July 18 and 19th

Saturday, Nick made pancakes for breakfast. He had to make them on the stove in the cast iron skillet instead of on the griddle we used to have at home, but he did pretty well!

We cleaned up, did laundry, and started to get ready to move Sunday morning. We had a 9.5+ drive ahead of us. I had bought the kids Radical Road Trip* before we left Ohio, so I pulled that out for them to play on Sunday.

Once we got a lot of things situated and the sky got darker, Ben and I went out to the field to watch the stars. They were certainly pretty. There was still a lot of ambient light from the other RV’s and campground, so no Milky Way sighting yet. I’m hoping to see it at least once on this trip.

Sunday was move day. We woke really early and had a gorgeous pink sunrise. We missed most of the rain, although we did get a little bit. The drive was pretty uneventful, even with the scenery. More wide open spaces (It’s amazing how much nothingness is in the middle of the country. So much wide open land), mixed with cows, farms, and train tracks. Wyoming had a few oil derricks and Montana came in with oil processing and lots of train tracks.

As we got closer to Yellowstone, Montana started changing from an industrial type of look to the wide open skies and landscape I was expecting. There are so many creeks and rivers winding through the land here, it makes for some really nice viewing.

Montana is requiring face masks be worn by everyone (over the age of 5, I think). It makes it so much less stressful going out. Although, the rule seems to be for indoor use, so outside it is still hit and miss, but much more people are wearing them here even outside.

We got to our campground and had a challenging time parking. The spots are a little tight and you have to backup into them weirdly. It caused a bunch of stress. Ben finally took over and got it parked. We were not happy with each other when we were done. Still need some work on backing this RV up. I would love to only have pull through spots, but sometimes they are not available. We do have an amazing view out our back window though of the Yellowstone River. We’ve seen mule deer, a hawk, and several groups of rafters floating down the river. The campground is about 1 mile from the North Entrance of Yellowstone Park, so really convenient to both the local town for shopping and for exploring.

We drove around town and saw our first animal sighting. Elk, I think. They were just hanging out near town on the school sports field! Ben actually got to finally see a group of animals. The boys and I see them and when we go back out later with Ben, he only sees 1 or 2 (total, not even groups)!

~Sarah

*Affiliate link.

Posted in: Sightseeing

July 17: Dinosaurs and Burgers

Today was a play around day, nothing too strenuous. I looked up some more quirky things to see near Rapid City, SD. (Rapid City because it was a bigger town close to the campground (40 minutes away) and had a Walmart for groceries.)

First stop: World’s Largest Quarter-Pounder outside a Rapid City McDonald’s. Of course, we had to get quarter pounders to pose with it! It’s been years since I’ve had McDonald’s burgers.

What the inscription means per Google translate box

Tire Man: A man made of red, white and blue painted tires at a car shop. This was just a quick stop, jump in and out for the picture.

Dinosaur Park (free). This isn’t a huge park, although it is on top of a hill and there are some steps. The park also has a visitor center, but we didn’t go in. The dinosaurs are made from concrete. There are still signs labeling the dinosaurs, but some of them were hard to read. The park was made in 1936. The boys got a kick out of seeing the dinosaurs.

More of the Will and Large Objects series.

Before heading to get groceries, we stopped at Mostly Chocolates, a drive through coffee and chocolate menu! How could you go wrong? I got a mocha and dark chocolate pecan caramels.

We stopped for groceries. It’s always a challenge to go grocery shopping. There are signs in South Dakota “recommending” wearing masks, but very few people are. The grocery store is normally a big grocery game of frogger. Today was really bad, so we actually left before we bought everything we wanted.

Posted in: Campground Review

Rafter J Bar Ranch Campground: Campground Review

For our week in South Dakota (for Mount Rushmore), we stayed at the Rafter J Bar Ranch.

They offer full hookups, RV and tent camping, and cabin rentals. There is swimming pool, bathhouses (open!), laundry facilities (washer and dryer by quarters), a small store, and a pancake breakfast (for a fee, Monday-Thursday, Memorial Day to Labor Day). Unfortunately, when we went to reserve a spot for the pancakes, we were told they were not doing them this year due to Covid-19.

