Day 14: Last time, I ended the post talking about our impromptu drive out of our campsite. It was a rough night for all of us but we made the best of it. Once we got to the hotel, Wilder was wide awake again and wouldn’t dare go to sleep in his pack n play so it ended up being a night of us all sleeping together anyway, just like camping! Which basically means that Chris and I each get one edge of the bed while Wilder gets to do a couple of 360’s between us throughout the night. He has nights when he barely moves and others where he twists and turns throughout, and this was the latter.
Anyway, the upside of this change of plans was that we’d at least knocked off two hours of driving, and this was our longest drive yet (6 hours) so we only had 4 hours to drive today to get to Boulder. We probably left the hotel around 10 (we all accidentally slept until 8:45 but got packed up and left right after breakfast – one of those free ones with the waffle machine!) and drove for about 1.5 hours. Wilder wasn’t in the mood for napping apparently, so we didn’t get as far as usual in the morning. Chris found a great rest stop with a visitor center, a rushing river, and plenty of grass in Eagle, CO. Wilder and I got situated and Chris went into town to find lunch for us. After two weeks on the road, we caved in and this was our very first fast food lunch. There just weren’t any other options, but once I was eating my mayonnaise-laden spicy chicken sandwich, I really didn’t care. We stayed there for about an hour, and after that it was smooth sailing to Boulder – Wilder slept the rest of the trip until we were almost at the AirBnb. The drive into Boulder after we left the rest stop was amazing – we drove through Vail and Colorado Springs and despite the fact that we were on an Interstate Highway, it was still pretty gorgeous.
Once we got to the AirBnB, we got unpacked and settled a bit, started more laundry, and walked out to get some dinner. It was nice to get out in a city and walk a little bit – something we’d not done in a while now!
After we got back and got Wilder to bed (which was relatively straightforward), we used the rest of the night to catch up on some things like email, blogging, and enjoying the cool breeze on the deck of our apartment (and since we were in Colorado, that musky pot smell on the balcony made us feel like we were in San Francisco – ha!). Oh! And we needed to figure out what we were going to do in Rocky Mountain National Park the next day ;).
Day 15: We were up around 6:30 since Wilder was in same room as us but that wasn’t too shabby! Today was the day we’d decided to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is about an hour drive from Boulder (at least to the park entrance). RMNP is VERY busy and we were warned about parking lots being full early but it was a 1.5 hour drive to the trailhead where we had planned our hike (Bear Lake). Of course we get there and just missed the last spot around 10am. Wilder was napping anyway so we just kept driving around and instead decided to do a somewhat longer hike up to Deer Mountain Summit. Found parking there easily and got going around 11:30. Things were going well at first but the hike kept getting harder (and the book promised a moderate hike!) – we were scrambling up dirt in some cases, but we kept saying “but this is the trail! look how clearly marked it is!”. As it turned out, we’d ended up taking a slight detour and wandered off the main trail at some point, and figured it out as we were carefully walking down a steep hill only to find hikers on a much more manageable, and wider, trail. No big deal – just 0.6 miles out of our way and a good 30 minutes later we were back on the trail. The real trail.
Once we got to the summit we had lunch, took a few pictures, and then made our way back down to the car. Total hiking was about 7 miles with summit at around 10,000 ft. The views up top were incredible – you could see lots of the snow capped peaks of the Rockies, the meadows below, and even the entrance station to the park where we came in. We felt the side effects of the elevation but nowhere near as intense as it was back in Yosemite – probably because we were used to hiking so much by now!
Wilder fell asleep on the way down, which was great, but also made for a questionable drive home since we knew he’d be up the whole time! We stopped by the Stanley Hotel to snap a couple of pictures (this was the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining!) and then made our way back to town. No problems until the last 15 minutes, so I call it a win! Got home, showered and ordered pizza (I’ve missed delivery food!) and enjoyed some tasty local beer from Left Hand Brewery (we are huge fans of their Milk Stout which is more widely available so it was fun to try some more beers!). We were happy to go to sleep knowing the next day was going to be extremely low key with no major driving OR hiking in sight – just a day to chill out in Boulder and take it easy.
