DEVILS TOWER KOA – DEVILS TOWER, WYOMING

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View from our campsite

DEVILS TOWER KOA – DEVILS TOWER, WYOMING

This was your typical KOA, with sites crammed closely together. But we didn’t come for the ambience or the amenities, but rather the campground’s close proximity to Devils Tower National Monument. And when you consider the striking views of the iconic tower, this campground cannot be beat.

Facility: 3/5

The sites are grass, and very close together. The roads are all gravel. Our pull thru site was too short to park our Jeep in front of the motorhome, so we had to parallel park. We barely had enough room to get the car off the road. All the sites near us were basically the same. The parking lot is large, though, and you can easily unhook your toad there.

Restrooms: 5/5

There are two bathhouses at the campground. The showers looked as if they’d recently been renovated, and they were gorgeous. There was shiny new tile and fixtures, and everything was sparkling clean. 

Amenities: 5/5

The campground features an outdoor heated pool, a playground, a nightly hayride, and a nightly viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The laundry facilities were nice and clean.

Location: 5/5

You can see the entrance to the monument from the KOA’s parking lot. 

Pet Friendly: 5/5

The campground is pet friendly, and there was a small fenced in area for dogs.

Overall Rating: 4.6

Summary: If you’re looking for a campground close to Devil’s Tower, you cannot get any closer than this KOA, unless you stay at the Belle Fourche River Campground inside Devils Tower National Monument. It is a dry campground that costs $20.00 per night. Max. RV length is 35 feet. Our site at KOA was $46.79 plus tax with our KOA membership discount.

Cell Phone Signal: We were only able to get two bars with both AT&T and Verizon.

Conclusion: Would we stay at Devils Tower KOA again? Yes, if we decide to visit the tower again.

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Our campsite
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Typical campsite
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Playground
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Greenspace

DAYS END CAMPGROUND & RV PARK — STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA

IMG_1466 (1)This is one of those campgrounds where I wish we’d looked before we booked. The rates are reasonable—we paid $28.50 plus tax per night—and they are located right off I-90, but the place is pretty rundown. I think the owners main clientele are constructions workers and the attendees of the annual Sturgis Rally.

Facility: 2.5/5

The sites are grass, and very close together. The roads are all gravel. There is no designated place to unhook your toad, and our back in site was too short to park our Jeep in front of the motorhome, so we had to parallel park. We barely had enough room to get the car off the road. Our site was within about 15 feet of an access road, so we were serenaded with road noise, mostly motorcycles, all night long. The campground does have one thing going for it: gorgeous views of the hills on one side of the property.

Restrooms: 2.5/5

There are two bathhouses at the campground, but they weren’t what you’d call spotless. The power for the bathhouse nearest our campsite operated on generator power. Harry likes to use the bathhouses so he can take a long, hot shower, but the generator shutoff while he was in the shower and the lights went out. The water started getting cold very quickly. He was not a happy camper. 

Amenities: 2.5/5

The laundry facilities are located between the restrooms, but they were nothing to write home about. The campground offers free WIFI and cable, but the WIFI was extremely slow, even though we were very close to the office. We did not use the cable. There is a large metal building near the back of the campground, which is referred to as the “Beer Garden.” There were about twenty Porta Potties located next the Beer Garden, and it looked like the owners were gearing up for the rally. The entire back section is set up for tent camping. Since there were no tent campers there during our stay, it looked like gorgeous greenspace.

Location: 5/5

The campground is conveniently located close to Deadwood, Lead, and Spearfish. As far as Sturgis goes, there is nothing to see in the town other than a small motorcycle museum, which wasn’t all that great. 

Pet Friendly: 5/5

The campground is pet friendly, and there was a small area designated for walking your pets.

Overall Rating: 3.5

Summary: If you’re looking for an inexpensive place to stay overnight and don’t get stuck on a site near the access road, this isn’t a bad place to stay. I wouldn’t make this a vacation destination, though, unless you plan to attend the rally.

Cell Phone Signal: We were able to get four bars with both AT&T and Verizon. Ironic that we got our best cell phone service at the worst campground we’ve stayed at so far.

