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 Vacation 2019: Devils Tower

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soothsayer
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PostSubject: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Mon Jul 23, 2018 9:36 am

While glancing through some outdoorsy magazine yesterday, I stumbled upon one of those "vacation here" adverts that States tend to put out. This one was for Wyoming: had a couple wearing headlights walking through a field, stars and the Milky Way visible in a darkened sky, with Devils Tower prominently in the background.

Ever since first seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I've wanted to go to Devils Tower. As I grew older, I began wanting to go someplace where I could sit at night and see the stars without light pollution, or an environment outside of our wooded area. I mean, just look at how amazing this looks!




So, when I got home yesterday afternoon, I fired up the laptop and checked the driving route from home to the Tower: comes in at 14.5 hours, with the distance being between 960 to 985 miles. This... this suddenly became quite doable. Here is a trip that could be made in a day, but realistically probably looking at two. Spend two nights there, head back home.

Not factoring gas or expenses (because I haven't gotten that far yet)... just overnight lodgings... there are two likely areas I'm looking at: the Belle Fourche River Campground at $20 a night (no power, but has drinking water spigots and restrooms, first come-first serve; and Devils Tower KOA Campground which has everything from wifi to laundry to hookups to gift shops and cafe and and and, at $60 a night. Both are essentially in the shadow of Devils Tower. Visiting the Tower itself is either $20 per vehicle (regardless of the number of visitors) or $10 a person if you walk or bike in.

In checking with the KOA site, there are still openings throughout this season; a trip this summer is viable. However, I'm looking at next year simply to set aside funds for vehicular emergencies, Gas is no biggie, could have that within two weeks; same with food. But with the fair coming up, then school supplies, don't want to short anything, or make things tight.
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Mon Jul 23, 2018 1:58 pm

seasonal temperatures

Naturally, I'll be wanting to head to Devils Tower during the summer months. Don't want to drive during a snowstorm... not that the camp grounds would be open or anything. Could always park for the night at a Walmart, but where's the fun in that? The camp grounds, from what I've been reading, are generally open from May through September or October, so that's the window I'm looking at.

I also have to consider the boy and his schooling. For him, if he has perfect attendance, he gets done with school mid to late May (otherwise first week of June), starts back up the first week of September; this closes my window slightly, late May through August. In looking at the climate, I don't want to be there when it's too hot during the day, otherwise hiking wouldn't be enjoyable; checking out the US Climate Data, July and August have an average daytime high of 86 degrees / nighttime low of 52, while the May / June window (because of the boy) would be about 70-72, with an evening temp in the low 40s. With that said, it looks like I'm shooting for the late May / early June.

Sadly, this also puts things in the rainy season, with an average rainfall bordering 3".

** For those keeping score at home, by the look of things, September is the best month to go: average high of 74*, low of 40*, rain coming in at just over 1.25" **


Last edited by soothsayer on Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:10 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:09 pm

halfway points

If I am planning on stopping halfway to and from the Tower, it looks like the best (ie, cheapest... free) option would be Walmart stays. In searching "Walmart along I-90", it appears as if that highway is overrun with Walmart Supercenters; there will be rests aplenty, that's for certain.

Taking the highest mileage at 984 miles one way, the halfway point would naturally be 492 miles. The closest to this would be to stop at Sioux Falls SD, putting us 450 from the Tower (535 miles from home). If I drive at 60mph, I'm looking at almost nine hours drive on day one, and 7.5 hours on day two. Not bad, not bad at all. If I wanted to push an extra hour, I could rest at Mitchell SD (380 miles from Tower).

On the return trip, I could once again stop at Sioux Falls, or go a little bit further and stop at the Walmart in Worthington MN (480 miles from home); then there's the one in Goemann MN, coming in at 423 miles from home. Either way, this puts me at 8 to 9 hours drive on day one / 8 to 7 on day two.

** I just checked the website detailing overnight stays at Walmart, and it looks like all these locations are good, with the exception of the one for Goemann... there was no information. I double-checked a site that lists all the Walmarts that don't allow over-nights, and it isn't on there, either. **
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:15 pm

itinerary

Looking ahead to 2019, it looks like the best time to start this would be to head out on Saturday June 1st, second day of driving on the 2nd (arrive Sunday afternoon); spend the 3rd - 4th - 5th; depart the 6th, second day travel on the 7th (Friday), then have the weekend to recuperate. Or I could look into staying an extra day, get back home on that Saturday and recover on Sunday.

*shrugs*

Will have to do the math and see what it would all come out to. I'll edit this later with a cost update.
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Thu Jul 26, 2018 3:52 pm

expansion

It's only been three days, and I've already started to expand this vacation to include some additional sites.

Arrive at the KOA Ranch Sunday evening. Spend Monday relaxing and resting from the drive, a little sightseeing / hit the shops. Go to the Tower's visitor center on On Tuesday (Tower Tuesday), come back, do some laundry.

IF we depart the tower on Wednesday, that gives me four days before I have to be at work (five if you count Wednesday itself). No matter how you count it, we depart Wednesday, drive a couple hours to Mount Rushmore. Stay long enough for a couple pictures... because really, I don't see what the big draw is about the place. Jump back in the van, drive a couple more hours, and arrive at... dun dun dun... The Badlands; I definitely want to spend some time here. If we're fortunate enough, we'll spend the night, then spend a few more hours during the day, then start trekking home.

