Wood Family Goes West 2020: Day 11

The first drama of the day: Lillie lost her second tooth. (Well, I pulled it to be exact.) My tough-as-nails daughter can take vaccines, bee stings, and COVID tests without shedding a tear, but tooth-pulling is another story entirely. I begged her to let me pull it. It’s been dangling for several days. I didn’t want to lose it in the car when we didn’t have a way for her to rinse out her mouth. She cried for 20 minutes to me in the bathroom because she was afraid that the boys would call her Snaggle-tooth. Yep. She wasn’t afraid of blood or pain; she was afraid they would hurt her feelings. I gathered all the boys–including my husband–at the base of the stairs and made them faithfully promise that they would not tease her once she widen the gap in her mouth from one tooth to two. Then I told her I would punish them if they broke the promise. Her: “Even Daddy?” Umm… Me: “Yep. I won’t talk to him if he teases you.” Seriously. This is real life, Folks.

Kevin and I ran downtown before checkout time to get coffee. This coffee was SO GOOD. (I drink good coffee, y’all, but I think that this was better then the coffee we had in New York City.) Kiln. They even had really great swag. I picked up an espresso pottery mug for myself.

We left Grand Junction at 10 AM and headed to Vail. Our Airbnb in Vail was in a large resort community. We stayed in a small basement apartment. There were two bedrooms with queen beds and two futons in the living room. We dropped off our bags and went to explore the property.

They had a day-pass for a gondola ride to the top of a large mountain. During the winter, it’s a ski slope. In the summer, bicyclists got dropped off near the top and rode the winding trail down. There were lots of families here, but we just felt like no one was friendly here! The people that worked at the resort were nice enough, but none of the guests interacted at all. I didn’t feel like it was COVID related, either. Other places that we have gone on this trip, we have always found someone that we could interact with…

We took the kids swimming at the resort’s heated pool. That was one of my goals for the day; I knew that it would probably be the only chance that we would get to swim on the trip. By the time we got cleaned up from swimming it was almost 8:00. NOTHING at the resort was still open for dinner! We were shocked. Chicago’s Pizza, a little dive joint, provided a sweet spot for dinner. The owner was working in there by herself and jamming out to Christian music. We found a kindred spirit there immediately.

For the most part, though, we didn’t love Vail. It was beautiful. Don’t get me wrong. We just found the guests very NOT-friendly. Maybe this was just due to our limited time there. If we were to ever come back out West to ski, we would probably choose the Driggs area. Small town. Nice people.

Tomorrow is our last day. We will head to Denver to fly home.

Wood Family Goes West 2020: Day 10

Best Day EVER! (To steal a quote from Tangled…)

We finished up (more) laundry and checked out of our apartment. Subway opened at 10AM and provided us with our picnic lunch again today. The two young guys working in the store were 14 and 15 years old and reminded me of Edwin. One of them was still mostly-asleep at 10 AM. The other took a lot of pride in making our sandwiches well. They were the polar opposites of the teenage-boy stereo-types.

I loved Canyonlands National Park! We stopped at the visitor’s center, stamped my book, and exchanged a park ranger truck that Morgan had bought yesterday. The wheel wouldn’t stay on, but they took it back no problem and gave us a new one. (Most of the gift shops in the National Parks carry the same merchandise.)

The walk to Mesa Arch was short and sweet. 0.5 miles round trip to the overlook. Y’all, it was BREATH-TAKING. That whole area was amazing. My bigger kids practiced their rock-climbing skills on the huge boulders, while Morgan found another beloved rock and stick. I can’t stress the beauty of this spot; I’m sure that my photos won’t do it justice. It’s just impossible to capture the VASTNESS of the space. You can only see such a small part of it through the camera.

The next leg of our trip was the most adventurous thing that we have done so far. We took an unpaved road down to the bottom of a canyon to the Mineral Springs Boat Ramp.  You could see down in the canyon the road winding all the way to the bottom. There were really only two places wide enough to pull over if you met another vehicle. Looking out WAY ahead up or down the mountain, we had to take turns with the couple of cars that were out there with us. I was a nervous wreck, honestly. Kevin told me to relax and enjoy it. Seriously, though, we were on a narrow dirt road with our whole family with a drop off into a canyon just a few feet away. Lillie was screaming, “I don’t want to die at 6!” We managed to make it down and back and lived to tell it. Thankfully.

