The six kids and Shannon headed out to western South Dakota with Grandpa in June 2010. Lee stayed home to have a real vacation away from the ol' family.
Our trip started out on a cooler drizzly day, but spirits were high. We stopped at Pierre's Discovery Museum for a leg stretch. They had a large dinosaur exhibit going on, and the kids had a blast.
Rosa and Anna worked on some dino themed puzzles:
At first Anna was a bit weary of the realistic roaring and moving dinosaurs, but soon her apprehension was replaced by her desire to be with her brothers and sisters.
Here she is with Rosa and their favorite dino there:
Anna got a kick out of the dino nest. She took some time to be motherly.
We spent our first night at Wall, South Dakota. The kids had to pose next to the "elk" on the hotel grounds:
Naturally we couldn't leave Wall with out first visiting their famous Wall Drug. Here are some shots from our explorations there:
Nora rides a bucking bronco:
The goofy cut-outs were everywhere, and the children all too willing to pose:
Anna has to try out the horse, too:
Jackalopes are alive and well in the West:
The shops were fun, but resting is better!
We didn't mind the fact it was still raining off and on, and even saw a rainbow before the day was through.
The next day we headed for The Badlands National Park. The roads were a bit muddy, and it was still drizzling off and on, but the views were still spectacular.
The younger kids soon were bored of the views. Nora, especially, had her eye out for something else:
Finally she spotted one resting among the hills.
We also saw lots of prairie dogs,
and even a rabbit on the side of the road.
We decided to venture out on some trails and stretch our legs a bit. The rain was so light, we didn't even notice it. The layers of rock seem to glisten even more when wet.
The kids had a grand time.
Many eagles, hawks, and vultures were spotting soaring overhead.
We stumbled upon what we assumed to be a wolf kill. It was an amazing testament to the forces of nature.
Soon we were venturing a bit off the trails and exploring our surroundings. The kids loved climbing rocks (with some occasional help from Grandpa.) Here's a nice shot of the kiddos:
Corbin, Nora, Caleb, and Anna pose from atop a rock:
I love this shot of Anna with the crazy branches behind:
Grandpa took some shots of Shannon and the kids overlooking a scenic outlook:
We look like a bunch of hams!
We noticed that although the ground was firm and easy to walk on, it deceivingly looked wet and muddy.
However, Grandpa found out the hard way that some of the rocks and hills were very wet and slippery, even though they appeared dry and sandy!
Here's Anna next to some of the wet muddy rocks.
Slowly we headed back to the trail-head.
Coming back on the boardwalk trail again, the kids noticed a little bunny huddled along the walkway, probably trying to stay dry.
Soon we returned to the van and started our journey out of the park. Of course, we stopped along the way to enjoy the views a bit more.
Soon the rocky badlands gave way to rolling green valleys.
Nora was excited to see some more buffalo grazing in the mist.
I really appreciated all the different wildflowers of the area. The kids thought seeing blooming cactus everywhere was really cool. Here is a small slideshow of some of my favorites:
Number of Pictures: of
The next day proved to be rainy yet again, so we decided to find some indoor fun. We headed to the town of Hot Springs to explore The Mammoth Site. It is the site of an active dig in an ancient sink hole. They have found several Mammoth bones, as well as other creatures from the "ice age" era.
Anna was quite excited because she really likes "Mannie" the Mammoth from the Ice Age movie. Here we are posing in front of a life size Mammoth.
The kids enjoyed the tour. Anna didn't seem to mind that we were looking at a bunch of, well, dead Mannies. She thought it was really cool. Here is part of the dig site:
After our tour, the kids got to play around with replicas of Mammoth bones. Nora is holding a tooth!
The girls and Corbin got a kick out of the hut made out of Mammoth bones and fur:
Anna evidently isn't picky about her "Mannies" Even a ancient dwarf elephant is a dear friend of hers.
The kids also got to dig for themselves at a mock site. Here's Anna uncovering a "bone":
From there we journeyed into town for lunch, and then decided to explore the Pioneer Museum. The building itself was really neat. It is an old four story tall brick schoolhouse. Inside were all kinds of antique trinkets and displays from the town of Hot Springs. Here's Anna sorting mail:
Rosa and Anna had fun guessing what old appliances were used for. Here they marvel at an old stove.
Anna wants to make some butter!
By the time we were finished wandering through the Museum the little ones were getting pretty crabby, so we headed back to our cabin for the night.
The next day we ventured out to Custer State Park. The weather was still drizzly, but we were all excited to do some more nature walking and wildlife seeking.
It is my duty as a mother of teenagers to embarrass them as much as I can, so I had to get a picture of Alex next to an amusing sign.
And wildlife we saw! Here are some pronghorn:
A muddy bison:
And some of many, many prairie dogs:
We found some off the beaten path trails to explore. Here's the kids with Grandpa at the summit of one:
The view through the foggy drizzle was breathtaking.
The kids took turns looking around with some binoculars, and soon spotted some deer.
Here we are at another peak:
Part of the forest here had been through a wildfire. It is amazing how quickly a forest heals. Here is a shot of tons of younger pines growing amid the skeletons of the past.
The trail at times was narrow with a steep drop. The kids did great, though, and helped each other along when needed.
I absentmindedly set Anna on some rocks to take her picture. She quickly informed me that they were all wet. Oops!
Here's Grandpa with Anna and Rosa on the trail back down to our van.
Our last highlight of Custer was the begging burros, or donkeys. They came right up to the windows for some crackers! Here are a couple of them that Nora and I got to feed.
On the drive back to the cabin I stopped to get a shot of the hills blanketed in the low clouds.
Alex spotted the Crazy Horse monument shrouded in the clouds as well.
Th next day we awoke to a strange sight: the sun! We started off our day with a visit to the Reptile Gardens. We all had a great time.
Corbin was very excited to see some real Alligators.
First we explored the indoor garden dome. It was a tropical feast for the eyes. Here's the kids in the dome:
Anna poses by some orchids:
Snakes and lizards freely climbed around.
I preferred the flowers.
Back outdoors, we toured the grounds. They had some giant tortoises, who were no doubt just as happy to bask in the sun as we were.
Here's the kids hamming it up in one of the many photo props there.
Caleb and Corbin love those prairie dogs, and were happy to throw the ones here some fresh grass to nibble on.
The kids got up close to some other turtles.
I think turtles are so full of expression! What unique creatures.
The girls found some fish and small turtles in a garden pond.
Here's Corbin and the girls being goofy at another photo cutout.
Corbin finds a friend in an outhouse:
Here's Anna, Rosa, Caleb, and Nora riding into town:
Alex in stocks:
Grandpa is a wanted man!
Caleb found a big parrot friend.
We took a break from the goofing off to see a crocodile show. Seeing so many crocs and alligators together in the enclosure rendered one speechless.
While we waiting for the show to start we sat and marveled at the creatures.
The show was tons of fun, and afterwords the kids got to pet a baby alligator! (His mouth is taped shut for safety reasons.)
We also went to the bird show. Corbin was picked as a volunteer (much to Caleb's dismay), and got to have a dove land on him several times.
What a pro!
The show had many birds: parrots, vultures, a chicken, and the magnificent bald eagle.
After a lunch break, we went to Storybook Island, a large playground featuring famous storybook characters.
Here's the kids on top of the castle entrance.
The boys monkeyed around:
The gang went along with Sparky the dog to put out fires.
Nora found a horse her size.
The neat part of the place was getting right into a scene of a well known story. Here the kids ham it up with Pinocchio.
Anna rode a Dalmatian puppy:
Rosa still loves the Disney princesses from our Disney on Ice outing, so she was excited to be in Snow White's cottage.
Corbin and the girls ride with Aladdin.
Anna and Corbin get personal with The Cat in the Hat.
The kids follow the yellow brick road...
Princesses Rosa and Anna ham it up with Prince Nora:
The kids tour Noah's ark:
Anna loves Tigger!
She was also excited to find another "Mannie!"
Rosa found the Little Mermaid out for a swim.
Nora and Anna found Old McDonald and his farm.
Rosa's highlight was finding the 7 dwarfs. Via some trick photo touch-ups, here she is (twice!) with all 7:
They all climbed a dragon:
Nora somehow managed to climb a buffalo!
Corbin tried in vain to catch Humpty Dumpty.
Before we left, the kids spent some time digging in the large sandbox.
Rosa proclaimed this the best part of South Dakota!
From there we drove up the large hill to Dinosaur Park. The kids were a bit worn out, but managed to climb all over the Dinos! Here's Anna on a Triceratops.
The big Brontosaurus was huge! The girls could only climb his tail.
Here's the gang with a Stegosaurus:
Anna named this Dinosaur "Blueberry."
After a good night rest, we ventured to Bear Country USA, a zoo that you drive through.
The keepers had just fed the animals, so we easily spotted some elk
and reindeer (with an adorable baby!)
A coyote ventured out into the sun:
A mountain goat stopped to let her baby feed right on the side of the road.
The highlight of this park is the big bears and wolves. While we were there, some wolves were trying to sneak the bears' food away from them. Here is a wolf:
and some large black bears:
Nora was supper excited to see a full grown white buffalo.
Although a close second for her was the bobcat family.
We ended our stay there watching the funny baby bears romping about their pen.
From there we explored Mount Rushmore for a bit.
It was getting pretty hot and crowded, and they had sprayed the trees because of some sort of beetle, which made some of us a bit wheezey and sneezey, so we left.
