Nebraska to Denver

Pardon the dirty windshield

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.

Taken the next morning when the sun came out

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.

Peripheral beauty.

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!

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  1. Les in OR on November 7, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Beautiful photos! We lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for 20 years (moved there from San Diego!) and were surprised with Nebraska’s beautiful open spaces. Highway 2 is a much prettier drive then I-80, if you’re ever out that way again. We’ve since moved to the Oregon coast and are enjoying trips up and down 101 in our new Escape 19. Been following your blog now for a year or so and enjoy your photos, as well as RV advice. Happy travels!

    • Becky on November 8, 2017 at 10:40 am

      Highway 2 is also now on the list. 🙂

      I haven’t been to Oregon and Washington yet, there’s a pretty good chance that that’s where I’m heading next summer! Glad you’re enjoying IO, thanks for following along.

  2. Keith McKenna on November 7, 2017 at 7:07 am

    I read in a recent post about your visiting the Minnesota RenFest. My cousin works the fest every year. I live in Mpls. I wish I would have known that you were going to be in the area. I would have loved to meet you and chat over coffee.
    I love your blog, as it is filled with practical advice, not just a travelogue of photo’s of amazing photo-ops and places stayed.
    You really illustrate the good, as well as the not so good of full time rv living. You seem to have the RV/tow vehicle combo down. Kinda like Goldilocks. Not too big, not too small. This ones just right!
    I will be joining my family next summer at a family get-together at St Vrain. It is about 10 miles from my brothers house. I’ll try to earmark Site#5 for myself.
    I recently attempted a trip to “The Badlands” with a stop at “Toadstool Geologic Area” in Nebraska. Unfortunately, on the way out I had to turn back halfway across Nebraska (due to a small series of auto issues)
    On my way out (and back) through Nebraska, I traveled what is called, “The Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway” (google it) aka Highway 20. I had heard that it was a nice drive. I was staggered at how beautiful it was. Interstate 80 runs through the middle of NE, and as I recall it is boring as all get-out to drive (quick though,,, relatively speaking). For a much more laid back route. Hiway 20 is a sure bet. Keep it in mind the next time you have to traverse Nebraska.
    Safe travels, ok? Take care, Keith.

    • Becky on November 7, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      I’ll keep Highway 20 in mind for next time I go through the area Keith. Sorry you weren’t able to make it to the Badlands that trip, hopefully soon.

      I’m glad you’re finding my blog enjoyable, have a great time at St. Vrain and I’ll cross my fingers that you get #5, it’s a beauty. Take care!

  3. Jodee Gravel on October 30, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    How fun to add a little spinning to the kids’ outdoor holiday experience!

    We too love those unexpected gems the best. Your pics at St Vrains are wonderful. We were there last June when it was hot – I think I’d prefer the frosty grass.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Returning to Route 66, and Making Peace With GrasshopperMy Profile

    • Becky on October 31, 2017 at 2:34 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed these pictures Jodee! I always love the coming of cooler weather in fall…. but typically by January I’m ready for spring, haha.

  4. Martha in PA on October 29, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Becky you call yourself an introvert but poi dancing for a tractor load of children and their parents is definitely not an introverted thing to do! Lovely dancing!

    • Becky on October 29, 2017 at 7:06 pm

      On the contrary, dancing works with introversion very well. It allows me to safely interact with large groups of strangers without having to worry about saying the right things or coming off as weird. 🙂 Thanks!

      • Reed Martin on October 29, 2017 at 9:04 pm

        Well…… you’re def not weird lol!! As for groups, I tell those asking me join ‘I wouldn’t be a member of any group, who’d have me as a member’ !

        • Becky on October 31, 2017 at 2:32 pm

          Thanks for the vote of confidence Reed!

  5. Leslie Connelly on October 29, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    I just made a similar trip, Indiana to Denver last week. Oooh, the wind, not fun. I ended up winterizing at the KOA in West Omaha. KOA’s are good for this type of chore, water & sewer. I’ll be in the Denver area (or my RV will be through the end of November). I’ll be in South Korea for two weeks, and Denver weather is unpredictable. I never know if it will get below freezing and stay that way. I have stayed at the St. Vrain campground a few times. It’s a lot better than the campground near Barr Lake, so you chose the right one.

    • Becky on October 29, 2017 at 7:01 pm

      Have fun in South Korea! Good move on choosing to winterize given you won’t be there to keep an eye on things. And it’s nice to know I chose a good campground. 🙂

  6. John on October 29, 2017 at 7:20 am

    “stumbling across gorgeous places like this on accident.”