It is a beautiful campground and seems well maintained. RV spots are pull through or back in and are on gravel spaces. A lot of the spots are in the shade. It is really well spaced out so you don’t feel cramped in. The beginning drive is paved and has street lights lining it. They do (as of our booking) take a discount for Good Sam members.

It backs into The Black Hills National Forrest for hiking activities.

It is a bit of a drive to get to other places. There is the small town of Hill City about 10-15 minutes drive and a Walmart about 30-40 minutes away. Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse Memorial are 20-30 minutes away.

The laundry room closest to our camp site had 3 washers (although one was broken), which costs $3.00 to do a load of laundry. They were regular sized washers. The driers (there were 2) were much larger and cost $0.25 initially. I think each load of our laundry used about 2 quarters to dry (on medium heat).

The pool was a nice size and there were tables with umbrellas. The camp store had souvenirs, beer, ice, basic camping and first aid supplies, and ice cream sandwiches! There is also a small parking area just for pool parking, if you are in a further away camp spot and want to drive up.

I felt very happy with our campground selection . If we would ever come back to this area again, I would definitely stay here! Everything was well maintained and we didn’t feel crowded. When we drive around and see other campgrounds where they are packed in like sardines, I am so grateful we found this site.

The boys made a video tour of the campground, if you would like to see it.

~Sarah

SUMMARY OF CAMPGROUND:

Our rating: 4 out of 5 hitches

Cell Phone Reception: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile

WiFi: Yes

Laundry: Yes

Bathrooms/Showers: Yes

RV Sites: Pull Through, Back-in

Pop Up Tents/Gazebos On-Site: Yes

Amenities: picnic table, fire pit/grill, playground, volleyball and basketball

Cabins: Yes

Tent Camping: Yes

Full Hook-ups: Yes. There are 30 and 50 amp sites.

Pool: Yes

Food On-Site: Camp store, pancake breakfast suspended due to Covid

Camp store: Yes

Fishing: Yes, need license

Posted in: Sightseeing

June 16: Laundry, Swimming, S’mores, (more) Injuries, Candyland, and the Way Too Long Car Ride

Nick and I went to do laundry again. He brought his math workbook and a deck of cards to keep busy. When we drove back down to the RV, we saw the swimming pool was empty for once! We rushed back home and the boys changed into swim clothes. I gotta say, the background scenery for the pool is pretty amazing.

Nick had a great time, but Will was worried about getting his bandages wet so he didn’t go in. Once it started to get crowded, we left. On our way out, we grabbed some ice cream sandwiches from the campground store. (I also finally found the Y water connector in the store! Every Walmart we have been to have been out of them.)

Ben and the boys got a fire started and we roasted some s’mores. Ben made an amazing dinner over the coals. The boys took off riding bikes. Nick went down the small hill next to our camping spot. It seemed to be going well as he gained speed and his joyous “Yoohoo!” could be heard. Then he tumbled over the handle bars and fell. I was watching and still don’t really know how he fell. My guess is the tire caught on a rock when he went into the grass or he needs to learn more about front brakes. Luckily he had his helmet on and landed on the grass. So now his face is scratched up, he busted both lips, has a few scrapes on his legs. His two front teeth are sore, so we are keeping to soft foods.

To keep his attention off of his injuries, we took them to Candyland. It’s a big candy store nearby that they had been wanting to go to. They had all kinds of candy: chocolates, gummies, ice cream… Nick got an ice cream and Will got Sour Dots.

Afterwards, we drove up to Custer State Park so Ben could see the buffalo in person. It’s only about a 20 minute drive from the campground. We saw the begging burros, and only 2 buffalo (1 from far away). Two! I have no idea where the herds went that we saw just a few days ago. We also saw a pronghorn and some deer, but no prairie dogs. One of the deer just gave us a look like “What are you looking at? I’m eating here.”

The drive home took an hour! We went a different way home, not really sure why Waze sent us that way. We went through switchbacks, the pigtail bridges, and three more rock tunnels. It was gorgeous scenery, just not expecting it to take that long!

