The Badlands: Nothing Bad About It

Leaving Nebraska behind,  It was time to log some serious miles and head to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We knew we wanted to see Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore, but we weren’t sure where we were going to stay in vicinity.  At a quick fuel and breakfast stop, we did some hardcore googling and began to realize that the farther north you drive in late winter/early spring the less campgrounds there are for you to choose from. Luckily, Nicole was able to find us accommodation at a place called Hart Ranch.  It was one of the few places that were open year round, and we were able to make a reservation for late check in!
The drive up to South Dakota and then West toward Rapid City was fairly simple, but as time moved forward we began to truly get the feeling that we were “out west”!  Just outside of Sioux Falls, we began to notice the small roadside signs that began directing you at a peculiar place called Wall Drug.  Some of the signs are small, and some are more like billboards; however, they all have unique, attention grabbing wording like “free ice water”, “free doughnuts for honeymooners”, and “5 cent coffee”.  As the miles wore on we started to formulate a plan for the following day.  We would set up at Hart Ranch, get a solid nights sleep then backtrack to Wall Drug early in the morning and spend the rest of the day in the Badlands.
We got to Hart Ranch camping resort at about 5:30 pm (Not too bad considering it was an 400 plus mile ride)!  We headed to our preassigned spot, and I was confronted with my Achilles heal – the back in parking space.  Why I hadn’t practiced this maneuver before we left, I don’t know!?!  The entire way from Florida to South Dakota, I never had to back into a spot.  Long story short, we finally made it into our space after running over some of our new neighbors grass, bruising my ego, and cranking my anxiety level up to 11.  Luckily with the help and advice of a fellow camper I was able to practice backing up in a empty part of the campground and no longer fear moving the gear shift into reverse!
The next day, we got an early start and made a beeline for Wall Drug.  When we got there we found plenty of free parking right on Main Street.  We were lured in by the fresh doughnut signs the day before, but we ended up getting a real breakfast (in addition to our doughnut…which was AMAZING).  The breakfast ended up being a great choice too!  They really do have 5 cent coffee and free ice water.  Free ice water is what kept Wall Drug in business back in the summer 1936.  The Hustead’s realized that people were hot and thirsty after driving through the prairie.  Therefore, they posted signs for free ice water…and people started to come to their store!  Now, it is a destination!  Tons of stores and history  wrapped into one roadside attraction.  If you are in the area, you must stop!  And don’t forget to get your free bumper sticker!

Once we finished there, we headed to the second National Park of our trip – the Badlands. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around a small portion of this 244,000 acre park!  We marveled at how beautiful and expansive the scenery was, and Nicole was thrilled to death about the prairie dogs!  We were very lucky to also see big horn sheep…up close and personal!  It was a spectacular first day in South Dakota!

Next stop Sturgis and Deadwood!

Omaha: A Midwestern Gem

After departing the “Crossroads of America” that is Oklahoma City, our journey Northward to Omaha, Nebraska had began.  Around this time in our adventure, things have gotten a little more familiar.  Hitching up the trailer, doing our “pre-flight checks” (making sure everything is put up into travel mode)  has become more routine. Nicole and I each have our own checklist of jobs, and we trust each other to make sure everything is done.  Traveling across North America can be daunting, so having a copilot you love and trust is invaluable.

Now that we are all hitched up, lets head to Omaha, Nebraska!   You might not think of Omaha as a destination, and to be honest, I didn’t either at first; hopefully this post will change your mind, and you will take some time to visit on an off your beaten path adventure.

The drive from Oklahoma City to Omaha isn’t the most scenic and it may have been the most expensive considering the portion of I-35 from the Kansas state line to Wichita was a toll road. $21 later we blasted through Kansas and entered Nebraska.  We coasted into the “Pine Grove” RV park and got a solid nights sleep and prepared for a full day in Omaha.

20170319_081245

We woke up and headed for breakfast at Shirley’s Diner.   There was quite a long wait at Shirley’s, so we knew it must be good!  We filled up on hot cocoa and a delicious breakfast before we started off on our day of sightseeing.

