July 28, 2018: Day 35
Mitchell Corn Palace, SD
How could our trip be complete without a stop to revel in true American tacky creativity that makes up for all the miles of farmland and nothingness? Hello Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota! I had heard of the infamous building, decorated with murals made entirely of corn and straw, from Keith’s family early on in our dating life. Then there were the rare few who at the mention of Mt. Rushmore would immediately respond,”But are you going to the Mitchell Corn Palace??!!” We did indeed celebrate the end of our trip and return home by eating popcorn at the Mitchell Corn Palace!
The Mitchell Corn Palace is a small town event space for basketball games, concerts, plays, and parties. The outside is decorated in dried corn, and the theme changes from year to year. The inside arena area is surrounded in more corn murals. The game floor is taken over by a massive gift shop selling t-shirts, toys, corn eating gadgets, and of course, popcorn! It’s tacky but wonderful all at the same time.
July 29-Aug. 4, 2018; Day 36-42
South Dakota to Kentucky
From here we head home, slowly but surely. I will not be sharing our current status or adventures as now it’s just pacing out the drive so we don’t burn out. One day in Indianapolis just to stretch our legs and another at my brother’s new house.
Returning home causes me to ponder this adventure. Our average stay was two nights except for four nights at Yellowstone- our longest stay of the trip. If you change days to years, this trip parallels my childhood- a few years in one place and then you pack up and start a new adventure. I always saw each new “home” as a temporary destination, even college and our first years of marriage. The knowledge that we will be in Ashland another year with the potential to stay just one more is comforting, but also makes me uneasy. More than five years is unknown territory for me emotionally. For the first time in my entire 42 years of life, I’m not thinking about disengaging or preparing myself for “the next adventure”.
In many ways I feel like I’ve been banished to the barren wilderness by the local school systems. I continue to network, substitute, and apply for open positions- trying to cross through Jericho into my perceived Promised Land. In all other ways Ashland feels like home, a home I actually want to come home too. That view from the desert side feels isolated, lonely, the place for the unwanted. Is that how God’s people felt? Rejected by their God, counting down the days and years? I’ve been counting the days and years too, watching job after job slip through my fingers, asking God like the Psalmist- “How long o Lord?” But then I see the beauty of the desert. I’m reminded of all the things I’ve been able to do because I do not work- Costa Rica, the Holy Land, Dynamic Marriage, Wolfpen Woods Reenactment. Even theses last six weeks- weeks I was not pouring over lesson plans or rushing through books or even worrying about getting things done at home. These experiences and events are my oases. So if this is where I am, then I will stay and drink fully so that I will be satisfied during the dry season until God shows me a different path. And I’ll try not to look into other fields.
Keith will share more of his own reflections through teaching and sermons.
July 24-28,18; Day 32-35
Black Hills, South Dakota
Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Bandlands
One night in tiny but amazing Lovell, Wyoming. They offer a small, free campground behind the city park (with showers!!). Add to that a small honey processing plant that sells wholesale honey, beeswax, and honey candies AND a drive-through Espresso hut, we were smitten. You could say we supported their economy more than enough to make up for the free camping.
Our final major stop put us in Black Hills, South Dakota, our 11th state. We added two unexpected National Parks to our list- Jewel Cave and Wind Cave. Wind Cave has very close tunnels and caverns, totally different from Carlsbad or Mammoth. It is a dry cave, created by wind and ancient waters that left behind formations called boxwork. Jewel and Wind are the only caves known to have established boxwork instead of stalactites and stalagmites.
Friday found us on a scenic drive to Mt. Rushmore. There are three short tunnels cut into the mountainside so they each frame Mt. Rushmore as you go through. Suddenly the mountain was in view. Getting into the visitor center was like driving downtown D.C. and visiting one of the monuments. People and cameras were EVERYWHERE! That’s what we get for sleeping in. We had planned on a short hike and more time in the outdoor viewing area, but a severe thunderstorm kept us in the museum. I have to say the story of the sculpture and the men who carved it was fascinating. However, we left cold and wet, with many unanswered questions, like “why doesn’t Lincoln have an ear?” and “why did they leave the space between Roosevelt and Lincoln empty?” “How did his son Lincoln decide it was finished?” We drove home the long way, through Custer State Park and the Needles Scenic Byway. The Needles are tall rock formations in the Black Hills that stick up like fingers or needles. Headed back to the campsite a bit early, Keith spied a Pie Shop in town. Who could resist Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie on a rainy day?
