Mount Rushmore, SD.




Both boys have been to Mount Rushmore before, but Little Fella was still in diapers so he didn’t remember it. Fog kept us from visiting the first week, however, one lovely, clear day we did make the visit.

Rushmore is one of those places that I look at for a little time, ponder, and move on. It’s hard to linger and stare because it doesn’t really change. We did the hike, enjoyed the visitor’s center, earned another Junior Ranger badge, and looked a bit more. Rushmore is not a park to really dig into. I love the parks with hiking, camping, biking, etc. I understand why Rushmore cannot offer that and take it for what it is. Still, I’m happy to have it checked off the list.

So, finally, I’m wrapping of our last travel stint. We have finished up our house and are moving in and trying to settle. Our plans of traveling for a year morphed into travel to some great places and build our home in Wisconsin. Oddly. I’m not sure how that all worked into one year, but now we are on the other end of that. Soon I’ll post up photos of the home we created from the ground up and what we intend from here.

Wind Cave National Park, SD.





As luck would have it, Dear Husband read that Wind Cave National Park was giving free tours the Saturday we were in town. He read to arrive early, be prepared for crowds, and other “there will be a lot of people so please be patient” commentary. The night prior, we showered and prepared our lunches. We arrived early hoping our boys could wait with the tiniest complaining possible. When the parking lot was not even half full we were a little surprised. Still, while Dear Husband was parking and sorting out coats for the boys, I headed in swiftly, trying to get our names on the list.

“Are you ready for a tour?” the ranger asked.


“How many in your party?”

“Four,” I said.

“You can’t take that bag in, but you can take your camera.”

“Sounds good,” I replied as I was getting the lowdown.

“Okay, grab your party, you can go right away,” she pushed.

“Now?” I gasped. “Like, right now?”

I ran back to the car, stripped my camera bag off, jammed a few things into my pockets all while telling the family, “NOW, now, like, the tour is this exact second.”

We shuffled in, downstairs, along the path, and caught the tour at their very first stop. Dear Husband and I got some stink eye from other guests, like we didn’t really get permission for what we were doing. However, we just mashed into the edge of the group, pointed the ranger out to the boys, and looked at each other unable to determine how in the world we got into the tour the second we arrived!

We’ve done caves before. We lived near Mammoth Caves, but also have taken the boys to Jewel Cave, and a handful of others. Each has its own stories, history, and feel. This one has an interesting hole entrance where the air rushes in our out based on outdoor temperatures and humidity and other reasons I’m not privy to. The most interesting thing about this cave to me is the boxwork. In fact, I’m pretty sure the ranger stated 95% of the world’s boxwork is in that single cave.  Or, some really huge number close to that. She explained how the boxwork formed (acid eating away the minerals around that tough calcite) and stressed the importance of NOT touching it. We did not, however in the visitor’s center they have a piece you can touch. What looks like lace is indeed so strong and solid, the boys and I were surprised. (I absolutely recommend touching that!)

As always, the boys participated in the Junior Ranger program. I am sorry to say this was the worst experience we ever had with it. The booklet took way too long for a single visit. Both boys even cried. The worst was when the ranger grilled them for EVERY SINGLE question they answered. We love Junior Ranger. I do not want it to be too easy or cushy. Indeed I want the boys to learn about the surroundings of each wonderful park we visit. However, when we left, we talked about how awful we felt during that experience. We promised the boys ice cream, we all just needed a break.

At Dairy Queen in Custer, the boys ordered some infused blizzard concoction. The worker brought three blizzards to us (I ordered something else), flipped them over, where one promptly plopped out on to a stack of local tourist papers. The other two stayed in tact. I’m sorry that happened to that girl but it was truly just the laugh we needed!

Mammoth Site, Hot Springs & Dinosaur Park, Rapid City SD.



Prehistory is a big deal in our family, we all just really enjoy the topic. Each year we drop some book from the curriculum to insert a prehistory title. It’s common to find dinosaur books and sea reptile books strewn across the floor. Even though we’ve visited many fossil and dig sites, we seem to continually seek out new ones.

