It seems our nation's best idea is becoming nearly everyone's best idea for vacation. Rightfully so. Our national parks are treasures everyone deserves to see. Jaw-dropping vistas and abundant wildlife are only part of the attraction. The history of our nation speaks from every towering tree and roaring waterfall. Pictures never do these places justice. You must experience them for yourself.
If you're planning an adventure to one of our nation's national parks, I'd like to share some of my secrets with you. Expectations are sometimes smashed when the idealistic Instagram image doesn't match the realities of sharing your experience with the other 300+ million visitors that saturate our parks annually. These tips will help you maximize your experience and minimize the stress that often follows trying to meet all of your vacation expectations.
But Where Will We Sleep?
Because we 'camp' (we have a travel trailer), our accommodations are usually in-tow. However, there have been times when we've taken extended family along, leaving our beloved Trailer Swift (that's our camper's name) behind. Either option require some level of planning in order to avoid the worry of not having a place to stay.
My husband and I love spontaneity. My mother-in-law is the polar opposite. We like the thrill of no plans. She prefers to have an itinerary. Still, we love adventuring together. How do we make it work? It's a little recipe involving equal parts of research and risk. (And heaping amounts of grace.)
Here are the top three realities of accommodation planning:
1) Know Your Options- Unless you book well in advance, most national parks will likely not have available overnight accommodations. Neighboring towns can be miles away from some remote parks. If you're traveling during peak seasons (which vary, depending on the park), even distant accommodations may also be booked up. We've used Good Sam, Airbnb, and Trip Advisor with great success. However, a hidden gem in the hunt for a place to hang your hat is found in local chambers of commerce or visitor's bureau. Give them a call! The locals who answer offer a wealth of information.
2) Be Aware of Freebies- If you're feeling incredibly adventurous, take advantage of free camping available in national forests, BLM land, or other public lands. Many national parks are in close proximity to these designated places. Our Free Roam app even shows us where in-town overnights are allowed (Camping World, Walmart, etc.) One of my all-time favorite camping experiences took place in a idyllic field in the San Juan National Forest. We built our own fire ring, foraged for downed trees, and slept beneath innumerable stars that blanketed our mountain landscape. If you're willing to risk it, the rewarding encounter with nature will etch its place into the richest part of your memory bank.
3) Don't Hesitate to Ask- Traveling to national parks means that demand is typically greater than supply. Rates for rooms and campgrounds can escalate quickly, eating up a good chunk of your vacation budget. While booking online is super-convenient, it hinders your negotiating power. So find that place online, then give them a call to ask for a discount. Maybe you're pulling in last minute... ask for their walk-in rate. This can discount your rate significantly. If you're booking more than one room or campsite, ask if they'll give you a group discount. Because we are Good Sam and AAA members, we usually get 10% off the advertised rate.
So Many People
Most parks are overcrowded. Your experience will be shared with thousands of others trying to enjoy their own experiences. In order to avoid frustrations, keep these three things in mind:
1) Plan for Patience- Long lines go hand-in-hand with breathtaking landscapes. Everyone wants their glimpse at the baby bison, or their group photo in front of a sweeping vista. Offer to take their photo. You'll be amazed at the conversations that can start as a result. We love meeting people from all over the world, and our parks make that an easy task. If you're looking to avoid the crowds, grab yo'self a backcountry permit. There's plenty of wilderness that can be put between you and the droves of softies that stick to the paved paths.
2) Look for the Lesser-Known- One of my favorite Yellowstone experiences was biking the Natural Bridge Trail. Although we passed a few other bikers, there were many times where we were the only humans in sight. (Something that made me a bit uneasy, since we weren't carrying bear spray.) Each park offers unique experiences that many are not aware of. Ask the Rangers for their favorites. Their stories are usually accompanied by a sparkle in their eye, as they speak of the reasons why they love the parks they serve.
3) Think Green- Most parks are making tremendous efforts towards reducing the ecological impact of the millions who tread these hallowed grounds each year. Take advantage of public transportation when visiting. Transit routes within the parks are clearly marked nearly everywhere you go. Be patient with others! I had a man yell at me for line-jumping at Zion. I was trying to find the end of a very long line, and mistook what was a gap as my place in line.
