Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day Seven

We fell a bit behind and had to cut something, so we decided not to take the detour to Palmyra.  We were pleasantly surprised to find the Hill Cumorah Visitor’s Center only four miles off our route.  So, we stopped and took the short walk from the visitor’s center to the top of the hill.  It was really neat to be in that spot.  We enjoyed the peaceful feeling there for a few moments then climbed down and got back on the road again.  Our next stop was Watkins Glenn State Park in the New York Finger Lakes area.  There we picked up some picnic supplies and ate lunch just inside the park.  It was this amazing hike through a narrow slot canyon.  The humidity was extremely high, but lucky for us it was overcast and not too hot.  I realized that we had been really lucky with the weather so far.  Whenever the weather really mattered, it was just right.  Anyway, the hike was really great.  Another spot I highly recommend.  I do wish we could have camped there the night before so we could have enjoyed it longer.

Tip of the day:  Include a slush fund in your budget for unexpected expenses.  We did not plan an extra hotel stay, but were really happy we had the option when it was 10:00 PM and we were still 2 hours from setting up camp.

Day Six and Wisdom from the Backseat

We stayed at a hotel in Dearborn, Michigan.  It is a suburb of Detroit and home to the Henry Ford Museum.  It's definitely worth a visit.  It has everything from cars, trains, and airplanes, to furniture and farm equipment.  It even has the very bus Rosa Parks sat on and refused to give up her seat to a white man.  There was a whole museum village outside that we didn’t even get to.  You pay for the museum and village separately, so I recommend one or the other unless you have a whole day and don’t have a five year old.  We left the museum and headed toward Canada and Niagara Falls.  The town reminded me a lot of the Las Vegas strip because of all of the lights, music playing on the streets and crowds of people.  We kind of had to race through because it was getting dark already and we had a couple of hours left to drive.  The falls were amazing and we left just as they lit them up in rainbow colors for the night.

As we were driving I overheard a conversation in the back seats that caught my interest.  It turns out that two of our kids used to think there were three genders.  One thought the genders were boy, girl, and half boy, half girl (which she thought she was because she looked like a girl but sometimes liked to play with boy toys).  The other thought the genders were boy, girl, and clown.  I decided it would be best to not delve into the psychology behind that one, but instead just be happy they are now all in agreement that there are only two genders.
We made a decision to stop short of our next scheduled camping sight at Watkins Glenn State Park because it was late already.  So, we stayed at a hotel along the road and fell asleep immediately.  So far, I think our pace has been a little too aggressive. 
 In front of an old race car at the Henry Ford Museum
Niagara Falls

Tip of the day:  Have a bucket, bag, or bin with a cheap vinyl tablecloth, some wet wipes, and picnic supplies easily accessible for a quick roadside lunch or snack.  We brought our 3 gallon water cooler so we always have a fresh supply of water on hand for drinking or washing fresh produce.  When you see a nice spot, take it.  There might not be another nice spot anytime soon.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day Five

Chicago.  It is always fun to be in the city again.  We only encountered one problem-our minivan with the roof rack on top was too tall to fit into most parking garages.  We actually thought we could fit into one, but after getting pretty far into it realized we were too tall.  It’s a good thing James has some refined backing skills because he had to back all the way down while I ran interference and stopped traffic in the front.  Street parking it is!  Chicago was exciting, especially since we found an “American Girl” store.  The girls were in heaven.  We had Chicago style deep dish pizza for lunch and walked around until we got a good taste of the city.  I’m pretty sure the people walking behind us knew we were from out of town because the kids kept stopping to stare up at the tall buildings.  Then it was time for the Shedd Aquarium.  We have been to some excellent aquariums in the past, and this doesn’t rank among them, but it was just about right for the amount of time we had to spend.  We got hotdogs and ice cream at a roadside stand (don’t worry, I had some fresh fruits and vegetables in the car for later), and then we left Chicago.  Next stop, Detroit.
States we have driven through so far:  Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.
Tip of the day:  We had each kid carry their Camelbak packs with a small snack in them.    This allowed them to drink on the go, and keep cool while walking around the city.    

