After work was the expected frantic packing session. We tried to have Heath take a nap so she could drive late into the night and I tried to get the things in the van, the coolers packed and the kids fed. Peanut knew it was vacation time and was wound up and Pumpkin sensed the excitement and joined in. There was no hopes for a Heath nap so she gave up and helped me out. I made a big stack of mixed berry pancakes and let the kids eat, relax and watch tv.
Heath’s mom Donna showed up and everyone but me went to the Parents as Teachers playroom to pick out new toys to play with while we were gone and to burn some energy. While they were gone I was really productive and got the rest of everything ready plus I ate a bunch. They came home when the place closed and we did our last bathroom trips and stuff and then hit the road at 8:15pm. Heath was at the wheel and we headed north.
Everyone did a pretty good job sleeping and everything. As we got ready to exit for gas and to get off North 29 and on West 90 Heath got me up and we talked a bit. She mentioned not going too much over the speed limit because she heard South Dakota police were pretty strict but she had not seen any police at all. A few minutes later I pointed one out in the median. The speed had just switched from 75 to 65 and we were going 75. The cop fliped around and threw on the lights. We pulled over and he came up and checked out the van of sleeping kids. He asked for Heath’s licence, registration and insurance. She gave him the licence and explained somehow while cleaning out the van for the trip she had removed the registration and insurance. The cop asked her to get out of the car and go sit in his car.
This was a little scary but a few mintues later Heath came back excited with her licence and a warning. We got off at the next exit and filled up the gas, gave me the keys and everyone went to the bathroom and stretched out a bit. Then we got back in the car and eveyone but me fell asleep. I listened to This American Life for a few hours and we neared Badlands National Park. At about 30 miles from the park I realized it would not be light out for 2 hours. Then a saw a rest stop and decided to pull off and wait for the sun. The carload kept sleeping so I parked and leaned back my chair and fell asleep too. At one point I woke and heard Pumpkin fussing a bit. I realized it was pretty cold in the car so I turned it on and cranked the heater. I woke up a few minutes later and the car was hot so I turned it off. Heath woke me up about an hour later and it was light so we hit the road.
In no time we were at the park. It was around 6am and the park was not open but the rocks and animals had also pulled an all nighter.
The park was a strech of highway with lots of places to pull over and look around or walk around. We hit the first overlook and checked it out.
We found out it was insanely windy but there was cool stuff to see.
We spent about 2 hours driving from one point to the next checking out all the stuff. We did 1 little hike in a really windy area and then got into the lower parts of the rocks and did another hike where we could see a bunch of fossils.
There was lots of fun stuff to see.
On our drive we saw some really burly looking mule deer.
They were pretty intrested in us and let us get pretty close before heading out.
We also saw a male big horn sheep way in the distance.
I got a few shots at 40x zoom.
This was too close for him and his mate and they headed away pretty quick.
We went around a corner and came right up on a little pile of female sheep.
We left the park and only saw a few other cars the whole time. We confirmed our belief that National Parks at dawn is the best time for not seeing people and seeing animals.
We drove about an hour then entered Rapid City and our first stop was the Buffalo Gap National Grassland visitor center in Wall, South Dakota.
It was not a scheduled stop but we found out they had a jr ranger program and a stamp for Heath’s book.
It was a great 15 minute break and then we stopped for breakfast/lunch at a little diner.
We got awesome piles of chicken fried chicken, fries, burgers, eggs, tuna melts and pancakes. We saw a giant dinosaur then hit the road for a 30 minute drive to Mount Rushmore. Before getting there we made another unscheduled stop at a Ranger Station in the Black Hills.
They did not have a Jr. Ranger program but we got some smoky the bear stuff and saw some cool things.
A short time later we arrived at Mt. Rushmore and paid the $11 to park that our Annual Pass did not help with.
It was pretty empty since no one goes to these places in the winter and it was also super windy. Everyone’s first reaction was “I really expected it to look bigger”
We walked up the museum/video/exhibit area and worked on the badge and watched the video and read up on the monument.
We could have spent some more time but it was a bit boring for the kids and we had a cave tour to make. So we quickly did the ranger badge and got Peanut swore in.
We drove about an hour to Wind Cave National Park. They also are pretty slow in the winter and instead of offering 1/2 a dozen different tours at 15 minute increments they offer 1 short tour 3 times a day. We were still excited and got there about 20 minutes early and signed up. We found out the wind was so strong they could not use some elevator thing for the small tour and instead would take us on the 90 minute tour.
The wind cave was awesome and very unique. It had very few stalactites and stalagmites but had more box work then any other cave. The cave was massive and a lot like a sponge with tunnels in all directions all over the place.
Peanut found a handful of kids to talk with on the tour
and Pumpkin was calm and just chilled on my back and helped me watch out for her head from the crazy roof.
After the tour the ranger gave the kids the pledge so they could earn their badges.
The park closed and we headed out. We were hungry but drove 20 minutes to the hotel first. We checked in and took in some of our stuff and asked a good place to eat then drove down the steet. Heath and I were laughing a bit when the waitress taking our drink orders said something like “Ohh sure yeah, you betcha” and we looked at eachother and said “Fargo”. It was right around 5:00 but the restaurant was busy and they told us it would be a while and brought us chips and salsa to help make the wait easier and pointed us to the game room for the kids. Heath got a Fat Tire and I got a Ranger then we shared a 1554 to get our taste buds geared up for the New Belgium Brewery Tour.
It did not take as long as we expected to get our food and when it came it was good and spicy. We ate a bunch then headed back to the room. We washed the kids and washed ourselves then went to sleep early. It was a little tough going to sleep with a fussy baby and snoring mother in law but Heath turned the fan up on the heater and that noise drowned out everything else and we all got a decent night sleep.