This has been an unprecedented year to say the least. Cancelled plans was the theme for this year. Not the theme we were hoping for, but it’s what we got.
The thing about cancelled plans is that you start reminiscing, looking over old photographs and sifting through travel trinkets. It was this reminiscing that brought us to our fun Christmas project! Our vintage travel themed Christmas tree!
It was a lot of fun going through all the items we’ve collected from our travels throughout the years and figuring out how to incorporate them into a Christmas tree. From our Voodoo doll and alligator head (yes, I said alligator) from New Orleans to all our shells from California, Oregon, Florida and Maine; we had a lot of fun things to make ornaments from. For the rest, I was able to find some vintage globes and other colorful balls. I chose my color pallet from the colors found in the vintage travel posters on display in my living room.
Since we went with a slim tree, a standard tree skirt just wouldn’t do. Instead, we found a vintage suitcase at the antique store and covered the tree stand with a cashmere scarf. We bought some vintage travel stickers and covered the suitcase with them. The rest of the stickers were used for gift wrapping. There’s just something about a brown paper wrapped package tied with twine and covered with travel stickers that screams vintage!
And yes, even though our son is 20 years old, I still write ‘From Santa’ on all his gifts! It’s just no fun writing mom & dad over and over again.
This project was so much fun to put together! I hope 2021 will allow us more travel adventures, but until then, we’ll just be enjoy the memories of the adventures we have had the pleasure of experiencing. Happy Holidays from the Adventuring Andersons!
Even with diligent planning and preparing, a trip can look amazing and adventurous on paper but the reality turns out to be a huge disappointment. Such as we learned this past July, when we decided to test our adventurous nature and stay in an 1880’s homestead. No running water, no electricity, out in the middle of nowhere in Interior, SD just south of Badlands National Park. The homestead sits on a family farm, about fifty yards from the White River. The weather forecast for that weekend was topping at around 100 degrees for a high and 80’s for a low.
No electricity? No problem! We have a badass camping lantern. No running water? No problem. We have the river close by and we bought some Dude Wipes, yes that’s right, Dude Wipes for a wet nap shower. We also bought some backpacker meals, firewood, a small pot and about 6 gallons of water. We were ready. We were pumped. This was definitely going to be a unique experience.
But little did we know, that fate had its own plan for us. The drive down to the homestead was absolutely breathtaking. A winding river valley, lush and green and rolling hills. It was very picturesque. Finally, the moment has arrived! We were there! We got out of the car and started walking towards the homestead, when suddenly we were attacked! It initially started off slow, but the more we disturbed the grass the more vicious it became. We were being attacked from every direction, we couldn’t escape! We were surrounded with no way out! I ran back to the car and grabbed the only weapon I had. I couldn’t see them so I blindly aimed………..then pulled the trigger. I doused myself with as much Off repellant as I could stand. Then I courageously ran back to my husband to save him from those blood sucking little demons.
It helped, a little. We stepped inside the homestead hoping for a reprieve from the massacre. There were screens on the homestead windows, but there was no breeze so it was like sitting in a sauna. The screens also were full of holes so, you guessed it, there were mosquitoes in there too.
Now normally, the Badlands and surrounding areas don’t receive much rain. They have a more desert like environment. But this year was a very wet season which creates the perfect environment for mosquitoes to breed.
At that point we weren’t sure what we were going to do. There was no way to cook our food in the homestead, so we’d have to go outside and build a fire at some point. We thought perhaps, a fire would deter the mosquitoes. But we were wrong. We barely got the fire lit. Well, maybe since it was so hot, we’d hang out in the river to cool off. Remember how I said, it had been a really wet season? Yep, the river was flooded and moving pretty fast. So, no swimming on this trip. And unfortunately, when I’m bitten by a mosquito, the site welts up to the size of a silver dollar and I already had three large welts forming on the back of my arm.
We were defeated. We were literally soaked in bug spray. The little bastards must have been some mutant hybrid demon, that our puny mortal bug spray had no effect on. So, we decided to move on.
We looked nearby for different lodging, but what we found was either full or just a little to sketch for our taste. So inevitably I started looking online for lodging in Rapid City. And I found the perfect place. The place that would make up for the whole horrible start to our vacation. Glamping!
