The idea behind this vacation trip came from my mother. Year after year when I was growing up, my mom would talk about how she would like to take the family on a trip to see Mount Rushmore. In response, everyone else would invariably point out that Mount Rushmore is located in the western part of the state of South Dakota, essentially in the middle of nowhere hundreds of miles away from anything else of interest. We would shoot down the idea and the family would go somewhere else instead. (This wasn't particularly fair to my mom, who did all of the trip planning in a pre-Internet age where it was enormously more difficult to find information on hotels and attractions.) After many years of traveling elsewhere, we finally decided to take a family trip to see Mount Rushmore in the summer of 2011. My brother had proposed to his longtime girlfriend earlier in the year, and this looked to be the last trip that our nuclear family would have a chance to take before it expanded in size in 2012. We decided that this would be a good time for the four of us (myself, my brother Scott, and my parents) to travel together one more time to a part of the country where none of us had visited before.
When we started to do the trip planning, I realized that my mom had been right all along: there was a fantastic route path that lent itself to a ten day vacation through South Dakota and Wyoming. We decided to spend three days in Rapid City, visiting Mount Rushmore and the rugged natural beauty of the surrounding Black Hills. Then we would drive several hundred miles to the west, passing by Devil's Tower along the way, and spend another three days at Yellowstone National Park. This is the oldest national park in the world and a place of unsurpassed wilderness. From there, we would drive south to the nearby Grand Teton mountains, and then return home via Salt Lake City in Utah. Not only did this provde to be an outstanding vacation through the western Rocky mountain states, it was a trip that we could have taken at any point in time during the preceding two decades and had a wonderful time. The lesson, as usual, was that moms know best.