20170318_115105

First stop – Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

Apparently,  this is the place to be in Omaha on a Saturday. We go to a lot of zoos and this place was more packed that I am used to. From the “Desert Dome” featuring cacti and rattlesnakes to the “Jungle” with it’s pygmy hippos and otter, thousands of families packed the exhibits trying to get a glimpse of their favorite animals. We asked a zoo attendant if this was a typical day based on attendance.  She said there was 9,000 people at the zoo and their busiest days see upward of 37,000! Maybe we picked a good day after all!

After our morning at the zoo, we headed to a part of Omaha called the “Old Market”. This place was really a gem. It’s about a five square block area made up of quaint old brick warehouse style buildings that have been re-purposed over the years into an eclectic mix of locally owned boutiques, bars, and dining venues.

As lovers of antiques and vintage goods, we were especially impressed with a store called The Imaginarium. It was two full floors packed floor to ceiling with treasures!

20170318_173539

After shopping for treasures for a solid hour we were hungry and decided to have some Mexican food.  We originally wanted to eat at a place called Trini’s, but the nearly two hour wait wasn’t sitting well with my stomach.  Therefore, we walked a few blocks over to Michael’s. This wound up being a most excellent detour. Fried flour tortilla tacos, homemade taco sauce, gooey queso and a Kahlua Cream Soda to wash it all down made for a meal to remember and cure my taco cravings (at least until the next Taco Tuesday)!

20170318_191014

Dessert? Why not! Just one block over we found Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop.   Nicole had a sundae,  and I had two scoops of “Louder Than a Bomb” a chocolate,cayenne, and rainbow sprinkled concoction.  Wow, that left quite the ringing in my ears after that flavor explosion. Talk about a spicy aftertaste!  After a little more window shopping and photo stops we decided to call it a day and head back to Pine Grove.

Omaha has a little something for everyone. A little bit country a little bit hipster rock and roll. I encourage anybody passing through to give it a shot and discover this quaint slice of Nebraska.

Oklahoma City: Quick Visit; Lasting Impression

I can still remember that April morning in 1995.  After all, I had a beautiful baby boy who had become my whole world in January of that year.  The idea of a “safe” world was left behind that morning of April 19th…at 9:02 am.  A horrific attack on US soil by an American.  How was it even possible?!  I remember holding my son in my arms, while watching on television in disbelief as emergency medical personnel searched for survivors.  Life forever changed for all Americans on that day.

In the early 2000’s, my parents had visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial.  My mom was so moved by this memorial that she impressed upon me that if I ever had the chance to visit it I should.  Therefore, when planning this trip,  I figured we needed to add this stop to our agenda.  We would have less than 24 hours in town, but it was the perfect amount of time to visit and experience the memorial.

Similar to how I felt when we visited the World Trade Center Memorial, I was overcome with emotion.  The moment that we entered the west wall, my eyes filled with tears and I felt all of the hurt and the horror that was felt on that April day almost 22 years earlier.  After spending some time there, I also felt the hope that came after the initial tragedy.

When I tell you that this memorial is perfection…I mean it.

IMG_6759
Every single detail was well thought out.  Every bit and piece of the memorial has special meaning:

The Gates of Time – There are two twin walls that frame the site.  The east gate represents 9:01 am on that morning, which is the minute before the attack…the innocence.   The west gate represents 9:03 am, which is the minute after the attack…the moment we were changed forever.

Reflecting Pool – It occupies what was once NW 5th Street.  The gently flowing water helps soothe wounds.

IMG_6821

Field of Empty Chairs – There are 168 chairs; each one representing a life lost.  There are 9 rows to represent the 9 floors of the building and each chair is placed in the row that represents the floor they were on when they died.  The base of each chair has the name of a victim.  The smaller chairs represent children who were lost that day – 19 total.  Some of the victims were pregnant.  Their unborn child’s name is also etched on their chair.

The Survivor Wall – The only original Murrah building walls stand on the east end of the memorial.  There are over 600 names etched into granite pieces that hang on the wall.  These are the survivors and the granite was salvaged from the lobby of the building.

