The next leg of our trip took us through South Dakota and two of the state’s biggest sights to see. At this point, the sparkle of the road trip has worn off a little bit and Aaron is starting to get frustrated with the challenges of towing the trailer with his vehicle. Before we purchased the RV, Aaron did a ton of research around his vehicle, towing capabilities and the RV (along with a few other RVs too). There was one little thing that ended being pretty huge in impacting how his BMW X5 tows regardless of the towing capacity and that is the factory air ride. Most vehicles of this make and model come with this option that helps to support the weight of what you’re towing and maintain level ride height. When researching the X5 it appeared as though there would be no issues, however our specific vehicle just happens to be missing this one thing. Instead of having a comfortable ride and smooth steering for our overall driving experience, we have additional lateral and vertical sway. This is fairly common to have when weather, traffic or high speed limits are involved, but this is something we experience on a flat road without inclement weather going 60 mph. The road quality in South Dakota was pretty terrible, so it highlighted our need for a different towing vehicle. I’d say if you’re looking at renting/purchasing an RV, make sure you do extensive research if you have a vehicle that typically isn’t made for towing. Don’t be afraid to go to your dealer or preferred mechanic for a tune up and ask those questions. If they’re unfamiliar with towing specifications they might not have all of the answers and will need to research on their end too, so keep that in mind. From observing the other guests at RV parks, we have confirmed our research and thoughts that trucks are definitely the way to go when towing something that is a few thousand pounds. Aaron has ordered airbags for his vehicle that he’s going to see about installing when we’re visiting family in Chicago since my cousin’s step-brother is a mechanic that specializes in BMW. So fingers crossed!
As a head’s up, I have linked a few of my Amazon Ideas Lists that feature the items we purchased for our towable RV and road trip. If you’re interested in shopping the items that I’ve saved, I really appreciate you checking out the lists as I make a small commission from the items that you decide to purchase. Below is a link to all of my Amazon Idea Lists for essential oil supplies, purchases for the dogs, gluten free finds, etc! A big thank you in advance for supporting me!
Day 8: 7/4/20: Billings, MT – Mt Rushmore/Keystone, SD:
6 hours total travel time and 322 miles (50 minutes longer than Google Maps). Left at 8am MT – arrived at 2pm.
I was sad to leave such a nice RV park this morning, but am excited to see our next couple of stops in South Dakota. We stopped to get gas on the way out of Billings. As we were leaving Billings, we saw antelope off the side of the road and we noticed that Hardin, MT has a KOA. That probably would have been a better stop based on the distance between West Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore is more central, but we loved our KOA last night that we’re okay with a little longer drive today. The drive was probably the roughest leaving Arizona due to traffic and again in Moab due to intense wind, however the drive is starting to get rough again. We are experiencing pretty bad sway around each turn, plus the road quality was terrible through the mid to last part of the drive in Montana and into South Dakota. It was very rough and bumpy, which makes it tough when towing and experiencing sway.
We arrived at our RV camp near Mount Rushmore and it happens to be one of three stops that is not a KOA. The other one was in Jackson, which happened to be the most expensive rates per night and in terms of accommodations it was one of our least favorite. As an average experience, we’d say that we definitely spend less money for better accommodations, cleaner facilities, and maintained spaces at KOA’s than non-KOA RV parks. If we were boondocking or camping in one spot for a weekend I don’t think it would matter as much, but since we’re hooking up to water, electricity, dumping after showers, washing dishes, etc. it is something that we’re valuing more for this specific trip. That being said, we had a pretty poor experience at our RV park in Mount Rushmore, which could be due to a couple reasons – it was fourth of July weekend and Trump was in town the day before for a rally at Mount Rushmore National Monument. We arrived to the RV park a few minutes after the designated check-in time. It was a pretty unorganized check-in process that created traffic and a 20 minute wait at the entrance with the pups in the car after a 6 hour drive. When we were going to be guided to our RV spot, we found that our spot was no longer available all of a sudden due to a dirt pile that needed to be moved, but couldn’t be moved in the short future. The women who checked us in came to the car along with the gentleman who was going to guide us to our spot (neither were wearing masks and the women was leaning into our car through the driver window and petting our dogs) and offered a smaller spot without the ability to dump or to have water. They offered us a $5 refund, which seemed pretty silly once we got to the spot since it was extremely tight, on a slope and didn’t have a table or anything outside to sit or cook at. The gentleman was super helpful when getting us into this tight spot and was able to get us water from a spot nearby. Plus, the view ended up being really pretty since we were up on a mountain that looked over the town and homes. They didn’t have an enclosed area for dogs, but there was a decent sized field that was a dog run and allowed us some space to run around with the dogs on leashes.
