Though the drive through Pine Ridge Country from Gordon to Crawford, Nebraska is a relatively short distance, it’s long on variety of scenery. If you want to experience the West as closely preserved as you can during your motorhome vacation, this one’s not to be missed. It’s best visited spring through fall, and offers a host of natural and cultural attractions that can stretch it far longer than the 1.5 hour driving time might suggest.
The village of Gordon was officially organized in 1885, when the lure of free homestead land and the creation of the railroad brought settlers in search of new opportunities. Gordon is home to the Scamahorn and the Tri-State Old Time Cowboys Museums, which display the rich history of the area.
Proceeding west on US 20, the route travels across a grassy desert known as Sand Hills. The rolling terrain is actually made of sand dunes that are anchored by the grasses that grow there. Because the land is largely unsuitable for crops (though it has supported large herds of cattle) most of the region has never been plowed, which means that the plant and animal life has been virtually undisturbed. The area is home to Mule Deer, Coyotes, and Red Fox, as well as a large variety of bird, bat, and fish species. Keep the camera and binoculars handy!
Your RV will take you through the small towns of Rushville and Hay Springs, and up onto the Pine Ridge proper, which is a 100 mile long escarpment from which the area takes its name. The land here is higher, with the hills covered in a softwood forest where you might see bighorn sheep or elk. You will drive into Chadron, a town of 6000 people with a Main St. that features excellent examples western architecture. Taking a side trip down US 385 from here will lead you to Chadron State Park, about 9 miles south. This beautiful park features hiking, swimming, horseback riding, and RV camping.
Continuing along US 20 from Chadron to Crawford, you’ll be able to see rolling terrain to the north and the first hints of the Badlands to the south. Crawford is home to Fort Robinson State Park. Fort Robinson itself is important in the history of the west – it is here that Chief Crazy Horse was killed. During WWII, the fort was used to house German prisoners.
As the western end of the drive, Fort Robinson has 100 sites with electrical hookups available to the motorhome vacationer. They are can be reserved a year in advance. The shady campground offers full concessions, as well as fishing and swimming. For more information, contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Fort Robinson site.
Using Fort Robinson as a base, you can visit Oglala National Grasslands by travelling 15 miles north on SR2, as well as the strangely named Toadstool Park, home to equally strange mushroom shaped rock formations.
If you’re interested in experiencing the rich natural heritage and western cultural traditions of the Nebraska Pine Ridge Country as part of your RV vacation, this trip’s not to be missed!