Saturday marked the end to week 5 and the final National Park on our wish list. We drove through Badlands National Park- a small strip of protected land east of Mt. Rushmore and home to some interesting rock formations and wildlife. At first I wondered if we should just stay on the interstate and move towards home- the boys were over the “overlooks” and “scenic routes” where Keith and I would keep saying “put down your book and look around, you might see something fantastic!” But as soon as we entered the park I knew we were in the right place. The Badlands are made up of mini-rock mountains and canyons with bands of colors similar to the Painted Desert. Suddenly we were back where we started- the desert- with green mesa tops and washout gullies and red and blue stripes across the side of the mounds. But these had a layer of green and a few trees, hints of the forest and woods we were accustomed to since coming north. For me it was the perfect closure, as it encompassed all the different lovely pieces of our experience out west.
As we left the visitor center at the edge of the park and headed towards the interstate, I had all but given up on seeing the last animal on my wildlife list- the bighorn sheep. As the rock mounds turned to meadow and grassland, and the canyons became less deep, I spied a beautiful pair of curled horns sticking up out of the grass!! And sure enough to confirm my sighting, we spotted another one sitting in the grass with his back to us, enjoying the sunshine. We were driving by too fast to get a picture (and it’s hard to turn around with the camper). But I saw it with my own two eyes. And I had to laugh at God’s goodness for granting me my wish in those final moments.
Soaking in the wilderness for the last time, I felt the shift of turning towards home. I cannot believe we haven’t had more trouble or difficulties, or even sickness. Almost every evening we say, “I’m so tired but It’s been such a fantastic day!” Our legs are tired, our bodies are tired, our minds are overloaded with landscape. We are full and satisfied.
July 20-23, 2018; Day 27-30
Yellowstone National Park
Lodging: Indian Springs Campground, Yellowstone NP
Even though the entrance gates between the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are only a few miles apart, the active part of Yellowstone (campgrounds, geysers, overlooks, hiking trails) is miles away! We left at 7am but did not arrive at the campground until 11 due to construction and traffic; thankfully we found one of the last spots as they were completely full by noon. We visited the Mammoth Hot Springs, where boiling hot water bubbles out of the earth and flows down, forming sediment pools and mineral flows much like in caves but in sparkling colors of orange, green, brown, and blue. Some bubble up, some spit blobs of mud, some gurgle and swirl, some shoot hot water high up into the air like Old Faithful. It is a geological wonder.
We ended the day on a scenic drive that ended at an old petrified tree- a visitor favorite since the 1920s. As we pulled into the small parking lot some people were standing along the edge looking into the hillside and small valley below. And what, pray-tell did we witness coming out of the trees and into the tall grass? A BEAR!! A smaller-sized black bear who took no notice of us up on the ledge nor the two hikers on the path that he crossed. He played in the valley for at least 20 minutes. I got to see a bear out in the wild. What a fantastic first day at Yellowstone!
Saturday we opted to visit all the geysers in the basin around Old Faithful. Even with the crowds it was pretty amazing. And we unknowingly arrived at Old Faithful less than 15 minutes before her eruption! We ended the day out in West Yellowstone, a “souvenir town” with lots of shops and small grocery store. The Bear and Wolf Sanctuary is nearby, with animals who have been rescued after injury or too many encounters with humans. We met Sam, a 900 lb. 22 year old grizzly from Alaska. What a massive beast! Just watching him lumber out and root out his dinner in his habitat was enough to sedate any desire we had to meet a grizzly bear.