Conclusion: Would we stay at Days End again? Yes, but only for an overnight stay, and if we were far away from the access road.

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Our campsite
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Beer Garden
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Tent sites

RAFTER J BAR RANCH CAMPGROUND — HILL CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA

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Wide open spaces

This gorgeous campground sits on a 160-acre tract of land nestled in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. From what I can gather, the original owners acquired the land through the Homestead Act, which encouraged Western migration by providing any adult citizen who headed a family with 160 acres of public land in exchange for a small registeraton fee. The act also required that the homesteader live on the land continuiously for five years. The first settlers on the land the campground lies on apparently raised cattle, using Rafter J Bar as their cattle brand.

In July of 1874, the 7th Calvary, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, was ordered to travel to the Black Hills to scout a suitable location for a fort, find a route to the southwest, and to investigate the possibility of mining for gold, in what was known as the Black Hills Expedition. Custer and his men purportedly passed through the Rafter J Bar Ranch one night that July.

During the Gold Rush that followed Custer’s expedition, the ranch became one of the stagecoach stops along the Cheyenne to Deadwood trail. Three buildings were built for the stagecoach stop: a barn and stable, which included a saloon; a log cabin; and the owner’s cabin. The barn and stable still stand on the grounds of the old ranch.

In 1886, the land became known as the Walker Placer Mining Claim. Mining tunnels and shafts still exist around the perimeter of the property, which borders the national forest. The stagecoach stop came to an end when the railroad came to Hill City.

The Rafter J Bar Ranch continued in operation until 1964, when the land was sold and developed into a campground.

Facility: 4.5/5

The campground is divided into seven sections: Base Camp; Cabin Camp; the Island; Line Camp; Main Camp; Ranch Camp; and the Lower Ranch Camp. The Ranch Camp is bordered by the Black Hill’s National Forest. Each section offers different amenities. The sites are spacious, and the campground has expansive green space. Only the main road is paved. The roads leading to the different sections of the park are gravel, as are all the sites. You can unhook your toad in front of the office or on the road in front of your campsite. We stayed at the last site in the Line Camp, which overlooked a meadow. Every evening at dusk, without fail, about twenty-five mule deer showed up to forage and frolic in the grazing land.

Restrooms: 5/5

There are three bathhouses at the campground, and all of them were very clean.

Amenities: 3.5/5

The park features a basketball court, a volleyball court, a pool, and a playground. Each bathhouse has a laundry mat with coin operated washers and dryers, folding tables, and a laundry cart. The only downside to this campground is that the only place where you could get free WIFI is at the office. There is no cable TV in the campground. However, the Base Camp offers free satellite TV. Beginning Memorial Day, the campground serves a complimentary pancake breakfast each weekday morning.

Location: 5/5

The campground is conveniently located close to Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, the 1880 train, and the Mickelson Trail. 

Pet Friendly: 5/5

The campground is pet friendly, and dog poop bags are located in several areas of the campground. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times, but there are plenty of wide open spaces to exercise your fur baby.

Overall Rating: 4.6

Summary: Rafter J. Bar Ranch has pretty much everything you could ask for in a campground with the exception of WIFI and cable. The sites are nice and long, and we were able to park our Jeep in front of our motorhome. The RV Sites are a little pricey—$63.95 per night for 50 Amp service during the regular summer season, but they do offer a 10% Good Sam Discount.

Cell Phone Signal: We were only able to get two bars with both AT&T and Verizon.

Conclusion: Would we stay at Rafter J Bar Ranch again? Absolutely. Despite the price and the lack of WIFI and cable, this is an idyllic location. And after all, isn’t the whole idea of camping to get away from it all?

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Our campsite

 

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Some of the mule deer who came to graze ever evening
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The barn built for the stagecoach stop

ARROWWOOD CEDAR SHORES CAMPGROUND — OACOMA, SOUTH DAKOTA

Our view

The campground sits on the western bank of the Missouri river. It is pretty nondescript as far as campgrounds go, but the view of the river is gorgeous. The campground is a popular spot for fisherman and boaters. Many of the RVers had boats, and the ones that weren’t in the water were parallel parked beside their RVs. It was not unusual to see part of a boat sticking out on the road, despite the fact the campground rules clearly stated that boats must be on the RV pad or on the gravel alongside the roadway.