So, at this point our trip took a complete 180. We went from roughing it with no running water or electricity to a canvas tent with a king size bed and private bathroom. We had stayed at Under Canvas in Keystone last year and loved it, so we couldn’t wait to experience it again. And guess what? There were no mosquitoes there! Hooray! We still ate our backpacker meals, we just didn’t have to boil our own water. They were actually pretty tasty and very easy to clean up.
The next morning we were up early and headed for Custer State Park to find the buffalo. The last time we’d driven through the park we didn’t get to see them at all. So this time we were determined. The drive is beautiful early in the morning. We only saw 2 other vehicles out for a drive. When we were about halfway through the park we stopped at a visitor center and they gave us an approximate location for the buffalo and the mules that call the park home. And we found them! Although they were not that close to the road, they were still close enough that you could hear them grunting.
Now this can’t be said enough. Buffalo are not the lovable, docile creatures they appear to be. Buffalo and very grumpy and will knock your ass down if you encroach their personal space. Now, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to see a stark similarity between the buffalo and me when it comes to personal space. Hhmmm.So, I guess you could say that buffalo are my spirit animal. Keep your distance!
After leaving the buffalo, we headed in the direction where the mules were said to be hanging out. Just like in Yellowstone, there was a traffic jam where the mules were hanging. There were multiple families with kids feeding the mules apples and granola. A word to the wise, the mules get a little aggressive when there’s food around and will push their way in to grab some. So keep and eye on your surroundings and watch your fingers! If your fingers are in the way when they come in for a bite, they will get you! Not on purpose of course.
Even though I didn’t have food for them and they didn’t want anything to do with me because of it, I still managed to get two of the greatest selfies I have ever taken!
The rest of our trip was spent relaxing and driving the winding mountain roads. We took a drive on needles highway and stopped for a short hike. We eventually ended up in Hill City and stopped by Prairie Berry for lunch and then over to Miner Brewing Company for a couple drinks.
Robert Burns said it best “The best laid schemes of Mice and Men often go awry. And leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy”. We left for the weekend with one adventure planned and ended up having a completely different one. Fortunately, it turned out to be a pretty great experience compared to how it had started.
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald-The Great Gatsby
Every year on January first, people all over the world make resolutions to improve their health or become a better person. But why January? I get that it’s the start of a new year on a calendar, but it seems to me that fall should be the time to make resolutions.
Fall is nature’s way of telling us to let go of things or habits that are no longer enriching our lives. There’s a quote that I come across every fall that says “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” I wish I knew who wrote it, because it really resonates with me and how this season makes me feel. Things are changing all around us. Children go back to school to start a new chapter in their lives. The air is becoming fresh and crisp. The leaves are changing their colors and succumbing to the winds. The energy all around us in changing. So why not us? Why wait until the year on the calendar changes? When everything around us is telling us that change is beautiful. Why not now?
This fall, my resolution is to take better care of myself through exercise and the food I eat. How about you? How will your new chapter start?
Teenagers. They’re dirty, moody, starving creatures that arise to see the light of day sometime after noon only to slink back into their cave after raiding the village for food. Fortunately for us, our teen monster is very interested in history. So, when we proposed a trip to Washington, D.C.; he was all for it.
When we started planning this trip, we planned it with Jayden in mind. He doesn’t travel like we do. We go, go, go all day. He doesn’t. So, to ensure that he didn’t lose interest in what we were doing right away we made sure to plan time each day for him to do whatever he wanted. Whatever that might be. Taking a nap. Watching youtube, what have you. Washington, D.C. has so much to see, that there’s no way you could get to everything in a week. So we allowed Jayden to make a list of things he absolutely had to see and another list of places we would see if we had time.
We booked our trip the week following Jaydens last day of school, which brought us to D.C. on Memorial Day. The city was buzzing.Streets were closed, parades were marching by and food trucks lined the national mall.
Where We Went and What We Learned:
The White House: The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800. The building was burned down by the British during the War of 1812. It takes 570 gallons of white paint to paint the entire exterior of the building. Tours of the White House need to be requested through your member of congress.
Vietnam War Memorial: The main part of the memorial, the wall, was completed in 1982. It was fully funded by private donations. Celebrities such as Bob Hope helped with the fund raising. A 21 year old Yale University student won the memorial design contest. The wall was the subject of much criticism and so two statues were added as part of the memorial: the three servicemen and the Vietnam Nurses statue. Tributes and memorials are left at the wall daily. These items are collected and taken to a storage facility in Maryland. They are used in traveling exhibits.