Sunday morning started with a lovely interdenominational service at the historic Fort Yellowstone chapel, built for the army before the National Park Service was established. Two young interns lead us in well-blended worship and the minister preached from Psalm 121 and 107. “I lift up my eyes to the hills/mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” Feeling encouraged and refreshed from the inside out, we headed for the Bunsen Peak trailhead. Bunsen Peak is over 1300 feet up in elevation over 2.2 miles. There is a small radio tower at the top, which you can see in the pictures. The park ranger said it was one of the more difficult but also most rewarding views. After conquering Hermits Rest Trail in the Grand Canyon, how could we say no? The switchbacks and climb were not as difficult as the Grand Canyon, nor was it as hot. But it was still a challenge- one I could not resist. So we scrambled to the top, looked out over Yellowstone, took some pictures, ate a snack, and slowly made our way back down. Keith and I even spied a fox along the way!
We showered early (only two places to shower in the park, and it’s not free) and did some laundry. For those of you worried about our living conditions, the camper has held up and kept us dry. Since leaving the desert, we’ve had 70-80 degree days and 40degree nights. Thanks to a small propane heater and socks, we’ve managed the cold alright. There’s been very little rain, often a thunderstorm that passes through quickly. The camper does not have a bathroom, but does have a small sink and stove so on cold mornings we heat water for coffee inside to add humidity and warmth. We’ve had some camper envy- it’s hard not to when everything from 40ft 5th wheels to small teardrop trailers to vintage Westfalia VW camper vans (which my family owned when I was very small) are driving in front of you. But overall, we love the easy towing and simplicity of the pop-up. Just a bit more convenient than a tent but not complicated and does not require sewer hook-ups or large pull-through lots. I guess after bike touring across Ohio in small two man backpacker tents with limited space, the camper feels like an upgrade.
The only major part of the park we had not seen was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I never even knew it was there. But the park is so big, we had almost an hour drive back to the campground. So we decided to stay another day. I tend to rush- I want to squeeze everything in and not miss anything so I go go go- get up early, be the first in line, eat a snack and keep moving. But we have been traveling so much and breaking camp so often, that our spirits and bodies begged for rest. So the night ended with cooking brats over the fire and just enjoying the quiet.
We drove all the way back over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on Monday, and once again just accepted the crowds. An upper and lower falls carry thousands of gallons of water through the Yellowstone River, all channeled through the gorge and slopes of the canyon. The canyon is beautiful and breathtaking. More intimate and up close than the Grand Canyon. We returned to camp early to enjoy a fire (no burn ban!) and pack up. No bears today, but we did have two Bison cross the road near us and wander into the park gas station. I had no idea Yellowstone was so grandiose or wild.
July 16-17, 2018; Day 23-24
Bryce Canyon to Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City to Grand Tetons National Park
Lodging: Turpin Meadows Campground, Bridger- National Forrest
A short stop over outside Salt Lake City on the way to The Grand Tetons National Park. The most exciting part was driving out of town and seeing the Winter Olympic ski jump ramp up on the side of the mountain. We quickly left the dry, arid desert of southern Utah for lush valleys and blue mountains. With snow and ice on top! Wyoming is truly big sky country with cattle ranches and farms nestled in between mountain ranges.
It was harder than I thought to leave the desert. The open, scrubby landscape reminded me of Moses and the Israelites wandering for 40 years. It was a difficult time for His people- they were following this crazy man who heard the voice of the Creator out into the vast unknown. It was dusty, not much water, a no-mans land. But as I traveled into a similar desert, I did not see the desolate wasteland. I saw color and movement and life. Budding bushes and flowering cacti, birds singing in the early morning, lizards and jackrabbits scurrying about. The heat was tolerable, even enjoyable in the shade, which there is surprisingly more of than you’d think. I often view the Israelites experience as a long, drawn out punishment. But even though it was not the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, it had it’s own beauty and purpose.
