Wednesday, June 23, 2010

South Dakota

Last weekend we drove to South Dakota via Wyoming. That's one cool thing about living a little more central is the proximity to a number of amazing locales such as Mt. Rushmore and The Black Hills. (If we can't have the beach we might as well be close to lots of other things, right?)

The drive took about 7 hours which included a lunch break. Not too bad of a drive and quite pretty although very remote. As a side note, did you know that Wyoming is the least populated state with a little over 500,000 people? Definitely by far not one of the smallest states. I think it's one of the top 10 largest states. Having driven through parts of Wyoming I can see that not too many people live there. Like I said, it's very pretty, but a TON of open space.

South Dakota was pretty similar too. We stayed in Rapid City which has about 67,000 people. It's the largest city on the western side of the state. Hmm, wow! Coming from Cali and CO that's on the small side.

The main purpose of our trip was to see Mt. Rushmore, but there is a whole lot more to do there than see 4 former Presidents immortalized in stone. Pretty amazing in and of itself, but didn't completely impress the boys. Mainly because they can't appreciate what Mt. Rushmore symbolizes nor can they appreciate how difficult it was to carve such large faces in stone....which happens to be on the side of a mountain.

Friday, the day we visited Mt. Rushmore (which is located in Keystone, pop. 311) the boys and Rick enjoyed the alpine slides and a helicopter tour. The helicopter tour only lasts about 7 minutes, but according to Rick it was worth it. They flew over The Black Hills and got to see Mt. Rushmore from a distance. The older boys had such a blast, the pilot had to turn down the volume on their headsets.

We also went to a place called Bear Country USA. You drive through this "open wildlife park" to see elk, wolves, mt. goats, mt. lions, bison and as the name suggests bears. And lots of them. All the animals except the mt. lions have the ability to wander freely through their area. Each section is cordoned off by those rails on the road. You know those kind that keep the cows from crossing the road. Don't know the technical term. The wolves and bears roam together and it was pretty cool to see them wander by our cars. If I didn't know any better I would've thought we came across them in a national park.

After the car tour you can walk through babyland. As the name implies you get to see lots of young animals....and grizzly bears. (Go figure.) I guess Grizzlies are too aggressive to wander "freely" near cars. Glad they figured that out before we arrived.

Saturday we drove to Reptile Gardens. Another great place, albeit a tourist trap to rack in the dough from from visitors like us. They also have a lot of great animals to see. We saw the alligator/crocodile show. Pretty funny and it was cool to see a Steve Irwin "The Crocodile Hunter" like character "wrestling" alligators. Rick and the older boys watched a snake show while I watched some of a bird show with Curren. They also have giant tortoises - they were HUGE! the boys could touch and pet. Plus a large dome enclosure which housed a large variety of snakes. Aidan really liked seeing the most venomous snake in the world - Inland Taipan snake or the Fierce snake found in Australia. Wouldn't want to come across that thing, even if it's pretty docile. Not a huge fan of snakes in general.

Afterwards, we drove to Deadwood. It's a town just north of Rapid City and steeped in history. Actually the whole town is on the National History Registry. It's claim to fame is "Wild Bill" Hickock and Calamity Jane. Look them up if you're curious who they are.
(Saloon where "Wild Bill" Hickock was shot)

The town is situated in beautiful area of The Black Hills. Pine trees surround the whole town and most, if not all the buildings in the main downtown area are historic, gorgeous looking and well-kept. The weekend we were there the town was celebrating "Wild Bill Days". They had a lot of events going on including a dog agility competition called Dockdogs. One dog, named Jet from Colorado had just moved on to the pro round because he jumped 24 feet! Amazing. The owner throws a ball or toy into a pool of water and the dog jumps to fetch it. It was amazing seeing how far they jump and how well trained they are.

Sunday, before leaving for home we took a little detour and stopped off at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth AFB. They had some pretty cool jets and bombers. I'm not an airplane buff so I couldn't really tell all we saw except they were dated from WWII to present. A nice little Father's Day gift for Rick especially since he had to drive us home.

We had a great time, but it's always nice to come back home. I told Rick as we rounded a turn and saw the Denver skyline that I love the best of both worlds. City life and open space. We live in such a beautiful country.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Devil's Head - Memorial Day Weekend

This past Memorial Day weekend was spent with Rick's family visiting from California. We took them to downtown Denver and stopped off at Wash Park and then headed over to 16th Street Mall.