We had the honor of finding the name of a serviceman that had served with my Uncle. This memorial is both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. No one really speaks when they stand in front of it. There’s a lot of pain and feeling of betrayal here. Admission:Free
Lincoln Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1922 after having taken more than 50 years to get it built. The design is based on the Parthenon of Greece. Bacon, the memorial architect was quoted as saying “a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the birthplace of democracy.” Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to see the dedication of the memorial. He was 78 years old at the time. The steps of the Lincoln Memorial is the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. There is a plaque indicating where he stood. Admission:Free
Washington Monument: The Washington Monument stands 555′ tall and was built to commemorate the first President of the United States. The trowel used to lay the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was the same trowel used by President Washington to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol building in 1793.
Korean War Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1995 by President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam. The memorial is made up of 4 parts: the statues, the mural wall, the pool of reflection and the united nations wall. The mural wall depicts images from photographs taken during the war. Jayden’s great-grandfather served during the Korean War. Admission:Free
World War II Memorial: This memorial didn’t exist when I visited D.C. back in high school, although its plans were in the works. President Clinton signed a public law in 1993 authorizing the establishment of a WWII memorial. Construction didn’t start until 2001 and it finally opened in 2004. The memorial is dedicated to all those who served and all those who supported the war effort at home. Admission:Free
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: The FDR Memorial is probably my favorite. The red granite that makes up the walls of this memorial were brought in from my home state of South Dakota. The memorial is divided into rooms, each representing a different part of his presidency. FDR’s words engraved throughout the walls ring just as true today as they did then. Admission:Free
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: The Martin Luther King Memorial is not too far from FDR. It is a 30 foot high relief of MLK made of white granite. From the memorial, you can look out over the tidal basin and see the Jefferson Memorial. The memorials address is 1964 Independence Avenue referencing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. More than 900 applicants from 52 countries entered the design contest for the memorial. Admission:Free
Jefferson Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1943 by FDR. Originally, it was supposed to be a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. The start of construction inspired ‘The Cherry Tree Rebellion’ in which 50 women marched on the White House to protest the removal of cherry trees. Some women even chained themselves to trees at the construction site. Admission:Free
US Marine Corps War Memorial: aka the Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated in 1954 by president Dwight D Eisenhower. The sculpture is based off the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. The faces on the sculpture are the actual faces of the men in the photograph. Admission:Free
Arlington National Cemetery: The cemetery was established in 1864 and hosts more than 400,000 graves. In 1868, May 30th was proclaimed to be Decoration Day for the sole purpose of decorating the graves of fellow soldiers. The day was later renamed Memorial Day. Arlington is the only National Cemetery to hold service members from every war in US history. There may no longer be any additions to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier due to DNA testing. Admission:Free
Museums We Visited and What We Saw:
Holocaust Museum: It’s difficult to find the right words to describe the contents of this museum or the way it makes you feel. It’s something you need to experience in person. You need to read the words for yourself. See the images. Experience the smells. Any description I provide would do it an injustice. You just need to go. Admission: Free, but will need a timed ticket from March-August.
Ford’s Theater: The theater houses a small museum in the downstairs of the theater showcasing articles of clothing, John Wilkes Booth’s torn boot and the flag torn by his spur as he made his escape. After viewing the museum, you’re able to head into the theater where you can see the balcony where Lincoln was shot. Ford’s Theater also includes the house across the street where Lincoln took his last breath. The house was under renovation while we were there, so we could only view it from the street. Admission: $3.00 pp.
International Spy Museum: The Spy Museum is not part of the National Mall, so it does cost money to get into, but believe me it is worth it! Upon arrival you’re taken downstairs into a small room with columns filled with different aliases. You’re allowed to pick whichever one you want. After making your choice, you commit all the information to memory. After all, a good spy should never be caught with info on his person! All throughout the museum they have kiosks where you can answer questions about your mission. If you answer them correctly, you keep your spy status. However, if you do not, your cover will be blown. The museum showcases spy equipment used during WWII and the Cold War. It even discusses the use of spies as far back as Queen Elizabeth I. Admission: $21.95 pp.
