Sanford Underground Research Laboratory, they have a great tour of the facility and the town of “Lead” South Dakota. The mine ceased operations in early 2000’s and now is a federal research lab looking for neutrinos. We also learned that some of the “mountain” peaks around here are actually waste tailings from the mine, basically a pit mine turned upside down. Given the 50 to 100 years since they were dumped there they are now covered like many other natural mountain peaks. The free museum is worth a stop and the $8 trolley is well worth the time as well.
On our last day here we visited the before mentioned South Dakota Air and Space museum and then made a loop up to Sturgis, SD, to say we “did” Sturgis. We had a great brunch at the Loud American Roadhouse and stocked up on groceries for our coming adventure in the mountains. Later in the evening, we wrapped up the week at the Deadwood Mountain Casino, which is a 1906 converted gold ore mine processing facility, seeing comedian Brian Regan.
Jason is now on vacation from work for a while and are heading up another 3000 feet in elevation to Ten Sleep, WY, (8500MSL) area where we will dry camp at a national forest campground for a few nights and then on to Cody, WY, for the 4th of July week and the Cody Stampede Rodeo!
|Campground||Wild Bills Campground and Cabins
5 miles south of Lead and Deadwood, South Dakota. We were here for a week for the Xscapers Convergence, from which we got a discounted rate for the week.
|Nights Stayed||7: June 17, 2018 - June 24, 2018|
|Parking Site||Site 66, W/E30/S - the sites are extremely tight|
|Attractions||Sanford Underground Research Lab at the Homestake Mine - free visitor center with exhibits and good trolley ride tour of the town of Lead, South Dakota, and the topside components of the now research center (was mine) facilities.
Black Hills and Badlands Tourism has a great driving map of the area. All of the major attractions are on the map, including some great national forest roads to get off the beaten path away from the tourist areas.
Deadwood has their "historic" downtown with gunslinger shows in the afternoons, but otherwise it is just the "tourist" trap like any other with shops, old time photos, casinos, saloons, etc. Sturgis, when not during the motorcycle rally, is a quiet town with lots of bars/restaurants and is spread out more with one short "historic" main street.
|WELS Churches||Four within 60 miles: Spearfish, Sturgis, Rapid City and Custer. (Did not attend church since we had to deal with travel around the heavy rain on Sunday)|
|Remember for Next Time||Lynn's Dakotamart in Sturgis, SD, is the best. There is one in Lead, SD, which is closer but is much older.|
|AT&T Coverage||Personal hotspot was horrible even with boosting, "government" hotspot was good with boosting|
|Verizon Coverage||Zero coverage, even with boosting|
|WiFi Coverage||None available|
|Mail Services||Can receive packages at their address, speak with owners|