Day 14-16: Madison, WI

We arrived to my friend James house Sunday afternoon after a night at the SawMill RV park in North Mankato, MN. It was a small space right next to the soybean fields. (Our drive from SD to MN was through the back country roads framed by thousands of acres of corn and soybean fields.)


Our couple days in Madison were designed for a chance to rest and recharge before hitting the road again. We had some really nice quality time with James, his wife Shamane, and dogs Sasha and Reba.

James was a great tour guide, taking us to some of the highlights of Madison. We first went to the Pope Farm Conservancy to see the sunflower fields and other native plants, then went downtown for lunch and a stroll.



We had our first (and last) taste of fried cheese curds, saw the capital building and went to a gourmet cheese shops which provides unlimited tastings – we actually had to ask the attendant to stop!


In Madison, they do not have food trucks, but rather food trailers on just about every corner of the downtown area. Then they just hook the trailer up to the back of their car and drive away. Very efficient!


James and Shamane live about 1/2 mile from Lake Wingra so the highlight of our visit was our first stand up paddle experience. We went on Tuesday morning and had the whole lake to ourselves. It was so much fun!


Overall, we had such a nice, relaxed time in Madison, did some laundry, walked a lot, ate a lot, watched a few movies and regenerated for the next segment of our trip – getting to the east coast via Illinois.


We are now waiting at the Best Western in Hannibal, MO for my parents for a couple days of walking back in history to the days of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (which we have been listening to on Audiobooks).


Day 13: Laura Ingalls Wilder

While wandering through the Badlands National Park we learned about the settlers that attempted to build homes in the Badlands area, which was not very successful. Today we had a chance to learn more about the people who moved west with a visit to the South Dakota homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It is a 160 acre plot of land that was originally settled by Pa.


After 7 years there he sold it, and it has been sold many times over, until the current owner, who lives across the street, decided to dedicate the land to recreating the Ingall’s world. It is totally hands on and the kids love it. Not only have they recreated the home and barn, but they also moved onto the land additional buildings from the late 1800s, including a church and a school.  The kids can dress up, drive a horse and wagon, make corn cob dolls, wash laundry, sew and play Mary’s pump organ. ( You can also camp there in covered wagons, tents or RVs.) While the premise is all about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life there, it really is a great way to learn about the homesteading movement of the late 1800s.


I had to drag Shayna away after about 3 hours since we had so much driving to do today. We are heading to Madison, WI via Minnesota. Of course when I saw the sign for Walnut Grove, MN I had to stop. They have a LIW museum and some replica buildings as well. The Walnut Grove site focuses on all aspects of Little House one the Prairie, the various families in the stories, the television show, the history of the town, etc. They also have a Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant every year in July which would be a fun time to visit.


Day 11/12: The Badlands

Thursday was a relatively relaxed day. Finally woke Shayna up about 8:30, had breakfast (we have been making all own meals in our van – so fun), packed up and headed to Rapid City, about 20 miles north of where we were staying. We got gas and groceries, mailed the postcards and headed to a store called Prairie Edge, which is a store of Native American art, books, etc. We bought one of Donovin’s books. I texted him to see if he was around to sign the book. Luckily he was “in town”. We walked around and grabbed lunch from the van while we waited for him. Native time is very much like Jewish standard time. We met him back at the store and we met one of his friends, Del Iron Cloud, who was painting a beautiful picture. Donovin signed our book and escorted us to our car. The next day while we were touring a museum we saw some more paintings by Del Iron Cloud. Small world!

From Rapid City we headed out to Badlands National Park. Another amazing area. We took our time driving through and checking out just about every view point.


Friday morning after Shayna did her math work we went out for “PE” and did the Notch hike in the Badlands National Park for our last major view of the park.


This is the NOTCH:


From there we headed east. We stopped in Chamberlain, SD. Our original plan was to just stop at the Lewis & Clark Visitor center, but saw ads for the Sioux Cultural Museum so decided to check that out first since Donovin is Lakota, one of the Sioux tribes. It was a wonderful exhibit covering all aspects of Native life. The museum itself is on the campus of St. Joseph’s Boarding School which is one of the original federally mandated boarding schools for Native children living on Reservations. Again, very fascination to learn about the history of these boarding schools and the changes that have been made over time on how the schools regard the Native traditions and culture. Whereas the schools originally attempted to strip the Natives of their traditional ways of life, by cutting their hair, making them wear uniforms, and using corporal punishment, today their culture, language and traditions are embedded into their everyday activities. The artist we met in Rapid City, Del Iron Cloud, is an alumni of the school, which is why his artwork is included in the museum. I believe that will be our last opportunity to really focus on Native American history for awhile. I feel like we really took advantage of every opportunity around us to learn about and better understand the Native experience.