National Museum of American History: Here we saw the first Da Vinci Robotic arm that’s used in our operating rooms today. There’s a fragment of Plymouth Rock and examples of the government issued clothing options for women during WWII. We saw many examples of popular culture artifacts including the first computer and the same Little People farmhouse that I played with as a child (kind of makes me feel old). Admission:Free
National Museum of Natural History: The Hope Diamond is a big attraction here. Get here early to avoid the crowd. You’ll also find fragments of an asteroid that landed in Arizona and if you happen to be standing at one of the balconies you’ll see the lobby where one of the Night at the Museum movies was filmed. The museum was in the process of completing a large dinosaur exhibit while we were there. It looks like it’s going to be amazing. Admission:Free
National Air and Space Museum: I’m a big Apollo 13 fan, so I was pretty excited to see Gene Kranz’s Apollo 13 vest that his wife had made for him. Also because we’re huge nerds, we were excited to read about the USS Enterprise. No not the ship made to boldly go where no one has gone before. It was actually the most decorated aircraft carrier in WWII, earning 20 battle stars. Admission:Free
National Archives: The National Archives was founded in 1934 by FDR. It is home to The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and The Constitution. In order to maintain the preservation of the documents, the room is kept fairly dark and cool. The documents are pretty faded and hard to read, and it’s a very busy place so you’ll want to get there as early as possible. Amazing to be so close to these documents. It’s well worth a visit. Admission:Free
Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon is the home and final resting place for George and Martha Washington. The estate was nearly in ruins before the Mount Vernon Ladies Association was founded and raised $200,000 to purchase the home and 200 acres and start renovations. The exterior of the home looks like it’s made of stone, but Washington actually made a faux finish by putting sand in the paint to give the appearance of stone. The property hosts a stable, distillery and a gristmill and you can place your hands on trees that were planted by George Washington in 1785. If you’re a fan of the National Treasure movies, you already know that a scene in the second movie was filmed at Mount Vernon. They even offer a National Treasure tour where they take you to see the filming locations and talk about that secret passageway! Mount Vernon is privately run and does not receive government funding so there is a fee to get in. Admission: $20 pp, 11 and under $12 pp, National Treasure Tour $10 pp
Where We Ate!
Food Trucks: There were plenty of food trucks along the national mall. We found some Andalusia Style tacos to try.
Founding Farmers: Amazing farm to table cuisine. A favorite, I’ve read, of Michelle Obama’s. The restaurant is owned by more than 47,000 family farms. We had handmade butternut squash mascarpone ravioli, shrimp and grits with andouille, and skillet cornbread with honey.
Shake Shack: Our son isn’t an adventurous eater. So anytime we can get a burger, fries and a shake that doesn’t taste like fast food debauchery we’re all for it. We were pleasantly surprised with Shake Shack and there is one right next door to the International Spy Museum, so right after our tour we stopped by for a quick lunch.
Good Stuff Eatery: Another great spot for a really good burger, fries and a shake. We found this one in Georgetown, which we came to love!
Luke’s Lobster: All I have to say is BEST lobster roll ever! Plus their location in Georgetown is really cozy and cute!
Pi Pizzeria: A convenient location close to the White House. Perfect for hungry teens!
Wicked Waffle: As the name implies, all their menu items have a waffle component. Everything we had was delicious and the perfect meal after a morning of walking to all the monuments.
Georgetown: Georgetown was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. We loved the area immediately. The area is filled with little shops, pubs and restaurants. A few of our favorite places include: Georgetown Cupcake, Olivia Macaron, Dean & Deluca, Luke’s Lobster and Good Stuff Eatery. There’s a small park at the end of the main area that contains a memorial for Francis Scott Key. And if you take the path by the river, you’ll walk by the Watergate Hotel, where we all know that Forest Gump got President Nixon in trouble! 😉
Where We Stayed: The River Inn on 25th street is located on a quiet street in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Georgetown, which we loved! Also it’s close to the metro. We opted to walk as much as we could while in D.C. The National Mall was only about a 25 minute walk from the hotel.
Our room was very cozy and had a small kitchen where we could cook our own meals if we wanted. The hotel gave you the option of having them stock the fridge for you. We used it mainly to store leftovers from wherever we had eaten or whatever treats we had found in Dean & Deluca! The hotel had a few tables and chairs outside for its guests to sit and relax. We made good use of them. At the end of a long day, it was the perfect spot to wind down.
