There is nothing like looking forward to a family vacation. I think it’s been said that a big percentage of the joy of a vacation is realized before the trip even begins. After spending 10 days visiting 3 states and countless sites, I believe that you can have just as much fun after – especially when you write a post about it!
Here is an overview of the first Deneen Family National Park Summer Road Trip!
With the philosophy of LEARNING guiding us, we decided that Devil’s Tower National Monument would be a great place for a home base of sorts. The idea of doing day trips and staying off the beaten trail appealed to us. The town of Hulett, WY had a great vacation rental and was close enough to the sights of Rapid City: Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Deadwood, Broken Boot Gold Mine, Crazy Horse Monument, Rushmore, and the Black Hills, Custer State Park, and the famous Needles Highway.
This map provided the inspiration for our daily trips:
There were so many fun, amazing, and wonderful moments that it’s easy to forget some of the most frustrating and challenging.
Badlands National Park
Although Annie and Asher decided to stay in the car, Eloise, Theo, and I happily ran around the paths to see the Star Wars-like landscapes with their contrasting green wavy grass.
Just mind-blowing! We could see the tower from our place in Hulett and we were 12 miles away. On our first full day, we got there early enough to find a parking place in the upper ring. We stopped at the Visitor Center and bought this mug, postcards, and a walking stick for Theo. We also picked up packets for the Junior Ranger program before setting out to hike around the Monument.
Learning about the geological history of this rock mass was as amazing as the Legend Story. Devil’s Tower was the very first National Monument under the newly formed Antiquities Act back in 1906!
Rushmore and Crazy Horse
We learned so much from both of these sites. Rushmore was first as we heard that parking can get tough later in the day. By the time we got through the gates and walked down the flag-lined path the gift shop had a queue with over 50 people in it! Bad news for the kids as they were so sure that this was the place to find a keepsake.
By the time we got back from taking the classic family photos Asher was melting down so we had to pass the visit to the gift shop… Naptime came as we drove to Crazy Horse. What an undertaking this is! The history of the Korczak Ziolkowski and the Native American Museum was mesmerizing. Our favorite part was the portrait wall and the individual stories of so many Native Americans and how they found their names.
Jewel and Wind Cave
This was the longest day of all. Tickets for both Jewel and Wind Cave were selling out before lunch so we knew we’d need to get up early. Jewel was on our way so we stopped and bought tickets to the 2:30 tour thinking we’d have enough time to do Wind Cave first and on our way home we’d hit Jewel.
We were so wrong!
We arrived at Wind Cave around 9:15 and the line was already about 100 people long. By the time we got to the ticket window (over an hour later), the only ticket option was a 12:45 Garden Tour. Great that we got tickets, but that meant we
had about 2 hours to wait and there was no way we’d make the Jewel tour.
Luckily there was a family of 4 that missed out on securing tickets to a tour that day. I asked if they wanted to see Jewel and the answer was YES. They offered to pay for the tickets, but we are firm believers in what-goes-around-comes-around. We declined payment and just asked them to do something nice for someone else – that would be payment enough.
Deadwood and a gold mine tour of Broken Boot were really fun as well, but we didn’t get many images to share.
Sturgis Coffee Company, South Dakota
When the time came to transition from Hulett to Medora we made a surprise stop at Sturgis Coffee Company in Sturgis, SD. We’ve been working with this fantastic operation for about a decade and it is THE place for a fresh cup of coffee, baked treats, and amazing gifts- including awesome hand-thrown mugs.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Our final stop and one that our Theodore was really looking forward to. The town of Medora was super family-friendly but booking a hotel for a family of 5 didn’t come easy. We found another unique property just off the beaten trail called Spirit of the Badlands. The owner, Roger, was absolutely incredible and we instantly hit it off.
For 3 days we explored the park, hiked, and soaked up the amazing views from just about everywhere. Learning about how Theodore Roosevelt discovered this amazing place, and how he endured through the time we invested in ranching was bitter-sweet.
Many of the most memorable moments didn’t get captured in a picture. The moments of waking up in different places, shopping at different stores, and meeting people along the journey.
It’s those moments that come back to us when we use the mugs we bought from the Visitor Centers. Yes – as strange as that may sound, it’s completely true. We bought Deneen Pottery mugs from the visitor centers for parks that we went to more than once: Devil’s Tower, Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
It’s a roller coaster for sure, full of ups and downs and before you know it you’re back home.
We are already making our plans for 2022!