It's hard to believe, but Connor, Mikaela and I are just wrapping up our 7th year of homeschooling! When I began homeschooling the kids, I had all sorts of cool visions of these epic adventures we'd have together. I imagined us studying the ancient Egyptians while sailing the Nile and climbing over ruins in Luxor. I could picture us becoming fluent in Spanish by studying the language at some small school in rural Guatemala. I envisioned us going back to Cambodia to do volunteer work with sex-trafficked kids and I dreamed of us taking epic backpacking trips, perhaps along the Appalachian or John Muir trails.
Somehow, these epic adventures never transpired. We have taken at least a gazillion field trips and mini-trips (only just a slight exaggeration) over the years, but somehow life, work, time, school, lessons, extracurricular activities and money managed to get in the way of us doing something really extraordinary. Several months ago it dawned on me that if we were going to do it, now was the time. We only have one more year of homeschooling before Connor and Mikaela head off to public high school and we'll then be totally tied to a school schedule.
So after giving it much thought and talking it over with Bob and the kids, we decided that I'd take the kids on a 5 week road trip out West--camping, hiking, backpacking and exploring along the way. I invited my Dad to join us for the first week. My mom, sisters and I have taken dozens of "female bonding" trips literally all over the world over the past 20 years, but I had never done anything like that with my father. Several months ago, Bob's Dad passed away and it really hit home for me that time is short. I really wanted to spend some quality time with my Dad and this seemed like a fantastic way to do so. Fortunately, he agreed to join us and drive with us from Richmond to Las Vegas.
And so, on the morning of June 2nd, we packed up Scarlett (my minivan) and off we went.
This deer let me rub the velvet on his antlers which was so very soft!
I couldn't help but laugh at my Dad as he quickly rolled up the window when the bison approached the car. I can't imagine why he didn't want that head with its horns sticking in the window just inches from his face!
We drove through the park 3 times so everyone could have a chance to sit up front and feed the animals (the downside of a minivan). Here's Mikaela with an ostrich.
Connor cracked me up the most. Here he is being quasi-brave with one lone dromedary camel.
However, when two bactrian camels poked their heads in the window, he was almost in my lap!
The camels are notorious for stealing the buckets of food. We lost 3 of our 4 buckets to them! They are the only animals behind a fence, yet they still manage to get inside the car.
After leaving the Safari Park, we drove a couple of hours to our first campsite at Claytor Lake State Park in Dublin, Virginia. Claytor Lake is a small, but beautifully maintained park on a large lake, flanked by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The next day we drove for another six hours to Meeman-Shelby State Forest which is located just outside of Memphis, TN. This huge forest is located on the Mississippi River and has decent campsites, plenty of hiking trails as well as a lake.
At around 4:30, the kids and I headed into Memphis. We wanted to see the National Civil Rights Museum as well as visit Sun Studio and Beale Street. Unfortunately, Memphis completely closes down at 5:00--everything was closed except for Beale Street, but to be perfectly honest, I found it a bit depressing. It was little more than a bunch of middle aged people getting drunk all over the place. It just wasn't my "scene."
The next morning we decided to forgo the Memphis sites and go directly to Little Rock to visit the Clinton Presidential Museum.
We also got to see what Clinton's office looked like and learned about the history behind the Presidential desk which has been used by many of the Presidents. This is a replica. The real desk is still being used. It is made from the wood of a sunken British ship and was a gift to the U.S. from the Queen of England.
Our tour guide was rather uninspiring, but there was a lot to see and learn about. My Dad wanted to see if the notorious Blue Dress was on display--it wasn't, but there were several displays that mentioned the impeachment attempt as well as the transgression. I enjoyed refreshing myself on the history that I lived through--Clinton certainly dealt with a lot of disparate issues during his Presidency.
The Clinton Library also had a Dale Chihuly exhibit going on both inside and outside. Fortunately, we had already seen an extensive collection of Chihuly's work at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, but it was nice to see several of the pieces again.
After we left Little Rock, we headed into the Ozark Mountains to camp at Lake Ouachita State Park. Lake Ouchita is a beautiful, clean, clear 44,000 acre lake.
This was the view from our campsite. Not too shabby!!!
The water felt great!
