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.
Waking up in our Black Hills cabin was a fun experience. Our campground host let us know we’d likely see both wild turkeys and deer outside our cabin windows in the morning. My husband woke up and stepped outside onto the deck, where he took this photo:
Our boys woke up and settled in with some cartoons on the cabin’s TV while we made breakfast. We brought our breakfast gift basket, along with the remainder of our bacon and eggs from the RV, so we had scrambled eggs, bacon, bagels and bananas.
It was nice to have a hearty breakfast before we headed out for a long day of driving. The kids and I wrote out some postcards for our family to mail before we left South Dakota.
We headed back to the RV to pack up and dump the wastewater tanks before getting on the road. My sons pointed out that, despite all of the photos I’d been taking in preparation for blogging this trip, no one had documented the “dirty job” portion of the trip — emptying the wastewater tanks. My sons volunteered for this job (the documentation part, not the waste-dumping part!) Unfortunately, they bumped the auto-focus feature of my camera and turned it off, so here are some slightly blurry photos of their mother “doing the dump”:
This job really isn’t that bad. I brought a pair of plastic gloves along though as handling a waste hose isn’t entirely sanitary. First, you remove the cap from the waste pipe. The waste hose is stored inside the back bumper of the RV, which is hollow. Snap the cap off the end, slide the hose out, and twist to lock it onto the waste pipe.
Then, insert the other end of the hose into the sewer pipe. All of the campgrounds we stayed at had sewer hookups at each site, but some campgrounds will have a central dump station that you’ll drive to to dump your tanks.
Once the hose is in place, you’ll see two valves under the RV – a black water valve and a grey water valve. You always empty the black water (your toilet tank) first. Then, you close it and empty the grey water through the same hose. The grey water is anything that drained from your sinks or shower stall inside the motorhome. This flushes the hose out with cleaner water so that it’s not dirty when you take the hose off and put it away.
As I said, it’s not difficult — but neither one of our boys really wanted this job..!
How do you know when your tanks are full? There’s a systems panel inside the RV. You can press a button to check the levels on each of your tanks — grey water, black water, and fresh water. You can also monitor your propane level, battery level and generator usage from this panel.
As everyone was on their own now, we were chatting on Facebook to see what everyone’s game plan was for the day. Some bloggers decided to spend more time in South Dakota, visiting Custer National Park and Jewel Cave. We wanted to visit Devils Tower in Wyoming, so around 8:30am, we said goodbye to our Mount Rushmore KOA, got gas, and headed west.
As we drove through the Black Hills, we came upon an area where the road was blocked off. What was going on? Maintenance work was being done in this area of the forest, and the road was out for several miles. A worker stopped our RV and radioed for a pilot vehicle to lead us through this area. The worker instructed us to drive at the same speed as the pilot truck and to follow in the same tracks that the truck made.
It quickly became evident why we were being piloted through this area of the forest. The road was gone.
(These are the kinds of situations that map software simply can’t anticipate!)
As we slowly traveled through the Hell Canyon area of the forest, we saw the devastation from the massive Jasper forest fire that struck this area. This fire was started by an arsonist who dropped a single match on the forest floor to “watch it burn.” The fire spread rapidly, consuming more than 83,000 acres of Black Hills forest. One report I read stated that the fire destroyed 7% of the entire state of South Dakota. The woman who started the fire was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
It was heartbreaking to drive for several miles and see the wide areas of blackened, dead trees. Workers were removing fallen trees from the area and doing forest maintenance. What’s even more sobering about seeing this destruction? The Jasper fire took place in 2000, nearly 14 years ago. The fire scorched the forest floor so badly that very little has regrown since the fire took place.
We continued driving. When we crossed into Wyoming, we stopped at the Salt Creek Overlook, one of the first pull-over stops we saw on the highway:
What a view! The boys were happy to take a little driving break and stretch their legs — and they were excited about setting foot in a new state too.
As we neared Devils Tower, a large blanket of fog loomed on the horizon…
Shortly after that, it loomed over our vehicle.