Facility: 3/5

The campground has forty-four back in sites with full hookups, seven of which are riverfront sites. We were fortunate enough to have one of the riverfront sites. There are also seven tiny riverfront cabins available to rent. The roads are paved, but rather narrow, and it is hard to squeeze by campsites with large boats jutting out onto the roadway. The sites are also paved, and they all appeared to be level. Each campsite includes a picnic table, a fire ring, and a garbage can. There is no designated place for unhooking a toad, but you can easily hook/unhook on the street, or next door in the hotel parking lot next door.

Restrooms: 3/5

There is only one bathhouse in the park. The bathrooms and showers were clean, but they definitely showed some age. 

Amenities: 3/5

The park features a picnic shelter, a basketball court, and a playground. The campground is part of the Arrowwood Cedar Shore Resort, which includes the campground and a hotel next door. Campers are allowed to use the hotel’s pool. There are two washers and two dryers located in the campground’s office, but there was no folding table. The setup seemed a bit awkward to me. Arrowwood offers free WIFI and cable, but the WIFI was down the entire time we were there. We ended up using our MIFI during most of our stay. Harry finally went to the office to inquire about the WIFI. He was told it had been down for several days, but that we were welcome to use the hotel’s WIFI. You would have thought the person who checked us in would have mentioned that little tidbit. 

Location: 5/5

The campground is  located about five miles from I-90. There is a grocery store and a restaurant within a few miles of the campground, or you can drive across the river to Chamberlain, where you’ll find several fast food restaurants.

Pet Friendly: 5/5

Arrowwood is a pet friendly campground. Mutt Mitts are available at the north end of the campground near the picnic shelter, and also at the south end of the campground. 

Overall Rating: 3.3

Summary: This is a relatively small campground, but they still allowed for some greenspace in the park. The campground’s main attraction is the river. The sites are fine for smaller RV’s, but not large enough to accommodate a toad if you have a big rig. We had to park our Jeep on the gravel parallel to the road. The RV sites are $45.00 per night plus tax. The only discount offered is 10% for AARP members.

Cell Phone Signal: We were able to get three bars with both AT&T and Verizon.

Conclusion: Would we stay at Arrowwood again? Not likely. If we do stop at Oacoma on our way home, it will mostly likely be for one night only. There are three boondocking spots places near the campground, one not far from the interstate. Why spend $45.00 when you can sleep somewhere for free?

 

Playground
Playground
Greenspace
Greenspace
Bike Path
Stock photo of Roland L. Dolly Memorial Bike Trail
Site at campground
Nearby campsite

BIG SIOUX RECREATION AREA — BANDON, SOUTH DAKOTA

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Bike Trails at Big Sioux Recreation Area

Big Sioux is a state park located in Brandon, South Dakota, a suburb of Sioux Falls. The park lies on the banks of the Big Sioux River. It is located near a school and a subdivision, yet it feels as if you are out in the middle of nowhere.

Facility: 3.5/5

Big Sioux is an electric only campground. There are 49 campsites, three of which are reserved for tent camping. There are also three cabins for rent. The RV sites are all back in sites. The roads are all paved, but the sites are gravel. Most of the sites appeared to be level. Each campsite includes a picnic table and a fire ring. There is no designated place for unhooking, but you can easily unhook on the street. There is a dump station in the campground. When I called the campground to inquire about potable water, I was told it was available beside the dump station. Call me crazy, but I would not fill up my fresh water tank from a spigot sitting beside a septic tank.

Restrooms: 3/5

There is only one bathhouse in the park, with two showers and a dressing area in both the men’s and women’s restrooms. There are two toilets in each restroom, along with a urinal on the men’s side. The bathrooms and showers were fairly clean, but the water was not consistently hot. 

