Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA Campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors.
We woke up at 6:45am and got back on the road. Why so early? Several reasons: Based on the slower drive times we experienced the past few days, we wanted an early start. I had a couple of fun roadside stops in mind for our kids to enjoy, and we were also planning to visit my family in Sioux Falls.
At this point, the RV’s onboard GPS stated that we would arrive at my family’s farm at 10:45am, but we knew that was not an accurate estimate of our arrival time.
Our RV tour’s scheduled stops for the day included a visit to the Mitchell Corn Palace, an on-your-own lunch, and an ice cream social at the legendary Wall Drug, which my boys were very excited about. Finally, we’d arrive at the Mount Rushmore KOA campground for the night.
We were given the option to go to the Badlands National Park too, as the South Dakota Tourism department had provided each of us with a tourism letter allowing us free admission.
Our last Murphy USA gas station along the entire trip route was one hour north of where we were camped. My husband and I decided that instead of adding two hours’ drive time to the day to go there and back before heading to South Dakota, we would simply pay for our gas and keep the remaining $256.29 balance on the sponsor-provided Murphy TxtPay gas card to use once we got home.
We headed west and stopped in Blue Earth, Minnesota around 8:30am for breakfast at a McDonald’s. (The PR team was providing a bagged breakfast to those who stayed in Austin, Minnesota the night before, but we had camped closer to Minneapolis.) We used some of our grocery budget for a (rather expensive!) $25.92 breakfast at the Golden Arches. That’s what happens when everyone wanted the $5 “Big Breakfast,” I guess! But it was good, quick, and allowed us to get to our next destination just a couple of blocks away…
Green Giant Park. How can you drive through Blue Earth and not stop for a photo with the Jolly Green Giant? There are stairs leading up to the statue’s base — perfect for a photo op.
A few minutes later we were back in the RV heading west. We encountered high winds while we were driving which forced us to drive much more slowly than we would have liked. Around 10:30am we stopped for gas and put another $75.00 into the tank. While we were filling up, I checked in with our blogger Facebook group and noted that the Wall Drug ice cream social had been cancelled.
Wall Drug was concerned that we would all not be there at the same scheduled time (4:00pm) for the social, so Wall Drug would be providing gift bags to each blogger instead. Our PR team let us know that if anyone did not make it to the social, they’d pick the bags up and give them to each of us at the campground later tonight.
At 12:05 we reached Luverne, Minnesota, a tiny little town noteworthy for its tiny little church — one of the smallest churches in the United States! I love little roadside attractions like this, and I remember my mom and dad taking me to visit it on a past road trip. It’s just two miles off the interstate — and it’s amazing what you remember from road-tripping with your parents, isn’t it? Without the help of a map or the Internet, and simply relying on my “I know it’s in this town, and I think it’s this way” intuition, we arrived at Wayside Chapel in Luverne.
This church was built in 1963 and has been open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week ever since. It was the perfect place for a driving break and a family prayer. My husband and kids were in awe of the beautiful details in this tiny little chapel – stained glass windows and wooden pews with seating for nine.
At 12:40, we left the highway and headed for my dad’s cousin’s farm in Sioux Falls for lunch. I was so excited about this addition to our trip, as I hadn’t seen my father’s side of our family in more than 16 years.
One of my cousins was planning to come over too and introduce her three children to mine. (It’s amazing that we’ve each become mothers to three kids since the last time we were together.) All the “new” second cousins immediately ran off together to play, and the afternoon quickly became all about the cousins, cousins’ grandkids, second cousins, and more!
I was happily surprised to see that two of my aunts and one of my uncles had also come over to have lunch with us and meet my husband and children. (And yes, I was feeling terribly guilty for not having made a South Dakota trip sooner. We had such a wonderful time though, and we definitely want to go back sooner than later at some point.)
My dad’s cousin and my aunts made a fantastic lunch for us, and in “large family dinner” fashion, the adults ate in one room, while the kids ate at their own table in the garage. All of the kids must have gobbled up lunch very quickly, because we soon saw all the kids run past the kitchen window and head out to play on the farm. And play they did.
There is never a dull moment on a farm, and as I caught up on lots of family news and conversations, our one-hour lunch “slot” stretched to two… and sadly realizing that we had better get back on the road soon, we all went for a walk outside to see where the kids had run off to. It took us a little while to find them, because they’d run off into the trees and built a fort together. Seriously, can you believe they all fit in here?
Once we discovered them, the kids ran off again and found an even better place to play:
Is there any farm game that’s more fun than haybale tag?
Actually, I shouldn’t say that. My dad would likely argue that fun games from his own youth spent growing up on a farm were far more exciting than haybale tag, such as “Try to ride a cow: They don’t like it,” “Rabbit hunting in the fields while driving an old car that I chopped the roof off of,” or “Tricking my city friends into urinating on the electric fence.“
My kids’ farm-savvy cousins, being rather young, have likely not discovered the joys of “Uncle Larry’s” farm escapades yet
We let the kids play together for a few minutes longer while we walked around the farm & talked some more. I was also looking for a photo opportunity for one of my blogger Bingo squares, which required me to take a photo of myself with wildlife in the same picture. Well, I knew I could easily find some “wildlife” on the farm!
