Where the deer and the antelope play

Yesterday Merit thanked Tom, as we were getting out of the truck, for taking him to Yellowstone.

We’re not in Yellowstone.

And he thanked us for letting him see the ‘piles of smoke.’

Geysers.

This is a different road trip he’s remembering- I was pregnant with his 17 month old little brother to give you a clue. When I think about whether or not my kids will remember the MANY crazy adventures we’ve already taken them on, I like to think that they will. And if not the specifics, I know in the very least we’re molding them for a sense of adventure and a desire to see the world. I think that’s cool.

And in the VERY, very least, we’re making them REALLY good car riders- and that’s a win too!

So to pick up where I left off in my last blog, we rolled into Wyoming and stopped to stretch our legs at Bear River State Park. What a cool spot for the littles! There was a play structure, which we figured was good enough, but upon closer inspection, we discovered there were bison and elk in a fenced off little area near the visitors center! We got to take a little hike and spy on the animals. It made for a wonderful social media photo shoot, so that’s good!

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The kids loved it. And despite the slightly (very) cold weather, it was a really successful adventure. The dogs got to run around and they didn’t even cause a stampede which is great news! And although there were signs warning moose were nearby, they have still remained an unspotted animal for me. In all the road trips we’ve been on over the years, three trips through Yellowstone included, I’ve still never seen a moose! Well, I think I spotted a moose butt once, but upon getting out of the car and following in it’s tracks way too far into the woods for comfort, I did not confirm my sighting. But I also didn’t get trampled by a moose, so that’s a win.

After the bison and elk adventure, we loaded up again and headed for Little America, Wyoming. This makes me wonder- how do towns get named? I mean, how did this town get to claim the name ‘Little America.’ That’s kind of a big title for the most unimpressive stop of my life.

First of all, Little America, you should really consider investing in some more signage. You’re so close, but really missing the mark in some key areas.

Let’s take a look: There were half a dozen billboards on the approach advertising 75 cent ice cream cones. I mean, that’s a good schtick- we may or may not have indulged- but once we pulled off the freeway, there were about 5 buildings that were completely unmarked. NO indication that we were in the right place for the cheap treat! For all the money they spent getting people to get off the freeway, they’ve lost at least half of that money with all the people who didn’t want to get out of their cars and investigate which brick building housed the goods.

Lucky for Little America, the Cunningham’s had kids who needed to eat dinner and a mom who had a conference call, so we did the leg work to find the diner. After one failed conference call- long story- I can successfully report that the burgers are crap, the chili is good and the cones are really 75 cents!

Before hitting the road again, we got the kids in their pjs knowing we’d be coming in hot to Rock Springs, Wyoming, which is where you’ll find the absolute worst KOA campground of your life.

Sidebar: I’m not typically a complainer. And I’m not a travel blogger. So take this all with a grain of salt. Perhaps a gravel parking lot with no trees and many, many, many pot holes filled with water is your idea of a good time, but for me, and for a KOA which people can actually become a member of, I’m going to call LAME on this stop.

But we put our money on a KOA because it just never disappoints- I mean, until it did. And so we pulled in for the night because we had reached the end of our daylight, and the end of the kid’s patience. In truth, I blame the kids, but they’ve been amazingly awesome. Tom and I were out of our road trip patience. It was time to stop. And besides, I was trying to do a follow up conference call with kids singing in the back ground to Third Eye Blind. SUPER professional.

Once inside the warmth of the camper, it was business as usual: brushing teeth, bathroom, bed, instantly quiet. Who knew road tripping was so exhausting for littles?

After everything settled, I headed out into the now rainy weather to sit in the pick up and do one final conference call. Being on the road, plus the time change of one hour, has complicated the ‘business as usual’ style of my work, but it’s still possible to run a business from the road! It’s fluid, that’s for sure, but luckily nothing I do in Arbonne is emergent. Nothing can’t be rescheduled. Nothing needs to be crazy. But alas, I did have to turn on the diesel truck to run the heat, and perhaps the neighbors in the parking lot KOA feel that what I do is ‘crazy.’

