Tuesday, we woke up with a plan. We left Rapid City early in the morning and made our way East toward the Badlands. Our first stop was Wall Drug. I remember visiting Wall, ND with Josh on our honeymoon. We passed through late at night, so nothing was open. The only thing I really remember is seeing the giant dinosaur by the road. Well, it turns out that Wall Drug is a first class tourist trap!
I imagine that Wall Drug would be a really fun place to wander around, just looking at all the amazing/ridiculous things they have going on there… IF you didn’t have three kids trailing behind you, begging you to buy EVERYTHING. Seriously, this place was crazy. Look one way and there’s a covered wagon to sit in, look another way, there’s a mini spray park. Ooh! Look over here… DONUTS! And rocks for sale and a cowboy store and a chapel (yes a chapel!) and a restaurant and a book store and four thousand toy stores. And more and more and more.
We quickly picked out some rocks and plastic animals, paid for our things, and made a beeline out of there! I’ve got to hand it to the guy who created Wall Drug… he definitely thought of everything! Word to the wise… don’t take your kids unless you want someone to cry because you won’t buy them forty two souvenirs.
After Wall Drug, we drove to the Badlands. I wasn’t prepared for just how incredibly gorgeous it was! I almost think it was cooler than the Grand Canyon (don’t hate me!). We entered the park at the Pinnacles Entrance and headed West on Sage Creek Rim Rd to visit the Prairie Dog Town. It was dirt road the whole way there, so even though it was a short distance, it took awhile to get there. We saw a few prairie dogs popping up out of their holes (apparently they come out more in the evening).
After seeing the prairie dogs, we headed back East and joined up with Loop Road. We stopped at most of the scenic overlooks. I’m not gonna lie… I was terrified my kids would fall over the edge. They don’t put railings up in most of these places, so it’s a little scary with kids. But the scenery was incredible, so it was definitely worth it! Josh was set on hiking a trail, so we picked the Saddle Pass Trail. It was kind of hot, but not TOO bad.
We loaded up our bag with waters, put on sunscreen, and headed out. The trail is only 1/4 mile, but it’s REALLY steep. And the ground was basically loose dirt, so we were all sliding around everywhere. About halfway up, I was tired of listening to Lia scream that she was slipping and couldn’t do it. So I told Josh to keep going with the other two and that she and I would turn around. She heard me say that and said, no, she wanted to make it all the way to the top. She’s not usually super adventurous, so I was really thrilled to see her respond that way!
We kept hiking and all five of us made it to the top. The view was awesome! And Lia was so proud of herself for making it all the way to the top. It was really tricky going back down, because it was so steep and the dirt was loose. The girls sat down and slid on their bottoms most of the way, which was slow going, but it worked. Josh’s parents got their car back and met us at the lodge near the exit to the Badlands park.
Heading out of the park, we noticed a HUGE prairie dog statue and even though we really needed to get on the road, we decided to stop. For 50 cents a bag, you can buy prairie dog food (i.e. unsalted peanuts in the shell) in the gift shop of the Badlands Ranch Store. Once you buy the food, it’s free to get in and feed the prairie dogs. The kids were SO stoked to feed them, especially since we had seen prairie dogs earlier in the day. These prairie dogs must have been very well fed, because it took quite a bit of coaxing to get them to eat anything. But they eventually did eat some peanuts from the kids and they were happy.
And then we headed East toward Mitchell, SD and the Corn Palace. We were very disappointed to find out that the Corn Palace is not even really made out of corn. AND, it’s in the middle of town, which just seemed odd. We decided to just drive on instead. We were all starving and looking for a diner. Our GPS only found Country Kitchen, but I did a quick check on Yelp and stumbled upon Rita’s Place. We headed there for dinner and we were not disappointed! We all had breakfast for dinner… the portions were huge, the prices were low, and the food was SO good! I highly recommend it if you ever happen to pass through Mitchell!
