Monthly Archives: September 2019

Fun in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Standard

Our first overnight stop on our journey back home after dropping off Miss Molly (who is doing fabulous, by the way! More on that in a future post) was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This was a perfect place to hang our hats for the night…

IMG_6986 (2)

Our cowboy hats!

 We were in the heart of cowboy country and everything around us reflected that. Including the hotel we called home for the night.

IMG_6957 (2)

When booking our hotel I simply went online looking for the best deal available in the area. This tactic sometimes fails me, but more often than not we are pleasantly surprised at how great the hotel is given the inexpensive pricetag.

This hotel was one of those experiences.

IMG_6951 (2)

We stayed the night at The Historic Plains Hotel in the heart of downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming.

IMG_6961 (2)

“Few hotels capture the history, heritage and traditions of the American West like The Historic Plains Hotel. Steeped in the frontier legends and charm of turn-of-the-century Cheyenne, WY, our beautifully restored hotel offers every travel comfort while preserving every detail of our original grandeur.

IMG_6953 (2)

Since 1911, we’ve been a vital part of Cheyenne’s culture and character like no other hotel. Today, we exude an authentic, local style worlds apart from the cookie-cutter branded hotels all too common these days. To stay here is to rediscover an era when travel meant something special and unexpected. Stepping into our opulent Grand Lobby, with its beautiful bisque tiling, stained glass skylight and impressive pillars, is only the beginning of a stay that will provide interest, intrigue and uniquely personal experiences at every moment.”

It was a stunning hotel…

A true feast for the eyes,

IMG_6982 (2)

With beautiful and historic gems hidden around every corner.

IMG_6984 (2)

The age of the building was especially evident in its original elevators. The woodwork and brass fixtures were stunning but the elevator itself was tiny, requiring the boys and I to take two separate trips up to our room.

IMG_6979 (2)

As we stood waiting for the elevator to return we saw this sign and found out the reason for the tiny elevator…

IMG_6976 (2)

What a hoot!

After dropping off our luggage at our home for the night, we headed over to Terry Bison Ranch…an unknown excursion I planned for the boys to be enjoyed on our trip home.

After a week of seeing thousands of Bison from the safely recommended distance posted around the national parks we visited, I thought it would be fun to get a little closer. When I read the reviews of this ranch online I knew it had to be one of our final stops on our road trip.

There were many activities offered at the ranch but I chose to sign us up for the Bison Train Tour.

IMG_6939 (2)

This experience takes guests on a narrated tour through the ranch, and in among the herd, on a custom built train car.

IMG_6730 (2)

We boarded the train and were off, learning much about Bison as we chugged along toward where the herd of Bison were grazing.

IMG_6742 (2)

Along the way we crossed over into Colorado, a fact that delighted Braden who was on a mission to “collect” as many visited states as he could on this trip.

IMG_6773 (2)

As we got closer to the herd we received the unexpected and exciting news that a baby had just been born 30 minutes earlier and we would get to see the brand new baby Bison in among the herd.

IMG_6831 (2)

This cinnamon colored beauty was the first thing I spotted as we drove into the heart of the Bison herd. I couldn’t take my eyes off momma and baby.

IMG_6819 (2)

It was a beautiful sight to behold!

IMG_6816 (2)

The train came to a stop in the middle of hundreds of Bison. It was a bit disarming to see them come ambling over to the train with such eager enthusiasm.

IMG_6768 (2)

It was clear they knew exactly what a stopped train meant…

IMG_6762 (2)

It was snack time!

IMG_6786 (2)

In the aisles of the train were five gallon buckets filled with Bison pellets and we were allowed to hang out the windows of the train car and feed these magnificent beasts.

IMG_6803 (2)

After two weeks of enjoying these incredible animals from a distance, we were now able to interact with them face to face, feeding them from our hands and petting their furry faces.

It was pretty incredible.

IMG_6849 (2)

Especially when the larger bulls came right up to our window in search of hand-outs.

IMG_6860 (2)IMG_6789 (2)

The train remained stationary for 30 minutes, giving us plenty of time to get our fill of Bison love and plenty of time for the beasts to fill their bellies…

IMG_6857 (2)

Then we were off. The herd hated to see us go and followed alongside the train until we exited the paddock.

IMG_6870 (2)

When the train returned to the station we exited and were able to walk around the ranch and enjoy some of the other animals that call Terry Bison Ranch, home.

IMG_6900 (2)IMG_6943 (2)

There was an elevated observation platform that extended above the various animal enclosures allowing us to check out the farm animals from a birds eye view.

IMG_6891 (2)IMG_6906 (2)IMG_6894 (2)

Then we went down to love on them face to face before heading out.

