Today marks one year since we started living, working and traveling full time in our Airstream. One year ago feels both so incredibly distant, but also like it flew by! We have learned a lot in the last twelve months — about ourselves, about our airstream, and about what we hope to get out of this lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our first year as nomads:
We travelled 7,997 miles across 16 states:
(We spent two isolated, quiet nights in Cedar Point, IA and have nothing to show for it. Sorry, Iowa)
We visited 24 National Park Service sites:
Joshua Tree National Park
Death Valley National Park
Saguaro National Park
Petrified Forest National Park
Badlands National Park
Wind Cave National Park
Glacier National Park
Redwood National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Yosemite National Park
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
Harry S. Truman National Historic Site
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Manzanar National Historic Site
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area
…and one ghost town (Bodie, CA)…
…the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, SD)…
…and a cheese factory (Tillamook, OR).
We drank some beer…
…and some liquor…
…and some wine!
We boondocked for the first time in Wisconsin on a family friend’s farm…
…and stayed at a Harvest Hosts for the first time in Nevada.
Travis ran a half marathon in Death Valley…
…and we learned how to play pickle ball.
We did a lot of hiking…
…and a bit of relaxing.
But most importantly, we were able to spend a lot of time with family and friends!
As you can see, it was a great year! We have a lot of amazing adventures planned for 2019, and we look forward to sharing them with you!
I usually do a separate post for each destination we’ve traveled to, but I felt that Badlands National Park area, Custer State Park area, and Devils Tower area could all be combined into one post about the places to stay and things to see in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.
We spent two nights at the Badlands Interior Campground, which is 1 mile south of the Badlands Interior Entrance. There are a handful of RV parks outside the various entrances of the park and they all looked to be about the same quality. Our campground was nothing amazing, but it was a pull through site with full hookups. I popped my head in the restroom at one point to see what it was like and it was old but seemed clean; otherwise, we didn’t use any of the amenities. The one thing we really did not like about this place was that it flooded easily. I know they can’t control the weather, and the weather in June in this part of South Dakota can be pretty crazy, but they seemed to have a real drainage issue. When we moved on to our next city two days later, even though there was still a lot of rain, there was no where near the same amount of standing water. It was so bad that one motorhome needed to be towed while trying to park in their site. There are also two campgrounds within the national park — both first come, first served, though one is undeveloped. I usually take pictures of everywhere we stay, but forgot to here. I’d say this campground, and any of them in the area, really, are decent for a 1-2 night stay.
Address: 900 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750
Phone: (605) 433-5335
Restrooms with Showers
Hotel on Site
Picnic Table and Fire Ring
The very first thing we did after getting set up at the campground was drive to Wall, SD so we could get something to eat. We ate at Wall Drug, because there’s not a lot to choose from, but we also wanted to check out the place we had been seeing signs for for the last 300 miles. (Seriously, they advertise from one end of South Dakota to the other). We grabbed some burgers that were surprisingly decent and meandered through building after building of souvenirs. Satisfied that we’d seen enough, we headed over to the grocery store to pick up a few things, as the only place to get food in Interior looks like a meth lab fronting as a grocery store.
On our way back to the campground, we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center. The park consists of three sites along I-90 between Badlands and Wall: the Visitor Center, the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility, and the Delta-09 Missile Silo. The launch facility and missile silo are deactivated remnants of the cold war that are representative of the nuclear arms race. Tours are available of the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility, but they book days in advance and we hadn’t planned accordingly. The Delta-09 Missile Silo is open from 8am-3pm. It consists of a Minutemann II (unarmed) missile positioned in the underground silo with a glass window covering it, allowing you to view inside.
The major draw of the area is, of course, Badlands National Park. Whenever we visit a national park, we like to visit the visitor center and take a drive through the park with our dog Max. We’ll stop at overlooks and take some pics, but the main reasons for doing this are so Max gets some fresh air and we’re able to see what we want to focus on in the park. This isn’t always possible due to size and time constraints, but the size of Badlands allows for it. The best overlooks along the Badlands Loop Road are probably Conata Basin Overlook and Yellow Mounds Overlook. Also during our first day of exploring, we drove the Sage Creek Rim Road, which is an often overlooked road due to it being gravel and long — it took about 45 minutes to drive it and then another 45 minutes to get back to our campground. However, if you want to see wildlife, this is the place to do it! We were lucky enough to see oodles of bison, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, turkeys, and a snapping turtle.
