It’s been years since we first heard of Bisbee from our friends and previous full-time RVers at Tales From the Mutiny. But you don’t drive past Bisbee, Arizona. You’ve got to drive to it…a destination on the way to nowhere else.
As we were making our way west once again, this time along the far southern edge of the country from Big Bend National Park, we finally charted our route to Bisbee.
We spent three nights in town and could’ve stayed longer. While the small town’s quirky, substance-altered vibe may not make everyone want to stay forever, there’s definitely something charming about it all.
Our RV Campground in Bisbee
There are several RV park options in the Bisbee area. We opted for Queen Mine RV Park because it’s a short walk from town and the nightly rate was reasonable (full hookups).
Our Queen Mine RV Park site was tiny, but in the best location
This is not a large park, so you should definitely call ahead. The sites are back-in, arranged in a circular gravel lot. There were some big rigs in there, including fifth wheels and Class As, but parking was definitely not fun for them. The sites are about as skinny as it gets.
I was grateful for a laundry room on-site, and it was a huge plus to be right in town, able to wander at will.
How to Explore Bisbee
Making discoveries along the streets of Bisbee
Our travels have been fast lately, and we’ve simultaneously had our heads down in a number of work projects. So instead of making plans, I mostly let Bisbee happen to me.
Just an alley filled with art
Early each day while we were in town, Caspian and I would walk into the fading desert cool of the morning. We found Bisbee Coffee Co., where I enjoyed a coffee and we shared a pastry–like a scone or cinnamon roll. The outdoor patio is a good size and perfect for people-watching.
Sitting on the patio at Bisbee Coffee Co.
From there, our goal was to find stairs.
The Stairs of Bisbee
Caspian’s first flight of stairs in Bisbee–all 181 of them
You wouldn’t think stairs would be much of an attraction, but Bisbee is famous for them. Each year, there’s something called Bisbee 1000, called “the most unique physical fitness challenge in the U.S.” From the official website:
“Bisbee 1000 The Great Stair Climb is arguably one of the most unusual and challenging events in the world. The 4.5-mile course features nine staircases (over 1000 total steps) connected by winding roads. While enjoying the challenge, runners and walkers alike see some of the most scenic parts of Old Bisbee.”
I used the (difficult to interpret) race map online to find as many of the staircases as I could. (Note: someone told me there was an app with a map, but I couldn’t find it.)
Taking a good-humored break after a morning of stairs
We ended up doing three of the nine staircases. Caspian climbed all on his own and rocked a total of 406 stairs over two mornings.
Where to Eat in Bisbee
We have financial goals right now that require scaling back on our eating out. We only ate 38% of meals at home while we were in Bisbee, so apparently our goals are a work in progress.
The short rib nachos at Santiago’s were superb
We had two meals at Santiago’s, and ordered the exact same thing the second time. I loved the shaded outdoor seating and house margarita. We took a chance on the short rib nachos and ended up loving them. The plate is huge–more than enough for two people to eat as a meal.
Bisbee Breakfast Club
Original Bisbee Breakfast Club–there are also locations in Tucson and Mesa
Our last morning before leaving town, we had brunch at Bisbee Breakfast Club in Lowell. Eric loved it and said he would return to try a few things on the menu. I wasn’t very hungry and accidentally ordered way too many carbs. If I had asked for a real meal, I think my experience would’ve been better!
Main street Lowell–what decade are you in?
We had to wander the time-machine main street of Lowell before going. We ran into a local who grew up in Bisbee and now lives on the main street in Lowell. He offered us some really interesting insight on the history of the area. There isn’t a lot of money available to revitalize Lowell, but the individual property owners have been working wonders with more renovations underway.
Activity Highlight: Coronado National Memorial
Caspian getting his 37th NPS passport stamp
Coronado National Memorial was Caspian’s 37th National Park Service unit. This site commemorates Francisco de Vásquez Coronado’s entrance into the American southwest.
Looking out over what’s believed to be Coronado’s route into the American southwest
After popping into the visitor’s center, we made the drive up to Montezuma Pass Overlook. The last stretch is off-road, but any vehicle can make it (except maybe in poor weather conditions).
