Day 13 of our 21 day adventure

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Today we left Vegas and we are driving out to Pahrump to visit relatives. Upon arriving, we are greeted with warm inviting hugs and all decide to sit outside in the patio. It’s earlier in the day and the cooler air is a welcoming change from the Las Vegas heat that we have been dealing with for the last 7 days.

IMG_1228Aunt Bobbi gives us a tour of her vegetable garden and some of her plants. Poor Uncle Dave is pretty much bed ridden at the moment and so we are leaving him to rest quietly in the house. After a few hours of talking and catching up, we know we must leave, since we are meeting my brother David up near Mt. Zion today.

IMG_1237I am really excited about visiting Mt. Zion National Park. I had a dream several years ago that left me puzzled and searching for answers. After having the dream, I searched the internet for clues and I somehow came across pictures of Mt. Zion. After viewing the pictures, I realized that I had in fact dreamt of Mt. Zion, even though I had never actually heard of or seen this place before. Since then, I always knew that somehow… someday… I would visit this place. I am so excited for what may happen and I am curious if anything will spark a resemblance to my dream.

IMG_1484After a couple hours of driving, we catch our first glimpse of Great White Throne Mountain, located in Mt. Zion National Park. Its huge white peak stands out against the other red mountain peaks that surround it. I immediately get tears in my eyes as I recognize this particular mountain peak from my dream. I try to hide my tears, not wanting Brian to notice this sudden change in my emotions. It’s hard to put into words how I am feeling at this moment. All I can say, is that I know I have been here before. In my dream, I clearly saw what I am seeing now and I can hardly believe my eyes. It’s been 11 years since I had that dream, but I can still replay that dream in my mind as if I had just dreamt it.

IMG_1241It’s mid-afternoon now, and my brother has been waiting for us for a couple of hours. We pull into the Quality Inn, which is located in Springdale, UT. The parking lot is almost non-existent, and the people at the front desk aren’t the nicest people that I’ve ever met, but still… the room turns out to be nice and clean and I feel happy that we made the choice to stay here. There’s a pool right outside our room that looks inviting and on the other side of the parking lot is a crowded RV park.

IMG_1232After texting my brother to let him know that we have arrived, we meet up with him and my nephew Levi who is 6 yrs. old. It’s really good to be able to see them and visit with both of them. This is the first time that I am able to see my nephew Levi and he reminds me of my youngest daughter Autumn who is almost the same age.

IMG_1238We are all very hungry since it is now close to dinner time, so we decide to walk down the street to see if we can find a place to eat. We find a restaurant called “Wiley’s Ranch” and decide to try it out. I am surprised when we get our menus at how expensive everything is. My brother and I decide to order the fish, which ends up tasting like it’s straight from a box. The fish is so salty that I can hardly continue to eat it. I don’t like to complain though and since we paid so much for the meal, I try to eat as much as I can.

IMG_1488I’m enjoying getting to see my brother for the first time in about 8 years. It’s hard not seeing my family very often and I wish that we didn’t live so far away. I don’t have any of my family living near me and it has been this way for the last 21 years. I often find myself trying to forget them, so that it doesn’t hurt so much being away from them. I am thankful for this time that I can spend with my brother and nephew. I can only imagine the fun adventures that we will have this coming week.

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Day 12 of our 21 day adventure

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After several suggestions by the locals, we have decided to visit Mt. Charleston. The weather is similar to yesterday. A few clouds are hovering over the mountains, but they don’t seem to stick around for very long. After about a 30 minute drive, we are now pulling into the visitors’ center. The views from here are spectacular and there are hardly any other tourists in sight. The serenity of this place suits me and I can’t get enough of the panoramic landscape that engulfs us. After a quick stop in the gift shop and after speaking with the attendant about where she would suggest that we go for an easy hike; we are finally on our way to see where the road takes us.

IMG_1105After following the winding road a short distance up the mountain, we finally pull into the parking lot for the trail-head that will lead us up to Mary Jane Falls. The last part of the name sparks our interest, as Brian and I both live for waterfalls! The map we have with us, shows that the trail is 3 miles long and explains that the elevation of the mountain is 9200 feet. In order for us to reach the top, we will have to climb 1100 feet. This sounds like a fun challenge and so we gather up our supplies and prepare for what seems like a fairly easy climb.

IMG_1225At first the terrain is sandy and there is a slight incline to the path. The trail is wide open and seems more like a walk in the park, than a hiking trail that eventually leads to a waterfall. As we continue further, we see a father with his three young children. He has one child strapped to his body and the other two are running free. After speaking briefly to the man, we learn that he hikes this trail by himself every year with his kids. I think to myself, well… if he can do it with three kids, this should be a piece of cake!

IMG_1130Hiking a bit further, we start to pass a slew of fallen trees and dead underbrush. The trail begins to get narrower and the path is littered with small jagged rocks. We are now at what looks like the beginning of the actual trail. Looking up towards the top of the mountain, we see nothing but switchbacks for as far as the eye can see. I start to feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew. I love a good hike, but I am not really sure that I am prepared for this.

