It took us four days to cross Iowa and Nebraska on our way to the Badlands in South Dakota. Each day we would drive 250 miles, more or less, before stopping for the night. We were in no hurry. We searched for places to stop along the way where we could have lunch, stretch our legs, and see something interesting.
The first place we stopped was the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, located 1/4 mile off of Interstate 80 near the birthplace of the 31st president of the United States. Wouldn’t you know though, it was closed due to COVID-19. We learned that this site has been closed for more than a year. I will be glad when everything is open again.
Though the library and museum buildings were locked tight with signs posted on the doors saying, Closed Until Further Notice, the outside grounds were open. We drove through the gate and found a place to park the travel trailer. It was a serene, nearly deserted place with a lush manicured lawn and majestic shade trees.
On the grassy hillside, the American flag fluttered in the breeze atop a towering flagpole. A curved walkway led us to two marble slabs inscribed with the names of Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover. Shades of green from perfectly trimmed hedges juxtaposed against a sapphire sky provided the backdrop. It seemed a simple, yet solemn interment for a President and First Lady.
That night, we stayed at an Iowa farm. A convenient location not far from the interstate with a picturesque farmhouse, a barn, some out-buildings, and four predominantly towering silos. We found the place through Boondockers Welcome. It’s a membership service where they provide a list of private property owners who offer a place to stay overnight while in your RV. The host were friendly and talkative and we learned they love to travel in their class A motorhome. We watched an amber Iowan sunset across the newly planted fields before calling it a day.
The next morning we waved goodbye to the farm and continued our journey along I-80. Around midday, we discovered an interesting place to stop. Just 10-minutes off the interstate in the small rural Danish village of Elk Horn, we heard there stands an authentic 60 foot tall windmill from Denmark. It seemed quite odd for a windmill to be in the middle of Iowa, so we just had to see for ourself.
As it turns out, in 1976 the people of Elk Horn raised the money to purchase a decaying windmill and shipped it across the ocean where it was reassembled and restored to working condition. The idea was to bring notoriety and prosperity to their village by celebrating their Danish heritage. The Denmark government was not happy this occurred and subsequently passed a law prohibiting any future exports of their treasured windmills. So the Danish Windmill in Elk Horn, Iowa is the one and only authentic Danish windmill in America.
For $3.00, we took the tour of the windmill originally built in 1848, and saw the old timber construction and massive grindstones. We also watched a short documentary movie detailing the windmill’s history. We visited some of the shops in town, ate lunch and then continued on our journey. This was a good stop for us. We enjoyed seeing the windmill and learning about the Danish history of the area.
We stayed overnight near Lincoln, Nebraska at a winery we found through Harvest Host. Harvest Host is similar to Boondockers Welcome in the sense that after joining their website you are provided with a list of places to stay overnight. The difference is, Boondockers Welcome is mainly individual privately owned properties whereas Harvest Host are businesses. Places like wineries, breweries, museums, working farms and ranches provide a place to stay with the hope you will patronize their business.
We called ahead and talked with the owner to make sure there was room for us. She told us the winery would not be open because of a shortage of employees. The frustration was apparent in her voice as she said she has been working to get open, but she cannot find anyone willing to work. She said we were still welcome to park overnight at the winery and there would be another camper there, too. She asked us to stop by again the next time we pass through.
On the third day, our stop was at the Archway in Kearney, Nebraska. This Archway can best be described as an enclosed bridge spanning Interstate 80 housing exhibits that tell a story of the Great Platte River Road. The road following the Platte River was an artery shared by many early pioneer immigrants traveling the Oregon Trail, Trapper’s Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. It was also part of the Pony Express route. As time passed, the mode of transportation changed but people still passed through Kearney on their way west. The Archway exhibits follow the timeline from the early pioneer days up to the present day interstate highway.
We paid $11.00 plus tax for the senior admission. It’s a dollar more for non-seniors, $6.00 for children. From the spacious modern lobby, we rode a long, slow escalator to the impressive Archway entrance. An audio headset was provided to guide us through a series of elaborate dioramas.
My favorite exhibit though, was a simple window where I could see the oncoming traffic on I-80. As the cars and trucks zoomed under the archway, a radar device tracked their speed. A digital sign flashed the speed with bright red number. I turned it into a game as I tried to guess the speed of the passing vehicles.
Before we left, we sat inside our camper while in the parking lot and had lunch. I think this place is a little overpriced for what you get, but if you ask me everything is overpriced these days. I still liked the stop and have no regrets.
We stayed at another Harvest Host that night. Much different from the night before, this brewery on the outskirts of North Platte, Nebraska was a happening place. We parked in the far corner of the parking lot and by dinner time cars were circling around trying to find a place to park.
We went in for dinner. The place was abuzz and I think we got the last available table. I ordered a pizza and jalapeño flavored beer. Service was great as a team of servers kept checking on us. The pizza was good. The spicy beer was very good. I might of stayed for another beer except the environment was so loud and crowded we couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Fortunately, back in the camper, we hardly noticed the activities outside. We turned out the lights and fell asleep. The next morning we woke to an eerie empty parking lot. Grammi put on a pot of coffee and I mapped out our final leg to the Badlands. We will not be stopping on this leg as we head for a campground with full hookups and we’ll finally unhitch from the camper.
My final thoughts: We don’t have to race across the country like a cross-country truck driver. Taking our time helps to ease the stress from towing all day. Finding a place to stop and explore along our path is a great way to break up the monotonous drive on the interstate. Besides, we saw places we might of otherwise passed by.
Using Harvest Host and Boondockers Welcome worked out for us. We’ve only done it a few time and we’re still learning. It seems to be a good option for a one night stay. Although we have never spent the night at a Walmart parking lot, I think Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Host are a better option except when you are coming in late. The hosts where we stayed were welcoming and glad we were there. The places were not far off our route. I like that we didn’t have to unhitch from the truck each night making it easier to get out early the next morning. That gave us more time to explore the places where we stopped. Anyway, I think I’m starting to ramble so I’ll end by saying—
Until next time…happy days and safe travels.