Stayed at Klabnik's house in Cabot, PA Friday night. Had a great time! Kids played with the baby geese while adults sat out of back porch overlooking a beautiful pond and woods and having a few cocktails. Sunday we were up early and went to Sandusky,Ohio to spend the day at Cedar Point Amusement park - home of the largest roller coasters ever! Greg & Val liked Millenium Force; Steph and Jenna like Raptor; After a long but fun-filled day we crashed at Sandusky Inn & Suites a few minutes from the park. This place was very clean and nice - great price for the accomodations! Free wireless and continental breakfast! Coffee was a bit watered down, but we did not care . . .
The dead battery incident in Chacago impacted our plans for visiting Milwaukee. Once the AAA guy circled our parking lot a few times and finally got us going, we proceeded to the Milwakee airport carful not to turn the car off lest it not start again . We went strait to the Miller Brewery and arrived at 2PM just in time to have a couple of Brats and hotdogs before our 2:30 tour. The tour was spectacular! Kids learned about the art of brewing beer in mass quantities and we were treated to a 3 beer sampler at the Miller Inn.
From Miller, we went to the Hyatt just outside of downtown and got settled. The kids went for a swim and Steph and I picked up some Chinese food for them. After getting cleaned up, Steph and I went out to Old World Third Street in downtown and to Maders German Restaurant for a drink. The atmosphere and drinks were superb, but the staff was less than friendly so we moved on to the Brat Haus a couple of doors down. Here we met the self-proclaimed mayor of Milwaukee, Chinese Alan. He was not Chinese but Polish...go figure. Alan knows everyone in Milwaukee and set us up with a nice table and some (you guessed it) more Brats and sausages and Cheese. They had what Alan referred to as the "original recipe" on tap so I had a Schlitz and Steph a glass of vino. They serve the beer "McSorley Style" where you get two 8.5 mugsof beer instead of a pint. Alan gave us the whole histor behind this but I wont bore you with the details. Alan told us lots to tales about Milwaukee, and his life as the grand nephew of Pope JP II and his days on the rodeo circuit as a champion bull rider. We ended the evening at the longest continuous straight bar east of the Mississippi at a place called Buck Bradleys. Steph got an Appletini and I a Sprecker and proceeded back to the Hyatt to hit the sack. Wish we had more time to explore the city and visit Summerfest but the Black Hills were calling
Up early and departed the Hyatt Milwaukee at 0800. Proceeded to drive across interstate 94 through the state capital of Wisconsin, Madison. By early afternoon we were off the beaten path and dirving west across Wisconsin on Rt 14 in search of cheese. We wound up at a place call Meister Cheese Co. in Muscoda WI. The place is operated by Amish and all the milk in from the surronding Amish dairies. The cheese was fresh and delicious. We purchased a bunch of different cheeses and a summer sausage, crackers and spicy/sweet mustard and were on our way. We stopped about 20 minutes later at a shady wayside picnic area and had the cheese and sausage for lunch. Steph completed our lunch experience with some box-o-wine that she had been saving for a special occasion. Magnifique!!
After lunch, we continued west toward the mighty Mississippi. We intersected with the ole Miss at Ferryville, WI and had a beautiful drive along her up Rt 35 heading north toward La Crosse WI. When arriving in La Crosse, we went to Ranison's Ice Cream shop which was highly recommended by Trip Advisor...and for good reason. We arrived at 3PM at Ranison's and waited in line to get our ice cream. It was deliciious and the folks eating ice cream there were friendly to the extreme. Back in the car, we headed across the mighty Miss and into La Crescent Minnesota. Here we spotted a beach/park with lots of folks swimming and sunning and had to stop to get our feet wet. 30 minutes later we hit the road headed west once more.
Heading across southern MN on RT 90 was very scenic. Lots of farms, corn, dairies. Stopped at the Spam Museum, but alas...it was after hours and closed for the day. The security guards were nice enough to let us on the property to take a look around and even took our picture in front of the museum. Back on 90 west again, we made it all the way across MN stopping for dinner at a Chinese buffet in Fairmont and then onto Sioux Falls SD for the night.