We arrived at Devils Tower at 11:30am, and I called the boys to look out the window — “Boys, there it is!”
They looked out the window. “Where?”
This was starting to feel like a repeat of our morning at Mount Rushmore!
We arrived at Devils Tower and paid our vehicle’s admission fee ($10.) The view wasn’t improving much.
The ranger handed us a tour guide, which I excitedly showed to our boys: “See this? THIS is what it looks like.”
We headed into the vistors’ center, and our boys asked the ranger if they had a Junior Ranger program at Devils Tower similar to the one at Mount Rushmore. They did!
The boys picked up their guide books, and they were surprisingly extensive in what they required the children to learn about the monument before receiving their badges. Some of the answers to the questions in their guide books could be found on signage in the visitors’ center.
Part of the Junior Ranger program required them to complete the 1.3-mile hike around the base of the tower and record information from signs and observations along the way. So, we set out onto the trail.
Fortunately, the fog was beginning to lift, and the boys got their first breathtaking look at the enormous tower:
We continued hiking the trail around the tower. There are some incredible views from the tower trail:
The first climbers (in recorded history) to reach the top of Devils Tower did so in 1893. They built a wooden ladder near the top of the tower to facilitate 350 feet of the climb. You can still see the remnants of this ladder through viewing tubes set up on the tower trail.
It’s very difficult to see the ladder with the naked eye. Here’s a good photo of it though if you’d like to see it.
The tower is really incredible-looking when you’re close to it. It’s also a popular place for climbers. No one was climbing the tower, though, on the day we visited.
We did it! A family from Sweden had completed hiking the Tower Trail at the same time we did, so we exchanged cameras. We took their photo and they took ours.
We headed back to the visitors’ center so our boys could turn their guidebooks in to the park ranger. She presented them with their Devils Tower badges and swore them in as Devils Tower Junior Rangers. They held their hands up and repeated an oath similar to their swearing-in as Junior Rangers at Mount Rushmore. We had an opportunity to buy fabric Junior Ranger badges for their scout uniforms too, which we did.
While we were in the Devils Tower bookstore, look what we spotted:
“Whose Butt?” My husband elicited a groan at yet another “educational book” at one of our national monuments. However, look what’s right behind it on the shelf – “Who Pooped in the Black Hills?” I couldn’t believe we saw that book again. This time, I was not missing an opportunity to bring it home with us. $12.75 later, I learned that the animal who had left some droppings on the mini golf course in South Dakota was a deer. I believe you should learn something new every day, but I won’t bore you with the details of all of the other animals’ poop I can now accurately identify.
As we left Devils Tower, we stopped for a few minutes at a prairie dog town too:
There was an enormous field covered with prairie dog den holes, and we sat and watched their little heads pop up and down.
While we were parked, we made lunch in the motorhome. Then, we got back on the road and drove. And drove. And drove. Because we were on state highways versus the interstate, we had no cellphone service whatsoever. I wrote about this earlier in my trip report, but it is odd to see your phone showing a red circle with a slash where your signal bars are usually visible.
We stopped for gas around 4:30pm in Midwest, Wyoming. The pump shut off at $50 for some reason, so we continued driving and decided to stop again the next time we saw civilization. (Don’t laugh – there isn’t much out there! Wyoming is filled with glorious, wide open spaces as far as you can see in any direction.)
Around 5:15 we arrived in Mills, Wyoming. My husband filled up the RV while I ran inside to survey the gas-station food options for dinner. They had some calzones that didn’t look too bad, and I grabbed a large coffee for him too. With more than 400 miles to go before we reached Salt Lake City, he was going to need it.
My cellphone and 4G signal were restored while we were in Mills, so I checked in with some of the other bloggers to see where they were headed. Many had decided to stay at the Salt Lake City KOA campground, which was located six miles from Access RV. I called the KOA to see if we needed to make reservations, but the woman on the phone said they weren’t full, and we could just show up whenever we showed up.
