Tuesday, July 26, 2011

South Dakota Summer - Day 7

Tuesday 26 July 2011

After breakfast, we left with Grandpa and Grandma to a nearby coal strip mine. The gigantic trucks honked at us like they were doing a show. :) Grandpa explained how much bigger this seam of coal is than any other in the US. He said if Campbell County, where the mine is, was its own country; it would be the 6th largest coal producer in the world! They have taken off the top layers and moved them and when they get all the coal out, they will put he dirt back and re-plant grass. We took pictures in the giant scoop and the huge tire. Even Grandpa got inside the tire, which the kids thought was very Awesome!

Note the regular size truck just behind the gigantic one.

Ethan and Becca were snoozing in the van. Can you see Landon in this pic? :D

Wyoming is some mighty monotonous driving – I’m sure the Pioneers would agree.

Independence Rock

VERY WINDY! Storm clouds were everywhere. Becca, Grandma and I stayed in a little shelter reading about the Pioneers. It started with Landon running from his sisters, but Grandpa, Dad and the rest of the kids ended up walking out further to see the preserved wagon tracks. They built a bridge over the top of them to keep them from getting ruined.
The "Rock" in Independence Rock

Independence Rock was so named because the Saints reached there around the 4th of July and celebrated our country’s independence there. The plaques talked about how they would write their name on the rock when they visited or passed it on their way. They used tar or grease mixed with gun powder at first. Eventually, they had professionals posted there that would chisel your name for a small fee.

Lots of the journal entries mention Devil’s Gate, too as they are in view of each other. Going West, they would often go 46 miles out of the way through Fort Bridger because there was more water and food for the livestock that way. Forty six miles is more or less three days’ travel! We clocked off about 15 miles with the girls to show how fast we can now travel the same distance they could only go in one day.

It has been really fun to travel with Grandpa and Grandma on our own. They are really patient about the Becca delays and don’t make me feel like I need to do an Indie 500 pit stop, if you know what I mean! ;) Speaking of Becca, I think her ‘horse sense’ has kicked in or something. Can she know we’re on our way home? She has been happier overall today and currently she is scream/laughing and kicking happily. :D Hallelujah! :)

I love the sun rays coming through on this one.

What a gorgeous sunset!! I took a bunch of sunset cloud pictures. The best sunsets happen on rainy days, dontcha think? J It took forever for the sun to go down because of the flat terrain and because we are driving West. J The words on our back windshield are the right way around when you look in the rear view mirror and they make really cool shadows on the ceiling when someone passes us in the dark with their headlights. :D

Famous last words about this trip:

Emily, age 9: I liked how well the dam actually worked in the creek. I thought it was kinda scary, but really cool how the buffalo were so close to the car. (She changed her favorite meal from hot dogs at the campground when she heard Gracie’s answer) :) My favorite was eating in the parking garage.

Gracie, age 7: I wanna remember that we had lots of fun and we got privileges and play with people we haven’t seen in a long time and just kinda talk. My favorite meal was the one we ate in the parking garage at Mt. Rushmore.

Landon, age 4 when asked what his favorite things to do were: Playing. Sleeping in a cabin.

Ethan, 22 months, what he always wanted to do: Ousside! Ousside! (Outside!)

Becca, 11: The cabin, mattress and white noise of the A/C therein were a ton better than sleeping on the ground… I even forgot to fuss some nights because I was so tired. I got to get out more this time because my chair rode on the back of the van.

Geoff, 35: Gas and food = several hundred dollars
Lodging = several hundred more
Entrance fees = around $100
Family togetherness = Priceless!

Diana, 34: It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I’d do it again. :D I love Dutch oven cooking, especially when Denise does it. :D Chicken and rice and the Navajo Tacos were my favorites. I love how we just stopped and visited monuments and historical places if we felt like it on the way to other places and things. The cabin was a big blessing and I wish we’d remembered to snap a picture of it!

Didja open up Geoff's blog in another tab? He has a few different pictures than I do, so be sure to check it out. He loves comments, too! ;)

Monday, July 25, 2011

South Dakota Summer - Day 6

Monday 25 July 2011

Water Park with Splash Pad

Becca and Ethan stayed with Grandpa and Grandma so they could be out of the sun and Ethan was one less person to keep an eye out for in a crowded place. I really enjoyed being an Auntie and watching and playing with Landon and his cousins. :) I barely saw Emily and Gracie the whole time!