We rolled into Sioux Falls at 9:30PM and checked into the Holiday Inn Express. Once again, Steph got a great deal on Priceline for this hotel. Hit the sack at 11PM as we would have another big day of driving across SD the next day.
Up and At-Em and on the road by 7:30 AM. Continued on I-90 West across southern SD with our first stop in Mitchell at the World Famous Corn Palace. This place as cool. The entire outlside of this large arena was decorated wtih corn, stalks, grass, etc. There were also large mural inside made of corn depicting the farming life and the wonders of corn. Great stop for the quintessential tourists. We continued to head west on I-90 and headed into the high plains. Lots of grasslands, cows and even some bison ranchs along the way. Its hard to describe the grandeur of this place and pictures really dont do it justice either.
We arrived at the Badlands National Forest at 1PM and stopped for Buffalo Hotdogs at an old time general store. From there it was only a few miles until we made a detour at Prarie Dog Land where the kids fed and even pet prarie dogs out on the plains. Jenna and Valerie could have stayed here all day. We proceeded into the park proper and drove "The Loop" through the park. Awesome!!! The only word to describe it. Completely unique terrain unlike anything we've ever seen before. Spent a couple of hours admiring the landscape and then moved on to west toward Hill City and the Ripling Creek Haven, our awaiting cabin.
Arrived in Hill City, SD at 4:30 PM. Picked up our keys at the realty company and checked into our cozy cabin shortly thereafter. The kids really wanted to settle down and hang out in the cabin and Steph and I went into HIll City and had dinner at the Bumpin Buffalo. We got Jenna some Chicken and Val some ribs and pick up groceries for the next few days. Spent a quiet (i mean really quiet) evening in the cabin under the stars.
Arrived in HIll City, SD late in the afternoon after visiting Badlands National Park. Picked up our key to the Rippling Creek Cabin and checked in. The cabin was perfect! The kids had a loft with two beds and Steph and I had a room to ourselves. The cabin had a nice living area, full kitchen and bath, as well as a wrap around porch with a hot tub! We spent 4 lovely nights in this cabin....hanging out, taking walks on the Mickelson Trail, making spectacular meals, hot tubbing, swimming, and watching the bountiful stars.
Hill CIty was a shabby-chic little town with cool saloon style restaurants and shops. We spent some time walking its only street, shopping, stopping in for a cold drink and eating at the Bumpin' Buffalo.
Up early for some work on the travel log and a walk on the Mickelson Trail. Then drove to Bear Country USA. This place was amazing. You drive through the park and the animals come right up to your car. There were wolves, bears, elk, mountain lions, goats, etc. There must have been a hundred bears all roaming the park as we drove through. They also had a babyland area you could walk through and there were 6 baby bears playing in the pen. Of course we spent some time in the gift shop also and brought a cooler with us to have lunch there under a shaded picnic table. Left Bear Country and drove to Mount Rushmore. As you drive up, Mount Rushmore comes into view, bigger than life. This place is awesome...everything you ever picture in your head and more. The weather was perfect and George, Tom, Teddy, and Abe looked thier best. We watched a short film on how the montain was carved into a national treasure, and then had some outstanding ice cream at the on-site parlor. Of course no Kilchenstein excursion is complete without a stop at the gift shop.....
After lunch we drove to Mt Rushmore. Spectacular!
Drove up to Deadwood,SD - about 45 minutes to the Broken Boot Gold Mine. This was an old authentic gold mine. It was cold in there!
Afterwards, we went into Deadwood. It was kinda dead during the day. We did get to have a drink in Saloon 10 - cool place! This is where Wild Bill Hickock got shot.
We had lunch across the street where an old guy played guitar and sang while we ate outside; Greg got a buffalo burger; Jenna got buffalo wings. After lunch we drove through Sturgis and stopped into he Harley Davidson shop to browse around.
On Saturday the 4th of July, we drove to Crazy Horse Memorial and met our friends, the Coopers. We had a great day with Jerry, Stephen, Jayne, and Tom! It was a little rainy while we were at Crazy Horse but cleared up by the time we left for Custer State Park. We had lunch at Crazy Horse overlooking the memorial, where they blasted an area around the horse's head - Way cool!
