Keeping Up With the Jameses

Adventures in Modern Day Motherhood

Gratitude Month – Day 29 – Family Vacations November 29, 2009

Filed under: 406 — mommyoffive @ 7:00 pm

Praise the bridge that carried you over.  ~George Colman

I am a serious family vacation nut.  I literally spend months planning, dreaming, anticipating the fun we’ll have.  I love vacations so much that when Elisabeth was born I didn’t let Todd take any time off work (except for the actual day of her birth).  He had to save up that time for our vacation.  And at the ripe old age of one month, Elisabeth was one of the smallest tourists ever to visit Mt. Rushmore.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t taken the time to write up a proper trip report of our travels, and I don’t see that changing any time in the foreseeable future, so I’ve given up.  I’ll just do a quick run-down instead.  Without further ado, I give you:

The James Family’s 2009 Vacation – The Black Hills of South Dakota

Day One

We stayed at the RV World Campground.

Highlights:  Very nice bathrooms and what our kids described as a “ghetto” playground.  They thought it was very cool.

Lowlights:  The wind.  It was everywhere.  I seriously thought our trailer was going to blow away.  And that part of Wyoming is Not.  Pretty.

Day Two

We arrived at our destination – the Rafter J Bar Ranch.  Yes, it is as lovely as it looks on their website.  But those fishing streams they advertise?  I think the proper term would be “ditches.”  We very much enjoyed our stay there.  Our campsite had a perfect campfire location – nice view and the smoke always blew in the same direction.  It was located very close to Hill City, which is perhaps the cutest little tourist town ever.

And now let me explain the method to my madness for the rest of the vacation.  Every day I tried to plan at least one activity for the older kids and one for the younger kids.  I also tried to work it out so that if we had to stay up late one night, we could sleep in the next morning.  Also, for us it was a very slow paced vacation.  I originally had planned at least one more activity for each day, but since Elisabeth decided to delay her arrival by three weeks, I pared our itinerary WAY down.

Day Three – The Adventure Begins

We began our day with a trip to Jewel Cave.  The four oldest kids and I took the Scenic Tour (awesome), while Todd and the little ones did the Discovery Tour (not really worth the money).  If you go, be sure to make reservations ahead of time.  There were many families who had to wait for 2 – 3 hours for an open tour.  And while the visitor’s center is nice, it isn’t 2-3 hours worth of nice.  Also, while the website claims that all ages can go on the Scenic Tour, I really wouldn’t recommend it.  There are LOTS of very steep metal mesh-type stairs.  Even Josh had a pretty hard time with them.  For older kids, it was a really cool experience (and I mean that literally – bring a jacket).  Pictures can’t do justice to all of the incredible cave formations we saw.  Our favorite – cave bacon.  It seriously looks like a giant piece of bacon sticking out of the cave wall.  Who knew?

We stopped for a lunch break at the Heritage Village Buffet (next to the Crazy Horse monument).  It had a great view of the monument, and lots of yummy food – even some buffalo stew!

We then headed over to Old MacDonald’s petting farm.  (Warning – turn your speaker down before clicking on the link.)  It was seriously cute and very well done.  All of the animals’ cages were immaculate, the animals were very tame, and there were tons of opportunities for our kids to interact with them.  It was also a very windy day, so the crowds were minimal.  We loved it!


Day Four – Mt. Rushmore!

This was our presidential day – everything we did had a presidential theme.  But first – I noticed that one of our tires was nearly bald in the middle.  After careful inspection, we decided that we should probably get all four tires replaced.  So while Todd headed off to Rapid City in search of the world’s most expensive new tires, the kids and I stayed behind to do laundry, which is when I actually uttered the phrase, “Jakob, if you don’t stop helping with laundry right now I’m going to make you go outside to play.”  The kids thought this was hilarious.

Todd returned home, we ate some lunch, piled into the Suburban, and…I backed into a tree.  Hard.  It left some bark on our bumper.  The kids thought this was hilarious, too.  Luckily, it was a big tree.  It will be fine.  Plus, have you seen all the trees in South Dakota?  It’s nearly impossible to not hit any of them.

Then Todd and the little ones watched helicopters take off and land while the rest of us went on the Rushmore Alpine Slide.  Josh and  I got to ride together – he thought it was AWESOME!  If you go, throw caution to the wind and ignore all of the “slow down” signs around the curves.   Otherwise you’ll be in for a very long, slow ride.

Next we crossed the street and toured the National Presidents Wax Museum.  It was VERY well done.  It had fascinating information on all of the presidents.  (Except for John Adams – who I happen to think was an AMAZING man.  I was able to overlook this after seeing what a great job they did with everyone else, though.)  About halfway through the museum, Jakob decided he had had enough and sprawled out on the floor like a dead person.  He even had his tongue hanging out.  We ignored him.

And finally it was time to see Mount Rushmore.  I know I already blogged about it, but really, this should be on everyone’s “must see” list.  It was amazing.  Go there.  Really.  You won’t regret it.  But you might want to keep a leash on your children.  Just sayin’.

Day Six


We slithered on down to Reptile Gardens.  This was another fun place to visit, with lots of fun animal shows.  This is also where Jakob picked up a permanent souvenir.  He was running to see the bird show when he tripped and bashed his head on the sidewalk, leaving the sidewalk, himself, and me covered in blood.  You know how they say head wounds bleed a lot?  It’s true.  So very true.  After we finally slowed the bleeding down to look at the actual wound, we decided that he probably didn’t need stitches.  In hindsight, maybe he could have used some.  He now has a scar and a permanent dent on his forehead.  Oh well, it gives him character.


And then…THEN we went to the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Dinner.  For the love of all that is good and decent, DO NOT go there.  Your family may never forgive you if you do.  You might not forgive yourself.

Day Seven – The Grand Finale


The morning began with a trip to Bear Country, where we saw the most hilarious bear ever.  Actually, we saw lots of bears, most of whom were very neatly groomed and doing things like bathing in the water hole, eating breakfast, or wandering along their little bear trails.  But this particular bear, (we’ll call him…Todd) emerged from his cave as we were driving by, and he looked terrible.   His fur was all shaggy and stringy, he was in desperate need of a bath, and he looked a bit dazed.  He staggered in front of our Suburban, sat down on the road, and proceeded to scratch his furry rear end for the next 15 minutes or so.  It was very entertaining.  We think he must have been a teenager.

We then went into Rapid City to see the Museum of Geology (because Josh is way into rocks) and Storybook Island (super cute).  It was a very hot day, so we also made an impromptu stop at Cold Stone.  It was like a tiny taste of home.  I had my usual – sweet cream with strawberries and a brownie.  Best.  Ice cream.  Ever.

And now, I’ll let you in on another of my vacation philosophies – always leave on a high note.  This is the day to throw schedules to the wind and just go with the flow.  With that in mind, we took another quick trip past Mount Rushmore, and then headed up to Sylvan Lake.  You MUST go there.  It was beautiful.  We had a fabulous time just relaxing, climbing rocks, hiking around the lake, and best of all – catching baby fish and crawdads.  Even Sarah got in on the fun.  While we were there, we overheard some people talking about how National Treasure II was filmed there.  After we got home, we rented it and sure enough, we were playing on the very rock that had the super secret eagle symbol on it.  And we played in the cave that led to the amazing treasure.  Our kids thought that was very cool.


Well, folks, that’s it in a nutshell.  A very long winded nutshell.  Written by a very long winded nut.  But it was a fun vacation.  Really, it was.

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