September 15, 2020
Day 1 - On our way!!
Tonight we began our trip to Mount Rushmore! I've wanted to go here for as long as I can remember and this year seemed like the perfect time since most everything else is "closed", or at least not much fun, due to the covid-19 hysteria that took over the country this year.
After Kyrie got finished working we got on our way. We drove to Onalaska, WI (near La Crosse) and stayed at Stoney Creek Hotel. The hotel was a last minute change. We were going to stay in Rochester, MN, but we had a couple reasons for changing it. This morning when I was checking the ours for our first stop - the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Walnut Grove, MN - I found out it was only open on the weekend. Also, we had originally only booked one room with 3 queen size beds, but at the last minute started rethinking that strategy and decided we better just get two rooms instead.
Stoney Creek Hotel was great. Very nicely decorated, comfortable beds and a little restaurant/bar on-site (with some colorful characters). We had a nice night and look forward to our adventure beginning for real tomorrow!
Day 2 - A lot of driving and a few stops, but mostly just a lot of driving...
We crossed Minnesota this morning with only a couple stops at some rest stops. Zach had to check out the playground at each one. We should really find him a decent playground to stop at soon. Our only real tourist stop in the morning was the Jolly Green Giant statue in Big Earth. We took a couple pictures there and got out our PB&J for lunch. Not too exciting...
We continued on into South Dakota and eventually made it to Mitchell, SD - home of the Corn Palace! I didn't have very high expectations for this and I would say it basically matched that. It was kind of fun to see and learn about the history of it. Hard to believe that the original corn palace was built in 1892. When, I picture what that time period was like, I figured people were a little too busy farming and gold mining to have any time left over for decorating with corn, but I guess not. We had fun there and ate some popcorn. It was a nice break from driving.
We couldn't really decide where to stop for the night and eventually decided on Oacoma, SD basically because we stopped at Al's Oasis for dinner and didn't really feel like driving any more. We're staying at the Howard Johnson's there, which is decorated in 50's retro, so it's pretty cool. Zach and Zoe are swimming in the pool as I type this.
Tomorrow, we get to the badlands and we'll see if we can pickup the excitement level a little!
Day 3 - Prairie dogs!
Today we drove on to the Badlands. We saw a lot of sunflowers (but they were mostly dried up) and something that I think was popcorn.
We stopped and saw some prairie dogs at a gas station just outside of Badlands National Park and then also stopped at another prairie dog colony nearby. They were really cute and it was fun watching them.
Inside the park we drove on the scenic look and stopped for some hikes along the way. Our first hike was pretty adventurous, but was also a lot of fun. Another hike was a fossil hike (without any actual fossils). It was informative - hard to imagine an ocean here or a lush swampland - but the best part was seeing a bighorn sheep that was on some rocks nearby.
Next we stopped at Wall Drug. I've wanted to check out this place ever since I saw their amazing marketing (a bumper sticker) when I was a child. The store wasn't anything like I imagined it, but it was still a fun stop.
We checked into the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapids City. The hotel seems pretty nice and the kids were delighted to see a big waterslide in the pool area. Before swimming we had dinner at Firehouse Brewhouse downtown. The food was decent. Downtown we saw a few of the statues of presidents that they have scattered around.
Day 4 - Very large and very small spaces!
We spent most of the day in national parks today. We spent a long time in Custer and Black Hills National Parks. We saw a lot of buffalo. They were mostly in one wide open area, but occasionally we would see one in the forest. The main buffalo herd was pretty much oblivious to the cars. They walked right in front of and around the vehicles. We also saw some burros and one deer. We had some lunch (including buffalo) in one of the lodges. I expected the park to be mostly prairie, but mostly the park is forested and has some great rock formations. One of the most interesting was this lake that had a huge flat rock at one end. Jacob and Max took a walk with me around the lake and around the rock, while Zach and the girls played on the beach. The north end of the park is a mountain area named Needles. It has a lot of very cool mountains. Some of these had very narrow tunnels carved in them - we just fit! Thankfully, I knew how tall our van was, so I knew we would fit that way, but wasn't so sure about the 8.5' width. We folded the mirrors in, but we would have fit anyway.
After leaving the park we went to Crazy Horse Monument. I'd have to say this was a bit disappointing. The museums were not that informative and the monument itself doesn't seem to be making any additional progress since the 1990's according to their timeline. The kids favorite thing was getting to take home one of the rocks that were broken off the mountain during construction. Of course, most of them picked the biggest they could find.
We drove into the nearby town of Keystone for some pizza for dinner. Looks like a fun town, but we needed to head to Mount Rushmore next. We saved Mount Rushmore for last because we wanted to be there for the lighting ceremony. Unfortunately, the lighting ceremony ended for the season a couple days ago. They still lit up the faces, but no ceremony. Anyway, Mount Rushmore was very cool. I was worried that it would look small or unimpressive, but it was pretty awesome. We had a good time walking along the trail and also ate some "Thomas Jefferson" ice cream.
Day 5 - Wolves, Bears, and Dinosaurs?
We began the day with a short visit to downtown Rapid City. We checked out Art Alley which is an actual alley with graffiti by permit only. I think the whole permit thing kind of defeats the purpose of street art, but whatever. It was better than just having a non-art alley. We checked out a few more of the bronze presidents that they have on the corners.
Next, we went up the mountain to a dinosaur park which was created in the 1930's. This free park is on top of a large mountain and has several plaster? dinosaurs. Not sure exactly what they are made out of, but they are all painted the same and look kind of funny compared to the dinosaur sculptures that people make these days. Zach loved it though, especially since he could climb all over them.
