So…..we are home. I’ll post more about that tomorrow, but I wanted to add this post for my future reference. Our final stop on the trip was Mount Rushmore…it felt like a perfect ending to an American roadtrip.

Mount Rushmore.

I was super excited to get to visit Mount Rushmore. The kids and I have been learning bits about the presidents and we’ve watched a few documentaries on the creation of Rushmore. Seeing those films before our visit made standing in front of it even more incredible. We visited on the same day our trailer broke, so we were chasing light to get there before darkness fell. There were a few hours when we we didn’t think we were going to make it. The disappointment on the boys’ faces broke my heart. Thankfully, we made it just in time.
7.14rushmore-1I’ve been taking “happy jumping” shots at national parks and forests with my phone. I snapped this one with my phone of all kids jumping, but the low light meant a blurry picture:

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I wanted to try again with my dslr. Better pictures, but I didn’t get them all in the air. (a dslr is so much better in low light!)7.14rushmore-2

1 out of 57.14rushmore-3

4 out of 57.14rushmore-4

1 out of 57.14rushmore-5

Win some, you lose some. And we kept on walking.7.14rushmore-67.14rushmore-77.14rushmore-87.14rushmore-10

Edited to add: There is a trail that goes behind the main viewing area, that trail gives you so many more closer and better views. Just wanted to mention it in case any of you visit. We went on the trail as the light show began and we had the whole area completely to ourselves. We also were able to get great, closer shots of the monument when it got dark.7.14rushmore-11As we were leaving, the older boys commented on how they would never forget that night. I had read a few online comments from people disappointed with Mount Rushmore. I couldn’t disagree with their comments more. Sure, there were lots of people there (we went 4th of July weekend!), but it was so incredible. To have even a glimpse of understanding on what was required to create the monument and then see it in person – awesome. I told the boys to really soak it up because we may not make it back. They responded that we have to visit again when the girls are older and understand it better. They are probably right.

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  • heather - Thank You for taking us along on your beautiful trip. I’ve been so transported at the start of every work day to these beautiful places with you. I am so inspired to take my kids and go–hopefully next summer–instead of “someday” and at the very least go camping and hiking some time in the next few weeks. Thank you thank you thank you

  • Erica Baker - What a perfect end to the trip! The joy on your kids’ faces is just adorable. I hope you are all settling in to life back at home and that planning/packing for Africa is going well too. What an eventful summer you have!

  • Debbie C - I have to echo the previous comments…thank you so much for “bringing” us with you on this beautiful trip. I’ve been so inspired and now I putting these places on my vacation list (when the kids are a little older)! Truly an unforgettable experience for your kids…awesome.

  • Gretchen - What an amazing trip … the whole thing! Definitely inspiring to so many of us to get out there and see these amazing sights! We took our children to see Mt. Rushmore last year and we felt it was awesome! So incredible to see it in person!

  • amber - Agreed. An awesome way to end your amazing trip! Thanks so much for sharing all of these…it’s been so fun “following” you guys through all these great American places. Your family sure makes it all look super fun & super sweet. And makes me ready for the day we get to travel through this amazing country of ours. However, that may take a while. Lol. For now, this was perfect. Glad y’all made it home safe & sound. But, I’d be having trailer withdrawals… :)

  • Jenny - What an awesome trip you’ve all had. Thanks for sharing and inspiring us all to get out and see new things. My family has gotten out our road map and we are planning a couple day road trip to see new things in our area. I always think about going to far away destinations, but forget to see the beautiful things in our own area. Don’t know why it’s taken us so long. I guess better late than never. :)

  • Suzette - Beautiful trip!! Love seeing the gorgeous pictures of your lovely family! Being from California, we are usually the destination for many people but my husband’s whole west coast family treks back to Lake Erie in the summer (Grammy and Poppy were originally mid-westerners). One year we decided to drive from CA to OH. It was amazing to see part of our country in a new light! One of our stops was Mount Rushmore/Custer State Park. It was unplanned and probably the highlight of the trip (except for time with family). So glad you made it before the sun went down!

  • Emily - My family went to Mt Rushmore when I was around 7 and I STILL remember being awed by it. It is so amazing and the scale the artists worked on and their dedication blows me away. Also, your boys seem like such sweet guys, always thinking about their sisters and taking care of them. Amazing work Mama! ??

  • MagpieLovely - Agreed! Mt. Rushmore did not disappoint. Aside from the monument, there’s something so charming and hopeful about Americans from all over the country coming together to celebrate our shared heritage at Mt. Rushmore. We loved it too!

