The Next Chapter

It’s been almost a month since I said “to be continued” on part one of my vacation story. There’s good reason and I will get to that here today, but let me start today by finishing that story of our South Dakota vacation.

I left you with a severely dinged windshield that had also cracked and was spreading and Mr. Knitting Sarah promising to just “kick the window out like a Cowboy” if it decided to shatter or get much worse. Instead of this option, we decided to do something crazy: we called our insurance agent and set up an appointment to get the windshield replaced. Thankfully we were headed out of Wall & the Badlands to base out of Rapid City for the remainder of our week and we could get in before the long drive home to get the work done. We set the date for Friday morning.

With the plan in place, we packed up our Adventuremobile, the 2 kids, and the dogs and headed for Rapid City Wednesday morning. It was snowing again or still snowing (it’s hard to know which) and as we left early and wouldn’t be able to check in to our hotel room until 3pm, we grabbed snacks from a gas station with the intention of driving the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park, enjoy a hodge-podge picnic at Sylvan Lake, and head back to our hotel later that afternoon or evening.

It seems weird to see it now, but this was the drive in to Custer State Park on May 1st.

We stopped at the visitor center in the park where they seemed to think the roads would be passable for Wisconsin natives used to winter driving so we carried on with our plan and struck out on the Wildlife Loop.

We saw LOTS of brand new bison. None seemed very phased by the weather. We spotted some antelope and birds as well, but all in all the weather was formidable enough that we didn’t see a ton.

It was a beautiful drive up to Sylvan Lake though.

The picnic options, however, when we arrived were sub-optimal…

Unless you happened to be wearing snow pants (which we weren’t). We opted instead to hold on eating and go for a hike instead first since we had the lake to ourselves and the dogs really deserved a good romp. They both love snow so much and it would have been cruel not to.

Moose was contemplative because this:

Until Bear instigated some serious games of chase…

He had a lot of energy to burn off and got a lot of joy from the bonus snowy day and play with his big brother.

Knee-deep snow can’t stop us from a great time!

When we got back to the car, Bear really wanted to take the snow with him…

This is part of the reason we now bring extra towels with us whenever we take him somewhere. He is always trying to bring the outdoors inside with him one way or another.

We stopped for some delicious pizza at a little place in Hill City and by that point we could get into the hotel so we headed back toward Rapid City. As we descended out of the Black Hills, we were singing P!nk’s “Just Give Me a Reason” in true Carpool Karaoke style and just as Mr. KS hit his big note we heard this mysterious *crunch* from the back of the car. And then we hear our daughter, who was in the third row, say, “Uhhhh…. guys. Uhhh….”

The entire back windshield had shattered.

Now we joke that it was Mr. KS’ singing, but it was likely from previous rattling on dirt roads or pressure changes during the trip — who knows all we know is that it just went. Thanks to safety glass, it stayed in one piece for about a mile before chunks started falling off.

And just like that I was on the phone with our insurance agent again and then with the auto glass repair shop making a second appointment. Suddenly our last day of vacation on Friday was pretty booked.

We were not to be deterred though. Mr. KS got us all into the hotel and then struck out to the nearest store that sold heavy plastic and duct tape. Knowing we would be driving it around for a day before we could get it fixed, he got it as air and water tight as possible. Since we were losing Friday to auto glass repairs, he was not about to let Thursday escape without adventure.

It was loud and not exactly a relaxing drive, but we made it to our final big destination the next day…

It was a first time for the kiddos and it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for it. The stress of the previous month, the car issues, and what was coming when we got home finally broke me a bit and I will admit there was some sloppy crying on my part at the empty Devil’s Tower Campground. It was cathartic though and I was thankful that Mr. KS was there to talk through it and just give me a hug. I was able to finally let the stress go and enjoy the afternoon and rest of the trip.

We took a brief detour to the Spearfish Canyon on the way back…

A place we’ll definitely be returning to to explore further.

