|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.
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
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|
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)|
|Jackson's Hole Paloma|
|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.|
|Devil's Tower sans UFO|
|Native American Prayer Bundles|
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.
|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!).