Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Road Trippin'

In June and the beginning of July, we had ourselves an honest-to-goodness road trip.  I love road trips--they're a great way to bond with my family, and planning them is half the fun (I reserve most of the planning fun for myself, which is just the way the family likes it).

Here's the rundown of our seven-state, 2815 mile trip.  If you're not one for details, then just look at the photos:

Day 1
We left home and headed Northeast toward Nebraska.  As a family, we played the license plate game to see if we could get all fifty states.  We didn't quite get fifty, but we got awfully close!

Our first stop was a quick look at Cabela's in Sidney, NE, followed by lunch in that same town.  Cabela's is pretty much Redneck Central; it was a good cultural experience for us!  They have a mountain of stuffed animals (stuffed by a taxidermist, not the cuddly kind), as well as an elephant and several other big game pieces. 

After lunch, we headed to Chimney Rock, a famous landmark on the Mormon and Oregon Trails.  Although you can't really get that close to the rock (due to rattlesnakes and other reasons), they have a nice little visitor's center with something for everyone.

Our next stop was at Carhenge in Alliance, NE.  What a great roadside attraction!  In addition to the accurate replica of Stonehenge made out of old junker cars, there were a few other pieces of "car art", including "Spawning Salmon" and "The Fourd Seasons", which consists of a few Fords planted into the ground to represent the different stages of the local grain.  

After Carhenge, we made a beeline for Mount Rushmore.  We got there in the early evening and enjoyed hiking below the faces.  At dusk, they have a neat, patriotic lighting ceremony, which we were glad to catch. The host of the ceremony is a Park Ranger who knows a whole lot about the U.S. Presidents (all of them!).  He played "Stump the Ranger" before the show got started.<>

After Rushmore, we headed to the hotel in Sturgis, SD (cheap rates when the Harley convention's not in town) and got to bed late.

Day 2
We slept in (the older kids missed the continental breakfast, so Dad went to the convenience store and bought them some donuts), then packed up and headed west.  First stop: Belle Fourche, SD, the site of the Geographic Center of the Nation.  They've got a little historical park where they've placed the marker, which includes a visitor's center and an old log cabin with a lot of history to it.  The cabin wasn't a bad free exhibit.

We discovered a great old park in town, with the old playground equipment that they just don't put in parks anymore, like a merry-go-round (the kind that the kids spin really fast and get sick--see Seth's pale lips) and really high swings.  We had lunch at the park and the kids had a great time playing at the playground.

After lunch, our next stop was Devil's Tower, WY.  We took the hike around the tower, which was really neat for several reasons.  The tower is fascinating in its own right, and it looks pretty different from different angles.  We saw some climbers midway up, and the views from the tower base were pretty cool.  The younger kids weren't too keen on hiking, but it was only 1.2 miles, so we all survived.

After Devil's Tower, we headed toward Dayton, WY, where my cousin Jo lives.  She was a wonderful hostess and we had a great, two-day stay with her.

Day 3
This was a non-travel day, in the sense that we woke up and went to sleep in the same beds.  That doesn't mean we hung out and did nothing, though.  Jo's son, Geoffrey, and I (and the dogs) went up into the mountains and did a great little 6.5 mile hike to Bucking Mule Falls.  The falls themselves are quite tall, and they're mainly visible from a much taller rock outcropping that wouldn't be suitable for those with height issues.

While we were hiking, everyone else slept in and then walked to the park in town, where they dipped their toes (and, in some cases, much more), in the Tongue River.

After getting back to the house for lunch, we all headed down to the Reservoir and played on the lake with Michael (Jo's youngest brother) and his family.  He was a great boat captain, and David got the chance to water ski for the first time (coincidentally, on the same lake where I first skied 28 years ago).  

We got back to Jo's house for a great dinner and relaxing evening.  Her home is a very peaceful place, and we can't wait to go back for another visit!

Day 4
After going to church in Ranchester, where our presence boosted their attendance to 50, we headed west again.  We stopped in Cody, where we visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.  It's a really neat museum, if a little pricey, and we learned everything you could possibly want to know about Buffalo Bill.  The museum also houses exhibits on the the geography of the American West, the Plains Indians, and more firearms than you could possibly look at in a day.  We bought a membership (which was cheaper than a family's worth of one-day admissions), and it would be fun to spend more time there.  It's probably more interesting for the 12-and-over crowd, but there was something for everyone.

After dinner in Cody, we headed west into Yellowstone National Park.  We were excited by the first few bison that we saw, but they soon got to be as common as roadside cows.  We stopped at a few (stinky) geothermal features, then caught the sunset at Lower Yellowstone Falls.  In that part of the time zone, it's not totally dark until 10pm, and we stayed out until it was dark.  Driving in Yellowstone in the dark isn't much fun, but we made it to our hotel in Gardiner, MT, once again very late.

Day 5
After sleeping in again, we had a nice continental breakfast (complete with Blueberry Waffles) then headed back into the park.  We stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs, which has some really beautiful formations.  We learned all about thermophiles from a ranger, then took a whole lot of pictures of all kinds of springs and other features.  One had the prettiest light blue color we'd ever seen.  The photos don't do any of these justice.  You need to go and check it out yourself!  As an added bonus, this is where we spotted the elusive Hawaii license plate!

Even better than the license plate, however, were the Mama Bear and her Cub just up the road from Mammoth.  Awesome.