IMG_6893 (2)

IMG_6930 (2)

It was such a fun experience to share with my oldest sons on our journey back home.

IMG_6912 (2)

Thanks. Cheyenne!

It’s been an adventure!

IMG_6940 (2)

 

 

 

 

Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from home!

Standard

After leaving Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we began our long trek back to Pennsylvania. The trip home was accelerated due to Rusty needing to be back on Wednesday afternoon for his college classes. So, while we took six days to make the 2000 mile trip west, we were making that same journey home in three days. This meant most of our time was spent driving, and since I lost my one licensed driver when we dropped Molly off at school (the boys permits don’t allow driving outside the state,) I was the one putting in 12 hours of driving each day.

Book tapes and impromptu stops to see local treasures along the way made the drive manageable.

On Monday we worked our way across Wyoming, with plans to spend the night in Cheyanne. Along the way we saw signs posted about wild horses that call that area of Wyoming home. Our curiosity was peeked, so when we saw the turn off for the wild horse coral overlook, we pulled in to check it out and stretch our legs.

It was an unassuming pavilion sitting atop a hill,

IMG_6710

Overlooking corrals of horses in the valley below. Inside the corrals were horses of every color, young and grown, frolicking under the summer sun.

IMG_6715 (2)

Situated around the pavilion were information boards about the wild horses and the work that is done to manage the population, thus ensuring a healthy, thriving herd.

IMG_6717 (2)

Because the horses have no natural predators the herd can easily grow bigger than the environment can naturally support. So, to keep the wild horse herd at a size sustainable to the resources available to them in the area, there are yearly round-ups.

IMG_6719 (2)

Some of the wild horses are collected and held at the corrals as they wait to be rehomed.

IMG_6723 (2)

They are put up for adoption, and for a small fee, anyone who passes the vetting process can adopt one of these Wyoming wild horses.

IMG_6725 (2)

It is a neat conservation program and I found it fascinating to learn about as we sat and watched the horses in the valley below us.

IMG_6724 (2)

This was one of those unexpected, impromptu stops that make road trips such a fun adventure…

You never know what unexpected site is around the next bend!

 

Grand Tetons

Standard

Our Saturday at Yellowstone was cut short as we hurried south in hopes of fitting in a visit to Grand Teton National Park before the sun set.

IMG_6623 (2)

Grand Teton sits just south of Yellowstone National Park by only a few miles. I have always found it astounding  how different the terrain is between these two National Parks that in are such close proximity.

IMG_6635 (2)

“The areas around the Grand Teton mountain range and its lakes were established as a national park in 1929 in order to protect the land from commercial exploitation. The protected area was extended into the surrounding valley in 1950. Grand Teton National Park currently covers more than 310,000 acres and is located only 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park.

IMG_6641 (2)

Located high above sea level at elevations from elevations from 6,320 to 13,770 feet, Grand Teton National Park is a diverse ecosystem with terrain ranging from summertime wildflower meadows to rushing whitewater streams. There are also numerous serene lakes with deep blue pools, echoing the stillness and color of the glaciers that shaped them. The wild and winding Snake River descends through the park in a rush of water and the dense forests blanketing the mountainsides provide habitat for a vast array of fauna and flora, with some species dating back to the prehistoric era.

IMG_6659 (2)

Opportunities for viewing wildlife abound inside the park. It is often possible to see both grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, coyotes, bison and bald eagles. Other common sightings include pronghorns, elk and a variety of smaller mammals such as the Uinta ground squirrel.”

IMG_6676 (2)IMG_6674 (2)

We arrived in the park just as the sun was sinking behind the mountains.

IMG_6624 (2)

IMG_6626 (2)

It left us with little time to enjoy the park, but we did fit in a quick hike to String Lake and captured some photos of this stunning National Park before the sky grew dark…

IMG_6668 (2)IMG_6630 (2)IMG_6651 (2)IMG_6672 (2)IMG_6659 (2)IMG_6702 (2)IMG_6706 (2)

Yellowstone Beauty

Standard

20190914_122246

Well, we are back home from taking Molly out to school.

It has been an eventful 10 days, beginning with Braden’s temple sealing two Saturdays ago and ending with three weary travelers stumbling through the door yesterday afternoon. Our cross country trip took us on a journey of 4000 miles, through 10 states, with stops at  historical sites, national parks, and roadside treasures across America…

Allowing Braden to capture some of the wonder experienced three years ago on our cross country bus trip.

After dropping off Miss Molly at BYU-Idaho, and bidding her farewell on Friday night, we began our long sojourn home. It lacked some of the spark we enjoyed on the trip westward, without Molly’s light and cheerful spirit with us. Determined to shake off the feelings of loss and gloom that had settled upon my boys, I planned some special stops on the way home for my two big boys to enjoy together.

