rushmoreGreat summer vacations start with planning. Where are we going to go? Where are we going to stay? For my kids one of their all time favorite trips was a road trip through South Dakota.

Our first trip to South Dakota was going to be a quick drive through on our way to somewhere else. Fortunately, we had built in enough leeway to spend a little extra time along the way if we found something fun. We had no idea that we would use that time in South Dakota. We drove into Rapid City around noon and checked into a motel that had a pool. Our plan was to go see the “Face Place” as my mom always called it and then come back to the pool, splash around a little and leave out early the next morning.

rushmore2We picked up a Jr. Ranger handbook at the rangers station and the kids set off in search of the the clues to complete the tasks outlined in the book. They spent hours in the museum and walking along the pathways under the faces. They loved every second of their search. It cooled down pretty quickly as it began to get dark. Fortunately we were ready for that. We bundled up and continued exploring the park. Not long after sunset there was a flag ceremony in the main amphitheater to retire the colors. Earlier in the day it had seemed like it was just us and a dozen or so other people at the park but all of a sudden the seating area was packed with what must have been over 1000 people. I’m not sure where they had all come from but apparently the park is more spread out than I had thought. We sat there and watched as members of the military that were visiting that day walked onto the stage and a troop of Boy Scouts from Minnesota filed in to provide the manpower for the actual lowering and folding of the flag for the evening. A slide show played above the stage and the lights on the faces came on and began to glow. As the flag was lowered the entire audience joined together in singing the national anthem. From the license plates in the parking lot we could tell that there were people there from all over the country and possibly even the world. We had never met. We had never sung together. But on this evening it was one of the most beautiful choruses I had ever heard. I could feel tears start to well up and I almost wasn’t able to sing the whole song because it was so moving.

boyscoutsThe following day we made our way on to Wall where we spent most of the day at Wall Drug. The next day we drove on and ended up spending almost an entire day at 1880 Town. When all was said and done we had spent 4 days of our summer road trip in South Dakota when we had originally thought this state would be a drive by.

Later that fall, when my kids, who were 11 and 13 at the time, would tell people about their summer they would talk about their favorite day at Mt. Rushmore. There were no roller coasters, there were no video games, and this was their favorite stop on the trip.

Sometimes we have to remember that one of the best gifts we can give to our kids is the time for us to be together in a place where their imaginations can run wild.