We found a nice picnic spot for lunch, then tried to get down to Old Faithful.  On the way, however, traffic was at a total standstill (maybe some herd of bison was on the road up ahead).  After about 30 minutes, we recognized we were going nowhere (though we did manage to spot an Alabama license plate), so we changed our itinerary and hit the Norris Geyser Basin, which was actually pretty cool in its own right.  It has the hottest water features in the park (and one of the stinkiest!).  The contrast between the geothermal features and the forest around them is striking: total death to total beauty.

We trucked back up to Gardiner, where we met my Uncle and Aunt for dinner at the Cowboy Café.  David and I sampled local fare that we couldn't get at home (Elk and Trout, to be exact).  We had a very pleasant dinner conversation with Uncle Neil and Aunt Joan, and we even managed to get our own private dining room (by sheer force of being a party of 8, I think).  It was nice to visit with them in their neck of the woods.  Once again, we were fooled by the late-setting sun, and we got to bed late.

Day 6
Last day in Yellowstone!  After breakfast, we headed straight to Grand Prismatic Spring, followed by Old Faithful (smooth sailing this time) and spent a few hours there.  As the main attraction in the park, they have a nice visitor's center and public viewing area for the various geysers.  After watching Old Faithful do her thing, we did a little souvenir shopping and got back in the car, but not before spotting a tough-to-find Delaware license plate.

We found a picnic spot up the road from Old Faithful and had a nice lunch, then headed over to the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake and Grant Village.  We saw several more geothermal features at West Thumb, and we watched a movie on the big Yellowstone fire from the late '80s (the fire was from the late '80's.  The video was from the late '90's.  Different hairstyles and less teal).

As one last item, we went back to Grand Prismatic Spring, and climbed up the adjacent hill/mountain for a fantastic view and photo opportunity.  The mountain was very ashy from a previous fire, and we all got pretty dirty.  Even Seth made it to the top (much to our discomfort).  The photos and the view were totally worth it, though.

After we'd had our fill of the park, we drove out through West Yellowstone and toward Rexburg, ID.  We stayed the night in Idaho Falls, where the kids enjoyed our only hotel that had a pool by staying up late and swimming, then getting up early and doing the same.

Day 7
The next morning, we breakfasted, packed up, then went to Rexburg, where we got a campus tour of BYU-Idaho.  Our friend Crissy, a student there, joined us for the tour and lunch.  It's definitely changed since the last time we were there (18 years ago), with the campus effectively doubling in physical size, student population, as well as number of years you can go to school there!  We also stopped by the Rexburg temple, which is also new since we were last there.

From Rexburg, we went non-stop to Farmington, UT, where my sister, Keri, lives.  We had a little birthday celebration for Hannah that evening and just enjoyed our time visiting.

Day 8
I took the three older kids and their cousin to Lagoon Amusement Park, effectively as Hannah's birthday party.  The lines were almost non-existent, and we rode whatever we wanted as many times as we wanted!  There were a few good roller coasters, to be sure.  At about dinner time, everyone (except Hannah) was pooped, so we called it a day and headed back to Keri's house for some down time.  Those that didn't go to Lagoon went to the local pool and had a grand time.

Day 9
Though we weren't done at Keri's, we piled into the car and headed down to Manti, UT, where our friends the Nuffers were sealed for eternity that day.  The kids hung out at the Nuffers' family home while Mom and Dad spent time in the temple, then we all hung around for the Manti pageant that evening.  We had some great vendor food for dinner (and homemade root beer for dessert), then watched the pageant, which was fun (if a little 'overacted').  We then headed (by this time about 11:30pm) to the hotel in Nephi, seeing forest fires on the mountains on the way there.

Day 10
After sleeping past the continental breakfast time, we headed back north toward Salt Lake City, stopping for brunch at Cracker Barrel, which is our family's favorite road trip restaurant.  We toured the Conference Center in SLC, then met Keri's family as we toured around Temple Square (including two visitors centers, the Tabernacle, and Assembly Hall), which our kids haven't really done before, as well as the Beehive House.  After Downtown SLC, we went back to Keri's house, stopping at In-N-Out Burger for some fabulous burgers from their not-so-secret menu.  Mmmmm.

Day 11
I can't believe I'm keeping all of these days straight.  Day 11 was Sunday, so we went to church in the morning.  Then my Aunt Merle and Uncle Kay came over for an afternoon visit.  It was really great to see them.  That evening, after dinner, we went and visited some good friends that we had in Virginia, who had relocated to just a few minutes from my sister.

Day 12
We went down to Provo, where we were dropping off David at EFY.  By all accounts, he had a fantastic week there.  Before we dropped him off, we visited another great family from our time in Virginia who now live in Provo.  From there, we went back up to Farmington and chilled out, playing a rousing game of Puerto Rico (it's not a good visit with my family unless we get some good board game time in!).

Day 13
Probably the least exciting day of the trip.  This consisted of the drive across I-80 headed home.  Thankfully, we picked up a "Tennis Shoes" audio book (our second of the trip)in SLC to help the time go by. We did stop at Little America and got some ice cream cones, then stopped for Buffalo Wings north of Denver, mainly so we could cross paths with our sister-in-law, who was flying home to California after an extended stay with Stacey's folks.

What a trip!  We saw 47 state license plates in all (as well as all of the Canadian 'border' provinces).  We got to see family, friends, lots of neat attractions and, most of all, we got to share experiences with one another.  It's a trip that we will always cherish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe how big your kids are getting! I can still remember Sarah making me rock her to sleep every time I babysat!