I thought this was an opportunity for some special connection between Rusty and Braden, without Molly nearby. Both boys are especially close to Molly and tend to draw close to both their sisters, rather than each other. I think much of this is a natural effect of male interactions, but some of it stems from laziness. In their interactions with their sisters, no work or effort is required on their part. The girls naturally carry the burden of connection and conversation, allowing the boys in the family to be passive partakers of the enjoyed connection. My hope on this trip was that without Molly there to act as a facilitator of connection, the boys might find their own friendship aside from the ones they share together with the girls, so we made plans to make some memories on our way back home to the rest of the family. Our first stop was Yellowstone.

We arrived at the Western entrance of Yellowstone on Saturday morning. Down one explorer, it was just Braden, Rusty and I exploring this national park.

IMG_6409 (2)

Both boys were excited about this stop. Being one of the more well-known national parks, Braden had a bit of an idea of what to expect here. He knew he would be seeing geysers and watching Old Faithful erupt, but had no idea all the other unique sites we would be seeing at Yellowstone.

IMG_6519 (2)

We began our tour of Yellowstone at the Lower Geyser Basin, working our way around the park. The two things that struck me as we worked our way around the park was the sheer vastness of Yellowstone and the great diversity of the land and animals in the different areas of the park.

IMG_6415 (2)

“Yellowstone National Park is America’s first and foremost National Park, drawing over three million visitors yearly. Established in 1872 by the United States Congress “for the preservation of” its many wonders and “for the enjoyment of the people,” and now encompassing 2.2 million acres.

The Park has five entrances and some 370 miles of paved roadway. Situated in the northwest corner of the Wyoming frontier, Yellowstone is a treasure that inspires awe in travelers from around the world, boasting more geysers (about 250 active geysers from amidst 10,000 total thermal features) than anywhere else on the globe.

Yellowstone is home to thousands of active thermal features, including the world renowned Old Faithful Geyser.”

IMG_6433 (2)

One of our first adventures was to enjoy Artists’ Paintpots hike:

IMG_6507 (2)IMG_6508

 “Along this short walk you will see very good examples of most types of thermal features found in Yellowstone. These features include some very pretty hot pools, steaming fumaroles, erupting geysers and probably the best easily accessed mudpots in the park. The area is highly active and at least one geyser is usually erupting here at all times.”

20190914_125702IMG_6486 (2)IMG_6437 (2)IMG_6499 (2)

We also made stops at…

IMG_6430 (2)IMG_6428 (2)

Grand Prismatic Springs:

IMG_6552 (2)

“Temperature 147-188°F Dimensions 250×380 feet. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and is considered to be the third largest in the world-New Zealand has the two largest springs. Grand Prismatic sits upon a wide, spreading mound where water flows evenly on all sides forming a series of small, stair-step terraces. The Hayden Expedition in 1871 named this spring because of its beautiful coloration, and artist Thomas Moran made water-color sketches depicting its rainbow-like colors. The sketches seemed exaggerations and geologist A.C. Peale returned in 1878 to verify the colors. The colors begin with a deep blue center followed by pale blue. Green algae forms beyond the shallow edge. Outside the scalloped rim a band of yellow fades into orange. Red then marks the outer border. Steam often shrouds the spring which reflects the brilliant colors. Grand Prismatic discharges an estimated 560 gallons per minute.”

20190914_15005320190914_14555420190914_14585620190914_150352IMG_6565 (2)IMG_6540 (2)

Old Faithful to watch its ever famous eruption:

IMG_6606 (2)

“No visit to Yellowstone is complete without experiencing at least one eruption of Old Faithful. Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers, although it is not the largest or most regular geyser in the park. Its average interval between eruptions is about 91 minutes, varying from 65 – 92 minutes. An eruption lasts 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, expels 3,700 – 8,400 gallons (14,000 – 32,000 liters) of boiling water, and reaches heights of 106 – 184 feet (30 – 55m). It was named for its consistent performance by members of the Washburn Expedition in 1870. Although its average interval has lengthened through the years (due to earthquakes and vandalism), Old Faithful is still as spectacular and predictable as it was a century ago.”

IMG_6572 (2)IMG_6583 (2)

While at Old Faithful we strolled over to Old Faithful Inn:

IMG_6597 (2)

Old Faithful Inn is the most popular hotel in the park.  Built during the winter of 1903-04, the Old Faithful Inn was designed by Robert C. Reamer, who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature. The lobby of the hotel features a 65-foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. Wings were added to the hotel in 1915 and 1927, and today there are 327 rooms available to guests in this National Historic Landmark.

