Montana and the Dakotas

After falling asleep at the isolated, pitch black, slightly creepy Pine Creek campground, we were both very happy when first light appeared. Marlaina got up to use the restroom and was completely shocked at how incredibly huge and green their campsite was! 10 tents could have fit there! What was even more shocking was the vault toilet… the cleanest vault toilet we have ever seen and it smelled like flowers (no joke)!

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We had breakfast, packed up and made our way to a small town called Pray in Montana. DB found Chico Hot Springs Resort so we could relax before our drive to Billings Montana. The facility was nothing fancy, but it was everything we needed after 2 days of outdoor adventures.

We left the hot springs and headed for Billings, Montana where we would spend the next 2 days catching up on life and getting ready for our friends Ryan and Cheryl (“The Berries”) to join us for #5infive – five states in 5 days.

Thankfully, our hotel let us check in a bit early and we immediately crawled into bed for a nap. We woke up while the sun was still out and we took Becky to get a bath so she would be presentable when our friends arrived. Then we went to Target and restocked on snacks and some toiletries.

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Back at the hotel room, we had some instant noodles and watched the Olympics. Team USA!

The next day was basically a luxury, since we were able to sleep in and didn’t have to pack up and head for our next destination. We had a late breakfast at Cracker Barrel and Marlaina finally conquered the golf tee game!

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Then we made a visit to a store we have only heard of… Cabela. That place is huge! An outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. It is ½ REI, ½ hunting and fishing superstore. We spent a lot of time roaming around there. We tried on clothes and shoes and we ended up buying a set of keychains.

We went back to the hotel room and spent the evening watching the Olympics and relaxing.

In the morning, we checked out of our hotel and took Becky to get an oil change. We walked across the street and went to have a snack at McDonalds. We were rather surprised when the TV inside had Fox News on. Really, Ronald McDonnald? Some McNuggets and conservative political coverage?

After Becky got a clean bill of health, we ran a couple errands and checked into our hotel room. We then visited the Pictograph Cave to see some Native American cave drawings.

For dinner we went to the Staggering Ox for one of their signature Clubfoot® sandwiches. Our friend who spent a summer in Montana recommended the place and we were very happy with our flavorful sandwich.

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We then went back to the hotel room to relax for a while before picking up the Berries at the airport.

The Billings airport is a very small regional airport. It is so small that we were able to wait curbside for our friends to arrive. As soon as we had the Berries in tow, we headed for downtown Billings to have a bit to eat and some craft beer at the Montana Brewing Company. Marlaina enjoyed the beer flight she got and Ryan settled on a pint of their Pot Belly Ale. We didn’t stay out too late because we were all heading to North Dakota in the morning.

We went back to the hotel, got into our jammies, and proceeded to stay up into the wee hours of the morning drinking beer and watching the Olympics. So much for a good night’s sleep!

In the morning, we got our free breakfast in the lobby and hit the road. The first stop was the Little Big Horn Battle Field.

For lunch we stopped at Dairy Queen. Then we visited Makoshika State Park. When we arrived, the visitor’s center was closed for lunch, so we drove into the park on the steep dirt road and did a bit of exploring. After getting acquainted with the Montana landscape, we headed back to the visitor’s center to learn about the natural history of the area.

We piled back into Becky and hit the road for North Dakota. Marlaina was driving. If you know Marlaina, you know that she is a very cautious driver. The fact that she never had a moving violation was a point of great pride for her… keyword, WAS. On that stretch of Montana highway, the speed limit was 80 and Marlaina was driving 82 and she was pulled over. We suspect that the officer was bored and thought it would be fun to issue a ticket to a car full of Californians. When the officer said that the ticket could be paid on the spot, we all held our breath and were all relieved when he said it would be $45. That’s chump change compared to a speeding ticket in California, but regardless, Marlaina was not happy that her flawless driving record was no more.

Driving at exactly the speed limit, we said bye to Montana and hello to North Dakota!

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Our one and only destination in the northern Dakota was to the historic Fort Union Trading Post near Williston, ND. We arrived there with just an hour to spend before it closed. Just so you know, an hour was more than enough time for us.

We checked into the hotel and found a place for a nice sit-down dinner. We went to Outlaws Bar and Grill and we all enjoyed our meals. Their crispy Brussel sprouts were excellent. Ryan and Marlaina were disappointed that the restaurant ran out of their only local brew. After we were finished eating, we decided to visit Walmart to get some snacks for the road and see if we could find some local beer.

