Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mt Rushmore and more...

We spent July 24-27th with Reid's family in South Dakota. It was awesome!!! We've been wanting to make this trip for a couple of years now, and it finally happened this summer. The drive up to the Black Hills was surprisingly beautiful. It was just over 6 hours long, but with new scenery, it felt more like 4 (unlike driving to our parents' houses...that drive is getting OLD and feeling longer and longer every time!)
The two big girls girls did great. I'm amazed at how well those two travel. Eliza, on the other hand, was a pain. She did fine in the car actually. It was just in the early hours of the morning that I thought about selling her on ebay (or etsy? is she considered homemade?) In spite of getting next to no naps during the day, she still woke up 2-3 hours before her normal wake-up time every morning. Now, i know that i'm spoiled with kids that sleep until 8am, so I really have no right to complain--but I'm just not a happy person at 5:30 am (ask Reid's dad! (:) Eliza just needed to cry for a few minutes and she'd have gone back to sleep. But that's impossible to do at 5:30am in a little 3 bedroom condo! (on a good note, however, she's been doing awesome since we got back--sleeping until 8:30 most morning and taking HUGE naps!!) So, besides her waking up too early, the kids really did do great, and had a great time!
We managed to not get in an accident this time...BUT about two hours from our destination some small rock (or something) punctured the condenser in our van--wiping out our a/c. The weather was gorgeous, so we might have survived without it, but the honda dealer in Rapid City was able to get us in the next day, and after some seriously AWESOME wheelin' and dealin' i got the price down from $an arm and a leg to $a mere femur. So, we got it fixed and enjoyed it the rest of the trip :)
The condo itself was a little ghetto--straight from the 70's--appliances and all! But it was located in the most beautiful, remote little valley, on a fresh trout lake-with no cell phone or blackberry service!! It was AWESOME!
We spent the first day at Reptile Gardens. We'd told Grace and Abby that they'd get to see a Kamodo Dragon. Abby thought it was cool-ish. But Grace was extremely disappointed to see a big ole' lizard. No flying. No fire-breathing. No purple shimmery scales. To be honest, I kind of agree with her. It really was just a big ole lizard...which is why i think we don't have any pictures of it.
There were about a bagillion different kinds of snakes. The big one by Grace climbed all the way up that glass wall (as soon as my camera was off, of course!)--pretty amazing...
I think we all agreed that the best part were the shows. There was a snake show, a bird show, and best of all--a crocodile show! Seriously, it was awesome. This kid comes out, in the middle of a pit FULL of crocodiles, alligators and caymans and starts poking and prodding them with this stick. We're all just eating it up and secretly hoping to see some action, but not really...you know. And finally he jumps into the little river, grabs a feisty one by the tale, pulls him out of the water, teases him a bit more, and then jumps on his back and manages to bind his jaws. All the while there are alligators all around him. It was perfectly amusing, entertaining and terrifying--and we all just LOVED it! :)
On day two we made it to Mt Rushmore. It was just as breath-taking as I had imagined it. We walked around the museum area, hiked up to get a look up the president's nostrils, carried the strollers up and down 400+ stairs, learned so many interesting things about when it was built, by whom it was built it, and why it was built. It was really, really great. And to all you reading this that live within a day's drive to see it--GO THERE!

We left Mt. Rushmore via Custer State Park. It was so fun driving through one-lane tunnels, passing over and under pig-tail bridges, and especially feeding the burros. Grace was even braver than her 17-year-old aunt (that's right, Karen, i'm talkin' about you :) i saw you coil your hand back!) and let the burros eat right out of her hands.
And why are there burros in South Dakota? it's actually an interesting story...that i don't remember anymore :)
We got back to our place just as the sun started to fall in the sky and the trout in our little lake started to get hungry. So Reid took Grace and Abby fishing. It was possibly the best part of the whole trip, Reid has so many wonderful memories of fishing with his dad as a little boy, and he was happier than anything to be able to teach Grace everything his dad taught him. And Grace LOVED it! She even caught her very own fish!