Driving down one of the pigtail bridges in Custer State Park.

~Sarah

Posted in: Injuries, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

July 15: Injuries and Deadwood

The boys began the morning with riding their bikes. It’s been nice and cool in the mornings, low 50’s! We even turned the fireplace on. When we bought the RV, we thought we would never use it.

Will is not used to riding on gravel yet, or switching from grass to gravel, or something, because he took a rather large fall. He scrapped off a bunch of skin from his elbow, some from his hands. It’s rather large and took awhile to stop bleeding. Second day of new bikes. Seriously?! He is healing rather well, although the largest scrape is going to take awhile.

I applied window tint to the passenger window in the truck. The goal was to do both the driver and passenger because the sun can be intense when you are driving all day. After 4 attempts and out of tint film, I only got the passenger side done. It was extremely frustrating. The wind kept blowing, the film ripped twice while I was trying to smooth it out, and I couldn’t get rid of all the air bubbles. I’m done. Not doing the other window. It took hours, and it doesn’t even look good. It will keep Ben from burning in that seat, but that’s about all the positive I can say for it. It took the whole morning.

Before and After

So, after Ben was done with work, we were all ready to do something fun. Now, if you know Ben, you know he has horrible taste in movies and loves any kind of Western. (Just kidding, kind of. He really will watch almost any Western.) We decided to go see Deadwood. It was about an hour from our campsite.

I think we all had high expectations for poor Deadwood. It did not really live up to them. It was very touristy, not very kid friendly, and definitely relied on the famous names of the time to label everything. Main Street was cobblestone and there were a few historic buildings: the Franklin Hotel (great upper balcony), Salon No. 10 where Wild Bill Hickok was shot, and a few others seemed like they were older/original buildings. Most of the attractions seemed to be mini casinos and bars. There is a free gun show on Main Street daily (not Sunday) that was fun to see. The boys got a kick out of it. There is another show of the capture of Jack McCall, but you need to buy tickets for that one.

A lot of places seemed to close at 5:00pm. We missed seeing the Adams Museum, which included Potato Creek Johnny’s gold nugget that we had heard about at Buffalo Ridge 1880 Cowboy Town. There are trolley and horse drawn wagon rides as well.

One of my favorite finds in Deadwood was the Pump House. It is an old gas station that has been converted into a coffee house and glass blowing studio. The pieces on display were amazing. We arrived five minutes before closing (also 5:00pm), but they made us coffee anyway. She was extremely nice. We sat on the patio and enjoyed our drinks. I would definitely check this place out! The coffee and scone were tasty and the building is unique and adorable. I loved it and wished we could have spent more time there. It looks like you would be able to watch the glass blowing, which would be interesting to see.

There is a ton of history there, which I hope they incorporate more. Ben I think was very disappointed. He loves watching crappy Westerns and had high hopes for Deadwood. I would love for it be more historical and less cheesy/easy road. I love Gatlinburg for a lot of reasons, but Deadwood reminded me of a small Gatlinburg main street: a lot of bling, but not a lot of substance.

We took a couple of videos of Deadwood!

Walking Down Main Street

The Main Street Shootout

Posted in: National Parks, Sightseeing

Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial

Another busy day!

This morning began with laundry. And of course I forgot to grab Ben’s clothes from yesterday’s incident to wash. Guess what I’m doing tomorrow?

After Ben was done with work, we ventured out into the world again. The campground is pretty peaceful, so it’s a big change going into town. This time we went to see Mount Rushmore. (This was Nick’s pick of stops for the trip.) It wasn’t too far from our campground.

Entry is free, although they charge $10 (for cars, etc.) to park. They did have some larger spots available for RVs, although I can’t imagine driving on some of the turns!

It was neat to see. We took the Presidential Trail (a lot of stairs but did have different platforms to stop at) and the Sculptor’s Studio and saw it from a few different angles. We could see black scorch marks on some of the trees, so there must have been a fire there at some point. I think Ben’s favorite part was the glasses on Roosevelt. There are several different viewing points if you move over to the studio or trail. It was kind of neat to see the faces from different angles.

