Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Road Trip Recap Part 4: Wyoming (but mostly Yellowstone)

My recap of our summer road trip is taking longer than the actual trip!

After several days in South Dakota, it was time to head to our next state: Wyoming. Hubster was significantly less enthused about this portion of the trip, since he had been to different parts of Wyoming and been less than impressed. I was determined to show him how amazing this state could be.

Our first stop was Devil's Tower.

We arrived in the early morning, just after the sun came up and before there was anyone else there. With the cool temperatures, near complete quiet, walking through the Native American prayer flags up the the tower itself made for an almost spiritual moment.

And then our boys went screaming and yelling along the trail.

We didn't complete the entire trail about the base of the tower, but got a nice, small walk in. We finished up just as the crowds started showing up, so our timing couldn't have been better.

Our drive took us through Sheridan, over the Big Horn Mountains, and through Lovell. Throughout the drive through the mountains, I kept telling Hubster how beautiful everything was and didn't he just love the part of Wyoming.

And then we got to the other side of the mountains, and it was dry and flat and quite unimpressive. Hubster instantly got back on his "I hate Wyoming" kick. He kept saying the Yellowstone better be pretty impressive to make up for this part.

Well, we got into Yellowstone that evening, and even Hubster agreed that Yellowstone more than made up for any part of Wyoming he didn't like.

No matter how much we love each stop on our trips, each trip seems to have a main destination.  This trip, that destination was definitely Yellowstone.  Driving into the park and overlooking Yellowstone Lake, there was such a sense of adventure and wildness and we couldn't wait to get going.

Our first evening, we stopped at the mud volcanoes. I had tried to describe to the boys the smell of sulfur that came with the geothermal features of Yellowstone. Apparently, I hadn't done enough mental prep with them, because Monkey was in tears on how badly the mud volcanoes smelt. He wouldn't even finish the walk around them.

After that initial fiasco, we decided to do something more his speed: animal watching in Hayden Valley. Somehow we timed our drive through the valley perfectly and all the stars aligned, because we saw bison, elk, a grizzly (from quite far away), and a wolf!

We continued to make our way through the back up to our cabin by Mammoth Hot Springs. It was the cutest double cabin! I wish that we had been able to spend our whole time in Yellowstone at that cabin, but because it was one of the busiest times of the year, we had to split our time between two different cabins.

Our first full day in Yellowstone was focused on geothermal sites.  Paint pots, hot springs, geysers, and everything else hot, boiling, and sulfur-y.

Monkey (mostly) got over his aversion to the smell, and actually started to enjoy the amazing colors and other-worldly landscape.

Our last stop of the day was the iconic Old Faithful! We passed the time waiting for the next eruption by eating ice cream and chasing Duck through the crowds.

Then, just as predicted, Old Faithful put on a magnificent show.

Our second day in the first National Park started with a quick tour of Mammoth Hot Springs.

After that, it was a day of canyons and water falls.

We even braved the hike down into Yellowstone Grand Canyon to the top of the Lower Falls. The scene was completely majestic and worth every step.

Along the way, we continued to wrack up the animal sitings, adding moose, a family of river otters, and several black bears (including one with two cubs!) to our list.

That night, we made our way to our next cabin next to Yellowstone Lake.

We had initially planned to spend the next day at the Grand Tetons, but we were so caught up in the fun and awe of Yellowstone, we decided to spend a third, slower paced day in the park.

The boys spent hours throwing rocks into the Lake.

We drove again through Hayden Valley, marveling at all the wildlife and huge herds of bison, (adding a mule deer buck and a coyote to our sitings.)

A large storm came through in the afternoon, bringing hail and lightening, so our last evening was spent snuggling in our little yellow cabin, playing card games and reading stories.

It is worth mentioning that during our entire time at Yellowstone, we had no cell phone service. We were completely off the grid for 3 entire days. At first, it was anxiety producing and such an odd feeling. But I was actually grateful for the break from technology to just enjoy the beauty and wildness of Yellowstone National Park.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Road Trip Recap Part 3: South Dakota

You know your spouse really loves you when you tell them that nearly half of your summer vacation is going to be spent in South Dakota, and they just smile and say it sounds wonderful.

Turns out, South Dakota is pretty wonderful.

