These Times: Road Trippin' through the Dakotas

  • West Orange Times & Observer
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We take a family vacation each year — my two children, my husband and me — and if it’s not to Jekyll Island or the family cabin in the mountains of North Carolina, then it’s to a big-city destination like Boston or New York City.

Last year, we tried something different. We told the kids the summer vacation was to North and South Dakota, and their responses were less than enthusiastic. The faces they made weren’t any better as they envisioned long drives watching tumbleweeds blow across the Great Plains.

They also know, though, that every time we take a trip, we incorporate a side trip or two to do something silly — like stand on the geographical center of the United States or take photos by oversized statues or feed peanuts to wild prairie dogs — so, even if some parts of the vacation seem boring to them, there’s always something fun to look forward to.

The silly side-trip this time was to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. The entire exterior of the building is decorated in corncobs. Corn! Of all colors! It was a-maize-ing and bushels of fun.

We took the corn tour and bought corn souvenirs, like a corn magnet and a corn ornament and a flat penny with a corn image.

Those are the items we always look for when vacationing. Our fridge and our Christmas tree are covered with trip memories. 

We also keep our eyes peeled for what we call “penny cranks” — those machines that take your penny (and two quarters) and squish it flat and imprint your choice of several images. We have these little trinkets from all of our travels. And they’re small and cheap.

Another trip “must-have” is a stamp in our national park passport books. The kids have had these little wire-bound books for years, and every time we visit a national park, we add a cancellation stamp with the location and the date. An even smaller souvenir — and free! Who doesn’t like free?

We visited several such parks, including Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt. We were surrounded by God’s artwork, and best of all, the kids were enjoying it. 

We got close to animals like bison, burros and prairie dogs in their natural habitat; we admired the breath-taking expanse of the canyons and the beauty of a stack of round hay bales in an empty field; we toured a homestead similar to one inhabited by Laura Ingalls Wilder; we stopped at Devil’s Tower in the middle of Wyoming prairieland, where the gift-shop merchandise was alien-related because part of  “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was filmed there.

I have to admit, I’m more of a big-city traveler myself, but this was one fantastic vacation. Where else can you experience the thrill of a burro sticking its head inside the car to nibble Cheetos off your son’s hand?


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