Fall Break

At one point on this trip, I was heard to say, "Best vacation ever." Considering that we came back from Scotland a few months ago, that was high praise for our fall break. When we were in Utah this summer, I was asking Sam's uncle a lot of questions about his North Dakota ranch. He had invited Sam before but we didn't really know any details. As soon as we got back to Williston after our summer trips, I started looking at the calendar to find a weekend we could go to the Vassar's ranch. We were totally booked until October.

As Fall Break neared, we were all getting super psyched to go. It was full of new things and we were all excited. We left Williston on Wednesday afternoon and got to Rapid City, South Dakota at 10pm. The boys were already asleep so we attempted to transfer them into bed. Then Declan reminded me of something Mushu says on Mulan, "They popped out of the snow. Like daisies!" He was wide awake. Sam went to the gym and he told me he got home at midnight but I can't testify because I was fast asleep.

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On Thursday morning, Alex and Edison woke up at 5am. We tried to keep them quiet and eventually went downstairs to eat breakfast at 7am. We were on the road by 8am but had to turn around because I had forgotten my camera and it is practically illegal to go to Mount Rushmore without a camera.

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Edison: Where are we going?
Sam: Mount Rushmore.
Edison: Will there be cats there?
Sam: I don't think so.
Edison: I would say, "Cats, be nice. Don't scratch."

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Back row: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln. Front row: Merkley, Merkley, Merkley

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We drove to see the Crazy Horse Memorial and ended up just looking at it from the road and then going to the next place. It seems like it will be really cool so I want to go back and see it when they finish it in about 100 years.

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While driving through the Black Hills, the boys saw a sight they have been hoping to see for a long time. So many bison!

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We went to Jewel Cave and bought our tickets. We sat in the car and ate snacks as our lunch and then wandered through the visitor's center while waiting for the tour to begin.

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We had brought the backpack carrier so Declan could be safely contained but were told only front carriers are allowed. It was a very stressful tour as we attempted to keep three kids from touching the walls or falling off of a cliff. We entered one of the chambers and Edison walked right over to the control panel, flipped a switch, and plunged the entire cave into total darkness. Pitch black, can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark. The tour guide freaked out and then assigned another tourist as a "guard" in every chamber thereafter. It was a painful hour and a half but we all survived. We got back to the car at 2:30pm and Alex asked, "Are we going back to the hotel now or is there more fun?" I answered, "More fun." He enthusiastically replied, "Ugh."

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Our next stop was Custer State Park. Stephanie Colton had highly recommended Sylvan Lake so we went to see it. When we arrived, all three boys were asleep. So we took turns. I walked around alone for about an hour. When I got back to the car, four boys were asleep. I climbed into the car and woke up Sam. Soon thereafter, Alex and Edison woke up so Sam took them on a short walk. 

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     That night, we went to Longhorn Steakhouse for dinner. It was the best restaurant experience we have ever had with three kids. After dinner, we went swimming at our hotel.

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The boys had to get in a workout.

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Then there was some snuggling and Mater's Tall Tales watching.

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We checked out of the hotel on Friday morning. But we weren't done with Rapid City.

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We went to the Dinosaur Park.

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We went to the mall because Edison needed a potty.

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Then we tried to find Memorial Park and the Berlin Wall Memorial. We ended up at a crematorium. Sam and I were cracking up but the kids were not amused that we had to turn around and drive 15 minutes back the other way.

"Rapid City's two wall segments and two tank traps came from the two-mile section between the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. The four-foot wide sections, 13.5 feet tall and six inches thick, weigh about four tons each. The concrete is laced with one-inch steel reinforcement bars every four inches."

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After forcing them to stand by us as we read a bunch of signs about a wall, we finally followed them to the playground across the park so they could play.

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We stopped at a little shop to get Philly cheesesteaks and then started the drive to the Vassar's ranch.

