Saturday, November 19, 2016

Summer 2016 Road Trip: Final Leg

Carhenge??? Almost Home!

Our final 2 days of the road trip were simply spent putting miles behind us. We drove through this crazy little place called Carhenge, and Leslie and Scott just had to stop. We were ready for a water and potty break so, why not. Very strange!! After a quick visit here, we headed down into Texas to take Maggie to a Weinerschnitzle.  She had seen an episode of Under Cover Boss that took place at this particular restaurant. It was sort of on the way, but not really.
I think by the time we got home, we were more than ready to get out of the car and sleep in our own beds. But, it was a wonderful trip and gave us all memories that we will cherish for years. So, here are the last pictures of the First Searls Summer Road Trip. The next one is planned for the summer of 2018. Can't wait to see where we end up!

Once we saw the wind turbines in the Texas Panhandle, we knew home was just a day away.

When Ron and I first moved to Texas, we saw a bumper sticker that said, "The sun is riz', the sun is set, and we ain't outta Texas yet!" So true! 

Summer 2016 Road Trip Stage 10

South Dakota Badlands

We intentionally saved our trip to the Badlands for our last day in South Dakota. I didn't think it would be that great because after all, we live in Texas. The land here is pretty bad. How could anyplace be worse.  We figured if we were tired and ready to go home, we could just skip it and wouldn't have missed much.
I am so glad we stayed and kept it on our itinerary. It was so beautiful and the visitor's center was top notch. Even the Junior Ranger program at this park was the best one the girls participated in. Of course, it was the most challenging as well. We were so thankful that Uncle Scott was along to make things a little easier.  It was a GPS challenge. A little like geo caching but once you reached the coordinates, you had to complete a task and record data. After visiting 3 out of the 5 locations, the girls could turn in their recording sheets and get their patches. Amazingly, they got three finished because they were tough challenges! Behind the visitor's center was an outdoor education center and the rangers would meet with the children working on their Junior Ranger badges. We opted to just finish the tasks on our own. Some of them were a little confusing but we managed to figure them out.
There are so many different hiking trails in the park of all levels of difficulty. Each one has a large, conveniently located parking lot, benches along the trails, and very well planned observation points. It would be really difficult to say which area was the most beautiful or enjoyable. I think the area that had the task of recording the wild life was the easiest to traverse; but, it had the most beware of rattle snakes signs. Not fun for Mimi; I hate snakes!
Besides the Junior Ranger education area, there was a wonderful museum at the visitor's centers with a nice little gift shop. It was really warm this day, so the air conditioning in the center was welcome! The girls learned how the Badlands formed, how long it would be before they were completely eroded away, and about the different wild life and wild flowers in the area.

Sophie watching one of the many little film clips in the museum.

She made a new friend that knew a lot about the area. He
walked her around and showed her different parts of the museum.

Maggie in front of one of the animal displays.

Sophie and her friend.

The view from the Visitor's Center, and the location of
the first geo task.

Uncle Scott putting in coordinates.

Hiking off to complete the first task. Measuring an erosion
marker and recording the data.

Dandelion puffs the size of SOFT BALLS!

After some trial and error, we found the marker. We didn't have
an actual ruler so we improvised and used the side of the paper.

Sophie, Maggie, Seth, Leslie, and Scott.

Seth, Sophie, Maggie, Leslie and Scott.

And we were off to another task.

I wasn't much help, being technologically challenged.
So, I just took pictures.

Sophie sitting on yet another strange little perch.

One of the scenic overlooks.

NOT my favorite sign. 

View from another scenic overlook.

One of the tasks required a hike up to to top of this trail.
I was feeling the heat so I stayed at a rest stop along the way. 

Once the kids got to the top, I was able to zoom in and
snap a picture of them. 

And, pulled out for a second shot...

And a final zoom in before they came back down.

I met them on the trail half way back. 

Lots of beautiful wild flowers.

another wild flower...

Silly Sophie and her Survivor Buff.

This was one of the few times she actually hung out with me on a trail.
She is much more adventurous than Maggie and usually took off
up the trail without waiting for us.

My little camera just doesn't capture the beauty of this place.

Sophie heading off to find cliff swallow nests on one of the tasks.

Counting cliff swallow nests...