From there we did spend a little time at the Lewis & Clark Visitor center and had a chance to learn a bit about their travels through SD.


The next stop was Mitchell, SD, home of the Corn Palace. I ask my nutrition students to watch a film that discusses the Corn Palace, so I had to go see it and take some pics. It just happened to be the week of the Corn Palace Carnival which is when the Palace reveals its new design. This year it is a music theme.

Corn palace

We arrived just as a huge thunderstorm was rolling in. Although it was only 7:00, the carnival was shutting down because of the storm. We quickly shot some pictures, grabbed some beef brisket sandwiches (everything else was fried) and decided it would be best to not camp in a thunder/lightening storm. Luckily we found a BnB about a mile from where we were. A nice elderly woman owns and run it.  She is hard of hearing and forgetful, but still full of energy. It is her 5 bedroom house where she lives alone. We had a nice private room and bathroom and Belgian waffles with fresh whipped cream and strawberries for breakfast. It was a treat to be in a house after 12 days on the road and we are thankful to not have had to endure the storm in the van.




Day 10: The Black Hills continued

Wednesday was our “tourist” day. There is so much to do in the area it was difficult to decide which activities to choose. We started at the Mammoth site in Hot Springs, just a mile from our RV park. While it sounds touristy it was really interesting. It is the site of a sink hole from 25 million years ago when Mammoths roamed the area. There are remains of 62 wooly and Columbian Mammoths, along with all kinds of other animals, rodents, etc. The sink hole was discovered by the land owner who started to bulldoze the area, and found a few remains and once they realized what was there, he donated the land to research and they have been excavating every since.


From there we drove by the Crazy Horse monument and just viewed it from afar and headed to Keystone to the Presidential Wax Museum. Ok, it does not get more touristy than that, but being an American History tour, it seemed the perfect thing to do for Shayna to become more familiar with the presidents. Shayna said it was her favorite thing so far. Who knew!! We passed up on the Keystone Adventure Center which has ziplines, alpine slides, ropes course, etc. But we now know what to do the next time. (Definitely coming back to this area!)


After our walk through history we checked into the Mt. Rushmore KOA RV park, simply because it has a shuttle to the evening light show at Mt. Rushmore. That KOA is its own resort with 2 pools, mini golf ( a really fun course), water slide, bouncy thing, horseback riding, restaurants, etc. We did a quick round of golf and Shayna went on the water slide (in lieu of a shower) while I made dinner (breakfast burritos) so we could catch the bus.

Mt. Rushmore was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far. We arrived by school bus (so nice to not have to drive) about 2 hours before the light show. We had a chance to walk around the area, visit the museum and watch a video. Then the light show started. I do not consider myself a particularly patriotic person, but this event was quite emotional. There were a couple thousand people sitting in an amphitheater, with more looking down from the patio above. As it got dark a Ranger came out on the stage and gave a short speech about her favorite president, Lincoln. Then the lights went out and we all watched a 10 minute video about the history of Mt. Rushmore and the significance of each president selected. The video concluded with a collage of photos as America the Beautiful played and you could hear the whole audience start to sing. (If you have been to the Hollywood Bowl when the whole crowd sings together, you know what that is like). No one was singing loudly but you could hear everyone in unison. That got me! At the very last line the lights were turned on to the monument – so dramatic! Then the Ranger asked everyone to stand for the National Anthem. I could barely sing. As we all sat down she asked any current or past military members to come down to the stage. As about 100 people went down the crowd was cheering and whistling. She asked the members of each branch to step forward, then everyone gave a standing ovation. Wow! Does not get more patriotic than that! Between the presidential history and the military recognition, I felt such an appreciation for the founding principals of our country and what we stand for (when we as a nation and as individuals are at our best).

Our time here has been a weaving of the best and worst of our American history – recognizing what these presidents have done as the most effective and influential leaders of our country while we are learning about the incredible damage that has been done to the Native people and their way of life.

Day 9: The Black Hills

Sorry we have not been able to post for a few days. We have been in places that have no internet or phone access.

We have been in South Dakota since Monday. I have completely fallen in love with the Black Hills. It is gorgeous. I don’t know if it is the current weather, but everyday is beautiful, the air is so calm and clean. It is such a peaceful place despite the masses of tourists in the area.

