Finding NE MO

After a long drive, we arrived to our campground near Omaha, NE and even nearer to a racetrack which conveniently had a race going on that night.

Sunset over the corn fields
Sunset over the corn fields

Luckily, the race seemed to end at a reasonable hour and we were able to get some sleep before our big trip to the Omaha Zoo.  I’ve always wondered if it is better to have low expectations or high expectations for anything.  In the case of the Omaha Zoo, our expectations were high and we all left a bit disappointed.  The large crowds and high temperatures didn’t help.  We all agreed that the aquarium exhibit was pretty impressive, though.  One of the penguins took an interest in Dirk’s knee cart and spent a good amount of time checking it out.  After the zoo, in true stalker fashion, I looked up Warren Buffett’s address on the internet and we cruised by his place. IMG_1794 Warren Buffett lives in the same house he has lived in for the last 50 years never seeing a need to upgrade.  It was a nice house in a nice neighborhood but not what you would expect for a billionaire.  But, considering that Mr. Buffett gives away 99% of his money, he is not your typical billionaire.  Oh, and Nebraska has corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  And Godfather’s Pizza.

The drive to St. Louis, MO made for another long day.  We had four things on our agenda for St. Louis.  We quickly found a parking spot nearish to The Gateway Arch (agenda item #1) and upon exiting our car, the heavenly scent of BBQ got our tummies rumbling.  We vowed to find and become patrons of the restaurant that teased us so early in the day.  After all, eating good BBQ was agenda item #2.  But first, The Arch. IMG_1836 The park around The Gateway Arch was being redone so there was a lot of pesky construction in the area.  We made our way to the ticket booth and were able to get tickets to the top with only a very short wait time.  Since I do have some issues with small spaces, I had already spent the last few days exploring countless reviews of the trip to the top and I had googled many images of the pods that take the guests to the pinnacle.  I felt like I could do it.  Because of the unusual shape of the arch, guests cannot be taken to the top in traditional elevators and unfortunately, the elevator from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had yet to be invented when the structure was built 50 years ago (wink).  The system they use is a combination of an elevator, escalator, and ferris wheel.  5 guests sit in a tiny pod.  Lucky for us, we had a pod to ourselves.  The door is clear so you can see the stairway system (use of which will incur a $700 fine and a police escort) on your 4-minute ascent.  Once we made it to the top, we were treated to spectacular views of the city.  The ride down was the same but a little shorter.  Anyways, I did it and didn’t freak out.  Our next stop was the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank (agenda item #3).  I am not sure how I convinced the family to join me on this one but I am glad that I did.  I love old architecture and the nearly 100-year-old Fed building did not disappoint.  I love Macro Economics even more than old architecture so what I found inside the Fed impressed me greatly. IMG_1854 Macro teachers know that the three best Federal Reserve Banks in terms of teacher support and community education are Atlanta, St. Louis, and Dallas. I have spent many days at the Atlanta Fed and am really happy to have visited the St. Louis Fed.  Their museum was extremely relevant, informative, interactive, and up-to-date.  Prior to leaving, we inquired about the BBQ smell and were told that it must be Sugarfire.  We were warned that they close when they run out of food so we had better hurry on over there.  Sugarfire did not disappoint.  Mmmmmmmm.  Last on the agenda was City Museum.  In 1983, a couple bought an old shoe factory.  In 1995, they started construction on City Museum.  They were either creative geniuses or a mad man and woman because this place is the stuff that dreams and nightmares are made of.  It is like being in The Lion, Witch, & the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings all at the same time.  It is a playground of epic proportions with slides ranging from 2-10 stories tall.  Unusual materials are welded all over to create strange scenery and epic climbing structures.  This is a museum for exploration.  There is an old school bus hanging off the roof of the eleven story building that invites guests inside for a peek over the edge.  Beneath benches and giant whales, one may find a hole in the floor.  If you dare to squeeze into it, you may be rewarded with entrance into the cave system.  Some walls have crevices that invite guests in.  This is truly a wild creation and something that I will continue to be in awe of for all of my days.  St. Louis was a city that the whole family enjoyed.  It is not a typical vacation destination but maybe it should be.