They had the obligatory kiddie pool and lazy river at this water park, but what made it stand out were the splash pad and the ‘Wipeout’ style obstacle course. The obstacle course had floating shapes to jump onto and you had to hold on and jump to the next one. The splash pad was like a playground with sprinklers on steroids. There were small water slides and water spraying everywhere and a giant bucket at the top that filled up with water. When it was almost full, it tipped a water wheel that started clanging against a metal bell, so the kids had time to run and stand underneath it and then it would dump all at once! It was pretty impressive to watch and the kids loved it! There were also 3 big water slides… one you went on in a tube, one you went down yourself and one that went really fast and dumped you into a deeper pool. Geoff talked (and bribed!) me into going on the tube one. I totally screamed when it first started and you’re inside a tube and can’t see out and I only sort of relaxed about halfway through. It was fun if you like your heart to stop beating for minutes at a time. I am just not a very exciting person, I guess.

Geoff had just about talked me into going one more time, but as we walked towards the slides, we saw adults and life guards huddled around a kid crying. It turned out to be Jake who had tripped on the stairs leading to the slides and cut his chin. He had diluted blood all down the front of him and when Matt saw us, he told us to go find Mowgli. I walk/ran around trying to find him, but couldn’t. I went to ask Stacey where he was without telling her what had happened, but when I looked all over and couldn’t find him, I had to go back and tell her. As it turns out, Jake cried harder about not being able to finish getting his turn on the slides. That and he wasn’t freaking out too much until Uncle Matt told him he was going to need stitches. ;)

We gathered up Jake’s little sisters and squeezed them into the other vans as the life guards had seen lightening and wouldn’t let us back into the pools. We went in search of the park that Grandpa and Grandma were at as it started to rain. We all made it under the park’s covered pavilion before the deluge started. It rained. Then it rained harder. Then it rained even harder with hail mixed in; pretty spectacular, really! It was so loud we could barely hear each other even while shouting. Stephen’s kids were still in swim suits with no extra clothes because they were in the van in the parking lot of the ER, consequently in an uncovered suitcase on top of the van getting wet. I pulled some shirts out of our girls’ luggage that hadn’t been worn yet and we passed Kristen and Elena around to keep them warm on our laps. Kristen had ridden over on Aunt Sharon’s really nice pillows and had fallen asleep. She was wrapped in her wet towel when I brought her a shirt and snuggled her in my lap to warm her up. Elena, of course, would only let Shannie touch her. ;)

After it was through dumping an ocean’s worth of water on us, the rain finally let up and we took a peek at the creek and packed up to go. By the way, we were coming from too much rain and swollen rivers in Utah that had been sweeping children away on a regular basis, so this Mama couldn’t let her kids stand by that creek too long. We didn’t get to see the cool Fish Hatchery that Grandpa had discovered, but by the time the rain let up, we had to get going. Becca and Ethan got to see, but characteristically haven’t said too much. ;D Geoff and Emily and Gracie dashed over for a very quick look just before we left. One of the tanks had a glass wall that you could see into. They had some Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout that were probably about 18 inches long.

Jake ended up needing a few inside stitches and then they glued the outside skin together. Stephen, Stacey and Jake will meet us in Gillette, WY after we stop at Devil’s Tower.

Geoff: “If I had a nickel for every time my ears have popped on this trip, I’d have a couple dollars.”

Devil’s Tower

This is an amazing tower of underground volcanic magma exposed by the land around it eroding away, but I like Grandma’s Indian story much better:

There once were seven sisters and one brother walking in the woods. The brother was mystically transformed into a bear and he began to chase the 7 sisters. They came upon a tree stump and he said to them, “Climb up on me and I will keep you safe.” They did and the tree stump began to grow taller and taller and the bear kept clawing and clawing as it grew. And the seven sisters became the stars in the big dipper.

Our family, Sharon, Heather, Kristen and Emma stayed behind while the rest hiked around the tower. Apparently, Adam fell into a 10 foot hole and Spencer came out of the baby pack. Adam caught him by the ankle, meanwhile scraping up his leg. Whew! The light was fantastic and we took some fun pictures with the tower in the background.