Leave No Trace
Please. Please. Please. Our planet requires the stewardship of all. Ditch the plastic water bottles. Most parks have bottle-ready fountains. Pack in, pack out. Protect delicate ecosystems by staying on-trail. Deny thy selfie if it means standing, walking, or climbing onto off-limits areas. The wildlife doesn't need you to share your snacks, although the squirrels and marmots will try to convince you otherwise. My grandchildren's children need to see these wild places.
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth..." -Frost
Always opt for the road less traveled. Like Frost, it's made all of the difference in my life. Arizona's Scenic Route 89A, between Flagstaff and Sedona, may not be any less-traveled than its parallel interstate, but it seemed so as we ventured through the towering pines filling Coconino National Forest.
It was just us and the trees. The road leading south from Flagstaff seemed like a ribbon, curving neatly over the rolling hills.
"Shoot! That was the overlook," my mother-in-law exclaimed from the back of the minivan.
We were filling every square inch of our vehicle: two teens, two in-laws, the hubs and I, and enough luggage and travel goodies to care for a small army.
"Looks like we'll have to catch it on the way back up," the hubs said. "It's not exactly easy to turn around right now."
The highway had squiggled up into a bunch of switchbacks as it descended through the canyon. Towering pines were replaced by rust colored rocks whose jagged surfaces elicited many 'oohs' and 'aahs' from our crew.
While Sedona enchanted us, I looked forward to the return trip through the canyon I'd instantly fallen for. Since I can't run away to Neverland, I do my best to appease my inner-child. Slide Rock State Park was calling my name.
Much like my home state's shut-ins, the creek rolled over smooth rocks, creating natural slides. Unlike the smooth granite of Missouri's shut-ins, Slide Rock wasn't as slippery. My daughter and I left with raw backsides. Word to the wise: wear shorts!
The ice-cold water was incredibly refreshing, and the kid in me was highly satisfied after the rush of jumping from some rocks into the crystal clear waters below.
After drying off, we began our journey up through the canyon. Pulling into the scenic overlook, we were treated to the most perfect light playing off distant rock formations.
Oak Creek Canyon did not disappoint. While thousands flock to neighboring National Parks, my encouragement for you is to take the road less traveled. For me, it has made all the difference.
Spring break had finally arrived, and we were ready to camp! As we pulled back the cover on on our Jayco, affectionately named "Trailer Swift", we felt like we were lifting the weight of winter off our backs. Opening her doors and drinking in the smell of adventures past, I envisioned our first outing to be equally exciting. It was time to load her up and get her on the road to Branson... or so we thought.
Missouri's weather in March is as unpredictable as Trump's tweets. You never know what you're going to get. We reasoned that a conservative trip close to home was a wise choice, knowing that our summer plans were ambitious. We really weren't conceding; living near the Ozark Mountains means we've got a stunning place to enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities practically at our back door. The forecast called for mild temps and sunshine, but that all changed the day we were set to begin our trip.
We were nearly finished packing when I decided to give another glance at Branson's weather. Cloud and rain icons replaced the little yellow sunshines that had once lined the weekly weather report. I approached my husband with another crazy idea.
"Sooooo, what would you think about changing our travel plans?" I asked.
"Whadda ya thinking?"
After 20 years together, he knows me well enough to know how often I change my mind. While he's normally the one to keep me grounded, when it comes to travel, he shares the same spirit.
"Well, we could spend a cold week in Branson... or we could head down to the Gulf and get a little sand and sun."
After a brutal winter (for us wimpy Missourians), it didn't take much to convince him to ditch Branson and head south. We quickly grabbed a few pairs of shorts and our swimming suits, and threw them in the camper. We were Alabama bound!
While a previous visit to a Florida State Park left a lot to be desired, Topsail Hill Preserve proved to be the most idealistic beach camping experience one could hope for, short of being right on the sand.
Our first campsite was a little disappointing. While Foley seemed a reasonable place to base ourselves for some beach R&R, the campsite itself lacked any beachy-appeal. After one night, we decided to look around for another option.
Last-minute camping may work out west where public lands are plentiful, but spring break in Florida meant choices were incredibly limited. Privately owned campgrounds that did have that miraculous opening were charging premium rates. We took a chance, and called the campground at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
The ranger offered us a glimmer of hope, stating that there were newly renovated sites that the park system was supposed to be making available. In a world of automated reservations systems, it was refreshing to speak with a pleasant person who seemed knowledgeable and genuine. We broke camp and headed for Santa Rosa Beach, praying that one site might still be available.