Tonight, we stayed in the lovely town of Grand Junction, Colorado. It was about an hour and a half from Canyonlands to our Airbnb. The house that we stayed at on Main Street was built in 1907. The owners did a nice job renovating it; they left a scrapbook for their guests showing the process. The house was full of antiques; I stressed to the kids to treat it respectfully. Our kids dined on Chipotle take-out and had a quiet evening watching television. Kevin and I had a DATE NIGHT. We got cleaned up from our dusty day and walked downtown to dinner. It was nice to be able to snag a little bit of one-on-one with my guy!

The kids were all still snuggled up together on the couch when we got back. The older boys got showers and headed to bed. Oh, I want to mention that most places out here do not have central air conditioning. In both Driggs, ID and in Colorado we have opened windows and used fans. Other place have had window units. I assume that it’s just not worth putting in central air for the two months of the year that they would use it. (Moab, however, had air conditioning. Man, it’s hot in Moab!)

Internet connectivity has been hit-or-miss on this trip. I had tried to write these blogs and add the photos in between the sketchy service through the desert and other remote areas. I noticed that there are a couple of errors, where sentences were left hanging here and there. I didn’t have the time to proof-read, really. This has been a good challenge for me, though, writing daily.

 

Wood Family Goes West 2020: Day 9

I Got Poop! This is the worst name for a porta-potty company ever…

We left the Kimball at Temple Square and headed toward Moab before 8:00 AM. We stopped at what would have been a pretty neat rest stop–great views and even had a train–had the bathrooms been open. They were closed; I Got Poop stands lined the parking lot. Great. Who thought that was a good company name? Does it mean that the porta-potty has poop or the consumer has poop? Either way, UGHHHHH!!!!

On the road again…

Stopped for lunch at another rest stop. We had picked up Subway sandwiches in Moab before we left and ate just before we got to Arches National Park at a covered table at the rest stop. It was just over 100 degrees out and no natural shade. Nice lunch break, though!

At Arches, we started at the visitor’s center. I wasn’t planning on getting the kids any more junk, but they had a stuffed pika–Lillian’s favorite animal. I just had to get it for her. I don’t know of any other place to get a stuffed pica. She was thrilled and named it Peanut. Peanut quickly became the new star of our pictures.

Kevin, Edwin, Mont, and Lillian took the short hike to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. I waited in the car with Morgan; he was a little grump. Winding around to the northern point of the park, the main park road connected to an unpaved dirt road. We love a dirt road! Arches has lots of optional dirt road trails. The park map is clearly marked showing unpaved 2-wheel drive roads and, also, the rougher 4-wheel drive roads. Our rental car has 4-wheel drive, so we did attempt one of those roads in the Salt Valley area, but it was too much for our Ford Expedition. We would have needed a Jeep and, of course, we can’t all fit in a Jeep. It was still a fun side trip.

Exiting the park, we headed on the few miles to Moab. I was really excited for the kids to see the Airbnb that I had reserved. It was a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment with a CLIMBING WALL in the master bedroom and a FOUR-STORY BUNKBED in the second bedroom. It was one of the most unique places I have ever stayed. Mont scrambled to claim the top bunk and figured out how to slide down the fireman’s pole.

I bathed Lillie and Morgan while Kevin went to the grocery to refresh our water supply and pick up Thai food. The kids and I laid my bed and watched highlights from America’s Got Talent–I NEVER watch television at home. Oh, then Morgan walked out on the balcony and peed off the second floor to the sidewalk below. Oh, my word. Someone help me with this child! Other than that, it was a quiet evening and we all went to bed early. (Well, Mont just informed me that he, Lillian, and Edwin did NOT go to sleep early. Maybe, it was just me. I went to bed early, then.)

Wood Family Goes West 2020: Day 8

Checkout was at 10:00 AM. Kevin and I got up early to drive back to the overlook to watch the sunrise over the backside of Grand Teton. The air was cool, but there was a warm breeze. It seemed so strange and opposite of what we normally experience in the South.

