We were off. No stopping for breakfast. Granola bars and water were provided for all. Paul lied and did not get me my coffee until we were quite a bit further down the road. It made for a grouchy morning. The morning itself was gorgeous - the sun was shining and the skies were so incredibly blue as we drove past mile after mile of open fields with grazing cows and horses. We began to see signs for a few of our destinations that day, namely The Corn Palace and Wall Drug. Actually, the signs for Wall Drug began in Iowa. ONLY 300 Miles Until WALL DRUG! It gave us something to hope for.
But first, we stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota for a visit at the famed Corn Palace. This stop was all Paul's idea for I had no inclination whatsoever on viewing this fine establishment. It sounded like a tourist trap to me. But Paul had memories of begging his parents to stop and see it when he was a boy and they were driving through and they had always refused his please. So, out of over twenty years of pent-up curiosity of all the wonder and magnificence that was this mysterious Corn Palace, Paul had decided that we were going to see it. But first, we took a little bit of a wrong turn and drove several miles in the opposite direction before we realized our mistake and backtracked to our original position. When you're looking at driving for 11 hours in a single day, adding even 30 minutes of driving is painful. "This corn palace better be worth it!" I grumbled at Paul (remember, I was still without caffeine at this point!).
Well, it wasn't.
The kids had fun getting out and walking around. Emma enjoyed playing with a few of the random exhibits they had there. But, overall, I thought the title "Corn Palace" was a bit misleading. More like, the city arena that features a few walls of art made out of dried corn. It was kind of neat, I guess, but after expecting to literally find a palace (in our heads complete with pillars, a drawbridge, and perhaps a corn dragon), we were sorely disappointed. More like, a nice excuse for a bathroom break. I am impressed at how much tourism that place gets - nearly 500,000 people each year!
|These two were being disturbingly lovey-dovey with the creepy Annie Oakley statue.|
But, it was onward for us to our next Tourist Trap - THE Wall Drug! If you have never heard of Wall Drug, you are missing out. This is the tourist trap of all tourist traps. But, it was a place that Paul and I were very much looking forward to visiting. Basically, Wall Drug is a sprawling outdoor mall featuring unique shops and eateries in the style of an old western town. It also has a bunch of life-sized statues of heroes of the Old West, such as Annie Oakley and Wyatt Earp. And there's a huge dinosaur too. Because, those three clearly coexisted. Plus, they offer free ice water and coffee for a nickel. We had both been there as children at various times and remembered thinking it was kind of neat to walk around the old wooden boardwalks and peruse the touristy memorabilia for purchase in the shops. Just another good excuse to get out and stretch our legs.
|This horse thing was Lucy's favorite part of Wall Drug.|
|If Lucy had been a boy, her name would have been "Wyatt." I felt it was fitting to |
get a picture with her and Wyatt Earp, her almost-namesake.
Well, the kids were really in love with this place. It was a bit crowded and they were a bit wound up, but they loved running down the boardwalks and playing with all the various statues and horse saddles they could find. We let each kid pick out a cheap souvenir. They had been really good travelers so far that morning and they were so excited to pick out something! They both chose to make a purchase in the Mineral, Rock, and Fossil store, Emma desiring a bag full of precious stones and Matthew selecting a fossilized shark tooth. Both kids were so proud of their purchases, with Matthew declaring, "I can't WAIT to show my shark tooth to Grandma!" Come to think of it, I don't know if he ever did!
After Wall Drug, we continued onward into Rapid City, South Dakota. The kids were chanting for cheeseburgers in the back, so we found a McDonald's and all three kids greedily dug into Happy Meals. Then, because Paul and I are too good for Mickey D's, we drove through the Arby's across the street and shared a few of those glorious sliders. If you haven't tried them, they're delicious. Then, as we ate our first non-granola bar meal of the day, we drove to the beautiful Storybook Island, a city park featuring play structures designed after characters and locations found in well known children's stories. My family paid a visit to this park back in 1996 (20 years ago!!) and all of us remember having a fantastic time. Dad joked about how the structures displayed peeling paint, rust, and other signs of weathering and disrepair, but us kids neither noticed or cared!
|Lucy was obsessed with this plague. She kept circling back to it |
and pretending to write on it. Weird little cherub.
