Guess what I went on vacation.
It was AWESOME.
It was also exhausting, but that’s just because it was nine days and we were camping which is something we’ve never done and we were also in a BUS.
ANyhOw I’m gonna give you guys a day-by-day breakdown of everything we did because it was epic and ridiculous and entirely typical for my family.
We were meant to leave the house at five AM. That was the plan. However, we are a family of eight and nothing ever goes to plan, so we ended up leaving closer to six. Which was still fine. Plus we got french toast sticks which are one of the best things humans have ever created, just so you know.
And so we set out on our adventure, bus crammed full of camping supplies and snacks and expertly balanced shelves of sleeping bags and suitcases courtesy of Emily, our official Head Of Organization. We traveled across gravel roads (which are MUCH bumpier in a bus than a truck, turns out) and then into our first new state, South Dakota.
South Dakota is pretty cool.
For the first, like, half of the state maybe, it didn’t feel much different from home. Like you know how places just have vibes, and you can tell that the place where you are is that place? Yeah, no, first half of South Dakota had no vibes.
And then BOOM
Y’all ever seen pictures of the South Dakota Badlands? They are pretty cool. Not climate-wise, of course, it was stinkin hot, but the colors! The colors were very cool. Like a Minecraft mesa, but washed out and pale, and with lots of little ravines and cliffs on the flat bits between the huge rock monoliths. And rattlesnakes. I mean there were supposed to be rattlesnakes but we didn’t see any. Did see some awesome birds though.
Then we went to the famous Wall Drug. Which is a store. Like, a historical thing that apparently has something to do with free water in the old-timey-times. It was super cool, had a ton of different shops with touristy things like hoodies and dish towels and stickers.
Speaking of stickers.
It was around this time that this trip turned from a simple adventure into a quest.
A quest to collect stickers to put on the bus.
Also, to collect one of every flower we saw.
Also also, there was an animatronic dinosaur and it tracked me and Emily with its eyes and was legitimately terrifying.
So yeah, Wall Drug is pog.
By Thursday night we were in Belle Fourche in a hotel and I was sick as a dog. Gorgeous hotel we stayed in, a lovely storm outside, and there I was with a splitting headache losing my dinner while everyone else swam in the pool.
Typical of me, honestly.
But don’t worry, it was all fine, and then the next morning we set out for Mount Rushmore!
Friday morning was gorgeous and smelled like rain and MAN the hills were gorgeous. I have since decided that the country of Ehren in my Leifer series looks just like the Black Hills. It’s official. I’m the author so I get to do what I want.
One thing that weirded me out about South Dakota is how quiet it is. So like, when we made it to Mount Rushmore, there were a million people there but it . . . wasn’t loud? Like everyone was just being quiet.
I wasn’t used to it, to put it simply.
Rushmore itself was epic. Just . . . just huge. I’m not a fan of huge things (recently found out I have megalophobia, thanks Shelby) but as long as I didn’t think about it too hard it was very cool to look at. And there were flags everywhere, and underneath the viewing platform there’s a whole museum and I love museums. And one of our friends from church happened to be there at the same time with her family and so she talked to my mom and Emily and I tried and failed to avoid social interaction.
We also found some lovely flowers and it was a good morning all around.
The rest of the day we spent driving through the Black Hills, marveling at the gorgeousness and squealing about rivers and creeks and things. We stopped at Hill City and found unbearably soft alpaca wool items, stickers, and the best hoodie ever in the world ever, it is The Official Aislinn Hoodie and I have been wearing it every day since. After that we may have gotten a little lost trying to find out campsite, but we ended up at the best place possible; in the middle of a spruce forest, next to a lake, with rose quartz everywhere, and no bears whatsoever.
After getting the tent and fire and all set up, we made our way down to the lake, which despite the fact that it had a sandy beach, was just absolutely lovely.
But here, my friends, is where the first true adventure began.
You see, this lake was the home of a family of geese.
You might have some idea of where this is going.
Me and the children, of course, avoided the geese by a lot. We own one. We know how they are. But there were these boys, right, that were camped a few spots down. There was Dark Blue Shirt, Light Blue Shirt, and a tiny one in a Green Shirt.
And these boys were picking a fight with the geese.
The geese that have babies.
These boys are dead.
So me and Emily start watching them, because what else were we supposed to do? We watched them approach the geese, shouting challenges and waving their arms, and then watched them shriek in terror and flee back to the safety of the road when the father hissed and charged at them. Blue Shirts were leading the repeated advances, while little Green Shirt sat back with his head in his hands, clearly regretting his life choices that led to this battle.
