Monday, July 16, 2012

Vacation 2012: our trip to South Dakota and Colorado

This year’s big vacation was to (south) South Dakota and (eastern) Colorado. The primary agenda was to see the Badlands and the Black Hills—and Colorado was a good way to make a loop and see more things on the way home. In a nutshell, we used 13 days to travel through nine states, using I-65 to get north; I-90 to go out west; I-25 to head south; and I-70 and I-64 to return home.

It was a nature/Creation-filled trip with a lot of “normal” stuff to see as well. The landscape changed quite a bit from state to state—from desolation to mountains; from grassy prairies to fertile hills—the general highlight of the trip. Overall, all of us rated it as an even better trip than NC in 2010 and NY in 2011.

We started on Saturday June 30, just after the 4:00 50th anniversary service at Southeast. (It was terrific, but that’s another post!) We stayed in Chesterton, IN at a nice little hotel (Spring House Inn), before going to Indiana Dunes the next day. (I can see spending a few days there, combined with a number of days in Chicago, as a Spring Break trip.) An impressive thunder/windstorm drove us off the beach that afternoon. So, we moved on to the Wisconsin Dells. (Fortunately, our hotel had a pool, since we arrived earlier than expected.)

The next day was the busiest of the trip, requiring us to rise early: 1.) a “Ducks” tour for the boys (the army troop transport land/water vehicles—one of the highlights of the trip); 2.) Dr. Evermor’s Art Park (south of Baraboo; cool metal sculptures made from junk); 3.) the Bike/Space museum in Sparta; 4.) the Spam museum in Austin, MN; 5.) dinner at the DQ in Blue Earth, MN next to the Jolly Green Giant; and 6.) sunset at the waterfalls in Sioux Falls (much nicer than expected). What a day: great activities, while covering 420 miles. After a day and a half, we were already in South Dakota, with some fun stops along the way to break up the trip.

The next morning, just west of Sioux Falls, we stopped at a “bad” cowboy town—a bit run-down, but with automatons and a really interesting host. (Later that day, we skipped the better/traditional Cowboy Town in Murdo, where Dances with Wolves was filmed.) We also stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell—a must-see: a basketball arena with huge murals (inside and outside) created with corn. That evening, we made it to the Badlands and drove/walked around. It was more of the same the next morning before heading to Wall (Drug Store) for a brief stop—and then to Rapid City and the Black Hills. The Badlands are amazingly beautiful in their own way—the highlight of the trip for Tonia and two of the kids.

There’s a lot to do in and around Rapid City. We were there for two days and didn’t see everything. We squeezed smaller moments around larger drives/sites. The larger sites were Mt. Rushmore (we were there on July 4th, but no fireworks given the fire concerns), Sturgis (a terrific motorcycle museum), Deadwood/Lead (not much in the former [although a colleague told me we should have gone to the museum/graves on top of the hill); the mining tour is solid in the latter), and Devil’s Tower, WY. The “drives” were beautiful—most notably Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway, Wildlife Loop (long), and Spearfish Canyon Road. On the way to the big stops and the drives, we saw Reptile Gardens and Bear Country USA. (Both were excellent.) In Rapid City, check out the in-town art (Presidents and Art Alley); the 1930/WPA-built Dinosaur Park; and Stavkirke Church (a replica of a 12th-century Norwegian church). We also hiked from Sylvan Lake (gorgeous) to Harney’s Peak (the highest point east of the Rockies)—a rigorous 7-mile, 4-hour trip. We had plans to see Wind Cave National Park (including Rankin Ridge), the Mammoth Museum at Hot Springs, and Crazy Horse. But the hike took too much out of us and another southward drive would have taken too much time. (Looking back, I would have lessened our Wildlife Loop and gone by Crazy Horse on the way out. If we had taken another day—or skipped the hike—we could done everything easily.)