Now, don’t you even try to argue that this calf wasn’t “wild.” Look at how wildly he’s licking my hand! BINGO!
Reluctantly, we said goodbye to my family (who tried to get us to stay for another hour, and I truly wish we could have! We really need to go back for a longer visit.)
My boys were so sad to leave the farm. My oldest son asked, “Why don’t we have any hay bales in our yard?” And the youngest chimed in “Can we get some?”
Indeed, after this entire RV trip was through, if you were to ask them what their favorite day of the trip was, the hours we spent on the farm tops their lists. Farms are fun! “New” cousins, aunts, and uncles were fun for them too. One of my aunts gave my boys a beautiful book about the history of Mount Rushmore as a souvenir too, which was so thoughtful.
We appreciated the delicious lunch and time we were able to spend with everyone in my family. (Love you guys!)
On the road again… Once we hit the highway, the onboard GPS in our RV died. It never worked again for the remainder of the trip, unfortunately. When we began our trip, my husband had taken our GPS out of the car when we parked it at the airport and stuck the GPS in his backpack. That ended up being a good move, as we plugged our own GPS in and restored our navigation.
And before you think “Oh, you could have just used your phone,” keep in mind that there are long several-hour stretches along our route that had not only no 4G service but no cell service whatsoever. It was kind of a fluke that we ended up having our GPS with us, but I was glad that we did.
Just in case, I also had a road atlas in my backpack too – you never know what can happen on a cross-country drive, and I like to be prepared for anything!
We arrived in Mitchell, South Dakota around 4:30pm for a stop at the Corn Palace. The Mitchell Corn Palace is a multipurpose arena devoted to corn. The exterior and interior walls are covered with elaborate corn mosaic murals:
The Corn Palace’s murals are changed each year, so it always looks different when you visit. We went inside to check out the interior murals and get some ice cream for the boys. I also bought eight South Dakota postcards in the gift shop, which were a bargain at .25 each.
After leaving the Corn Palace, we sat at a table across the street and let the kids enjoy some sunshine and ice cream. My husband, ever the sports fan, discovered the only sports card shop in the little town of Mitchell, and he went inside to chat with the owner for a few minutes.
Then we got gas again ($99.00) and headed toward the Badlands National Park. The kids were getting hungry, so I made dinner for them from some of the food we’d packed. My husband and I were still stuffed from the wonderful lunch on the farm earlier, so we continued on.
Somewhere between Mitchell and the Badlands, I realized that I had missed an opportunity to complete a Bingo square. One square required me to Tweet a photo of myself in front of a CVS/pharmacy.
Can you believe there are no CVS locations in South Dakota? Say it isn’t so, CVS! (In looking at other bloggers’ social media feeds, it became apparent that they had already sought out their CVS photos somewhere between Illinois and Minnesota. Arrgh!)
I decided to get creative once again. This is the photo I Tweeted. Look – it’s me in front of a CVS! The virtual CVS store in the CVS app, that is. I looked closely at the blogger Bingo rules, but I found nothing excluding the virtual CVS store from what had become a rather heated, high-stakes Bingo game.
Our drive to the Badlands was smooth, and we stopped for gas at 7:30pm ($100.00) just before entering Badlands National Park. Before that, we also took a little time to check out the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site museum outside the Badlands. I’ve long been fascinated with the cold war and the numerous nuclear missile silos quietly and silently residing under our country’s wide open prairie spaces.
There are two decommissioned Delta missile silos and launch control facilities in this area, and both guided and self-guided tours of the silos are available. I would love to come back and take these tours on a future trip, but we simply didn’t have enough time on this one.
Going through the Badlands added an hour to our drive, but it’s a hauntingly breathtaking hour. You simply can’t drive through this part of the country and not see the Badlands if you’ve never experienced it. It transports you to an almost alien world — suddenly you’ve left the green fields of South Dakota and you’ve been deposited on what appears to be another planet.
Another planet… with rattlesnakes.
It worked out perfectly that our drive through the Badlands took place just as the sun was beginning to set. It made the already awe-inspiring rock formations look even lovelier with the pastel hues of the sunset shining through them.
Two other things I learned on our drive through the Badlands: One, your cellphone won’t work for most of the drive. I’m talking zero bars, red circle with a line through it where the signal meter should be. In this day and age, it’s pretty rare for us to take our phones anywhere and find that they won’t work. (This was the first time that happened on this trip — but it wasn’t the only time.)
Two: There is actually a small town located in the Badlands National Park where people live — the little town of Interior, South Dakota. I was inexplicably fascinated with the idea of living inside a remote national park, a 20 minutes’ drive from the closest park gate. What would it be like to live there? My husband started joking, “OH no… it’s Friday night game night at the Cataldo’s again. Do we have to go? The drive to their place is so… long.”
Google told me that the median home price in Interior, South Dakota is $30,000. There’s an upside to living so remotely.