We continued driving. As the sun set, our boys (who had truly been troopers on this long travel day!) were looking for something to do. I had packed a tube of glow stick jewelry, and they immediately shooed me out of the RV’s kitchen while they sat at the table making glowing creations.
Sometime after 9:00pm, our boys put their pajamas on and went to bed.
Around 10:20pm we stopped again for gas in Little America, Wyoming. I saw a rather enticing sign at the gas station too: Soft-serve ice cream cones for .50 each! Our boys were sound asleep, so I went inside and got two cones. (Sorry, little guys! No worries though, they had plenty of treats on this trip.)
This was our route for Day Seven. Google Maps believes this is a 11-hour, 40-minute drive — IF you can do the 80 MPH Wyoming speed limits. We left South Dakota at 8:30am and arrived in Salt Lake City at 1:15am. Taking into account the two hours we spent at Devil’s Tower, and approximately 30 minutes (total) for our gas and overlook stops, the time we actually spent driving was about 15 hours.
My husband was getting tired of driving at this point, and I couldn’t blame him – we had another 150 miles to go to Salt Lake City. We switched seats and he promptly went to sleep. Around 1:15am, I pulled into the Salt Lake City KOA campground, chose a spot and paid. I saw a few other RVs from our group at the campground too. We connected the RV hookups, moved the boys out of our bed, and immediately went to bed.
Our flight home wasn’t until 4:00pm, and the KOA’s checkout time was noon, so we had no reason to rush today. We decided to eat up and drink up all of the food left in our RV before we turned it in. We had some breakfast cereal, juice, bananas, and a few bagels left. However, we had no toaster. What to do? My husband improvised:
Hey, it worked.
After breakfast, my husband took a shower in the RV. He said he did it mainly for review purposes! As a reminder, this is what our RV’s shower looked like:
It was actually a decent-sized shower stall considering the size of our RV. His thoughts? He said it was roomier than he expected, and he had about five minutes’ worth of hot water before our hot water tank was depleted. It would not have worked out for four of us to take showers in the RV, one right after the other, but it was certainly a nice feature to have on board.
Then, my husband and I packed up all of our gear. Prior to the trip, our PR agency told all of the bloggers in attendance that any luggage or belongings we didn’t want to carry home could be left in the RV. Our luggage would be shipped home free of charge by Access RV as a perk of us blogging about the tour. This was certainly a nice perk, as it would allow us to bring more of our own camping gear along on the trip. Many of the bloggers who flew in to Midway purchased lawnchairs, camping lanterns and other gear on Amazon ahead of time. They shipped these items directly directly to the Middlebury, Indiana KOA campground and then put everything in their RVs the beginning of our tour.
In light of recent events, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with leaving our gear. I had taken a large duffel bag along to put our camp chairs, sheets, pillows, comforters, and extra camping gear into. We lugged this gigantic, heavy bag through Midway Airport to put on the bus at the beginning of the tour. Our bag is nearly four feet long. We brought it along knowing it would be shipped home for us, and we wouldn’t have to carry it home:
Well… do you ever fall into a trap of “Everyone else is doing it?”
At this age, I shouldn’t be bending to peer pressure, but on this morning, many of the other bloggers were posting photos of their luggage piles, stacks of lawnchairs and other camping gear that they were leaving in the RVs to be shipped home. I started thinking about carrying our now-heavier, now-bulkier giant duffel bag (thanks to those Crazy Horse rocks my kids picked up, among other souvenirs — there were a few Patrick Star plush figures in there too!)
We’d need to check this big bag on the plane. It now weighed 65 pounds — more than the checked bag limit, so we’d incur an extra fee. Then, we’d have to lug it through the airport, onto the Midway parking deck shuttle bus, through the parking deck and to our vehicle, while pulling our roller bags and simultaneously holding the hands of some sleepy kids.
We decided to leave the bag and have it shipped home. There was nothing in the bag that we needed for the next few days. I wrapped our camp chairs in the comforters so they were protected in the middle of the bag. I used duct tape to make rings around the bag and secure the zipper. Before I closed it, I put a note inside with our name and address, and I duct-taped another label to the outside of the bag so that the bag itself could simply be shipped to our house (in addition to the luggage tag that was already on the bag.)
