Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Vacation We Almost Didn't Take

Marc and I spent a good bit of our summer debating whether we should take a family vacation this summer. We only have three more summers until Anna will, Lord willing, leave for college. So we want to make the most of the time we have left with her. Marc and I were both blessed to have had many travel opportunities growing up and we want our kids to experience that too.

But when it came down to actually committing to a trip for this summer we dragged our feet. I, in particular, focused a lot on the negatives. It will cost too much. We don't have enough time. There's too much to do at home. Then one night just a couple of weeks ago, Marc said we really should go. So we headed to South Dakota!

We had no plan. No agenda, other than seeing Mount Rushmore. We really had no idea what to expect. Neither of us had been to the western half of the state before. We figured it would be pretty, but we were completely unprepared for how much we were going to love this trip. The scenery was breathtaking and we had so much fun in the three days we spent there. This should be on everyone's bucket list.

I took a few pictures. You're shocked, I know. We'll see if I have to break this into two posts.

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The trip really started on Day 2 as we crossed the Missouri River. We stopped at a rest area that had a short trail overlooking the river plus a visitor center and mini-museum about the Lewis and Clark expedition. After realizing how clueless we were, one of the volunteers kindly explained that before going to the Black Hills (where Mount Rushmore is located) we absolutely, positively, must take the scenic route through Badlands National Park. Okay, sounds good, I told her and relayed the info to Marc. I'm telling you, that conversation was Providential. For anyone who had put in two minutes of research of tourist attractions in South Dakota, they would have certainly known about Badlands, but since we weren't those people, we needed some divine guidance. ; )

Travel Tip: If you're heading west like we were, eat lunch BEFORE you cross the river. South Dakotans must not like fast food, because the only place to get a quick bite for the next four hours is one Subway restaurant. Not that there is anything wrong with Subway, but by the time we found it we were practically chewing on our seat belts.

Shortly after we took the exit for the scenic route, we stopped at an authentic sod house from the pioneer days. Grace was thrilled since she's really into the Little House books right now. They had some prairie dress up clothes you could wear, so she was in heaven.

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While Grace was channeling her inner pioneer, Ryne was busy chasing the dozens of prairie dogs as they popped their heads in and out of holes all over the yard.

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Then we entered Badlands National Park and didn't stop saying WOW for the next few hours.

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Interestingly, when we spent a year studying geography with My Father's World a few years ago, we memorized the definition of badland: rocky wasteland that has been carved by erosion into intricate and fantastic shapes. Even though we learned the meaning of the word, it had little significance until now. Intricate and fantastic, indeed.

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That would be our 30% chance of rain that was predicted for our entire trip. More on that later.

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Did I mention this was also the 14th anniversary of the day I gave birth to this handsome dude? Poor kid has had to travel for his last 3 or 4 birthdays. Life is so tough. Happy birthday, Ryno!

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The next stop had some neat areas where the kids were allowed to climb.

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It was starting to get late and we still had to set up camp, so it was time to head to the Black Hills, but the kids were already begging to come back to the badlands on our way home.

We stopped for dinner in Rapid City and then headed to our campground. Marc and the younger two kids set up our tent while Anna and I headed to the grocery store to pick up a few supplies. On the way we saw a momma mountain goat and her baby having some dinner by the side of the road. Aren't they so cute?!

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By the time we got back to camp it was getting dark, so we all had to trek to the restrooms with flashlights to brush our teeth. That's when I usually start getting RV envy. I've never taken a trip in a RV, but I've convinced myself they are better than a five-star hotel.  The RV covetousness reached an all-time high a few hours later as that 30% chance of rain turned into thunder, lightning, pounding rain, and winds so strong we literally had to hold the tent up with our legs to keep it upright. I don't know what it is about our family and camping, but something like this happens every camping trip we take! Thankfully, the tent we've had the last few years has been pretty sturdy and has kept us dry.

And then would you believe it happened the second night too?! Same thing except the wind wasn't nearly as bad. Around 2:30 a.m., as lightning and thunder crashed around us, I checked the weather radar app on my phone and it showed one of those bright red hot spots right over us with two more hot spots to come. That pretty much did me in and I passed out.

But a lot happened in between those two storms, so I'll be back soon with the rest of our trip!


  1. But if you had an RV, you wouldn't have as good of a story to tell! :) I'm glad you didn't float away. :)

    That is such a beautiful area. I love your pictures and am always amazed at how much fun a family can have just enjoying the creation.

    And Grace is just about as cute as they come. She looks darling in the pioneer costume.

    Happy late birthday to Ryne! 14! I don't know about you, but I've had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I'm the mom of a 14 yo (almost).

    1. You're so right -- we have some great stories from our camping adventures. : )

      I know, they are just growing up too fast. : (

      Would have loved to have you with us in SD, we head some interesting birds while we were there.

  2. Oh, these pictures! Great, now I want to go to South Dakota! I have never said that before.

    1. LOL! Yes, I think South Dakotans get a lot of teasing for living out in the middle of nowhere, but it really is a lovely state. Even the "uninteresting" parts were pretty. I-90 across SD is a much nicer drive than I-80 across Nebraska or I-70 across Kansas.