Stop # 4 - Smith Falls State Park and Stop #5 - Snake Crossing State Park.
I am writing this from Stop #5, located on the Missouri River, Highway SD-44, around 15 miles west of Platte SD. I will be here until Tuesday, 9/2, when I head north to another SD state park for part of the Labor Day weekend. The Park is filling up with weekenders and those who have reserved their camping pads for the Labor Day weekend. As in many places before a holiday weekend, reservations are made well in advance and trailers/campers are brought in a week or so ahead of time; and often left during the week. Some places require someone to be in residence at all times. I decided to park away from the River assuming that families, fishermen, boaters would want down by the water and that’s where it would fill up first Yup, that’s what’s happening. The kiddies playground is down near the water too and, frankly, not into too much noise. My view of the River is getting blocked. It’s also the last weekend before college classes begin too.
Anyway, back to my travels. I have always wanted to visit Smith Falls since I learned about it 10 or so years ago. It is located in the Nebraska Sandhills, east of Valentine and on US-20 in Smith Falls State Park. I ended up camping there for two nights. There aren’t any hookups, but flush toilets and passable showers are available and it’s cheap. For me it was a quiet and serene place, away from just about everything. I guess I needed it after being around those “big rigs” for 4 days. The Niobrara River (which means Running Water) runs through the State Park. In fact, the River starts as a meandering prairie creek in eastern Wyoming and eventually merges with the Missouri River near the town of Niobrara. A 76-mile segment of the River is designated as a National Scenic River from east of Valentine near Ft Niobrara eastward. The western portion is a very popular canoeing and tubing segment, with many outfitters available in the area. The second night I was there, 4 sets of tenters had come in and either had been on the river with canoes or were going to be.
I left Ft Robinson fairly early for me and headed eastward on US-20 toward Chadron and a stop to get air in the one of the trailer tires and a few groceries. We’d had rain during the night and I was glad I had hooked up the evening before. I stopped at this convenience store that had an air hose and asked the clerk if there was a charge for the air hose. She didn’t know and even if it worked it had been acting funny all week. When I checked the hose I could feel air coming out. I put some air in, checked the pressure gauge and it read less; put some more air in and it read even less. Well, after a couple more tries, guess what? I now had 15 pds less than when I started! I used both pressure reading gauges and they pretty much came up the same. The dang thing was sucking air out of my tire!
Well, definitely wasn’t leaving town with the tire that low. The clerk said there was another place with air up on the hill by the stoplight. Went up and no such thing, drove east hoping to find something and the only thing left before I left town was the Ford dealership. Well, they rescued me and very graciously put air in my tires. So, if you are in Chadron NE and need some help, call on the good folks at the Ford dealership on the east side of town.
Anyhoo, drove eastward on US-20 towards Valentine NE toward the Sandhills. At one point, there was road construction and we had to sit for about 20-25 minutes. Met the couple ahead of me riding a 3-wheeler and pulling a little trailer. They were the Snells from way up Minnesota way, Clokia in fact, and they were headed home as she had to get back to work in the local school system. She said she had 4 more years before retirement and her husband had just retired on July 1 and a few days later had a heart attack. Really nice couple. I passed them just before Merriman as they were parked on the side of the road. They must have passed me when I was eating lunch in Merriman as I saw their 3-wheeler at a restaurant across the street from the gas station I used, in Valentine.
The Sandhills are beautiful. It’s like the dunes froze in time and a blanket of bluestem grass dropped down on them. Here and there, occasionally, are clumps of trees but not very many and the dunes are dotted with cattle grazing. Like a patchwork quilt. The Sandhills are the largest dune field in North America covering nearly 19,000 square miles. Formed during a dry climate 8,000 to 5,000 years ago, some dunes are more than 300 feet high. For roughly, the last 1,000 years the relative wet climate has stabilized the dunes with vegetation such as the bluestems.
The nights were very quiet except for the millions of crickets. The stars numbered in the gazillons. I had forgotten there were so many stars as it’s been a long time since I’ve been away from the total absence of night lights and had a clear sky. My neck got so sore from looking and looking and looking.
Wednesday morning I walked over to see Smith Falls. The walk is so relaxing and is an easy one. I was considering the Nature Walk but after slipping a couple of times on the uneven ground and hurting my left knee, I decided just a trip to The Falls was enough.
