June 30, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Day 2


Day 2: Sioux Falls, SD to Custer, SD

We woke with the sun and enjoyed a quick cereal breakfast before packing up our campsite and heading out. Traveling across the entire state with hopes of stopping along the way, we left not too long after breakfast. This was the view during the first half of our drive:

Driving through South Dakota
Along the way, we stopped at 1880 Town, about two hours east of Mount Rushmore. It's a ghost town, with some original buildings and some reenactments, a memorabilia shop, and a diner inside an old train. We enjoyed a simple and leisurely lunch in a dining car, a nice break from driving.


Though I planned to keep this stop fairly quick, we decided to explore the site, spending more than an hour walking around the grounds and taking pictures like good tourists. There were a few pieces of old Wells Fargo stuff, including this old wagon and some signage in town buildings. 


Some buildings are totally open to walk through and others are preserved. My guess is it's based on what is real from the late 19th century and what is staged for fun.


We considered stopping at Wall Drug since there are so many signs screaming at us, "stop at Wall Drug!" but figuring it's probably a lot like South of the Border, we focused on getting to Mount Rushmore before dinnertime. If we'd had a little more time, I might have driven through the Badlands loop, but we were able to get a sense of the Badlands from Highway 80. We'll plan a drive through next time we visit western South Dakota.

Driving into Custer State Park was beautiful. Observing the elevation climb, the beautiful trees, the green, the craggy hills, and the sounds of birds and crickets, and the fresh air is worth the drive. Our campsite was somewhat isolated off the main road by a large, "raging" stream, surrounded by tall trees and gorgeous views. We pitched by the water, set up our space and immediately drove back up to Mount Rushmore, a 30 minute drive along winding mountain roads.

Campsite at Custer State Park
Penny was most excited for Mount Rushmore out of all our trip plans. She took many photos and ran up and down the amphitheater stairs. For dinner, we ate at the Mount Rushmore visitor cafe, which for a cafeteria, offered plenty of variety and decent quality.

Taking pictures at Mount Rushmore
As rain set in around 8pm, we took a longer drive home, encountering hundreds of bison along our path. We spent quite a bit of time stopped to let them pass, such majestic creatures.

Bison grazing near our car
Bison roaming through Custer State Park
Late into the night, a storm blew in and raged with thunder and lightening and pouring rain. Miss P slept through everything but I was pretty darn scared of either being washed away or struck by lightening. Thunder shook the ground, but we made it through without even a leak. 

Breakfast was a simple buffet at a nearby lodge at the park, where we learned there had been some pretty bad hail overnight. I was grateful for those giant trees! 

We lingered in the morning, looping around a driving path for viewing animals, though we saw none that morning. Close to 11am, we packed up and headed on our way to Wyoming, planning our halfway point as lunch. I didn't want to leave. Of all the stops on our trip, Custer was our favorite and we're even exploring the idea of buying some land to build a small vacation cottage in the future.

June 29, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Day 1

Big Sioux Rec Area campground
As part of my goal to bring my daughter to each state by the time she's 18 (in a somewhat meaningful way, no airport layovers), we packed up and enjoyed an 8-day road trip through five states, camping in tents all but two nights.

It was an awesome trip, filled with adventure, storms, mosquitoes, friends, historic sites, and quiet moments without cell reception. My next few posts will capture the spirit of each day of our trip. Feel free to ask questions about where we stayed and what we did. There aren't a lot of tent-camping review sites to reference when planning this type of vacation, so I'm happy to offer feedback based on our own experiences.

Day 1: Southeastern Minnesota to Sioux Falls, SD

We made a last minute decision not to visit the Laura Ingalls site in Walnut Grove on our way to Sioux Falls. There are times of year when there's more going on, so we're saving that for another time. That meant we could take a longer morning to load the car and get ready without rushing out early.

Lunch was in Albert Lea, MN, a stop perfectly timed as there was an old car show going on. We enjoyed checking out some of the cars, reminding me of times as a little girl with my dad visiting Cape Cod.


Aside from a quick stop for snacks and drinks, we went straight from Albert Lea and checked in at Big Sioux Recreation Area in Sioux Falls, SD for the night. Big Sioux is tucked behind a newer subdivision with giant power lines running through it. They cater more to RVs than tents, but the few tent sites were conveniently placed around the playground - perfect for kids! I'd feared a lot of late night or early morning noise, but everyone was respectful and we got a good night of sleep.


Sioux Falls itself has a small town feel with trendy elements. The thriving downtown offers delicious independent restaurants, cute shops, and interesting art sculpture. The area is beautiful, peaceful, and seems to be an active community. I may not choose Sioux Falls for a vacation destination, but I'd definitely consider living there.


The first day was pretty uneventful. Aside from clean bathrooms, a nice playground, and a flat partially shaded campsite, Big Sioux was pretty nondescript. We didn't get a chance to explore what else the rec area has to offer, so we'll save that for next time we travel west!

June 2, 2015

Straw Bale Garden for the Win


This is my second year using straw bales for gardening. I've expanded with more bales, plus I'm growing food in dirt beds around the property. The dirt beds received a lot of amendment to make them viable, but I'd say my bales are still the most robust.

Behind the house, there's a small 50 sq ft raised bed. In past years, everything failed. It's packed clay with zero nutrients. So I worked hard to amend the soil to accommodate more root veggies and grow something successfully. This bed houses radishes, beets, carrots, radicchio, mesclun greens, romaine heads, and peas.


The greens are growing strong. I can barely keep up eating enough, so soon they'll be shared with family and friends. The onion tops look healthy (though I doubt I'll see full bulbs at harvest time), and carrots, with some thinning, look healthy. The photo above is early in the season.

The beets grew for two weeks and then disappeared. The radishes looked like they were thriving but in the end, I had two tiny radishes and a bunch of greens. Even with extensive thinning, they just couldn't work with our soil. Root veggies in dirt - not going to happen in my garden.

The bales host several varieties of heirloom, hybrid, and grafted tomatoes, all looking strong and flowering. My peppers are taking some time to grow, but I remember that happening last year. I suspect I'll be flush with jalepenos and sweet bells by August. Unsurprisingly, my cucumbers and zucchini are rocking. This year as bush plants, they're hopefully not going to take over the entire garden.

We have herbs in containers and bales, three containers of potatoes that love all the rain and a very happy set of peas in the bales. Strong corn stalks are thriving on the side of the house near the garlic.

Overall, a very successful year so far, aside from the loss of two root veggies.