The next couple of hours were a little rough going. A slow leak in one of the rental car tires turned out to be due to a rock stuck in one of the treads. Kevin prepared to take it into town to get repaired while I repacked and got the kids bathed. Before he left, I went to switch our last load to the dryer…and discovered a nighttime pull-up that had exploded in the washing machine. UGH! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but it’s like slimy snow that sticks to everything. I took all the clothes out of the washer; Kevin helped me shake them out off of the porch. Then I had to clean out the washing machine and run all of the clothes again. What a pain! The boys were a huge help getting everything ready to go: packing, washing dishes, taking out the trash, and carrying the suitcases down three flights of stairs for me. We were on the road by 9:30 AM!

Kevin stopped briefly to look at a some regionally made fishing boats; he and Mont went inside while the rest of us waited in the car. We stopped for lunch in Idaho Falls at Scotty’s Drive-in restaurant. While we were sitting at a picnic table, a car pulled up behind us with three men inside. One got out and accidentally locked the other two in the car. He walked up to order for them inside. One of the other men opened the door and set off the alarm. We all jumped; the little ones covered their ears. Mont was screaming. The gentlemen in the car couldn’t get the alarm off. It went off for at least five minutes. Another customer eating outside went in to find the driver. He couldn’t get it off; pushing buttons on the key fob, he got it beeping faster. It sounded like it was going to explode. It was all quite comical. Everyone was so relieved when it shut off; we were laughing hysterically.

The Golden Spike National Historic Park in Utah is three-and-a-half hours away and on the way to Salt Lake City. This is where the Transcontinental Railroad came together in 1869. I couldn’t tell from the website exactly which parts of the park are available right now, but I’m hopeful that we will be able to see one of the historic trains working. Morgan, my four-year-old, LOVES trains.

Later…

Man, it was hot out there! 100 degrees. The visitor’s center was closed, but the bookstore was open. The park has been able to maintain operations throughout COVID-19 because it is almost entirely an outdoor park. There are two working replica trains–one coal powered and one wood powered. During scheduled times of the day, conductors move the trains while a ranger talks about the machines and the history of the West as the Transcontinental Railroad was being built.

The park also has a couple of driving trails where the tracks ran with stops along the way preserving the history. We took the East auto tour. The 2-mile  narrow dirt road took us past areas that were blasted, a natural arch that is a memorial to the Chinese people who built much of the rails, and down the steepest part of the rail line in Utah.

We continued on to Salt Lake City to The Kimball on Temple Square. This hotel is in a historic building that converted apartments into time-share optional apartments. It was an odd set-up. It was across the street from Temple Square, the beautiful home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–the Morman Church. It was so dated that we found it comical–like staying at grandma’s house. Kevin thought that the bedsheets were from the 40s. It was clean enough, though. A one-night stay with a separate bedroom and bathroom for Edwin and Mont were positive features. (After reading this back to Kevin, he didn’t feel like I emphasized DATED enough. “Like 1991. Red velvet carpet. Did you tell them about the red velvet carpet?” OK, Y’all. REALLY dated. Can you tell that the dated-ness bothered Kevin more than it bothered me?)

Kevin wanted a nice dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, but I felt like Morgan was just spent. He was wild and I knew that dinner would NOT be pleasant. We ate at this mostly-closed food court inside a mostly-closed mall. Chick-fil-A was the only restaurant open in the food court. They flipped the lights out on us at 8:00pm sharp and started putting the chairs up on the tables. OK, guess it’s time to go.

We went to bed early with a goal of 7AM departure time for Arches National Park. Oh, for what it’s worth, I miss my pillow.

Wood Family Goes West 2020: Day 7

Pica and Pika. (That’s what Edwin said I should name this post.)

This morning we chilled. Seriously, I went back to bed after breakfast. We continued working through the laundry and the kids had more home-made donuts from Yeti Post and watched TV.

Late morning, we headed over the pass away from the “quiet side” of the Tetons to Jackson Hole into Grand Teton National Park. Lunch in Jackson was at a Mexican taqueria called Pica. Lunch was good, but it was the only thing that we got out of the car for in Jackson. It was so crowded! (Thank you, Paul, for the advise to stay in Driggs instead.)

After lunch, we went to the visitor’s center at Grand Teton National Park. It had some cool exhibits. Lillie especially liked the animal footprint signs on the floor encouraging social distancing. She found one for a pika–a small mouse that lives in this area. Lillie told a nurse last week during a test that a pika was her favorite animal. (I can about guarantee that I have the ONLY six-year old who’s favorite animal is a pika.) We bought souvenirs in the gift shop. (Limit of 15 customers at a time in the store.) The cashier was also from Georgia–in between Columbus and Macon. (Kevin called her out on her accent.)