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Their ranch is just outside of Marmarth, ND. We pulled into their ranch and were welcomed by one hundred cows. Alex and Edison woke up right then and were giddy in their seats.

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I was worried about not making it to the ranch until October because I thought it may be freezing cold. I was relieved that it was not freezing cold yet. We ended up being so lucky with the weather. It was perfect and beautiful. Sam and I wondered aloud multiple times, "Why did we wait so long to come out here?"

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Ruth and John live in Aberdeen, SD, but John goes to the ranch almost every weekend. Ruth comes "as rarely as possible." Ruth had arrived about an hour before us. After visiting with a neighbor who had stopped by to chat, Ruth showed us around.

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Then John got there and he pulled out the four wheelers.

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We grabbed a bucket of oats and then summoned the horses.

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After riding around for a while, we went back to the ranch house for dinner. Then the boys played with the Vassar's old toys as we got ready for bed.

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After the young ones were in bed, we played canasta. The boys were a team and the girls were a team. Sam and John were both so intense and Ruth and I killed them. It was awesome.

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The next morning was chilly so we bundled up and headed out for another ride. Declan stayed inside with Ruth.

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John showed us a turtle pond and we spied a few turtles.

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John had to go give medicine to his bees and Sam and I really wanted to go so Ruth stayed back with the kids so we could both go.

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Alex and his coyote friend

Being surrounded by thousands of bees was a really cool experience. I felt entirely safe but I could feel the buzzing. I could do that all day.

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They sent us home with some delicious honey.

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John has 12,500 acres of land with his North Dakota and Montana ranches combined. He took us around the Montana ranch a little bit and it was beautiful. John is an anesthesiologist back in Aberdeen but his heart is 100% rancher.

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It took us a long time to make it back to the house because John had to talk to every person we came across. Sam and I both fell asleep while waiting for John to finish a conversation with one neighbor. They don't come across very many people so when they see a neighbor, their conversations are no joke. When we got back to the ranch house, Declan and Edison were still asleep. Alex and Ruth were busy playing KerPlunk.

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John had to get some more stuff done before leaving so we went on a family four wheeler ride for an hour or two. I almost flipped over with two kids so we decided to go on a less-hilly ride and instead went out to see the horses.
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John had been sustained as a stake high councilman the week before and was scheduled to speak in church the following day so he had to drive back to Aberdeen at 5:30pm.

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The horses had gathered around because they thought we had oats so we went back to the grain bin to grab some oats and then rode back out to see the horses. They didn't seem to mind the wait.

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Then the boys harassed the prairie dogs.

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We went back to the house for a few minutes.

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Then Ruth took us out to dinner in Marmarth. She adamantly refused to let us pay for her meal and I was frustrated because just let us pay! But she ended up paying for all of us instead.

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We were all so tired but we had just enough energy to play a few rounds of Rummikub. We were in bed by 9:30pm.

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We had to get on the road really early the next morning so Sam wouldn't miss his flight to Calgary that afternoon. That meant we had to wake up the boys.

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"It's like a sleeping bag but more bisony."
Declan's very favorite part was the deer head mounted above the stairs. He would walk over repeatedly to point and yell at it. 

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We had to take a potty break on the way home but made it home in three hours.

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This was the first time to South Dakota for Alex, Edison, and Declan. That brings their state tallies up to 40 states (Alex), 21 states (Edison), and five states (Declan). This whole trip left me overwhelmed by our blessings. We have so many incredible experiences and I am grateful for them. Ruth and John were the greatest hosts and it could not have been a better vacation.

*Updated 11/23/14*
Mom emailed me to tell me that I had been to the Dinosaur Park before. When I saw the pictures, I immediately recognized them as I saw them while growing up but did not connect them to the vacation when we visited the Trotters in South Dakota.
I did not realize it before but it was crazy to see that I had been there before and that we put our kids in very familiar poses.

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Justine, Rachael, Emily, Matthew

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Emily and Justine

1 comment:

Olivia said...

Awesome vacation!

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