Backbone State Park and Bixby State Preserve

We completed our 2nd camping trip of the season!  Still hoping we can do once a month….  This one was much better than last month too!  We had all sorts of struggles trying to figure out when and where we were going because the weather kept going crazy.  We knew we definitely wanted to tent camp this time, but we also wanted the weather to be such that we could actually do some hiking.  I had gotten permission from the judge (to take baby girl out of state) for some dates and then we ended up not being able to go at that time due to tons of rain chances.  We knew we could just up and go to Backbone, since it’s in-state, so we were kind of banking on that working out eventually.  Long story (sort of) short, we did find a time and got it done!  The weather actually turned out to be incredible too, which was so fun!  And all the kids were still in school, so the place was deadsville.  So great!  Also, *drum roll,* our friend Callie came with us which continues to be a highlight of conversation among our children.

Day 1:

We had been looking forward to and planning for this day for a while, so of course the day started out by Evie having a stomachache.  I tried to poo-poo it, and told her she probably just needed breakfast.  That went well.  I got to see her glass of kef and half eaten breakfast twice that morning….. followed by two more throw up episodes.  She seemed quite perky in spite of it, and it’s no joke trying to prepare and pack for a 2 night camping trip with 5 small children so we went ahead and decided to continue as planned.  Callie came a little early and helped me finish up packing.  Finally Cabz got home from work and we were off!

It took about 2 hours to get there, with only one road side pull over for Elly to use the can.  Since we waited for Cabz to finish a full day of work, we didn’t get to the campsite until it was already somewhat late for supper.  Cabz started working on getting the fire started right away, (always our problem area haha) and between him and Callie’s twigs, we eventually had success!  The kids were super helpful as always.  THANKS, GUYS!!

Callie and I, again with the children’s help, managed to set up the two tents.  Callie’s was like a 5 second set up and we figured our giant 8 person one out pretty quickly too.  I should have it down by now since I’ve helped set it up a few times, but I’m always the listener and helper, not the director, sooooo…. that’s my excuse.

Evie putting in the bent tent stake was pretty useful obviously.

Callie helped me get the four older kids smiling.  It did blur a little since our new camera focus isn’t set up yet, BUT I still call this a pretty big win. 🙂

We have fire!  Yay!  Cabz was cooking up the kielbasa, potato, green bean foil packs we assembled earlier.  They’re really pretty tasty camp fare, but they were a little slower to cook up then brats.  Yes, this turned into quite the late night for the kids.  They all held it together really well considering.  I’m going to attribute that to Callie being there.  Always easier to hold onto self-control when someone’s watching. hahaha

Abby’s photography skills are hit and miss.  This was kind of a miss, followed by a miss, followed by a miss.  She was trying to get a pic of us eating, but was so excited she was struggling to hold the camera still.  As a result, this is the best we got. haha  You get the “picture” though. 😉

Toddlers and baby were sent to bed while the two big girls got to down a s’more.  Sticky fingers and faces for the win!

It was so late by the time the kids were sleeping. haha  Rough.  The good news is, there was very minimal crying and goofing around.  YES!  After the kids were all settled in the tent, we went to enjoy some rummy and root beer.  Callie turned 21 yesterday, soooo, major partying was in order.  I had some pretty great ideas planned to celebrate, but Cabz shut me down.  The root beer was Callie’s idea though and although I’m not generally a fan of pop, it was pretty tasty!

I just feel the urge to remind everyone I’m pregnant so that’s the reason for the belly.  Also, Cabz and I were totally twinning rustic run shirts (actually on accident, although I had mine on first – he says he had his on last night prior to work clothes, but whatever).

We were really struggling to get a group selfie in the dark, but Cabz finally got this one done for us.  I can’t stop laughing at it.

Day 2:

I figured the kids would rise with the sun, but that was just me.  I woke up thinking it must be really late and it was 5 something in the morning.  I tried to go back to sleep until I figured it surely was late enough to get everyone up – nope.  6:30.  Finally it was close enough to 7 and Elly was up, sooo, everyone got to wake up.

Both nights we stayed it was perfect tent weather!  Started out a little warm, but got cool enough that we were happy to cover up.  I think Cabz was even a tad bit chilly the first night.  The 2nd night I made sure we had a second blanket for him. haha  Baby Girl stayed warm in her little snuggie, although she was so confused the first morning she just laid there staring at me with big eyes for about ten minutes. ha!

Baby Girl was in one pack ‘n’ play, and Elly was in the other one.  Obie slept on a blanket in between them, we were on our air mattress (the high life), and the big girls were in their sleeping bags on the other end of the tent.  After pulling an incredibly late night, not everyone was super perky upon being roused up.

Obie stayed up the latest and I think it showed. hahaha  SOoooooooooo dead tired.

Breakfast time, come on, let’s eat!  At least the adults half heartedly humored my picture taking.

Which trail to start on?!  I was so pumped to get out and HIKE!  WOO!!  We decided to start with the cave hike.  It was at one end of the park, so we figured it made sense to work our way around a little.  We thought it’d be fun to surprise the kids with a cave at the end (of the super brief hike), so I was all, “Oooooh!!  What do you think we’re going to find at the end of this trail?!”  Trying to be super suspenseful and get them really into it.  It was working until Abby saw the trail sign.  Ya…. forgot temporarily that she can read.  Abby, “CAVE!  It says ‘cave!’  I bet there’s gonna be a cave at the end then!”  Well, there went that.  haha

It was a quick walk, but a fun one!

The rock stairs up to the cave were especially fun (although Obie might disagree with that…..)

Cave entrance!!  I was told it went back a decent ways, but I can’t say I was an eye witness.  Cabz was holding Babykins and my belly is the size of the moon, so there was no way we were waddling back in there.  Good thing Callie was nice enough to explore with the 2 big girls and their flashlights.  She said it was squatting fun the entire way. haha!  I was extra glad I didn’t attempt it upon hearing that.

Evie looks cranky here, but she was loving it.  She was just in a ‘I’m not going to be obliging with any camera stuff this entire trip” kinda mood.  Poor kid was sick though. ❤

Elly thought about following after the explorers, but decided against it.  She and Obie enjoyed climbing around the more open crevices outside the cave instead. 🙂

Toddlers and Daddy doing some low key caving.

The explorers made it back alive!

Time to keep moving!  Elly had other plans though…..  Ya, not chasing after you in my current condition.  Get with it, girl. haha

Callie did some high climbing fun before heading down.  I pointed her out since she’s hard to see. lol

After our cave hike, we needed something a little more strenuous.  Everyone was still full of energy, so we decided to try out Six Pines Trail, labeled as “difficult.”  It started out with a super steep hill climb.  Obie decided to demonstrate his moaning capabilities at this point.  No sooner did we make it to the top when Elly and Evie both realized they needed to poop.  Really, guys?  Normally, I pack a little baggie of wipes, but of course I left it down at the start of the trail in the van.  Cabz handed Baby off to us and ran back to grab some for us, because he’s the best. ❤  Meanwhile, the kids were getting the job done.  Good thing the park was quiet. hahaha

Back on the move!

This first large part of this trail was really exciting and pretty!  It was lots of climbing and we’re pretty sure it was right along the Maquoketa River which was pretty fun. 🙂

So much pretty scenery and we never used bug spray.  Other than the gnats being a little annoying at the campsite a few times, they really weren’t bad at all!

After the first part, we got a little “lost.”  We weren’t unsure how to get back, but we’re pretty sure we took the wrong way.  At that point it got much more dull as we were mostly walking on a small dirt path through weeds.  We kept it up for a while, because we wanted to reach the end, but eventually caved and turned around.  The trail was supposed to be 6/10 of a mile out and we probably did at least that and then back again, so around 1.2 miles.  The toddlers walked the entire time, in spite of Obie voicing some complaints.  He was clapping and cheering that we were “done” now.  Haha…. not quite, babe.