Since all the monuments and most of the museums are free, our biggest expenses came from our flight, hotel and food. We used Uber a couple of times, but mostly we walked everywhere we needed to go. It is a very affordable family vacation. I’ll share our itinerary for D.C. in my next post.
Did you know that the Andersons make their own wine! Believe it, it’s true! Mostly we make our wines using wine kits. They’re really easy and can be found in any wine supply store or online. My favorite part of the process is coming up with the names and designing the labels. When our wine making started, it was supposed to be a hobby for Reed. But it has since progressed into something for us to do together and we have a pretty good time doing it. Neither of us will be hired as a sommelier any time soon, especially since we only like sweeter wines. But who cares! Hobbies are meant to be fun!
We don’t have a special room built for wine making, we just transform the kitchen into a production area whenever we need to. It works out great! It’s hard to go wrong with the wine kits as long as you sanitize everything.
We do however, have a small closet we transformed into a wine cellar. It’s not climate controlled, but it’s located right in the middle of the basement and maintains a very steady temp. It’s right next to our wet bar that we lovingly call The 55th Street Pub. We love it!
We have made one batch of wine completely from scratch, but it was quite the task. You need a lot of grapes to get the appropriate amount of juice. Our friends, The Schmidts, happen to have some grapevines and were kind enough to let us harvest their haul. But like I said, you need a lot of grapes. So we ended up supplementing with a couple pounds of blueberries. We don’t have a juice press so to extract the juice from the fruits, Reed scooped them into a mesh bag and juiced them all by hand. That was not a quick task by any means.
In the end, we managed to get about 15 bottles and it didn’t taste too bad considering we accidentally double fermented it! And that is how our Schmidt Faced wine was born!
I don’t know if we will ever make a from scratch wine again after all that, but it’s always a possibility! Wine making is a fun hobby and what’s even better is that we always have a gift on hand to bring for birthdays, holidays or housewarming!
I’d like to sign off this post with a beautiful poem about wine.
Last month Jayden completed a pretty big milestone in his life. Our handsome young man graduated from high school! We could not be more proud of him and what he has accomplished. This fall he will be attending tech school as part of their network administrator program.
We threw a graduation party in his honor at our home, and me being the proud parent that I am, I went overboard as is my usual. 🙂 We had remodeled our garage a couple of years ago and turned it into an entertainment space. The color scheme we chose for the garage just happen to go really well with Jayden’s school colors. It turned out to be perfect!
Since Jayden is going into a computer related field, not to mention that the kid is amazing at everything that has to do with computers, we decided to use a computer theme. A good friend of mine made Jayden’s micro chip cake and also did three different flavors of cupcakes each with its own computer themed topper such as a mouse, the CTRL ALT DEL keys and the power button. They all looked and tasted amazing! The cake topper is a custom bobble head which I ordered off Etsy and no party is complete without M&M’s customized with Jayden’s face! I had actually found a Groupon for the custom M&M’s and got a pretty good deal on them.
In continuation with our computer theme, we decided to use our smart TV to display a slide show of pictures of Jayden throughout his life rather than have physical photos displayed. It didn’t take up any extra space and it was really easy to pull images onto a flash drive and plug it in. After I was done looking through pictures and reminiscing of course!
Since we live in South Dakota and you never know what the weather is going to do, we rented a tent and had it set up over the driveway to provide an area with extra seating and cover in case of rain or snow. The weather however, turned out to be perfect. It was an overcast day and it was neither too cold; nor too hot which we were extremely grateful for since the day before was windy, rainy and cold. We were so thankful for the weather that day and also all of our amazing friends and family that stopped by to wish Jayden well. We love and appreciated all of you!
Don’t have the budget for a big family vacation? No problem! What if I told you that you could have a fun family vacation right at home? Not possible you say? Well, I beg to differ. Ever heard of a staycation?
A staycation is a vacation you take at home or with minimal travel from your home. And it has many benefits such as financial savings, much needed R&R and quality family time. As impossible as it sounds, it can be done as long as you make preparations and set some ground rules beforehand.
