50 States Before Graduation, Parenting, Traveling the US

A Last Minute Escape to Kentucky

It happened – ‘Rona made us more than a little stir-crazy. 7 weeks into Michigan’s original lockdown, we wanted out. We needed adventure. With 3 kids schooling from home and the hubs and I working on laptops, we realized there was nothing holding us back from taking off in our camper. So take off is what we did! One loooooong look on the world wide web told us there were only a few states with campgrounds open. Kentucky was a draw since it’s only a few hours away and it was still south (also read: WARM). We made a reservation for Memorial Day weekend and decided to take it one day at a time from there… And here’s where the adventure led us:

First Stop: Louisville… and she did NOT disappoint! It was a perfect launching point. We loved the walk along the Ohio River (especially on the Indiana side at the Falls of the Ohio State Park). Downtown was simply gorgeous – even the trash receptacles were pretty! The historic buildings and cheeky marketing of local businesses lured us in and it was a blast to “own” the town since many businesses were closed and people were scarce. Since we’re weird about strange monuments, a photo with the world’s largest baseball bat was a must. Another fun highlight (that we REALLY wish was open!!) was Churchill Downs. It’s magnificent from the outside of course, but a tour of the inside would have been fun since we have more than one horse-lover in the family! Don’t worry, we watched Secretariat to get us in the spirit for Kentucky Horse Racing.

Next we headed east toward Lexington and on the way, swung by the birthplace and childhood homes of Abraham Lincoln. The springs were nice and cool and walking the two properties did not take long. Unfortunately the visitor centers were closed for us, but there were still Park Rangers walking about answering questions and offering bits of trivia, they were worth every minute of eves-dropping and question-asking…these rangers know their stuff!

Landing in Lexington for a few days, we decided on the [free] walking tour of Mary Todd Lincoln’s early life. It was much less walking than we expected (which was welcome in the extreme heat!) but included lots of great info on the diversity of Kentucky’s stance during the Civil War. Did you know two of Mary Todd Lincoln’s brothers fought for the confederacy!? We landed in the center of town by the water fountains where we had a snack in the shade at some lovely tables while watching the locals rush about. Side note for learning about Mary Todd Lincoln: this website offered quite a bit of interesting info for us to read as we walked. I think it helped keep the kiddos engaged since once again, businesses and “official” tours were closed due to the virus. We also walked around the Kentucky Horse Park (oh my beautiful) and wished desperately that the barns & museums were open… Next time!

If you’re considering your own trip, I have to add here that before you leave the Lexington area you’ve GOT to stop at Sun Valley Farms which was about 20 minutes southwest in Versailles. Anyone who’s been to Kentucky knows it’s all about the horses and Sun Valley is a family owned thoroughbred horse nursery. They gave a very hands on (yay for petting baby race horses!) tour of the foal barn (masks required) and educated us on the process of raising and auctioning thoroughbreds for racing. The tour also included a walk around their 300 year old property and home as well as some race horse & auction videos in the nice cool garage. Just a drive through their pastures was enough to set our hearts ablaze for horses. If nothing else, follow them on Facebook and Brett will let you in on evening grazes by the creek and walks through the pasture to get to know the horses!

Visit their website : Sun Valley Farms

We continued east to Daniel Boone National Park. The road trip views changed from green grassy pastures and black wooden fence-rows to ambling limestone mountains and endless creeks. Here we had unlimited options as all the state and national parks were open! Grey Arch Rock hike was a perfect 4 mile length for this family of 5 (plus dogs). The views at the arch were incredible and the creeks and waterfall along the way were great photo opportunities. Red River Gorge had lots of swimming and splashing opportunities. Carter’s Caves held seriously a LOT of caves in every single hike. We loved comparing the different openings and how the water continued to carve the rocks away. (We did not get to tour the caves, much to Carter’s disappointment, but they do offer lots of regular tours which are open now.) Lastly, the tunnel drive was truly serene. It was a nice break amidst all the hiking we did. It took about an hour, but there were many photo-worthy stopping points. (PSA: we would NOT have enjoyed this drive in the least with the camper hooked up!) Narrow and winding roads are not our favorite driving conditions and Kentucky offered plenty of it, haha! If you want a good story, ask Collin about his favorite Kentucky road driving experience.

So here’s your bonus: (you know I always share more than you bargained for!) We headed for Kentucky but ended up in West Virginia! Of course we didn’t plan on going further, but after a week, we weren’t ready to head home just yet. I’m sure you understand. So we went just a little further into Charleston, West Virginia! None of us have ever even driven through West Virginia before… but let me tell you, it’s a “wild and wonderful” surprise! The state slogan is more than accurate. We could easily have spent a whole week in this mountainous state full of battlefields and artisans of every kind. Charleston has a whole website with maps of sculptures and murals galore! And if you drive through the city to the river, we found a fun park called Sun Carriage Trail with a hidden waterfall and gloriously shady hike up the mountain to a scenic overlook and historic mansion.

Our last minute finding of things to do around Charleston included several civil war battlefields, a salt mine tour, and Capitol Market – an old train station turned farmer’s market which was FULL of glorious begonias and the beginnings of any summer garden you would wish to plant. Now we were ready to go home. And doesn’t it always feel good to be home again!?

Have you toured Kentucky? Did you focus on horse racing or history? Or both!? I’d love to hear if anyone else has ventured into West Virginia (perhaps the northeast side of the state?). There were so many fun things I found, we’re itching to get back!

50 States Before Graduation, Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

An Adventure to the Dakotas – Told in Photos! {Part One}

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??