Next up, we headed to the main attraction of the park, Backbone Trail.  It’s a one mile trail loop, which we were excited about since loops are always more fun than out and backs.

This was a fun, rocky hike, and if I remember right it was labeled “moderate.”  It was definitely way easier than the previous trail and again we had the toddlers hike it up the whole way.  So nice to wear the kids out! 🙂

Elly loved climbing up the rocks.  I loved her climbing too until a little further on…..

We forced Miss Evie into smiling for a picture finally. 🙂

This was shortly before freak out session.

I think Abby was the one who came across this (that ended her leading the way for a while…. AHH!).  I don’t know what you think, but this beast is definitely poisonous!  Look at that creepy thing!!!  OH MY WORD!  I tried to throw rocks at its head and kill it, but my aim wasn’t very good in the moment of fright. haha  Nasty thing got away.  Grrrrr……  I can hardly even post this here, but….. here it is in all its nasty glory.

Cabz claiming his favorite tree of the trip!

Abby’s (and apparently Obie’s too – he has a thing for trying to be in every photo op ever haha) favorite tree, or what was left of it. haha  Also, Elly’s favorite tree after seeing how great it was.

Peanut’s favorite “tree” was one of her beloved sticks.  She was carrying one about 95% of the entire trip of course.

Callie even picked a favorite tree! haha

We discovered a cool fort someone had been building along the trail and of course needed a pic!

Babes is in a stage where although she desperately needs her two naps a day, will do everything she can to avoid them if we are doing something out of the ordinary.  She proceeded to start whining, and didn’t stop, for almost this entire hike.  She finally crashed here (for like 2 minutes before waking up and whining again), which we were pretty excited about.

We made it to the end!!

Toddlers were still plugging right along!

We were all pretty pooped at this point, so we headed back to camp to eat some grub and to try and get naps out of a couple kids before the next fun.  It’s a rough life, guys.

Elly was obsessed with hoarding and guzzling the water bottle at all times.

Obie and Baby were the only two that actually ended up napping.  We tried to get Elly to nap, but that was a fail.  She was exhausted, but too wound up at the same time.  Oh well.  Better sleep tonight, right?!  After a bit, we got the two sleepers up and headed to the creek to do some splashing in the afternoon heat!  That was a major hit!  Obie was infatuated with picking through the rocks.

I can never keep Cabz out of the water for long.  Such a water rat…..

Abby thought Callie’s grass patch sitting spot was a pretty great find.

Trying, and failing, to get Evie smiling cute.  There was just too much sand she had to dump out, and then repeat because her foot went back in the sand when she was dumping it.  It was challenging!

Abs just loves the water.  I think this had to have been her favorite part. haha  She was splashing and living it up the entire time! ❤

Washing up to head back to camp.  It was a virtual bath!

We gave ourselves plenty of time to get that stubborn fire going for supper this time. haha

Fire masters doing their thing.

Abby was sweetly trying to teach Elly how to play velcro ball catch.  It was pretty cute.  “Here, honey!  Hold your hand like this!!”  Followed by a (called it!) completely failed catch. haha ❤

Followed by having her move right in front of her face, so she could make it happen.  Whatever works.

Obes was loving hanging out with Baby Girl.  “My hand!!  Awwww!!”  She was holding his hand, guys! ❤

Hanging out with the babes while the fire was getting started.

Cuties. ❤

Tonight was lots of fun.  The kids all got to bed at a nice early time and they all passed out within like 2 minutes.  The adults hung out and played some Suishi Go – we each won a round and then Cabz had to win the tie breaker.  He just reminded me that he also won at rummy the night before, so….. there ya go. *sarcastic face while slow clapping*

Day 3:

Sometime in the middle of last night, I was checking on the kids and poor Evie was just burning up with fever.  She hadn’t had a fever the day before, but was sooooo hot.  Awww…. ❤  I didn’t wake her up since I hadn’t brought medicine anyway and sleep was probably the best thing she could be doing.

The kids always enjoy their sugar cereal (special camping treat) on camping mornings.

Evie was still feverish in the morning, but felt much better than in the night.  She ate a decent amount for breakfast, but lost her appetite as the day went on – poor girl barely touched her lunch.

The kids were being especially cute while we were packing up camp.

Peanut’s fever didn’t stop her from being an adorable big sister.  She was feeling soooo big marching around holding the toddlers’ hands. hahaha  ❤

Getting the tent to squish back in the bag is always a bit of a trick.

Our last morning of hiking!  We decided to head out on the East Lake Trail.  It was an excellent choice!

The trail was fairly easy to navigate, but had lots of ups and downs and the scenery was beautiful!

Is any hiking trip complete without at least one group selfie?! haha  Callie’s got some skills.

This fella gave me quite the workout while hiking (holding his hand and keeping him moving can be a bit of a task, to put it nicely), but it was good for him! 🙂

The bluffs along the hike were so much fun!

Abby found a feather and thought it was the coolest, but Cabz said it could be an eagle feather so she had to drop it.  Pictures before the goodbye were necessary.

Uh-oh!  We came upon a lame way around or a difficult shortcut.  Shortcut for all!! haha

My favorite tree (mostly, I just thought it was unique), until Cabz pointed out it looked like a bunch of snakes hanging down.  Ugh.  Thanks, babe!

The east lake trail followed water almost the entire way and it was of course quite exciting when we noticed geese with their babies!

We made it to where East Lake Trail and Bluebird Trail met up and turned onto Bluebird.  It looped back to where we came and we always go for loops when we can!

The kids were trying to stall the hike with some dirt fun, but we got them up and moving.  To the top of the first hill and then we’ll take a snack break!  That first hill proved to be a bit longer than we thought, but we did eventually make it! haha

Abby demonstrating how “tired” she was when we finally stopped.  Spare me. haha  You should see the endless energy these kids have 24/7.

Applesauce squeezers for the win.

There were a few little offshoot trails that looped back to the trail we were on and Cabz and Abby finally decided to go for one of them.  I think Cabz was happy to hand babykins off to Callie for a little reprieve.  Those carriers get tiresome (I can testify, even though this time I was carrier free! haha)  They jogged/ran the whole thing, but it was such a long out and back compared to the distance we went that we were standing around waiting for them for a bit.  Good thing Obes decided to do a stinky, while midwalk nontheless.  *sigh*  His potty training has been a bit slow compared to my norm.  Callie has a knack for catching these great moment on film.  Enjoy.

We took care of that smelly business, waited a bit, and spotted our cute duo!  It was actually really cute.  Abby was SO thrilled about her adventure with Daddy (“we saw over TEN deer!!!”) and talked about it for the rest of the hike with so much excitement it was hard not to laugh.  You would have thought she had been on a week long trip with him at least.  It was precious. haha ❤

Toodlebug with her walnut treasures.

Photo op on a random observation look-out place.  Almost made it back!

I can’t remember how far we hiked between the two trails, but I want to say it was about 2.5 miles?  Toddlers did it all on their own again!  Thataway!  Time to head out of Backbone.  We decided to try stopping at Bixby State Preserve on the way home, since it was only about 15 minutes from Backbone.  It sounded like Bixby’s main attraction was the ice cave, so we hoped to find that at least.  We got there and there was a random guy fishing there who pointed us in the right direction of the cave.  It was a cute hike, but extremely short.  The first part involved a fun little creek crossing!

Callie made it safely across and videoed the rest of the gang. haha

We gathered the trail was going to be short, so we stopped for a little creek playing, because that is always the best.

Abby was bent out of shape to catch a fish.  I think she realized the guy we saw was going fishing and hello, it is her lifelong dream to be a fisherwoman so she figured this was her big moment to shine!  Callie tried to help her out, but those little guppies were just too stinking fast!

We finally drug an unwilling Abby away from the water and finished our hike to the ice cave.

