Day 3 of our 21 day adventure

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The alarm goes off, it’s 4:00 a.m. I am eager to start another day and so is Brian. After getting ready and packing the car, we head to the front desk to check-out. The staff is friendly here at the Comfort Inn and they offer to serve us breakfast early. It’s only 5:00 a.m. and my stomach doesn’t quite feel like it’s ready for food yet. But how can I really pass up a free meal? We sit quietly in the dining room; eating and catching a quick news update from the small television over in the far corner.

It’s 5:15 a.m. now, and our final destination of the day is Idaho Falls. The first thing we do is stop for gas and pray for safe travels as we begin our twelve-hour journey. Before long, we pass through Cody, WY. This is the city that I had originally wanted to stay in and I notice the Buffalo Bill Museum is located up ahead. I consider stopping at the museum, but I know that we already have so much planned for today. I shake the idea out of my mind and continue on. As we near Big Horn National Forest, we come across the city of Sheridan. The view of the mountains from here is unbelievable and I wonder what living here would be like. Just as we reach the base of the mountain, we find ourselves in a small town called Dayton. I begin to file away these places in the back of my mind as potential retirement communities for when we are eventually old and grey.

IMG_0318 copy for WPAs we head up the mountain pass, the towns below become mere specks off in the far distance. It feels like we are the only people who exist on the earth right now. The view is breathtaking from up here and we stop several times to get out and take pictures. I am mesmerized by the tranquility and the views of the valley below. I don’t understand why the mountain is so void of people and I wonder if it’s like this all the time. We wind our way along the tree-lined mountain pass. The pine forest completely covers the landscape for as far as the eye can see. I have never seen so many perfect looking trees in one place before; the colors are bright and vivid, and each one is like a delicate piece of artwork created by a master artist.

IMG_0345 copy for WPAs we near a bend in the road, we start to see the beginning of a lake coming into view. We notice signs for a picnic area and decide to pull over and take a look around. The climb up to the lake area is easily accessible, and when we reach the top, we are thrilled to find that we have the entire lake to ourselves. The lake is completely still and eerily quiet, except for an occasional fish releasing ringlets on the surface of the water. The tranquility of this place reminds me of what I imagine heaven will be like. A soft breeze blows gently across the water and gives me goosebumps. I sense the presence of God all around us; it’s surreal and indescribable the way that this place is making me feel right now. I am tempted to ask Brian if we should renew our vows here. We have been planning to renew our vows somewhere along the way, and it seems like there could be no better place on earth. Something holds me back though and I remain silent, lingering in deep thought. The enchantment is soon broken though, and I remember that we still have so many more places on our agenda. Grudgingly, we walk back to the car and say goodbye to one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. We vow to come back someday, perhaps eventually to live out the rest of our days.

IMG_0369 copy for WPAfter driving a little farther down the road, we are now at a place called “Shell Falls.” I can hear the roar of the falls up ahead and run to get a better look. I am now standing in front of the 120 ft. high falls. The water is hitting the granite rocks in the bottom with such force, that the water is spraying back up into the air, forming rainbows in the streaming sun-rays. I didn’t think that anything could compare to the beauty of what we had just seen by the lake, but now I am not so sure. We look around and notice some short hiking trials and decide to explore even more. After taking a million photographs, we head back to the car to continue on our journey.  About an hour has passed and we decide to stop at a visitor center. IMG_0414 copy for WPIt feels good to stretch our legs after our long journey and we walk up to a large dam that overlooks a beautiful lake. After a short tour through the visitor center, we are on our way once more. Shortly after, we drive past a strange looking house, overlooking the road from the top of a hill. IMG_0426 copy for WPThe house looks abandoned and Brian decides to take some pictures. The house leaves us wondering about the history behind it.

