Road Read – Midwest Vanlife Gathering, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and Ribs?

I have travelled a bit recently and have seen some great parts of the US that were on the list of places to see when I first started out on this journey and lifestyle. We’ll get to those places here in a minute but first, the genesis of the trip.

The counter-clockwise route as it actually turned out. Roughly about 3300 miles.

The tower was constructed in 1993

My original goal was to travel to the Great Midwest Van Life Gathering that was held in the Mark Twain National Forest on May 18th through the 20th. I thought this would be a great way to meet some interesting people who shared my love of travelling long-term in a van. I had found out about the gathering through a website that I have often visited at

On the way there I was able to stop and have lunch in Paris, Texas and stopped by a few of the famous landmarks that are there. One was the 65-foot Paris Eiffel Tower with the red cowboy hat at its summit.

The gathering was in the Mark Twain National Forest located West of Springfield, Missouri on May 18th through the 20th. It was cheap to attend at only 50 bucks and was a good catalyst to get on the road and go see some new places. I had never been to Missouri and I wasn’t disappointed. Some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever driven through.

John and Jayme of Gnomad Home fame hosted the event and in spite of having some major challenges with the weather, they did a stellar job. They spent a tremendous amount of time and effort to make sure that everyone was as welcome as could be.

I arrived on Friday afternoon and there was already a healthy crowd. Vans of all types continued to roll in throughout the day and well into the evening. By Saturday morning, there were over 100 van and 150 vanners on site. The gathering was pretty much exactly what I expected. A bonfire. Lots of good food and beverages. Storytelling and best of all idea sharing. I spent most of Friday and early Saturday looking at the vans and the different configurations.

There were also some great activities such as paddle boarding. I’ve never been on a paddleboard before so that was a must for me. Even though I took a pretty brutal fall, I really enjoyed it and can absolutely understand why it has such a following. Here’s a tip. When learning, don’t be in shallow water!

Moments before I go overboard!

Wildfire Media did a phenomenal video of the event. It can be view on YouTube HERE!

As mentioned, rain plagued the event. It seemed that every few hours, a pretty rough storm would roll through and scatter everyone to their van. Just as quick, the storms would blow over and the groups would reform. However, since this was being held in a hastily cut hay field, the ground was soaking up a lot of rain and getting pretty soft. I had several places left that I wanted to see so I got up early before most and headed out. I’m glad I did. While the vans excel at being a great home on wheels, most have pretty poor traction in slippery mud. I had to use my leveling blocks under the rear wheels to get traction several times. Once out and back on the road, I headed northwest towards Mt. Rushmore.

Most that know me will tell you that I am very patriotic. I love my country. All politics aside, I feel extremely fortunate to be an American. We are extremely lucky to have such a fantastic place to call home. Those that don’t appreciate just don’t understand how much worse things could be just because you were born in another country. That being said, I love visiting state and national parks. And Mt Rushmore has been on the “Go To” list since I was in high school. The monument was just as stunning as I expected but what really stuck with me from this visit was how many people were there to see it. And not just Americans. People from all over the world were there. They were coming in by the busloads. Literally. It was beautiful and well worth the drive.

The next stop was Sturgis, South Dakota. Home of the biggest motorcycle rally in the world. The rally wasn’t going on while I was there but since I was so close, I figured I would see the town. After visiting a few of the local motorcycle dealerships and grabbing some lunch, I went the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. I really enjoyed the experience and was incredibly impressed by the number and quality of the exhibits.

61 Cubic Inches and almost 9 Horsepower. Hundreds of bikes like this were available to see up close.

61 Cubic Inches and almost 9 Horsepower. Hundreds of bikes like this were available to see up close.

1952 Vincent Black Shadow - C Type. The Holy Grail of many vintage bike lovers.

1952 Vincent Black Shadow – C Type. The Holy Grail of many vintage bike lovers.

I also wanted to see the Harley-Davidson dealership. I thought it would be great to see the bikes at what I would hoped would be the pinnacle of HD dealerships. What a huge disappointment. If you wanted to buy a Harley, this is the one dealership I have been to that didn’t have a single one for sale. But if you wanted a million t-shirts and leather chaps, this was your place.

Next, I was on the way to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.

But first, you remember me mentioning that I had a pretty brutal spill while paddle boarding? Well, since the fall, I had been having trouble getting comfortable. My side and back hurt from where I fell and over the counter meds weren’t doing much to help. I couldn’t sleep at night due to the pain. Sleeping in a van in a strange place can often be unnerving. Add a dose of real pain to that and it can be impossible. I finally acknowledged the fact that I may have had a real injury. But since I was so close to Devil’s Tower, I was going to see that first.

The sheer size of the natural formation is nothing less than impressive. Standing at the base of it and trying to wrap your head around the forces of nature that brought such a thing into being is staggering. As you drive in, the road makes a sweep to the right and there it is. It is so different from anything else around it. There is little wonder that it has such a strong presence in American Indian culture and religion.


Originally, the plan was to head from Devil’s Tower to Roswell, New Mexico but by this time, I was in a significant amount of pain and decided that I would try to get back to Texas so I could sleep in a actual bed and try to heal up.

Over all, the trip was about 3300 miles. I covered it far faster than I needed to but am very glad that I got to see what I did. I will save the Roswell trip for another time. I mean you can’t go to Devil’s Tower without going to another site of UFO fame. (Those that haven’t seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, please go fix that right now. I’ll wait. )

Lots of Prairie Dogs! These guys were fun to watch. Most Prairie Dogs are  about 14 to 17 inches long length and weigh 1 to 3 pounds. I think a few of these were putting on a few extra pounds from the tourists.

After a few days rest in a real bed back in Texas, I wasn’t feeling any better. A doctor visit informed me that I had broken 2 ribs in 2 different places. There wasn’t much they could do for the ribs but they sure prescribed some great pain meds. I am continuing to heal but it has been over a month and the ribs are still annoying. I need to get these bones sorted out because a huge trip to Wyoming through Colorado on the motorcycle is coming up in early August.

More on that in the next Spoken Compass.

Keep the course,