Rushmore Road Trip – Day 1

Next stop on the Christensen National Parks Tour 2020-2023 was Mount Rushmore. We took 12 days trekking back and forth across Wyoming with some adventure, some relaxation and lots of learning.

Before the trip, I spent most of my prep time planning activities for the boys to do in the car. The teacher in me makes sure that we’re learning something everywhere we go– whether or not the kids realize it! Actually, it’s better when they don’t realize it. Some things worked well and some things fell flat. Here’s a list of the things we packed and a review of how they went over.

  • Trip Map: As I was planning, I made a Google map with all of the planned stops, activities and hotels on it. I printed one for each kid with a color coded key so they could keep track of where we were and how far we had to go. This was appealing in the beginning but I think my 10 year old was the only one who looked at it later in the trip. This was really helpful for the adults though to have this map downloaded to our phones for navigation! Especially through the areas where internet was spotty.
  • License Plate Game: This is probably our family’s favorite road trip game. We usually just keep a list on a random scrap of paper but this time I printed one out for each person in the car. We found almost 30 before we even left Utah! It was a successful trip.
  • States and Capitols: The idea was to talk about and learn the state capitols but we didn’t do anything with it this time.
  • Various Road Trip I Spy Games: There are SO MANY free printables for road trips. I can’t even find the ones that I printed out to post here because there are so many. We did a random road trip I Spy, a road sign I Spy, Tic-Tac-Toe (we didn’t use because we wanted LESS interaction between the boys, not more…), Car Make I Spy, Food Chain I Spy and a word search. The I Spy pages were a huge hit and the best choice I made was to only give them one a day. Otherwise they would have burned through them all and been bored quicker!
  • Pioneer Stories: I gave each of them a story from one of our pioneer ancestors to read. The idea was that they could read the story and share with each other. This was a big bomb. Too much reading. Maybe it would have worked if I’d given it to them before the trip. They just weren’t interested. I just told the stories instead. Here is one of them.
  • Movies: Our Honda Pilot is a 2009 with no built in DVD player. I know. We’re ancient. We loaded up our iPad with movies we own and let the boys take turn choosing the movie to watch. I loaded some movies that were related to our trip: National Treasure II (Mt Rushmore is in it!), Annie Get Your Gun (to introduce them to Buffalo Bill + it’s a musical!) & 17 miracles (pioneer handcart company).
  • Books: They each chose a few books to bring but honestly they didn’t read them in the car too much. My oldest would bring them into the hotel.
  • Activity Books: We just pulled old coloring books and activity books out of our supply at home. These were occasionally used.
  • Books on Audible: We only finished one book that we had been working on before the trip (Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis). They much preferred watching a movie or doing I Spy.
  • Junior Ranger Packets: We always do the Junior Ranger Packets at the National Parks. Sometimes I print them off beforehand and sometimes we just pick them up at the ranger station. They are so good though! Lots to learn and it makes them practice reading and writing. 🙂 It’s especially nice to have them before visiting the parks so they can know what to look for while they are there.

We left Utah County Friday morning, July 2nd. We stopped just outside of Evanston at Bear River State Park to eat our picnic lunch, use the restroom and play at the park although most of what actually happened was playing hide and seek with prairie dogs. 🙂

Our first official stop was Fossil Butte National Monument. The website advertised Free Fossil Digging on Fridays and Saturdays between 11 am and 3 pm. We were disappointed to find out that they have discontinued letting guests to dig because of the fragility of the site they are currently excavating. We took the 2 mile round trip hike anyway, and were glad we did. The paleontologist intern who was working told us that she had just finished clearing the dirt and mud from the winter off of the top layer. She had just begun registering the first fossils of this year that day. She let the boys sweep a little dust off of the top of the rock and they were able to spot a few fossils that she hadn’t even seen yet. That was fun for them! It was a much needed wiggle stop too!

Looking for fossils

We spent the rest of the day in the car driving to Casper and was easily the most frustrating part of our trip. Instead of following the pioneer trail like I had planned, we drove up to Lander to find dinner. When there wasn’t much that looked appealing and the streets crowded with other travelers, we drove on to Riverton for a quick stop at Wendy’s and got to Casper via Highway 26. Wendy’s dining room (and every other fast food place in Riverton) closed early so our only option was the drive through. We had a 6 year old who needed to find a restroom and 4 hangry boys. Our “quick stop” ended up being over an hour. We made the most of it by finding a park and letting the kids get their crazies out.

By the time we got to our hotel in Casper, it was 10:00 pm. The room was over 80 degrees and the only fan in the room didn’t work. I was efficient at getting the cooler unloaded into the fridge, the boys changed into pajamas and situated in their beds and then treating myself to a refreshing shower. However, when Derek went to ask the front office for a new fan, they decided to switch us from the family suite to two connecting rooms where the air conditioning was actually working! In the end it was much more comfortable for us but packing the boys, all of the food and gear back up in the middle of the night contributed to it being a LONG day!

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