IMG_6598 (2)

It was stunning. We had fun walking around the lobby and introducing Braden to the inn’s famous huckleberry ice cream…Rusty’s favorite!

IMG_6602 (2)

As we explored Yellowstone we were in awe and understood why, upon seeing this magnificent place, Theodore Roosevelt designated it the first National Monument in the United States. 

IMG_6523 (2)IMG_6620 (2)IMG_6517 (2)

roosevelt

And it remains one of the most diversely stunning places in America today. We are so glad we got to share this magnificent place with Braden!

 

 

BYU-I Good-byes

Standard

IMG_6394

After a week-long trek across the United States, the day had finally arrived. It was time to get Molly settled into her new home and take our leave. We couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer!

IMG_6238

We woke on Friday morning with the mix of emotions evident on each and every face. As we prepared for the day ahead of us I tried to keep things light and focus on the fun and adventure of this new experience, but my efforts were overshadowed by palpable anxiety and the weight of grief. As hard as this day would be for Rusty, Molly and I, it was nothing to the overwhelming feelings of loss Braden was battling.

Despite reassurances that Molly would only be gone until Christmas and then we would get her home for four months until she returned for her spring semester, he still struggled. For him, as illogical as it may seem, this was just another loss in a long line of losing people he loves. It has been his experience that once you open your heart to someone, they will leave you… either to drugs, death, prison, or by simply being pulled from your life by the very system that is there to protect and preserve. Even though this experience was nothing like the losses of his past, the emotions felt all too similar, thus triggering thoughts of previous losses that were all too final.

It was with much prayer, compassion, and tenderness that we moved into the day.

Our first stop of the day was Molly’s new home. Rather than stay in a more traditional apartment style dorm, she opted to rent a room in a cute bungalow just six minutes from campus center.

IMG_6283 (2)IMG_6278 (2)IMG_6275 (2)IMG_6280 (2)

She would be sharing this charming home with eight roommates, many of whom we met as we unloaded her gear from the car.

IMG_6232 (2)

The boys were a big help as we toted in all Molly’s clothes, books and decorations.

IMG_6241 (2)

Molly’s room is a single. For a slightly higher monthly payment Molly opted to pay to have the room to herself. She felt this would be the best for her first semester. This way she can enjoy the comradery of shared living spaces with her eight roommates, but also would have a private space to escape to when she needs to be alone.

IMG_6234 (2)

Her room was generously large…far bigger than it seemed in the photos…

IMG_6242 (2)

And we soon set to work unpacking her boxes and turning her room into a home, with pictures and personal touches.

IMG_6313 (2)

The end result was nothing short of charming!!

IMG_6308 (2)IMG_6305 (2)

She has a large closet, a dresser, an elevated bed with storage below, a bookcase, and a desk area for studying.

IMG_6269 (2)

It is so cute and homey.

IMG_6315 (2)

Our next stop was Walmart to stock her kitchen cabinets until she gets into a routine of weekly grocery shopping. We arrived at Walmart to find every parking spot filled with new students and their families. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like Black Friday inside, with aisles filled to capacity and every register manned by a frazzled looking clerk.

We loaded up her cart with student-friendly food and made our way to the other side of the store to pick up a plastic storage tote and a footstool for climbing into bed.

IMG_6287 (2)

Then we navigated our way to the front where an employee was guiding customers through a maze of caution tape to the next open line. I am not kidding when I say it was like Black Friday shopping!

IMG_6288 (2)

We made it out alive and headed back to her apartment where we unloaded her groceries into her assigned kitchen cabinets…

IMG_6319 (2)

Then we headed over to campus to take care of some student tasks.

Our first stop was to check her in at the “Get Connected” tent where she was assigned her student mentors that would guide her through the next two days of activities. Here she also received her welcome booklet that spelled out all the fun being offered over the weekend.

IMG_6321 (2)

Then we began working our way through the “to-do” list for new freshman, including getting her student ID and picking up her preordered books from the bookstore.

IMG_6326 (2)

Then we split ways for a few hours as she joined up with her mentoring team for some new student activities like a welcome from the university president, a campus tour, meeting with the heads of each department, etc.

IMG_6324 (2)

While Molly was busy with the other freshman, Braden, Rusty and I grabbed lunch, perused the University Bookstore, and took advantage of a college tour. One of the primary reasons the boys accompanied Molly and I on this road trip was so they could tour the school and see if they might be interested in attending BYU-I themselves.

IMG_6338 (2)IMG_6331 (2)IMG_6334 (2)

By the time we were done with our campus tour, Molly was done with her scheduled activities. We met up in the Student Commons to get in line for the parent/student luau.

