Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Final Chapter

(Dad’s post)

This is the last blog of our amazing trip, and, having been chauffeur, bellboy, pack-mule, and concierge, I thought it appropriate I do at least one blog so I can add “writer” to my resume, which certainly needs padding to help me get a job! It will cover quite a bit, so before heading down that last leg, I thought I’d list a few milestones we accomplished over the last few weeks:

Miles driven: 9800

States visited: 23 (including North Carolina :)

National Parks/Monuments explored: 11

Pictures taken: approximately 2100

Cost of Trip………………….Priceless (Scared to add it all up!)

So, our last post was from Devils Tower in South Dakota. The next stop was Mount Rushmore, a monument most kids never heard of until seeing National Treasure 2. We debated whether to keep this on our itinerary, or to swing by Nauvoo, Illinois for some church history, but decided to stick to the plan.

We were glad we did. It may not be as flashy as some of the other parks and monuments, but when we saw it, we were truly touched, and not just by the stifling heat of South Dakota. We saw a film about the man who had the vision to take on such a project, Gutzon Borglum, and all the work done by so many men to bring it about. At the time, some people thought it would be a blight on the South Dakota landscape. The four Presidents carved there-George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln (Logan has to remind me of the correct order) were chosen for their great vision and leadership, and their dedication to protecting and preserving our country. It is truly breathtaking. We hiked up and down lots of steps to see the visitors center and other angles of viewing the quartet. Later we loaded up and left once again with the question of would we EVER get out of South Dakota. Little did we know…….

Soon, we saw signs for the “world famous Corn Palace”. Well we had actually seen this on the travel channel and couldn’t pass it up. It is in Mitchell, South “get us outta here” Dakota.

The entire outside is made of corncobs of different colored corn. It has to be redone each year using 275,000 new ears of corn, and each year they decorate it with a different theme. We walked around and took a few pictures and headed on. For several miles, we kept seeing billboards advertising “Wall Drug” in the town of ‘Wall”, so of course we had to check it out. It was apparently a very popular nostalgic drugstore of days gone by, but is now surrounded by several shops and fun items to do and watch. Along the walls, there were life-like figures of old-timey people. I know-sounds riveting. They had a juke machine with several instruments inside (banjo, guitar, drums, etc.) that played old songs. There were water “spouts” that shot up from the cement through holes, and they had animals and a stagecoach you could sit on for pictures.

Next, we rode through Badlands, another National Park. It resembles the Grand Canyon, only less canyon and less…well, grand. The colors were beautiful, but the wind was ferocious.

We got out a couple of times for short walks, but after Spenser saw the rattlesnake warning on the sign we headed back to the car. We stopped at the visitors center there, then moved on, still trying to escape from South Dakota’s grasp. We finally made it into Minnesota. It was a beautiful area and once again, we were entertained by the windmills. There weren’t nearly as many, but enough to be the focus of the landscape there. We went on to the Mall of America, in St. Paul. It was pretty massive. Aside from the three levels of stores, they had a full sized amusement park in the middle-I mean log ride, roller coaster-the works. We didn’t spend too much time here and were soon heading southward towards St. Louis, by way of Wisconsin. Amy and I love cows, but didn’t see as many as we anticipated, but the landscape was beautiful. And for some reason, Wisconsin is the waterpark capital of the world. They are everywhere! In fact, we stayed in a hotel called the Cranberry Lodge, that had an indoor water park (a small one). So we all had a blast playing there for the evening.

Next, we headed for our last attraction, the Saint Louis Arch. We made our way to the arch, but before I paid Ivan, the parking guy, my parking fee, I asked if we’d have time for the arch. Sure, he said. It is open until 9:00 or 10:00. So we walked the streets of St. Louis until we came to the base of the Arch. It is tall from a mile away, but when you’re standing under, looking straight up, it takes your breath away.