Custer State Park was amazing. We drove through the park and stopped at various sites to see Buffalo crossing our path an a few mule deer. We also saw prong horn deer and white tail deer as well. Of course we had to go into the gift shop, where we debated on buying these lovely buffalo hats . . . At the end of a long day, we drove back to Crazy Horse for a spectaculat nighttime laser light show. It was a bit chilly on the 4th, so we took in the show "Drive-In" style while sitting in the warm van....good move!
Left the Black HIlls early in the morning on 5 July and drove south out of SD and into the NW corner of NE. Again, spectacular landscape and driving through Wind Cave National Park, we encountered another large herd of bison. These things seem to have no fear of cars and just meander in and out of the road.
We stopped along the way at Hot Springs SD and couldn't pass up the opportunity to stop and take a dip in the springs at Evans Plunge....basically a small water park built right over the spring. After spending a couple of hours swimming, swinging and sliding (fastest water slide ever!) and having lunch picnic style next to a pretty stream, we moved south on to NE.
Driving south, the landscape began to flatten out and the endless waves of grass became the prominent feature. Also, this is butte country (Steph and the girls liked to call them butts). Very cool to see these buttes jotting up straight out of the grasslands.
Arrived at the Ponderosa Ranch in Crawford around 3PM. We were welcomed by our hosts Jeff and Kim Lund and their kids, Katie and Trevor...who just happened to be about the same age as Val and Jenna. The kids immediately began running around together chasing chickens and lambs. Trevor had the girls running around the horse ring and was practicing his roping skills on them...actually caught them a couple of times.
After getting settled into our cozy cabin at the Ponderosa, we went and explored Crawford in search of dinner. Everything in town was closed as they were recovering from the 4th. We did find a B-B-Q stand open called Roc-N-Jans which served excellent Texas-style pork and beef. Kids had wings....this was becomming a recurring theme. Jenna had eaten wings in almost every state we traveled through up to this point...stay tuned....
Up early and at the tack shed at 0730 for our ride today. Met Kim and Julie (college student working on the ranch for summer) and got the horses saddled and ready for our adventure. Jenna was put on a big old gentle giant named Rusty. To all of our surprise, she took right to him and was soon walking him around the horse ring. Val saddled up on Sunshine (looks like Spirit), Steph on Charlie and I on Pepper. I have a rule about not riding horses named after types alcohol i.e. Tequilla, but have no such rule for spices so up I went. As it turned out, we all got on extremely well with our mounts and off we went behind our trail boss, Jeff.
The ride was spectacular!!....3+ hours of unbelievable vistas, laughs, and ridin' the range. Definitely the highlight of our trip thus far. Unfortunately it came to an end around lunchtime and after getting the horses unsaddled, brushed and "turned out", we proceeded to relax and "horse around" the ranch until dinner.
Dinner in the "Big House" was delicious and bountiful. Susanna and Rob also work on the ranch in sort of an exchange arrangement. They help out in return for shelter and food and have worked all over the world in such arrangements...New Zealand, Netherlands, Spain,..... The dinner was roast beef fresh from the ranch and dessert was a fresh strawberry torte. It was an engaging and interesting evening talking to folks from such different walks of life. After we returned to our cozy cabin, Trevor came over and we taught him to play Mexican. Turned in early as we had a big day of driving tomorrow.
Up early and got packed and ready to leave the ranch. Said our sad good-byes Trevor made us promise to return and gave both girls a Nebraska sized hug. Off across Nebraska (east) we went. We soon were out of the butte country of NW Nebraska and driving through grasslands as far as the eye can see. We made our way down to the North Platte River and east toward Lincoln clear across the state. Stopped in Ogallala NE for lunch at the famous Front Street. Ogallala was at one time a rauchous frontier town where cowboys would end thier cattle drives and blow off steam. Not much going on there today, but lots of interesting history to take in. After lunch in the saloon, we went over to Boot Hill Cemetary....which is in the middle of a neighborhood. Pretty small, overgrown, and insignificant for an American icon. Back on the road heading east and not much to report across the entire state of Nebraska. Arrived in Lincoln at 6PM, checked into the Chase Suites hotel. Went to the an Italian grill style restaurant for dinner and back to the hotel and finally got to wash a few loads of laundry. Tomorrow we head for KC!
