Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Satisfying the Wanderlust

I'm juiced up after talking to my family about some trips that I'm planning to take this year, and when that happens, the "wanderlust" gets me.  Blog reader Leeann recently commented about a trip she wants to take with her sons next year, and that further got me excited to think about traveling.  I'm always ready to take a trip.  And I'm not talking about the business trips to Oklahoma City and St. Louis that keep haunting me.  I'm talking about a bonafide road trip or "Out West" trip.  Those are my favorite kind!

Well, Leeann, first of all, as much as I enjoyed our big cross-country adventure, I have to say it was too much.  We easily could have doubled the amount of time to see everything we wanted to see.  Two weeks can do it, but you're not going to spend much time at each stop along the way.  In fact, you won't be stopping much at all.  I'll share the story of our stop in St. Louis.  We wanted to go up into the St. Louis Gateway Arch, and when we arrived, there was a two hour wait.  My wife wanted to wait, but I overruled and told her it would take us too far off schedule, since we were due to meet up with some friends in Cincinnati that evening.  She was very disappointed.  It was not one of my better husband-moments.  This occurred right after we stopped at Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard, on Route 66.  We arrived about 30 minutes before they opened for the day, and, again, I didn't want to wait since we had so much ground to cover.  And, again, my wife was disappointed.  So that's my advice, Leeann.  Give yourselves plenty of time to visit each location.  You never want to disappoint your boys.

Just before my daughter, Melody, started Kindergarten, I wanted to take her on a big trip out west, and I did what you are planning to do, Leeann, and that is to fly to a location and use that as your base.  We had about 10 days, so we flew to Denver, Colorado.  There, we visited Golden, which is a true Western town, and then went up into the mountains to visit Buffalo Bill's museum and grave at the top of Lookout Mountain.  The road to the museum is full of steep inclines and switchbacks, and getting there is half the fun.  From there, we went north to Boulder, then to Estes Park, near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We would've gone into the park, as it's worth seeing, but we were headed further north.  We spent the night in Loveland, then continued our trek north into Wyoming, then East/Northeast into Nebraska.  We stopped at Scott's Bluff and Chimney Rock, and eventually made our way to Wall, South Dakota.  We arrived at dusk, so again we spent the night.  The next day, we spent several hours at Wall Drug Store.  We easily could've spent all day there.  My daughter loved it.  I love kitschy stuff, so I enjoyed it, too.  We got Melody a pair of genuine cowboy boots (pink, of course), and I told her the story of how I had gotten a pair at this same place in 1997, and her Mommy, Teresa, got a pair in 2000.  We had breakfast at the attached restaurant, and just had a grand time.  Then we headed out and drove the loop through the Badlands National Park.  It was pretty spectacular, the highlight being the prairie dogs we saw at the eastern entrance.  It was time for lunch, so we went back to Wall Drug to eat and spend some more time there.  Melody didn't want to leave, but we had reservations in the next town.

Deadwood, SD, is a real Wild West town and well worth the stop.  There's plenty to see and do, and much of the town gets into the spirit of the town's history, with actors playing Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.  Mt. Moriah cemetery has a who's who of western characters buried there.  Plus, Kevin Costner owns a restaurant and casino there, with lots of memorabilia from his movies, particularly DANCES WITH WOLVES.  Melody and I spend two nights there, exploring the town.  During the day, we made a side trip out to Devil's Tower National Monument in northeaster Wyoming.  It was featured prominently in the movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.  It's also well worth the visit.  We hiked around the base and saw some wildlife.  Melody particularly liked the Native American Indian stories surrounding it.

Our next stop was Mt. Rushmore.  While there is a bit of controversy surrounding this National Monument, particularly related to the Native Americans who were driven out of the area, Mt. Rushmore oozes with American pride.  It was my third visit, and I still love coming here.  We had a fine meal at the cafeteria, and I shared with Melody the description of the scene from the Alfred Hitchcock movie, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, one of my favorites, which takes place at the coffee shop at Mt. Rushmore.  After hiking around, the next stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial.  While it is not completed yet, it dwarfs Mt. Rushmore in size and is a spectacular site.  It's almost too hard to gauge its size because of how far it is from the Native American visitor's center.  It was very neat to meet several of the craftsmen that work there, and Melody bought a few handmade trinkets and souvenirs.  That evening, we went to a real chuckwagon dinner and show at the Circle B Ranch.

