Day 21 of our 21 day adventure

We are finally back home from a wonderful vacation. It only took us about 5 hours to get home today and the girls were excited to see us, our dogs included…

Here’s a collage of our overall vacation. We had a blast! Thanks for joining us along the way and hopefully it won’t be too long before we travel again.

collage

Day 20 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2602

We slept in this morning, and oh how glorious it was to finally be able to get some much needed rest. We have another full day of driving ahead of us though and so we can’t really dilly dally all day long. So… after quickly checking out of our hotel, we are now on our way to Urbandale, IA.

IMG_2593After a couple of hours of driving, we spot an Air and Space Museum and decide that we can’t possibly pass this up. We both love airplanes and if I hadn’t joined the Army, I probably would have joined the Air Force. I have always had a fondness for anything related to space as well. So this is the perfect place for us to spend an afternoon.

IMG_2619I am completely amazed by the sheer size of some of the aircraft. It’s hard to believe that something this large can actually make it off the ground. I’ve seen plenty of airplanes in my life, but these are huge! After making our way through the self-guided tour, we stop in the gift shop and buy some much needed space ice cream and some other small trinkets that we are sure that our girls will like.

IMG_2604We are back on the road within a few hours and still making good time, even though the traffic has picked up. After arriving at our hotel, we are surprised to find that our room resembles at hospital room. We are in a very crowded district here in Urbandale and after settling in, we try to figure out what to do for dinner. Neither of us really wants to venture out into the traffic, and fortunately we find out that there is a very nice restaurant within walking distance of the hotel and so we decide to eat there for dinner to avoid the traffic on the roads.

IMG_2633The place turns out to be quite charming, its country style suits me. The place is called the Machine Shed and honors the American farmer. I am very surprised at how amazing the food is. The people here are really friendly and this is such a great way to end our day. We’ve had an amazing adventure so far and this will be our last dinner on the road. Tomorrow we head for home. Ahh… Home Sweet Home! I can hardly wait!

Day 19 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2488

We are leaving Avon today and heading out to Grand Island, NE. I am eager to get going since I am not really fond of this place. Don’t get me wrong… Colorado is a beautiful place. In fact, I would say it tops some of the places we’ve seen on our trip, but at the same time I don’t feel like I belong here. The people here just seem very different from what I am used to, and I think it’s because I’m more of a laid back kind of girl, not a fancy schmancy girl like some of the ladies that I have seen around here.

IMG_2507After breakfast at the hotel, we are finally on our way. The rain had been intermittent today and is kind of nice since it has helped to cool things down. After several hours of driving we spot a rest area in Georgetown and decide to stop. After stopping, we learn of a train ride not far from where we are. I’m excited because I’ve never actually been on an old fashioned steam engine train and I’ve always thought it would be fun to take a ride on one.

IMG_2515Brian and I both agree that the train ride sounds like a lot of fun and so we head up to Devils Head Station to buy our tickets and board the train. Within 30 minutes we are sitting on an old steam engine train that uses oil for fuel. The views of the mountains are incredible and we pass over a raging river a few times on the route. The ride lasts for about an hour and we opt against the mine tour that is offered at one of the stops.

IMG_2541After disembarking the train, we enter the gift shop and spend some time there looking at all the amazing train memorabilia. We have had such a fun day and decide to stay in this town a little longer to grab some lunch. It’s still sprinkling off and on and we find a restaurant in the downtown section before the rain starts to really come down. The food is wonderful and the atmosphere is family style, which makes me feel quite at home.

IMG_2531After lunch, we head back to the car, weaving our way through the crowded streets and passing all of the small town shops. All of a sudden, the rain starts to pour and we quickly look for a place to take shelter. We dart into a coffee house that looks more like a library than anything else and both order some coffee while we wait out the rain.

IMG_2585It’s cozy in here and I know that if I lived here, that this would probably be one of my favorite places to hang out. The rain doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon and time is passing by quickly, so we decide to head out the back door of the coffee shop and make a mad dash for the car. Soaked to the bone, we are now in the car holding our warm coffees and trying to stop shivering. It reminds me of being a kid once more and playing out in the rain just for the fun of it. It’s sad to think that those days are long gone.

IMG_2592A few hours later and we have now arrived at our hotel in Grand Island, NE. With nothing left to do and still quite full from lunch, we decide to watch a movie and get to bed early. It’s been another great day and we only have one day left before we head for home.

