Badlands National Park – South Dakota…

Wednesday, we drove a little over an hour from Rapid City to Badlands National Park.

The visitor’s centers are closed because of COVID-19, but the park is open for driving and hiking.

We were stunned by the beautiful views as we drove through the Badlands.

When we go to a national park, we are typically looking for a good hike. This afternoon was hot and we were all a little more tired and sluggish, so we mainly drove and stopped at different viewpoints along the way. We did some walking, but no major hiking.

Driving along, there seemed to be endless amazing views.

We did see some wildlife – buffalo, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs.

Bravely is becoming quite the big girl. She still likes stroller rides, but more and more she’s asking to walk. She loves walking and running around, picking up sticks and rocks. We all think it’s adorable watching her explore.

We spent a few hours at Badlands National Park, and we easily could have stayed much longer. It exceeded anything we hoped it would be. It was another great day surrounded by gorgeous landscape!

Wall Drug Store – Wall, SD…

Living in an RV as a family of 12, we don’t do a lot of souvenir shopping. We do purchase postcards and Christmas ornaments most everywhere we go, but we do not buy much more.

Several people recommended we visit Wall Drug Store in the town of Wall, about an hour from our RV park. Tuesday, we decided to give it a try. Wall Drug Store is basically a very large souvenir shop with some unique and interesting finds. We thought the prices were good overall, so each of our kids purchased one or two things for themselves and some gifts for siblings and cousins. And I decided to do something I’ve never done – I purchased all 11 of our nieces and nephews Christmas gifts in June. Then I had to buy a storage container to put in the back of our van to haul the gifts around for the next several months. Haha.

After souvenir and gift shopping, we stopped in the fudge shop at Wall Drug and got several types of fudge to try. Debbie, working in the fudge shop, asked if we were Rolling by the Dozen. We told her that we were, and she let us know that she reads our blog. That was fun! We enjoyed meeting you, Debbie!

After selecting our fudge, we decided to do something we had not done since Manning’s birthday on March 18th…eat IN a restaurant.

We ate at the Wall Drug Cafe. A few people recommended we try buffalo while in South Dakota. Ryan and our boys got buffalo burgers, our girls got beef burgers and I stuck with a chicken sandwich. I did try a bite of buffalo, at least, and it tasted very similar to beef. Ryan, Manning and Rhythm loved the buffalo.

We really enjoyed our outing to Wall Drug, as we’ve mostly stuck with and will continue to mostly do outdoor activities during this season of COVID-19.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial – Keystone, SD…

Thursday we made the drive from Nebraska to South Dakota. It was such a beautiful drive!

When we arrived at our RV park, it was initially a little stressful navigating the RV through trees to get to our spot. Once we were settled into our spot, we loved it! It’s been such a beautiful, great space.

I love being surrounded by trees in the mountains. The views and the weather have been amazing. We’ve even had to pull out our hoodies some evenings.

Friday afternoon, we made the short drive from our RV park in Rapid City to Mount Rushmore in Keystone.

We were able to see the Mount Rushmore National Memorial as we were driving toward it, and it really was such a grand view.

The Mount Rushmore sculpture features the 60-foot heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. It costs $10 to park at the memorial, but there are no other fees. We walked upstairs and through the grand entrance only to see people taking photos in front of a construction zone. I thought, “Really? There have to be some places with unobstructed views.” We walked around and happily found plenty.

There is a Sculptor’s Studio where we were able to see tools and models that were used during the construction of the Mount Rushmore memorial. We found out that 400 mostly ordinary men carved the four presidents’ heads into the mountain between 1927-1941. It is quite impressive to learn about and see.

Starting just outside the Sculptor’s Studio, there’s the Presidential Trail that gets you up close to the mountain sculpture. It’s a 0.6 mile walk. There are many sets of stairs and it isn’t stroller friendly because of all the stairs. Otherwise, it is a really nice walk.

It was a cool day with an overcast sky, what we considered perfect walking weather. We absolutely loved walking the trail and seeing all the different views of the Mount Rushmore sculpture along the way.

Bravely kept pointing and excitedly saying, “Look! A man! A man!”