So we go in through the body-searching park rangers who told us we had about 10 minutes until they closed. “What”, we asked, “happened to 9:00 or 10:00”? “Oh, that starts tomorrow.” Ivan must have been on ‘Russian Standard Time’. Or more likely he was on ‘milk the goober from North Carolina’ Standard Time. So, we headed back, got some dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and went back to the hotel for a swim. The next morning we walked over and got to the arch fairly early. We got our tickets and as we waited our turn, walked through the visitors center/museum. As always, lots of stuff to learn. There was lots about Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, also of National Treasure fame. Well, our time arrived to catch the tram to the top. This is when we learned that the same word can mean different things in different states or cities. The Saint Louis definition of “tram” is a little different than San Antonio’s definition. And of course everything has to be bigger in Texas, but this was a little ridiculous. The 5 of us could hardly fit in it. If I could have stood up, which I couldn’t, I could easily touch both sides without straightening our my arms. It was basically a cantaloupe that they had hollowed out and cut a door out of.

Amy, who is claustrophobic, and Logan, who is afraid of heights, may have been a little more scared than Madison, but it’s a close call.

We all piled in happily and waited for the fun to begin. It was about a 4 minute ride to the top. At least we had light and air. And they played some history about the arch as we “enjoyed” the tram. Finally at the top, the view was incredible. There were lots of people there and you had to wait your turn to climb up and lay flat on your tummy on the inclined wall to look down and out of the postage-stamp sized windows.What a great view! You could see much of the city, the ball fields, the river with tugs and barges, and lots of ants on the ground below. I think we could still see South Dakota. Before long-after about a minute after arriving at the top-Mom and Logan were ready to go! I think they just wanted another ride in the tram. Spenser and I loved the view, but reluctantly, we headed back down. There was a Cardinals-Royals ball game just getting ready to start, and we thought about going, but thought we needed to hit the road.

We headed out and made it as far as West Virginia late that night. The next day we went back by the Jenkins’ house, not knowing that the Finlayson’s were there. We all spent the night there and the next day, arrived back in Greenville. We have enjoyed sharing our journey with you, thanks mostly to Madison who did almost all of the blog-work. It was a once-in-a-lifetime family adventure. Problem is, we're ready to do it again tomorrow! Happy Trails to you all!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Wild, Wild West

Whew! Sorry for the delay in posting. We are still having the time of our lives but we are so busy in the doing that we havn't made time for the writing.

(this is mom's post)

When we last posted we were on our way to the Grand Tetons. From Utah it was an incredible scenic drive to Jackson Hole, WY. If you ever get the opportunity to travel north of Logan, UT passing through Logan Valley and Bear Lake it is a must! Jackson Hole is a very quaint and chic western town. The downtown is cute as a button! The Grand Teton mountains are spectacular! We began seeing all kinds of wildlife---moose, buffalo (bison) and such. We stayed in a cabin at Signal Mountain Lake where Dad ate his fill of bison chili and we watched American Idol with a sweet old couple we met from South Carolina.

After Grand Teton National Park we went straight into Yellowstone National Park. It is like no other place on earth, really. It is a geolist's dreamland. It just so happened that, on our science rotation, we are studying Earth Science this year. How handy is that? Yellowstone covers over 2,200,000 acres and has the most concentration of geysers in the world. It was cool to spend a few days living and exploring on top of a very active geothermal land mass. Yellowstone is constantly changing (earthquakes and such) but good OLD FAITHFUL is going strong! We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn right beside the Old Faithful geyser. It is well over 100 years old and full of character.

Old Faithful (you're probably wondering who took this amazing picture. It was Madison. Ok this is Madi. :)

As we were driving through the park, the snow was piled high (higher than Dad is tall) onboth sides of the road. The lakes were mostly frozen. It was beautiful. Later that day we got a few hours of snow. It was awesome! It stormed for a while and then clear, beautiful blue sky came and stayed with us the rest of our stay. I am so glad that we got to be there with all the snow. It made for a unique experience and we didn't have to deal with crowds of tourists!!! Of course, we had to build a snowman. It was kind of funny because some of us were in shorts and took our shoes off and sunk into several feet of snow during the process.