Day 18 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2463

It is with a heavy heart that we are leaving Zion today. I am dreading the fact that I have to say goodbye to my brother and nephew. I wonder how long it will be before I see them again. I only got an hour of sleep last night because I am coming down with a cold and can barely breathe.

IMG_2461The sun is just starting to rise as we say our goodbyes to David and Levi. We all have long drives ahead of us and are eager to get started to avoid the traffic on the roads. I spot my Spanish speaking friend who is just arriving for work and say goodbye to him as well.

IMG_2467As we make our way toward Avon, Colorado, the heat index starts to rise and it is now over 100°. I am feeling worse now because of the heat and my cold isn’t helping matters. Because of this, I am not being a very good sport about the long drive and exhaustion is starting to set in from getting so little sleep last night.

IMG_2465When we finally arrive at the hotel, the attendant is really rude to me and makes me feel even worse by something that she says. I always take everything so personally and it only gets worse when I don’t feel well.

IMG_2462We finally get up to our room and I crash on the bed. Both of us sleep for hours before we finally wake up feeling hungry. We look outside and discover that it has been raining, and surprisingly there’s a double rainbow right outside our window. Unfortunately, the rainbow is almost gone before I can snap a good picture.

IMG_2468We finally both drag ourselves out of the room with just enough strength to go pick up something to eat for dinner. The food ends up being terrible and I am really missing home-cooked meals at this point. Normally, we hardly ever eat out and I just haven’t been able to get used to the food on this trip. I think to myself… only three days left and I will be home, and right now I really wish I was.

Day 17 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_2045

Today we are traveling to Bryce Canyon and Kodachrome Basin State Park. The weather is beautiful and I am excited to explore a new place today. After getting ready, we stop at the hotel dining room for some breakfast. We have only been able to eat breakfast here a couple of different days now, because we always leave the hotel before breakfast starts. There is a cook here that I have made friends with, he spoils me with real eggs instead of the nasty scrambled ones in the heating pan. I am impressed by his generosity and wish I could meet more people like him. He has a thick Spanish accent and makes me feel quite at home, especially since I grew up in California and had many Spanish speaking friends when I lived out there. It always amazes me how you can make friends in the strangest of places and sometimes just being around someone for a few minutes can spark a friendship that can last a lifetime.

IMG_2029Feeling quite full after the hearty breakfast, we now make our way to Bryce Canyon. It’s a beautiful drive and every time I see a Hoodoo, I get excited and want to jump out of the car and take a picture. There are several rock shops along the way and we indulge our young nephew by letting him visit a few. I love rocks as well and end up buying a sandstone sculpture that catches my eye. There are quite a few other things I would like to get as well, but after looking at the price tags, I decide just to get the one sculpture.

IMG_2038Down the road a little further, we spy a natural arch bridge that covers the highway. I can’t help but stop to take pictures. It doesn’t take too long before we finally reach Bryce Canyon. There are several places to stop and explore the canyon. By the end of our journey through Bryce Canyon, we have taken over 500 pictures and are eager to see how they all turned out.

IMG_2047Its lunch time now, and we find a burger place to stop at. The food isn’t very good, but we are all so hungry at this point, that none of us really care. There is another rock shop across the street and so of course we have to stop at that one as well. After going through a bunch of other small shops, we finally decide that we need to get going again.

IMG_2263There is one last place we want to stop at before we go all the way back to our hotel. Kodachrome State Park isn’t too far away and so we decide to head out and take a tour of the place. When we get there, I am amazed at how beautiful it is, and the crazy thing is, I end up finding an area that reminds me of my dream once more. Dying to explore the place, I find myself running off the trail in search of a closer look of the rock formations that surround us. My brother bravely follows me; knowing that I will probably get into trouble alone without him. I head in the direction of a place that looks like a good place to explore and my brother David stops to investigate an area where he sees some crystals poking up from beneath the sand. As he begins to dig them up, I take off and explore the remainder of the area.

IMG_2272It seems that I have finally found the one place that reminds me the most of my dream, and so I stop to take a few pictures. I am almost crying once again, the emotional connection that I have to this place is eerie and I am at a loss for words on how best to describe the feelings that are coming over me. It’s as if I’ve been here before, but now the entrance to the place in my dream is covered with a pile of rocks and I cannot enter the cave that once existed here. Knowing that we will probably get caught for going off the trail, I decide to find my brother and get back to the trail where Levi and Brian are waiting. I am surprised the park Ranger hasn’t been out to yell at us yet, as I catch a glimpse of his headquarters from where we are standing. Back on the trail, we hike for a little while longer. It’s starting to get late and we know that we need to get back before it gets dark. I feel so drawn to this place that I don’t want to leave. After taking a bunch more pictures, I finally convince myself that we must go.

