October 20, 2012

August vacation: Tour of National and not-so-National Parks

Before school started, we had a big Minnesota family vacation planned.  My husband's family lives in Minnesota.  For years, my father-in-law has wanted to have a father-son canoe trip at his favorite place, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Because it looks like a of time will be spent going to see family in the Midwest, one of the ideas we have is to take a leisurely trip to get there, visiting places along the way that the kids haven't seen yet.  The father/son canoe trip turned into a father-daughter canoe trip with Eric and his brother bringing their oldest daughters, and Eric's sister accompanying her dad.  We drove through Colorado and  Wyoming to get to Minneosta so that we so that we could see The Crazy Horse Monument, Mount Rushmore, and The Badlands, camping along the way.  We also stopped and toured the Wind Cave, which is halfway between Mount Rushmore and The Badlands.

The sun lighting up and coloring storm clouds at
our CO campsite

Driving through Wyoming.  This was consistently our view.
Where are all the people?

Custer State Park:  excellent camping facilities with free shower.  There are places you can go to see deer, antelope and buffalo.  However, we were more focused on carved rocks during our one-day stay.  We should have booked our campsite for two days.

Nearing Custer State Park.  This is a "drive by" shot
Chief Crazy Horse.  Totally amazing.  You can see it from a distance as you drive up.  Keep in mind that the park is created to raise funds for the sculptures as they get no money from the government to create this masterpiece.  It is a family business with the family of Native Americans who hired Korzcak Ziolkowski to initiate the monument.  He worked mostly alone of the project until he married and had ten kids, who helped him with his project.  They actually created a one-room schoolhouse for the kids, taught by a certified teacher.  Many of them continue his work on the sculpture.

Mount Rushmore.  Also incredibly beautiful.  In some ways, however, I would go and see it first because it is small in comparison to the Crazy Horse sculpture.  Interestingly enough, when you get in the park, it seems so big and imposing.  The first glimpse is actually a little unimpressive, until you realize that even this "small" scultpure is much bigger than anything that Michaelangelo or Da Vinci ever did.  Junior Ranger badge #1 completed by the kids
A view from a distance--the Presidents seem really small
in comparison to the surrounding mountainside
A view in the park

Wind Cave campground
.  Nice for a one or two night stay, but not much longer because it does not have shower facilities. That night, we saw a family of wild turkeys cross our path in the evening.  In the morning bunch of deer grazed in the grass and we even glimpsed a buffalo foraging along the fence that separated it from the campsite.  The drive from Mount Rushmore to this campsite was filled with buffalo, prairie dog towns, and an antelope sighting.  I could hear "Home on the Range" play in my head frequently as we drove to the next stop.

Deer grazing in the Wind Cave campground near our site

A buffalo and calf, part of a herd, hanging around the plains

This antelope was totally unphased when we pulled
to the side of the road and started snapping pictures.
I took these with the Nikon twisted around to take pictures
behind us.  Totally cool for this suburban princess.

Wind Cave State Park.  Very cool tour.  Very cool cave, in so many ways.  Eric took some great pictures with his new Nikon Digital SLR camera.  Here is one of them, showing off the boxwork--calcite deposites in the limestone cracks that are harder than limestone and more difficult to erode than the limestone which it surrounds.  It is also one of the largest caves in the world.  There are several tours available and a nice museum detailing the history of the cave.  Junior Ranger badge #2 completed.
Boxwork on the ceiling

Minuteman Missile Museum:  This is located just before you enter the Badlands.  If you don't have a reservation for a tour, don't bother to stop unless your kids have a burning desire to complete every single National Park Junior Ranger program.  The movie is okay, but without a tour, all you get to do is drive to where a Minuteman missile is displayed.  There is an audio tour at the missile that you can access through your cell phone, but the menu is lousy and it just repeats what you watch in the museum, which is little more than a double-wide trailer. Junior Ranger Badge #3 accomplished, though it was not much of an accomplishment.  The ranger working there was good with the kids, but not so great with interacting with adults.  I got the impression from a conversation I had that this site is considered "National Park Ranger Hell."

Badlands State Park and Campground.  Badlands is a good drive-through state park.  It is stark and colorful in a washed out sort of way, but it remains an inhospitable place for those who might consider setting up camp.  It was hot enough camping there that we did not put up the fly, which gave my hubby and I some midnight star-gazing when we both got up to use the facilities.  The campground also does not have showers.    It is a difficult place to capture in pictures, at least in ways to make them interesting.  In some ways, it reminds me a lot of the Painted Desert, except bigger.  Junior Ranger Badge #4 accomplished, though I think John was getting tired of having to do so much work on his vacation :-D.  I was very tired at this point.

Family in Minnesota:  Totally, completely awesome.  Eric and Elz went on a Father-daughter canoeing trip on the boundary waters with his brother and Father, niece and sister.  Me and the the rest of the kids hung out at my SIL's house and MIL's house.  Jessi had some alone time with her fabulous Grandma Sue and cousin Jasmyn.  After the canoe trip, Eric flew back to AZ to work and the kids and I stayed a couple of weeks with family.  Elz and her cousin went to a Bible camp near Pine City, AZ and had a lot of fun.  Maybe next year, Jessi will go.  The only hard part about the return trip was being away from Eric for so long.  I know it sounds corny, but I miss him a lot and do better with my goofball near me.  It might be the last time I plan to be away from him for so long.

The drive back alone was a little harder than I thought it would be, mainly because a driver decided to pass the person in front of him while I was in the middle of passing him.  Miraculously, there was no major damage and the other driver responded pretty quickly to my horn and slipped back into the long line of traffic without bumping anyone else before pulling aside.  That incident took the steam from me.  I had planned to camp that night to save some money and to be able to say that I had camped in Kansas at least once.  Instead, we spent the night at a decent motel in Witchita and walked to dinner and back.  The rest of the trip was uneventful.

I do love traveling and seeing so many things.  I hope that we are building wonderful memories for our kids, who seem to have a lot of fun camping.  I must be getting "oldish" however, because these long trips take a lot out of me.  There is no place like home.

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