That evening, we drove through the middle of nowhere (again) in Wyoming and stayed the night in Cheyenne. The next day, we drove a loop south of Estes Park and then took another loop through Rocky Mountain National Park, ending up west of Denver. It rained quite a bit (thankfully for them), so we had limited visibility (although it was prettier in some ways) and only a few short (dry) hiking opportunities. We drove into Denver to have dinner at Casa Bonita—a unique Mexican restaurant with cliff divers and other entertainment! Then we spent the night with Ron and Rebecca Barnes (old friends of ours from Southeast) and worshipped with them at Flatirons Community Church the next morning. (Ron serves as the Missions director there. Interestingly, we got to hear Florence Muindi speak—the sister of Simon Mbevi who led the prayer conference at Southeast a few months ago. And we had the op to hear Jim Burgen preach—a former youth minister at Southeast—on Joseph in Genesis 42-50.)

After brunch with Florence and the Barnes, we hung out until late afternoon and then headed to Colorado Springs. There’s a lot to do there as well. Organizing things geographically: on the west side, I’d recommend the Cog Railway for Pikes Peak (vs. driving) and before/after that, a walk around Manitou Springs (we didn’t do this, but it looked like a smile). On the way there, I’d recommend at least one visit to the Garden of the Gods—another highlight of the trip. We went there three times. It was free and looked different each time, depending on the sun’s position and weather conditions. Just south of there is Seven Falls. It looked great, but seemed pricey and you can’t hike after 6 PM, so we passed on that. Near there (and free) are the Kempf metal sculptures (2057 Pine Grove). In town, the Olympic Training Center was solid; I heard that the Chapel at the Air Force Academy is beautiful but we didn’t get there; and we enjoyed dinner in a WWII airplane restaurant (just west of the airport). Going southwest, we didn’t go to the Royal Gorge bridge (looks beautiful but it was expensive and seemed like a tourist trap from reviews); we went white-water rafting with RaftMasters at Bighorn Canyon (near Royal Gorge); and we saw the amazing May Tropical Insect Museum on the way out there (7,000 huge, unique and beautiful insects on display).

Heading east out of town, a highlight of the trip for everyone was “Dragon Man”—a Vietnam Vet with a business selling guns while operating a gun range and paintball. He also has amazing collections in a 58,000-square foot warehouse divided into many rooms. He does a two-hour tour on Saturdays at 10 AM. I mentioned that we weren’t going to be in town on a Saturday and he graciously gave us a 15-minute version of it. Even the skinny version of the tour was awesome—from guns to Elvis, from gas pumps to military uniforms, etc. It is a must-see if you’re in the area.

On the way home, we visited the Wonder Tower in Genoa, CO—an odd little place where the proprietor’s quirky personality made it worthwhile. We even bought a few of his bottles. We slept late on Thursday and so we skipped the prairie dog town and other animals—as well as the Buffalo Bill statue—in Oakley, KS. Instead, we went to Lucas, KS for the most under-estimated stop on our trip: a community “grass-roots” art museum that was tremendous. It’s 15 miles north of I-70, but easily worth the little detour (esp. to break up that drive).

We spent Thursday evening and Friday morning with my old violinist friend from College Station, Susan Astroff, and her daughter Addison. (Her husband was out-of-town with work and two of their kids are away at grad school.) Two great meals and some terrific conversation; it was good to catch up with her again. And then the craziest Providence to wrap things up: a few minutes after we stopped for dinner in Mt. Vernon, IL at Wendy’s, Dr. Rob Schroering and his family stopped there as well. They were on their way to Colorado Springs to get final training before hitting the mission field!

All in all, 3867 miles and a trip filled with memories. The kids traveled even better this year, helped by another year of maturity, some electronics (esp. Zach’s IPad, which he’ll need for school this year), and more strategy in keeping them busy with books, math, and a Perplexus ball. Good times!


At November 27, 2012 at 2:58 AM , Blogger scott davidson said...

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