Black Hills Family Vacation / by Shannon Heick

Hello everyone!  I have been really neglecting my poor little blog lately. We are just having such a full and wonderful on-the-go summer that it has been hard to take all the posts I have floating around in my head to the actual keyboard. I guess that's a good problem to have if you put some perspective on it. Perspective really shifts things. I can complain that I never have time to work on my blog or I can realize how grateful I am that we have had such a fat and full summer filled with dock-jumping and sun and road trips and fun and people and memories and happy.  I have come to conclude that being exhausted at the end of a summer day is just how I want to do summer. It's that good exhausted that I'm talking about. That feeling that you have been grabbing life the horns and you are soaking up the ride. This summer, for us,  has been just about the best as it can get! The boys are just getting so big and fun to watch explore and experience new things. We started out in June with a nice, relaxing pace of Vacation Bible School, tennis lessons, Bison Bball camp, Itasca camping, and getting the outside of our house ready for summer.  Patio lights for the mom and basketball hoop installation for all the boys. Thanks to my Uncle Sid for helping Derrick with those projects!!!!  Once July hit, we packed up the van full of everything but the kitchen sink. We hit weddings and lakes and big cities and the best family vacation we have had. And that is what leads me to todays post.

This year, we decided to head to the Black Hills of South Dakota with the boys. We knew they were hitting a great age for us to embark on a journey of hiking and tourism and camping.

IMG_9120
IMG_9120

Here we go! Our brother-in-law was kind enough to borrow us his trusty Black Hills & Badlands map and sent us on our way.  Our first stop was on a gravel road somewhere in rural SD for a car picnic. Later in the trip, we would stop along the side of the road for another no-so-fun reason!

IMG_8753
IMG_8753
IMG_8844
IMG_8844
DSC_0299
DSC_0299
DSC_0356
DSC_0356

Our first stop was Bear Butte. I was sure to just "double-check" with the park ranger that there weren't actually bears in this area. This was the best thing I did for the rest of the trip because he told me there hasn't been a bear spotted in the entire Black Hills for about 35 years. Ok, phew! Now I can put away my bear spray and hike in peace. Lol!

Bear Butte with my little cubs.

DSC_0391
DSC_0391
DSC_0407
DSC_0407

 Once we got to Rapid City and unpacked our cooler, we headed toward Keystone for some fun. Our first touristy stop was Cosmos Mystery Area. This place is really, really fun! You climb up to these little houses and as you enter you get more and more tilted.  Chase got put in the chair of truth! It was pretty funny!

DSC_0413
DSC_0413

This photo was really fun. This one got re-grammed by the Black Hills & Badlands Tourist Association. I was pretty honored! So, this was a bit of an accidental discovery for us. It was  a bad situation redeemed into an even better story. We had just left Cosmos and pulled into the Mount Rushmore parking lot, ready to go walk around the touristy park before we hit the evening lighting ceremony of Mount Rushmore. We wanted to eat first so we pulled out the cooler and started having another car picnic when Leighton started getting sick. So, we assessed the situation for quite a while and decided to leave and come back the next night. Upon leaving the park, we took the wrong turn and instead of heading back to Rapid City, we went further into Custer State Park. We saw this little approach and decided to stop. Leighton was starting to feel better so we walked down the path to check it out. Turns out, this is Horsethief Lake.  A little known gem of Custer State Park.

IMG_8822
IMG_8822
DSC_0462
DSC_0462

This is what getting into nature does for motion sickness! All better!

Hiking around Horsethief Lake.

DSC_0529
DSC_0529

And up into the mountain they go forcing me to swallow my fears and follow them.

DSC_0536
DSC_0536

Leighton discovered his very first Bull Snake. This is him demonstrating for me how he discovered it.

DSC_0447
DSC_0447

Of course, my husband wanted to chase down the snake and made me take a picture. He's so neat like that. Always pushing me right out of my comfort zones!

DSC_0452
DSC_0452

That's why I love him. He keeps me safe and secure where it's important and he pushes me out of the scaredy cat box where there is a big payoff.

DSC_0486
DSC_0486
DSC_0482
DSC_0482

 This is payoff.

IMG_9068
IMG_9068

We were so pumped up about our little detour hike turned awesome, we decided to go right back to Mount Rushmore and hit the lighting ceremony. It was so fun!

DSC_0545
DSC_0545

 Love my bunch!

DSC_0551
DSC_0551

The next day we hit the

Reptile Gardens.

IMG_9065
IMG_9065

 Lots of happy faces. 

