August 18, 2018 Saint Paul, MN

Still going! We’ve set up camp so many times now that we can unhook the camper and get it all put together in less than 20 minutes. That’s what we did here. In fact, JD slept during the whole set up. He didn’t even get out of the truck and we were back in it, heading to our final fun finale destination…Mall of America!!!!

This was CT’s pick and I wasn’t going to argue! He’s interested in the roller coasters and I was excited for the shopping. There’s also an aquarium, (which we skipped), A Crayola Factory Experience, (which we DID!), a movie theater, (we watched Christopher Robin—excellent), and a LEGO store, (the boys finally spent their souvenir money on Legos. Apparently the 3,257 Legos we have at home is NOT enough!).

I was just feeling recovered from the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland and decided to test my vertebrae again on these coasters. I came away unscathed but ask me again when I get out of bed tomorrow and I may have a different opinion. The rides were fun and surprisingly, the lines were pretty short for a Saturday during prime ‘Back to School’ shopping season. I’m proud of how brave the boys were today-I don’t think I rode such big rides at their age.

So. Much. Junk. Food. I feel like I need to detox from the fried food, soda and ice cream. The only souvenir I bought at the mall today was a shirt and a sinking feeling that I may not be the same size I was when I left for this trip at the beginning of the summer!

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August 16, 2018 Walnut Grove, MN

We are on the banks of Plum Creek, people. If you don’t know the significance of that, you must not have grown up drinking the Michael Landon Kool Aid. I have been making the kids watch Little House every morning on this trip and they are HOOKED! This show is timeless. It has such a wonderful message, too. I can watch it for five minutes and I’m crying.

Our campsite actually buts up against Plum Creek. Its’ so quiet here. Just a small little town of 900 people and farmland. Oh, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, of course. We traveled a mile out of the center of town to see where her homestead was. Her dugout home was roped off, and even though it wasn’t there anymore, just walking around the grounds, seeing the prairie grass, and dipping my feet in plum creek made me feel what it must have been like to grow up here. Quiet. Peaceful. A little boring, maybe but if you throw Nellie Oleson in the picture, life can’t be boring.

The museum was interesting and full of things to read. Luckily each room had something for the kids to do or play with so adults could actually participate in the reading. My favorite piece of memorabilia was the actual mantel used in the LHOTP TV show. It had the letters ‘CICI’ (Charles Ingalls, Caroline Ingalls) carved into it. Side note, skip Nellie’s café. We stopped in for pie and it was like eating at an old lady’s kitchen. Not sure if the fresh dates are past due and very unusual smells.

We had a park to ourselves as we watched the sun set over the prairie. Campfire, smores and ghost stories tonight. It was a legendary day for me. I’m happy my husband cares enough about me to put this on the itinerary.  That’s love, folks!

August 15, 2018 Badlands, South Dakota

I would be remiss if I did not include a blog excerpt about the Junior Ranger Program. There are over 300 National Parks/Monuments in this country. We can thank President Roosevelt for that! There is an entry fee for almost all of them, I think. We had military passes so we did not have to pay. What an amazing perk that is! Also, if you have a 4th grader in your family, you can get a free pass for that year!

At each park, you can go to a visitor’s center, find a ranger and ask for a Junior Ranger book. Kids fill out pages in this little workbook about the park. They range from park animal bingo, crosswords, multiple choice, writing a poem about the park, drawing pictures, etc. JD either had a different, easier book than CT, or he just had to complete less pages. When they finished, they handed it in to a Ranger and were sworn in as ‘official Jr. Rangers’. It’s so cute. And they get a badge. Sometimes a badge and a patch.

This was right up JD’s alley. He would skip up to every National Park in his Ranger vest, full of promise and excitement of earning his next badge. CT on the other hand, dragged his feet every time. It was a struggle to get him to do these pages that SEEMED LIKE SCHOOL to him. Torturous word searches and reading on EVERY PAGE! How could we DO this to him? But, by golly, it got done. Sometimes I think his father and I deserved a badge more than he did.

Shockingly it rained on our trip to the Badlands. I haven’t mentioned this up to now, but it has not rained for 34 days. I didn’t want to jinx us. But the rain made the cool rock formations really muddy. Also, our shoes. And of course, CT fell in it. I thought I was done with laundry for this trip! A very pretty site, though. If we weren’t in the car for 12 hours today, we may have explored it a little more.

August 12, 2018 Mt. Rushmore, SD

When you’re a kid, rocks are pretty cool. When you’re a parent, finding rocks all over your house is pretty standard. I can remember wanting one of those rock tumblers for Christmas that make rocks super shiny and smooth. I must have put in on my list every year for like 4 years but I never seemed to get it. Now that I’m a parent, I don’t blame anyone for not fulfilling that request!

