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 this morning and made breakfast in the motorhome again. Our organized activity schedule didn’t begin until 10:00am at Rushmore Cave, so we had a relaxing morning at the campground.
I was manning our little RV range this morning, and what was on the menu? Pancakes and bacon!
As I prepared to make pancakes, I realized I hadn’t brought any butter along for the frying pan. The Bulu Box provided to us had a packet of coconut oil inside though, and did it ever make tasty pancakes! Slightly sweet and coconutty. What is it about camp cooking that makes everything taste just a little bit better?
After breakfast, we headed to Rushmore Cave. There are many caves in South Dakota — on previous trips, I’ve visited Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, both of which are national parks with beautiful cave formations. We were looking forward to our day at Rushmore Cave.
Rushmore Cave is located in Keystone, South Dakota and has been entertaining visitors since the 1920s. Unlike the national park caves, Rushmore Cave is more of an adventure destination with multiple activities on-site for tourists to enjoy. You can go ziplining through the Black Hills here as well, and there’s also a Gunslinger 7D electronic shooting gallery and gold (pyrite) and gemstone panning on site too.
Our large group of bloggers and families split into groups. We were given the option of a 15-minute or 1-hour cave tour. We opted for the 1-hour tour. The 15-minute cave tour departed first, so we headed to the Soaring Eagle zipline. I have only ziplined once before (at Camp Shaw-Waw-Nas-See when I was 14 — we ziplined over the Kankakee river!) and no one else in my family had done it, so this was a pretty new experience for all of us.
Rushmore Cave’s Soaring Eagle zipline is great for families though, because two people can travel on the zipline at a time. Unlike my previous ziplining experience, this zipline did not require a harness either. A ski-lift style seat holds two riders, then sends them careening down a hill and over the trees:
This was a lot of fun. Both of our boys were apprehensive about trying it, but five seconds into the ride, they were each smiling, laughing, and shouting “Whee!”
After we finished ziplining, we headed to the Gunslinger 7D electronic shooting gallery. This is a 7-dimensional virtual reality ride where you shoot and blast at everything from robots to aliens to zombies. You wear 3D glasses and hold a blaster gun, and the seats move to enhance what you’re seeing on-screen. Other surprises, like smoke, mist and wind enhance the virtual reality experience.
Everyone, especially our sons, really enjoyed this. We chose the robot adventure, which involved shooting a bunch of robots running wild in the old West. After the ride, our ride operator gave us the opportunity to also try the alien asteroid shootout. (He recommended we skip the zombie adventure due to the ages of our sons.)
Both of these games were fun, but we thought the robot adventure “felt” more realistic, with special effects to make you feel like you were falling over a waterfall, among other things. When we exited the ride…
There’s nothing like seeing an unflattering photo of yourself taken in the dark while you were blasting aliens!
Next, we headed back up to the main building to begin our tour of Rushmore Cave.
My son thought the entrance to the cave was very funny – a door off the gift shop led into the cave! We learned that this man-made entrance was added after the cave was discovered — the people who discovered the cave entered it by dropping down through a hole in the ground.
Rushmore Cave is a deep cave. At our lowest point during the tour, we were 150 feet below the surface. While we traveled downward, our guide explained that the hillside over the cave also slopes upward, making us technically deeper down than we “felt” while walking through the cave.
Some of the passages we traveled were shaped just the right size for a person to walk through:
While others required climbing a stepladder to reach. We saw some interesting cave formations too, like flowstone — or as it’s more commonly called, “Cave Bacon.”
Indeed, it looks like tasty strips of bacon are growing from the cave walls:
Our group enjoyed the cave tour. As we were exiting the cave, our guide told us about the cave adventure tours they offer at Rushmore Cave too.
These are extreme tours which involve crawling on your belly for about a mile. On this tour, you’ll only stand up four times and take four or five steps before crawling into another low passage.
In order to take an adventure tour, you must be able to crawl through Rushmore Cave’s “SqueezeBox,” which measures whether or not you’ll fit through the cave’s narrowest passages. For the adventure tour, you must fit into a space just 10″ high. For their Mystic Cave tour, you must fit into a space 8.5″ high.
Well, I had to try..! (Wouldn’t you?) I successfully squeezed through the Mystic Cave squeezebox.