IMG_9124
IMG_9124
IMG_9123
IMG_9123
DSC_0673
DSC_0673
IMG_9100
IMG_9100
DSC_0614
DSC_0614

This is Gumball the snake. A very, very sweet snake. I'm serious. I hate snakes. But I really enjoyed watching and petting this one.

DSC_0628
DSC_0628

A little reptile wrestling.

DSC_0648
DSC_0648
DSC_0691
DSC_0691
DSC_0704
DSC_0704

We stayed at a KOA campground in Rapid. It was recommended by our awesome neighbors and we loved it! Mostly, I loved that it was on the edge of town and there were no wild animals in the bushes. I have enough wild animals in my own care.

IMG_9125
IMG_9125

Campfires.

DSC_0713
DSC_0713
DSC_0757
DSC_0757

This is Derrick's favorite thing. He loves boiling up a quick can of veggies or water for coffee or hot dogs. He's so cute with his little mini propane heater thing.

IMG_9079
IMG_9079
IMG_9128
IMG_9128
IMG_9127
IMG_9127

Oh this was  another awesome day! We hit the

Rushmore Tramway Adventure Par

k and that was a blast!

IMG_9425
IMG_9425

The views on the chairlift were inspiring.

IMG_9423
IMG_9423
IMG_9163
IMG_9163

This face.

IMG_9263
IMG_9263

Leighton and Derrick got to spend an hour and half on the ariel adventure park and zipline.

IMG_9306
IMG_9306

This is every american ninja warrior kids dream.

IMG_9307
IMG_9307

And the dads too!

IMG_9272
IMG_9272

 In 7th heaven. 

IMG_9293
IMG_9293

That' s my man.

IMG_9267
IMG_9267

What a fun day!

IMG_9175
IMG_9175

 Super good. This is my super good. 

IMG_9204
IMG_9204

 I loved this smile I caught!

DSC_0769
DSC_0769

After the adventure park and a big thunder storm we spent the late afternoon looking just like this guy.

IMG_9385
IMG_9385

More smiles.

IMG_9421
IMG_9421

Bear Country USA

is really fun for kids.  It is especially fun for the moms who love seeing bears ONLY from inside a locked vehicle.

DSC_0843
DSC_0843

 Baby zoo. 

DSC_0889
DSC_0889
DSC_0907
DSC_0907

Ok, this was a pretty sweet photo I snapped. Love the bottom bear with his tongue hanging out.

IMG_9424
IMG_9424

On our last day, we hit the

Jewel Cave National Monument

. Spelunker #3 was all ready to descend down deep into the earth's crust via an elevator.

DSC_0913
DSC_0913

 Jewel Cave is believed to be the third largest cave system in the world. They believe that only 3% of it has been discovered. 

IMG_9445
IMG_9445

350ish feet beneath the surface of the earth. Yikes! A bit freaky.

DSC_0938
DSC_0938

 Jewel Cave explorers on our tour. 

DSC_0940
DSC_0940

This is the "get me out of here" face. It really was neat though. Yet again, another one of those adventurous times where I am inching further out of my comfort zone. Cheers to being a boy-mom!

IMG_9649
IMG_9649

On our way out of Custer State Park we wound our way into the beautiful Sylvan Lake. The only reason we found this sweet spot was thanks to Instagram. I searched for Black Hills fun stuff and I learned about this little gem of a lake. Just so much fun! We took a little one mile hike all the way around the lake and explored and awed at the beauty. It was the picture perfect day and this place is just perfect for a little day trip!

IMG_9580
IMG_9580

The swimming beach was adorable.

IMG_9537
IMG_9537
IMG_9542
IMG_9542

 Hiking with these guys is awesome. Don't be fooled. We are normal parents. While this was an amazing trip, don't let these cute faces fool you. They do disobey. They do push their parents to the brink of insanity. They do get yelled at and threatened. Derrick and I joke and  call our favorite parenting form TBP-Threat Based Parenting. It is not scientifically studied but it does work. We hate that it works and we hate that we succumb to it from time to time. But I like to be honest. So please don't let this perfect, serene photo make you believe that we live some picture perfect life. It's real peeps. I think right before or right after this picture we threatened to take away some form of media in the car. But, this is still an awesome picture. And this is still an awesome life. 

DSC_1001
DSC_1001
DSC_0947
DSC_0947

 Whoa........freaking out his mama. 

DSC_0960
DSC_0960

Leighton takes some photos.