During our second day, we hiked the 1.5-mile Notch Trail, which the trail guide rated as moderate to strenuous. We’d personally rate it somewhere between easy and moderate, with the log ladder being the most difficult part. It was a nice trail with some great views. After the Notch Trail, we did the Cliff Shelf Trail, rated moderate, which I would agree with due to the number of stairs you need to climb to get to the viewing platform. It’s a nice little half-mile, paved loop trail through junipers in which we saw a beautiful white-tailed doe kicked back and relaxing, chomping on some leaves.
It’s important to note that June is the rainiest month in the Badlands. And we’re not just talking rain, but thunder, lightning, and hail as well. Always keep an eye on the weather as there was a flash flood warning the entire time we were there.
Custer State Park
We originally had planned to be in the Badlands for five nights instead of the two we ended up spending. About a week prior, we decided to change our plans and spend the other three nights in the Custer State Park area — and we’re so glad we did! While we weren’t able to get a spot at a campground within Custer, we found a nice place right outside. Southern Hills RV Park & Campground in Hermosa is a good home base to explore the area. It’s a very well kept park and our site was a nice, level pull through with full hookups. Bonus: When it poured rain, it seemed to drain well and dry up fairly quickly. If we had our choice of campgrounds within the park (which can be reserved up to a year in advance), we would choose Game Lodge Campground due to its great location and layout. I guess we’ll have to plan ahead next time!
Address: 24549 Highway 79, Hermosa, SD 57744
Phone: (605) 939-7609
Bathrooms with Showers
After we got settled in to Southern Hills, we drove into Custer SP to Legion Lake Lodge for a late lunch. While the service was a bit slow, the food was good and the view from the outdoor seating is phenomenal. After lunch, we walked the trail around Legion Lake, which has a swimming beach and canoes and kayaks for rent. After the walk, we had to get back to the Airstream to do some work, but returned to the park after dinner with Max in tow to drive the Wildlife Loop Road. Custer SP is home to all sorts of wildlife, including elk, coyotes, burros, mountain goats, and even a few mountain lions, as well as the animals we saw on our drive which were bison, white-tailed deer, prairie dogs, and pronghorns (antelope).
On our second day near Custer State Park, as it was a rainy morning, we chose to visit Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave lies at the southern border of Custer SP in Hot Springs. It is the third longest cave system in the United States behind Mammoth Cave and nearby Jewel Cave. There are various cave tours available, but they are all first come, first served, so arrive early to beat the crowds. We took the Natural Entrance Cave Tour, which lasted about 1.25 hours. I’m not sure if any of the other tours are more exciting, as this one was just okay. As I mentioned, it was raining, so we didn’t explore anything above ground in the park. Instead, we headed into Hot Springs to get some lunch (nothing to write home about) and then headed over to The Mammoth Site, which is also in Hot Springs. The Mammoth Site is an active paleontological excavation site with the greatest concentration of mammoth remains in the world. We waited in a line that was out the door and seemed to be making no progress until we decided to opt out and return home. Some days you’re feelin’ it, and some days you’re not — and we just weren’t feeling it that day. One thing to note about The Mammoth Site is that dogs are allowed inside as long as they are being held or in carriers. We returned to Custer SP before dinner so that Travis could get a run in on one of the trails. I explored the Visitor Center and the State Game Lodge and then meandered along one of the trails until meeting up with Travis to return home for the evening.
On our third and last full day in the area, we once more headed into Custer SP to the Sylvan Lake area in order to do the hike up to Black Elk Peak, which is South Dakota’s highest point at 7242 feet. We hiked trail #9, which is a 6.6-mile roundtrip trail that’s rated moderate to strenuous. We both felt it was the hardest trail we had ever hiked and thought it leaned more towards the strenuous end of the spectrum. There’s a gain of 1470 feet and you can definitely feel it. Black Elk Peak is actually located in the Black Hills National Forest, and there’s a sign on the trail that indicates when you cross into the forest. A stone fire tower at the peak provides excellent views of the surrounding landscape. When reading reviews of the trail, some people noted it took up to six hours to complete the roundtrip hike, but we needed to get back to work as soon as possible, so we booked it to the top and back in just under three. Before leaving the park, we stopped at Sylvan Lake Lodge for lunch. We ended up getting our food to go, as we really needed to get back to the trailer for work. I had an excellent burger and Travis had an equally excellent chicken sandwich. Once back at the trailer, Travis got to work while I drove into Box Elder to Americas Mailbox (our mail forwarding service) where I picked up our mail and packages that had been collecting for a few weeks. On my back to Southern Hills, I gassed up the truck and drove it through a car wash in preparation for our morning departure to Devils Tower.