If you’re kids are older, involve them in the planning process. Let them choose what activities they want to do and when they want to do them. If your family likes structure, create an itinerary together. If your family loves spontaneity, place all your activities in a hat and draw one out each day. Try new restaurants on staycation, or gather take out menus from all your favorite restaurants and have food delivered. If eating out every day is not an option, plan a freezer meal day and put together some easy meals that everyone will love. You should also plan to prep your home ahead of time as well. Have a marathon laundry day and get the whole family to help clean.
Set Ground Rules
It’s important to also set some ground rules for your staycation and the entire family should be involved in its creation as well. Ground rules could include all or some of the following:
No screens (phones, tablets, tv)
No working from home
No outside plans with friends
No independent activities
Just like any vacation, you’ll need to plan a budget. Set money aside for your activities, eating out or splurge for a housekeeper to clean for you while you’re vacationing. You can set aside money ahead of time and plan your activities based on that amount or you can plan all your activities, then decide if you’ll be able to do them all or if you’ll have to remove some.
Fashion some Fun!
See a movie: Rent a movie to watch at home or go to the theater. Many theaters offer matinee prices if you go earlier in the day. Better yet, hit up the drive-in! Living on the Eastern side of South Dakota, we’re just a short drive into Minnesota to hit up the Verne Drive in.
Have a Movie Marathon: Let each family member select a movie. After each movie, talk about what they liked or didn’t like about it. Who was their favorite character and why? Get some fun popcorn boxes and the boxes of movie theater candy to make it feel like you’re really at the theater.
Go camping: Find a state park close to your area or just go camping in your own backyard. If you don’t own a tent, no worries! Build a blanket fort and sleep in that!
Take A Class: Many communities provide community education classes covering a variety of subjects. Some are free but most cost a minimal fee.
Explore your city: Research your city like a tourist. Look on Pinterest or visit your local chamber of commerce and pick up a free city guide.
20 Things to do in and around Sioux Falls:
Go to a movie
Visit the Science Museum
Go to the Farmers Market
Go to a sporting event ( baseball, arena football, basketball or hockey)
Check out nearby State Parks
Go brewery hopping
Attend sangria Sunday or Thursday Night Porch Series at Strawbale Winery
Driving down desolate highways, surrounded on both side by rolling hills carpeted with yellow from the wild sunflowers that grow there. Northwest Nebraska has a sort of surreal loneliness about it. You have simultaneous feelings of being nowhere and being somewhere at the same time. It’s beautiful.
The first night of our trip found us in Valentine, Nebraska. We expected it would be a great starting point for our Western Nebraska road trip due to its geographical location to what we had planned to see. What we didn’t expect, was that we’d find an oasis in the Sand hills. In most towns with a population less than 3,000 people, you wouldn’t find a thriving craft brewery. Mostly because the bars and restaurants found there get their beer from those big named, super bowl commercial spending, manufacturers of piss in a can or bottle if you prefer. And that’s all they offer, since that is what their demographic likes. Bolo Beer Company, beer born and brewed on the American frontier, is a refreshing sight for sore eyes looking for good beer in desolate places. It’s a great place to hang out. The building itself looks like a giant shed meant for fixing farm equipment, but upon entering find a large open space with comfortable chairs and nice people. Their astro-turf covered backyard was an added bonus. The area is surrounded by a high fence and has multiple yard games, a fire pit and picnic tables.
Our first official stop on our Nebraska road trip felt like we stumbled upon a hidden treasure. Smith Falls, the tallest waterfall in the State of Nebraska at 63 feet, is a hidden gem found not far from the Niobrara River. Smith Falls State Park is located about 12 miles outside of Valentine, Nebraska. Getting to the falls requires a minimal amount of hiking that most of the general public should have no problem with. A quick climb down some stairs, a walk across an open field, take the bridge over the Niobrara River, walk across another open area and up onto a wooden pathway and you’re there! The walk was actually very beautiful, especially at 8:00 in the morning. The campers were all still in their tents, so we had the place to ourselves. Walking across the bridge over the Niobrara was magical. On one side, the sun was rising over the river and on the other a deer was crossing the river. Breathtaking. Smith Falls is spring fed and the water is cool, crystal clear and very beautiful. We ended up spending more time there than we had originally planned.
Our next stop on our trip across the prairie was a kooky little place called Carhenge. An exact replica of that stone circle across the pond, Carhenge is made of, you guessed it, cars. Jim Reinders and a number of family members built Carhenge in 1987 as a memorial to his late father. The structure is not something you would expect to see driving through this part of Nebraska, but it is a fun and crazy little pit stop. There are picnic tables and a small visitor center/gift shop as well. Although we were unable to summon the alien architects from the center of the circle, we were still grateful for the experience.
