Friday, August 5, 2016

We've Been Everywhere, Man (Part 1)

So, how's your summer going? Mine's been something else so far. This summer marks James's sabbatical (he gets one every seven years at his company), so we decided to do something...crazy. Something huge. Something once-in-a-lifetime. We took a 44 day roadtrip to visit several national parks, monuments, and various roadside attractions, and to spend some time with our family in Kansas. We just got back a few days ago, and we're still settling in and re-adjusting to being home. As you can imagine, 44 days on the road made for a LOT of photos and stories, so I'll have to break it up into a few posts. Buckle in - here's the first part of our trip.



We made this voyage in my darling Kia Rondo. The Mom-mobile. The Silver Surfer. That baby is nothing, if not reliable. I practiced ahead of time to make sure everything would fit in the back, while still leaving room to see out the back window. A little car Tetris made it all work just fine, so we packed up the car in late June, and...




...we were off!


There were some short days and some very, very long days in the car. The kids did pretty well, particularly at first, before the novelty wore off. We played car games and did Mad Libs, listened to some books together, and the kids got way too much screen time. Hey, man. Whatever works.

And we stopped as much as we needed to for gas, snacks, restroom breaks, and meals. I brought food in the coolers, so I was able to make sandwiches on a fairly regular basis, but a person grows weary of sandwiches and granola bars, so we got to sample a good number of this country's restaurant and diner offerings.

It only took us a couple of days to land at our first stop: Yellowstone National Park. If you've never been there, I recommend it. The park is beautiful and very weird. There are geysers and mudpots and strange pools and springs all over the place, making this awesome, alien landscape that's just fascinating to explore. The park is also chock-full of gorgeous trails and canyons and waterfalls. The hiking is amazing.

































So, those are all hats, lying there in the Grand Prismatic Spring. You can't step foot off the board walk, because the ground is so friable, and if you break through, you won't just damage a delicate ecosystem, you'll sink into some serious hot earth chemicals and get hurt or die. Bad mojo. Basically, if your hat blows off, it's gone.





In almost every park we visited, the kids participated in the Junior Ranger program. This is a really cool thing offered by every national park. You just check in at the Visitor's Center and ask for the Junior Ranger book, then have your kiddo fill out the requisite number of pages for their age. Most of the time, the kids have to pick up some litter and recycle it. Then, they have to attend a Ranger Program. After that, they get sworn in as a Junior Ranger and get a little badge. It's very fun, and our kids ended up learning a lot about each park, about conservation, about geology, and about nature, in general.








We love to hike, and, as I said, the hiking in Yellowstone is great.




The kids and I took our sketchbooks, so we could sketch and draw things we wanted to remember.






On our last morning in Yellowstone, neither the J-bird nor I could sleep, so we snuck out and watched Old Faithful erupt one last time.



Then, we peaced out.



So long, Yellowstone!



Our next stop was the Crazy Horse Monument. This place is absolutely fascinating. It's been underway since 1947, and hearing the story and seeing the progress and the plans for the final monument was so interesting. The J-bird said he can't wait to take his family to see it when he's grown up.

We took the bus tour out to see the monument, and then we went into the visitor's center to watch the informational film and look around. Crazy Horse is so worth your time, if you happen to be out that way.












After Crazy Horse, we went straight on to Mt. Rushmore!











We all enjoyed this one too. You can't go by Rushmore and not stop. Incidentally, my kids collect keychains from places we visit - they're inexpensive, and they don't take up a lot of real estate in their rooms. This is the one Miss V chose from Mt. Rushmore. It makes me giggle every single time I think about it.

After Rushmore, we stopped at the Presidential Wax Museum. As you do.


The next day, when we stopped for gas, we noticed this totally bizarre roadside taxidermy exhibit. You know, when you see a roadside taxidermy exhibit inside a gas station, you can't NOT GO IN.










Now listen, I'm going to tell you about one of the best places ever, and that place is Wall Drug. If you are driving through South Dakota, and you see 900 road signs advertising Wall Drug, and you don't stop at Wall Drug, then you are a crazy person, because Wall Drug is fun.



Also, they have great donuts



And 5 cent coffee.


And this giant jackelope





And all this stuff for kids!



Basically, you should go to Wall Drug. Now.


After Wall Drug, we drove on, until we got to the Corn Palace. Yes, to answer your question, all of that decoration on the outside of the Corn Palace is, indeed made of corn. They re-do it every year.









The next day, we drove in to Nebraska and visited the Omaha Zoo!



























If you like zoos, and you are in Omaha, give this one a go. A lot of it was closed for renovation while we were there, but we still got to see a good portion, and it was really something.




After we left the zoo, we were Kansas-bound. The only thing standing in our way was this truly impressive thunderstorm. (Don't worry, we survived. Narrowly.)


That's it for the first part of our trip. Coming up: AaaaaAAAHHHH, Kansas!



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