My husband, on the other hand, will not be coming on any extreme cave tours with me. While I was happy to learn that I could take this tour if I wanted to, reading about this adventure on Rushmore Cave’s blog made me think that perhaps I wasn’t quite ready for this yet.
Just in case we were thinking about it, our tour guide then showed us the starting point for the on-your-belly tours. See the ladder at the bottom of the photo? They stand it up to reach the hole in the wall, and that’s where you squeeze into the cave.
We left Rushmore Cave and decided to look for a place to have lunch. Our trip to the cave took us through the little town of Keystone, South Dakota, and we headed back there to walk around for a while. Keystone is an old mining town, and it’s just oozing with “Old West” charm and architecture.
I knew Keystone had a museum devoted to Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore. Unfortunately, as we were here pre-tourist-season, the museum was closed. We were able to enjoy the cast replica of his famous “The Seated Lincoln” statue.
The original “The Seated Lincoln” sits in Newark, New Jersey outside a courthouse where it was dedicated in 1911. In the late 1980s, the statue had suffered from corrosion and was in need of restoration. The Rushmore-Borglum Story Museum offered to pay for the restoration of “The Seated Lincoln” and return him to his proper space in New Jersey if they were allowed to cast one copy of the famous statue for display in South Dakota. Newark agreed, the restoration took place, and South Dakota’s cast of “The Seated Lincoln” sits outside the Borglum museum for everyone to enjoy. Including my children.
There’s something wonderful about this statue. Its design invites you to take a seat with Mr. Lincoln too. Sit and contemplate life, for a moment — or sit in his lap and surround yourself with him. As we approached the statue, our sons ran ahead of us and immediately climbed into his arms.
In fact, as I was researching this blog post, I came across a remarkable old news story called “Children Love the Lincoln.” It ran in a New Jersey newspaper, and I’d like to share a little of it with you:
Children Love the Lincoln
By Madge Arthur
A little girl, breathless from running, clambered upon the knee of a man in bronze who sat on a bench of the same material, threw an arm around his neck, and whispered in his ear.
“Pretty sight,” said I to a nursemaid standing near.
“Nothing unusual about it,” she replied. “Children seem to take to that figure. Sometimes you will see as many as three or four sitting on his knees at the same time.”
It must be the eyes that make the children love this silent figure. They give you the impression you are witnessing a miracle — the miracle of a human soul imprisoned in bronze.
“Where is Lincoln?” I asked myself, wonderingly. And then I saw him where I should have looked in the first place — just where history teaches us he always chose to be — close down among the people.
I could have looked at that statue for the better part of the day. Gutzon Borglum had such a gift for capturing emotion in his sculptures. As it was, we spent about fifteen minutes with Mr. Lincoln, and then we continued walking through town. (We made sure to visit him again on our walk back to our vehicle.)
After surveying our lunch options, we decided to dine at Ruby House. It looked so cool! It’s an Old-West style saloon, complete with firearms on the walls, vintage photographs, old-time newspapers and more. One of their menu specialties is bison, and my husband had a bowl of bison stew. I enjoyed a large bison burger.
My sons spotted sarsaparilla on the beverage menu, and they were intrigued! Prior to this dining excursion, their exposure to sarsaparilla was limited to the Schoolhouse Rock song “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla.” They asked if they could order sarsaparilla sodas. Would they like them?
Yes, they liked them. We all did — none of us had tried them before, so all four of us ended up ordering sarsaparillas! (Sarsaparilla soda is delicious, by the way — it’s like root beer’s tastier cousin.) After lunch, we walked around the Keystone boardwalk for a while taking photos. This one is for my deal-minded blog readers:
What the heck is “Off-Sale Beer?” Why would a store advertise that beer wasn’t on sale? Later, Google told me that “off-sale beer” means that you must buy the beer, then take it somewhere else to drink it. The beer is to be enjoyed off the premises. I believe my interpretation of the sign is funnier.
This was one of the warmest days of our trip, and when we passed a little ice cream stand, we had to stop for dessert. This cute place on the boardwalk, Jane’s, was selling Bit O’ Honey ice cream. I love Bit O’ Honey candies. The ice cream version didn’t disappoint, either!
