National Park Trip Journal - Week 1

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This is the story of our National Park Trip in the June and July of 1999. This is a transcription of a journal we kept each night along the way. Each member of the family (Jim [Dad], Anne [Mom], Tommy [age 14] and Mark [age 12]) took turns writing a day's entry. The text is taken verbatim from the journal with only spelling and minor grammatical cleanup. Any more substantial changes or additions are noted.

We hope you enjoy hearing about our trip!

Day 1 - Sunday, June 27


We're off! We had an inauspicious start, to say the least. We spent a very busy day on Saturday doing last minute house things and loading the camper. Jim had just gotten back from his first trip abroad, to England, on Thursday. I'm sort of glad Mark had not gone to the state soccer tournament or we'd never be off. Anyway, about 9pm last night we closed and hitched up the camper Greetings from Niagara Falls! and the lights didn't work. Jim was out there in the dark with his voltmeter, trying to figure out what was wrong. So much for our 5 am start.

I was up at 6 am thinking of all that needed to be done. We found an auto parts store that opened at 8 on Sunday morning. Thank God! We were off at 11, stopped for lunch on the NY Thruway. We drove all the way to Niagara Falls--not bad! The boys were good. Mark read Harry Potter. Tom listened to Sid Fleishman's The Abracadabara Kid.

We pulled into the Cinderella Campground in Grand Island, NY about 8:00. Small campground, not many campers. Setup went fine. We had hot dogs and salad for dinner, then took a ride to the American Falls. It was fun to see them lit up in the dark. It was still around 80 degrees when we went to bed at about 11:00. We had a lot of rain during the night. A good first day.

Day 2 - Monday, June 28


I started off pretty good. I ate cereal and then took a shower. We saw Niagara Falls last night and enjoyed it so much we decided to take a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist. Maid of the Mist The Maid of the Mist was in Canada. We left the site at 9:10 in the morning. It was only 5 or 6 miles away.

In the boat we first saw the American Falls and then the Canadian side. The boat got very close to the falls. Luckily they handed out ponchos. There was a ton of spray. Even though we had ponchos, they didn't help much. It was awesome looking at it. Dad took some pictures. When I got off I was amazed how much I was soaked.

After, we got some lunch and headed west. We traveled 8 hours 47 minutes. We set up camp at 9:30 at Augusta, Michigan. Then we went to bed.

Day 3 - Tuesday, June 29


We had a really busy day. When we got up in the morning, we all took showers, ate breakfast, and packed up. We were out of the campground by 9:00. At about noon, we hit our first time change and switched the clocks back an hour. After we passed Chicago, at about 1:00, we stopped at a rest area and ate cold cuts for lunch. Then we basically drove for five hours straight, only stopping to get gas once. Sipping Margaritas on the banks of the Mississippi!

We crossed the Mississippi at about 5:00. Then we went back across to our campsite. We had a site right on the river. It was a beautiful night. The man next to us had some trained birds in his camper. Mark and I played goalie with the basketball until it fell in the river and I had to swim downstream and get it. Sleeping under the stars

We had barbequed chicken for supper. Mark and I played soccer with some younger kids near us. We also had a campfire that I built. I had some s'mores. Mark and I slept outside. We fought until about 11:00 when we went to sleep.

Altogether, we went through five states today. They were Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. We had a very busy and fun day.

Day 4 - Wednesday, June 30


A loooong day, almost 600 miles, from LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Badlands National Park. We got out fairly early (for us), 8:15 am. We had to go all the way across Minnesota Green Giant, Blue Earth, MN and most of the way across South Dakota, too. Minnesota was pretty flat, South Dakota a little more rolling. Both gave horizon to horizon views that were strange to my Eastern eyes. I had the constant sensation that I was on top of a large hill or mountain--probably because that's the only time we see to the horizon in the East. I guess that's what they mean by "Big Sky Country."

We stopped for lunch at the South Dakota border. Only 280 miles to Badlands! Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD We made another stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell--a big auditorium decorated inside and out with different color ears of corn (and other vegatation). That and a grain elevator seem to be the only things keeping Mitchell from drying up and blowing away. Missouri River

We enjoyed the view at the Missouri River, then gained an hour when we moved into the Mountain time zone.

When we got to Badlands, we bought our Golden Eagle pass and checked into the Badlands-Interior Campground in Interior, SD (population 64), just a mile or two outside the park.

When we set up the camper, we discovered a problem: a couple of rivets that attach the rail to the bed were sheared. I jury-rigged a bit for our two nights here, but we're not using the bed. We'll try to stop in Rapid City to get it fixed.

It's good to be at a real destination! We saw a little of the Badlands while driving in. They look spectacular. Tomorrow we have the day to explore.

Day 5 - Thursday, July 1


Badlands Overlook

What a beautiful day! We hiked a bit in the Badlands. Mark and Tom, hiking in the Badlands I did some. I took my cane, which helped. I climbed a 40 foot ladder, too. The weather was perfect, sunny with a breeze, temps in the 70's and 80's. Unusually comfortable for this time of year. We had buffalo burgers for lunch. A little well done, but not bad.

We drove out along the Badlands wall. So many different colors and layers to the formations. We went to a prairie dog town. They were so cute. Mark looked cute too, trying to take a picture of one. Then we drove to Wall, SD and visited Wall Drug.

Mark's Prairie Dog Picture Cooking Dinner Back at the campground, the boys took a swim. We relaxed and visited with our neighbors from Pennsylvania, John and Dani and their six girls. The three older ones invited Tommy to walk to town with them and the three younger ones thought Mark was great.

