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Happy 105th Birthday to our National Parks! Our family recently returned from a 10 day road trip out to Idaho to see the grandparents. We didn’t stop much on our way westward, but extended our vacation on the way back to Minnesota, visiting 4 National Parks and Historic Sites! This post picks back up on Day 8 of our trip, check out Part 1 & 2 to read about our visit to Idaho and the Grand Tetons.
On The Road Again…
This is not our first trip out to Idaho to see the grandparents. Our first trip was a white knuckled winter drive over Christmas break in 1992 from Bemidji MN. We were still in college and drove a 1979 Plymouth Horizon that we bought from a classmate for $20 and I’m pretty sure we used our brand new credit card to pay for gas. I blanked out most of that trip, and we are still debating what year it actually occurred…but I do remember stuffing tissues, trash and any other debris I could find inside the car, into every crack and crevice of the interior to block the sub zero winds through the Dakotas on the drive back home. BEFORE CELLPHONES! I can’t seem to find any pictures from that trip, but it was definitely an adventure!
Our most recent trip was in 2014, in the old Soob with two kids, (one who used to get car sick) so we kept the miles lower and stretched it out over two weeks, staying in KOA Kamper Kabins all the way there and back. The nice thing about KOAs is that they are cheap to stay in, and you don’t need to worry about setting up a tent each day. You do need to bring your own bedding, which can take up a bit more room in the car. We tried to visit as many National Parks as we could, adding to our National Parks Passport book. This trip is known in our family as “The epic family roadtrip” and still holds as one of the best vacations we ever had.
2014 Trip Highlights
- Mitchell SD – Corn Palace- you gotta see it, but the outside was more interesting than the inside.
- Wall Drug-tourist trap with a nostalgic cowboy vibe…get your free glass of ice water.
- Devil’s Tower-camped at the KOA at the base of the tower, on the Bell Fourche River, where they still play close encounters of the 3rd kind on an outdoor movie screen each night!
- Buffalo Bill Dam, Cody WY- those views!
- Cooking over a fire or camp stove and renting 4 wheeler bikes when we got to camp! The kids did it again this year. Never too old for a 4 wheeler bike.
- Yellowstone National Park-Geysers, Bison, hiking, huckleberry ice cream!
- Mt Rushmore National Memorial and the Black Hills- so much history to see and learn
- Driving through several National Forests and Parks such as Targhee NF and Custer SP
- Spending almost a week with the Great Grandparents on the ranch, catching fish, riding the 4 wheeler and staring up a backyard mountain.
- We encountered extreme heat, melting roads, and even snow on that trip…a lot of dramamine and redbox DVD’s were consumed and all in all, epic fun was had.
This year’s trip had zero white knuckles or barf bags and was a lot more laid back with 3 grown kids!
Home, Home On The Range
Day 8 Started on the Wind River Range in Dubois, WY. We got a leisurely start knowing that this would be a long flat drive to Spearfish, SD. Our drive led us through the vast canyons of ochre and red of Shoshone, WY and eventually through the flat and expansive range.
We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere for most of the day. I couldn’t help but hum the song “home, home on the range…where the deer and the antelope play….” The deer and the antelope really do play here and graze on endless plains of sagebrush. We had views for miles, and lost count of how many pronghorn we saw that day.
We settled in Spearfish for the night, tired from the drive and not feeling like doing much else than finding our beds. Spearfish is a bike friendly town – for both motorcycles AND bicycles. We saw a few bicycle shops and our hotel had a special cleaning station for spiffing up your motorcycle before you head back on the road.
In the morning, we took the scenic drive through Spearfish Canyon to Deadwood. It was a beautiful drive and I recommend it if you aren’t in a hurry and want to see a little more of the area. There we learned a little about the Centennial Trail (a 100 mile long hiking trail) and the Mickelson Trail (a 109 mile long biking, hiking and horseback trail). I have always wanted to come back to this area to hike up to Black Elk Peak, but these long trails got my adventurous heart dreaming of hiking or biking them one day!
The drive through the Black Hills National Forest was lush, green and beautiful. We made it to Deadwood by mid-morning and stopped to walk around while the streets were empty and the museum and shops were just starting to open up. Deadood is an old West town, known for its outlaws, gambling, gold rush, saloons and gunslingers. If you keep your eyes peeled and look past the trinket shops, casinos and bars, you will see the old architecture and echoing legends of the old town.
Plus they have huckleberry Ice Cream…and as you learned in Part 2, I have a personal policy of never passing up a scoop of Huckleberry Ice Cream if I can help it.