Have Jeep, will go off-road
The view from the peak was incredible. Behind you, you reflect on Coronado’s journey of conquest. In front of you, Coronado National Forest rolls into mountains. Some of the peaks you see are located in neighboring Sonora, Mexico.
Caspian’s First Two-mile Hike
Caspian’s first two-mile hike, unaided
We didn’t have any big plans for our visit to Coronado National Memorial. But Caspian kept asking to go hiking, so we found an easy/moderate option. Windmill Trail is out-and-back, two miles total, with an elevation change of 200 feet.
Caspian’s first windmill
We didn’t plan to hike the whole thing. But if we did, we knew it would be a big milestone: Caspian’s first two-mile hike unaided.
We stayed sensitive to how #LittleNomad was faring, but he just kept going. It wasn’t without some work on Eric and my part: we told stories, sang songs, and set small goals that would get us just a bit farther (look for the big agave plant).
We’re not sure what happened to the trail, but it didn’t have a clear end-point a mile in. We know we hit at least a mile, thanks to our iPhone fitness tracker (Eric doesn’t wear a FitBit anymore, which is inconvenient when trying to break toddler hiking records).
So, yay for Caspian! He completed a mile-long hike when he was one, and now he’s conquered two miles…at two years, four months old.
Guess we need to start working on three miles now.
Closing Thoughts on Bisbee
Caspian loved the story I told him about this piece of fence art in Bisbee
Anyone who’s been to Bisbee will probably be appalled that we didn’t take the Queen Mine Tour. We’re sure it’s awesome, but the age minimum is six. Rather than switch off, Eric and I figured we’d come back in a few years. Caspian became obsessed with mine cars during our short time in Bisbee, so he’ll probably be able to lead the tour by then.
While Bisbee may not be my favorite small town, I enjoyed our time there and would definitely like to return some day.
Where Else Have We Been?
Like I mentioned, we’ve been traveling fast. Since we left the Austin area on April 18, the longest we’ve slept anywhere is four nights.
Life being what it is right now, there’s no way on earth I can keep up with travel logs if I write an article for every single place we stay. So here’s a quick look at our stops since Big Bend on Easter weekend.
Everyone Says You Must See Marfa
Easter Sunday in Marfa
When people ask where we’re from and we tell them Texas is our home base, 50% of followup questions are, “Have you been to Marfa?” Apparently people are obsessed with this artsy, out-of-place little town in West Texas.
Until this month, my answer was always no, we’ve never been.
But we tumbled in to Tumble In RV Park in Marfa on Easter, to a fabulous surprise. While we were checking in, one of our longest-time RV friends, Kerensa Durr (Drive. Dive. Devour., RV to Freedom) sauntered out of the laundry room.
We got to park right next to Brandon and Kerensa and enjoy some fun times together during our one-night stay.
Because it was literally the only place open in town that we could find (for Easter Sunday lunch!!), we ate at The Water Stop. Fortunately, it was an enjoyable meal.
Other than that, Eric and I did hit up the Marfa Lights Viewing Area after dark, while Brandon and Kerensa stayed with sleeping Caspian. As “Texas Monthly” wrote, “The Truth Is Out There.”
At 8 a.m. on Monday morning, there was no open coffee shop to find in Marfa. I know little towns can be sleepy (most of Bisbee didn’t open until 10 a.m.), but this was a little much.
Fortunately, we wandered into The Hotel Paisano to see if they had a coffee shop, and were rewarded with complimentary coffee. I repaid the favor by purchasing Big Bend Coffee Roasters beans at one of the perfectly curated shops in the hotel.
Even though Texas is our home base, we didn’t visit Big Bend National Park (one of only two national parks in the giant state of Texas) until this year.
Our reason was straight-forward: we need Internet to work; we work full-time; there isn’t Internet at Big Bend; we can’t go.
But times change. While we still need Internet to work, we aren’t currently sticking to our old travel rhythm. Many of our community members will remember our rhythm from before: drive no more than 250 miles and stay for two weeks.
When we were staying everywhere for two weeks, of course we couldn’t stay somewhere with no Internet. But now that we’re breaking our own rules, we can pop in somewhere for a weekend and get out before the work week starts.
That’s exactly what we did in order to visit Big Bend National Park. We just couldn’t put off a visit any longer!