After several hours of driving, we are finally nearing Yellowstone National Park. A restaurant up ahead seems inviting and we stop for lunch. After relaxing in the lodge style atmosphere and then perusing the gift shop after a hearty meal, we finally make it to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. I am excited because I have been here before, and I begin to reminisce about vacationing here with the girls when they were little. As soon as we head through the gates though, I realize that I am not seeing what I remember. Apparently Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on us. Wildfires have completely ruined the spectacular views that once graced this magnificent place. I am shaken by the devastation that is rapidly unfolding all around us. The farther we drive, the worse it gets, and I wonder if the park will ever be able to recover the beauty that was once here. After reveling in such beauty and splendor earlier today and comparing it to what I am seeing now, I am in disbelief and wishing that we hadn’t come here. I am suddenly reminded of a graveyard and sadness begins to overtake me. We keep hoping that around the next bend, we will see some sign of beauty that hasn’t been lost, but unfortunately, that isn’t what we find. IMG_0435 copy for WPAfter driving around for a couple of hours, searching for a part of the forest that isn’t scorched, we find a hiking trail near the lake and decide to stop and explore on foot. Unfortunately, we are greeted with a warning sign that bears are in the area and so the trail has been closed. IMG_0443 copy for WPAfter getting back in the car, we decide to drive a little bit further to see if there is anywhere else we might want to explore. After a little while longer, it becomes apparent that the devastation is never-ending and we decide to head out toward the Grand Tetons.

As we continue on, the Grand Tetons come into view and I am relieved that these mountains are still as beautiful as I remember. Along the way, we find a stopping point near a lake and hike up above a small beach to get a better view. IMG_0505 copy for WPThe mountains look hazy in the background, because of the humidity. People are laughing and having a good time; some are standing over by a small dam, taking pictures and playing in the water. Then there are a few people down below on the beach, playing in the sand. We have found our own little spot, up and out of the way, but I still find myself wishing that we were alone again, like we were this morning at the lake. It has been such a long day and the hours of driving are starting to wear on us.

We head out for the last time today; making our way to Idaho Falls where we will stay for the night. After getting a bit turned around, we finally find our way to the hotel and are pleasantly surprised to find that they are offering us a free dinner. We only have about an hour before dinner ends, so we quickly unpack the car and head down to the dining room for dinner. Soup and salad are what is being offered and I am glad that I am not very hungry, since the food on the buffet is almost gone. After such a long day, we talk about the things we have seen so far and the places we’ve been. We’ve had enough memories already to last us a lifetime.

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The continuation… Day 2 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0200 copy for WPThe day is turning out to be a scorcher. It’s already in the mid-ninety’s and we have finally arrived at Badlands National Park. IMG_0197 Copy for WPI spot the first viewing area and we both scramble out of the car in eager anticipation of what we might see. The funny thing is, as I make my way out of the car, I spy the same young man that we saw earlier in the day during the “Attack of the killer bugs.” I stop to speak to him and he recognizes us too. I ask him if he was attacked by the biting insects as we were, but fortunately for him, he is wearing long pants and so they didn’t seem to bother him. I feel relieved about my decision not to warn him earlier as we wave goodbye. IMG_0207 copy for WPWe make our way towards the edge of the scenic outlook.  There stretching before us is a massive canyon of gray jagged rock formations. The sight is breathtaking and leaves us speechless. We stare in awe and wonder and I see Brian digging into his camera bag for the long distance lens. He is new to photography and we are both hoping and praying that the photos capture the true glory of this place. With these first impressions soaring through our minds, we set out to find another viewing area; hoping for another chance at capturing the beauty that is unfolding all around us.