IMG_1176I really love nature and have always loved a good adventure. This is one of the reasons why I joined the Army when I was 19 yrs. old. After going through basic training, nothing else has ever seemed as hard. Of course that was 24 years ago and I am not in the same physical shape that I once was. But because of my determined mind set, I never say no to a challenge. So with pep in my step, I decide to brave the mighty mountain. I think Brian is probably thinking that I will never make it, which makes me even more determined to prove him wrong.

IMG_1133The whole way up, people keep telling us that it is just a little bit further and with every step I hope and pray that they are right. The temperature has dropped significantly and I pull my sweater a little closer to my body, trying to shield myself from the brisk wind that is coursing through the trees around us. After about two hours, we finally turn the last bend. At last we see the waterfall that we’ve been so excited to find. This was the one thing that kept me from turning back; the thought of seeing this amazing beautiful waterfall! I am deeply disappointed by what I see though. Apparently because of the recent drought, the waterfall has all but evaporated and there is just a tiny trickle of water flowing from the top of the mountain peak.

IMG_1148There’s a couple of caves that we can see from where we are standing. One of them is actually right behind the waterfall and there are people getting ready to camp for the night. It’s getting really cold up here and starting to drizzle out; I wonder how these people will ever stay warm up here all night. The rain starts to come down harder now and before we know it, it’s actually hailing on us. Once we hear thunder, we know that it’s time to go.

IMG_1147We race down the mountain as fast as we can. The steep incline has made the trail slick and the loose rocks threaten our ability to balance. I lose my foothold several times and do more sliding down the mountain than anything else. I am thankful when we finally reach our car about an hour later. The rain has now stopped and I am thoroughly exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time. I have completely surprised myself by making it all the way up the mountain and back down. It’s the first time in years that I feel I have actually accomplished something that I really didn’t think that I could do.

IMG_1181Feeling famished now from all the strenuous activity, we decide to head back down the road to a park that is listed on the map. Upon arrival the place looks like a nice spot to have a picnic lunch and so we decide to get out and do just that. It hasn’t even been two minutes since we left the car and the rain is beginning to pour. With the flood gates now wide open, we scurry back to the car and decide instead to head back to the visitors center. By the time we make it back there, the rain is still pouring and so we decide to eat our meal in the car. The view is still lovely, even through the pouring rain.

IMG_1178Once we are done eating, we drive back to the resort. We have tickets for the Brad Garrett Comedy Club show and we can’t exactly go there dressed as we are. After arriving back at the resort, cleaning ourselves up and eating a quick snack; we finally arrive at the comedy club. The place is smaller than I had expected and each couple is seated at a table for two. They first thing the waitresses do, is come around and take our drink orders and ask us if we want to buy a $12 bag of popcorn. I will never get use to the prices of things here in Vegas. They really do rob you blind, especially when you find out later that the cocktails are $11 a piece!

IMG_1180The show was really funny and three different comedians gave appearances. Unfortunately it wasn’t Brad Garrett’s night for entertaining. All in all though, the show was good and I was disappointed when the fun had to end. I am left wondering at this point how much longer I can continue this daily routine of being on the go, non-stop. These long days are finally catching up to me, and I am almost relieved that we are leaving Las Vegas in the morning.

Day 11 of our 21 day adventure

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I’m still laying here in bed contemplating the day. I am thoroughly exhausted after hiking all day yesterday and part of me just wants to stay here and lounge around for the remainder of the day. Brian looks like he could use a break as well. I know that I can’t waste my time here though. After all… we only have ten more days away from our simple life back home and I really want to relish every day that we have before the adventure ends. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of adventure back home, it’s just a different kind of adventure… one that involves two huge dogs, one small rat, two girls that tell me every day how happy they are that I’m their mom, a husband that works crazy hours for the Army and my job as: mother, teacher, and wife… and everything else that falls under these three categories.

IMG_1049I slowly drag myself out of bed and as soon as I finish getting ready, Brian starts to get ready too. After several attempts to leave the hotel, we are finally on our way. We’ve decided to go to Shark Reef today and then see a show at the Excalibur Casino called: Tournament of the Kings. After stopping for mochas to help us wake up, we take a wrong turn down Las Vegas Boulevard and find ourselves temporarily lost. Mandalay Bay is our first destination and I hope to win big; just like I did several years ago. Unfortunately, today is not my lucky day, and we head to the Luxor to see if our luck is better there. Still no luck… it appears that this trip is just not panning out for us and I feel foolish for wasting our money.

IMG_1045Back to Mandalay Bay we go after losing what should have been saved for future bills back home. Finding Shark Reef is next to impossible, since the crowds are still lurking about leftover from the 4th of July. We finally spot the ticket booth and make a beeline for the mile long line. As we scurry over, a young couple approaches us and asks us if we are planning to buy tickets for Shark Reef. Of course we tell them that we are, and they explain that they have two free tickets that they would like to give away and they ask us if we would like to have them. I look at Brian and he looks at me. I think we are both sharing the same thoughts about this. I wonder if this is for real or a joke. After all… who just comes up and gives someone free tickets that would otherwise cost $40? We end up graciously accepting the tickets and head for the entrance to Shark Reef.

