Toward the Western Sky

As my oldest son was heading into his senior year of high school, I was grasping at time to try to slow it down. My husband and I wanted to plan a last hurrah vacation before the canvas of our family changed. What better way to connect and make sure the values we instilled in our boys were solidly rooted than on a long road trip…a 2,700-mile road trip!  To make it even more interesting, we invited my parents.  My boys are incredibly close to their grandparents, and we wanted to build some lasting memories. My husband would be driving the car, and my dad was driving a motorhome, that way we would have a couple of riding options for the long road ahead.  I spent many weeks duplicating the trip my husband and I took for our first anniversary, 18 years earlier, and we were off!

After 7 hours of driving, we stopped in Cedar Falls, Iowa for our first night to visit some of my parent’s friends. My family stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, while my parents stayed in their motorhome in the parking lot.  The next day, we drove to one of our favorite destinations, the Badlands, South Dakota.  We stayed at the Badlands KOA in a cabin, which is the same campground we stayed 18 years ago. The Badlands has such a unique terrain. The ground feels like I would imagine the moon to feel like.  The marked paths were easy enough for my 70-ish parents to walk comfortably, but my teenage boys enjoyed hiking off on their own.

After leaving the Badlands, we had to take a stop at the famous Wall Drug. Not only is it 76,000 square feet of a tourist trap, it is advertised all over the world.  You can read a great story about it here, Wall Drug Store South Dakota.

Honestly, the reason I don’t have more pictures is because we got out of there as fast as we could. We aren’t really into crowds and kitschy stuff.

When traveling with people of differing ages, it’s good to be flexible in your choice of itineraries.  My husband really wanted to hike on this trip, and my parents were perfectly happy to sit and enjoy the scenery while we went on a short hike.  We had no expectations of things that must be seen, or a strict timeline to consider.  The goal of this trip was to enjoy each other’s company.

To be completely transparent, we did not stop at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The lines were crowded, we could look up it’s history online, and we were just as happy seeing it from the road.  I just wanted one great photo! (taken from my car windshield)

Passing through the Iron Creek Tunnel on Needles Highway leaving Custer State Park was a nail-biting experience.  The park ranger stopped and measured the motorhome from mirror to mirror to make sure we had enough clearance to pass through the tunnel.  Several of us were too nervous, so we walked through as my husband drove the motorhome, just to watch the tight squeeze.

The Iron Creek Tunnel is a 9′ 0″ wide x 11′ 4″ tall tunnel along South Dakota Highway 87 (aka Needles Highway). The highway is part of Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, the Needles Highway stretches 14 miles through granite, pine-covered mountains.

Eye of the Needle

We stayed in Custer, South Dakota, at the Bavarian Inn, which is a charming little hotel.  We walked around the town, and had dinner at the Buglin’ Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar. Sitting on the upper deck, our views were amazing while having dinner.  And the Custer Mule’s weren’t bad either.


Our next stop was Devil’s Tower National Monument, in Wyoming.  Devil’s Tower was the first declared national monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Many people remember it in the 1977 movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It stands over 1,000 feet and is really quite impressive. These pictures don’t do it justice.

I love this picture of my oldest son and my mom. My kid’s love to tease their grandma for being short.

Having a fun-loving relationship with their grandparents helps form strong family ties that allow my boys to feel secure and grow into confident men. The bonds they have formed are invaluable.

There was so much wildlife to see on our journey west. On our way to Cody, Wyoming towards the entrance of Yellowstone National Forest, a herd of buffalo wanted us to slow down to take in the beauty of God’s creation.  We had our little dog traveling with us, and she went crazy, barking at these giant beasts!

We stayed just at the Cody Legacy Inn & Suites. This was a charming hotel that truly gave us the Old West feel.  We like the close proximity to the park, without the high prices of hotels inside the park.

The next day of travel would be going through Yellowstone National Park.  There were many sights to see, with even more wildlife. We managed to make it to Old Faithful right before she erupted. This was a point of interest that we wanted to see. However, what makes the stop here most memorable, was the hilarious story of a mishap my mom had. She would kill me if I shared it, but my boys will never forget it! Let’s just say, it has filled the memory bank for all of us.

Our journey’s end was in Jackson, Wyoming. It is a quaint town, known for the winter skiing.  Even in the summer month’s, the slopes were beautiful.  We stayed one night at Hampton Inn Jackson.

Archway made entirely of antlers!

The best gift you can give your children is time. Time spent with loved ones building a solid foundation of love and support.  We have many memories of shared vacations, but our trip west will be one we will never forget.

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