The wildlife is AMAZING! There are literally thousands of bison and elk and we were lucky enough to spot not one, but 3 of the 124 wolves in the park. One of them was right beside us near the river. But that is not the most incredible wildlife experience we had. You are not going to believe this but we saw a bison actually give birth! We were just a few yards away from her! We had seen a line of bison walking along the river when Mom saw something unusual about the back end of one of the bison---and it wasn't scat! It was 2 little feet sticking out. So we pulled over and watched as the mommy would walk a little and then lay down a little and very quickly she gave birth right there in front of our very eyes! It was amazing! The mommy immediately began cleaning the baby although she came out pretty clean looking already. We stayed there for about an hour so we could see the baby take its first steps. We have it all on video.

We have a National Parks passport that we have been stamping at all national parks and monuments. It's too bad that we didn't think to buy one until after we had gone to Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert and Yosemite. Oh well!

I did not realize this, but Yellowstone has its very own Grand Canyon. It was beautiful. As we walked through much of the park's boardwalks, Mom had a little trouble with the strong sulfar smells. It seems that baby doesn't care for that particular smell! We saw some great films at the visitor centers. The whole time we were in the park we were trying so hard to see a bear. Just as we were about to leave the park there he was---a little black bear, awww.

Next we drove through an absolutely gorgeous valley. We had learned that when you see cars pulled over and/or cameras lined up on tripods, you better stop your car and check it out. We saw a red fox and 2 of her little ones. She was actually tame and came right up to us and let us feed her. We did not feed any other wildlife but her. She was actually a semi-resident at a campground.

We spent the night in Cody, WY. It was quite the western town. It was settled by Buffalo Bill. We actually stayed in the hotel he built and named after his wife, Irma. It felt like stepping back in time when we walked into our room---very cool! We went to the Buffalo Bill museum. It was one of the best museums I have ever seen. It was very hands on. We also went to church there. We got there just as they were starting and the bishop was welcoming everyone to their ward conference. I think I laughed out loud in the chapel because that makes 3 Sundays of ward conferences for us on this trip!

We spent the night in Sheridan, WY last night and made our way to Rapid City, SD. We stopped at Devils Tower (the first national monument). There were TONS of prairie dogs. They were so cute! We will be checking out Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands tomorrow and then we thought we might pop in to Minnesota and Wisconsin just for the heck of it. We're making our way back to good ole NC and will hopefully get there on Saturday or Sunday.

Swimming at the hotel pool

"That's all folks!"

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fran Sancisco

Hey everybody! We haven't forgotten about the blog, we've just been in the car all the time, and I can't make posts when we're on the road. We still haven't written about San Francisco yet. The first day we got there, we went to Pier 39 in Fisherman's wharf. How did we get there? We took a trolley! =D It was an interesting experience. The workers weren't exactly cheerful. And they could tell we were obviously not used to doing it...You can hang off the side of the trolley, so that when you pass another trolley, you are INCHES away from getting ripped to pieces. Mom and dad did it. The roads here are SO steep! I don't know how these people climb up them all the time! There were tons of double-decker buses. We never got to ride one though. It was foggy off and on pretty much the whole time we were there. At the wharf, there was about every kind of store you could think of. There was also a double-decker carousel. There were a million different restaurants. We walked around and had lunch. We went inside an awesome crazy hat store. :) There was also a store called "Chocolate Heaven." OH MY GOSH. It was incredible! We went back to the hotel and ordered room service for dinner! The next day was our official touring day. We took an all day tour. First we went on a ferry. We could see Alcatraz. As much as I begged,mom and dad wouldn't let us drop Spenser off there. We never really got to see Alcatraz up close, but it still looked pretty freaky. We landed in Sausalito and looked around and had lunch at a pizza place. Then we met with our tour guide and rode a bus all around San Fran.