|It was too fun following Lucy around the park. She had a blast!|
Walking through the park, I noticed that some things were exactly the same as I remembered but much had changed. There was the house of the Seven Dwarfs with Snow White holding a pie while leaning out the window to offer a piece to the evil queen disguised as a peasant woman that I found so enchanting as a 10-year-old girl. There was the large sculpture of the Easter Bunny whose lap my sister Catherine had thrown herself across and pretended to plant kisses on his furry cheek while picking at his buckteeth. The pond with Noah's ark and a pirate ship ready to be climbed upon and explored - all was the same after 20 years with the exception of a coat of paint here and there! But there were new things to see as well - a little train that took families for rides around the entire park, a new baby playground with smaller slides and things to climb on so that the smallest people could enjoy the park as well, and an abandoned building where the old petting zoo had once been (the kids were bummed about that!). All three kids loved running about and exploring the park. But nobody enjoyed themselves more than Lucy. She was so happy to be free to stretch her little chubby legs, explore, play, and climb. The loudspeakers about the park still blared Disney music just as they had back in '96 only this time the playlist was longer, featuring hits from the more recent films such as Frozen.
|And for some reason, sitting on Aladdin was a MUST for Lucy!|
Paul and I also enjoyed watching the kids play about. It was a nice nostalgic stop for me and Paul was pretty impressed with the size of the park - and the fact that it was all free! However, the weather began to look a bit gloomy and we were worried about the possibility of it raining before we could get into the Black Hills and to view Mount Rushmore. After spending almost two hours at the park, we rallied our happy children back into the car where they quickly turned into very grumpy children.
"I don't want to see faces on a mountain!" Matthew pouted.
"I just wanted to play some more!" Emma whined.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Lucy chimed in, baring her teeth as she strained against her car seat harness.
But, off we went, leaving Rapid City and Storybook Island behind us. The drive to Mount Rushmore was only about 45 minutes and this was about the time that the scenery started getting really beautiful. We were finally driving through some mountains! Being able to look at the beautiful landscape was certainly going to make the last six hours of our journey more enjoyable!
As we drove around a bend in the road, suddenly we were face to face with the impressively beautiful Mount Rushmore. We snapped a few pictures as we drove closer and then waited in line to be admitted at the Visitor's Center. However, we were shocked to discover that the fee to park was $11.00. What!? Being the thrifty people we are, we asked if there was a place where we could turn around and then left. The kids were really confused. Change of plans, kids! Mommy and Daddy are too cheap to stop and walk around! We did, however, pull over to take a good look at Washington's profile on our way down from the Visitor's Center. The kids were not impressed.
It was a good thing we did NOT stop to walk around because less than 10 minutes after we drove away from Mount Rushmore, the skies opened up and began pelting our vehicle with quarter-sized pieces of hail. Our visibility completely disappeared and we slowed to a crawl as we desperately looked about for a place to pull over. Paul saw that there was a break in the clouds up ahead and decided to push onward with the hope that we would drive out of the storm. As we drove, the sound from the hail hitting our car made us wince. "This is going to cost us $1,000 in body work!" Paul snapped through gritted teeth. "It's just a car, honey!" was my helpful reply. He just glared at me.
Within another 10 minutes, we made it out of the storm and Paul began breathing a little easier. At the next gas station, we inspected the damage and found that amazingly the only harm to the car had been a large nick in the sunroof. It could have, should have, been a lot worse.
The next six hours were largely uneventful. We crossed into Wyoming and drove for miles and miles with very sparse population. Paul made sure that we had a full tank before we got into Wyoming because we drove for a couple hours without seeing any gas stations. The towns were so small but the scenery was beautiful. We entered into a large canyon not too far from Cody (our destination for the night) and everyone was in awe of the steep rock formations that jutted hundreds of feet upwards towards the sky. At one point, we noticed that the air was thick with smoke and there were several fire trucks and fireman out and about working on the mountainside. As we drove further inwards, we saw what appeared to be the remains of a forest fire, a blaze that had at one point been ravaging the sides of the canyon and left hundreds of blackened trees in its wake. The thick smoke and a few isolated pockets of burning brush were all that was left of what was probably a pretty impressive blaze. We felt lucky that our travel had not been inhibited by it. We could have been stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting for the firemen to fight the fire!
We finally arrived in Cody, Wyoming around 11:00 pm. So determined had Paul been to make it to our destination, that we had not stopped for dinner along the way. There also had been very few options. Thankfully, the kids had not complained too much and we did have a few snacks. In Cody, there were quite a few dining options but both Lucy and Matthew had fallen fast asleep in the back. We carried them into our motel room and tucked them into bed. They did not stir even as we removed their shoes and changed them into pajamas.
Emma, on the other hand, was awake and very upset. She wanted dinner and was quite angry that we had not yet fed her. Paul tried to give her a granola bar or some of the other snack food we had in the car to tide her over until breakfast but she did not want any of it. She wanted meat. And she was adamant: "Animal crackers are not dinner!" So, Paul sighed loudly and then put her shoes on, got himself dressed again, and then took her out to find food at nearly midnight. They split a Big Mac together and returned at some point 30 minutes later or so. I didn't hear them come in, for I was already fast asleep.
The final portion of our journey featuring our tour through Yellowstone Park and the final drive into Helena is coming up in Part III.