Day Five….One off of the Bucket List

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Today we left Wall, South Dakota about 9 AM, and about an hour later, Susie got her first glimpse of Mount Rushmore! She first said “WOW!!” and then told me she got a rush! Of course, it could also be that we’d just climbed above 5000 feet for the first time, but I like to think it was all about Mount Rushmore!

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to see Mount Rushmore. It probably had a lot to do with the 400+ times we’ve watched North by Northwest, and the vision of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint dangling from Abe’s nose. I know they didn’t really shoot those scenes on the mountain, but there has always been something about the sight of Mount Rushmore in pictures that has thrilled me. Susie had read that some people found it underwhelming when they saw it in the flesh. I’m here to tell you that I am definitely not one of those and neither is she!! It was just so moving to see the carvings, to listen to the story of how it came to be via the audio tour, and to, at the age of 66, finally see something that I have wanted to see forever!!

As I mentioned, we got the audio tour for $5 each, and enjoyed the information it provided us immensely! We visited the various exhibit halls, watched the movie, and even made sure to stop in the cafeteria where one of the climactic scenes from North by Northwest was filmed! No, Mount Rushmore definitely did not disappoint!!


After spending over three hours there, we got back in the car and headed to the Crazy Horse Monument. Due to time constraints, we only did a drive by/photo op.

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Then it was on to the second great part of our day, Custer State Park! We took the Wildlife Loop Road, didn’t see any Buffalo, but as you’ll see in the pictures, we did see other wildlife! Then it was on to Iron Mountain Road. This is the most incredible road we have ever been on….a close second was a road we took in Oahu climbing into the clouds to see the park that Chad and Mylie picnicked at in Elvis’ Blue Hawaii! Switchback after switchback, up and down at almost the same time, around and over bridges, followed by more switchbacks, only so you can have the most incredible views of Mount Rushmore! There are three tunnels on this road that perfectly frame Mount Rushmore as you drive through them. The tunnels were designed to frame the four faces on Mount Rushmore, and it was only AFTER the tunnels were built, that the road to connect them was designed! Now we know why the road looks like it does!!

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imageWe are staying tonight in Keystone, South Dakota, which is Mount Rushmore’s home. It looks like a crazy Western Mountain Tourist Town!! Dinner tonight was at Ruby House Restaurant with drinks supplied by the Red Garter Saloon next door! Susie had Country Fried Steak, while for the second night in a row, I had Buffalo! A Buffalo Rib imageEye! Now we are back in the room, even though we should be on our way back to Mount Rushmore for the Nighttime Illumination program, but it is pouring out, 58 degrees, and heavy thunder storms are predicted for later! So, as I write this, we are here in an Econo Lodge, rather than celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the US Park Service…August 25, 1916 to August 25, 2016! Happy Birthday and good night!!

The Number One Question We Get Asked

We honestly thought that the next time you heard from us, we’d probably be on the road, or just about to start our Big Adventure, but because we keep getting asked the same question over and over again, we thought it might be worth exploring the question, our answer, and our reasoning. For as long as we have been contemplating and talking about this trip, almost every time it comes up in conversation, we get asked this question. In fact, just yesterday, at a lunch with some former workmates Sue was asked it, while at almost exactly the same time, Frank was asked it by our Dentist. Invariably, as we are talking about our route and some of the stops we’re making, someone pipes up and says, “So are you renting a Motorhome for the trip?” Our answer is always the same, “Nope…we’re going in our 2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited and staying in hotels.” Sometimes you see a little disappointment at our answer, because I guess this is the kind of trip many see doing in a Motorhome, but for us, it’s just not what we’re looking to do, and here’s why.

PRICE

Here’s the first downer for using a Motorhome, unless you already own one, the cost of rental. They are not cheap vehicles to rent! From research we’ve done, it looks like a smaller Motorhome, that would be perfect for 2 people rents for around $100 a day. Then, there is a fee of 35 cents per mile driven, plus it gets about 9 miles to a gallon of gas. On the other hand, our 2013 Sonata with 47,000 miles on it is fully paid for. Any service costs that we’d have to pay in preparation or during the course of our trip would be normal wear and tear items that we’d already have to pay for, and it will get close to 35 MPG on the highway all day. “But you’ll save the cost of hotels in the Motorhome”, you might say. Well, lets take a day out of our trip and compare the costs of the two styles of travel, and you decide.