It was gated off (as we knew from reading online) but still chilly and kind of interesting.  Callie took a few of the kids up to stand on top of it too, because why not? ha

On the way back, Abby was again furiously trying to catch a fish.  She was actually pretty riled up about it, grouching at me that I didn’t bring her net and she was a bit feisty when we forced her to give it up and head back for lunch.  I mean, I wanted the girl to catch a fish, but it just wasn’t happening! lol

Humoring me for a picture quick. ha  Eating lunch at Bixby before ending our fun trip.

Pulling into the driveway – we made it!!

All the kids were dead tired and passed out on the way home.  Peanut slept off and on in the van, but once we got home she went inside and completely crashed on the couch.  Her fever came back in full force (103.7) and I was pushing to get her to drink and eat a little applesauce over the course of the afternoon/evening.  She slept pretty poorly that night (due to all the sleeping right beforehand), but was doing better the next day.  Always sad to have a little tot sick. ❤  All in all, it was a great trip and other than Peanut lagging a bit the last day, she was really such a trooper and enjoyed it all a bunch!  I can’t wait for next time! 🙂

 

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Lacey-Keosauqua State Park

Alright, guys.  I have big plans for this camping season!!  I want to go on a camping trip every month from April – August, hopefully one in late September if we’re all up for it and then maybe again in October. haha  Now, don’t get all Negative Nancy on it happening before I even explain myself!  I’m not planning anything over the top elaborate or ten years away or anything, so it’s actually doable with all the kiddies and in my current enlarged state.  I did my research and found quite a few decent looking state parks all within 3 hours of driving distance (most are actually more like 1 1/2 or 2!).  I mean, I’d love to travel out to some insanely crazy cool adventuresome state parks elsewhere, BUT the ones I found look really pretty great for the distance and it seems like this could be one of the few years we could attempt something like this (you know, prior to too many pets 😉 haha).

April was having some kind of a fit this year and we had pretty much no nice days, but I was itching to get somewhere and Cabz said we could just do a cabin stay this first time (ya, I know, not really “camping,” but we’ll tent camp from here on out hopefully and it was better than not going!) so we made it happen!  For our first excursion we chose the lamest of all the parks I had found (basically a hilly lake type state park with a few bluffs).  It was the only option that was slightly south and looked less likely to rain than the other places we were considering.

I packed and loaded up the van most of Thursday and we hightailed it out as soon as Cabz got off work!  Wow!  It felt pretty roomy packing the big van this time around. haha!  Look at all that room!

SO EXCITED and ready to go!

When we arrived, it was basically time for a late supper and kids’ bedtimes.  I had brought leftovers (gotta utilize that cabin microwave after all) for supper, so we heated that up and picnicked just outside our cabin.  There were only 6 cabins at the park and 2 others had people in them.  The entire campground was actually closed down for the season due to major construction, so the park was pretty much dead other than us.  That part was kind of fun!  Baby Girl  doesn’t roll too much yet, so she typically gets to be our table centerpiece while we’re eating. haha

The toddlers outside our little cabin.  It was technically set up for four, with a six person maximum, but the guy told me while he wasn’t going to SAY we could bring 7 people, he also wasn’t going to tell us to make our children age 5 and under sleep elsewhere. hahaha

I had brought along some popcorn for a little treat before bed.  I don’t know why, but I kind of forgot about s’mores, but the popcorn was a big hit.

Couldn’t get Obes to look up, because FOOD, guys!!

Evie with her beloved blue leaf.  There was some sprinkler thing by our cabin that had recently been spray painted blue and the surrounding nature was also blue.  The big girls were infatuated with all the blue stuff, especially Evie of course.

Bedtime the first night was……hard, unpleasant, everlasting, disastrous, rough, painful, and extremely frustrating.  Welcome to the first night of camping with young children.  There were two futons and we had brought two pack ‘n’ plays along as well.  We took one futon and the plan was Baby Girl in one pack ‘n’ play, Obie in the other, and the 3 other girls on the second futon.  All settled in and looked good.  Then we turned out the lights and I’m telling you – it wouldn’t end!  Elly was used to sleeping in a crib, plus does TERRIBLE when we sleep anywhere other than home.  We still do it, but it never goes too well.  The girls kept goofing and getting in trouble and goofing more and getting in more trouble, even though it was really late for them.  They were so wired up from everything, they just could NOT settle down.  Then the tears started.  Elly and Evelyn off and on just bawling it up (mostly Elly).  Bawling and screaming for actually hours.  It was around 9:30 or 10 I believe when Elly finally crashed and then Baby Girl (who was still wound and awake) started babbling – loudly – for another half hour or so, meaning I still was not sleeping.  Finally fell asleep a long while after that and Elly was up screaming again after Evelyn yelled out in her sleep sometime around 1 in the morning.  Someone else started in around 4 a.m. and then we were up for the day by 7.  I was not sad to have the night end. haha  We also found a rather large cockroach in the middle of the night, because we were still up, and that wasn’t my favorite either.  We saw a couple more while there and a few spiders too, which overall kind of made me miss tent camping.  It may be mustier and colder, but at least there’s no bugs in there. haha

We had a quick breakfast and got ready for some hiking!

In spite of quite a bit of rain chances, the entire day was perfect!!  It wasn’t sunny, but it was fairly warm and we only ever felt a few drops of rain between us.  Kids started out in jackets, but were done with them as the day went on.

The main trail at this park was the loop around the lake, although there were about 6 miles of possible trails available.  I was already toting my load of baby, so Caleb hefted Baby Girl and the toddlers had to man up and walk!  I wasn’t sure how they would do, since their typical distance is a mile, but we decided to go for it!  Mixed emotions here…. haha

This trail was full of stone bridges, which added an interesting touch.  There was obviously not a lot of nature growth visible at the moment, so it was kind of fun to have something to look for along the way.

There was one tree across the path which was a hit for the kids.

More bridge fun!  Yes, I took too many pictures for what this park was, but it was a looooooong winter and getting to do this was SO NICE after being cooped up for way too long!

Hiking it up!

Abby found a flower!  And it was instantly alllll the questions.  Have I said before that this girl wants to actually know every single thing about everything?

90% o the hike I was holding Obie’s hand to keep him moving at a decent pace, but he really liked it when we would hit a downhill and I’d let him walk with the big girls.  He did pretty well overall.  There was definitely a lot of moaning, but it went better than expected!

Elly did really well until about the mile.  At that point, she still kept plugging along, but her pace slowed significantly.  She was often holding a hand to keep pace as well. haha

Adventurous Bigs!

Whatcha doin’, Handsome?  Actually, I already know.  He was looking at what we thought was stairs down to the lake.  Turns out it was a flipped over bench.  ha

Abby gave Elly a – very brief – reprieve from walking.  She had high ambitions, but toddler sisters can be heavier than you anticipate when you’re 5. haha

Looking a little less alive. haha  After last night, we were all about making ’em WALK, WALK, WALK!  Tonight is going to be amazing.  Wait and see!

Finding treasures of course!

Sometimes when we’re hiking we take turns picking our favorite tree.  Daddy picked this knotty one, but decided to let Abby pose with it.

Short sitting break since we got a little ahead of the others thanks to Mama’s mighty dragging arm skills (combined with the big girls dawdling over treasures).

We found some spilled sequins (what even?!?) and the girls were scavenging to pick them all up.  This is a nature hike, right?

Feeling mighty!  Almost to the end!

Peanut. ❤

Abby’s favorite tree.  The curved one if you missed her pointing.

We made it to the end!  The toddlers did it!  The kids were ready for a snack break, so I handed out some raisins.  Meanwhile, the park ranger guy had pulled up and was wondering if we had our payment check (that’s how he had wanted us to pay since their campground was mainly closed) so Cabz ran back to the cabin to get his checkbook, couldn’t find it, ran back to the van, Evie told him she knew his backpack (with checkbook) was in the cabin and I agreed, so we all went back to the cabin yet again and found it.  Success! haha

One other nice thing about the majority of the campground being closed was that they weren’t selling firewood as usual, so the ranger guy was bringing truckloads for free to all the cabins that wanted some!  SCORE!  Saving on those five dollar bundles, baby!! $$$  We hung out at the cabin until lunch time, then had some good ol’ pb & js.