Big Bend National Park Campground
Our RV site at Stillwell, outside Big Bend National Park
We left Austin on Thursday, April 18, and spent the night at Caverns of Sonora ($25/night for water and electric in gravel lot, no dump station). It kills me that we didn’t have a chance to visit the caverns during our quick overnight, but you can read about them on one of our other blogs, The Austinot.
On Friday afternoon, we pulled into our campground, Stillwell Ranch Store & RV Park ($22/night for water and electric in gravel lot, dump station on-site). We chose Stillwell because:
The national park campgrounds were walk-up only by the time we were ready to make a reservation, and we didn’t want to risk driving an hourish there and an hourish back, to find no sites available.
Stillwell had decent reviews online.
The location was right for the direction we were arriving and leaving from.
Stillwell is located only a few miles from the park’s boundary. It’s about 45 minutes to Panther Junction, the visitor’s center in the middle of the park.
The Internet connectivity was bad, and we weren’t even in Big Bend. Our AT&T and Verizon were basically unusable, and the campground Wi-Fi didn’t usually work unless we were right at/outside the office. So I had a stressful Friday evening finishing up a work project. But fortunately, after that, I didn’t have to think about work for the rest of the weekend.
To be fair, there are places you could stay just outside Big Bend where you could have connectivity, like Terlingua and (according to friends) other private RV parks near the park boundary.
An Inauspicious Start
Heading into Big Bend the Saturday before Easter
We were fortunate that our trip coincided with meeting friends from Austin Jeep Veterans club. We didn’t know Brian and Tori well before we went wheeling with them, but they ended up being fantastic people we loved spending time with. And they were so kind to Caspian, which is everything to my momma’s heart.
His happy place
But it didn’t start well. On Friday, I insisted to Eric that we get an early start the next morning. I knew it was going to be another hot day and wanted to take advantage of the cool morning. Brian and Tori graciously agreed to meet us at Panther Junction at 7 a.m.
I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m.
The next morning, I woke to Caspian’s toddler chatter from his bed. “He’s up insanely early, I thought.” Then I wondered, “Why is there light coming through the front blinds?” And then I decided, “I should check my phone.”
It was 7 a.m.
I won’t go into detail about the knots in my stomach or the fact that Eric is not a morning person. Use your imagination.
Somehow, we got dressed for the day, fed the baby, packed for a potential overnight in the Jeep, made the 45-minute drive, and still arrived at Panther Junction at 8:40 a.m.
Sure our new friends were going to think we were total flakes, we were so grateful for their graciousness. They had watched the sun rise together and seemed perfectly at ease.
Caspian getting his 35th passport stamp at Big Bend
We got Caspian’s passport stamp, did a potty run, waited for the guys to talk Jeep mods, and left for the Black Gap trailhead.
Off-roading in Big Bend: Black Gap Road
Beautiful vista along Black Gap Road
To get to Black Gap, you have to take a dirt road called Glen Spring. We quickly realized we should’ve aired down the tires before we left the visitor’s center because even Glen Spring was fairly rocky/washboardy. So we pulled over before long and took care of that.
Tori was awesome with letting Caspian use her camera
It’s just over seven miles from the Glen Spring turn-off to the start of Black Gap Road. We didn’t know what to expect from this Jeep Badge of Honor trail. Our expectations were fairly low because many people had led us to believe it wasn’t challenging at all, even bordering on boring.
Black Gap Road trailhead
We had already fallen for the landscape of Big Bend, so we knew it wouldn’t be boring. But we ended up being pleasantly surprised by the changes in terrain, natural features, and one climb up a rocky embankment. We thoroughly enjoyed the 16-mile drive (and earning our 10th badge)!
The main element along Black Gap, a rocky climb
Having concluded Black Gap at River Road, we had to decide which way to go. We opted to drive east towards Rio Grande Village. To get there, we had quite a few more miles of off-roading to go. We pulled into an empty primitive camping site for lunch, deploying our Batwing awning for shade.
Stopping for lunch at Big Bend
In hindsight, the things we forgot to pack were our swimsuits. We would’ve loved to hit the hot springs, where you can also dip into the cool Rio Grande River. It was a hot day and the water sounded so refreshing.
Off-roading achievement under our belt, we decided to head home to Basecamp.
