Part Five: Hot Springs, South Dakota

After the visiting our First National Park of the trip, becoming Junior Rangers, and seeing the sights, (see previous post), we drove to Hot Springs, South Dakota. I had booked five nights at Hot Springs KOA in a Kabin (the cute name for their awesome little cabins).


We registered, unpacked the necessities and took the kids swimming in the pool. If you are looking for a small, one room cabin with air conditioning and a bathroom, a double bed and a futon, this is the place for you. You do have to bring your own sheets and blankets, but that was no issue as we were planning on camping out later in the trip anyway.IMG_4125

And don’t mind the mess, it is ours. It is hard to pack light for a three week road trip with two kids, cooking everything we ate, and camping half the time. At least, that is my excuse. 😉


We LOVED staying here. The people running the place were super nice. The entire place was clean and well kept and the kids had space to run around, play and a pool to swim in.



They even had a great playground for kids of all ages to play in. Between the pool and the playground, my kids that had been cooped up in the car, were very happy!


Hot Springs, South Dakota is located in the Sacred Black Hills. The hills were so-called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees. Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills dating back over 40,000 years. After conquering the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota took over the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture and very sacred. The U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. However, when European Americans discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of Custer’s Black Hills Expedition,  miners came in a flood and the US government reassigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to other reservations in western South Dakota. Tourism has grown in the place of gold mining with Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Mammoth Site, Wind and Jewel Cave being large draws for tourists.


On July 23, 1980, in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Black Hills were illegally taken and that remuneration of the initial offering price plus interest — nearly $106 million — be paid. The Lakota (living in the top three lowest income areas in the USA),  refused the settlement as they wanted the Black Hills returned to them. The money remains in an interest-bearing account, which now amounts to over $757 million, but the Lakota still refuse to take the money. They believe that accepting the settlement would allow the U.S. Government to justify taking ownership of the Black Hills.


Loretta Afraid of Bear, Oglala Lakota, believes reclaiming the Black Hills is crucial to Oceti Sakowin identity. “The land and language are one. If you lose them, you lose who you are.” Loretta carries an enormous mission with respect to the Black Hills: gathering and presenting to the Obama White House a consensus on the future of the Black Hills. Loretta has that consensus: “The Black Hills are not for sale. We want all the unseated lands in the Black Hills back, returned to the 9 tribes.” As Loretta states, “Native peoples, First Nations Peoples, are calling for access to their sacred sites. That is what this whole process became for me, was to access sacred sites and to get them back into our hands so that we can share with the world the way that we provide stewardship and guardianship.”




The Badlands! The Fourth Installment of the Epic McCreless Family Roadtrip

After driving through the night from St. Louis Missouri, we made it to South Dakota. It was a beautiful drive in the early morning light right into a hard rain storm. Thankfully, we drove out of it as we headed into Badlands National Park.

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A random picture turned out to be a famous sculpture in South Dakota. IMG_3971IMG_3974

We went right to the park’s main visitor center, the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, which wasn’t far from the interstate on the Badlands Loop Road (240). We bought the Junior Ranger booklets and looked around their displays and educational center. It was full of great info about the Badlands. From Geology to history, native culture and plant identification, they had it all and the kids loved it!

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We finished the Junior Ranger books and the kids became Junior Rangers for the first time. Then it was off to explore the park, do some hiking, stay on boardwalks when available, and run off some energy!



The Badlands can’t really be captured on camera. It is something that only the eyes, time, and space, can fully appreciate. The words WOW, Amazing, and LOOK! were used often and I tried my best to capture the beauty with my camera.

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My son, pointing to an area where Volcanic ash, known as the Rockyford Ash, was deposited 30 million years ago, forming the bottom layer of the Sharps Formation. Lots of COOL Geology info here!

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There was a great Fossil Exhibit Trail that held lots of great information and fun casts that could be touched of fossils found in the Badlands.

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We saw our first rattlesnake, wild sheep, and prairie dogs of the trip along the roadsides and boardwalks of the Badlands.