  • Kelly - When I was 11 we moved from Michigan to Idaho. We took our time, stopping at many great places along the way. Mt. Rushmore was one of my favorites. I still remember catching the first glimpse of it as we drove up. An amazing sight! I’m hoping to drive back to Michigan with my boys next spring and this will definitely be a stop on our trip!

  • Andrea - We visited Mt. Rushmore when I was younger and I can’t wait to take my own kids. Your pictures are amazing! You do a great job of capturing reactions and emotions. (However, I can’t help but think the guys in the red shirt could have gotten out of the way:) )

  • heather - I grew up not far from the mount and we spent lots of time visiting :) if i had known you were heading that way i would have suggested a few stops for ya….storybook island in rapid, reptile gardens in rapid as well….and crazy horse memorial….all awe inspiring places to visit :)

    it is awesome to see that the walkway still looks the same i’ve not been back for close to 20 years :)

  • danielle - I loved seeing mt. rushmore! Probably more so since the first time I went was a flop! Their was so much fog we could not see anything at all! The next time I went I was just so happy the day was clear! I can’t wait to bring my boys!

  • Kate S. - I am glad to hear that you enjoyed Mt. Rushmore. We stopped there last July on a cross-country road trip from Illinois to Washington, Oregon, and California. I was very excited to see Mt.Rushmore and thoroughly looked forward to that part of the trip. Sadly, I am one of those who was terribly disappointed.

    I couldn’t believe the traffic, the number of people, the horrendous parking situation, and that you are SO FAR AWAY. I expected this magical, majestic view once we got there and it wasn’t that (for us). I was very disappointed.

    But it really pleases me to hear that you enjoyed it and that your boys loved it. When I saw your post title I had a moment of dread that you would say you did not enjoy it, either.

  • MrsFun - I’ve never been, it’s one place I would love to take my kids. Love the jumping photos, they are priceless.
    Glad you are home and safe.

  • AshleyAnn - Oh bummer Kate. Did you go on the trails that got closer? That was my favorite part to view it was much closer than that main view. We also arrived right before dusk so parking wasn’t an issue.

  • Diana - I was incredibly impressed with Mount Rushmore as well. Finding out how they made it before going made it extra cool to see in person. Were you there for the night lighting? I don’t think I’ve ever felt more patriotic than when we were there for that!

  • kassondra - can I suggest a post about the logistics of this kind of road trip? like how much money you saved, what plans you mapped out before hand, cooking, cleaning, baths, gas and rest stops, ect. It has been a dream of mine to go on a trip like this but it seems too overwhelming and I just always imagine we would have to wait till our kids are older and we won the lottery :)

  • Missy - We went to Mt Rushmore last summer with a 7 year old 3 year old and 6 month old. We went on a multi state tour including Utah, Wyoming (especially for Yellowstone) and south Dakota. Mt Rushmore was by far our favorite stop. I really hope you stayed for the lighting ceremony because it was one of the most patriotic and meaningful things I’ve been able to do with my family. We had been traveling for so long the parking didn’t bother us nor did the walking. My kids got their junior Ranger badges and we climbed the rocks to the base of the statues and had an amazing view. The ceremony was the best part for us. A lot of it went over my kids heads but I was literally in tears as they had all of the service men in the audience come to the stage for the flag ceremony. And the crowd cheering when it lit up and the reverence everyone showed during the ceremony. It was just incredible. We want to go back in a few years when our kids are older and can really appreciate it. I am so glad you loved it too!

  • DeAnna - So glad you guys got to go. I have always wanted to visit. I need to make that happen. Thanks for sharing your photos with us!!!

  • Emily - What a marvelous trip you had! Thank you so much for sharing. Can you recommend some of the documentaries you watched? I’d love to bone up on my history that way!

  • Rebecca A - My husband and I stopped in at Mt Rushmore a few years ago as a way to break up a LONG day of driving during a long road trip. Sure the parking situation wasn’t great, and it was a little out of the way, but even as Canadians we couldn’t help but be incredibly awed and amazed by the monument in real life. And to learn about the time, planning and the amount of people went into it. We loved doing the hike, and we talked about how we couldn’t wait to go back and visit again when we had children. We weren’t really bothered by the amount of people that were there – it is a national monument after all, so we expected it to be busy ;)

  • AshleyAnn - Kassondra – Yes, I am working on a post like that!