IMG_1061As we stand here in line, I think both of us are wondering if the tickets are actually real. As we get closer to the entrance, I feel weird for not having to pay. When we finally reach the entrance, the tickets are well received and to my surprise, they actually work to get us in. I am still in disbelief by the whole encounter and I am feeling grateful that we were delayed and took that wrong turn earlier this morning.  I know that if we hadn’t taken that wrong turn, we would never have been in the pathway of the lovely couple that gave us these free tickets. This kind of thing seems to happen to us all the time, and I am always amazed at how God provides for us even when I make stupid decisions like foolishly gambling away money that I should have saved.

IMG_1038Shark Reef turns out to be kind of a letdown and I am relieved that it didn’t cost us $40 to get in. Isn’t that the way it always is though? The first time you visit a place it always seems more amazing and exciting than the second time you go. Why is that? Has the initial wow factor worn off? Or do things really just change that much? I can never really tell… It’s like eating sugary treats nowadays versus when I was a kid. For some reason, nothing seems to taste as good as it did when I was a little girl. Has the product changed or have I? I wonder if I will ever know…

IMG_1040It’s later in the day now and off to Tournament of the Kings we go! This is a dinner show and sounds like it will be a lot of fun. As we enter the arena, we are seated at a long banquet table near the front. Before long, the entire place is full and everyone is being served dinner. The fun part is… utensils are not allowed. Because of the medieval theme, we are required to eat everything with our hands, just like ladies and knights did back in medieval times. Not long after we receive our dinner, the games begin! Jousting is the chosen sport and we watch as the men are knocked off of their horses. The crowd is asked to take part in motivating the kings by yelling encouragements to spur them on. The show is exciting and ends all too soon.

IMG_1046Heading back to the car, we decide to try our luck one more time at the Luxor. Brian and I sit down at a Dungeons and Dragon game, which happens to sit two people at once. We agree that this is the final slot machine that we will play for the day, and we agree to gamble $5. The next thing we know, the machine awards us a winning ticket for $30! We’re so excited that we have finally won something!

IMG_1042With the night still young, we head back to the resort and check out the pool area which is on the fourth floor of the resort. We haven’t had a chance to see what the pool is like yet, and want to see the observation deck as well. Unfortunately, when they built the resort, they put the observation deck facing away from the strip and towards the airport instead. What a waste of a good view…

IMG_1070After enjoying the cooler night air for a little while, we head back to our room and watch a little bit of television. I am surprised to see that the only show that I really care to watch is actually on at the moment. So I plop myself down to watch the remainder of the Bachelorette. It’s Katelyn’s season and I am hoping that she picks Nick. It’s a nice way to unwind after a long day and the first normal thing I’ve done in the last eleven days.

Day 10 of our 21 day adventure

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It’s 6:00 a.m. and stifling in our room! After checking the thermostat, I realize why it feels so hot in here; it’s 80°! I quickly call maintenance and a man shows up within a few minutes to check everything out. It turns out that our room needs a new condenser unit and until then, we are without AC. Lovely… I think to myself. The good thing is, we aren’t going to be in our room very long today and the maintenance guy promises that by the time we get back, everything will be fixed.

IMG_0950We hurriedly get ready so that maintenance can come and do their thing. We escape to the bagel shop to pick up a few sandwiches to take with us for lunch. After ensuring that we have plenty of water and supplies for the day ahead, we make a beeline for Red Rock Canyon where we will be hiking for the majority of the day.

IMG_0946I am surprised to see that the temperature has dropped about 20 degrees and I notice storms on the horizon that seem to evaporate as quickly as they appear. After driving for about 30 minutes, we are finally at our destination. The rock formations are filled with color and radiant in their beauty. As soon as we find the first look-out site, we stop and begin to explore. The first area is steep and there isn’t much of a trail. The valley below us is full of large boulders and there are quite a few people climbing down into the deep gorge. Brian and I begin to climb down the rocky path over-looking a large ravine. We’ve only been here 10 minutes, and already the rain has begun. We find a shallow cave to crouch under and wait for the rain to quit. It isn’t long before it’s bright and sunny again.

IMG_0896I am excited to see what’s next and we travel further up the road. After finding a quiet picnic area and finding a place to park, we take a look around. We spot some potential trails, but nothing that looks like they are very well traveled. After closer inspection, I spot what looks like a trail leading back through some brush and rocky bluffs. The trail is hard to follow and at one point the trail seems to come to an abrupt end. I scoot myself up over a large boulder to get a better look and notice a small trail continues just beyond the thick brush and boulders that are blocking our way. Up over the boulder we go; tree branches dangle down all around us and it’s a tight squeeze through the low lying limbs. Eventually we manage to find the narrow trail and follow it until we reach a narrow enclave that now really does end abruptly.

IMG_0974I notice how beautiful the walls of the rocks are here and looking up I can barely see the sky because of the narrow rock walls that surround us. I notice some pegs that are hammered deep into the stone and realize that we are standing in the middle of what must be a very well-known climbing spot. There are climbing pegs everywhere. I wonder how anyone can scale these walls. The way the walls curve inward, would make it hard for anyone to get a foothold. The stone is cut so smooth, that without the pegs, I am sure nobody would be able to climb these walls. After spending a few minutes soaking up the scenery, we decide to head back to the picnic area to eat our lunch. It’s starting to sprinkle again and the rain feels refreshing.

