You guys, I am so mad at myself. I had ONE thing to write about, ONE idea to break the case of writer’s block/overtired/overbusy screwed-uppedness that was keeping me from posting, and I THREW AWAY MY OWN NOTES.
All during our vacation to South Dakota, I was jotting down what we did so that I wouldn’t forget, and then this week in a purse-cleaning frenzy I threw them out. It makes me so mad that I actually (briefly) looked in the trash, but then I realized that was disgusting and pointless, so I gave up. And now this post will have to be based on our photos and my memory. Bad News Bears.
The first day, we took an indirect route so that we could go to Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota. Most of the working quarries are currently underwater, and the creek had flooded its banks and swamped a bridge, so we could only walk about half of the loop trail around the park, but it was still beautiful. The kids really liked watching a demonstration of pipestone carving in the visitor center, and they (I was surprised to discover) were very willing to complete the activities required to get their (first) Junior Ranger badges.
From there, we drove to Mitchell, reaching our hotel in time to play in the waterpark. (I’ll have you know that John Stamos and Brian Wilson were staying at the very same hotel, which we know because we gaped stupidly at them from the sidewalk, nudging each other but never working up the nerve to say anything. This was probably for the best, as they may not have been all that flattered, while playing exotic Mitchell, to be accosted by a woman who had a crush on “Uncle Jesse,” but knew nothing at all about anything either of them had done in the last 20 years.) Although I sincerely hope that they will remember something, ANYTHING, else from this trip, all three of the kids declared the waterpark the very best thing we did all week.
In the morning, we stopped by the Corn Palace, because it’s required. Then we drove across South Dakota, hitting the also-required Wall Drug along the way. It was a fun day, but it definitely fulfilled our quota of kitsch for a year or ten.
We were glad to get settled into our cabin, which despite being a little out of the way was pretty perfect for us. We got to cook over a fire but didn’t have to sleep in a tent, our neighbors were horses to one side, deer to the other, and some lovely families in the other cabins.
The weather was drizzly and unsettled in the morning, but our destinations had a lot of driving in-between, so we headed hopefully out anyway. We saw Crazy Horse Memorial, drove the Needles Highway, went on an animal photo safari through Custer State Park, and finally ended up at Mount Rushmore. It was a great day, except for the part where we discovered that Riya gets carsick. As both Robin and I get sick when we read too much in the car, we diagnosed her with the same problem, but she refused to believe us and kept trying to sneak a book into the van the rest of the trip.
We thought she had recovered, and it was later than we had planned for dinner. Not wanting to drive all the way back to the cabin to try to light a fire with damp wood, we chose a chuckwagon place instead. This turned out to be unwise, since Riya threw up again and the show was … not great.
The next day, we focused more on things the kids would like, which had the added benefit of spending less time in the car. We went to the Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, and an old gold mine with a waterfall inside it. That night, we went back to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. I can highly recommend all of it. The walk into the mine might not have been worth the price of admission, but it was still cool, and it’s located in a beautiful, off-the-beaten-path valley.
The next day was finally sunny, which made our trip out to Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower much more pleasant. I think this was my favorite day. The Ponderosa pines smelled so wonderful, and we had a lovely walk around the base of the tower. Some insane people had taken their young daughters (9 and 10, I think? Their grandmother was watching from the base, and we joined the group of gawkers near her for a while.) climbing up to the top. Robin thought it looked fun, but he is often wrong about these kinds of things.
We took a different route back to the cabin so that we could stop in Deadwood. We saw Wild Bill Hickok get shot, visited his and Calamity Jane’s graves, and had ice cream. We ate a lot of ice cream on this trip.
On our way out to Devil’s Tower, we had stopped at Jewel Cave to make our cave tour reservations for the following day. I am so glad we did, because the tour was great. Ranger Dan was great with the kids, and even when he did the “let’s stand in the complete darkness” part, they didn’t wig out. They never complained, either, even though the tour we chose was 90 minutes long. Plus, it is just awesome in there.
We had another great tour guide at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, our next stop (well, we also stopped to play mini golf, because the kids had begged to all week – they complained the whole time because it was too hot. Figures.). He had jobs for all of the kids in the group, and consequently they hung on his every word and asked a ton of great questions. When we went back to the cabin, Ben and Karina spent an hour playing paleontologist in the gravel driveway. (Riya was reading, having been denied the pleasure all day in the car.)
Our good weather lasted through the next day, so we drove a little ways on the Needles Highway again so that we could get out and walk around Sylvan Lake. We also stopped by the Museum at the Black Hills Institute, which was kind of underwhelming after having seen the mammoths the day before.
The next day, it was time to start heading back East. We packed up, but made sure to catch the Air & Space Museum and the Badlands on our way back to Mitchell. We spent the night at the same hotel, played in the waterpark in the morning, and then drove the rest of the way home.
And if you have made it through this entire post, I imagine you have some idea just how exhausted we were when we finally did make it back.