IMG_6346 (2)

The plan was to take our leave after a fun luau dinner with Miss Molly. It was a popular event, with the line to get in wrapping all around the commons.

IMG_6349 (2)

When it was our turn to go through the buffet line we were blown away by the spread of delicious Hawaiian fare.

IMG_6351 (2)

We were then seated in the ballroom to enjoy our meal,

IMG_6353 (2)IMG_6354 (2)

While being entertained by Polynesian dancers who were AMAZING!!

IMG_6357 (2)IMG_6365 (2)IMG_6386 (2)

At the end of the luau Molly walked with us back to the car to say her good-byes. I thought I was doing a superb job of holding it together until Braden started to cry, a lifetime of past losses written on his face as he had to say good-bye to another person he loves…

IMG_6402 (2)

Not quite believing she will return home again.

Oh, how my heart ached as my kids’ faces were dampened with tears. As hard as it was to say good-bye, I couldn’t help but marvel at the great blessing evident in those tears. Those tears are evidence of loving attachment and connection between family members that were strangers just a year ago.

IMG_6393 (2)

This is what every adoptive parent prays for, especially when adopting a child with a history of trauma and previous displacements. You open your heart and home hoping one day they will feel safe enough to open their heart to the love you offer. It is a day by day journey toward connection and attachment, and moments like this (as heartbreaking as they are) tell me we are finding some measure of success.

IMG_6404 (2)

We took our leave, reminding ourselves that we will see Molly in a month for Gracie’s wedding, and headed back to our hotel room.

After a week’s worth of travel we were out of clean clothes, so I left the boys at the hotel to numb themselves in front of the TV, while I headed to the laundromat down the street.

I didn’t indulge in the luxury of being present in my own grief until that moment. I was far too invested in the well-being of my kids, making sure everyone was successfully navigating their own hard emotions. It wasn’t until I found myself alone that the reality of it all hit and the tears bubbled up.

For two hours I sat alone in a coin operated laundromat, finding solace in the isolation…

20190913_214310

Finally able to reflect on the last week…

And the last 19 years that led up to this day.

This is what we raise them for.

As parents we strive to first give them roots…deep, deep roots that will hold them upright through the most turbulent and trying seasons of life.

And then we strive to give them wings…wings strong, and nimble, and capable of flight, so that when they finally take that leap, out of the protective nest we built for them, we can enjoy the breath-stealing sight of watching them soar.

Soar, Miss Molly!

Your are a magnificent sight to behold!

IMG_6261 (2)

Devil’s Tower

Standard

On Thursday, after leaving the Black Hills of South Dakota, we traveled two hours west, crossing into Wyoming, for our visit to Devils Tower National Monument.

IMG_6159 (2)

This was another stop I was looking forward to with eager anticipation, as it is a place that holds so many fond childhood memories for me.

IMG_6151 (2)

I remember camping at the Devils Tower KOA and sleeping under the silhouette of that mighty monument, both in childhood and then with my family three years ago.

IMG_6199 (2)

I couldn’t wait to return and share the experience with Braden as well.

IMG_6215 (2)

As we approached,  we could see Devils Tower looming in the distance, growing larger with every mile as we approached.

IMG_6217 (2)

As we drove into the park we passed a prairie dog town on our way up the winding road.

IMG_6168 (2)

At the top of the road sat a small visitor’s center at the base of Devil’s Tower. This was our first stop.

IMG_6175 (2)

Stamping Ozzie’s postcard. He requested postcards from each of our stops as we traveled west to take Molly to school.

IMG_6177 (2)

Devils Tower:

“Devils Tower National Monument, a unique and striking geologic wonder steeped in Indian legend, is a modern day national park and climbers’ challenge. Devils Tower sits across the state line in northeast Wyoming. The Tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley, like a skyscraper in the country. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower.

The two-square-mile park surrounding the tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The park is covered with pine forests, woodlands and grasslands. While visiting the park you are bound to see deer, prairie dogs and other wildlife. The mountain’s markings are the basis for Native American legend. One legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens. Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many American Indians. Devils Tower is also remembered as the movie location for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

IMG_6179 (2)

The stone pillar is about 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top and that makes it the premier rock climbing challenge in the Black Hills.”

Then we headed out on the Tower Trail, a 1.25-mile trail that winds its way around the base of this mammoth rock.

The trail was beautiful…

IMG_6196 (2)

And the views were breathtaking,

Despite the cold rain that fell down upon us as we walked the trail. 

IMG_6209 (2)

It was a short visit of 1 1/2 hours, because of the drive that lay before us.

IMG_6207 (2)

10 more hours of driving until we arrive in Molly’s new college town, but I’m glad we stopped.

