South Dakota 2011

At the Badlands with all the kids
So I have this illusion I where I like to pretend that we're a stereotypical middle class family who can afford to do things like take exciting summer vacations. And we almost can, except basically these vacations are long weekends to places we can drive to and the entertainment is usually limited to places we can go hangout in and look around for free and (if we're not camping) swimming in the hotel swimming pool.  It's still not cheap, because it cost $100 just to drive out of my driveway with everyone in my car. . . that's not an exaggeration, $100 does not even cover one tank of gas and one fast food meal! But, without plane tickets and theme parks and expensive souvenirs we can have a good few days together for hundreds of dollars instead of thousands and still get our version of a vacation. I'm thankful we are able to do it.

The last few years we've been spending a weekend in Seattle (usually coinciding with when the Yankees happen to be in town) but since Dev had just made that trip a few weeks earlier and there are all sorts of other cool places we've never been, we decided to try something new. We headed east this time.

The first night we drove to Billings & stayed at the Bighorn Resort which has a huge waterpark. Water is one of my kids' favorite things.


Lex trying to get away from Israel. He is not a fan of supervision.

Israel did get in the water but it took a while. He couldn't be too eager. He is a teenager after all.
Azia wants to cut off all her hair again. It's probably a good plan since she hates fixing it (or even brushing it) but I love her long dark hair, especially on those days her eyes are looking especially blue.
Azia and Zoran were not interested in getting out of the pool. An hour after everyone left they were still playing and running away when they sensed I was going to say something about leaving. But, Zoran's lips were turning purple and his fingers were wrinkled into little prunes, so eventually I did drag them out.

In the morning we were just a few miles away from the Little Bighorn Battlefield. This actually ended up being one of the favorite stops of our trip. Zoran had read a lot about it before we got there and was really interested in the battle. Israel and Dev were even more interested once we got there and they could walk around and see where exactly things happened and how. Israel wrote about this stop more in depth so I'll have to get his journaling from the trip book the kids wrote in along the way & add it here.

Azia on the path back from the "last stand" area on the hill
Zoran at the Indian memorial
the boys. . .
Dev and Zoran (This must be Zoran's thinking face! He was trying to figure something out.)

After we left the Battlefield we made it to Rapid City with enough time to go unload at our hotel room and then venture off to a little pizza shop and then on to Mount Rushmore.

I think Mount Rushmore was Lex's favorite part of the trip.

He was fascinated by the faces in the mountain.

As soon as he saw them he wanted to get closer. Once he saw the trail on the mountain he ran all the way down there and then up all the stairs (there were a few hundred) and onto the trial. When the trail ended he hopped the fence and tried to keep going. At the evening show he actually watched the whole informational movie about the building of the monument and the background on each of the presidents. His favorite seemed to be "the one with the mustache." After every section he'd ask, "Is the next one the one with the mustache?" He still prefers "the one with the mustache" to calling him Roosevelt. He still seems to prefer Roosevelt in general but now sometimes talks about "the one with the beard" so maybe Lincoln is gaining ground.

At the conclusion of the night presentation and the lighting of the hill they have all the veterans come down for the national anthem and lowering of the flag. It's a pretty impressive sight. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this monument but the whole park does a nice job of presenting many of the historical accomplishments and achievements of this nation and some of its early leaders. It's a great history and civics lesson, even if (as all things are) it's an incomplete one.

Just down the road twenty miles or so from Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse memorial. It's probably just as controversial, even within the Native American community. (Does something of this huge scale with such a permanent alteration to sacred land make sense as a memorial to Crazy Horse? And what about creating a huge likeness of a person who refused to even be photographed?) Regardless of the politics, I was amazed by the scope of the project and the dedication of the man behind it and his family who continues to work away at his vision. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started the project (at the request of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear) in 1948 basically by himself. He built a 1/34 scale model and began chipping away at a mountain, beginning the process of creating a 600 foot tall sculpture. Then he just kept at it for nearly 40 years. This giant project was his life and work until his death in 1982. In the middle of it all he did get married and had ten kids who grew up on the mountain, went to school there for many of those years, and (in some cases) still continue to the work. This huge project, which has been ongoing for more than 60 years hasn't taken any government funds even though they've had opportunities. Ziolkowski believed in private enterprise and that if the public believed in and wanted the monument they'd support it.

Zoran with the scale model & the real sculpture in progress in the background.

In between our exploring, the kids loved the pool. (And I loved it when we had it all to ourselves! It got too busy in the evenings!)

We had a notebook where each of the kids recorded some of their favorite parts of each day or what was memorable. Lex didn't like to be left out of this part even though neither his pictures nor his words are real clear to most audiences at this point.