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And then we were off to Hot Springs, South Dakota! Look for that blog coming soon… 🙂

Traveling: as a Family

Some of the best times in my life have been while traveling. I traveled to Maine the summer I was 19, working at camps, schools, and Alpine Huts. I spent another summer traveling and backpacking in National Forests with my Dad to Oregon and Washington State. My husband and I went to California soon after getting engaged (the famous 19 mile day hike occurred on this trip) and we spent a month traveling across the country from Alabama to California,

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a flight to Hawaii, and back across country camping and seeing the sights. It was the best time: Just hanging out, seeing the country. We also flew to Hawaii for a week to spend time enjoying the back roads, farm stands, and hiking. And on that trip, we conceived our first child. And two and a half years later, our second child was born.

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And everything changes with kids. We have made a few small trips to the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, the Beach…but nothing like this five thousand mile trip.

Traveling with kids: It is an adventure, and a disaster waiting to happen. Pack to little food and the whole trip goes down the drain. Pack to many activities into one day and we all meltdown. Knowing your family. Your kids. Yourself. It is all key.

Thankfully, planning and having alternative plans is what I have training in. After four years as an Outward Bound Instructor (and many other years leading backpacking and hiking trips elsewhere) I know how to plan a trip.

My family requires food, rest, and entertainment to keep it going. Thus, during long drives on this trip we would have a cooler with snacks, food, Kombucha, etc. within easy reach. Otherwise, it would be a 45 minute, or more, pit stop to unload items off the coolers in back, get the food needed, and then make snacks and head out only to stop an hour later for a pee break. And no one has time for that on a 5,060 mile trip.


Technology: to allow movies, electronic games, or not. On our short road trip to North Carolina to see how the kids would travel, we found out our son would get car sick if he watched movies while driving through the mountains. He already loved listening to Audio books from the library so we bought him a few audible audio books and that worked really well. He could look out the window and see the sights (which we really wanted) and be entertained. Our daughter listened to a few audio books as well but not as much. She liked to draw, listen to music, color and the best things was a Melissa and Doug Fairy Sticker set with clothes, etc. that she played with for weeks. Another issue was if we should get our kids their own technology, mini ipad, phone, etc for the apps. We decided to let our son use our family ipad (which I had uploaded kindle books on for reading to the kids at night) and our daughter used a small mp3 player. It worked out really well with no added expense.


For the adult seating section: my husband used his phone audible app for listening to books while driving through the night. I listened to some as well. But my main job was navigator. My smart phone (which I have only had for a year), google, google maps, and I became awesome friends. The difference between the last road trip we took with a computer that required a plug in to get internet, and this trip with a smart phone that could get instant road info, weather, wildlife, where to go, business info, etc., etc., was amazing. It really made the trip much easier.


Guide books and info: Google and I were good buddies long before we left. I used Trip Advisor reports, Fodors, and more sites to get info on places to go, campsites, etc. I also checked out travel books from the library to get some good info on where to go. I typed all of the pertinent info onto a word document and printed it out right before leaving. This had phone numbers of the places we were staying, places we wanted to go, health food stores, ideas on where to go once we got to our destinations, etc.

Other than our herbal first aid kit from Mothering Herbs, we used our Norwex enviro cloth


from almost every day. It held up well to everyday use, washing when needed, dried quickly and will be going on every trip we have from now on.

What was in that herbal first aid kit?IMG_3022 (3) Lots of organic, herbal, goodness. Lavender Home and Body Spray for calming, 4-Thieves Herbal Vinegar, Hand Sanitizing Spray, Super Surface cleaning spray, Healing Balm, Soothing Balm, Lip Balm, Activated Charcoal Balm, Peppermint Tea, Lavender and Peppermint essential oil, elderberry tea, comfrey leaf and bentonite clay. Want to learn more about how to use each one of these items, and make some of them? Check out my Fall and Winter Family Herbal Wellness Class coming up August 28th from 6-8 pm. Contact me at to register.

Now that these basics are covered, back to the trip.

Our 5,060 Mile Journey begins…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells… where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.” Edward Abbey

To step off into the unknown…so many let fear hold them back. But to actually do it, take the plunge, how amazing and refreshing! I have been taking the plunge since I was 18 and sent myself onto the ultimate unknown of an Outward Bound Course in North Carolina at the North Carolina Outward Bound School. It is scary. Almost so scary as to not do anything but stay in your safe, known, world. But I have done it, again, and again and found it has helped me become a better person who lives with an adventurous soul, compassion, kindness and love.