We headed back toward the campground, and the boys asked if we could go see Mount Rushmore again. They were really enamored with it, and why not? We drove around the monument again for more photos, then parked at the George Washington overlook for another profile view during the day.
After that, we returned to our campground for some jumpin’ fun! The Mt. Rushmore KOA has an enormous jumping pillow installed in its kids’ playground area. If you’ve never seen one of these before (we hadn’t!) it’s similar to an air-filled “Moonwalk” without the walls:
Well, this certainly was fun for our kids…
… and for the grown-ups in attendance too. A KOA representative came over to ask parents not to do flips on the pillow. (Hey, I was not the only parent reprimanded — one of the blogger dads in attendance initiated the somersault spree! It was fun while it lasted.)
What happened at dinner…
Dinnertime approached, and we again headed into a large tent at the KOA to have dinner. Tonight’s dinner was similar to last night’s, but we had chicken instead of beef. During each night’s dinner at the Mount Rushmore KOA, our PR team was drawing blogger Bingo winners. (Anyone who filled a line on their Bingo card had their name put in a basket, and each night they’d draw winners for each particular Bingo line’s prize.)
This was our last organized dinner together, so our family was very surprised when we won a one-night stay in an executive cabin at the campground! We were excited about “moving up” for a night and checking out one of these large cabins.
Something else happened at dinner, though, and it’s kind of difficult for me to blog about — I want to preface this by saying that I’m not trying to seem overly negative, particularly toward any of the sponsors for our trip. (Our sponsors were fantastic, and it was my pleasure to enjoy experiences at each destination for the purpose of writing about and reviewing these experiences.) However, there had been numerous issues related to poor event planning that were prevalent throughout this tour.
When we received our itineraries on the first day of the tour, many of us expressed concerns about where we’d be camping the final night of our trip. This is the final page of our itinerary:
The itinerary simply says “Arrive in Salt Lake City, Utah” on May 6th. Prior to the tour, we were instructed to schedule flights home from Salt Lake City on May 7th, so none of the bloggers knew where exactly we’d be camping the next night.
Under the list of campsites in the itinerary, nothing was listed for Salt Lake City. For six days, the question of where we’d be camping on the final night was left unanswered. Several bloggers were told that they would “find out later.”
At this dinner on May 5th, our PR team told everyone that they were unable to secure a sponsored campground for the final night of our tour, as Utah’s tourism reps did not feel we’d be spending enough time in the state to effectively write about it for our readers.
The PR team told that instead, we could park the RVs at a Cabela’s 45 minutes south of the Access RV location where we were to return our RVs to on May 7th.
There was an uproar among the bloggers. This simply wasn’t an acceptable answer for several reasons:
- Parking at Cabela’s would add 60 miles to our trips (and gas bills) as well as 90 minutes of extra drive time to our trips. We had a long, 700-mile stretch from South Dakota, across Wyoming, and down to Utah to tackle tomorrow.
- Parking at Cabela’s had no hookups for the RVs — no electricity, water or sewer. If we wanted to have the lights and power on in the RVs, we’d have to run the RV’s generators. The generator burns fuel at about one gallon of gas per hour — gas we would be paying for. And, after a 700-mile drive, those of us using the bathrooms in our RVs would likely need to dump the wastewater tanks again.
- Parking at Access RV itself wasn’t an option as they have a gated lot that is closed at night, and we’d all be arriving in Utah after dark.
No, this wasn’t good at all. The discussion between some of the bloggers and the head of the PR agency grew heated. Several people expressed that sleeping in a Cabela’s parking lot 45 minutes south of where we actually needed to be the next day was not a reasonable option.
The head of the PR agency replied, “The trip ends here.”
The trip ends here? 700+ miles from where we’re supposed to return our RVs?
She continued to say that we would not be required to continue posting on social media with our #EpicRVBloggerTour hashtag beyond this day. This was the end.
Four of the bloggers expressed that they were extremely unhappy with the continued dis-organizational issues on the tour. The head of the PR agency stood next to their dinner table and said “If you’re really that unhappy with this trip, feel free to not complete the posts.”
After this conversation, one blogger responded, “I have never had a PR agency or rep treat me the way you are treating all of us.” We, as bloggers, were depending on this firm to take charge and effectively lead the event that they created. The reality that we were being left hanging was really starting to sink in.