So we landed at Mammoth Site just outside Hot Springs, SD. I didn’t include too many pictures because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. It’s amazing! The tour guide was thorough, helpful, and excited about the project. Dear Husband was surprised about its discovery and preservation, how fortunate we are that the construction crew didn’t just plow through there. In a few hours time we learned about two types of mammoth, their teeth structures, their abilities, why so many were found at that spot. The tour exhausts the facility and ends in a small museum. We’ve not seen so many mammoths before, so this was a unique, prehistoric stop.

Rapid City has a little historical site that was built by the WPA. In the 1930’s they constructed a handful of dinos atop a lookout over the city. Mamas and Papas galore where trekking uphill with giddy kiddos to see a duck-billed dino, a stegosaurus, T-rex, and more. This place has a great view for the resting parents while the kids poke, prod, and smile among the dinos. Down below even has a gift shop with popcorn and treats. Little Fella enjoyed this stop the most. My older son was less impressed, looking for anatomically correct dinos. I told him that’s part of history too. The dinos that “existed” in the 30’s are just different from the ones today mainly because of new discoveries. That’s history too!


Custer State Park, South Dakota.











We spent a total of ten nights at Custer State Park leading up to their annual buffalo roundup. We ended up rotating leaving the park and staying. We camped at Sylvan Lake which is at the northwestern corner, and oddly seems like an afterthought when you look at a map. Almost like it was acquired later? Anyhow, it’s way up and gorgeous. Our site was basically among the ponderosa forest with giant rock pile views when looking up.

While there we hiked the Little Devil’s Tower hike, which was over 4 miles and up, up, up. In fact, the “trail” became spray paint arrows across large rock zones. With 8 and 11 year olds everybody coped just fine. Of course there were the tired complaints from them, but when they started scaling the rocks not a peep. On the other hand that’s when Dear Husband and I started to grumble. You see, we aren’t 8 and 11! Anyhow, like most things that are hard to do and might push us outside our comfort zones, the reward was fantastic. Look at that boy in the bottom pic! It’s like he climbed Everest. My older boy climbed up even higher for some selfie shots. Dear Husband and I looked down the rock and pondered how we’d be able to climb down without snapping an ankle. We made it out just fine and declared it the best family hike ever.

We were also thrilled that Dear Husband read Sylvan Lake, just near us, was featured in the movie National Treasure 2, in the scene where they are shaking water on the granite to change the rocks and look for the noble bird. Well, we found that spot! We watched the movie that night, then hiked back again to analyze what was doctored and what was real. (The hole Nick Cage puts his hand in to pull open the lever, it’s real!) In fact the boys made me film them reenacting the scenes.

The bike trail was not great. We ended up so coated with small gnatty bugs. We couldn’t even open our mouths and talk while pedaling because of the thick bug fog. We tried. Also, the buffalo roundup was disappointing. It seemed a bit unorganized and sadly dull. I think if I was a cowboy, it would be cooler. It looked like cattle, moving slowly. Not great.

The animals were pretty fun though. Little Fella snagged my camera plenty of times this trip and snapped over 100 pics of one prairie dog. The prairie dog was quite a poser. He kept coming closer and closer until I freaked out and told my squatting son to stand up suddenly to let the guy know his true size. I was afraid that thing was going to sit in his lap! I may have over-reacted, but I know wild animals are unpredictable.

We had a great trip, perhaps a family best, but that may be because life is dominated by house building at home which leaves no free time. That’s okay. I’ll take the happy trip either way.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.








At the exit for the Badlands, we saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, so we decided to hit that first. We were lucky enough to show up early and get tickets to a tour later that day, so we decided to drive the Badlands loop and head back for our tour.

We later realized it’s apparently tough to get those tickets, fortunately we were at the right place at the right time. Approaching tour time, we drove to a very average looking building and awaited the story. This place didn’t disappoint, in fact the boys liked it better than the Badlands! I enjoyed it for its serious time warp feel. The building was very late 70’s/early 80’s with typewriters, floppy discs, and a full brown board menu complete with hash browns and burgers. But the real tour starts 30 feet underground.