We all enjoyed this campground. I squeezed in a great trail run and the kids went hiking by themselves.
Next up was Oklahoma...and an epic camping adventure. We didn't have any reservations or plans, but saw a sign for Foss Reservoir State Park and decided to spend the night there. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the song "Ohhh-klahoma, where the WIND comes sweeping down the plain. Well, we set up camp on the "plains" and as we climbed into our tents, the wind, lightning and rain all kicked into high gear.
For the next 3 hours, we had lightning striking 360 degrees all around our tents. But the wind, oh my, was insane. We had sustained winds of 40-50 mph for hours. The tents tilted and flapped all night long. How they weren't shredded to pieces is an absolute miracle. At 6:00 a.m., I got out of the tent to go the bathroom and took this blurry photo of the tent my Dad and Connor were sleeping in. My Dad was "sleeping" on the far right hand side of the tent and the wind literally lifted he and his air mattress off the ground--and this is a man that weighs 230 pounds! Right after I snapped this photo, the tent I was sleeping in with Mikaela totally blew over without my weight holding it down.
I then turned around and this is what the sky looked like. It was a gorgeous sunrise, despite the wind and rain.
Needless to say, we had a very early start. We basically threw everything into the back of the van and we were on the road by 6:30 a.m.!
Next up was Albuquerque, New Mexico. We stopped for some great Mexican food at Sadies and then visited Petroglyph National Monument. This National Monument has thousands of Petroglyphs, which are 400-700 year old rock drawings made mostly by native americans (except for the one drawn by some guy named Bernie in 1987). My Dad took the picture below. We're not actually meditating--it's just really bright in the New Mexican desert!
The kids and I hiked along a few of the shorter trails and saw dozens of petroglyphs (unfortunately due to arthritis in his feet and ankles, my Dad can no longer hike).
We thought this one looked like a mouse with a sucker.
From there, we drove west a few more hours and followed a sign for Red Rocks State Park near Gallup, NM. When we drove in, the park didn't look terribly inspiring, but it really turned out to be quite a gem. The park had several gorgeous hiking trails which we took complete advantage of!
The campsite had electricity, so I was able to plug in my rice cooker. This is the first time I've ever brought my rice cooker on a camping trip, and I've got to say, it rocks! So far, we've made Mexican rice and beans, mac and cheese, oatmeal and we even heated up some turkey sausage one night. (There's not a lot of firewood in OK, NM, or AZ, so it's been really useful for preparing warm meals, when we can't get a fire going.)
The following morning I awoke early, around 5:30 and this is what I saw about 150 yards from our tent. What a gorgeous sight to wake up to!
I walked up and spoke to the balloon pilot. He let me take a picture of the inside of the balloon,
as well as what it looks like when it's about to launch.
The rock formation in the background is Churchrock. The kids and I decided to hike to it and have our own miniature church service there since it was Sunday morning. To me, there is nothing more spiritual than being in the great outdoors communing with God's creations!
At first glance, the desert seems sort of colorless and devoid of life, but once you really start looking, you discover that it's breath-takingly gorgeous in its own way.
Shortly after we left Red Rocks State Park, we crossed into AZ and saw a sign for Petrified Forest National Park. We decided to visit this beautiful National Monument which is located in the heart of the Painted Desert.
The road through the park is 28 miles long and is desolate and outer-worldly, but full of amazing sights to see. There are multi-layered rock formations that tell the geological history of the area. I learned that the red sandstone is red because the iron in it oxidizes.
There are also hundreds of thousands of pieces of petrified wood scattered throughout the park. Some of the pieces are huge, while others are much smaller. We were tempted to collect some samples, but alas, it's not allowed.
After we left Petrified Forest, we headed into Las Vegas. We've now been here for 24 hours--and are staying in a very nice hotel (thanks Dad, aka: Sugar Daddy!). It's been nice to sleep in a real bed, do our laundry, swim in the pool and catch up on e-mails and blogging. My Dad flies out in a few hours and my friend Kristi and her daughter are flying in from Richmond later in the morning. Together, the five of us will be heading to Utah for 8 days of exploring Cedar Breaks National Monument as well as Bryce and Zion National Parks. We can hardly wait!
So far, the Road Trip is everything I hoped and dreamed it would be!