Hi everyone! I just got back from a long vacation. I mean, a really long vacation! We were on gone for 17 days – the longest I’ve ever been gone!! When our family vacation plans started taking shape last fall, it started with one of those ideas – “hey, let’s go camping out west!”. We made a list of the places we had interest in visiting, and stuck some sticky notes on an atlas. We honestly had no idea where some of these places were located – but were pleasantly happy when they turned into a route which appeared to be “doable”. Next, we Googled campsites and figured we’d need 2 nights at pretty much every place. We wanted to camp at national parks, but guess what – those campgrounds take reservations 12 months in advance! We thought it was 6 months, so most every national park was already full. Also, our camper is a bit large, so that also limits which sites we can fit into. But no problem, we found places to stay for all 17 days of our trip and we were set to go.
Here’s the 7 national parks we visited:
- Mount Rushmore
- Bryce Canyon
- Zion National Park
- The Grand Canyon
- Arches National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
I’m happy to report that all of our planning paid off, and we had a great trip! I’m going to be telling you about each of these locations in a separate post, so join me for this recap of our journey across the US. Here’s our travel stats:
Days 1 and 2 were spent driving to Mount Rushmore. I gotta say, there are some long states across the US. Long states that take hours and hours to travel through. South Dakota I’m talking about you! We got a lot of wind through those long barren states too, and it made for challenging driving. I say that as a passenger though, because Alan did ALL of the driving! Yes, ALL of it. He’s the best 🙂
Night 1 was on the road, and we stopped to sleep at Walmart. Did you know they allow campers to camp overnight in their parking lot? Of course we went in to purchase some stuff, so their plan of generating sales worked. We actually slept quite well at Walmart and were all refreshed and ready to go the next morning.
Day 2 involved two fun side trips: Wall Drug and the Corn Palace!
Have you ever heard of Wall Drug? I remember Wall Drug from when I was a kid and we went out West. It’s a big store which started out as a small drug store. They advertise it for hundreds of miles on the expressway! It’s got all sorts of things, mostly all souvenirs and food. We all got our picture taken on the Jackalope. They really do exist!
The Corn Palace was recommended by my Dad. I guess we also visited this when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it. The building is decorated with corn (and other grain products) all around the outside. It’s quite elaborate and detailed.
We bought a corn stalk to remember our visit there. It’s a metal art sculpture. Fun, right?
Mount Rushmore: Beautiful, inspiring, memorable
- Miles hiked: 1.5
Finally we arrived at Mount Rushmore. We were actually a day ahead of schedule, so we booked another night at our first campground. Luckily they had room for us! We camped at the Rafter J Bar Ranch RV Resort in South Dakota. It was really nice! Since it was a private campground we had full hookups. For those of you who don’t camp, that means we had not only electricity, but also water and sewer hookup. That means you could use as much electric as we wanted (hair dryer, microwave, air conditioner), run the water (showers, washing dishes), and flush the toilet all we wanted! (Hooray for all of that!!). In the past we have only had electric hookups, which are pretty good on it’s own, but having water and sewer hookups just raise the enjoyment level of camping I think. Plus no stopping at the dump station on the way out of the campground. But that stinky work is Alan’s job too, but trust me, he appreciates the sewer hookup.
Wind Cave National Park / Custer State Park
- Miles hiked: 2.7
An extra day at this area allowed us to check out the Wind Cave National Park. OMG, they had prairie dog colonies at this park!! I can’t even express how cute those little critters are. They would pop their heads up out of the holes and chatter at us.
We took our first hike of this vacation. It was quite memorable because along our route we had a visitor. A huge bison smack dab in the middle of our trail. Sure, these creatures look big and clunky, but they can run up to 35 miles an hour. Not to mention they would do some serious harm to any humans if provoked, so we make the wise decision to make a very large path around him and let him enjoy his day as we took pictures.
We chilled out on our first night camping. Made a fire, played some games.
Day 3 we were up bright and early for a run! Alan and I ran 5 miles on a really nice multipurpose trail they had in town. Yeah running!
Then we went to Mount Rushmore. It is so unreal to just see the “faces” carved on a huge mountain! I mean, we’ve all seen the pictures, but to see it right there in front of you was really cool and unbelievable!
There was a short trail around the monument, so we got to see the carvings from all different angles.
We also checked out the Crazy Horse monument (from afar, because we were too cheap to pay). It is going to be huge when it’s completed. However, they have been working on it since 1947. It is privately funded, so it’s taking a long time.
In the evening they had a presentation about the creation of the Mount Rushmore monument, and the reasons those presidents were chosen. I found it very moving. May have been a tear in my eye at the end. Just saying.
Next stop: Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone, Montana.
I’ll include Day 4 on this post to, because it was spent driving to Yellowstone. Funny thing about our plans – everything seemed to take either 8 hours or 12 hours to get to. Sure, the Google Maps said “6 hour drive time”, but that really was closer to 8 or more due to towing the camper. I never factored that into our plan! We arrived in the dark at Yellowstone. The fact that we were right on the edge of the park made up for the lack of privacy in this next campground (as shown below…)!
Stop back again to follow our trip… or subscribe to my blog. It’s a link on the right side!
Q: Have you ever heard of Wall Drug or visited it?
Q: Have you ever been to Mount Rushmore?
Q: Ever seen a prairie dog community??