Our next stop was Bear Country USA. This is a drive through safari that has wolves, elk, deer and lots of bears. I wouldn't say it was the most interesting thing we've ever done, but it was alright. Definitely a different experience driving around a bunch of bears.
Cosmos Mystery Area was next. If you've been to a "mystery area" before, then you know what this is. A shack built on the side of a mountain which seems to defy gravity. Balls roll up hill, chairs stand on two legs, and you have to stand at an angle just to avoid falling down. This was your run of the mill mystery area, not the best, but definitely worth the stop.
We had booked a cabin in the mountains for the next few days, but we received a call this morning from the place and were told that they had a mixup on their calendar and we couldn't check in today. Luckily, they were able to set us up in a different place nearby which still held all of us - the Sundance Kid suite in Deadwood. Deadwood is an old west mining town from the late 1800's. It is famous for being the place where Wild Bill Hickock was shot during a poker game. The town definitely celebrates it's beginnings and still retains at least a version of it's old main street. We haven't explored it that much, so more on that tomorrow.
Our room is just off the main street. It's a unique townhouse with 3 bedrooms and a lot of decorations. Great location. I'd be curious to know what this place was before they turned it into an apartment. There is a full bar in the apartment.
Day 6 - Worth the wait
We did some shopping in Deadwood this morning. The main street of Deadwood is filled with casinos, but unlike Las Vegas, the casinos are kind of hidden away a little. So, the main street retains it's historic feel even though there are modern slot machines behind almost every facade. In between the casinos are souvenir shops, restaurants and snacks. There is a music stage in the middle of the block where they were having a concert last night. We didn't get a chance to check out any of the museums yet, but they have a couple of them. Each day except Sunday they have shootouts and reenactments along main street - unfortunately today is Sunday.
We picked up Subway in nearby Lead and had lunch in a park next to a huge pit that used to be a gold mine. Zach, Zoe and Ella had a blast playing with the other kids in the park.
After lunch we had some ice cream back in Deadwood and then took a drive through Spearfish Canyon. It was a beautiful drive with a waterfall and a stream that ran through the canyon that had trout in it.
By the time we got to the end of the canyon we were ready to check in to the cabin we rented. We didn't realize it at the time but we were only about 10 minutes away at that point. The cabin we rented was Mystic View Lodge and it is awesome! It's a beautiful log cabin near the top of a ski resort area with an amazing view of the mountains from out the window and on the porch. The kids love all of the games that they have, plus the pool table and hot tub! It's a huge cabin with plenty of room for us to spread out. It's so peaceful and you can see a million stars in the dark sky here.
We're looking forward to having a more relaxed day tomorrow and the kids don't want to leave the cabin at all!
Day 7 - On the 7th day we rested...
Today we just stayed at the cabin and relaxed. We've had a busy week and it was time for some down time. The kids love that there is an arcade machine and a Nintendo 64 in the cabin, so they spent a lot of time on that. Kyrie and I actually got to read some books for a change. I think mostly we just didn't want to get in the car after all of the driving we have been doing.
Day 8 - A very long walk
We drove to Devil's Tower, Wyoming this morning. I had no idea what to expect. I remember seeing it in a movie and that was about it. I thought it was just an odd shaped mountain, but actually it is lava that hardened in a volcano that eventually eroded away and just left this. It was actually kind of fascinating and it was cool to see people actually climbing it!
We only walked around it of course, but that turned out to be enough of a challenge. Zoe really wasn't in the mood for a walk even though the trail was only a little over a mile long. She fussed and complained for a very long time. Then she was finally kind of accepting it until she saw the halfway sign when she figured we were almost finished. That irritated her again, but luckily her tantrum was only half-hearted by then. The second half of the hike was better and I think at least 6 of us enjoyed it well enough.
After the hike we stopped by another colony of prairie dogs (which is so much fun), and then stopped and had a good lunch at a nearby restaurant.
We drove back to the cabin and relaxed a little before dinner time. Our lunch was a little late in the day and we weren't that hungry, so none of us could really decide what to have for dinner. We ended up back in Deadwood at Maverick's. It was a good dinner, but it took forever! We were lucky that we didn't go there when we were hungry because it took over an hour to get our food! It was really good though and everyone was fine with waiting, so it was a nice time.
The kids really like the hot tub at the cabin.
Day 9 - I'll give you one cent to go faster!
Today we went horseback riding at Andy's Trail Rides nearby. It was a lot of fun. I was worried that Zach or Zoe would be scared since they had only ridden with Kyrie and I before, but they both did great. Zach was ready to be the trail master by the end. He kept telling his horse to get ahead of Jacob's (which it never did). He told his horse, "Come on! I'll give you one cent to go faster!" He really was having a great time and talking to his horse the entire time. Max however, didn't get along to well with his horse. After Max was on his horse, but before they were done getting the rest of us ready, his horse decided it was time to go. Max was like, "Umm, my horse is leaving." It didn't go much better from there. His horse never wanted to keep up with the one in front and Max didn't have much control over anything it did. The rest of us had a great time though.
After the trail ride we went back into Deadwood. We checked out the Adam's Museum which had some interesting stuff, but not too much. Then we saw a wild west shootout on Main Street. It was fun and the kids got some deputy stars. We had a good buffet dinner at Silverado.
We'll be driving for the next couple days without any planned stops, so we probably won't have anything else to write about. We have really enjoyed our trip. So many cool things - buffalo, an old west town, horseback riding, Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, Badlands, and the Needle rocks at Custer, plus Devil's Tower and of course the prairie dogs! What a great trip!