IMG_0229 copy for WPThe next scenic outlook isn’t as easy to get to and requires us to walk along a wooden platform as the sun beats down upon us. The wooden platform is raised up above the ground several feet and looks like it has recently been erected. As we near the end of the platform, we begin to see the same grey canyon that we saw before, only now it is directly in front of us, close enough for us to climb down from the platform and explore to our hearts desire. It’s as if I am viewing a million sand castles; once created by watery sand, poured through the hands of children playing at the beach. We carefully climb down into the canyon. The heat is searing and I feel the sweat dripping down the back of my neck. Feels like those bugs are back, attacking me. But really it’s just my own body reacting to the heat of the day. There are no plants anywhere in sight. Just a dry canyon of massive rocks. Reminds me of a charcoal grill and I feel like I could be dinner for the next predator that comes along. I finally start to feel a little more at ease after walking around for a while. At first I was intimidated by the jagged edges of the rocks and the sheer size of what we were about to climb into. IMG_0250 copy for WPI am actually having fun now, exploring the nooks and crannies which seem to erupt out of nowhere. There are a few caves, but they seem impossible to get to. After posing for several pictures, we make our way back to the wooden platform. A maze of dry hardened waterways mark our path and help us to find our way back. Once we are back on the wooden platform, I am a little relieved as I am starting to feel the sun’s effects and know that I need to bring more water with me the next time that we stop.

IMG_0256 copy for WPWalking back to the car is tiresome and it feels good to be able to sit down and rest for a few minutes before we head out once more. The sky is so blue here, against the backdrop of the rock formations. There’s hardly a cloud in sight and we continue to see wildlife all around us. As we make our way along the winding roads, we are met with road construction. Every car is at a complete standstill and it looks like we will be waiting for a while. We roll down the windows and settle in for the wait. IMG_0264 copy for WPAll of a sudden, we notice a fawn and her mother standing just a few yards away from our car. It’s always so exciting to see wildlife up close and the fawn begins to nurse from its mother. Brian gets his camera out and snaps a few shots and then we realize that traffic is moving once more. Our journey of the Badlands ends shortly after we make our way through the road construction and drive through to the exit of the park.

IMG_0274 copy for WPThe road we are on now, will take us to Mt. Rushmore and we are excited for the opportunity to be able to spend part of the day there. It’s been a long day already, but we are finally nearing Mt. Rushmore. We passed Rapid City and are now entering the bustling city of Keystone, SD. Up ahead we spot the turn off for Mt. Rushmore and we are happy to almost be there. Once we arrive, we pay the parking fee and head up to the parking ramp. It’s extremely crowded and there’s hardly any place to park. We finally find a spot and make our way up to the beginning of the memorial. The place is really built up now and looks completely different from the last time I was here. IMG_0278 copy for WPI notice various shops, a museum, and pathway that leads up closer to the actual site. There are rows of flags lining the concrete platform that leads up to the national memorial. We look for our state flag and find it near the middle. After taking several photographs, stopping in for some ice cream, and looking through the museum, we head out onto the path that leads to the viewing sites. A wooden structure has been built to allow visitors a comfortable walk up to the base of Mt. Rushmore. IMG_0292 copy for WPBefore long, we are close enough to look up the nose of George Washington. It’s beautiful here, walking through the pine forest, and gazing up at the sculpted presidents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are all depicted here. The sculpture is 60 feet high, and I feel so small in comparison.

IMG_0304 copy for WPOnce we have had our fill of Mt. Rushmore, we head out once more. This time we are headed for Buffalo, WY where we will stay for the night. We spot an old pioneer town along the way and stop to have a look. The place is old and run down and I am second guessing my decision to stop here. They hand us an old tape recorder that tells us the history of this place as we walk from one building to the next. I start to feel my energy dwindle from all that we have done today and also because the temperature is now over 100 degrees. After patiently going through the small town, we say goodbye and continue on our way.

Photo Credit: www.sheridanmedia.com
Photo Credit: http://www.sheridanmedia.com

We finally make it to Buffalo and it’s close to 6:00 p.m. now. We check in at our hotel and I feel disappointed because I realize that I have made a mistake when booking our room. I wanted to stay in Cody, WY and I have mixed up the towns somehow and realize that we are not in the same town that I wanted to be in. There is nothing left to do, except to find some place to eat. We notice that most of the restaurants are closed down and so we drive farther down the road to see if there is anything open.  After driving down several different roads, searching for a place to go, we finally discover a small downtown area that has a few shops located along a small river.  We decide to eat at the “Busy Bee Cafe.” It’s a cute little restaurant with old world charm.

