Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adventure in the Black Hills

Oh, the trip to Puerto Rico was supposed to be our last trip before baby?  No, no - what you mean is that the PR trip was our last trip *by air*.  That didn't preclude us from taking a road trip for Memorial Day weekend up to the Black Hills of South Dakota when I was 36 weeks pregnant.  :o)

This road trip went through several iterations.  We had collected three free rooms through a Best Western "Stay Two, Get One Night Free" promotion this winter.  I don't know if you've noticed, but Best Western has some pretty cool and unique properties in some fairly unique places.  A luxury brand they are not, but come on, the only chain hotel inside the walls of Carcassonne, France?  That's pretty darn cool.  Candidate locations for this trip included Moab, Utah, and Ouray or Montrose, Colorado with plans to explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  The former was ruled out because of flaky hotel availability and lack of good proximity to a hospital.  (Yes, I believe in out-of-hospital birth for normal, low-risk birth, but I also believe in medical backup!!)  The Black Canyon area seemed good, but one main reason for going there was to get in some hiking, and well... I'm limited there these days.  So when Travis suggested the Black Hills instead, I was totally excited!  I'd never been to Mt. Rushmore, and there seemed to be a decent variety of things to do there.  The drive was about the same as the other places, and we'd be closer to a hospital in Rapid City.

So off we went.  We began on Thursday night after work, staying the night at a hotel near the Denver Airport.  This was partially to get a head start on the drive and partially to get bonus points from Club Carlson's "Big Night Giveaway" promotion.  Even on a road trip, our journey starts at the airport.

On Friday morning, we set off up through western Nebraska.  This was Andrew's first big road trip since going to France last Thanksgiving, so we were getting into the rhythm of taking rest stops and diaper changes at regular intervals.

Stretching our legs in Nebraska

Grain Elevators along the rail line
 Our secondary destination for this trip was to stop and see Carhenge in Alliance, NE.  Carhenge, if you are unfamiliar, is an exact replica of Stonehenge only constructed out of cars.  And there are some other pieces of "car art" around it.  Oh yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.

Andrew loved this tailgate bench

Family portrait in the center of the ring.


More cowbell!

It's a wagon... get it?


Andrew was determined to get this door open
We decided as we crossed the border into South Dakota that we'd take a scenic route up to the Mt. Rushmore area.  Unfortunately, there was a misread of the map by the navigator (ahem, yours truly) - we were on county road 5... just not in the county I thought we were in.  Anyway, we made it up to Keystone an hour or so later than hoped, without the scenic drive, and crashed out for the night.

Travis ran out to pick up some carry out for dinner, not knowing what he'd find.  This was the first weekend of "the season," so many places were still closed or just opening for the first time.  He was lured into the Dairy Queen off the street by a guy at the counter hollering at him.  The guy informed him that because they needed to train the new, seasonal employees on how to make things, everything on the menu - all-you-can-eat - was free!!  (Things like this are always happening to my husband, I swear.  If I had been there, there's no way this would have happened.)  So Travis returned with a feast for dinner, and enough extra ice cream treats to last a couple days, even in our marginal mini-fridge freezer box.  All for free.

The next day, we woke up totally socked in.  We decided to head over to the monument, and this is the most excellent view that we found:
A sorta bump shot.
It gave us time to go through the displays in the visitor's center, and it was nice because the weather kept the crowds away.

Plans of seeing monuments thwarted for the day, we headed over to Custer State Park for some hiking.  Travis wanted to bag the SD state high point, Harney Peak.  I was really jonesing to go along, and I had nearly convinced myself that I could make the 7 mile, 1500 ft elevation gain round trip.  (Well, actually, I'm still convinced that I could've made it, but I know I would have regretted it afterward!!)  Needless to say, at 36 weeks pregnant, I ended up opting out.  So Travis took the opportunity to do it as a trail run and completed it in 1 hr 45 min.  Way to go, honey!!  Andrew and I walked around scenic Sylvan Lake twice, and then played stacking cups and cars near the lakeshore while we waited for daddy.

Trail map at the Sylvan Lake Trailhead

Ran into some trail buddies.

