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Road Trip Through the Dakotas

This week, Jonathan and I had a little time to take a road trip through the Dakotas. Our daughter, Christina, is working at the Black Hills Playhouse again this summer, which is the main reason we took our mini vacation out that way.

Jonathan attended his uncle’s retirement farm auction on Tuesday morning while I finished washing clothes and packing. We left that evening, making a stop in Sioux Falls to see our daughter, Laura, and her boyfriend, Blake. Our goal was Wall, South Dakota, and we arrived there just before the office closed at 11 pm. Safe to say, we were the last ones to check in that night.

Custer State Park

Wednesday, we left early enough to make it to Custer, South Dakota before noon. Jonathan was selling some farm equipment on an online auction site, and he was fielding calls about the items throughout the morning, so he we elected to skip the Badlands Loop this time. We have been on the Loop two other times, and highly recommend it. By the time we arrived in Custer, all of his items had sold, so we stopped for lunch at Pizza Works (excellent pizza crust!), then went on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. We saw a small herd of bison in the distance, as well as a few Pronghorns here and there.

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Custer State Park Pronghorn

That evening, we were able to take Christina out for supper before we took in the musical “Pageant” at the Black Hills Playhouse. It was an awesome production! I laughed so hard that it hurt. If you are looking for something fun to do in the Black Hills, I highly recommend checking out the schedule of the Black Hills Playhouse.

Devil’s Tower

Thursday morning I had a video conference call (loved that the Holiday Inn Express in Custer had awesome wifi), so we didn’t get going on sight seeing until almost noon. Since this was our third Black Hills mini vacation, we wanted to do something different. We took a day road trip to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, which is an easy drive from Custer. Neither Jonathan nor I had been there before, and we were both amazed at the beauty of a huge rock…which is really something coming from farmers who pick rocks every year.

Devil's Tower, Wyoming

Jonathan and I walked the 1.3 mile paved trail that takes you all the way around the tower. We spotted some mountain climbers who were working their way to the top. They looked like tiny specks on the side of the tower. Jonathan was inspired to try a little climbing as well…

Jonathan climbing

…but decided this was high enough. Ha!

The day was perfect for a walk, and the trail was fairly easy, with just a few climbs that made us breath harder (remember, we are flatlanders from the prairies of Minnesota…what we think of as steep parts of the trail would be nothing to those who live in other parts of the US). Every angle of Devil’s Tower is a little different, making the hike around the whole thing totally worth it.

Devils Tower from the trail

Mount Rushmore

We made it back to Rapid City in time to grab a bite to eat for supper, then we went to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. Both Jonathan and I highly recommend it. Your parking pass is good until the end of the year, so you can visit the monument more than once on your trip. We have visited during the day the last two times we were out there, so this year, we only went for the evening.

Mount Rushmore at sunset

We arrived a little over an hour before the ceremony began since the seats have been known to fill up. As we waited, I took a few photos of the faces as the sun was setting. It always amazes me how you see different details on the faces at different times of the day. I’m not sure if Gutzon Borglum was brilliant, or lucky on that part.

As the ceremony begins, a Park Ranger comes on stage and tells the story of how they became passionate about the National Parks. They usually give a little background of the monument before starting a film that talks about the carving of the faces, and what each President represents. They do a decent job of talking about the hard issues of how Native Americans have been treated, and how Thomas Jefferson’s dream was that one day every person in America would be equal. It was a fitting message for today as well.

At the closing of the film, America the Beautiful is sung, and the monument is lit. It is very moving. Then, the audience is asked to stand, and we all recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Once again, I had troubles with that part, due to the emotions and tears that usually come listening to the crowd singing and reciting the Pledge as one. Following the Pledge, all active and retired service men and women are invited on stage for the Flag Ceremony. This year, there were around 70 individuals who went forward, including two elementary aged kids whose father is currently in Afghanistan. The crowd gave those kids a standing ovation. More tears. It is pretty cool how they give everyone the time to introduce themselves by name, rank, and branch of service.

Mount Rushmore Flag Ceremony

As soon as the ceremony was finished, we went back to Custer and spent a few hours hanging out with Christina and her friend. It was a long day, but a great day!

Friday morning we left Custer, and headed north. I was a bit surprised by how much the landscape changed from the moment we left the Black Hills National Forest, and again once we left Belle Fourche.

Western South Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt State Park

Thanks to some long road construction delays, it took a little longer to get to Medora, North Dakota than we anticipated, so we didn’t get to see any of the museums that had been recommended by friends. We stopped at the Painted Canyon overlook and rest stop to take some photos, which was the first taste of the Badlands of North Dakota.

