Timing is everything.
There’s still time in 2018 for RV travel, and these three spots all get top billing as the best places to spend whatever PTO you’ve got left.
So seize the day before you’ve lost your urgency to explore.
Why you should go: Because you love unfettered Americana and natural beauty in equal measure. South Dakota is only a flyover state if you’re viewing it from 30,000 feet. On the ground, it’s teeming with emerald-green hills, free-roaming buffalo, and Native American lore.
For starters, get to Badlands National Park for a glimpse of Tatooine—a fictional desert planet with iconic sunsets. The Pinnacles Overlook makes for particularly striking sunsets, especially when the coyotes come out to serenade the orange-to-purple sky.
Or, if getting lost in boundless acreage of forest is more your speed, there’s Custer State Park, where you can expect to see bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and bison up close.
Why you should go right now: After a seemingly endless winter to start the year, this is your mild, Americana-drenched summer road trip destination. Yes, there’s Mount Rushmore, which is decidedly worth some of your time. And there’s Crazy Horse: The face of the legendary Oglala Lakota war chief is carved into a cliff some 6,000 feet above sea level, and unlike our dead presidents, you can gape at his big, imperious mug up close.
There’s also the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, happening August 3-12, in which a stampede of Harleys descends on the Black Hills, unleashing clouds of exhaust mere minutes away from Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Custer State Park.
But here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now.
You don’t carve the faces of presidents into a mountain unless you’re doing something right.
Usery Mountain Regional Park
Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.
Usery Mountain is where my love of and discovery of The West began. That would be early April 1987 when we spent a week in site 48.
At that time, I wrote in my journal: “The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking. When we first arrived in Arizona our reaction was why would anyone winter in this dreary, harsh, unforgiving desert environment, let alone live here. The Sonoran Desert grows on you with a beauty all its own. And the beauty of Usery Mountain is absolutely stunning.”
And we have enjoyed camping here numerous times since.
The park’s modern campground offers 73 individual sites. All sites are paved and have water and 50/30-amp electric service, a picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RVs. Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, and a dump station. All sites can be reserved online.
Nightly camping fee is currently $32. Non-refundable reservation fee is $8. For non-campers, the day use fee is $7.
When you should go: Usery Mountain is best explored from late autumn to early spring as summer temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees.
Valley of the Gods
Why you should go: This little valley near Bluff, Utah is filled with sandstone formations and starry night skies. Located in the southeastern corner of Utah it is out of the way of the main national park loop. Similar to Monument Valley, but only a quarter of the size, it remains quiet and peaceful.
Why you should go right now: A pleasant surprise is the free BLM camping offered within the valley. There are dirt roads that veer off the main loop and lead to small individual campsites. These are pack-in/pack-out boondocking sites and do not offer any amenities. Rolling out of bed and watching the sunrise behind the silhouettes of these monoliths and pinnacles with no one else in sight is a unique opportunity not to be missed.
To drive through the Valley of the Gods you will take a 17-mile, unpaved loop. Although it’s unpaved, the road is pretty accessible, but do your research to ensure it will work for your rig.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.
— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding