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:

Anna and Rosa working on 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:

Rosa and Anna with the dinos

Anna got a kick out of the dino nest. She took some time to be motherly.

Anna with some dino eggs

We spent our first night at Wall, South Dakota. The kids had to pose next to the "elk" on the hotel grounds:

Corbin, Rosa, and Anna next to the elk statue

Nora's turn with the elk statue

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:

Nora on a horse

The goofy cut-outs were everywhere, and the children all too willing to pose:

Corbin and Caleb pose as a pioneer couple

Anna has to try out the horse, too:

Anna on the bronco

Jackalopes are alive and well in the West:

the girls ride a giant rabbit

The shops were fun, but resting is better!

Grandpa and Corbin sitting on a bench in Wall Drug

We didn't mind the fact it was still raining off and on, and even saw a rainbow before the day was through.

a rainbow

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 badlands

another shot of the badlands

The younger kids soon were bored of the views. Nora, especially, had her eye out for something else:

Nora next to a watch-for-bison sign

Finally she spotted one resting among the hills.

some bison

We also saw lots of prairie dogs,

a prairie dog

and even a rabbit on the side of the road.

a rabbit

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 badlands

The kids had a grand time.

the kids on a walkway

the kids on a bench

Many eagles, hawks, and vultures were spotting soaring overhead.

a large bird

We stumbled upon what we assumed to be a wolf kill. It was an amazing testament to the forces of nature.

deer bones

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:

the kids on a rock

Corbin, Nora, Caleb, and Anna pose from atop a rock:

Corbin, Anna, Caleb and Nora on a rock

I love this shot of Anna with the crazy branches behind:

Anna on the same rock

Grandpa took some shots of Shannon and the kids overlooking a scenic outlook:

Shannon and kids

Shannon and kids again

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.

dry ground looking like mud

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.

Anna next to the rocks

Slowly we headed back to the trail-head.

the gang heading along the trail

Coming back on the boardwalk trail again, the kids noticed a little bunny huddled along the walkway, probably trying to stay dry.

a bunny

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.

Alex and Rosa with the badlands behind them

Soon the rocky badlands gave way to rolling green valleys.

the rolling valleys

Nora was excited to see some more buffalo grazing in the mist.

distant buffalo

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.

us with a Mannie

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!

Rosa, Anna, Caleb, and Nora with bones

The girls and Corbin got a kick out of the hut made out of Mammoth bones and fur:

The girls and Corbin hamming it up inside the hut

Anna evidently isn't picky about her "Mannies" Even a ancient dwarf elephant is a dear friend of hers.

Anna and a dwarf elephant replica

The kids also got to dig for themselves at a mock site. Here's Anna uncovering a "bone":

Anna digging

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:

Anna in the old post office

Rosa and Anna had fun guessing what old appliances were used for. Here they marvel at an old stove.

Rosa and Anna looking at a stove

Anna wants to make some butter!

Anna churning 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.

Alex by a wildlife at large sign

And wildlife we saw! Here are some pronghorn:


A muddy bison:

a muddy bison

And some of many, many prairie dogs:

prairie dogs

We found some off the beaten path trails to explore. Here's the kids with Grandpa at the summit of one:

the kids with Grandpa

The view through the foggy drizzle was breathtaking.

view of forest and valley with fog

The kids took turns looking around with some binoculars, and soon spotted some deer.


Here we are at another peak:

kids and Shannon

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.

younger pines with old charred remains of trees

The trail at times was narrow with a steep drop. The kids did great, though, and helped each other along when needed.

the kids pose on the trail

I absentmindedly set Anna on some rocks to take her picture. She quickly informed me that they were all wet. Oops!

Anna on rocks

Here's Grandpa with Anna and Rosa on the trail back down to our van.

Grandpa, Anna, and Rosa walking

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.

a donkey another donkey

On the drive back to the cabin I stopped to get a shot of the hills blanketed in the low clouds.

a hill in the clouds

Alex spotted the Crazy Horse monument shrouded in the clouds as well.