The following day, we visited the Reptile Gardens.  This is a neat park and a great way to see many unusual reptiles, snakes, alligators, and lots of prairie dogs up close and personal.  The snake show was particularly fun, and the host of the show had his hands full trying to corral a few of the very poisonous snakes featured there.  Even more fun was an alligator show.  One gator got a little rambunctious and whipped his tail into the tank he was in and splashed much of the audience, including Melody.  Later, we took a drive through Custer State Park where we saw a magnificent herd of bison.  They are amazing creatures.  We took about an hour of video and hundreds of pictures.  Later, staying in the town of Custer, we ate at a local restaurant where I tried an elk cheese steak sandwich.  It was VERY good.

Our last day in the area included a visit to Flintstone's Bedrock City, a small amusement park with very few rides obviously themed on the Flintstones cartoon.  It was fun, but given the parks we've visited with roller coasters and thrill rides, this place was a letdown.  We later traveled to Wind Cave National Park, and Melody greatly enjoyed seeing the cave.

After a little more than a week in the Black Hills area, we headed back to Denver, where we met up with some old friends of mine for dinner.  Then we flew home the next day.  It was a fantastic trip, and one of the most memorable that Melody has ever taken.  She made a huge poster with a map and pictures of all of the places we went to, and she shared it with her preschool classmates, and it is now hanging framed on the wall in her bedroom.

So, Leeann, you can take a whole week or longer in just one area of this grand country of ours.  I think focusing on specific areas and maximizing your time there is your best bet.  It's hard limiting yourself, I know, but it's harder when you only scratch the surface of a bunch of places without really seeing them.  That would be my advice.  But definitely satisfy the wanderlust.  You'll be glad you did, and you'll likely want to take more trips in the future.

Have a great evening, everyone!  Stay safe out there!


  1. Eric, I am just now seeing this. My Mom has been really, really ill and I have had to spend 26 days in Atlanta since Dec. 31. Fortunately she seems to be pulling through although her recovery will be months long.

    Let me tell you, this is SO HELPFUL!! I loved reading the descriptions of what you and Melody did and it has helped me to cement the decision to do only a Western loop vs a whole cross country trip. While I've seen a good number of states, I've got a huge gap when it comes to the western part of the country (and a few "fly-over" states.) Furthermore, I just really want to spend that solid chunk of time with the boys before they fly the nest. Once my oldest one graduated from high school last year, it hit me how fast that time is coming.

    Again, love love love this blog post! Thanks for taking the time to write it. I'm saving it in my "cross country" folder (now incorrectly named, darn it!) for reference as I continue to plan. Thanks, Eric! :D

    1. Hi, Leeann. I'm sorry to hear about your mom. We'll keep her in our prayers. I'm glad you liked the post. If there is one thing I'm passion about, travel is it. I love all of the trips I've been fortunate to take, and I love sharing. Thanks for the kind words. I hope you have fun planning your trip. Let me know how it goes.


  2. Hi Eric! Just touching base with you, because I was reviewing this journal entry of yours as I finalize our trip plans. Turns out we are taking a five week trip (the boys and I, with my husband joining up for a week) through nine states out west. I am very excited and the planning has been a labor of love. I know you totally get that, since you love travel and trip planning too!

    If you want to follow along, let me know and I'll find you on FB. I've created a private group that my friends joined to follow along on our trip.

    Thanks for your contribution to my planning! I hope all is going well with you and Melody. :)

    1. Wow, that's awesome! Five weeks on the road is just so cool! I would love to follow along! Thanks!

      I hope you all have a fantastic trip. Document it with pictures and keep a trip journal (and allow the boys to write about, too!).

      Thanks for sharing. Best wishes!

      Eric & Melody