Pica and Pika. Get it?

Victor, a tiny town in between Jackson and Driggs, is home to the huckleberry milkshake at the Emporium. Our neighbors at the duplex advised that we stop there on the way back to Driggs. All the ice cream was ordered at a window out the side of the building and they delivered it to a picnic table outside. I had a butterscotch shake. Yum!

Grand Targhee Ski Lodge is only about 20 minutes from where we are staying, so we took a ride up there. We missed the ski lift; it stopped running at 4:30 PM. A beautiful overlook on the way back down to Driggs provided amazing views, a great climbing tree, and privacy. Kevin asked me if I would come back up there with him tomorrow to watch the sunrise. Of course, I said, “Yes!”

 

Wood Family Goes West 2020: Day 6

This morning I woke up early to go and get some of the home-made donuts from Yeti Post. (See yesterday’s blog for more information.) I went to the take-out window, donned my mask, and ordered some delicious breakfast fare to take back to my crew.

I caught up on our laundry; we generate a lot of dirty clothes in five days. During breakfast, I got four splinters in my hand from the picnic table on the porch. While Kevin was helping me get them out, we met the neighbors on the other side of our duplex. Not only are they from Georgia, but they are UGA graduates! The wife, Susie, was one of the original Gym Dogs from 1973 and the husband, Craig, was a walk-on freshman for the Dawgs in football in 1965. Susie and I also graduated from the same college within UGA. She was a home-economics major which got folded into the College of Family and Consumer Sciences–my undergraduate college. They told us that the owners of our side of the duplex live in Monroe, Georgia and the owners of the duplex next door are from Alpharetta, Georgia. Small world!

We had reservations for a private rafting trip with Teton Scenic Float Tours. We drove less than an hour to the boat ramp where we met up with Mark, our guide and the owner of the company. This was a great option for our family; they are the only company that will take children under six years old down the Snake River. He designed the seats on the boat to accommodate families with younger kids.

Guess what we saw??? LOTS of BALD EAGLES. I bet we saw 20 different eagles. It was awesome. Mark pointed out the huge nests as we passed. He offered three pairs of binoculars to us so that we could get a closer look as we floated right underneath the awesome birds.

We rafted about seven miles down the river and stopped for a picnic lunch on a sandbar. The kids collected rocks and looked for tadpoles. It was so much fun!

The total trip was 14 miles and took us three hours. I reapplied sunscreen constantly and no-one got terribly burned. Mama win! It’s supposed to be easier to get a sunburn here. The elevation is 6,000 ft above sea level. (At home, our elevation is 1,400 ft.) Edwin and Mont were able to get out of the raft and hold on for a bit during the end of the ride. The water was so cold! Kevin and I held Morgan and Lillie over the edge so that they could dip their feet in the water, too.

Back at the house, we figured out where we wanted to eat dinner. The Royal Wolf in Driggs made the final cut. We ended up eating inside as there was a wait for patio seating. This restaurant required masks when moving around inside. The menu provided lots of options–Kevin had a some pork “wings;” I had ravioli; Edwin had a Philly cheese steak sandwich. (Kevin wants me to add that the French fries made with Idaho potatoes were amazing.) Another “small world” moment. There was a Widespread Panic poster hanging in the restaurant. Widespread Panic started in my hometown of Athens. The lead singer of the band frequents Clarkesville; his wife has a business there, too.

 

 

Wood Family goes West: Day 5

Today we went from Cody, Wyoming to Driggs, Idaho via Yellowstone National Park. Kevin, Edwin, and Mont went early to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West before we left Cody. I stayed at the cabin bathing Lillie and Morgan and packing up. Kevin said that you could spend all day at the museum, but they breezed through parts of it in an hour and a half. They saw the gun collection, history of Buffalo Bill, and art of the West.

We entered Yellowstone through the East Entrance. There were quite a few visitor’s centers, restrooms, and other facilities closed in the park due to the pandemic. We picked up some sandwiches and lunchables from a general store inside of the park. A lady working at the store recommended our picnic spot–an area behind the closed Grant Village visitor’s center. We had an unobstructed view of the West Thumb section of Yellowstone Lake all to ourselves. A ranger outside of the center gave me a piece of paper with the passport stamp on it since the visitor’s center is closed.