And as I write this, 23 days have passed since we arrived home from the tour. I don’t have my bag yet, and none of the bloggers on this tour have received their gear either. We’ve had some frustrating discussions with the PR agency about this.
The only reason we left our luggage with Access RV was because the organizers of this event had advised us that this was the best option for returning our luggage to us. On May 16th, we received a message from the head of the PR agency:
“Having stuff shipped back is the sole responsibility of Access RV, you will need to discuss any issues or shipping info with them.”
In the days that followed, some of the bloggers called Access RV and learned that they had been “overwhelmed” with the quantity of bags and items bloggers left in the RVs for return. I do believe we’ll get our bags — eventually. None of us realized how long we’d be without our gear though. Last weekend, our family had another (tent) camping trip — we had to borrow roasting forks, chairs and other gear from my parents because ours hasn’t come home yet. Our daughter is going camping this weekend, and again, we’re still missing some of the camping gear she wants to take.
“Ideas for Tweets:” Imagine how many notes I wrote in this book over the course of the trip!
After we finished packing up, we decided to have lunch. “Lunch” consisted of all of the food we had left in the fridge and cabinets at this point. Sandwiches, chips, salsa, and the last of my Coca-Cola — we ate it all.
At noon, we dumped the RV’s tanks for the last time, disconnected its hookups, then headed over to Access RV and dropped the RV off. We enjoyed seeing the snow-capped mountains as we drove through the city:
And, as we pulled into Access RV’s facility, the odometer on our RV read:
(It had 12 miles on it when we picked it up in Indiana.)
Access RV took us to the Salt Lake City airport in their shuttle van. A few hours later, we stepped off an airplane in Illinois. Our trip had come to an end.
We walked through Midway Airport, and this is what we saw:
A band was playing patriotic songs, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people carrying signs and American flags. Many military men and women, from all branches, were present in uniform. What was going on?
All of these people were gathered to welcome a WWII Honor Flight of veterans returning to Midway. We stayed for a few minutes to watch and I couldn’t stop crying. It was such an incredibly touching tribute to these brave men who fought for our country. And, after we’d spent a week seeing some of the most beautiful parts of our United States, I could think of no more fitting end to our trip than this.
We headed home, had a pizza, and went to sleep in our own beds. What an adventure!
A few more notes:
A few days after returning home, I received an email from Access RV settling our rental contract. Our RV was accepted by Access RV and we were not responsible for any additional charges. This wasn’t the case for some of the other bloggers though. The blogger who had a rock fall on her windshield while driving through the Badlands learned she would be responsible for the $500 deductible on her auto insurance — even though this was a promotional trip. I felt awful for her.
We also noticed that some bloggers’ rental agreements included a $5.95/hour charge for running their RV’s generators in excess of 10 hours on the trip. We ran our generator less than one hour, total — you only need to run it if you need electrical power when you aren’t parked and connected to hookups. For us, these were the times we wanted to use the microwave or run the RV’s water pump (to flush the toilet and wash hands) while we were driving.
Other bloggers were shocked by this charge being listed on the final rental agreement, and they were glad that the charge was waived because this was a promotional tour. One blogger said that they ran the generator the entire time they were driving so that the electrical outlets would be functional and their family members could plug in and use devices. The generator uses about one gallon of gas per hour, and adding $5.95 to the cost of the gallon per gas would have raised the rental costs significantly. This is something to be aware of if you choose to rent an RV.
And now, the final numbers…
With each day’s trip report, I’ve provided 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.