Crazy Horse Memorial
We continued our scenic drive through the Black Hills to the Crazy Horse Memorial. It was a special request of the youngest to visit, since we missed it last time. I have seen the slow and steady progress of the privately funded rock carving evolve since my first visit to the area in the early 1990’s. Tucked behind the roadside photo area and entry gate, there is an expansive complex of museums, galleries and a cultural center who’s mission is “to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians.”
THE INDIAN MUSEUM OF NORTH AMERICA® is home to a large collection of art and artifacts reflecting the diverse histories and cultures of over 300 Native Nations. The Museum, designed to complement the story being told in stone on the Mountain, presents the lives of American Indians and preserves Native Culture for future generations. The Museum collection started with a single exhibit donated in 1965 by Charles Eder, Sisseton Band of the Sioux Tribe/Dakota Nation. Mr. Eder’s impressive collection remains on exhibit to this day.https://crazyhorsememorial.org/visit
I think we spent at least 3 hours at the memorial and could have added another hour or two lingering in the art gallery and exploring the features outside of the buildings. It was one of our favorite stops on the trip and I am grateful to have had another opportunity to educate myself.
Mount Rushmore National Park
We settled into our little KOA Kabin just outside of Mount Rushmore for the evening. The restaurant was closed this year, so we ran into the nearest town to grab some brats and enjoyed grilling on the gas grill that was provided. Not so enjoyable….was the 90+ degree temps with no AC and the tiniest window . We’d been pretty spoiled on this trip, and the rustic cabin was not really as much of a hit with the family as I’d thought it would be. Oops. On a high note, the cabin faced a view of Black Elk Peak and we realized that it was the THE SAME cabin we stayed at when we were here 7 years ago. So that was cool.
After dinner, we packed up and went to see the lighting of Mount Rushmore. Let me pause here and say that if you want to see it at night (which is totally cool), be prepared for a HUGE crowd and a long wait to get out of the parking lot after the presentation and lighting. Now I know why the KOA offered shuttles. For some reason, I thought it would be less crowded at night – nope.
Badlands National Park
Going to the Badlands is kind of like going to Mars. Everytime we have visited this park, it feels like another world. I remember visiting for the first time as an art student in college and wanting to scoop up every gradient color of dirt to make my own paint or add to clay.
This year’s visit was a quick one as it was close to 100 degrees and we had one more National Park to visit on the long drive back to Minnesota. We too a quick swing through the visitor center, grabbed another stamp for our passport book, and spent the rest of our time driving through the park and looking for big horn sheep and rattlesnakes.
One of the great things about this park is that it is right off the highway and very easy to swing through by car if you are on your way to another destination.
Minuteman Missle National Historic Site
During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles were placed in the Great Plains. Hidden in plain sight, for thirty years 1,000 missiles were kept on constant alert; hundreds remain today. The Minuteman Missile remains an iconic weapon in the American nuclear arsenal. It holds the power to destroy civilization, but is meant as a nuclear deterrent to maintain peace and prevent war.NPS https://www.nps.gov/mimi/index.htm
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site’s purpose is to tell the story of Minuteman Missiles, nuclear deterrence and the Cold War. Delta-01 and Delta-09 are striking examples of the alert status of United States nuclear forces during this time period. These sites, along with the exhibits in the Minuteman Missile Visitor Center, help visitors understand the story of one of the most important eras in both American and World History.
The park presents an opportunity to reflect on a peaceful prairie that once held the power to destroy the world, serving as a public venue for examining the challenges and paradoxes of Cold War. Exhibits share stories of the technology that made it possible, service men and women, citizens near and far who feared the worst, the call for civil defense, and leaders at home and abroad who led the world to the brink and back.NPS read more here: https://www.nps.gov/mimi/what-is-so-special-about-this-place.htm
We loaded back up in the car and made our way to our final National Park Service site for the trip. The Minuteman Missile NHS is fairly new building that is located near Badlands NPS. It’s totally worth the stop to learn a little about the United States Underground Defense History. As fascinating as this museum was…it was unsettling and hard to comprehend the volume of weapons that were housed in the Great Plains. I grew up in the 80’s and remember duck & cover drills in school and being worried about a nuclear attack. Overall, it was interesting to learn about this history and it’s definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.
All in all we had about 40 hours of driving and spent an amazing 10 days connecting as a family exploring the road and parks that the West has to offer. Have you taken an I90 roadtrip? How has covid changed the way you adventure? Favorite stops and must- see’s for our next trip? Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Up next: An adventure on the Gunflint Trail and more paintings from the trail!