We went across the Golden Gate Bridge.You really couldn't see the whole bridge though, because of all the fog. We went to a beautiful place called the Palace of Fine Arts. We also went to the Golden Gate Park. We rode around a lot more, then we stopped and went inside an amazing cathedral. It was my first time seeing one on the inside. We were allowed to take pictures. The stained glass was my favorite part. It was awesome!! I won't add pictures since we already have a few. There were also lots of paintings on the walls. We saw Lombard street (the most crooked street in the world). We obviously couldn't go down it on a bus. We had to go down a BIG hill. Thankfully, we didn't have to go UP one. We went to Chinatown. That was sometimes cool and sometimes creepy. The tour ended after that. We went back to the hotel. We were SO tired from walking down all those hills! We liked Pier 39 so much that we went back there for a seafood dinner. The next day was the day we were leaving. Of course, that was the day with the best weather. You could see the Golden Gate Bridge perfectly and we were able to take some good pics. We decided to drive our van down Lombard street. We then left for Yosemite. We got to drive through it a little bit that day, since it wasn't too far away. There are a bunch of cool waterfalls. The next day, we went through Mariposa Grove to see all the GINORMOUS sequoia trees. Mom really liked the one named "The Grizzly". Again, you have to be there to really get how huge they are. We went under a tunnel tree. We did do a hike to the bottom of one of the waterfalls. It was really cool, because when you walk across the bridge at the bottom, you get really wet!! :) It was fun. After the waterfall, we went back to the hotel for a swim in one of the many heated pools. We got up at around 5:00 the next morning to leave for Morgan, Utah where we visited with our friends the Streubers. We were in the car for about 18 hours! Next on our route is The Grand Tetons. :) Post you later!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

California Dreamin'

Hi everybody! We've been getting a lot of exercise, since we've been walking almost everywhere! It's a good thing too, with all the fantastic food we're eating. :) We woke up Monday morning, and left for Big Sur. We stopped by the ocean to walk around on the beach for a while. It was COVERED in ginormous seaweed. And it is so extremely foggy here, you can't see anything too far away. Then we drove the rest of the way to Big Sur. It was breathtaking! Pictures make it look much smaller than it really is. The road had lots of twists and turns, so dad couldn't watch the scenery too much cause he was driving! When you are on a road high on a mountain top, you can see a HUGE sea of fog below you. It reminded me of being in an airplane looking down on the clouds. But this fog seemed to go on forever! Hundreds of feet below the surface of the fog, is the ocean. It was kinda scary at times. After we had lunch close to the edge of a cliff, we left for Monterey. We stopped by the Hearst castle, and to see hundreds of elephant seals laying on the beach. That was a sight to see...and smell. :(


I took this :)

Next was Monterey. For those of you who don't know, mom and dad used to live in Monterey when they were newly-weds. So it was cool for them to see the stuff they used to do 26 years ago. Mom, dad, and Spenser got out of the car to see a park- Lover's Point. I was asleep in the car. They said there were ground squirrels that would walk right up next to you, so you could feed them. We went to a Mediterranean restaurant for a snack of stuffed grape leaves and pita bread with hummus. Mom and dad used to eat there ALL the time. We went to Old Fisherman's Wharf. It was really cold! We saw a couple of sea lions in the ocean. They bark SO loud! Then we went to Cannery Row. There was a giant candy store, so Logan was happy. :) We went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner that has a fantastic view of the ocean. Then we left for a long drive to San Francisco. Of course, we didn't make it all the way. We spent the night in San Jose. (haha that rhymes) I'll make a new post about San Fran, because there's a lot to say!

Monday, May 4, 2009

El Grande Canyon!

Mom's notes:

The first part of our day in the Grand Canyon was spent hiking the South Rim---and I do mean the actual rim. One slight of step and you are toast! There were a few tense moments when we thought we may not be able to experience the grandeur because of Logan's fear of heights. But she amazed us all as she persevered, dug her claws into Mom and/or Dad and hung on for dear life. I cannot even begin to describe the works of God's awesome creation! You have to stand at the rim and gaze at the depth and height and breadth of the canyon all at once to feel the magnificence. It is truly breathtaking!!! We ate lunch at El Tovar (a 100 year old, 4 star restaurant). Their desserts were almost as breathtaking as the canyon!