During the Cold War, Air Force staffed this facility ready to launch a missile at a moments notice. Two men/women were locked inside a concrete bunker for 24 hour shifts. I can’t even imagine the stress level of this job. They monitored codes printed out daily to see if they matched “launch” while they lived down there. They had beds, chairs, and little else, save for a two-week stash of food in case the war began.

My older son enjoyed the tour, asking several questions. I was glad for that as I was a severely shy child who was never brave enough to speak up, no matter how badly I wanted to know something. He even pointed out that the “launched” light should have been green, duh?, not red.

The ranger was great, really engaged in his job. I just love when people love what they do. So, the boys, Dear Husband included, all really enjoyed this stop. I have mixed feelings on these types of things. Namely, this was built to create destruction, yes? Walking through the museum helped me digest the situation more clearly. No matter our feelings, this IS part of history and I never like to miss out on learning about it.

Badlands National Park.






Back in June we planned on taking the boys to South Dakota. We planned for late September, which  usually lends great weather for traveling.

Our first stop was Badlands National Park. It was directly on the way to our campground and a nice break in a full day of driving. While heading through the park, Little Fella started begging for the camera. He clicked that thing off like a wild man! I never had so many shots on one disk!

We saw two goats, no other animals. We drove through mid-day and it was pretty hot. I’m not surprised the animals weren’t roadside. Still, the boys enjoyed the new terrain, compared it to Minecraft, and shot loads of photos.

We spent enough time to entertain ourselves and scooted along for our destination.

Chicago, IL.








Being raised in the Chicago suburbs, I am no stranger to this city. However, it’s been a really long time since I’ve been. While driving back from Sonoma, in a bad mood because 1. our trip plans were trashed because 2. we had flooding in our storage building, I talked to my sister on the phone. Instantly she perked up.

“You’re coming home? What about going to see Coldplay?”

It didn’t take me long to go from cranky to excited. So, the week after we started organizing our stuff and pouring that concrete floor to prevent future flooding, I drove to my sisters and we headed downtown.

We parked right between Millennium Park and Soldier Field and started walking. We saw The Bean, we saw Buckingham Fountain, we hid in a hotel lobby to cool off and shockingly noted the weather at 103 degrees. I texted photos and messages back to Dear Husband and the boys throughout the day. I laughed when he texted back, “You look sweaty.” Apparently our hair was getting wetter and hugging our foreheads the later it got.

We took a taxi to Eataly. This unique grocery store/restaurant/café was a fun lunch spot and accidentally broadcasted some terrible news (to me). We were sitting diagonally from the Shriner’s building, which sadly is now a Bloomingdales. I made my sister go inside to congeal my depression. I used to come almost annually to the circus here as a girl. Now it’s a department store. I hung my head.

Even worse, terrible clouds were rolling in and the storm projections looked undeniably against us. We made it to the concert dry and evacuated to the rain shelter to wait out a lightning heavy storm. While we hugged the wall, we hoped the weather would quit sooner rather than later. Fortunately we only missed the opening acts.

I have no good photos because cameras weren’t allowed. My cell phone photos are painful, so let me just try to explain it. Every patron wore a radio controlled light bracelet. The stadium lit up in one solid glow of yellow (for “Yellow”) or white (for “A Sky Full of Stars”) to compliment the songs. Sometimes all the bracelets pulsed multi-colors. There was confetti and lights and fireworks and even balloons. It was the best produced concert I’ve ever seen (although I’ve not seen many).

We made it home by 1:00 AM and I trucked home to my family (and brother who was helping roof our coop and garage) who made fun of me for liking Coldplay. There is no chance any of these boys will like Coldplay. It’s a darn good thing I have a rocking sister!

Sonoma, CA and then…






DSC_0104Before we left Tennessee we planned on taking our oldest son to any NASCAR race he wanted to. He said he wanted a road course, which was Sonoma CA or Watkins Glen, NY. We were heading to CA at just the right time of the race, so we thought we’d try that. (It was pretty fabulous that brother-in-law got our tickets for us. Thanks!)

It was California, June, and no shade, so yes we piled on the sunscreen like you’d never believe. We also chugged water and played happy sitting on cement blocks. (Sonoma race track, I’m here to tell you that cement blocks as stands is odd.) However, my oldest son sat still the whole time and watched every move. He was very happy, which in turn made us all very happy. Little fella even said he’s “getting more into racing because of his brother,” but I did leave the stands with him a few times.

