South Dakota

Okay, so turns out the alarm in our trailer in the middle of the night, probably wasn’t due to the Golden Retriever’s laying against it. Or at least not entirely. It was probably due to the fact that we were actually suffocating ourselves. I agree, that sounds dramatic, but we’ve never camped in the snow before with the trailer, so we’ve never had the thing so tightly closed up before. And with 5 humans and 2 dogs breathing all night long, there is a good chance that we were actually using air faster than it could find it’s way into our tiny box of a road home.

So there is that.

We learned this because the alarm went off two more times in the middle of the night- both times the kids slept through it again- and both times the dogs really didn’t appear to be near the monitor. And of course, we opened the door to flush it with air and the alarm stopped. So we decided to crack a window and what do you know? The alarm stopped going off.

We live to learn another lesson! Isn’t technology grand?

Once the sun was up, we arose to find a beautiful day outside. The storm had passed, the snow was melting, and it was actually what one might call ‘slightly warm’ outside. Praise God! So after our normal morning routine, we packed up camp- we actually spent two days in the same spot if you can believe it- and decided to move on down the road a touch closer to Rapid City. It was only maybe a 45 minute drive, but we were relishing in the last bit of the Black Hills- let’s fact facts, the ONLY hills that we’re going to see for a while- which just might be some of my favorite parts of this country. Or at least the parts of this country I’ve seen. South Dakota and the Black Hills are under appreciated! Readers, you need to get up there! For the Cunningham family, it will always be a destination location. If you’ve got the chance, and you like beautiful, wildlife infested, mountainous but not too crazy mountainous landscape… this is your place.


But I digress…

En route to Rapid City, we saw a sign that we just couldn’t pass up (I’m telling you, with the right marketing strategy, you can take over the world)!


I mean who is not pulling over to run in and grab a bottle of Red Ass Rhubarb Wine? Better question: Who has ever just run into a winery to grab a quick bottle of wine?

Thomas asked if I wanted to go in and I had to decline. I knew that it would be inappropriate for me to go in at 9am and wine taste, and I couldn’t trust myself to decline the offerings. So he ran in for me- bless his heart. I told him to grab the rhubarb wine- because I was just too curious- and if anything else looked curious, grab it too.

Nearly 20 minutes later, Thomas emerged with 4 bottles of wine and an order form for their wine club. Although he was able to resist sampling, he wasn’t able to resist learning. The sales lady asked him what his wife liked in a wine, and to my surprise he didn’t simply answer ‘the alcohol.’ He actually knows me quite well as it turns out! And so based on his information, she recommended several bottles for us to try. He’s a sucker, so he just had to do it, and I love him for that.

If you’re someone who buys wine based on labels like I do, this is absolutely your place. Like I said, marketing is key! And they’ve got that game dialed. Loved the 4 labels and so far, the one cabernet that we opened was pretty dang to die for. Looking forward to cracking into the blends and of course, the rhubarb! Stay turned for that!

So back in the car and on the road, we made it to the outskirts of Rapid City just in the nick of time for me to jump on the wifi and do a quick virtual presentation for someone back in California. Thomas fed the kids and set up camp, while I sat in the pick up truck and talked about the beautiful life that this business and these products have offered our family. I have to say, nothing speaks louder than proof, right people?

After I wrapped up the product demo, I closed the lap top and we loaded back into the car to start our day of sightseeing. And we had yet another jam packed day of things to do. There is just no shortage of family friendly things to conquer around here. You can shoot a real musket! You can go to any number of dinosaur exhibits and/or museums, including a drive through exhibit of every kind of cement dinosaur you can think of. You’ve got indoor water parks, and loads of restaurants. If the founding father’s are your thing- and they are our thing- you can hit up their museum or even try Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe for vanilla ice cream!

These are all the things we did NOT do.

But we DID start our afternoon at Bear Country USA! I have got to say, this might have been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I don’t know how you readers feel about zoo’s, I myself have mixed emotions when I visit them, but this was a pretty dang cool experience and it didn’t make me sad like some zoo’s do.

Two things that worked for me:

  1. They only had animals that naturally live in this environment- so it’s not like they had a bunch of zebra’s freezing their cute little tails off in the snow for our viewing pleasure.
  2. They had giant enclosures that families could drive through, so the animals had plenty of room to roam around, and being that I’ve driven right beside about a dozen wildlife species in the last few days outside the walls of this place, I’m going to say that they’re perfectly used to and okay with cars.