The following morning, Mr. KS kindly offered to go in and handle the glass repairs while I sat with the kids and dogs in the hotel room.

Moose was ok with that.

So was Bear.

The repairs took most of Friday and by the time they were done, we went for a brief walk through a couple parks, grabbed some ice cream as a treat because now it was very warm and sunny (as opposed to freezing and snowy) and then just headed back for an early evening knowing we’d be hitting the road for home early the next day.

I’m happy to report that the drive home was largely uneventful. And we arrived home to this.

Spring on the Marsh.

It’s hard to be sad about vacation ending when this is a short jaunt from your front door.

It was another one of those trips that teaches you to not give up, to just keep going and deal with whatever comes your way with the best attitude possible. Our family does seem to thrive in the best/worst vacation category. Sure, we spent a small fortune in auto glass and had to radically alter plans for weather and to spend the day getting our windshields fixed, but we made a lot of memories and we spent so much quality time together. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing. These trips are special and I hold them close to my heart even when everything goes wrong and maybe I had a little stressed out sloppy cry in the middle. It’s all part of the journey and even if imperfect a lot of the time, it comes with a breathtaking view.

The Monday after our return home I officially returned to the workforce. For the first time in nearly a decade of being a stay at home mom, I took a part time job. It wasn’t something I was necessarily looking for or even expecting to do, but the schedule and type of work suited the family, my physical limitations, and my abilities so I went for it. The past month I’ve been working a lot of hours as I get my training in which is why getting back to blog here has been so difficult. I’ve been adjusting to a different schedule, trying to get the kids through the end of their school year, and learn my own job, so it’s been a lot.

On top of the job status change, my parents are making a move to our town! We’ve been asking since our son was born almost 14years ago and we are very excited to welcome them to their new home. In just over a month, they will be moving in just a couple streets over from us . I can’t say much more than I simply cannot wait. I think it’s going to be a wonderful change for all of us.

Which brings me to a bittersweet end here, in this post and in this space. I think we’ve all felt it coming for a while, but today I am going to put it in so many words: It is time for me to take a step back from my little corner of the blogosphere. The truth is that life for me is changing in big ways. I need to adapt how I am spending my time to fit my new normal and sadly that means letting some things go. As much as I love to write and share our stories and my craft here, it’s become hard for me to keep up. I have never wanted to be someone who starts every post with “It’s been a long time” or some variation on that, but that’s exactly what has been happening. It is time.

My subscription on my platform runs through November, so my plan is to leave this live until then. If by chance things settle down and I have more time or I find that I truly miss writing here, I will simply come back and pick it back up. If, however, November rolls around and I haven’t touched it and am happy with the new normal I’ve created, then I will simply let it go.

For those who would like to stay in touch, I will continue to pop in when I can on Ravelry and (hopefully) update my projects there. For the time being, I also plan to keep my Instagram account live and update it when I have time and it feels right with knitting or spinning or our nature walks or puppy updates. I am  @knittingsarah on Instagram and TheKnittingSarah on Ravelry, so please feel free to stay in touch.

It is hard to imagine. It is hard to let go. And I don’t know how it’ll all feel as I officially disengage from this space, but it is time for new adventures and new challenges. And I have to be open to all the promise and opportunities in front of me and make the most of them and do what is right for my family. For now, though, I’m going to take some time to contemplate and process the change from a very special spot with some very special people and two very special pups. And probably a cup of coffee, too.

I wish all the best in whatever is next on the horizon for you and I hope that, where ever you are reading from, that you can find a peaceful spot, enjoy a cup of coffee, and look forward to your own next chapter with hope and joy and peace.