IMG_6794

The Fence – It was originally put around the site to protect it after the attack.  People immediately started to leave tokens of hope and love.  People still leave items on this fence when they visit.

IMG_6833

Rescuer’s Orchard – An orchard of flower and nut bearing trees surrounds the survivor tree representing the people who rushed into help after the attack.

IMG_6797

The Survivor Tree –  90 year old tree who bared witness to the attack and survived!  There is now a message that reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated;  our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”

Children’s Area – An area that houses various expressions of encouragement that were received from children after the bombing.

While we were at the memorial, a butterfly followed us through the field of empty chairs.  An especially emotional moment for us because ever since my mom passed away almost two years ago, I always see a butterfly when she is near.  I know that she was happy that I finally saw the beauty of this memorial.

IMG_6791

I urge you to go…and spend some time at the memorial.  It is peaceful and moving…and we must not forget!

IMG_6818

Hot Springs, Arkansas – National Park

Sorry it has been a while since we posted.  At the beginning of our trip, we were in a rush to get out of the south.  Then once we got to a place for an extended period of time, it was nice to slow down and enjoy!

The last time we left you, we were in Hot Springs Digging for Diamonds in Arkansas.  The main reason we chose this as stop on our trip is because we wanted to visit the National Park!  Hot Springs National Park is not like your typical National Park.  Instead of being beautiful vistas of land and animals, it is an adorable section of the downtown area referred to as Bathhouse Row.

Once known as Hot Springs Reservation, this town was a draw because of the geothermal waters that are found below.  Because of this draw, a series of bathhouses were created here.  Visiting these bathhouses back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s became a social event!  In 1921, the name was changed and it became the 18th National Park.  There are no free thermal pools available in the National Park; however, there are two fully functional operating bathhouse: Quapaw Baths and Buckstaff.

The actual visitors center for Hot Springs National Park is in the old Fordyce Bathhouse.  It is here that you are able to tour the inside of the bathhouse and imagine what it would have been like to be a visitor back in the Edwardian Era.  The bathhouse tour  takes you through the varies stages and rooms of the experience: the parlor, massage and treatment rooms, baths, cooling rooms, changing rooms, and gymnasium!

These pictures are from the men’s changing area.  Their area was much more ornate than the women’s side!

In 1832, Congress protected the Hot Springs to ensure that it would be utilized by the people. Since then, people have been encouraged to drink and even bottle the spring’s healing waters.  You can bring your own jug, or buy one of the souvenir jugs in the gift shop.  They even provide a map where there are fountains available to fill your jug or take a drink!

In addition to the tour of the visitor center, there are amazing hiking paths that overlook the city!  These are worth the visit as well!

Next stop…Oklahoma City!

Digging for Diamonds in Arkansas

On our way to Alaska, our first major sightseeing stop was in Hot Springs, Arkansas.   We really love visiting the National Parks and since this one included hot springs,  we did not want to miss it.  We originally were going to visit a bath house while we were in town, but in a fun turn of events a friend told us about the opportunity to mine for diamonds!  Therefore, we altered our plans a bit!

We started our day in Hot Springs by driving out to Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro.  For the cost of a $10 park admission,  visitors can search a vast field that is an eroded surface of a large diamond-bearing volcanic crater! The best part is that you can stay all day, you get to keep anything that you find, and they have rangers that can help you identify your treasures!  

We were even able to bring our pups, which were a big hit with the little kids at the park!

What we did not realize, before we arrived, is just how serious these folks were about finding diamonds!  When we got out of the car and saw all of the people with their buckets, wagons, and shovels, we knew we were not prepared.

The good news for us was that they have the tools available for rent.  For $15, you receive a bucket, a big shovel, and two screen sifters.  

Because it had rained earlier in the week, the dirt was hard to sift, so we loaded some dirt in our bucket and carried it to the wet sifting area.  The water was freezing, so George did most of the work from this point.  

Once we finished, we went to check out our treasures. We had some Quartz, sandstone, jasper, volcanic ash, calcite, and a conglomerate  (which is like nature’s cement!)  