The tour started with elk- and I love elk, and Tom loves to eat elk- so off to a good start! I feel like I was set up a little bit for failure years ago when Thomas took me to Yellowstone to ask me to marry him. I don’t mean that how it sounds. What I mean to say is, we saw SOOOOO many animals on that trip that it was just absolutely nuts. We saw elk, bear, big horn sheep, deer, bison galore, eagles… we saw it all. I thought that was just normal. So my expectations have been unrealistic ever since. Although I’ve seen bison fairly regularly in these parts of the country, that’s about the only ‘regular’ thing we’ve seen.

So to see an elk up close again was pretty exciting for me. That’s what I’m getting at here.


Then came the reindeer. And I found it super helpful to have the reindeer and elk side by side because I could clearly see the differences and in Cabela’s, I can’t always tell what I’m looking at. The gist of it is this: elk have white butts like deer and reindeer do not. You’re welcome.


There were also brand spankin’ new baby reindeer! Like JUST taking their first awkward steps kind of new babies!


Little known fact about reindeer that my husband literally JUST told me as we’re driving and I’m typing: reindeer are just caribou with reins on. So when you domesticate a caribou for work- like Santa’s sleigh as an example- they become reindeer. Who knew?? Now, if someone could please explain to me the difference between a panther and a puma, that would be great. Is a panther just a black puma? And if a puma and a mountain lion are the same (which I think they are), then is a panther a black lion? And if so, what’s a jaguar?

These are the things I think about on the road…

After the reindeer/caribou section, came the… wait for it… WOLVES!!! OMG, I know what you’re thinking and the answer is YES, they have fences between the reindeer, the elk and the wolves. But there were NO fences between our car and the wolves, which was exciting. Don’t worry, they could care less. But how cool is that? Who has been this close to a wolf except Kevin Costner?


So cool! And they’re so pretty! I was absolutely freaking out. I definitely think I need to snuggle one at some point in my life.

After the beautiful wolves, we saw the goats/sheep- mountain and big horn. And for all you Will Ferrel fans out there, I said it.

“Hey look! A big horn!”

It had to be done.


And then, at long last, the BEARS of Bear Country USA! I’m not even kidding you, there were over 50 bears just enjoying the sun! And they didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Plenty of food, plenty of space, plenty of friends! And it was just too cool to be so close. They literally looked like the least dangerous creatures you could come across in the wild. I’m typically someone who thinks about running into a bear while I’m out hiking and how exactly that would go… well, now I feel like maybe it would go just fine.

Although I have to say, they had a grizzly bear in another enclosure- the part of the park where you’re not in your car, and they are very much not able to approach you- and grizzly bears still look like the scariest thing you could come across in the wild. I am NO less scared of grizzly bears after seeing one in person.


After the bears, there were a family of mountain lions. When we were in Roseberg, Oregon, we went to a similar drive through park, only there were lions and tigers and the like. At that park, they had a mountain lion in a small enclosure. And let me tell you what, that lion was pissed. I’m sorry, there is no other way to describe it. The thing was pacing back and forth making that terrible growling noise you picture them making in your camping nightmares. Well, the lions at THIS park were nothing like that. They actually looked like Simba and his family. Happy and ready to sing!


And then, of course, bison. Always bison. And I love bison.


But NO moose. The ever allusive moose…

After you complete the few miles of roadway through the park, you park your car, get out and walk through the smaller exhibits with the smaller animals. Foxes, porcupines, bear CUBS (to die for!), raccoons, beavers (and we’ve been watching the same Wild Kratts episode about beavers this whole trip, so that was a popular stop), otters, lynx, bobcats, badgers and skunks! Pretty cool man!



After a stop at the gift shop- doesn’t everyone collect christmas ornaments and postcards?- you’d think we would have had our fair share of animal sightings. But you’d think wrong. My kids are freaking awesome adventurers and they LOVE themselves some road trips and they, like their mom, suffer from severe FOMO. FOMO is a very serious illness where the sufferer has chronic Fear Of Missing Out. And these kids, as well as their mom, know that on road trips, if you don’t see it now, you may never see it again. And so they are on board for any and all things, all the time. We’ll rest and relax when we’re done road tripping!