It is an awe-inspiring site that should be enjoyed by every traveler passing through Wyoming.

IMG_6186 (2)

We are getting close!

Wish this momma luck…

Friday is the big day!

Mount Rushmore

Standard

We began our second day in Rapid City at Mount Rushmore.

IMG_6135 (2)

“There are many ways to draw inspiration  from one of the nation’s most consequential and enduring patriotic symbols- Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Just consider- the work of this massive carving, the largest monument in the world, was accomplished during a time of great national challenge and hardship- the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Between October 4, 1927 and October 31, 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the colossal faces of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln to represent the first 150 years of the great experiement in democracy that is America. What many might consider America’s greatest challenge- World War II- was still ahead, and the years to come would bring a full measure of triumphs and tragedies.

Yet today the four “great faces” continue to greet each dawn with pride and glory- an image mirrored on millions of visitors’ faces who come away from the monument  with their patriotism revitalized  and their senses refreshed by the serene and beautiful surroundings.

The mountains eastern orientation and its smooth granite face  caused Borglum to conclude he had found the perfect site for his visionary undertaking. Yet Borglum faced monumental obstacles  in pursuit of his dream. Harsh winters and inadequate funding often stalled progress. In fact, Mt. Rushmore stands not only as a rock-solid reminder of our national pride, but as a monument to the patriotism and stubborn determination of a sculptor and the local crew of miners  he guided into carving a mountain into one of the wonders of the world.

Today, the astonishment of the mountain reverberates through every visitor.

IMG_6117 (2)

The original plan was to visit Mount Rushmore on Wednesday evening, following a day at Custer State park, but as the day progressed the weather became progressively worse. By 2:00 pm the foggy drizzle that settled on Rapid City had grown into full blown thunderstorms. It was decided we would wait until morning to venture up to Mount Rushmore, choosing instead to head to our hotel.

IMG_6115 (2)

We stayed at the Rushmore Inn, a historic hotel that sits at the foot of Mount Rushmore. It was chosen for its price on hotels.com, but turned out to be more charming and delightful than we could have ever expected.

IMG_6112 (2)

The theme of the hotel interior reflected the name, with antique photographs and Teddy Roosevelt quotes dotting the hallways.

IMG_20190911_093143931

There was even a Teddy bear on the bed…a toy named after Teddy Roosevelt himself.

Our room was even more impressive! We walked in to find our bedroom was two stories…a first in our years of hotel stays! Everyone was thrilled to get their own beds for the night!

IMG_6111 (2)

When we woke the following morning we saw that the sun had returned, although the wind and biting temperatures remained…

But we could at least make a stop at the national landmark before moving onto our next stop without getting soaked!

The crowds were minimal at 7:30 am.

IMG_6140 (2)

IMG_6127 (2)

We found the park bathed in caution tape and areas under construction, blocking off many of the trails and viewing areas, but we soon found a spot that highlighted this awe-inspiring view and allowed us to take some photos of our time at Mount Rushmore.

IMG_6130 (2)

By the time we were leaving, the gift shop had opened. A quick stop for the kids to buy themselves souvenirs (Molly: a postcard, Braden: a dreamcatcher, and Rusty: a micro Lego set of Mount Rushmore), and we were on our way…

IMG_6142 (2)

Next Stop: Devil’s Tower!

 

Custer State Park

Standard

On Wednesday, we spent the morning at Custer State Park.

IMG_5984 (2) - Copy

This stop was one of our very favorite stops on our six week tour of the most breathtaking sites of the United States.

IMG_6030 (2) - Copy

I think I sometimes find myself believing state parks to be sub-par to national parks. They are the parks that didn’t make the cut, and weren’t epic enough to make the list of National parks…second string players, so to speak. And sometimes this can be the case, but it certainly wasn’t the case for Custer State Park.

IMG_20190911_131412958_HDR

Custer State Park was one of the most beautiful parks we have ever visited, national or state…

|image000004(1)

And we knew it warranted a return visit!

There is nothing ordinary about Custer State Park. It was the first state park in South Dakota and is the largest state park in the state.

IMG_6059 (2) - Copy

As we entered this spectacular reserve, it took only minutes for the enchantment to beguile our senses. The towering pines sheltering the roadway, the gentle, flowing creeks, the massive granite outcroppings- was nature at its most bewitching.

image000002(1)

And taking center stage in this transcendent landscape was one of the most powerful icons of the American West- the bison- shouldering his way into view, unchallenged master of this wild world.

IMG_5987 (2) - Copy

The bison, or buffalo, is the official logo of Custer State Park and its main claim to fame as a wildlife refuge.