IMG_2286During the road trip back to the hotel we stop and take several more pictures. The landscape is just breathtaking and I can’t get enough. Unfortunately, because of my hesitation to leave, poor Levi ends up having an accident in the back seat because we didn’t stop soon enough for a potty break. He feels just awful about it and I laugh because I did the same thing in the back seat of my uncle’s car when I was about his age. The day ends with us cleaning out the car and trying to save the upholstery. Even with this small hiccup, this has been one of the best days yet.

Day 16 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1888

It’s another early day for all of us. We are trying our best to avoid the crowds and today we will be hiking in a place called the Narrows. The shuttle ride takes us about 45 minutes and it looks like it is going to be a beautiful day. I am a little concerned that I didn’t wear a warm enough sweater. It’s a crisp cool morning and I know that being in the water will only make things worse.

IMG_1901After hiking for about a mile, we are now in the Narrows. The water looks fairly calm and the skies are clear. Sandstone walls engulf us and make us feel small in comparison. The water has woven its path here for thousands of years and there is hardly any dry land to walk upon. Flash flooding is a danger in this area and so any signs of rain and we will have to head back immediately. Fortunately, the weather forecast isn’t calling for rain and so we should be safe for today.

IMG_1744The water is deeper in some areas and I don’t have a walking stick to judge the depth of the water. It’s a little unnerving stepping out into the water, not knowing what lies beneath each step that I take. There are a couple of times that my brother has to help steady me. The water is running pretty fast in some areas and I feel as if I will be swept off my feet.

IMG_1879Along the way, the water reaches us to my thighs and I feel a bit hesitant about continuing on since the water seems to be rising at times. Every step we take, takes us deeper into a maze of colorful rocks, formed by the brisk waters that shape and mold each tiny crevice. The rocks remind me of the leaves back home during the fall season. As I look down in the water, I can see a million different colors and the sound of the water playing its magical tune is soothing and begging me to continue onward.

IMG_1894After hours of hiking through the river, we decide that it’s getting late and that it’s now time to head back. The river beckons to me and my heart aches to continue on, but I know that if we don’t leave now, that our strength won’t hold out for the trek back. And so with regret, we start our return hike back.

IMG_1922As we get closer to where we began, the water seems to be getting deeper and there are now multitudes of people walking through the river. I am having trouble finding a pathway to walk through that isn’t too deep. With scores of people around now, I am starting to feel a little claustrophobic and walk as fast as I can through the murky waters to reach dry land.

IMG_1996When we finally reach the spot where we first entered the river, all of us are relieved and just want to get back to our hotel. We still have about a mile to walk before we get to the shuttle and when we finally make it to the shuttle stop, it’s a relief to find a shuttle that isn’t completely filled.

IMG_1761With each shuttle stop that we make, more people try to cram into the tiny bus and before long there are so many people that the doors are threatening not to close all the way. People are standing in the aisles, falling over each other and I am thankful that I actually have a seat to sit in right now. As tired as I am, I doubt I could stand for very long.

IMG_1854After returning to the entrance of the park, we race back to our hotel and rest for a while. The only thing that finally gets us moving again, is our appetites; and so we head back down to the city of Hurricane and order a pizza to bring back with us to the hotel. Tomorrow will be another long day and so we head to bed early. I am exhausted, but excited for tomorrow

The continuation… Day 15 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1653

The continuation…

Taking one last peek over the edge of the cliff, I know that it’s now time to head back down into the valley below. The adrenaline rush is still pulsing through my veins though and I don’t want this feeling to end. People are coming in droves now and it’s making the trail harder to maneuver. A few hours later, we are finally back where we started.

IMG_1623We stop and eat the lunch at the picnic area and then decide to catch the shuttle that will take us to the Zion Museum. The museum isn’t very big, and doesn’t take us long to wander through. We buy a couple of souvenirs and head back out once more to find another hiking trail. I immediately spot another trail right outside of the museum and we hike for another two miles until we find ourselves in a quiet cove by the Virgin River. It’s a beautiful spot to sit and think and would be the perfect place to spend a long lazy afternoon. Tired as we are though, we decide that it’s best if we go back to the hotel to rest for a while.