Upon completing my work day, I popped back into the trailer and wrote in our travel journal before turning in for the night.

Wyoming, you are a windy beast. Several times throughout the night, I was awoken to an earthquake, only it wasn’t an earthquake, it was just WIND. Epically gusty wind. It felt as if someone was literally stealing the truck and trailer and driving away we were swaying so much. Of course, I’m the only one who even seemed to notice. But sometimes waking up in the middle of the night, and getting to take a peek at my cutest kiddos in their peaceful sleeping state is a blessing, even if it is annoying to be awake.

7:30am… “Daaaaaadddddddddyyyyyyyyyyy. Hi…. Hi..Hi. Hi……….. Hi.” Gage is awake! Snuggles ensue. Everything is just dandy until I wake Thomas up to ask him to open the door for our dog, Harper, who is asking to go out. Tom gets out of bed to discover there is a pile of puke on the rug in front of the bed…
Thomas- my sweet, wonderful husband- doesn’t always wake up well as it is. And he and Harper have a serious love/hate relationship. So this does not a good morning make.

To be fair, I can’t say that I’m a morning person myself, so I have to say that it’s extra hard for me to give grace in the morning, but let’s just say things didn’t get off to the best start. And to make matters worse, the craziest wind storm of our life was still happening outside- and the wind was NOT warm- and so unhooking the trailer was an extra fun experience for my wonderful husband that morning. Needless to say, we kept to ourselves as we did our morning routine of dressing and feeding kids and dogs and getting things ready to roll. But alas, we managed to get on the road without any serious blow ups! Bonus!

So we basically tackled the heck out of Wyoming that day of driving. I mean, we just took Wyoming down. We nearly drove from border to border and I’ve got to report: There is just not a lot in Wyoming. It’s stunning! I’ll tell you that much. But it is just dang empty. Talk about Wild West! It’s green and it’s expansive and then sometimes it’s rocky and mountainous. It’s just beautiful, that’s for sure, but there is just no one there to see it.

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Well, there are cows. Cows have taken over Wyoming. And antelope. There are lots of antelope too. But that’s it.

We pulled off the highway on a gravel road to make lunch around 11:30am. There were about 5 beat up mail boxes where the highway and the gravel road intersected, but as far as I could see into the distance, there just were no houses or people or cars or traces of any of those things. People ask me how far I’ll be from a grocery store when I get to our farm in Tennessee… those mail boxes really brought things into perspective.

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If Wyoming is rural, Tennessee has zero rural. We’re going to be practically metropolitan compared to whoever lives down that road to nowhere.

But like I said, it’s pretty.

After lunch, we started to hit some weather. Rain mostly, but a little hail and a little snow here and there. We still had a lot of ground to cover to get to our final destination for the day, which was Custer, South Dakota, but we could tell a few hours into the drive, that we were going to need another stop. But what on earth would we find to do?

Surprisingly, I had service! I started googling and two things happened.

We discovered there really WAS NOT anything to do… like ANYWHERE near where we were, or where we were going to be…

Have you ever had phantom google searches? I searched the nearest town to where we were on the map- called Shawnee- and it said there was a top rated Japanese steak house in Shawnee, Wyoming. Well, that’s a lie. There was not. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t even a Shawnee in Shawnee!!!! There was ONE building that had clearly been condemned and one house with a highly alternative teenager living there. ‘No steak house’ doesn’t really paint the picture of how desolate it was. It was quite strange.
So I started to Google a little further out, and we found a town called Lusk, Wyoming. Google claimed they had a good pizza place and a Stage Coach museum. Although I was leery, given Google’s previous goose hunt, I was optimistic! We LOVE museum’s, and the kids were just learning about how people in stage coaches crossed the crazy Wyoming terrain all those years ago. Perfect!

Well, yes, there was a town with a pizza place and a museum, but the museum was closed- sad day- and it was about 4pm when we reached the town and we weren’t quite hungry for dinner yet. On top of that, it was raining, so we really couldn’t walk around and explore. So what did we do? What do you do when you’ve got a half tank of gas but you have no idea when the next gas station will be? You fill up! Pizza for everyone!

