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|
|Andrew loved this tailgate bench|
|Family portrait in the center of the ring.|
|It's a wagon... get it?|
|Andrew was determined to get this door open|
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.|
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.|
|The eye of the needle|
|Needles tunnel and belly. Yes, I fit through the tunnel - shut up.|
|Some dude rock climbing.|
|"Why are we stopped, dad?"|
|Snapping a cell phone pic for facebook|
|Andrew loved to co-pilot the luggage cart every day.|
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!
|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.