Summit tower

Summit photo!
After the hike, we drove the Needles Highway through Custer State Park.

The eye of the needle

Needles tunnel and belly.  Yes, I fit through the tunnel - shut up.

Some dude rock climbing.
On our way back down the other side, we descended into the fog/cloud.  As we rounded a corner in the eerie quiet, Travis announced, "Buffalo!"  This was a solitary male, grazing all by himself right next to the road.


"Why are we stopped, dad?"

Snapping a cell phone pic for facebook
Pretty tuckered out, we returned to the hotel for a night of basketball watching, pool swimming, and relaxation.  We stopped at a grocery store in Hill City on the way back for rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw, which we ate in, with leftover DQ for dessert.  At the pool, Andrew is getting more and more brave and adventurous.  This time he fell in love with jumping off the side of the pool into mama's arms.  He even learned how to hold his breath and close his eyes while doing it!

Andrew loved to co-pilot the luggage cart every day.

Splish splash!
We started Sunday off by heading toward Rapid City to Fort Hays, featured in the movie Dances with Wolves (when Kevin Costner picks up his orders and supplies to go out to the remote camp).  They also featured all-you-can-eat cowboy pancakes for $0.99.  I sprung for some sausage too.  They do chuckwagon suppers with entertainment in the evening, so they have an auditorium/stage setup, and as we happened to be there on Sunday morning, we caught a church service there consisting of a girl singing a bunch of gospel/bluegrass tunes and a homily on Psalm 23.  It was real nice!

Mmmmm.... pancakes.

The building from Dances with Wolves

Having caught a bluebird day, finally, we headed back over to the monument.  It was warmer, but boy was it windy!!

We decided to go for another scenic drive through Custer State Park, this time aiming for the Wildlife Loop to look for more tatanka (which we did see - stopped counting around 70).  We stopped to eat lunch on the way with this scenic view:
Needles to the left of center, Harney Peak is the dark silhouette in the middle, and the back of Mt. Rushmore is behind the phone pole to the right.

We (read: I, the pregnant one) were pretty tired after all that, so we opted not to go in and view all of the displays at the work-in-progress Crazy Horse memorial.  Instead we just got a family photo op from the road.

We went out for a pretty fancy dinner (for the Keystone area) at the Powder House restaurant, featuring big game.  Travis had buffalo short ribs and I had Elk medallions.  Even in the quiet, nice restaurant, Andrew was *extremely* well behaved, even for him!  He got all kinds of compliments from both other customers and the staff.

The secret appears to be providing him with plastic spoons for drumsticks:

On Monday morning, it was time to head out, but not before one last photo op with George.

36.5 weeks pregnant

Andrew did really well on his first big road trip.  He drank a lot of milk, slept, and sang songs.  Great job, buddy!

Because we had an appointment for Andrew at the Children's Hospital the next day, we opted to stay the night in Greeley instead of driving all the way home and then all the way back out to Children's in the morning.  This shortened our drive too.

At the Country Inn and Suites we were pleasantly surprised to find a reserved parking space up front for Carlson Gold members.  Travis was smug:

All in all it was a wonderful trip.  We packed in the activities as we typically do, but a lot of it was modified activity to accommodate my pregnancy fatigue.  The Black Hills are just a beautiful region of the country with a ton of different activities to do, and I will be happy to return and visit again, especially when the kiddos are old enough to really enjoy it.


  1. You took some fantastic pictures of Andrew!

    We'll have to put Carhenge on the list - Cal would be in heaven!

  2. Love the photos of Mount Rushmore! I really, really want to go there. A little bit of a longer drive from Southern CA, but I think my daughter could handle it. She handles 12 hours of flights just fine a couple months ago. I love the pic of your son pushing the car in Nebraska. My daughter has that little car and flies through the house on it. I noticed that your son is forward facing in his car seat. When did you turn him around? We are thinking about turning our daughter around. She's only 20 pounds, but she's around 31 inches long and even in our spiffy new SUV, she looks like a pretzel when she is in her car seat. And it's hard to get her in and out without bonking her head somewhere :-/

    Heather (beatle1@hotmail.com)