Outward Bound Flag Blue Peter Flag

So, this is how I knew we had to do this Epic, three week road trip. It would be good for our family. Or, at least, we would be changed through it. Hopefully, for the better. 😉

After much preparing (link to previous blog) and much planning on how and what to pack. We rented a van and began packing. It all fit, just barely. Packing for two adults, two kids, varied weather and unknown weather, camping, staying in cabins, and taking almost all of our food, well…that is a lot of stuff. No matter how hard one tries to pack light, it isn’t happening with all of that going on.


After packing and getting a good nights sleep (except for my husband who works nights), we left early Monday morning soon after my husband came home from work.

We packed the kids into backseat and adults into the front seats of the van and we were off!


We made drive from North Alabama into Mississippi, into Tennessee and into Missouri. Once we made it to St. Louise the excitement began to build. We were at the Gateway of the West. Of course we had to visit the Gateway Arch. We had no idea that the area around the arch was under construction and blocked off. After a few moments, googling on my smart phone (more about this awesome tool later), and asking around, we found out that there were free bus rides to the arch from a spot close to where we parked. After a fun, informative, bus ride, we walked less than a block to the arch. Our first National Monument.



The Gateway Arch is a 630-foot stainless steel clad monument. It was built in the form of an inverted, weighted catenary arch. It is the world’s tallest arch, the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere, and Missouri’s tallest accessible building. Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, it is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and has become an internationally famous symbol of St. Louis. Of course, being super history-homeschool Mom, I had to add a ton of other facts tying this area in to our studies on Louis and Clark’s Journey, Western Expansion, etc.


An enclosed tram inside the Arch (fitting five people and not for the faint of heart or the claustrophobic) takes you to the top, where you can experience breathtaking (or heart stopping) views of modern St. Louis – up to 30 miles in each direction on a clear day.


In 1947, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association conducted a contest to create a structure that would commemorate Thomas Jefferson and European settlers’ expansion into western America. Renowned architect Eero Saarinen won the contest with his concept of a stainless steel arch. His vision was completed in 1965 when workers installed the last exterior shell piece of the Gateway Arch.

It cost $13 million to construct the Arch. The foundations extend 60 feet into the ground, and in its entirety, the Arch weighs 17,246 tons, including 900 tons of stainless steel. Built to withstand earthquakes and high winds, the monument may sway up to one inch in a 20 mile-per-hour wind (and while we were there, we could feel it sway in the wind of a storm blowing in).


Stairs to the five person trams.


Once we descended, in the small coffin like five person capsules that clicks along a track like an old-fashioned roller coaster and sways back and forth like a Ferris wheel seat (can you tell I enjoyed this thoroughly?), and rode the bus back, loaded back into our van with snacks and audio books at the ready and drove off toward the west.

We were literally riding into the sunset…my husband was ready to drive all night.


Next destination: Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Have Food, Will Travel! How our cross country road trip came about, was planned, and more…

After being invited to be part of a special medical team at an Oglala Lakota Sundance in the Black Hills of South Dakota, my husband and I decided to make it into a three week road trip vacation to include Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and a few other special places. This was no ordinary road trip for us (is there ever an ordinary road trip for anyone?). I had to start planning meals, cooking food, and preparing special dietary items for our son (who has gut issues and has started his healing process with help from Liz Davis at Full Life Wellness Center and Women’s Care /Bluewater Creek Farm, supplements, and the GAPS Diet, which I will write a special blog about in the near future). So, needless to say, he can’t eat out or even from a regular grocery store.


About three months out I started the menu. I broke the three weeks into several sections: Part one would be in South Dakota. Part two would be heading to Cody Wyoming for a resupply and stopping to cook before heading into Part three; a week in Yellowstone, a few days in Grand Teton, and heading home to North Alabama. I knew there wouldn’t be very much organic/gluten free food for the rest of us inside Yellowstone and I wasn’t sure how many health food stores would carry what we would need in South Dakota and Wyoming. I left nothing up to chance and packed all our own homegrown grass fed beef, beef broth, homemade yogurt, Kombucha, all the bread my son would eat, Nut Butter, Jam, Granola, Oatmeal, and I cooked several dishes and froze them down.

