Monday, July 6, 2020

Summer 2020 Driving Vacation - SD, MT, ID, WY

When we decided in June (due to COVID-19) that we would need to cancel yet ANOTHER thing that we had all looked forward to (our family vacation to Washington DC and Williamsburg), Paul and I decided to get creative and plan a last minute safe "social-distance" family vacation.  After brainstorming possible locations, we decided to do a driving trip out west, where we would spend our time either outdoors or in our car seeing many amazing places!  We ate breakfast and lunch in the car (or at a picnic spot) and did takeout or outdoor seating for dinner, and we stayed in cabins that had outside entrances.  On the few necessary occassions where we entered a building to use the restroom, we wore our masks.  It really was the perfect trip to take during COVID-19!

We started our trip driving west to South Dakota to see the Badlands, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, and more.  After two nights in SD, we traveled west and stayed in Montana for three nights while we explored the northern part of Yellowstone.  We then stayed in Idaho for two nights while we explored the southern portion of Yellowstone.  We ended our trip in Wyoming for two nights while we enjoyed the Grand Tetons.  This blogpost is a sort of travel journal for me to remember what we did, so I will organize it by day.  It is very long :).  Feel free to skip around or just skim through the pictures!  I feel so blessed for the family time we were able to have for 9 straight days, as well as the opportunity to see God's amazing creation in so many forms!

Day 1: The Badlands

We're off!

First pit stop and the kids were so excited to wear their new masks!

At the entrance to the Badlands was a rest stop next to a prairie dog area! 

Summer LOVED exploring this old homestead, which was similar in many ways to one that Laura Ingalls Wilder would have lived in.

 The landscape was surreal!  It was also VERY hot.  I had "spray bottle" duty and at each marker I sprayed the kids down with water!

New hiking shoes!

Literally 6-7 hours before we arrived at "Wall Drug" there were billboards on the highway (some quite silly!) advertising for this stop!  Apparently there are 300 official signs and many more beyond that!

Our cabin in South Dakota was so cute!  It felt very "Little House on the Prairie"! We stayed here three nights.  The kids slept in the loft :)

 Late night icecream date on the deck while the kids were in bed :)

Day 2: Custer State Park, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore

At Custer State Park we saw a TON of wildlife.  It was crazy, we turned off our car and sat in the middle of a buffalo herd for about 20 minutes, listening to their sounds, watching them lick bugs off our van, and of course, getting selfies (from the safety of our car) with the Bison!  

A huge highlight of the trip for Larkyn, our animal lover, was petting and feeding carrots to the wild burrows, the one animal you are allowed to feed.

It was quite hot this day as well, and it felt good to cool off our feet in the lake as we waited at an outdoor table for our first meal of the trip NOT eaten in the car :).

There were several skinny tunnels through the rock that were really fun!  We also drove to the top of one of the mountains for an amazing overlook!

We visited Crazy Horse next.  The information center was very interesting learning how and why this memorial was made, as well as the famiy behind it.

A highlight for me was getting to see Mount Rushmore for the first time!  Incredible!  The ranger who spoke about it and told us the history and how it was made was so informative and interesting!

We kind of did ice-cream for dinner this day ;)

Day 3: Driving to Yellowstone

After a quick morning hike up a little mountain in back of our cabin, we set off for what would be mostly a driving day filled with beautiful views, wild life, and a huge temperature drop.  Our time in northern Yellowstone had temperatures in the 40's and 50's (much cooler than the 80's we experienced in South Dakota!) Our goal for today was to reach Gardiner, MT (northwest of Yellowstone) where we would be staying the next three nights, so we could get up and explore Yellowstone on Day 4.  Today is the day we started listening to GyPSy Guide, an app Paul found where when you cross certain GPS markers on the road, the app automatically talks as a tour guide letting you know what you are seeing and history behind it.  We listened to this app for the rest of our trip and it made the long drives SO interesting and we learned so much.  The guy that does it is actually super entertaining!!  I can't emphasize enough how amazing this app was if anyone is thinking about taking a trip to Yellowstone (and the Grand Tetons!).

We saw amazing wildlife not only on our drive, but also at our lodging!  The animals were all over the area!

Day 4: Mammoth Hot Springs to Canyon Village

Yellowstone's main road is set up like a "figure 8" through the park.  We entered the park on the top of the "8" moving west, lodged northwest of the park in Gardiner, and spent our first day exploring the top left and middle of the figure 8.   We walked around Mammoth Hot Springs first, which was fantasticly surreal landscape, and then drove south past Sheepeater Cliff, Obsidian Cliff, and Roaring Mountain, and then curved east on the "belt" of the figure 8, eating a picnic lunch in the car and spending the afternoon in Canyon Village.  Today was rainy and cold, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the signts both from our walks and our car!  

Once out of Mammoth Hot Springs, the landscape changed dramatically!  Mountains, trees, waterfalls....we continued en route to Canyon Village and stopped at Virginia Cascade.  A highlight of our drive was seeing our first Black Bear!  Paul got some amazing shots!

This was my zoomed in version of the black bear....but with Paul's zoom.....

 It was so fun to watch it lumber along!

 Here is an Elk on top of the hill on the side of the road!  Doesn't it look magestic!?

There is hardly any food in the park, and we found it easiest to have a cooler of lunch things always in the back of the van so we could eat whenever people were hungry!

