Our family went on a vacation in July 2016. It was incredible.
We put nine persons in our 2004 Chevy Suburban. A lady from our fellowship, Julie Hall, went with us. We put two luggage carriers on top of the vehicle and used a hitch rack to haul our gear. We drove over 5,000 miles and camped throughout our journey.
Why did we do this? The president declared all federal lands and parks free for families with fourth graders for the 2015-2016 school year. This got our attention. Then we asked the question, why not? Why not just go for it? The more we thought about it the more attractive the idea became. The idea of experiencing travel on this scale as a family, seeing the sights of our country, and experiencing God in a new way was enough to put the plan into motion.
I’ll briefly detail the route. We left Franklin July 10 and arrived at my Uncle and Aunt’s place in Philadelphia MO that evening. The Bontragers are always hospitable and they were more than happy to put us up that night. The cooking and the setting of rural Philadelphia MO was wonderful. The next morning, we were off again. That evening we made Lake Herman State Park in Madison SD. My cousin, Ivan Yoder, and his family met us there and we camped out at the park. The next morning Ivan made breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash brown. It was lovely. We enjoyed a great time of food and fellowship between our families. The next morning, July 12, we were off again.
We left Madison SD and made Devil’s Tower WY that evening. Wow! Seeing that edifice come up out of the ground (so to speak), seemingly unrelated to anything around it was wonderful. My children hiked up the boulder section to get to the base, I joined them there and got some pics. The campground there was full so we stayed at a nearby campground for $56 that night. We all just loved the weather! The air is so devoid of humidity. The nights are cool and the days are warm but not so warm that it is miserable.
The next morning we were off again, headed to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was probably the most diverse Park we visited. The nights were in the low 30s two days before we got there! Actually, three days before we arrived it had snowed. We saw bison, moose, elk, deer, bear, osprey, ravens, and much more fauna. The thermal hot springs, Old Faithful, waterfalls, and beautiful mountainous terrain was incredible. Grand Prismatic Spring was beautiful (see pic above)! We stayed at Yellowstone three nights. I didn’t sleep well due to cooler temps at night. Everyone else was fine though.
We stayed at a KOA in Fillmore UT after Yellowstone. The goal here was to rest a little. Our experience is, if you are trying to stay frugal, a KOA is not the way to go. We paid almost $140 to stay there two nights. We paid less than that to stay two nights in a hotel using priceline. If you stay at an RV park, you get the same amenities and basically pay $20 per tent.
After Fillmore Utah, we drove through to Death Valley. This was my favorite part of the trip. Temps were around 119. It was hot! However, it was also beautiful. The austerity of Death Valley was amazing. We visited the Devil’s Golfcourse, Natural Bridge, Badwater Basin, Dante’s View, and Zabrieske’s Point (wow!). We caught a sunset there.
Imagine the beauty and rawness of Death Valley juxtaposed with the baseness of Las Vegas. We stayed in Vegas two nights to get cleaned up and rest. After enjoying all these scenic parks and hearing from God continually, we were confronted with the obscenity of the lights and signs of Vegas. Yuck. We stayed at Silver Sevens. The help was ok. I was glad to get out of there.
From Vegas we went to Hoover Dam. It was hot. The Dam was incredible. Seeing the concrete and reading the story of its construction was sobering. From Hoover Dam we were off to Grand Canyon.
We stayed at an Airbnb in the desert for two nights. It was a simple plot of land, you packed everything in and everything out. Our host, David, was very helpful. The sunset and sunrise there was beautiful. Grand Canyon the next day was wonderful. As I walked up to Mather Point I was struck at the vastness of the canyon. I had seen pics but… We actually spent very little time at Grand Canyon.
The next day we were off to see the Petrified Forest. It wasn’t much of a forest. There were some petrified logs on the ground throughout the park. The Painted Desert was so colorful and other-worldly, almost. We took plenty of pictures. There was evidence of Native American construction. Some paintings and designs were on the rocks, all indicative of a people group that once flourished there. The Painted Desert was my second favorite place to visit.
From the Painted Desert it was to Gallup NM to Amarillo TX to Little Rock AR to home on July 25, fifteen days after departure.
This then was the route we took. The camping was fun but challenging. The first few times set up/tear down took over an hour! My older boys weren’t coordinated yet and the distraction of running off to play proved to be too much. With some practice we got it all down to 30 minutes. I built a chuck box to hold our utensils, pans, plates, and silverware. My Coleman stove didn’t work after the first time. I still don’t know why. We had an additional burner which served us well the rest of the trip. My wife did an excellent job managing meals and preparation.
One unexpected joy from this trip was talking with other people. Not everyone wants to talk but we did. We would often exchange advice and experience with other people doing what we were doing. This proved to be very helpful. We camped next to a family at Yellowstone and had a wonderful time just talking and interacting about the Park. There is an entire culture of people who travel, camp, or do RV living. I found that foreigners were the least likely to want to interact. I suppose the objective is to see things, not talk to the people. Nonetheless, I enjoyed talking with people.
What did I learn? I learned how to serve my family better. I learned how to ignore personal comfort to see that everyone else was ok. If my wife and I were working/pushing, things were getting done. If we relaxed, things didn’t get done. As the Master says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I found this to be true.
Early mornings I would get out of the tent or not, spend time with the Lord and enjoy the approach of the day. It was quieter out there, away from city lights and lots of people. The Lord reminded me how easy life is when you are single-minded. For me, media distracts and blocks a single-mindedness. It was so refreshing to not do social media. I read through the Minor Prophets and was able to grasp the messages, it seemed, with much more clarity.
We want to do this again albeit on a smaller scale. Lets see how it goes.