Our Plan and Goals
The Captain and I embarked on a monumental road trip the day after Labor Day, September 6, 2016. Our goal is to take our RV out to Palm Springs, California. We are taking the northern scenic route and visiting as many National Parks on my list as possible.
Our plan the first week was to get to South Dakota, as we have already covered the East Coast and much of the Midwest.
We traded in the 26’ travel trailer for a 39’ 5th wheel toy hauler after the Captain decided he liked the RV lifestyle enough to invest in a unit that was more comfortable to live in for more than a week or two. The Captain enjoys towing a fifth wheel much more than a travel trailer because the fifth wheel is connected inside the bed of the pick-up truck, and is more secure than towing a unit behind you. (I don’t drive at all, that’s the Captain’s job, and he is more comfortable doing all the driving. I don’t mind, I get to journal our travels, draw, paint, watch movies, etc.)
The reason we selected a 5th wheel toy hauler over another model, was because we wanted to bring our scooters and bicycles with us. The “garage” part is 10’ and has a ramp that comes down to easily access the toys and the ramp then converts into a patio.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to do a trial run with the 5th wheel at a campground close to home before it was time to embark on the big trip.
Meal Planning on the Road
Another goal is to avoid fast food on this trip as much as possible. I went grocery shopping the day before we left and stocked up on healthy options, and I pack a lunch for the day in a cooler before we leave each day. I am also cooking more on this trip, keeping it simple and nutritious. For example, I buy those pre-packaged salads from the grocery store, and will have that for dinner along with a baked chicken breast, or if I want a sweet potato, I’ll only eat half of the salad.
I will admit, it is really hard to eat healthy on the road. There are lots of temptations; however, I just handle one temptation at a time.
Places We Visited This Week:
Great Stop on the Ohio Turnpike
One place worth mentioning is the Blue Heron Service Plaza on the Ohio Turnpike Westbound at mile marker 77. There are 10 pull thru spots for RVs that have electric. It costs $20 for the night, and maximum size RV is 40 feet. That’s where we stopped the first night. We didn’t unhook the 5th wheel. We got something to eat, went to bed, and got up early the next morning and were back on the interstate by 7:00 a.m.
Peoria is Where I Discovered Hy-Vee 🙂
We made a stop in Peoria, Illinois and stayed at Jubilee College State Park, which is a very nice park, except it had rained A LOT recently, and the sites were in the grass, and ours was on a bit of a downward incline. I was worried we were going to get stuck in the mud, but luckily, the Captain knows what he is doing.
I also discovered an awesome grocery store while in Peoria, Hy-Vee. The store had everything, an excellent selection of wine and spirits, cut flowers, all of the things you’d except from an upscale grocery store, and there was even a full service restaurant in the store, and was totally separate with its own entrance. If I had been hungry, I would have eaten in the restaurant and provided a review here. The store was huge, and seemed to go on forever. I could have easily spent a couple of hours there.
The World’s Largest Truck Stop
From Peoria, we continued west through Iowa, and of course, stopped at The World’s Largest Truck Stop, Iowa 80 Truckstop. Everything a trucker would need or could want for his or her rig or for themselves was for sale inside the store, including a movie theater, a dentist, and a barber shop. There was also a lot of other stuff for sale for the rest of us non-truckers, shoes, clothing, gift items, a full service restaurant, plus gas and convenience items, like at any other truck stop.
Westward Ho onto Nebraska
The Captain and I had never been to Nebraska, so it was a logical decision to continue on through the Cornhusker State. We stopped for the night at Ponca State Park, located in the Missouri River bluffs, and is the entrance way for the 59-mile portion of the Missouri National Recreational River. The camping sites were paved, with plenty of space between sites, and several pull-through sites with 50-amp electricity. The restrooms were clean, and well stocked. The park also has cabins for rent. We were only there overnight, however, the park has a lot to offer those looking for river access, wildlife viewing, photography, camping, picnicking, hiking and relaxing.
Corn Palace, Mitchell South Dakota
The murals that cover the exterior of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, are all made out of corn: different colored corn kernels, stalks, hay and straw. Each year, a different theme is designed by a local artist. This year’s theme is “Rock of Ages.” There are murals featuring Elvis, Willie Nelson and Michael Jackson among others. The murals are changed out in August/September when the crops become available. It takes 20 workers to change out the murals. The Corn Palace is worth stopping by to see when you stop for gas and need to stretch your legs. It only takes about 10-15 minutes and is fascinating to see the detail that goes into creating these stunning murals made out of corn.
Wall Drug, Wall South Dakota
We spent two nights in Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drug Store (the South of the Border of the Mid-west) and gateway to Badlands National Park. We settled into Arrow Campground, an average campground, with gravel sites close together, and the restrooms and bathhouse need updating; however, they were clean and convenient to Wall Drug and Badlands National Park. We didn’t spend much time at the campground. Wall Drug is a complex of stores and restaurants offering a variety of gift items from Minnetonka shoes and t-shirts, to key chains and the downright strange: the “jackalope,” (a stuffed rabbit with deer antlers.) They advertise homemade donuts, and free ice water, which they have been offering since 1936. They also have a museum with old photos, and other memorabilia documenting the history of Wall and the Badlands. Wall Drug is definitely worth a stop to stretch your legs and indulge in a homemade donut.
Badlands National Park
Every national park has its own sense of beauty and awe. I first visited Badlands National Park several years ago, and I was glad to have an opportunity to return and visit its rugged beauty once again. The park encompasses 244,000 acres of mixed grass prairie, and geologic deposits that contain fossils of ancient species such as the rhino, horse, and saber toothed cat that once roamed here. The prairie is home to bison, bighorn sheep and those adorable prairie dogs. There is a scenic drive that covers a good portion of the park. There are also ample hiking trails throughout the park. Primitive camping is also available.
Wind Cave is approximately 96 miles from Badlands National Park. We attempted to get to Wind Cave on the same day as we went to Badlands, however, due to errors made by the navigator (me), we ended up all turned around, and ran out of time. We stopped in Scenic, and found the remnants of a once active town. I couldn’t find much about the town’s history on the Internet.
Wind Cave National Park
We finally made it to Wind Cave the day after we visited Badlands, which was a good move. Wind Cave also operates tours at specific times and that is the only way to see the cave. There are no self-guided tours, so plan accordingly. We showed up on a Monday in September, and the 11:30 a.m. tour was sold out, so I had to wait, and fortunately, another tour was available at noon. My advice would be to get there early and take one of the first tours offered in the morning. Tours begin around 8 a.m. Tour length varies depending upon which tour you take. I took the Natural Entrance Tour, which was considered a moderate activity tour with some steps, and lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Tours vary according to season, so check the National Park Service website for Wind Cave for tour times. Wind Cave and is also in close proximity to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. If you are traveling to the area, all of these attractions are worth a visit.
Camping in the Badlands of South Dakota
If I had it to do over, I would have booked a site in Custer State Park. There are multiple campgrounds located within the park’s boundaries. Because of the debacle with attempting to get to Wind Cave, we ended up spending one night at the KOA in Rapid City, which is one of the nicest campgrounds I’ve ever stayed in. The bathrooms and showers were immaculate, as was the on-site laundry facilities. The laundry room even provided an ironing board and iron for guests to use. Each morning, you can get all you can eat pancakes for $2.99. Rapid City also has lots of restaurants, grocery stores, and a Walmart Supercenter. Also, many of the campgrounds in the Badlands close for the season after September 30, and remain closed until the beginning of April. Plan accordingly, and check to make sure the campground will be open when you plan to visit. Also, summer is peak season, and advance reservations are a must, especially in Custer State Park.