IMG_20190911_132341148

The story of the buffalo is a tragic one. Once 30-60 million strong, herds of buffalo covered the lands of the west in the 1700s. By the end of the 1800s they had dwindled down to fewer than 1000 and were in danger of extinction.

IMG_6017 (2) - Copy

But the story doesn’t end there. Preservation measures began soon after with laws passed to protect the buffalo of Yellowstone National Park. At Custer State Park the conservation efforts began as well and now they find themselves home to the second largest buffalo herd in the country, 1300 strong, with around 400 new babies born to the herd each spring.

IMG_5999 (2) - Copy

At the front gate we were directed to head first to the visitor’s center. We were told that there we would be guided which way to drive to see the buffalo herd according to where the park rangers had spotted them that day…

Found them!

IMG_6002 (2) - Copy

 The huge bulls knew they had the right away and we were thrilled with the up close views as they ambled across the road, bringing traffic to a halt. Walking with the cows were a sprinkling of spring calves that were a thrill to watch.

IMG_6005 (2) - Copy

And that was only the beginning!

From there we left to drive Wildlife Loop Road, where we spotted more buffalo, prairie dogs, deer, and antelope.

image000003(2)

It was unreal.

IMG_6009 (2) - Copy

We continued on Wildlife Loop Road hoping to stumble across the infamous “Begging Burros” that were such a delight at our last visit. Unfortunately they were hunkered down , trying to keep warm and dry in an unknown corner of the park.

IMG_6035 (2) - CopyIMG_6039 (2) - Copy

It was a cool, wet, drizzly and very foggy day.

IMG_6042 (2) - Copy

We left Wildlife Loop Road and headed UP, towards higher elevations to see the other site Custer State Park is known for: the granite needles.

image000001(2)

As we drove along the Needle Highway, we stopped at a gift shop for a bathroom break. While there Rusty found the ultimate Custer State Park souvenir!!

IMG_6023 (2) - Copy

(It ended up being a huge hit at all our stops the remainder of the trip.)

Towering high above the park are awesome granite spires, surrounded by tall pines. The views are spectacular but to get to those views we had to head up, up, up along the most narrow, winding, precarious road I have ever navigated.

image000006(2)

The higher we climbed in elevation, the thicker the fog grew, wrapping itself around the granite outcroppings.

IMG_20190911_130752246


IMG_20190911_130702840_HDR

There were three tunnels, cut out of the granite boulders, that had to be passed through to reach the top.

At the top of Custer State Park, at 6, 145 feet, is Sylvan Lake. The reward for that drive is this view:

IMG_6075 (2)

I don’t know that I have ever visited a prettier place.

image000000(20)

We walked around the lake and the kids enjoyed climbing on the granite boulders and exploring the cracks and crevices.

IMG_6092 (2)IMG_6105 (2)

Pictures truly can’t do justice to the magnificence of Custer State Park. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, don’t hesitate, don’t question… just go!


image000005

You’ll be glad you did!

Eating with Cowboys

Standard

IMG_5979

From Wall Drug we drove to Rapid City, our next stop on the way to drop Molly off at college. Because we had some extra time to kill that evening, and because we have such fond memories of our Chuckwagon dinner at Ft. Hays from our bus trip, I called to see if we could get reservations. We were able to nab the last four seats for Tuesday evening’s show.

IMG_5953

We arrived at 5:15, giving us an hour to walk around the Ft. Hays old fashioned town before we went in for supper.

IMG_5936IMG_5949

At 6:30 we were seated at long picnic style tables.

IMG_5954

Dinner was a traditional chuck wagon meal of BBQ beef, baked beans, applesauce, baked potato, homemade biscuits with honey, lemonaid to drink and spice cake for dessert.

We were called up to the kitchen by table.

The process began with everyone grabbing a tin plate. First food received was our baked potato, which was smashed onto the plate to flatten it and keep it from rolling off.

IMG_5956

From there we worked our way down the line getting all our wet foods: beans, meat, and applesauce.

chuckwagon

Then another cowboy tossed a piece of wax paper on our plate and we were ready for our next layer of food: biscuits, butter and cake.

The wax paper kept our dry food from getting wet.

The dinner was delicious! Everyone cleaned their plates but each had a favorite part of the meal.

IMG_5959

After dinner, the entertainment part of the evening began. It was a mix of music and comedy. The music selection ranged from classic cowboy songs that would have been sung on the prairie to more modern country favorites.

IMG_5971

The band was incredibly talented, particularly the female fiddle player. The best song of the evening was her rendition of “When the Devil went down to Georgia.”

IMG_5966

They ended their show, and the evening, with a tribute to all the military and veterans in the room, acknowledging them and showing their appreciation by ending the show with the song, “Proud to be an American.”