It was such a great, fun moment! She did a really good job at keeping steady, and didn't let her excitement take over. I was really impressed by that! And of the four fish that we caught, hers was the biggest. She was so excited to see it when Reid brought it out of the water...and she was equally as sad when Reid told her he had to go kill it so it wouldn't suffocate. She really wanted to go watch Reid kill it, but I thought that getting splattered by the blood of her Very First Fish might be a bit much for my sweet 4 year-old...so I did my best to keep the girls from seeing/hearing it all. To be honest, they probably would have done just fine. I was more worried about me!!
Hear I am, singing Jingle Bells in a panic to block out the noise...I love that Karen took this picture--one of my all-time favorites!

It was so much fun being out there on the (mosquito-free!!) lake with our little girls. They really did just love fishing with their dad. Abby had a little less patience for it, but she was so happy to just be there. And when they weren't at the reel, Abby and Grace just ran around chasing geese and dancing in the long grass.

And we all enjoyed the fruits of their labor the next night for dinner. Reid did a good job, at least I thought, explaining to Grace about the circle of life, and about how grateful we should be for the fish that gave their lives for us. I was afraid she was going to freak out about it, and she never did. Reid's amazing, have I mentioned that before? :) and thank heavens he and his dad were willing to gut and prepare the fish. That fish was delicious!!
(maybe this collage should have been divided into two separate collages...not very appealing...)

Reid brought home his dad's fishing poles and is looking forward to doing this again with his girls. I think fishing is a blast...but i'm more of a catch-and-release kinda gal...unless Reid and Mike are there to do all the dirty work! :)

On day three we drove through the Black Hills, past some of the most beautiful lakes/dams I've ever seen. It was breathtaking! We detoured off a bit to see Thunderhead falls. Turns out that most of the fall is in a cave, and we didn't want to tour the cave, so we just took pics of the little part we could see.
We drove on to Rapid City where we went to Story Book Island. It is the greatest little park you can imagine! and it's free! There are statues all over the island of just about every fairytale character you can imagine! The girls were most excited about Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, Snow White, the Three Pigs chimney, and Santa Clause. Cute how friendly Grace will be with statues...but get her anywhere near a moving version of just about anything, and she freaks out! If anyone hears of a Santa statue around Christmastime, let me know, 'cause she's probably be willing to tell a statue what she wants for Christmas :)
Next we went to Bear Country, USA. That place is awesome. It's like a drive-through zoo but with ginormous animals that are roaming all around you--reindeer, buffalo, Artic wolves, moose, Big Horn Sheep, and of course, bears--Black bears and Grizzly bears. A couple of them practically rubbed up against our van. awesome! And the baby bears were SOOOO much fun to watch. They're so playful and active and cute!!! It was so fun!
My favorite part was convincing Abby to sit next to the "stuffed animal" on the bench. Grace had seen him move and she ran, screaming and crying, in the opposite direction until Grandpa rescued her. But Abby had missed that, so she willingly sat next to him. He cooperated with my subtle hints ("If there were to be a person in that suit, he should hold still for a little bit" and "Okay, now would be a good time to move") and completely shocked Abby. It was hilarious! These four pictures don't even do justice to how awesome it was to see her face go from "oh, how cute is this big bear" to "get me the @#$% away from him" to "Dad, that was a mean ole' trick"--it was awesome!

