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.
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?