That'll take us well into Thursday. Depending on when we leave the Badlands, we could be looking at a Friday arrival back home at the earliest, or Saturday (the drive itself from the badlands to home is roughly 12 hours / a smidge over 800 miles). Can't see myself driving too long into the evening, so about 4.5 hours after the badlands is the Worthington Walmart Supercenter (7.5 hours from home); however, if I can make it an addition 115 miles, there's the Walmart in Albert Lea MN (5.75 hours from home).

...

That's looking pretty good, but again, it's a matter of how tired I am upon leaving the Badlands.

In looking at this, I see no reason why we wouldn't be arriving back home late Friday afternoon.

{edit}

Mmmmmaybe spend two days at the Badlands. Leave early Friday.
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Mon Aug 20, 2018 8:34 am

reservations

Just a small bit of information, though probably useless as well, seeing as how it's quite specific in its nature: if you are scheduling a trip to Devils Tower and plan on spending an evening or more at the Devils Tower KOA Ranch (KOA standing for Kampgrounds of America or something like that), the earliest you can book a reservation is November of the year prior to your trip.

{EDIT} If making a reservation in the Badlands National Park, reservations are not taken until March of that year. You do not need a reservation as the campgrounds are first come / first serve... but if you're looking for a site that has electricity or hookups, it'd be better to book in advance as a just in case.


Last edited by soothsayer on Tue Aug 21, 2018 2:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Mon Aug 20, 2018 8:46 am

final countdown

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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Tue Aug 21, 2018 11:34 am

dates

Getting tired of looking up June 2019 calendars all the time when checking things out or planning, so I'm putting an itinerary here. Nothing concrete, just helps with planning. Oh, one big change: the boy asked we depart the second week of June, due to a college course he's taking (aren't allowed to miss any days).

June 8 (Saturday) - Depart home, and with luck hit Sioux Falls or Mitchell for an overnight stay at Walmart.

June 9 (Sunday) - Depart Walmart and check in at the Devils Tower KOA in the late afternoon / early evening.

June 10 (Monday) - Day of rest. Hit the shops, do laundry, and relax. Maybe fish. Just soak it all in.

June 11 (Tuesday) - Tower Tuesday!

June 12 (Wednesday) - Depart the KOA, visit Mt Rushmore for a quick "I was here" photo, then head out and check in at the Badlands.

June 13 (Thursday) - site see. Ooh and ahh and shop visits. Rest up for drive back.

June 14 (Friday) - check out, start heading home. Hopefully make it to Worthington or Goemann (or maybe further?) for an overnight at Walmart.

June 15 (Saturday) - At some point in the afternoon, we ought to be home.
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Wed Sep 05, 2018 8:28 am

approved

Knowing people are creatures of habit when it comes to their vacation days, I messaged my supervisor to see if anyone usually takes off the second week of June (and then explained why I was asking). She said she doesn't recall, but that I could go ahead and file a request if I wanted and she would write it in, it just couldn't really be submitted to the district office until December. So naturally, I completed the form right away... and as of right now, my week long vacation is approved.

It is also to my understanding that, when planning vacations or trips, people are always told to plan for the week instead of the weekend: airplane tickets are generally cheaper on Tuesday (I think), with the more expensive flights being Friday, Saturday, and Monday; hotel rooms are cheaper Tuesday through Thursday; that sort of thing. Not saying this with the hopes that camping reservations are cheaper, because they aren't... I just hope that the stays I am planning will be open. They should be. How many people would book a spot for June in November (for the Tower)? That's seven - eight months out! Or for June in March (Badlands)? Four - five months? Nah, I think I'm good.
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PostSubject: Re: Vacation 2019: Devils Tower   Wed Nov 07, 2018 1:50 pm

reserved

Campgrounds have been reserved! Here are the details...

Reserved a spot at Devils Tower KOA on the first of November: requested "back in, 30 amps, water/electric, premium view and close to amenities". What I wanted was a spot that wouldn't have my view of the Tower obstructed by other RVs and electric hook up, everything else is just part of that particular campsite grouping. You see those hashmarks around the camp area? Those are the RV parking spots. Now, those marks that are closest to the Tower / aimed at it? One of those is mine. Look at that potential view! The green area seen in the 90* road bend is where they have a laundry mat, restroom and shower (a big plus).




With regards to the Badlands, last I checked, reservations couldn't be made until March... but upon checking the website today it had "now accepting reservations for 2019" across the banner. Yay! Here I reserved a spot at the Cedar Pass campground, once again selecting a spot with electric hookups (water services unavailable in the Badlands). With this campground, you are able to select specific sites, and I was able to get Campsite 22 (circled in yellow, see picture below). The path leading north leads to bathrooms (on the left) and showers (on the right).




Grand total for these reservations is $259.20.  For five nights, that's not too bad. Could have gone cheaper by taking non-electric spots... I do have the battery packs, after all. But if you calculate how much staying in a room would cost, pfft, you could easily double or triple that amount.

Certainly, the cost of gas is going to offset the cost of reservations, especially with driving something that only gets 10mpg, which brings me to the next big cost: saving for gas. Looking at a couple different travel planner sites, the average gas price (as of today) in Wyoming is $2.75; South Dakota is at $2.68; Minnesota, $2.72. These prices are comparable to our current gas price of $2.74. I would expect these prices to remain consistent: what gas costs here will be the same price as over there. I'll check these comparisons off and on just to make sure, but seeing these costs within cents of each other, that's pretty good.
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