For argument sake, lets take a day when we travel 300 miles and as a stop, let’s talk about our visit to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

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Daily Rental………………………………$100
Mileage Fee………………………………$105 (35 cents X 300 miles)
Cost of Gas……………………………….$ 75 (300 miles @ 9 MPG X $2.25 a gallon)
Campground………………………………$ 63 (KOA Hill City, SD)

Motorhome Total……………………………..$343

 

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Daily Rental……………………….$000
Mileage Fee……………………….$000
Cost of Gas………………………..$ 22.50 (300 miles @ 30 MPG X $2.25 a gallon)
Hotel……………………………………$ 86.51 (Econolodge, Keystone, SD)

 

Sonata Total…………………………….$109.01

Some might try and throw in the expense of food, but as we already travel with our cooler and supplies for breakfast and lunch, the only meal you might be able to argue about would be dinner, and we’d bet the difference there would not be enough to tip the balance towards renting a Motorhome. Add in the fact that our current plan is to be on the road at the very least 2 months, and to cover upwards of 6,000 miles, and you can see just how much the Motorhome would cost us in terms of daily rental, mileage charge, and gas! Score one for the car!

CONVENIENCE

Ever notice that when you see a Motorhome driving down the highway, if it’s an owned Motorhome and not a rental, it’s almost always towing a car or some motor bikes on a trailer? That’s because if they didn’t have this other form of transportation along for the ride, every time you’d go anywhere, you’d have to take your home with you! Think about it. You stop for the night at that KOA Camp Ground near Mt. Rushmore we used in the price example. We’re staying two nights in the area because there’s a lot to see, so let’s assume we’re doing the same renting a Motorhome. That first night you pull in, get the unit level, hook up the electric service, the water, the cable TV, and you settle in for the night. The next morning you’re off to Mt. Rushmore and what do you have to do? Yep, unhook the water, electric, cable TV, put away anything and everything you took out of it’s storage the night before, and like the turtle, head off to Mt. Rushmore with your house on your back. Then you get to Mt. Rushmore, and you’re not looking to park a car, but a Motorhome. Everything we’ve read, parking for a Motorhome at a lot of these sites is limited, and in many instances far away. We’ve also read that in places like Yellowstone National Park, it’s even a bigger pain to try touring in a Motorhome. But say you do have a successful day touring around the Mt. Rushmore area with your rented Motorhome. When you are done for the day, do you get to open the door of your hotel room and flop on the bed? Nope, you have to start the hookup procedure all over! And what about any cities that may be on your itinerary? How convenient do you think it’s going to be going around Denver or Salt Lake, or even Las Vegas in a Motorhome? All reasons that we think the car wins again.

LOCATION

You know the old Real Estate adage, Location, Location, Location. Well, when you are talking about campgrounds where you can spend the night in a rented Motorhome, it also comes into play. Campgrounds need lots of space, and because of that, are often farther afield from tourist destinations than hotels. In the Mt. Rushmore example we used earlier, the hotel we have reservations for is a mere 8 minutes from Mt. Rushmore, while that KOA we used as an example is 30 minutes away. The more populated the area, the bigger that time difference. You can stay in a hotel in Denver or Salt Lake, but a campground will probably be well outside the area that you wish to see, which will mean added travel time, and then the nightmare of trying to park the Motorhome! Some may disagree, but for us, another win for the car!

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Back when the kids were young, we owned a succession of pop-up campers. For about 6 or 7 years, we towed the pop-up behind our van. Many times, it was to return to a known campground where we went every summer, but there were also sightseeing trips that we went on. One year, it was up to Mystic, Connecticut, another year a 10 day journey through New York State and into Canada. On those sightseeing trips, most days we stayed one night in a location, so each afternoon it was set up the camper, and the next morning it was pack it up. Different campgrounds every day, setting up and knocking down daily, dealing with dirt and campground bathrooms, finding parking at tourist sights for our van/camper combo, driving down the road with a vehicle that was more affected by wind and the force of passing tractor trailers than a car….we’ve been there, and done that. It was great back when we did it, and it may be great for many people today too, but it’s just not what we want on this trip. Once again, for us, and based on past experience, the car wins out!

So, no, we’re not renting a Motorhome for our Big Adventure. We will be driving our Sonata, staying in a succession of national chain hotels, and National Park hotels, and enjoying clean sheets and good air-conditioning (or heat) every night! Nothing against Motorhomes and if your own one, we’re sure that they are a great way to travel, but it’s not just for us! The trip itself is going to be a Big Adventure enough for us, without adding the cost and inconvenience of a rented Motorhome. We’re just not prepared for that Big an Adventure!

Hope that answered your question.

Our Big Trip Update

imageSo, the last time we talked about our “Big Trip”, we told you that because of a need to make certain reservations now or not be able to stay where we want to, our trip had taken on some real details. We will be leaving Long Island on August 21st…two months from tomorrow… and heading west, so this is becoming more and more real! Since our last update, some of our reservations have changed and more of the early part of our trek has been further fleshed out.

imageOriginally, the only place we could originally get in the Grand Canyon was a room at the Yavapai Lodge, this was definitely not our first choice. While it is indeed located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it is not ON the South Rim, but is back about a 1/2 mile. As everything else at the Grand Canyon was already booked for our dates, we felt fortunate that we were at least in the Grand Canyon and not miles outside of the Park. Frank had read online advice from many folks that said to grab something, and just keep on checking back and see if something better opens up, and that’s exactly what we did. After checking back on almost a daily basis, we were rewarded with exactly what we wanted. We now have reserved a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, which is literally feet away from the rim of the canyon! Sunrises and Sunsets will be much easier to enjoy from that location!

