The Rafter J-Bar Ranch, pictured above, is one of our favorite campgrounds. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, it offers wide-open spaces, every amenity a family could want (except most sites do not offer TV service), in a setting that rivals the best state parks.
Custer and his army stayed here in 1874 and it later became a stagecoach stop during the gold rush. Some of the original buildings remain. It later became a working ranch until it was converted to a campground in 1964.
For us, it was a nostalgic stop last weekend — we stayed here with our sons in 2001. That was one of our best family trips.
We sit in our trailer this evening in northwestern Montana at a tiny RV park wedged in a river valley surrounded by forested mountains. (I should also add I-90 and the railroad are here too.)
So, it seems like a good time for some notes from the trail:
Beautiful as advertised: Montana. We entered just north of Sheridan, Wyoming and drove the I-90 corridor across the state. Stunning mountain scenery, forests, rock formations and prairies. There were great views of the snow-capped Bighorn and Rocky mountains.
European RVers: In South Dakota, we were suddenly seeing many new Minnie Winnie motor homes, on the road and in RV parks. They seemed to be everywhere, no license plates yet. We found out that Winnebago advertises in Europe for fly-and-drive RV vacations. The renters get the RV for a few weeks at a much-reduced rate and the company gets the motor home delivered to a client. The renters can drive it as much as they want, but agree to deliver it to a city by a certain date.
Driving challenges: Driving a motor home or pulling a trailer can be exhausting. You have to choose your stops carefully. Some gas stations and cafe parking lots won’t work. I’ll take a country road, even if it has small-town stops, over a busy interstate anytime. Winds above 15 miles an hour, unless they are pushing you, are not easy. So, we watch the weather. We stayed an extra day once when 40-mph winds were forecast.
Is it worth it? We say a resounding “Yes!” When we compare RVing to long motel trips and eating out day after day, this life wins. Our own bed, bathroom, kitchen, food. No living out of suitcases. For us, the benefits far outweigh the driving hassles and work of setting up and taking down at each RV park.
Gas costs: Prices were lower once we left the west coast. California was the highest, Texas ($1.98) the lowest. We usually paid about $2.25 a gallon. Also, the cash and credit card prices were the same most of the way. No 10-cent charge for using credit.
Car brands: Once we left the west coast, we saw far fewer Priuses and Subarus.
Flags: We saw the Confederate flag frequently in the South.
Welcome: Twice in the South, when people found out we were from Oregon, they said, “Welcome to America!”