IMG_0981After eating, we find our way back to the car and stop several more times to get out and take pictures. Eventually we spot a place that looks like a great hiking spot and opt for the 2.5 mile hike. The trail is narrow and very steep; weaving its way up and down through the valley. Before long, we realize that we have been hiking for quite a while. The trail has been forking off into different directions and we are convinced that we have lost our way. The only thing we can do is to find another trail to take us back. Unfortunately every way we turn, just seems to take us deeper into the valley and away from our car. With no other ideas and unsure of which trail we originally took to get us this far, we decide to go off the trail and walk back in the same direction in which we came. It’s slow going because the sand is soft and heavy. With every step we take, we sink further into the ground. Fortunately, we can see the road from where we’re at and so we are able to find our way back using the road as our guide. At last we return to the car, beaten down from the sun and tired from walking through the heavy sand.

IMG_1004I surprise even myself when I suggest that we stop at one more look-out. We stop at a place that overlooks the entire valley of Red Rock Canyon. The area is very open and treeless, with just a few small bushes scattered about. I decide to climb down from the look-out area to see what else can be found. All of a sudden, I notice several rocks stacked up in various places. I realize quickly that we are in what appears to be a memorial area. There are several rocks with names carved into them, with smaller rocks stacked on top. I decide to participate and gather up some stones to create my own rock sculpture. I feel sad for the people whose memories cover this place. I even wonder to myself if there are actually people buried here. The way the rocks are set up everywhere, it looks like there very well could be people buried beneath them. It’s an eerie thought. After contemplating such things, we are now heading back to the resort.

IMG_0988Back in our room, I notice that the temperature is now even higher than it was before we left. The maintenance guy assured me that everything would be taken care of, but obviously something is still wrong. I inquire at the front desk and learn that the problem was never reported by maintenance and so nobody had done anything to remedy the situation. The maintenance guys are great and fix the problem right away. Now everything is working again and we are happy to have a break from the warm Nevada air. The staff is very kind to us and surprises us with two boxes of chocolates for being such good sports about the whole thing.

IMG_0991We are finishing up the night with a quick trip to Red Rock Casino. It’s a short distance from where were at and the place seems less crowded than Las Vegas Boulevard. Still… we’ve been here an hour now and our luck isn’t panning out. It’s time to head back to the resort and call it a night. It was a great day, but an exhausting one too and I am thankful to God for air-conditioning right now!

Day 9 of our 21 day adventure

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It’s finally here, my favorite day of the year, the 4th of July! I’m not sure about you, but the 4th has always been a big day for me. Here are some of the memories I have of this special day; cookouts, visiting the old Stow house, eating homemade ice cream, going on rides, (pony, hay, train, boat, & Model-T) taking long walks on the beach, drawing messages in the dark with sparklers, watching fireworks, reminiscing about the good old days, and most importantly, sharing the entire wonderful day with family and friends.

IMG_0845Every year is different, but every year is amazing in its own way; and this year is no exception! From the moment I got up this morning, I have been anxious and eager. Celebrating our freedom, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is such a thrill to me! Brian and I decided to grab breakfast at Einstein Bagels, which is located at our resort. I am so glad that we decided to eat here. The food is really good, inexpensive, and the staff have been very friendly. With our stomachs full and a helpful tip from one of the staff members, we decide to head to the LINQ to park for the day. The LINQ, is a gigantic high roller observation wheel that offers panoramic views of Las Vegas. Unfortunately it’s $30 a ticket to take a ride, so we decide to pass and instead visit a few casinos.

IMG_0829There is so much to see and do here, and the streets and casinos are so crowded today. It’s hard to get around and the heat is unbearable. I am determined to buy souvenirs today, but it seems like every shop has basically the exact same thing. The only thing that ever changes is the prices. So I am spending most of my time just looking at the costs and trying to find good deals. In a city like this though, good deals are hard to find, and Brian and I don’t have much luck finding anything worth buying.

IMG_0824Back out on the streets, which are getting more crowded by the hour, we pass by a woman who is very intoxicated and not wearing anything but a string to cover up her lady parts. With the image now burned into my mind, I try to erase my last few minutes of memory, but unfortunately the delete button isn’t working. I finally just realized, that we aren’t in Kansas anymore! Oh wait… we never were! Oh well… back to what I was saying… out on the streets there are lots of interesting people today. Most are trying to make a few bucks selling their homemade cd’s, and some are even selling sculptures that they have cleverly designed. I feel bad that I can’t buy everything.

IMG_0866We finally pass a couple that isn’t trying to sell anything, all they are asking for is food. The sign reads “No money, food only please.” So I decide to stop and offer them a package of apple raisin crisps and some water that I have stashed away in my backpack. The couple is very appreciative and eats the crackers right away. Janet and Steve are their names and they return the favor by offering us handmade roses for our daughters. I feel blessed by their generosity and Steve won’t let us leave until he has finished making all four roses. While Steve is making the beautiful roses out of palm fronds, Janet shares their story with us, about how they ended up here and how they still feel blessed despite their situation of being homeless. Janet’s mother is very sick and she doesn’t want to tell her mother that she is homeless. She fears that her mother will become more ill by the news. Their story is all too familiar and I feel sad that they have to live this way. After carefully putting the flowers away in my backpack, we head out once more.