The day after the eclipse was our first sight-seeing day in the Black Hills. We had a special guide arranged through a tour company called Go Native America Go Native America Tours. They arrange local Natives to guide you through the sites. Our guide was Donovin Sprague Hump who is Lakota and a descendent of Crazy Horse. He has written numerous books about Native history and teaches history at the local college. He went to Berkeley for undergrad supported by a federal grant that is part of the agreement made between the tribes and the Federal government.


He met us at the Wind Cave monument. Rather than going inside the cave he showed us another outside side which was the cave exit which has much more significance from the Native perspective. From there we drove around the Black Hills seeing different sites and learning about the Sioux history of the area and the Native stories significant to the area. We drove through Custer park and did the initial part of the Harney Peak Hike, far enough to see some amazing views. It was an incredibly educational day and we have a new friend in Donovin.


After our tour Shayna and I relaxed in the Hot Springs Mineral pools. It is natural mineral spring that is consistently 87 degrees. It was originally used by the Natives as a place to bathe and for ceremonies, but then was developed into a bath house. It is now enclosed as a large pool but the bottom is covered with river rock. There is a slide, basketball net, volleyball net and then a section is set apart as a lap lane area.  While Shayna played on the slide I attempted to do some laps. I was immediately stopped by a guy who asked if I lived in town. He was so excited to find someone who was a swimmer. He and his wife had just moved there from Boulder, Co. She bought an art gallery and he is figuring out what to do.



Day 8: The Eclipse

We were on the road by 6am this morning hoping to be ahead of the crowds rolling into Casper, Wy for the eclipse. I still am not sure if the Wyoming definition of traffic is quite the same as LA. At 7:00 am we were driving on the highway through downtown Casper and it was as crowded as something like midnight on the 10 fwy. on a Wednesday night.

With my fear of crowds and being ahead of schedule I decided to keep driving as far toward our evening destination and still be as close to the middle of the totality band, so we ended up at a rest area in Lusk, Wy. You really could stop absolutely anywhere along the highway that had a turn out or dirt road, but I chose the rest area because there were still open parking spots and easy access to a bathroom since we were going to be there awhile.

While we were waiting Shayna worked though a power point presentation and worksheet on solar and lunar eclipses. Don’t want you to think it is all fun and games! But it has been fun finding ways to incorporate the learning with the adventures.

Of course the eclipse itself was amazing. You could hear everyone in the area gasp and awww as totality hit. It got dusky dark and windy and you had just barely enough time to notice the stars/planets that appeared. Those 2+ minutes went so fast!. The initial glow around the moon that you see when you first take the glasses off was definitely the most impressionable moment. Someone in the distance had some kind of recording we could hear that gave the countdown on when to take the glasses off and then when to put them back on. That was REALLY helpful!


Afterward we packed up and hit the road to venture to our next destination and that is when we hit the traffic. It took us about 30 minutes to get through the two stop lights in Lusk. Probably one of the only traffic jams the town has ever had. Still not anything compared to LA!!

We are now in Hot Springs, SD at the KOA. Everyone in the campground is sharing their stories about the eclipse and talking about where they plan to be for the next one, April 8, 2024. We had a mellow evening of swimming, showers (which we get about every other day) and laundry, played our American history game and early to bed, mostly to escape the mosquitoes!

Eli update: He is definitely doing better, but it has been quite a serious case of pneumonia. The antibiotics and breathing treatments are really helping but he gets tired very easily.  Eli reports sometimes taking 3 naps a day. He will have another chest xray tomorrow to see how his lungs are doing but in the meantime, the doctors are being very conservative and do not want him attending school yet. Thank you to Sandra,  Cousin Sara, and Auntie LaLa for helping Michael take care of him. It has been really hard being so far away and not being there to take care of my Puppy. Michael has been amazing with caring for Eli and keeping him happy and entertained.

Day 7: The Pow Wow

We finally have a little down time to check in. It is Sunday morning and we are in Garryowen Montana. We are waiting for a tour of the Little Bighorn Battlefield led by a member of the Apsaalooke tribe.

Thursday we left Jackson Hole and spent the day touring Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. It is beautiful, with so much to see and do, but unfortunately our time table limited us to picking a few highlights. So, we traveled the main road through Teton NP, stopped frequently for pictures and views and did a little hike.


Teton NP connects right to Yellowstone. We drove through the south entrance and headed toward Upper Geyser Basin where Old Faithful is. With the throngs of people from all over the world we wandered through the hot springs until it was time for Old Faithful to go off. Just before Old Faithful was ready to blow, Castle Geyser went off which is much more impressive, but unpredictable so we only saw it in the distance. Shayna loved seeing Old Faithful. While some people report it is not the most impressive, it was nice to guarantee one geyser viewing if you have never seen one before. From there we wandered up the road to the West entrance and spent the night in a small RV park in West Yellowstone.