We drove to Gillette, WY and stayed in the Fairfield Inn. It had its own water park, but us mean parents didn’t let our kids go.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

South Dakota Summer - Day 5

Sunday 24 July 2011

I didn’t realize how big of a deal Pioneer Day is in Utah until I went somewhere that it is barely even thought of. We sing Pioneer hymns all through the month of July and they sang Come, Come Ye Saints once on this day. We talk about our ancestors and family stories and they read a sentence or two from journals of people they don’t know. We do fireworks and they joke in Sacrament Meeting about how the Bishop forgot it was Pioneer Day, but one family remembered and their children sang Pioneer Children at the pulpit. Just really different. I’m not saying they are any less devout, just not as focused on Pioneer history as we are in Utah. J Sacrament meeting, Sunday School and Relief Society were just wonderful! I felt my Spiritual cup fill right up and I was so glad we got to be there. We attended a ward in Rapid City, SD.

Coolidge Lookout Peak Tower (I’m not sure of the name, but it was all of these things) :)

If you look reeeeeal close, you can see a bunch of our group. :)

It was best for all if Diana drove on the curvaceous canyon roads because it kept her stomach settled. The hairpin turns on the way to this lookout were especially sharp and she was glad when we got to the top. But she was also glad to stay in the small parking lot rather than climb the tower that was even higher up! Becca needed someone to be by her, right? J Others offered to be the one to stand by her, but honestly, it was just high enough in the parking lot to get the view without feeling like I was going to plummet to my death. Dramatic much? :) It was Gorgeous!! Rolling hills covered in dark green pines as far as the eye could see. Beautiful.

Overheard in the parking lot upon viewing our artwork on the windows, “Every single one of them has a minivan!”

Mount Rushmore

We drove through the Needles to get there. There were several chiseled caves that could fit only one car wide at a time. One so narrow that Geoff and Diana could stick our hands out the windows and touch both walls at once! One was about 200 feet long and all one lane.

Three out of our five minivan, one car caravan.

The view as you walk up the flag lined path towards the carved heads is very grand. Each state is etched into a block on a pillar and each state’s flag flies above. We got there around 4:30 in the afternoon and the light was gorgeous.

The sculptor made a model sculpture and then they took the measurements from it and multiplied by 12 to carve into the mountain. I didn’t know that there were many other heads planned that were never carved. The sculptor died very near the end and his son saw them finished.

The 'rock waterfall' behind us is the rock that was blasted away as they carved the faces.

We ate cooler surprise for dinner in the parking garage. I just happened to have “Black Hills” by Doris Day on the iPod, so we blasted that while we ate. :) We danced around and the kids remembered it as one of their favorite meals. It was like a block party. :D

The evening program at Mount Rushmore was AWESOME! If you only go during the day, you are really missing out. Seriously. We guess there were 500 – 600 people there in bleachers and standing around the edges. All of them standing for the Pledge and later singing the National Anthem were inspirational. They played a movie about what each President accomplished and what he stood for. We sang the National Anthem as it ended and the faces on the mountain were illuminated very, very gradually. It made the heart swell.

We were at the top of the amphitheater with Becca's chair and the rest of the family sat down below.

We almost forgot Porkins’ picture, but got one when Emily had to go back to use the restroom. As we drove back to the campground, we could see the Presidents for a long while through the trees. Set in front of the expansive sky chuck full of stars.

Porkins Piggers is our family mascot. It was dark and so Geoff had to work some magic on the exposure, but there he is at Mt. Rushmore!

We met more buffalo crossing the road… we could hear them snorting in the dark right outside our windows. There was something very sinister about their angry sounding grunting and snorting when all you could see was a few trees eerily illuminated by our headlights. I’m pretty sure with a running start; one of the big ones could have tipped over our van if he’d really wanted to!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

South Dakota Summer - Day 4

Saturday 23 July 2011

In the morning, we hung out at the playground across from our second cabin. The grown-ups played games on a nearby picnic table. Then we met up at the parking lot of Grandpa and Grandma’s hotel where they stayed so that Grandpa could do his radio show over the phone. They had Alligator/Dinosaur sunglasses for the grandkids and we all painted our back windshields with white shoe polish to match Denise’s. I had wanted to write something on ours, but couldn’t think of anything. She had a big S and then Sagers, South Dakota and Summer coming off of that with a flower… so we all followed suit! I’m sure we looked way awesome traveling in a caravan with 5 minivans and a compact car all with the same writing on the back! :D

Jewel Caves


Our family stayed together to go on the “Discovery Tour” with Stacey at the Jewel Caves. We went down in an elevator to a great, big room with tall ceilings. It felt much, much bigger than the Wind Caves and was much more comfortable to stand in. We could see some of the catwalks that the walking tours must use. The “jewels” are sparkly calcite deposits that the first explorers used to chip off and sell. Our guide shined his flashlight on them to catch the twinkle. J Our guide was VERY nice and we (Geoff ) asked all kinds of questions. Our tour was our family, two other families with kids and one older couple.