  • Janna - Sigh….My Home Sweet Home:) I grew up going to Mt Rushmore so I’ve never thought it was anything special either…I now live in WA state and have for almost 18 yrs. And you are right…it really is a special place!!! I know that now…bringing my little kids there was so much fun. We need to do that again too! I think my youngest daughter was prob 2 or 3 when we went last and she is 10 now!!! Def past time!! On our next trip to see the fam we are gonna do it! Thanks for the reminder:)

  • Allison - This brings tears to my eyes and fullness to my heart! I know they will remember this vacation forever (the sights, the knowledge, the adventure and the spirit of your family being all together). We took a very similar vacation when I was 11 years old. Our family of 4 kids. A month long. In a tent trailer. From Oregon to Glacier, across Montana, South Dakota, back through Wyoming and Yellowstone. Side note: our car broke it’s timing belt while we were at Custer’s battlefield (100 degree day)and my dad spent the whole day at the mechanics although that was one of the sites he was most looking forward to seeing. Those have been some of my most cherished memories as a family. I LOVE your boys’ comment so much at the end of wanting to have their sisters experience it again. Priceless. Hopefully you make it back one day.

  • Krystin Robertson - I have always wanted to visit Mount Rushmore. I think it’s so fascinating. The photos are beautiful, by the way.

  • Christina - One of my absolute favorite areas of our country to visit. The ‘heads’ are amazing, but the surrounding landscape is breathtaking. My first visit to the area (we stayed at the Franklin Hotel in Deadwood) I declared Spearfish is where i’m going to retire one day. The area around Lead is just beautiful. I haven’t been able to take my son there yet, and really hoping to do so very soon. We will have to take the little trail. I’m so glad you shared all of this!

  • Eva - I think those jumping shots are pretty awesome. And I’m a wee bit jealous of your visit to those honored men. One day we’ll make it out that way….

  • Meredith - My parents took me there when I was in high school and we were disappointed. Growing up near Stone Mountain in Georgia probably had something to do with that disappointment. If you ever take your family to Georgia, you have to check it out! Your boys would love it! My great grandfather actually assisted with the carving on Stone Mountain so we have all these cool old pictures of that. So neat!

  • Jennifer - I was born and raised in South Dakota so have many trips to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore under my belt. As a kid and young adult, I did not appreciate any of it. I just made a trip out there last week with my husband and 2 kids (ages 5 & 3) and can not get enough of Mount Rushmore! We did do the entire trail this trip (I had previously done the first part a few years ago) and loved that we could get so much closer. The ramp, auditorium and trail were not there when I was younger so I think the experience is much better now! Thank you for sharing what looks to be a great trip for your family!

  • Katlyn Richter - Ashley, I have been a long time reader of your blog, but don’t always comment. However, I have to comment on this one. I work for the South Dakota Department of Tourism, and while I was watching your trip, I was secretly hoping (and crossing my fingers) that your trip west would include Mount Rushmore.

    I knew that your family would love it, based on the little I know of your children’s personailities and knowing how much your boys enjoy reading and history. I’m so glad that you were able to make it, and it sounds like you made it for the evening lighting ceremony too? It’s so moving!

    Perhaps you were able to try Thomas Jefferson’s icecream while you were there also?

    It’s been fun for me to read the comments on this post with others sharing their memories, and others who now really want to come because of your story. THANK YOU for sharing about your time in South Dakota. Did you make it to the Badlands?!!

  • AshleyAnn - Katlyn we loved Rushmore and we wish we had more time. It was on the tail end of our trip and we had some trailer issues which slowed us down a little. We got to see Rushmore and that was about it so we are ready to go back! It seems like some of the national parks and such there are pretty amazing and honestly we weren’t expecting it!

    Chris Campbell

  • Tara Sill - Hi Ashley! Your trip looked amazing. Question, where did you guys stay near Mnt. Rushmore? I couldn’t find it in your post and we are passing through in October and I’d love to know what your recommendation is. Thanks!

  • AshleyAnn - Tara – we didn’t stay nearby…just stopped in on our way home. The park/forest surrounding Mt. Rushmore is beautiful. We were bummed not to stay…we will be going back just to camp in the area one day!

My freshman year of college I scored a basement room in the freshman dorm. The rooms in the basement of the dorm were the biggest and pretty desirable, even with their tiny windows. Sometime early on that first semester a cute little Wyoming girl ventured down to the basement and shortly after a friendship was sparked. We were alike in a ton of ways and total opposites in just as many ways. Eventually she would become our class President and Chris was the Social President (not really a thing, but if it had been he would have been it). Then there was me. One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t fit in. I was that thing. I joke that Mandy and Chris knew every person on campus while I hid out in the art room. Honestly, they really did. Super social, friendly, warm and welcoming. Everyone loved them both and somehow I got to marry one and have the other stand at my side on that wedding day.

