Just spent a couple weeks tooling around with Ben and Chandler. I have been dragging Chan around this summer. mainly to places she has wanted to visit, though we still haven't backpacked any more balds. I had this list when the kids were little and of course life has cropped up to alter it along the way. Sometimes in great ways-like going to Disney World 3 times instead of just once-and sometimes crappy ways like 2 summers ago when the pool on Monte Sano was the apex of our adventures because on my ankle injury. Or, more often, the budget curtails the plans. That one never really stops, so we have developed ways to skirt it somewhat. Camping, hiking, swimming, buying annual passes and not eating out often while traveling all help keep the cost within reason. This means we've seen the highest point or been swimming in nearly every state we have visited, but we've never seen their local amusement parks. Or the inside of a single 4 star establishment. hahaha
I had wanted to get the kids to the Rockies. But that's such a big region and Matt super wants to go, so what we decided, about 2 days before we left, was that we'd drive out to Colorado, then up to Wyoming and over to South Dakota and back, The cities are what Chan really loves and I was hoping there'd be some falling in love with Boulder or Denver. I may have gone overboard as I realized at some point I had only been pointing out college campuses and awesome degree programs. *sigh* Well, it was MY dream once upon a time.
So, we did. We went to Kansas City and stayed at an Airbnb the first night, then across Kansas to Denver and another Airbnb. The third night, we camped at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, which is not golden, a gate or a canyon. It hailed and everything in my tent was soaked (Marmot Amp 3 that will collapse with the barest of reasons). I settled the kids in their still-dry tent (REI Half Dome) and went across to the bathhouse and dried my tent and sleeping bag in the dryer. Then I slept in the van and heard grizzly bears all night and kept popping up to check the kids 15 feet away. I should have set the tent back up, but it was 38 and my sleeping pad was still wet. It had actually been floating around inside the tent, so at least the bathtub floors are water tight... The next night, we stayed at another Airbnb because it was raining again.
I really like Airbnb for bridging that gap between camping and motels. I set my search for $50 a night or less and usually find a room where we need one. I liked it more this time when Matt was not with us, I like having a local to ask questions and chat with as well as knowing if something really bad happened to the van or one of us, we'd have a local around. There was some peace of mind knowing that we were expected at someone's home and if we didn't show up, they'd make an effort to find us. Or at least let Matt know. Headed to a campground, they don't think twice if you are a no show.
In Colorado, we hiked, went to the science museum in Denver, ate lunch in Boulder twice, went to the Celestial Seasonings plant twice (only toured once though, which I fully recommend and it's free) and, swam in a spring fed pool saw prairie dogs.
Friday, we went up into Wyoming and spent the whole day playing around and enjoying the Snowy Range, camping out and getting up early Saturday to soak in the hot springs. It snowed (well, it IS the Snowy Range) and we double enjoyed the hot springs at Saratoga, which flow out at 116 and cool to a lovely 104. The springs were free as was the hot shower in the changing room. So nice! They also have a cool pool that's closer to 98 degrees and a swimming pool!
Saturday, we drove through Wyoming all day, seeing roughly 6 other cars all day. I filled up at a gas station on the Lincoln Highway run by a deaf man and we communicated in big gestures and lots of smiling and nodding. I don't think he charged us for our drinks. He didn't offer a receipt. He yelled, "HAVE FUN" as we left and so did everyone else. No 'be careful', just 'enjoy!' It set the mood TO have fun and enjoy ourselves/
That afternoon, we arrived at Custer State Park, which is awesome. Seriously, you could make an entire week long trip out of this single state park and the surrounding area. We stayed at Center Lake because SD state parks require a reservation and that was the only campsite that allowed for same-day reservations, though you had to call, pay the $2 fee for using the phone, the $7.70 fee for being out of state (on top of the $20 fee to get in the park) and then it was $20 and change for the campsite, which had no water or power. They have several campgrounds, but we opted to stay at Center Lake the whole time because it was so quiet. Sunday, almost everyone had left and there were only 3 campers in the loop. We also discovered a free hot shower (in CO, they are $1 for 4 minutes) at the bottom of the hill by the swim beach.
