After leaving Sitting Bull’s gravesite, I continued traveling south on Route 83 towards Pierre, SD. This road closely parallels the 100th longitudinal meridian. This line marks a major change in climate and terrain. East of this north-south line, there’s more precipitation, more trees, and lower elevation. West of this line are the short grass high plains where there’s much less precipitation and few trees. As I drove, the view out my windshield was a never-ending sea of rolling wheat and hay fields for as far as I could see.
Pierre, South Dakota
My destination for the night was Pierre, SD. I didn’t have any particular place to see or visit. I just wanted an inexpensive place to park overnight and get some supplies. Pierre is a small state capitol of about 13,000 people. It looks like a nice place on the banks of the Missouri River. It also appears to be an economic and community service center for the sparsely populated areas that surround it.
I found a nice spot to spend the night at a municipal park just across the river in Fort Pierre. Fischers Lilly Park sits right on the west bank of the Missouri River. It has about a dozen sites with water and electrical hookups. There’s also a dump station and restrooms in the park. It’s a great deal at $18 per night for such a lovely location.
Once I parked the RV, I went for a short walk along the river and found that I was camped at a very historic place. Fischers Lilly Park sits at the mouth of the Bad River where it flows into the Missouri. In September 1804, Lewis and Clark encountered the Teton Sioux at this very spot. A large group of warriors and Chief Black Buffalo challenged the expedition and demanded a payment for going up river. After some tense back and forth, they gave the warriors some tobacco and Chief Black Buffalo waved off his warriors. Had the warriors attacked, it mostly likely would have been the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There’s a historic plaque in the park depicting this event.
The site where I parked my RV had its back against the Stanley County Fairgrounds. I kept seeing lots of young girls warming up their horses on the race track that was right behind me. I got curious and walked over to see what was going on. What I found was a local riding club or 4H club was having barrel riding trials. For you non-cowboys/cowgirls, barrel riding is a rodeo competition. It’s a timed ride to see how quickly you and your horse can spin around a triangle course of three barrels and return back to the start line.
There were about 50 young girls with their horses each taking turns at riding the barrels and trying to improve their times. I had a great time watching these small girls galloping their 2000 lb horses around the barrels. All dreaming of competing in a real rodeo,
Great Service at Sioux Falls
From Pierre, it was time to make a turn and start heading east. I was not in a hurry to get home so, I tried to limit my travel day driving to around 4-5 hrs. I saw that Pipestone National Monument was just over the border in Minnesota near Sioux Falls. So, that’s where I headed for my next stop.
While driving on I-90, I noticed my vehicle jumped out of gear a few times. It was nothing dramatic, just like going over a small bump in the road as the transmission decided to downshift and then quickly changed its mind. I’ve had a few isolated incidents of this happen before. It’s a little alarming when it happens, but the vehicle continues to run fine. But, while driving to Sioux Falls, it happened 5 times. The RV was running fine, but the transmission jump was disconcerting.
The Boy Scout in me told me that I should have it checked out, so I headed directly to Sioux Falls, which was the biggest city on my route. I found a nice place to spend the night at Big Sioux SRA. This small state park is just a few miles east of Sioux Falls and near the highway.
When I got parked, I checked to see where the nearest Mercedes-Benz Sprinter service facility was. I was hoping to find a place on my route somewhere between Sioux Falls and Chicago. What I found was a facility just 12 miles away in Sioux Falls. How lucky was that!
I showed up at Merecedes-Benz of Sioux Falls the next day at around 9 am with no appointment. They took me in and had my rig in the service bay within an hour. The service tech found a faulty EGR valve that was sticking open. This could have caused the engine to stumble and possibly try to downshift. A faulty EGR valve is a known problem with Sprinter vans and it has a 10 year warranty. My RV was repaired within an hour and it was all covered under warranty. I could not have asked for better service. I was on my way before lunch had no more incidents of the vehicle jumping out of gear.
The Day the Music Died
Heading east out of Sioux Falls, I looked at the map for a destination and Clear Lake, IA stood out. It’s a small town on a lake in north central Iowa. When I studied it on the map, the name sounded familiar. There was something about Clear Lake stored in the cobwebs of my memory that I couldn’t quite recall. When I looked at the map again, there was a red dot labeled Surf Ballroom right next to Clear Lake. When I saw those words, it all came back.
On February 2 1959, Buddy Holly played his last gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA. Just after the gig, the small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper crashed just after take off in a frozen corn field in Clear Lake.
Right near Clear Lake is Forest City, where Winnebago makes their RV’s. My Winnebago View must have also seen the map because I thought I heard it give a faint whimper wanting to “go home”. So, I pointed the rig towards Clear Lake so we could drive past my RV’s birthplace and see some rock and roll history.
Clear Lake is a neat little lakeside resort town. It’s seems out-of-place among all the corn farms and endless miles of corn fields that surround it. I was fortunate to snag a single night stay at Clear Lake State Park, which is right on the lake. The lake and town are nice, but my real quest was to visit the Surf Ballroom.
The ballroom was built in the 1930’s to resemble an ocean front beach club. It burned once and the current building was rebuilt in 1948. It’s a small place, but still operates as a music venue during the summer months. But the best part is that it’s open almost everyday for folks to walk through and see this iconic music venue.
Not much has changed with the Surf Ballroom. It still looks the same way it did in the 1950s. It’s loaded with memorabilia. Ever since Buddy Holly played there, it’s been a place where bands want to come and play. Santana, BB King, Ricky Nelson, REO Speedwagon, Lynryd Skynryd, ZZ Top, Little Big Town, Willie Nelson, Chuck Berry, Toby Keith and countless others have all played at the Surf. Pick a rock and roll band or performer and they’ve most likely played at the Surf Ballroom.
The inside is like a small Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum. In fact, the Rock Hall has designated it as a historic music landmark. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. Pictures and artifacts cover the walls.
It’s all open to the public and you can go everywhere. The green room is the most unique with signatures of bands and performers covering the walls and ceiling. I spent over an hour inside the Surf marveling at the history on the walls.
From CIear Lake, I back tracked about 20 miles to visit Forest City. Winnebago has a Visitor Center that allows free overnight parking. There are a dozen sites with electrical poles. The visitor center has a nice museum and from there you can take a tour of the production facility. I skipped the tour (it’s 3 hours long and no photo or video are allowed).
But they do have a customer service facility next door that does repairs and sells parts. I made the list of everything in my rig that needed fixing (e.g., a broken light fixture, two busted roof top antennas,, and a cabinet latch) and walked over. I got all the exact parts right from the source. My overnight stop was fortuitous.
From Forest Center, I continued heading east through the corn across northern Iowa towards a special field of dreams.