Having a birthday in October, we always look forward to the fall month. But, this year, October was an especially good month. From finally getting to be in the room where it happens to exploring new places, October was the most eventful month of 2018 so far!
We watched the Saturday, October 6 matinee of the Chicago production of the Tony award-winning musical Hamilton. Our mom bought us tickets in May when the new block of tickets went on sale. We decided to go to in October as an early birthday celebration (our birthday is on October 8).
Even though we were late to the show and missed the first three songs or so, we loved finally being in the room where it happens. The cast recording is often played in our house and car, but nothing compares to watching a musical live and in person―the way theatre is meant to be experienced. It was great to finally put visuals to the songs we often listen to, see how they work in context with the show, watch Andy Blankenbuehler’s Tony Award-winning choreography. The lighting design, too, was especially cool to see and really complemented the songs and storytelling in the show.
Our 23rd Birthday
For our birthday this year, we just really wanted to have some good dessert. And we did just that. We went out to lunch with our family at The Cheesecake Factory on the day before our birthday. They adorned our cheesecake slices with a chocolate “Happy birthday” and extra decoration, which made for great pictures.
On our actual birthday, we bought ourselves a cookie cake and then later got a red velvet cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes, so we definitely got our share of sweets―the best part about birthdays!
Road Trip Vacation: Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming
The weekend after our birthday, our family began our fall road trip. While the big destination was Mount Rushmore, our first stop was Bloomington, Minnesota, where the Mall of America is located. It’s definitely the biggest mall we’ve ever been to, and it has some great stores we don’t have in Illinois. Plus, there’s no sales tax on clothes in Minnesota―a big plus for shopping lovers like us!
Because of its immense size, we will admit it was a little overwhelming making our way through the mall. We weren’t sure how much time we’d have at the mall, so we did our best to not spend too much time in one store. Two of the stores we went to were Cotton On and Typo, and we found some great things at both places.
It was also cool to see the amusement park aspects of the mall, like the roller coasters and ferris wheel. We only had so much time at the mall, so we opted against going on any of the rides, but we’ll have to go back one day and try them out!
We only spent a night in Minnesota, as there were still eight or so hours to drive to get to Mount Rushmore. Because it was rather cold and there was snow on the ground when we got to Mount Rushmore, not everything was open there, like the trails. So we spent just a few hours there, but it was cool to see the mountain carving and learn more about how it came to be. And, with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington’s faces being on the mountain, you can bet we made Hamilton references!
After Mount Rushmore, we drove to another mountain carving landmark, Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse is a work in progress, but it will be a mountain carving of the Native American leader it’s named for. Since Crazy Horse isn’t finished yet, and it doesn’t have the money or status of a national park, we didn’t spend too much time there. But it was awesome to learn more about Native Americans, their culture, and their history at the welcome center.
Next was the Needles Highway, which is part of Highway 87 in Custer State Park in South Dakota. It’s basically a narrow, winding road surrounded by huge granite spires. Because the road isn’t very wide and full of sharp turns and one-car tunnels, it’s pretty scary to drive on, so we’re definitely glad it was our dad who was driving and not us. The highway provides great views of the cool rock formations and the surrounding landscapes.
Once we were done with the western part of the state, we headed east to start our journey home. But we had two stops along the way. First was Badlands National Park, which is a huge national park full of sedimentary rock formations and canyons. Someone described it to us “natural castles,” which is a great way of describing it. The park is so big that it can take hours to drive through the whole thing, see it all, and even climb on some of the rocks.
Lots of wildlife―such as prairie dogs, rams, and buffalo―live in the Badlands, and if you get lucky enough you can even see some. There’s a certain area of the park where you’ll find the wildlife, specifically bison, but we only saw a ton of prairie dogs. We did see a few rams while driving through the park, though! One ram was right by a car in the parking lot near a scenic outlook, and people didn’t seem startled by it at all.
Our last stop on the road trip was Sioux Falls. It was basically a pit stop on our way home because driving from Mount Rushmore to the Chicago suburbs is like a 16-hour trip, but we did spend a little bit of time exploring South Dakota’s largest city.
We spent most of our time in Sioux Falls at its namesake falls. The waterfalls aren’t huge like Niagara Falls or anything, but they are still pretty to see. There are a bunch of flat rocks that you can walk on to get closer to the falls that make for great photos. The Falls Park visitors center also has a scenic tower that gives you a great view of the entire length of the falls. We were hoping to walk around downtown a bit and see what local stores and restaurants they had, but our dad was in a rush to go home, so the waterfalls were pretty much all we saw there.
While we were still on the west side of South Dakota and not far from Wyoming, we took a quick road trip to Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming.
Devils Tower is basically a big, tall igneous rock formation. There a main trail that goes all around the formation that also offers great views of the landscape below. The trail is close enough to formation that you get a good look at the texture and details of it.
For big risk-takers, you can even climb Devils Tower with the proper registration and permits. While we were walking the trail, we saw someone climbing, and he/she got pretty high up! That’s pretty much all there is to do at Devils Tower, so it was a rather short trip. It’s a good place to visit if you want to get away and simply enjoy nature, especially because there isn’t very good cell phone reception or even Wi-Fi around there.