I recently met online Facebook friends Bonnie and Bruce as the South Dakotans biked in our area. Here's a photo of them performing as the Ramblin' Rangers.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
I recently met online Facebook friends Bonnie and Bruce as the South Dakotans biked in our area. Here's a photo of them performing as the Ramblin' Rangers. SUBMITTED PHOTO
It’s interesting how vacations work. Most of the time, if possible, I believe we target a destination that’s a good distance away from home.
We plan vacation getaways that are fun, exciting, relaxing and maybe even educational – the latter in a fun way, of course.
Perhaps we might plan a “stay-cation” if we need to be around home for family reasons, if gas prices are ridiculously high or if money is tight. Luckily, there are plenty of things to see and do around here.
As we know, Bluff Country certainly attracts tourists. I think we may lose sight of that. However, I had a couple good reminders recently.
You must know by now that the states of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska (yes indeed, you heard right – Nebraska!), Montana and North Dakota are on my “where to go” list year after year. A trip to any of those may pan out yet this year.
As far as South Dakota goes, I’ve heard tourism statistics that Minnesota is the top state from which people travel to South Dakota. I guess that’s why we see lots of tourism ads for the state and its attractions, especially on TV.
I think we probably expect South Dakotans to vacation somewhere glorious like, say, Colorado, which has much taller and snow-capped mountains, plus ocean drives and beaches. But, I recently learned that’s not necessarily true.
I’ve made some new online friends from South Dakota by seeing their posts of similar interests and photos to our mutual friends on Facebook. I can’t recall exactly how it happened now, but one of the South Dakotans commented it must be the Root River Trail in photos I’d posted with my TerraTrike. That certainly surprised me. She and her husband had biked our area trails a few years ago.
This year, they biked some trails elsewhere in the state and checked out the Mississippi headwaters at Itasca State Park. Then they headed to our southern Minnesota trails again. They emailed me and asked if I wanted to go biking with them since they planned to ride the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail. I wasn’t up for much riding that Sunday due to tight muscles, but I did go to the trailhead here in Preston to meet them.
Bruce and Bonnie were especially fun to meet. They’re in the process of retiring from jobs dealing with parks. Bruce was the superintendent at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah a few years after it was given that status. And Bonnie had worked there also.
I’ve visited and hiked a little bit of that area. I think they both looked amazed when I said, “Yeah, I’ve been on Skutumpah Road” and I said the name correctly. The road traverses the national monument’s lands that sit below the higher elevations of Bryce Canyon National Park, which is a few miles away to the northwest. Oh yeah, the road name is said “scoot’em paw.” Accent is on the first syllable and gets less with each syllable that follows. (OK. Here I admit that had I not ever heard it pronounced, I would have said “skuh–TUM-puh,” in a similar style of saying “Decorah.”)
Bruce is now a fill-in and/or volunteer bicycle patrol ranger on the Mickelson Trail. It runs from Edgemont, S.D., north 109 miles to Deadwood, S.D. He noted some towns fairly close to the trail are looking at building spurs for riders to use into their communities, as well as a spur going to Mount Rushmore.
I asked if a recreational trail might ever be created from an old railroad bed I’ve noticed running southeast from Rapid City, skirting Badlands National Park on its south side. It eventually crosses the Missouri River on a railroad bridge that still stands, connecting Oacoma on the west bank to Chamberlain on the east. The bridge sits right below the Interstate 90 rest area and its display on Lewis and Clark.
He believed the state of South Dakota has the rights to the railroad bed from Rapid City as far as the Badlands. Also, Bruce noted it would be a very hot ride in the summer with no trees. I said trees could be planted at spots. Or picnic tables placed along the trail with the slatted wooden boards arcing over top to create shade from the sun, just as they do in many places.
I learned that Bonnie had most recently worked as a natural resource specialist and ranger at the Cottonwood and Cold Brook lakes near Hot Springs, S.D., and run by the Army Corps of Engineers. I told her I’d considered camping at Cottonwood, but had never gotten there. Now I know either place would be a nice spot.
Bruce and Bonnie also perform cowboy music as a musical duo called the Ramblin’ Rangers. They are hosting an event, the Calamity Peak Cowboy Gathering, Aug. 29 and 30. It will include cowboy music, Western trade show and vendors, chuck wagon cookout, horse camping and trail riding in the Black Hills. It will be held at the Broken Arrow RV and Horse Camp near Custer, S.D. Get more information at https://www.facebook.com/CalamityPeakGathering, or call (605) 440-1957, or the Custer Visitors’ Center at (866) 601-5099.
It was certainly fun to meet the couple. They even sang me a cowboy tune in which their small dog accompanies them with his coyote-like howling. Fun!
So right there you have two South Dakotans that came here because they like the area, so much so they stopped en route to a reunion in Illinois. They camped at the Hidden Bluffs Campground in rural Spring Grove, took a dinner cruise on a riverboat at La Crosse and rode the trail.
That is not the only case of online South Dakotan friends visiting our area.
I was online exchanging comments with Susan. She had posted a travel photo from some location that had a trout-fishing course. I mentioned we have a nine-hole course on the Root River in Preston, set up by the National Trout Center.
Susan – who is South Dakota born and splits time between Rapid City and the West Coast – quickly commented she had noticed it when she and a friend had biked the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail into Preston a few years ago. She also recalled the river was high that summer.
Say what? This person can draw upon travel memories of Bluff Country – and, from what I see of her posts of current trips, a lot of photos, too. Heck, she might have biked within a block of my place.
I used to do a feature in the Republican-Leader called “Trail Mix,” featuring people I’d stop along area trails to interview and photograph. I’d keep it fun. (No one ever called the police to report me, I’m proud to report.)
There were locals on the trail, along with many, many vacationers from everywhere. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me when South Dakota residents head to Minnesota. There’s just something about getting out of state – and, let’s face it – it’s easier and more economical when that state is next door.
I look forward to more acquaintances heading this way. I’ll try to take it in stride and overcome my look of utter surprise.
It also occurs to me that just like it makes sense for South Dakota to run ads in Minnesota to attract visitors, the opposite also might be true. I’m not currently involved in any tourism plans to know if any part – or all – of South Dakota is targeted for advertising that promotes our area. If not, it might well be worth consideration.
It’s true. South Dakotans will visit Minnesota. Let’s encourage them.
Let me also mention a wonderful opportunity to check out sites and history associated with the Dakota Conflict of 1862 in Minnesota. I took this motorcoach tour in 2012 and highly recommend it. This time, a couple additional sites have been added. See Historic Adventure & Travel Tours for details on the Aug. 17 to 19 trip, and to get signed up at www.historicadventuretours.com or call history enthusiast/tour planner and leader John Grabko at (507) 990-6283.