Author Archives: Ginny Marie

Driving Through Wyoming

Ed and I made a conscious decision not to bring our laptop on our road trip. It wasn’t that we were intending to go “off the grid.” Instead, we knew wifi access would be limited. We both had our phones, after all.  And since we were moving from hotel to hotel, we wanted to travel as light as we could. Our goal was to move from car to hotel room with only one trip, and most of the time, with the girls carrying their own backpacks and rolling their suitcases, we were able to do just that.

Wyoming
Emmy and Lily standing on the border of South Dakota and Wyoming

I checked my email a couple of times, but when I really wanted to send someone a reply about some volunteer work I’m doing at my church, I was in the middle of Wyoming, I didn’t have cell or data service, and couldn’t get a signal for a long time. I was so frustrated, and I decided that yes, I was going to go off the grid. When I finally did get a signal, I replied that I was on vacation. And then I really did disconnect. And you know what? I didn’t miss the internet at all! (I was surprised!)

I even decided to write a journal the old fashioned way. I brought one of my favorite notebooks, and started writing in it the first night. My journal writing skills were a little rusty. Typing blog posts is so much easier and faster for me. My first entry was just bullet points of what we did that first day, which was mostly driving. My journal entries became longer as the days went by, however, and, as cheesy as it sounds, I remembered the joy of putting pen to paper.

Cody Cowboy Village in Cody, Wyoming
Cody Cowboy Village in Cody, Wyoming

Even though I get car sick easily, I have also become pretty good at looking at maps and navigating. I helped navigate us through Death Valley a couple of years ago and on this trip I navigated us through the Badlands. Now we were going through Wyoming to Yellowstone, with a pit stop in Cody. Even though a major highway doesn’t go to Cody, it was still easier than driving my girls by myself through rural Michigan in the middle of the night!

Just outside of Cody is the Buffalo Bill dam. We stopped to take a look and visit the Visitor’s Center. It is a little bit of a walk from the Visitor’s Center to the parking lot, but there were a couple of guys taking tourists back and forth in golf carts. We didn’t really need a ride, but we took one just for fun!

Ed at dam

reservoir

In about an hour, driving through gorgeous scenery, we finally made it to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park!

Yellowstone sign

There’s just something special about entering those gates to a national park. We couldn’t wait to see everything, so we stopped at every view point. Time seems to slow down, and driving to your destination doesn’t seem as important as just looking at what’s around you. And you don’t even want to go inside for a second! We ate our first picnic in Yellowstone at Gull Point, overlooking Yellowstone Lake.

Lake Butte overlook
Lake Butte overlook

We walked our first trail, the Natural Bridge Trail, and saw bear scat on our way. Grizzlies freak me out, so Ed and I were keeping a watchful eye the entire time, and making lots of noise! I had made the girls bear bells when we went to Alaska, and Emmy was especially faithful about wearing hers during our hikes. Those bears (and other hikers!) knew we were coming!

Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge

We also stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, and the girls soon had their first taste of what soon became their favorite part of Yellowstone; thermal features! Steamy, smelly, and a little scary, (Just this spring, a tourist walked off the boardwalk, fell into a hot spring, and died a horrible death–I don’t even want to think about it!) thermal features are scattered all over Yellowstone. They are easy to spot since the heat kills the trees and plants, but the thermal features and hot springs are also always changing places and moving around. Yellowstone has hundreds of small earthquakes happening every month. We saw spots in parking lots that were blocked off because a hole had collapsed and now steam was coming out of the ground. Geysers that were once active will lay dormant, while a hot spring will suddenly become a geyser. All sorts of interesting things happen in Yellowstone! We were never tempted to step off those boardwalks.

Lakeshore Geyser

West Thumb Geyser Basin

That night, we slept in a little yellow cabin by the historic Lake Hotel. We had a whole week to explore!

Lake Hotel cabin

Keep up with our road trip:

The Great American Road Trip: Badlands National Park
Leaving the Badlands and Entering Wind Cave National Park
Not National Parks: Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower

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Not National Parks

Who knew? Mount Rushmore is actually Mount Rushmore National Memorial. And we arrived in the late afternoon, just when the sun was in the wrong spot.

Mount Rushmore

There is a really neat hiking trail that goes down and around in front of Mount Rushmore, and it’s neat to see the different perspectives of these four huge presidents. Do you remember who they are?