After leaving Carhenge, we traveled even further south and down into the sand hills where we found Chimney Rock. “You have died of Dysentery,” unless you were born in the 1980’s, you’ve probably never played the original Oregon Trail computer game. In the game, you play the part of a settler in charge of a wagon full of people that are trying to make it to Oregon in the 1800’s. Chimney Rock was one of the most recognizable landmarks on the early pioneer’s journey west on the Oregon Trail as it is in the computer game. In fact, it is because of this computer game that I learned about Chimney Rock in the first place. Does anyone remember when computer games were educational?
From Chimney Rock we decided to start heading north and found ourselves in Scott’s Bluff at an authentic Mexican taco shop called Antonio’s Taco Shop. It’s a small family owned restaurant and the food is amazing. We decided to sample a few items and so chose to do the mini tacos. We ordered marinated pork, beef and lengua, which is Spanish for tongue. Yep, we ate tongue tacos. They actually weren’t bad. They were tender and still tasted like beef, although there was that organ after taste to it. Now, I know what you’re thinking.’ I could never eat anything like that!’ Well, yes you can and yes you should. If you’re taking time out of your life to travel someplace you’ve never been to see things you’ve never seen, then you should also try foods you’ve never even dreamed of trying. It’s that simple.
Driving even further north, we eventually found ourselves in the Nebraska Badlands in a little area called the Toadstool Geological Park. The toadstool structures exist because the layers of clay and ash have been warped over time by wind and rain. These formations are amazing and there’s nothing like them anywhere. There are a few campsites available in the park and a couple primitive toilets. A couple was just leaving when we arrived, so we had the entire park to ourselves. The formations are amazing. It’s like looking into our geological past. The park also contains numerous fossils and animal tracks. Because of the fossilized animal tracks, scientists have been able to study animal migration patterns in this area.
The last leg of our trip brought up back into South Dakota at the all new glamping site near Keystone. But that will have to be a post all on its own.
The smells of fresh-cut flowers and wood fire pizzas on a warm Saturday morning. Can life get any better than that? Yes it can. Because among the flowers and pizzas, you’ll find a cache of fresh local produce, fresh-baked goods, meats and cheeses. In my mind, the only thing missing that would make this picture complete is wine.
I must confess, my husband and I normally come down to the farmers market a couple of times a month just for the wood fire breakfast pizzas. They’re delicious. Made with fresh ingredients and a very light thin crust. We’d grab two to go and a couple of coffees, then head across the way to have a picnic and just enjoy each other’s company in the peaceful setting that is falls park.
This time however, we decided to explore the market a little deeper and put together an entire meal made with only locally grown/sourced food. After walking up and down the market several times, we finally decided on walleye, chard, carrots, corn salsa and rhubarb. On the way home we stopped and picked up some locally made beer and locally made ice cream to finish off our meal.
In a world where you have to buy special cleaning solutions to clean all the chemicals off your grocery store produce, it’s in your best interest to visit your local farmers market and buy directly from the source. Also there’s just something genuinely satisfying about supporting your local farmers and knowing exactly where your food came from. Having grown up in a small farming community, I know firsthand how important they are to their local economies. So get out there and support your local farmers and ranchers!
Needless to say our meal was completely amazing and we can’t wait to do it again. Our completed meal was as follows: grilled Cajun walleye with corn salsa, grilled carrots with farm honey and creamed chard followed by rhubarb pie topped with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Needless to say, it was amazing! We had never had chard before, but it was excellent and I recommend you try it. Enjoy the pictures below from our day!
We’re South Dakotans born and raised and even we haven’t seen or experienced everything our beautiful state has to offer; but we’re working on it! For now, we’d like to share some of our adventures from our Black Hills vacation.
Situated in the western half of the state, lies some of the most beautiful country in the Midwest, the Black Hills and of course the Badlands. The two display vastly different terrains and a distinct beauty of their own.
When people hear South Dakota, they automatically think Mt Rushmore. Now don’t get me wrong, Mt Rushmore is a very important landmark and brings thousands of visitors to our state every year, but South Dakota has so much more to offer that many people don’t realize. We’re a very family friendly state. There are so many things for kids to do here, that they won’t know where to start first but they’ll definitely want to see them all!