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather

In the juggling act that is life, there are times we all have to set things down in order to give our attention to items of higher priority. Since it’s been nearly a month since my last post here, you can safely assume that for most of the month of April I set down not only this blog, but most of my knitting and spinning. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say there were lots of moving parts & challenges both big and small. As one does, I put one foot in front of the other and made it through all the meetings and events with as much grace as I could. And last week, my family & I were rewarded with a week of vacation. Today I thought I’m come back to this space by telling you the story of our vacation.

Many of you might remember from past posts that my family and I love South Dakota. There was a time, many moons ago, when Mr. Knitting Sarah and I even considered moving there. The moment our commitments for April were fulfilled, we hopped into our family truckster — aptly nicknamed The Adventuremobile — and headed West. Moose, always enthusiastic at the prospect of adventure, spent the entire time we were packing wondering what on Earth was taking so long.

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It was around 5pm on Saturday when we headed out and the plan was to drive until we couldn’t and then sleep in the car in order to arrive at the earliest possible moment in The Badlands. This is how Mr. KS likes to roll. I will not comment on how the rest of us feel about the arrangement other than to say we love Mr. KS and it’s the least we can do considering all this guy does for us.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. KS’ coffee consumption and excess of enthusiasm carried us all the way to The Badlands that night. Bear — not a fan of the car to begin with — handled the 12 hours in the car with drool-soaked stoicism that was not always super dignified…

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But he emerged with a certain resigned awe…

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Or maybe it was exhausted acceptance. We’re not sure which. At the very least, he was very happy to get out of the car for more than a bathroom break.

Our first day there, we took it all in knowing it would be our best day weather-wise. Birdwatching, climbing, and grabbing a glorious hike in the Sage Creek Wilderness filled our day.

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Thankfully it was cool enough outside to leave the dogs in the car as they aren’t allowed out hiking on National Park lands and — with them happily napping in the Adventuremobile — we were able to take our time and soak up the landscape. And to quietly walk past this guy…

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I’m thankful for optics which mean we don’t have to actually get this close to let Mr. KS take photos like this (a lot of the photos I’ll use from this vacation are from him as he loves to take pictures and I happily handle wrangling/directing kids and/or dogs when need be so he has the freedom to do so). Even at a safe distance, I do not trust bison and spent this portion of our hike attempting (most likely unsuccessfully) to hide my sincere but unfounded panic from our children. This is out of my comfort zone right up there with wading in murky water where fish might touch me, so I’m just proud that I did it and that every time I do, it gets a little easier. Baby steps, you know?!

As we walked along the prairie and I regained by composure as we put distance between ourselves and the bison, I found a lot of this spinny significance…

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Bison fiber! All over the place! For those wondering, no, I did not harvest it. In National Park lands, I’m a firm believer in the “take only pictures and leave only footprints” ethos. There are birds and other little critters that’ll need this and I have no shortage of spinning fibers so I left it for the fauna out on the prairie.

Post hike, we enjoyed one of our coldest, windiest, and least comfortable picnics to date out in the Conata Basin. We picnic a lot because I truly love it, but the cutting winds put this particular dining experience on par with a time Mr. KS convinced us to grill out post hike at a local park in a foot of fresh snow while it was still windy… and snowing. We laughed a lot about how uncomfortable it was (I think normal people might move at this time, but we are far from normal) while the kids climbed around to their hearts’ delights to stay warm. We also enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and ate some of the most delicious local aged cheddar cheese I’ve had to date (and I’m from Wisconsin, so I’m kind of a cheese connoisseur who doesn’t say these things lightly). After a few more hours of exploring, we headed to our hotel and turned in early.

The following day was in the 40s and raining, so the kids voted that we take a drive down to the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs.

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We visited this spot a few years back and it’s seriously one of the coolest natural history places we’ve been, so we were happy to go back. To distill down what it is for you, basically a sinkhole opened up, filled with water, and — due to the shape and geology of the rocks around it — became a watery trap for many unsuspecting animals thousands of years ago and thus a treasure trove of remnants from the past. Most notably, Columbian & Woolly Mammoth remains are prevalent in astounding numbers along with remnants of at least 2 rarely found Short-Faced Bears.