We grabbed ice cream at DQ on our way out of town and finally stopped for the night in Omaha. We had originally planned to visit the Omaha Zoo, but decided to just head home the next morning and save that for another trip.
We woke up on Monday with a plan to hit up Custer State Park and the Badlands. I’m not sure why we always do this to ourselves, but we always underestimate how long it will take to do a state or national park. Needless to say, we only covered a very small portion of Custer State Park.
The good thing is that we have great flexibility in our travels. Since we don’t have to be home by a certain day, it’s made this trip much easier. I think our original plan was to spend two days in the area. But Josh’s parents car broke down on Saturday and won’t be fixed till Tuesday at the earliest. Since we knew that, we just planned around it.
On our way out of Rapid City this morning, we stopped at Walmart to grab lunch supplies. The kids of course got in a fight over riding in the shopping cart and I had to carry Lia kicking and screaming out of Walmart. So that’s always fun.
I’m always amazed when people act like they’ve never seen a kid throw a fit. I mean, the girl can throw a fit with the best of them, but still. So here I am, carrying a child who is screaming bloody murder trying to hit me, out to the minivan that’s covered in shoe polish that says #happyfamilysummer. I hope you can appreciate the irony as much as I do!
Once Lia calmed down, we had a great day. We spent several hours driving through the park and stopping every couple miles to get out and climb up awesomely huge rocks. I managed to keep the nervous panicky mom inside of me calmed down even though we were climbing really high.
We thought we’d drive the Needles highway loop and then go south to the Wildlife loop, but we never made it past Sylvan Lake. The kids were dead set that they were going to go swimming in that lake. It would have been great for swimming if it hadn’t been 70 degrees. But they insisted that they wanted to swim, so we put on their suits and headed to the lake.
We climbed around on some rocks by the lake and the kids waded into the freezing cold water, but that didn’t last long. We decided to walk the trail around the lake, which was just beautiful! There were lots of great spots for climbing and the views were just gorgeous. After we made the entire loop around the lake, we stopped into the general store to grab a quick bite to eat.
We were just ready to drive on and at the last minute, we decided to rent a paddle boat on the lake. Well, really we wanted to kayak, but they only had single person kayaks and they wouldn’t let the kids ride in them. So we got a paddle boat and paddled all the way around the lake. When we got back to the dock, someone had turned in a canoe so we took a turn with that as well.
I’m happy to report that our second canoe trip went much better that the first one! We took the canoe on the full tour of the lake too, though we only have iPhone photos of that. Josh was convinced that we would tip the thing, so he put the camera in the car. We didn’t tip the canoe, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. The kids really wanted to tip it over, though I’m not sure why because the lake water was freezing!
After our lake adventure, we exited the park through the Black Hills forest and headed to Hill City. It turns out that Hill City is not as exciting as Keystone. We grabbed a quick dinner at a diner, made a pit stop in Keystone for treats, and then headed back to Rapid City for bed.
Any time we travel, we always have the random rough day. Sunday was that day. I even thought for sure that since the kids had a good night sleep the night before that we would be good. Turns out everyone was grumpy. I guess you can’t win them all.
The thing I always find amazing though is that after some time passes, you pretty much forget the little arguments and constant bickering. All you remember is the fun you had. At least, it works that way for us. With honestly makes me wonder sometimes if we don’t have a rough time every day that we are traveling. But Josh assures me that we always have a rough day or two, but otherwise have a great time. And I guess yesterday was awesome, so he must be right…
Part of the problem today was the weather. My iPhone kept assuring me that there was 0% chance of precipitation while it was actually raining. It sprinkled off and on all morning. We pulled up at the alpine slides right when the rain stopped, bought our tickets, and rode the ski lift up the mountain.
They had a cute little cafe up there and a few spots that had awesome views of Mt. Rushmore. We took a look around and then got in line for the slide. It was of course closed because it started raining on our way up. We waited and they dried the slide. And then it started raining again, so we gave up, rode the ski lift back down the mountain, and got a rain check.
