travel sketches, crossing the country in a few lines a day, part 2

Preparing for the coming summer's travel always spurs me to look back on our past trips.  In such a mood I recently read my travel journals from the last two summers.  For the most part my daily entries were brief and sketchy, written at night after the kids were asleep or scrolled in shaky pen, an attempt to get down a few lines during our days drive.  I recall that many of these entries felt too simple at the time of their writing and likely of little future interest.  But I wrote them anyway.  And as I read them more than a year later I discovered that recollections in any form have the power to transport.  Many passages were more eloquent than I had thought them to be; and those that were simple were poignant too because of their honesty and immediacy. Eloquent or slight - all of them meaningful because of the memories they conjured.  Below are a few lines from each day of our travels during the summer of 2017: the lines that speak to me now because of or despite their eloquence.

Summer 2017

June 17, 2017 (Poplar Grove, Illinois to Des Moines, Iowa)

Today is the day we head west again.  This is the day I wait for, plan for –  breathe a sigh of relief for. 

June 18, 2017 (Des Moines to Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, Omaha, Nebraska)

It is our first night in the pop-up – it feels so comfortable, like an old shirt.  Everyone is tucked in and sleeping as I sit up and write.  It is wonderful when newness and familiarity merge.  It is a wonderful kind of homecoming, like a surprise in your own living room. 

June 19, 2017 (Omaha to FT. Kearney State Recreation Area, Kearney, Nebraska)

In Fort Kearney, Nebraska we visited the 1840s fort, the first built along the route of the Oregon Trail and was later the headquarters for the Pony Express.  Everything on the grounds is a reconstruction, a simple representation that clearly communicates what was once there.  The kids raced each other to the corners of the fort – this is history  with children.

June 20, 2017 (Fort Kearney to Scottsbluff National Monument, Nebraska)

Our drive today was through prairie land that gradually faded into an undulating landscape reminiscent of last year’s passage though South Dakota and Wyoming.  We arrived at Scottsbluff National Monument at around 2:30 in the afternoon.  The air was hot and dry.  We took the last shuttle of the day to the top of the Bluff on the 1930s CCC road and enjoyed our own ranger lead tour up the half-mile trail to the lookout point. 


June 21, 2017 (Scotts Bluff, Nebraska to Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado)

Today we reached the mountains.  Always, tears come to my eyes when I first enter the steep slopes.  Always they come again when I take in the smell of pine for the first time -  wet crisp pine or warm dry pine, they are equally distinct and equally they flush me with emotion. 

Tonight I sit up, as I often do, the only one awake taking in myself along with the rest of the day.  The wind, though it has calmed significantly, still blows against the soft sides of our camper, gently rocking and sometimes forcing the canvass inward.  Inside I hear only the sounds of breath heavy with sleep, and from the outside an occasional voice and a low and constant hum: a jet passes miles above us.  

June 22, 2017 (Rock Mountain National Park)

Our first morning in Rocky Mountain National Park found us on a ranger led nature walk in Moraine Park.  Afterward we stopped at a wayside on the Colorado River for a picnic lunch.  In the late afternoon we drove to Bear Lake.  We walked the mile long path around its shore and the kids delighted to run and climb and touch snow in June and throw bits of it into the lake. 

June 23, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

We spent today in Estes Park.  Coffee, candy, a playground at the edge of the river: there is nothing like the sound of rushing water, it flows directly through me.

June 24, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today we hiked Alberta Falls.

June 25, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today is Sunday and we spent our afternoon in Estes Park again.  I sat for an hour on a bolder at the edge of a playground: the jagged mountains before me, the rushing water behind me, my children playing in between.  This place feels comfortable, as if it is exactly as it should be, as if it invites us to be exactly as we should be.  These mountains are not a spectacle, they are their own wild place.

June 26, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today we drove Trail Ridge Road. At an elevation of 12,000 feet it climbs to be the highest road in the United States.  We spent three hours on the road, including our time at the visitor center and on the overlook trail.  The vistas are so broad and immense it is hard to comprehend them.  It is almost impossible to take in their distances and understand their vastness.  In the late afternoon Grace and I hiked the switchback trail to Bierstadt Lake.  This place was a serene and fulfilling as the road was raw and intimidating. It was a full day – as days should be, full to the limits of what we could do and take in – this is the reason for the experience, to fill us with understanding and wonder. 

