Friday, August 28, 2015

Vacation - driving west

Our drive across I-90 in Minnesota was pretty unexciting, but we had to stop somewhere so that the kids could count Minnesota as a new state.  We had hoped to stop at Mystery Cave but couldn't because of the presence of white nose bat syndrome, which would have meant we couldn't go to Wind Cave in the Black Hills.  So we ended up stopping at Blue Mounds State Park on the far western side of the state.  The visitors center had quite a few different bones and furs that the kids could touch, including a buffalo hide.  The kids always are excited when they can touch things.

Then we went outside and climbed to the top of the mound; although it seemed small, it was about 100 feet above the surrounding prairie.  Dad showed the kids where to see the herd of bison, but they were pretty far away.  So now my kids can say that they have been to Minnesota.  Some of us wanted to continue on to Pipestone National Monument, about 20 minutes further north off the highway, but it was getting to be dinner and bedtime, so we had to give up on that.

We spent Saturday night in Sioux Falls, and kept driving west on Sunday.  Our first stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.

 I'm sure we had driven by on one of our many western driving vacations as kids, but as far as Mom, Dad and I could remember, we had never been inside.  It is a little hard to find fun things to do in the American West that I have not already done.  As soon as we walked in the door, Nathaniel spotted this big red tractor; he was reluctant to climb up into it, but the girls both took turns driving.

 And of course the Corn Palace had a cutout for my kids to poke their heads through:

And they had a giant stuffed ear of corn walking around to take photos with:

Inside is a basketball court/theater/auditorium with a small craft market in the middle.  All of the tops of the inside walls are covered with murals made out of corn cobs.  We all liked this mural of Mt. Rushmore the best.

The outside is also covered with corn cob murals.  The outside murals have a different theme each year, usually something pertaining to the American West, and they are redone in the fall after the year's corn harvest.  I believe the murals also contain straw and wheat.  Inside the building they had an exhibit with pictures from previous years; I ran through it while chasing Megan, but it would have been interesting to spend a little longer looking at the different themes.  I remember one in the early 1940s that was about fighter planes.

Across the street is a plethora of gift shops containing corn-related merchandise.  We bought a popcorn ball for everyone to share, it was okay.  But they also had another huge corncob to pose with.  Nathaniel really liked this one:

When I was sitting in the back of the van, I had a good view of my sleeping baby.  Isn't he precious?  He pretty much would only sleep in the car for 45 minutes a day.  There were days when Mom slept longer than that.  :)

 As we were approaching the Badlands, we stopped at Minuteman Missile National Park.  The tours were all sold out for the day, so we just looked around the visitors center and the girls did the Junior Ranger program.  It is a very strange place to have a Junior Rangers program, in my opinion, but the girls were excited to get their first badges.  The park ranger was really good with kids.

 Then we finally got to the Badlands.

The girls LOVED being able to climb around on the rocks; I think they would have been happy to spend all day climbing around and exploring.  In fact, while we were in the Black Hills, they kept asking when we could go back to the Badlands.   There really aren't very many places now where kids can explore off trails like that.

Nathaniel discovered that he really likes to climb on rocks, too.  He would scramble up a rock, then jump down and go "BOOM!"  He liked to take the difficult way up rocks, instead of going the easy way.  He fell quite a few times, and the next day I noticed his poor knees were all bruised up, but he didn't let that stop him, he'd just keep on climbing.

We found a little arch for Nathaniel to walk through; he walked back and forth through it quite a few times.  He also loved climbing and balancing on little rocks like the ones below.  He was so proud of himself when he could get up by himself, and then he would say "One, Two" and then jump off.

The rocks in this area were so interesting:

The girls did the Junior Ranger program again, which would probably have been a little more interesting had we had time to drive the entire loop and then go back to the visitor's center, but we didn't.  If you ever go to the Badlands, I would advise planning on spending most of a day there.

We did the fossil trail, which I thought would show us fossils in the rocks, but instead had bronze plaques with fossil imprints.  It wasn't really worth stopping for, but we did get to see this cute rabbit:

The girls were THRILLED to see prairie dog towns, although we didn't get to see any prairie dogs very close up.  We walked down a little path to get close to the town, but other tourists had gone walking even further, so most of the prairie dogs were hiding.  We could still hear them chirping, though.

We drove by a flock of bighorn sheep.  When we turned around so that everyone in the car could see them, they starting walking up the cliff and ended up right on the side of the road, so we had a great view.

We drove pretty quickly through most of the rest of the Badlands because we still had to drive almost two hours to get to our rental house in Custer, but I managed to get these photos of the cool yellow and pink hills while sticking the camera out the window of the moving car.


  1. Great selection of photos! I second the comment about the Badlands. We could have explored much longer.

  2. Actually that comment was by Jeanene.

  3. See, the hills are pretty yellow, aren't they? And you didn't believe my photo :)

    I need to compare my Corn Palace photos to yours because we didn't think some of them were finished (the stuff in between the murals) when we went but yours look pretty complete. Alas, we did not see the corn person walking around but we did get pictures of our kids on the tractor.

    I love how excited Megan looks to take her Junior Ranger oath at the Badlands. We did manage to complete the junior ranger program by just staying in the area of the visitor's center-we also didn't have time to drive back. They should hand out the books at the entrance station so that kids can be doing it along the drive.