Easter in and Around the Park
Caspian heading outside for his first Easter egg hunt
We got up the next morning (with the correct alarm set) and Caspian did his first Easter egg hunt.
Then we headed back into the park for Easter service at Chisos Basin Amphitheater. We were in the shade for most of the service, enjoying the beautiful cool of the morning. The uphill drive to Chisos was stunning because of how much the flora changed. Suddenly we went from scrub brush to trees!
Easter morning service at Big Bend National Park
Return Visit Required
During our stay, we pulled out our “1,000 Things to Do Before You Die: U.S. Edition,” which we hadn’t looked at in a long time. We studied the region around Big Bend and were astonished to learn how many awesome things were in the area, from the quirky town of Terlingua, to Fort Davis National Historic Site, to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
I started planning an itinerary that would take us to everything, but realized I was trying to do too much. Next time we are heading west out of Texas, we will make a point of giving this area its due.
A post shared by Peter Holcombe (@peterholcombe) on Feb 12, 2019 at 6:25am PST
I know, who wouldn’t want the Holcombes’ RV, right? But it wasn’t just that. For us, it was:
A Winnebago. We’ve been managing Winnebago’s official Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts for the past year, so we’re brand loyal and have been wanting to ride the Flying W.
A used Winnebago. When we were planning our Winnebago purchase, we planned to buy a new unit. We wanted to have the latest and greatest, as ambassadors for the brand. Then there’s the warranty (a luxury we’ve never experienced). But the plan felt slightly off. Over our past five years as RVers, we have always told people to buy used. Like, always. And so the idea of buying new felt like we were cheating on ourselves–trying to be something we aren’t.
A used Winnebago View 24J. Even though our purchase was unscheduled, it wasn’t unplanned. We’ve spent the last year looking at just about every Winnebago model that exists. We have walked through everything. From the Forza 38W (which we were originally sure we were getting) to travel trailers (which we seriously considered for at least part of a day) to every Class B (that Revel, tho!). As of October 2018, we had landed on the Winnebago View 24J.
And so, when I saw Peter’s post, which had gone up only 11 minutes before, I Knew. I walked across our San Miguel Allende Airbnb, in the interior of Mexico, and handed my phone to Eric. And he Knew, too. By the end of the day, it was a real thing. The rest was just details.
A month ago, we had no idea we’d be standing here
And so here we are, sitting in Chattanooga, TN, in our new-to-us RV! We’re excited to show Basecamp to our friends at RV Entrepreneur Summit in just a few days. All we need is a bison decal on the front!
How Does This Change 2019?
As far as where we want to go, the new RV changes nothing. The itinerary we shared in August (scroll to the bottom of the article) is exactly the same, minus the international trip, with the addition of Winnebago Grand National Rally in July.
The RV adds a logistical piece to the puzzle, as we need to have a place to park it when we want to overland in the Jeep only. But it also gives us more options. And, quite honestly, it gives us stability I’ve been missing over the past few months. Looking towards the longer-distance future, I’m still all-in with overlanding. But it’s a learning process that involves intentional self-deprivation, and I haven’t figured out how to make it sustainable.
Drop your questions in a comment! We’re excited to have your company as we continue our travels this year.
In the conclusion of that article, I pondered how the next three years would impact me, and predicted that Caspian (our #LittleNomad) would play a defining role. I was right because, these days, I’m a mother before a traveler, a caretaker before an explorer, a protector before a risktaker.
Even so, our little one adds to the richness of our adventures, rather than detracting from our dreams. When we look ahead, we see ourselves pushing boundaries as a family, trying new things, and continuing our lifestyle of full-time travel.
But when we announced our 2019 travel plans, we told you we were still going to be RVers. In the coming weeks, as our plans become reality (God-willing), we’ll eagerly share more with you.
And looking farther ahead, what does the future hold? It’s a big world. Our overlanding trip through Mexico, which we viewed as a shakedown–a personal experiment to see whether we enjoyed vehicle-based international travel–was a smashing success.
We are 100% sold on overlanding around the world, visiting as many of the 193 countries outside North America as we can. Our projected launch is summer 2021. Between now and then, we’ll take as many international trips as we can, while fulfilling our stateside commitments to family and clients.