After lunch, we headed up to Old Faithful. This spot was definitely a bottle-neck for the crowds. There were lots of benches around the geyser-watching area. It was very hot and sunny with no shade. Then, GUESS WHAT HAPPENED? (You Mamas probably already know.) We waited for about 30 minutes. It was about five minutes before the next predicted eruption time…and Morgan had to pee. Yep. He loudly declared, “Mama!!!! I’m about to pee myself!!!” Great. Kevin, having seen the Old Faithful eruption before, heroically offered to take him to the restroom. They got back to us during the last 30 seconds of the eruption. It took a couple of minutes to get out of the parking lot during the mass exodus. Check that off of my bucket list.

We headed northwest toward the Meyer Geyser Basin–looking for the Grand Prismatic Spring. After pulling off into the parking lot that we thought led there, we headed up the trail to nowhere. (Well, I think in actuality it led to Fairy Falls, but we didn’t make it that far.) Morgan had a meltdown about 20 minutes into our hike, dug in his heels, and refused to go any farther. I sat down with him on the side of the path and sent the others onward. I don’t think they made it much farther before they realized that the trail did not lead to the Grand Prismatic Spring. They turned around and met back up with Morgan and me. We never did find it. There were other smaller springs along the way, though, that were pretty. If you want to see an actual picture of the Grand Prismatic Spring, though, you will have to do as we did and Google it.

It was 4:30pm when we got back to the car and we estimated that it would be 2 1/2 hours to where we were staying in Driggs. After exiting Yellowstone through the West Entrance, we passed through Montana into into Idaho.

I need to add here that we STILL have not seen many animals. We saw a lone female elk today right after lunch. She walked across the parking lot making some loud, crazy noises–like she was calling to her baby or something. Anyway, she was very cool…but really the only interesting animal that I saw today.

Everyone was excited about the Airbnb rental that we are staying in for the next three nights. The kids are really happy to each have their own bed. No one will have to sleep with a sibling for the next three nights! By the time we rolled into our rental in Driggs, it was almost 8:00pm and we had not had dinner. There are ZERO chain restaurants in Driggs. I called the only place that I could find that served pizza; they said that they were only doing dine-in that evening–no take-out. I thought, “Seriously, you don’t want me to bring my kids into your place right now!”

Anyway, our saving grace this evening came from a little food stand called Yeti Post. They only serve dinner on Friday nights. (Yay for Friday!) Normally, their fare consists of home-made donuts and brunch food from 7AM-2PM. Friday nights, they serve one plate for a set price. We had BBQ with teriyaki sauce, jasmine rice, slaw, and a coconut custard cake for dessert. Eating on the picnic table on the back porch felt like the perfect ending for the day.

After driving for WAY too many hours today, we made a change to our itinerary. Tomorrow, we are going on a rafting trip down the Snake River in the Grand Teton area. The third day, we were going to go back into Yellowstone but, we decided to spend it in Grand Teton National Park. It’s 2 1/2 hours back to the West Gate of Yellowstone. It’s just too far. The Tetons are gorgeous! It’s an agreeable change of plans.

Wood Family Goes West: Day 4

We woke up this morning in Custer State Park in South Dakota. Before we got in the car for a long day of driving, I wanted to go on a short hike. Kevin and I got up before the kids and took our coffee down to Sylvan Lake at sunrise. We set off on the one-mile loop around the lake.

The information that I had written down from my research of the trail said that it was flat and level. I must have written down the description of the wrong trail! This trail started out level and flat, but turned into boulder climbing. There was a light mist falling and the rocks were really slick in some places. I was really glad that I didn’t know going in, though, because I might have skipped it. It was fantastic! I am so glad that I didn’t miss this little treasure (and adventure).

As I said, it was a little more strenuous than I am used to, so I was glad that Morgan wasn’t with us. Lillian could have handled it; she’s like a mountain goat. I felt like I had stepped into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world! It was so beautiful and we were the only souls out at 6:00 AM. I’m not sure that my photos will do it justice.

When we got back, we sent the older boys out. I sketched a rough map on a scrap of paper to encourage them to stay on the trail. Our cell phones don’t work out here, but I wanted to give them the freedom to explore this together…without us. They were back within the hour declaring that we had over-exaggerated the difficulty of the path. They had a great time, though.

