Finally! Vacation pictures!
Go here to see them (don't forget to read the captions that I worked so hard on).
I'll also give you a brief overview of the trip, so you're not completely lost while looking at them. The point of the trip was to drive to Minnesota for my annual family reunion. We decided to drive, despite the fact that we have two small children, after the horrible flight home we had last summer (involving a screaming baby, whining toddler and horrendous weather, to name just a few). So, we packed up the car, strapped in the kids, and headed east on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge.
The first night was uneventful - we stayed at the Best Western in Butte, MT. The next morning, after a mediocre breakfast at the Perkins attached to the hotel, we started our vacation in earnest with a trip to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where Custer made his infamous last stand. I visited the monument when I was in high school and really found it fascinating, so I was eager to return. However, the kids were not quite so enamored with the place and the fact that it was over 100 degrees out made for a rather unpleasant visit.
We headed on to Buffalo, WY, and stopped at Taco John's to pick up dinner. We then drove up into the Bighorn Mountains in search of camping. We found a lovely spot up in the woods (thankfully, it was much cooler up there) and set ourselves up. It was a great stop, only slightly marred by the noisy generator on the ginormous RV where the campground host lived (which just happened to be in the site next to ours). Sydney got her first tast of pit toilets and actually did pretty darn well. Owen had a blast trying to eat as much dirt as he could before one of us noticed what he was doing.
Next on the agenda was Devil's Tower, where we dragged the poor kids on a short hike in sweltering heat. The trail was mostly shaded, but Owen got stuck in the Ergo since Sydney refused to walk (and I refused to carry her) and took over the stroller. He was sweltering hot and exhausted back there, and alternated between crying pitifully and snoozing with his head flung back at a precarious angle. There had been a forest fire in the woods near the monument right before we got there, so we got to watch the big helicopters dumping buckets of turquoise blue flame retardant on hot spots while we drove past. Pretty cool (the helicopters, not the fire)!
That night we camped in Custer State Park in the Black Hills in nice 80-degree temperatures (I don't do well sleeping in heat, so it was a bit uncomfortable there). Again, the kids got busy getting as dirty as possible as soon as we set up camp. Fortunately, the campground had a swimming beach so we all rinsed the top layer of dirt off in the lake. It was a great way to cool off before crawling into the ridiculously hot tent.
In the morning, we drove through the Hills to Mount Rushmore and visited briefly (did I mention it was hot?). Then we headed west to Badlands National Park where Bill lived for a few years when he was a kid (his dad was a park ranger). Again, it was way too hot to really do anything. We checked out his old school, church and house. We also had to stop at Wall Drug for lunch and a bumper sticker. That night we crashed at the Comfort Inn in Sioux Falls.
Wednesday finally brought us to our destination state - Minnesota! Since we were passing very close by, we stopped at my aunt and uncle's new house in Northfield. The recently moved from a small vintage bungalow with an equally small yard in south Minneapolis to a nice roomy split-level ranch with a gorgeous huge yard in Northfield. They're totally loving it, and I can't blame them! It's a really nice set-up.
Wednesday night we stayed with friends in Minneapolis and got a chance to meet Quinn, the most recent addition to their family. Sydney and Owen fought like cats & dogs with their 3-year-old Liam, but we all managed to survive and the adults had a nice visit, anyway.
Thursday morning was breakfast at my favorite breakfast place of all time, the New Louisiana Cafe in St. Paul, MN. I have never found an adequate substitute for their Cajun Breakfast (hash browns with peppers and onions covered with cheese, two fried eggs and slathered with cajun hollandaise sauce). Then up to my mom's house in Duluth for a night before heading to Aitkin to meet up with the rest of the family.
We spent two days in Aitkin, hanging out on my grandparents' farm, swimming in the Mississippi River and checking out all my old hangouts to see how they've changed (or not). Sunday was our family reunion at a state park northeast of Aitkin, and we camped there Sunday night (this time it was ridiculously hot AND there were a gazillion mosquitoes - not fun!).
Monday morning we hit the road again, with a short stop in Grand Rapids to fix a flat tire. We drove on to Itasca State Park where we rented a cabin for three days right on the edge of the park. I can't believe that I grew up in Minnesota and had never been to Itasca! After all, its claim to fame is being where the Mississippi River's headwaters are located. Anyway, it's a great park, and we had a great three days swimming, sightseeing and watching Sydney & Owen play with their cousins.
Are you still reading? If so, I commend you! This is getting long, isn't it? But it's almost over...on Thursday morning, we hit the road again. We stopped for lunch in Grand Forks, ND, after taking a short drive around the UND campus where Bill went to college. We then headed on to Minot where we stopped for dinner at my mom's cousin's house. All of her grandchildren were there, so Sydney & Owen were taken out and exercised quite nicely by the other kids. We left there about 9:30 pm, determined to get some road under our wheels before the end of the day. We made it to Glendive, MT, where we crashed out at the Days Inn.
We actually got a nice early start the next morning, and plugged "home" into our navigation system to see what it said. According to it, if we pushed it, we'd be home around 1 am. We decided to go for it, like horses that smell the barn. Unfortunately, we forgot to factor in the ridiculous number of potty and please-stop-crying-Owen stops we'd have to make along the way, and ended up rolling into our driveway at around 4:30 am. But let me tell you, it was so great to wake up in my own bed!
All in all, it was a very successful trip. I love road trips, and I love the fact that our kids are seeing much more of this great country than they would if we just flew back and forth over it. Never mind the fact that Sydney was glued to her DVD player 99% of the time (we did make her shut it off for several hours a day, until we were nearly driven to homicide by "Can I watch? Can I watch? Can I watch" coming incessantly from the back seat...). I think we're going to make it a summer family tradition.
Whew! Thanks for reading! I need some coffee.