If you’ve been following along, you know that our Sweet Makenna got to plan her 10 year old adventure this year! She spent a minimum of 12 months planning and dreaming and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder to prepare and it was definitely a trip that celebrated the very core of who our girl is and who she is becoming!
So how do you share a two-week adventure of a lifetime in one post!? (OK, you don’t. I just started a part two!!!!) But honestly, I could easily write every day for two weeks about each place that we stopped and all that we did on our trip to the Dakotas but photos & highlights, I suppose, is the best way to start!
Makenna’s goals were simple: Avenue of Flags (aka: Mount Rushmore) and camping. Makenna was born on flag day and has owned that persona her whole life! Patriotism and red, white & blue flow through her veins. Also, Makenna loves her family something fierce and camping is how we do family time. So our extended family (all 13 of us!) loaded up/rented campers and we headed west.
Our first stop was at the Wisconsin Dells aka: Water Park Capitol of the World. We thoroughly enjoyed the scenic Upper Dells River Boat Tour which included a magical hike through Witches Gulch and endless glorious formations of sandstone and glacial carving. Then of course, on the actual day of Makenna’s “1-0” we went to America’s largest water park: Noah’s Ark. (It was totally worth all the hype and we had NO LINES since we were early in the season!)
Next we drove into Minnesota where we saw an extremely authentic replica of a sod house. It was incredibly hand’s on. The sod-house replica is a family run operation in the backyard of the creator’s farmhouse. The creator was a man who had a dream of recreating an authentic prairie and sod house with is wife and kids. He successfully did so, learned the hard way how to do it better, and made another even better sod house… then a barn, outhouse and trapper’s cabin all on the same authentically restored prairie. The kids loved signing the guest book alongside people from all over the world as well as the dress up costumes & variety of historic toys all ready to be played with and enjoyed.
Traveling North through Minnesota was uneventful except for the GIANT roadside art we always seem to find thanks to Roadtrippers “points of interest” map!
Two nights were spent in Minnesota’s lovely state parks – both of which had newly renovated bathrooms (yay!). Our favorite by far was Buffalo River State Park in the Northwest corner of MN. They had miles and miles and miles of trails through forests, prairies, and along the winding Buffalo River with lots of signs pointing out different historic spots, as well as plant and animal life to look for. Miss Makenna is a treasure hunter in any and every situation, so this fueled us onward and her love of seeking out beauty was so highlighted to my Momma heart ❤
Buffalo River State Park was also close to the N Dakota border where the National Buffalo Museum is. The Museum was super educational – telling the life of a buffalo and their significance in US history with beautiful exhibits and life-sized replicas – but it is also a whole western TOWN with stage coaches, the World’s Largest Buffalo statue, and tons of shops & historic buildings to visit. We could have spent a whole day if we’d only known!
Heading west into North Dakota felt freeing as the sky opened up to it’s glorious unending bright blue. I soaked up every minute of the drive with my eyes wide open and sippin’ on my Cuppa Joe – Aaaaaaah sweet bliss! The kids on the other hand enjoyed an audio book since the view “never changed” and there was “nothing to see…” Ridiculous Notions!
And then we saw it. The glorious Painted Canyon is like a southern gateway into Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is so breathtaking, you almost have to stop to take it all in or die craning your neck and not watching the road. The ground just drops off into this spectacular view with striations of every color, the rise and fall of buttes and mesas with a sprinkling of grasses and scrub brush. (My photos simply do it no justice.)
On Day 4, we officially arrived at my new favorite place ever: Theodore Roosevelt National Park (the south unit). “Teddy’s Park” as we’ll call it is over 70,000 acres of preserved land. It is full of history and beauty and herds of every kind of prairie and western animal. We went from one jaw-dropping moment to another as we ran into animals so close we could touch them and then hiked trails that led to incredible vistas. My silly, crazy girl was stunned to silence when a herd of wild horses visited us over and over as we drove through the park- it felt like a little smile from God on our birthday girl. And the history buff in both of us was completely fulfilled by a visit to the Visitor Center where we learned a TON about ranching in the early days and Teddy Roosevelt himself! I have thousands of photos and just as many comments about our time in Teddy’s Park, but I promise you, if you visit, you will NOT be disappointed!
While in Medora N Dakota, we stayed at the Medora Campground which was clean as a whistle and had super cheap (& clean) laundry facilities (phew!) Here is our jaw-dropping view straight out the front door of our camper:
Just down the road from our campground, we visited Medora Stables where the Horses have FREE REIGN of acres and acres of Badlands to roam all night and miles of trails to ride all day. Makenna’s tender heart was so happy seeing how spoiled these horses were and the ranch hands even got to bring their dogs to work… which filled up the void in our lives without our own four-legged family members!
One more quirky Schuiteboer-style stop was a day trip down the Enchanted Highway. If you want to feel lost in the expanse of North Dakota countryside this is your journey! Some members of the family *might* have felt a little panicky at the aimless meandering through the countryside… The kids and I, however loved the adventure of not knowing what was ahead or how far the endless country road would take us! So the idea of the Enchanted Highway is that at various points along the road, a dozen or more giant roadside masterpieces are placed in fields and pastures with play structures & picnic shelters built right in for the family. I was in awe of the creativity and the stories behind each piece of art. They were inspired by a local man wanting to draw tourists to his home town and everyone in town chipped in to help. Now it’s a lovely jaunt into the town of Regent where there is an “Enchanted” Castle/Hotel & Tavern as the grand finale. The passion of all people involved was so fun to experience and the owner of the Castle was happy to give a full-on tour to our dragon-loving boy!
Our halfway point of the trip was a gloriously delicious and surprisingly exciting stop at The Mercantile in Crow Buttes, just over the border into South Dakota. It is a diner/convenience store/gas station on the side of the highway run by a husband and wife. Our fun for the day was the fact that our group of 13 and another camper-full from Medora stopped for lunch at the same time while one of the owners had run out for a gallon of milk to feed the kittens they found on the morning hay-delivery wagon. The sweet wife took down 25+ orders and went to work in the kitchen all by herself while we shopped and laughed and harassed the poor husband when he finally showed up with the milk. We laughed for the rest of the day over the things that spin our normal hum-drum lives into chaos- like surprise kittens in a hay wagon!
Well, this has to be the pause button for now, I have more incredible stops to share with you, but I’m sure you have a real life calling and so do I. To be continued, my friends! And for now, I’m praying you feel inspired to plan your own epic adventure. Let’s make a point to get out there and see our crazy planet. It’s full of beauty and inspiration. Which stop do you think you’ll add to your own bucket list??