Day Four

The morning after our first hotel room.  Ahh, that felt good.  The bed and the shower and the lack of set-up were all a nice change.  We drove through most of Minnesota in the dark, so I didn’t get to see much of it.  We stopped at LaCrosse, Wisconsin to take a dip in the Mississippi River and have lunch.  The kids played and swam in the river for about an hour then we continued our drive.  Wisconsin is beautiful.  Our route took us pretty far off the beaten path so we got a taste of the countryside.  Beautiful, lush green rolling hills with a combination of farmland (mostly corn), and forest.  The landscape was probably the stereotypical farm scene you would picture with the farmer’s house alongside his fields and matching barns and out buildings, red with white trim.  there was no evidence of irrigation anywhere.  Rest stops were called waysides, and there were lots of cheese stands along the road.  
We camped at Harrington State Park, near Lake Michigan, but we didn’t swim due to the e coli and dead fish strewn about the beach.  We also had our first encounter with lightening bugs.  The girls thought they were pretty cool, and they caught several who called one of our tupperware bins home for the night.
Tip of the day:  If you play at a beach (even for a short time) with e coli and dead fish, make sure you all wash your hands before eating finger food for dinner.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day Three

24th July

Badlands, Minuteman Missile Site (another Jr. Ranger Program), and driving.  Badlands National Park was interesting, but it was very hot outside and we felt like you could see most of it just as well from the car, so we only made two stops.  One bloody nose and stomach ache later, we reached the Minuteman Missile information center.  It was very informative and worth the short stop.

Things we saw after we left the badlands: farmland, grassland, the Missouri River, hills, corn fields, wind farms.

Things we didn’t see after we left the badlands: mountains, tall trees, turns in the road.

We planned on eating dinner at Sioux Falls and Christine insisted we eat Italian.  Nelda (our GPS) took us to one restaurant that had closed.  The second was about to close but they let us in for a final order.  We ordered three plates of pasta and two pizzas.  When the food arrived (it was 9:00pm and we hadn't eaten a real lunch that day), everyone was very quiet and no one complained about the food.  At the end of the meal, Rachel said "you know, I think that was good."  We ate so quickly no one took the time to taste the food (and I think our dishes could have been passed off as clean and put directly on the shelf).

Tip of the day:  For everyone, make it a point to purchase and consume fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible.  It will help keep things running smoothly despite the camping food and eating out.  No one wants to be all stopped up.

Day Two

 23rd July

We ended up spending the night at Devil’s Tower, which was filled with cottonwood trees that were dripping sap.  Everything was sticky.  As we walked around, our shoes would become inches higher due to layers of leaves sticking on them.  We were glad to get out of there and clean off everything.  Once we were back in the car, there was a beautiful, winding road to get out of the canyon.  Wendy had some things set up in her spot which kept getting knocked over from the turns so she asked James if he would stop turning...  We found a nice park in Rapid City to have lunch.  From there we went to Mt. Rushmore.  This was my first time seeing it and I thought it was impressive.  I highly recommend the Junior Ranger Program for the kids.  It keeps them occupied, gives them things to look for and teaches interesting facts.  At the end, they get a cool badge. 

The highlight of the day was Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.  The lake itself was beautiful.  It had a nice trail, which I jogged around while the kids played in the lake and climbed the rocks that were everywhere.  The whole area really was fabulous.  I wish we had a full day or more to spend there.  The road to and from the lake was also worth the drive.  When we left, we had the kids check themselves for ticks and Wendy said, “I wish there were doctor ticks so that when they stick their head into your body they could look around and see if you have an infection.”

Crazy Horse was a bit of a letdown.  When we saw it from the road, we decided that was close enough and turned around. 

Tip of the day:  For kids, pack a large ziplock storage bag with paper bags, construction paper, scissors, glue, and markers.  My kids spent hours (literally) creating and making shows out of their puppets.

On the Road Again

We’re off!  We left the house at 5:10 am and headed toward Jackson as the sun rose.  When we got to Jackson, we ate breakfast at the Bunnery.  The food was good and we enjoyed a sophisticated conversation about owning your own restaurant and putting a whoopee cushion under people just before you sat them down.  No one could decide whether that would increase or decrease business (I have a pretty good idea).  That topic brought up what would happen if the Queen of England passed gas.  They determined that it would have to be publicized, and they would embed the toot in the newspaper in scratch and sniff form.

From Jackson, after we crossed the mountains and left them behind us, the “real” Wyoming came into view.  What a harsh place.  The temperature was in the upper 90’s, but there were snow fences all over, indicating a lot of winter snow.  The wind was howling and we passed places with names such as “rattlesnake hills”, “poison spider road”, and “hell’s half acre”.  We drove through with the minimal amount of stops, but we did need to eat lunch.  We ended up in Casper at a park that was promptly nicknamed “poo park” due to its proximity to a wastewater treatment facility upwind of us.

We made it to Devil’s Tower just before sunset.  It was worth it.  It was bigger and more impressive than I expected, and by that time it had cooled off enough to walk the trail around the bottom.  There was a huge boulder field around the base which made it possible for the girls to take the path of most resistance.  Instead of staying on the paved trail, they climbed every rock along the way.  No one complained about the distance because they were distracted by the rock climbing.  It was great after being cooped up in the car all day.  Next stop, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Tip of the day:  For women, pack a sports bra or bikini top to make it easier to wash up (mostly) modestly at the water spicket without getting your clothes wet.