Quite frequently people will come up to Chris and I and start talking about going to college with Chris. They will laugh about college days and then inevitably ask where I went to school. Ummm…same small college as you two. I was just anti-social. Awkward silence and then I mention that I was the girl that could sometimes be spotted near the class president too. And still, awkward silence.

I spent many fall and spring breaks going back to Mandy’s home in Wyoming. To this day, it is still one of my favorite places. College wasn’t my favorite, but long weekends in the mountains during those days – those are the memories of college that marked me. Mandy’s family has a perfect A-frame cabin up in the woods. I creamed her brother Joe at a Monopoly game in that cabin once. He’s never been brave enough to play me again.  Game on, Joe.

We also spent many days climbing “Ant Hill”. We’d sit up there and talk about all kinds of stuff. I would sit up there and wonder about Chris and the future.

Last week we ventured back to that cabin as a family with Mandy’s family. Going back to places from the past with my family is so treasured to me. Amazing how perspectives can be so different in the exact same place just a few short years apart.

This year I followed my boys up ant hill and watched them experience it for the first time.
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Little One on the top of Ant Hill.7.14bighorn-4

Between my 5 and Mandy’s 3, it looked like we were running a nature school in the Big Horns.7.14bighorn-3

Every hike requires a snack break.7.14bighorn-57.14bighorn-6

Our oldest girls became fast friends! I loved watching them together. Another generation of Okie/Wyoming girl friends.7.14bighorn-7

FireCracker found her favorite bathtub at the cabin too.7.14bighorn-87.14bighorn-107.14bighorn-11

On our way down from the cabin we had a trailer part break. Mandy’s parents dropped everything they were doing to help us. I’m pretty sure they would have just let us move in for a week if we needed it. I’m so thankful for old friendships. When that cute Wyoming girl bounced into my life (I’m quite confident she had to be bouncing), I had no idea the treasure I was being given. Spending time together with our families is a gift I don’t take for granted and I look forward to when we get time together again. Being friends with the President is pretty great.

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  • Mary - I am often amazed at the way God works at putting the pieces of our lives in place! Most of the time we don’t recognize the beauty till we are looking back! Thanks for sharing your photos, your family and the beauty of your life! Ain’t God Good!! Also thanks for reminding me of our childhood ‘summer tub’. We would sometimes fill the washtub with cold water in the morning and wait for the sun to warm for an afternoon ‘dip’. Fun times – precious memories!!

  • Mek - Such lovely and amazing pictures, and Little One eating is the cutest! And Firecracker is one beautiful little lady :) Love her smiles

  • Erin H - If my husband and I would have been in college together it would have been the same way. He is totally outgoing and I am very quiet and reserved. He gets all the attention he wants and takes it all off of me and I am 100% good with that! It works for both of us :)

  • Kimberly Oyler - I love this.

  • rachelzana - I love this post. I can really relate to being introverted, quiet and not someone who a lot of people remember. The past few weeks I have been treasuring some of the amazing friendships in my life too, all so different and all so special.

  • Cassidy - All of your pictures are beautiful, of course, and I’ve loved reading all about your adventures but LITTLE ONE IS EATING WITH A SPOON (or something. not a smoothie. let’s go with that.) AND IT’S JUST LIKE A NORMAL THING. No hype. No cheering (pictured, at least). I’m so dang proud of that little girl. I saw the post about the cupcake and was super excited for her (and you), but this just seems like such a spur-of-the-moment thing… snack time and a utensil. Wow. Awesome. Just had to share (:

  • MrsFun - So glad it warmed up for you guys. And It tickles me to see little one eating apple sauce with a spoon.
    Between my 2 best friends and I we have 16 kids, we often get asked if we are running a camp when we get them all out together.

  • Kristin S - Such a well-told story, Ashley. I felt like I was there! Kinda sad you didn’t love college, though.

    And… Little One with a spoon and applesauce!!

    I’m driving a few hours later this week to see my college bestie. She has five boys ages 10 to 17. As they’ve gotten older, it’s a lot harder to get together – sports get in the way! Anyway, there’s just nothing like it. I went home with her a lot and have great memories from her parents’ home. Now you’ve made me even more excited for my little trip on Thursday.

  • Eva - My hubby and I are the same way (and he was president of his high school). It’s so great that you and Mandy have remained friends over the years. What a treat for your families to share some memory making together. Beautiful shots as always.

  • Lisa - College friendships – nothing like them! My favorite photo is the one of Little One eating applesauce. I’m sure you’ll never take that for granted either. Such a strong girl!