Can you tell Elly had pb & j??

After lunch, we were all still pretty pooped.  We haven’t hiked in a while guys and I knew the toddlers weren’t going to have it in them to do much more without being carried.  I really wanted to make the most of the time though, so we headed out to attempt some more hiking before calling it quits.  This time I had the carrier with Baby Girl (which didn’t go super well) and Cabz started out hefting Obie for a nap in the back carrier.  Talk about a load of fun! ha!

Abby wanted to take a picture, so this is one of her better attempts. 🙂

She was on a role and took this one of some of us on the bridge.  I was kinda loosing steam at this point.  I get really frustrated when I can’t physically do something I want to.  Usually I force through in spite of pain, but this time I was trying to be more cautious since it’s not just feeling tired myself, but I didn’t want to risk anything to the baby in womb.  For whatever reason, the hiking and then carrying Baby Girl in the carrier was really creating some problems.  I started getting a lot of pressure (almost to the point of painful) down low and had to keep stopping so it would ease up.

This trail was an out and back sort of trail, so we turned around shortly after this.  We had done maybe 1/2 a mile, but I just wasn’t able to cart Baby Girl around and everyone else was feeling a bit exhausted too.  The lack of sleep last night combined with a lot of good exercise and no naps was taking its toll.  Obie got canned out of the carrier, much to his chagrin, and Elly got a turn.  She didn’t sleep a wink in there, but it gave her feet a rest at least.

Evie found a beloved “stick baby” and promptly named it Sticky.  Then she excitedly told me we could name our new baby that!  Ya…. okay…. pass on that, but you sure are cute!

Made it back!

Love this big girl! ❤

Stragglers. ❤

The girls wanted their jackets around their waists because I did.

We didn’t want to be done adventuring after this, but we were all so pooped, we knew we had to do something less physical. haha  We found a park in the small town of Keosauqua.  There was a very tiny, maybe 1/10 “trail” of sidewalk leading to it, so we told the kids we were going to go exploring and see if it went anywhere fun.

The kids (and my man ❤ ) were pretty hilarious on this swing.

Evie scaring me and climbing the highest slide I’ve ever seen.

Having fun!  It was surprising how much energy our seemingly exhausted kids had once they saw the park.

This spaceship climber was pretty intense.  Talk about tall!  I was trying to take a picture of Cabz and the big girls up there and then saw Elly was already climbing up the tall ladder too.  Never one to be left behind.

After the park we headed back to the cabin to get the fire started for brats!

Elly telling me all about the fire.

Ripping up some fire starter.

Throwing in some sticks.

We have fire!

Playing a little velcro mit catch after supper.

Elly sad because it wasn’t her turn.

She’s ready!  If only that’s all it took….

Elly happy because she got to throw it back to Daddy. haha

He’s such a sweet Daddy, always taking time to explain things to the kids and loving all their questions. ❤

We have a catch!

Abby photographed Mama and Daddy taking a turn.  I was trying to whip them super hard at Cabz, but he’d catch them all anyway. haha  Fail.

Abby’s turn again.

Love no computers and extra time with this guy. ❤

Popcorn bag two and of course my kids guzzling water.  Oh please.

So, as bad as the first night went….. the second night was SOOOOOOOOO great!!!!  This is the reason we always tell people if they’re going camping with young kids and they want it to be a good memory, they should stay two nights at least. haha  The first night will be horrendous and you’ll wish you never went and the second night will be so fun that you’ll do it again.  We wore the kids out all day and they slept like angels all night.  It was lovely.  We decided to lay the kids down and go sit outside the cabin by the fire so we didn’t have to listen to them falling asleep. haha  They were out within minutes.  Sitting outside by the fire on our bench with this guy was SO nice!  We got to just talk and relax and it was my favorite part I think.  This picture of us is super dark, but it reminds me of how nice it was. ❤

Walked back in later to this beautiful scene.

Waking up the next morning, we were pretty glad we had opted cabin vs. tent this first time.  It was raining and cold out. haha  Although we had hoped it would be nice enough to hike a little before heading home, we were also pretty sore and had gotten some good hiking in, so it was alright.  We took the morning to eat, load up, and clean up the cabin.  Then, we headed home in time for lunch.  Here’s some pics of our cabin.

The girls wanted to pose with the toilet for the bathroom shot.  *Ahem*

Back in our own driveway.  We made it still smiling! 🙂

We were welcomed home by a little surprise Sunny left for us.  She had 4 kittens!  The calico one was dead, sadly, but the other three made it!  Right in her favorite little window spot of course! 🙂

I can’t wait for next month!  WOO!!!

 

A Week in Wisconsin

 

FYI: most of these pics were taken with our tiny slop camera, so they aren’t the best quality.  When you’re already hauling kids, lugging the nicer camera wasn’t always the best choice. 😉

We have never taken the kids on a real vacation before this (other than home to visit family when we lived further away or a weekend camping adventure).  Earlier this summer I was looking into weekend camping trips to Wisconsin and Cabz suggested we spend a whole week there instead!  I was super excited and started google researching all the best places to go.  Admittedly, I spent waaaay too much time doing this, but we did end up finding a lot of cool places to try!

Packing.  This was the first time with 4 kids that we were going away from home for this long and it involved a lot of lists and a lot of packing.  Here’s some of the stuff that needed to fit in our minivan along with four car seats and all of us.  There was a lot more not pictured (tent, camping chairs, tarp, air mattress, two pack ‘n’ plays, 4 sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, cooler, two diaper boxes full of food/snacks etc. haha), but this helps give you an idea.  The night before, when we were loading the majority of the van, I was genuinely concerned this wasn’t all going to cram in, but somehow it did.

September 8th-17th, 10 days, 9 nights, 19 hours and 31 minutes of driving

Day 1: 4 hours 34 minutes drive time – Wyalusing State Park and Sleepy Hollow Campground

I drove the entire trip so Cabz could attempt to study for his next actuarial exam.  Here we are ready to pull out of the driveway!  We didn’t start quite as early as planned, but little kids will do that to ya. haha

I know these pictures aren’t going to look the way they did in person, but driving was actually SO much fun!  The scenery was absolutely beautiful and the roads were hilly and exciting!  We drove along the Mississippi a large amount of our trip which meant we got to see gorgeous bluffs along the huge river.  So much of our trip was spent marveling at God’s beauty in creation.  So incredible!

We drove a decent amount of back country roads too, which added to the excitement of our travel.  Some were full on ratty gravel roads with very little population.  We were grateful our van didn’t break down on any of those.  This road was half paved (not the side we were on of course haha) for a long stretch.

Our trip started by driving a couple hours to Wyalusing State Park.  We had missed our usual walk in the morning, and after the car ride we were all very ready to get a little hiking in!

We started with Bluff Trail which was a short 0.4 mile hike one way.  There were a decent amount of stairs though, which made it more exciting.  There were some amazing views near the beginning!

After hiking around and through some interesting rock formations, we made it to the kids’ highlight of this trail….

….Treasure Cave!  I tried to capture via photo just how incredibly steep this climb was, but the pictures honestly don’t do it justice. haha  You can kind of tell from them what it was like though.  The kids climbed up the steps like a ladder and we were hanging on to the railings pretty tightly.  I went right on Evie’s heels and Cabz followed Abby.

Once we made it to the top, we were surprised by how steep most of the cave was.  There weren’t a lot of great flat surfaces.  We were watching the kids pretty closely, because if when they tripped, it would likely result in sliding if we didn’t catch them.

We climbed through a tall, thin tunnel to the right and found a steep overlook.