We decided to turn on the van's AC and drive around some of the scenic roads. The kids loved going throgh the narrow tunnels and hairpin turns. We stopped here and there to enjoy the views.
Here's the kids at a cave by a roadside stream.
The views were so breathtaking, at first we didn't notice the van was overheating from the climb and the AC cranked on.
We quickly shut off the AC, but coolant was still pouring out from somewhere. (And we had just had a new radiator installed less than two months earlier!)
Not wanting to stall somewhere on the narrow winding road, we had to forgo any other stops, so we missed some of the neat stops to see the Needles. Here is a shot of them out the window.
After a night at the cabin, the van seemed fine. We topped off the coolant, and it never leaked again. Guess those vans from Iowa just aren't meant to climb mountains!
The kids always had plenty to do at the cabin. Anna loved the little playground.
A steam surrounded the grounds, and was quite swollen from all the rain.
The boys enjoyed playing basketball with another boy from Minnesota.
Nora, Rosa, and Anna had fun with his sister, playing with the owner's cats.
The next day we decided to ride the 1880's train. It was a very windy day, so they had a diesel running instead of the steam engine. We didn't mind, however, and thoroughly enjoyed our ride. Here is the engine waiting for us to board.
Here we all are inside the train:
We were in the last car, so we had a neat view out the back.
Anna enjoyed watching for animals. All together we saw several horses, deer, and even a turkey.
When it was time to return, the train turned around and attached to the back of the train.
On the way back we sat in a different car, which was a bit closer to the engine. Boy was the whistle loud!
We spent the rest of the day being tourists in Keystone.
The next day we traveled to Wyoming to explore The Devil's Tower. Somehow the girls thought they were going to see an active volcano (it is the remains of an ancient one), but after some initial disappointment, we all had fun walking around the huge rock formation.
We stopped to watch some crazy climbers about half way up, and noticed the vultures or eagles circling over the top. Here's the gang firmly on the ground.
Here's a couple more shots of the Tower as we begin to leave back for South Dakota.
Next we traveled along Spearfish Canyon. Bridal Falls was roaring along.
We got out several times to watch the stream as it roared along.
Of course we couldn't just look at it, but we had to get right out in it and explore. Here's Alex on the rocks.
The younger ones stuck to the usual rock throwing.
Before we knew it, our last full day in South Dakota was upon us. We kicked it off by going caving at the Sitting Bull Crystal Cave. The climb was a bit scary for some of us older ones, but the views were well worth it. Big Dogtooth crystals lined the cavern.
We marvelled at the giant geode room, where we were literally inside a giant geode!
Here's another shot of some of the crystals:
There were also neat shaped crystal formations. This one looks like a bulls-eye.
After a nice walk around the cave's site, we ventured off to the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. The tour of the old nuclear missile site was a real eye opener to the kids who didn't live through the Cold War era. Here's Anna and Shannon looking at the underground missile.
Corbin and Nora wished they could try out the flight simulator.
They soon got their chance at a smaller one nearby! Here's the four younger ones each having a go at "flying."
Before we left, I took a shot of the kids (really tiny in the photo... they are by the wheels) by a huge B-1 plane. I didn't realize until we developed the film that I also caught a much better flier, I think it's a hawk, gracefully flying by.
Anna was so worn out when we got back to the cabin, she fell asleep on the rocking foot rest!
We were treated to one last South Dakota rainbow that evening.
The next moring we started our journey home. We visited an art fair in Rapid City on the way, where Anna, Nora, Rosa, and Corbin rode a small ferris wheel.
Anna wasn't sure if she liked it or not.
We stopped at Murdo and toured The Pioneer Auto Show. They had all sorts of neat cars and vehilces. Here's Anna checking out some old cars.
They even had one of the cars used in the old Dukes of Hazzard show.
Nora and Anna pose for a picture:
Corbin, the rat lover, saw his dream license plates.
From there we ate at a local pizza joint, then walked over to a local park to let the kids run around a bit. Here's Anna riding a horse she found.
A bird there was guarding her nest, and graced us with her song until she felt safe enough to return to sitting on her nest.
Early the next day we found ourselves back on the road. We stopped at the Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown before crossing back over into Minnesota. The kids really appreciated a chance to stretch their legs and got right into hamming it up.
Alex found some lionfish friends.
Nora just can't resist peacock chasing. Good thing that tree was nearby.
The zoo was wonderfully interactive. The kids had a chance to feed some tiny deer and geese.
They had a gorgeous albino peacock.
Nora kept calling to another peacock until it started wooing her with it's tail!
Anna was thrilled to find another "Mannie."
The girls took turns choking, um, I mean hugging, the goats.
The camels were quite a sight.
We even got up close to some kangaroos!
Alex bonded with a cockatoo.
After a last stop to watch the penguins swim...
we headed for home. It's good to be home, but we look back on our trip with many fond memories.