We had a great family vacation this summer, filled with winning. Here are the top eight "wins" from the 2014 Altic family vacation.
8. Chevy Suburban
You want to take 7 people on a 3,400 mile road trip? I don't think we would have even tried it except that we had the Suburban, probably the nicest vehicle we've ever owned. It's comfortable, it's reliable, it had a built-in video player to help the kids endure the "great" plains. With the addition of our neighbor's cargo rack and a friend's cargo bag, it was the best vehicle ever.
7. Crazy Horse Monument
This was always an "optional" part of the trip after an overnight stay in Deadwood, SD. It turns out, it was quite a bit better than I had been told. The statue, even in its unfinished state, is tremendous to behold and the American Indian museum on site is excellent. If you have any interest in Native American culture and artifacts, the museum itself is probably worth the drive.
6. Teenage Travelers
Long drives with little kids are difficult. The under-10 crowd gets tired and grumpy and doesn't understand why we're not "there yet." But teenagers (and pre-teens) are fun traveling companions. Brennan (13) and Tanner (12) kept us entertained with their wit and were a constant help in a thousand little ways. What a wonderful treat to rediscover how much you enjoy your kids.
5. Mount Rushmore Ice Cream
We were told by a friend the best ice cream in the country is served in the shadow of a bunch of statues somewhere in South Dakota. That is correct.
4. Devil's Tower
Another "optional" part of our trip that we decided to indulge in. This bizarre-looking mountain ranked surprisingly high on my kids' list of favorite activities. It's a beautiful park with a delightful little walk on a paved path that circles the mountain, winding among the boulders and trees. I think it helped that I had the older boys watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind before the trip, so they were looking for UFO's too.
3. Extended Family
There's a reason that a family of seven doesn't take a lot of vacations – after food and lodging and admission, it's just too expensive. But this trip had a lot of help from extended family, for which we are so grateful. We were able to stop and spend a night at my uncle's house in Westcliffe, Colorado. Then three nights at my Aunt's house in Monte Vista (with the two older boys staying with another uncle in Alamosa). Then a beautiful dinner with Shannon's sister and brother in Grand Junction. The first half of the trip was filled with love and hospitality.
2. On budgetWe were prepared to do this trip under our own power but thanks to the generous hospitality of our extended family, we were way ahead of budget. That changed the second half the trip from the "bare bones budget version" to the "let's drive over here and see this and buy the kids a treat" version. When we pulled back into our Kansas City driveway, we were $5 under budget without having to tap any "reserves" but we had the best possible version of the trip.
I just didn't have a clear idea of what Yellowstone really was. Geysers? Sure. Bison, elk, and moose? Of course. But the overwhelming beauty and diversity… I didn't know there would be so many geysers. I didn't know parts of the park were so mountainous. I had no idea that the lake was so beautiful. The whole place was mesmerizing.