9/18-9/22/2022 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park & a New Camping Membership

“It was here that the romance of my life began”

Theordore Roosevelt, regarding his beloved Elkhorn Ranch

Theodore Roosevelt was our conservation president. Through his presidency, he used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land. Seven years post presidency, the National Park System was created, and there were 35 sites to manage. Roosevelt helped establish 23 of them.

When Roosevelt’s first wife Alice died two days after the birth of their only child, and on the same day as his mother’s death, he came to this area to grieve. He established Elkhorn Ranch and tried his hand at cattle farming. He said through the adventures of nature he slowly healed and he credits some of the qualities that made him a president were developed here. Starting in 1919 there were many efforts made to conserve this area as a park, but it didn’t become a National Park until President Carter declared it in 1979.

Loving National Parks the way I do, I obviously find his conservation legacy to be admirable and something I am deeply grateful he cared about. However, I relate to his story in the ways that nature teaches us and heals us, it makes us know we are part of something bigger than ourselves. I also feel it’s our life’s purpose to find the romance of our lives, to be grateful and present in whatever it is we are doing. That connection with ourselves is the doorway to finding our purpose and knowing ourselves on a deeper level.

As we explored the park full of large colorful buttes, I reflected on how a butte is formed from erosion whereas mountains emerge from earth. The buttes are a great metaphor of Roosevelt’s life, and also for most of us. The things that erode us, the storms that come, build beauty and strength that wouldn’t be there otherwise. As I looked at the patchwork of painted canyon, I thought of it as a life well lived, making the absolute best of what remains and some of that is what forms from the storms and wilderness years of our lives. What a fitting park to honor his legacy!

It was wonderful to come to a place so sacred to the President that started all of these places we have been traveling to see. Also just to reflect about everyone’s journey being so different yet we all experience elements that erode and build. It connects us all as one, with each other and with the earth.

Okay, I warned you this blog may cause some of my philosophies to spill out.

So, we stayed in the South section of the park in the small town (pop. 250) of Medora, ND. The town is very cute and made to look historical. We arrived at the cusp of their end of season so some places were closed during the week. There is supposed to be some great shows here about Medora and Roosevelt, some museums, gift shops, and western themed restaurants. The town begs just to be walked through and enjoyed with a sense of community, an ice cream cone, and a smile. The crowds at this time are non-existent and the temperatures hovered in the high 50’s/low 60’s so that wasn’t our experience exactly, but it’s here for the taking should you come a little earlier in the season.

The grasshoppers here are crazy! If you go out in your yard, there are literally thousands of them. Some with wings, some that click, others that just jump. The park is near the Little Missouri Grasslands, and I just have never seen anything like it.

There is a 2 hour scenic drive at the entrance of the park in Medora. It takes you through several large colonies of prairie dogs, and many overlooks where you can enjoy endless vistas of the badlands. We have not yet been to Badlands National Park (we go in the next couple of weeks) but my understanding is this park has a different landscape with lot more greenery and plushness to it. We visited just before the peak of the fall foliage which made it even more colorful.

We drove up the interstate about 8 miles and also visited Painted Canyon, which allowed us to hike down into the badlands and actually get down in the canyon to explore, which was very scenic and different than any other hike I have ever gone on. You are in deep gulches for a lot of it (part of the land erosion), and the painted buttes varied between something you would see in a western movie and something you might see in a sci-fi film. There are no bears like at the last park, but there are buffalo and deer roaming about.

We were supposed to go this weekend to the North end of the park, which is where the petrified forest and the foundation of Elkhorn ranch remains. It’s said to be wilder with more abundant wildlife. However, with it being almost end of season and the weather (especially the high winds), we have decided to move a day early and head down to Rapid City, SD.

We have an appointment to get some tires changed and aligned on the trailer down there and will use it as a base camp to visit Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Sturgis, Wind Cave NP, Badlands NP, and other things. We have been in rural areas for the past 3 weeks and we are ready to be in a place with more conveniences and variety of activities.