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It is simply incredible and we all learned a ton and enjoyed the hours we spent here.

With weather conditions deteriorating, what else would we do but jet up to Mount Rushmore.

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True to form, I was very worried about the weather and hrmphed a bit along the way because it was — in my opinion — a silly risk. It turns out that all you need to get Mount Rushmore to yourself is an impending snowstorm. Who knew?! Basically our only company were a couple mountain goats.

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For anyone who has even been to this spot, you’ll understand that it is usually very crowded, so to have it to yourself is a rare thing. And the snow didn’t start in earnest until we were almost back to Wall, so I’ll say it — Mr. KS was right to make this memorable side-trip and I was being ridiculous to worry about it. It’s a special memory that none of us will soon forget.

The following day, our last full day in The Badlands, the views were magnificent.

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Oh wait? You can’t see the formations? We couldn’t either on and off through the snow and freezing rain! Maybe this is better?

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No worries, that didn’t deter us.

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Kids, don’t try this at home…

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We’re professionals (not really, but we spend a lot of time doing stuff like this and know our limits).

In all seriousness, the weather brought out a lot of rarely seen beauty in this landscape.

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The colors in the Yellow Mounds almost glowed.

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And the snow taxing the little Prairie Buckbean plants I found bittersweet in its beauty. I’m so thankful that we were there to see it. I’m also thankful that the previous week when we saw the weather forecasting snow most of the week, we changed plans from camping to staying in hotels. It’s much easier to enjoy — for example — a romp in the National Grasslands for the dogs in driving 30 degree sleet…

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Knowing that at the end of the day you can take a hot shower and climb into a warm bed.

With the first half of our week coming to a close, I think normal people would be discouraged by the “poor weather conditions” of this vacation, but we subscribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices. No, the main thing weighing me down was this:

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We suffered a couple high speed rock strikes kicked up off the dirt roads which cracked the windshield of the Adventuremobile and then the cracks started to spread. We contacted our insurance agent and made the necessary plans to get it replaced before heading home, but there was a wait involved and I was concerned about the next 2 days of travel with it damaged. It’s safe to say the stress of April’s busy-ness had not yet burned out of my system, so I was more tightly wound that I’d like to admit. Mr. KS assured me everything would work out and if it shattered he would “just kick it out, like a Cowboy” and carry on. I did not find this reassuring nor did it help me relax.

Little did I know, things were going to get a whole lot more interesting on the second leg of this journey…

 

Stay tuned! I’ll be back with part 2 of this story later this week!

 

South Dakota in our Hearts

While many people think of this when they think of Badlands National Park

20140726-081233-29553234.jpgI think of this…20140730-111113-40273003.jpgYou might guess that the Badlands just might be my husband’s favorite place on Earth.  I’ve come to really love these gently rolling hills of the Sage Creek area, too — partly because being here feels almost like home, the tall grasses and the constant wind is really not that different of a feel from being near the big water. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve come to love it because of the sentiment in this photo, how happy it makes this guy.

We stopped in Badlands National Park for the last 2nights of our South Dakota adventure and — as a special treat to our family — we stayed in the newly remodeled cabins at Cedar Pass Lodge. After 3nights in a tent, these cabins felt like the epitome of luxury with cushy beds and running water, toilets, and showers. With 100F heat on the way, too, we could not have timed it any better.