Eventually they gave up, realizing that picking a fight with a Canada goose is only going to end in pain and humiliation. But not before they noticed us watching.
Dark Blue shirt assured us that they were not in fact running away. Green Shirt declared that they were mafia geese and that was why they had to be attacked. Light Blue Shirt turned back as they were biking away and shouted in what was assumedly his most manly voice,
“We OWN this land!”
We managed to refrain from hysterical laughter until they were out of earshot.
The rest of the night passed in a chill manner, sitting around the fire and reading and whatnot. Settling in the tent was mildly uncomfortable, but I was sure I would sleep like a rock.
I was wrong.
Sleeping in a tent in the mountains is not only supremely uncomfortable, it is stinking COLD.
We woke up with the sun and even hours later, when we were packed up and moving on from the campsite, it had barely warmed up.
Nothing of much import happened for a few hours, as we bounced along through what was left of South Dakota and transitioned into Wyoming.
The biome change was unnecessarily stark.
One minute we’re driving through rolling hills covered in spruce, rocky ground and tiny creeks, then all of a sudden we are in flat scrubland, horses everywhere, red dirt and stinking MOUNTAINS.
Cowboy country, just like in the books.
And there were these fences all along the roads, huge wooden ones, and it turns out they’re for keeping snow off the roads! Crazy.
So anyhow we went through Wyoming, and the terrain gradually changed from gorgeous movie-worthy scenery to . . . kinda grubby sandy stuff. I dunno, it just wasn’t very interesting.
Then came the mountains.
At first we just thought they were clouds, because those little white patches above grayish sky were too high up to be anything except clouds.
Yeah we were wrong.
However, when we got close enough to those glorious mountains to actually start going up . . . the brakes started squeaking.
Really not a good sign when you’re driving a jury-rigged bus about to go into mountain wilderness.
Hence the next few hours were spent in Casper, Wyoming, waiting for brake pads at a parts shop and doing things that have most likely never been done in a bus, mainly blasting I See A Dreamer over the bluetooth speakers while one of our party wore a monofin mermaid tale.
I can’t imagine anyone else doing that so I’ll say we’re the only ones who ever have.
Eventually the brake pads were acquired and we found ourselves in a hotel, waiting as our dad, the Only Man Ever, fixed the bus with impressive speed and dexterity as he does with everything else. Then everyone else watched Jurassic Park and I hid on the other side of the bed and read so as not to get nightmares.
Sunday morning we went to a Walmart. It was terrifying. We were yelled at by a crazy man. But I also got a cool hair thingy so it all worked out.
And then we drove some more!
We skirted around the mountains instead of going through them. We went all the way up to Montana, which was very cool.
For a while it was cool.
Before we go any further, a very popular bumper sticker in Montana says ‘Get Lost In Montana’. There’s even an Owl City song about it.
We did that, actually.
You see, when it came time to go back down into Wyoming, the GPS got a little confused.
We were on an interstate, you see. Then that interstate turned into a highway. That highway turned into a rural paved road. That paved road turned to gravel. Then to dirt.
And all along this road was a concerning, no, distressing amount of abandoned buildings. Like, the amount of abandoned buildings one would find in an apocalypse game, like The Long Dark. For every inhabited house, there were three caved-in, overgrown ones.
Eventually the slightly-sketchy dirt road turned into little more than a path.
Through a horse pasture.
Needless to say we were getting a little worried at this point.
So we stopped the bus, and watched the gorgeous herd of horses with their teeny tiny baby gallop away from us and also the prairie dog town come up to scream at us. Dad walked ahead, and then he told us to follow, because right around the bend was the most incredible view we’d seen yet. It was just . . . a heavenly valley, with mountains around, and the sun setting just perfectly to illuminate it with golden light.
So it was kinda worth it.
Once we backtracked and found the right way to go (the GPS still insisting the way to the interstate was along the horse path, by the way) we passed through two of the creepiest towns I’ve ever seen in my life; Edgar and Bridger.
More than half of the town was abandoned.
It was just unsettling, okay, how would a town just leave so many empty, broken down buildings?
Is Montana okay?
We also saw a messed up sign and the only thing left on it was ‘Gar Goop’ and it made us laugh for five minutes.
Then we made it back into Wyoming, into the deserty area, and looked for a place to stay.
Then BOOM out of NOWHERE comes these huge mesa cliffs!
There was no mesa before!
And now there was!
The biome changes came hard and fast and we were in no way ready for it.