IMG_1632Before long, my nephew Levi gets bored and so we all decide to take him over to the local rock shop again. Levi has fun examining each rock closely and cannot settle his mind on just picking out one. He loves them all! After spending nearly an hour shopping for rocks, we’re all realizing how hungry we are from all the hiking and walking that we’ve done today and we decide to head south on the highway to see if we can find a restaurant down in the city of Hurricane.

IMG_1626After driving for about 45 minutes, we finally spot a Mexican restaurant adjacent to a movie theatre. We contemplate a movie, but nothing looks interesting, so instead we go inside the restaurant to eat dinner. The restaurant offers take-out or dining-in and we decide to stay there to eat. The food turns out to be really good and reasonably priced.

IMG_1636After eating our fill, we decide to head over to Walmart to by some water shoes for our hike tomorrow through the Narrows. After finding out that there are no water shoes left in my size, I decide to settle on a pair of tennis shoes to wear instead. After buying shoes for everyone and a few random items that we were in need of, we are now heading back to the hotel for the night.

IMG_1703We are relieved to find a parking space when we return to the hotel and we drag ourselves into the room with hardly an energy left. It been a long but glorious day and most definitely my favorite day yet.

Day 15 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1616

Today is finally here. The day I have been looking forward to for months now! We will be hiking up to Angels Landing, but that isn’t the best part; we will also be renewing our vows and I am so excited that I just want to scream! The problem is, it’s 5:00 a.m. and so screaming isn’t allowed at the moment. I must be civilized and act like an adult, like everyone else. Who am I kidding…? I’m surrounded by three boys at the moment, so I’m probably the most mature person around right now.

IMG_1463This morning is much the same as yesterday. I am preparing lunches and packing everything that we will need for the day. We are leaving a little bit earlier today so that we don’t face as many crowds as we did yesterday. As we approach the shuttle, I notice that there are quite a few people here. Most seem to be prepared for climbing, as they are loaded down with ropes and all kinds of other gear that I suppose one might need for that sort of thing.

IMG_1468We arrive at the drop off point for the West Rim trail that will lead us up through Walter’s Wiggle’s; these 21 switchbacks look like a beast to climb. I am ready though and excited to see if I can make it up the 1488 feet that we will need to climb. The hike is 5 miles round trip and the hiking guide shows that it should take us about 5 hours to complete the hike. I am nervous about my 6 yr. old nephew coming with us. This is a strenuous hike and it isn’t recommended for children.

IMG_1493As we make our way up the steep sandstone incline, I start to wonder if I am crazy for attempting this. I have been a stay-at-home mom for several years now and so just walking around the block often wears me out. But I remind myself of our hike up at Mt. Charleston and yesterday’s hike was no cake walk either. It isn’t long before my nephew Levi starts to get tired and my brother David tells me that he may have to turn back if Levi cannot continue on.

IMG_1507Brian and I continue on without Levi and David, hoping that they will catch up to us after they rest for a while. I know that if I stop now, that I may never make it the rest of the way myself. There aren’t too many people on the way up. It’s still really early in the day and I am happy that we decided to leave so early. To my surprise, my brother and Levi catch up to us within a few minutes and I am excited to see them.

IMG_1508After finally making it through all of the switchbacks, we are now at Scout Lookout, which is the saddle that lies between the West Rim trail and Angels Landing. I am thankful that they have bathrooms all the way up here. I would hate to be the one that has to climb up here every day to replace the toilet paper though! Walking over to the beginning of Angels Landing trail, I begin to feel a little apprehensive. This is not for the faint of heart. I can tell by the posted sign that talks about how many people have died falling to their deaths because of the sheer cliffs.

IMG_1510Taking a deep breath, Brian and I proceed to hike the last .5 mile which is what will take us to the final lookout for Angels Landing. There are anchored support chains along the trail to help people climb the steep sandstone ridge. I am able to barely pull myself up the first few chains until I am resting on a large boulder that overlooks the entire park. Great White Throne Mountain is to my left and we are sitting at an elevation of 5,785 ft. The views are breathtaking and horrifying at the same time.

IMG_1511I turn around quickly when I catch something out of the corner of my eye. It turns out that Brian’s lens cap has fallen down from where he is sitting. He is higher up on the boulder than I am and as he reaches for his lens cap, he tears the pocket from the back of his shorts and his wallet begins to fall out too. This is not the place to be trying to catch things that are falling and I am beginning to become very nervous about going any further.

