Camping with High Water and Mayflies

We're at the Cottonwood COE (Corps. of Engineers) campground just outside Yankton, South Dakota. We arrived about 3pm yesterday. This campground was built as part of the Gavins Point Dam project in the 1950's and is just one of many around the dam and the resulting impoundment -- Lewis and Clark lake. Of the two campgrounds being operated by the COE only this one is open as the other, Tailwaters, is still under a few feet of high water... part of the ongoing saga of the big Missouri River Flood of 2011.

And speaking of high water, the COE is still "spilling" 150,000 cubic feet of Missouri River water through the Gavins Point spillway. Although the crest of the 2011 flood occurred some weeks ago, it's August and they've got to start lowering the reservoirs to prepare for next years runoff. It's impressive indeed... to stand next to the spillway and watch all that water violently churning as it speeds downriver. We made a short video (click here) for anyone who'd like to see it.


There are 6 dams on the main stem of the Upper Missouri River built to minimize flooding, produce electric power, and provide recreation opportunities for surrounding residents. This is the fourth one we've camped at (Fort Peck, Garrison, Oahe, and now Gavins Point).

We had decided not to come over here for last weekend... concerned after checking online that the campgrounds were full. Indeed, the internet reservation system indicated as much, and a phone call to the COE confirmed it... at least for the one campground they operate. All together, State and Federal, South Dakota side and Nebraska side, there must be almost 1000 campsites around the dam and lake... it's a very popular vacation spot. But if they were as booked-up as they seemed to indicate, the stream of campers leaving yesterday morning must have been almost as impressive as the water coming over the spillway. At least two State of South Dakota operated campgrounds we drove through after setting up camp... both very nice and would easily accommodate the big ol' bus-house... were virtually empty by 5pm.


I was also a little put off by the thought of crowds (a thousand campsites could mean a thousand campfires, thousands of kids, dogs, drinkers, cars, bikes, late parties, and more). Since we weren't here over the weekend, I can't testify to any of that. But today, Monday, it's peaceful and very agreeable.

The one odd thing we did find here was the mayfly. They're everywhere. For some reason swarms of them are attracted to the shady sides of hard surfaces (like campers!!) and cover it like a blanket. So far we've not had enough to freak-out Dar, but I'm standing ready with a dose of Valium and the smelling-salts if she starts to hyperventilate. I don't know why mayflies are blooming in August... perhaps it has something to do with the high water this year. They don't eat anything and don't bite -- don't even have a working mouth or digestive system -- as they only live for one day or less and exist for the sole purpose of reproducing.

Our trip over from Algona yesterday was an enjoyable 200 mile jaunt on mostly two lane roads. Some of those roads were rough, some were narrow, and we did get jostled around some... but we managed and didn't break anything that we're aware of (although, as of this writing, we haven't opened up every cabinet yet... so something could still jump out and crash to the floor).

We think we'll be here until Wednesday before heading toward the setting sun once again.

Oh, and for the record, I have to mention the surprise visit we had the other day, Friday I think it was (we were still in Algona), from my sister Jan and brother-in-law Dave. We had known they were heading to Sioux Falls for their anniversary weekend getaway but had no idea they'd be coming right down US-18 and right through Algona. We were standing in the grocery store at the intersection of 18 and 169 when our phone rang... it was Jan and they were looking for us. Well, by the time we finished checking out they were in the parking lot. Nice surprise!  They joined us for a short visit out at camp before continuing on to SF. Thanks you guys for stopping in and brightening our day. We don't get many visitors from our home town when we're out exploring... ya know. Happy Anniversary to you two. And thanks for the growler.
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