Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day 5

Custer, South Dakota to Red Lodge, Montana

Started our day with a tasty breakfast of pancakes, sausages & scrambled eggs. Daddy is a great breakfast chef! Thanks to the wash tubs we picked up yesterday, dishwashing went much faster this morning.

Upon leaving Big Pine Campground, where we met a Carmel firefighter, we took off toward Wyoming. The first stop was Jewel Cave National Monument. Sadly, the next Discovery Tour (one the kiddos could handle) was full & another wasn't for 2.5 hours. We settled for watching a video & completing Jr. Ranger activities. Daddy, the girl & the boy hiked a mile to the historic trail head & ranger station. Mama drove, made lunch & met a nice family from Rhode Island. We did hike down to the mouth of Jewel Cave--the original enterance. We stuck our heads in! The known length of the cave system is 132.9 miles. It's either #2 or #3 in length in the world! FYI Mammoth Cave is #1.

We packed it in and headed across the border to Wyoming. We stopped for gas & to check out the Wyoming visitor's center in Sheridan, WY. Our Conneticut friends were at the same gas station! Go figure...

Montana is full of wide open spaces. We stopped in Billings for some supplies before heading into Yellowstone tomorrow. So thankful that Walmart is everywhere! Also picked up 2 geocaches, so we can add Montana to our states cached! YAHOO!

Red Lodge is a quaint town. We pulled in & set up camp just as the sun was setting. Roasted hotdogs over the fire & made burgers on the grill. Corn & tropical fruit salad for sides and s'mores for dessert. Who says it's rough camping?! The kiddos checked out quickly & are very excited to finally be in Yellowstone tomorrow.

We started our Yellowstone trip countdown at well over 100 days. Hopefully the months of anticipation prove correct.

Will work on more pics soon--the wireless is sometimes slow. We'll have plenty to share when we get home!

Liz & family

PS Books on CD are a lifesaver in the car! Rachel enjoyed Little House in the Big Woods & is now working on Ballet Shoes (which Luke does NOT enjoy).

Day 4


In Black Hills National Forest

Began the day of sightseeing at Crazy Horse Memorial. Amazing that they have been working on this with all private donations. Chief Red Cloud invited Korczak Ziolkowski to come to South Dakota to build a monument/Memorial to the Indian Heroes—cause the white man had Mt. Rushmore. Crazy Horse will be GIGANTIC when it’s finished. They have blasted out much of the surrounding mass, but little is done on the actual monument. Crazy Horse’s face is completed and the 10 story hole between his outstretched arm and the horse’s neck. Maybe our great grandchildren will see the finished product. Korczak is dead, but his wife and 7 of his 10 children carry on the work he began. It was interesting to see this, but not sure it was worth the $25 to get us all in.

Next we were off to Mt. Rushmore. Our first glimpse was Washington’s profile. We now have a one year parking pass—not sure we’ll be back after today! Walked up & saw our new Connecticut friends from day 2. Very patriotic memorial. Walked down the Avenue of Flags that leads out to the viewing platform. Found the Indiana flag—the 19th state! It is simply amazing to gaze out and see the giant faces on the side of the mountain. The kids became Mt. Rushmore Junior Rangers! We saw original tools and swing seats that the men used to hang over the side and jackhammer away at the faces. We learned that the monument’s primary sculptor Gutzon Borglum worked the last 14 years of his life completing the monument. He didn’t see it to completion, but before he died it was mostly done. (The Crazy Horse sculptor interned under Borglum.)

Left Rushmore and headed to Bear Country USA. This is a driving tour through a wildlife preserve. (No windows down, animals have right-of-way, danger signs posted everywhere.) We saw elk, reindeer, big horn sheep, arctic wolves, dall sheep, Rocky mt. goats, buffalo, mountain lions and black bears. We picnicked at Babyland, then saw babies of the animals in the park & a few new varieties—foxes, skunk, coyotes, bobcat, porcupine, lynx & more. Our favorite part of Babyland was when a very nice ranger came out to give a baby black bear talk. The babies were sleeping until she began to throw mini marshmallows into their den & just outside. They jumped to it in collecting them One knocked the closed container from her hands and worked at it until he’d opened it! It was fun to see them frolic in the yard and learn more about black bears—which can be black, brown, reddish or blonde as well.