Painted Canyon North Dakota

We were excited to see how the Badlands of North Dakota compared to the Badlands of South Dakota. There are some similarities, yet they are very different.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Badlands

The Badlands of South Dakota feels a little more rugged, and lives up the the lore of outlaws hiding in the craggy rock. The Badlands of North Dakota has a more gentle feel while still being impressive. I can totally see why Teddy Roosevelt settled in this area for awhile!

We were a little disappointed that we really didn’t see many bison in Custer State Park, so we were pretty excited when we rounded a corner and there was a nice sized herd of bison grazing in the sage on the side of the road. We looked at that herd for awhile, and took a few photos from the safety of the Durango, then wound our way through the animals to continue on our way. We rounded a corner, and there was another herd grazing along the road. We gently lowered our windows, took a few photos while breathing in the scent of sage, then worked our way back out of the park.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We stayed in Bismarck, North Dakota that night, and on Saturday, we were back in the farming frame of mind. We ended up stopping at three different John Deere dealerships looking at different tractors. We are pushing our current planting tractor to the max of its hydraulic pump with all of the Precision Plant equipment, so we are just looking at options, and hoping for the right tractor at the right time for the right price. Both Jonathan and I enjoy discussing agriculture topics when we travel, from equipment, to crops seen, to plans for the future. A road trip through the Dakotas and into Wyoming gave us a lot to talk about!

After traveling 1777 miles in just over 4 days, we are happy to be home! It was a pretty intense road trip, and we are thankful for good weather, friendly people, and safety on the road.

If you would like to check out other highlights from our trip, head on over to the Carolyn Cares Blog Facebook page where you can see some of the Instagram photos we shared.

Remembering Our Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy

It’s crazy to think, that one year ago today (December 21), we were on a flight headed for Italy. I was nervous, and excited for my first international trip that involved flying. When you live in northern states like Minnesota, you can travel internationally by car pretty easily. My family didn’t think driving across the border into Canada counted as a good international travel experience.

Our plan was to spend Christmas with my brother and his family who were living in a suburb of Naples. The six of us stayed with the five of them in their home for about a week, and had a fabulous time. They were awesome hosts, and guided us around to some of their favorite historic sites.

Traveling in Europe during the holiday season is a bit different than here in the United States. They take their Christmas season seriously! One of the highlights was our day spent in Rome and Vatican City. When you first step in to St Peter’s Square, it is pretty amazing…and this is coming from a Lutheran! In the middle of the square is a giant Christmas tree, and a Nativity. The crowds were pretty large in front of the Nativity, and the lines to get into St Peter’s Basilica were massive. We had pre-booked tour tickets for the Vatican, so we were able to avoid the line that stretched for what seemed like a mile, which was awesome.

The crowds inside the Vatican were almost crushing at times. Wall to wall people visiting during the week between Christmas and New Years. Seeing in person what we’ve only seen in books, on television, or online was pretty awe inspiring. We were able to see the Sistine Chapel on our tour and the art museum…plus everything in between. It may be a little silly, but I think my favorite part of the whole tour was seeing where the Pope stands when he addresses the crowds standing in St Peter’s Square, and in the courtyard of the Vatican. The contrast between the two was striking. The one where large crowds gather and cheer and celebrate was lined with stone. The smaller courtyard has a garden, and grass that is quiet and peaceful. We spent a little time away from the crushing crowds in the peaceful courtyard before continuing our tour. If you are planning on going to Italy, I highly recommend the tour, whether or not you are Catholic.

This past week Jonathan and I have been reminiscing about our trip and the fun we had celebrating Christmas in Italy. We are so thankful we had the opportunity to spend that time with my brother and his family in that beautiful country.

I’ll leave you with a photo of the Nativity in St Peter’s Square. Buon Natale!

Nativity in Vatican City Italy

Escape to Northern Minnesota

Jonathan and I found time to escape from the farm for 2 1/2 days this summer. This was the first summer vacation without any of our kids along, so it was pretty spontaneous. It had been awhile since we visited the North Shore and Duluth, Minnesota, so we decided that would be our destination.

Since the timing of our trip was totally weather dependent, we didn’t have advanced reservations anywhere, and ended up choosing a hotel in Two Harbors. We had been through this town on another trip up the North Shore, but hadn’t stayed there. We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Two Harbors instead of the frenetic pace of the Duluth Harbor area.

We left home after 6:00 pm on Wednesday evening, and arrived at our hotel right around midnight. This is what happens when you need to complete a few things on the farm before you can head out the door. Thursday we went to my niece’s house in Duluth and took her out for lunch. She recommended the Duluth Grill so we tried it out. We weren’t disappointed…but if you go, go hungry!

After walking around the Leif Erickson rose garden, and wading in Lake Superior, we took Jenni back to her place so she could make it to work in time. Jonathan and I went back up to Two Harbors, and planned our next adventure. We decided on Gooseberry State Park. The parking and falls area was free…bonus! We walked first to the middle and lower falls, then headed up to the upper falls. We went in the evening, so the light was beautiful, and it wasn’t really crowded.