There are more sites to see that we didn’t get around to this trip. We didn’t drive the infamous Needles Highway in Custer SP, which I’m bummed about, but we just never found the time. If we had known what Wind Cave NP was going to be like, we probably would have used that time to do the drive instead. Of course, there’s also Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial. We visited Mount Rushmore last September when we were in Rapid City/Box Elder getting our drivers licenses and things set up with Americas Mailbox. Crazy Horse, along with Jewel Cave National Monument, will have to wait until our next trip. And we never made it into Rapid City (except to get groceries at Safeway), which was another small disappointment as we had really enjoyed downtown Rapid City on our previous visit. We will definitely return to Custer State Park!
Devils Tower was declared the first National Monument in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. It’s 867 feet tall from summit to base. If you want to stay at Devils Tower for a night or two, there are basically two options. The Belle Fourche Campground is a first come, first served campground within the boundaries of the park. There are no hookups, but water is available as well as bathrooms. The second option is the Devils Tower KOA, which sits right outside the entrance to the monument. We chose the latter, because everywhere we’ve been so far this summer has been super hot and we didn’t want to have to worry about generator restrictions in order to use our A/C — we wanted hookups! As far as KOAs go, this one is pretty nice. We didn’t use their restrooms or laundry, but did take a dip in the pool (it was freezing) and got some ice cream from the onsite store. There’s also another store across the street that sells similar items, and both stores have prepared food available for purchase. The Devils Tower post office is basically right in the KOA’s parking lot and every night at 8pm, the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind is played at the campground.
Address: 60 Highway 110, Devils Tower, WY 82714
Phone: (307) 467-5395
Restrooms with Showers
Community Fire Ring
The Visitor Center is open from 8am-7pm, but Devils Tower itself is accessible 24 hours a day. Being right at the entrance afforded me the opportunity to get up to the monument at 7:45am before crowds started rolling in. I walked the 1.3-mile paved Tower Trail and only saw three other parties. This trail, which circles the base of the tower, is the most popular trail and gets quite busy for most of the day. Travis ran it at about 5:45pm and it was still pretty populated. Climbing the tower is allowed; though climbers must register with a ranger before and after their climb.
Besides Devils Tower, there is nothing else in this area. Most visitors seem to make it a day trip, but if you want to or need to spend the night, one night is plenty. There is a gas station about a 10-minute drive up the road in Hulett.
All in all, we really enjoyed our time in the Badlands and Black Hills. We will definitely return Custer State Park, but one visit to Badlands National Park and Devils Tower National Monument is enough.
We spent four nights at the campground at the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center at Cedar Shores. The campground sits on the Missouri River in the small town of Oacoma, which is across the river from the larger city of Chamberlain. The 44 sites are all full hookup with cable, with a picnic table and fire ring at each. The best sites along the river were taken by what appeared to be seasonal campers, which is what most of the campground seemed to be. Those staying at the campground have access to the neighboring resort’s amenities, including the pool and fitness center, though six cardio machines don’t make for a ‘fitness center’ — but it was better than nothing. Our site (#36) was the most unlevel site we’ve ever had. Besides the 1.5″-2″ lip to get on the concrete pad, the site had a huge incline from front to back, and wasn’t close to being level from side to side either — definitely one of the more challenging sites to get in to.
Address: 1500 Shoreline Drive, Oacoma, SD 57365
Phone: (605) 734-5273
Picnic Table and Fire Ring
There really isn’t a lot to see and do in the area, but we made the best of the time we spent there even though it seemed to rain almost nonstop.
A definite must see is the Dignity of Earth and Sky Statue at the I-90 Lewis & Clark Info Center in Chamberlain. Besides being a rest stop, there’s also a little museum dedicated to the time Lewis & Clark spent in the area. The 50-foot statue was erected in 2016 and bares a plaque with words from the sculptor, Dale Claude Lamphere, that reads, “Standing at a crossroads, Dignity echoes the interaction of earth, sky, and people. She brings to light the beauty and promise of the indigenous peoples and cultures that still thrive on this land. My intent is to have the sculpture stand as an enduring symbol of our shared belief that all here are sacred, and in a sacred place.” It’s location along I-90 makes it a perfect pitstop if driving east to west or west to east across South Dakota.
We also visited the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center, which is a nice little (free) museum that is a tribute to the Lakota Sioux people. It’s small, but informative, and gives a good glimpse into the lifestyle, both past and present, of the Lakota people. The museum can be found in Chamberlain as well.
The last sites to see in Chamberlain are the South Dakota Hall of Fame and the adjacent South Dakota’s Veterans Park. Over 700 of South Dakota’s best and brightest have been inducted in one of 15 different categories. Notable inductees include: Tom Brokaw, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and George McGovern. Both facilities are also located right off I-90, and though we didn’t stop, the Veterans Park looks like a fantastic memorial complete with a handful of military vehicles and planes as well as a picnic area.