Straight back into Treasure Cave, there was also a crawl through cavern that looked like it went back a decent ways.  The kids were all about crawling through it until they saw a spider.  Then, that was the end of that.  It looked cool from the outside though. haha  This picture was post spider sighting.  The cavern was to the right of Abby.

Going down the ladder was exciting too.  We had to go backwards.  Luckily, we all made it out alive. haha  Afterwards, we hiked maybe 0.3 tenths of a mile to another outlook point.

Then it was lunch time!  Elly was excited to “hike” a couple hundred feet to the picnic location.

Living it up with some pb & j, chex mix, and applesauce!  With some meal planning, we ended up only eating out 4 times over our entire trip!  Pretty good!  We got pizza twice, Culvers for just the parents once, and bought a meal from KFC to share with our friends in Madison.

This is what Elly’s face looked like after almost every meal. *sigh*  One of the best items we packed were baby wipes.

Probably the best item we packed was the tiny portable potty.  I’m telling you.  This thing came in handy OVER and OVER again.  “I GOTTA GO!”  *Whoosh!*  “Here’s the pot.  Go!”  It was the greatest at campsites, because you know you’re never going to be right next to the bathrooms and who would even really want to be right next to them?!  Evie’s too little to care about this picture.  She’ll probably just think she’s famous.

After lunch, clean up, and potty breaks, we were ready to fit in a little more hiking.  Big Sand Cave Trail it was!  The start of this trail looked very doable for our umbrella stroller and Evie’s strider bike, so we went with it. (We didn’t have room for her pedal bike, but the strider was just small enough that we could smash it in and we figured it would be a good way to break up all of the walking for the 2 year old who had to get it done on her own 2 feet.)

This quickly proved to be a really bad choice.  Almost the entire trail (roughly 1.5 miles out and back again) was sharply slanted, so the bike and stroller continually pulled off of it.  It was actually so bad, we took shifts alternately dragging and shoving the stroller and Abby helped haul the bike over the worst parts. haha  The trail also had many huge gnarly roots you had to lift the stroller over. haha  Fail.  We all still enjoyed it though and we eventually made it to Big Sand Cave!

The kids were very excited about finding their “favorite tree” on each trail throughout the trip.  They made up a one liner song they would sing frequently.  It went a little something like this…. “I love my tree!  I love my tree!  I love my tree!”  They would compliment each other on what nice trees they picked too.  It was kind of funny.  Here was Abby’s pick for this trail.

The plan had been to get to Little Sand Cave as well, but we were pretty pooped with the stroller difficulties and figured we needed to keep moving to get to our campsite at a decent time.  Another couple hours of drive time (full of lots of beautiful napping from tired children!) got us to our random little campground (Sleepy Hollow Campground) on the way to Pepin.  It was in Fountain City, WI and turned out to be surprisingly pleasant!  It was our cheapest campground, at only 20 bucks for the night.  FYI: September (after school starts) is the best time to go camping/vacationing because everyone has already been there, done that and things are deadsville!  We were the only tent campers there!  Also, the mosquitoes?  Nonexistent!!  We had SO few bugs!

Bud was really into “helping” set the tent up.  Aka, crawling around screaming like a goofball while Daddy tried to get the tarp and tent laid out.  He had to be removed a few dozen times, and was joined by his loyal followers.

Jelly Bean and Bud enjoyed hanging out in the camp chairs watching the work get done (for short spurts of time at least…. haha).  Elle was really tight lipping it in the picture on the right. hahahaha  Little goose.  She was a bit of a troublesome little miss, grabbing everything she wasn’t supposed to at every opportunity.

Daddy just had all sorts of helpers with tent set up.  This was the first time I helped set it up, since there was always someone else to help in the past.

Once the tent was up and the pack ‘n’ plays were set up, the kids all had a blast crawling around behind them until they got too wild and were kicked back out. haha

Campfires and supper.  Oh boy. haha  As I mentioned earlier, we have never actually gone camping all by ourselves.  We were always with someone.  And the fire starting somehow never fell to either of us.  Until this time.  We figured it would be no big deal.  Fires start on their own and cause trouble, surely it can’t be that stinking hard to get a fire going, right?!  Ya.  We tried.  And tried.  And tried.  And failed. haha  Finally, we were desperate enough that Cabz said I could ask a nearby camper group.  Thankfully, they were super kind and got it going for us.  We watched and learned and realized we just hadn’t built it up enough before trying to get it started, so the fire never had a chance to get hot enough to light the logs.  Anyhow, we learned from our mistakes and were able to get the rest of our fires going on our own. 😉  We’re basically ready to survive in the wild now.

I had put together some foil packets for supper: sausage, beans, and potatoes with cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper.  They were super delicious.  Now, whether that’s because it was the latest supper ever and we were all starving or because they were actually delicious…. who really knows. ha

Afterwards, we tried some banana boats that were eaten before they melted enough, but it was late and the kids needed sleep.  Some marshmallow roasting also took place.

The kids all finally crashed and for the most part everyone slept pretty well.  This first night of camping was our chilliest, getting down to around 50 degrees.  The kids all stayed warm in their footie jammies, warm sleeping bags, and snuggly winter gear, but the parents were a tad shivery.  We should have brought our sweats into the tent, but we weren’t thinking ahead and didn’t want to go find them in the van in the middle of the night when we would have liked them. haha  We all made it through though. 🙂

 

Day 2: 2 hours 10 minutes drive time – Laura Days and Minneapolis Cousins

We took a morning selfie after each night of camping, so you can determine how rough the night was or wasn’t based on those. hahaha  This was after our chilly first night.  As soon as the kids saw the camera out, they had to get in on the action.

To get our day started, we pottied and dressed all children and promptly buckled them into the van with a travel sized cereal box.  While they were occupied with that we tore down the campsite and reloaded the van.  It only took us a few attempts to get the tent rolled small enough to smash into the tent bag. lol  Then we headed to Pepin, WI for some fun at Laura Days!

One of our little Lauras seems to have an extra pair of hands….

There was a playground at the Laura Days location.  Since we got there a little early, the festivities weren’t really going too strong, so the kids got yet another new park in.  We stopped at so many new playgrounds that it’s kinda ridiculous. Elly was obsessed with the merry go round thing.  Wild child always.

Bud was obsessed with….. the dirt.  Always. haha

There was a ginormous slide that Daddy thought everyone needed to try. :O

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We got to meet the illustrator of the picture book Laura books.

After that, we watched a round of the spelling bee contest.  Caleb and I each picked who we thought would win.  Both of our girls made it to the final three, but my girl did end up dominating with 1st place. 😉  Caleb picked the girl in the purple and pink with a bonnet.  My girl was off to the right.

Little Laura and Mary.  They weren’t super into sticking their heads in random face in holes. haha

The girls were excited about the basket of bunnies.

The kids got to see all sorts of old time living skills: threshing and spinning flax, making wooden spoons, sifting celery seed, a little folk music, wooden stool making, and blacksmith work to name most of them.

The girls got to try this method of drilling a hole.

Next up, a wagon ride!

Abby was thrilled about petting our engine afterwards.

The girls bonnets were actually (wait for it…..) a brand new purchase we made off Amazon.  It was something we had been thinking of getting them for a long time now, because they literally play “Laura and Mary” every single day.  I would have made them if I had any sewing skills, but…… ya.  They were a huge hit with the girlies! ❤

Our last stop in (near) Pepin was the one Abby has been dreaming about for months now.  LAURA’S HOUSE!!  (well, a replica in hopefully the same spot, but close enough! haha)  We had a picnic lunch in the grass outside (which may have been where I got swamped with bug bites around my sock line and lower legs).  After that, the girls got to join the bus group for a Laura story inside the cabin.

Inside and outside because someone offered.