The water at the Falls is so clear and cold. There are many springs that feed the Niobrara River and this is one of them. I just stood there in awe at the water fall. So much water and it just kept coming and coming. Some part of me wanted to find the faucet handle and shut it off until the next visitors came along so the water wouldn’t be wasted! Must be the living in western Kansas and spending time in the Southwest, where water is often scarce, that made me feel that way. I spent 30 or so minutes just watching it pour over the top and landing 70 feet below on the rocks. The walk and visit to the Falls left me with such a serene feeling, that it was hard not to put my head down for a nap when I got back.
The area is very unique in that it lies along the 100th Meridian. This imaginary line serves as a geographic boundary differentiating the western and eastern US. This is also a blending of eastern and western ecosystems and allows some species to interbreed, such as the western Bullock’s oriole and the eastern Baltimore oriole, according to a pamphlet put out by the National Park Service. Quaking aspens from the west and the big-toothed aspen (an eastern species) grew along the River and as the climate began to change, these two aspens adapted to survive by developing a hybrid, where these hybrids can be found at the foot of Smith Falls. Did you know that the Nebraska area was covered with spruce and birch forests over 12,000 years ago? As the climate warmed and became drier, the trees receded and were replaced with the prairie grasses, except in the canyons of the Niobrara River where they were protected from the dry summer winds. The area is often referred to as the “biological crossroads of the Great Plains”, according to a pamphlet put out by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Well, the area is certainly is an oasis and well worth visiting.
(I can’t believe how this once quiet Park,
where I am at, with maybe, maybe a dozen sites filled yesterday, is now almost filled and I am almost surrounded by kids, the sound of vacuum cleaners working, air mattresses being pumped up and rope lights lit up galore!)
One problem I have encountered is with my refrigerator. Because there wasn’t any electricity, I had to use propane to work my refrigerator - well, if it had worked I would have had cold refrigerator. So lost what I had in the refrigerator that I didn’t , or couldn’t get into the ice chest in time. But, since I arrived here still can’t get my refrig to work - on propane or electricity now. It’s getting electricity as I plugged in my fan and it works. Am going to try and replace the fuse tomorrow - I can’t tell if is blown. It worked great on electricity up until I stopped at Smith Falls SP.
Thursday morning I left Smith Falls, heading east on NE-12 to Springview and then north on US-183 (the highway that runs thru Hays KS - just 15 miles east of where my home is). When I crossed the NE/SD state line, I said to myself “What no Welcome to South Dakota”? sign -kerplunk, bouncy bouncy bouncy went the truck, Boy, if you didn’t know where the State line was ole US-183 in South Dakota sure let you know! Geeze, what a lousy road. I really didn’t want a butt massage . . . . . . No wonder there wasn’t a sign welcoming me to South Dakota!
Finally, 183 got better when it linked up with US-18 and I went on into Winner. I could have continued on north on SD-49 but was hungry since I didn’t have much breakfast before leaving camp. Got me a bite to eat at their MickyDee’s and there was a big car wash next door. So gave Big Red and Eggie a quick bath to get the hoppers off as much as possible.
Headed east on SD-44. out of Winner, through beautiful country again - rolling hills though rougher terrain and a lot more ups and downs then the Sandhills. Lots of grazing cattle and ranchers out doing what ever they do this time of year. Then I come over this hill and lo and behold, below me is this big, huge friggin’ body of water!
I think I could have put 20 of Kansas’ reservoirs (if there are that many in the State) all together right there in front of me and that still wouldn’t be enough water, for what I saw. My mouth just dropped open. Oh my all that water again. I was so flabbergasted, I missed the turn off to the first State Park I was going to, consequently after crossing the mile long bridge
(I did measure it) over the Missouri River, ended up here at Snake Crossing SP. Again, am in awe of all the water.
Guess had better not get near an ocean! I did learn today that the River is a bit higher than normal due to all the rain that Montana and North Dakota have had this summer. The River channel under the bridge is around 80 feet deep. The little cove that is across the road from this Park, is dry during the winter and all the boats have to be removed each year. I was told there is a lot of ice fishing along the banks of the Missouri. This portion is called the Lake Francis Case and there is a dam down by the State line, about 30 miles down stream. There are quite a few state parks all up and down the River. South Dakota likes parks, not so hot on Federal ones, except in the Black Hills area.
Oh, go to bed you kids, it’s after “quiet hours”! Boy, am hungry for some ice cream. Am posting from a cute little coffeehouse called "Serendipity" in Platte SD. Good sandwich too.