Photo Credit: jensbookthoughts.com
Photo Credit: jensbookthoughts.com

As we enter, we are greeted by a young girl who leads us to a table by the front window. We are the only customers in the restaurant. I order the French dip sandwich and we enjoy the scenic view from our table as we wait. There is a horse and carriage taking people for rides right outside the restaurant, and looking out the opposite window we can see the river down below us. The food turns out to be pretty good and we end the day with an after dinner walk amidst the quaint downtown shops.

Day 2 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0174 copy for WPIt’s 6:00 a.m. and we’re headed for the Badlands in South Dakota. There isn’t much to see yet and I’m getting anxious for the possibilities of the day. After driving for a short while though, we spot a rest stop and decide to stop and stretch our legs. It doesn’t take us long to realize that we have found a beautiful place that overlooks the Missouri River. I start to get excited because this is our first panoramic view that we have come across and I excitedly tell Brian to go get his camera. There are a few kids riding skateboards up and down the cement pathways and a European family is posing for a picture under the flags that are swaying gently in the cool morning breeze. Everyone around us seems to be just as excited as we are and we walk out to the lookout point to take some pictures. Of course after about 10 minutes, I realize that we have so much more to see and so I know that we must move on. I linger for just a moment taking in this picturesque place and then resign myself to the fact that we still have hours of driving ahead of us.

IMG_0195 copy for WPAfter about another hour of driving, the scenery starts to change. I’m now viewing some small grey rock formations that seem to be sprouting up sporadically, growing in abundance the farther we go. Brian and I decide to pull over at a scenic viewpoint to get a better look. We head to the top of a small hill and smiles grace our faces as we are mesmerized by what we are seeing. South of the hilltop is a vast area of rock formations that seem to go on for as far as the eye can see. IMG_0192 copy for WPThere are cattle grazing in front of us at the bottom of the hill, and looking to the north is a tree that is standing all alone on the open prairie. The humidity is starting to rise and the landscape seems hazy in the far distance. Brian starts to take a few pictures and becomes oblivious to the fact that he is being eaten alive by the insects that live here. I yell over at Brian to look at his legs, which are completely covered in black biting insects. He begins to quickly brush them off and leaves behind trails of blood running up and down his legs in the process. We both look at each and know that it’s indeed time to go. Another poor man rushes past us, apparently eager for the view. I feel awful because I don’t warn him about the pests that are lurking up ahead. We finally reach the car and are relieved for the Cortisone spray that we brought with us.

Photo Credit:  www.tripadvisor.com
Photo Credit: http://www.tripadvisor.com

Heading out once more, we see the exit that we need to take for the Badlands. After turning off, we notice a sign that says, “Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, .5 miles.” We decide to take a quick look since it’s on our way. As we enter the building, we are flooded with videos, photographs, and detailed descriptions of this historic place. I quickly learn that the purpose of this site, is to tell the story of Minuteman Missiles, nuclear deterrence, and the Cold War. We walk around the crowded site taking in as much as possible, knowing that we need to head out soon in order to reach our ultimate destination. As we leave, I am feeling excited that we have already seen so much today and yet we haven’t even seen the best part yet!