The discoverers of Jewel Cave were 2 young men who used dynamite to make the hole big enough to enter. At first, women had to change from dresses to coveralls and it was a big deal when they made it safe enough and discovered other, wider places that they could explore with their dresses on. :)

We drove the scenic wildlife loop back to camp without seeing any wildlife. Back at camp, we heard there was a herd of buffalo up the road just past the entrance to the campground. We jumped in the van and drove around the corner and there they were! There were hundreds! They were jogging on a trail right alongside the road. Lots of tan colored babies and some REALLY HUGE Daddy ones! They were hoofing it to a meadow that we could see through the trees. We drove around another corner and they were crossing the road! Right next to the van!! I rolled my window up quick!

Friday, July 22, 2011

South Dakota Summer - Day 3

Friday 22 July 2011

Wind Caves

Waiting to go inside the caves.

The tours are only through a very small portion of the Wind Caves. On the map, they’re expansive! Stacey, Heather, Ethan, Becca and Diana went on a “Highlights” tour that took the elevator to the two main rooms. It only took about 15 minutes and the tour guide/Ranger wasn’t all that into it, but we asked a lot of questions and the natural A/C sure felt good! I’m not sure how much Ethan and Becca got out of it, but we were all glad to be included. Ethan especially liked a picture of a horse in the Visitor’s Center. He kept going back to it saying something that sounded like "shoshey" for 'horsey.' :) We were in there for a long time waiting for everyone else to get done.

Geoff and the rest of the family went on the “Natural Entrance” tour. It was a total of 300 steps down and they were often quite steep and narrow. At the maximum depth, we were down 200 feet under the ground. The ceilings were rather low in spots and Geoff hit his head several times in the course of the whole hike. Landon had a good time as did Emily, but Gracie kept complaining that it was creepy. It was about 1 ¼ hour hike total and was 53 degrees in the cave. Unique to the Wind Cave were Box Work and Popcorn. Box work is when the bedrock cracks and other minerals seep into the cracks and then the continuous water erodes away the bedrock and just leaves the mineral deposits. Popcorn comes out sideways instead of dripping down. It looks like round little balls of popcorn clinging to the side walls.

After the cave, we had lunch at the park in Hot Springs. The kids ran through the sprinklers that were on. Landon got soaked to the skin. A school group came in a short bus and it said Shannon County on the side. :)

We had yummy tinfoil dinners at the campground after the kids built a dam across the creek at Uncle Geoff’s prompting. All of the kids were soaked, but proud. And the slower water attracted some tiny little fish that the kids had fun spotting.

We had one cabin the first night and then moved to a different cabin to stay the rest of the nights in. It is the perfect size to snuggle up in; the double bed for Mom and Dad, the top bunk for the middle girls to share, the single bed for Becca with Landon at her feet and Ethan in the port-a-crib on the floor. The A/C is quite nice and provides some great white noise that seems to help Becca a lot. It is not right next to everyone else, which is a little bit hard walking back and forth to grab forgotten items, but the sleep value makes up for it! It has been worth every extra penny. We didn't take any actual pictures of it, so I'll include some from their website: Custer State Park.

The scenery really is this gorgeous! Our porch was a little smaller, but faced a pretty little creek.

Top bunk for Emily and Gracie, plus a little table right next to the door.

Twin bed on the other side for Becca and Landon with the port-a-crib up against it for a barrier. And there's that wonderful little A/C unit! Life saver for sure!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

South Dakota Summer - Day 2

Thursday 21 July 2011

Adam and Heather joined us at the hotel and Heather re-arranged children into the various vans. We were now up to 4. We have Becca, Ethan, Landon and Lydia with us. Stephen has all of his originals plus Gracie. Adam and Heather have (almost hit a prairie dog just now!! :D ) Jack, Emily and Spencer. Matt and Denise must just have Porter and Anna besides Richard and Shannon.

The day before we drove for a little more than 3 hours, little do these cheery kids know that today will be more like 8 hours in the car!

Willie Handcart Company Historical Site

Stephen’s GPS said 10 more miles and he was leading, so we missed the entrance at first. It was settled back away from the road and looks very authentic at first sight to its Pioneer roots. Although they thankfully had plenty of modern plumbing! We started at the handcart “parking lot” and picked out 3 handcarts to take turns pulling and riding in. Of course, Becca came in her own handcart and we got to try out her brand spankin’ new sunshade that I finished minutes before we left. It worked great! Her own personal surrey with the fringe on the top!