The boys thought it would be much bigger, since in all the pictures it looks huge because they have zoomed in a lot when taking the photo.

Ok…we have boys. We had to do this picture! 😂

Crazy Horse memorial was about a half hour away, so we decided to stop there as well. Entrance here was $30/car. It was neat to see, although if you wanted to see it closer, it was at least another $125 (I think per person). It will look amazing when it is done. It is much bigger than Mount Rushmore. I do wish there was another angle that your $30 admission could show you. It was pretty much just the profile, which is neat, but I wish we could have seen at least the front as well to see more details.

We once again admired the crazy scenery. There were gigantic rocks just jutting forth from the mountain side. It was amazing and awe provoking. (At least to us adults. The kids were not as impressed with scenery.)

Our trip out ended with us stopping to get some groceries at a small grocery store in Hill City and going home to make dinner.

~Sarah

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

What A Day (July 14, 2020)

Ben had work again this morning. The weather was nice and cool (in the 50s). So I thought the boys and I could go see the Badlands. Waze was acting up, so I used Maps instead. It was about 1-1/2 hour drive. I stopped for diesel when we were maybe 3/4 of the way there. Somehow the fuel pump sprayed me too. I tried using a wipe and water to help get it off my shirt, but I smelled like diesel fuel. I drove with the windows down because I couldn’t stand the smell.

We were getting so close, when we had to turn back. Maps had sent us through a reservation. We were stopped and very politely informed that the tribal council had shut down road access due to COVID-19. She pointed out another way to get to the Badlands, as the North entrance was open. They were very nice and helpful. My prayers are with them during this time.

It was another hour or more on the road to get to the North entrance, so we decided to go to Custer State Park instead. It was $20 for a week pass, or $36 for an annual pass. Since we are only in SD for a week, I ended up getting the week pass. I pulled off into a parking zone where there was no one around and changed out of my shirt into my sweatshirt. I couldn’t take the smell anymore. It was aggravating my eyes. We got back on track and ended up taking the wildlife loop.

It was amazing! We saw so many buffalo, both adults and babies. Will and Nick nicknamed them the B’s and mini-B’s, after the cow nicknames (Moo and Mini-Moo for baby cows). We got to see some males butt heads a couple of times, watch them graze, saw a few run. They came close to the road and even blocked it a few times while crossing to try the grass on the other side.

Cows and calves that we saw a lot of during our drives. We have since renamed them Moos (cows) and Mini-Moos (babies). 🙂
So, of course, the buffalo got renamed B and Mini-B!

We also saw the “begging burros”. The burros are feral (although not afraid of humans and extremely friendly). A group of burros were released to roam free in the park. According to the park booklet, at one point they had been used to move tourists around, but when that ended they were let go to roam free. The pamphlet you get at check in says to give wild animals their space and not to feed them. However, these donkeys/burros were getting ear scratches and eating apples, carrots, Goldfish, Cheez-Its, Cheetos, etc. We did not feed them, but many people were.

There is not a lot of cell service in this part of the area. We tried FaceTiming Ben so he could watch the buffalo graze, but had intermittent luck. I did get some video that he was able to watch later. I have a short video up on the YouTube Channel of the buffalo.

When exiting the park, we turned towards Wind Cave. That was also a pretty drive and we saw a few buffalo, some prairie dogs, and a couple of pronghorn. The prairie dogs are so easy to miss! Look for a flat plain type of area with dirt mounds. They just blended in so well that it is easy to miss them as you are driving by.

We drove back to the RV and picked up Ben. We headed to Sylvan Lake to take a hike. We drove on the Sylvan Lake Road/Hood Tunnel/Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. Definitely not a RV road! It has many switchbacks and a rock tunnel! It was really cool.

Sylvan Lake also offers lodging and has gorgeous views. The lake is amazing and there are several trails nearby. The rock formations are incredible, especially against the blue sky backdrop we had today. We did some climbing, which the boys loved! I did okay, but was much slower than everyone else in the family. It was just a really neat hike.