The first stop on our South Dakota adventure was the Badlands National Park. The Lakota name for the Badlands is “Mako Sica” which translates to “land bad”. Badlands National Park displays 244,000 acres of dramatically eroding landscape, which means that if you visited the park every year you’d never see the same park. The Badlands exist because 75 million years ago the Great Plains were covered by a shallow sea. The park offers a number of hiking trails and allows primitive camping as well, as long as you sign in on your trails. The beauty of the land formations may take center stage of this gorgeous area, but there’s also plenty of wildlife and fossil beds as well.
Shortly after leaving the Badlands, we arrived in Keystone, SD where we had arranged our hotel stay. From the city of Keystone, Mt Rushmore is just a quick drive up the hill. Mt. Rushmore, the most recognizable icon representing South Dakota displays the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln; four men whose leadership left an incredible impact on America as we know it. The mountain was carved by a sculptor known as Gutzon Borglum, who passed away a few months before its completion leaving his son to complete the project. An avenue of flags lines the pathway to the viewing balcony for Mt. Rushmore. The Presidential trail offers different views of the faces and is an easy trail to navigate. It also allows you to view local wildlife around the park. We didn’t stay for it, but in the evenings there’s a nightly lighting ceremony.
There’s so many great places to visit and activities for kids in the Black Hills that we can’t possibly talk about all of them in one post so we’re just going to highlight our favorites.
The Cosmos: the Cosmos was so much fun. It’s weird and it messes with your mind and it’s completely awesome! Balls roll uphill and standing straight is a 45 degree angle. As the story goes, the Cosmos was discovered in 1952 by two college boys looking for a place to build a cabin. When they came upon this area, the “laws of logic and physics seemed to be turned upside down”. The tour takes about 30 minutes and is very inexpensive. Anyone 12 years and older is $11 per person, $6 for kids 5 years to 11 years and 4 years and under are free.
Reptile Gardens: Reptile Gardens holds the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s largest reptile zoo. The giant tortoises were probably our favorite part! They offer a few different shows throughout the day, one being the alligator show where at the end our son was able to pet a baby alligator! They also have a collection of birds and a Prairie Dog town.
Big Thunder Gold Mine: At Big Thunder in Keystone, you’ll take a tour through an actual gold mine. You learn about how the mine was created, what tools were used, and the history of its original owners. After the tour, we had the opportunity to visit their museum which boasts the largest collection of Black Hills gold mining equipment. If you’re feeling super adventurous, you can also try your hand at gold panning. You get to keep what you find and they guarantee you’ll find something!
Rushmore Cave: Rushmore Cave is absolutely stunning! A couple of stalactites and stalagmites were photographed by National Geographic. There’s even an area where you can spot a pigs nose! The tour lasts about an hour and costs between $10-$16 dollars per person. It’s really incredible and should be on your South Dakota vacation list. After our cave tour, we headed over to the Gunslinger 7D Interactive Ride, which was our son’s favorite part. You get to choose from different scenarios and fight aliens or even zombies. Your seat moves and vibrates while you’re trying to fight off the enemies
Sylvan Lake: Another picturesque place you need to visit is Sylvan Lake located in Custer State Park. If the drive leading to Sylvan Lake wasn’t beautiful enough, when you finally reach the lake you find yourself inside a postcard of some far away land. There’s plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, swimming and small watercraft such as paddle boats and kayaks.
1880 Train: I loved trains when I was a kid. I remember getting an electric train for Christmas when I was around 8 years old. Getting to ride the 1880 train was a real treat, it’s a working steam engine! The train runs between Keystone and Hill City, so you get on in either city. We got on the train at Keystone. The trip takes about an hour one way. Along the way, we had the opportunity to see the remnants of old mines, some wildlife and the National Forest.
Wall Drug: On our way back home, we decided to stop for the “free ice water” at Wall Drug. It’s a very touristy stop, but it has an interesting history (which you can read about here) and kids love it. There’s numerous fun photo ops in their backyard, quirky displays and some of the most delicious fudge I’ve ever eaten! It was a great end to our short little trip. We hope, you’ll come visit our great state this coming summer. You won’t be disappointed!