Carpenter Girls Head West

3,000 miles. 11 states. 5 days. 3 girls. 1 trip.

You can say that we were a bit tuckered after the trip, but it was so worth it.

On Friday, August 31st, my sister, my cousin and I headed west. The ultimate goal was to see Mount Rushmore, but the west has so much to offer that we planned for extras.

The first day, we drove through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin (then back to Iowa for the night). We saw some gorgeous landscapes and had amazing God talks after visiting a super creepy shrine.

We fueled up on coffee at this adorable train-station-turned-coffee-house in Urbana, OH. If you’re ever there, check it out! They have so many incredibly delicious coffee concoctions!!
A gorgeous sunrise greeted us as we set out. This snapshot was taken at the Coffee Depot, while the sun yawned just out of sight.
That creepy shrine…
Wisconsin is a masterpiece.
This hilarious plaque can be found in Decorah, Iowa. These people are my kind of people.

Since we spent the majority of Friday just driving, we made sure to check out museums and stretch our legs a little on Saturday. Before we even hit the road again, we stopped by the Norwegian museum in Decorah. Since I found out a year or so ago that my ancestors were vikings, it was really fascinating to learn about Scandinavian history. Those peeps were heroes, friends. Well.. after they stopped killing everyone. *cough*

Even with another museum and several side-of-road photo shoots, we managed to dash into Minnesota, then cross the great and gorgeous expanse of South Dakota.

This is the smallest sailboat to cross the Atlantic. It was manned by two Norwegian brothers who migrated to America. Unfortunately, after their successful trek, one of the brothers returned to sea and was never heard from again.
We stopped off in Austin, Minnesota when this place popped up on my GPS (much to our disbelief and great delight)! The place was fairly smelly, but it was a lot of fun to race each other in canning fake spam.
My boss told us to detour from 90W for gorgeous sights when driving through South Dakota. We took him at his word and were rewarded with stunning views that a camera simply cannot capture. This was just one of several pull-offs for photo shoots. Also, the roads there are pink. PINK.

We awoke dark and early on Sunday and the girls chilaxed at the hotel while I went to the nearest Urgent Care (which was 30 minutes away). Unfortunately, I was suffering from a mild-turned-excruciating toothache that just got to be a bit much, so they set me up with some antibiotics and painkillers.

Once that dullness was out of the way, I returned to the hotel to get the gals and we headed out for the main event. Mount Rushmore. And of course, we were feelin’ fairly celebratory. Especially since it happened to be Bre’s (the cousin) birthday. It was her 18th to be exact! What a way to celebrate, eh?

Just. Wow.
We got some weird looks when we asked someone to take this picture. But it’s pretty cool (even though I was having a braid-hair day), eh? Left to right: Sarah, Bre, me.
Sometimes I dance. Okay. Always I dance. Especially on mountaintops.

Side note: Rushmore was about 20 minutes from our hotel and the round trip officially tipped us over the 3,000 mile marker.

After seeing jaw-dropping creation – both the original masterpiece of God’s handiwork (I mean the surrounding landscape when you’re up there will leave you in tears) and the ambitious sight of man’s sculptiwork (I realize this is not a word), I dropped the gals off for lunch in a nearby tourist town. The town boasted a very Wild West vibed boardwalk that made you feel like you’d stepped back in time. While the gals feasted (well, ate some rushed food because the place was a zoo), I napped in the car (the drugs were easing the pain enough that I was finally able to catch some shut-eye). Tummies filled and eyes sandy, we headed back to the hotel to relax, and gear up for the two-day trek back.

The next morning, we hit the road and didn’t make it far before we found a new experience to try. Less than twenty minutes from the hotel, we passed a helicopter tour business. As we continued down the road, we fell into discussion about how much we’d like to try that in the future and the need to plan such an occasion. Ever the ENFP and game for spontaneity, I asked the gals: “Why don’t we just do it now?”

They both agreed immediately and called the moms to make sure it was okay while I made a u-turn and rushed back. With parental consent granted, we walked up to the doors of the.. CLOSED business. We were ready to wait though, as our hearts were now set on a bird eye view of the Black Hills. To our great delight, we didn’t have to wait. One of the employees came to the door, ushered us in (30 minutes before open, mind you) and had his coworker describe the tours to us. We selected a 20 minute tour that would take us around the nearby area and over to the Crazy Horse monument. The initial employee coached us on safety, checked with the pilot and took us straight out to board. We were getting premium treatment and we were ecstatic.

Sarah and I insisted Bre get the front seat since it was the day after her 18th birthday, and I snapped a shot of Bre and Sarah in the copter just before boarding. You can sense the excitement we all felt.
The views up there were.. well there aren’t words. If you ever get the chance to experience a helicopter ride, please take it. It feels entirely safe and surreal the entire time.


The Crazy Horse monument will be the largest sculpture in the world once it’s complete. They’re currently working on his pointed hand (see left), and will then tackle the horse head beneath him. No one was working while we were there (it was Labor Day after all), but there were several abandoned vehicles that help convey the sheer size of this sculpture.
Of course I took a copter selfie. It’s what you do, okay? Shut up already.

With the adrenaline rush of the helicopter tour fueling us, we hit the road hard and made our way through Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and most of Kansas.

Fort Laramie’s historic site still hosts the skeletons of structures from the first settlement in Wyoming. With an insanely gorgeous landscape surrounding these ruins, we felt as though we were time travelers come home. Well, until it got itchy and hot and we wanted out.
But still. I mean just look at it.
Up next was Nebraska. There we stopped to see Courthouse and Jail rocks, famous landmarks that pioneers used in the age of the Oregon Trail.
My personal favorite was Chimney Rock. Not featured are the signs warning us not to leave the sidewalks as rattlers have been spotted. Bre and I had a lot of fun terrifying Sarah with this knowledge.
This is the last picture I snapped of our Wild, Wild West adventure. And it is also breathtaking. Yeah, we were basically starved for air by the end of the trip.

We crashed hard on Monday night. Er.. we fell asleep. There were no crashes on the trip.

Anyway, we hit the road for the final leg of our journey on Tuesday and made a beeline through the remainder of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. We were crunched for time (Bre had school the next morning) and a little bum-sore after that many miles in Ronnie (the car), so we didn’t make any stops outside of gas stations and restaurants.

All of a sudden, we were home.

And we were already craving our next adventure.

The route we took; the most fun we’ve ever had.

Post-Script: Yes. I drove all but two hours. Sarah filled in for me some so that I could nap a little on Monday as laying down felt a lot better on my tooth than sitting up.

Carpenter Girls Head West

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