Oct 21, Saturday
In the morning, I pack up camp and leave Lions Park in Vermillion, SD. It was a good two nights, but I’ve reached my stay limit and am eager to keep heading south.
Well, southwest actually. My next target destination is Denver, but it’s going to take a couple day’s driving to get there.
I’d spent a good amount of time yesterday plotting where to spend the night tonight. With freezing temps on the way, I know I want hookups. As usual, I consult Google Maps and look for patches of green – indicating parks. Calamus Reservoir State Rec Area is a reasonable distance away in the right direction, so I made a phone call to ask about availability, which is good idea on weekends even this late in the season. The lady confirms that they aren’t expecting to fill up, and I head out.
A funny thing happens when I stop for gas in Randolph, NE. I pull into the Cenex on the west end of town, and an attendant comes out to pump the gas for me and wash my windshield. At first I wonder if Nebraska is one of those states that has regulations about such things, but I recall getting gas in this state before with no such service. The young man pumping the gas informs me that this is just a small-town thing, and I smile. This is the first time I’ve had my gas pumped for me since I hit the road and I’ve been through plenty of small towns. So I guess that make Randolph a cut above the rest.
We also get to talking about camping. “Oh yes, I’ve been to Calamus Reservoir before.” the attendant tells me enthusiastically. “It’s in the Sandhills area, very nice.”
I make a sandwich in the parking lot of the gas station, and am soon back on the road.
The sun hides behind thick curtains of clouds. It even attempts to drizzle a time or two, but no real rain develops. But what would otherwise be a pretty gloomy day is broken up by splashes of gold in the form of Cottonwood trees decked out in their autumn foliage. As I head south I’m slowly rewinding the clock earlier into fall.
When I pull in to the electric camping loop at Calamus Reservoir, I can immediately tell that something is afoot. Children are all over playing games, and many of the RVs have extensive Halloween displays at their sites. A sign near the self-pay station states that the campground road will be closing to vehicle traffic at 5:30 pm. It’s a good thing I didn’t arrive much later than I did.
Being the introvert that I am, I pick a site on the edge of things, #74. After getting everything set up and settling in to cook dinner, I see a tractor come down the camp road pulling a cart loaded with children and their parents. I glance at the clock, 5:32. Ah, this explains things. The rides continue until 10 pm, touring the lights and decorations everyone has put out for the holiday.
I have no lights or decorations. Well, that’s not entirely true. Just after sunset I set up my phone on its tripod and bring out my LED poi to dance for the camera and the tractor ride – as usual children seem to love it. For those who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, here’s a clip, with a fun Halloween-y filter added to make it look more spooky. For those of you who’ve asked here on the blog what poi spinning is, this should hopefully clear up some confusion.
Oct 22, Sunday
The Sandhills region of Nebraska is an area of mixed-prairie grasses growing on stabilized sand dunes covering about ¼ of the state. Where the trees grow in the campground it’s less obvious that Calamus Reservoir lies within this region, but down by the water, it becomes very apparent.
This isn’t what people think of when they think of Nebraska I reckon, it’s sure not what I thought of. I’ve driven through NE before, but never really camped here. I have a much higher appreciation for the state now.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest thrills I get from traveling isn’t going to see something that I know from other sources and photos is going to be amazing: it’s stumbling across gorgeous places like this on accident.
And experiencing peripheral beauty is so much easier when you can travel full-time. Vacationers don’t have the time to let experiences like this unfold, they always have some destination to get to. Yet again I am humbled by nature and so deeply grateful that this is my life. That on a Sunday morning, instead of packing up camp and driving home to prepare for the work-week, I get to crawl around in the sand under an achingly blue sky to get these photos for you all. Whether you RV yourself or are an armchair traveler, I hope they bring you some small measure of the peace I experienced while taking them.
Although, all poetry aside, I do need to be moving on at some point today. Originally I intended to stay here two nights, but there’s a wind advisory out for much of Nebraska tomorrow, and I don’t particularly want to be driving in 50 mph crosswinds.
After an early lunch, I hitch up Cas and reluctantly pull out. A far cry from yesterday when I arrived, the campground is all but abandoned now.
The drive today is longer than yesterday, but easier. There is no straight route that goes southwest from South Dakota to central Nebraska, so it was all zig-zagging on roads running south and west to get to where I needed. Today I do a little of this until I get to North Platte on 83, and then it’s I80 west to the border of Colorado.
I stop for the night at a Flying J truckstop near the town of Big Springs, NE. I don’t get pretty nature tonight, but the sunset isn’t bad.
October 23, Monday
“If you get here by 1 pm, you might be able to get a spot, but…” I get off the phone with Cherry Creek State Park, located within Denver proper. It doesn’t matter here that it’s a week day and so late in the season, the parks near metro areas tend to stay full as long as the weather is nice. Who wouldn’t want to camp in a beautiful natural area with easy access to all the convenience a large city offers?
I call St. Vrain State Park next, a bit north of Denver. They’re also expecting to get full today, but I’ll be able to get there sooner than Cherry Creek, so I chance it. I pull out of Flying J and onto I76. No time for stops, I power through until I get to Longmont.
When I arrive at 12:30, there’s exactly one spot available, and the ranger regrets to inform me it’s electric only. “No, that’s what I prefer actually!”. I’m happy to take it.
As it’s the very last spot available, I’m expecting to be located at an intersection, about 15′ long, on the side of a hill, facing the dumpsters, or something else of the sort. But no, site 5 is perfectly level, spacious, at the end of a row, and sits right on a pond. It’s a fantastic spot. I’m guessing the previous occupant must have left shortly before I arrived.
Located just off of I25, St. Vrain is not a quiet state park, and it feels much more manicured than I’m use to when it comes to public camping, but the numerous ponds that cover the park are quite pretty. Red-wing blackbirds call to each other from tall reeds and squirrels scamper between the naked trees. At a higher elevation now, I’ve entered into late fall once again. To the west, the Rockies are capped with snow. By late this week, lows in the low 20’s are expected. But I won’t be staying that long. In the meantime, the sunset is warm this evening.
October 24, Tuesday
I’m crunching through frosty grass just after sunrise this morning to get reflection pictures in the pond behind Cas.
Without zoom, there’s no detail to be seen in the mountains, but they’re definitely there.
Stuff happens today, but that announcement deserves (and will have) its own blog post.
Just before sunset, I take a walk around the pond for more photos, because when you’re camping right on the water, you might as well make the most of it.
It was breezy earlier in the day, but the wind dies down again in the evening, so I get more reflection pictures. This time there are a few clouds to add interest.
Tomorrow, I’ll be making a bee-line south on I25 to escape the deep freeze. There’s much more driving ahead!