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Towers, Hot Springs, and Renovated Barns

Devil’s Tower!
Just like leaving the Niobrara, we barely had drip dried after swimming in the hotel pool before we were on the road again. Heading west to visit Jack’s sister, we had decided instead of making a mad dash to Idaho, we’d take a few days to get there so we could enjoy the beauty of the trip. South Dakota was good to us but we kept chugging along to Wyoming.
Even though we took it slow, there was still an extraordinary amount of time in the car. It’s just a fact of life when taking a road trip. that didn’t mean that things weren’t interesting. For me, the changing scenery, a good podcast, and plenty of time to talk with Jack makes the time fly. For the kids, the occasional movie, reading, drawing, and having a treat is what makes things bearable. If there’s one thing anyone should know about Jack, it’s that he’s the fun parent. When resupplying before heading out, he bought a game of Bean Boozled for us to play while traveling. Basically, it’s a packet of jelly beans and each one is either delicious…or repulsive. Is it Birthday Cake, or Dirty Dish Water? Is it Coconut, or Spoiled Milk? Is it Buttered Popcorn, or Rotten Egg? One by one, we fell victim to the disgusting flavors. I had to spit out my rotten egg out the window to keep from barfing, it was so gross. The clear winner was Zoey, who would happily eat ANY flavor without a hint of a gag. It was impressive.
Our first stop was Devil’s Tower. It was only a few hours away but when we got there, it was pretty clear we weren’t going to get to go to the top. Like at the Badlands, we were thwarted by construction. Gah! The road up to the top was open but apparently, most of the parking lot was closed, which meant we would have had to wait for people who were parked there to leave so we could take their spot. After waiting about ten minutes, we did a u-turn and went back down to look around.
After nixing the idea of hiking to the top (it was already noon and pushing ninety-five degrees, and would have taken us at least two hours to get up, much less walk around the tower), we drove around the surrounding area. By far our favorite part was watching the prairie dogs living in the nearby meadows. They were definitely not intimidated by people and were so, so adorable as they’d scurry around to find a bite to eat or groom their babies. Once Peter spotted them, it was nearly impossible to keep him from practically jumping down the holes to join them.
Since we couldn’t get up to the boulder field to look around, we decided to cut our losses, take a family photo, and get moving to the next stop.
So long, Devil’s Tower! Next time, we’ll hike around you.
The further we drove, the dustier and drier it got but about an hour after leaving Devil’s Tower, we could see snowcapped mountains in the distance. In such a short distance, the world changed so much. Seriously, the earth is a gorgeous, miraculous, breathtaking thing.
I can see mountains!
On our way to Thermopolis (heehee, yes, that’s actually a place!), we drove through Bighorn National Forest. I probably annoyed the locals, driving cautiously through the ups, downs, and turns of the mountains. The temperature plummeted forty degrees and when we saw snow, we knew we had to stop.
It was such a novel thing to have a patch of snow to play with in the middle of the summer. The second I put the car in park, the kids were out of the car, sliding down the snow on their backsides and squealing about how cold it was. They explored the snowdrifts along the rock formations and of course, Jack can’t be around snow without throwing a snowball or two.
We didn’t linger. Not only was everyone shocked by how much the air temperature had changed, they were crying about cold toes and fingers, while simultaneously whining about the very persistent, very sneaky mosquito population that was desperate for a blood meal.
We piled back in the car but not before I was gifted a beautiful handful of wildflowers. They were growing so thickly, even poking out from under the snow, carpeting the whole valley, and accented with swarms of butterflies. It was certainly more enjoyable than the mosquitoes.
Down the other side of the mountain, we were back to dry and desolate, so much so that there was barely an animal or person in sight, basically all the way to Thermopolis, Wyoming.
We arrived before dinner and were there for the express purpose of visiting their main tourist attraction: the world’s largest hot springs.
The town was built around a huge natural spring that’s now been funneled into several large swimming pools. If you’ve never been to a hot spring, it’s warm and inviting…if you don’t mind the smell of rotten eggs. Remember Bean Boozled? I admit to my stomach flipping once or twice until it settled down.
It’s definitely an acquired smell. They had an inside building with a large waterslide, which the kids went down over and over until it closed. I preferred spending time in the outside area, where the scent was less overwhelming.
Peter, Zoey, Henry, and I floated around the shallow ends while the girls and Jack went to the high dive to test their bravery.
Claire flung herself off without a second thought, while Evelyn was a little more hesitant, and stepped off more than actually jumped.
Kate is such a featherweight that she sort of floats her way down to the water. She went repeatedly off the high dive until she came to me with complaints of an earache. Between the changes in elevation and diving into the water, her ears were pretty well plugged up with a classic case of swimmer’s ear. We decided to pack up and go see the natural springs right outside of the pools.
Apparently, it was a popular bathing spot for native tribes of the area and over millions of years of the hot mineral water bubbling up and spilling over, it’s caked the land with a crusty rock. At the end of the natural hot springs, there was a bridge that crossed several hundred feet over a river so people can get a good look of the natural springs. We chickened out. Between a storm blowing in with all kinds of wind and lightning and the loose, missing boards, it felt kind of like one of those raggedy wood bridges on all those adventure movies where they cut the ropes or people fall down into the mouths of waiting crocodiles. We went to get dinner and ear drops instead.
We got some drive thru tacos, ate our fill, then crashed. Where did we stay? A renovated BARN. Could there have been anywhere more perfect for us? I don’t think so.
The stay was amazing and I woke up to Jack cooking breakfast for everyone. We’re talking eggs, biscuits, bacon, leftover tacos…😂 With full plates, the kids decided to have a picnic for breakfast and ate with the sunrise.
Since we couldn’t take most of the food with us in our cooler, we were also forced–FORCED–to finish the huckleberry ice cream that Jack had gotten the night before. Sidenote: if you’ve never had huckleberry anything, you have to get yourself something. It’s a mountain berry and comes in honey, jams, ice cream, fresh off the bush, and it’s delicious.
While I helped Jack clean up and get the car packed, Claire grabbed her sketch pad out of the car and spent a few spare moments drawing a picture of the wide-open spaces we were blessed to be experiencing. There’s something about sunshine, blue skies, and seclusion that brings out the artists in our family.
Before we got in the car, we decided to stretch our legs and see what we couldn’t see the night before when we’d arrived. It was more of nothing but rolling his and skies that stretched horizon to horizon. Definitely our idea of a good time.
Then, it was time to get back in the car and see where our next adventure would take us. We had our Bean Boozle game, Kate’s ears had recovered and she’d forgotten they were even sore, and we went through our first inner-mountain tunnel. It was going to be a good day.

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True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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