One of the funniest things of our day happened in the Bear Den gift shop. Upon entering the restrooms, Luke noticed they had his favorite hand dryers. “Oh yeah, the Excellerator”. When Matt joined Rachel & me outside the restrooms, he said “Here it comes.” In seconds we hear the dryer click on & Luke says so that half the store can hear. “Now that’s what I’m talking about! Oh yeah, Feel the Power! WooooHooooo.” He came out of the restroom to half the store laughing about it. Hysterical! (They have these same dryers at the Ram & Casler’s if you want to feel the power yourself.)

Next up was Old MacDonald’s Farm. A tourist trap for certain, but the kids LOVED it. They rode a train & ponies. We fed lots of animals. Daddy made friends with a couple of goats. We watched the pig race—Hamlet won! Mama cheered for Sausageaweea, while everyone else cheered for Hamlet. Maybe next time. This was a fun stop.

The very nice woman at OMF, recommended The Gas Light restaurant and Saloon for dinner. It’s about the only thing in Rockerville, South Dakota. It was great atmosphere—old west & western movie d├ęcor. Even a live cowboy singer! Daddy tried the Bison burger & gave it a thumbs up.

On to Keystone for dessert! Enjoyed walking Main street. Bought some touristy souveniers—stuffed bison for the kiddos, freshly made taffy and a silver bracelet for Mama. We skipped the shoot out at the Red Garter Saloon.

Next we headed back to Rushmore for the nighttime activities. While Daddy saved us all seats in the amphitheater, the rest of us hiked the President’s Trail. We got as close to the president’s as one can—sort of looking up their noses! We saw the Sculptor’s Studio, Borglum’s lookout & the historic lookout. The evening program was very patriotic. The Ranger gave a background of Mt. Rushmore and the sacrifices of the armed forces to protect our freedom. He introduced a film which talked about each president & how they modeled patriotism & love for our country. As the film was ending, the lights went up on the faces. Very cool. Thumbs up from Luke.

Late night out & the little people went to bed easily! Tomorrow we head into Wyoming & up to Montana for the night.

Liz & family

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Day 3

Touring Badlands National Park and travel to Custer, South Dakota

Started our morning with pancakes & bacon at the KOA. Drove into BNP to the visitor's center. Rachel & Luke became Jr. Rangers--watch a movie, fill out a booklet, check out the displays & talk to a Ranger. They were very excited to take their pledge & wear their badges for the rest of the day.

Back to the campsite to hook up the camper then off on the Badlands Scenic Byway. Stopped along the way at overlooks & trails. Our big hike of the day was Saddle Pass Overlook. A quarter mile trail that went up the side of a large rock formation. Luke was a little scared and Rachel thought it was great! Good hikers! The increase in altitude was steep, but they weathered it well with 3 out of 4 of us wiping out on the way down. The hike was Luke's favorite part of the day.

We took LOTS of pictures of rocks. You can see them when we get back! Stopped at Conata basin to grab a geocache just outside BNP. Met cachers from Canada & one from Australia--first international cachers we've met. Mama had to hike in for this one because the kiddos were sleeping and daddy had to turn around on the road! Whew!

In the Conata basin, we cooked burgers & hotdogs for lunch and then visited the "Pig Dig". This is an archeological dig site--the only active dig in a national park--manned by students from South Dakota State University. This was Rachel's favorite part of the day. They were in a pit about 3' deep that the diggers estimated had 10-12 fossilized animals in it.

After this we continued on the Scenic Byway & encountered much wildlife. We enjoyed watching the prairie dogs--so many of them! We spied a bison that had wandered into a scenic overlook and was up close & personal to the parking area. Got some good pics of this 'as big as your car mama' animal.

This road looped us around to continue on to Wall, South Dakota home of Wall Drug store. Wall Drug is famous for it's free ice water (been giving it out for over 100 years) and 5 cent coffee. We had some of both! The street in Wall is an amazing tourist trap. We purchase obligatory South Dakota Tshirts & actually made a drug store purchase in the famous store (kid toothpaste). There is a new Wall's Backyard with lots of fun stuff. Luke & Rachel posed for many pictures--2 six foot rabbits, driving a covered wagon, with a gigantic jackalope, in a teepee, on the back of a caboose, with a bison, on a bucking horse, with an get the picture. We'll share when we get home. They also got 30 seconds to play in the spraying water playground before heading out.

Onto Custer, South Dakota...came through Custer State Park--where a forest fire burned approx. 3000 acres YESTERDAY! It's out & the drive through the park was beautiful. Saw many deer & something we weren't sure what it was--some sort of goat maybe. (All the wildlife was Mama's favorite part of the day.)