Amenities: 5/5

The park features an array of activities: archery range; biking; bird watching; canoeing/kayaking; disk golf, hiking; fishing; horseshoes; snowmobiling, snowshoeing; and volleyball. Paved bike trails wind through the park and snake along the Big Sioux River. There is also a picnic shelter and warming shelter at Big Sioux.

Location: 5/5

Big Sioux is conveniently located four miles south of Brandon off I-90 Exit 406. Downtown Sioux Falls is about twenty minutes away by car. 

Pet Friendly: 4/5

Big Sioux is a pet friendly park, but pets must be kept on a leash. There is no designated area for walking dogs, not did the park provide dog waste bags. However, there is plenty of greenspace in the park to exercise your fur babies.

Overall Rating: 4.1

Summary: Big Sioux Recreation Area was once the homestead of Ole Bergeson. Ole and his brother, Soren, built a hand-hewn cottonwood cabin around 1869, that still stands  within the confines of the park. Big Sioux is a great place to camp. I would have given the park a much higher mark if the sites had water. Big Sioux’s rates were affordable: $21.00 per night. However, we were also hit with $7.70 nonrefundable non-resident fee. A word to the wise: if you wish to weekend in a state park in South Dakota, book early. The locals apparently reserve sites for the weekends as soon as the reservation window opens. I made our reservation on April 1, and there were only two sites available for Friday, May 2. When we arrived at the campground on Thursday, there were only a handful of RVs there. But by Friday evening the place was packed. About 95% of the vehicles bore South Dakota tags. I imagine this problem is not unique to South Dakota. However, it seems to me that if South Dakota as well as other states wish to entice tourists to visit them, they would set aside a few weekend sites at each of their state campgrounds for out-of-state visitors.

Cell Phone Signal: We were able to get three bars with Verizon, and four bars with AT&T.

Conclusion: Would we stay at Big Sioux again? Probably, assuming we could get a site.

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Our camp site at Big Sioux
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Nearby campsite at Big Sioux
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Greenspace at Big Sioux
House
Ole Bergeson’s Cabin

WHAT ARE THOSE UGLY THINGS ON THE BRIDGE?

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Monday, April 30, 2018

Council Bluffs, Iowa, is located on the eastern bank of the Missouri River, across from Omaha, Nebraska. The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in town via I-80 is four huge, hideous-looking sculptures, on the corners of the 24th Street Bridge. They stand 60 feet tall in some places, and what with their serrated edges, jagged spikes, and spears, they look like the work of Edward Scissorhands. In actually, the sculptures are the creations of world-acclaimed artist Albert Paley. I’ve never heard of him, but then again, I don’t exactly travel in modernist metal sculptor circles. The sculptures are called Odyssey. Personally, I think Oddity would have been a more fitting name. And believe it our not, the city of Council Bluffs paid $3-million for the four-piece metal monstrosity. What were they thinking?

We boondocked in the parking lot at the Horseshoe Bend Casino, sandwiched between a dozen semis. Between the eighteen-wheelers and a five-level parking deck nearby, we were completed sheltered from the high winds. We were thrilled to have the truckers as neighbors. As an aside, truckers are generally the most courteous drivers on the interstate. They will let you over if you need to change lanes, and they know better than to tailgate. I have yet to see a semi whip over in front of us and slam on their brakes the way other drivers do. Big rigs cannot stop on a dime. Unless you have a death wish, please remember that before you decide to dart in front of a motorhome or semi the next time you’re cruising down the expressway.

After arriving at the casino, we hopped in our Jeep and drove to Camping World to purchase a surge protector to see us through our trip. Harry is not convinced our electrical problem on Saturday was caused by our EMS. However, he has decided to wait until we return home to address the issue.

We had dinner at Texas Roadhouse with our good friends, Randy and Debbie. Afterward, we went next door to a fast food restaurant called Culver’s, where Harry and I were introduced to frozen custard. Yum-yum.

The main ingredient that sets frozen custard apart from ice cream is a high proportion of egg yolks. Frozen custard is also churned differently than ice cream, utilizing a process that introduces much less air into the mixture. The result is a frozen dessert with a creamy, dense, smooth consistency that is absolutely delicious. Surprisingly enough, frozen custard has about 10 percent less calories than ice cream. All the more reason to eat it!

