KOA’s ain’t what they used to be | SD Wrapup

KOA’s ain’t what they used to be. Growing up, Greg’s family frequented KOA campgrounds. So did the Kind clan. Back then, we were thrilled if there was a pool (never heated) and we could rustle up a quarter to dive for.

Our July 2010 stay at the Mount Rushmore KOA was like staying at a resort, surrounded by the gorgeous Black Hills scenery at the edge of Custer State Park.

Matt makes his way to the top of the water slide, built into the side of a hill.

Bounce pillow - like a gigantic trampoline

Campfire Skits

Of course we get a perk no one else enjoys: Evening skits by our very own Caroline.

It's FUN to stay at the KOA

Trail Ride

Planning our South Dakota vacation, Matt was most highly anticipating a trail ride. We did so on our last day in South Dakota, and it was a perfect ending to a great trip. It was a more rugged ride than I anticipated, but gorgeous scenery aboard patient, sturdy stock.

About as close as Greg got to a horse. Or a trail ride.
My horse was named for one of my favorite figures: Solomon. I aspire to serene wisdom.


Camper packed and GPS set, we headed back home, hopefully with a new-found mindset from the west:

Dead Guys | S.D. Camping Part Deux

More about our South Dakota Camping Adventures…

One of our favorite parenting techniques is duping kids (ours and others) into learning something through fun. Museums, parks, trails, sports events, the kitchen and especially camping trips are great ways to do this. For instance:

Our day in Deadwood included a tour of town, sparking discussion about what it must've been like back then.
The re-enactment of Wild Bill's final card game - "the first and last time he sat with his back to the door in a saloon."
Now we know why it's called "Dead Man's Hand."

Of course we had to help the children understand how to perch at a bar, order up and start a tab. Educational. Purely educational.

Matt fit in a little too well in Deadwood, liking the slot machines... We even won (why is it the person morally opposed to gambling made the spin that got us $225?)
Site of our winning streak

Deadwood is a pretty little town – View from the cemetery:

And views of the cemetery. I’ve always had a morbid fascination with Calamity Jane who, we learned, drank 1 quart of whiskey per day and died very young. Again, educational for the kids.

Calamity Jane’s grave — next to Wild Bill at her request
Casinos can be rather elegant places for the ladies - coming down the Grand Staircase at the Midnight Star
Caroline wondered why there was a sofa in the ladies room. So I explained how women swooned back in the 1870s (not to mention how some, like Calamity Jane, just needed a, um, rest...)
A look at some of our leaders
Downtown Rapid City has a collection of 40 life-size statues of U.S. Presidents. We met a few of these great leaders:

A peanut farmer (in my humble opinion, a lousy President, yet wonderful person who has done so much good in his time since his White House years.)



President Ford...
...and his dog. (Caroline just sees the world differently.)
My fav, Tom Jefferson. A writer and all, you know...
ART ALLEY - Apparently this alley downtown Rapid City was frequently decorated by artists, so they turned it into an art market. Cool way to embrace creativity.

Kids at Mount Rushmore

Of course one highlight was the monument at Mount Rushmore. Instead of the obligatory shots in front of the 4 men immortalized there, I’ll share this neat profile view of Mr. Washington that impressed the kids more because it was more unique:


Our visit to Crazy Horse started a great campfire discussion about Native Americans… Hopefully our kids’ kids have kids, so they are able to see this sculpture someday. Like my friend Mary says, when they finish it, you’ll be able to see it from the moon.

The best things begin with writing: Letter from Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.
Admiring more of Korczak's creations...

South Dakota Camping FUN

Okay, enough of the blatant history education. On to some pure fun (with more subtle educational undertones…)

Bear Country USA was a thoroughly delightful experience. We highly recommend it.


We arrived in the grizzly area at lunchtime. “Stay in your cage,” the guidebook tells you. No problem following direction there, surrounded by dozens and dozens of bears headed for their lunch.
Reindeer on the moveThe baby bears were adorable; this little cub trying to get over a log had Caroline in stitches for hours afterwards.

