Twelve States

Sometimes people take a vacation to get away from it all and relax.  Maybe a warm beach, or a spa with massage, or a fancy hotel with poolside waiters catering to your every need.

Not us.  At least not this time.  The purpose of this vacation was to show our kids some of the cool natural wonders of our country.  Most of those places deserve more time than we gave them; this was an introduction, not an in-depth study.

Our first night was spent at a cool little place with a hot-tub near the river.  Nothing fancy and not overly expensive, but it sure was relaxing to sit and enjoy some peace and quiet while gazing at nature.  I also got to teach my two youngest how to skip rocks – after that, the entire family enjoyed skipping rocks everywhere possible.  Since I use a lot of wrist action and skip rocks similar to the way I throw a frisbee, it worked out okay.  It’s a good thing we did this first, because by the end of the vacation we were all pretty tired of rocks!

Lewis and Clark Caverns was a place I visited when I was a kid.  My family loved it as much as I did way back then.  The hardest part of the two mile hike was walking up hill to the cave entrance; once we got into the cave it wasn’t difficult.  The stalactites and stalagmites were amazing!

We drove through the Grand Tetons and spent a night in Jackson Hole.  That hotel was the best one of our trip.  We had our own little cabin in which to sleep, the outdoor swimming pool was warm enough to swim in PLUS there was a fireplace near the hot tub for cozy visits, the exercise room was the best one of anywhere we stayed, and the full complementary breakfast was the only one on our trip that included foods for everyone in my family.

Our next destination was Yellowstone.  Parts of the park were closed due to snow, but it was still incredible.  Of course we read stories about crazy tourists who’d thought the park wildlife were tame pets and ended up getting badly injured.  I’ll never understand how anyone could think it would be okay to try to pet an elk or bison!

The Buffalo Bill Historical Center was great; we returned for a second day so that we didn’t miss anything.  After leaving there the second day, we headed toward Little Bighorn Battlefield, which was amazing. If you go, definitely take the time to attend a ranger talk.

Mount Rushmore was fogged in the day we were there, but still pretty cool.  There’s a trail that can be walked to get even closer; be forwarned that there are stairs.  From there, it’s not too far to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is also worth seeing.  We drove through the parks for Jewel Caves and Wind Caves in South Dakota, but didn’t explore due to the late hour (and we’d already been in one cave); that’s one thing we’d like to go back and do if we’re ever in the area again.

The Colorado Springs area was every bit as great as MRCO said it would be (thank you, again).  One of our favorites for the whole vacation was the horseback trip we took through Garden of the Gods.  Word of warning to anyone wanting to drive up Pike’s Peak: the road closes at 3:00.

To drive from Colorado Springs to Four Corners, we had to pick between two different routes and decided on Great Sand Dunes over Black Canyon of the Gunnison – mainly because by this time everyone was pretty tired of looking at rock formations.  Kids can take a boogie board and sled down the sand dunes, which I think would be a great thing to do someday.

We enjoyed driving through the Kaibab Forest to visit the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  We’d like to see the south rim someday, but not on this trip.  My two oldest thought it would be great to hike across.  I tend to agree with them and had said that maybe when the younger kids are older we’d be able to do that.  Unfortunately, I spent quite a bit of our vacation limping on painful feet; it was extremely depressing to realize, once we were at the canyon, that there is no way my feet would handle the trek across.  I’m thinking now that I’ll need to prioritize my list of things I’d really like to get to do in my lifetime and make a point of doing the most important things while I’m still able.

Mary suggested Zion (thank you!) and we could easily have spent the entire two weeks exploring this one place.  Definitely take the park shuttle if you ever go here.  At a couple of the stops there were easy trails for a couple walks I could handle, and some of the kids took off on a few other short hikes that I don’t think I was up to doing.

While driving through Utah we also visited Grand Staircase-Escalante, Glen Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef as we travelled back to the north so that we could see the Great Salt Lake.

Golden Spike National Historic Site was as much fun as our horseback ride through Garden of the Gods.  We were there first thing when they opened, so had time to talk with the ranger and explore the displays in the visitor’s center before the steam trains arrived.  We were told that on the weekends, volunteers do a re-enactment of the driving of the golden spike.

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Here at home, it rained every day we were gone – good weather to miss.  That means the lawn and garden weeds grew like crazy.  We’re having guests tomorrow, so have been trying to get the yard back in shape.  My hands aren’t too happy about all that weed-pulling, but it has to be done.  My plan now (since I didn’t finish weeding my strawberries) is to take a hoe to what’s left standing, lay it over on its side, and cover everything with mulch.

Sitting and doing nothing for two weeks of vacation really helped my shoulder rest up, and I had been thinking maybe I could cancel my appointment with the surgeon.  Alas, now that I’m back to using my arms, I’m realizing that the shoulder isn’t doing as well as I’d optimistically hoped.  Two doctor’s appointment next week.

Two of my kids will be studying U.S. history next year, and the things we saw on this trip should make some of the things they’ll be reading about much more interesting.  Next year we’re planning to take the kids to Washington D.C.