Stermitz Ranch, Gardiner MT

I’d like to start off by saying that I am NOT a landscape photographer, unless the point of the photo is to take a photo of a person in front of a landscape. . . so some of these photos are a stretch to my capabilities.

Second, this entire honeymoon was pretty hard-core for me as I decided that I was completely unplugging from social media! No posting photos to Facebook or Instagram, or even checking either one! The first couple days were pretty excruciating for me and I often looked to Justin and asked for positive reinforcement. . . pretty much like this. “Hey Justin! Did you notice I wasn’t on Facebook in the last 15 minutes!!! Aren’t I amazing?!?!”

Lastly, for convenience sake, there ARE a few photos in this group taken on my iPhone, but the vast majority of photos are taken on my Fuji X100S, which is a point and shoot camera. It’s fabulous. It’s super light and easy and takes super high quality, printable photos, which my iPhone can’t take. . . and even though I joke about my phone being closer to me than a limb, it was actually SO nice to not have my phone in my hand the entire time. It was FREEING and it’s affirmed my desire to stay off of the social media. My brain feels so much better and it’s so nice to be FULLY IN the experience when it’s happening.

Taking selfies with a point and shoot is NOT easy.


I guess Day One started off at my parents farm near my hometown of Sargent, Nebraska. Knowing our first stop was The Black Hills, we decided to get a jump on the trip the night before. That turned a 9 hour day into just a 6ish hour day. We got on the road mid-morning and mosied through the Sandhills and made our first pit-stop at Halsey National Forest. If you don’t know this, my husband is a tree geek. . . and I mean TREE GEEK in the best sense of the word. Our entire trip consisted of him naming pretty much every species of tree that we were near. At Halsey, we stopped and took a little walk around the park and down to the Middle Loup River. If you’re unfamiliar with Central Nebraska, the Middle Loup is the river that runs just South of my hometown, so as we looked over the water, we started planning our eventual Camping/Kayak trip from Halsey to Sargent.

Middle Loup River, Halsey National Forest
After stretching our legs, we headed on through the Sandhills and talked about how vast and full of solitude it would be to live there. Justin lectured about the water table while I took ironic photos out the window.
If you’ve ever followed one of my Epic Road Trips with my boys, you know that stopping and getting out at every State Sign is a must. I figured why stop the tradition and we skidded to a halt as we entered South Dakota for our photo op!

For our first two nights, we decided to stay in an AirBnb. Aside from one instance in KC where my friend booked one for a concert we went to, I have never stayed in, nor booked my own AirBnb. I will be honest, I was a little nervous about this because I’m telling you that I am a SNOB when it comes to accommodations… and I’m super weird about it, too. Unless it’s a four star hotel, I’d rather stay in a tent, so committing to staying in someone else’s cabin was a stretch for me. . . but I really needn’t have worried, because this.place.was.GORGEOUS!! It’s near Hill City, South Dakota and called Cozy Cabin in case you want a little get away! The owners Greg and Stephanie were kind and accommodating and we loved it there!

Day Two

Our AirBnB hosts also own the ADORABLE little ice cream shop in town and they assured me they had the best coffee anywhere nearby, so we got up early, headed into town and I got an InCREDible Latte at Cream. (I’m not exaggerating. . . it was AMAZING!)

When we set out on this honeymoon, we didn’t really have an agenda, so at this point Justin started looking through a hike book and found our hike for the day.

Black Elk Trail
Across the way is Black Elk Peak which is the highest natural point in South Dakota
Friday, June 28, 2019

Day Three

Day 3 was another long day of driving as we headed up to our cabin on my cousin’s ranch just North of Gardiner, MT. Bonus points for TWO State Signs, though!

Right around Billings, MT Justin and I started talking about Ancient Civilizations and it reminded me of an Audible that I snagged free one day, and this is when we started listening to a 19 hour lecture on Ancient Civilizations in North America I only mention this now, as this plays into our trip later in the week!

After overshooting our arrival time by 2 hours, we finally arrived at my cousin’s ranch and got settled into the early 1900s School House that they renovated into a lovely vacation cabin.

Day Four

Day 4 was Sunday and truly a rest day. My cousin called me early in the morning and asked if we wanted to join them for church in Gardiner. I had also found out that my other cousin’s from Colorado were in town visiting, so I was excited to see family that I hadn’t seen for quite some time. We attended church and then went to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Gardiner for lunch an a visit.

After lunch my cousin Dena, Justin and I took a very short hike in my Aunt and Uncle’s backyard, which also happens to be the Yellowstone River. We had several Elk as company on our walk, and got to take in the beauty of the flowing river.

Justin and I in my Aunt and Uncles backyard in Gardiner, MT (The Yellowstone River)

Day Five

Now. . . if you know me, you may already know that I’m not STELLAR at details, dates and numbers. Unless you’re a client and the date is written down in three different places (Which it is, clients!) then there is always a chance that I might get something wrong. In this case, I felt really bad for my cousin when she had to tell me that she only had me down for 2 nights, and not 3. I assured her that it was TOTALLY ok, because I married my best friend, so whatever we do, we are going to have fun and make it work!

After some discussion back and forth, Justin and I decided to head through the park early the next morning and go see the Grand Tetons, which I have never been to before. We set our alarm for 6am and headed out. Since we had both been in Yellowstone Park before, we decided to avoid the road to Old Faithful at all costs. We took our time, stopped at several different sites, FINALLY SAW A BEAR, and took a nice hike down to the river.