No diamonds for us, but we had a great time!  It wasn’t until a day or two later that our friends back home posted this article about a teenager who had found a 7.7 carat diamond a few days before our trip there!  He had quite the lucky day! So cool!

Stay tuned for part two of our Hot Springs adventure!


Some of My Favorite Things

As we conclude our second day of driving to Alaska, I don’t have many pictures to share from the trip yet.  Don’t worry, there will be plenty.  We just wanted to cover a lot of ground early, so we could spend time in the places we really want to see!

This post is more about the comforts that we will miss back home in Orlando.   You see, I am an Orlando native…born and raised!  While this trip is very exciting, it really is taking us out of our comfort zones.  Therefore, the week before we left, we made sure to spend time with loved ones, visit our favorite places, and enjoy our favorite foods!

Since George was leaving his job of 13 years at Walt Disney World, we needed to fit in a few last trips to the parks!  We enjoyed our favorite Mickey pretzel and cheese and of course Mickey ice cream bars.  I am not sure why these bars are so delicious,  but we are suckers for them!

We also made sure to ride Big Thunder Mountain one more time, so we could be the rowdiest bunch on the train!  We love to cheer emphatically as we pull into the station at the end of the ride!  

We also attended the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival,  so we could chill in the Tequila Cave with our family…and then take silly sombrero pictures!

And we could not leave Epcot without our favorite festival drink from France – Rose en Vie!  Every year, we look forward to this treat!

We also went to some of our favorite local spots!  We went for sno-cones at Rainbow Sno-cones , which is an Orlando staple!  Great small business owned by super awesome people!  If you have never been, or have not been in a while…go see Bob!  

We ate at our favorite pizzeria twice in the week before we left, because let’s face it, besides our families,  we will miss this place the most!  They serve the best pizza, garlic knots and “life changing” meatballs!  Del Dio Pizza is run by the hardest working man in town!  John only takes Sundays off…and never takes a vacation!  So, go support his business…and fall in love with the food and people who work there!  I miss it already!

We did make one last trip to New Smyrna Beach, so we could feel the sand in our toes one last time before heading north!  The day could not have been more perfect! 

We had a going away party on the Saturday before we left.  We were so blessed that friends and family came to see us off on our trip…and generously gave us gas money and a spare tire for the trailer!  We were so busy enjoying everyone that we did not take any pictures!  Horrible!  But I did manage to get these pictures from the day before we left!

We already miss home, but we are excited that you will be following along on this journey!  

We are officially out west…and here is a picture to prove it!  

We crossed the Mississippi River this afternoon and will be calling Hot Springs, Arkansas “home” for the next two days.  More to come soon!  Enjoy the ride!
And make sure to follow us on Instagram @offyourbeatenpath.  We will be sharing additional pictures on there!

Controlled Chaos

We are in the final countdown for our departure to Alaska.  To say life is a bit crazy for us now would be an understatement.  Our house literally looks like a tornado ran through it, and I suddenly feel like a kid with Attention Deficit Disorder.  Everytime I start one project it leads to another project, which leads to another project…which leads to none of my projects being completed by the end of the day!

I am not a neat freak, but our house is in such disarray right now that it makes it hard to even think straight.  Every room is half torn apart with piles for selling, keeping, packing, traveling, and giving away!  The list of things to get done at the house, just keeps growing (much like the piles!)  Yikes!

Most of the items in this stack of piles is going to the flea market to be sold.  As part of this process, we have been trying to sell off a lot of our inventory from our online shop Gifted Enrichments!  By selling our items before we leave it has eliminated the need for a storage unit, thus keeping our expenses to a minimum.  It also allows for us to do lots of “picking” on our drive to and from Alaska!  

 This week has thrown some curve balls into our plans.  We have a few family health issues to deal with over the next week and our new van needs some unexpected work before we can head out on the road.  The van repairs are costly and not part of our budget, but we continue to have faith that everything will work out in our favor!  It helps that we have lots of people who are cheering for us!  

Over the next week, we have lots of cleaning, packing, loading and spending time with lived ones on the agenda!  Until next time…