Navigating National Parks - PART ONE (June 12th - June 18th, 2019)
June 12th we left Minnesota and headed towards North Dakota. We drove through a lot of farm land before stopping for the night at (we can't remember....it was a boonedock, but we don't remember where). This right here is EXACTLY why I am determined to keep up this blog to document our travels - we forget so much shit nowadays! After a few hours we remembered - it was the Coffee Cup Travel Plaza in Steele. They had a play ground and let us park in a truck space free for the night.
Next morning, while driving, Ted saw a sign for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center...sounds interesting, let's check it out (plus he had to pee and I was sleeping so he didn't want to wake me up to do the 'stealthy switch'). They had a neat display - small, but informative. We learned that Sacagawea (there are multiple spellings and pronunciations, fyi) was the wife of the guy that Lewis and Clark hired to help them navigate and communicate. Fort Mandan, is just down the road from the museum and is a fantastic replica of a early 19th Century winter mini-fort. They have the rooms in the fort set up as they would have been in 1804, it brings you into their lives for a glimpse of what these men were able to do despite the suck they had to go through. Having to endure really harsh weather, being in a completely foreign place, trying to communicate with people that have no idea how to speak your language...all too familiar with our overseas moves and travels - but the beauty lies in their journey and their discoveries. However, the fantastic progress they made in paving the way west came at a great cost. Actually, the whole expansion west and what was done to the Native Americans is heartbreaking. I had to mention this because I think it's important to understand what has been done in history. To learn from the past so we can better the future and avoid making the same mistakes again and again. Even though we have all these comforts in our lives like running water, sewage disposal, electricity, etc...they all came at a great price to our environment. That's a whole can of worms that we can save for another day...
Regardless, I'm very grateful for the National Parks and the forethought that our leaders had, at the turn of the last century, to protect and preserve America's natural phenomena. With that, we enter into Theodore Roosevelt National Park on June 14th. As info, we had pulled into the Minot/Swenson RV KOA Journey the day before...when we booked this whole leg of the trip back in April, we didn't know about Roosevelt's park. It was 2 hours away from the KOA we were staying at. So, in hopes to save some time and also for the experience, we decided to camp in the park. As a side note, this would be Azlan's first camping experience and only my second. Well, the park was beautiful! It is split into North and South. We stay in the North. The rolling landscape with the striped buttes and endless fields of grass was captivating. River Bend Overlook afforded me the opportunity to do a quick sketch while Ted and Azlan ran back to our camp site to close up the windows in the tent before it started raining hard. The Oxbow Overlook was also beautiful, unfortunately that's about all we got to stop for as we needed food and a nap. Now, to all my hardcore campers out there - I salute you! The three of us piled in our tiny tent (see pictures) which was very crowded with a full inflatable mattress, Ted, Azlan and myself. It was also very hot. We made it through a sweaty siesta and then walked around a bit, played outdoor bingo, filled out more activities in Azlan’s free Junior Ranger Book, and went to the Ranger Program where we learned about cowboys. These guys had it pretty rough trying to move long horn cattle from Texas up to North Dakota back in the late 1800's - no wonder they only had a 35 year life expectancy! We got word of a storm coming in with a few gusts of 60 mile an hour wind and hail....uhhhhhh.....now go look at the picture of our tiny tent again.... and remember that Azlan is having his very first camping experience.... and I'm already moody because of the heat, the bugs, the rain, and the fact that we would be sleeping on top of each other (again, campers, I salute you!). We start a fire thinking we will brave the storm...but as the dark sky gets closer we decide to pack up and try to find a hotel near by so we can come back to the park the next day and do a hike. We find a Comfort Suites about 30 mins away and get showers, frozen burritos and a heavenly bed with fluffy pillows and some TV. Man, I am so freaking spoiled! In retrospect, it was the right decision as we didn't want to spoil camping forever for Azlan. Saturday morning, after a nice hotel breakfast, Ted really wants to check out the South part of the park. This adds an additional 3-4 hours in the car that day, and despite my extreme dislike of long car rides, I acquiesce and we roll out to discover something new to us. The Southern area of the park was nice and we saw prairie dogs for the first time, but we preferred the North with the grassy knolls and grazing bison. A thousand hours in a car later, we make it back to the Glamper in Minot. Home Sweet Home! Ted and I have a quick go at unpacking - which means we are pretty fast when it comes to packing and unpacking things. I make lists, Ted makes it all fit....17 years of travel and a great team we make! Meanwhile, Azlan is running around and trying to get our attention. Ted and I start loosing patience quicker as the hour progresses. In the end, Azlan tucks in for some alone TV time while Ted and I sit in the living room and work on our communication skills. We were both unhappy, as was Azlan. This part ties into a lot of things, but mostly revolves around the fact that we are now able to communicate with respect, calmness, and empathy. We have a long conversation about what we need as a family, what our expectations are for one another, how we feel about what's happening in the trip, and how we are raising Azlan. Basically, the most important things in our lives right now. This kind of communication is so freaking helpful!!! Thank heavens for therapy and counseling!!! We were able to speak to each other clearly and listen with precision, I stood braving the wilderness - alone but not (shout out to an awesome book Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown) - and I think we made so much progress in our communication which in turn strengthened our marriage.
Moving on to Father's Day, June 16th, we roll out from North Dakota to South Dakota. This time, I'm at the wheel for the first two hours so Ted can get some Father and Son time. We are pretty remote on this route and it's our first 7 hour trip in one shot since last year. Usually we would break this into 2 days, but we decided it's better to take on long drive days to get some recuperative down days. So, with 7 hours in the shaky shack, I think we did pretty well and I think we could do it again. I take 2 hours first shift, 1 hour for diesel, 4 hours with #thedrivingartist at the wheel. We spent one hour counting cars on the road and spotted 69 vehicles in 60 minutes, we are pretty remote out here. That evening, after hooking up into our spot at the Minute Man RV Park and Lodging, we unwind with some family down time. I cook, we talk with Azlan, popcorn is shared, cuddles are had.
BOOM! YESTERDAY! We are pretty pumped to go see the Badlands National Park. In our conversation the other night, Ted shared with me that he was really looking forward to this park specifically. He remembers learning about it in school and is fond of the stories family have told him over the years. Even before we enter the park, we are stopping to take photos and look a little closer. I'm not exactly sure how to describe this park. I don't want to over play it, but we were quite impressed. To frame our opinion, we have the Cliffs of Moehr in Ireland, Cappadoccia in Turkey, and a desert version of the Kaneohe Bay Mountains on the East Coast of Oahu, Hawaii. It is like a mix of these places but the surface is a playful combination of grassy fields and sandy peaks. So far, this is our favorite National Park, and also one of the more unique landscapes we have ever seen over the years. I honestly think that a very good part of our opinion of places is dictated by many things such as mood, time in life, weather, safety, company, and our past experiences. Anyhow, one of the things we realized is that we did not allow enough time to explore these magnificent parks. We will miss quite a few things but we have maximized our time with a great route for next week. Stay tuned for next week's week-cap!
Daisa, Ted and Azlan