Monday, April 25, 2016

Paranormal Road Trip (Minneapolis to Jackson WY and Back!)

Road Trip Music!!

Spring Break is always a tough vacation to plan for us. We're from Puerto Rico so we head down to the Caribbean every Christmas. As a result, we don't really feel like having another beach vacation in March. But if we head up north, it's too cold, and, if we head south, it's too slushy. It's a problem.

This year we decided to take a classic (sort of, we added out own paranormal twist, or course) American road trip. Minnesota is pretty close to iconic American stops like the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, which we've always wanted to visit, and we have a big minivan with T.V. set so the kids can be comfortable and entertained. We decided to try to make it all the way to one of my husband's favorite town, Jackson, WY. We went there years ago and fell in love with the town and the mountains. We wanted to see it again, this time with (some) snow on the ground.

The trip is twenty-something hours each way, so, with three kids and zero knowledge of the area, it was an ambitious undertaking for us. I spent weeks planning for it, figuring out driving times, lodging (mostly Marriott so we can use our Marriott Rewards points), and food. My kids are picky eaters so food was a big concern. I scoured the Internet for a sample itinerary for this trip, but came up empty-handed. This was the best we could come up with (spoiler, it was pretty good).

We set off Friday evening, drove three and a half hours and spent the night in Sioux Falls. This stop was key because our kids were not entirely enthusiastic about the prospect of spending a whole week in the car. We bribed them with the prospect of junk food and frequent stops at their favorite restaurants. Sioux Falls has many of their favorite chains and we were able to have dinner at Cracker Barrel and breakfast at IHOP.

I know. Who goes on a road trip and visits IHOP? The answer is, people with kids. True story: My daughter wanted to visit IHOP because one of her favorite Minecraft YouTubers keeps mentioning it. That's modern parenting for you.

Snowy Badlands
Saturday morning we drove four hours to the Badlands. The rocks were still partially covered in snow, but it was still gorgeous. We did the Badlands loop and visited the fossil center (my son is dinosaur fiend) and the kids had a great time. They loved the hilarious prairie dogs and the short (not strenuous at all) hikes. We didn't make it to the Minuteman Missile Site because the kids wanted to get to Rapid City early so they could watch Batman v. Superman. This was a mistake. We should have done the missile site.

We stayed at a hotel in Rapid City (Marriott Fairfield, which was fantastic. We didn't go to the water park, but it's pretty impressive) and had dinner at Chili's (another kid favorite) which (along with breakfast the next morning at IHOP) kept the kids happy. The boys watched Batman v. Superman and the girls stayed in the hotel and rested, or, in my case, worked. I got the Main Street Witches covers and trailers done during this trip. #winning

Mt. Rushmore
Sunday morning we visited Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Then we drove into Wyoming, leaving the beautiful Black Hills behind, stopped at Casper for lunch (Outback which my kids don't like, but there was not much else), and kept driving toward Thermopolis, WY. This was an amazing drive. We crossed the Black Hills and Thunder Basin National Grasslands, and it was gorgeous. The drive up the Windy River Canyon Scenic Byway was breathtaking, with a winding river, imposing cliffs and creepy tunnels. This is the haunted highway described in Craig Johnson's The Highwayman, and, yes, it's pretty spooky.

Thermopolis was...disappointing. The town had hot springs and smells heavily of sulphur. We stayed at the Days Inn (dead critters all over the walls) and I wouldn't recommend it. Try the Best Western instead. Actually, if I had to do this all over again, I'd avoid the Thermopolis hotels altogether and maybe camp in the area (There's some gorgeous campsites near the river.) or stay in Casper.

Ava (and Eddy's) Silver and Rock Shop

Monday morning we had breakfast at McDonald's, and found that the restaurant was right next to one of Thermopolis' hidden treasures: Ava's Silver and Rock Shop. This place is fantastic! Its full of rocks and fossils at very reasonable prices and the owners, Ava and Eddie, are fossil hunters. Eddie can explain all the fossils and rocks and Ava (who has a dinosaur, the Avasaurus, named after her) has wonderful stories about their fossil hunting days. This place is definitely worth a stop.

Ava and Eddie's jackalope
The Dinosaur Center was also kind of disappointing. The museum is kind of meh, although they have a great explanation of the geologic time line and several fantastic invertebrate fossils. It's not as good as Ava's shop though. Go to the rock shop!

We spent the rest of the day driving to Jackson. It was awe-inspiring. Truly, an amazing experience. You see the mountains rise up as you drive and the majestic National Elk Refuge welcomes you into town. The drive is a bit tiring, but it's totally worth it.

