Started the morning a little later by bribing the kids with granola bars and Bubble Guppies on an iPhone (how did parents do these trips without technology?). Our Rapid City exploration began at Storybook Island, a free park full of characters from all of the old childhood stories which we realized that we hadn’t been telling our kids and don’t remember. Sarah went there on a family trip and hated it back then, but thought it was because she was too old (8). We worked with some other parents to correctly identify the Pinnochio characters for all of our kids. No one was sure if we were right.
The highlight was the “train ride” which was a lawn mower made to look like a train pulling barrels with seats and steering wheels in them. The second Braden saw it, he pointed at it and then ran across the park to it as it was pulling into the station and tried to climb aboard. It was all we could do to keep him off of it until we got the ticket, which took 30 seconds but seemed like an eternity. It was Braden’s first solo trip on a ride, and he loved every minute of it, rocking to try to make it go faster, smiling the whole way around the park as he turned the steering wheel. Another parent thought he was 3 years old and was shocked to find out he was 18 months. Noah rode in the barrel, er, um, car behind Braden and appeared as bored as Sarah remembered being when SHE went to the park 20 years ago. Noah found Noah’s Ark (hmmm… another story we should probably tell him – “daddy – why do they need two of each animal?”) and Braden found an old fire engine, so after all the running around, we cooled off with some freezie pops and headed to find lunch at Jimmy Johns and coffee from the little coffee hut in the parking lot of Jimmy Johns. Back at the hotel, we went back into the freezing cold pool and then it was nap time – Sarah, Braden and Noah took a 3 hour nap while Matt forced himself to exercise and clean out the car while no one else was in the parking lot.
After the nap, we packed up and headed over to Mount Rushmore National Monument (at like 5 pm – whatever, we’re on vacation), which is a little fancier than the previous national parks/monuments we’ve been to (i.e., not a parking lot on the side of the road). We paid at the gate and were instructed to go to “Level 6”, which was reserved for people who strap crap to the top of their SUVs and won’t fit anywhere else. We parked off to the side in the Yakima rooftop carrier line, avoiding the Thule rooftop carrier groupies hanging out in the center. The monument itself was beautiful and crowded, with a few army bands playing a polka as we walked through (there were two bands and both of them kept asking who was from WI for some reason- and don’t worry, most of the people at Mt Rushmore seemed to live within an hour of us based on the towns they were yelling out). Never have we seen so many people taking photos with iPads. Looked at the mountain for a while (kids have never been less interested) before finding the ice cream shop. Matt and Sarah agree: the best part of the monument was when a group of guys in front of us began discussing National Treasure 2 and scheming for how to find the lost treasure. Which is what we were doing! Except we haven’t watched the movie since we saw it in the theater and thus didn’t know where to find the secret entrance into the tunnels that hide the treasure under Mount Rushmore (it’s not THAT good a movie – we haven’t even taken the cellophane off the DVD of it that Matt got Sarah 2 Christmases ago).
Stopped on the way back to pick up a few drinks for later. Matt felt pretty manly than standing in line at a liquor store with a parking lot of pickup trucks buying craft beer, cosmos in a bottle and frozen strawberry daiquiris in a bag (NOT Daily’s! They only had Cordina’s – “alcohol inside”). Back to the hotel, back into the pool, and then to bed. We tried to order take-out from the restaurant across the street, but it closed 2 minutes before the kids fell asleep. Called the front desk, and they recommended Papa John’s for take-out (eh), so we did and it wasn’t bad with the beer and the one strawberry daiquiri that didn’t melt. We tried to rig up a cooler consisting of a garbage can of ice to keep the daiquiris frozen (covered with a towel) but it was unsuccessful and kind of sad (and probably appeared creepy to the housekeeping staff). We watched Friends. DVR has spoiled us (OK, we’d still be watching Friends if we had a DVR, but at least we could fast forward). At least we didn’t have to watch Frasier and Designing Women again (we only watched ONE episode of each I’ll have you know).
Bribed the kids again when Braden woke up at 5:30, using up the last of our granola bar supply. Then took a slow morning eating breakfast, playing and going down to the pool before wandering across the street to McDonald’s for lunch and then a nap. Matt again cleaned out the car when the parking lot was empty, finally uncovering the floor in the backseat for the first time since we left.