    I agree. Well known amazing spots in National Parks are great, though sometimes so crowded as to significantly reduce the wonder. There are so many great spots that are wonderful surprises, and these are a great part of traveling
    John recently posted..Guadalupe Peak Trail, Guadalupe Mountains National ParkMy Profile

    • Becky on October 29, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      You said it.

  7. Seana on October 28, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    Gahh! Again the suspense!

    Very graceful video! It hasnt taken you long to get where you’re at, nice job. I haven’t done poi since I was young, the more traditional style, but I could never find the rhythm, haha. Thanks for the vid!

    I’m about to get back on facebook in hopes you post a sneakpeek of your announcement! *hint* 🙂

    • Becky on October 29, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Thanks Seana!

      I really started practicing poi in August of last year, so I’m at 14 months. From poi groups I’m a part of, I judge myself to be in the middle of the pack as far as how quick I learn things. I like watching the more traditional style but prefer learning the newer stuff.

      No sneak peeks, sorry! Tomorrow or Tuesday…

  8. Furry Gnome on October 28, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Your pictures and your writing just get better and better! Great post.
    Furry Gnome recently posted..SunsetMy Profile

    • Mr Wheat on October 28, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Agree, your writing is impressive. Nice photos too.

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:21 pm

      Thanks Gnome and Wheat!

  9. Linda Sand on October 28, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Beautiful poi dancing. Thanks for sharing that.

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      You’re welcome Linda!

  10. Michelle Wilson on October 28, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    I am one day ahead of you, although I did spend a freezing night in Blanca, CO before driving down to Raton, NM on Fri. Staying Sat. night too as the KOA is nice, did laundry, full hookups and park almost empty. You have much better luck just driving in at St. Parks than I’ve had, but you always give me ideas for the future (this is my FIRST long trip). I admire you as I’m a one-woman traveler also. But since I’m 73, the hooking/unhooking discourages me. And my trailer is named “Poor Baby” because she’s always got something wrong with her (was a lying-seller’s flip)! This trip to Colorado from Texas and back through NM is my deciding factor on whether to keep her, save money for a Class C, or give up. It’s scary when things go wrong, as they always do. But you are my inspiration! Thanks for the beautiful photos and lyrical prose!

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      I had a couple long driving days Michelle, I went through Raton on Thursday and continued south to escape the freeze. I probably passed you somewhere along the way! Glad the KOA there is treating you well.

      I think calling ahead to state parks is very important, if I hadn’t called I would have showed up at Cherry Creek to find it full, and then St. Vrain would have been full too by the time I could have retraced my steps to get back there. I’ve found that arriving on a week day and planning to arrive early in the day makes a huge difference.

      I’m sorry to hear about the trouble you’ve had with your trailer! I hope this trip gives you the clarity you’re looking for. You’re quite welcome for the inspiration! Safe travels and happy trails.

  11. Alan Belisle on October 28, 2017 at 10:43 am

    I hope, in you r zig-zagging across Nebraska, you had a chance to stop and see Carhenge. This is a site where some inspired crazies built a Stonehenge out of old junk cars. Definitely worth a stop if you are anywhere nearby.
    Enjoy your migration South!
    Alan Belisle recently posted..Oceanside, California   10/7 – 10/29 (Part 2)My Profile

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      No I missed Carhenge! Will have to remember it for next time I drive through the area. Thanks Alan.

  12. Norm H. on October 28, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Good to see you again enjoying the open road and the serendipity it provides. I especially enjoy the Fall/cusp of winter photos. Safe travels and, as always, thanks for sharing.

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      It’s good to be back on the road! I love the change of seasons, it’s my favorite time for photography. You’re welcome and thanks Norm.

  13. Virginia on October 28, 2017 at 8:32 am

    I so enjoy travelling vicariously with you! Thanks for opening my eyes to Nebraska. We will hooe to visit one day. Loved your poi demo, very cool.

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:12 pm

      You’re welcome Virginia, thanks for following along!

  14. Ursula on October 28, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Beautiful photos and great video. Thanks for sharing it. It definitely makes me look forward to the many great places to be explored in the future, once I’m done at BNA3. Can’t wait to hear what “stuff” happened in Denver!

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      You’re welcome. And having worked at Amazon, you’ll have plenty of money saved up to do some traveling Ursula. That’s the way I always look at my work-camping jobs. 🙂

  15. Bette on October 28, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Beautiful pictures and, as always, well written. I thoroughly enjoy your blog; thank you for sharing your travels with us!

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      You’re welcome!