Lillie saw a doe this morning right outside of our door. (The deer are really tame here; they don’t seem scared of people at all. They all have fawns right now, too.) She had a total meltdown at leaving “Doeie” and never seeing her again! We finished packing up the car and headed out by our 8:00 AM target. We saw more deer and a herd of buffalo on the way out of the park.

Most of the day was spent driving to Cody; it was six hours from Custer State Park, SD  to Cody, WY. The scenery was beautiful, but we really didn’t stop anywhere except for gas and bathrooms (which were few and far between).

We checked into our “cabin” at Buffalo Bill Village. I wasn’t thrilled about the accommodations, but we were really only going to be here to sleep so we made it work.

Dinner was at the Irma Hotel. It’s a historic building that Buffalo Bill Cody named after his daughter. There is a famous cherrywood bar in the restaurant that they say was gifted to Buffalo Bill from Queen Victoria. The food was decent, but I found the whole vibe of the place off. I researched the hotel while we were waiting for our food and it is supposed to be really haunted. I don’t know how I feel about all of that, but I was uncomfortable there even before I knew that about the place.

I heard there was a nightly shootout in the street right outside the hotel at 6:00PM. That sounds fun, right? The kids would love an old-fashioned shootout in Cody, Wyoming. Y’all, if I had done a quick Google search, I would have seen the 1-star reviews of this gig and STAYED AWAY. It was TERRIBLE. They would have seriously benefited from getting the local high school kids to do it in the evenings for tips. The story line was terrible. We couldn’t hear half of it anyway. The guns were loud; if you like loud cap guns, I guess that was the only redeeming part. I told Kevin that I was tempted to pinch Morgan so I had an excuse for all of us to slip out of there. I didn’t pinch Morgan; we just suffered through it.

The soda shop across the street provided a consolation prize of root beer floats.

After that, we headed to the rodeo! Cody is the Rodeo Capital of the World. They have a nightly rodeo at 8PM. I had bought tickets ahead of time; they had limited capacity seating right now due to COVID-19. The arena was outdoors. There were quite a few people, but groups spread apart. Announcements were made asking patrons to respect social distancing. Almost no one wore masks, though. We allowed the crowd to disperse a bit before walking back to our car. The show was amazing! I was surprised at how much I got into watching the ladies’ barrel racing. It was so exciting! Our seats were right above the shoots so we could watch the cowboys get on the horses and bulls. I was impressed with how they involved the younger kids. Young cowboys and cowgirls were given not only the opportunity to show their skills, but also allowed to help out during the show.

The whole event was very patriotic. They prayed before the rodeo began and sang the Star Spangled Banner. It felt good to be in a place where military and emergency personnel were acknowledged and thanked. People from all over the country were gathered together to have a good time. It felt…almost NORMAL.

Edwin sat near a lady from outside of Portland. She was telling him how the city has been destroyed; she compared it to Afghanistan. He’s been keeping up with current events this summer, so it was interesting to him to get to hear about it from someone who is living through it first hand. This is definitely a great thing about traveling; the kids get to meet people outside of our little community. They get to see the way that different people live, worship, and think. Edwin loves people and looks for common ground with everyone he meets. I wonder, again, what he will end up doing with his life…

Wood Family Goes West: Day 3

Hey, Y’all! We are still in South Dakota today. We ate dinner last night at the Sylvan Lake Lodge Restaurant; Edwin, Mont, and I had buffalo and Kevin had elk. (Lillie chose chicken fingers and Morgan went for the mini corn dogs.) Service was rushed; we were one of the last before quittin’ time.

There was a wedding party there, too. Four very loud, drunk women were eating at the table behind us. (Think of three fifty-plus-year-olds doing downward dog in the middle of the restaurant in wedding attire.) I laughed at the irony that I had been in a car for two days straight with four kids who got on my nerves WAY less then these ladies. We couldn’t even hear one another! (Spoiler: We saw them today in Deadwood at lunch! They were much calmer today.)

Our cabin was a short drive from the lodge. It has two bedrooms with queen beds, a sofa bed, and two bathrooms. Edwin and Mont were less-than thrilled about sharing a bed; they compromised with me by putting cushions from the couch down the middle of the bed to create the illusion of separate spaces. Boys, I did the best I could, but there are a lot of people in this family to accommodate you each having your own bed every night. I knew that this would be an issue and they WERE warned.