There is a really nice and large gift shop near the entrance of the memorial. We picked up some post cards and a Christmas ornament, and the boys got miniature replicas of Mount Rushmore.

Honestly, Mount Rushmore was much more awesome to see in person than we thought it’d be. We did think that it would be cool, but it was even better than we imagined.

Scottsbluff National Monument – Gering, NE…

Wednesday we drove a little over 20 miles from Chimney Rock to Scottsbluff National Monument.

We’d read there were some hiking trails, but we had no idea it would be so fun and beautiful!

Scotts Bluff has served as a landmark for peoples from Native Americans to emigrants on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails to modern travelers. There is currently no cost to visit, and it operates similar to a national park. There is a visitor’s center that is currently closed due to COVID-19.

There are three paved walking trails. Two are short, easy walks. The other is pretty strenuous, in a good way. It was definitely a work-out!

The trails are stroller friendly, though, we did have to navigate one part that was a bit uneven and had a drop-off to the side very delicately.

There were gorgeous views in all directions. The weather was great. We all kept saying how much we loved hiking at Scottsbluff.

We did bring a snack lunch, and we chose to eat it in this tunnel. It was cool and breezy, the perfect place for a break.

Visitors can drive to the top of the mountain to access two of the trails and to look at the great views. Also, there is a short trail at the bottom of the mountain that visitors can walk.

There are covered wagons on this trail that mark the start of the Oregon Trail Pathway. When the trail surface changes from asphalt to dirt, you are walking on the actual Oregon Trail.

We absolutely loved visiting Scottsbluff National Monument, and we definitely recommend it as a place to see!

Chimney Rock National Historic Site – Bayard, NE…

When I was making reservations online for our current traveling route, I happened upon this gem…Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing. It’s a small RV park located at the base of Chimney Rock with full hook-ups and no amenities. It was such an amazing place to spend three nights! I’d take the beautiful landscape over amenities any day.

Chimney Rock is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks for pioneer travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails.

Our first evening in Bayard, we enjoyed the most beautiful and peaceful walk from our RV to Chimney Rock.

Birds and crickets were chirping. Farm sprinklers were spraying. Otherwise, there was silence. And stillness. No traffic. No busyness. We saw beetle prints, rabbit prints, pig prints and all sorts of animal prints on the dirt road leading up to Chimney Rock. Also, we saw the biggest dandelions we’d ever seen.

Chimney Rock is interesting to see. You can see it from miles away. We enjoyed watching it as we were first driving into town, knowing it was the landmark we’d be staying near.

We spent time just walking and looking around. Beautiful views were in every direction we turned.

Taking a photo in this spot reminded me of the Sound of Music. A large family in the mountains. I probably would have busted out in song to make our kids laugh, but some Chimney Rock visitors had just drove up – and they offered to take our photo.

If you’ve ever had an evening this peaceful and wonderful, you know it can’t end without something crazy happening. Or maybe that’s just us. Ha! We encountered four skunks. FOUR. When does that ever happen?! The mom and two babies were adorable, however, we avoided them like a plague.

We watched the sun go down as we walked back to our RV. And I kid you not, a man in a truck stopped to warn us that there was a skunk just ahead. Another skunk?!

I always sleep with my window shade down at night, but that night I raised it and fell asleep looking at this view out my window. Chimney Rock.

Omaha Zoo and Wildlife Safari Park – Nebraska…

Thursday we made the drive from Kansas into Nebraska. We chose to stay at the Double Nickel Campground in Waco. We originally looked for an RV park closer to Omaha, but we had a hard time finding parks taking reservations due to COVID-19 and a park that was okay with our family size. I often hear gasps when I say how many kids we have. Some parks are great with it, some charge more and a few turn us away. I’m always hoping and praying they don’t ask how many kids we have. Once we arrive, park managers almost always seem to like our big family and think our kids are really well-behaved. We’ve found that some of the best parks we’ve ended up in were a result of not being able to get a reservation at our preferred park or location. That was true with this park – the Double Nickel.

We had a big shady spot with trees, grass, a big picnic table and even a swing. There is a nice pool, a basketball court, a volleyball court and a putt-putt golf coarse.