My kids are always in pursuit of the shiniest, biggest, coolest rock. But the thought of actually finding REAL gold in a REAL gold mine is the stuff of legend. The culmination of rock obsession. Broken Boot Mine was a dream come true for CT. Hubs accompanied him in a real live mine and he even got take some iron and rocks out to keep. Not much gold was found in this mine back in the 1800’s, mostly fool’s gold. It has made more money as a tourist attraction.

Why didn’t I join them on the tour you ask? The 5-year-old was asleep in the car. I can’t say I was that disappointed. (*please refer to Antelope Canyon blog entry). After he woke up, we all went to an area to pan for gold. The boys got to find and take home some real live gold flakes that I’m sure they will treasure forever. Or, until I clean their rooms one day and de-clutter. Or they lose them.

We did this fun little adventure in a town called, Deadwood. What a cool place! Old Western-type setting with casinos and saloons. They even closed the road to reenact a shootout! We stopped at an ice cream shop for a snack and even did one of those “Old Timey” photos where you dress up in Western clothes and hold guns and don’t smile. Had to do it.

“JD, do you remember who’s faces are on Mt. Rushmore?” “John Mayer!!” was his response. Hilarious! I’m still laughing as I type this. No, JD, for those of you who don’t remember, it’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. We decided to come at sunset because we heard they do a nice presentation and light up the mountain.

This National Park way exceeded my expectations. It was very large, ample parking, not much walking and very clean. It reminded me a lot of DC and the monuments you find there. We had a nice dinner in the café with a view of the mountain. The closer we got to the mountain, the more excited the little one got. “Faces! Faces! Faces!” he yelled as he threw his arms up and skipped down the sidewalk. Strangers were laughing. It was the best.

The path ends at an enormous outdoor amphitheater with an Imax-sized screen. A ranger gave a little speech about Teddy Roosevelt and then they started the movie. It highlighted each president and their contribution to our country. But that wasn’t all! After the movie, they asked all veterans and active duty members to come to the front. There must have been 150 people on the stage, including the hubs.

My patriotic heart was gushing. The sun was set and it was time to lower the flag. Who got the honor of folding it in front of hundreds of people? MY HUSBAND! It was hard to hold my phone and record the moment because of the tears in my eyes. And maybe because my kids were pushing each other and making noises behind me. I hope you can’t hear my muffled scolding in the video. It is possible to feel rage and pride at the same time!

If you haven’t been here yet, I say, “Rush to Rushmore!” It is a must see and definitely too big for your kids to bring home as a souvenir.

August 12, 2018 Devils Tower, Wyoming

“What’s so big about that rock? Why is it called Devils Tower, mom? How was it made?” My kids think I’m ‘walking google’ and must know all of the things all of the time. It’s kind of like watching a movie with that person that’s like, “What’s going to happen next? Is she going to die? Who is that guy?” I don’t know. I have never watched this movie/been to this rock in Wyoming. Let’s find out. The field trip continues…

This rock formation is too massive to accurately represent in a photo. It’s pretty breathtaking. I would love to say I took the two mile (uphill) paved path to see the spectacular view, but it was 99 degrees. A five-minute quiet walk on the dirt path in the woods was about all JD could handle. Ok, mom too. Heat just ain’t my thing. But sitting on a rock in the quiet shade with him and just taking it all in was enough. “It’s a volcano!” he shouts. He’s right! Well, almost.

Hard to believe, but this whole thing used to be buried underground. Tectonic plates in the earth created molten lava which tried to make its way to the surface (volcano) but couldn’t quite get there. It hardened underground. Because the surrounding earth was made of a more-erosion friendly rock, millions of years of wind and water wore it down to the elevation we walk on today. But this cooled volcanic rock did NOT wear away. Ta Da!! Devils Tower.

I wish I could tell you a cool story about how it got its name but the ranger said it was called Bear Rock or Bear Mountain by Natives for hundreds of years (which makes more sense because it looks like a bear scratched the sides of it). Then about 150 years ago, some guy just called it “Devils Tower” and it stuck.  For you grammar junkies out there like me, the apostrophe in, “Devils” is missing because they messed up on the official records.  So even though it’s hard for me not to type, “Devil’s”, “Devils” in this case, is correct.

We also saw a bunch of Prairie dogs here. I don’t know why, but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to see Prairie dogs. They were adorable-popping in and out of their holes in the ground and chirping. Loved it. Life goal complete.

After a ranger talk and touring the visitor’s center, all of their questions were answered. Now on to Mt. Rushmore where I’m sure we will have a new set of questions about a super unusual rock! Can you name the presidents on it?