Days Seven and EightDays Seven and Eight
|What it cost our family of four||What it would cost your family of four|
|Postcard stamps (brought from home): $1.70||Postcard stamps (brought from home): $1.70|
|Gas: $78.32||Gas: $78.32|
|Devil’s Tower National Monument admission for one vehicle: $10.00||Devil’s Tower National Monument admission for one vehicle: $10.00|
|Devil’s Tower gift shop: $16.25||Devil’s Tower gift shop: $16.25|
|Gas: $50.00||Gas: $50.00|
|Gas: $69.76||Gas: $69.76|
|Gas station coffee and calzones: $11.54||Gas station coffee and calzones: $11.54|
|Gas: $49.95||Gas: $49.95|
|Gas station ice cream cones: $1.00||Gas station ice cream cones: $1.00|
|One night stay at KOA Salt Lake City: $52.91||One night stay at KOA Salt Lake City: $52.91|
|Midway Airport parking: $120.00||Midway Airport parking: $120.00|
|Today’s total: $461.43||Today’s total: $461.43|
|Total for entire trip: $1300.86||Total for entire trip: $6329.95|
These are definitely sobering numbers, aren’t they? One of our directives in this tour was to present RVing as a less expensive alternative to flying and staying in a hotel. However, the numbers don’t lie — this was an expensive trip.
Now, there are some expenses in the “unsponsored” column that can be eliminated to save money. Let’s assume the following (and I’m pulling these numbers from my entire trip report)
- Day 1: You didn’t buy new camp chairs for the trip: -$44.00
- Day 2: You didn’t purchase new Eagle Creek luggage for the trip: -$217.00
- Day 3: You skipped buying toys, souvenirs, a shopping bag and a coupon book from the Mall of America: -$42.71
- Day 4: You skipped buying souvenirs at Wall Drug: -$57.04
- Day 5: You skipped buying souvenirs at Mount Rushmore (Mall of America too – we received complimentary Spongebob toys) and did not rent bikes at the KOA campground: -$238.20
- Day 6: You skipped an extra round at the electronic shooting gallery, you didn’t stay in an Executive Cabin for one night, and you skipped buying three extra bundles of firewood: -$628.40
With these expenses ($1227.35) removed, the final number for the trip, activities and meals is $5102.60.
One of our sponsors, USA Five Star RV, has an online tool to help you plan the costs of an RV trip versus the flight/hotel option. Their site notes (correctly) that an RV becomes a more attractive option too based on the number of people you plan to take with you — the site bases all of its cost estimates on a family of six traveling together.
What portion of these costs were fuel? Over the course of the entire trip, we spent a total of $923.03 on gasoline.
I enjoy traveling in an RV very much — this trip reminded me of many road trips and RV trips I took with my mom and dad when I was a child, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to take this trip for far less than it would normally cost in an unsponsored capacity.
I believe that if you want to take a trip like this, you need to choose RVing because you want the experience of driving across our beautiful country and being able to see parts of the USA that you miss when you fly. Take a trip like this for the convenience of having everything you brought with you accessible at all times — there are no “Oh no, we left that at the hotel!” moments when all of your gear is with you throughout the trip. Take it for the convenience of being able to stop wherever you want to, whenever you want to. (Especially when your kids need to use the bathroom, and no one else in the vehicle does, you’ll really appreciate having an RV!)
You also can’t overlook the comfort factor either. Traveling in an RV is much roomier and more comfortable than road-tripping in a car. Our boys were extremely comfortable throughout the trip. If they wanted to lie down and spread out, they rode on the bed in the back bedroom. When they wanted to sit at a table, they moved to the dining area and read books, played card games, drew pictures and watched the world go by. Hungry or thirsty? A stocked refrigerator is steps away and always accessible. If you want to make a bag of popcorn or cook in the microwave while you’re cruising down the highway — no problem!
Would we do it again? We’d definitely like to take an RV trip again. Throughout our entire trip, my husband kept asking me “Why haven’t we borrowed your parents’ RV before?” (I don’t know! Because they use it all the time? Because it’s an enormous thing to ask to borrow?) This was my husband’s first time traveling in an RV, and despite some of the planning and logistical issues, he loved having all of the comforts of “home” available on the road.
I do think our boys have become a bit spoiled though. Last weekend, we had another camping trip planned (locally, here in Illinois.) One of my sons said, “Mom, do we really have to go back to camping in a tent?“
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.
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