Saturday we left Mt Rushmore and drove 4.5 hours north to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND.  A visit to this park meant an approximately 9 hour driving detour from what could have otherwise been a short hop from Mt. Rushmore to the SD Badlands.  Sometimes a quest such as our forces your hand to take some pretty circuitous routes…  we set off not exactly sure what the ND badlands had to offer that the SD badlands did not.  After a buffalo burger dinner in Medora, we were off to find out.
We took a sunset drive along the scenic route and the answer became clear… ANIMALS.    We got to see a wide variety of wild animals during our drive. IMG_4146
We saw 3 different buffalo.  Two from afar and one very up close… so close in fact that we watched him cross the road in front of us. 
We also saw plenty of prairie dogs, an antelope, and a herd of wild horses!
After sunset, when it was just about dark, we came across a herd of elk and 2 badgers!  We found out the next morning that these were both special sites… the ranger at the ranger station hasn’t even seen a badger yet and to come across a herd of elk is also a rare treat!
In addition to all the wild animals, we got some great views of the North Dakota badlands.
The family particularly enjoyed playing at the top of the highest hill in the park as the sun set over the grassland/badlands before us.
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IMG_4404Then we headed back to our tent to settle in for the night.   The kids were eager to show off the pictures they had taken on the trip.  It was really fun to see their pictures and get a kids eye view of life in the back seat.
Scott slipped out after we went to sleep to capture the gorgeous night sky. Milky Way in ND
IMG_4432We had two choices for our camp site… one was right by the road, in the shade and much closer to the bathroom.  The other involved a rather long walk from the car, an even longer walk to the bathroom, and no shade.  But, it was along the river. IMG_4119 The kids lobbied hard for the river spot and were even willing to help with hauling our supplies to and from the van.  I must confess it was a pretty spectacular spot to sip my coffee and eat my oatmeal in the morning.  What made the morning even sweeter is not having to deal with any throw up… all seem to be fine and healthy again in the circus crew.
The trek up to Theodore Roosevelt National Park was driven by our need to “check the box” in our quest to see every national park.  It proved to be a truly enjoyable, animal filled, family adventure worth the extra miles.

11 years ago when Scott and I did our first National Park/Cross Country trip, we drove through Wind Caves National Park.  We hadn’t yet begun our quest to see every National Park, so we actually just drove through the park and enjoyed the prairie dogs and buffalo.  It was literally a stop on our way, not a destination in itself.  This time, Scott and I wanted to see the park the right way and go on a cave tour. (And as an added bonus we get to take a new picture of ourselves in front of the sign instead of the one where we posed as a prairie dog and buffalo…. long hours in the car can make one do loony things)IMG_3939


This time we again got to see prairie dogs.  However, we didn’t find any buffalo in the park.  The kids enjoyed sitting out by the field and listening to the chatter of the prairie dogs as well as watching them pop up and down in their holes.




We also went on a hour and half hike/tour inside of wind cave.   Wind Cave is different from other caves because it has something called box work in it.  Unlike other caves I’ve visited it doesn’t have moving water making formations, but instead it was made by a large amount of sitting water which then receded, forming the box work. 


Wind Cave did have some neat popcorn formations as well.   I’ll be honest, it was interesting to see and learn about these formations, but we didn’t find them as pretty or spectacular as those I’ve seen in Carlsbad Caverns. 


Another interesting thing about Wind Cave is that it is miles and miles of caves which kind of wrap around each other in a maze like fashion.  (think giant pile of spaghetti noodles)  This made it fun to hike around in.IMG_3838IMG_3846

IMG_3868Once again our little man did a great job hiking.  And once again he reached a point where he wanted carried and then I watched him fall asleep in my arms.  I have gotten to the point where I can tell when he’s going to fall asleep.  His body gets all heavy and limp and you can literally watch him fall asleep before your eyes.  He even snores and survives being transferred into the car seat. 

We then headed back to our camp site to enjoy some of the attractions of the campground.  The kids loved the water slide, splash pad, swimming pool and climbing wall.

