Sunday, October 18, 2015


The night before school started, I decided to plan a mini-vacation for our fall break.  It was a stressful school year last year, and I felt like I wanted something to look forward to, not knowing what the start of the school year would bring this year.  We've visited Ely once before, 6 years ago, when Abby was 1 1/2.  I thought it might be fun to check it out in the fall, and visit some new state parks in the meantime.

We took off on Thursday morning and stopped at Moose Lake State Park for a picnic.  It was very windy and chilly, so we ate fast!  It was nicer in the woods, so we did a short loop hike from the picnic area (about 0.9 mile).  After our hike, we warmed up in the office, where they have an agate center.  

We got up to Ely around 5, so checked in at the Grand Ely Lodge and looked around the hotel before finding a place to eat.  A friend of Dave's recommended the Boathouse Brewery, so we ate there.  Their specialty burger was amazing!  After supper, we came back to the hotel to swim.  The water was chilly, but the hot tub was great!  The girls had a hard time falling asleep in the same bed, so I eventually had to separate them.  Dave went down to the lobby to meet up with his friend who was at a banquet at the hotel that night.

On Friday morning, we went to Bear Head Lake State Park.  We knew the afternoon was supposed to bring rain/snow and be colder, so we wanted to enjoy the sun while it lasted!  We visited their new trail center first--it is so nice!  There is a wood fireplace with comfy chairs by it, and a big space with lots of tables/chairs.  Also a great fire pit with chairs outside.  We bundled up in our long underwear and winter coats for a chilly hike around Norberg Lake (3 mile hike).  Norah walked part of the way, and Dave carried her in the backpack carrier for part.  Both girls did great!  We realized that we could have taken a little shortcut to see the lake instead of walking all the way around it, but it was still a nice hike.  

We drove back to Ely for a late lunch at Gator's Grilled Cheese Emporium.  Yummy food!  The girls were excited that their kids' meals were served on souvenir frisbees.  We looked in a few shops after lunch, then went back to the hotel to nap/rest.  We swam and showered, then ate a late supper at the hotel's restaurant.  Kids eat free for hotel guests, so that's a nice perk!  The girls had a much easier time falling asleep Friday night!  

On Saturday, Dave took the girls for a quick swim after breakfast, then we checked out.  We explored the trail behind the lodge that leads to the lake--they've got free use of paddleboats, kayaks, and canoes, plus a nice fire pit and a playground.  We'll have to visit again when it's warmer! 

We drove down to Soudan Underground Mine State Park for an 11:00 tour.  We checked out the visitor center/shop area until our tour started.  There is a short introduction, then a little video before you put on your hard hats and head down into the mine.  They split the group into thirds, and about 13 of us traveled down in a mine shaft together.  It took about 2 1/2 minutes to go down a half-mile into the mine (level 27).  It's kind of a crazy ride down--feels and sounds like you're going really fast, but you aren't really.  From there, we got on a mine train and took a ride 3/4 of a mile deeper into the mine.  Then, we took a spiral staircase up to another level where the guide spent some time showing us around and explaining things.  At one point, they turned off all of the lights and lit a single candle.  They told us that groups of 3 men would share 1 candle to work by.  The tour was very interesting!  You go down another staircase, then back on the train, and back up the mine shaft to end the tour.  After the tour, we walked through the engine room and hiked around the other parts of the mine that you can see above ground.  

We ended up driving back up to Ely for a late lunch, since that was the closest town.  Dave wanted to stop and say hi to his friend who was working at Bear Head Lake State Park, so we stopped there again and did a short hike to see Cub Lake and hang out at the trail center a little bit more.  We visited with his friend, and ended up not leaving until after 4.  It was a long drive home, but I was glad we still had Sunday to get organized and rest up for a new week at school.  We had a great time!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ingalls Homestead

We started planning on visiting DeSmet, South Dakota last summer, after visiting the Little House museum in Pepin, Wisconsin.  It was the perfect "last hurrah" of our busy and fun summer!

We picked up the Clarks and set out for South Dakota, making one stop at Camden State Park.  It was rainy, but we found a picnic shelter to eat lunch in.  Because of the rain/clouds, it was pretty dark inside, so we ate by the light of our battery-powered lamp.

We made it to DeSmet between 4:30-5 and got checked in to our covered wagon at Ingalls Homestead.  It was the perfect size for our little group--two side beds for myself and Tiffany, an upper bed for the older girls, and a mattress that rolled out in the middle of the floor for Henry and Norah.  We weren't sure if it was going to rain or not, so we unpacked the car before checking out the homestead.  The last covered wagon right was going to leave at 6, with the staff leaving shortly after, so we headed there first.  The kids had fun holding the reins and driving the covered wagon pulled by mules.

The wagon ride took us to the one-room schoolhouse, where we learned about what school would have been like for Laura.  The girls dressed up in aprons and bonnets, and Henry was given a straw hat to wear.  Abby and Olivia had to recite a lesson in the front of the room, and all of the kids got to ring the school bell when we left.

After our wagon ride back to the barn, the kids all had a chance to take a short horse ride.

We headed into town for supper--there wasn't much in town, but we found a DQ/Subway combo and ate at the DQ.  When we came back to the homestead, the weather was still nice, so we decided to check out a few of the buildings.  We had been told that even if the staff wasn't there, we were welcome to look around and explore.  We found a calf and some chickens in a little barn, looked inside Ma's house, and walked along a path through a cornfield that took us to a little church.  The kids had fun playing the organ and playing wedding inside the church.

After the church, it was starting to get dark, so we got our pajamas on and settled in the covered wagon for a movie night.  Tiffany had brought her Ipad with a couple of movies on it in case of rain...the weather was nice, but the kids still had fun watching Frozen and eating popcorn inside the wagon.

After a rough night's sleep (the wagon was comfortable, but we had kiddos with leg aches and allergies keeping us up all night), Tiffany got up with Henry at 7 and the rest of us slept until almost 9!  We ate breakfast at our picnic table and got ready for the day.  There was a lot more exploring to do now that it was light out and the staff was back.  The kids loved everything about the homestead--driving the pony cart, making jump ropes and corn husk dolls in the garage, grinding wheat, doing laundry and seeing Ma's house in the daylight, visiting the claim shanty, playing in a covered wagon, checking out the sod house (even though they thought it was stinky!), and especially holding baby kittens in the hayloft.

We left a little before 1, and stopped at Subway before leaving DeSmet.  Other than a quick bathroom break in Redwood Falls, it was a smooth ride home!  It was definitely worth the drive!