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  1. Default Labor Day Western Road Trip Plan/Questions

    After 10 years of living in cities and using my drivers license more as an ID to fly or at restaurants than to drive, I've started driving in earnest again in the past year. After putting down 400 miles round trip safely and comfortably on rural interstates in the Midwest going to a family event last month in addition to more local driving, I've decided to give the Western road trip a try a few months from now.

    GOALS: Enter Wyoming and South Dakota, the last two of the "lower 48" I am yet to visit (I've taken trains most everywhere, these are the two contiguous United States that Amtrak doesn't serve). Get a "selfie with the Presidents" at Mt. Rushmore, visit friends on both ends of the trip. See vast expanses of Western scenery (the mountains up close I've seen from train windows in the past, I want to see for miles ahead from the windshield, as that's the kind of vastness city dwellers like me don't get back east). Minimize urban driving (I get that at home), maximize rural driving, see what 80 MPH speed limits feel like.

    GENERAL PLAN:

    Day 1: Fly into Salt Lake City in the morning, ride the light rail or commuter train into the suburbs to spend the day visiting friends in the Salt Lake City area.
    Day 2: Rent car (full-size, car rental company says "Nissan Altima or similar") from SLC Airport Car Rental, drive east on I-80, north on US-287, east on WY-220 and east on I-25 to Douglas, WY with rest/meal/cell phone stops every ~3 hours or so. Spend night in the Douglas area.
    Day 3: Drive Douglas to Mount Rushmore (mostly on US-18 and SD-89), visit Mount Rushmore, then continue east via I-90 with a detour through Badlands National Park to spend the night somewhere in Central South Dakota (perhaps Chamberlain).
    Day 4: Finish the drive from South Dakota to MSP Airport Car Rental Return (east on I-90, north on I-35), return rental car, take light rail out to Mall of America for the afternoon until my friend finishes work, dinner and evening with friend in MSP. (As an aside, I found a great rental car deal with no drop fee for the one-way rental and roadside assistance).
    Day 5: Fly Home.

    Thinking of doing this Labor Day Weekend.

    I guess my four big questions are:

    1) Does summer construction work tend to lessen by Labor Day weekend, as projects get completed? Or do the summer projects mean lots of single-lane interstate zones even this late in the summer?

    2) Do the two-lane roads around Mount Rushmore and Black Hills get backed up with vacation traffic around Labor Day weekend? I've heard of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone getting backed up during the summer, can it get bad at Mt. Rushmore? (My point of comparison for traffic is the DC Beltway, so I don't consider a lot of cars on the road to be bad traffic unless I'm being slowed significantly below the speed limit).

    3) Seeing I'll be driving through remote areas, I know to pack some extra food, extra water, and something to keep warm with in case I get stuck somewhere. My phone has a flashlight on it and I'll bring extra batteries (and a car adapter charger). Are there any other particularly good supplies I am forgetting?

    4) Finally, Google Street View makes it look like US-287 in Wyoming (Rawlins to Muddy Gap) has not been repaved in a LONG time and may be rough, but the images are five years old...any ideas if it has been repaved since then, or is it bad + 5 more years of weather and wear?

    Finally, actually a fifth question: 5) What am I forgetting?

    Thanks!
    Last edited by aoumd; 06-05-2016 at 05:31 AM. Reason: Added Badlands

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
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    Southern California
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    Default

    Welcome to RTA!

    Looking over your plan, the only thing that really jumps out at me is that 2nd day. To do both Mount Rushmore and Badlands on the same day is possible, but it's quite a probability that you won't make Chamberlain. From Douglas to Chamberlain, via those 2 stops, is 420 miles. Count on that being 7 hours of just driving. Add another couple of hours to visit a major site like Mt Rushmore, that would be what it takes to get a parking spot, walk up to the viewing places for the monument, snap a few pictures (ask someone near you to take your picture, they'll probably say "sure!"), walk back to your car and depart. So there's 9 hours. Spend another 2-3 hours driving through Badlands, stopping to take pictures or a short hike here and there. You're looking at a 12-14 hour day.

    Answering your questions -

    1) Two seasons on the highway: winter, and construction. While they may not be actively working, you may encounter long stretches of single lanes even on the interstate. (I did, just last weekend, Memorial Day, along I-8.)

    2) I couldn't say if they'll be backed up. But if you're used to DC, it may not make a difference. What MAY be backed up is the entrance to Mt Rushmore, and the parking garage. Badlands isn't a heavily visited national park, but it could be busier than usual.

    3) On Labor Day weekend, I doubt that you'll ever be too far from help, but those things are always a good thing to keep on hand. In a rental vehicle, gas up when you're at a half tank - it's good insurance.

    4) I wish I could answer that question. Perhaps someone else here has been on it recently.

    5) Be sure to pack MAPS. Paper maps, not the kind in your phone or a separate GPS. Paper maps will show you things you might otherwise miss, they don't cut out on you when you need them the most. Pack a regular, battery-operated flashlight. It doesn't have to be huge. If you need to use it, it won't drain everything else on your phone too.

    You're darned lucky to find a deal on a car that does not make you pay a one-way drop.


    Donna

  3. Default

    Thanks!

    Yes I'll take a look at that second day again, I was thinking more like a scenic drive through the Badlands with a few quick stops at the scenic overlooks, rather than getting out and walking around much. But I'll re-evaluate. Thanks for pointing out that just the process of getting parked and walked up to the monument at Mount Rushmore can take a while!

