In the weeks leading up to the trip, I surprised myself by being very nervous about it. I drive by myself all the time and did it when I had little kids. This time I had 2 teenagers, one who could drive and one who could run 6 minute miles to the gas station if I ran out or something. So, I was totally caught off guard by feeling anxious about the trip. I think it was being in very unfamiliar areas (and especially driving through big cities with a huge floating trailer and a Thule on top), with a very tight schedule. I felt much better when we nailed down all of the hotel/airbnb accommodations and realized we could pack light enough to leave the trailer thing at home.
We left Spokane around noon and headed east. The first night was a quick stay in Billings MT; nothing too exciting happened there. I woke up the next day pretty excited though, because it was sunny and we heading to our first planned destination.
We took a quick 30 minute detour to Pompeys Pillar to see where Lewis and Clark camped and defaced the rock!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on the western edge of North Dakota and had been recommended by a friend. We had about 3 hours to explore there and pulled into the town of Medora. It's a cute restored western town, with fun shops and restaurants and show at night; I was sad we weren't staying there for the night. We asked some locals for recommended hikes and started the sight seeing loop, stopping when the map indicated we were by those hikes. It was so fun because the hikes were .5-1.5 miles and so we could jump out, explore for 10-20 minutes and jump back in. We saw a "city" of prairie dogs, bison, mountain goats, wild horses and snakes. The badlands are so interesting...the landscape has so much color and variety and our day was gorgeous. It was the perfect stop. So perfect that we came back and visited it later that day, when I realized 30 miles away that I'd left my credit card at the gas station. Ugh.
We stopped in Fargo ND for the night and were able to go to a 9:00 sacrament meeting before we headed back on the road. We headed south into Western Minnesota and stopped at the town of Walnut Grove to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. We spent about an hour there, looking at artifacts, and pictures, touring replicas of buildings that Laura had been in and buying fun souvenirs. After, we drove 5 minutes down the road to visit the site of the dugout (famous in On The Banks Of Plum Creek) and it was my favorite part. Though collapsed, it was fun to see the actual site where she lived and it was truly beautiful. (We hadn't quite gotten to that part of the series when we visited, but we just started a few weeks ago and all of us, okay...except Gabe, are finding it so fun to picture the place because we've been there!)
Our next stop was Chicago, and the drive there was kind of awesome. It was beautiful and we loved seeing the landscape change as we drove over the Mississippi river. We stopped to eat dinner on the banks of the Mississippi and watched the sun set. I kept thinking "THIS is why I planned this trip." Later that night, my usually non-verbal teenage boy talked to me in the dark for 3 hours while we drove into the city and it has become one of my favorite memories from the trip.
Chicago was crazy! It was unfamiliar territory for all of us and I loved the experience of riding the Metra, walking on city streets, finding our way around. My kids had a kind of hard time with the smells and the humidity and lots of walking but there was still so much to do. We had yummy doughnuts at Doughnut Vault, great deep dish pizza at Giordano's, a fun visit with my step-siblings who work at the former Sears tower. We were disappointed that the lovely rainstorm we experienced shut down the observation deck. We toured the Grant park, took pictures at the Bean and did a (kinda lame) boat tour of the lake...I learned later that the better boat tours go down the river. Our favorite part were the 2.5 hours we spent at the Art Institute. We checked out 3 audio tours, which we shared, and used the guide that tells you what to see if you only have a short time to visit. SO SO SO GREAT.
We again left at 5pm, in order to meet Ryan's plane at 11:00 and we did it! We were blown away with how gorgeous upstate New York was as we drove in. Completing that trip felt like such an accomplishment and I was so happy to have Ryan (and Levi) with us to experience this epic vacation. Watching the kids be reunited with their baby brother was the cutest.
We were ready to start the Church History part of our Church History tour!