Heartland Hustle

June 3rd – June 14th we set out to click off as a family six more states in our quest to experience all 50. This trip is 11 days stepping up from the shorter 5 day Texas trip but still shorter and more fast-paced than our future travel plans. Given the ground we had to cover from O’hare to Iowa, Nebraska into South and North Dakota and back around to Minnesota and Wisconsin and back to O’hare we had to include a little more hustle. Chase and Cadence started taking narrative lead this trip.

Chicago, IL – Iowa City, IA

We landed in Chicago, IL coming from Fort Lauderdale. Downtown Chicago was completely closed down. Then we drove 4 hours to Iowa City, IA during the drive we saw HUGE windmills. Due to the protests there were lots of spray paint on the roads, signs, buildings, and other places in the city. There was also the biggest number of people gathered to protest at once.

Of note Iowa City is a really cool college town. We didn’t get to spend alot of time here and even through the George Floyd protesting and just emerging from virus impacts you could tell the town had a great energy and was very well planned. While not large it had an organized grid system adjacent to campus that included a compact and eclectic food and beverage scene. It was unfortunate to witness de-facing of buildings by protestors but the city quickly got to work to clean-up as we witnessed in the morning prior to leaving for Des Moines and Omaha.

Des Moines,IA – Omaha, NE

We visited Des Moines which is the Capital of Idaho. It has a restaurant called Zombie Burger, it was so good! We also went to Omaha, Nebraska that has the College World Series stadium.

Kicking off the true hustle part of our trip we made the tough choice to only spend a part of the day in Des Moines for lunch and a stop at the capital grounds for conference calls. Des Moines was quite active while we were there and Zombie Burger was quite full in the dining room and patio area for lunch. Could tell this would have been a cool city to explore further but it just didn’t fit into our schedule and we got on the road to Omaha to spend the night. Omaha had also experienced significant protesting which added an additional dynamic to the re-opening process but Omaha restaurants and bars were open at 50% and probably about half the restaurants decided to open. The ones that were open seemed fairly full but you could feel the un-easiness from employees and some patrons as they had just opened a day ago. We enjoyed walking in Old Town portion of down town and made a stop by TD Ameritrade Park which the Gators would have been playing at to put our eyes on the empty stadium. Bummer!

Entire Width of South Dakota

The key to completing this trip on schedule while keeping up with work schedules was to time our longer drives in South Dakota and North Dakota. We spent about seven hours treking from Omaha all the way through South Dakota arriving in Rapid City for dinner time. The trip across could not be complete without a visit to the Corn Palace. Also got a sneak peak of the Badlands.

Rapid City, SD

Rapid City was so much fun! We stayed at a hotel that was built in 1927, so many famous people have stayed there. Such as Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Erwin, multiple presidents, etc. We also went to a really fun water park, it had slides, a lazy river, and a hot tub!

“Rapid” as the locals call it was a very pleasant surprise. We were able to stay here for multiple nights as a central point for sight-seeing in the area and it rewarded us. The Alex Johnson Rapid City – Curio Collection – is a highly recommended hotel in Rapid. It made for a memorable stay. As the kids pointed out it was a well restored historic hotel built the same year Mount Rushmore started production. The rooms were solid but the multi-level rooftop terrace with a polished casual restaurant and bar was outstanding for cocktails and dinner and then downstairs was a connected Irish Pub for some gritty late night drinks and fun…and maybe a little machine gambling. Just an all around great spot and for its size and remoteness a really cool city. We recommend.

Badlands, SD

The first non-city destination of the trip was the Badlands National Park. The first thing we saw while there was a whole lot of prairie dogs. Once we were done marveling at them, we kept driving until we got to an observation area. We actually went on one of the many ridges of the badlands, and it was quite windy that day. After a few pictures at a couple of observation areas, we decided that enough was enough and drove back to Rapid City.

Mt. Rushmore, SD

After going to the Badlands and seeing all the prairie dogs, we went to Mount Rushmore. While we were there, the areas closest to the mountain were being renovated, so the closest front-facing pictures are much farther than they could be. Once we got tired of looking at Mount Rushmore, we decided to hike up towards the faces. We got so close that we could see the cracks and lights that are not visible from farther away. At the gift shop, we got key chains with “Chase” and just “C,” along with a license plate with the mountain that says “Gr8 Faces.”