We spent one morning at the golf place next to our hotel. This was my very first experience with mini-golf (or golf of any kind actually). I may have taken about 15 attempts to get that ball in on one of the early holes. Eventually I caught on. I'm pretty sure I beat my partners Israel & Azia by the end.
Lex was eventually required to put his shirt back on. At every hole he'd be missing another piece of clothing. When I'd ask him why he'd taken something off he'd just say "I don't need it!" He was shirtless, barefoot and contemplating going down to his boxers when he was spoken to by management who informed him he did in fact need all the articles of clothing. He redressed to finish his game. (Which was actually my game since he tried to throw his own ball in the water at one of the first holes and then Dev returned his club.)

Of course Zoran was all business: strategy & focus.

Israel had a continuous, running commentary on everyone's game. He is nearly always in the middle of running commentary on something.

Dev split up the groups nice and evenly: him & Zoran in one and then me, Israel, Azia, & Lex in the other. Then they were impatient and annoyed if they had to wait for us. Nothing about this situation is surprising. 
It was The Pirate's Cove Mini golf & they provided appropriate attire. This part of the excursion was just Lex's style.

Visiting Deadwood was probably the part of the trip Israel was most excited about. We went during Wild Bill days which was cool because there were live concerts and lots of people, but not so cool because some of their normal historical stuff wasn't going on. Also not cool for Israel because they were having quick draw championships and he didn't get to participate. He didn't even get to bring his revolver on the trip at all. Maybe next time.
Deadwood is a great town to visit with a lot of history. It's also a great place to visit if you like beer and/ or bikes. Many more of both per capita than I'd seen in a very long time.

Rough afternoon for Lex. His siblings are not sympathetic.

On the day we were heading out to the Badlands we ended up stopping at Wall Drug just because we had to see what there was at Wall Drug. (They had billboards for like 30 miles.) It was definitely worth the stop.

One of my kids said it reminded them of Pike's Market but "You know the old west version instead of the Seattle one." And that's actually a pretty good description. There's probably not anything there that anyone really needs, but there are sure an awful lot of things to look at. Much more exciting than your average rural drugstore!
Israel checking out some guns. Of course.
Lex illegally picking me flowers. He does this pretty much wherever he is. It's nice that he thinks of me kindly even when breaking rules.

I really liked the Badlands National Park.

I think all the kids did too.

It seemed a lot less rules & regulations oriented than many National Parks we've been to.

This works well for my family.

The kids loved climbing around on all the rock formations. Every place we stopped there were places easy enough for Lex to climb without help. (This also worked well since Lex never believes he needs help.) But there were also places so steep the boys couldn't even really climb them. It was very cool terrain.
Lex liked it so much a few times he climbed things and didn't want to leave. You know how some kids get worried if they aren't near a parent? Or how kids get scared if they think they might get left somewhere? Yeah, Lex doesn't have either of those issues. Never has. He also has his own time frame for things. It's nice when it's the same as everyone else's. That doesn't always happen. None of us wanted to chase him and carry him down yet again from this perch on about a 15 foot hill, so we all went and got in the car which was parked about 30 yards away. He just watched us. And then we drove away. (Great parenting, huh? I can't wait till my kids are old enough to write about me. . .) We drove out of the parking lot and he still never budged. Just watched us looking very uninterested. So, we drove back in the parking lot when we got to the other end of it and went back and hiked up the little hill and retrieved him. On to the next adventure.

We did do one of the actual hikes in the park. Just a short one, but the landscape was pretty cool. And even though it was short, there were some steep parts. This ladder wasn't bad going up, but it was pretty slow getting everyone back down. 

Israel in the middle of the Notch Trail. (Dev & Lex down below. Lex didn't get to do the stairs & cliffs section of the hike.)

Dev & Lex cuddling. Oh alright he's restraining him from exploring the edges of the cliffs, but it looks a lot like cuddling since you can't see their faces. Lex wasn't really amused by his lack of freedom at this stop.


We took Dev out to eat at Outback for Father's Day. It costs $100 for all of us to eat there. (This doesn't include any expensive alcoholic drinks or anything, just food.) There are things I like about my kids getting older. The amount it costs to feed them isn't one of those things. This is probably why we only go to restaurants. . . well I can't even remember the last time we went and it there are no other trips in the foreseeable future!

Movie time in the hotel room. I feel like I should personally thank Mr. Steve Jobs for making traveling dozens of hours in the car with four children (and staying in one hotel room with those four children) completely bearable and even pleasant much of the time. The ipad is a wonderful distraction when children have been sitting close to each other for so long in the car they are running out of nice things to say to each other. Without Jobs and whoever invented those GPS systems (which decrease the number of unkind things Dev and I say to each other while navigating, very similar to the effect the ipad has on kids) it's likely I could not survive more than one family road trip.


  1. I love it Christa!!! It looks like a great trip. I almost want to take the trip across the ugliest part of montana w/ a two year old... Almost... :)

  2. Awesome, Christa. I love the photos. Your kids are beautiful and getting so big. I'm glad you're doing adventures with them. How fun and inspirational.