Despite the price gouging upfront to camp there, I would go again without hesitation. If you are headed that way from the east, stop at another state park that has a $4 entry fee and it will be good for 7 days at any state park. Reservations made ahead of time on the computer don't incur the $2 fee, so that's $18 off right there. :)
That night, we went to Crazy Horse, which is SO worth the $28 entry fee, and then got groceries. The next morning we did the wildlife loop road and drove down into Wind Cave National Park, then over to Mt. Rushmore and then back to Sylvan Lake to hike and the next day we hiked the highest point in the state, Black Elk Point. That was a gorgeous hike, it's so high you can see the curvature of the earth. It's the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees. You have to cross the ocean to get to a higher point! It's 7200 feet, which was 3,000 feet lower than where we had camped in the 'foothills' of the Rockies, but impressive enough for this crew. Especially since we climbed it!
The only animal we did not see at the park were the burros. They used to do rides to the high point and when they were discontinued decades ago, they let the burros go. They remain pretty tame and will come right up if they see you out hiking, but we never saw them. We did see mountain goats, which was a thrill, and of course a thousand or more prairie dogs and bison, which they call buffalo. We saw elk and porcupine as well.
That afternoon, we had showers and went into Custer to eat a big pizza and then back to Crazy Horse for the light show. The next morning, Tuesday, we were back on the road and we made a loop through the Badlands and stopped at Wall Drugs and the Corn Palace before stopping at Lewis and Clark state park at the bottom edge of the eastern side of the state and staying in a camping cabin for the night. The camping cabins are NICE and at $40-$50 a night, are a really good way to sleep comfortably without breaking the budget. We strung up our damp tents and went to sleep early.
Wednesday, we drove back to the first Airbnb we'd stayed at in Kansas City (what can I say, she has toy sized Yorkies), stopping for geocaches and taking our time. Thursday morning, we got up and drove home. The original plan was to stay in St Louis and visit the City Museum and come home Friday, but the kids wanted to wait until we could come back with friends. We routed through Corinth to stop at Blazing Noodlez. but they were closed for the break between lunch and dinner when we got into town and no one wanted to wait. So a really uneventful drive home!
We got home around 7 and unloaded and started the laundry. That went on for 2 days, there are still a couple things in the living room I have not put away yet.
We did a few things right this trip. Neither of the kids has a license, so even when Chan was driving, I had to be awake and paying attention. She drove a couple hours most 'Interstate' days and I relaxed a little. We never drove after dark, we knew where we'd staying no later than 4 each afternoon and we only ate out once a day-everything else was from home or from our one grocery stop. We bought cases of water to supplement our reusable bottles from home and didn't eat anything sugary or carb heavy other than our one pizza night. We saved the empty bottles and dropped nearly all of them into recycle bins along the way. The no-sugar thing helped keep us from getting jittery and irritable while having to sit still 8 or 10 hours a day. It also kept us from laying awake half the night hyped up on junk or caffeine.
I thought I slept well on the trip, but I spent Thursday night in a heavy slumber and napped most of Friday afternoon away. I have slept 12 hour nights all 3 nights we have been home. Same for the kids, I guess being still makes a difference!
The van did great, the tires sounded off at low pressure after driving up and down the mountains, but after a few hours all but one tire was showing normal. I shot a little air in it and there were no more issues the whole trip. Our last night in SD, a cicada got under the hood about 10 minutes after we parked for the night and I heard it on my way to the bathhouse. I popped the hood thinking it was a busted hose or something was leaking, though there was no puddle. hahaha. I looked for several minutes before I realized the noise was coming from the wheel well and when I looked, there it was! They are so scary. hahaha
There are no mosquitoes in SD, or flies while we were there anyway. No insects other than grasshoppers made noise or landed on us the whole trip. (well, chiggers in Kansas which I worried were bed bug bites for the next 4 days and washed EVERYTHING we had touched and put everything else in the dryer, aaaaaa When Chan's bites got infected, we realized what they were. Luckily, sulfur springs kill itching!) Then, just after we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell (mile 330) we could hear cicadas through the windows with the ac and the radio on! From there to here, some 16 hours of driving, the landscape looks the same. Big trees, meandering rivers and creeks, fields, towns, hills, cows.
I think Matt said it best once when he said that out in the grasslands, he feels like he could fall up, like there's more sky than land and it seems possible. That's how I feel-and at the beach. SO much sky. I love it. I love the mountains for sure, but there's something about the flat. It's what I like when we mow, when I vacuum, when the bed is made, when I wash off the table. That expanse of flat, clean space in which anything can happen. Even falling up.