For sure we had to see Mount Rushmore. And, although I was looking forward to this adventure, I had no idea how the kids would react to it. I would tell people before we left, "yes, we are planning on going to Mount Rushmore, but I'm not sure how much time we'll spend there...it's really just a photo opp for us."
And, while we did achieve that goal of getting a family photo in front of the 'faces' (after an elderly woman talked Parker into actually being in the photo), I had no idea how significant this part of our trip would be to the boys.
They were in awe.
Right off the bat, Parker picked his favorite president, and after reading more about how important those four men were in the history of the United States, he proclaimed that they were now all his favorite.
Andrew, on the other hand, was mesmerized by the giantness of the faces carved into the mountain. When he looked up to see the 'faces' he simply said, 'wooooooow' and 'ooohhhhh'.
And the closer we got to the carvings, Andrew would point out the noses, the eyes, and the ears...he loved seeing it and his innocence was shining through his reaction.
I was impressed with how my kids responded to this adventure. And I was even more impressed with how much I enjoyed it.
There was a beautiful walking trail (completely paved) that took us up to the base of the carvings. Along the way we say chipmunks, rocks that looked like a pile of pancakes, gorgeous trees, and of course, various views of the men on Mount Rushmore.
This was a wonderful learning experience for all of us and I'm so glad we had this opportunity to teach the boys a little history, while they are still fascinated by the wonder of this national monument.
After Mount Rushmore knocked our socks off, we decided we'd fit one more 'adventure' into our first full day in Hill City, SD. And, as most of you probably know, my boys...um...they love reptiles. Andrew currently has an obsession with turtles and I can't blame him...those ninja turtles sure are cool. And, Parker-Man, well, he's got a thing for snakes. (While I shudder at the thought of them.)
We'd passed some billboards for Reptile Gardens, so we thought it would be a fun place to take the kiddos to fill some time before lunch.
We saw crocodiles and gators.
We saw some baby da-boos (turtles).
We even ventured into the 'tropical' building and saw all kinds of lizards and birds walking around free in the building. This made me a little sqeemish, but I was okay with it because the kids were so excited about it.
I was okay walking (about 10 feet) from the young lady holding a snake out for the kids to touch. I was even okay watching the 'snake show' which turned out to be pretty interesting (although you'll note there aren't any photos of it).
But, when I rounded a corner in the tropical building and looked up to see a sign that said 'Please Don't Touch the Boa Constrictor' and then looked up a little more to find a rather large snake hanging from a branch...well, let's just say I bolted out of that building like there was no tomorrow.
Bleck. Well, while I didn't like the snakes so much. The boys did. They actually love all creatures of any kind and they are both very curious about how different creatures live and survive in our world.
And, our favorite part of the adventure: the BIG da-boos! Oh my. When we walked up to this exhibit, I wasn't sure if these things were real! I mean, look at them! They are HUGE.
Andrew was in heaven.
And, Parker was pretty impressed as well.
This turtle experience...well, it totally made up for all of the snake stuff.
I love how my boys listened to the turtle keeper and touched those giant creatures just how he said to. I love how gentle and caring they are toward these big creatures and how they asked questions about the turtles.
I love their curiosity.
The Reptile Gardens was definitely a place I'm glad we visited. Simply put, the boys loved it and we loved watching them run from exhibit to exhibit full of excitement and wonder.
Ride a train through the mountains.
I read about the 1880 Train online and I thought it would be the perfect way for my family of boys to spend half a day while on vacation.
But, by far, our favorite part of the train depot, was the museum.
Never in a million years did I ever think my kids would ever lay their hands on a real typewriter. On a real old-fashion telephone. Something else that surprised me even more....that they would think that was fun.
Isn't it amazing when your kids totally surprise you? They fell in love with this 'old-fashioned office'. They thought it was awe-some and I loved their wonder and excitement as we walked through the museum that day.
Then, the train itself, well, what do you expect of a train that takes you through the Black Hills?! It was nothing but spectacular and beautiful.
We saw deer and other wildlife. We learned about the 'mining days' and saw many of the old mine shafts...still in tact from when the first settlers came to South Dakota. And, although we didn't get to spend much time in Keystone, SD (where our train stopped and turned around)...I think it will be a destination spot for us the next time we visit.