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However, the highlight for them all was getting to have a camp fire.   It was our first and most likely only camp fire of our trip due to fire restrictions in most of the states we’ve visited.    So, we lived it up… cooking hot dogs, baked beans, pocket pizzas and marshmallows over the fire. 


Unfortunately, that night we had a camping first for the circus fam… throw up in the tent.   Seems it wasn’t altitude sickness or dehydration that our oldest was battling back at Sand Dunes, as he again got quite sick, this time in our tent in the middle of the night.  Thankfully this camp ground also had a laundry mat and we were able to wash his sleeping bag the next morning.  He seemed fine the next day and we are hoping and praying it doesn’t pass through the rest of the crew. 

Between the long, late day at Black Falls of the Gunnison and the crazy hot and dirty hike at Great Sand Dunes, Scott and I found ourselves ready for a reprieve.  So, we readjusted our schedule a bit and drove 3 hours to a hotel about an hour from Colorado Springs.  There we chilled.  I took the kids for a quick dip in the pool while Scott ran out to get us a pizza.  Then we had pizza and a movie in our hotel room.   It was a welcome break for us all. 

The next day we opted to skip the activities we had planned to do in Colorado Springs and drive straight on to the Black Hills of South Dakota.   We found a camp ground with TONS of kids activities and thought the kids would appreciate two nights there.    We arrived around 7pm and realized it might make sense to go straight on to Mt Rushmore as the kids were super psyched for this destination and the lighting ceremony at night is pretty neat.  So, we drove straight past the campground and on to Mt Rushmore. IMG_3571

Since we knew that the kids were particularly excited about seeing Mt Rushmore, we did our best to make the most of their visit. 


Scott took the kids on a hike to its base.  I think this was a highlight for them, b/c they got to scramble over all these big rocks to get there.

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On the way down they came across a mountain goat!


Then, we settled down to watch the lighting ceremony.  They showed a movie about the history of the monument which was interesting and then we all sang the Star Spangled Banner.  I can’t sing that song without getting chills.  Afterwards they called all the veterans in attendance to come down front so we could pay them respect and say thank you.  And then they turned the lights on Mt Rushmore. IMG_3743

The kids rated this stop as tied for their favorite with the Grand Canyon.  While I think it was neat to see,  Scott or I didn’t give it quite as a high a billing.   It was a fabulous evening and I def think we made the right call of driving straight to Mt Rushmore.  They only thing I would have done differently is stopped and grabbed some food to take with us.  When the ceremony was over it was 10:00pm and there weren’t many any options for dinner.  I grabbed pudding cups and lunchables at the Camp Store for a late night dinner by camp light at our site. IMG_3782

This isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last time, that our kids flexibility has enabled this grand adventure of ours to be so successful. 

IMG_3453We arrived at Great Sand Dunes National Park in the middle of the night so our first view of the dunes was when we opened up our tent the next morning.   We thought for sure we wouldn’t be able to get a site since they were first come first serve and we were so very late.  But once again we were blessed with a camp site in the park. 


We got to experience a real desert hike here.  The sand on the dunes reach  a temp of 120 degrees in the afternoon.  We got a bit of a late start for a dune hike, but went on anyway.  After all it was only 1/2 mile each way…


Scott chose a hike that he knew would have water so we could get relief from the heat. 


Good call Dad.

The kids LOVED playing in the wet sand.  It was a welcome relief after the hike.  And a great place to set up a “base camp” for the dunes.



Scott and I took turns running on the dunes with the big 3 while the other stayed with the little man as he happily rolled around in the wet sand to his hearts content.  We discovered the best way to run on the dunes was in our socks… it was way too hot for bare feet.



Unfortunately, our oldest child wasn’t feeling well this day.  Not sure if it was the altitude or a bit of dehydration from the hike the day before, but he had a rough time on this hike.  Truthfully, it was a hard hike.  It was in the sand.  In the heat.  In the elevation.  That walk back at 1pm was hard core.

But,the rest of us felt it was worth it to run on the dunes and splash in the water. 


We refueled and refreshed ourselves afterwards with lunch at a nearby diner.  We then set out to find showers!