We viewed the Imax film about the Grand Canyon then headed back to town to devour the famous mile high pies at the Pine Country Inn. (We met a ranger at the park from Anderson South Carolina, where I lived from 1977-1981, who gave us the 411 on all the "good eats" in the area.) So, needless to say, we felt compelled to have those culinary experiences.

The next day we got up at 3 am to go back to the Grand Canyon and view the sunrise. That was definitely a spiritual highlight of our trip!

(It was freezing!)

On our way to Hurricane, UT to visit my sister Bonnie we had some interesting experiences at the Navajo Bridge and Jacob Lake. We were able to place a Book of Mormon with our new friend Bob. Elder Cox, Logan's all time favorite missionary, gave us a challenge and we are heaven bent on doing it!

May 1st, Madi's 13th birthday, we spent with the Barnums in Hurricane. Aaron had just gotten his cast off and we went to his baseball game---Go Red Sox! We also sent Madi on a treasure hunt before eating ice cream cake.

The next day we headed for the Hoover Dam and, due to extenuating circumstances, ended up spending the night in Las Vegas after touring the Dam.

On Saturday we spent most of the day in Death Valley, CA. It was actually a very beautiful and desolate place. We went to Badwater (the lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level). That was pretty weird standing there and looking up at the huge mountain in front of us that had a marker to show just how far below sea level we actually were. We worked hard to keep hydrated and to keep our engine from overheating as we shifted from high elevations to areas below sea level at Death Valley National Park with its extreme temperatures. Mom took a taste of the earth on one of the many salt flats. But that's no big surprise since she always craves salt when she's pregnant! We barely missed a head-on collision that happened around one of the curves. We also climbed some sand dunes. We were amazed at the variety of colors on the mountains.

We spent that night in Ridgecrest, CA where we attended church the next morning. We had a long journey ahead of us and were just going to stay for fast and testimony meeting but the kids were begging to stay for all the meetings. How can you resist your children begging to keep the Sabbath Day holy? So we stayed and, guess what? The Sunday School lesson was about keeping the Sabbath Day holy! We are loving going to a different ward each week. We may just decide to become mormon gypsies for life!

Right now we are on our way to the Pacific Ocean but are stuck in a massive traffic detour because a windmill caught on fire. These windmills are amazing! Where we are now, there are easily more than a thousand of them. It's quite a sight! We stopped in San Luis Obispo to get some shut eye. We are halfway through our journey.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get your kicks on Route 66!

Editor's note: This blog is from yesterday, (April 28th) we just never had time to publish it. We'll write today's blog tomorrow. Hope that isn't TOO confusing. :) Oh, and 1 more thing. Even though we're going through many states that have reported cases of the swine flu, none of us have gotten it...yet. But Logan askes us every few minutes,"Are we going to get the swine??"

Hola! Guess where we are now? The Grand Canyon! Sort of. We're in our hotel close by the entrance. But first, I have to tell you about the past 3 days. Sunday, we went to church in a tiny little branch in Pecos, TX. The chapel was the size of most primary rooms. After church, we changed and hit the road. We went through Roswell, New Mexico, where there are alien decorations everywhere.

We traveled for about 7 hours. We stopped in Santa Rosa. This is where we picked up Route 66, made even more famous by the movie "Cars. The next day, we FINALLY got to sleep in a little bit. Before leaving Santa Rosa, we stopped by a place you may have heard of called "The Blue Hole." It was really cool. It's a sinkhole, it's 81 feet deep, and the temperature is a constant 61 degrees F. But one of the really cool things about it, is that you can actually jump in! There wasn't really any kind of a barrier between you and the water, so you could easily jump in and drown. And we happened
to get there when a guy named Scott was going to jump in! We took pictures of him jumping in. It was so fun to watch. Scott was really cool. He is a cancer survivor, so he works with people that have cancer. He had his toe nails painted purple which symbolizes the fight against cancer. It looked funny! :D
So we eventually left. We traveled from there, all the way to another tiny town called Holbrook. By the way, most of the time we don't even know what time it is, because of all the time changing. We just spent the night one night there, then left early this morning for Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park. The petrified part doesn't sound too inviting, but it was awesome. First, we drove through the Painted Desert. It was breathtaking! You honestly have to go there to really enjoy it. Everything looks much smaller in pictures than it is in real life. After riding around and taking pictures for a while, we got to the Petrified Forest. It was weird! In a good way. There were tons of different colors in the logs. We finished off at the Visitors Center there. They are VERY careful to make sure everyone knows never to take rocks or