IMG_0863Heading down the street further, we spy a Mexican restaurant and take a peek inside, to see if there are any tables available. We are surprised by how vacant the place looks and we are seated right away. After ordering, our food comes fast and everything tastes really good. After eating, we walk around and visit a few more casinos. The day is going by fast, and before we realize it, it is already 9:15 p.m. and the fireworks are scheduled to start in 15 minutes. We hurry outside and notice that the whole strip is covered from one end to the next in a mob of people. We aren’t sure where the best viewing spot is, so we just stay where we’re at and hope for the best.

IMG_0855Soon the fireworks begin and we realize that we have hardly any view at all. Unfortunately with the crowds being as thick as they are, we have to remain where we are, catching glimpses of the fireworks through the buildings that are blocking our view. The fireworks don’t last long and afterward we decide to get frosties at Wendy’s and chicken tenders at Chick Filet for a late night dinner/snack. Once done eating, we decide to walk back to the car. The crowds aren’t quite as bad as they had been, but it still takes us about an hour of walking before we reach our car.

IMG_0869Once back at the resort I flop on the bed in relief that I can finally lay down. I can see the LINQ through the window. It’s all lit up in red, white, and blue. It’s been a good day, but in a way I’m happy it’s over. I have never seen so many people in one place before and it’s good to finally be free from the crowds once again. Goodnight!

Day 8 of our 21 day adventure

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We’re up early today and already making our way through a dozen different casinos. It’s only about 10:00 a.m. and I’m already exhausted from all of the walking that we’ve done. The slot machines seem to be all tuckered out from the brood of people that have flocked here for the Fourth of July weekend. I haven’t been very lucky today and feel like I may as well just be throwing my money at the wind.

IMG_0739As the day stretches on, we finally make our way to Caesars Palace, which is one of my favorite places in Vegas. The Forum Shops call to me, I have been waiting in eager anticipation to come back to this place. Our favorite deli is here; and  amidst the commotion, I look fervently to find it. My mouth waters as we search for the place that can offer up the best corned beef sandwich that I have ever laid eyes upon. My stomach is making strange noises now, longing for the six inch high sandwich that it hasn’t seen for the last decade. Unfortunately, after searching through the shops one by one, Brian and I soon discover that the deli is gone for good. Our favorite place to eat is now just a mere memory.

IMG_0740We decide to continue on, hopeful that we will find another place that is just as good, but unfortunately we end up having to settle for a quick snack and then off we go again to observe the free shows, erupting every few hours as we continue to walk along. The ceiling changes throughout the day and I am charmed by its effects. This place has such a magical feel to it and leaves me wanting more. The downside is, that the shops remind me of Beverly Hills, and so I don’t even want to walk into most of them. I fear the clerks may ask me if they can help me; in which I know that my reply would most likely be, “Yes, as a matter of fact you can! You can help me right out this store, because I am poor and just spent most of my money at your pilfering casino!” So instead, I continue on…

IMG_0746We finally make our way outside, and I immediately spot a couple of beaten down war veterans. One looks completely stoned out of his mind and the other keeps telling people that he just wants a shower and a nice warm bed like everyone else. The two of them make quite the pair and I wonder how they ended up here. Curiosity and pity for the two of them gets the better of me and I decide to walk back and strike up a conversation. I put a $5 bill in their can, which hardly seems like enough. Here’s somebody that obviously fought for our country and now nobody is fighting for them. With tears welling up, I begin to ask the coherent one, some questions. I can feel Brian’s eyes from off in the distance, probably wondering if I have gone out of my mind. The man that I begin speaking to, is friendly and tells me about his past. I can tell he is just as hungry for conversation, as he is for food.  After we briefly talk and I turn to go, he grabs my hand, kisses it, and says, “May God bless you.” A part of me wants to run and wash my hand in a gallon of bleach and the other half of me wants to reach down and hug this man to pieces! Instead, a tear slips down my face and I turn to go, knowing that most people around me will probably never even give this man a second thought. It breaks my heart, but what more can I do. I say a silent prayer for the two men and move on.

IMG_0747Brian is waiting for me over by the curb, giving me a confused look. I don’t say anything to him about what just happened and we continue walking down the strip. We have another show to see tonight; Le Reve, which is over at the Wynn and we slowly make our way over there, one casino at a time. I am quite tired after all of the walking that we have done today and when we finally reach the Wynn, I am hopeful that we will be able to sit down and wait for the show to start. Unfortunately there are no seats to sit upon and instead, we end up standing in line until finally the ushers show us to our seats.