August 11, 2018 Hardin, MT

Yes, we are still in Montana! But you would never know it if you looked outside. It’s flat, dusty farmland, speckled with a few buttes. Also, 100 degrees again. Sad face!!!

For today’s adventure, we went to the battlefield of Custer’s Last Stand. The Battle of Little Big Horn. Little Big Horn is a river, did you know that? I didn’t. Our Indian guide apparently had one hour to fit in 3 hours’ worth of information. It was exhausting to listen to. He barely took a breath as he regurgitated every gory detail of this battle. Some of it a little too gruesome for a 5-year-old so I handed him my phone to play games on. Was that a mom fail? Don’t judge me.

It was too hot to actually walk the battlefield so the air conditioned $50-dollar bus tour was well worth it. It would have been melt-down city. Literally. Even riding on an air-conditioned bus, the kid was all, “Mom. I just want to go home.” Me too, buddy. Me too. This was even a little too much information for a prior teacher like myself.

The gist of it was, Indians lived on protected territory in Montana and the Dakota’s. It was after the Civil War and the country was in a recession. Settlers flocked to Indian territory because gold was found there. Buffalos started dying out, Indians started to migrate off of their territory in search of buffalo, and the government didn’t like that. They sent troops to eradicate them off of US soil and a battle ensued.

The 2,500 Indian Warriors defeated the 700 US soldiers. Custer died, along with 267 other men. Only 31 Indians were killed. It was considered the biggest Indian victory in history. But, guess what? It didn’t last long. I mean, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana are stars on the flag now, right? Eventually they surrendered, Indians were forced out, buffalo nearly gone.

This National Monument was voted “least fav” so far on our list, but it was also voted “most important”. We had a great talk about learning about our past so we don’t repeat it.

August 9, 2018 Livingston, MT

This morning my knee was a little sore from the horseback riding but we were determined to hike. The backpacks were full of sandwiches, fruit, chips, water, cookies and the sunblock and bug spray were applied liberally. We heard about a trail that the locals like to hike so we set off on some cool, gravel back-roads. We lost service on our cell phones. Yeah, we were REALLY experiencing the wilderness! Rivers! Waterfalls! Mountains!

The sign at the trailhead warned us what to do if we saw a bear. It also mentioned having food stored in a special bear-proof container. I sort of remember seeing bear repellant at a gas station. There were about 50 cans of it and I thought, “do people around here buy this? Is it needed?” Nah, I’ll just buy my bottle of water and call it good. I’m sort of a cheapskate.

So off we went down our adventurous and nature-full path. It was single file and the further we went, the more thoughts of bears snuck in my head. Pictures of grizzlies snatching food-filled backpacks attached to our bodies was making my pulse race. I was doubting whether we could make the 2-mile, 3 hour trek.

After about 30 minutes, we came upon 2 people heading in the opposite direction. “Did you make it all the way?” I asked. “NO, we turned around because we kept seeing snakes”. Wide eyed and gripping a can of bear repellant, they smiled and said, “but I’m sure you’ll be fine!” This couple was in their 20’s and from Los Angeles. They had no food or water with them. They didn’t even have hats or sunglasses. Rookies. But they did have bear repellant.

“We don’t have any of that bear repellant.” I say. “Do you think we need it?” Eyes widened. “Oh, YES! We borrowed this from our camp guide. He said there’s no way we should hike without it! But, (smiling), I’m sure you guys will be fine”.

The 30-minute hike out took about 20 minutes to hike back. JD did see a small snake but no bears were spotted. Or waterfalls. Hike fail. But we didn’t die.

We took a dip in Chico natural hot springs after lunch. It was basically a resort with a pool that was heated by mineral water flowing directly in it. The temp was around 96 degrees. Pretty neat but not a great way to cool off on a hot day.

Tonight was an exciting night at the rodeo! The Bozeman Stampede had real-live cowboys and cowgirls and our boys were entranced watching their roping and riding skills. No one seemed to be seriously hurt before our eyes but CT was so worried the animals were scared and might possible be hurt. He’s a huge softy.

The rodeo clown threw a few things to the audience. T-shirts (CT caught one!), frisbees, other things. JD did not catch one and, bless his 5-year-old sore-losing heart, he screamed and cried for no less than 20 minutes. Good times. The fireworks were great and so were the people.

Montana is full of friendly, patriotic people. We really loved the small town living of Livingston, MT. It has nothing to do with the fact that John Mayer lives here. But, he lives here for a reason, people. It’s pretty amazing. And yes, I went to the Albertson’s grocery store at 10:30pm after the rodeo and he wasn’t there. What? I needed yogurt.