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Canyon Village seeing Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Parking lots were great places to play the license plate game and we found nearly all of the states!  I had to take a picture when we found Hawaii!
We, along with others, found that masks make great scarves when it is in the 40's, and help keep you warm!  Almost everyone was wearing them here!

A huge highlight this day was spotting a Grizzly Bear!  He was quite near the road, and after we got back in our car, he ended up crossing the road!

Day 5: The Northern Road and Lamar Valley

From our place in Gardiner, we headed east along the northern part of the "figure 8" that makes up Yellowstone's main road.  While we had traveled west along this same road on our way in, we hadn't had time that day to stop at the points of interest along the way.  We did a few hikes to see Undine Falls and Wraith Falls, saw the Petrified Tree (from afar - it was raining), and drove into the Lamar Valley to look for wolves.  The weather was not really great for being outside this day, so we headed back to our place mid afternoon for some relaxed time to read, play a game, order pizza, and get ready for our early morning on day 6.

This guy was standing like this right by the restaurant entrance early in the morning looking like he was waiting for it to open!!!

Day 6: Larkyn's 6th Birthday, Horseback Riding, White Water Rafting, and Norris

We woke up early today, excited for Larkyn's birthday!  I picked up some birthday donuts and we serenated Larkyn with her "breakfast in bed"!

This was Larkyn's face when I told her that her birthday surprise was going on a horseback ride, which she has been WANTING to do!

Besides a pink tiara cowgirl hat, Larkyn got a giant stuffed horse,

a camera to take pictures on the trip...

and a dolly cowgirl outfit (from Summer and Colton) which Larkyn's monkey wore for the remainder of the trip!

Since we couldn't decorate her door this year, she got her car door instead :)

So excited for horseback riding!!! Here we go!!!!

Larkyn's birthday continued to be full of surprises when we told the kids we were going white water rafting!!!!

Because it was Larkyn's birthday, the owner gave her a free t-shirt and stickers!
 We spent the afternoon exploring the Norris Geyser Basin.

We only got through the first trail in Norris before it started thundering and Lighting, so we ended up coming back to finish Norris on another day, and started our drive to Island Park, Idaho where we would spend the next two nights.

For Larkyn's birthday meal, we got takeout - a hot dog and fries- and let her pick her drink - fruit punch poweraid!

Birthday cuddles with "Morning Star"

She picked a box of Creamies to be her birthday dessert!

Lucky for her, our cabin in Idaho had a hot tub, and she was ecstatic to finish her birthday this way!

Good night, big 6 year old!  We love you so much!!!!

Idaho sunset - beautiful!

Day 7: Hot Springs and Geysers

Today was a day I was really excited about!  Today we drove along the southwest part of yellowstone in the geyser basin.  This is where Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are located, to name two famous parts.  We spend the morning walking around the miles of boardwalks in the upper geyser basin and the landscape and geysers were incredible.  Then we drove to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, and hiked to a beautiful viewing place.  We continued to stop along the road to see all sorts of amazing land features.

Old Faithful

Castle Geyser

We ate lunch waiting for Grand Geyser to erupt, but it the predicted time slot....and we gave up watching about 20 minutes too soon!

 The next few pictures are of Grand Prismatic Spring - arguably the most beautiful thing I saw on the trip.  The first few pictures we are walking along the rim.  The last few are from a hike we took to overlook the spring.

These mudpots don't capture well on film, but the bubbly mud is so fun to watch!


Day 8: Heading to the Grand Tetons

We woke up ready to see a few spots we had missed in Norris and along the way, and drove the south east part of the figure 8 Yellowstone road to head to the Grand Tetons.

Because of the warnings everywhere not to step on the ground around the springs/geysers (you can fall through and die with the hot temperatures), they had lots of questions about how the boardwalks were built, and this nice ranger was able to answer them for them!

This buffalo was not far from our boardwalk just warming himself by the hotsprings

See the buffalo in the background?

I didn't get a great picture of this one, but the spring is crazy - it looks like it comes out of a cave and it makes big gurgle sounds and sprays and sounds like a dragon is in the cave!

We got just a taste of the Teton's beauty as we drove south to our final lodging in Wyoming!

Day 9: Grand Teton's Loop

We started the day driving north along the western side of the Grand Loop, stopping at various points of interest.  We did a 3 out and back hike to see the absolutely stunning Lake Taggert.  We then ate a picnic lunch on the banks of Jenny Lake, and ferried across to hike up to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.  The hike to inspiration point was quite steep and did not have guard rails, and although I had no fear for myself,  I have to say my mama heart was beating fast watching my kiddos hike it!  We continued our drive around the loop, stopping to see the Cunningham homestead and Mormon Row, old historic barns and houses that were so interesting!  We ended the day at a fun outdoor Chuckwagon dinner spot with tons of character.  A great way to end our last sightseeing day!

Lake Taggert

Conquered the hike to Inspiration Point!

 We got the kids to bed in preparation for an early morning on day 9, and then when the 4th of July fireworks started, Paul and I watched them from our cabin.

Day 9: Driving Home

We drove from 6:04am in Wyoming until 11:35pm in MN (we did lose an hour), and the kids did AWESOME!  They played pretend games in the backseat, braided hair, read books, I read the car a Bobbsey Twin Mystery, we listened to Jonathan Parks CD's, we watched Brady Bunch, we did "church" (it was a Sunday), and we ate :).  It was an amazing trip and I am so, so, so grateful for this time together as a family and the jaw-dropping sights we got to see!


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