But in the mesa, there was a campsite. Now in this campsite, there were cacti and all manner of hostile prickly plants, and also bones and fire ants. So, we slept in the bus. But only after cooking and making sure no food got anywhere (because apparently bears lived in the desert??? I don’t really think the bears were as much of an issue as the lake cryptid. But we’ll get to that in a minute) and watching the insane amount of stars until we got too tired to keep our eyes open.
So about that lake cryptid.
Down the hill from the campsite was this gorgeous lake, surrounded by soft red dirt. Obviously Emily and I ran down there as soon as possible after we’d packed everything up.
But this lake was weird.
For one thing, there were a lot of fresh footprints along the edge, both human and animal, but like . . . nobody had been down there yet?
And it smelled weird.
But the scariest thing was right after we spotted a grimy, sludgy pair of abandoned socks floating in the scum near the shore. We heard this sound. And sounds are not very odd on their own, of course, but this sound was concerning because of what kind of sound it was, and what we saw as we heard it.
It was the unmistakable sound of something very large launching into the water, slooshing and making a little wake as it goes. And we could see exactly where the sound was coming from, right across the water from us, at the base of one of the mesa cliffs.
But nothing was there.
Not a single ripple disturbed the water.
Needless to say, we were slightly worried about this development.
After making a tactical retreat from the water (coming across a pile of half-rotted fish on our way, which in my opinion are much more likely to attract bears than toothpaste, but whatever), we set off for our next destination.
Yellowstone National Park.
The hype was real.
Once there we immediately found ourselves a mountain pond and stuck our hands in it, because what else are you gonna do? And then we continued our sacred quest of getting ALL of the flowers, because there are many kinds of flowers in Yellowstone Park.
(I don’t think we ever figured out whether that was illegal or not, so don’t tell anybody)
We went so high up in the mountains that there was snow!
There was a huge lake, I’ve forgotten the name of it, but it was very big and very pretty and very very cold. There were cool rocks.
Later in the day we got to the geysers. Not Old Faithful, we didn’t make it there, but we saw all the little ones and the rainbow puddle ones and we saw the many hats claimed by the water, and hiked like twelve miles to try to see a big rainbow one but never reached it.
(It wasn’t twelve miles. More like one and a half.)
After that we made our way out of the park, stopping once more at a river and it was so indescribably lovely that I won’t describe it. We saw surprisingly few wildlife, aside from a few buffalo and a handful of elk and some geese, although we were warned of the wild Yellowstone beasts at literally every moment possible.
OKAY EXCEPT FOR THE RAVENS I FORGOT ABOUT THE RAVENS.
I am now officially in love with ravens, just you know.
Outside of Yellowstone was a lovely little town where we bought things, and at the gas station there was a sign that said “We have cheaper gas than Idaho!”
Turns out they were not wrong.
We found another lovely hotel to spend the night, and Emily swam in the pool with her mermaid tail and was absolutely boss. The next morning, we would go into Idaho with no idea what adventures would await us.
Idaho was fantastic, okay. We found our campsite rather early, and then we set off to explore in the bus. We found Mesa Falls (both the Lower and Upper versions) and there were birds there!!! So many birds!!! And I very much wanted to be misted upon by the waterfall but alas, we couldn’t get close enough.
After this we went on a sort of ‘optional objective’. We saw a sign that said Warm Springs, and thought that might be a cool place to check out, and so we set off on yet another unpaved road, where there were most definitely bears in the flower fields around us, though we saw none.
The unpaved road went on for a long time with no springs in sight, and we began to wonder if perhaps we were having another Montana situation. But eventually we came upon the springs!
The location was, in fact, where the river we were camping by came out of the mountain, and it was honestly probably the single most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.
Also the coldest
GOSH spring water is cold.
Like, in the part of the river by the shore we were on, the water was slow and calm and cool, and there were snails and such in it. But go more than five feet out and suddenly you are SLAMMED by water so cold your legs instantly start locking up and you feel as though knives are stabbing into your flesh except it’s not knives, it’s stinking cold water.
I don’t even know how long we spent there, a few hours, and it was just heaven. Also!!! There was a bridge, and under the bridge there was a nest of baby birds! And the mother was nearby, and Emily and I did The Wiggle Dance of Friendship with her, so now we’re best friends with a mother bird with incredibly cute children.
Also near the spring was a cabin that you could rent, and adjacent to the cabin was a building with a sign that said,
DO NOT ENTER: BIOHAZARD
Yeah I don’t know what that was about, better not to ask.