This is our life plan. We have nowhere else to be, but together. You’re invited to come, too.
Our RV home of five years, the Tiffin Phaeton named Meriwether
Only we would come up with the idea of moving out of an RV into a Jeep, hosting three family members within the week before our move, which was also the week before Christmas, while simultaneously planning a two-month trip into the interior of Mexico–as new full-time overlanders.
As we’ve shared, we went back and forth about selling Meriwether. Is it really wise to sell our only home out from under us, without any immediate plans to get a new one? But we jumped, forcing ourselves to be brave and chase our long-term dreams.
Nonetheless, our RV selling process was a bit idealistic. I had this fantasy that we’d mention it was for sale in a few places and the perfect owner would immediately pop up.
We announced our plans to sell via Facebook Live on Oct. 31. And nothing really happened. Lots of kind encouragement from our tribe, but only a few casual inquiries about the RV. Another month went by, and I was beginning to realize we’d probably have to put some real effort into selling. Like, you know, actually list it on RV Trader or something.
But we had other priorities (see first paragraph) and kept hoping the right person would see our social media posts.
Note: This article includes affiliate links. If you get excited about any of the products featured here, we’d love it if you’d shop via our links. This will encourage us to continue investing time in creating useful content!
Maybe? But No
Just over a month ago, as we were pulling back into our home base of Central Texas, I got a message from a dear RV friend in the area who we’ve known for a couple of years. She and her husband seemed genuinely interested in Meriwether–the most interested of anyone up to that point.
But after some back and forth, they said they needed to pass because of their own upcoming moving plans. It was okay. We wanted nothing but the perfect person for Meriwether and a positive experience for everyone involved. But we were left without any potential buyers, less than two weeks before our move-out date.
So we moved ahead with our back-up plan. Our RV mechanic had offered to keep Meriwether on his lot in San Antonio, giving tours to potential buyers and taking a consignment fee if he sold to anyone. We figured it was a good option to start with, at least for the time we were in Mexico. If it didn’t sell, we’d reevaluate on our return.
Moving Out of an RV Is Still Moving
Everything in our RV fit into this U-Haul trailer
So last weekend was cray-cray. On Friday, we picked up a U-Haul trailer to tow behind the Jeep, packing and loading as many things from the RV as we could. This may sound weird, but I was astonished by how much stuff I had. We had been so devoted to “spring cleaning” every six months, and I regularly donated items we didn’t use.
Problem was, we always focused on clearing the basement. Meanwhile, the bajillion cabinets inside hid a deceptively large amount of items. On moving weekend, I was genuinely, non-humorously angry at myself for keeping so much that I didn’t need.
We prepped Meriwether for transport, much easier than normal considering most of our stuff was in the trailer. My counters were cluttered with all the random items that didn’t belong anywhere, and I ended up stuffing them in bags because I had run out of boxes.
Trouble was, the same tire had been low two weeks earlier. We thought it was just an install error with the monitoring system, since the air held on our trip from San Antonio to Austin after we filled it with our compressor. But apparently there was something more going on.
On moving day.
While Eric made a final Goodwill donation run, I called the San Antonio tire company that installed our Michelin tires in 2016. They weren’t open, but another location was–at least until noon. I raced down there (not really–I was safe) and they were able to get us in on short notice.
Turns out, my original hypothesis was right. One of the valve extenders we had to install, in order to get the tire pressure monitor to fit next to the wheel, was just the teensiest bit loose. So the air leak was slow, but it was still there. We were behind schedule, but we got back to our moving days plans around noon. And there was no cost for the tire fix–thank you, Lord!
At Iron Horse RV, we did a quick hand-wash of Meriwether’s exterior. Next, we moved him to his consignment spot. I did a quick clean of the bedroom, so I could put Caspian down for a nap. Then Eric and I did a deep clean of the rest of the rig. Bathtub, dusting, wiping leather, cleaning those blasted crevices in the windows.
That Moment, Goodbye
One last selfie with Meriwether
We finished cleaning as the sun set–around 6 p.m. Eric took some quick photos for that RV Trader listing. I locked the door, and we stood in front of Meriwether for a final selfie.