Then back in the car, soaking wet from the rain.

There were still about two hours between us and Custer, South Dakota, but the time passed quickly. We saw 48568 deer- yes, I have amazing counting skills at 65 mph- as we closed the gap on our stop, so that was a great distraction. It also started snowing quite a lot, so the kids were excited about that. Tom, not so much.

Beaver Creek Campground is a Cunningham family traditional road trip stop. Thomas took our family there a few years ago when we were on a big road trip because he had been taken there as a kid and he remembered they have a water slide. It’s true, they do. Not just a baby one into the pool, but a legit, climb stairs, go down on a mat kind of water slide. Of course it’s not operating in the snow, but we did ride it- both kids too- when we were here last. And we chose this campground because we knew they had reliable service and internet and I had a lot of calls and things lined up.

They key word there is HAD reliable internet. Everyone knows the snow affects the cell service and the wifi…………….. and so that’s proven to be quite the challenge to get connected to all the people I’m meant to connect with. But that’s neither here nor there.

We arrived at the campground and quickly started the bedtime game. Oh, which reminds me… we also chose this campground because they have a family shower! If you’ve ever tried to shower a 5, a 3 and/or a 1 year old in a public shower, where you- for one- insist on wearing flip flops, you can understand why this family shower is such a find!

I took Cay and Merit to get showered, while Tom put Gage to bed- you just can’t wash all the kids at one time- and thus ensued the largest cluster of my day. As if managing 3 sets of flip flops, snow shoes, clothes, jammies, toothbrushes and of course all the shower paraphernalia isn’t enough, hand held shower heads are a torture device to my sweet son Merit. Washing his hair, to an outsider in the camp, sounds a lot like waterboarding.

We hiked back through the snow to camp, we climbed into the heated trailer and everyone went straight to sleep. Thank you Jesus.

Until 4:30am. Thomas and I were abruptly awaken to the Carbon Monoxide alarm. Nobody panic, this is not the first time. Our beautiful Golden Retrievers sleep on the floor at the foot of our bed, right where the gas detector is. And if they lay up against it and block it’s functionality, which they often do, it goes off. This is not new. However, it is jarring and annoying and the most ridiculously, piercing sound… that my kids NEVER wake up to! Thank you Jesus!

So yes, they would absolutely all die if there was a fire or a gas leak of any kind, but in the meantime, we can handle alarms throughout the night without waking the world.

However, the TRUE thank you to Jesus in this case was the fact that our heater had turned off because we had run out of propane. Usually, the empty tank just switches to the full one next to it, but because we had been driving, it was disconnected. And you guys, it was COLD in the trailer. It had snowed several inches overnight, and we were basically in a metal ice box. Gage was curled up in a sad little ball in his pack and play and I was immediately in full on guilty mom mode. Tom ran outside in his short shorts in the snow to reconnect the other tank, and eventually, after some manipulating and praying, the heat turned on and everything returned to normal. Seriously, that was a weird close call!

As a matter of fact, I’m cold as I sit here and write. I’m going to go turn up the heat.

Much better.

Later that morning, around 7am, Gage was up and snuggling in our bed. Man that kid is cute in the morning. I cherish these mornings where we don’t have anything to rush out to do, and the big kids are so tired they sleep in a bit- it’s just me and Gage. I know those days are so short lived.

After everyone was up and eating breakfast, Thomas was basically ready to just throw in the towel on all of South Dakota. That’s how much he loves the snow! Now, I’ll admit, snow does put a damper on your site seeing and outdoor adventuring, but we had planned to go to Wind Cave that day, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to me to stick to the plan.

Thomas, after an even bigger cluster of a shower with baby Gage (or so I’m told, as I was not there), was even less in the mood to stick to the ambitious day of site seeing, but I convinced him that the kids needed a break from riding in the car. Well, in a lot of cases- this day not excluded- site seeing IS riding around in the car. But somehow, psychologically knowing we weren’t going anywhere kind of helps.