After we decided to leave the Best Optional Objective Ever — wet and muddy but quite happy, sides the fact we were leaving — we traveled back to our campsite and played in the river there.
The river we camped by was a continuation of the first, and it was called Warm River.
It was really cold, actually.
I guess maybe that’s just a river thing.
But!!! In the river I found a rock, way out in the middle, and I walked out and I sat upon it in the sun and thought about things and was just happy. Ravens and ducks milled about on the shore and I watched them and talked to them, and a teeny tiny little bird boy hopped around in the shallow water and played under tree roots and broke my heart with love and adoration. I have no idea how long I actually sat there, I just know that mom told me to come back when the sun was almost down.
I started out the night sleeping on an air mattress.
I ended the night with a flat air mattress and aching bones.
AND IT WAS SO COLD
SO VERY COLD
Apparently, it turns out that in the mountains up north next to a freezing river, it gets really cold at night, actually.
But now, having achieved our Main Objective of camping in Idaho, it was time to head home. Which actually involved going back through Yellowstone into Wyoming. It was quite lovely, except for the fact that SOMEBODY decided to stop on the road for a half hour to look at a baby buffalo and held up traffic for fifteen miles. Other than that it was lovely though, and we came back out in Wyoming and proceeded to make our way all the way back to Casper.
We passed more mesa cliffs, except they were entirely different ones than the ones that we camped at before, and we went through the Bridger Tetons and briefly visited Jackson Hole, and saw many antelope and buffalo and even one trumpeter swan. By the time it got dark we were at our destination, and holed up in a very nice hotel and got hot chocolate and apple juice at like 10:30pm. This would be our last night but one before reaching home.
Finally we left Wyoming! I have nothing against Wyoming but we spent so much time there, man. But we left! We made our way to our grandparent’s ranch and reached there about the time it was getting dark and spent a chill evening with them and it was great.
Not much else happened Thursday.
We left our grandparent’s house late in the morning, after a delicious breakfast and a visit to their horses.
The home stretch!
Only around six hours left in our journey!
The time flew, the snacks disappeared with unprecedented speed, and finally we made it to . . .
Well not home yet.
First we stopped at our aunt and uncle’s house, because they had been babysitting my birds and also a random turtle that recently joined the menagerie for some reason.
Well then we went to Walmart.
But after that!
Then we were finally, FINALLY home.
All the animals were alive and well and happy, all of the plants were thriving, and my raspberry bushes were laden with ripe fruit.
After removing our things from the bus we crashed for about an hour before watching Luca, which is literally just Bench Trio But Mermaids (I did enjoy it) and then to bed!
Except I didn’t actually fall asleep until like 4am.
Anyhow that was my vacation and I probably forgot a lot of it actually, I’m still running on Camp Time for some reason. It was extremely enjoyable though! Epic.
Oh, here’s some random quotes I wrote down during the journey. They’re, uh . . . .well they sound like us, that’s for sure.
“Boys! Bikes! Boy bikes! Bike boys!”
“I got my booty wet in the Yellowstone lake!”
“You know you can get rubes? I mean ribs removed.”
“Technically my skull is cuddling my brain.”
“A BABY BUFFALO?! I’m mad.”
“You now own one six-thousandth of a buffalo.”
“Karl voice: I’m SAD.”
“He’s huge! Like a buffalo in spandex!” (speaking of a bear)
“You may be cold, but I’m BUILT DIFFERENT.”
“What time is it?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know, weatherboy.”
“Ah yes, my favorite movie, PARK DINOSAUR.”
“These mountains are majestic.”
“Your face is majestic.”
“He was born with stinky feet.”
“Mom, do you have any oils?”
“DoEs mOm hAVe OiLs”
“Mmm . . . nope, not today, bossman.”
“Benson! He’s BACK!”
“Hi, Janessa, um, die.”
“You’ve aged swiftly and poorly.”
“The only thing worse than bears is velociraptors.”
“That is the wrong of day to time.”
“What is wrong with you!?”
“If you were both colorblind and dyslexic, you could get away with anything.”
“Why is there a fish on the predator page?! . . . . . CUTTHROAT SALMON!?!?”
“You can’t touch geyser water!!!”
“If no touch then why p r e t t y”
“Horse Run Man!”
“I’m double vaccinated.”
“Weird flex but okay.”
“That is a whole boi right there.”
“Let me tell you my tale of woe.”
“What tale of woe?! You’re four?!?!”
“That’s a freakin’ mOOSE”
And I will see you guys next week! Thank you for reading! Love you all!