Leaving Pepin.  Next stop, Minneapolis!  This is the kind of car ride we really enjoyed.  3 of 4 kids passed out and the fourth about to join in.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

We made it to Isaac and Nicole’s! (Caleb’s brother’s house)  This was our first time seeing their new place.  So fun!  Cousins and snacks on the deck.  Life is good.

We all walked to a park nearby because kids = nonstop energy.

When you have a whole park with fun equipment, what is there to do?!  Sand castles of course.

 

Day 3: Minneapolis for the Day

We got to spend our Sunday in Minneapolis with Isaac’s family.  It was great to go to church with them and enjoy some family time!  Our kids are nutty and used to our daily walks, so we had to fit a quick walk in before church. ❤

The girls were loving the swings in the backyard!

I have to be a little real here…..  Although this was an incredible trip, there were also quite a few tears mixed in.  Here you can witness a “thinking area” session with Evie.  Cry me a river, baby girl. ❤

Nap time??  We’re at our cousins’ house!!

Obligatory cousin pictures! haha

Later in the day, we got to go to “The Airplane Park” where super low planes were whizzing by every few minutes.  The kids were loving it!

All the noise didn’t seem to affect Tad’s nap too much.  He must have an older sibling….. haha

This park had all the cool stuff!  A giant merry go round thinger…..

The amazing zip line swing…..  (For all interested parties, yes, I also tried this out.  And yes, I was the only adult that did.  It was pretty fun for a park swing.  Pretty sure Cabz was jealous he didn’t break down and give it a try.)

And the fun family sized swing!

Oh!  There were also some pretty great moments captured on this thing. hahaha

It was all fun and games until it sprinkled a little rain and we didn’t think about the park equipment being super slippery…..  Evie was running around way up high on the park and slipped backwards, smacking the back of her head really hard (maybe hitting a screw?).  She got a huuuuuuuuuuuge bump that lasted well past our vacation time.  She also was bleeding everywhere in the moment.  It was reassuring to have a couple of physician assistants around to take a look at her for us. haha  It could have been much worse!  This picture was actually from over a day later.  I didn’t take one in the moment.

The kids loved all the cousin fun!

 

Day 4: 1 hour and 49 minutes drive time – Teddy Bear Park, Osceola Falls, and Willow River State Park

We didn’t know if we’d be able to pull Elly away from the Miller’s rocking chair, but we eventually got her out the door.

This was SUCH a fun waterfall day!!!!!!  I am obsessed with waterfalls.  Talk about one of the coolest nature things God created!  We started our day with a Wal-mart food for camping stock up trip.  Then we met back up with Nicole and kids to hang out at Teddy Bear Park in Stillwater, MN for a bit.  It was definitely one of the best playgrounds we had found!  Evie enjoyed the wild motorcycle of course.

Abby on the monkey bars. haha  She told me she could only go out two because otherwise she couldn’t get back.  She did a pretty good job hanging on. 🙂

Teddy Bear Park was obviously named for all the teddy bear statues scattered around.  The kids enjoyed posing with them.

Just some guy talk.

Whatever the big girls do, Elly does too.  Daddy to the rescue!

Lots to climb on and see!

Goodbye Minnesota!

We kept debating whether or not to skip this next stop, and I am so, so glad we ended up going!!  It was seriously so much fun!  We drove 33 minutes to Osceola, WI and stopped to check out Cascade Falls.  It’s such a different setting, because you’re right in the middle of this small town!  It took us a minute and a couple of stranger’s help to get us pointed in the right direction.  First, we hiked a very brief bit near the mill and found Geiger Falls.

While this was pretty and all, we were stuck looking at it from a bridge and it was nothing like what I had seen in my google searches, so I knew we had to keep looking for the right thing!

It wasn’t too much longer before we found the correct trail head for Cascade Falls.  We were all pretty excited!!!  I may have been in the lead hollering for everyone to “Come on!  Come on!  Look!  There it is!

Look how beautiful this waterfall was!

It was SO COOL, because you could actually go behind the waterfall!  ❤  YES!  That is us going behind the waterfall and yes!  I could have spent the rest of the day here quite happily.

So much fun!!!  The kids were loving this!

Daddy showing the babies around.

Cabz finally pulled me away from here and we drove 35 minutes to Willow River State Park.  We started by locating our campsite and having lunch there.

Elly’s typical eating pose.  Standing precariously.

Abby enjoyed capturing a few moments for us.  This was taken by her.

Quite randomly, we found our campsite was directly between the two hikes we wanted to fit in!

In the heat of the afternoon (although on a perfectly shaded path – the weather was nothing to complain about!), we decided to hike the mile path to Willow River Falls, the main reason this was a stop for us.  The trail started just a short ways from our campsite, so we loaded up the babies and headed out!

The hike was very pretty and along water most of the time.

Evie with her “weed whips!”  (aka, her weed whippers – she likes to pretend her sticks are those for whatever reason…. probably so she can swing them around.)

We found the falls!!!!!!

Stunning right?!?!  Now comes the best part….. I got to hike out into them with the big girls!!  Again, more enthusiastically…. I could have happily stayed here for the entire day.  We were all having SO MUCH FUN!

Some guy told me he saw a couple of big snakes up on the rocks, but I had to hope his group has scared them off, because nothing was going to dampen the enjoyment of this for me. haha

AHHHHHH!!!  We’re going in!

This girl was obsessed with all the water fun – just like her Mama. 🙂

Little Rock Climber going strong!

The girls called this, “The Moving Waterfall” because when you looked down, the water was coming so powerfully that it gave you the very strong illusion of being swept away.  It was actually a bit weird to get used to at first.  The girls were hilarious.  The first time it happened to Abs she was sitting down, clawing at the rocks, bawling that the water was taking her away.  I assured her it wasn’t and showed her that I was standing still and she wasn’t actually moving and she sheepishly got up. haha

It was so much fun walking out in the falls!

Abby’s skills at work again.

Someone must have seen us having our 4 year old take a picture and felt bad because they offered to get one of the family for us. haha

Time to keep moving…. See ya next time Willow River Falls!

We lost some of our troop to naps on the walk back.  Everybody did a good job being flexible with lack of regular nap times.

After getting back to the campsite we decided to set up the tent and get everything ready for bedtime before doing another hike.  This made the supper “rush” a little smoother later on.

Abby and Evie found a big stick and made a “teeter totter.”

Supper’s ready!  Cutest food we ever ate!

After set up, we walked the other direction from our site which was conveniently close as well.  This was probably a mile or so on pavement.  We took the strider and the stroller which actually turned out well for us this time.  Abby clicking the camera again.

We made it to the end!  We found Little Falls!

Sisters ❤

On the way back, I gave Little Peanut a short piggy back ride for a while because she was pretty tired out.  She was such a trooper the whole trip!  For only being 2, she hiked or biked the whole time on her own two feet (minus this quick ride).  Poor little tot. ❤ 🙂

We made it back to camp!  Grubby kids with grubby faces – the story of hiking adventure life.

Just look at that blazing fire!  *Cheers!*

Toasted pizza bagels for supper!  The kids were too hungry to wait for theirs to be very toasty….

Followed by some very nicely toasted s’mores.  Just look at those lightly browned beauts!

Kids enjoyed them too. haha

Bedtime snuggles! ❤ ❤

 

Day 5: 3 hours total drive time – Big Falls County Park, Black River Falls, Lost Falls, and a hotel

Camping morning selfies.  Rough.  Evie had the blankest, most unimpressed morning expression ever. haha

It didn’t take us too long to get everyone ready to go.

First stop, Big Falls County Park in Eau Claire.

This trail started out looking so stroller friendly that we went ahead and risked it.  That lasted for like 5 minutes.  Then we hit the sand. haha  (and parked the stroller off to the side to press on, carrier or no carrier)

After traipsing through some sand, our trail turned rocky.

The trail ended around here, but we wanted to get over where they were looking in this photo.  It looked much more exciting to be right next to the falls area.