We even got SUPER close to a Bison. . . which is just the same as a Buffalo, in case you wanted to know.
ALSO, if you know me, I have a pretty twisted sense of humor. Before we left for our trip, my youngest son was worried about us falling off of the boardwalk into some geysers. . . so I took this to assure him that I had been duly warned and would not jump in.

After several hours and stops, we finally got through the park, and it wasn’t long until we saw our first views of new territory for me!

There were so many times throughout this trip that I looked at a site, then I closed my eyes and felt the warmth, or breeze on my face. I listened to the sounds and I memorized the feeling of being in this place, my arm touching my husbands arm, and I really just felt. Then I would open my eyes and smile and know that it would be a beautiful memory.

At this point, as we headed into Jackson (which I’m still not sure of the difference between Jackson and Jackson Hole) we seriously started thinking about the fact that we had no place to stay tonight. After a quick search on hotels.com, we realized were weren’t going to be $200 for a crappy Days Inn (see previous comments on my uber snobby lodging preferences). We had decided that we would go find a place to get an air mattress and just sleep in the back of the car somewhere. As we were driving in, we stopped by a nearby campsite, and got their LAST SITE!!

Since we decided to avoid downtown Jackson, we tried a few different sports looking stores, and finally found a small K-mart that was miraculously still open. Justin found an air mattress, a cast iron skillet and while he was looking for a few other odds and ends, I noticed an end-cap with 2 man tents that were $30!! I figured that, even if the tent was total crap (and it’s not great) that we were still saving TONS of money by not staying in the motel. . . so we geared up and headed back to our site vowing to ALWAYS bring our camping gear with us everywhere we go from now on.

Our $30 tent!

So, I made supper in the fire while Justin read his tree book, and we settled in for a long night of me running to the bathroom with the dehydration craps, and Justin freezing his butt off in 45 degree weather and an emergency blanket before I finally shared my blanket, and he snuggled me the rest of the night just so we wouldn’t freeze to death.

Day Six

Justin woke up at about 4 am and went outside to make a fire to warm up. I wasn’t quite ready to venture out quite yet.

We decided to get an early start again so that we could get a nice hike in before heading down the road towards home. I hadn’t had enough campfire coffee, so while we waited for the park stores to open at 8 am, we took a little loop drive around Jenny Lake.

After getting my coffee and some Grand Teton magnets for the boys, we took the park rangers advice and headed up to the Death Canyon Trailhead.

After getting my coffee and some Grand Teton magnets for the boys, we took the park rangers advice and headed up to the Death Canyon Trailhead.

Stretching my legs felt SO good after being in the car most of the day before, and once we got to the top of the trail (before heading down to the lake) we took a snack break and took in the beautiful view of this pretty lake you wouldn’t have known was there just by driving by.

On our way down to the lake, we chatted with some nice hikers, stood under a tree to wait out a short rainstorm and saw a marmot, which I had to ask Justin what it was, and he told me that no, I can’t catch it for a pet. (I actually didn’t ask him if I could, but I assume that would have been his answer).

After our 7ish mile hike, we stopped for a little walk in downtown Jackson, a bite to eat and then headed down the road. On our way to Casper, where we’ve decided to crash for the night, we start hitting historical landmarks that I recognize from my favorite computer game. . . old school Oregon Trail!

Day Seven

I don’t know about you, but as the end of this trip started drawing to a close, I started getting a little sad that the relaxing, educational, beautiful first trip as husband and wife was drawing to a close.

As we were driving out of Casper, Justin reading his Tree book and me listening to music, We are Vampires came on. As I’m listening to the lyrics I find myself driving with tears streaming. . .

It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone
Or one day you’ll be gone

I glance over at Justin, I see the same pained expression that I’m sure is on my own face.  I take a moment to take a mental image of us and to fully appreciate my husband and this moment, right now. 

We both dry our eyes and we drive on. Now, if you remember that around Billings, MT, we started listening to that Audible and as we were heading down from Livingston to Gardiner, I made a comment to Justin that we should try to visit one some day. At about this time, Justin tells me that there is a Bison Kill Site in North West Nebraska that we could detour to on our way home.You may not think that your husband taking you to a Kill Site could be romantic, but in a sense, him planning this as the end of the trip really was!

After a very informative tour with another couple who just couldn’t understand why these weren’t “real” buffalos (but rather Bison Antiquus), we hopped on over (pun intended) to Toadstool Geological Park. Justin is as much of a geology geek as he is a tree geek, so this was SUPER fun for him. I complained about the heat quite a bit until we got up high enough to see a view and get a breeze. We talked about how marriage means compromise and that this was only fair because we were pretty positive that I would be asking him to do something for me that he didn’t want to. . . really, I do at least half jest. Anything I do with Justin ends up being fun, including this!

. . . and then we head back. The rest of the drive back was nice and long. . . we listened to several more lectures on Ancient Civilization, stopped at the Niobrara river to dream about kayaking and changed my tire in Mullen… (which makes this the THIRD Road Trip where I’ve had to buy new tires before I got home.)

I got to know my new husband better than I did before, and I grow to love him more every day we are together. He is so smart and wise and capable and so compatible with me that I sometimes have to pinch myself that I get to be married to him. I’m looking forward to many more days, road trips, and moments with him as we grow old together.

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