Crazy Horse in the clouds

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.

Corbin and an Alligator

First we explored the indoor garden dome. It was a tropical feast for the eyes. Here's the kids in the dome:

the kids in the tropics dome

Anna poses by some orchids:

Anna next to some orchids

Snakes and lizards freely climbed around.

a snake

I preferred the flowers.

an orchid

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.

a giant tortoise

Here's the kids hamming it up in one of the many photo props there.

the kids in a fake giant snake

Caleb and Corbin love those prairie dogs, and were happy to throw the ones here some fresh grass to nibble on.

prairie dogs

The kids got up close to some other turtles.

Caleb petting a turtle

I think turtles are so full of expression! What unique creatures.

a turtle up close

The girls found some fish and small turtles in a garden pond.

the girls looking out at the pond

Here's Corbin and the girls being goofy at another photo cutout.

Corbin and the girls pretending Nora has a snake

Corbin finds a friend in an outhouse:

Corbin in an outhouse

Here's Anna, Rosa, Caleb, and Nora riding into town:

4 kids at another photo cutout

Alex in stocks:

Alex in stocks

Grandpa is a wanted man!

Grandpa in a wanted poster

Caleb found a big parrot friend.

Caleb with a parrot

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.

Corbin and Nora with lots of gators and crocs behind them

While we waiting for the show to start we sat and marveled at the creatures.

close up of a croc

The show was tons of fun, and afterwords the kids got to pet a baby alligator! (His mouth is taped shut for safety reasons.)

Corbin, Caleb, and Nora petting the alligator

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.

Corbin with the dove and the show's host

What a pro!

Corbin with the dove

The show had many birds: parrots, vultures, a chicken, and the magnificent bald eagle.

a 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 kids on the castle

The boys monkeyed around:

Caleb and Corbin on a monkey swing

The gang went along with Sparky the dog to put out fires.

the kids on a firetruck

Nora found a horse her size.

Nora on a pretend horse

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.

the girls and Caleb with Pinocchio characters

Anna rode a Dalmatian puppy:

Anna on a puppy

Rosa still loves the Disney princesses from our Disney on Ice outing, so she was excited to be in Snow White's cottage.

Rosa and Snow White

Corbin and the girls ride with Aladdin.

Corbin watching the girls and Aladdin on a carpet

Anna and Corbin get personal with The Cat in the Hat.

Anna on the Cat's lap

The kids follow the yellow brick road...

the kids with the characters from Oz

Princesses Rosa and Anna ham it up with Prince Nora:

the girls at a photo cut-out

The kids tour Noah's ark:

the kids being goofy on the ark

Anna loves Tigger!

Anna and Tigger

She was also excited to find another "Mannie!"

Anna riding an elephant

Rosa found the Little Mermaid out for a swim.

Rosa with the Little Mermaid

Nora and Anna found Old McDonald and his farm.

Anna and Nora with some sheep and the farmer

Rosa's highlight was finding the 7 dwarfs. Via some trick photo touch-ups, here she is (twice!) with all 7:

2 Rosas with the 7 dwarfs

They all climbed a dragon:

the kids on a dragon

Nora somehow managed to climb a buffalo!

Nora on a buffalo

Corbin tried in vain to catch Humpty Dumpty.

Corbin pretending to try to catch the falling egg

Before we left, the kids spent some time digging in the large sandbox.

Caleb digging with a crane shovel

Rosa proclaimed this the best part of South Dakota!

Rosa and Nora

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.

Anna on a dinosaur

The big Brontosaurus was huge! The girls could only climb his tail.

the girls on the dino's tail

Here's the gang with a Stegosaurus:

the kids on the back of a spiked dino

Anna named this Dinosaur "Blueberry."

Anna, Rosa, and Corbin with a smaller dinosaur

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

elk feeding

and reindeer (with an adorable baby!)