Mount Rushmore 2

 

We walked the trail after we had dinner at the cafeteria, with a view of the Presidents. So far, finding places to eat had been a little tricky, but we were expecting that. We weren’t counting on our hotels providing breakfast, so we had cereal, milk, and Pop Tarts. We also had lunch staples of sliced turkey, cheese, bread and apples. But it was nice to have someone else serve us dinner!

The day had been a long one; we had been hiking and exploring the Badlands just that morning, toured Wind Cave in the afternoon, and walked by Mount Rushmore that evening. We skipped the evening festivities at Mount Rushmore and headed into Keystone to find our hotel for the night.

The next morning, we left South Dakota and drove into Wyoming. Our plan was to swing by Devil’s Tower National Monument (also not a park!) before we continued on our way to Yellowstone.

Devil's Tower 1

Ed and I drove to Yellowstone before we had kids, and Ed fell in love with Devil’s Tower the first time we stopped there. Now that he was able to climb around the rocks with Lily and Emmy, he loved it even more! And there is a bonus at Devil’s Tower: another prairie dog town!

Devil's Tower 2
Climbing around with Lily and Emmy
Devil's Tower selfie
Selfie time!
prairie dog
Little prairie dogs

We decided to eat lunch at a little cafe at the base of the tower, and then we had a long drive across Wyoming to Cody, which is a town just outside of the west entrance to Yellowstone. We were getting closer to our final destination!

signature P.S. The four presidents are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Leaving the Badlands and Entering Wind Cave National Park

It looked like we had just stepped into a Western movie. All those vast, rugged spaces around us.

Our view from the Badlands Inn, right outside the National Park
Our view from the Badlands Inn, right outside the National Park

To us Northern Illinois flatlanders, there was not a bad view anywhere. I’ve been going through my pictures, trying to decide which ones to show you, and there’s just too many! Even Ed was taking pictures with his phone, and he is usually not a picture taker.

Lily and Emmy are somewhere in this picture, exploring. Can you spot them?
Lily and Emmy are somewhere in this picture, exploring. Can you spot them?

The next stop on our road trip was Wind Cave National Park, also in South Dakota. Instead of going back up to the highway, we decided we wanted to see as much of the Badlands as we could, and that meant traveling for several miles along a gravel road. We didn’t get very far before we stumbled upon our first bison herd. Or perhaps the bison stumbled upon us? They wanted to cross the road, so we let them have the right of way.

Badlands bison 1

Badlands bison 2

After we saw the bison, the badlands had given way to rolling prairie. We were driving through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There was no place to stop, and when we did get to a small town, it looked more like a ghost town than a place to stop. Most of the buildings were falling apart and disintegrating out in the middle of nowhere. By the time we reached the White River Visitor Center, we had been driving for quite a while on the gravel road. I accidentally overheard one of the park rangers complaining (while Ed was in the bathroom) that all the tourists wanted to do when they came to the visitor center was use the bathroom. I think he was probably right. We did talk with the ranger about Wind Cave until the phone rang and he excused himself to answer it. I hope we appeased him a little bit. We didn’t stop there just to use the bathroom!

(Okay, we totally did.)

Badlands gravel road

Wind Cave is perhaps one of the most overlooked national parks. It is really close to Mount Rushmore, which everyone has heard about and is extremely popular, and yet Wind Cave doesn’t even come close to getting the same amount of visitors. In fact, we weren’t planning on even going to Wind Cave until Ed saw it on the map and decided we had to stop there. It was definitely worth the visit!

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave has one natural entrance, and yet it is a large and intricate cave. There have been estimates that only about 5% of the cave has actually been discovered and explored. One ranger described the cave tunnels as though a bowl of spaghetti had been dumped over under the ground. That’s exactly how the map of the cave looks.

The cave has most of the world’s boxwork formations…yes, that’s right, I wrote world’s. This is not your typical cave!

Wind Cave's boxwork formation
Wind Cave’s boxwork formation

The tour we took was amazing, but as you can imagine, my pictures did not turn out very well. It’s dark down in the cave! During one point of the tour, the ranger turns off all of the lights. All of them. It is really, really dark! I even started to get dizzy, and literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Fortunately, the lights came back on again!

Wind Cave tour

Next time you visit South Dakota, I highly recommend a cave tour!