  16. Dawn on October 28, 2017 at 7:59 am

    You seem to have good luck in getting nice spots to spend a night or two! I even liked the sunset at the truck stop! LOVED the rippled sand with the yellow cottonwood though, that was my favorite. Safe travels!!

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:08 pm

      Yes I do seem to be having a streak of good luck Dawn! And yeah, that view down by the reservoir…

  17. Darren on October 28, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Love the pics! It amazes me the hidden gems that can be found by pure luck. We have found some extremely wonderful parks by accident that we plan on returning to. Once again you have learned me something! Didn’t know what poi spinning was! Take care and safe travel!

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      Thanks Darren and I’m glad you enjoyed this post! On paper, poi spinning originated with the Maori people of New Zealand, a tribal dance performed primarily by women. Today’s modern poi is heavily modified from the original and considered a circus art.

  18. Sara on October 28, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Welcome to Colorado. I’ll be heading out soon to full time RV. Senior and solo. Heading to NM first for a shake down of the new rig. LOVE YOUR PICS. safe travels. Starting a blog also to encourage others that life can be an adventure at retirement age. ☺️☺️ 3 Dogs and a Dame will be the blog. Hope to have it up and running next week. Blessings.

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:04 pm

      Haha, that’s a great name Sara. Have fun blogging, I’ve really enjoyed it!

      Taking a shake down trip before heading out for the real deal is a very wise decision, but hopefully you won’t have any problems. Congrats! Safe travels and happy trails.

  19. Steve on October 28, 2017 at 6:59 am

    There is a very expensive toll road that goes around Denver that we were on before we knew it. Got a bill in the mail a couple months later! We drive an A pulling so it cost us a lot!!

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      Yes, I saw that road when I went into Denver on Tuesday! Sneaky thing. Was on it for a tiny bit going in and purposefully avoided it heading out. I wonder what my bill will be, least I only had the truck.

  20. Anne on October 28, 2017 at 6:45 am

    “Peripheral beauty.” What a lovely phrase! I’m adopting it right now. And your photos illustrate that magnificently! Lots to see in the middle.

    But last time I checked, going from Vermillion to North Platte and Denver would be southwest. At least you are driving the right way. I once landed at Raleigh-Durham airport in NC to drive to my parents’ retirement home on the coast (three hours away). My California sense of direction betrayed me and I drove two hours WEST (towards the ocean, right??) before I realized my mistake. It was a long long way back.

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      Haha, you’re correct Anne! I went back and fixed it. I sometimes wonder if I’m mildly dyslexic, I mix those up when talking and writing often.

      Meanwhile, I lived on the east coast for a couple years and when I visited California I found having the ocean to the west to be very disorienting. Glad you eventually made it to your destination.

  21. Denise on October 28, 2017 at 5:47 am

    You are right, discovering beautiful places by accident is what traveling is all about for us, too. There are so many gorgeous and interesting areas to discover. Nice post and beautiful photos!

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks Denise and glad you enjoyed this!

  22. Ron on October 27, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    “Stuff happens today, but that announcement deserves (and will have) its own blog post.”

    The Master of suspense again.

    • Rob on October 28, 2017 at 8:02 am


    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      Maybe a little. 😉

      In truth, if I’d left that day blank except for the pond pictures people would have asked about it so I had to say something, haha. And then I thought I could make the announcement first, but then people would wonder how I got from South Dakota to Denver, so I decided this way was best.

  23. Kevin in CO on October 27, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    The low was 22 this morning where I live, about 10 miles from the St Vrain campsite. We drive by that area often, but I have yet to drive in and look around. Enjoyed your photos.

    Good move to head south, we have had sub freezing mornings most of this week.

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      St. Vrain is a nice little park. I guess the ponds are stocked with fish and locals will take day trips in for that. Worth a visit I’d say since it’s so close.

      I love Colorado, but this was not the ideal time of year to be visiting with a 3-season camper.

  24. Debra on October 27, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    That was a nice reservoir you found in NE. Hope you got far enough south on Thursday to escape the snow! I was at Chatfield State Park the 18th to 21st and got out just ahead of some cold temps. Although I’m in New Mexico now and it has been pretty cold here at night.

    I have a guess on what you went to Denver for but I’ll keep it to myself and wait for your post. 😀

    • Becky on October 28, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      Snow? Brrr! Glad you made it out in time Debra!

      Yes, I made it southern New Mexico and narrowly avoided the freeze last night, got down to 34, but that’s a win over low 20’s!

  25. Marilyn on October 27, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    I was ready to applaud after the end of your poi video good job.

    • Becky on October 27, 2017 at 8:33 pm


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