Eric held me, motioned towards Meriwether, and said, “Just think about all the places this RV has taken us.” As I looked at our home on wheels, all the memories came rushing back at once. That was the only time in this whole transition process that I got a bit choked up.
Okay, I didn’t plan on telling that whole story. But now it’s here for posterity. You want to fast forward, I’m sure.
Meriwether parked at his new home, until he hits the road once again
Well, at the end of moving day, Eric made a Facebook post with the photos of our clean, lovely RV. And guess what. Remember those friends who had shown the most interest? The photos sparked their interest again. I was messaging with Sandy at 1 a.m. on Sunday, both of us excited but trying not to get ahead of ourselves.
On Monday, they went to tour Meriwether. On Tuesday, they told us they wanted to buy him. On Wednesday, we had a phone call to discuss details. By Thursday, I was drafting a bill of sale.
This has seriously been the smoothest large asset buying/selling process of my life. Our friends have been so easy to work with, and it seems like everything that works best for us also works best for them.
Meriwether’s new family, Sandy & Randy
Handing off the keys
Today marks one week since we moved out of Meriwether. And today, we drove Meriwether to his new home and delivered him to his new family. The best part is, his new family is part of our extended family. So we know we’ll see him again.
Thank you to everyone for your words of encouragement, prayers, and just for caring about our story and journey. While Meriwether is no longer part of our journey, we have many miles laid out in front of us. We’re ready for this next chapter, and hope you’ll see us through it.
Celebratory lunch today at The Gristmill in Gruene, TX
Just shy of five years ago, a 40-foot behemoth pulled up in the office complex across from our Austin apartment. I remember walking through Meriwether during “RVing 101” with the seller, hoping Eric would absorb and remember everything. It was all so foreign.
Now I’m sitting here at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, the first campground we ever stayed at with Meriwether. I’m nostalgic, regretful, thankful, wiser. I’ve grown.
I’m not altogether ready to take this next step. I had this real conversation with Eric last week (we were at my parents’ while Meriwether was getting final maintenance):
Me: I miss Meriwether, and that makes me sad because we’re about to sell him. Eric: Why are we? Me: (After silence) Because we have to if we want to accomplish our goals. Because we’re too comfortable. Eric: (Nod) Me: But I just need you to know that I’m sad about it.
That’s where I’m at. I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, but it doesn’t come without a bittersweet taste. Do you know what I’m talking about?
I’m tempted to list what I’ve accomplished during this chapter–these five years of full-time RV travel. You know–how many states I’ve been to, how many miles, how many national parks. But I’m not going to do that.
Our Jeep Wrangler “Guardian,” home for 2019 as we overland across Mexico, the U.S., and Canada
For tonight, it’s enough to reflect on why I’ve chosen a life of travel. The whats are only surface-level.
There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.
The wanderlust in me craves strange vistas. Though I desire stability, a part of me can’t live without uncertainty.
On the Living List we made before we were married, Eric and I included, “Do one spontaneous thing every day.” We didn’t know then that our best days would come when we stopped planning and embraced the unexpected.
So look at me. I don’t know what I’m leaning into, but I’m leaning hard. I’m cutting ties with comfort, and embracing the uncertain road. It’s never disappointed me before.
As we drove into Scottsbluff, Nebaska, we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay. We considered spending a night or two, so we could add the state to our map, then head into Colorado to get a head start on our adventures there.
But when I checked my Chimani national park app, I learned there are three National Park Service sites in the immediate area. That changed the game, causing us to settle in for a week-long stay. After our whirlwind month in the Rapid City area, it was good to slow down and regroup.
We stayed in Scottsbluff from Sept. 8-15, 2018.
Note: This article includes affiliate links. If you get excited about any of the products featured here, we’d love it if you’d shop via our links. This will encourage us to continue investing time in creating useful content!
Our RV Campground in Scottsbluff
We stayed at Riverside Park Campground in Scottsbluff, a city park we found on Campendium. I believe we paid $25/night and got the seventh night free.
I liked it there. We had a pull-through with a huge grassy area and tree. Neighbors came and went frequently, but it stayed fairly quiet.
We were right by a large pond with a walking trail, and the small zoo is adjacent to the campground (we didn’t go, but we did say hi to the bison through the fence).