Being a holiday and some afternoon storms, we decided to stay in the RV and play Yahtzee. It seemed like most of the RV park guests lined up for fireworks at the edge of the hill. We could see them going off in the distance and it seemed like they were everywhere. It was really neat to see, but they were pretty far away and a crowd started forming so we ended up calling it a night since we knew we were going to have a pretty big day in the morning.
Day 9: 7/5/20: Mt Rushmore – Badlands/Interior, SD:
1 hour and 45 minutes total travel time and 79 miles (23 minutes longer than Google Maps). Left at 9:45am MT – arrived at 11:30am.
We woke up early to head to Mount Rushmore National Park right away. It took us about 20 minutes to drive there from our RV park. There were a ton of billboard signs for other attractions in the area and as soon as we got to the town of Keystone, I realized how fun this area must be during times outside of COVID. There is a cute downtown area with tourist attractions and shops. If I came with my family as a kid I could guarantee we would have spent a couple hours walking around, eating fudge and buying souvenirs. It was so peaceful to drive through so early in the day and I’m sure most places were closed due to the pandemic, but it was fun to imagine what it would have been like.
As we were getting closer to the monument entrance, we could see George Washington’s nose poking out among the trees. The craziest thing was actually how South Dakota seemed so flat or having small rolling hills that I couldn’t image where this rocky mountain would be that the four presidents would be carved into. It’s pretty magical when you turn the corner and see this gorgeous light granite colored rock that sticks out from the deep green pine trees. Then to witness the craft of the artist who carved the rock takes your breath away again. We paid $10 for parking and walked up to the entrance of the monument, however it was fenced off still from the Trump rally two nights prior. We weren’t able to get that close, but got close enough for a couple photos. It was a quick crowd-free visit that was perfect before our day of driving and sight seeing.
Since our visit at Mount Rushmore was so quick, I called our next KOA to see if we could have an early check-in around 11:30am (1.5 hours early). They said they would be ready for us and it’s a $5 charge per hour early. As we got closer to the Badlands National Park, the roads were pretty rough to drive on. A ton of little bumps that felt like speed bumps with our car during an hour long stretch of road. It felt worth it as the views were so unusual and interesting to see. Plus, we pulled into the best RV camp yet! The Badlands KOA was well maintained, leveled spots, full grass, weeds pulled and a giant dog park that we were right next too. The only complaint I can find is that the area has pretty bad bugs, but the KOA actually sprayed overnight at 8pm as long as it wasn’t windy. It actually didn’t seem to be that bad with mosquitos and I actually think it was worse in Billings, MT. However, I did see the shells of some pretty large cicadas hanging around, which grossed me out but didn’t cause any threat.
The weather was pretty humid and hot during the day as we were waiting for predicted thunderstorms, but we wanted to be sure we had enough time to see the Badlands, so we decided to drive around the park (around 3-5:30pm) before the storms were predicted to hit. There are hiking paths throughout the park, but we stuck to the drivable loop instead and jumped out of the car to take photos at several overlooks, which contributed to the heat, but well worth it! We also had the dogs with us since we knew we wouldn’t be leaving the car long enough to turn the AC off. It was an easy drive around the park with great scenic views and wildlife near the north entrances. We saw big horn sheep, prairie dogs and bison. We ended up on the other side of the park in a town called Wall, which felt odd. I’m not sure how else to explain it, but we found a DQ and spoiled our dinner with some ice cream.
The stops we made around the park starting at the Interior Entrance and going left are:
- Castle Trail
- Fossil Exhibit Trail – this was actually closed, but I wanted to mention it because it looked awesome and looked like there was a guided trail
- White River Overlook
- Panorama Point
- Conata Basin Overlook
- Yellow Mounds Overlook
- Pinnacles Overlook
We exited out the Pinnacles Entrance, which is wear we saw the wildlife and it took us to exit 110 at Wall. Then it took us down the 90 and back through the park at exit 131/Northeast Entrance. We saw more wildlife over here and exited where we entered originally at the Interior Entrance. We headed back to camp, had dinner, cleaned up the RV so that we are ready to go as soon as we wake up the next day, and got to bed early.