Just down the street from Bear Country USA is Reptile Gardens- showing you the scariest snakes since 1937!

Here are two things you should know about what I learned here:

  1. They are in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest reptile zoo! By that, I mean, they have the MOST reptiles of any one location. I was already afraid of snakes BEFORE I went in there, and I had absolutely NO idea how many snakes in this world could easily kill me.
  2. Australia, I’m sorry to tell you, you have 284765930 deadly snakes. I can never visit.

Two other fun facts:

  1. DOGS were invited to explore with the family! They could go into any exhibit except the bird show. I’m not sure if they learned that the hard way or… but either way, Harper and Ruger were THRILLED to learn this! Harper, however, did NOT want ANYTHING to do with several of the rooms and halls for some reason. Truthfully, I’m not sure what exactly was causing him to put on the doggy breaks and dig his heels in, only to be dragged by his collar. It could have been that he smelled the cold blood. It could have been that he, like so many of us, have a natural aversion to snakes. Or it could be- and this is my guess- the slippery floors remind him of the vet’s office and he wants none of that. But I was glad to have them along. I mean, where else can you introduce your Golden Retriever to a giant tortoise?


2.     Turns out the closest living relative to the T-Rex dinosaur is the modern day rooster!    I don’t know if this makes roosters more aggressive, or T-Rex’s more like Moana’s friend, HeyHey, but I found it interesting.

Another truth: Although I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about being attacked by a bear, I think I should really start giving some serious though to death by gator. Because have you seen those things recently?


Can you even believe these things are just chilling out in your nearest swamp? I mean, that’s pretty terrifying, right? I’m moving to the south and although I think I’m safe from bears now, I have a new ‘while hiking’ worst nightmare. Awesome. JUST great.

You can’t really tell from this last picture, but if I laid down on the floor next to this guy- whose name is MANIAC in all caps, it needs to be mentioned- you would be able to see how he could absolutely swallow me whole without much trouble. Just food for thought. And yes, I did intend that pun.

So if croc’s don’t freak you out, maybe it’s snakes?


Snakes are one thing, but snakes that climb? What on earth was God doing there? I’m not going to give you legs or arms, but don’t worry about it. You’ll still get to do all the things!

I watched these snakes climb- if that’s what you call it- and literally defy all the things I understand about the world. How can these things just slither up a slippery glass surface with what looks like no effort, at a 90 degree angle? I watched one nearly stretch upwards so far that just a tiny bit of it’s creepy tail was still on the ground supporting him. I assume it was a guy snake. As it turns out, I assume all snakes are guys. Freud would have a field day with that, I’m sure! But anyway, it was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. And the whole time I was there, I just couldn’t help but keep my mouth shut in the off chance that I really DO know how to speak Parseltongue.

After the exhibits, we ended the day with a bird show, followed immediately by a snake show- man, they really get you! The bird show opened up with a pigeon… to find out whether or not I was impressed with this, check out my blog:

Since we had already been bated by a snake show, we stuck around to watch. It was a small theater- if you can even call it that- that sat maybe 30 people, and I could tell immediately that the snake handler and our snake Master of Ceremony’s was on day ONE at the park. Although he had memorized the information, he looked no more comfortable with the snakes than I would have been. This wasn’t really a big deal until he started to take out the poisonous ones. That’s when things just got really uncomfortable.

Have you ever watched a bad comedian, who just isn’t landing the jokes? You know what I mean, when it’s just becoming so uncomfortable you want to make up an excuse to go to the restroom just to escape the awkward? Well imagine that, except the comedian is holding a poisonous snake.


What a day! After so much seeing of the sights, I have to say that little Gage was basically ready to file for emancipation due to parental abuse. No nap and a 17 month old do NOT mix! We headed back for camp, made a quick meal, while I sampled the new wine, and then we did a quick WalMart run and frozen yogurt pick up.

Then bed.

Another day bites the dust, and we are just in full on blessed mode! Taking it all in, seeing the world through little eyes, and cherishing all the minutes we’re given on this beautiful planet. Life is too dang short to do anything less.

Don’t forget, readers- Live big!



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