A western icon: Devils Tower in northeast Wyoming.
It’s been nearly a week since my family and I returned from our incredible roadtrip across America. We were all exhausted after this magnificent trip and it has taken a few days to return to our Mount Shasta equilibrium but having done so I have finally been able to digest just how much we saw in did in our long but all-too-short trip. To close this chapter, I want to write a post to commemorate this experience and possibly use it as a jumping off point on some future posts of a more philosophic nature.
In terms of destination, the goal of the trip was to visit family and friends in Colorado, Indiana and Wisconsin. This served as a useful motivator to drag our three kids 3/4’s of the way across the country. In deeper purpose, we wanted them to get a sense of how vast America is, how people in other parts of the country live, and how diverse this majestic land really is. On all three accounts, I believe we accomplished this in spades.
To review a trip of this scope, I think the easiest way is to post a bunch of images of the kids in action at various places along the way, along with a short description. After that I will have some other images to use as a platform to expand upon a few of the memorable places and events along the way. I hope that this gives some feel of how we fared and that it is, even in some small part, a vicarious journey across America. Also, for those of you who know my wife, I swiped a few of her images for this gallery!
Click to enlarge:
The first leg of our trip took us across the Loneliest Road in America to Great Basin National Park. From there it was off to Moab, Utah. If I wasn’t living in Northern California, this would be my home (somehow, someway). It had been a few years since I had been there and was shocked how much it had grown. For my kids, this was a major milestone. They have heard me extolling its virtues their entire lives. Now they got to experience it themselves.
Moab did not disappoint them and it remains one of the high points of the trip. Our time there was full, as we hit both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, as well as some other favorites amidst the red sandstone. My older son and I, both early risers, did a sunrise in each of the national parks. The second one, in Arches, was especially memorable for me, as I photographed my son in the North Window (enlarge the image to see him on the left side of the arch). He cried when we left, a feeling I remember sharing at his age when my family would leave Yosemite.
From there, it was across the Rockies and then the Great Plains, eventually making our way to St. Louis. I had fairly low expectations for the Gateway Arch but it seemed like a good place to stop so the kids could see the Mississippi River. The river was flooding, as the whole promenade along the bank was under several feet of water. The real highlight, however, was the visitor center beneath the arch, which was focused on the westward expansion of the United States. This whole complex was recently remodeled and the new museum is fantastic. The whole family was enthralled by many of the displays and we could have spent far more than the scant hour we had allotted to it. We had no idea how well done and engaging it would be.
Finally, we arrived in Indiana, our easternmost state on this trip. In Indianapolis we ate dinner at the Mug N Bun, our favorite meal of the trip. Breaded pork tenderloins our a mainstay in Indiana and it was a goal to enjoy some. This diner is classic Americana and visiting it is a moral imperative to anyone who finds themselves in the area!
Further north in Indiana my son and I once again rose early to head to the Seven Pillars of the Mississenawa River. While heading there, we caught a gorgeous sunrise on the Wabash River.
After the sunrise, we arrived at the Mississenawa and walked out to the banks where we could observe the Seven Pillars. This was the furthest point east of the trip and a surprisingly beautiful place. The limestone columns that made up the far bank of the river were fascinating and made a great backdrop to the steadily flowing river. These kinds of places of more subtle beauty have been on my mind more and more. Living in the shadow of a mountain like Mount Shasta tends to desensitize one to other aspects of Creation that are worthy of appreciation. This is especially so for kids like mine, who know nothing but the grandeur of the mountain. It was good for my son to ponder a place like Seven Pillars and recognize that it too deserves to be enjoyed.
From Indiana we headed up to my sister-in-law’s house in Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee. It was a rich family time and a great break from being on the road. We enjoyed our stay immensely. My brother-in-law took my kids out to the lake behind their house and got them all fishing. I have neglected to take my kids fishing, as I have never enjoyed it. My kids, however, took to it instantly and are clamoring to go here in Shasta. During our stay, I got up alone one morning and headed out to Lake Michigan for the sunrise. I had not anticipated the amount of wildlife on the lakeshore but enjoyed it nonetheless. The highlight came when a deer appeared, galloping along the beach. I whistled at it and we met each other’s eyes for a bit before it continued sprinting down the lakeshore.
Eventually it was time to leave and begin the journey back to Mount Shasta. The drive from Wisconsin to Badlands National Park was the longest single day’s drive of the trip. Though hot and humid on the East River side of South Dakota, West River was being submerged in what turned out to be a thunderstorm of seemingly Biblical proportions. We had hoped we would get a lightning storm at some point on the trip but we had not anticipated anything quite like this. We wimped out and got a hotel room for the night rather than camp but decided to push a little past the town we were to stay in and see how things looked at the Badlands. About halfway through the 15 minute drive to the park, the sky was ripped open and the rain fell so hard that visibility was reduced to literal zero. I could not see past the front of our van. We limped off the road at a rest stop and waited for the storm to slacken. Lightning crashed all around us and the din was incredible. Never having experienced the like, the kids were not impressed.
To get back to our hotel, we had to go all the way to the Badlands exit and turn around. Upon our arrival, the sun just happened to start slipping beneath the storm clouds as it was setting. For a precious few minutes, South Dakota was aglow in the sinking sun even as the rain continued to fall, the wind whipped us and lightning crashed around the plains. Inspired by this gorgeous display, we sped into Badlands to the first (and best, in my opinion) overlook. I hopped out of the van, set up my camera and got one quick image. It was my favorite of the trip.
Thankfully the storm passed and the next morning was gorgeous at the Badlands. We explored the park and the Black Hills before continuing on to Devil Tower in Wyoming. Throughout western South Dakota, the plains were glowing with yellow flowers in the grasses. Wyoming was no different and the yellow fields were a stupendous contrast to the red earth and green trees of the region. The same was true at Devils Tower:
This whole area was one of our favorites of the trip. The beauty of the Plains reached their apex here, the vastness of the landscape moved me and it has been a fixture in my mind since passing through it. I am already plotting my return.
We arrived at Devils Tower on the 4th of July. The whole community was infused with a festival atmosphere but another round of severe thunderstorms was predicted. We checked out the tower and then headed to camp, managing to pitch our tent just as the storm really started in earnest. Lightning crashed all around is once again and the wind was furious. However, this was not to be the only pyrotechnics. The fireworks display went on as planned in spite of the storm. We sat in our tent, the rain nearly deafening, and watched out the window as lightning and fireworks alternated in lighting up the sky. It was the most memorable Independence Day I have ever had.
We eventually made it across Wyoming and arrived in Yellowstone. It was a great time, viewing the wildlife (especially the bison!), wondering at the geothermal features and marveling at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was a few more days until we reached home, tired and satisfied. Our Odyessean journey was completed. For my kids, their horizons were extended and their appreciation for their home, for Mount Shasta was greatly enhanced. For my wife and I, it was a fantastic adventure of lifelong memories for our family.
I can’t wait for our next one. We’re headed to Yosemite in a week.