Conclusion: The Chamberlain/Oacoma area is more of a drive by situation, but if you’re looking for a place to stop for a night, you’ll find a few things to do to occupy your time. You’ll also find gas stations, a small grocery store, a car wash, and other such services that a traveler might need.
Lake Mitchell Campground is a city-run campground on Lake Mitchell in Mitchell, South Dakota. Many of the sites are pretty shallow and difficult to get in to, so I’d recommend perusing the satellite view on Google Maps to figure out what works best. While there were full hookups at our site (site 30), the water hookup was too far back for our hose to reach. We only stayed two nights, so we just filled our water cans a couple of times and filled the fresh water tank. We didn’t utilize any of the amenities, so I can’t comment on their quality.
Address: 2601 N. Main Street, Mitchell, SD 57301
Phone: (605) 995-8450
Restrooms with Showers
Picnic Table and Fire Ring
There’s not a whole lot to do in Mitchell, except visit the Corn Palace. They were removing last years designs while we there, so the Corn Palace was minus some corn.
If we ever drive through this part of South Dakota again, we’ll probably avoid Mitchell altogether, as the campground was just okay and there’s not much to see or do.
Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon, South Dakota is part of the State Park system and lies on the banks of the Big Sioux River. South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls, is a short drive. The campground is very basic but well kept. The sites are large and as there weren’t a lot of people staying there, it was a pretty quiet five days. The showers in the bathrooms are pretty decent, with good water pressure and hot water, although it takes a bit to warm up. The sites are electric only, but there’s a dump station and water fill as you enter/exit the campground. My only complaint is the amount of ants — they crawled everywhere, including all over the trailer; although they never made it inside as far as we can tell. The nightly rate is $21, but there is also a daily park entrance fee of $6 and a reservation fee for nonresidents of $8. As we had purchased a South Dakota parks pass at the last place we stayed, Hartford Beach State Park, and are South Dakota residents, we only paid the $21/night fee.
Address: 410 West Park Street, Brandon, SD 57005
Phone Number: (605) 582-7243
Picnic Table and Fire Ring
Bathrooms with Showers
The park itself has trails for hiking, biking, horse riding and snowshoeing. There’s also disc golf, two canoe launches, a playground and archery.
We hiked the Valley of the Giants Trail, which is supposed to be 1.5-mile hike, but we took a wrong turn at a fork in the path and had to backtrack a bit. Some of the state’s largest trees reside along this trail.
The suspension bridge seen in the header photo is at the beginning of the Prairie Vista Trail and crosses the Big Sioux River to provide access to the Horse Trail Trailhead and Archery Range.
While in the area, of course we had to visit Falls Park in Sioux Falls. The area surrounding the park is not so great, but the park itself is beautiful. We visited on an overcast, sprinkle-filled day, so the full beauty of the park is hard to determine from the pictures. The park is 123 acres and home to some of the city’s first buildings. The Queen Bee Mill used to operate here along the banks of the Big Sioux River, but all that remains now are ruins from the original 7-story building that was the victim of a fire. The 1908-built hydroelectric plant now functions as the Falls Overlook Cafe, where we had a fantastically delicious lunch. There’s also a visitor center and gift shop with a 50-foot viewing tower that is free to access.
We went to downtown Sioux Falls for dinner one rainy, gloomy night. The downtown area is VERY nice — clean and well kept with great shops and restaurants. We ate at Crawfords Bar & Grill, where the food was delicious, the cocktails on point, and the decor a blend of rustic and vintage. Due to the rain, we went for a very short, post-dinner walk and were able to enjoy a few of the more than 50 sculptures that are part of the Sioux Falls SculptureWalk. If the weather had been better while we were in the area (and we were able to work less), we definitely would have spent more time downtown.
Hartford Beach State Park is located on Big Stone Lake in Corona, South Dakota. There are two campgrounds, West Campground and East Campground, within the park, and we stayed in the larger East Campground. East Campground has 57 sites, all with electric hookup. As you drive into the campground, there’s a dump station with water fill. The sites are spacious with plenty of green space. We had a tree line along one side as well as the back of our site (33E), making it feel pretty private. Sites 62E, 61E, 59E and 57E are very spread out with a lot of room between them and the even numbered sites from 66E to 76E have a peak view of the lake. Although we didn’t use them, the bathrooms and showers are nice. All South Dakota State Park “Prime” Campgrounds are $21/night, plus a $6 daily park entrance license fee. The annual park license costs $30, which is the route we took, seeing as we’ll be staying at a few more SD State Parks in the upcoming weeks. If reservations are made online, there is a $7.70 reservation fee for non-residents (all phone reservations are $2), so a weekend for a non-resident can get a little pricey.