As a result of what happened on this day, quite a few of the bloggers stated that they would not be blogging about the tour – at all.
After meeting all of the bloggers and spending a week together, I don’t believe that any of the bloggers intend to hurt any of the sponsors, brands or destinations involved in this tour. They’re all great people who are very passionate about their blogs and their readers. The logistical issues simply came to a head, and everyone was reacting to the news that we were now on our own for the next two days. The organized tour, as we knew it, had ended.
As we left the dinner tent, the PR team gave each family a gift basket for the next day’s breakfast: A gallon of Sunny Delight, a bunch of bananas, a bag of bagels and a tub of Philly cream cheese. Then, someone in the room said: “Bagels? Our campers don’t have toasters.” She was right — they didn’t.
The KOA campground sponsored an after-dinner wine tasting for the bloggers, but as I don’t drink, we declined. We headed to our RV to pack some clothes and food to take to the cabin for the night. We’d seen these Executive Cabins over the past few days as we walked around the Mt. Rushmore KOA, and they are really impressive inside:
These beautiful cabins sleep up to eight people. There’s a king-size bed in the master bedroom, another bedroom with two twin beds, a double bed in the third bedroom, and a pull-out sofa bed.
It also had two bathrooms and a full kitchen. I should also mention that these beautiful cabins rent for $575.00 per night. Despite the sizable price tag, a KOA representative told us that these cabins are 75% reserved for the 2014 tourist season and usually sell out completely.
Each cabin has a large wraparound deck with patio furniture and a gas grill. Each also has its own fire pit. We were given four bundles of firewood for a long campfire this evening, which our entire family enjoyed. We used up most of our S’mores supplies and spent the rest of our evening watching the fire before going to sleep inside the cabin. Tomorrow: Our journey continues…
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|
|Rushmore Cave tour, zipline, and shooting gallery experience: $0.00 (Four Cave Tour plus two attraction passes, plus one extra shooting gallery experience for the four of us.) Rushmore Cave prices: Cave Tour: ages 13+ $14, ages 5-12 $8 Cave Tour plus one attraction: ages 13+ $21, ages 5-12 $15 Cave Tour plus two attractions: ages 13+ $28, ages 5-12 $21 Individual attractions (zipline or shooting gallery): $9||Rushmore Cave tour, zipline, and shooting gallery experience: $134.00 (Four Cave Tour plus two attraction passes, plus one extra shooting gallery experience for the four of us.) Rushmore Cave prices: Cave Tour: ages 13+ $14, ages 5-12 $8 Cave Tour plus one attraction: ages 13+ $21, ages 5-12 $15 Cave Tour plus two attractions: ages 13+ $28, ages 5-12 $21 Individual attractions (zipline or shooting gallery): $9|
|Lunch at Ruby House restaurant: $50.60||Lunch at Ruby House restaurant: $50.60|
|Ice cream at Jane’s: $11.50||Ice cream at Jane’s: $11.50|
|Dinner provided by KOA’s on-site Ponderosa Restaurant (catered, approx. $10 each): $0.00||Dinner provided by KOA’s on-site Ponderosa Restaurant (catered, approx. $10 each): $40.00|
|Breakfast basket: $0.00 Bunch of bananas, bottle of Sunny Delight, package of bagels, tub of cream cheese and plastic bowl||Breakfast basket: $10.00 Bunch of bananas, bottle of Sunny Delight, package of bagels, tub of cream cheese and plastic bowl|
|One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore Executive Cabin: $0.00||One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore Executive Cabin: $575.00|
|Four bundles of firewood: $0.00||Four bundles of firewood: $23.20|
|One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore: $0.00||One night stay at KOA Mt. Rushmore: $64.88|
|Today’s total: $62.10||Today’s total: $909.18|
|Total to date: $839.43||Total to date: $5868.52|
Note that in the unsponsored side of the table, I’m including both the cost of the cabin and the cost of our campsite. We were technically using both – our RV remained hooked up at its site while we slept elsewhere on this night. When I write my final expenses post, I’ll note that there were definitely areas where the total cost could be reduced — forgoing a night in the Executive Cabin would be one of them. Continue to Days 7 and 8…
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