Down the road a little way we see a gas station and know that we should fill up our tank, since it looks like this could be the last gas station for a while. I look around and find some postcards that appeal to me, when all of a sudden a man comes up to me and asks me if I have any bug repellent. I tell him that I do and he starts to point out a young Asian woman who is in need of some. Apparently the store is completely out of bug repellent and I notice that she has numerous bug bites all over her legs. I run up to her and tell her that I can help. She quickly pays for her things and I motion her to follow me over to my car. I feel funny, like I’m luring her out of the store. She barely speaks English and I feel like I am teaching her to do something that she shouldn’t be doing. Trusting a complete stranger that wants to take you over to their car is never a good idea. But I know that she needs the bug spray and I can’t help myself. I must help her if it’s the last thing that I do! Yes, secretly I am Superwoman, and I have come to save the day with my super bug spray! I show her the bug spray and she lets me spray her down with it. She wants to pay me, but of course I refuse. After all, it’s only bug spray. She is all smiles and proceeds to tell me that she has just come here from another country and is working at the Badlands for the summer. We try to converse as much as possible, but her English is lacking and I do my best to answer her questions. I find myself motioning with my hands to explain half of what I am saying. She is so sweet and I instantly feel a connection with her. If there wasn’t so much of a language barrier, I am positive we would exchange phone numbers and become good friends. I finally say goodbye and wish her well. A part of me feels afraid for her, like I am leaving a small child to fend for herself. The feeling nags at me as we head out once more. I wish I could have done more for her. My motherly instinct tells me that she is all alone in a strange place and should have someone around that she can trust. I try to put the nagging feeling aside and continue on. I know that I have to trust God to take care of this young woman and I say a silent prayer that the Lord will keep her safe.

To be continued…

Day 1 of our 21 day adventure

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It’s 10 minutes to 4:00 a.m. and I am wide awake. My alarm is set for 4:00 a.m. but my mind is in a hurry to start the day and doesn’t want to wait to be alerted. I scramble to my feet, excited to start the adventure of my life. An entire three weeks without the responsibility of caring for 3 lovely children, 2 huge dogs, 2 smelly rats, and 1 very large house that is a pain to clean! My poor husband is still snoring away, unaware of my excitement and eagerness to get going. I race to the shower, thinking about all the things I still need to do before we leave. Shower behind me, I’m a mental mess now, dripping water all over the place as I hastily dry off, fearing that I’ve forgotten something. My impatience is growing as I return to my bedroom and find that my dear sweet husband is still sleeping peacefully. The low sound of his rhythmic snores begins to echo in my brain and pulls me into a tizzy. In a semi-aggravated state, because obviously he isn’t aware of my eagerness to begin our adventure, I begin the process of waking him up by gently pushing against his shoulder. He lets out a few deep snores and smacks his lips together a few times before he turns to face me. I can tell that he is obviously not excited about getting up this early in the morning and he looks at me quizzically, one eye closed as he tries to adjust his eyes to the light coming from the bathroom just behind me. After several blinks, he is finally awake and sitting on the edge of the bed. I can hardly contain my excitement any longer and throw my arms around him in a tight embrace. “It’s time to get going!” I announce. He gives me a bit of a smirk and then trudges to the bathroom to escape my cheery disposition. I am a little disappointed in his response and hope that he will have a little more enthusiasm during the next three weeks.IMG_0168

After a little coaxing, saying goodbyes, packing the car, re-packing the car, and last-minute straightening and reminders to everyone, we are finally on our way. It’s now 5:15 a.m. and I am already annoyed because we have to stop for gas since we forgot to fill up the gas tank yesterday. I really just want to get going. The good thing about stopping is, now we have our morning coffee and soda to get us through the next 8 hours until we arrive at our first destination which is Mitchell, SD. I don’t know why I am so excited about Mitchell, SD in the first place. The only thing we plan to do there is visit the Corn Palace, and if I remember correctly, the last time I was there 11 years ago, there wasn’t much to see. Brian grabs my hand and bows his head in prayer. I quickly bow my head as well and pray along with him. With a final “Amen!” and a shared thought that passes silently between us, we head out onto the highway to continue our journey. We drive for about an hour, before both of us have to pee. Now we are second guessing our choice in drinking coffee and soda. This could make for a very long trip if our bladders keep forcing us to stop. Oh well, at least it’s just us that we have to worry about. If the kids were with us these stops would be a whole lot longer. IMG_0171