Rustic Inn's cabins

We got to Jackson later in the day. We stopped at out hotel, the Rustic Inn at Creekside. I was a bit nervous about our lodging. I'd booked all these places, sight unseen, through the internet and the Thermopolis hotel had been horrible so I was quite apprehensive. My fears were completely unfounded though. The hotel was gorgeous.

We had two beautiful log cabin rooms in front of the creek with western decor and flawless wi-fi. Yes, wi-fi was very important to our kids as was a breakfast buffet (my daughter loves hotel breakfast buffets, not sure why). The hotel even had an in-site laundromat so I could do laundry. It was perfection.

View of the creek.
Log cabin bed (there's a fireplace in front)
Dining/Work Area
My husband and I were able to have out first grown-up dinner in Jackson (thank you, Domino's Pizza for feeding out children). We ate a hipster taco place called Hatch. It's the kind of place that's too "authentic" to have frozen margaritas, which is not a plus in my book. I ordered a Paloma (grapefruit juice with tequila) instead and it was relish. The food was good (the carne asada tacos are good. The tacos al pastor, not so much) and the trendy ambiance was a nice respite from log cabin decor and cowboy everything.

Jackson's Hole Paloma
We spent the next two days in Jackson, resting and driving around. It was a bit too slushy for skiing and, anyway, we'd spent most of the winter skiing in Minneapolis so we were all skied out. Instead, we visited Teton Park (Yellowstone was closed, boo hoo) and the Wildlife Museum, which was fantastic.

Wildlife Museum friend.

Wildlife Museum kids' activity

We shopped and ate at Caldera Pizza (Awesome Bison Sausage Pizza!) and Liberty Burger (Fantastic Jackie O Lamb Burger!). We had the huckleberry ice cream (a local specialty) at Moo's Gourmet Ice Cream and bought treats at the Yippy I O candy shop. We also had breakfast at the fabulous Bunnery. It was a fun stop.

Jackson Souvenirs (there was a jackalope sticker, but it was sold out)

Thursday we headed back and drove six hours to Gillette. This was the boring part of the trip because we were pretty much retracing out steps. If you do this trip in the summer, you can cross Yellowstone and visit Cody on your way to Gillette. That makes the trip a lot more interesting.

We had none of these.
Things got better once we got to Gillette. We bought more Domino's for the kids and headed to Pokey's BBQ and Smokehouse for the best bar-b-que I've ever eaten. Seriously, it was delicious. We didn't get any of their exotic meats, but maybe we'll try them next time.

Devil's Tower sans UFO

Native American Prayer Bundles
Friday was a fast-paced day. We saw Devil's Tower (a life-long dream for us Close Encounters fans) and spent an hour hiking around it. It was breathtaking. The rock is a Native American sacred site and you can see prayer bundles hanging from the trees as you walk around. It's very inspiring.

We drove on to Deadwood which was a bit of a disappointment. The town is cute, but there isn't as much ghost stuff as one would expect. We saw the haunted Bullock and Fairmont hotels and the bar where Wild Bill Hickok died, but that was it. Part of the problem was that my kids (who watch Ghost Adventures religiously) categorically refused to stay the night in Deadwood. Ghost stories are, apparently, best enjoyed from the comfort of your (blissfully not haunted) living room. The town is probably more fun if you stay the night and to a ghost tour.

Deadwood buildings

Zak Bagans was here!

At this point everyone just wanted to go home so we drove back to Sioux Falls, ate at Cracker Barrel (hey, it made the kids happy), and stayed the night at a hotel (another Marriott) there. I'd planned to visit the Minuteman Missile Site on the way back, but everyone was too tired. Pro tip: Don't plan as many stops for the return trip. People are just not into it. We should have stopped at the missile site on the second day.

Watching television in the hotel (we waz pooped)

We went back home the next morning (after the requisite breakfast at IHOP).

Overall, it was a tremendous experience. There was a lot of driving but the minivan held up beautifully. There were enough stops to keep the kids happy, and we got a bit of adult time (and meals!). Even though it was the off-season, we still had plenty of stuff to do. We will probably do the road trip again in a few years (this time during the summer so we can do a Dino Dig, see Old Faithful, go to a chuckwagon dinner, and do an astronomy camping trip). It's a very fun trip. We did it in one week (Spring Break is only so long), but you could definitely stretch it a couple of days and stay and extra night in the cabins at Cedar Pass Lodge in the Badlands (they looked really nice in person!) or in the haunted hotels in Deadwood (or both!).