The Open Mike RV Tour West: The Black Hills are Turning Red

 The Open Mike RV Tour West: The Black Hills are Turning Red

The Open Mike RV Tour West: The Black Hills are Turning Red 2Blame it on a beetle. A massive infestation of the pine beetle is killing off staggering stands of the dark green, majestic mountain pines that give the rolling hills their name. It's happening fast and although the National Park Service has launched an extensive tree thinning and treatment program, the beetle is winning. The forest is dying at an alarming rate,

As we visited Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills region, we were stunned by how ravaged the trees have been. Red, dead needles stain the hillsides. Huge piles of cut trees await to be burned. But even that can't be done because of the desperately dry conditions wrought by the nation's drought. Fire hazard is high and it isn't hard to imagine that a careless spark or a lighting strike could become uncontrollable, fed by the dead, red needles left by the beetle.

That was our sobering thought as we left the otherwise spectacular area, as we continued the Family Motor Coach Association's Open Mike RV Tour West.

And then, just as we were about to scope out the Crazy Horse Memorial, our 2006 Roadtrek RS-Adventurous went into limp home mode.

It couldn't have happened at a worse time. These were seriously and steep 6 and 7% grades I was traveling in the Black Hills and on one of the toughest, my speed dropped to 20 miles an hour and, even with the accelerator pressed to the floor, I couldn't move faster. Downhills were slightly better. But then on the first straightway, the problem was evident again. I couldn't go faster that 40-45 mph.

I put on the emergency flashers and pulled off into a parking lot of a place that gives helicopter tours of Mount Rushmore.

I was able to fire up my Mac, using a Verizon Wireless Mi-Fi card to set up a hotspot that got me online.  I posted my problem on a Roadtrek Facebook group and the FMCA Roadtrek International Chapter's CyberRally e-mail group.

I kid you not. Within thee minutes, I had the first of what would be a dozen replies. Most of my online helpers suspected it was something allied the Turbo Resonator, whatever that is. Someone told me to turn off my RV and restart. I did so and, voila, whatever it was, I was no longer in limp home mode – a feature on the Sprinter that will let you do just that until you get home or to a repair facility.

Two FCMA members sent me contact info for Sprinter service dealers near me. I called the one in Billings, MT, our destination for the night, and made an appointment first thing in the morning.

How's that for great community? Proof of why belonging to FMCA and the Roadtrek Chapter is not just great for social reasons, but practical help as well. I also heard from folks on the Facebook group and I got two phone calls from other Roadtrekers who offered advice, Jim from Livinia, MI and my pal Alan, from New Hampshire, who helped me decode the error messages and point to that crazy turbo resonator thing.

Twice more as we kept heading west,the limp home mode kicked on and twice more, following instructions sent my my cyber biddies, I got it to return to normal. But something is clearly wrong.

I'll let you know what the Sprinter repair folks – at the Billings Mercedes dealer – have to say. I have an 8 am appointment.

We were able to visit Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse carving a dozen miles away. The Crazy Horse monument is a work in progress. Right now, it's just the great Lakota chief's 87-foot high head. It was started in 1948. The rest, which will consist of his arm – 263 feet long- and horse's head – 219 feet-  will eventually make it the world's largest mountain carving. It is very much a work still in progress but already, well worth seeing as it commemorates the Native American leader's commitment to his people and their land as it also tells the sad story of our government's treachery to the people who were first here.

And still are.

As we parked in the lot, a Native American family pulled in near us. Some were in a car, others in a Class A motorhome. Mom and Dad, the kids, Grandma and Grandpa all converged and looked up at the monument. The respect and excitement was seen in their smiles.

We ate dinner in Sheridan WY at the Wyoming Rib House. It was jam packed and the only seats available were at the bar. Scores of cowboys in Wranglers, boots, long shirts and cowboy hats milled about.

As we ate, we were surrounded by two other couples, both, as it happened to be, RVers. One couple were fulltimers, on their way to Cheyenne to get their Fifth Wheel fixed. They had come from The Grand Tetons and Zion National Park and warned us about heavy smoke from forest fires in the area.

The other couple were from North Dakota and were in a Class C. He was a rancher from North Dakota, down for a big cattle auction in Sheridan this week. He had 240 head of range-fed Black Angus to sell, delivery in August. “Where are the cows?,” I wanted to know.

“Back in North Dakota,” he said. “They're sold by video.”

Can you imagine that, I thought? Cattle are videoed these days instead of driven to market in herds. When October comes, the buyer sends some trucks up north.

Videotaped cattle. RVing cowboys. Black Hills that are turning Red and Limp Mode on my Roadtrek. It was a long day.

We rolled into Billings, MT about 9PM at the KOA. And not just any KOA. This is the mothership of KOAs, the first one, founded 50 years ago, right on the banks of the Yellowstone River.

Tomorrow morning, the RV gets serviced. Then, hopefully fixed, on to Yellowstone National Park.

Here's some of today's photos

The Open Mike RV Tour West: The Black Hills are Turning Red 3
See George Washington peeking out high above the left side of my Roadtrek?
The Open Mike RV Tour West: The Black Hills are Turning Red 4
The boys of Mt. Rushmore


The Open Mike RV Tour West: The Black Hills are Turning Red 5
The start of the Crazy Horse Monument


Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.


  • A lot of information and help you can get from “ Sprinter Forum”

    In emergency situation contact to Andy ( Nick “Doctor A” or “abittenbinder” on Sprinter Forum )
    His advices very often very helpful
    Andy’s Ph # 412 366 6165
    Good Luck

  • Hope nothing too major is going on out there, Mike! Great photos and great commentary.

    Hoping to build a helpful, adventurous community with my project, too. Yours seems to have really come in handy 🙂

    Good luck on the rest of your travels. I’ll be following along!

  • It’s sad to see all those beautiful majestic trees being destroyed by one little bug. That is why it is so important people do not move wood from one location to another. It’s like spreading a virus.

    Enjoy your short stay in Billings and we’ll look forward to future reports.

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