We haven’t seen our family in Michigan since Sue’s Mom passed away in 2007, so it’s about time. Along the way, we hope to pass through three of the four states Brian has never visited, and see some interesting stuff along the way.
Day 1 – Thursday September 24, 2020 – 295 Lakeside Dr. Mountain Rest, SC to Pickwick Landing State Park, TN
The first day was pretty much a wash (literally). The morning was very foggy, and gave way to heavy drizzle and moderate rain all day long. These were the remnants of tropical storm Beta which had made landfall the day before along the Texas/Louisiana coast. We didn’t take any pictures all day. The plan had been to visit the Chickamauga Battlefield, and then Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, ending the day near the Shiloh Battlefield. We did those things, but didn’t get out of the car at Chickamauga. We took the auto tour of the battlefield, and listened to the accompanying audio descriptions. From Chickamauga, we climbed up the Georgia face of Lookout Mountain, but when we got to the top, it was so foggy, we got completely lost, and ended up just driving back down the Tennessee side. It was just after dark by the time we got to Pickwick Landing State Park, TN. The rain was just ending as we pulled into the park. That campground was the highlight of the day. Without intending any offense to the excellent South Carolina parks, this campground was the best camping experience I have ever had in a state park. The park was in excellent condition – particularly the latrine and shower facilities. It was so quiet, I didn’t even know there were any other campers near us. The price after the senior discount was only $18, and the park staff was friendly and helpful despite our late arrival.
Day 2 – Friday September 25, 2020 – Pickwick Landing State Park, TN to Circle B Campground Eminence, MO
First thing in the morning, we visited the Shiloh battlefield. Like all battlefields it is an eerie place. The commanders of the two great armies who met here in early April 1862 both believed that this would be a decisive battle which would bring the war to a speedy conclusion. A casual perusal of the battle maps reveals how confused the lines of battle were in the heavily wooded, swampy areas and small open fields surrounding the Shiloh Church for which the battle was named, and how confusing the battle must have been for both the commanders and the soldiers of the line. In his memoirs, U.S. Grant said of Shiloh – “The battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg landing, has been perhaps less understood, or, to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement between National and Confederate troops during the entire rebellion.” After two long, full days of desperate struggle, the Confederate army retired back to Corinth, MS, leaving the Federals in control of the field, and Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. But the battle was shockingly costly to both sides with some 23,000 casualties. Instead of being a decisive end to the war, the battle was the first taste of the true horror of war for the entire country. Yet even bloody Shiloh pales by comparison to some of the battles later in the war. Unlike Chickamauga, the Shiloh battlefield has no audio tour guide. There is an excellent mobile app that goes along with the auto tour, but unfortunately, we just couldn’t afford the time to cover the entire 13 miles of the tour. The movie about the battle shown hourly in the visitor center is also excellent.
NOTE – In the museum of the visitor center is a display of famous Shiloh veterans. One of those pictured there was John Wesley Powell. He lost most of his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, yet continued to serve through the rest of the war, and later became famous for his Colorado River expeditions through the Grand Canyon.
After leaving the Shiloh Battlefield National Military Park, we passed through Adamsville, TN. We had to stop for ice, and some grease for the ball of the trailer hitch. While fueling the van, I noticed this street sign. Adamsville is the home town of Sheriff Buford Pusser whose exploits in the service of law and order in this county were told in the movie Walking Tall.
From Adamsville, we continued into western Tennessee, threading the needle between Nashville and Memphis to cross the Mississippi River west of Dyersburg, TN into the “toe” of Missouri. From there, we continued northwest skirting the northeast corner of Arkansas through the flat farmlands of the Mississippi flood plain into the Ozark Mountains.
At the end of the day, we reached the Circle B campground on the Jack’s Fork River in Eminence, MO just in time to take a short stroll along the river before dark.
Day 3 – Saturday September 26, 2020 – Circle B Campground, Eminence MO to Shoemaker’s RV Park, Bevior, MO
We got a late start this morning. We made a leisurely passage through the Ozark Mountains and took a short hike in the Ozark Scenic Riverways National Park followed by a meandering drive through the Mark Twain National Forest. Coming down from the Ozarks, we made our way northward to Hannibal, MO the boyhood home of Mark Twain, whose residents provided the inspiration for some of his most famous stories. Arriving in the late afternoon, we spent about an hour wandering through Hannibal before pressing on due west toward St. Joseph, MO.