We got settled in Thursday, picked up groceries from Walmart I had ordered online, and enjoyed hanging around the RV park that evening.

Friday morning, we drove an hour and a half to go to the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo with Oksana. Oksana reads our blog. When she saw we were coming to Nebraska this summer, she commented that she’d like to treat us to the zoo and wildlife safari park. We messaged back and forth and worked out the details.

Oksana was so much fun. She knew everything about the zoo. It was like having our own personal tour guide.

Because of COVID-19, the zoo was taking reservations and only allowing a certain amount of people in at a time. It was set up for everyone to walk through in the same direction.

It was a hot day, but there are many shady spots and our kids enjoyed stopping at the spray stations.

There were many interesting animals to see, and we enjoyed seeing so many different ones.

My family jokes that I can get most any human or animal to look and smile for a photo. Haha.

The carousel was open. A zoo employee sanitized each animal after every single carousel ride. I cannot imagine having to do that, but I’m sure everyone who rode appreciated it.

All our kids, especially our little girls, enjoyed the carousel ride. It took Bravely back to our days at Disney. She loved riding so much. She kept saying, “I like it. I love it.”

The zoo had all the indoor buildings and play areas closed due to COVID-19, but there was still plenty to see, do and enjoy.

After the zoo, we drove 30 miles to the Wildlife Safari Park in Ashland.

Again, having Oksana with us was like having a personal tour guide. She knows where the animals typically hang out and hide. The kids had a blast trying to spot animals as we drove through.

We saw elk, buffalo, pelicans and turtles. We had never done anything like this drive-through safari before, and we thought it was really cool.

Zoos and safaris are very pricey for our family size and are not something we do often. Oksana, thank you so much for treating us to such a fun day! We really enjoyed meeting you and going through the zoo and safari with you!

And we have another teenager in the house (well the RV)…

Today is Rhythm’s 13th birthday. It’s also the day we adopted Rhythm from China four years ago. It’s hard to believe we now have two teenagers!

We had a great day celebrating Rhythm’s birthday and him being a part of our family! We started the morning with his request of Toaster Strudels for breakfast.

Then we each read him what we wrote in his journal, and he opened some gifts. We buy each kid a journal when they are born (or adopted in Rhythm’s case) that we keep. We write notes in it for birthdays and special holidays or events. Eventually each kid will have his or her journal full of love and encouragement. They cherish these journals.

We surprised Rhythm with an MP3 player. He is so excited to have his own device.

We picked up Rhythm’s choice of Arby’s for lunch. I told him I’d take him on an awesome date to get Chinese food soon. Otherwise, he definitely would have chose Chinese food today.

Rhythm decided he wanted to stay at our RV park today because there is a lot of fun stuff to do here.

The kids played basketball, and we all played putt-putt golf this evening.

Rhythm had a really fun day, and we all had a great time celebrating him!

The day Ryan brought Rhythm home from China

Happy 13th birthday, Rhythm!

You are a teenager! You are a cool, fun, laid-back kid. You are a rule-follower. You like things clean, organized and perfectly tidy. You are good at anything requiring meticulous detail and care. You like a schedule and regimented routine, but you love adding anything fun and new. You enjoy playing indoor or outdoor games. You love traveling and exploring new places. You like working hard to master new skills, and you do master many skills. You like hanging out with friends and meeting new friends. You have conversations with strangers and make new friends with ease. You are loyal and dependable. You are a good friend to each of your sisters and a best bud to Manning. You love God and want to be part of anything to do with Him. You are a great musician, and you truly are the rhythm keeper of the band. You give me lots of good laughs, you are always willing to help me with anything and you are a fun son. I am so happy to have you as my son, and I love you very much! 💙

Vehicle issues, heat and storms in Kansas…

Last Thursday we left Oklahoma and headed for Kansas. It was a longer drive than our preferred 3-4 1/2 hour drives. We had a check engine light come on in the truck. The van had the message, “required oil change”, come up while driving even though we weren’t even close to due for an oil change. And once we arrived in Kansas, our RV would not auto-level.