Our main goals in the Badlands aside from climbing in & exploring the formations were to find burrowing owls and magpies. Burrowing owls, for those who don’t know, reside in old prairie dog burrows. They actually are usually found standing atop the burrows looking surprisingly like prairie dogs from a distance. Only they take off and fly and, you know, are birds. To find these guys, we drove into the park via a back highway from Custer State Park across some rural parts of western South Dakota in order to travel through as much of the park as possible. Along the way we were treated to loads of lark buntings, meadowlarks, swainson’s hawks, horned larks, and upland sandpipers just to name a few. Finally, we struck gold.

burrowing owl This is blurry as it was taken with my hubby’s phone through a spotting scope in the prairie winds, but if you look closely you can actually pick out not just one, but three burrowing owls. There were actually four in this spot, but one is behind the rise in this moment. They are seriously some of the most fun birds to watch — I could quite literally watch them all day, they are seriously better than most TV. After a good long stop watching these characters, we carried on into the park viewing bighorn sheep and their fluffy-eared babies, a few bison at a distance, countless wrens, and even a loggerhead shrike ultimately finding out way to the aforementioned glorious cabins. Ahhhh…

We split our time between viewing wildlife from the car & taking turns climbing on the famous badlands formations (one of us had to stay back in the car with the pup as he isn’t allowed on any trails).

kids badlandsWe all, of course, had a blast.

Around mid-day we found our way to Wall for a bathroom break and to pick up lunch. In true divide & conquer fashion, my husband dropped the kids & I off to take care of business and get one more look at the famous T-Rex at Wall Drug while he gassed up the car and picked up our to-go lunch. Thoroughly freaked out by the T-Rex and with said business done, we made it out of Wall Drug in record time. With some time to spare, the kiddos and I decided to stop off at the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Visitor Center. The ranger asked if the kids would like to do the Junior Ranger program. With a time frame of about 20mins, it fit our ‘schedule’ perfectly. We learned a ton in a small bit of time and upon completion of the program, the kids each got a bag filled with a ton of stuff — pencils, rulers, pencil sharpeners, informational posters, Smokey Bear comics, stickers, temporary tattoos, bracelets. Seriously, if you are headed to the area with kids, take advantage of this awesome, awesome stop!

On the way back toward the cabin, there was more of this…

ddogand this…

adbadlandand plenty of this…

adbadlandsAnd since we had an hour before they started serving dinner at the Cedar Pass Lodge Restaurant, I took the kids through the Badlands Visitor Center one last time where they opted to do the Badlands National Park Junior Ranger program. Technically you are supposed to pick up the paperwork at the start of your visit and work on it throughout, but the kids were well-versed in what they had seen over the past couple days and had no trouble writing it up. They turned in their work, took the pledge, and were officially pinned as Junior Rangers. They celebrated with Junior Ranger Cheeseburgers for dinner over which my daughter showed everyone her pin and explained to them her new duties and responsibilities.

As we neared sunset, we headed west one last time and on the way caught a glimpse of a wild badger — my very first ever! — and made a quick celebratory stop at the Wall Dairy Queen for ice cream for our last drive through the park.

We savored our last evening, the cold ice cream after the hot day, listening to the abundant nighthawks, viewing the bighorn sheep grazing…

me sheep badlandsCatching glimpses of a couple big mule deer bucks, and even getting a glimpse of what was perhaps my favorite bird of the trip — a blue grosbeak. I have no idea how my husband spotted it in the waning light while driving, but he did. And it was beautiful.

With the temps having been over 100F,  the haze was still thick as the sun went down.

20140726-082555-30355518.jpgAnd as always, the sunset turned formations a beautiful ethereal pink. 20140726-082554-30354211.jpgWe relished every minute.

We saddled up the following morning and pointed the car east.

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And we said so long to this place that has become more than a destination, but a part of our family. Our car heavy with a couple new stuffed animals, a book or two, and lots of good memories, I drove the first leg of the trip dodging grouse that seemed far too comfortable crossing the interstate. When not driving I worked a bit on my latest socks…

20140726-084727-31647067.jpgKnit with Sweet Georgia Yarns BFL Sock in Magpie, I bought this yarn a few months ago when we first set the plans for this trip. The total geek in me thought it’d be awesome to knit on some magpie inspired yarn in the Badlands, where there are always loads of these beautiful birds. In a strange twist of fate, the magpies were no where to be seen. Apparently driven away from the areas we visited by construction, we didn’t even get a single glimpse. I suppose that’s just another reason to plot our return.