The hospitality of the rangers continued as I made my way into the park's office. Each member of their staff was friendly and courteous. We were given a site, parking passes, and two dog biscuits from "Auntie Bonnie", the ranger who insisted she was our dog's new aunt.
While a previous visit to a Florida State Park left a lot to be desired, Topsail Hill Preserve proved to be the most idealistic beach camping experience one could hope for, short of being right on the sand. Our site offered full hook-ups, ample shade from towering pines, and a lovely gravel pad that leveled nicely.
Of course we hadn't driven 12 hours to lounge camper-side... it was time to get our toes in the sand! While the beach was one mile from the campground, the park offered a tram to shuttle guests back and forth. We opted to walk, wanting to take in the wilderness that sat between our site and the emerald waters that beckoned us.
The trail leading to the waters is accessible only by tram, walkers, and bicyclists. My recommendation would be to either bike or pack a decent pair of shoes. Walking a mile in flimsy flip-flops down an asphalt road isn't as fun as it sounds. Because of the protected dunes buffering the beach from the trail, elevated boardwalks take beach-goers from trail to shore.
In comparison to much of Florida's coastline, the beaches of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park are unspoiled and natural. Three miles of the shore are shadowed only by people and wildlife, not high rises. While the beach-front views and dining are part of what make Florida a desirable place to vacation, the park seemed to transport us to a time where the ocean, not the opulence, was the star attraction.
Overall, we found Topsail Hill Preserve State Park to be the ideal spot to setup camp when vacationing to the Emerald Coast. We hope to return soon. This time, with bikes!
The Grand Canyon: aptly named for its jaw-dropping landscape, it makes the top of every "must-see" list, drawing millions of visitors each year. It is inarguably worth the trip. For us, the Grand Canyon was memorable because of the seemingly insignificant moments strung together into one incredible adventure.
After extensive research, we decided to visit the North Rim of the park. My obsession with camping beneath towering pines secretly impacted our chosen destination, but I argued that smaller crowds and particular points of interest made the North Rim an obvious winner.
We were amidst herds of bison, grazing in lush green pastures when we spotted the park's entrance sign. Idyllic? Absolutely. Expected? Definitely not. Our perception of the Grand Canyon was painted with arid landscapes, tumbling weeds, and slithering rattlesnakes. This lush contrast caught us off-guard in the most wonderful way.
Our first stop was the visitor's center, where we could gain valuable insight to maximize our one-day experience. We expected to receive maps and tips on must-see points of interest. While this was included, we received the best advice one could ever hear: in a place so massive, it's easy to miss out on the tiny things... but in them, the real magic of this place is discovered.
We took the advice to heart, keeping aware of the seemingly insignificant treasures hiding amongst the grandeur. The artistry of river-carved canyons dressed in splendid hues of crimson and rust vie for your attention, and views span in every direction. Our first steps onto the patio of the Grand Canyon Lodge were silent. Words were replaced by tears of awe. Throughout the day we experienced many breathless moments as we absorbed the raw beauty of this untamed landscape. Yet we all agreed, the myriad of small things made our adventure to the Grand Canyon so memorable.
There is an intoxicating mix of cool forests clinging to the edge of sun-scorched cliffs. The road leading to the Lodge winds between giant pines, providing shaded refuge. You'll wrap a flannel around your chest to guard against the chilly breeze that whispers through tree tops. Don't forget your water bottle and sun protection... without a canopy of trees the heat quickly warms your body, and you'll be peeling those layers back rather quickly. This diversity of temperatures gives you a greater appreciation for the hardiness of all life within the canyon.
Beauty can be found away from the rim. Although you want to spend every minute gazing out across the hazy distant canyon walls and peering down perilous edges, the inner park landscape offers its own unique splendor. Challenge yourself and your family to a spur of the moment photo contest. Get in a snowball fight (yes, snow!). Spot wildlife: mule deer, bighorn sheep, and the kaibab squirrel whose only home is the North Rim.
Engage with one of the park's most interesting elements: the people. While there are moments where solitude is healing for the soul, one of the best parts of traveling is meeting people from all walks of life. Talk to those who share the trail with you. Save people from so-so selfies by offering to take a decent photo of them. Learn the stories of the men and women who protect, guide, and study within the National Parks System. Listen to them; they are passionate about educating visitors and preserving our parks.
Take a moment to appreciate the incredible creation we are called to steward. Thank the Creator. It is a privilege to travel. Some people never leave their little corner of earth. When you've soaked in the awe and wonder of our incredible planet, do something to care for it. Many generations have yet to drop their jaws in awe of vast canyons, gushing geysers, snow-capped mountains, and turquoise waters. Let's give them something to talk about.