Day 16: I’m excited to report that today was our laziest day thus far! We had no major driving or hiking to do which was a first for this venture. Chris coordinated with a friend of his from his old company who’d recently moved to Boulder, so we met up with him and his lady friend at Avery Brewing Company for lunch and beer (that should probably go without saying, since it’s a brewery, but I like to be clear). Their food was pretty awesome, but the beers were spectacular. Pretty much everyone who knew we were going to Boulder recommended this place, and now we know why! We spent the majority of the afternoon here just eating, drinking, and for the first time since we’d left SF, hanging out with someone we knew! Wilder was stoked because there were french fries and after that, an outdoor patio with some fake grass to walk around in. He’s easy to please, generally ;).
We squeezed in a quick trip to Target and a nap for Wilder, and then we strapped him in the carrier for a walk down to the Pearl Street Mall for dinner and people-watching. Since we’d eaten and drank so much already, we found a little smoothie/healthy food bowl place and took that to a nearby grassy area. While walking to said grassy area, we passed one of those kids watering things where there are water holes that spout up in the air randomly, and of course there were lots of big kids playing in it (because, well, 100 degrees and all). Wilder had to check it out and walked right on over to it and after standing there for what felt like an eternity, he walked in and stood right on top of one of the spouts, at which point he was instantly soaked. He shrieked and I thought he was upset but then he started laughing and squealing. It was pretty funny. Downside is we didn’t have a change of clothes (because we clearly didn’t expect this to happen and I like to live on the edge and not bring a change of clothes when I’m out with a child), so Chris ran into a little shop and bought a sweater to change him into for the walk home.
All in all, it was a nice relaxing day. But just to keep it interesting, Wilder decided he wanted to resist sleep and he figured he may as well scream some before finally falling asleep an hour or so later. This got us all worried (again) about his sleep for the rest of the trip since the night before wasn’t exactly awesome either – it seemed like Wilder was having so much fun being around us all the time that he has decided to get very upset when we leave him. I mean, we are pretty fun parents and all, but geez. Gonna have to figure out a solution or else we’re going to plow through the rest of the country!
Day 17: A major driving day. Our original plan since we had a decent drive today was to get to Hot Springs, SD, which was probably about 6 hours from Boulder. We were up and out by about 9:30 or so.
The first part of the drive was pretty boring – lots of freeway driving as we made our way from Colorado (goodbye!) to Wyoming. Since neither of us had been to Nebraska, we worked that in to the drive, agreeing that an extra 30 minutes or so in Nebraska was ok, since we would otherwise just be driving straight north through Wyoming (and we hung out there when we went to Yellowstone a few years ago). The difficulty in driving through Nebraska is that it is very remote in the western part of the state, and finding a good stopping point was challenging – partially because there weren’t many, but also because we didn’t have good enough service to look for much. Chris – always resourceful and a way better “Goose” than I – found a town called Scottsbluff that had a cute little sandwich/coffee shop in their downtown and around the corner there was a… wait for it… park with grass! and shade! We grabbed our food and hung out in the grass for a bit while Wilder hobbled around with his grilled cheese sandwich that primarily fed the squirrels instead of him.
After that, we continued on, and drove up Hwy 71 towards South Dakota. We were expecting a really boring drive for this section, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that this was one of the most beautiful driving days on the trip. We managed to avoid freeways and drove through a ton of farmland, and then we happened upon the Uglala National Grassland, which was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever driven through. Sure, the National Parks we’ve visited have been awesome, but this was just so unexpected! Tall green grass dancing in the wind, large rolling hills, a ton of cattle with all their little baby calves, and gorgeous blue sky the whole way. We even risked waking Wilder up from a nap to stop and snap a few pictures. I couldn’t resist, and I knew snapping them from a moving car and a bug-spattered windshield would just piss me off when my future self looked back at the pictures from this day.
As seems to be the case with this trip, there is always something that crops up to keep it interesting. I was walking back to my car after taking pictures and looked down at my frighteningly white legs (well, the bottom 1/4 is red because I wore yoga pants one day and forgot sunscreen – yay!), and they were covered in some sort of freakishly giant gnats, all of which bit me and left globs of someone’s blood on my leg after I swatted them off / killed them. Then they all proceeded to swell up to about the size of my thumb, which isn’t that big, but big for a welt from a bug bite. UGH. Imma have to get that future yard of ours treated for this type of stuff because I’m going to be really annoyed with the amount of bug bites I get. +1 in the column for moving back to SF where we don’t seem to have mosquitoes!