IMG_0750The ambiance of the room immediately fills me with excitement. The room is dimly lit and there is a vivid display of colorful fabric hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the circular stage. The billowy fabric draws me in and leaves me in an almost trance like state. It doesn’t take long before the show begins and in an instant, the long clusters of fabric are yanked up into a mysterious black hole. After they disappear, dozens of acrobats make their way down from the same black hole. The acrobats land on the stage, which is now completely covered in water. They deliver quite a show as they dive and traverse the colorful waters. It is a spectacular scene and the costumes and settings remind me of the movie Avatar. It’s a shame when the show has to end and I am thoroughly worn out from the excitement of everything. Day 8 was surely a day that I won’t soon forget and I am really looking forward to tomorrow.

Day 7 of our 21 day adventure

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Did I ever tell you that we own a timeshare? Have I ever told you how big of a mistake it really is to buy a timeshare? Well, if I haven’t, I’m telling you now… stay far Far Far FAR away from anyone explaining timeshares! I’m serious! And if you sell timeshares, SHAME ON YOU!!! Oh you know what I’m talking about!!! Don’t try to tell me that you’re innocent! Timeshares are the biggest scam out there and everybody knows it! At least everyone does except for Brian and I! We have owned a timeshare for the last 20 years, and apparently we are still falling for their lies. I won’t go into the gory details of our most recent encounter, but let me tell you, we were foolishly swindled once again! Anyway, this was how we started our day; the first seven hours of it to be precise! The promised one hour spiel, turned into a seven hour interrogation of sorts. Thank God that is over!

Now back to the grand adventure…

IMG_0717We are now perusing the “Strip,” going from one casino to the next; looking for something interesting to do today. I have always wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about, in regards to the M&M museum. In actuality, the M&M museum is nothing more than a four story shopping mall, of floor to ceiling M&M paraphernalia. The only cool thing was the free 3D show that they offered, which took all of about 15 minutes to watch. Hey, at least I can say I’ve been there and done that!

IMG_0666After mostly window shopping and exploring the hidden treasures of Vegas, we remembered that we needed to keep track of the time so that we wouldn’t forget about our evening plans. The only consolation to our early morning debauchery, was that we were given free tickets for a fancy dinner and also two tickets for “Vegas the Show.” Making out way over to Planet Hollywood was nothing short of a miracle, because the crowds of people on the Strip were covering the pathways like ants on a sugary treat.

IMG_0814We finally made it over to Pampas Churrascaria Brazilian Grille. I’ll have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find the atmosphere quite appealing despite how busy the place was. We started off with the salad bar, which in itself was enough to satisfy a king or a queen. Of course that was just the beginning, the main course was just as heavenly and I don’t think that I have ever tasted anything so satisfying in my entire life! I guess I’m secretly Brazilian! Who knew? The food was to die for and seriously, if I ever end up on death row and get to request one final meal, I’m ordering food from this place!

IMG_0865Once our stomachs were full and our cheeks a little rosier from the piña coladas, we found our way through the maze of people over to the Saxe theatre where Vegas the Show was playing. For some reason there was a mix up with our seats and they ended up seating us front center stage. We kept expecting someone to come tell us to move to the back of the theatre, but fortunately for us, we got to watch the show from the best seats possible! Vegas the Show tells the musical story about Las Vegas and features celebrity impersonators who sing their greatest hits in order to preserve the memory of how Vegas used to be. There were showgirls, dancers, variety acts, and sets that represented the city as it once was. We saw Elvis, the Rat Pack, Tina Turner, Elton John, and many others who gave wonderful impersonations of the original artists. The way the actors portrayed Vegas, was reminiscent of what I remembered from our first time there and it made me feel a bit sad that so much has since changed. Day seven was surely an adventure that I won’t soon forget, the good and the bad…

Day 6 of our 21 day adventure

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Just taking one last look around the room to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything. It’s with a heavy heart that I leave this glorious place. Being a princess for a day was so much fun. A last long look out of the tower window will have to tide me over until the next thrilling moment occurs. With a sigh, I am determined to have another grand adventure, even though this one here at the Luxor is now ending.

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Brian and I pile into the elevator with our mounds of luggage. Watchful eyes scrutinize our every move and I am thankful when we finally make it to the check-out desk. With a quick exchange of information and the final bill paid, we head out to the find the car. A wall of thick steamy air suffocates us within seconds of leaving the air-conditioned sanctuary.

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We finally spot our car and hurriedly throw everything into the trunk. We scurry back to the casino to escape the inferno that engulfs us. I immediately feel a cold chill as if ice water is pouring over me from head to toe. I look down to grab my sweatshirt, which I had slung over my purse earlier in the day. Now it seems, to my dismay, that it is nowhere to be found. After taking a few minutes to retrace my steps, and still not finding my sweatshirt, I wonder if it’s worth going back out into the stifling heat to look for it. I explore all of my options, quickly rifling through them in the work center of my brain. Ding! The answer comes to me, and I race to find the nearest security kiosk.

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I feel stupid as I explain my pitiful situation and know that I am secretly the biggest cheapskate alive. I mean a sweatshirt… of all things to report as missing… The poor lady in front of me is missing her laptop, and here I am practically crying over a plain black sweatshirt that I purchased from Goodwill.