After our tour, we were off to our next stop. Not a national park, but instead a national memorial. Mount Rushmore!

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The Great American Road Trip: Badlands National Park

At the beginning of summer, a vacation planned for August seems like it will never arrive. When planning an August vacation in November, it seems even further away! And then, in the blink of an eye, those much planned for and anticipated two weeks fly by and are gone. We’ve been home for almost two weeks and have been sucked back into real life too quickly. I’ve been staring at the pictures I took, wishing that we were still gone, in the wild West, hiking the trails.

On the other hand, it is nice to sleep in one’s own bed at night!

Badlands sign

Over the course of two weeks, our family of four visited 5 national parks and 2 national monuments. Our first national park was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It must have been very disheartening to stumble across the Badlands as a pioneer; to be traveling across the great, wide, green prairie, and then to all of a sudden see vast distances of rock valleys and chasms. Early pioneers, immigrants and farmers came out West hopeful of building a new life on the land and barely survived.

prairie meets badlands

We have it easy; now there are modern roads and we own a sturdy minivan to drive on them, along with a cooler full of food and water for picnics on the roadside.

I thought I knew what to expect in the Badlands; heat, rocks, trails, and heat. And yes, we did get all of those things. It was August in South Dakota, so it was about 90 degrees. And there were lots of rocks and trails to climb around on.

Badlands hiking 1

But what I didn’t expect was the amount of beauty in those rocks. The Yellow Mounds were my favorite, but I just loved all the colored lines in the rock; the jagged edges contrasting with the rounded mounds, and the way the flat prairie met all this ruggedness.

Yellow Mounds
Yellow Mounds

I also didn’t expect to see such a variety of wildlife. Bighorn Sheep, bison, and our favorites, prairie dogs!

Once you see a prairie dog town, they are easy to spot. First you see little mounds in the short grass, and then you hear the prairie dogs chirping to each other. The closer you look, the more prairie dogs you’ll see scampering around, running from hole to hole. They are noisy little things! And very curious, too! Some came up right the edge of the road, thinking they were going to get fed by us tourists. We disappointed them, however. As my junior rangers would tell me, no feeding wild animals!

Prairie dogs kissing
Prairie Dogs

 

Bighorn Sheep, ewes and lambs
Bighorn Sheep, ewes and lambs
Bighorn ram
Bighorn ram

We only spent one night there, and while we explored and saw a lot, we could have spent even more time in the Badlands. But we had other places to see on our Great American Road Trip….

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What’s at the End of Lake Ave?

When I stepped outside this morning to get the newspaper from my driveway, I felt a cool lake breeze. I was suddenly taken by the desire to walk on the shoreline and to hear the waves. My plans for the day included finishing laundry and scrubbing out burnt on crud in my crock pot, but I decided to be spontaneous. What if…

We live right off of Lake Avenue, which goes directly to Lake Michigan. I’ve never driven all the way to the lake; when I have driven those eleven miles, I’ve turned south to go into the city. What if the girls and I drove all the way to the beach?

Lake Ave

If you know me, you know I can’t be THAT spontaneous. I began to look at online maps for free parking! I was hopeful that since it was a cool week day, there would be plenty of parking spaces available. The girls and I packed a couple of snacks and beach towels, but we weren’t planning on swimming. It was definitely too cool to swim in Lake Michigan. Plus, the swimming beach charges about $10 for non-residents of that lake-front suburb.

With a plan in mind, we hopped into the car and…had to stop for gas before our adventure could begin!

Back on Lake Avenue, we drove over the Des Plaines River and under I294. Lake Ave. also goes by Hackney’s, where I had one of my very first dates when I was 16 years old. We drove past Wagner Farm in the middle of Glenview, where I’ve taken preschool students on numerous field trips, and over the Chicago River.

I was worried that the free parking would be full and we’d have to punt, but there were plenty of spaces. As we found our way to the water, we discovered that there was no swimming allowed because of the rip tides. But that was okay. We only wanted to dip our feet in the water and dig our toes into the sand for a little while, and then we would be on our way back home.

feet in sand

We had discovered a little bit of heaven just 11 miles from our house. It only took me about 13 years to explore that beach, to tear myself away from the laundry and the dishes and the sameness of being a mom.

running in the water

When’s the last time you were spontaneous? Do you find it hard to be spontaneous like I do, or is it easier for you? Tell me in the comments below!

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