We left Kansas City, MO and drove down through Branson to stop for lunch. They have a really nice river front town with lots of shops and restaurants. Val, Steph, and Jenna shopped in a few antique shops while Greg strolled through the older part of town. Then we ate lunch at some chain restaurant. Greg hated his salad, but everyone else liked their pizza. Steph had a really good creamy tomato basil soup. Moving on, we drove to the Buffalo National River State Park in Arkansas and camped at Tyler's Bend. We arrived in time to set up camp and enjoy dinner (hot dogs and corn on cob) and campfire under the stars.
The next morning we woke up to Greg making coffee and cooking bacon on the campstove. We ate a hearty breakfast and geared up to canoe down Buffalo National River. We rented a canoe and a tube to pull thekids down the river. The sun was warm and the river was crystal clear. We saw a lot of turtles sunning themselves and some large catfish and small mouth bass swimming beside us in the river. The kids loved it! It was about a 5 hour ride down the river - 6 miles. As soon as we got back to our car the dark clouds came and we rushed to our campsite before it started to pour. We made it back in time to throw everything in the car and hang out in the tent til the storm blew over. After an hour, when the rain was still heavy, we decided to pack it up and grab a hotel in Mountain View (45 minutes closer to our next destination). We found a cute little cabin in the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, AR. We checked in and left the kids at the cabin while Greg and Steph searched for a laudromat and a bar. We found the Peachy Clean laundromat and then discovered that we were in a "dry" county. Oh well. Steph squeezed the last of her box-o-wine into a glass back at the cabin and we all watched Harry Potter in a warm dry cabin. All was well.
The next morning we had breakfast at the Skillet Restaurant at the Ozark Folk Center. It was really good. They made their own peach marmalade. Yummy! This kids had giant pancakes and we got in the car and drove to Memphis. Our first stop was Graceland. Greg bought a pair of Elvis sunglasses and wore then everywhere we went. Elvis lives! We checked into the Crown Plaza Hotel. Clean hotel and in a good location, but not much else to say about it. We rode the trolley down to Beale Street and had dinner at Alfred's - good wings, good food! Ate outside overlooking Beale Street. Stopped in a few shops until it started to rain pretty heavy and we caught the trolley back to hotel.
The next day we drove into Nashville and ate lunch at the Red River Grill downtown and then browsed the shops. Once again, Greg and Steph left the kids back at the hotel to check out the night life in downtown Nashville. WE parked near the river park and stopped into Hard Rock for a drink. Apparently there was an American Idol audition in town that weekend and there were a lot of people singing in the streets. We found a neat pub - Bailey's - with a guy playing guitar and we ate at the bar and ordered some really good chicken quesadillas.
We woke up and had a leisurely morning. We walked to the Peabody Hotel - a very posh and historic hotel in Memphis, and watched the ducks march from the elevators to the lobby fountain. What a site to see! The kids loved it! Then we walked to Gus' Famous Fried chicken for lunch. This place was a small little cafe in downtown Memphis, and we beat the lunch crowd so it worked out well. The place was packed before noon! Then we walked to the river front to catch a steamboat ride down the river. It was hot and the kids were bored after they ate their blue slushies, but Greg and Steph really liked it. Afterwards we strolled along Beale street on the way back to hotel and listened to some jazz while Greg wore his Elvis glasses.
That evening, we ordered pizza for the kids and Greg and Steph took the trolley down to catch a bit of nightlife. We went to Flight, Memphis' newest wine and tapas bar. Awesome! We also stopped into McEwen's for some drinks and apps. Both places were right off the trolley stop.
We left Memphis for Nashville. Our first stop was the Bell Meade Plantation. Jenna was amazed by the fake candy in the fancy dishes in most of the rooms. We checked into the Hyatt Place outside of Nashville in a small town called Hendersonville. We ate at the Buffalo Wild Wings near the hotel. Our waiter was very friendly.