And plot our return we did. Passing the grazing cattle and fields, we started talking about our next vacation. It was no surprise that South Dakota was high on the list of possibilities. We hadn’t yet left, but we were already planning our return. Yes, South Dakota, I think you’ve found your way into our hearts.

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Finding South Dakota

My husband and I are opposites in a lot of ways. As you can imagine with this reality over 11years of marriage we’ve carefully honed the fine art of compromise. From our home decor, to where we live, to how we spend out time, pretty much every aspect of our life is a middle ground — a place that neither of us would choose on our own, but a place in which we can coexist, be happy, and in which our relationship can thrive. When it comes to vacations, my ideal would be a quiet beach on the ocean preferably Cape Cod or points north. My husband would like to be in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. Throw two young kid  & one lumbering, indoorsy chocolate lab in the mix and suddenly we found ourselves looking for a vacation spot that was not only fun for us, but was family & dog friendly, too. That’s when we re-found South Dakota. We’d both traveled there multiple times on our own and as a couple, but we quickly realized it was an ideal family vacation spot. We’ve been so happy with the trip that we’ve now gone three years running and this year we even met my husband’s parents there, too! For today, I’ll share the first part of our vacation — Mitchell & Custer State Park.

After a middle of the night start — my husband would call it ‘early morning’…. some say po-tay-to, some say – po-tah-to — we met up with my husband’s parents for lunch in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and then on to our first night’s stop in Mitchell, SD home of the famed Corn Palace.

20140726-081220-29540808.jpgUnfortunately it was undergoing renovations, so it wasn’t quite the stagger-back splendor or mosaic corn art that it usually is.

20140726-081226-29546012.jpgBut there were still the cool murals made of corn cobs…

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While in Mitchell, we also had just enough time to visit the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. Dating from 950AD, this is by far my favorite part of Mitchell and well worth the stop for anyone passing through. Last year we hit it when they had events going on for the kids to learn about archaeology and the ancient village, but this year we just did a quick stop at the site.

20140730-122003-44403025.jpgThey have built a big ‘archeodome’ over the main site, so it a great stop rain or shine. It’s used as a learning site for college archaeology programs in the area and has knowledgeable docents and educational displays throughout — the kids and I had a blast going through the hands-on activities, too. Add in the little museum in the entrance building and I’d say that at $35 for our group of 6, it was well worth the time & money.

On the way west, we drove the main road in Badlands National Park quickly scouting for wildlife — we knew we’d be back at the end of the week so we didn’t linger — and continued on to Custer State Park. There are a lot of things that make Custer State Park great for us. First, it is entirely dog-friendly. Whereas National Parks are very restrictive, Custer State Park is very dog friendly —  there are actually very few spots the dog isn’t allowed and that makes our life so much easier.  Second, it has a great Wildlife Loop Road. My husband loves to hike, but between our young kids and my bum hip there just isn’t a ton of hiking that can happen these days. Once the kids are older, I’ll be happy to hang back while my husband and the kids go, but for now the Wildlife Loop Road makes the beautiful hills accessible for all of us.

20140730-110647-40007743.jpg While you do climb up into the Black Hills, most of the scenery is like this. I don’t know what it is about this landscape that makes me want to buy an little house and a horse and just spend the rest of my days riding across these hills, but that’s how I feel. These huge, rolling hills are home to tons of wildlife, too. From this spot we actually watched a Golden Eagle soaring — what a treat! Antelope, mule & white tailed-deer, yellow-bellied marmots, a couple kinds of snakes (if you look closely), and of course…

20140726-081231-29551675.jpgThe great American Bison all call this area home. This time of year you also see…. 20140730-123702-45422603.jpgBaby bison — which are still big, but heavily guarded by their mamas. The car in front of us found out the hard way — who knows what instigated it, but a mama bison actually gored its back quarter panel right in front of us leaving a hefty dent. Thank goodness no one got hurt!