July 18-19, 2018; Day 25-26
Park City to the Grand Tetons National Park
Lodging: Turpin Meadows Campground, National Forest
Once at the Tetons, The Snake River runs through the valley and spreads out into many wide creeks. A wide, shallow, and cold creek runs just outside our camping area. We chose to camp outside the national park in the surrounding national forrest. It’s a bit more rustic but also significantly cheaper and spacious. All the campsites have bear boxes for food and cooking gear. It is also recommended you carry bear spray, which we had to purchase at the camp store.
In all my travels I have not seen much of the Northwest or Rocky Mountains except from the window of an airplane. The Grand Tetons are jagged, massive structures towering over rippling brooks and lakes with wildflowers all around. There are no foothills or gradual landscape shifts- the Snake River valley winds its way through the valley, connecting to snowmelt pools at the base of the mountains. Hiking through the forests and meadows reminded Ben and I of the movie Heidi or the end of Sound Of Music when they leave Austria over the Alps.
We took a 3 mile hike around String Lake, one of the smaller pools just below the mountains. There had been a mama bear and cubs spotted just half an hour before we got to the trail. Good thing we bought the spray! Keith was armed and ready. In the heat of the afternoon we opted for the interpretive centers. Along the way we spotted two MOOSE taking a cool dip in one of the creeks! Now I’m on the lookout for those bears…
On the south edge of the mountain range is a ski resort that stays open even in summer. There are shops and restaurants, and even some mountain biking down the slopes. We rode the gondola (enclosed lift) up to the top for an early evening view of the valley. Bison burgers from a local cafe on the way back to the campground made a wonderful ending to a lovely but tiring day.
On Thursday we opted to get up early to beat the crowds to another popular hike around Taggart Lake. Some beautiful views of the peaks reflected in the lake below. And believe it or not we interrupted a mama moose and her calf having a bit of breakfast on the trail! A small black snake, chipmunks, and white trumpet swans were added to our wildlife list. We took one last drive along the mountain range, taking our time at turnouts for pictures and soaking up the majesty of the landscape.
July 11-13, 2018; Day 18-20
Lake Meade Recreation Area/Hoover Dam
Lodging: Boulder Beach Campground, Lake Meade
A one night stop over to catch a look at Hoover Dam. Taller and more narrow than Glen Canyon Dam, it continues to regulate the waters of the Colorado River. The campground was within view of the lake, very clean, and very HOT. One night was plenty.
The next morning we packed up and took a quick drive over Hoover Dam. Based on the crowds, we were glad to have toured Glen Canyon Dam and left Hoover Dam for all the other tourists. The new interstate bridge offers a wonderful walkway and view of the dam. You can still drive over it, but there is no through traffic anymore so lots of places to pull off and look from the lake side. The water level is still very low from the drought and you can easily see the high water mark on the canyon walls and rock formations.
We ended the day at Zion National Park, just north of Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. However, we brought the monsoonal rains with us and most of the park was either flooded or washed out by mudslides. Like the Grand Canyon, Zion has become a high-traffic tourist destination, and even with the trail closures there were people everywhere! We barely found a campsite but with all the rain and closed roads we decided to only stay one night.
Friday morning before leaving we hiked the Watchman Trail (one of a handful accessible), a 2 mile winding climb up to a cliff that gave a beautiful view of the park and mountain range. It was humid from all the rain and a bit crowded, but still enjoyable.
By the afternoon we were driving a scenic highway through Dixie National Forrest and soaking up the beautiful views of mountains, red cliffs, and real pin TREES. We reached almost 10,000 feet in elevation. It was a welcome change from the monochrome, dry desert. Rain fell off and on throughout the afternoon.
July 14-15, 2018; Day 21-22
Lodging: Red Canyon/Dixie National Forrest
Bryce Canyon offered some of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes I have ever witnessed. High red cliffs leading to softer rolling mountains leading to high steep peaks. Wind and water erosion have caused tall, narrow cliffs to form in the red sandstone. As more sand and rock is taken away, tall rock towers (called Hoodoos), arches, and thin walls (fins) form. We had hoped to hike down into the canyon, but lightening and thunderstorms kept us from leaving the overlooks.