We headed towards Walmart to return the scooters. They were just too small for the boys. Ben caved and got them bikes, which they were thrilled about. There isn’t a ton to do in the campground while social distancing. We still want to go to the pool, but it’s been busy. We also got dinner at Pizza Ranch. The boys were amazed there was such a thing as a pizza buffet. It wasn’t crowded yet, so YAY for food and social distancing! The final stop for the day was to drop some postcards off at the post office.

Posted in: Newbie Mistakes

Moving and Exploring Again Day 3 (June 12, 2020)!

Sunday, fun day! Well…a little bit of fun mixed in with a lot of driving.

Tonight as I am writing this, I am exhausted. It was a long day of driving, with some tourist stops thrown in. I got a few blog posts started tonight as well. I had made notes, but hadn’t had a chance to sit down and write things out for posting until now.

Another early morning travel day, this time we finished up heading towards Mt. Rushmore. We had things mostly packed last night and were just going to empty the fresh water tanks (since we would have full hookups) and the black and grey tanks. The black tank valve handle had been in the same position since we bought it. It could be pulled open, but not shut any further, so we thought that was the closed position. Nope. Big stinky nope. Poor Ben. He got sprayed with the black tank before managing to somehow get the valve actually shut all the way. We had the water hose out, so he could spray down and change clothes, but what a shitty start to the day. (Pun intended.)

After cleaning up the area and Ben, we were finally on our way. We had lots of hours of driving to get in so we could arrive at our next stop. The whole point of this trip is to learn and to see things we haven’t seen before, so we did make a couple of stops along the way.

Our first touristy stop was at the Corn Palace. Yes, you read that right. The Corn Palace. It’s another quirky place we found online. It has an interesting history, with American entrepreneurial spirit behind it. Today, it is a permanent building in the downtown of this small town and is decorated each year with a new design. The decoration is made out of corn! Different colors of dried corn are used to create patterns and murals. It was rather busy on the inside (again with limited mask wearing), so we mostly admired the outside. There is a video presentation, but with so many people crowding around, we didn’t stay to watch it.

https://cornpalace.com/

Among our hours and hours of driving, we had seen signs for Wall Drug. (I think we started seeing signs in Iowa.) We had seen probably a hundred signs?! They ranged from banal (Wall Drug ahead) to outrageous (YOLO Wall Drug). In a testament to the tough character of the people of South Dakota, Wall Drug’s marketing never stopped. For literally hundreds of miles in either direction, they broke up the somewhat boring drive with focused, fairly low cost advertising. Along with being funny, you just have to respect the tenacity.

It turned out Wall Drug was on our way to the next campground. So, another win for Wall Drug advertising. We decided to stop and we were glad we did.

It was crazy! We tried to see as much as we could in an hour, but we probably could have spent the better part of a day there. There were a bunch of little shops (bookstores, camping supplies, fudge, ice cream, cafe, souvenir, etc.), a chapel, a splash pad…There was free water near the splash pad, a tribute going back to when the store offered free ice water to travelers in the 30’s. It wasn’t ice cold, but it was cool. We bought some donuts and a slice of cherry pie to share. We also tried the $0.05 coffee. It was actually good coffee! Ben liked it so much, he bought another cup. 🙂

http://www.walldrug.com/

We took a quick video of a walk through at Wall Drug that you can see on our YouTube channel here. https://youtu.be/ZM6fYTvHo2E

RVer NOTE: Stop for gas before the Wall exit if you have a larger RV and/or are towing and need to refuel. There were two gas stations right near the highway exit/entrance, but neither were set up for larger vehicles. The next exit had 1 broken diesel pump. Finally at exits 60 or 61, we found diesel and spaces large enough for us.

We got to see part of the Badlands on our drive. The change in scenery was amazing and beautiful. Ben and I were talking about the settlers who came through. To get all the way there and see just more vast open space, somebody must have just said “Nope. I’m done. Not going anymore.” The sheer amount of openness is daunting to think about crossing on a horse or on foot.

We checked into our campground and Ben finally got to put up his netted pop-up room/clam shell/tent. We got situated, set up, and ready to relax. Our spot is great. It has an amazing view of the mountains and it’s nicely shaded. The laundry room isn’t too far and the pool is open. The boys are excited to go swimming.