Wilder was a champ on the road today – smiling and laughing the whole time he was awake. We easily made it into Hot Springs, South Dakota but it was only something like 3 or 4 pm. We grabbed a cold brew from a cute little coffee shop in town and sat for a bit to figure out what we wanted to do. We found a couple of options for hotels in Custer, about an hour away, and decided to drive up that way for the night. But once we got through Custer, we realized we actually weren’t that far from Deadwood, SD (yes, the tv show!) so we just said screw it and drove there! Figured it would be fun to check out that little town.
Of course our luck ran out on the way there and clouds started covering the sky. Fortunately it didn’t rain for too long but it was crazy dark. We checked in at the Bullock Hotel and as we were checking in the lady asked us if we got caught in the storm. We told her just a little rain but nothing too bad, and she started telling us about the giant hail storm they just experienced! There was glass all over the floor, she said, because their skylights were shattered by baseball sized hail!! And on top of that, most of their guests who had parked out back in their lot had shattered windshields as well. Geeeeeezzzz. We’d literally avoided a major road trip setback by about 20 minutes! Luckily the rain had stopped by the time we got settled into our little room, and we made our way out for dinner and to do a little wandering around Deadwood.
We had a really great dinner at Deadwood Social Club. Wilder gobbled up some of the wild boar ragu I got and made friends with the ladies at the table behind us – as per usual. I also had a couple of very tasty Manhattans which made me pretty happy. Then we hit up a few stores for some touristy shit and even sampled some of Deadwood’s finest moonshine. We decided it was the perfect treat for Luke and Cheryl and grabbed a bottle for the road (not literally for the road, but for their place).
As for Wilder’s sleeping (I’m sure you’re dying to know), we decided to stretch it and put him down for bed later tonight, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t sleepy these last couple of days and if we just pushed it back some, it would do the trick. And it did! He was asleep in minutes after putting him to bed in the pack n play that we shoved into the bathroom.
Day 18: The morning started off without too much trouble. We found a rinky dink coffee shop and grabbed breakfast, loaded up the car, and got going around our usual time of 9:30 or so. Today was a day of lots of scenic routes as we planned to make our way back down to Custer and eventually to Mount Rushmore and then Badlands. We turned onto Highway 87 (Needles Highway) into Custer State Park and then onto Highway 16A. The views were amazing – the roads were narrow, the guard rails were nonexistent, and the viewpoints were plentiful – my kind of drive! We took our time (because it was pretty and because almost every turn was literally a hairpin turn, so not much choice) and before getting to Mount Rushmore we stopped at the State Game Lodge for lunch, some more stickers, and a little outdoor time before making the rest of the drive up 16A. It was surprisingly not that crowded on the road so we were able to go super slow and pull off to take pictures. There were these super cool one-way tunnels on the last part of the drive, and when you went through a couple of them there were views of Mount Rushmore in the distance – so cool!!
We hadn’t planned to spend a ton of time at the Mount Rushmore Monument, but we still wanted to at least get out and see it. I’m glad we did – we probably stayed for about 30 minutes – took a few pictures, grabbed another sticker, and made our way on towards Rapid City, where we’d planned to go to Dinosaur Park, this little area I’d read about that had giant dinosaur statues. I figured Wilder might enjoy it so may as well check it out. The weather had cooperated up until that point but the dark clouds slowly started creeping in and before too long it was raining again. We dug out our rain jackets and forged ahead to the dinosaurs! Wilder let out a few squeals but in all honestly there really wasn’t much to it – just 4 or 5 dinos and little plaques about each one.
Since we were supposed to go to Badlands tonight, we had to sit in the car and figure out what we were gonna do the rest of the day and if we needed a Plan B in case it continued to rain. The forecast called for rain at Badlands later that night, so we decided that we probably weren’t going to be camping, at least the first night of our reservation. We decided we’d find something in Wall after we went to Wall Drug, another touristy stop on our list that lots of people recommended. The drive to Wall was pretty boring (just down I-90) and it was finished raining by the time we got there thank goodness. We got a little cabin at Amy’s Motel and then walked over to Wall Drug, which turned out to be super super lame (aside from the donuts). We had dinner across the street and then went back to the motel/cabin for the rest of the night, with plans to get to Badlands the next day and spend one last night camping.