Aunt Denise and Becca in her surrey.

At the Blacksmith’s shop, we all got “Prairie Diamond” rings made out of nails. The Sun family, who is Catholic, donated the site and land to the Church because of its historical significance. They had preserved many artifacts and it was a very neat tribute to those Saints who literally dragged everything they owned across the plains by their own muscle power. Youth who go there to go on a Trek experience, start out at the visitor’s center and hike either 3 miles or 6 to the different camp sites. We saw a few ‘Trekkers’ from afar. I can imagine catching the pioneer spirit even more by doing some of the things the pioneers did and partaking of such hardship that begets spiritual strength.

The first little walk we did with the carts had plaques with journal excerpts. The sacrifice of the early Saints astounds me. One short excerpt in particular really spoke to me. A wife and mother was hauling her sick husband and a child in the cart and her other son that was walking collapsed. She slung him on her back and kept pulling. Finally, she put him in the cart with the others and just kept pulling. I feel that way sometimes! Maybe not to the physical extent that she did, but I do carry 50 lb. Becca around and emotionally I am constantly pulling other’s spirits up and trying to share the ‘we can do this together’ spirit that Heavenly Father sent me with. I definitely feel the weight of it all some days. But to be the only thing pulling your sick family through the snow step by step to safety is mind boggling. Humbling.

Sculpture accompanying the plaque with her story.

After eating lunch on the road, we got separated in Casper, WY. Stephen and Geoff stopped at Walmart (looking for the ever elusive pocket knife, chux pads and pop tarts) and Denise went to meet Heather. Somehow 3 of us went south and Stephen went north. Apparently the GPSs had a falling out and weren’t speaking to each other. :D

We crossed the border into South Dakota at 6:15 p.m… we were supposed to meet at the campground at 5:00. Glen and Sharon had some hot dogs and super yummy brats cooked up and waiting when we got there.

Some random sights on our way to South Dakota:
  • Looooooong trains full of coal.
  • Lots of prong horned Antelope/Deer
  • Lots and lots of really, really old abandoned cabins. (Geoff wishes he could get a grant to photograph them all!)
  • Country flattened out. Much lower, flatter mountains.
  • We’ve gone as much in one day as the pioneers took months to go.
  • They round bale the weeds on the side of the road.
  • Junkyards… one sprawled up the side of a hill.
  • Gracie saw a moose!
  • Milk = $4.69/gallon at the grocery store just before the campground!
  • 2 ‘good ol’ boys’ dragging Main on four wheelers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

South Dakota Summer - Day 1

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Don't forget to check out Geoff's version of our trip, too! Why don't you just open up another tab right now by clicking with your mouse wheel right HERE?!

Having packed the van the night before and then continued packing all the next day, we left around 5:40 to meet up with Stephen & Stacey and Matt & Denise and Richard & Shannon in Salt Lake. Our plan to meet at Matt's place of employment was revised to meeting at the mouth of Parley's Canyon. When we discovered we were ahead of the others, we pulled over into a scenic view spot where they promptly drove right by. Accident or devious plan to ditch us? We may never know! :D When Denise called and told Geoff which mile marker they were passing and asked which one we were near he said, "Let's see... it looks like it says, "We got ditched!'" :D

Mowgli led most of the way due to his inability to not lead. And even though I gave him a really hard time about the cruise control (I sure had to adjust mine A LOT while following him!) he knows how much I love him! We followed him all the way into Rock Springs, WY, not realizing that Stephen’s family was booked at a different hotel than the rest of us were. We pulled into the Outlaw Inn (Best Western) at about 9:45 and put the kids straight to bed... pretty much... Ratatouille was playing on TV. :D The girls lay crosswise on the second Queen, Landon slept in his new Lightening McQueen sleeping bag and Ethan slept in the port-a-crib on a raised platform in an open closet. :D Becca cried for probably about an hour, eventually slept, but only until about 6:30am. Hope she sleeps in the van today. (She never did) She’s already munching her fingers.

My beautiful rendtion of our awesome van. That's our new-to-us two tone (tan/brown) car top carrier full of bedding and the trailer hitch shelf on the back with Becca's chair wrapped up in a tarp. The shelf also held the cooler and our bags were all stacked up in the back-a-back where her chair usually goes. This way her chair wasn't buried and we could get it out when we stopped.

 And yes, in case you're wondering, it did look like we had a person tied up and wrapped in a tarp on the back of our van! :D