~Sarah

Day 2 Of Travel

On to our next stop! (June 10, 2020)

Most of the truckers that had also used the casino’s overnight parking last night were gone by the time we left. Let me tell you something; I feel huge when we are driving and towing the RV. However, when we pull into a gas station with truck pumps or park next a semi truck, I feel a little small.

We started early again to get the most of our day. We had left the slides in and everything put away for the one night, so we had much less to do in order to leave. We hadn’t even unhooked the RV from the truck. Our next stop was also in Iowa, although right near the South Dakota border. It was another casino, Grand Falls Casino. This one had an RV park with full hook ups for $35/night. We also had access to their outdoor pool.

It was pretty standard driving, no sudden storms this time. There was some construction, but nothing eventful. We did see lots of windmills and water towers. One water tower was even painted yellow and had a smiley face on it! We found a pay phone at a rest stop in Iowa. Seriously! Blue frame and all. We became card carrying rewards members of Kum & Go.

Once we arrived at our destination, I had to go into the hotel check-in desk to get the key to the electric box and our designated spot assignment. We also got the wristbands for the pool. The campground was all pull through spots, with full hookups. The RV park was towards the side of the property (road behind us and the driving range in front of us).

We grabbed some dinner, and this time it was pretty much what I expected. I did get to make a nice salad though!

The boys enjoyed the pool for a few minutes before it got too crowded and we left. We have noticed that not very many people are wearing masks in Iowa or South Dakota. There are signs “recommending” wearing masks, but nothing requiring people to wear them. We are one of the few, other than employees, and we are still trying to maintain a social/physical distance. The night ended with the boys filling in our travel map*. We have one on the kitchen wall and one in their room for them to fill out. (Thank you Denny & Gabe for the map, the boys love coloring in where they’ve been!)

Saturday we explored the area a little bit and went to the pool again in the evening.

We began Saturday morning with getting bagels from Bagel Boy. They were pretty good (and reasonably priced when compared to back home).

Will really wanted to see some oddities/quirkiness on this trip (things like the biggest ball of twine). We checked on AtlasObscura.com and RoadsideAmerica.com and found a few options. After seeing how far they were from us, we decided on Mr. Bendo, a large statue holding a tailpipe outside of a muffler shop. He was pretty large! According to roadsideamerica.com, in 2018 the city said he could no longer hold his tailpipe, as it acted as a sign for the business and was too tall. When the city’s people heard about it, they were upset and got the city to reverse their decision. Since it had not been considered a sign when it first began in the 60’s, they said it was a work of art instead.

Our next stop for the day was extremely out there. We went to Buffalo Ridge 1880 Cowboy Town. This one was definitely an experience. It was out in the hillsides, and this man has created quite the livelihood. He was very nice as he showed us around. He had a two pump gas station, a souvenir shop, the cowboy town, buffalo (also sold buffalo hides, skulls, and burgers), had several billboards on his land (both for rent and to advertise the cowboy town), and offered overnight parking. What an entrepreneur!

The town consisted of several buildings/exhibits: a gold mine, antique farming equipment, a saloon, a sheriff’s office, etc. There is an upper walkway so you can view the town as well. The other option to get a bird’s eye view is to climb the tower. You can see the buffalo herd sometimes from here as well.

The town had many hand-painted signs explaining what each exhibit is about. There are mannequins in each location, some of them are animatronic and speak or move. It was certainly an experience! The town is a little run down. It is a huge undertaking for one person. He also said he is still cleaning up some tornado damage from a few years ago.

Some of the robots still work, although they are a little worn. The town does sit out in all of the elements, so there is some weathering to the paint, wood boards, signs, the mannequins and their clothes. Some areas smelled a little musty, so I didn’t stay in there too long with my allergies. You could tell that a lot of work had gone into making the town, although I’m not sure exactly how historically accurate some of the information was.

I would definitely stop and check it out if you like finding oddities and things off the beaten path. When we went it was $8/adult (12+) and $4/kids. We did a quick video of some of the exhibits, if you want to check it out!

*Affiliate link