The Badlands of South Dakota

I didn’t know what to think when we decided to go to the Badlands in South Dakota.  I already thought that South Dakota was going to IMG_1322be desolate and rough considering the cold climate and the bikers.  J  What could there possibly be in the ‘bad’ part of this state that we would want to stop for?  The answer was a multitude of immense IMG_1288canyons (or hills depending on where you were standing) that have slowly been worn down to reveal beautifully colored layers of rock that have been laid down over the past few million years.

After a stop at Wall Drug, which was a trip in to souvenir hell, we toured the park on the way to our next campsite.  We stopped at many overlooks to look at the ever changing formations that, as time progresses, continue to reveal fossils that were interred in to theIMG_1314 layers.  Badlands is different than most parks because visitors are allowed to go off of the beaten path on their hikes.  They even have a standing process in place for when visitors find new fossils or skeletons which is a common occurrence.IMG_1295

One of my favorite parts about the Badlands was the night sky viewing because of the isolation of the park from artificial light.  We went to a ranger presentation, where Lindsey earner her Junior Ranger Badge, that gave us the opportunity to view the moon, Saturn, and Jupiter through high powered telescopes.  Later, when the moon had gone down, we were treated to a rare view of the universe, including easy viewing of the Milky Way galaxy, that we city dwellers don’t usually get to see.

The Badlands were a nice surprise and ended up being one of my favorite destinations on our trip.


Mt. Rushmore

From the start of the trip, our whole family was excited to see the famous Mt. Rushmore and its surrounding attractions during the three days we had booked there.  For me, this stop was one I had been looking forward to since the moment we had the road trip planned.  Ever since I started learning about Mt. Rushmore in elementary school, I knew that it was a place I wanted to visit when I got older.  Not only was the carved mountain a highlight of the stop, but the campground and surrounding areas were like nothing I’d ever seen before.

Two way tunnel in the Needles. Wait your turn!
Two way tunnel in the Needles. Wait your turn!

When we arrived at the Mt. Rushmore KOA, Lindsey and I knew that we would have a blast at the campground (Although I thought it was more of a resort).  From ice cream shops to waterslides to beach volleyball and other activities, this place had it all.  Although we wanted to stay and play, we headed into the nearby tourist town of Keystone where we rode down an awesome alpine slide and went out for a delicious dinner.

The next day, which happened to be the 4th of July, we went back to the town for a little shopping and exploring, but there wasn’t much to explore. Keystone’s pretty small.  That night, we spent a while in Custer State Park trying to find their celebratory fireworks.  Around 8:30, we realized that the fireworks were in the city of Custer, not the state park.  Luckily, with the sun setting so late, we were able to arrive at the light show with plenty of time to spare.  The fireworks were set off by the local volunteer firefighters, but it was still an amazing (and quite long) show.

Finally, towards the end of the stop at Mt. Rushmore, we finally got to see the famous monument itself. IMG_1253 It was a little smaller than I imagined, but still extremely impressive.  The builder had wanted to put faces of four monumental leaders of the United States up on the side of the mountain, so he chose (from left to right) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.  I thought it was really cool to see and learn about the amazing monument that people have marveled about for years past and many more to come.

After visiting Mt. Rushmore, we went to Wind Cave National Park where we took an awesome tour of the cave that got its name from the rushing winds that can blow your hat off into the natural DSCN1386entrance.  It was a very nice park and I’m glad we had the time to visit.  In fact, the whole trip to the Mt. Rushmore area was very pleasant and I wasn’t in any way disappointed.


Cody, WY

Cody, Wyoming, a small town outside the gates of Yellowstone, is an old but modern western city with lots and lots to do. IMG_1148While we were there, we had a great time riding up the side of the mountain on horseback and also watching cowboys hanging on to buckin’  broncos . Our first morning in Cody, we went horseback riding up a

City Slickers
City Slickers

small mountain for 1 hour. The horses were very well behaved. The path we went on was a rocky, narrow, steep path that was interesting and awesome.  A couple hours later, we had lunch and met up with my grandparents to go to the rodeo.

Cody Stampede

We went to dinner at a BBQ/salad bar and ate a delicious BBQ dinner.  After that, we headed to the rodeo called the Cody Stampede. This wasn’t just any rodeo though, it was an event that gathered together champions from all around the world. As we watched the thrilling events, I began to feel sleepy and before I knew it, the rodeo was over and we headed back to the trailer to hit the hay. When we woke up the next morning, it was time to leave this enchanting town and as we drove off, I noticed how much I loved the tiny town and hoped to come back soon.



