Monday, July 10, 2017

Vacation Day 7 & 8: Black Hills (& Home)

So, in case you couldn't tell, this trip involved A LOT of driving! We had quite the drive from Cody, WY to Black Hills (South Dakota). Instead of taking the interstate all the way, we chose to take smaller, scenic highways. While this made the drive a bit longer (about 8 hours instead of a typical 6), the views made it worth it! We saw a lot of volcanic rocks and rocks cut from volcanic activity in the area millions of years ago. The minis were fascinated by this as well, making all of the driving bearable. We ended our long day in the car but taking and completing our first difficult level hike! Despite spending 90% of the day sitting in the car, I felt the most accomplished after that hike.

Eating healthy (which is hard to do on road trips!) went out the window on this day. Gardetto's, donuts, coffee drinks, sugary applesauces, M & M's, Coke, and even Taco Bell made it into the snack routine. So really, that hike at the end of the day cancelled all of this out! 

I was pleasantly surprised at Wyoming's beauty and rich geological history and diversity.

I look back and she had tied sweatshirts and jackets around her neck. When I asked what she was doing, she smiled and said "I'm getting ready for the club."

These formations are millions of years old! Simply amazing.

Seriously, the mountain road construction was killer! We waited, and waited, and waited some more.

We made it into South Dakota in good time and had hopes of going to Wind Cave National Park or Jewel Cave, but we missed the last tours of each. We learned a lot at the visitors center though. When the minis are a bit older, we'll head back to the area to do some of the caves.

When we finished up at the Jewel Cave visitors center, we went to Custer State Park. We took Needles Highway on a(nother) scenic drive to get to the Cathedral Spires trail. Up until this point we had been pretty careful with our hikes. A lot of the hikes I had thought about doing on this trip were extremely vigorous and therefore, I nixed them. I did some research on this particular trail and was fairly certain we could accomplish it.....and did we ever! The minis did awesome! Now I'm sadly regretting that we didn't try any of the longer, harder hikes that I had come across in Yellowstone and Tetons areas. 

This trail was only 3 miles total. The minis completed this trail with no issues! While I was surprised at how smooth it went, I wasn't surprised that they easily did 3 miles. During Mother's Day weekend in Chicago (read about that here), we walked 10 miles in one day without realizing it. I'll definitely be adding some longer, harder hikes to our itinerary next summer.

Looking up at our destination (the Spires). It's crazy to think that we were in those spires exploring!

The leader (we were too slow for Max).

Just as we reached the end of the trail (or one trail), it began to rain. It continued to steadily rain the rest of the evening, giving our climb/hike down an extra level of interesting.

Lil Miss E did every step, every rock, every climb over something all on her own. I was so impressed and so proud of her. Of course, it shouldn't surprise me as she's always been our tag-a-long, up for anything girl.

We quietly finished our drive through Custer State Park (minus one near catastrophe where a mini had to poop and no bathrooms were around. There's the saying "does a bear shit in the woods?" Right, so apparently so does my child). We grabbed a late dinner at Taco Bell, slept in a cheap hotel, and then finished the drive home the next day. The drive home was easy, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we were happy to be out of the car!

Nothing beats driving through a windy, one way tunnel only to come out the other side greeted by Mount Rushmore.

These two ran in to grab our late night dinner. 

Back seat shenanigans.

And home in enough time to see the neighborhood fireworks show!

Even though this trip involved a lot of time driving, it was a great and memorable vacation for all of us! I'm so happy that we were able to take our minis to Yellowstone (a place I've always wanted to visit) and show them some of the iconic road trip sites (Rushmore comes to mind here). A big shout out to some of the businesses that made this trip possible: Enterprise for the car rental (GMC Acadia was perfect for the mountain driving!), Airbnb, Hotwire (great for quick hotel finds in the areas as we drove through), Starbucks (caffeine was a priority for us!), Cliff bars (lunch most days), and of course the National Park Foundation (our National Park Pass was perfect for our summer adventure). 

Unexpectedly, this trip opened up my eyes (even more) to the importance of animal conservation and the upkeep of our National Parks. Check out the National Park Foundation for some ways you can make a difference. I absolutely love our National Parks vacations! We love them so much that we've started talking about next summer's adventure: Utah!

Planning your own trip out to Yellowstone and/or Tetons? I highly recommend this book. It had better maps than the park maps and came in quite handy for a lot of info! We also took suggestions and advice from our Airbnb hosts, which proved helpful for finding all of the great local spots.