Our intent was to attend church Sunday morning, marking the beginning of week 4 of our adventure. However, we snagged a last minute horseback trail ride down into the canyon! We had missed out on riding burrows down into the Grand Canyon, so this was a wonderful second chance. Bryce Canyon was once home and hideout to Butch Cassidy and his gang of outlaws. But today it was a quiet, captivating moment of God’s beautiful handiwork. We rode down into the canyon on horses who loved to walk on the edge! Down through the pines and across rain washes and dry beds. And then suddenly we were going back up among the fins and hoodoos, looking up at the formations instead of down from the overlooks. The pictures do not capture the experience justly. We were mesmerized, speechless, in awe. Our group was small and our guide did a nice job of talking just enough, then leaving us to soak up the view in silence. It was truly a worshipful moment.
After returning to the corral, we headed out for a quick trip to Grand Staircase/ Escalente National Monument. It was my last chance to explore red sandstone slot canyons. We skipped Antelope Canyon outside of Lake Powell knowing we could see similar formations at Zion. Zion’s Narrows was closed due to mudslides and flooding. So I was excited to find Grand Staircase had some easily accessible slot canyons near Bryce. Little did we know that Grand Staircase has only ONE paved road. Every other trail access road is dirt and requires 4 wheel drive. Half way down one of these side roads we had to turn around for fear of getting stuck. Joel was still able to stamp his National Park Passport book and it was a lovely drive nonetheless. We opted for a short hike near our campground in the Red Canyon/Dixie National Forrest and card games in the evening. A beautiful, fantastic day!
July 9-10, 2018; Day 16-17
Grand Canyon, South Rim
Lodging: Ten-X campground, Kibab NF
The last time I saw the Grand Canyon I was about 7, over 30 years ago. I don’t remember much, but I certainly didn’t remember the crowds and international destination atmosphere! Campers, cameras, and people from all over the world converged on the narrow path that follows the south east/west rim of the canyon. It took over an hour the next morning to enter the park, catch the shuttle bus, fill water bottles, and find the trailhead for our hike.
As soon as you venture down into the canyon not on a paved surface you lose 95% of the crowds. We hiked down Hermit’s Rest trail- a rocky, steep path on the western tip of the south rim that descends about 1500 feet in less than 2 miles. You end up in a small valley with shade trees. It was hard. It was hot. It took 3 hours. But after sitting for three months I was not going to just look over the edge. Keith saw the determination in my eye and just kept going. It wasn’t about the amazing view or the seclusion from the crowds. It was about touching and feeling the land, about not being intimidated, about daring greatly through Christ. The rest of the day was spent riding the shuttle and looking out at all the overlooks with everyone else. We had planned to watch the sun set over the cliffs, but a thunderstorm sent us home a bit early. Even so, by the end of the day I had walked over 6 miles total!
On Tuesday we opted for a less challenging hike and a few overlooks on the east side. Our campground host mentioned an “off map” lookout that few visitors know about. Even the park ranger was hesitant to tell us how to find it and warned us not to get too close to the edge. Turns out there is an easily accessible dirt road that leads to a small event area. The park rents it out for weddings and other private parties, but when not in use is open to the general public. Once again we left the crowds behind, passing 3-4 small groups on the way. One mile of shady, easy walking opened up to the most breathtaking view of the canyon! It just overwhelms and mesmerizes you. Sitting on a outcropping, looking out over the peaks and deep cracks, seeing for miles and miles was something we will remember forever.
P.S. Did I mention we spotted a collared lizard on the hike, a coyote ran by our picnic table at lunch, and two elk thought the bushes by our campsite made for a good breakfast?!?
July 6-7, 2018; Day 13-14
Lodging: Page Lake Powell Campground
We decided to veer off-plan a bit and opted to skip the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in favor of visiting Glen Canyon/Lake Powell in Page AZ. We've been waking up around 6AM every morning thanks to the time change and bright sun. Saturday morning found us out on the water, touring a bit of Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon by kayak. It was a bit busy with boats, both motorized and people powered. Even so, the views were lovely and the water cool and clear.