Upper Falls Gooseberry State Park

On our way back to the hotel that night, we decided to go down to the harbor in Two Harbors and see what was there. We noticed people walking down the break wall, so Jonathan encouraged me to do the same. The water was so calm and the temperatures were perfect. There were seagulls swimming near the break wall, even though people were walking close by. After taking this photo, we watched a ship depart Two Harbors, which was pretty cool.

Seagull in Lake Superior, Two Harbors

On Friday, we decided to do our sight-seeing in the morning before heading down to Duluth to see my sister and brother-in-law who had come to help my niece with a house project. We headed up the shore towards Split Rock Lighthouse. It had rained the during the night, and fog was rolling in off Lake Superior in places which made the views really cool. We pulled over to walk up a look-out along a trail, and marveled that this was just as much a part of the Minnesota landscape as the prairies are that we call home.

Looking North along Lake Superior

When we arrived at Split Rock, we paid the admittance fee, and decided to follow the guided tour before heading out on the self guided portion. We learned a lot of the background history, which helped the self guided portion make sense. This is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to take a few. Just to warn you…there are 171 steps down to the lake, which means you need to walk 171 steps back up again. It really wasn’t that bad, especially when there were places along the way where you could pause and take more photos.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Even though this was a mini-vacation, and we packed a lot of sight seeing into it, we came home feeling refreshed. It’s worth taking a couple of days to escape the crazy pace of farming to take a breather!

Wordless Wednesday: Vietri Sul Mare Italy

Vietri Sul Mare Italy

Vietri Sul Mare, Italy is known for their ceramics. We spent a day shopping in town, then collecting sea glass on the beach. The town is exactly how you would picture an old Italian town – narrow streets, friendly people, and beauty everywhere.

Semi-Wordless Wednesday: Facing My Fears

On the Concorde Facing My Fears

On a cold, wet day in Germany, I went with Ulrich, Jonathan, and Doug to a museum. This is where I would face almost all of my greatest fears in one shot.

I am very afraid of heights, don’t like enclosed spaces, and am not fond of walking around on rooftops. At the Auto & Technik Museum in Sinsheim, Germany, they have an Air France Concorde, and a Russian Tupolev (their version of the Concorde) mounted on the roof of the museum. You have to walk on the roof, and up a circular staircase in order to go inside the planes. Once inside, you can walk all the way up to the cockpit. It is really deceiving…you think you should be walking level, but it is an uphill hike. The planes sway just a bit when there are people walking around, which didn’t help my nerves much. But, I DID IT! I faced my fears, and I am so glad I did!

 

Wordless Wednesday: Flavian Amphitheater

Flavian Amphitheater Pozzuoli Italy

Pozzuoli, Italy has many great sites to explore. The Flavian Amphitheater was thought to have been built by the same architects who constructed the Roman Colosseum. This amphitheater was the third largest Roman Colosseum built.

I Have Stamps in my Passport! Holidays in Europe

Holidays in Europe

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! I have stamps in my passport! This past holiday season was spent traveling in Europe to spend the holidays with family and friends.  We were so excited to spend Christmas day with my brother and his family in Italy, and New Years Eve and New Years Day with Viktoria and her family in Germany. Viktoria was our exchange daughter in 2010-2011. We met her parents, and now the rest of her family (we’re missing one sister and boyfriend in the photo, but we did get to spend time with all of them).

I have so many things I want to share with you about our trip, but first, I need to calm down the jet lag, and start thinking clearly again! Until then, let me just wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!

Wordless Wednesday – Lessons from Kentucky

CarolynCares Kentucky Motto

Fun Fact Friday – The Hatfields and McCoys

We’ve been touring Pikeville and Pike County, Kentucky for the past few days. Our daughter and her fiance will be moving here following their wedding, when he begins medical school. This area is full of history, but the most interesting to us this visit was the Hatfield & McCoy family feud. We drove part way through the driving tour, on winding mountain roads that are not suited for prairie dwellers like me! The area is absolutely beautiful, and it was easy to picture the places that were described on the CD narration. We made one stop at the Blackberry Post Office, where the feuds began.

CarolynCares Hatfields and McCoys

The lesson that we came away with, was the importance of forgiveness. All of this might have been avoided with good communication, and a willingness to forgive. We can’t let past hurts and wrongs fester in our hearts. Nothing good ever comes from it.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37 NIV

Wordless Wednesday – Thinking Warm Thoughts

Thank you, American Farm Bureau Federation, for holding your Annual Convention in warm places…and giving us an excuse to travel there!

CarolynCares Hawaii

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