Our first stop was the Badlands of South Dakota.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from the Badlands- but it was gorgeous. At this point we had been in the car for maybe 10 hours on our longest driving day, and couldn't spend too much time here, but we drove through the park and jumped out a few times when we just couldn't help ourselves from ooohing and aaaaaahing over the scenery any longer.
It is really impossible to convey the scale of this place in photographs I think.
A storm started to move in as we were leaving the Badlands and the graying clouds and lightening just made the place seem even more otherworldly. We just wish we'd had more time to get out and explore this area.
After the Badlands, we stopped at Wall Drug in Wall, SD for dinner. Wall Drug is, simply stated, a tourist trap. It was opened in 1931 as a regular drug store, but the owner could not get customers. So he decided to offer "free ice water" to thirsty travelers coming through, and set up signs for miles ahead of the store, and voila! The rest is history and now the place is a zoo of tourist shops, restaurants, and yes, a drug store that still offers free ice water. It was novel.
We finally made it to our stop for the night in Keystone, SD. We stayed in a little cabin near Mount Rushmore, where we headed first thing the next morning.
There it is!
Sculpted in the 1930s, each president was originally supposed to be sculpted to the waist, but the funding ran out before that could happen. I wanted to take a photo of my four little ones in the same pose as the four presidents, but Amelie decided to be completely obtuse and refused to participate. So now instead of that photo, we have this story to taunt her with for the rest of her life. Anyway, that's the reality of traveling with four children. I am still glad we got to see this awesome monument!
The Black Hills of South Dakota. It really is a beautiful area. We may need to come back someday.
After Mount Rushmore we stopped for breakfast at a diner and ate way too much food. Toby absolutely wanted me to memorialize his gigantic cinnamon roll. He ate the whole thing.
The rest of the day was spent driving to Bozeman, MT where we had a reservation to stay in a TREE HOUSE! I was so excited about this. We kept it a secret from the kids, and when we finally told them, they were kinds nonplussed. But then when they SAW it, they got excited. I think the little swing really sold it for them.
The tree house slept 6 and had a teeny kitchen area, primitive toilet facilities (do you really want to know the details?) and a lovely porch.
The kids loved the little windows in the bunk-bed area.
Rob and I had to climb a ladder to our bed in the loft, but the ceilings were still high enough for us to stand up. There was no electricity or running water, but it did cool down plenty at night so that it wasn't too warm. It was fun for a night, but I think we would have missed showering, flushing, etc if we stayed for any longer than that.
The next morning we were up early with the sun and headed out for breakfast and then Yellowstone National Park. We drove through the Roosevelt Arch. The top of the arch is inscribed with a quote from the Organic Act of 1872, the legislation which created Yellowstone, which reads "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."
Yellowstone is just made for panoramic shots.
You can EASILY spend a week at Yellowstone, but we had one day, so I made a short list of must-see sights. Sadly, our first stop was to be swimming in the Boiling River hot springs and they were closed due to high water. Our next stop was Mammoth Hot Springs. The kids agreed to a photo in exchange for ice cream later in the day.
Here's an un-showered Rob and I in front of where the boiling hot water is running down the rock face.
It's not easy being Super Dad.
They insist you stay to the wooden walkways at many of these places in Yellowstone because the ground is just a thin crust in places with boiling hot water running beneath it. Sometimes people ignore these warnings. We did not.
Just driving through Yellowstone, there is incredible natural beauty everywhere.
Our next stop was the Artist's Paint Pots. These hot springs bubbled up in so many beautiful colors. Our kids especially liked the mud pots with bubbling mud, but my photo if them just looks like a big gray mess. Much cooler in real life. You should go there.
More panoramas. I just can't help myself.
We pulled off in a picnic area to eat our picnic lunch. There were no other tourists there (which was amazing because this was the Sunday after July 4th and the park was packed!) It was nice to enjoy the quiet and scenery together- even if it was super hot out.
Our next stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring. This is the largest hot spring in the United States, and third largest in the world.
I took pictures of it from several angles because I couldn't decide which was my favorite. You can really see the oranges and built up minerals on this side of the spring.
But this one shows the incredible teal color of the water down in the spring. I think this is my favorite actually.
The whole are surrounding the spring is bubbling and steaming like, oh I don't know, the top of a volcano??
The kids were getting super hot and tire by this point in the day, but they let me take one more photo of them with the dead trees (trees don't like boiling water) in the background.
Our final planned stop in Yellowstone had to be at Old Faithful. We got there 10 minutes before the next predicted eruption, which was just enough time for Amelie to fall asleep.
I was afraid we'd miss it if we blinked, but turns out it isn't a single gush and done, but erupts over the course of like 3 minutes. It really is impressive. Wikipedia says, "Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 US gallons of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet lasting from 1 1⁄2 to 5 minutes. The average height of an eruption is 145 feet." It erupts every 45-125 minutes, so we were super lucky that we didn't have to wait long at all. After the eruption, Rob headed out for a much needed solo walk, and the kids and I headed out for the promised ice cream.
We were on our way out of the park toward our airbnb in Driggs, ID when we saw an adorable waterfall right near the road, so we had to stop there and take a few more photos. I think it was called Gibbon Falls.
So pretty, but so many mosquitoes.
I took some snapshots of the kids here which I absolutely love.
Charlotte was SO TAN this trip!
Rob took one of the Bear and me too.
Then we left Yellowstone and headed for Idaho.
Our old GPS has gotten us into a few tight spots before but none as bad as it did on the road to Idaho. We could have died. Truly. It had us turn off shortly after leaving the park, onto a dirt road. Now, we figured, National Parks have limited funding and this was part of the Targhee National Forest so we figured it wouldn't stay dirt for the entire 12 miles we would be on it. But it did. Also, it progressively got worse as gravel became dirt, became rutted dirt with large potholes. We hung on and weren't too worried until as we saw about 3 cars coming from the opposite direction. At our next turn though, the road was still dirt and the GPS said 14 miles. Then there were cows. Seriously, we joked that it was like a horrible video game and that Rob had leveled up. Also, we didn't see another car the entire 14 miles. So we started praying that the next turn would be paved, but when we got to the next turn the road LITERALLY did not exist. It was a grassy meadow.
So we kept driving down the dirt road to nowhere, but Rob and I were now both silently panicking. Also, someone had a bathroom emergency (or two) and had to poop by the side of the dirt road (thankfully we had napkins in the car, and there was absolutely no one around.) The next road the GPS suggested did exist, but was steep and had a drop off next to it with no guard rail. I feel ill just thinking about it now, and at the time I began making plans for how long we could survive on the snacks and water we had in the car while waiting to be rescued. Did I mention Rob's cellphone had died and no one knew our planned route? Anyway, after 40 miles and about 2 hours in the wilderness we popped out onto a gravel road near a ranch and started breathing again. It was really awful, and I am so thankful we survived it. And we may never leave the highway again... at least not in Idaho.
Before we reached our airbnb for the night we got to see these beautiful Tetons! I took a picture now that I was confident we would actually live.
A few blocks before our airbnb the road briefly went back to gravel and Rob and I both started to panic, but all was well. It was a fantastic day at Yellowstone and a horrible drive through Targhee. We really saw some of the best and worst of the Western wilderness!