Getting closer!!  This was a pretty exciting little hike, as we had to jump kids (and jump with kids) across little streams and walk across logs and jump rock to rock over a lot of it.

We made it!!  SO gorgeous!

I stripped the kids to their suits because I knew they’d be slipping and sliding all over the place on the wet rocks and splashing around in every speck of water they could get at. haha  Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting to get wet myself…..  While holding them up on an especially slippery rock, I did have an unfortunate slip to my bum. haha  Soaked it through.  Fortunately for me, Cabz was too gracious to capture that on camera (although he didn’t feel the need to refrain from laughing haha).

I loved getting to spend 10 days with my favorite guy! ❤

We stopped in Black River Falls, since it was on our drive and timed out well to stop for lunch.  We were going to see the falls in the town, which is basically a huge man made dam (so not overly exciting compared to the beautiful, natural falls we had been enjoying), so we stopped at a park right across from them.  Turns out there was a huge wall and fencing nicely positioned so we couldn’t see the falls at all from the side we were on.  Some people at the park said we’d be able to get a look if we walked all the way around to the other side, but we weren’t that excited about it and the kids were all tired and cranky after lunch so we opted for moving on instead.  Picnic time again!

I told you this kid would either eat standing up on the picnic table or sitting on top of it every time, right?!  Oh Elly….

Goofball sisters enjoying the park.  Although Evie is slightly exaggerated in this picture, you can kinda see how close they have been getting in size!  Crazy!

All the kids fit on this one! haha

Everyone was obsessed with the constantly running lion water fountain (or “water pump” as Evie referred to them the entire time).

Of course Daddy had to take them all down the crazy high slide.

After lunch we packed up and drove a short ways to another exciting adventure!  There was a short trail that led to Lost Falls (near Lost Falls Campground).  We weren’t super sure what to expect, but it was really fun!  Our weather was so perfect, nice and cool in the mornings and getting a little warm by afternoon time.  It worked out really well for water play!

We had all gotten pretty hot and sweaty at the park in Black River Falls and this was the perfect way to cool off!!  Well… except for Daddy.  He decided to stay high and dry and watch us do some splashing. 🙂

And we did!  We had so much fun splashing and walking through the water and small falls!  We explored a little further upstream too!

Abby loved all the water fun on our trip!

Evie did too, but she always took a little longer to really embrace it.  Elly…. ehhh… she wasn’t too sure what to think.  If we spent more time there, I’m sure she would have eventually decided it was okay.

Originally, we were planning to camp tonight as well, but it was a bigger day of driving and we were feeling a bit depleted.  Since this was the one campsite we weren’t able to reserve ahead of time, we decided to switch it up and get a hotel.  King size bed with a pull out couch and whirlpool for the win!  We’ve been to a hotel twice since having children, so this was kind of a big deal for us. #cheapskates

Bedtime!  #datenighteverynight #afterthekidsareinbed

 

Day 6: 1 hour 40 minutes drive time – Canoe Trip and Indoor Water Park at Wisconsin Dells

I just want to say, “This day was SO MUCH FUN!” but I keep saying that about every day! haha  But they really were.  It was seriously the perfect vacation for us!  We enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at the hotel and headed off to Kickapoo Wild Adventures for the kids’ first canoe trip down the Kickapoo River!  We started off with me in the front, babies right behind me, big girls behind them, and Daddy in the back.  It was a matter of minutes before Elly moved to the front with me.

Bud joined her up front eventually too. haha  Elly got a little cranky with the sitting still aspect….

….until I fed her a box of raisins.  Then all was well again.

It was a beautiful morning!  Warm outside, but delightfully cool on the water.  I’ve canoed down the Maquoketa River a few dozen times in my life, but the scenery was very different here!  Huge bluffs and tall pine trees all along.  So pretty!

There were quite a few places where trees were growing out over the river rather precariously (some had actually toppled in!).  We saw this particularly frightening looking one.

We were so busy commenting on it that we accidentally went right under it. haha!

It was a close call, but we all made it out alive! ha

Cabz let the big girls each try their hand at paddling.  They have big plans to be fisherwomen in a double seater kayak someday, so they need all the practice they can get!

The rental guy had told us we’d get out at bridge #4.  He said they were all marked.  We were supposed to be on the “2 hour trip” (give or take), but we went under the first couple of bridges fairly quickly.  We figured we’d pull over for a stop on a sandbar since our trip was going faster than anticipated.  Of course, our kids were all about the sticks. *sigh*

After some snacks and water, and maybe a diaper or two, we loaded back up in the canoe.  After paddling for a while, we saw a bridge coming up.  We figured we should pay attention to the number this time, since we’d be getting out soon.  Bridge #1.  What?! haha  Apparently we weren’t as far into our trip as we thought!  Who knew not all of the bridges were going to count!  We paddled pretty steadily from here on out.

Elly just couldn’t keep up with all of the excitement of canoeing and ended up taking a nap most of the way.

Evelyn, our little wild child, decided part way through that she needed to wear all the extra life jackets.  She told me she was being “extra safe.”  Okay, babe.  Whatever.

I guess it was a good idea, because at one point we came upon an unexpected small waterfall.  We heard the water from around the bend and were like, “Uhhhhh….haha…. what’s that?!”  I called to the girls to stay in the middle of the canoe and hang on tight!  Thankfully we hit it straight on and didn’t tip over.  It was actually pretty fun.  The girls were wishing there was another. haha  The river had quite a few small rapids that made the trip more exciting too.

After canoeing, we headed off to Wisconsin Dells.  Although the outdoor water parks were all closed for the season, we had booked one of the hotels with an indoor water park (the Chula Vista).  We knew our kids were going to be a bit young for the whole water park thing (especially considering we would have at least 2 helpless kids a piece at all times haha), but we made sure it at least had a lazy river to fall back on.  They had free life jacket use for kids, which was nice, and the kids thought it was great even though they didn’t do much.

Everybody liked the lazy river, so we did that a few times. 🙂

Sweet little Jelly Bean was so relaxed on our last trip around the lazy river that she filled her swim diaper.  Although swim diapers are the only way to attempt to keep the poop from going all over the pool, they really aren’t that effective (just being honest here – sorry to spill the beans), so that was a super fun disastrous mess upon getting to the van. hahaha  Yikes.

This was one of the rare nights we planned to eat out!  WOO!!  Gettin’ crazy, ya’ll!!  Cabz found a place online we decided to try.  It was kind of like a Subway, but for pizzas.  We decided the pizza wasn’t that amazing, but it was fun to try and we were all starving, so no one was complaining.

Everyone started sleeping better as time went on.  They were tired enough each day that it just wasn’t worth whining about. haha

We were originally thinking we could spend more time at the water park the following day, but after spending a long afternoon there we decided we had enjoyed all it had to offer and opted for more time at some State Parks instead! (very good choice!!)

Okay, long winded story time:  Worst part of the water park was the tunnel raft slide I tried with Abby.  Now, I love all things water, but I am also not a very good person to take to an amusement park.  I’m not what you’d call a thrill seeker at those kind of places.  I’m the kind of person who gets sick on the carousel (true story) and screams bloody murder on the stage coach ferris wheel at Adventureland (it’s a kid ride).   I wanted to try a raft slide with Abby that was going to be exciting, but pleasant.  FAIL.  We climbed up fifty million stairs to the top of the park and the worker (who did not speak English as her first language) had Abby stand by the “are you tall enough?” sign.  Now, I could see Abby clearly missed the mark, but she said, “Just tall enough.  OK!” so we went with it.