Our first evening was in Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota. Initially, we had planned on using it as a place to stay the night at. But a friend told us to makes sure we took the time to see the Falls.

 We are glad we did. The park around the falls was lovely, the falls were beautiful, and the old mill structure was interesting. We spent a lovely evening walking along the river and waterfalls, an evening that would have otherwise been spent being lazy in a hotel room.

The next day, we continued our drive west across the state.

We made a quick stop at The Corn Palace, a basketball arena/souvenir shop decorated in, yep, corn!

After that stop, we debated about making the slight northward jaunt to see the state capitol, Pierre. On our last summer road trip, we made an effort to see the state capitol of each state we drove through.  Once we saw that we would also drive through the Pierre Grasslands, we decided the extra mileage was worth it.

Driving through the grasslands, there is nothing but gently rolling hills. At one time, I would have found this type of landscape boring and monotonous, but now, I find it soothing and quieting.
I'm glad my children have the opportunity to stand in places without buildings, without crowds, and just feel wide open empty spaces with nothing but sky and grass and themselves.

Pierre itself wasn't much, as with a population of less than 14,000, it is the second smallest state capitol. We got there during capitol building hours, and I couldn't help but want to peak inside. The inside was bright and beautiful and well worth the extra little drive.

That evening, we arrived in Wall, famous for the much advertised Wall Drug (as we drove past hundreds of billboards for the place). I'm completely not above a good, kitschy tourist trap!  Wall Drug is strange and eclectic and honestly a little fun. The kids sat on a jackalope, we drank the free (and not so good) water, we ate donuts and got our free bumper sticker.

One of our goals on this road trip was to see as many national parks/sites as possible. The first one on our list was Badlands. We had heard so many amazing things about this place and the boys were excited to do some hiking. When we woke up to pouring rain, the disappointment was palpable. We decided we would still drive through the park, but that hiking was out of the questions.

Even in the rain, Badlands was impressive. The colors may not have been as vivid as if it had been sunny, but the scenic outlooks were just as stunning. There is no other place like it, with its striped, jagged ridges and winding crevices. We even braved the wind and rain to run out to the end of some lookouts for better views. Bug and Monkey were so entranced by the terrain, they still begged for hiking even with the cold soggy weather (of course, we had to say no, since we were barely equipped for leisurely day hiking, let alone serious muddy trekking.)

After driving from one end of the park to the other in the rain and making our way back to our little cabin rental to warm up and dry off and eat, the rain let up in the evening. So, we hopped into the van for a sunset pajama tour of the park. It was well worth it, as we saw huge families of prairie dogs, herds of big horn sheep, vultures, and some of the stunning colors we were hoping for.

The next stop was maybe the most iconic of all South Dakota sites: Mount Rushmore. Hubster and the boys had actually stopped here a couple of years ago when they had gone to visit Hubster's family in Montana, but it was my first time and I was pretty exciting. It seems that some faces carved in rock might be dull, but there is something so majestic about the monument and the feat of engineering and artistry, that I couldn't help but feel a little more patriotic and in love with this country of ours.

After the morning spent at Mount Rushmore, we continued further into the Black Hills and stopped by Crazy Horse Monument. This work in progress was well worth the time. Almost as a reply to the Mount Rushmore that the Native Americans have their heroes as well, this stop allowed us to marvel again at incredibly engineering and talk to our boys about some of the more difficult aspects of our country's history.

I don't think that this monument will be finished during my life time, as they are working solely on donations and visitor fees to construct the memorial that will be much larger than Mount Rushmore. However, the vision and effort are valiant and made for a very memorable stop.

We spent the remainder of the day exploring the Black Hills by going to Custer State Park. Here, we maneuvered narrow roads and narrower tunnels along the Needles Highway (at one point, Hubster got out of the car to make sure the van was indeed going to fit through one of the tunnels.)

Because we didn't get to do any hiking at Badlands, we took advantage of sunny weather and intriguing rock formations and did a lovely small hike to Cathedral Spire.

After that adventure, we continued to drive through the park, taking in the thick forests and grasslands. I almost convinced Hubster to stop so we could feed the wild burros, but no such luck!

After three lovely days of South Dakota, it was time to continue our journey. But I must say, South Dakota knows how to impress!