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After explaining the discouraging downfall to my otherwise perfectly wonderful day, and filling out about a gazillion forms after pleading my case, we are finally on our way to that grand adventure that I was so hopeful to find today. I can’t shake feeling disappointed in myself and wish that I could just start my morning over. Why I get so irritated over the little things in life, I will never understand. Is this just me or does everybody get like this from time to time?

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After a while, I finally start to forget about the disappointing events of the morning as we happily gamble away our hard-earned money and shop at the same stores where celebrities often frequent. After looking at the price tags in the shops at Crystals, I am really depressed now. How can people afford such lavish things? The frivolity of such extravagant items seems to me to be almost embarrassing. I think to myself, how can people spend gobs of money on such unimportant things when people are starving in China? Seems to me like being a princess isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. I’m kind of glad that I will most likely never find out.

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It’s now 3:00 p.m. and time to find our car, so that we can brave the Vegas traffic and find our timeshare which is off the beaten path. I know what you’re thinking… Yes, we were wrangled into buying one of those. I loathe the day we signed the contract for our timeshare and now we are forced to take a vacation every year, or by default, forfeit our timeshare “points” i.e., hard-earned money.

We finally find the resort and decide that it’s better than we expected. The resort is surrounded by small shops and is within walking distance to the strip, if you don’t mind walking in 116° weather. After exploring our room and situating the luggage, we head downstairs to the concierge desk to buy show tickets. Tonight we are seeing the show “Diva’s” and I am really looking forward to our first opportunity for real adventure.

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The day is progressing better than at first and we decide to head out for dinner. We opt for driving back to the strip, rather than trying to walk through the thick humid air. It doesn’t take us long to find parking near the LINQ; however, finding a restaurant that doesn’t cost a fortune is nearly impossible. We finally settle on the “Nook”, which is reminiscent of a delicatessen and seems like a good choice for low budget families like us.

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We order gyros and fruit tarts for dessert. The food is exquisite and tastes like heaven. After filling our bellies, we sit back and relax and watch the chefs preparing food from behind the counter. Some of the chefs are flinging pizza dough into the air, while others are carefully arranging garnishes on platters. This place may not be Trumps Palace, but the chefs sure could work there!

After being entertained at the Nook, we head out to Caesars Palace to see the show Diva’s. The theatre is decked out in red velvet and screams sexy. Frank Marino is the star of the show and has us laughing so hard, that I am about to pee my pants. The alcoholic beverage I just drank isn’t helping matters either. I never imagined that a female impersonator could deliver such a thrilling performance and I linger after the final curtain call hoping for more.

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At last though, the show is over. We file out through the crowds of drunk, excited people, each hoping for a chance to see Frank Marino in person. Sure enough, there he is, greeting everyone as they make their way out of the theatre. I am tempted to stop, but find myself hesitating because my shyness overtakes me, and once again I lose an opportunity to be someone I’m not.

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It’s 2 a.m. when we finally crawl into bed. The LINQ, which is a huge observation wheel, is all lit up and can be seen from our window next to the bed. As I lay back, I think back over the past six days and feel happy and content that we are finally getting away from it all. A part of me feels guilty for enjoying this time away from the kids, but most of me is jumping for joy. Fifteen more days left to enjoy the vacation of a lifetime. Ahhh… I hope the time lingers and that the fun continues.

Another adventure…

Photo Credit: northlandadventurer.com
Photo Credit: northlandadventurer.com

I am currently away exploring once more.  This time I am visiting Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands.  I am hoping to see the Perseid meteor shower and maybe some northern lights.  I will continue my posts when I return in a few days.  Until then… I will miss all of you!  Have a wonderful week and if you live in a climate like mine, don’t forget to enjoy the warm weather days while you can!  😉

Day 5 of our 21 day adventure

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I am so excited right now! Today is the day we head for Las Vegas; one of my favorite vacation destinations! We have been to Vegas twice now. The first time we went was in 2004, when we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. We stayed at Treasure Island, which has the comfiest beds I have ever slept in. The first game I played at the casino was a poker game. I put 25¢ in the slot and out came $75. Fortunately my luck continued that way for the remainder of the week and we won enough money to pay for our entire trip. I loved our time there; we saw shows like “O” and “Jubilee” and stayed up all day and night going from one casino to the next. Everything was cheap, comps were amazing, and nothing ever closed. Out of the 4 days that we spent there, we only slept about 4 hours in all. We were completely exhausted on the plane ride home and slept the entire way back.

(My husband Brian is in the video above, wearing a red shirt. He was playing one of the beater positions)

The next time we visited Vegas, was in 2006. We attended a Harry Potter Conference called “Lumos.” I know… many of you don’t know this about me, but I am a huge Harry Potter fan. That was probably one of the most fun weeks that I have ever had. We dressed up in full Harry Potter attire, drank butter beer in an Irish pub, participated in potion classes, tested our wizardry knowledge in a scavenger hunt, played quidditch in the pool, got invited to secret parties, and totally geeked out for an entire week. So you can see why today is such an exciting day for me.
IMG_0581 copy for WPWe have a 6 hour drive to Vegas today. The hours are passing by fast and we are almost there. I can see the casinos rising up out of the desert in the far distance. The temperature is hovering around 115 degrees and it’s hard to get a clear view of anything off in the distance because of the hazy mirage that is covering the landscape. We finally arrive on the Las Vegas Strip and it’s bumper to bumper traffic the whole way. We are staying at the Luxor, which is shaped like a pyramid and has an Egyptian theme. I can see the Luxor up ahead and we are trying to determine where the parking area is. After a few wrong turns, we have finally reached our destination and are ready to get out of the suffocating heat.