At the request of my in-law’s, we took one day and spent it further north beginning at Mt Rushmore

20140730-105917-39557601.jpgwhere I took part in the Stitched by Jessalu Summer Fun Photo Contest including my SbJL bag in a photo with a summer destination attraction. My son & I also enjoyed the short hike on the Presidential Trail and we all joined up for lunch at the Carver’s Cafe.

On the way back to camp, we stopped off at Hill City to visit the Museum at the Black Hills Institute.

20140730-110212-39732551.jpgThis museum is small, but it’s literally jam-packed with fossils & skeletons. The kids loved it, but my son was especially in heaven. We, of course, rounded out the afternoon with a stop at Turtle Town, an ice cream and candy shop in the heart of Hill City that is quickly becoming an annual stop.

On the way back to the car, I had a bit of an accident….

20140730-110214-39734977.jpgA triceratops ate my knitting! Doh! Have no fear, I was brave and managed to wrestle it back. Phew. I couldn’t lose it — I had a new pair of socks in there…

20140730-110216-39736526.jpgJeck  by Regina Satta in Sweet Georgia Yarns’ BFL Sock in Magpie (I’ll explain why that colorway is ironic tomorrow…). There actually wasn’t quite as much knitting as I usually get to do on this trip and I did miss a day or two of sock knitting — yikes!  On the second day of the trip, my husband hurt his back and he graciously accepted a lot of extra help around the campsite. Usually I am completely spoiled by him on these trips — allowed to sit in my camp chair the bulk of time we spend in camp as he cooks and cleans and directs the children. With him hurt though I spent more time running for water, making random trips back and forth to the car, washing dishes, and tending the kids. At first it was a little disappointing, but I’m thankful for a different perspective on this familiar, a better understanding of how hard my hubby works to make it great, & I’m glad I could help him still enjoy his vacation despite being in a fair bit of pain.

Our final day  in Custer State Park we let the kids attend a short snake program at the Ranger Station – which they loved — and then we took one last spin around the wildlife loop. It was a special trip for my daughter whose favorite part of this trip is feeding the burros.

20140726-081235-29555188.jpgWe bring a couple big bags of carrots on these trips so she can feed these non-native inhabitants of the park. They are the only animals in the park that visitors are allowed to feed and it is a feed-at-your-own-risk situation. We are overly careful, of course, preferring to feed them when possible where there is a fence between us and the animals, but there are also moments like the one above. As is her thing, my daughter named each one she fed — Superman, Batman, and Fluffy. The one above, of course, is Batman.

Tuckered from our long days of fun, each night we snuggled into our sleeping bags just like this photo from our last night in the tent…

20140730-110217-39737890.jpgeach with our own headlamp and favorite book.

I didn’t manage a photo of the campsite all set-up, but I did manage to snap this one just before we left.

20140730-111108-40268448.jpgYou can see it’s right next to a babbling brook — my husband revealed he picks such sites now because the noise of the water means I don’t freak out when mice and critters run around the tent at night. I tend to jump to conclusions like it’s a mountain lion or sasquatch, so I’m not complaining with the added background noise — I sleep much better!  It is also great bird habitat. We’ve come to know that this campground is wonderful for birds — red-naped sapsuckers are abundant every year and this year was no different. We also see red-eyed vireos, gnatcatchers, a variety of fly-catchers, and occasionally mountain bluebirds, black-headed grosbeaks, and western tanagers. I think this campground is the kind we could stay at all summer long and never tire of it.

Alas, as is always the case, at some point we have to start moving back toward home. Thankfully for this holiday adventure we had one more stop… Badlands National Park before home. Stay tuned tomorrow for photos and thoughts on those last couple days of our wonderful family vacation!