IMG_1518With nothing to hold onto, I start sliding back to one of the anchored support chains. It was hard enough getting up to this point and getting down seems a lot harder. I can’t quite reach the support chain and in front of me is a sheer drop-off into the valley below. If know the only way down is to sort of take a leap of faith from where I am and hope and pray that I can boost myself enough to grab hold of the chain.

IMG_1521It’s getting more crowded by the minute and there is no way to go around the other people that are coming up the trail from the other side. I am forced to hold my breath and reach out as far as I can to grab the anchored support. After what seems like forever, I finally grasp the support and hoist myself down onto the safety of Scouts Lookout below. I have never been so terrified in all my life and yet I am still glad that I am here, living this adventure with the man I love.

IMG_1529David and Levi are waiting for us on Scouts Landing and David decides to see how far he can make it on the Angels Landing Trail. As we wait with Levi, Brian and I begin to set up the camera so that we can film our wedding vows here at the entrance to Angels Landing. Sitting down next to Levi, I am surprised when a chipmunk decides to climb up my back. The squirrels and chipmunks are everywhere, always looking for food.

IMG_1538We haven’t waited very long before my brother returns. He wasn’t able to make it all the way to the end either because there are too many people crowding the paths and making it impossible to reach the end. It’s disappointing, but I think we all are just glad to have made the attempt and we proceed with setting up everything so that we can renew our wedding vows.

IMG_1563David helps steady the camera on the tripod and we take out the vows that we have written to each other and begin the short ceremony. Brian goes first and because of the noisy groups of people in the background, I can hardly hear what he is saying. Once he is done saying his vows, a bunch of people begin to clap. I am surprised that people have actually stopped and are watching our little ceremony. Feeling flustered by the onlookers, I begin to read the vows that I have written to Brian.

IMG_1578We have had a very hard year. The hardest year of our marriage so far. These vows mean more to us than anyone else will ever know or understand. Because of the problems that we have recently faced in our marriage and in our family, we knew that we needed a fresh start. To be able to start over and begin anew has meant the world to me.

IMG_1581When I first met Brian and when we were married 21 years ago, Brian wasn’t a believer and I wasn’t sure if he ever would be. It didn’t matter to me though, I loved him and that’s all I knew at that time. I didn’t think that his beliefs would ever be an issue in our marriage and honestly, I didn’t really care one way or another at that point. I just wanted to be with someone who cared about me and loved me, and who would be by my side for the rest of my life.

IMG_1587Years later, I would come to realize what this decision would cost me and my family more than I would ever know. I finally understood what being unequally yoked meant and certainly paid the price because of it. Do I regret my decision? No, of course not… but life would have been a whole lot simpler had we spoken about our religious views before we were married and if we had worked on that first.

IMG_1602God has been gracious to us though and it has been 9 years now since Brian became a Christian. It has made all the difference in our marriage and even though things will never be perfect, we can now get through the hard times a little bit easier because we have our heavenly father who ties us together even in the worst of times.

 

To be continued…

Day 14 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_1318

I am so excited right now! It’s 5:30 a.m. and I am preparing lunches for our early morning hike up to Emerald Pools. We will also be hiking the trails of Kayenta and Temple of Sinawava. The day looks like it will be beautiful. The forecast is calling for a high of 84° and will be a much needed break from the average 110° weather that we had been experiencing in Las Vegas.

IMG_1234The hotel that we’re staying in is only .5 mile away from the entrance to Mt. Zion National Park, which makes it easy since we don’t have to drive anywhere and can just walk to the entrance of the park. After gathering up all of our gear for the day, we head out for the quick walk over to the entrance and to catch the shuttle that will take us to our first hiking location.

IMG_1248As we walk along, I notice a statue of a fawn right outside a local hotel and find it curious that it looks so lifelike. It doesn’t take us long to realize that it is indeed a live fawn who has apparently misplaced her mother. I am amazed that we are this close to her and yet she doesn’t seem alarmed in the slightest. Eventually the fawn gets tired of us looking at her and moves along into the brush from which she came.

IMG_1262We have now entered the park and the shuttle has just arrived. It’s 6:30 a.m. and we are only about 30 minutes from the hiking trail that will lead us up to Emerald Pools. I have seen pictures of this place and I’m hopeful that it won’t be very crowded since we are getting a fairly early start. After boarding the shuttle, I notice that it is really crowded and I am surprised that so many people are up at this time of day.