Sunday we squeezed in a tour of the Glen Canyon Dam before church. By noon the temperature reaches over 100 on the dam surface and they stop all tours. The Glen Canyon Dam is wider but shorter than Hoover Dam. It's hydroelectric power plant produces 90% of the region's electricity and regulates the water flow down the Colorado River all the way to California. Right now the lake level is low due to the drought. There has been a burn ban in effect all across the southwest because of the limited rain, so no campfires or cooking with charcoal (camp stove only).
We worshiped at Page Community UMC. They were in transition, waiting the arrival of their new pastor this coming Sunday. It reminded us of our move to Ashland- the anticipation and anxiousness. And also the joy we feel at staying another year. The last four have flown by- and in so many ways we feel our ministry is still growing.
Before leaving for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, we stoped for what we thought was a quick hike out to a lookout of Horseshoe Bend, a spot where the river circles around a very tall rock formation, forming a horseshoe shape. With 100 degree temps, hot sand, and zero shade, it was a strenuous .75mile walk out. But the view? Worth it!
July 2-3, 2018: Day 9-10
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Lodging: Target Tree Campground, San Juan National Forrest
We left the desert for the mountains! We arrived at the campground to find shady trees, pinecones scattered about, and the smell of the woods. Just like home! The nights dipped down into the 50s and we had to get the heater. Mesa Verde National Park lies just west of the forrest in the valley. The mesas mark a shift in the landscape, as it quickly moves from sloping mountains to steep cliffs with wide, flat tops (mesas) covered in low trees. The mesa is strewn with low shrubs and tall, naked, charred trees from several fires over the last 10 years. Ancestral Pueblo people moved from the mesa (meaning table) into alcoves in the cliff faces, forming large colonies and villages. All four of us toured Cliff Palace, the largest and most accessible. Alicia and Joel chose to visit another smaller dwelling, Balcony House. It requires a 34 ft ladder climb up the cliff face, and a short tunnel crawl and rock climb to exit. They built their dwellings right up to the edge!
July 4-5, 2018: Day 11-12
Painted Desert/Petrified Forrest National Park
Lodging: Homolovi Ruins State Park
We turned south, driving through a Navajo reservation and into Arizona. No semi-trucks, no billboards blocking the view. We chose to bypass Four Corners due to the extra drive time and because it’s a bit touristy and crowded. We toured the Petrified Forrest National Park, a small area of the Painted Desert with lovely views of rock formations with bright bands of blue, white, red, orange, and even purple. The petrified wood just lies all over the flat desert as if God left his Legos out. Science tells us the land, and trees were covered by water and ice, and as it receded the logs were left, then solidified from a reaction of sediments and minerals in the soil. Makes me wonder if it could have also been the result of a flood? Makes one think. It’s hard to believe we are still in the United States and not in another country or world all together.
Our accommodations have been a bit sparse, but offer a very close and personal experience with the wilderness. Most of time we opt for a common bathhouse or even pit toilets, access to water, and no electricity. We then book a more expensive campground with more amenities to balance it out at the next location. After bike touring, just having a cooler, a camper, and a campground with showers feels luxurious. Except for maybe the warning about snakes! The cell phone service, let alone data or wifi is spotty and hit-or-miss. Right now we are taking a break at a local coffee shop (no Starbucks), and taking advantage of their wifi.
Just in case you are wondering, my ankle is doing well! Two week before the trip I had a long conversation with God about my pain and tendonitis. I was very nervous about keeping up. I left it in his hands. We are now over 10 days in and I’ve had very little swelling or pain! I played in the lake (Dallas), hiked up sand dunes (White Sands), went up over 4 flights of steps (Carlsbad Caverns), climbed a 34ft ladder (Mesa Verde), and covered over 2 miles of paved trail (Petrified Forrest). I still need to rest, but overall I’m so excited to be back on my feet and moving.