We exited the park with no casualties (unlike some of the other bloggers on the trip — several had deer run into their RVs while they were driving the winding, slow road through the Badlands, and another had a rock fall on her windshield and break a hole through it. Ouch.)
The only wildlife we saw in the Badlands was a large porcupine. Thankfully, I had already secured my “wildlife” Bingo square photo earlier in the day with an animal that was much safer to approach.
As we exited the Badlands, we took a quick drive through Wall, South Dakota to visit Wall Drug. Wall Drug was closed by now, but we drove by anyway so my husband and kids could see it. (It was around 8:30pm when we exited the Badlands, but the town of Wall also marks the change to Mountain Time, so it was suddenly 7:30pm again.)
Wall Drug is an enormous tourist attraction when you’re driving through South Dakota. You’ll see signs advertising its bargain-priced coffee and “Free Ice Water” hundreds of miles before you even get remotely close to Wall. Bloggers who went to Wall Drug were gleefully posting photos on social media of some of the bizarre souvenirs they’d seen in in the store — like shotgun shell-casing Christmas lights and taxidermy Jackalopes.
One blogger bought a travel pack of aspirin and delightedly noted that the receipt simply stated that she’d purchased “Drugs” at Wall Drug. How many people go to Wall Drug to buy… drugs? Very funny. (Now, THAT could have been a Bingo square!)
At 10:45pm, we arrived in Rapid City. After a long stretch of darkened prairie highways, the lights of the city gleamed on the horizon, and we started scoping out dinner options. We saw a strip mall near a Walmart with a Jimmy John’s in it, but when we headed over, we saw that the restaurant had closed at 10:30. So, my husband ran into Walmart and picked up an interesting combination of foods for our dinner: A Philly cheese steak sandwich, a package of egg rolls, and a frozen pizza puff. (Hey, he drove across the entire state today — if this was what he was craving, so be it.)
We arrived at the Mount Rushmore KOA campground just before midnight and parked for the night. After we checked in, the head of our PR team gave me a gift bag from Wall Drug. It contained several books, a thermal cup, and a pound of Wall Drug’s homemade fudge. Yum! This was a nice bonus as we didn’t get a chance to shop at Wall Drug on this trip. We made dinner in the microwave and hit the sheets. The Mount Rushmore KOA would be our home for the next three nights, so we were happy to finally be able to settle in. I looked forward to more camping experiences, especially nightly campfires!
Tomorrow: Visiting Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse…
With each day’s trip report, I’m going to provide an exact list of expenses — what it cost us, and what it would cost to do an identical trip without sponsorship. Obviously, there will be areas where you could tweak or adjust expenses to suit your family’s needs and budget, but I’m trying to be as thorough as possible in detailing all of the costs of this trip. For instances in which I do not know the exact costs of a particular item, I’m estimating what the cost would be.
|What it cost our family of four||What it would cost your family of four|
|Breakfast at McDonald’s: $25.92||Breakfast at McDonald’s: $25.92|
|Gas: $75.00||Gas: $75.00|
|Lunch with family: $0.00||Find your own relatives to have lunch with: $0.00|
|Gas: $99.00||Gas: $99.00|
|Ice cream and postcards at Mitchell Corn Palace: $5.00||Ice cream and postcards at Mitchell Corn Palace: $5.00|
|Gas: $100.00||Gas: $100.00|
|Badlands National Park admission for one vehicle: $0.00||Badlands National Park admission for one vehicle: $15.00|
|Wall Drug Souvenirs: (Total: $0.00) Wall Drug thermal cup: $0.00 Wall Drug tote bag: $0.00 Wall Drug cookbook: $0.00 Badlands National Park guide book: $0.00 The Wall Drug Story book: $0.00 One pound of Wall Drug fudge: $0.00 Wall Drug bumper sticker: $0.00 Go Ranger guide to the Badlands, Black Hills and Mount Rushmore: $0.00 (complimentary guide)||Wall Drug Souvenirs: (Total: $57.04) Wall Drug thermal cup: $5.99 Wall Drug tote bag: $7.99 Wall Drug cookbook: $9.99 Badlands National Park guide book: $4.99 The Wall Drug Story book: $11.99 One pound of Wall Drug fudge: $15.99 Wall Drug bumper sticker: $0.10 Go Ranger guide to the Badlands, Black Hills and Mount Rushmore: $0.00 (complimentary guide)|
|Walmart food stop: $7.40||Walmart food stop: $7.40|
|One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore: $0.00||One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore: $64.88|
|Today’s total: $312.32||Today’s total: $449.24|
|Total to date: $681.55||Total to date: $4558.53|
Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors. Hashtags: #EpicRVBloggerTour #drivingBusBank #grouptravel #LovinMurphyUSA #MOARocks #AustinJellystone #EagleCreekAdventure #BuluBox #MiddleburyKOA #CVSOnTheGo #CVSconvenience #travelsd #exploresd #getinsightly #MtRushmoreKOA #KOAadventure #sponsored