  • Amanda - So, I would love to know how the camper is doing for you guys! My hubby and I are actually considering going to look at a 30 foot 1968 Avion that looks very similar to yours! (I threw it out there kinda lightly, but the truth is I’m more than slightly obsessed with this thing!)

  • AshleyAnn - Cassidy – I know! It is so ‘normal’ now for her to eat with a spoon. Sometimes I sit back and watch her and marvel at how we are finally at this point. So thankful!

  • Mandy - Ah friend, the time went by too quickly and we would have loved to have you guys stay for a month! I am so very thankful for you and your precious family and love that our kiddos had so much fun together and got to build start building memories with one another.
    I’m so glad that Joe embraces his defeat…. finally, after all these years! :)
    Love you girl and truly, you are a gift from the Lord!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I just love these stories. Just awesome! What a treasure!

  • Emma Rose - As a shy college student, it is so encouraging to hear this part of your story–how God has used you with your different gifts and is carrying out his plan for your life. It gives me such hope!

  • rose - Yup, that picture of Little One eating just did me in. Am I late to the party? When did she start that? I am so happy!

  • Amy D - I just simply LOVE that Little One is eating that applesauce {?) with a spoon like a boss! So happy for her triumph!

  • AshleyAnn - Rose – she started eating pureed foods from a spoon earlier this year!

  • susie - It’s been fun following your trip… and now you made it to our stomping grounds! We live in Gillette and head to the Bighorns any chance we get too! Too bad winter lasts so long and summers are short. Fun photos! By the way we just got back from Colter bay and it was swimming weather the whole time we were there! Next time you will have to go in July!

We spent a couple days exploring Bozeman, MT. The original plan was to meet up with some friends, but sickness cut their trip short. So, we made the most of our time and soaked up the fun that is Bozeman. Leslie Padgett acted as our virtual tour guide and provided us with a list of fun things to try…along with a few other suggestions from some of you. We visited the Museum of the Rockies, Granny’s Gourmet Donuts and got some tea/lemonade from Sola Cafe…I would recommend all of those if you are in the Bozeman area.

The highlight of our time was a hike to Palisade Falls. It was an easy hike and the kids loved getting a little wet in the stream below the falls. It was also a great chance to talk about the differences in waterfalls, the dangers of falling rocks, the majesty of creation, etc.

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This trip has been a dream come true for my oldest. He is so much of a young man these days…and he is at home in the wild with adventure and danger at every turn.7.14palisadefalls-67.14palisadefalls-7

Camera timer shot…two of the boys stuck their heads in the stream because it sounded like fun. Then they had really cold heads!7.14palisadefalls-9

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  • danielle - Beautiful shots.

  • Debbie C - Ashley, this trip has been so wonderful and I love that you are sharing your locations with us! Will you be putting these posts in a separate category at the top of the blog? I def want to reference this info one day when we drive to Yellowstone.

  • Janice - Can’t think of Bozeman without thinking of Sheldon Cooper moving there after his apartment was broken into.

    I am loving taking this journey with you and your family.

  • Eva - Oh, how I would love to go adventuring in the PNW. Unfortunately, we live as far as possible from that part of the country. It stinks. I am living vicariously through you, though. Maybe in a few years we will be able to swing it. But for now, your photos will have to do. That last photo of all of you is my fave. I really need to use my timer more often.

  • DebZorn - I’ve really enjoyed your photos as you have been traveling. (I really enjoy ALL your photos!) Your family picture and the one of you and the kids on the rocks are fantastic. What wonderful memories you are making. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • emily - Bozeman is gorgeous! Wish you guys could have met up with your friends! I have a feeling some epic photography would have come from that plan! :) Having fun seeing your trip!! If you need a place to park the trailer in Spokane, we have space ;)

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Thank you for taking us on your trip with you ;) i’m loving every picture!

  • Chris - Absolutely love all your trip pics. Thanks so much for sharing. Makes me want to scoop up my family and head out west!

  • Kendra - How fun you were in my backyard! We live right on campus which neighbors up to the Museum. So glad you had an amazing time here :)

  • Seamingly Sarah - Have you ever read “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge or any of his other books. He wrote that book for men, but as a woman it was good to read too. He writes so well about the wildness God has placed in men’s hearts. It would be a good read for you and your husband and maybe someday your oldest son too. My husband and I have almost every book he’s written. Just a thought.

  • Lucrecer - I used to live in Great Falls, MT. Looking at your pictures reminded me why I loved our family road trips. It is beautiful country.

  • RaD - Did you find fossils around Bozeman? That was one of the most memorable parts of visiting that area…