First up TODAY: Mount Rushmore! The place that we were staying inside of Custer State Park is a very short drive from Mount Rushmore National Park. (Another stamp for me, yay!) We walked the short Presidential Trail around the base of the monument. The trail is short–only 0.6 mile, but there are 422 steps. If you go one way, most of the steps are down; if you go the other way, they are mostly up.

I’m glad that we chose the downhill way. I said, “Morgan, will you PLEASE try to alternate your feet? Right. Left. Right. Left.” while the bigger kids bounded on ahead. He has fallen in love with many rocks, flowers, and pine cones and has become quite the collector this trip.

The drizzle started to fall about the time we left Mount Rushmore. We decided to drive to Deadwood and Sturgis. Lunch in Deadwood was at Jacobs Brewhouse & Grocer. It was a cool, little joint. They opened two months ago and our server told us that the Food Network was there yesterday. They had walls of guitars signed by musicians. Next to our table were guitars signed by Paul McCartney, ZZ Top, The Beach Boys, Alabama, and Styx. Edwin loved it! The food was great, too. Edwin, Mont, and I all had the pretzel brisket sandwiches with beer cheese dip. Maybe we will see it featured on Food Network?

We basically did a drive-by of Sturgis. Kevin and Mont went into the Harley Davidson Shop in Sturgis so Kevin could get a t-shirt. The guy working in there said that they had a half a million motorcyclists last year during Bike Week! This year’s Bike Week is a week from Friday. It’s the 80th anniversary, but they are unsure what to expect with COVID-19 this year. (Like everything else, right?)

Our pass around the Custer State Park loop had some amazing scenery, but I was disappointed at the lack of wildlife that we saw. When we went through Custer 14 years ago when Edwin was a baby, buffalo came up to our car. This time we saw two herds, but they were way off in the distance. The animals that we DID see in the park are the same ones that we can see at home–donkeys, turkeys, and deer. There were donkeys in the 1930s that were used for tours. At some point, they were released and roam freely around the park. They are called the “begging burros” as they will come up to to tourists looking for treats.

Spontaneously, Kevin turned down a dirt road on our way back to the cabin. We wound our way up to the top of Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower (elevation 6,024 ft). The views were spectacular. Climbing a few steps to the top of the tower, there was a pair of those binoculars that you activate with a quarter. You could look miles away and see Mount Rushmore.

Mont started asking for food again. (This boy MUST be growing.) We had picked up sandwiches at a Subway to take back for dinner. There really isn’t any food (other than the lodge) within 25 minutes of where we are staying. We ate dinner and I CRASHED at 8:00 PM. Kevin built a fire in the fire pit for the kids, but I just COULDN’T. Somehow everyone got to bed without my additional assistance.

 

 

Wood Family Goes West 2020: Day 2

Today I got to see my Aunt Karen! My mom’s sister lives in Sioux Falls; she met us for lunch at Falls Park. It was great to catch up and walk around and enjoy this beautiful space. Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota, reminded us a lot of Greenville, SC. There is a fun, quirky downtown area mixed with natural beauty.

After lunch, we headed WEST up I90. Most of South Dakota is very remote. Where do people buy toilet paper here??? Lots of corn, hay, and cattle for as far as you can see–and you can see FAR. We stopped at two rest areas and a gas station in 250 miles. There really wasn’t much else.

As we got closer to the Badlands, the topography started to change. Suddenly, there were rolling hills. We got to the Badlands visitor’s center 3 minutes before closing time. (I’ve been cutting it close with getting my Passport book stamped!) Y’all the Badlands are SO interesting. We got some good photos, but it’s so hard to capture the openness and vastness with a cell phone camera.

Next stop was Wall Drug. You can’t drive across South Dakota and NOT stop at Wall Drug. There are signs for hundreds of miles counting down the distance and advertising their wares. We used the bathroom (again) and got fresh doughnuts.

Now we are on to Custer State Park where was are staying in a 2-bedroom housekeeping cabin at Sylvan Lake Lodge. We have 7:30pm reservations at the Sylvan Lake Lodge restaurant. Buffalo…it’s for dinner. I think we will be rolling in on two wheels to make it by then. Mont has been reminding me since 5:30 EST that it would be dinner time back home. Poor boy; he must be growing!