To my surprise, manually leveling the RV wasn’t hard. I am the one who handles all the hydraulics, meaning the jacks and slides. Once we were set up, we said, “Kansas is hot!” We are from Texas. We are used to temperatures above 100 degrees. Heat typically doesn’t rattle us. Kansas really surprised us, though. It really was just so hot. We stayed in an immaculate RV park with flat concrete slabs, but we were definitely missing shade.

We regularly check the weather. We prefer to know if a storm is heading our way. All looked clear on that first night in Kansas, so we went to bed as usual. It wasn’t windy, so we left our awning out. About 2:30 in the morning, I woke up to a noise and shaking I recognized. Our awning was going wild in the wind. I woke up Ryan, and he quickly put the awning in. We checked our phones and had alerts that 60 mph wind gusts and quarter size hail were headed our way. If you’ve ever experienced either in an RV, it’s not fun. But experiencing it with scared kids is a whole different level of intense. So…we woke all the kids up and made our way through thunder, lightning and gusty rain to the storm shelter. I’d like to say, we love that Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska have storm shelters! Surprisingly, the kids weren’t terrified. We goofed around talking and laughing for about an hour while we rode out the storm. It ended up not hailing, which was great. We checked off another box of interesting adventures and a good story to tell.

The next day, actually the next four days, we were exhausted. We were hot, worn out and just wanted to chill. So that’s what we did. We played games, read books, sat around, walked in the late evenings when it cooled down and played on the playground. We found out the truck just needed new oil filters, the van just had not been reset when it had its last oil change and how to reset our jacks so that auto-level would resume working. Oh, and our awning did survive the wind gusts. Thankfully! Monday I did something I never do…I baked. I baked a blackberry cobbler. I can’t take much credit because our friend, Diane, premixed most of the ingredients for me and wrote the simplest version of the recipe down for me. I used the blackberries our kids picked in Texas that we’d frozen. And it was really good. The kids were shocked. Ryan was shocked. And I was just happy to partake of the yumminess.

By Monday evening we realized we had not seen or experienced Kansas at all really. So, we made some plans for the next couple days.

On Tuesday we drove by Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site. We thought it was closed due to COVID-19, but we wanted to at least check. It was closed, but we got to see this amazing wall of murals.

Then, we decided to go to the Evel Knievel Museum – Ryan’s suggestion. It was pretty fun and fascinating.

Evel Knievel was an American stunt performer who attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps over the coarse of his career.

It was funny seeing our kids’ reactions. Most of them asked, “Why on earth would he risk his life?!” As their mom, it was comforting to me that they asked this question. Ha. But we all were amazed by the stunts Evel Knievel performed, all the broken bones he got over the years and that he always got back up and went for it again.

Traveling during COVID-19 is definitely different. Most places are set up to function the best possible and to facilitate social distancing. At the Evel Knievel Museum, we were given a map and asked to walk a specific path in order to avoid two groups meeting. We saw two men walking the museum, that’s it. It is interesting to see how each place is choosing to handle things during this time. I know it is not easy on these businesses!

Wednesday, we really wanted to go to Old Prairie Town in Topeka. On the internet, it appeared it was open, but it wasn’t. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, so we were a little bummed that we wasted those days not knowing we were missing out on this. It did look really neat, and we’ll definitely plan to go if we are ever in the Topeka, KS area again.

We ended up at Gage Park.

There is a carousel, mini-train, aquatic center, walking trail, playgrounds and a rose garden.

There were so many people there! We were surprised. The playgrounds, train and carousel were full of kids. We decided just to walk around the flower garden. There weren’t many people there, and that’s not something we’ve done before.

We spent over an hour walking around, looking at and smelling flowers and taking photos. We all really enjoyed it.

I think we just had a rough start in Kansas, we weren’t prepared for the heat and we were worn out from going non-stop in Oklahoma. We did actually like Kansas, and we know there is a lot more to do and see.

Turner Falls Park, National Cowboy Museum, a date and friends – Ardmore, OK…

Last week we stayed in a really fun RV park in Ardmore, OK.