[Side note: I'd told Grace that day, like i have every time we go to Chuck-e-cheese, or anywhere else there are people in big costumes like that, that it's just a mommy or a daddy dressed up in a costume. And she gets it, i know she does. So this day at Bear Country I was being all me-like, and totally was annoyed that she ran, screaming in the opposite direction of the Big Bear. I was saying how she needed to get over it, and how she knows that it's just a costume, and needs to get over it this silly fear. Weeeeeellllll, the other day we were driving around in the car and she said (and i am not making this up!), "Mom, I know that it's just people in those big costumes, but they still freak me out. Just like how spiders freak you out. You know they won't hurt you, but they still freak you out." WOW!! that was an awesomely-needed, well-deserved slap in the maternal face. I seriously love that girl!]
After dinner that night we left Reid's dad at home with our sleeping kids and went back to the Mt. Rushmore lighting ceremony. That was the most patriotic, moving experience I've had in I-don't-know-how-long. There were a bazillion of us gathered there in the amphitheater at the base of Mt Rushmore, and we watched a really well-made movie about the presidents on the mountain--about why their faces were up there. It's always nice to be reminded of how many people dedicated their whole lives to making this land what it is today. It was very moving. And at the end of the video, when the sky was pitch-black, the faces on the mountain lit up. It was so great. And I just sat there thinking about this great country, and how little I do to deserve it, and wondering what more I could do to show gratitude for it. I can't imagine that i was the only one wondering that. And that's about when they invited all the veterans in the audience to come to the stage. A-W-E-S-O-M-E!!!!! Men and women, from early 20's to late 90's (i'm guessing on that, but i doubt i'm far off) of all races and places gathered up there while we sang The Star-Spangled Banner. And then, after a troop of scouts lowered the flag, each and every one of those veterans passed by the microphone, touched the flag, and told us what Military branch they'd served in. Being there and being able to gratefully applaud them for their service felt like a tiny little something I could do to show my gratitude. It was a really great experience--a definite highlight of the trip.

We packed up the next morning and headed for Evan's Plunge in Hot Springs, SD. This indoor swimming pool is on a hot spring and therefore needs no chlorine, because the water is cycled through 16 times a day!! how awesome is that? The floor of the pool is rocks--and that's where the water comes up through. Grace and Abby had a great time swimming in the little 3ft pool. And they both went down the slide with Reid, but only one of them wanted to keep going again, and again, and again. I would have guessed it to be Abby, but no!--it was Grace! she just LOVED the big slide! She's getting so brave!! Every time, at the bottom of the slide, she'd turn to Reid and say "I want to go even againer!" (I have no intentions of ever telling her that "againer" is not a word--in fact, i even use it sometimes...)
After Evan's Plunge, we parted ways, and the Wyoming-ites went on their merry way, and we went on ours. The girls were good and tired and slept a lot of the way home. I was good and tired, too, and made Reid put his work down and do a cross-word with me to keep me awake! I really do have driving-induced narcolepsy. As soon as I'm behind the wheel my eyelids literally droop. As soon as Reid is driving I'm as alert as ever. We both equally hate that :)
We couldn't have, or wouldn't have done this vacation without Reid's parents and sister. They're so helpful and patient with our kids--THANK YOU!! We hope you'll join us when we do this trip again in 5 years or so!


Kalie said...

The fishing portion of this post was absolutely perfect timing. We just went on MY first fishing outing up at Lake Cleveland (which I'm sure will cause Reid to lapse into all kinds of nostalgic stories). But I absolutely agree with you. Catch and release is my kind of fishing. LOVE the pictures :D

Denita said...

You totally just made me want to go back again! We did almost NONE of what you did, because we stayed right next to Mt. Rushmore and didn't go to Rapid City or anywhere else. It sounds like so much fun!

Family of 5 said...

We did this trip two summers ago and loved it! My kids still ask when we can go back. Mt. Rushmore really is way greater than you think it will be.

Gillian Brown said...

My favorite picture of this adventure is you singing jingle bells to your girls during the fish massacre. This is so hilarious!!! Your trip looked awesome! How fun! Next time we go on a family vacay-you're planning it.

Karen said...

That was an awesome trip Em! Thanks so much for inviting us! Btw, I just didn't trust the burrow not to eat my hand along with the food it held, I like the long carrots better :)

Jana said...

I finally had time to read your super long post about your trip - I'm jealous. It sounded way fun. I love the pictures of the girls with the Storybook Island statues.