The wind moved out early Tuesday morning, and we relocated to the casino’s so-called RV Park. It turned out to be nothing more than a parking lot with diagonal back-in sites and electric and water hookups. It looked like a drive-in theater, minus the speakers. There was a bathhouse on site, but it was, well, filthy. The laundry room didn’t look much better. At least all of the sites were level, and we were close to the casino. We paid $40 a night for our “deluxe” site, and—get this—they charged us a $50.00 per night security deposit. Seriously, what did they think we were going to do? Tip over the Dumpster or whip out a jackhammer and pulverize the concrete? I hate to break it to them, but judging from the number of potholes in the area, I’d say someone beat us to it.

The only reason we stayed at the casino “RV Park” was because the only other campground in town—a city park—was booked up solid. Next time, we’ll bypass Council Bluffs and spend the night in Omaha.

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Our fancy-schmancy site
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More deluxe sites
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Our view from our bedroom window
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View from our dining room

 

VICTORIAN ACRES RV PARK – NEBRASKA CITY, NEBRASKA

 

Office and Store
Tiny Office & Store

At first glance, I was not impressed with Victorian Acres. The entrance was gravel, and the office/store was the size of a tiny home. But like the old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Once the campground came into view, I discovered it was a real gem.

Facility: 4/5 

The campground sits on 26 lush green acres of land, and there are a lot of trees on the property. Both the roads and the sites are gravel, but most of the sites are level. There is no patio pad at any of the sites, and guests are not allowed to put mats on the grass. There are 88 sites, and the majority of them are pull thrus. There is no designated area for unhooking your vehicle, but many of the sites are long enough to allow you to easily unhook at your site or leave your toad attached to your motorhome.

Restrooms: 3/5 

There is only one set of male/female bathhouses in the campground, with only two toilets and two showers in each bathhouse. The bathrooms were very clean, but unless you took a shortcut by cutting through someone’s site and climbing a small hill, it was a hike to get to the bathhouse from sites on the back row, where we stayed.

Amenities: 4/5 

The park featured two playgrounds, two covered picnic areas, and a laundry room. There were only two washers and two dryers. There was also a clubroom, which included a kitchen and a dining area with tables and chairs. Everything was spic-and-span, and the owners did a good job of decorating the bathrooms, laundry room, and the campground as a whole.    

Location: 5/5

Victorian Acres is located about five miles from I-29, not far from the Nebraska state line. There are a number of restaurants in the area, some independently owned, and some chain eateries. The Lewis and Clark Visitor Center is located nearby, and the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum is less than five miles away.

Pet Friendly: 5/5

The park’s brochure indicated they were pet friendly, but I did not see a designated area for dogs on my trek through the park. Still, considering the amount of greenspace the campground had, there were plenty of places to exercise your pooch.

Overall Rating: 4.2

Summary: Victorian Acres is an older campground, but it was well maintained. It is owner operated and it was obvious the husband and wife team took great pride in their establishment. The row of campsites located near the bathhouse appeared to be occupied by permanent residents, although the sites were reasonably tidy and neat. The campground’s website shows pictures of two ponds on the property, but from what I could tell they were nothing more than basins to catch runoff; both of them were empty during our visit.

Victorian Acres offers both full hookups and water and electric only sites. The rates are not posted on the campground’s website, but we paid $33.30 per night for full hookups with our 10% Good Sam discount.  The park has free WIFI, but no cable. As with most RV parks we’ve stayed in, the WIFI was slow at times.

Cell Phone Signal: We were able to get two bars with Verizon, and four bars with AT&T. I’m starting to see a pattern with AT&T outdoing Verizon in the Great Plains states.

Conclusion: Would we stay at Victorian Acres again? Maybe for an overnighter, but there simply wasn’t enough to do in Nebraska City to entice us stay there more than one night.

Playground
One of the two play areas
Near bathhouse
A bit of whimsy adjacent the bathhouses
Pond
The “pond”
Greenspace
Lots of greenspace
Site
Side view of our site
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Another view of site