We’ve also fleshed out our stay at Yellowstone a bit and have booked one dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge, a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake, and a Lake Butte Sunset Tour, the vehicles for which are classic Yellowstone “Yellow Buses” from the 20s and 30s. This along with exploring things like Old Faithful on our own, and seeing the varied wildlife in the park, should make for two unforgettable days in America’s First National Park!

We have also looked closer at the days leading up to our two night stay in Yellowstone. The amount of reading you have to do, the number of maps you need to consult, the websites you have to check, and the mileage and time calculations you have to do to have a successful trip can be mind boggling! But, when it’s a trip you have been dreaming and talking about for years, it all becomes worth it! One of the things that will be included on those days leading up to our Yellowstone visit will be one of Frank’s main Bucket List items on this trip, Mount Rushmore!

imageHis desire to see Mt. Rushmore in the flesh, probably stems from seeing Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climb across the faces of the presidents in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. Frank found an interesting article recently dealing with what was actually filmed on site, and what was shot back at the studio. Of course, it would seem fairly obvious that someone like Cary Grant was not actually dangling from Lincoln’s nose on the real Mt. Rushmore, but apparently the head of the National Park Services was fearful that back in 1959, some folks might think he was! It seems that the permit that Hitchcock and the crew were given for the scenes they filmed at Mt. Rushmore contained specific language detailing what the film makers could do in scenes shot on site, or in the studio using mock-ups. The reason for this language lay in one simple fact: master film director Alfred Hitchcock had long wanted to film a movie involving the “Shrine of Democracy,” but the Park Service had concerns about the memorials potential “desecration.” After seeing a preview of the movie before it’s public release, the head of the service wrote, “The phony studio shots leave the average customer with the idea that the scenes of violence were staged on the memorial itself.” Kind of hard to understand that logic when 60 years later we have seen everything from the Empire State Building to the White House destroyed in movies, but the Park Service actually tried to have the release of the movie stopped…obviously that didn’t happen. You have to wonder how many of the tourists who have journeyed to Mt. Rushmore over the almost 60 years since the release of the movie, have done so for the same reason we are… because they saw North by Northwest. In hindsight, perhaps the movie they feared so much, was the best publicity a monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota could have gotten! As Cary Grant playing Roger Thornhill, the advertising executive protagonist in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest says, “Ah, Maggie, in the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration!”.

So, anyway, Mt. Rushmore is the first major stop of our adventure, and as we said, we have fleshed out some of the days leading up to our visit. Leaving NY on August 21st, we will journey out Interstate 80 to Chicago, then head slightly north until we join up with Interstate 90. Depending on weather, the road conditions, how we feel, and what we may want to stop and see along the way, we figure it will take us the better part of 4 days to reach South Dakota. We are planning our first stop in South Dakota to be in Murdo, and then the next morning, we expect to hit our first National Park of the trip, Badlands National Park, on our way to Mt. Rushmore. Next we reserved two nights in Keystone, South Dakota which is right in the heart of the area with easy access to Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. After our two nights in the area, we will head out, hopefully hitting Devils Tower National Monument and detouring north to pay a visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. We hope our stop that night will be in Sheridan, Wyoming and then the next day we will head into Yellowstone for our two days there.

imageTo be honest, this kind of planning is definitely not our style. We are more the type of folks that get into the car, have a rough idea of where we’re going, a general idea of our time frame, and then take off, stopping each night in hotels we find along the way in the AAA Tour Books. What we have discovered though, is that when your trips include National Parks and Monuments, unless you want to drive around half the night looking for a place to stay, you really have to plan ahead. So at least on this first leg, we have been forced to make hotel reservations, figure out how much mileage we’ll cover each day, and what we’re going to see. Hopefully the next leg of the trip, will leave us a little more leeway to wander, but we will see when we soon take a closer look at the two weeks between Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. We’ve already looked at the maps and are thinking about the next leg taking us to the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, Denver (perhaps a baseball game there), Pikes Peak, and maybe even Vegas. We don’t want to give away too much of the “adventure” of this trip, but just thought you might be interested in a bit of the planning we’ve put in. Only time will tell if our trek between leaving Yellowstone on August 30th, and checking into the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon on September 14th will be as planned, or more free form. Only time will also tell if our plans will all work out, or if we will be doing some “flying by the seat of our pants”. Stay tuned!