The thousands of tiny, simple moments made our adventure to the Grand Canyon magical. I find myself closing my eyes tight, sealing in every recalled detail, lest I forget. Though I doubt I ever could.
It's January 5th, and I'm officially over winter. The tree and sparkle that warmed my house have since been packed away, and that "fresh start with the New Year" vibe has already worn off. I'm left with the winter blahs and approximately 92 days, 17 hours, and 55 minutes until spring (but who's counting).
I'm not completely adverse to the season. It's just the thought of walking outside without long underwear, fleece socks, and a thick coat sounds fabulous right now. (On the positive side, the extra layers do hide the "fluff" I've gained as a result of too many Christmas cookies.) I'm a lemonade-making girl, however, and decided to comprise a list of ways to survive the cabin fever that has already crept upon me.
1) Explore a new state park, conservation area, or recreation area- Although I complain about the winter wardrobe, I'd still rather be outside. Missouri's rolling hills, riverways, rocky terrain, and endless trails are worth conquering despite frigid temperature.
Recently I've visited two places that truly exemplify my campaign to find #beautyinmybackyard: Young Conservation Area,and LaBarque Creek Conservation Area. Both CAs contain the LaBarque Creek watershed, a source of diverse plant and fish species the Missouri Conservation Department is striving to protect, with the help of organizations like Friends of LaBarque Creek, among many others.
Although the streams aren't flowing full and the foliage is deeply missed, there are many perks to winter hiking. No ticks, snakes, or mosquitos make winter adventures in the great outdoors a little less worrisome. Any aforementioned cookies are easily burned off when you climb the hills that cover both parks.
2) Go for a drive- I'm like the dog who wags his tail anytime someone grabs the keys to the truck. It's a chance at freedom, and I'm in! As a freelance writer, I need breaks from the solidarity of a home office.
One of my favorite drives is the Great River Road, especially at the confluence where bald eagles nest during the winter months. There are several museums to visit along the route from St. Louis heading north, giving you several opportunities to stretch your legs, learn something, and enjoy a warm viewpoint of this magnificent waterway. My family has enjoyed the National Great Rivers Museum, where you can pretend to drive a river barge, or see the real thing in action at the Melvin Price Lock & Dam. We are looking forward to a visit to the Audubon Center at Riverlands, where there are a supposed 1,300 graceful trumpeter swans to gaze upon (check my Instagram page for upcoming pics).
3) Show a little love- Nothing beats the winter blues quite like a warmed heart. Volunteering is a way to give back, and gain a world of joy. While it seems volunteering takes a huge commitment, there are several ways to help out without straining a time-starved schedule.
4) Do a little dreaming- As one who is addicted to travel, I'm constantly dreaming of our next adventure. When I want to stay snuggled up next to my fire, a mental escape is the next best thing. The Wide World of Wonder (www.) leads me to envision camping beneaths the redwoods, inhaling salty air, and climbing every mountain (cue Julie Andrews).
Surprisingly, I don't like aimless surfing. I much prefer to research with purpose, or to untether altogether. Being present with my loved ones trumps tech time, every time. My favorite tools for dreaming in an organized fashion include Instagram and Pintrest. The visual stimulation of Instagram inspires me to plan for our next trip, and the orderly arrangement of Pintrest bring purpose to my couch-cuddling lazy days.
My current dream goes something like this: camper, kids, dogs, (and hubs) in-tow, we set out in search of the world's tallest trees and rugged coastlines. I've setup a board to start dreaming, and I'll be sure to keep you posted when those dreams become a reality.
5) Finish that book, or home improvement project, or start planning for tax time- Okay, the third option sounds about as fun as a root canal without novocaine. The first two are actual to-do's on my list. When the weather limits or prohibits your ability to get outside and burn off steam, focusing on a put-off task can be a great way to recharge. Turn up the music really loud and rock those sweats while you feel good about checking something off your list.
I've been working on my novel, and have set a goal for a completed manuscript by next winter. I've joined some awesome writer's groups on social media. (There are several inspiring groups out there, really.) I've even started poking the publisher nests to see what stirs. The excitement is motivating.