Day 10: 7/6/20 Badlands – Sioux Falls, SD:
6 hour drive (lost an hour to time change from MT to CT) and 280 miles (2 hours longer than Google Maps). Left at 7:30am MT – arrived at 2:30pm CT. We made one rest stop and one gas stop.
Today is my first day back to work after a week of vacation time. I had a project that I needed to work on during the drive, so I downloaded the spreadsheets I needed as soon as I woke up and checked any important emails and Slack messages just in case we had an issue with internet along the way. Thankfully, I didn’t have an issue with internet at all. I used a MiFi device and it only cut out once for under 5 minutes. The issue that I did come across was my laptop battery life. It seemed like when I was connected to the MiFi device and my programs were running off of WiFi, it used the battery up quicker than normal. Since this drive was fairly long, I used my phone for any Zoom calls since I had a phone charger in the car. Also, I would turn the WiFi off sporadically if I didn’t need it just to keep my battery last longer and my computer lasted just about the entire 6 hour drive. The thing that threw me off was the time change. Later in the afternoon I had some work that involved connecting with my peers, so it ended up being a long day when I finally shut my computer off. Right after we set-up camp it started raining, so there wasn’t much of anything else to do anyway. We did wash our sheets between the spurts of rain that we got and I’ve never slept better! This KOA was also very nice, maintained and clean. We were directly across from the laundry room so it was a sign that on Day 10 we most definitely needed to take some time and wash our sheets! We did three loads and didn’t even spend the full $10 that we converted to quarters. I think it was $2.75 to wash each load and $50 to dry each load for 20 minutes. Aaron ended up going out to grab fast food for dinner and I cooked frozen GF chicken nuggets and crinkle fries in our microwave/convection oven. We didn’t have time to explore the area and Aaron said that he didn’t see much other than a shopping center and a prison, however I have a friend who has family in the area and said that there are some pretty falls nearby.
Day 11: 7/7/20 Sioux Falls – Minnesota – Wisconsin Dells, WI; 7 hour drive and 376 miles (1.5 hours longer than Google Maps). Left at 10am CT – arrived around 5pm.
After having one work day under my belt, I was prepped with the best way to maintain my laptop battery for the pre-planned drive. However about half way through we were at a gas station and Aaron suggested that we keep driving so that our drive tomorrow will be shorter. We planned to stay in Minnesota and to drive through Wisconsin on our way to Illinois the next day. However, the road was so nice that he thought it would make sense to keep going. I ended up taking two calls in the car that I wasn’t planning on and I had little to no connection issues, so that was good! However, Aaron was so sick of my voice after a couple hours of it and not being able to turn the tunes up. Also, video calls on my phone was interesting with all of the bouncing around in the car since it started raining towards the end.
Thankfully the KOA at Wisconsin Dells, WI had availability and it was such a nice change of scenery. It definitely felt like camping there with the tall pine trees surrounding us. Everyone seemed very friendly too. This area is known as a popular vacation spot for families in the midwest since it’s right on the water. We went into the downtown area of Wisconsin Dells to find ice cream and it was packed! There were so many people not wearing masks and not social distancing either. We decided ice cream wasn’t worth it and we went back to camp. We ended up playing a new version of Yahtzee that Aaron made up. He was calling it super Yahtzee, which allowed for a 6th dice that acting like a wild card. You still only count 5 dices, but you have the benefit of choosing the 6th dice if the roll was better. I beat him by over 100 points! Out of 7 games I had only beat him one other time and got my first two Yahtzee’s, so I guess you can say that I liked that version.
Day 12: 7/8/20 Wisconsin Dells – Downers Grove, IL; 3.5 hour drive and 191 miles (40 minutes longer than Google Maps). Left at 9:30am CT (30 minutes behind schedule) – arrived at 1pm.
Today, we woke up and headed to Illinois to stay with my cousin. I was able to finish my work day from her house, but this was the first time that I got car sick while working in the car. I read a 14 page document among other items and had a video conference, so I’m thinking that probably did it for me. Of course, my Motion roller that I made with essential oils was in the trailer so I didn’t have that to comfort me either. I use it religiously on planes because I started developing that car sick feeling while flying and it always works wonders.
Now, we have a couple days at my cousin’s house (days 12-15) and then we’ll be in Ohio for a week following that before heading back home.