When we had driven up to the water park, there were three tunnels that went outside of the building and one of them had a big sort of doughnut shape where you knew you went around and around and dropped somehow and I specifically commented to Cabz how I did not want to end up in that thing.  There were three tunnel choices that we could pick from.  I asked the lady which would be a good one for Abby, since it was her first time.  She clearly said, “No, no, no!  Not this one!  Too big of a drop!” for one, so we avoided that.  Then, she directed me to one of the 2 left.  We sat down and were ready to go and she started yelling, “Hold on to her!  Put your legs around her!!” as we shot down the tunnel.  I was like, OK!!!!  And held tight! haha  We started out whipping down a very fast tunnel, in pitch dark of course.  Although I would have ordinarily lost my head, I was trying my best to fake calmness because Abby was kind of like what even is going on?!  Are we going to die? ha  All the sudden, we shot out into (you guessed it) the big doughnut thing.  It was even more terrible than I imagined it would be.  We went around and around in this creepy black pit.  I honestly thought we were stuck in there and we couldn’t get out.  I was about to try and climb up the slide with Abby on my back when I saw it.  The hole.  We drifted slowly towards it, tipping around of course so that we were going backwards, and plunged back down a slide to our immediate death.  Just kidding.  We did plunge back down a slide, but thankfully it led back to a pool in the water park.  WHEW!  My headache did eventually go away, but Abby and I mutually agreed that part was not fun. hahaha

 

Day 7: 1 hour 25 minutes drive time – Natural Bridge State Park, Mirror Lake State Park, and Camping

This was a more laid back day.  We drove a bit to Mirror Lake State Park and did a little hiking, starting with Echo Rock Trail.  This was an easy trail and worked pretty well for the bike and stroller.  Elly was a big “help” with the stroller.

Bud gave her a little lift at one point, because we were all tired of going her pokey pace. haha  After that it was the carrier for her. 😉

We set the bike aside to hike in a little loop around Echo Rock.  The trail lived up to its name and we had some fun listening to our echoes.

The kids enjoyed climbing Echo Rock.

Elly felt the need to sample sticks at every location we stopped. *sigh*

We drove to our campsite after Mirror Lake to set up camp and eat lunch.

Jelly Bean was just busy, busy, busy all the time! (along with all the other kids ha)  Hocking food in the van while we unloaded tent stuff.

Abby and Evie found and played with a little “rock family” during set up time.  This is why we need no toys.

The girls loved helping find twigs for the fire.

Settin’ up the tent.  We were the only tent campers here this first night.  Our original spot was really rocky and we couldn’t get the tent stakes in, so we asked to switch spots.  Our second spot was much prettier and grassy.

Next stop, an afternoon hike at Natural Bridge State Park.  This was probably around a 2 mile hike.  It was definitely a babies in carrier kind of hike – very pretty as the leaves were just starting to turn golden.

We found the natural bridge!

Bonus!  It even had a cave!

So amazing!

Evie is pretty amazing too, I guess.  Look at how she can balance on that high rock.  Er…..

Back at the campground.  Elly took her job of carrying fire starter (cardboard leftover from our meals) over to Daddy very seriously.  She knew the job wouldn’t get done without her!  P.S. I love the baby squat. ❤

Time for a #reallife shot.  Kids taking a break from the playground due to fighting over the red swing which was obviously the best swing ever.

Our campsite was within easy sight of the campground’s park.  The big girls spent a lot of time there and really lived it up!  At home, we don’t often get to parks with swings, which Abby thinks is a bummer.  She has been dying to learn how to pump forever now.  She finally had some time to practice and she figured it out at this park!  Evie actually learned how to pump a little too.  She couldn’t get herself started, but she could keep herself going after a push.  She is not one to be left behind.

Elly of course was constantly doing things that she probably wasn’t big enough to do on her own.  Miss Trouble.

Teeter Totter Fun!

Watching Daddy get the fire going and anticipating supper.  Brats were on the menu for the night.

❤ ❤ ❤ My main man. ❤ ❤ ❤

A little pre-supper snacking.

This campground was really nice and had the cleanest/nicest bathrooms I have ever seen at a campground before!  They were so nice, I showered both nights there (which was so nice, because you always feel kind of grubby while camping!) and gave the kids all showers the second night.  While I was putting the babies to bed, the big girls made a “train” out of camping chairs. haha  This was one item I wish I hadn’t packed in hindsight.  Camp chairs are great and all, but there were picnic tables at every site we used and our minivan was SO full that anything less would have been nice.  Oh well!

All ready for bed!!

A little flashlight fun before sleeping.

 

Day 8: 29 minutes of drive time – Devil’s Lake State Park and Parfrey’s Glen

These places are definitely on our go back again list!  It’s only 3 hours from Davenport and we really want to do a longer, circle the entire lake kind of hike at Devil’s Lake. 🙂  We really did go almost the entire distance around the lake by the time we were said and done, but that was with a back and forth hike.

Camping morning selfies, just because.

We started out hiking at Devil’s Lake.  Our first trail was the Tumbled Rocks trail.  We attempted to bring the stroller and that was not a good idea. haha  At first it went okay, but later on it got pretty rough.

The morning view of the lake was truly breathtaking.  No bugs, nice and cool, sunny – perfect!!

The kids LOVED climbing around on all the big rocks!

We were glad we got out hiking decently early.  We didn’t run into too many people on the trails, but it did pick up some as the day went on.

Did I mention the water was gorgeous?!

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks for the girls to climb on!

Everyone that passed us wondered how we were making the stroller work, but you know my obstinate self…..  Once I had it on the trail, I was going to force it through, whether that involved pushing, shoving, dragging, jumping, or carrying it. ha

We went back and forth on Tumbled Rocks trail since we had the stroller and the other option (keep circling the lake) involved a trail that we couldn’t force the stroller through even if we tried.  Tumbled Rocks went along one of the long sides of the lake.  After this trail, we headed off for another rocky hike.  This one was a shorter trail, but a much steeper one!

We pretty much hiked up a bunch of rocks and then back down them!  Evie loved hiking up the rocks!  She was so excited about it.

This crazy tree was growing right over the rocks.

It was really great seeing the kids enjoy themselves so much.  Love this kind of family time! ❤

This trail was called, Balanced Rock Trail, so we were trying to keep our eyes open for the famous Balanced Rock.  I had heard that it was difficult to spot.  My humorous hubs thought he was a hoot telling us he had found “balanced rock.” hahaha

The views on the way up were spectacular!

Hiking along….

The picture doesn’t do a good job showing it, but this was a terrifyingly high little ledge that you could go stand on.  Not sure why I’m smiling. haha

Evie was the cutest on this trail.  She was just so excited about climbing up over each rock (and that was the entire trail, soooo……).

Tight squeeze with the carrier!

#reallifemoment There were daily tears with our crew.  It’s true.

We love hiking!  So worth it!

Elly couldn’t take all the excitement, yet again, and passed out for a nap part way through.

After we reached the top and enjoyed the view for a while, we came to the realization that….. what goes up, must go back down.  Down we went!  It was a lot easier going up vs. going down.  On the way up, the kids could do it a lot more independently and on the way down they both needed to hold a hand most of the time and Evie was basically fully relying on that hand 85% of the time.  Talk about an arm strain.  Good thing Cabz did most of the Evie shifts. haha

We never did find Balanced Rock on the way up.  There was even a lookout point and for the life of us we couldn’t see it!!  On the way down, we did finally spot it.  I think Cabz was the one who first saw it.  Here is a real view of how far away we were from it on the trail, and a zoomed in view because…. BALANCED ROCK, guys!

Down, down, down we go.

We had a picnic lunch at the parking lot near the start of Balanced Rock Trail.  Just look at those grubby faces!!!  Abby was squinting because she didn’t want me to take a picture of how dirty her face was. ha

Elly’s ready to eat….

Next stop, Parfrey’s Glen!  This was one of the coolest hikes!  I’m guessing it would be pretty buggy in the summer, but not in September!  I tell ya, this is the month for Wisconsin!  This awesome place is just 7 miles Southeast of Devil’s Lake and definitely worth a stop if you’re visiting!

Most of the hike was along a creek.  If you went to the end, a lot of it was optionally IN the creek, which was Abby’s favorite.