It’s been two years since we took an official family vacation so we made up for it last week. Be forewarned – this will be a loooong, picture-heavy post, but I do it to keep the written memories for years to come when my memory doesn’t serve me so well. (If you want to skip the narrative and see ALL of the pictures I took – click HERE.)
We got a slow start due to vehicle issues, but everyone was excited to be on the road. Jake worried us when he announced he had to pee less than 40 miles from home then wondered, “Is THIS Colorado?!” when we drove through Pierre – 90 miles from home and 850 miles until the cousins’ house.
After that, we kept the kids so busy they didn’t have time to think about if they were “there” yet.
We made a quick tour through the Prairie Homestead right before the entrance to the Badlands. We have several soddies in our pastures. (Soddie: a house or barn built of strips of sod, laid like brickwork used by settlers.) While many sod homes used wood, the ones in our have a stone foundation and that is what remains today. The kids love to climb on the rocks and ask questions about the early settlers that lived there. Which is why we thought The Prairie Homestead, an actual sod farm, would be a great stop.
The farm has been kept up and all the buildings are the same (including furniture) as the original inhabitants left them in 1949. Cool stop!
We quickly moved on to the Badlands. Before we got there, the kids kept asking what the Badlands were. My descriptions didn’t excite them. But we all thoroughly enjoyed our drive, hiking and looking at the amazing landscape.
We ended Day 1 with a visit to Dinosaur Park in Rapid City. You can’t visit Rapid without seeing Dinosaur Park – that’d be like skipping Mt. Rushmore.
This was our crazy day. The kids and I took a walk along Rapid Creek and played in a park while Brady got the tires rotated. I count that as a stop since the kids (and I) expounded energy. Our first “touristy” stop was Bear Country. My husband called it “a license to print money”. I can’t argue but it was pretty cool to see the wild animals up close from the safety of our vehicle.
Jimmy got pretty nervous so dug his pliers out and gripped them tightly the entire time – just in case something tried to crawl in the vehicle with us. Love that kid!
Lunchtime was approaching and Brady prided himself on multi-tasking at the Alpine Slide. We rode a tram to the top of a little mountain to an open air restaurant with a fabulous view. After lunch, we slid down the hill. Hands down, the kids’ favorite stop of the day.
On to Mt. Rushmore. It truly is breathtaking to see those faces carved in stone. I tried to give the kids some perspective – think of how they hung off the side of the mountain and carved by hand, etc…. They were underwhelmed.
Still on Thursday here! We drove south through Custer State Park to Wind Cave. After lots of hot, sunny outdoors activities the cave felt great – 58 degrees. We had a great Park Ranger – obviously not her first time guiding a tour. We had several young kids in our tour group and she explained things wonderfully for them.
The boys weren’t big fans of the “let’s see the cave as the first explorers did” trick. Jake tried to crawl up some girl beside him. He was quite startled to find it wasn’t me! Later on the tour, he grabbed me and pulled me real close, “Mama, is this you? Oh, good.”
While checking in to the hotel that evening, the clerk kindly mentioned the Mammoth Site was next door and still open. As if we hadn’t done enough that day, we trekked on up the hill. I’m so glad we did. It was such a great stop! Jimmy, in particular, loved hearing about how the mammoths trapped themselves in the sink hole and have been preserved there for 26,000+ years. To date, paleontologists have dug out 61 mammoths.
The kids enjoyed being mammoths the rest of the night. We ended the day at Wooly’s next door to the hotel. Brady and I enjoyed a great steak (and a glass of wine for me) then we all crashed.
We headed out early Friday morning for Colorado Springs and a much anticipated visit with cousins. Our one stop along the way was probably more for mommy’s and daddy’s enjoyment. It turned out to be a great leg stretcher for the kids as well – the Anheuser Busch (a.k.a. Budweiser) Brewery tour in Ft. Collins, Colorado.
Yes, we took our kids on a brewery tour. Honestly, it was very educational. I was impressed at the questions my farm kids asked the guide. I think the guide was, too. And, yes, it really does taste better fresh.
We made it to Colorado Springs just in time for the big kids to pick up the oldest cousin from school. YAY!!!! Two days of craziness ensued.
We hung out at my brother- and sister-in-law’s house that evening. The kids had a great time playing. They were all full of energy fueled by excitement so we sent them on a hunt in the backyard. We all settled in for a movie night later.
The Garden of the Gods right in Colorado Springs was a perfect place to let the kids run and explore. Plus – it’s free! How did we know when it was time to go? When Jake laid down on a rock to go to sleep.
All the cousins don’t get the chance to ride together often. We got Patricia going around the poles and the boys all had more fun playing with panels and a plastic pipe.
We had a slow Sunday morning while the kids played.
We started home that afternoon. We good visit that evening with my college roommate then drove late to make it as far as we could, ending up in Ogallala, Nebraska. Not a super exciting tourist destination, but who doesn’t like to say Ogallala? Want to hear something fun – get Jake to say it.
The kiddos had great fun at the hotel pool in Ogallala the next morning. Especially when they discovered how much fun daddy can be in the water.
Since school was set to begin in two days, we stopped in North Platte to finish getting their necessary supplies. We didn’t want to be quitters so made a pit stop to Bailey Yard, the largest rail yard in the world. That’s right. In Nebraska. You learn something new everyday. It’s where east meets west on the Union Pacific line, and where 10,000 cars are handled each day on 2,850 acres of land stretching out eight miles. It really is something to see. They’ve constructed an eight story tower and visitor center overlooking it all.
With our minds on vacation overload, we started the rest of the trip home. Although we did find this gorgeous little scenic overlook for a snack stop overlooking the Niobrara River northeast of Valentine, NE.
We made it to my parents’ that night (100 miles from home). We enjoyed a quick visit with them and my grandma. We made it home Tuesday afternoon just in time for the kids’ school open house.
If you haven’t seen enough, ALL of the pictures I took are in a gallery HERE. Yep, these are just the highlights. That’s what happens when a photographer goes on vacation.