Hannibal can fairly be described as a tourist trap focused on making a dollar from Mark Twain’s name. Ironically, it is just the sort of thing that Twain himself despised and often parodied in his works.
Of course the central character in Twain’s stories, and in his own life is the Mississippi River itself. We spent most of our time wandering along the waterfront. Much of Hannibal lies below the high water when the river floods. There is a large levee between the town and the river bank, but the top of the levee is only about thirty feet above the river’s normal level. Notice the huge barriers that are inserted into the slots of the levee gates during floods.
Having started late, and spent a good part of the day wandering around the Ozarks, it was pretty late by the time we left Hannibal. Instead of making it all the way across northern Missouri as we had hoped for today, we ended up stopping about a third of the way across at Shoemaker’s RV Park along the side of US-36 in Bevior, MO.
Day 4 – Sunday September 27, 2020 – Shoemaker’s RV Park, Bevior, MO to Ponca State Park, NE
This day was spent entirely on the road apart from short stops for fuel, food, bathroom breaks and one short walk to a Missouri River overlook on the Omaha Indian Reservation between Omaha, NE and Sioux City, IA.
Along the way, we crossed briefly from Missouri into Iowa, then across the Missouri River to Nebraska City, NE. We skirted around Omaha, passing through Weeping Water, NE – home of three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. After crossing over the Platte River at Louisville, NE, we continued to Blair, NE and then along the west bank of the Missouri to Ponca State Park, NE.
The park has several campgrounds. We chose the riverside campground right on the Nebraska bank of the Missouri. The neighbors here were even quieter than those at Shoemaker’s – there weren’t any. The campground was fairly primitive with only one slot having both water and power. The latrine was a pit toilet right on the bank of the river, begging the question – What happens when the river floods? Guess it’s better not to know. The wind was blowing pretty well when we arrived, so our sunset walk along the river bank was brief.
Looking downriver from the park, one can imagine the Corps of Discovery about to round the bend on their way westward. Today of course, the far bank is in Iowa, but in Lewis and Clark’s time it was all part of the vast new Lousianna Purchase – technically owned by the USA, but not yet divided into states and territories.
Day 5 – Monday September 28, 2020 – Ponca State Park, NE to Rapid City South RV Park, SD
Our day didn’t quite go as planned. We had hoped to visit the Wounded Knee Massacre memorial, and stay somewhere in the Wounded Knee area this evening before continuing on to Mt. Rushmore tomorrow. While trying to arrange a slot at the RV campground in Oglala, SD we learned that the entire Pine Ridge Reservation including the memorial is closed due to COVID-19. So we decided to take an alternate route through Badlands National Park.
We continued along the right bank of the Missouri from Ponca, NE, crossing into South Dakota a little west of the point where the river begins to form the Nebraska-South Dakota border. Leaving the river behind, we began to climb up onto the high plains. The woodlands of the east gradually gave way to the grasslands of the northern plains.
As we climbed, we were also facing a strong quartering headwind from the northeast. The combination of the climb, the wind, and the weight of the freshwater tank in the camper that we had filled at Ponca State Park just in case we wound up having to camp somewhere without water this evening, dropped the fuel mileage on the van down to the lowest it’s ever been – just over 9 MPG. We had intended to pass through the northern edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation to Badlands National Park; however, we got stopped by the Lakota authorities at the reservation boundary just east of Wanblee, SD and redirected via I-90. So we came into the Badlands Park at the Northeast entrance, and exited by the southwest gate just north of Interior, SD
After leaving the Badlands Park, we caught our first glimpse of the Black Hills. They will be as far west as we go this trip.
It was a very long day – over 400 miles – and we didn’t get to see the Wounded Knee Memorial as we had hoped, but despite the brisk wind it was a magnificent drive. We saw lots of wildlife including a bald eagle rising from a kill off to the right of the road, prairie dogs galore, a large herd of bison, and even a big horn sheep at the Badlands Park entrance. This is the perfect time of year to visit the northern plains. The baking of summer is done for the year, but the bitter winter hasn’t quite set in yet. With our arrival in South Dakota, there are only three states remaining the Brian has never visited.