Hotels are always interesting with kids because there’s just one room, and little kiddos like Wilder get too excited when they wake up with their parents in the same room. I was never a big fan of co-sleeping for this reason, although I know a ton of parents keep their kids in the same bed for months. No thanks. That said, I am always more nervous about sleeping in a hotel which is why AirBnbs and even tents have been nice when it comes to bedtime. When we first walked into this little motel/cabin situation, I was thinking it would be the worst sleep ever because I couldn’t see how we’d “hide” from him. But creativity is key – we nestled that dang pack n play right into the doorway of the bathroom, just enough to shield him from us once we had the door opened too. He could still hear us, but we cranked up the white noise and kept our voices to a whisper and it worked like a charm. The difficulty came when I had to pee before bed, and I had to do some yoga-like maneuver to get up over the crib, into the tub, and then onto the toilet, at which point my head was basically IN his crib. You’re welcome for the mental image there.
Day 19: Man. Last night, we had the BEST night of sleep on the whole trip I think. Wilder went to bed without trouble and slept all night with barely a peep out of him. And in a tiny $88 motel! Had to wake him up around 8:15. We left the hotel around 9:30 and drove over to Badlands.
Badlands was really cool. I’ve had trouble explaining how incredible these places are other than saying awesome and cool but I suppose I’m at a loss for words! This park is so different from the rest we’ve visited – lots or grass and prairie land and then all of a sudden you see buttes and spires and these beautifully colored mini-mountains. We did a hybrid hike and went through most of the Castle Trail but then looped around on the Medicine Root Loop. Total hiking was about 8 miles. It was pretty flat and although it was hot, it was breezy in some places too. Wilder took a couple of short naps along the way and we had our usual PB&J lunches at Saddle Pass while we admired the views a little more.
After our hike, we made a quick sticker-buying stop at the Visitor Center and grabbed a snack and beer at the Lodge Restaurant (even grabbed a $20 bottle of South Dakota wine for camp!), and then made our way to our campsite for the day. The campsite was absolutely perfect! It was smack in the middle of the park with awesome views of the mountains. Hung out around our site and made a weirdo dinner of leftover potatoes and baked beans – mmm mmm. Wilder had more admirers and a family came by to visit (from Minnesota!) while we were setting up our tent.
Things were going well at camp until it was time to get Wilder ready for bed. I was sitting outside the tent feeding him in my warm PJ longjohns (that also seemed to keep the mosquitoes out) when all of a sudden my crotch got super warm. It was confusing at first since I hadn’t experienced this in a while, but then I realized that I was getting peed on. Yay! I guess this kid had wiggled around too much and his diaper had slid off one side of his butt, so that was awesome. Then Chris went to get him ready for bed at which point we realized that he had also taken the most massive shit of his life. Fortunately getting him to go to sleep went ok…but still. Always keeping it interesting!
Meanwhile, the sunset was spectacular. It was nice to sit down and admire the views for a little bit – we were almost halfway finished with this adventure, and this was the last planned night of National Park hiking/camping, so I was happy to be able to sit and soak it in a little before calling it a night.
Day 20: There isn’t much to report for today than lots of driving! Had a pretty good last night of camping and got up around 6:30, left at 9. Since we cross time zones it was essentially 10am. We’d planned to drive halfway to Luke and Cheryls in Rochester MN today since the whole drive was 7.5 hours but we were doing some research and realized there’s absolutely nothing to do in Sioux Falls (we’ll, nothing we wanted to do and nothing super fun for Wilder) so we just decided to plan to drive the whole way and bail out if things went south.
The thought of waking up tomorrow at their place rather than another hotel room sounded pretty good, and Wilder generally cooperated so we just plowed through Eastern South Dakota and Western Minnesota and made it to their place around 8pm after a few rest stops, gas stops, and a late lunch/Park stop in Sioux Falls.
Wilder was STOKED to see their cats, and they actually let him pet them! He was in heaven. I knew he was going to be pretty happy for the next few days, as were we! It already felt good to be somewhere familiar, knowing we had some relaxation ahead of us for the week.