The Motels and Campgrounds Thus Far (as of the beginning of November):
I tried, oh how I tried to camp when I could. It turns out camping in October and November can be cold. Who knew? I did have an ace in the hole, though-Mavis. She's like a little space heater that you place under the covers. However, that space heater also moves, shakes, and digs her claws into my body. So suffice it to say, I don't get a lot of sleep when I'm camping. In fact, after my first try, I reverted to sleeping in the van only, without raising my tent. It cut down on the chill, if not the claw marks on my legs.
So, I stayed in a lot of hotels. Some were lovely. Some sucked. Here's the lowdown on my motels and campgrounds in chronological order, with the rates where I remembered them:
Apple River Canyon State Park , near Elizabeth, Illinois, (camping) – great in the summer, not so much in October. Our first foray into camping. Got rained on with thunderstorms the last night. I was alone for two nights-not something you want to do so close to Halloween. We had an awful time, but it wasn’t the campground’s fault. Rate: $8/night not including the $6 reservations fee I stupidly felt I'd need to use. I now don't pre-book campgrounds.
Days Inn Dubuque, IA. A vision in 70’s architecture. Friendly, caring staff. Doing well with what they have. The rate of $49/night was fair.
Amber Inn, Le Mars, IA. Awful. My hotels.com review: "Booked this property because I like to help local businesses. Mistake. The front desk is very unfriendly, unprofessional, spiteful, unhelpful and actually kind of mean. The condition of the building and my room in particular was shabby. The wifi was unreliable. The only good thing I can say about this place is the breakfast was superior, but the guy who made it every morning was leaving in a week. Stay away. Go to another hotel. You'll do yourself a favor." Oh, and the photo posted on their website? Not something I experienced.
Carney Park, a O’Neill, Nebraska city (!) campground. The best shower I’ve had in years. I'm not kidding. Well worth the suggested $10/night.
Fishberry Campground, Valentine, Nebraska. My gateway to the west. The wifi was struggling, and I missed the end of the World Series, but otherwise it was fine. The shower was decent. The electric hookup was a nice thing too. The $15 rate was more that fair.
Best Western Plains Hotel, Wall, SD. The best motel experience I’ve had this trip. Clean, spacious room. Fantastic pool and hot tub. Filling, extensive breakfast. Professional and friendly staff. Awesome. The rate wasn't cheap at $69/night plus the $20 pet fee. I now avoid expensive pet fee places :( .
Badlands National Park Sage Creek Campground. Approached by a wash-boarded, gravel road which whisks you, slowly, to a magical place where you fall asleep listening to prairie dogs bitch at each other after hosting a few bison (!) who moseyed into your camp. An experience I will never forget. Rate: Free!
Wind Cave National Park Elk Mountain Campground. Beautiful. Cheap. $9/night.
Day’s Inn Laramie. Weird architecture for a cookie-cutter motel, (you can't open the bathroom door without closing the front door and vise versa), but the pool and hot tub were welcome, the breakfast filling, and the staff was very lovely and generous.
Airbnb. I have a problem with this company. I had set up an account prior to leaving Chicago. When I went to book my first Airbnb in Colorado, they shut down my account-no reason given. When I contacted them it took them a half a day to reinstate it (again, no reason given for the hassle-only they "made a mistake") and I lost my booking to someone else. I booked my second choice, but the host reneged as he "forgot to take himself off of auto-book and his housemates were having people over". Ugh. The third one I booked no problem, but the overall experience was hollow and I felt like I was intruding. Oh well. Airbnb is not for me.
The Steamboat Hotel, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. This was the first hotel I went to where I was paying over $70 and didn't get a free breakfast. The room was OK, I guess. They put me in the basement (dog friendly rooms generally are). I didn't have any heat in the room though. I don't recommend it.
Dinosaur National Monument. Two campgrounds...one in Colorado, Deerlodge, and one in Utah, Split Mountain. Both were quiet, remote, and beautiful. You really can't beat the National Parks System. Both were $9/night.
Nuts & Bolts
For you nerds out there. You know who you are.
Gas mileage! Hotel/Airbnb/Camping info! Great roads. Terrible roads. Restaurants! Diners! The good, the bad and the ugly....
Food stuff is also located on my new Road Food page.