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Special equipment we bought/borrowed just for this trip: two Orka coolers (28 quart and 75 quart, add some dry ice and it will freeze things that are not even cold!) and some ceramic frying pans for easy cleaning. Almost everything else came from our home.

I did buy The America The Beautiful Pass and this was very helpful getting into National Parks without waiting in line. And it is good for a year so we still have time to visit more.

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I also made herbal items just for taking on our trip. The Hand Sanitizer and 4-Thieves Vinegar were a must  for keeping us well. IMG_3019 (3)

This was the start to our herbal First Aid Kit. IMG_3022 (3)

To prepare our kids we camped out in the backyard and tried out sleeping bags, pads, etc. and made sure all things would work.IMG_3011 (3)

A few new items were bought for this trip and the Women’s Backpacking and Yoga trip planned for this fall (really excited about the Bartram Trail Trip in October!).IMG_2619 (3)

We took a short five day trip to North Carolina to see how the kids would do on a car trip in the mountains and adjusted a few details for travel.IMG_2208 (3)

How much food did I actually bring? A LOT! Six loaves of bread from Against All Grains recipe, two loaves of gluten free bread, Over a gallon of granola, a gallon of trail mix, a gallon of Against All Grains granola for my son (which got left in the freezer), Fruit roll ups, two gallons of yogurt, four gallons of Kombucha, two gallons of bone broth (frozen), 20 pounds of ground beef, three containers of already made and frozen casseroles, Fruit, Against All Grains Granola Bars, Cookies, Frozen cookie dough, ingredients to make items and recipes once we got to Cody for resupply and cooking, Cashew and Raisin trail mix for my son, and I am sure there is more that I am forgetting. My head is swirling with this list…

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How do you eat an elephant (or cook all that food while your husband works eight days on and five days off)? One bite (dish) at a time. So one month out from our trip,  I started cooking (along with the regular amount of cooking, homeschooling, running my own business, taking care of a farm, etc. on my own). I was able to combine some things like broth. I usually put a few pounds of bones in the crock pot and let them go for about a week, dipping off what my son needs every day. During trip preparation,  I would make broth every other day and pour off some for freezing in glass jars. The yogurt was similar and so was our regular food. I just made a little more than normal. The Bread and extra granola, fruit roll ups, and granola bars, cookies, well, those were labors of love.

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In my down time (ha!) I was looking at places to stay, debating to book the entire trip (yikes!) or leave some of it up to chance (double yikes!!). I managed to find a KOA Kabin for $65.00 a night for the first five nights in South Dakota, and one for our first night in Wyoming. Then a small house to do laundry, catch up, resupply, and cook in Cody Wyoming. Then came the hardest part of booking: finding a place to stay in Yellowstone ONE MONTH before we would be there. Somehow, luck was with us,  I managed four nights in the same campground and one night in a cabin (with a hot tub!). And I decided to leave it be. I can’t really remember if that was on purpose or I was just to sweat drenched and fatigued to make another attempt at booking a place on the internet or phone.

All I can say is that I am glad I had experience planning 21 day Outward Bound expeditions. This trip took all of my type A personality, organizational skills, and endurance (not much when you have adrenal fatigue) to plan.

How did all the planning work out? Pretty well, if I must say so myself (pat, pat). I probably cooked a little too much food as I didn’t consider my husband wouldn’t be working out and thus not as hungry, my son would get tired of eating PB and Jam sandwiches (really!?). Broth worked out really well, as did the Yogurt. Kombucha…well, we didn’t have enough room to pack all we needed. Granola was great (other than that gallon I forgot!). But overall, it all worked out very well. As for places to stay, we were very happy with the way everything went. Not planning and booking the last part of our trip allowed us the freedom to stay at an awesome campground in Yellowstone another night and to sight see other places on the way home.


More details about the actual trip to come on future blog posts…

Want an herbal first aid kit? Items from the kit above or something created just for you? Details about the Women’s Backpacking and Yoga Trip this October? E-mail me at