When you don’t have a permanent physical home address, you can establish residency (your domicile) in any state. Some states are better than others for this purpose. The three most popular states for full-time travelers to establish residency are South Dakota, Texas, and Florida. These states don’t have a state income tax and they are also pretty lenient as to what is required to establish residency. We chose to make South Dakota our domicile for a couple of reasons:
As we own a consulting business that we will continue to operate while traveling, South Dakota not having a corporate income tax was a big draw.
Once residency is established, you only have to spend one night in South Dakota every five years. This requirement aligns with the go-with-the-flow nomadic lifestyle of full-time travelers.
There are no vehicle inspections in South Dakota. Some states require vehicles and/or travel trailers to be inspected once a year. This requirement may interfere with the go-with-the-flow nomadic lifestyle of full-time travelers.
We are originally from Wisconsin, where the majority of our family still lives, and plan to visit there regularly. South Dakota’s proximity to Wisconsin will make it easy for us to make our required residency visit.
Other things to consider when choosing a domicile are vehicle registration rates, sales tax rates, health insurance rates, and vehicle insurance rates. As we are coming from San Diego, EVERY aspect of transitioning to South Dakota is more affordable for us – yay for us!
How To Establish Domicile
Set Up an Address
The first step in setting up a domicile is to establish a PMB (private mailbox) with a mail forwarding service. You will use this address as your legal address for everything – registering vehicles, drivers license, banking, tax returns, voting, etc. We chose Americas Mailbox in Box Elder, SD, just outside of Rapid City. This is a legal residential address, not a PO Box. In addition to receiving your mail, they help with registering vehicles, getting registered to vote, and getting you in touch with contacts regarding vehicle insurance, health insurance, accountants, and attorneys.
It was very easy to get our mailbox set up. We sent in the required information from their application checklist, which is found on their website, and our mailbox was set up literally the day they received our information.
When they receive mail for us, they will scan the exterior of each piece and upload it to their website. We will determine what mail can be tossed and what should be sent to us. They will then send us our mail when we request it.
Americas Mailbox also has a vehicle checklist with the information needed to register your vehicles. I emailed the information to them, they emailed me back with the registration cost, and I sent them a money order along with original copy of the title and a notarized power of attorney giving them the power to register our vehicles on our behalf. The license plates and registration were sent to our mailbox at Americas Mailbox, which we picked up on our recent trip to Rapid City. You DO NOT need to have a South Dakota driver’s license in order to register your vehicles.
Obtain Driver’s License
This, of course, needs to be done in person. Show up at a Driver Exam Station with the following items:**
Current Driver’s License
Proof of Social Security Number (only if current license does not have a gold star in upper right corner) such as social security card, W-2, 1099, or pay stub.
Passport or other proof of lawful status in the U.S.
Hotel/Campground Receipt (dated within the last year) – We stayed at the onsite hotel at Americas Mailbox and they gave us a receipt that had both of our full names on it for this purpose.
PMB Receipt – Americas Mailbox gave us the exact printout we needed.
Marriage Certificate (only if name has changed at some point in your life)
DD-214 (only if you want ‘Veteran’ to be printed on your license)
Once at the exam station (where an exam is not required if you have a current, valid license), you fill out an application. You then step up to the counter, hand over your documents, sign a Residency Affidavit stating you intend to return to South Dakota after being absent, perform a quick eye test, get your picture taken, sign the electronic pad, and then you’re handed your new driver’s license. Southern Californians are used to blocking an entire day for the DMV, so the fact that this only took about 20 minutes was amazing – we didn’t even need an appointment!
**Verify needed documents at the SD Department of Public Safety here or by calling (605) 773-6883. Make sure to tell them you have a PMB address.
Get quotes from numerous insurance companies and make sure they know you’re going to be a full-time traveler.
Honestly, this is on the to-do list. Travis is a veteran, so he has insurance through the VA. As we are self-employed, we pay for my health insurance out of pocket. Americas Mailbox gave us a couple of contacts for agents in South Dakota. I’ve also done some research on my own and have one company in mind that seems like it would be a good fit. And the third avenue I’ll explore is the RVer Insurance Exchange website, which has been suggested on other full timer’s blogs.
Move Our Business
Our business is currently registered in California, but our attorney is in the process of getting it registered in South Dakota. Once that is done, the business will be ‘closed’ in California. While you can most likely take care of this on your own, we have peace of mind knowing that everything is being done properly and legally.