Photo Credit:  blonde4ever.yuku.com
Photo Credit: blonde4ever.yuku.com

We are pleasantly surprised by what awaits us as we enter the hotel. The lobby reminds me of Gringotts from the Harry Potter books. Each clerk is sitting individually on a pedestal behind a desk, and each one is carefully checking people in and out in an orderly fashion. The lights are low and create an atmosphere that feels mysterious. Huge statues and pillars mark the entrance to the casino and the entire place is decorated in an abundance of rich eye-catching colors. It seems a little bit like I have stepped into another dimension; almost like I have stepped back in time and have entered into ancient Egypt. If it weren’t for the noise of the slot machines, I may actually believe that we had somehow been transported into another time and place!
IMG_0561 copy for WPAfter checking in with the goblins from Gringotts, we make it up to our room on the 11th floor. As we enter the room, we suddenly realize that the bedroom has a Jacuzzi tub that overlooks Las Vegas Boulevard and we also have a separate sitting room which overlooks Mandalay Bay. I am thinking to myself that this is probably the best $75 that I have ever spent on a hotel room. The view is absolutely stunning and I proceed to plop myself onto the couch and try to capture the memory of the sights outside the window. I am hoping that I will never forget the thrill of this moment. I feel like a princess way up high in a tower, overlooking the expanse of the kingdom below me. As amazing as all of this is though, we are only here for one night and then we will be heading out to a different hotel in the morning.IMG_0576 copy for WP

Eventually I pry myself off of the couch and we head down to the casino to look for a place to eat dinner. We finally settle on a place called the “Public House”. It’s pricey, but the food is wonderful and we picked a great time to eat, because the Women’s World Cup is playing on the large screen television. I am not much into sports, but even I can’t deny that this is fun. Everyone is so excited and having a great time and it gets even better when the U.S. eventually wins. We have had a great day, and I can’t wait to see more of Vegas tomorrow!

Day 4 of our 21 day adventure

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After three days of exploring our country from dawn until dusk, today we are taking it easy. It’s 11:00 a.m. and we just finished eating breakfast here at the Sleep Inn, in Idaho Falls. We only have a four-hour drive today, with our final destination being Orem, UT. We are excited to make our way to Orem, which is just outside of Salt Lake City. We are planning to stay in Orem for a couple of days so that we can get a good feel for what the area is like. I am hopeful that this may be another place that we can add to our list of possible places to move to.

IMG_0534 copy for WPUnfortunately, the drive to Orem, is leaving me a little bit disappointed. The traffic reminds me of big city living and It’s hard to navigate through the streets due to the high level of traffic on the roads. Thankfully, it doesn’t take us long to make it to our hotel. The unfortunate part is, our hotel is being completely renovated both inside and out. The ruts in the street are so deep, that driving through them is difficult. When we enter the hotel, the lobby is completely torn apart and the hustle and bustle of construction is happening all around us. We are quickly regretting our decision to stay here for two days, but are trying to stay positive. After attempting to check-in an hour early, we are told that we will have to wait.

IMG_0552 copy for WPWe decide to head out and explore the area while we wait. I remember reading about a place called Bridal Veil Falls and so we decide to see if we can find it. After about 20 minutes of driving, we have made our way to the entrance that leads to the falls. A bike trail weaves its way around the base of the hills and we walk along the bike path, taking in the beauty of the trees and listening to the rushing waters of a creek that flows alongside the trial. It’s nice to be out of the city traffic and away from the construction work, but the temperature is over 100 degrees and quickly zapping the energy right out of me. The walk is easy though and it doesn’t take us long to find the base of the falls.

IMG_0546 copy for WPThere are quite a few people here and some are actually trying to hike all the way up to the top of the falls with small children. I have to admit, it’s making me a bit nervous watching the hikers climb their way to the top. There isn’t a path leading up to the top of the falls and the terrain is extremely rocky and steep. The falls are beautiful, but it is definitely not tranquil here. There are about 100 people trying to cram into the water that is accumulating at the base of the falls. It doesn’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed by the heat of the day and the crowds of people, so we head back after a taking a short walk past the falls.

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

The traffic is even worse on our way back to the hotel, and after checking in, we decide that we need to plan something different for tomorrow. After talking it over, we agree to head to Las Vegas a day early and we decide to make reservations at the Luxor hotel. After making reservations and cancelling our extra day in Orem, we head out to find a place to eat dinner. After driving around for a while, we finally settle on Smash Burger. Their food is okay, but not something to write home about. After finishing up dinner, we head over to the local mall which is located within a mile of our hotel. After perusing the shops, we decide to head back to the hotel to watch a movie. Today wasn’t the most memorable day, but we are certainly looking forward to tomorrow and excited for the days ahead.

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.

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…