We were up early on Friday to travel up toward the North Entrance of Yellowstone to see Mammoth Hot Springs where we spent lots of time hiking around. It is very out of the way if don’t plan to go to the North end but worth it. (I am keeping a separate journal of details on all the places we go if anyone is interested in recommendations) and then headed east through Montana to Garryowen for the Crow Nation 99th Annual Pow Wow.


The Pow Wow has been an unforgettable experience. On Friday we made it to the arena to watch the Grand Entrance where any tribe member, from the multiple tribes that are represented here, can choose to participate. They enter by age group and dance category and it takes at least an hour, kind of like the opening ceremony at the Olympics, only they do it twice every day of the Pow Wow.


Yesterday we started the day by watching the daily Parade of Nations, which includes people in full regalia riding their horses or set up on the back of decorated cars/trucks.


I got my nerve up to ask a woman who seemed friendly and outgoing to help us understand the traditions. Candy and her friend Conklin ended up adopting us for the day and taught us about their culture and history, and made sure we saw all of the highlights. After the parade we went to watch the mid-day Grand Entrance and some of the dance competitions. Conklin participated in some of the noncompetitive singing/drum groups so we learned a lot about that aspect as well. Then Candy took us over to the rodeo which has the same events as most rodeos but the highlight is the Indian Horse Relay. Google it and watch some videos. It is amazing! I could go on and on about our experience at the Pow Wow, we have learned so much about the Native culture, history, traditions (at least what can be learned in a couple days). I am happy to share more with anyone who is interested or if you want to post questions, I can expand.

This morning we made it to see the Parade of Nations again (it happens each morning), said goodbye to our new friends and are getting ready for this tour. We had a chance on Friday to hear the Ranger’s talk about the Battle of Little Bighorn and watched a very informative video and viewed the memorials. We are looking forward to learning more on today’s tour.


From here we are heading to Kaycee, Wy. to get as close as possible to Casper for the eclipse tomorrow. Monday morning we will get up early to get within the 100% band for the eclipse. Nervous about the crowds but looking forward to the experience. Then we  head to Hot Springs, SD.

Day 7: 10:00pm. Had to include this for memories sake. This is Shayna with a new found friend, Deacon. His parents own the RV park we are staying in in Kaycee, Wy.  It is a small place and with the crowds for the eclipse, they have us parked on their lawn. The sweetest kid. They talked and jumped on the trampoline together for 2 hours – instant buddies. (Not Shayna’s best photographic moment, my fault for not getting a couple pics to choose from.)



Day 3

vegas.jpgIt has been a bit of a challenging start to our long planned road trip. Eli has a case of pneumonia (in his 8 years he has never had more than a mild fever). The last few days of prep for the trip were quite hectic between doctor visits and packing up while Michael was busy with trial prep so I was on my own with it all. Ultimately we have decided it is best for Eli to stay home until he is much more recovered while Shayna and I get started on the trip. So, Monday afternoon, we started the first leg to Vegas, where we were so happy to land at the Serenco’s for the night. It was nice to have a homemade dinner and beds, just easing our way into the van life.

Yesterday we had one of our longest drive of the trip from Vegas to Salt Lake City where we stayed in an RV park for the night. Our first night cooking and sleeping in the Jucy Van. We LOVE having the fridge, which allows us to stock any foods we want. The challenges to the van are keeping organized in our very small space, but it is fairly easy to set up and clean up the beds. We are quickly figuring out a routine.

Today we drove from SLC to Jackson Hole, We have a private camp site right on the snake river.


On the way we found a fun water slide complex in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho and took a break to swam and slid for awhile.

lava hot springs.jpg

It has been a lot of driving and not much site seeing. Tomorrow will be much more eventful as we drive through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We are looking forward to wandering through the parks.

Jucy Van

One of the first decisions we had to make was which means of transportation to use on this journey. After thorough research, and multiple driving tests, we settled on a JUCY van. Although it screams TOURIST with its bright green and purple exterior (my one apprehension in trying to avoid attention), it is everything we need to easily drive through the open west as well as the crowded cities of the East Coast.

Here is a great video that shows you everything about the JUCY Van.


With our cozy campervan, we plan to stay in RV parks and camp grounds wherever possible. We have some wonderful family and friends who are going to host us in a few cities, then we are going luxury in some VRBOs (now called HomeAway) in the larger cities where RV parks aren’t possible, and an occasional hotel.