wood or anything from the park. There was a little display of a few apology letters from people that had taken stuff. Some of them were really funny! One was from a little kid. It stared, "Dear petrified forest, I'm sorry I took a rock..." And so on. :) One guy said that he'd been cursed by taking it. And the last one I'm going to mention, was written by a nun on behalf of someone that had taken something. It was SO funny! I don't think it was meant to be though...she was talking about how it is almost impossible to control the rebellious youth of our day and I think there was something about them going to heck and the word repenting was mixed in with it. So we left there for our hotel we are at now. But we made a little stop on our way at the Mecca of the modern world for Eagles' fans (and who isn't an Eagles fan?? dad adds), Winslow, Arizona.

Mom and dad got all hyped up about one tiny little corner, because it was mentioned in an Eagles song, "Well I'm standin' on a corner in Winslow, AZ; such a fine sight to see...". And if you know my parents, you should know about their little...obsession. We then drove to the hotel we're at now. Whoa sorry I wrote a lot, but there was just so much we want you to know about! We'll be getting up before 6 tomorrow, since we only have 1 day in the Grand Canyon. =D That's because we are heading to Hurricane, UT the next day to see the Barnums! Aaron is getting his cast off today so we should be able to see him play ball.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Remember the Alamo!

Hello again! We're now about one-fourth into our trip. It seems to be going by really fast! Yesterday, the first thing we did was the IMAX theater. We saw a movie about the Alamo. It was really good, but it was sad too. :( After the movie, we went to the real Alamo. It was really cool. There was a beautiful garden outside of it. After that, was the most awesome parade ever! It's obviously a huge deal, because people go out there as early as 2 days before the parade to camp out so they'll have seats! It was 3 hours long! There were thousands of people there. We surprisingly got front row seats. :)There was TONS of confetti. There were dozens of "parade princesses" on big floats. But there was something different about them. Every time one would go by, everyone would yell,"Show us your shoes!!", and they would stick their feet out so we could see their shoes. They didn't have fancy shoes on. They were wearing cowboy (cowgirl) boots. Unfortunately, something tragic happened during the parade. The giant Mr. Potato Head balloon hit a tree on it's way by us, and popped! There were tons and tons of horses. After the horses, the pooper scoopers would walk by. They were SO funny! They'd jump around like crazy and scream," Woooo!! Pooper scoopers rock!!!" :) After the parade, we made our way through the crowded street back to the hotel to rest. When we were fully re-charged, we went to the Riverwalk again. But this time, it was at night. The Riverwalk is really cool looking at nighttime. There are tons of lights strung all over the place. We ate dinner at a place called Casa Rio. It was awesome! Especially because we were eating right next to the water. Ducks would waddle right up to your feet. Of course, we had to feed them leftover chips.:) There were Mariachis playing instruments and singing on riverboats going by. Even though we'd already done the riverboat ride the day before, we REALLY wanted to do it at night so we could see all the lights. So we rode one again.=D It was worth it. After the ride, we went back to the hotel. We were all exhausted! We got up this morning, and began ANOTHER long journey to Santa Rosa, New Mexico. We didn't make it all the way there though. But we're leaving tomorrow after church. We're now in a HUGE suite though, and it is amazing! We all love it. It has three rooms! Post ya later!

Who ya gonna call? POOPER SCOOPERS!!