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  • kristen

Friday, 9/4 into Saturday, 9/5

Originally having planned to take off first thing Friday morning, we instead decided to hit the road Thursday night and capitalize on bedtime for our little one. He's a great traveler (so far), but we didn't want to throw him in the car for 6 hours right off the bat. The Larson family decided to begin the trip in the 4Runner with Beckett while the rest of the crew began in the RV. We needed the car in addition to the RV for a number of reasons, but the main reason was that Beckett's car seat would be most safe and secure in the car over the RV. (For those wondering, RV seat belts are mostly for cosmetic and peace-of-mind purposes of passengers - they are not attached to the actual frame of the RV. In normal cars, seat belts are part of the car frame. Thus, the "safest" seat for Beckett's seat would have been the front passenger seat, which is also the only one that he'd be able to stay rear-facing. Hard pass!) Our planned route was to go north through Wisconsin and up into Minnesota, as we’d heard that 90 was a more scenic ride than 80 would be.

About 2 hours into our trip, I got a call from Jimmy wondering if we were planning to still drive with them to Minnesota. I wasn’t sure what he meant, because where else would we be going? Checked our GPS and realized that we had completely missed the exit to catch 90. Larson’s car drove an extra 50 miles or so out of the way, but with Peter behind the wheel, we were able to catch back up to the RV. Crisis averted. We drove through the rest of the night uneventfully and landed in Albert Lea, the Walmart parking lot. Yes, we planned to do that. (If you didn't already know, most Walmarts allow you to park overnight in their lot.) We rested easily that night knowing that we had a good head start on our progress.

In the morning, we stopped in Walmart to pick up a few last minute items, had delicious egg sandwiches for breakfast compliments of Momma D, and finally hit the road around 1PM. It would be about 6.5 hours nonstop from Albert Lea to the Badlands, but it took us a couple more than that with added stops to let Beckett run around, get gas and food, etc. We were surprised at how beautiful of a drive through South Dakota it ended up being - as weird as this sounds, it was pretty amazing to see how big the silos were on the farms out there.

We made it into the Badlands area under the cover of night, and IMO, this is where it gets interesting. A quick reminder that each of the campsites we looked into ahead of time were all booked up. Jimmy had done a significant amount of research into where we could/should stay the night and led us to an area called Buffalo Gap Grasslands. This is an area outside of the actual Badlands National Park where we could boondock, since it is not allowed to boondock within national park grounds. Many of the blogs we read ahead of time said that the view in the Grasslands was even more spectacular than any that a campsite within the park would give you, so we trusted Jimmy on this one.

There is no official address for where we camped - he literally found where we would park by reading one blog's directions to find a pair of cell (?) towers on the right side of the road however far south of Wall, SD off of SR 240. When we got close to Wall, the group in the 4Runner went ahead to scout the area and find a place to park the RV for the night. It was getting dark quickly and the drop off into the Badlands was not guarded at all. They came back and met the rest of us in the RV to guide the way.

Off of 240, we drove down a worn down dirt "road," if you could call it that, in the grass where many vehicles had clearly driven before us. Lucky for us it's been very dry out there, so we didn't have to worry too much about getting stuck in mud. What we DID have to worry about though were the huge divets left behind from when it was muddy. Surprisingly, the only casualty in the RV while driving through the treacherous grass was a Pyrex dish of Keller's Farmstand sweet corn that was supposed to go with our dinner that night. Shards of glass everywhere - perfect for baby feet!

It was pitch black where our "spot" ended up being. There were a number of other campers parked along the road, most of them off to the left of the road. We were comfortable parking to the right, because even though you couldn't see it, there was definitely a large, gaping hole to the left. After we set up camp, we had late dinner and settled in for the night, excited to see what kind of a view the morning sunrise was going to bring us.

What we woke up to was absolutely spectacular. Jimmy set his alarm for a 6 AM wake up call to catch the sunrise, so we all bundled up to finally see what was around us. Have you ever seen the opening scene of Lion King? Don't answer that. I know you have. I'll let the photos do the talking.

There were TONS of pronghorns down in the valley (?) that had come up in the morning to check in on their human neighbors. Here are some of their butts. (You can also see all the other RVs who were in on the secret boondocking place)

In this next photo, you can see where we parked our RV and car to the right of the photo. With at least 3 of us who are afraid of heights, we were happy to be on the other side of the road, a little further from the rim of the canyon. There's no way you'd catch us on that edge with an 18 ton rig like all those other crazies.

It was an incredible way to start off the trip, and an especially awesome way to start the day of Beckett's first birthday!

From here, we took off for the Black Hills. With a stop at Cabella's in Rapid City to dump our waters and load back up on fresh water, we headed into the Hills.

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