IMG_1293As we ride along in the shuttle, we see several small animals along the way. What I am most impressed by, are the deer that are grazing right next to the road as we pass by. We are literally a few feet away from them as we go by and the deer don’t even seem to notice us. It’s amazing to me that animals would act this way and I wonder how much more we will see of this.

IMG_1274As the shuttle makes its way through several stops, we finally reach our destination. It’s still a bit chilly out, but I have a feeling that I will warm up as soon as we start hiking through the mountains. The hiking trail to Emerald Pools is beautiful and as we make our way up to the top, the valley below offers breathtaking views. There are several areas that have naturally formed steps and we also come across a small waterfall the covers a small area on one of the trials.

IMG_1303Winding our way back further into the landscape we cross a brook and then head higher up into the mountains where we finally reach Emerald Pools. It’s beautiful here and there are quite a few people exploring the pools by way of the rocks that surround this alcove of emerald colored waters. The rocks cast shadows upon the water and the reflection is a magnificent sight. The beauty that lies within these rock walls is incredible and takes my breath away.

IMG_1323We stay for quite a while, immersing ourselves in the serenity and peacefulness of this place. Even with other people nearby, it feels as if we are the only ones here. Everyone seems to be respecting the tranquility of this lovely place as if it were a sacred shine that should not be disturbed.

IMG_1295The next trail we take is called Kayenta and it’s a short trail that leads us back to shuttle stop where we began earlier in the day. Hiking back down the mountain is a little bit trickier, as it has become more crowded now and we are taking a different path that is narrower and offers little protection from the cliffs edge. After a taking a short break to eat our lunch in the picnic area, we gather all of our gear and climb back onto the shuttle to our final destination which is a trail called, Temple of Sinawava.

IMG_1363The trail is beautiful, but very crowded. There are chipmunks and squirrels scurrying between our feet as we walk along the pathway. There are so many times that I have had to stop myself from nearly stepping on one because there are so many running about. The trail is beautiful, with the Virgin River running along one-side and a sheer rock face on the other. Water is trickling down from the rocks in various places and small ferns and moss are growing in abundance.

IMG_1434It’s strange to me to see this many types of different plants growing all together in the same habitat. I am amazed that all of these different plant species can grow here. I have never seen moss and ferns growing within a few feet of cacti and pine trees, and yet here they are. It reminds me of what the Garden of Eden might have been like. Especially because the animals here are completely tame and seem to love being around people.

IMG_1433Toward the end of the trail we come to what is called the “Narrows” which is a place where many people hike along the river for miles and miles. It seems like a beautiful place to go, but unfortunately we aren’t prepared to be hiking through water and so we immediately make a plan to come back here and hike another day when we have the proper gear to do so.

IMG_1408After such a long day of hiking, we all agree to head back to town. The shuttle takes about 45 minutes and when we finally arrive back at entrance to the park, walking back to the hotel seems like a long ways away. After stopping back at the hotel to freshen up, we all agree that we still need to plan something for dinner. Not wanting to spend a fortune on food, we all agree to walk down to the local supermarket to buy something to make. We visit a few local shops along the way and enjoy the local art and rock shops.

IMG_1382We finally make our way back and eat dinner in our room. It has been a great first day at Mt. Zion National Park and we are all eagerly awaiting tomorrows hike up to Angels Landing. Excited for the challenge, but knowing full well that we will need plenty of rest beforehand; we all turn-in early. It has been a wonderful, exhausting day and one that I will never forget.

Day 10 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0873

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!

Prom… this time of year?

IMG_4079I know I’ve been elusive lately, so I decided to share my day.  Here’s a snapshot of what I was doing this morning.  That’s right!  Taking pictures of my daughter Amy who was celebrating prom in her own way today.

IMG_4061

Since we homeschool, our kids don’t have the same opportunities to go to dances and regular high school functions.  This didn’t stop my daughter from arranging her own mock prom though; and she had quite an exciting day.

IMG_4083

When the two arrived home from shopping and dinner, they were surprised to find a huge fireworks show going on just behind our house.  I guess somebody knew it was their day!  She is all grown-up… I’m feeling a bit sad that she will be leaving for New York next month.

IMG_4092My second baby is leaving the nest and I will miss her more than she probably even knows.  Life is short… enjoy your children while you can, they grow up way too fast!

Day 5 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0600 copy for WP

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

IMG_0549 copy for WP

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

IMG_0356 copy for WP

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.