All of our exploring centered around the three National Park Service sites.
Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Caspian getting his passport stamp at Fort Laramie
We spent the most time at Fort Laramie, located about an hour from Scottsbluff. What a cool place. Almost everyone related to westward expansion, from explorers to military members to Indian chiefs, spent time there. It was a fur trade post, military garrison, Oregon Trail stop, and Pony Express stop.
While none of the buildings are original, 11 are reconstructed–some beautifully furnished–and all fascinating to walk through. We spent hours on the grounds: watching the visitor’s center film, attending a ranger talk, and taking the self-guided tour around all the buildings.
Reconstructed cavalry barracks at Fort Laramie
Related reading: I highly recommend “Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West” by Hampton Sides. I read it early in our western trip this year, and it brought so much depth to many of the sites we’ve visited, including Fort Laramie. The history of westward experience is complex, yet it’s reduced to false simplicity in many textbooks. This book is fair to all parties, sharing a side of history too many of us missed in school (myself included). You can follow my Amazon link to read others’ reviews or order a copy.
Scotts Bluff National Monument was only a few minutes from the campground. We didn’t spend a ton of time there–I think we had run out of steam due to work. BUT we had one of the most memorable opportunities ever: we got to walk on the actual Oregon Trail!
Over our five years of fulltime RVing, I’ve thought of the pioneers so many times. The extent of my accomplishments as a traveler pales in comparison to those who literally blazed the trail for me.
It took almost an hour to get to Agate Fossil Beds from Scottsbluff. Though it was in the middle of nowhere, we actually had cell service! This is one of the newer NPS sites, established in 1997.
So what is it all about? Some epic archaeological finds have taken place here. The visitor’s center film shares the remarkable story of the Agate bonebed and the extinct mammals found there. You can take the 2.7-mile Fossil Hills Trail to see the quarries from the early 1900s.
Playing a drum with daddy
Crazy Horse’s whetstone
Mocassins gifted to James H. Cook by Chief Red Cloud
Besides the fossil history, Eric was astonished by the James Cook Collection gallery. It includes the most beautiful gifts from Chief Red Cloud to James H. Cook, owner of the Agate Springs Ranch.
Scottsbluff is not a foodie haven. We had one stand-out surprise, which was The Emporium. It was worthy of any major city–genuinely delicious and classy. I had an unbelievable sweet potato curry, which was on special. Eric had a superb burger, and I also enjoyed my cocktail.
South Dakota’s Black Hills have magic in them. This wonderland of nature is at once mysterious and easy to access. The old, towering trees will give you strength. The wildlife will charm you.
Quite unlike our norm of arriving in a new place and parking there for two weeks, we bounced around the Rapid City area for nearly a month, camping at a total of five spots.
If I were to structure this travel log like I normally do–campground, activities, food–then I might as well publish it as a book. This time, I’m going to try a shorter form that traces our movements in each area. If you have a question about a specific place, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I can elaborate for you.
We were in the Black Hills from Aug. 16 to Sept. 8, 2018.
Out of Our Way for Unpredictable National Forest Spot
Dry camping off Long Draw Road
It was such a long driving day from Medora, ND. I asked Eric to push even farther because I had found a dry camping spot on Campendium that looked gorgeous and peaceful. When we arrived at Long Draw Road in Black Hills National Forest, which required driving through Deadwood and Lead, it was occupied.
If we were a van or maybe a small Class C, we could’ve shared the small loop. But we’re 40-feet.
We were tired, hungry, and grumpy. There was no other parking option anywhere near us. Thankfully, the couple there said we could block them in for the night. The kindness of strangers.
Eric really disliked this spot because it required crossing a culvert of some sort, with a shallow drop on either side. Shallow or no, it would’ve been a disaster if 30,000-pound Meriwether had fallen in.
Though I didn’t think it was too big of a risk, Eric was really stressed as he navigated us into and out of the site. Sorry, love.
On the up side, it was an incredibly gorgeous and secluded spot.
Illegally Parked at the Visitor’s Center
A local business owner I met at Lotus Up Espresso said quite confidently that we could stay overnight at the Lead visitor’s center for up to three nights.