A coyote ventured out into the sun:

a white coyote

A mountain goat stopped to let her baby feed right on the side of the road.

a mama goat with her suckling

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:

a wolf

and some large black bears:

some bears

Nora was supper excited to see a full grown white buffalo.

a white buffalo

Although a close second for her was the bobcat family.

3 bobcats

We ended our stay there watching the funny baby bears romping about their pen.

some baby bears

From there we explored Mount Rushmore for a bit.

the kids with Mt Rushmore in the background

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.

Caleb, Corbin, Nora, and Rosa pose with a pretty view

Here's the kids at a cave by a roadside stream.

kids in a cave

The views were so breathtaking, at first we didn't notice the van was overheating from the climb and the AC cranked on.

another pretty view

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.

the Needle rocky hills

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.

Anna swinging

A steam surrounded the grounds, and was quite swollen from all the rain.

the kids on a bridge over the stream

The boys enjoyed playing basketball with another boy from Minnesota.

the boys on the b-ball court

Nora, Rosa, and Anna had fun with his sister, playing with the owner's cats.

the girls holding 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.

the engine

Here we all are inside the train:

some of us on the train

the rest of us on the train

We were in the last car, so we had a neat view out the back.

the view out back

Anna enjoyed watching for animals. All together we saw several horses, deer, and even a turkey.

Anna looking out the window

When it was time to return, the train turned around and attached to the back of the train.

the train coming

On the way back we sat in a different car, which was a bit closer to the engine. Boy was the whistle loud!

the train rounding a bend

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.

the kids with the Tower behind

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.

the kids at an outlook

Here's a couple more shots of the Tower as we begin to leave back for South Dakota.

Devil's tower

the tower from afar

Next we traveled along Spearfish Canyon. Bridal Falls was roaring along.

Bridal Falls

We got out several times to watch the stream as it roared along.

the stream

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.

the kids and Grandpa stream-side

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.

some of the crystals

We marvelled at the giant geode room, where we were literally inside a giant geode!

the kids in the cave

Here's another shot of some of the crystals:

some crystals

There were also neat shaped crystal formations. This one looks like a bulls-eye.

a circular shaped crystal formation

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.

Shannon and Anna looking down

Corbin and Nora wished they could try out the flight simulator.

Corbin and Nora looking at all the buttons and knobs

They soon got their chance at a smaller one nearby! Here's the four younger ones each having a go at "flying."

a collage of the 4 in the plane

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.

kids with B-1 and hawk in flight

Anna was so worn out when we got back to the cabin, she fell asleep on the rocking foot rest!

Anna sleeping

We were treated to one last South Dakota rainbow that evening.

a rainbow

the double rainbow

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.

the girls and Corbin on the ride

Anna wasn't sure if she liked it or not.

Anna making a face

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.

Anna looking at some model T's

They even had one of the cars used in the old Dukes of Hazzard show.

the General Lee

Nora and Anna pose for a picture:

Nora and Anna in a cut-out car

Corbin, the rat lover, saw his dream license plates.

Corbin with rat themed 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.

Anna on a horse

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.

the bird

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.

Corbin and the girls as penguins

Alex found some lionfish friends.

Alex with a lionfish

Nora just can't resist peacock chasing. Good thing that tree was nearby.

Nora chasing a peacock into a tree

The zoo was wonderfully interactive. The kids had a chance to feed some tiny deer and geese.

Corbin feeding a deer

They had a gorgeous albino peacock.

an albino peacock

Nora kept calling to another peacock until it started wooing her with it's tail!

the peacock with it's tail open

Anna was thrilled to find another "Mannie."

Anna on a elephant statue

The girls took turns choking, um, I mean hugging, the goats.

Anna and Nora with a goat

The camels were quite a sight.


We even got up close to some kangaroos!

kangaroos resting

Alex bonded with a cockatoo.

Alex with the cockatoo

After a last stop to watch the penguins swim...

penguins swimming

we headed for home. It's good to be home, but we look back on our trip with many fond memories.

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