In North Dakota, alcohol must be sold in it’s own space – meaning, that the Walmart we visited  did not have a liquor section, but had it’s own liquor store which had it’s own separate entrance from the parking lot. We went there and did not find a single North Dakota beer. Next, we got some gas and decided to check out the gas station store. Once again, the liquor was sold in a separate space with it’s own door. Ryan and Marlaina were checking every isle and reading every beer label when the clerk came up and asked if they needed help. They asked if local beers were sold there and the clerk’s answer was something like, “I’ve lived in North Dakota my whole life. I’ve never heard of beers being brewed here, and if they are from here they probably taste like s*%t. If you want the North Dakota experience, get a 40 of Hurricane. Everyone around here drinks that.” So that is precisely what was purchased. Even though Ryan has his thumb up in the picture, it was not thumbs up, but it got the job done.

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Even though we had to get up early in the morning, we all headed to the hotel lobby’s common room to play pool and ping pong.

Somehow, despite the late night shenanigans, we all woke up at a reasonable time and enjoyed the free breakfast buffet at the hotel – which was the best free hotel breakfast ever. Once we were done eating, we packed up and hit the road for South Dakota.

Before #50infive started, DB saw a picture of sunflower fields somewhere on Instapinterstbook and decided that would have to be something we saw on this trip. About 1/2 way out of North Dakota, we came across a sunflower field and Marlaina pulled over so we could do some frolicking. When we approached the field, the flowers were puny and appeared to be dying. DB’s dream of frolicking in  a sunflower field was not  satisfied. DB and Cheryl settled for pictures with one of the thousands of hay rolls we saw lining the roads.

We were thankful upon arriving to South Dakota that we got another great group photo with a state welcome sign!

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Our first destination was Badlands National Park  where we enjoyed watching goats and the fantastic landscapes.

Just after the sunset, we arrived at one of the most iconic monuments of all time, Mt. Rushmore. We made it just in time to see the lighting ceremony. When the lighting of the monument concluded, a park ranger invited all military service members, past and present, onto the stage to retire the colors (take down the flag from the pole and fold it into a triangle). Marlaina joined in and out of the large group and was surprised that she was just one of only 2 females on the stage. She got a generous cheer due to the fact that she was one of only two ladies and served as a sailor in the world’s finest Navy (lots of Navy fans in the crowd).

When the monument closed and it was time for us to leave, we all agreed that we did not spend enough time there, especially since the ice cream shop featuring ice cream made with Thomas Jefferson’s own recipe was closed.  We decided to get up early and head over there first thing the next morning.

When we got to the hotel room, Marlaina prepared us each a bowl of instant noodles for our dinner, we watched the olympics and managed to fall asleep at a reasonable time.

The next morning we all hustled to get packed and get our free breakfast before we headed to Mt. Rushmore. We got there right after the gates opened and we all marched to the ice cream shop only to find that it was not open yet.

We then decided to walk the Presidential Trail which hugs the base of the monument, so you get really amazing views of the president’s nostrils.

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Then we walked over to the Sculptor’s Studio to see the scale models that were used to aid in the construction of the massive monument. The aptly named Grand View Terrace was a great place to visit. We also saw the monument to the monument creator, Gutzon Borglum, and we spent some time admiring the Avenue of Flags.

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When we were finished walking the grounds, we went back to the ice cream shop with its doors still locked. However, we saw employees putzing around, so we decided to wait it out. We sat around for about 15 minutes waiting for them to open. We felt like we were in one of those department store commercials from the 90s. Finally, the ice cream shop opened and we finally got our historic ice cream.

We piled in Becky and headed for our next destination – Minneapolis, MN. When we left the Mt. Rushmore area, we began to see dozens and dozens of signs on the highway for Wall Drugstore advertising a wide array of items: western wear, hamburgers, a video game arcade, and old fashioned soda fountain. Cheryl and DB were intrigued. Marlaina and Ryan not so much, until Marlaina saw a sign that said “Free coffee and donut for veterans.” We made a detour/pit stop at Wall Drugstore and we were all amused with the vast amount of randomness that place has to offer. Marlaina got her free donut and coffee, we played a couple rounds at the shooting gallery, we saw the Rx museum that featured antique apothecary items, and we saw a dinosaur.

While heading back to the highway, Marlaina spotted a sunflower field and finally DB’s dreams came true!

After our frolicking in the sunflowers, we got back on the road to the “Minnie Apple.” It was a long drive made even longer because the main highway was shut down for construction and we were detoured to a county route that added more than an hour to our drive time. When we finally got to the Airbnb we were all exhausted and hungry. Thankfully, we were able to find a cute Asian fusion place about a mile away that was still open. Hooray for Kyatchi! Collectively, we ended up ordering nearly every item on their late night happy hour menu. Everything was tasty and Ryan and Marlaina enjoyed the happy hour beer on tap.

After dinner, Ryan and Marlaina decided they were going to get a nightcap and we all walked to the bar across the street, Nighthawks. They both enjoyed their Minnesota beers. Then, DB drove us back to the Airbnb and we all knocked out!

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Our next post will be about the rest of our time with our friends Ryan and Cheryl for some more adventures in Minnesota and Wisconsin!

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