Awww; my favorite grandson. 

Sophie on yet ANOTHER silly perch.

I loved these little clusters of daisies.  So cute.

Driving out of the Badlands...

And our final view of this amazing place.

The Badlands is worth the time and effort to visit. It is massive and does take a huge chunk of your day to visit. If someone wanted to complete all 5 of the Junior Ranger challenges, it would require a fairly long time commitment but be worth every hour.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Summer 2016 Road Trip: Stage 9

Custer State Park, Needles Highway, and Hill City 1880 Train Ride

One of the things the grands enjoyed most about our road trip was the numerous animals we saw. It is amazing how many different varieties of birds there were! Plus, watching the prairie dogs was thoroughly entertaining. We saw elk, mountain goats, several varieties of deer, a moose in Colorado, and of course the buffalo. One of our all time favorites was spending time with the Begging Burros in Custer Park.
Believe it or not, there is a granddaughter inside that sleeping bag.
Sleeping with Sophie is like sleeping with a mule!

One of several prairie dog communities we saw in South Dakota
and Wyoming.

They built their mounds in the most unsafe areas! Sometimes
in the middle of dirt roads. Crazy!!

Maggie petting one of the begging burros! 

The park rangers tell you not to feed the wild life. There are signs
everywhere reminding you not to feed them. But, the behavior of these
animals indicated that most people don't follow the rules!

The girls thought the burros were so funny!

They sure do make the burros in Texas look small. This guy was
as big as Leslie's "not a van."
I think I want one for the yellow house.

Our first herd of buffalo!

We didn't get very close to the herd, but that was fine with me!
They are HUGE!

Not quite sure what these were, but they were all over the place.

In the visitor's center at Custer Park.

This display would show you where the herds were located.

Ducks and geese were in several ponds in the area.

I guess this guy was one of the older ones from the herd.
He was near the visitor's center.

After we left Custer Park, we braved the Needles Highway. It is a twisting highway made up of countless switchbacks and narrow mountain passes. I think we all had a few bouts of car sickness. I was really worried about Seth because he's always had problems with getting sick on winding roads. Luckily, no one threw up, we made it through each narrow pass, and saw some beautiful rock formations.

The passes through the mountains on Needles Highway were
enough to scare the poo out of you!

The road twisted and turned through these granite spires! 

Some of them were breathtakingly tall 

We took a few short stops along the highway so the
kids could get the wiggles out and let the waves of
car sickness pass!

I think the girls were loving the chance to climb the rocks.

And yet another tiny pass.
We took an evening train ride that ran between Keystone and Hill City. It started at the cutest, restored train depot, traveled through the abandoned mining communities of the Black Hills, and stopped for a short layover before a return trip. The cafe at the train depot served the cutest Hobo meals, wrapped up in a bandana.

Ordering a Hobo meal...

Maggie and Sophie waiting for the train...

The water tank that fills the steam engine...

One of the cars on the train...

The gift shop in Hill City

Leslie and Maggie in front of Scott and Sophie

My seat buddy, Seth

We had a loaded train on the way out!
The train ride went through several abandoned mining communities. If I remember correctly, one of the tour guides on the train said that some of the land parcels were still owned by descendants of the early miners.  It was a beautiful and enjoyable ride.

One of many abandoned mining communities...

An original mine entrance...

Our mid point layover was a typical tourist town. Lots of shops selling Black Hills Gold, tee shirts, Native American products, and imported junk.  I enjoyed sitting on one of the covered benches along the main street with Seth. We watch so many people from different countries walk by! It was strange to hear them speaking to one another in so many languages. There was a lot of pedestrian and auto traffic through the town but it still had a lazy and relaxed atmosphere.

Our engine being refuel in Keystone for the return trip

Scott, Leslie, Maggie, and Sophie doing some shopping...

One of the local characters cracking a bull whip
while walking up and down the center of traffic...

Seth and his I Survived the Needles Highway shirt...

Another train pulling into the station...

The ride back was much more enjoyable because the
train was less crowded and the temperatures had cooled off. 

Sophie and her bear backpack!



By the time we got back to town, we were pretty tired from a full day. We topped it off with an over priced meal and a "Bavarian" restaurant and dessert by the campfire with toasted marshmallows.