Reunion Trip: Day Eleven


Day Eleven: Badlands National Park, SD to Custer State Park, SD (Driving for 2.5 hours)


We did this on the way home from Nauvoo 14 years earlier and loved it so much that we bought a giant stuffed bear and stuffed it into the back of our Ford Escort wagon. I don’t know how we fit that thing in! Every year we set that bear out under our Christmas tree and the kids love laying on him while reading at night. Cayden, of course, has no memory of that trip and we were glad to be able to plan this stop into our trip this year!

  • Bear country has the world’s largest collection  of privately owned black bears

  • It’s a (slow) 3 mile drive

  • This place takes up 200 acres

  • It’s pretty much the coolest thing to see bears wondering around

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When we first started the drive, we were looking at normal animals- goats, deer, antelope, etc. We didn’t see any wolves, which disappointed Ashlyn. Each “section” is divided by tall fencing so the wolves don’t eat all of the goats and so that no one has to wonder who would win in a bear/wolf battle.

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It was fun to see the deer up close!

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Cute deer…. but since I’m an amateur deer-noticer, it’s probably actually called something like a buck. I just checked that out, and yes… male deer have the antlers (I knew that) and male deer are called bucks (I was pretty sure that was right too). The exception to that rule are reindeer, because female reindeer can have antlers. Another weird exception- all deer species grow antlers of some kind except for Chinese water deer, who grow tusks (vampire teeth) and have no antlers at all. Crazy! We did not see any of those, although we did see both deer and reindeer!

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Our first bear spotting!

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We passed a lot of empty caves… at least they looked empty at first!DSC_0144 small

It was HOT and you could tell the bears were also HOT! They loved the water, the shade, their caves… and if they were in the sun they were usually lying down.

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Some bears were very furry!

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The golden bears were beautiful!

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Many bears seemed to be in various stages of shedding their fur. It seemed strange to me since it was August. Winter has been over for months!

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One of the big rules for Bear Country is that you can never roll down your windows… which is excellent advice. You usually can’t tell that there is a window between that bear and our family, but there is.

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Since we were traveling at speeds around 2 miles an hour, we went nuts and let the kids unbuckle so that they could really be looking out of the windows. Living on the edge!

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How many bears do you see in this picture? (Above)

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We finally, finally got to see some buffalo! Maybe they weren’t grazing near our campsite, but this was great too 🙂DSC_0172 small

After the drive, we parked our van and went to Babyland to see the baby bears playing!DSC_0175 small

The water seemed to be their favorite thing, since it was hot outside.DSC_0178 small

Alison taking Dylan for a walk. It was fun to be a “baby” in Babyland after all!

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Group picture! (Sort of) Alison is standing by me, Jackson did not want to pose, Megan is trying to get her stroller back, Dylan is smiling because he is still in the stroller, Cayden is annoyed that Dylan isn’t getting out, and Matt/Ashlyn are giving me the smile I started out to get! Ha! My family is awesome! We have so much fun together, even if people like strollers and don’t like posing!

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Megan fell in love withe this rock by the parking lot. Matt had to run back into the gift shop with someone, so Megan got to stay here with me for a while. Nice and shady!


We settled into our camping spot before we headed over to Mount Rushmore. This was by far the hardest camping spot we’ve ever had to park the trailer. We had to practically drive off the road (steep slope downward) to be able to back our trailer into the site. It was like a 50-point turn. We could see ruts in the ground- other people’d had this problem too. We finally got in, climbed out of the van and saw this:

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We knew it was going to be great!

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Right away the kids set off exploring. This place was magical! The rocks sparkled. If you picked up the rocks, sparkly sheets would flake off. The forest floor was covered with sparkle!

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Exploring often means some life-endangering log climbing! DSCN4659 small

The log didn’t look that high in the first picture, but it was! Alison may not have climbed the log to get to the top, but she was there at the top and a part of everything!

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Ashlyn and Jackson, at the top – one of many summits!

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Megan and Alison in their “house.”

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Their job was to collect these things and grind them into powder to make wolf food. You can see them holding their grinding tools in the picture above!

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Here is Jackson’s house. His job was to make weapons!

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Of course, a weapons demonstration was needed!

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Here’s Dylan’s house. He loved this house and it was the biggest house of everyone’s! His job was the baker and his “secret” job was a rock scientist!

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Ashlyn, helping the girls to grind their wolf food!

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I loved walking around, looking at the mushrooms. They were so unusual!DSCN4668 small

I love that the tops made little bowls. Cute! Of course, no touching…


After a long time of relaxing and exploring (and not driving) we convinced the kids that it was time to go to Mount Rushmore. We promised them that they could go back outside and explore right after they woke up the next morning, instead of packing up and leaving immediately. Even though it was hard to leave the trips’ best campsite, everyone wanted to check out the giant faces on the mountain! They were intrigued!

Fun facts:

  • It took 14 years to build

  • They used dynamite to do most of the carving of the four presidents (They had a unique method to get the exact rock removal that they wanted)

  • At first they were going to carve the presidents down to their waist but they ran out of money… so just the heads!

  • No one died while building Mount Rushmore. With all of that dynamite, that is amazing!

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Why were these 4 presidents chosen? I always wondered that and that’s what the whole walk of presidents was about.

George Washington: 1st president, father of American and laid the foundation for democracy.

Thomas Jefferson: Wrote the Declaration of Independence (democracy) and doubled the size of our country with the Louisiana Purchase.

Theodore Roosevelt: Led the country into the 20th century financially . He linked the east and west with the Panama Canal and worked to end monopolies so that business would flourish.

Abraham Lincoln: Held the nation together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. He believed it was his duty to keep our country together and abolished slavery.

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The walkway to see Mount Rushmore was lined with the flags from all 50 states.

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A little closer….

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On the presidential walk

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The presidential walk was my favorite! The trail took you to a spot where you could see each president the best and then gave a lot of information about each one. There were also cool facts about the statues- like how wide the eye holes are- and I can’t remember any of them!

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I only took pictures of two of the presidents because I totally got absorbed into trail watching and children herding. It was awesome!DSC_0205 small

We even had a goat climb up some rocks right next to us, which was pretty thrilling! We worked on our Jr Ranger badges and then stayed for a night program. The program included a video on an outdoor screen and fireworks at the end, but our children were so ready to go 30 minutes before it even started. Matt went into the stands to watch while the children and I tried to walk the trail again (too dark  and we were too noisy- the program was right below the trail) so eventually we sat on the ground and had lady bug races, had the kids guess how many steps it would take to walk from this statue to that wall…. and fervently hoped the program was short. It wasn’t. Besides the late-night program (it was too long of a day!) Mount Rushmore was a great experience!

One response »

  1. When I saw Mt. Rushmore (about 40 yrs. ago probably, there was nothing there but the mountain and it’s carvings. This must have been a tiring day…even I felt tired of reading trying to keep the kids awake. 🙂 WHEW! 12 days of total adventure. I made the comment to Kev yesterday, “it’s so cold outside, but Matt’s kids are really resilient.” They are amazing, which is full credit to their parents! M *******************************************Everything tastes good with chocolate except broccoli—Maria Lund

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