I am entering a new stage of life...my National Lampoons Vacation stage.
Air travel is more expensive and difficult now with two little ones. The wife and I both grew up with family road trips and RV trips and we want our children to experience that same
torture adventure. There are so many things to experience and see in our own backyard, that list includes:
- Mount Rushmore
- Mesa Verde
- Grand Canyon
- Awesome mountain towns (Telluride, Durango, Crested Butte, Steamboat)
- Colorado National Monument
- Royal Gorge
- Zion, Moab, Canyonlands, and Arches national parks
The first step involved finding the right RV for our family. I wanted something I could comfortably tow with the Dodge Dakota, the wife had her heart set on bunk beds for the kids. Of course we also wanted something affordable. We shopped around and found many trailers with bunks for the kids, but they were all long and heavy. My truck is rated to tow up to 5500 lbs, but I wanted something under 4000lbs. These bunk houses we looked at were all about 4500lbs, and that seemed too heavy to me. I also wanted to keep the trailer shorter so that we have more versatility for campsites. I want to be able to take it to dry sites in the National Forest. So we started looking at hybrids, which have pop-up style beds that extend out of the trailer on both sizes. This keeps the trailers small and light, but still allows plenty of living space. I really liked the idea of the hybrids because I wanted to be able to unzip them and see the stars and hear the forest. I could feel like I was camping instead of glamping.
My wife didn't like the idea of the hybrid. She worried about the canvas holding up, keeping it dry, and cooling/heating problems. Fortunately we found a used 2014 Forest River Micro Lite 23 LB that was perfect. It had the bunk beds she wanted, plus it was only 3700lbs and 23 feet so it met my requirements. It also has a cool design with a murphy queen bed that folds down over the couch, that makes it very spacious when folded up.
The wife has a sister in Rapid City that she has wanted to visit for a while now. Rapid City is near the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, which I have never been to. It seemed like a good first trip. I could get used to towing the trailer, see Mount Rushmore and visit family in a single trip. So we loaded the trailer up and hit the road.
The plan was to leave on a Thursday night and make it to a Walmart in Scottsbluff, NE. As soon as we hit the interstate we had our first problem. The trailer started swaying violently and that caused the front end of the truck to sway. It scared me, but I quickly learned to control the sway when it happened. As soon as we stopped for gas I was able redistribute some weight to the passenger side and that made a huge difference. I probably should get a sway control hitch, but I think a taller hitch receiver would make a big difference as the trailer seems to sit low and tilt forward when hooked to my truck.
We made it to the Walmart in Scottsbluff, NE around midnight. It was pretty nice, we just nestled in between a few semis, lowered the hitch and climbed aboard the trailer. It is very cool that Walmart allow this as we didn't need power for a 5 hour rest. We hit the road around 6 am and headed north to the Black Hills. The drive was pretty easy and I seemed to find a groove towing the trailer and was able to relax. The one thing that shocked me was just how poor my gas mileage was, I normally get about 18-20 mpg but I was down to 9-11 mpg. This meant stopping often for gas as I have a pretty small gas tank.
The Black Hills
We arrived at our campground around 11am, right in time for lunch. We stayed at the Flinstone's Bedrock City RV Park, which was a little cheesy and dated but it was cheap and Chase (the 2 year old) loved it. Setting up took a little longer than I expected but I imagine I will get faster with more practice. We also need to better organize our storage and hookups. When hooking up I discovered our second problem, we stuck our RV hose in the bumper of the trailer, but one cap must have fallen off and the hose fell out somewhere along the route. Also, the hot water heater was missing the drain plug, so no hot water this trip.
Once we got settled we had a great time. Chase seemed to enjoy his private bunk, and the murphy queen bed was very comfortable. We may end up getting a memory foam topper for it, but it was pretty good. Baby Brynn did well sleeping on the dinette bed. The heater worked well and kept the family warm. Chase was able to watch some of his favorite movies (via the xbox i brought along, glamping indeed). All in all, the RV was great and we all really enjoyed it.
As for the Black Hills, I came away very impressed. I expected Nebraska style hills with dense cedar forests, I was surprised to see how much it looked like the Rocky Mountains. Dense forests with aspens and ponderosa pines. The rock outcroppings were very cool, and I could see why they choose this place for Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument.
Mount Rushmore was cool, but now that I have seen it I am not sure I need to visit it again. However I definitely want to go back and visit Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. In fact I wish we choose to stay in the state park rather than the RV park in the middle of Custer.
Wind Cave National Park had a large Buffalo heard, and it reminded me of Yellowstone. I would love a chance to visit the caves and explore the park further.
Ultimately, we didn't give ourselves enough time to explore the area, we could easily spend a week there. But it was good to see family and to take the trailer on a decent haul to get comfortable with it. The highlights are in the gallery below. I plan to write here about the, hopefully, many trips we take. It may not be interesting at all outside of my family but it could be cool to read about the trips years from now.