When we arrived at the visitor’s center, we asked in person and they confirmed it was okay with them if we stayed overnight. For the record: don’t stay overnight at Lead visitor’s center. As we were leaving after two nights, a police officer stopped us and said there was no overnight parking. I felt bad, but we had done our due diligence.
Flight of local wine at Deadwood Winery on main street
Over that weekend when we were blissfully unaware of our guilt, we explored Deadwood’s main street (less than 10 minutes away). It wasn’t quite my scene. Not as kitschy as Tombstone, but still too much for my taste. I did enjoy my flight of local wine at Deadwood Winery.
Before we left Deadwood, we had delicious chocolate at a local confectionary called Chubby Chipmunk.
National Park Service Sites to the East
Scenic overlook at Badlands National Park
That Saturday was dedicated to Badlands National Park. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was curious whether it would be basically the same as Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I knew there were rock formations, but wondered how they could compare to the beautiful parks in Utah we’d seen earlier in the year.
Walking the Fossil Exhibit Trail boardwalk
But then we got there, and I was reminded that each national park is preserved for a reason. They’re all different, with their own ecosystems, species, and treasured history. Badlands has one of my favorite visitor center films. The cinematography is gorgeous, and I loved the stories of the animal populations that have been restored.
This desolate scene conceals wildlife and restoration
We took a spontaneous detour to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It’s only about eight miles north of the Badlands loop. We went there, then came back to finish the drive around the national park.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site visitor’s center
Though we arrived at Minuteman too late in the day to see the silo, the visitor’s center museum was interesting and impactful. I reflected on how different Minuteman is from other National Park Service sites. It isn’t all about something that took place a long time ago. Rather, it centers around a heavy topic–nuclear proliferation–that continues to be relevant today.
We had to visit Wall Drug Store while we were in the area. I got my 5-cent coffee (it was a little bit more because of the to-go cup). If you’re not familiar with this place, it’s a destination in itself.
Just wandering around and looking at the president statues is a lot of fun. We liked seeing how quickly we could identify all of them.
We had a huge turnout for our meetup–thanks for coming, everyone!
We hosted an RV Wanderlust meetup at Que Pasa, my favorite local restaurant. The grilled brisket enchilada is awesome and margaritas are half-price from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Gyro Hub is another yummy restaurant.
Rambling All Over
Mount Rushmore National Monument
Baby Nomad visiting Mount Rushmore for the first time
I couldn’t believe how much there was to do in the area. We visited Mount Rushmore twice (don’t miss the fudge!). I’m so glad we made a point of seeing the evening lighting ceremony.
Everyone described it to us as a “lighting,” so I was picturing a light show of some kind. Instead, there was an inspiring talk about liberty from a ranger, a genuinely patriotic film depicting the values our country is supposed to stand for, singing of the national anthem, and an invitation for all the veterans in the audience to come to the stage and be recognized.
It seemed nearly half the crowd walked down the aisles, including Eric, as the rest of us applauded. Six volunteers retired the flag, as all the veterans on stage rendered a salute. A World War II veteran was there to participate.
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know Wind Cave National Park was right outside Rapid City, until we got to the area. I knew the name, but never processed what part of the country it was in!
Wind Cave is known for its “boxwork” formations
The highlights were the cave system and the prairie lands. We’ve been so many places with bison this year, but this was our best viewing experience. The herd walked all around us, with bison of all ages and gender. The bulls were making sounds like we’ve never heard. It’s amazing how visitors to Yellowstone can stop traffic to see one bison in the distance, but a lesser known park like this can offer such an incredible experience up close.
Mount Roosevelt, Tatanka, and Spearfish
We hiked to Mount Roosevelt one sublimely beautiful afternoon. (This is back in the Deadwood area.) It was 0.8-miles roundtrip for Caspian, and he hiked it all on his own. We’re still trying to get him to that one-mile mark before he turns two in December.
The Tatanka sculpture is stunning–I sat and looked at it for a long time
Tatanka is in the same area. This spot was recommended to us a couple of years ago by our friends at Always on Liberty. In an extremely touristy area, Tatanka isn’t about making money. It was founded by Kevin Kostner to honor the American Indian, the bison, and everything that has been lost. The focal point is this phenomenal sculpture.
After our outing to Mount Roosevelt and Tatanka, we had an amazing dinner in Spearfish at