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The Westcoast Connection Blog

Life Changing Experiences

Fun in the Midwest! – U.S. Explorer

An update from the U.S. Explorer

Dear XR19 Parents,

Our day in Minneapolis was well spent indeed! In the morning, we went to the Water Park of America. Noah, Lee, Rickey, Zach G., Matt , Tyler and Brandon tried the Flo Rider – imagine jumping into a man made  wave on a boogie board board. Brandon was a natural with his hands up the whole time as if he was flying. Alexa, Emily, Delilah and Lindsay said their favorite ride was the family raft, the highest slide in the park.

In the afternoon, we headed to the Mall of America, the second largest mall in the world.  We ate dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. Siting underneath the monkeys, we seemed like a tame group!

We settled in the campsite that evening and played Family Feud. Evan A. helped his team come up with an answer (what questions are the staff asked most… top 5 answers on the board), which led his team to win the round! During dessert, Lee watched Jared and Raquel making their strawberry shortcake and he asked for their technique. They all took their first bites at the same time, and Lee was very impressed! The cool whip (emphasis on the W) was delicious!

As we drove to Mitchell, South Dakota , we watched  Bear Grylls on Man vs. Wild survive in South Dakota. It was a great introduction to the landscape and paved the way for many survival references over the next  few hours.

We stopped for lunch in a grassy area for our own SUBWAY style picnic lunch. Some of the boys played an intense game of football while others played cards or tanned and listened to music.

Before heading to the hotel, we paid a visit to Cornellis  at the Corn Palace! It was a-maize-ing, bushels of fun, a bit corny but a must see in Mitchell.

Back at the hotel before dinner, Lee, Matt and Brandon played mini-golf (or mini-putt as they referred it to) while others swam in the pool! For dinner, we went to Pizza Ranch. It was all about the dessert pies!

The next morning, Sam was swarmed with birthday wishes and a bus decorated from floor to ceiling.  He even participated in the first birthday dance off to the Macarena against the staff!

We hiked through the Badlands next. Climbing the ladder was a highlight as it offered magnificent view. Zach R. said, “wow..this place is amazing.” Once we reached the end of the trail, we took pictures of the beautiful prairies in the distance. Chase was an expert hiker setting the pace for the group. Zach G., Justin, Lee, Brandon, Evan S., and Sami were blown away by the areas beauty.

Next up was Wall Drug store. Considering we saw 68 billboards on the drive there, the anticipation to arrive was high! Free ice water and 5 cent coffee draw quite the crowd!

Jonah F, Jason and Evan A. hung around the animatronic T-Rex  that would try to “get a snack” every 12 minutes while others snacked on homemade fudge, ice cream and doughnuts. Let’s not forget the free iced water and 5 cent coffee.

At the camp site, the boys played more football, while others played catch, cards and a variety of other games. While eating our delicious stir fry for dinner, we enjoyed  multiple personalities. Each person was told to act a certain way during the meal. For instance, Lyndsey had to talk in the third person, Jamie had to sing her sentences and had to rub her cheeks every time she spoke. Mabil had to say “I can’t believe it’s not butter” at the end of sentence and Jonah F. had to speak loudly. We looked like quite the dysfunctional bunch.

At Mount Rushmore, we listened to interesting facts about the 4 past presidents of the United States and enjoyed a video that was presented by the ranger. Once it got dark, lights were shining on the mountain for us to easily depict the four fascinating faces carved into the rock. Gary and Rickey both said that visiting Mount Rushmore was their “rose” of the day.

Once we reached the camp site, we surprised Sam with a birthday dessert table, filled with strawberries, bananas, marshmallows and cantaloupe with chocolate fondue. And of course cake! When Sam was asked about his birthday, he said it was perfect.

The next morning, we went to Jewel Caves. The Jewel Caves are the second longest cave in the world, measuring 162 miles. 80,000 people visit annually. When the tour guide asked the group a question, Jason blew us away with his quick answer about calcite, stalagmites and stalactites. He didn’t even have to think about it. Kyle was fascinated with the cave. So fascinated that he wanted to take a rock as a souvenir. Don’t worry, he won’t be packing a rock in his suitcase as that’s illegal. Abby said she liked the cave because it felt like we were in a different world. Julia said she thought it was just plain cool. Aaron enjoyed touching the “luck” rock on the way in while Seryna said learning about the growth of everything in the cave was her favorite part.

After a nice picnic outside the cave, we headed to the Reptile Gardens. Snakes, tropical birds, tortoises, turtles, alligators and crocodiles (oh my!). At the alligator show, the presenter was surrounded by at least 30 alligators and crocodiles. At one point, a crocodile was inching close to the animator behind his back. Evan S. yelled to warn him so he turned around and started talking to the animal like a dog (stay, heel, etc). Izzy, Haley and Grant were worried he would be bitten!

For dinner, we prepared salmon, steak, chicken, homemade potatoes, roasted corn on the cob, warm garlic bread with cheese and our variation of a Waldorf salad that was amazing. Jonah E. was an absolute natural on the grill. Definitely one of the best meals thus far!

In the evening, we went through the second largest maze in the United States. We had to make our way to all four towers to stamp their paper with the faces of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore. Nikki said she went with Haley and Isabel and they found the maze insane! It was definitely tricky, but they felt accomplished once they succeeded! The longest someone has spent in the maze was over four hours. Not our group though – two hours was our longest time. Maybe that is because we offered a handsome reward to anyone with a faster time than team staff! We also played Bankshot Basketball, which is basketball with funky backboards. Jonah F. made a nice slam dunk and hung from the net to strike a pose for his friends. Gary said he enjoyed taking some wild and crazy shots- they were good ones too!

Next stop, Cody, Wyoming! Whitewater rafting, horseback riding and the rodeo are next up… from Midwest to Wild West!

The XR19 Team

The Westcoast Blogger