Artwork by Lindsey

The idea of setting aside land to preserve it in its pristine state for future generations started 100 years ago in the United States with the National Parks system.  The first, and granddaddy of them all, was Yellowstone National Park.  We stayed there for about six days, our longest stop of the trip, and saw something different on every one of them while only scratching the surface of what could be explored.

The wildlife was phenomenal.  In the first couple of hours there we saw a few bison on the side of the road and stopped to snap as many photos as we could.  After all, you can’t have too many cover shots for National Geographic.  We IMG_1068quickly figured out that this was the tell-tale sign of a newbie to Yellowstone.  Over the next few days we experienced lone bison strolling down the center of the road (multiple times) with no regard to who needed to be where or when, black bears with cubs crossing the road, otters swimming in the river, elk lounging DSCN0971about just about everywhere, pelicans on the lakes (believe it or not), grizzly bears feeding on some unrecognizable former resident of theDSCN1240 park, and an event we dubbed as ‘bison jam’: when the bison herd decided to cross the road and wreaked traffic havoc on the two lane park roads (also multiple times).  As ridiculous as it sounds, a few bison standing by the road was no longer of much interest and anyone seen taking photos of such a common place event had obviously just entered the park for the first time.

Another of the incredible attributes of Yellowstone was the landscape.  Sitting on top of a super-volcano does actually have some perks.  Mud pots, vents, hot springs, and, of course, geysers are in abundance.  They create beautiful and bizarre scenes while serving as reminders that there is hot magma not so far below our feet that is transforming our ever changing world.  We saw Old IMG_1119Faithful go off a number of times and visited unbelievable sights like Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Prismatic Spring.  The girls swam in a spot where a cold river came together with one that was heated and you could feel the difference in temperature based on where you sat in the water (thanks Groffs for the suggestion).  They also enjoyed swimming against the current in the river in Firehole Canyon to be rewarded with a jump in to the rapids that quickly brought them back to the start.

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs

Believe it or not, Yellowstone also has some impressive man-made beauty.  The Old Faithful Inn is a working historical landmark that was built in the early 1900’s and is a masterpiece that bringsDSCN1177 together nature and architecture.  It is amazing that they still let people stay in it.  To add to the nostalgia, they also run tours on the refurbished yellow busses that were used in the 1930’s.



Grand Tetons

IMG_0889I wonder how many poets, artists, novelists, and songwriters took their inspiration from the overwhelming beauty of the Grand Tetons. I have seen taller mountains, more wildlife, more pine trees in one location, bluer waters, and more rustic lodges. So what was it that made Grand Tetons my newly proclaimed “favorite place on Earth”? I believe it was the feeling I got standing on the shores of Jenny Lake, String Lake, and Jackson Lake. The catalyst of this transcendental experience was millions of years in the making. At Grand Tetons, all that I find beautiful comes together in one magical place. This young mountain chain rises sharply out of the land like blades that could no longer be contained in their earthly sheathe. The glaciers that once covered The Tetons carved deep holes that IMG_5853are now filled with smooth stones and waters that would be invisible if not for the slightly blueish hue. The waters seemed to beckon hikers that traveled along the dirt paths meandering through the woods and worn by the feet of previous adventurers and the paws of animals great and small. The pine trees seemed to be posing perfectly between water and mountain for a Bob Ross painting (they were happy trees). The purple, yellow, white, and red wildflowers seemed strategically placed by Mother Nature. The sounds, the smell, and the solitude added to the experience. One of those joyous sounds was the giggles of my children as they waded into the cold waters of String, and later, Jackson Lake. IMG_5861When I was there, I felt connected to something bigger than myself. There is geologic history in this place but there is human history as well. The Shoshone, Gros Ventre, and many other tribes dating back 11,000 years found their everything from these lands. Grand Tetons was the stomping grounds of French Canadian and American fur trappers. It was the place of love stories. It was where the Mormons came and established a community called Grovant. It was where an EpiscopalIMG_5900 church was built with the most breathtaking views on the planet. It was where, in 1989, an agreement was signed between the United States and the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic.

World Peace Table
World Peace Table

It is a place of peace.





Jackson Hole was pretty rad too.