We headed to Wind Cave National Park, despite the camp host warning us that ‘those roads are the worst roads in the snow,’ and we made it just fine. I mean, come on South Dakota! You’re like known for having harsh winters! Why all the fuss? The roads were seriously completely dry and plowed and didn’t hinder us one bit!

We’ve been to Wind Cave before, so we kind of knew what to expect, but we did NOT know that Gage would become a terrorist as we descended the elevator into the cave. He basically reminded us that he’s 17 months and PERFECTLY capable of walking on his own, thank you very much!

After several awkward squeals of protest, while the ranger attempted to tell the other spelunkers about the cave, we zipped Gage into Thomas’ coat. Yes, you read that right. We literally shoved him into Tom’s big coat- on Tom’s body- and zipped Gage into it with Tom. It worked like a straight jacket! He calmed right down, and accepted his fate of riding with dad. And then he even eventually fell asleep. So what started off a little rough, quickly became a success! I tell you, by the third kid, you’ve got everything dialed.

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The cave was a blast, kids loved it- especially when they turned off all the lights and the ranger let Cadence dance around with her light up Elsa shoes!

We headed from the cave into Custer State Park. Again, we’ve been there before- and we loved it enough to come back- but it was so neat to see it covered in snow. We still saw plenty of wildlife, including tons of prairie dogs, a coyote trying to eat said prairie dogs, plenty of dear and a few bison really close up! I even spotted a marmite and an elk! Spotting wildlife is one of our favorite family games- that is until Thomas nearly drove us off the road and into a ditch because he takes the game very seriously. #awkward

By 2pm, we were basically starving our kids to death, so we headed into town to grab lunch. Driving into town, there was a sign that said ‘Burgers and Buns’ was rated best restaurant on TripAdvisor and so we figured if there is a sign…

Turns out it was delicious! Thomas and I had bison burgers- when in Rome- and Merit and Gage ate cheeseburgers. They each ate almost a whole one to themselves. I was impressed. Cadence insisted on a salad. And ate it. I was impressed by that as well.

Leaving the restaurant, I felt ambitious and asked the kids if they were up for more adventure or if they wanted to go back to camp and play. As true as they are Cunningham’s, they were ready to rock and roll on the adventure train. Gage, however, is starting to cry when he even SEES the truck, so we’ll have to work on that.

We headed up Needle’s highway, which is known for more wildlife, beautiful rock formations, twists and turns galore and TIGHT tunnels in the rocks that you drive through. All good things, all good things. Merit has a thing for tunnels.

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Needle’s highway is not only beautiful and scenic, it leads basically right to Mount Rushmore! So that was easy. We figured we’d cross that off the list too! It was cold- story of this trip in late April- but it was magnificent. We’ve been there before too (I know, right?), but we had attended a night ceremony with a night lighting. That was very neat, but this was also special and very different than the first time. It really makes me wonder, as I look up at those faces on the mountain that were carved SO many years ago, using the most basic of tools and the most rudimentary rock climbing equipment, why I can’t figure out how to shower my kids without someone being threatened with death.

It’s the small things, you know?

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OH! And we saw the allusive mountain goat right near the book store at Mount Rushmore- one of Thomas’ favorite animals! #winning

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From Mount Rushmore, we headed back to camp where I was again unsuccessful in connecting into my scheduled conference call- thank God for grace and teamwork- and then only barely able to connect into my second and third conference calls. Tom made dinner for the kids, while I video conferenced what would have been a phone conference.

Hey, you adapt! Make it work! Damn you Beaver Creek wifi! Your sign is a LIAR!

After the calls, I disconnected from phones and computers and played with the kids. It was nice. Merit is such a lover when he get’s the chance to be, and Gage wants so desperately to just be big and keep up. He has no idea that he has no idea. And I love that. I’m so grateful to be a part of their lives in these ways. I’m so grateful that I get to take them on these adventures. I’m so grateful that we’re just always taking that dang road less traveled. It really does make all the difference.

That’s all for now (as if that’s not enough?) but more soon, so stay in touch!

(here is the vlog about the Wyoming leg of the trip)

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