New Membership
I wanted to share this for our fellow new RV folks, or people considering, some of the rest of you may or may not find this section as interesting. Finishing our first year, we needed to evaluate how to save better on campground costs. When we left, we had so much in our initial investment that I didn’t want to invest in the more expensive membership solutions until we could see how we liked living this way. We did the less expensive ones – Good Sam, Passport America, Harvest Hosts, etc. We were able to use Good Sam the most.

We found out it can be very expensive in the the summer months where seasons were shorter for campgrounds to make their profits (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana). The costs were outrageous we were paying $1500-$2000 monthly, where as normally we are in the $600-$1000 range. Add in the soaring diesel fuel prices and May-July were high expense months for us. (We didn’t camp much in August because we flew home to visit family for a month)

So, we did some research and bought a second-hand membership to “Thousand Trails” through a company called Campground Membership Outlet, I highly recommend working with Kimberly as she is so knowledgeable and responsive! Basically, Thousand Trails is what you might think of as a time share for camping. When you purchase a membership, you can then stay at most of their locations for no cost and at “resorts” for $10-$20 per night. The term ‘resort’ could be because of the location or amenities or a combo. The cost of the membership can vary wildly depending on the level you want to be at, whether it’s new or bought secondhand, etc.

Once you have purchased one (ours cost in the neighborhood of $3500) then your yearly membership dues are somewhere in the proximity of $600. It just didn’t seem too bad to us after what we spent in one month over the summer. Also, prices may just be going up due to a combination of supply & demand (camping is more popular than ever), and the high levels of inflation we are experiencing.

Granted, Thousand Trails mostly have campgrounds along the perimeter of the US, so there would have only been 1 campground in Colorado. We would still have decided to visit those areas and pay the costs, but it would have offset them to be able to stay free a good portion of the rest of the year. It will take until about March 2023 to recoup the initial membership costs, and then we should begin to see real savings.

It depends what level you purchase as to how long you can stay at each place, usually it’s either 2 or 3 weeks (ours is 3), and how far out you can make reservations usually somewhere between 60-120 days (ours is 90). We can resell ours later, though that’s not always an option depending on which one you purchase.

Another way people save a lot of money camping is through boondocking or dry camping. Essentially there are many places all over the US that you can park and camp. Whether it be for short term camping (check out the iOverlander app) or government-owned land (check out recreation.gov), the only downfall is not having utility hookups.

If you go that route, you can still manually deal with utility needs. There are places to fill up your water tank(s), you can use solar panels and/or generator for electricity, and visit dump stations for your sewer. We are set up with solar and a generator but our dry camping has been mostly to deal with if we are on a multi-day trip. We are not prone to doing long drives much, however we did do it this past weekend – moving from Glacier to Medora, ND we had a 10 hour drive so we stayed overnight about halfway..

Essentially we don’t pursue boondocking opportunities longer term for a few reasons. The main one is it’s harder to be assured about internet conditions for Ed’s work needs. This may be remedied a bit now that we have Starlink, but we are still testingthatas it’s new for us. We are also are a bit spoiled and like to run all 3 air conditioners, use our washer, dryer, kitchen appliances, take a shower, etc, without much thought.

If you are boondocking, most take “camp showers” which can range from a sponge bath to turning the spigot on and off only to wet down and rinse). The goal is to conserve water from the limited tank you have, but also not having to go to a sewer dump site so frequently. Those things are doable but less convenient. We have a washer and a dishwasher on board that would help fill our tank quickly. We could hand wash our dishes and go to laundry mats, but that’s not on our favorite idea list. We do have a waterless hot water tank, which I LOVE, but that runs on propane so we could have that no matter how we decided to camp.

Essentially, having utilities at a campground means we have the same comforts we had in our home, and it makes it truly feel like we have an apartment on wheels.

Also, if you are considering this lifestyle, you must remember it always costs something to camp no matter your approach. It costs to put gas in the generator, to use outside dump stations, etc. So, I guess we don’t mind paying a little more for the convenience. We did mind the costs of our summer camping, but it was short lived.

I personally feel safer in a campground with more people around. However, we have many friends who boondock and their sites are sometimes in more picturesque places, they often have more privacy, and they can avoid the 20-50 rules that most campgrounds issue as you check in. So it depends on what you are willing to compromise when you are personally making your own decisions about the style of camping you will primarily do.

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