DSC_1044
DSC_1044

 This was one of MY MOST FAVORITE moments from the trip. I stopped to grabbed this panoramic photo. You can sorta get the gist of the background scene of the beautiful Sylvan Lake setting. But in the foreground you will see a scene that we will forever be laughing about. This little flock of geese were peacefully grazing. Chase decided to sneak up to them. Goose takes after Chase!  And that sucker did not let up! He kept coming. Once he stopped and tricked us and then he reared back up and headed straight for Chase's butt! My photo got very whacked out because I was jumping and screaming and running away from the goose too. I would love to say that I ran straight for the goose that was threatening my son's life, but I didn't. I jumped, screamed and ran myself. I left my little son to defend himself from said goose! Who does that?!  My oldest boy just stood by and squealed and laughed at us. When I jumped, I almost fell off the little tiny bridge into the little tiny stream of water.  Derrick was too far ahead to do anything but shake his head at all of us. It was really, really hilarious. People fishing on both sides of this scene were laughing. We were all laughing! This was just one of those moments that you say, God, thank you for a place like this and your sense of humor. 

IMG_9527
IMG_9527

Well, it was now time to head back to our home state. On our way through the northern part of the Hills we decided to take a small detour through the Spearfish Canyon. Again, I had read online that we needed to find the Roughlock Falls in the canyon and see the beautiful views. It was really, really awesome! Most of it that is. I'll get to that.

DSC_1064
DSC_1064
DSC_1091
DSC_1091
DSC_1098
DSC_1098

 We finished up our waterfall exploration and we were tired! We hopped back in the car and headed down the canyon. The views really were amazing.  I was nervous because I don't love those windy, tiny mountain-side roads. And then, if you remember in the beginning of my post I mentioned that we would end up on the side of the road one more time. Well, this was it. A light went on and the tire pressure started dropping. At first we thought we could make it the next 20 miles on a slowly fading tire. But it wasn't slow. It was going down fast. I saw an approach and we pulled off. Wow, so we worked on the tire for a while. Derrick was tired. He has RA and while he is so blessed to be feeling so much better than he was 2 years ago, he still has to go easy on labor-intense work. And the entire day was labor intense. So, he worked and I got shaky. Our phones had no service. Zero. Zip. Notta. The sun was starting to hit the side of the canyon. Meaning soon, it would be disappeared. It was pretty hot. The kids were content watching a movie in the van. I was pacing. Derrick was working. I was hearing the narrator from I Shouldn't Be Alive in my head. Haha. As if, we would have died sleeping in our car in the canyon one night. We had a flipping cooler full of food and water. And it is a tourist place so someone was bound to stop. But, anxiety doesn't make sense guys. Anyway, I started praying because I just really didn't want to sleep in the van with three kids. The first few cars whizzed by. I waved a little but I think they weren't sure if I was just being friendly so they kept going?

IMG_9581
IMG_9581

Then, all of the sudden, these two huge pickups saw us and pulled in like the calvary had arrived!  This is Marcie and Norlan. Our new South Dakota friends! They were so happy to help.They had their grown sons

and a big bunch of grandsons with them. They all poured out of their trucks and came over to assist! Norlan got right to work whipping the tire on and helping us air the spare tire up. It was only at 50% aired up so it's a good thing they stopped and they had a little mini air compressor with them. I consider them an answer to my anxious mommy prayers! I really wish I would have taken a group picture of all of them when they were done, but I thought they might think I was a freak. So, I got Marcie's permission to take this one from her FB page instead. What an awesome bunch! We are so happy to have met them. Our home is always open for these guys if they ever get up north! We are so thankful for these two and the whole family!

Frokes
Frokes

Once we got on our way, we made it into Spearfish and had to spend the night one extra night as the tire shops were all closed for the evening. We grabbed a hotel with a pool and swam the night away. An old drunk guy in the hotel hot tub mistook me for Shania Twain which was really weird but also, like, somewhat of a compliment? Ha ha. The next day, Derrick and I toasted our Caribous and headed on the long journey back home. It was quite an adventure! South Dakota was really, really good to us. We had such a blast!  I have come to realize that I love the thrill of adventure and I love being in the outdoors with my boys. The bonus about South Dakota is that I didn't need to carry my bear spray! LOL!

IMG_9419
IMG_9419
IMG_9420
IMG_9420
IMG_9163
IMG_9163
IMG_9425
IMG_9425

This trip will go down in our family history books as one of our favorites! We really bonded in a different way on this trip. I would highly recommend the Black Hills to anyone looking for a really special place! It is especially awesome for kids. Good bye for now, Black Hills. We will surely be back!