Over coffee and fruit, we find the South Dakota road map wanting. For reasons unknown, none of the federal parks have camping options marked. We spend far too long at breakfast trying to plan a route.
A couple hours later after checking out a few campsites on a wild tangle of the Missouri River, we realize the campsites are all more than half a mile from the water.
Three words: we are spoiled.
Three more. Thanks, Ontario Parks.
The river's stunning, but we want to sleep closer to it!
Quickly, we decide to skip the SD national parks and drive south to Nebraska, to the aptly named Outlaw Trail Byway, a dotted-line road on the map, which means it's a pretty drive.
But it's more than that--it's a stunning place in its emptiness and light.
48 hours off the internet, senses sharpen to the passing world outside our windows. No google searches. No phone. It frees a different part of the brain to guess where the road leads, to risk, to not always know where you're heading. And there's time to ponder the priceless way the afternoon sun hits haystacks.
(Acknowledging that we do like to see a campsite with minimally a fire ring and outhouse on the map within 4-5 hours of where we are. Pulling over and parking randomly is an option, but not one we choose regularly.)
Our stop for the night is the stunning Smith Falls State Park, on the banks of the Niobara River. We will sleep on a river after all.
Understand that most of the time "checking into" a state or national park means filling out an envelope, stuffing a little money inside, and dropping it into a canister. At this park a vaguely threatening state worker advises us that all the river-front campsites are reserved for tent campers.
We nod in resigned agreement, until we reach our assigned site to see the stunning riverfront slots...and not one other soul in the entire park. Good scouts that we are, we park across the way, at our assigned spot, with a long view of the river.
We're already breaking one rule: alcohol is prohibited in Nebraska state parks (seriously?). Cocktails are mixed, promptly.
I collect kindling and Art starts a fire.
Pastured lamb sausages from Mint Creek Farm, purchased at the Wicker Park farmers market last week.With salad from the travel SIP, rooftop tomatoes, herbs, and fried potatoes.
Time for a hike in the gloaming. The Niobara pulls canoers and tubers down its lazy waters.
Smith Falls is a refreshing postprandial destination.
Plus, stumbling on history is part of why we travel.