So we started off with a small disaster. By this time we were all starving so we headed over to Big Time Pizza for lunch. It’s very hard for us to find places to feed our kids when we are traveling because they are SO picky… Even if we find macaroni and cheese, if it’s not cooked a certain way, they won’t eat it. So we knew that the pizza place was a safe bet since they liked it yesterday.
It was about time for Lia’s daily mega fit and she delivered right on time. I spent 15 minutes outside with her trying to calm her down. I’m still trying to figure out how to stop the fits before they start. The problem is that usually the thing that sets her off is something really insignificant. I think she just builds up her anger and then she explodes. Luckily I think I’ve figured out how to handle it when she does have a meltdown.
So Lia calmed down and we ate our pizza, which was really good even though we ate it two days in a row. After lunch, Josh headed back to Mt. Rushmore with his mom and the kids and I headed up to Rapid City with his dad in search of a Starbucks so I could Skype into Creative Live.
We met back up later in the afternoon at the alpine slides. I heard the kids were fighting a lot at Mt. Rushmore, but I guess they had fun nonetheless. Our second attempt at the alpine slides was a success. It was just as much fun as I remember and the kids really loved it.
After the slides, we were trying to decide what to do. There are SO many things to do in Keystone, but sadly the ones we wanted to do the most we couldn’t. I looked into going horseback riding, but Lia was too little. Same story with the ziplines and aerial course. We had already missed the last round trip train ride, so that was out too.
I definitely don’t want to wish my kids older and I’m really glad that we travel with them even though they’re little. But it’s disappointing sometimes that they seem to always be too little to do the really awesome stuff.
Since we couldn’t do anything that we wanted to do, we let the kids each pick one thing to do. Max picked the Big Thunder Gold Mine, mostly (I think) because every time we drove through Keystone, he got sucked in by the giant billboard. They really are brilliant at marketing to kids. We adults see right through that stuff but kids eat it up. And since this is their trip too, I figured we should at least give them a say.
So that’s how we ended up at the gold mine. They have tours through the mine but we decided against doing that. I was certain the kids would be bored of it after ten minutes.
So we decided upon panning for gold instead. Now, if you know me well, you’ll know I’m cheap. I like to call it frugal, but I do get carried away sometimes. But let’s be honest here… It was $9.25 per pan to go gold panning. There was no way I was going to get three pans. So we just shared one pan, which maybe caused a little more arguing than was entirely necessary.
After a solid hour of panning for gold, I think we turned up four or five actual gold flakes, two mica flakes, and a whole bunch of fools’ gold. The kids seemed satisfied with their haul though and we scooted out of there just before we all got hangry.
Of course, finding a place to eat dinner was tricky. The pizza place was great, but there was no way we were having it again. There are limited options in Keystone and most of them got terrible reviews on Yelp. So we ended up at Teddy’s Deli, which was surprisingly good. And thankfully everyone liked their dinner.
After dinner, Ava picked the mirror maze as her destination of choice. We did a mirror maze in San Antonio on our Texas road trip and had so much fun! This time around was no different. It was a smaller maze, but we were the only ones there most of the time, so that made up for it.
We went through first all together, then the kids went in one way and we went in another way. Then we played hide and seek in the maze and it was all fun and games until Ava ran straight into the mirror. So our mirror maze visit ended in tears, but at least they had fun in the moment.
Our last stop for the night was Dinosaur Park, which a free park up on the top of a hill that has large dinosaur sculptures. I had read several reviews saying how lame the park was but our kids really enjoyed it. We spent about half an hour climbing on all the dinosaurs and running around. They also had a gift shop there which had some great little activity books.
After Dinosaur Park, we headed back to our hotel and let the kids take a quick swim at the hotel pool. They were itching to get in there because it had a water slide. I know they had so much fun but there were about 40 kids in that tiny pool and there were 15-20 of them in line for the slide at all times. They didn’t seem to care though. If only we could all be so easily impressed.