Sturgis, SD- Deadwood, SD – Bismark, ND

The next cities we went to were Sturgis, Deadwood, and Bismark. We started the day in Rapid City, South Dakota and drove north to Sturgis, South Dakota. Sturgis is known for its Motorcycle Rallies. Every year since 1925, excluding 2020 of course, motorcycle fans have come to this city to show off their motorcycles to others. All we did there was stop at a restaurant and walk down the street that was supposed to be filled with people in a few weeks. After Sturgis, we drove up to Deadwood, South Dakota. There we stayed at a hotel above a casino, and Cory spent much of the time in Deadwood at the Craps and Blackjack tables. When morning came to Deadwood, we stayed in the hotel until lunchtime, and ate at a local restaurant. Afterward, we went on a walk down one of the only streets in the area for a few minutes. We then drove all the way to Bismark, North Dakota, about a 5 hour 30 minute drive. It was just a pit stop to Fargo, North Dakota, so we left the next day.

Our stop in Sturgis was a quick and obligatory look at the tiny town that hosts the greatest motorcycle rally in the world. Can only begin to imagine the experience that would be during the rally…not sure the rally fits our mold but if we ever get the chance to check it out would be a great time. The great surprise was Deadwood, SD. We expected a dirty and tired old western style town trying to pull in tourists. Deadwood was much more than that. It certainly was a regional destination designed for out of towners but there has been a great deal of investment into this town and there are dozens of boutique hotels that have been restored from its old gun-slinging, gold digging, days and equipped with casinos and great restaurants. It really wasn’t geared towards children at all but rather a 30-70 year old tourist destination. Would be a great three day weekend getaway. Another high recommend in South Dakota. The craps tables were hot too! Conversely we stopped in both Bismarck and Fargo…all of North Dakota is a major pass…do not recommend a visit. Unless you have a fracking job we couldn’t find a reason to be there.

Minneapolis, MN

Kids insert here…..

After floating through North Dakota we made our way to the final leg of the trip into Minnesota and Wisconsin. First stop we had some trepidation regarding Minneapolis given George Floyd terrible incident and subsequent press regarding riots, etc. We decided to give it a shot and see for ourselves what was going on. Granted it was mid-week but we did not see anything of the sort of what was being reported by the media in the downtown areas. Downtown was quite dead given the lockdowns and curfews but there was little signs of the reported widespread riots and damage. Clearly there were protests and damage and the events in general are terrible and thought-provoking but the events from our first hand experience were in pockets of the City and not as widespread as a casual news viewer would be lead to think. We didn’t stick around long as there wasn’t much going on absent a quick round of mini golf at the Mall of America and we were excited to check out Wisconsin.

Madison, WI

Kids enter here…….

Madison is freakin awesome. The combination of a top notch state public university with large enrollment and the state capital and having the capital grounds and the campus being nearly combined made for an incredibly interesting vibe and energy. Again restaurants were just opening up the day before we arrived and some were tentative in their delivery but overall you could see that not many students left Madison and they were out in full force with restrictions lifted. We had several great restaurant experiences and night life experiences and the kids enjoyed the city as well – indoor pool for hours one morning during conference calls! What made the experience even more interesting was the activism and riots/damage that we saw on State Street in Madison. Nearly every business boarded up their windows with plywood and this strip of street plywood turned into a fascinating strip of street art on the plywood. The artwork was a destination in and of itself. There were some minor demonstrations and conflicts here and there but overall everyone was getting back to business as usual. Madison is definitely one of the coolest towns we have been to in the country.

Green Bay, WI – Milwaukee, WI – Chicago, IL

Kids enter here….

We liked Madison so much we extended our stay to two nights which meant we couldn’t stay in Milwaukee as planned. After just a few hours in Milwaukee that might have been a mistake. Wisconsin was the overall best state of the six we visited with South Dakota in second. Driving up to Green Bay we stopped at a long time family run diner in Beaver Dam, WI for a great breakfast and small town Wisconsin experience. Green Bay was ok…we expected to see way more cheeseheads abound but the town seemed a little slow so we stopped in for a quick look and headed south to Milwaukee. Arriving to Milwaukee we right away were struck by the architecture. You could see dozens of amazing steeples popping up throughout the skyline with very ornate attributes along with the home of the Greek Freak and the East Champion Bucks. We decided to stop in for seafood at the Milwaukee Public Market and it was a great culinary end to the trip. Chase tackled his first fresh lobster like a professional. We grabbed some coffee and took a walk along the riverwalk and the city was lively, vibrant, and had an incredible mixture of new mid and high rise mixed use developments along with older refurbished buildings in a well-designed setup based around the Lake Michigan lakefront and the river running interior. We decided we will be back to Milwaukee to explore more in the future. We jumped in the car and headed to O’hare and stayed at the airport to make life easy for the flight home.

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