Dinosaur National Monument

When my mom first told me we were going to go white water rafting on our six-week road trip, I have to admit I was a little bit scared.  I had seen pictures and videos of class five rapids and secretly decided that I never wanted to do something that crazy.  Luckily, the rapids that we were roughing were only class two to class three (and actually now I think those were pretty tiny), but I was still nervous.  I DSCN0592also learned that would be visiting and rafting in Dinosaur National Monument, a park that I hadn’t heard of before the trip.  Another thing that made the trip especially fun was that we got to see our friends from Colorado, one of my besties Katelyn and her mom Michele.

On the first day we were in the park, we visited the Dinosaur National Monument visitors center, where Lindsey was able to earn her Junior Ranger badge and we learned all about the plants, animals, and other features of the monument.  After thoroughly exploring the visitors center, we hopped on a shuttle bus that was headed to the quarry, a building built into the side of a huge hill of rock complete with genuine dinosaur bones that you could examine and learn about.  You were even allowed to touch some of the fossilized remains!  After a long day of dinosaurs, we all headed back to the campground for bed.  Unfortunately, the campsite we had

103 Degrees and No Air :-(
103 Degrees and No Air 🙁

gotten was one lacking hook-ups, which means no water, outlet electricity, or air conditioning.  While this normally wouldn’t be a problem, it happened to be extremely hot and none of us got much sleep.  The next day, we switched to a campground with air conditioning at the least, and slept much better.

The morning after the travel trailer sauna incident, all of us (except my dad, sadly) woke up early to go white water rafting.  When we got there, we were suited up with PFDs (personal flotation devices) and helmets, and then we got on a bus that would take us upstream to go rafting.  I just thought that they would give us a raft, drop us off at the top of the river, and wish us luck.  However, I was happy to discover that we were pretty much babied the whole trip.  We got a cool tour of the 1500-year-old petroglyphs that were pecked into the stone on the “Outlaw Trail” and an interesting history on these carvings.  When we got into the river, our guide, Chris, taught us how to control the raft so that we hopefully wouldn’t fall out.  After a few fun rapids (I had gotten over my fear of them), we stopped on a tiny beach for lunch.  Chris and our other guide Tyler, who was carrying the food in a raft all by himself behind us, set everything up while we played in the water.  After a great meal of turkey sandwiches, fruit, chips, and lemonade, we got back on the river.  Towards the end of the tour, we stopped at another island with a really neat cave that the guides called “Cowboy Camp.”  The name originated from when outlaw cowboys used to steal ranchers’ cattle and hide out with them in caves just like this one.  In fact, we thought it was pretty cool that the famous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid both camped out in the very same cave!  After lots of pictures and goofing around, we headed back.  I was so sad the rafting trip had ended, and I begged my mom to take us on another one again soon.  As you can tell by the length of this post, I had tons of fun out in Dinosaur National Monument and would love to visit again.


Click on the following to download a Lindsey-Cam rafting video to see some of the action.

More of Utah: Zion and Bryce

Although we had been to Zion before, this is a park that requires more than a day to explore.  We came in through the east entrance this time and were treated to amazing views of giant red mountains of striated rock that we hadn’t seen.  This included going through them via the 1.1 mile long Mt. Carmel tunnel which needs repair and is competing for funding.  Once in the park we took the tram to the Zion lodge where we had a dinner of bison burgers and bison meatloaf (OK, we weren’t the first to arrive at the park that day due to swimming pool priorities) with our Atlanta friends, The Hilgerts.IMG_0597  Prior to our reservation we went down to the Virgin River that runs through the park to look at the Emerald Pools which we never made it to.  The following petroglyph is a recreation of the events that took place:

Artwork by Lindsey
Artwork by Lindsey


Lindsey + Enticing River + Jon’s Encouragement = Happy Soaking Wet Lindsey Right Before Dinner in the Lodge

I think Lindsey going in the river was a foregone conclusion as soon as she stepped off of the path anyway.

The next day the Hilgerts took Camryn on a hike into The Narrows where you have to march through the shallow river and into world famous slot canyons.  Lindsey, Laura, and I took a quick trip to Bryce Canyon.