Testing our balance

Greg and I have happy childhood memories of visiting Cosmos. Hopefully our kids do now, too. 

 Keystone: More Wild West

At the base of Mount Rushmore, Keystone is half old-west-tourist-town with a twist and half new-development. We liked the whole place.

All edu-tainment!

Quite the cast of characters | SD Camping Trip Part I

Our two eldest kids are in the midst of studying U.S. history–one of my passions, as well. ‘Perfect time to take our *new* camper to the “other Dakota.”

We met some great characters.

First stop, of course, was Wall Drug. I’ve always loved the story of how billboards for free ice water salvaged a young family’s business in remote Wall, S.D.  Read the story here. Today, the billboards help pass the miles. And look who was there when we did stop in:

Julia and a Jackalope
Truth in Advertising
The 100's of miles of billboard advertising held true.

 “Rabbit” City

We set up camp at the Rapid City KOA, a tidy, cozy, convenient place on the edge of this pretty town. Caroline was devastated, a few days later, to learn it wasn’t “Rabbit City.” We’d see lots of bunny friends on our hikes around the campground, and it seemed to fit : )!
Character breakfast
Far more unique than Disney-style, we had personalized pancakes from Cowboy John each morning. A real-life bronc and bull rider and now a cowboy poet, John grills up all you can eat flapjacks every morning. Edible creations:
The girls and their horses | That's Cowboy John in the background.
For those of you who don't know, Matt wears 1 of 3 shirts. Two are red Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews versions; One is the same T, in black. Cowboy John did the logo on a whole new medium!
The kids loved devising new shapes for Cowboy John to grill. He never disappointed. A few more:
for Soccer Girl Julia
Hoops action
George, Tom, Theodore & Abe
The morning after our rodeo experience, Cowboy John told Matt and I about his bull-riding adventures. During one ride in Calgary, the bull broke its leg and landed on John, leaving him in a coma for 8 days. When he did wake up, his first words: “Is the bull okay?”  Old West tale? Maybe, but it made for a great breakfast conversation.
Evening poetry
Two evenings during our stay, John shared stories, poems and songs. Caroline and I snuggled up for the first show; Greg even went with me the next show (!). More about Cowboy John.
Pool in the backyard = date nights
Literally. The pool was in our backyard, and the kids met friends there from all over the United States, Canada and Europe. They played tag and other games all over the campground, while Greg and I had a little “date” campfireside. Nice.
 Part of the reason we chose this time for this trip was the PRCA Black Hill Roundup in Belle Fourche. It was a great way to spend Independence Day. Cowboy and ranch life is all about truth, justice and the American Way. Of course the festivities all began with a parade:
We’d never seen so many horses — and the kids have never scooped up so much candy!
Then it was off to the Rodeo Grounds, adjacent to the baseball field, where we imagined Twins player and Belle Fourche native Jason Kubel learning his craft! Must’ve been tough to wield a bat in spikes when most boys wielded a rope in boots…
Matt, always the ultimate compromiser, at our trail ride later in the week:
After a very moving, patriotic opening ceremony, including a flyover by a hometown boy in his B1-B before he goes back for another tour in Iraq, the rodeo began. First up: bronc riding. I had more fun watching the kids’ faces. They had fun taking it all in, from the clown to the behind-the-scenes manueuvering. The highlight: After 58 riders had tried, 1 cowboy from Texas stayed on his 8 seconds and won $10,000. What a character!

Ain’t our first rodeo (well, Julia’s second…)

As Greg and I watched fireworks on the hills around our campground during an evening hike, the kids played in the pool. Again. They also had some serious checkers games at the huge board:

By bedtime, we were all lookin’ to the next day, fixin’ to take in s’more western action…

Caroline in her parade souvenier: Tshirt from DFL Senate Candidate Stephanie

Next up: Deadwood.

….post to come….