Needles Highway and Custer State Park
On our third day in Hill City, after much relaxing at the campsite and swimming, playing on the playground, etc...we decided to go for a drive and take in the scenery on Needles Highway and go through Custer State Park.
This was my favorite part of the trip.
These rocks were truly breathtaking and oh, to be able to climb on them....that made them even more beautiful!
We even had the time to stop for a little picnic along the way.
I love simple moments like this one. Where we decide, hey, this looks like a good place to stop, throw down a blanket, and chow on some cherries, cheez-its, apples, and fudge (from the shop in Hill City). And it turns out to be the absolute perfect spot to do so.
And then to have another perfect moment, when we stop for a photo opp and out comes some chippies ready to eat some of Brandon's dill flavored sunflower seeds.
Oh, how those chippies loved Parker. And how Andrew yearned for them to come over and eat out of his hand. My youngest child has issues with being 'still' and those chippies thought a 40 pound boy was a little frightening, but low and behold, the largest of the chipmunks decided to take Andrew up on his sunflower seed offer and Andrew was lovin' it.
There were a couple of funny moments along this adventure as well. Like, when Brandon got flipped the bird for driving too slow. Or when Parker kept making funny faces at me in the rear view mirror.
Oh how I loved this adventure and all of it's spontaneous moments!
We had some mini adventures while out in Hill City...some of which Parker and Andrew tell me were their favorite parts of vacation.
Ask Parker what his favorite thing was about South Dakota....and he'll tell you: 'Crazy Horse!'
And, while we didn't really have time to drive up and do the whole Crazy Horse tourist thing, we drove by a couple of times and I guess it left an impression on Parker because he couldn't stop talking about it!
And, what do you think Andrew's favorite thing about South Dakota was?! One guess...'Da Pooool!'
That's right. My little-man LOVED the swimming pool at the campground. This pool will always be remembered as the pool where Andrew lost all inhibitions about swimming by himself (with a life jacket of course) and he couldn't get enough 'cannonballs!' in on this trip.
Something else we did....that made me a nervous wreck....was to visit an old (still functioning) fire watch tower. It is the highest peak in South Dakota.
The Mt. Coolidge Watch Tower is at the top of a winding, dirt, super scary road, and the whole time, I kept envisioning us plummeting down the side of the mountain, but the view....well, you just have to see it for yourself.
They told us you could see Crazy Horse, and I think we did. I think.
They also said we could see Montana, Colorado, and Nebraska from up there. I don't doubt that.
On our way to Hill City, we had some time to stop by the Corn Palace. Yep, you heard that right. A palace that is made of corn.
Well, not really, and to be honest, the highlight of this pit stop was finding these coon-skin hats and Parker finding $100 in cash on the floor.
Oh, and these 'corny' photos we took.
In Part One of The Riffel (and Beatty) Family Vacation, I talked about the Jellystone Park in Sioux Falls, SD being stop number one for us on our trip to the Black Hills. Well, we enjoyed our stay so much that we decided to stop there on the way home.
Don't steal our pic-a-nic basket Yogi!
Also on the trek back to Kansas, we decided that we needed to celebrate a special six year old's birthday by going to the Omaha Zoo.
We were excited to get to spend the day with Quinn on her birthday!
This was Andrew's first trip to the Omaha Zoo and the first time that Parker could remember it, so it was a fun family adventure.
It was incredibly hot, but we enjoyed being there and ending our vacation this way!
They even had a 'Dinosaurs Alive!' exhibit that was pretty incredible!
We enjoyed this last leg of our trip and time spent with good friends.
And, I must have been getting tired of taking photos at this point because this is the only photo I can find from our very last campground - the KOA in Omaha, NE. It was the perfect place to end our vacation.
I did find this video though...
This KOA somehow rigged up this fun little zip line that both of my kids LOVED!
Whew! What a vacation!
On the car ride home, we were kind of tired, kind of sad, kind of wanting to be home, but we were still having fun. In fact, I think we were nearing delirium when we started getting crazy with taking pictures of ourselves to make the time go by faster!
By the way...Brandon thinks we're crazy. And maybe we are...after being in the backseat together for more than 16 hours!
These are adventures that we will never forget and I am so thankful for this time with my family and good friends! If you're heading up to South Dakota any time soon, make sure you check out every thing we did above and the millions of other adventures we didn't have time for. This was the trip of a lifetime and we are truly grateful for the adventures we had in South Dakota!