What a fun end to another wonderful day!

Where the heck is Wall Drug?!

Standard

IMG_5848

As the rain settled in over the Badlands, we took our leave and headed 20 minutes away to Wall, South Dakota, home of the kitschy mecca: Wall Drug.

Wall Drug is huge tourist trap, but one that must be visited at least once in your life. Anyone who traveled across South Dakota as a child will remember with delight their stop at Wall Drug.

I remember being in awe of Wall Drug when we stopped there when I was a child. I thought it was a magical place with its giant roadside statues and sprawling aisles of bumper stickers, magnets, souvenirs, and t-shirts.

For those who have never heard of Wall Drug here is a bit of their story, as taken from Wikipedia:

“Wall Drug Store, often called simply “Wall Drug,” is a tourist attraction located in the city of  Wall, South Dakota. It consists of a drug store, gift shop, restaurants and various other stores. Unlike a traditional shopping mall, all the stores at Wall Drug operate under a single entity instead of being individually run stores. The New York Times has described Wall Drug as “a sprawling tourist attraction of international renown [that] takes in more than $10 million a year and draws some two million annual visitors to a remote town.”

History

The small town drugstore made its first step towards fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931. Hustead was a Nebraska native and pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic church in which to establish his business. He bought Wall Drug, located in a 231-person town in what he referred to as “the middle of nowhere,” and strove to make a living. Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, thought of advertising free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly opened Mount Rushmore monument 60 miles (97 km) to the west. From that time on business was brisk. Wall Drug grew into a cowboy-themed shopping mall/department store. Wall Drug includes a western art museum, a chapel based on the one found at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa, and an 80-foot (24 m) apatosaurus (formerly brontosaurus) that can be seen right off Interstate 90. It was designed by Emmet Sullivan who also created the dinosaurs at Dinosaur Park in Rapid City and Dinosaur World in Arkansas.

Marketing campaign

Wall Drug earns much of its fame from its self-promotion. Billboards advertising the establishment can be seen for hundreds of miles throughout South Dakota and the neighboring states. In addition, many visitors of Wall Drug have erected signs throughout the world announcing the miles to Wall Drug from famous locations. By 1981 Wall Drug was claiming it was giving away 20,000 cups of water per day during the peak tourist season, lasting from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and during the hottest days of the summer.

Most of Wall Drug’s advertisement billboards can be found on an approximately 650-mile-long (1,050 km) stretch of Interstate 90 from Minnesota to Billings, Montana. Wall Drug spends an estimated $400,000 on billboards every year.

Today

 

The Wall Drug Dinosaur

To date, Wall Drug still offers free ice water, but as they have become more popular, they have started to offer free bumper stickers and signs to aid in promotion, and coffee for 5 cents. Some popular free bumper stickers read “Where the heck is Wall Drug?”, “How many miles to Wall Drug?”, and “Where in the world is Wall Drug?”.

When the United States Air Force was still operating Minuteman missile silos in the western South Dakota plains, Wall Drug used to offer free coffee and doughnuts to service personnel if they stopped in on their way to or from Ellsworth Air Force Base (50 miles (80 km) west on Interstate 90). Wall Drug continues to offer free coffee and a doughnut to honeymooners, veterans, priests, hunters, truck drivers, and other travelers.

Ted Hustead died in 1999. The following day, the governor of South Dakota began his annual State of the State address by commemorating Hustead as “a guy that figured out that free ice water could turn you into a phenomenal success in the middle of a semi-arid desert way out in the middle of someplace.”

Media references

In 1981, Wall Drug was featured in Time magazine as one of the largest tourist attractions in the north. In his 1989 book The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson wrote, “It’s an awful place, one of the world’s worst tourist traps, but I loved it and I won’t have a word said against it.”

Braden had no idea what to expect as we entered the doors of Wall Drug. He was left feeling puzzled after I shared with him the story of Wall Drug, wondering why we were stopping at a drug store for free ice water.

IMG_5845IMG_5847

When I mentioned the shopping aspect, he was 100% on board. Of all my kids he’s the boy who loves to shop, and he had saved his previous two paychecks for such an occasion as this!

IMG_5874

We stepped inside and his jaw dropped.

IMG_5876

It was old 1950’s, roadside America at its best, with everything tacky and delightful that goes along with it.

IMG_5869

All three kids enjoyed the sites and shopping adventure of Wall Drug, each spending some of their hard earned money on kitschy souvenirs,

IMG_5850

Before enjoying bison burgers for lunch at the café.

IMG_5872

Here is a peek into our stop at Wall Drug:

IMG_5862IMG_5868IMG_5860IMG_5863IMG_5855IMG_5853