Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

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

Quick disclaimer: I just want ya’ll to know my heart here: I wanted to share this trip as inspiration and celebration. In NO WAY do I aim to brag or flaunt our ability to take this trip. I am beyond thankful for the time our family got to travel together and experience so much of our amazing country. I hope and pray that what you gather from this post is a sense of adventure and a desire to make memories with the people you love! That being said: Here is the second half of Makenna’s adventure!

Oooooh the Black Hills of South Dakota! They were SO serenely different from the landscape we just left in North Dakota. The pine trees and craggy rocks were so refreshing and we instantly wanted to get out to explore. It was a weighty decision to choose between Deadwood and Spearfish on our way south to Hill City SD, but time was of the essence so we couldn’t do both. The almost unanimous vote was Spearfish due to all the hiking possibilities and it was the perfect choice! We followed the most peaceful creek up into the mountains and fell upon the lovely Bridal Veil waterfall on our way. It was energizing to hike and run and climb mountains like wild goats and of course the grand finale of our chosen trail held another glorious waterfall!

Finally we arrived at Mount Rushmore and Makenna’s beloved Avenue of Flags. She was a happy girl! Flags of every US state were lining the walkway as we entered and the faces of four amazing presidents stood out in the background. We found our dear MI flag and read about several other states’ history and when they joined the US plus lots of bonus facts about each. The hike around the park was definitely worth it, there was information at every turn and different angles to view each president. The artist’s studio was a great source of hands on history and even had a live talk by the park ranger who was a wealth of knowledge and answered endless questions about all things geology, president and artist related. We absolutely came back at night to see the famed Illumination Ceremony (which was cool, but probably not as incredible as we were led to believe, haha) and enjoyed a second view of the mountain and flags (totally worth a second look!)

Day 2 in South Dakota: we drove to another beautiful mountainous hike which was much more strenuous than the first. I’ll suffice it to say that we felt pretty good about ourselves after getting back to the starting point and realizing there were warning labels posted at the trailhead and a hiker sign-in so the rangers knew who had entered the trail in case they didn’t return!

One other point of interest in Hill City was our campground. I know it’s just a place to sleep and by this point in the trip, we had seen a vast array of grass and cement to park a camper on, but this one was pretty incredible. We stayed at Crooked Creek Campground and the sounds of the babbling water were so invigorating and peaceful all at once! It just so happened that we got the primo spot by the bend in the river and this was our view:

We had another day of horseback riding for our 10 year old to top off the cake of our adventure! High Country Guest Ranch has endless horseback riding options, but we stuck with the trail ride through the Black Hills. And at this ranch, even the “littles” got to ride on real horses (with a guide holding the reigns)!

Eastward Ho! We finally headed back East toward home. Allllll the way across the state of South Dakota. The obvious best part was our southern detour off the main road to see the South Dakota Badlands – which are incredibly different from North Dakota’s Badlands! Both had the lovely striations and buttes that the badlands are known for, but the South Dakota Badlands lifted up from the prairies into wild peaks. The vibrancy of the sky and clouds made it all come to life as we drove through with our mouths gaping at all the beautiful differences. This park is a drive through- not a loop- so it hardly added any time to our trip, but it did not have the same hiking opportunities and there were no lovely creeks or rivers. The wildlife was so different as well – we loved the big horned sheep! Definitely glad we saw both badlands on the same trip.

A quick stop at the world-renowned Wall Drug where water is always free (an attraction during the great depression!) and coffee has been 5 cents since they opened in 1931. It was a fast and crazy mememto-shopping/donut-eating whirlwind and we made it back on the road.

Laura Ingalls Wilder has many wonderful & nostalgic stops across the mid-west. Again, for time restraints, we chose just one (as a launching point for future trips, I hope!) and we were not disappointed with our one stop. In DeSmet SD, the Ingalls Homestead has many original and recreated buildings including a school house, 2 sod houses, the church, multiple barns, Ma’s house, and actual covered wagons you can sleep in for a night! The workers amazed us with their knowledge of every book Laura ever wrote and told Laura’s stories as we made jump ropes, corn husk dolls, hay sticks and whirligigs. EVERYTHING was hands on and focused on educating kiddos about life in 1800’s Dakota Territory. There was so much to do and only 24 hours to do it in, but we SO enjoyed every minute on Laura’s beloved prairie – even in the rain 🙂 We reserved our spot early and spent the night hearing the peace and quiet and crickets while watching the sun go down over the prairie. **An unexpected bonus was exploring the gardens and sod houses before & after hours while there were no crowds!

I’ll admit that after this many days of travel and all the excitement we’ve experienced, our brains and our hearts were full! It was time to book it home and see our pups again, haha! We traveled quickly through Iowa with only a brief stop at Blue Bunny in Les Mars Iowa: the Ice Cream Capitol of the World – VERY high on the list of Makenna’s bday stops. Then we blew through Illinois and Indiana stopping only at state parks to sleep and finally reached our home sweet home.

Farewell to the West! May we meet again soon ❤❤❤

Now please, pretty please tell me how very inspired you are to travel and where you’re headed next summer! Tell me your fave vacation destination: past or future, near or far! I want to hear some more ideas for adventure and exploration!! ❤

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??