Before the race the boys dutifully explored the vendors/sponsors tents. They created lego race cars and had some friendly racing rounds. We won glasses that Little fella donned, a hat, and a tape measure.

Our on site camping was overpriced. Unfortunately, our weekend neighbors were foul-mouthed college somethings who didn’t want to sleep. Fortunately, we were so tired from walking and sunshine we passed out pretty easily.

After the race, we got to walk the track. The boys found some lug nuts which make darn cool souvenirs.

We were driving to Redwoods State Park and received a phone call. Our metal shed storing our “stuff” flooded behind it and it was leaking into the building. Three more weeks in California were dashed as we hung an east instead of a south. It sucked. I kept thinking about everything we planned, what our boys would miss, how it would take very long to drive to California again. I was not happy. Then our truck exhaust broke. Ugh.

It is what it is. We took care of the flooding and are very fortunate nothing was ruined. We also decided to stay a while at our property in Wisconsin and get to work building our home. Seems like now is as good a time as any.

Millteron Lake SRA, Friant, CA.






One thing that is downright hard to get used to is the dry yellow grass combined with the hot temperature. To me, dry yellow grass usually pairs with cold temperatures. California is a brain bend. I keep pretending the grass is wheat ready for harvest, that helps. Alas, it looks quite interesting.

Millerton Lake State Recreation Area campground is completely opposite the dam and takes a windy path to drive there, but it’s a nice little spot. Importantly, it is near my best friend’s home, and the sole reason we decided to stay. However, with few water spots in the hot California desert, I could easily see the attraction for locals.

The birds here eat well enough. I’ve seen several chomping on chipmunks or other little rodents. I also saw a woodpecker mother feeding her little brood in the tree right behind our camper. The birding is nice enough but the fire ants… not so much.

Truthfully, the time we spent here was visiting my friend and her family nearby. We did very little “camping.” I did spend a few hours one morning walking around and taking photos. I appreciated the spacious expanse after a lot of crowded California driving.

Hoover Dam.







When we pulled out of Wisconsin I was on the phone with my Dad. He knew we were on the way to California and we talked about the route. I mentioned Las Vegas. He said, “Well, you are taking the boys to Hoover Dam, of course?!” I didn’t answer. Truth is, I have been before, and our oldest has been. I didn’t really think it would be interesting for them. But, when we parked in Vegas, Dear Husband said,  “We should see Hoover Dam tomorrow.” So, we went.

It helped that the two art deco statues atop the bridge are statues that come to life in the Percy Jackson we just read. (It always comes back to Percy Jackson, right?) That kept Little Fella very intrigued. He just couldn’t believe the book characters were “actually real, Mom. Like they are in the book, but they are actually here. I’m going to rub their toes like in the book.” I must say, the statues are quite beautiful, so strong, yet graceful.

Then I remembered how the bridge was built in the depression era, complete with the art deco influence of the time. The doors are beautiful. The door knobs are beautiful. The floors are amazing. The statues awesome. I started remembering how fine this dam is.

My older son thought the reference to taking “all the dam photos we want” was quite hilarious and ran away with that. “Mom, how long does it take to walk across this dam bridge?” “How far to the dam door?” Insert dam, and you’ve got the comments covered. Chuckles all around.

We were fortunate to get into the first tour of the morning, (courtesy of older children who can actually get out of the door with little help, yay.) We were not overly sweaty walking around taking photos topside and even lingered to check out the new beautiful bridge. Our bellies got the best of us, so we pressed on to a great little pizza place in Boulder near lunch.

Lingering thoughts?

1. What will we do when the lake runs dry? The guide said it’s at the lowest point it’s EVER been. That was depressing.

2. Also, Wow! I mean, WOW! What a project that was. What a cool country to put men to work who were full of pride to create this.

3. Rick Riordan, well-played. (See Percy Jackson reference above.)

4. Dad and Dear Husband, you were right. This stop wasn’t dull but in fact, quite beautiful.