There’s a large pond in the center of the park with kayaks, pedal boats and water slides. Manning and I were planning to go on a date to the Melting Pot and an escape room for his 13th birthday in March, but everything had just started shutting down at that time due to COVID-19 so I owed him a great date. We decided to play on the water one afternoon as our date, and we had an absolute blast!

I told him I’ll still take him the the Melting Pot when we get the opportunity as well.

We went on a walk almost every evening. The weather was nice, and we had a great view. We loved stopping by the koi pond to feed the fish.

We met some friends, the Pollards, about a year ago. They were our RV neighbors at a park in Texas. We went to visit them at their home in Oklahoma and had such a good time. Swimming, dinner, worship, milking a cow, lots of conversations and laughter.

Tuesday, we decided to drive to Turner Falls Park. Turner Falls is the largest waterfall in Oklahoma.

It did not disappoint! The whole park is gorgeous. There were pools of water and small waterfalls all around. Some people were swimming or wading in the water.

We did not swim because all kids ages 12 and under were required to wear flotation devices if swimming. We don’t own flotation devices for our older kids, so we decided to just wade in the water.

There is also a walk through castle that was built in 1930 at Turner Falls Park.

It was quite the hike up stairs to get to all the different parts of the castle, but we really enjoyed exploring it.

Once we passed through all parts of the castle, we went across a bridge and ended up above the large waterfall. It was awesome to look down on it.

Wednesday, we wrapped up our time in Oklahoma by meeting some friends at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. We went to church with the Fords for years in Texas before they moved to Oklahoma. We were all really excited to see them, and we had a great time!

The museum is really neat. There are all sorts of Western art and artifacts displayed. It’s a huge museum with a huge parking lot. There were only two other small groups of people there, though, we assume because of COVID-19. That was nice for us, as we were hardly in contact with people but still got to enjoy the museum mask-free.

There’s a great outdoor area with a playground and different types of teepees and houses to explore.

We all really enjoyed the museum, and we especially enjoyed hanging with friends.

Our last week in Texas…

We spent our last week in Texas getting all sorts of practical things done and visiting family and friends.

We stayed at Aggieland RV Park in Bryan, TX for a week. It was small and nice. The pool was empty most of the time, so we enjoyed swimming. And we enjoyed going on a walk most every evening.

Dr. Suarez, our doctor who delivered four of our babies and is our family doctor came to our RV to do some check-ups. That was unique and fun!

We visited my aunt and uncle. We were all excited to see Aunt Sara, as we hadn’t seen her since she went to Disney World with us in January.

We took Bravely to her eye appointment at Texas Children’s, and she got a new prescription. She is severely far-sighted. She’ll be getting some new cute mustard yellow glasses in the mail soon.

We got to hang out with our old pastors and close friends, Villard and Diane. We are so happy every time we get to be with them.

There are all sorts of beliefs about the coronavirus, as you know. We are somewhere in the middle when it comes to how we are dealing with it. We are cautious about being in public and specifically in crowds. We are starting to get out more, though, and mostly we feel comfortable getting together with family and friends. We have canceled a couple get-togethers with ones who’ve had fever or been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for the coronavirus. We have picked up food but haven’t eaten in a restaurant yet, mostly because our family size is too large to comply with current regulations in most states. The theme of this season is flexibility. We are making some plans and adjusting and changing plans as needed.

After our week in Bryan, we headed to Terrell (near Dallas) for a couple nights.

We went over to my childhood best friend’s house to hang out with her, her husband and daughter. Sheila and I met and were neighbors as babies. We grew up together and graduated high school together.

Our kids had so much fun together…swimming, jumping, movies, tiny cake-baking and decorating and making pizzas!

Cooking is not my strong suit, so I was so glad our kids got some lessons with Sheila – ha!

Our friends, Mel and Debbie, met up with us and stayed a night in Terrell as they were passing through. We didn’t tell the kids, so it was a fun surprise!

Mel took the kids fishing, which they loved.

River is terrified of dogs, so we are always working with her trying to get her to warm up to them. She’s come a long way in the past six months.

This ended our time in Texas. The next morning we started our drive to Oklahoma. We are back on the road once again, and though it’s quite different with all that’s going on, it feels good. Rolling by the dozen.