I don’t want to brag, but we road-trip like a boss. Our practice has been made perfect over the last ten years, and we can literally decide to GO and have the car packed and ready in less than an hour. How do I know this? Done it. (mic drop)
In 2014 we planned a two-week road trip with four major stops, and it was really the first time I relaxed and just enjoyed spending time with Mark and the kids without all of the “shoulds.” Total game-changer.
Day 1: We left Dallas and drove the roughly four hours to Stillwater, Oklahoma. My uncle lives there, and we spent the day with family.
Day 2: The next morning we grabbed breakfast and hit the road. It’s about a nine hour drive from Stillwater to Colorado Springs, and we stopped along the way to examine cotton fields and admire the high desert scenery.
Day 3: After spending the night in Colorado Springs, we drove out to Canon City, where we had booked a half day river-rafting adventure with Raft Masters. It was my third or fourth time to use Raft Masters, and they didn’t disappoint. The kids had such fun, and the experience was thrilling and memorable! Poor Mark had to drive us to Estes Park after the rafting trip while the rest of us conked out in the car. Fun can be exhausting.
Day 4,5 and 6: I can’t adequately describe our love for Colorado. There just aren’t words. Our hearts are restored by beauty, and Colorado has beauty in spades. We spent three days hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and discovered a great (family friendly) hike to Emerald Lake.
Estes Park is a great place to prowl around, and there are numerous places to take a quick walk/hike just outside of town. Also, we happened to arrive just in time for the annual 4th of July parade which was a total bonus!
Day 7: By far one of the less interesting days on our trip was driving from Colorado Springs to Cody, Wyoming. There wasn’t a lot to see along the way, but we did stop in Chugwater, Wyoming for lunch, and we’ve never forgotten it! In fact, we now use it as a reference when describing small towns, “Is it Chugwater small?”
Day 8: Arriving in Cody was like stepping back in time. The town has a deeply western feel, without coming off as artificial. We stayed in the Moose Creek Lodge, and to my delight, there was a wonderful coffee shop right next door. One of my favorite memories of the trip was made in that hotel. Each night, tired from our adventures of the day, we’d all tuck into bed and watch The Andy Griffith Show.
Day 9, 10, 11: Cody is about an hour away from the Yellowstone gates, so we woke up early each morning, grabbed breakfast and COFFEE, and hit the road. I mean, the scenery is gorgeous, so it’s a great way to start the day!
So the thing about Yellowstone is that it is a HUGE National Park. Honestly, you could spend a full week there, but we only had three days, so we hit the “major” sights like any self-respecting tourist family should. Do I wish we had hiked out at dawn to see the Yellowstone wolves? Yes. Yes I do. But the kids were little, and I could still run faster than them, so of course I was worried I’d outrun them if the wolves attacked. I have a strong will to live, dear reader.
One afternoon Cara and I mounted up and rode the hills around Yellowstone. We thoroughly enjoyed the breathtaking vistas and even got to see a big pile of grizzly bear scat…freshly laid and still steaming. Our guide was so gracious and friendly, and watching my little slip of a daughter ride like a champ filled me with joy and just a wee bit of pride. Ok, a LOT of pride.
We noticed a funny phenomenon during our visit to Yellowstone: the first bison/elk/bear you see is completely thrilling. You pull the car over, pile out and start snapping pictures like a National Geographic photog. But by the third day, it’s “meh, another bison. (yawn)”. It’s totally crazy, because IT’S A BISON, ya’ll!!
We saw elk, deer, bison, chipmunks, marmots and a great big grizzly bear foraging for food on the other side of the river. What we found rather incredible is that these animals were near and around the geysers as well as their more “traditional” habitats. I cornered a park ranger (as I am wont to do…) and asked one million questions about the marmots scurrying around Grand Geyser. Apparently they can sense when the geyser is about to erupt, and they hightail it outta there to safety.
Day 12: We left early from Cody, and drove about six hours to Mount Rushmore. With stops along the way, we arrived mid afternoon. I was both impressed and underwhelmed by Mount Rushmore, so if I don’t get back to see it again, I’m good. The town around Mount Rushmore reminds me of Las Vegas, except western. And small.
Day 13: So here’s the real gem of our road trip! We hadn’t planned on staying in South Dakota for an extra day, but when Mark learned that Wind Cave National Park was in the area, we extended our stay an extra day. First of all, to get to Wind Cave, you have to drive through Custer State Park- what a beautiful place! Aaaaand, there are numerous prairie dogs to see along the way, so that was fun for the kids.
Wind Cave is more incredible that I can describe. The caverns are small, and the tunnels go every which way. Our park ranger made such an impression in telling about the history, discovery and exploration of Wind Cave. She was also patient and comforting to those of us (read: just me) who struggle with claustrophobia. If you visit Mount Rushmore or South Dakota, you will not regret a stop at Wind Cave National Park. By far one of the most wonderful national parks we’ve visited.
We left Wind Cave mid afternoon, and started driving home. Originally, we planned on stopping in Nebraska or Kansas for an overnight, but Mark decided to drive all the way. Fifteen hours later, we pulling into our driveway, exhausted but content after our family road trip.
Day 14: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Fourteen days, three national parks, one national memorial and about a million miles. It’s a lot to fit in, but we came home with so many great memories. The kids expanded their worldview as they gained new understandings about ecosystems, geography, indigenous peoples, map reading and surviving forced family fun. Ha!
Next time? We make the trek out to see the wolves at dawn, since I’m the slowest…just call me #wolfbait.