Washington Park (better known by the locals as Wash Park) is a HUGE park with a lake, playground, small botanic garden and a couple of trails that run the perimeter of the park itself. Rick's sister and her husband (known as Aunt Susie and Uncle Muscles or Uncle Ryan) took the two older boys on the paddle boats. The first trip lasted about 5 minutes when Kellen said he was down and wanted to head back to shore. So Ryan and Aidan went out and enjoyed themselves on the lake.

While they were enjoying the paddle boats, Rick's mom (Elva or Abue to the boys, short for Abuela or Abuelita - grandmother in Spanish), Rick, Curren and I walked the perimeter of the park.

After spending some time at Wash Park we decided to take our Cali relatives to the 16th Street Mall. This is a pedestrian friendly outdoor mall in heart of downtown Denver. It's a great area to do some shopping and some serious people watching. Never a dull moment on the 16th Street Mall.

On Monday we decided a good hike was in order so we packed ourselves into the Sequoia (love having a big SUV) and headed over to Devil's Head. It's about a 45 minute drive up into the foothills. And the majority of the drive is on a windy dirt road. Devil's Head is located in Pike National Forest which takes in a good portion of the area just west and south of us. Devil's Head is a US Forest fire lookout tower built back in 1912. The views extend 100 miles in every direction. It was AMAZING!

The hike to the base of the lookout tower is about 2 miles of switchbacks. Not too bad of a climb, however, for sea level dwellers it was a bit more challenging, but everyone made it! Yay! The last section is a set of steep stairs that lead you to the lookout tower where a forest ranger greets you with a card stating,

"This certifies that on 5/31/10, (insert name) climbed Devil's Head Lookout Station guarding the Pike National Forest against fire, and is therefore recognized as a member of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels. Signed by the lookout person.

Then you get to sign a book proving you were at the lookout tower. The elevation is 9748 ft. Not too shabby.
(At the lookout tower)

(view of Pike's Peak - a 14er from the lookout tower)
Curren did pretty good on the way up...on Rick's back, but he was ready to get down and do some of his own hiking. Thankfully there's a large flat resting area before you climb the stairs so he got to explore. However, when it was time to head back down the mountain Curren decided he wasn't quite ready to go and threw and absolute tantrum and refused to go back in the Ergo baby carrier. The only thing he wanted at that point was being in mom's arms. Ugh! I walked a few steps with him and realized this was NOT going to work. The kid weighs 33lbs. So I told Rick to force him on my back and off we went. He screamed for a few minutes more, but then calmed down and relaxed. Poor kid was tired and just wanted his two feet on the ground.
(one the way up - Devil's Head)

(coming down the mountain)
We ended the Memorial Day by having a BBQ with our Cali relatives along with my mom and Jerry. What a great day to honor those who have and are serving our country!

Tuesday could've been a pretty uneventful day of swim lessons and a little bit of swimming at our local neighborhood pool. However, our little Curren, who's almost 2 mind you (think terrible two's here) decided he already knows how to swim and needs no help from anyone while heading off to the deep end. He didn't want me holding him or touching him in the pool. Everytime his chin went under the water I grabbed him and brought him back to the shallow end. And everytime he screamed and screamed. I think I handled the defiance for quite a while (about an hour) and decided I couldn't take it anymore. And I'm sure most everyone else at the pool had about enough of this screaming child. So I got him changed and off Elva and I went to head home and put Curren down for a nap. (Aunt Susie and Uncle Ryan stayed a little longer with Aidan and Kellen.)

Curren fell asleep before we even left the parking lot. So once home I carried him into the house. I hadn't even got that far when all of sudden he throws up all over my back. I start walking him toward the kitchen sink because he's still making noises like he's going to throw up again and instead of making it into the sink he vomits all over the front of me and then one more time for good measure. He'd swallowed so much pool water from refusing to let me help him in the pool that his poor tummy couldn't handle it. ICK! So as quickly as I could I wiped him down (most of the junk was on me) undressed him and headed upstairs. Thankfully Elva was kind enough to clean up the mess.

Can you say YUCK!?! Oh well, that's life and now it's documented so I can show this to Curren one day when he's older.

Overall, besides the vomit episode we had a wonderful time with Elva, Susie and Ryan. We can't wait until they come back again!