family Midwest tour - trip report

Old Jun 14th, 2014, 07:47 PM
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family Midwest tour - trip report

Nearly 3,000 miles in the car, 9 states, and a major hail storm. We still had a great time! Traveling were DH and I plus our 5 and 8 year old girls.

We left Indiana and drove to Minneapolis for a family event, stopping along the route at the Laura Ingalls' "Little House in the Big Woods." Worth the stop (quite off the beaten path - keep driving!) since the books were a big reason for our trip. After a few days in Minneapolis we headed north to Fargo for the night. We stopped at Bononzaville which was a lot of fun. We had the time, and even though in retrospect such places seem to be a dime a dozen the rest of our route this stop was worth the money. Could have skipped the museum, but the outer buildings were very interesting. Stayed in the Courtyard (very nice) and attempted to have dinner downtown. Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday night when a LOT of places are closed. And all of the restaurants that were highly rated on Trip Advisor did not allow children. Disappointed, we ended up at a chain.

Early the next morning we headed to De Smet, South Dakota for the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum and tour. I wish we'd known how many buildings were on the tour (four) because my youngest was rather bored - although she hid it well until the last stop. DH was the most interested as he hadn't read the books. We had lunch at Ward's Bakery downtown which was delicious, and very interesting to look out at the town where The Long Winter took place and imagine not being able to see the other side of the street. We drove around the area a little and tried to find the Ingalls Homestead but couldn't, though we drove through Big Slough and past Silver Lake. Next stop: Mitchell's Corn Palace which was so much more interesting than I expected. We spent longer there than planned and it's definitely worth going inside. From there we drove to the Badlands and spent the night at Cedar Pass Lodge. Before entering the park we stopped at Prairie Homestead - a sod house plus white prairie dog town. My 5yo ADORED the animals. I was a bit worried she'd be bitten, she kept trying to catch one. Fortunately we were able to buy a stuffed one in their gift shop. The sod house was very cool - a highlight of our trip. Badlands was my other daughter's favorite place.

Early next morning we started to drive the loop - very beautiful, plus a cloudy morning made for some very interesting pictures. Saw pronghorns butting heads about 20 feet away, then made it to prairie dog town and saw buffalos. Wish we'd been able to spend more time here but health issues forced us to get to Rapid City so I could see a doctor. In the meantime, DH took our girls to lunch downtown along the Avenue of Presidents. Despite the rain, they managed to walk the entire route. They ate at a TexMex place that was fantastic (so I hear!). Then a relatively short drive to Custer to check into the Holiday Inn. We'd hoped to see Crazy Horse, but it was so foggy we spent the afternoon swimming. Nice pool. Dinner at the Purple Pie Place - delicious!

Next morning we headed to Mt Rushmore via Wildlife Loop. Loved that road! It took about two hours because we kept stopping to see animals. Short stop at both the visitor's centers, but we probably could have skipped this. Then headed up Iron Mountain Rd. The first two miles we saw more herds of buffalo and they stampeded across the road - very fun to see. But the rest of the drive I found boring and DD was carsick with all the turns. We definitely could have skipped this. Mt. Rushmore was worth seeing, did the Presidential Trail which was also worthwhile. We stopped in Keystone for a quick meal and were planning to go do Needles Highway, but DD was feeling so poorly we decided to get to the next hotel. No idea if Needles was more interesting than Iron Mtn Road, but if I had it to do over it would have been worth the switch. Iron Mtn was just not interesting to us!

At this point we were heading to Lusk, Wyoming. The rainy weather had held off but suddenly seemed to reappear on the horizon. The coolest thing about that part of the world is being able to see the storms from miles away. We could actually watch it descend upon us; next thing we knew, we were driving in 70mph winds and hail. Not the easiest drive, but we arrived in one piece!

Overnight at the Lusk America's Best Value Inn (Covered Wagon) - excellent service. Not the fanciest place, but so clean and breakfast was really good for the price. The pool wasn't heated, but not a deal breaker. Would stay there again if we were in that neck of the woods. Every person in town was so nice, as DH was on a mission to find popsicles to help DD's upset tummy.

Then a painfully long drive to Omaha. Stayed in Papillion at the Courtyard. Finally we were going to stay two nights in the same hotel room!! The next day we went to the Henry Doorly Zoo. It was nice enough, I'm glad we did it, it definitely took the entire day and we still didn't see absolutely everything. One disappointment - they must have been having some issues because the first concession place was packed and didn't have food choices DD wanted, and the second wasn't willing to sell food until after 12:30. We walked all through the park and finally, desperately, ended up cranky at a place with even fewer options. The kids didn't eat as much as they would have if we'd eaten an hour earlier. Found out later that there's a nice cafeteria by the entrance - that's where I'd recommend going for anyone planning a visit there. We wasted a lot of time and energy here. We also spent 15 minutes trying to get tickets for a camel ride. The automated ticketing was down and the line was seven people deep. Nuts, but when else are my kids going to ride a camel? We have no Egypt plans for the near future.

That night we got a sitter for the girls and went out to dinner with friends at Brother Sebastian's which had amazing atmosphere and service. Good meal, though I'd say steakhouses in Indy are just as good and some are better. Maybe they export the best cuts! And the next day a VERY long drive back to Indiana.

If I had it to do over, I'd spend an extra night in Custer and would skip the zoo. I'd have ensured more family time and less DVD time for the kids (though that comes back to illness - it kept their minds off of feeling under the weather). We tried lots of stops along the way which kept everyone entertained.
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Old Jun 15th, 2014, 06:37 AM
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This sounds like a great trip for your family. Did you post pictures anywere?

Thanks for the report
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Old Jun 15th, 2014, 07:41 PM
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No pictures publicly posted - sorry! Because of modern technology half the pics are on DH's or my cell phone anyway, so we're working to consolidate!
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Old Jun 16th, 2014, 07:25 AM
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Thanks for the nice report. As a fellow Laura fan, I always enjoy reading about other's visits to DeSmet, et al. Also recommended, when you have time, is a trip to the home she and Almanzo built in the Ozarks of Missouri near Springfield.

I am a native Omahan and I am so sorry you were disappointed in your zoo visit because I never hesitate to recommend a stop there when giving Omaha visitor advice. Loved seeing a mention of Brother Sebastian's in your report--when DH and I were dating (YEARS AGO!), that was one of our "special occasion" dining spots!
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Old Jun 16th, 2014, 07:29 AM
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I really enjoyed reading about your trip. I loved your wording about the "painfully long drive to Omaha". I remember driving in Nebraska with the kids (sorry people from Nebraska but that interstate is boring!!) and painful describes it well. I also remember driving to Kansas City once in stormy conditions like you described. It is very scary, not knowing if you should pull over or try to outdrive the storm. It sounds like you saw great sites though and had a very memorable trip. Your girls will have good memories, and will love looking at the pictures.

I'm from Illinois and have never been to Mt Rushmore. It is not that far away.
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Old Jun 16th, 2014, 09:40 AM
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Reminds me of our nice family camping trips so long ago...including one from Illinois to the Black Hills with our youngsters ages 11, 8 and 3 (now 58, 55, 50). Back then family in a tent on the shore of Sylvan Lake...later in fold downs and trailers. Have one pict of the three looking into a gopher hole. Another posing with Black Elk with Mt. Rushmore in background. Winding road for sure in Black Hills. Enjoyed a parade in Rapid City and hiking in Badlands. Yes, we also stopped a the Wilder's homestead as DW and daughter were big into the series (and later lived in Spfld, MO, near their Ozarks house).
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