Custer is an interesting little town. We'd like to explore it some more. The population is currently 1,800, but was as high as 10,000 before gold was struck in Deadwood to the north. Big Pine Campground is beautiful. We are camped in the midst of very tall pine trees. We watched the moon come out through the trees. Luke & Rachel met some friends at the playground while we cooked dinner.

License plate update: 7 to go & we've spotted them all!

Tomorrow is the day we see Rushmore!
Liz & family

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day 2

Oakdale, Wisconsin to Interior, South Dakota

It was a long day across the last bit of Wisconsin, all the way across Minnesota and most of the way across South Dakota.

We had some fun though...the pic above is from a stop at a geocache in Minnesota. We also picked one up in Wisconsin. Had a picnic lunch at one of the cleanest rest stops we've ever encountered. A man was there cleaning up--even washing the picnic tables! Great sunny afternoon with a breeze & a playground to boot!

We stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Each year they spend $100,000 to cover the outside of the building with 600,000 corn cobs in a themed design. This year is a salute to rodeo. Worth the trek off the interstate. Rachel says this was the best part of the day--except for when she broke 6 birds by knocking down the display shelf. YIKES! Thankfully they didn't make her buy them! Whew!

Worked on our 50 states licence plate hunt. Added a few more today. Total is up to 37 + 2 Canadaian provinces.

We decided to stop off at a scenic overlook almost to our exit. It was our first view of the Badlands. An amazing site. God really has made some beautiful places here on earth. The highlight was meeting a family from Connecticut on a 5 week trek across America! One of the sons spotted my Chris Tomlin Tshirt & asked if I liked his music. He commented that he had Tomlin on his Ipod. We got to talking--he's also a DC*B fan! Had some conversation, took each other's family pics with the Badlands in the background & had a prayer together for each other's safety & fun times ahead on our respective trips! A God moment for sure. You never know where you are going to meet a brother or sister in Christ! (This entire encounter thanks to a free tshirt for preordering the See The Morning CD, a willigness to step out and inquire about someone's beliefs & an openness to the Holy Spirit.) God is good. All the time.

Drove through Badlands National Park on our way to the KOA campsite. Lots of gigantic rocks sticking out of the ground in an amazing arrangement.

Cooked dinner, played at the playground, took a walk, the kids did their Summer Bridge books & now it's bedtime.

Tomorrow we'll explore the Badlands up close & then move after lunch to Custer, South Dakota. Planning to see Mt. Rushmore at least by nightfall.

Luke's verse of the day from his Summer Bridge book.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,with all your mind and with all your strength. Deut. 6:8

Liz & all

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 1

Fishers, Indiana to Oakdale, Wisconsin
We departed Fishers at 9:25am and arrived in Oakdale at 5:30 local time (6:30 IN time).

Heavy rains through IL, which made travelling slow. The rain is needed though so we stopped for lunch through part of it.

Decided to look for all 50 states license plates...spotted 25 today. Halfway on the first day!

The girl & boy watched Elmo's world & Mary Poppins. They listened to A to Z Mysteries books A, B & C on CD. Rachel started the Little House in the Big Woods book on CD--she says "this girl lives in Wisconsin!" Since the Mama loves that series, it makes me happy she's enjoying it. Luke finally got to open his Superman Color Wonder book! He had big fun working on quite a bit of that.

Cooked chicken breasts on the grill as well as corn & rice on the camper stove for dinner. Swam in the campground pool for a while. Walked to the Road Ranger Truck Stop just down the road for some ice cream. Scoped out some geocashes for tomorrow & now we're off to bed!

Tomorrow is our longest travel day. Hopefully stopping for some geocaches along the way and seeing interesting landscape makes it go smoothly!

Good night, sweet dreams & God bless,
Liz & Matt
Rachel & Luke

Monday, June 25, 2007

where are we headed?

Fishers to Oakdale, Wisconsin

Oakdale to Badlands National Park Interior, South Dakota

Touring Badlands NP & moving to Custer State park

Mt. Rushmore, Custer SP, Crazy Horse & more!

Morning in Custer area then to Red Lodge, Montana

Church somewhere in Red Lodge then to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone adventures

Yellowstone/Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons then to Cheyenne, Wyoming

Cheyenne to West Des Moines, Iowa

Iowa to HOME!


Friday, June 22, 2007

Heading West

Next Tuesday we take off for 10 nights of crazy fun in the popup camper. Keep an eye here for updates along the way. Our idea is to chronicle our camping adventure and whatever we're up to after that!