    And definitely a good idea on paper maps, I forget that vast expanses of west also mean no cell signals! I also plan to write down my exact, turn-by-turn plan on paper, and study each turn and key point in the drive on Google Street View ahead of time.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
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    Green County, Wisconsin
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    Default

    I would certainly rework that 3rd day. It's a full day under the best of circumstances, and on a holiday weekend, I'd very much expect traffic to slow you down quite a bit. Nearly all of the roads around Mount Rushmore are 2 lane mountain roads that will likely be quite busy, with little to no opportunity to pass or speed up. On top of it, you'll have to go through at least a couple fairly small, and busy, towns like Hill City and Keystone which are likely to take a fair amount of time to get through.

    It does look like you're underestimating some of your drive times as it is, and I suspect you're falling into the trap of believing what google is giving your for travel times. Figure your actual travel times will be at least 20% more.

    And I'd add to the reminder that paper maps are essential on the road. Knowing what a computer is suggesting is fine, but you should be making the decisions on where your car goes - more importantly, if you just rely on step-by-step directions, you could really have a problem if there is construction, hit a detour, or if you just miss a turn and end up off track.

  5. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    I would certainly rework that 3rd day. It's a full day under the best of circumstances, and on a holiday weekend, I'd very much expect traffic to slow you down quite a bit. Nearly all of the roads around Mount Rushmore are 2 lane mountain roads that will likely be quite busy, with little to no opportunity to pass or speed up. On top of it, you'll have to go through at least a couple fairly small, and busy, towns like Hill City and Keystone which are likely to take a fair amount of time to get through.

    It does look like you're underestimating some of your drive times as it is, and I suspect you're falling into the trap of believing what google is giving your for travel times. Figure your actual travel times will be at least 20% more.

    And I'd add to the reminder that paper maps are essential on the road. Knowing what a computer is suggesting is fine, but you should be making the decisions on where your car goes - more importantly, if you just rely on step-by-step directions, you could really have a problem if there is construction, hit a detour, or if you just miss a turn and end up off track.
    Thanks, yes I'll rework the third day. Thanks for the advice! I think I'll cut back to Kadoka or Murdo to shorten that third day's driving a bit, shifting the balance of distance it to the final day's driving. Maybe I can go to Mall of America with my friends for dinner after they're done with work.

    I won't need a LOT of time at Mount Rushmore as I normally can get a true appreciation for a landmark quickly, but will need to account for lines.

    Bringing a paper map for sure in case of detours or other issues outside of cell phone range!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
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    6,936

    Default NO! No! no!!

    Quote Originally Posted by aoumd View Post
    Bringing a paper map for sure in case of detours or other issues outside of cell phone range!
    No, that was not Michael's point.

    You need paper maps as your primary navigation tool, even when cell coverage is adequate. Don't rely solely on electronics, check the maps first, use your electronics as back up when essential.

    There are pages and pages of stories on the web, telling of how drivers were led astray by their electronics.... some with fatal consequences.

    Lifey

  7. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Lifemagician View Post
    No, that was not Michael's point.

    You need paper maps as your primary navigation tool, even when cell coverage is adequate. Don't rely solely on electronics, check the maps first, use your electronics as back up when essential.

    There are pages and pages of stories on the web, telling of how drivers were led astray by their electronics.... some with fatal consequences.

    Lifey
    Thanks, and no I don't plan on relying primarily on a cell phone.

    I plan to research out my route first, and have my planned route. Cell phone map with live position would be one backup if I get lost or detoured (and signs don't lead me back on-route), paper map would be back up number two. But I would have my primary route already researched out from maps before I even started the trip, and a list of which route to where, turn for which route to where, etc.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2011
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    Southern California
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    Default

    Cell phone coverage was next-to-nothing in Badlands. This is a common thing in national parks and monuments. At Mt Rushmore, I believe I had service, but wasn't paying a lot of attention.

    Kadoka has 6 motels near the freeway - Dakota Inn, Best Value Inn, Budget Host, Ponderosa Motel, Rodeway Inn, and Wagon Wheel Motel. There isn't a huge choice for eateries, though.

    Murdo has 9 motels near the freeway - American Inn, Anchor Inn, Best Western, Days Inn, Iversen Inn, Lee Motel, Sioux Motel, Super Inn, and Country Inn. They have a few more choices for eateries than Kadoka - 5 places plus a grocery store (Murdo Foods).


    Donna

  9. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    Cell phone coverage was next-to-nothing in Badlands. This is a common thing in national parks and monuments. At Mt Rushmore, I believe I had service, but wasn't paying a lot of attention.

    Kadoka has 6 motels near the freeway - Dakota Inn, Best Value Inn, Budget Host, Ponderosa Motel, Rodeway Inn, and Wagon Wheel Motel. There isn't a huge choice for eateries, though.

    Murdo has 9 motels near the freeway - American Inn, Anchor Inn, Best Western, Days Inn, Iversen Inn, Lee Motel, Sioux Motel, Super Inn, and Country Inn. They have a few more choices for eateries than Kadoka - 5 places plus a grocery store (Murdo Foods).


    Donna
    Thanks for the pro tips!

    For the Badlands, I figure I'd take Route 240 from I-90 in a "U" shape, leaving from I-90 at Exit 110/Wall and rejoining I-90 at Exit 131, driving through the park and stopping at the scenic overlooks for a few minutes at a time. Does this sound realistic?

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
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    Default When less is more.

    Quote Originally Posted by aoumd View Post
    ... driving through the park and stopping at the scenic overlooks for a few minutes at a time. Does this sound realistic?
    There are those who see things so that they can say they've been there. There are those who quickly snap a shot so that they can show they have been there. Then there are those who spend their time in national parks so that they know and will always remember what they saw and experienced.

    A few minutes at a time does not sound realistic to me. Get out, do the hikes, walk the boardwalks, if you are able bodied, and get a real feel for the place where you are. Spending more time in fewer places can be very rewarding.

    Lifey

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