Thursday, September 03, 2015

NW Day Four: Big Sky

NW Day Four: Big Sky

This morning, we managed to get out of the hotel only 50 minutes behind schedule. I don’t understand what’s happening in the morning. We didn’t have this problem on any of our other road trips. But it is a definite issue now.

On the bright side, we did have caramel rolls from Krolls Café for breakfast. (Ok, I still haven’t figured out the name of that German American diner. ) Also, the Jedi’s patience with us is remarkable.

Our first stop was just thirty minutes down the highway at the Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There was a trail down into the canyon, which I had presented to the family as an option when we were trip planning. 

--A word about how our trip planning process went this time. We wrote to all the states, technically, we filled out a ‘pleae send me stuff’ form on the states’ travel websites. When we got tourism brochures, we spread them out on the coffee table and looked through them to make a wish list for each state. We also solicited for suggestions on Facebook and through friends. We checked out suggestions on And from all that, we made a wish list.

At this point, the Jedi sat down and plotted out a route based on the key places we wanted to visit (Glacier, Seattle, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore.) Then he tried to break the drive time into manageable chunks each day, while still leaving us with time to make stops for food and activities each day.  He selected cities and towns to be our destinations for each night based on the route and the drive time.

Then the Jedi and I went back over the wish list to rule out locations that were too far off of our route. And then, the work of actually forming a possible itinerary started. Beginning with our first day, we went over the route, looked at the stops we wanted to make, searched trip advisor and road food for places to eat. Used google maps to come up with how long it would take to drive between each location, and came up with a potential working itinerary. (On the itinerary document, we include the name of each location, its GPS co-ordinates if needed, information about hours and ticket prices, and a link to its website.)

When we had about a weeks worth of stuff planned out, I printed a copy of the itinerary for each child, had them get a pencil and a clip board, and then the itinerary got graded. We sat in the living room and used the media center to pull up a map for that day as well as a link to information/website/pictures about each potential stop for food, recreation, or whatever. The kids then wrote on their clipboard and gave each idea a grade A—F. I told them that I would take their grades into consideration, but that some things we were doing because the Jedi or myself really wanted to do them.

--Back to us in the Painted Canyon. There was a hiking trail, but the hiking trail had received D’s from both kids, so we declined taking it. Instead we just took pictures at the overlook. 

I forced Boybot to take a selfie with me and Sweetling.

We spent a little longer than I had planned enjoying the view and the beautiful day.
Painted Canyon was right off the highway. I mean right off. It was marked as a rest stop. As we had pulled into the visitor’s parking lot, we drove over a cattle grate. We paused on the cattle grate as we drove out, because the kids didn’t know what it was. The Jedi was explaining that the cattle don’t like to walk over them, because they sense that their hooves would get stuck in the grating. 

“Although,” said the Jedi, “this grate is probably to keep the bison in the park, rather than keep the cows out.  Not that the flimsy little fence they have would stop a bison.”

We all agreed, the five foot tall not even chain link fence, would not stop a bison. 

We’ve seen a bison charge before; that stuff is no joke.

And yet, as we pulled out of the park the Jedi said, “Oh look, there they are now. Down by the fence.”
And indeed they were. Down by the fence, happily grazing. That’s twice we’ve seen bison on this trip. Both times they were acting like peaceful, calm animals. (I don't have a photo, just a movie taken from the passenger window as we passed. Those never load on the blog well. Sorry!)

The Painted Canyon was right off the highway, and I *thought* our next stop was also right off the highway. It certainly was right *next to* the highway on google maps.
It turns out right next to is not the same as right off the highway, so we had a bit of a drive to get to it. But this turned out to be a wonderful thing because our drive took us past….


Their burrows filled a field along both sides of a park road. We sat in the van and watched them and listened to them squeak. One of us, I won’t say who, tried to hatch an elaborate, yet fool proof plot to lure one or two of them into the van to take home. Sadly, this plan got vetoed by the rest of the family.

Sweetling said, “That’s ok, Mommy, maybe we can find you a stuffed animal prairie dog to take home.”

The Jedi said, “At least that option wouldn’t have the plague.”

So, I was unjustly forced to leave my prairie dogs behind, and we continued on down the road, out of North Dakota and into Montana. 

Oh, though the prairie dogs were clearly my favorite, the view from Vista Trail was also cool.
 As was the not-really-too-long drive up and back.

We stopped in Glendive and ate lunch at Li’s Chinese Restaurant. It was a small family run place and shared half a building with the Wagon Wheel Saloon. Li’s was clearly the place to eat lunch on a Sunday, because the little dining room was packed. We got the last empty table. The buffet was, like the restaurant itself, small but good. We all filled and cleared at least two plates. The Jedi and the kids ordered smoothies from the surprisingly long list of options. They ordered strawberry-banana, strawberry-kiwi, and mango-banana. We got them to go, and headed out to find a park with river access.

For a small town, Glendive had a LOT  of city parks which included everything from a splash park to a skateboard park. But in the end, we found a boat access ramp with some parking. We parked, walked down the ramp, and headed out along the rocky shores of the Yellowstone River to hunt for agates. Within a minute or less, Boybot was holding a huge stone with some (we think) agate deposits. Our rock hunted adventure was SO plentiful, that we spread all of our finds out to pick just the best specimens to keep. It was a huge success and rated on the kids lists of favorites for the trip.

Fun fact: Did you know the distance across Montana, from east to west, is about the same as the distance between New York and Chicago? This made for a long drive day.

With rest stops with signs like this...

Between the late start and the extra time at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we wound up rolling into Pompey’s Pillar just 15 minutes before the gate closed. The ranger at the gate gave us 30 minutes to drive up, hike the steps up the rock, take our pictures, and  get the van back out. OR, he said, we could park the van outside of the gate and walk the half mile or sso to the rock and take all the time we wanted. We did the drive and the power walk up the stairs to take pictures of Clark’s engraving on the rock.

With 3 minutes to spare, Boybot and I ran (Yo Adrien!) up to the very top of Pompey’s Pillar to take photos from the top. Totally worth it.

We jogged back to the van, and was out of the gate in the allotted time. From outside, I took some distance photos of the Pillar.

And of the field of sunflowers between us and the pillar.

This, of course, had us hitting Billings Montana around 8:30 for dinner. We had originally planned on eating at The Rex, but it turned out to be a bit more high-brow than we wanted. We were all in the mood for cowboy steak, not fine-dining steak. So instead, we did a quick trip adviser search and headed to Montana Rib and Chop House. 

We walked in, and there were patrons sitting at tables with cowboy hats on. One of the staff complemented Sweetling on her Strongbad shirt. There were posters on the walls for Monday night football specials. We knew we had found our people. The steak was *amazing*. I was too hungry to remember to take a picture of mine, which is a shame because it was incredible. 

The Jedi, on the other hand, remembered to take a photo of his steak and the loaded potato Sweetling and I had to split because it was bigger than either our our HEADS.

Oh, and our server wrote her name upside down and backwards on our table in a single second in cursive with two crayons. (It was right side up for us who were sitting at the table.) We were pretty impressed by that trick.

We were too stuffed for dessert, which is saying a lot for us. We wound up rolling in to the hotel around 11:30. Fortunately, we have a late start morning the next day and don’t need to wake up till 8.

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