IMG_0641Bryce Canyon is as advertised.  Laura and I agree that this is one of the places where pictures (maybe not ours) do the park justice.  Its beauty does not lie in massive size, like the Grand Canyon, but in the multitude of hoodoos and columns whose intricate designs have been formed over the ages.  Formations range from individuals that look like kings and queens to others that are lined up in such an orderly fashion that they look like ranks of IMG_0640marching soldiers.  Between limited time and mobility issues we did not get a chance to take any of the of the hikes that would have taken us through the maze of formations, but did get great views doing the trail between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point (Thanks Hilgerts for the tip).  While on the trail we ran in to another person who had a similar leg injury to my broken ankle and had a similar roller cart.  We compared notes on the carts and had to resist the urge to race them despite the egging on from both families’ children.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Honestly, this has been my favorite stop of the trip so far. And you probably know why. This amazing place is flooded with dogs, cats, birds, horses, bunnies, and even pigs just waiting to be adopted. Yesterday, we went and volunteered in Dogtown. All of the dogs there were so adorable and playful, I just wish I could adopt all of them!

When we were volunteering, my dad, Dirk, went and took care of a dog with cancer while me and the rest of my family walked 3 dogs.

The first dog we walked was named Judd. Just for you to get an idea of what he looks like, he kind of looks like the dog Petey from The Little Rascals. We did clicker training with him on the walk. He was so well behaved, but playful too, that my whole family wanted to adopt this 1-year-old puppy J.

The next dog we walked was named Killian. She was struggling with the clicker training a little, (except sit) but loved to be pet! Camryn bonded with her immediately and knew she had a lot of potential to do great things.

The last dog was named Sundae. She did NOT want to go on a walk. She kept stopping to sniff everything and would pull in different directions stubbornly. She had already been adopted so we were just working on name recognition with her.

After we walked the dogs, sadly our shift was over. We went to an all vegetarian café overlooking the beautiful canyon in Best Friends.

View from the Cafe
View from the Cafe

It was delicious! After our lunch, Camryn and I begged our parents to get a sleepover dog (a dog you can take home and have a sleepover with).  They finally said yes and, after hard thinking, we decided to get Judd and have a sleepover with him the next day. The day finally came and we picked up Judd from Dogtown. He was a little nervous at first, but he quickly adjusted to our family. We took him to pink sands and he loved it! IMG_5717Before we knew it, the day was over and we hit the hay. Early next morning, we had to take Judd back to Dogtown and head over to Moab UT. It was a sad goodbye to take back Judd and leave Best Friends, but I can’t wait to go back!


Grand Canyon

Artwork by Lindsey
Artwork by Lindsey

It is simply impossible to describe the Grand Canyon with pictures or words and do it the justice it deserves.  The majesty, size, and diversity that accompany the beauty that creates breathtaking vista after vista must be seen in person.  With that said, we decided to do this post a little differently and give you some of our own impressions in Q & A format.

Q:  What was the thing that impressed you most about the Grand Canyon?

Lindsey:  The size.  I couldn’t believe how big this thing was.  It was a mile deep and a hundred miles long.  I could see a hundred miles wide.

Camryn:  The beauty of the park was the thing that I was most impressed with.  Not just the canyon, but the campsite and drive there as well.

Laura:  That it is the #1 most visited natural wonder of the world.  The park handles it really well.

Dirk:  The sheer size of it.  You can drive for miles and miles and every overlook along the way is beautiful but unique in its own way.


Q:  What did you learn about the Grand Canyon that you did not know before?

Lindsey:  That John Wesley Powell was the first was the first to boat inside the Grand Canyon on the Colorado river.

Camryn: Elk and mule deer are common animals to be seen in the park.

Desert View Watchtower
Desert View Watchtower

Laura:  There is a whole section of the park called Desert View that I didn’t know existed.  At the end of the Desert View drive there is an impressive watch-tower which we enjoyed climbing to the top of.

Dirk:  I knew it was dangerous but I was surprised to hear that 8 to 10 people a year fall in by accident.  On a lighter note, I learned that the bark of the Ponderosa Pine really smells like vanilla.


Q:  Name one highlight of our stay at the Grand Canyon?DSCN0433

Lindsey:  Hiking South Kaibab trail with Mommy.

Camryn:  The sunset we saw at Hopi Point was breathtaking!

Laura:  The elk that came right up to the trailer and was pushing on it.

Through the window
Through the window

Dirk:  Seeing an elk right outside the window of the camper.  Those things are huge!