It was a nice day. Pretty country and we're all having fun. We had a nice steak for dinner. There were wild winds later at night and thunder and lightning in the distance.

Day 6 - Friday, July 2


It was an early start. We got up around 6:30 and took down the tent. Our neighbor Jacque woke up and went to the bathroom. I met her on the way because I was going to take a shower. When I made it to the bathroom there was a huge line of people. I decided not to take a shower then. I ate cereal and juice and then went to take a shower. When I got inside there were only a few people in line, so I decided to stay. When I got outside, Jacque, Alex and Jonlyn were waiting for me. I didn't know why until Jonlyn told me that they might see me at Mt. Rushmore. Jim. Tom & Mark at Mt. Rushmore

When I got back to the campsite, everything was ready. We put the cooler in the car and left. I said goodbye and we exchanged addresses, phone numbers and email. When we were in the car I memorized the phone number and email. It took us 2 1/2 hours to get to our campsite. The campsite was in Custer State Park.

Before then we had to get the camper fixed because Ma broke the bed. In Custer it was boring. It was probably because I missed the girls. We ate our big meal when we got there. We ate chili. It was great. On the side there was corn and white rice. Even though the chili was good, it didn't settle that great in my system. We decided to pack up everything to get an early start for Yellowstone. When that was done, we packed up bread and turkey for later. Mt. Rushmore

We got in the car and rode to Mt. Rushmore. It took about half an hour. When I saw it, I was amazed. I had never seen anything so beautiful. (Before then, we saw Crazy Horse. That was pretty neat. If that was finished it would be more amazing, but it isn't.) When we got out of the car it was awesome. It was almost real. The most amazing thing was the eyes. They looked so real.

We decided to stay until the lighting ceremony was over. We went to the visitors center to wander around. Then we watched a 13 minute video. After the video, I went to the gift shop. There was only screwed up stuff, but I ended up getting a pin. I was guessing Mom was waiting for me, so I went back to the center. I was wrong, so I wandered a little and came back.

When I came back, we decided to take a trail close up to the mountain. The trail was 0.6 miles long. On e the trail were some messed up kids. The went off the trail and climbed rocks. We came to a clearing and took a picture. I ran the rest of the way. Dad and Tom were way behind me.

Campground Friends By then, there was fog building up. When Tom and Dad came, we went to the car to eat. We had turkey roll-ups. They were good. Then we went back to take a seat. We were half an hour early. Dad said I could wander around, so I did. I wandered for 15 minutes and then came back. I waved to Mom. She said that Dad went to look for me. I went and looked for him. He said we were going home (Ed: because the monument had disappeared into the fog). I had found my first bear. (Ed: Dad, because he was grumpy like one.)

We started back to the car, and by golly, our friends were there. We talked a little and then took pictures. I noticed that Jacque and Jessica weren't there. John said that Jessica was depressed that there were no boys at their campground. We said our goodbyes and took off.

The ride back was an hour long. When we got back, we brushed our teeth and went to bed. I didn't get much sleep because Dad was snoring. Not only did Dad growl like a bear, he slept like one too.

Day 7 - Saturday, July 3


We got up way too early. They got us up at 6:00 in the morning. We had time for a drink of juice, then we packed up the camper and left. For the first hour, Mark and I slept. Then I woke up and had a donut and bagels and cream cheese. When we got into Wyoming, Mom and Dad stopped to get coffee. Wyoming was a really, really boring state. All you saw constantly was barren land with scattered oil rigs and cows every couple of miles.

Snow in Power River Pass When Mark woke up he ate breakfast and we listened to a James Bond tape. A little later we stopped at McDonalds and had a real breakfast. Soon we reached our first mountain pass at over 9,000 feet! We stopped her and I played in snow for a couple of minutes.

Mom and Dad didn't want to listen to the tape, so I listened with headphones. We stopped in Cody, Wyoming at about 3 o'clock. Here, we got groceries and ate. The burgers were pretty good, and Mark had a steak. Then we headed to Yellowstone. On the way, we ran into a really obnoxious car that was going 30 in a 45 mph zone. Finally, he pulled of and we went on our way.

We got into Yellowstone at about 5 o'clock. It took another hour and a half to get to our campground. We were delayed another half hour when Mark spotted an elk and we had to stop. (I wouldn't have put this in, but Mark made me.) We got to our site at 7 o'clock. They made us move all of our food, dishes and smelly items into the car because of all the bears in the area.

We then set up camp. Mom and Dad set up the camper while Mark and I set up the tent. Our campsite was really nice. The site had a concrete pull-through for the camper. We had to go down the road and turn around because the camper was going to be facing the wrong way. We had camp set up by 7:30.

Then we set up to eat supper. It was a small one because we had eaten a big lunch. Before we ate we cleaned out the cooler because half and half had spilled all over it. I was the unfortunate one who had to scrub everything in the cooler. Dad was in such a bad mood that we nicknamed him the Bear. Then we nicknamed Mom Screech Owl. We figured that since we were in Yellowstone the animal names would be appropriate. For supper we had grilled cheese and ramen noodles. I liked it a lot, but Mark ate almost nothing. After supper we cleaned up and Mark worked on his record breaking journal response (yesterday’s). While he was doing this, I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. I was really, really tired. When Mark came in he was kind of noisy. I was really tired and agitated, so I got too mad at him. He mistankenly thought I wanted him to leave, so he did. He was back in about 5 minutes. Soon after we both fell to sleep. I was awakened an hour or two later from loud thunder and lightning. I went to sleep for good. (The record is broken!)

On to Week 2 of the Trip