After naps we headed to Reptile Gardens (parental peer pressure made us go there), which has a gigantic collection of snakes, alligators, spiders and a bald eagle and prairie dogs (we’re not sure where the prairie dogs fit in at Reptile Gardens, unless it’s for a food supply?). We wandered around the huge snake collection. Braden loved the moving snakes and Noah was a little freaked out by the 15′ reticulated python moving along the glass and raising it’s head up and looking right at him at eye level. As his parents, we were standing behind him. Way behind him – that snake was huge. Went and saw the giant tortoises and then the prairie dogs, which were happy to pose for pictures and chirp – then we headed over to the playground. While we were there, a boy about 11 was running around yelling “Sister, hurry, we must get in the tunnel before the zombies get us. Sister, hurry!”. Moving on, we found yet another ice cream stand and sat in the shade and ate while a grandfather yelled at his granddaughter for spending the $10 he gave her on either tattoos or cashews – we’re not sure. But he did say it was “not the way to show respect”. She didn’t seem that sorry. If Matt lived here, he decided he would have a blog called “Sh*t Tourists Say”.
From Reptile Gardens we headed back to Target to check out DVDs for the trip home – no more Bubble Guppies. We did find a Super Mario Brothers cartoon one, but better than that was National Lampoon’s Vacation, which we had to get (bargain bin pricing). Depressingly, we saw “American Reunion” there for $16, one cent more than we paid to watch it on pay per view in Bozeman.
One more time in the pool when we got back, and then put the kids to bed earlier so we could order sliders from Sliders across the street in the hotel with the water park. Went to pick it up and saw the famed water slide in a bar, a sealed tube with one clear stretch right above the seating so you can see them and they can see you as they fly by. All of the Wisconsin cars in the hotel parking lot had grouped up (6 of them so far), so Matt was sure to park in that area. Tomorrow is the Badlands and Sioux Falls, and then back home…
Rapid City, SD to Sioux Falls (or Sioux City? whatever)
Slept in too late of course (esp considering we were going to cross Time Zones) and packed up and headed out. Stopped at Black Hills Bagels for bagels and coffee, which were delicious. We first traveled to Wall, SD (site of Wall Drug – Sarah shuddered a little bit and allowed us all to drive through on the condition that we stop for NOTHING) and then we proceeded down the loop highway off of the interstate to tour the Badlands. Again, for someone who has been to South Dakota before, Sarah was stunned to learn the Black Hills and the Badlands were in fact two separate things (Black Hills are forested mountains south of Rapid City, and Badlands are sandy appearing craggy hills and buttes SE of Rapid City with lots of fossils) and not one giant combined landform (as they are in her head). Perhaps if she would have paid attention instead of playing on her iPhone the entire time and reading TomKat divorce gossip out loud to Matt, she would have taken more of this in so she’ll know for next time (NEXT time?!?). Anyway, the Badlands were beautiful. At one picture-taking stop a small boy ran up and told his father he had seen a rattlesnake in the grass and you have never seen so many people scatter. Sarah is pretty sure he just saw the sign that said there COULD be rattlesnakes, but whatever. Lots of beautiful scenery.
We stopped for food….somewhere. South Dakota is pretty boring. Lots of hay, small towns with no restaurants. Noah had to pee on the side of the road because they don’t have many rest stops either. He also tried to pee in a gas station parking lot – he dropped pants in front of a group of bikers before we could convince to go inside to pee. We got into Sioux…..something which was a cute town near MN still in SD. The big bonus of this cute town? They had a Chevy’s! A crappy Tex-Mex chain that we got take out from in Tacoma WA all the time. WELL, you know where our take-out was from tonight, right? It was just as bad as we remember it. The kids played in the pool, which was actually warm (theory: pools get colder the further west you are). They had a turtle slide and everything. Highly recommend the Holiday Inn Express here. NOT the first one google maps sends you to – that is the wrong one. But they will give you a map to get to the right one.
Sioux somewhere to home!
We got up “early” (8ish) and headed on our way. We stopped at Panera and Coffea (not Coffee, Coffea) on our way out of town. We have delved into chain food hell and could care less. Started driving, and have given up on meaningful interaction with the kids at this point. We listened to Busytown Mysteries and Bubble Guppies for 7 straight hours today and everyone’s brains have liquified. It’s cool.
Stopped at a McDonald’s Playplace so kids could run around. Sarah stated she would “vomit nuggets” if she ate any more McDonald’s. However, she got hungry enough to purchase a side salad and package of apples – only $1.60! The kids had a good time. We continued on our journey, stopping every 15 minutes at rest stops to avoid having to pull over and have Noah pee on the side of the road. We stopped for coffee in LaCrosse and continued on. Drive, drive, drive. Matt would like to point out he did the driving while Sarah played on the internet (anyone interested in Tom Cruise marriage contract details and divorce settlement information, please contact Sarah).
Anyway, we made it home….to discover our gardens had exploded and desperately needed to be weeded, our trees were dying as was our lawn from the drought, and that our air conditioning was broken. Awesome. So we opened up every window in the house, and watered everything right before the first measurable rainfall and storm in 1 1/2 months promptly gusted into our house (given our gutters were clogged with leaves from our dying withered trees). Welcome home!
We drove 3675 miles over 13 days, and spent 78 hours and 45 minutes in the car