June 27, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today is our last day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Our seven days here have been wonderful, full of beauty and challenge and new experience.  Most of all they have brought us to the mountains. 

June 28, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park to Lander, Wyoming)

We pulled out of Glacier Basin campground at about ten o’clock this morning.  Our destination, one night in Lander, Wyoming on our way to Grand Teton National Park.  Crossing into Wyoming we entered Oregon Trail territory again.  As we drove I read aloud from the auto tour book.  We stopped at Split Rock and Ice Slew, both landmarks on the trail.  We parted from the trail just after Sweet Water Station and just to its north, entered an otherworldly expanse of geologic formations.   

June 29, 2017 (Lander to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)

We enjoyed our drive this morning.  We were out early, which is unusual for us.  But we reveled in the perfect morning encountering few others.  We drove through a landscape that surprised at every turn, constantly changing and yet consistent in its ability to awe.  We arrived at Grand Teton just before 10:00 am and achieved our goal of securing a first come first serve campsite inside the park. 

June 30, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

In mid afternoon we ventured to Jenny Lake and chose to walk the trail that leads past Moose Ponds.  To our delight we saw a Moose, our first in two years visiting this region.  He looked just as you would expect a moose to look, dark with a regal profile.  We watched him at a distance for sometime dipping his head in to graze in the water. He was oblivious to us; expect occasionally when he raised his head in clear recognition of some unknown sound.  And then he would go back, head to the water, raising and lowering, lowering and raising again, shifting slightly, but not stepping too far in any direction.

July 1, 2017(Grand Teton National Park)

We hiked to Inspiration Point: Jeffrey wants to move fast, Grace just wants to climb and Michael notices everything.  Dinner of sandwiches from the camp store and an early evening driving tour of the pull offs best known for wildlife viewing.  

July 2, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

Chapel of the Transfiguration

My pilgrimage was returning to the place where she had been.
For hundreds of miles it was on my mind and occasionally on my lips.
For more than a year it followed me:
 since I first learned of it, since I first visited.
Today I went for communion.
Today I went to join this place alive with human presence.
Today I carried raw anticipation in my heart.
Today I was overcome.

July 3, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

Jeff caught six trout in Jackson Lake.  We grilled three of them whole for dinner, drizzled with oil and draped and stuffed with lemon, they were beautiful.   But it was strange for the kids to see the whole fish dead and ready for eating.  It was interesting like that for me too, to consider my appreciation for a life that will feed my own.

July 4, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

Today is our last day in Grand Teton National Park.  The atmosphere is not festive as one would expect on this national holiday, but soft, almost quiet, they way I have wished the park would have been during the rest of our visit. 

July 5, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park to Casper, Wyoming)

For the first time in nearly three weeks we turned east.

July 6, 2017 (Casper to Hot Springs South Dakota)

We headed back toward the highway at just about six o’clock to be met by a dark storm on the horizon. We caught up with each other, us and the storm, a few hours later and what was planned as our first night in Custer State Park, South Dakota became the only night we have spent in a hotel in two years on the road.  

July 7, 2017 (Hot Springs to Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota)

Prairie dog towns are abundant along the roadway that leads from Custer to Wind Cave National Park.  If you stop to near, the prairie dogs will call out in unison to pass along the signal of looming danger.  My son, the one who notices everything, loves them.

July 8, 2017 (Custer State Park)

In the afternoon we visited the cabin home of Badger Clark, onetime South Dakota poet laurite.  And we hiked about two miles round trip on the South Dakota Centennial Trail that passes just outside its doorway.

July 9, 2017 (Custer State Park)

I got up early this morning to prepare the last camp breakfast of our trip.  Camp breakfast is my favorite.

July 10, 2017 (Custer State Park to Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

Officially on our way home: today was a driving day and we took our time. We were through Rapid City by 3:00 and into the open plains.  The landscape had faded gradually from pine forested mountains to gentile hills to the bare rolling vistas of the badlands region.  I always feel a strong sense of remorse when the mountains have finally faded from our rearview.  And always I take in a deep breath of comfort as I realize I am fully surrounded by the plains once more. 

July 11, 2017 (Sioux Falls, South Dakota to home)

496 miles.

With gratitude,

Travel sketches part 1, here


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