About 20 rest stops later… we are finally here in Mitchell, SD. We head over to our hotel which is a Comfort Inn. The place is pretty nice and the bed feels comfortable as I sprawl on top of it in happy revelation that we finally made it here. We decide not to lug all of our stuff in right away and head out to find the Corn Palace first. We don’t want to miss our opportunity to see this wonderful sight and were afraid it may close early. After taking a few wrong turns, we finally find it amidst the crowded buildings in the downtown area. It’s muggy outside, there’s road construction going on, and we aren’t quite sure where to park. Eventually we find a public parking lot across from the Corn Palace and park the car. I am grateful that we have finally made it here and just want to see something exciting and take lots of pictures. I am a little disappointed at first glance to see that they aren’t finished with the new exterior of the Corn Palace. Every year they change the theme and designs. Once inside the Corn Palace we are able to view pictures of the Corn Palace from all of the prior years. A Corn Palace Video blares in the distance, explaining the story of the Corn Palace. There’s a gift shop in the middle of a stadium seating area that gets our attention. We walk around the place for a while and discover some interesting facts. We learn that over 275,000 ears of corn are used each year in redecorating the Corn Palace and that all the colors of corn are naturally grown from special seeds raised just for the Corn Palace. Each color is apparently planted in separate fields to maintain its pure color and the Corn Palace Festival Committee selects a new theme each year.IMG_0167

After taking lots of pictures, buying a few souvenirs for our girls, and perusing the local shops in the area; we head back to our hotel to figure out what else we should do. Both of us are tired and hungry and noticed a Ruby Tuesdays Restaurant just a short walk away from our hotel. We decide to call the kids before we go and eat dinner, but unfortunately we now find that we have no cell service and no internet. A wave of heat hits us as we head out towards the restaurant. The temperature and humidity have been rising all day and even the short walk to the restaurant feels overwhelming. The restaurant is almost empty and I wonder if we should go elsewhere. A vacant restaurant in my opinion, is usually a bad sign. We order some burgers though and the pretzel bun burgers we order are really tasty. We order cocktails and spend a good amount of time talking and laughing. It’s the first time I’ve sat down with my husband to have dinner alone with him in what seems like ages. With full bellies and feeling a little lightheaded from the cocktails, we decide to walk to a nearby mall. It feels good to walk around holding hands and just be together as a couple. Exhaustion soon starts to overtake us though and we decide to head back to our room. Both of us plop down on the bed and fall asleep within minutes. The early morning, the long drive, the excitement of the day, and the fullness of a good meal, have laid the foundation for a good long rest.

Upon waking, we are both excited to be here on our own and decide to explore the waterpark.  The hot tub looks appealing, but we soon realize that it isn’t working and head for the pirate ship instead.  Still tired from a long day, I am feeling like we should just go back to our room, but Brian has other intentions.  Splashing his way around the ship like a 5 year old boy, he soon has me gallivanting around with him and I feel embarrassment wash over me.  Brian stands under a large bucket of water that keeps heaping loads of water over his head.  I am reminded of a childhood that didn’t allow for such experiences and wishing I could be little again.  As the sun begins to set, I am happy for our first day of fun and looking forward to the days to come.  Maybe I will find the little girl inside of me after all…

I’m back!

I made it back safely after three glorious weeks of freedom from my normal humdrum life.  I loved every minute of my time away, but now I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do.  I didn’t have internet access for the majority of the time that I was gone.  So, I apologize for not being able to keep up with reading all of your blogs, and I promise to do my best to catch up at some point.  For now, I wanted to send a quick reminder that tomorrow is the last day to submit story submissions for Monotony-free Mondays.  Please go here, if you would like to enter the current weekly contest for this.  Also, to give you a teaser of what’s to come…IMG_1989I will be sharing my travel adventures with all of you, just as soon as I catch up with a few things here at home.  Have a great weekend!