The beauty in writing fiction is escapism. Each time I pick up where I left off, I'm instantly transported to another world. I'm no longer Mandy Hawkins... I'm the protagonist, the antagonist, and the awesome supporting characters that make my book come alive. Cabin fever doesn't exist when you're running through South American jungles, in a struggle to protect your life.
As for the home improvement projects: buying an old log cabin means a litany of fixes await us daily. Leaky pipes. Pesky squirrels that want to chew through your wooden house in order to nest. Wood burning stoves that house bird carcasses (a slightly traumatic incident for our daughter). Each day is an adventure here. When I go from the Pinterest board ideas to the reality of a completed project, I am highly satisfied and forget any symptoms of cabin fever I've been fighting.
What are the ways you fight the doldrums of winter? Do you have any favorite places to get outside and explore? What makes them special in this season? What are you dreaming of? I encourage you to get out there and make this winter great!
This blog was originally published on 4/20/15.
This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives." Jeremiah 17:5-6
Is God really enough for me? That's an answer I intellectually know to be "yes", but after some heart-searching, I sense is not always true for me. Ouch. Admitting that I rely on what I can immediately see, or what I can do in my own strength leaves me wondering if God really is enough for me.
When I'm wrestling with the worries of finances, future plans, unmet expectations, and unanswered prayers, I let my circumstances overshadow what I know to be true about God. He is faithful. I say that with confidence. Not just because the Word says so, but because I have seen Him move throughout my life and countless other people's lives. So what allows me to slip back to a place where the enemy can whisper lies that linger in my head and mess with my mind?
There are two reasons why I believe this happens:
1) I've sat down my shield to pick up something new and shiny. ("Oooo! This worry looks good. What shield of faith? This worry is right here in front of me. I can't resist picking it up!")
2) I'm running with purpose for God and the enemy wants to derail me.
Either option leaves me disheartened and distracted from what God has called me to do. Thankfully, God is onto satan's schemes and warns us that the enemy will be on the prowl. I'm not powerless though. As my pastor likes to say, we pick up our cross daily because we most likely dropped it yesterday.
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18
Did you catch what it says in verse 16? We are being renewed day by day. How do we get renewed? It is through prayer, time in God's Word, and focusing our thoughts on the One who is in control that we go from a place of drought and doubt, to a place of peace and hope. While this answer is one that you've most likely heard before, I want to assure you that there's a reason why... IT WORKS! Let me add my own disclaimer: praying, reading the Bible, and focusing on God will not bring all financial worries to an end. It will not guarantee a beach house or mountain retreat in my future. It will not promise the end to trials and really dark days. But it will close in the gaps.
Jeremiah 17 doesn't leave us in the desert. There is a promise for those who hope in the Lord: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (vs. 7-8)
everyone wants to let a little wild out sometimes
We had unfinished business in Moab, Utah. Unconquered arches called to us from our campsite in Arizona. With no set travel plans, we packed up and began our journey across sun-scorched, red-rocked landscapes to settle up with Arches National Park.
Spontaneous travel has its pitfalls. We often risk not finding a campsite in our chosen destination when we roll into town without reservations. As soon as the cell phone gained coverage, I began calling every campground near Moab, in hopes of finding an unclaimed site. After several rejections, I figured we'd be boondocking. We approached Slickrock Campground with little hope.
Entering the office, I was greeted by a ferocious feline who held me at bay while the woman at the front desk helped the camper ahead of me. Curling his black tail around my legs, he brushed against me with a purr that spoke volumes of his personality. I was properly warned: behind the front desk a sign was posted, notifying campers to "Beware of the Guard Cat". While he did his best to deter me, I finally made my way to the woman behind the desk.
While hotel staff are generally uniform in attire and dialog, campground staff are as diverse as the landscape of our magnificent country. My host was no exception. Beautifully unique, she smiled through a pierced lip, tucking back an unruly curl that had broken free from the bandana meant to contain what couldn't be tamed by a braid. The ink on her arms told stories, and I would have inquired, had I not been so distracted by our lack of accommodations.
Thankfully sites were available, and I began my usual negotiation process. As Good Sam members, we were already privileged to a discount, but I always try to get the best deal possible. Asking if additional breaks were available to firefighters, her dark eyes lit up.
"My brother is a smoke-jumper! I am so appreciative of all those guys do. How 'bout I give you another 10% off?"
We set up camp quickly, and scarfed down dinner at ravenous speed. We knew daylight was giving way to the dark skies of night, and we intended to see some arches before bed. As we snaked up the switchbacks at the entrance to the park, the sun dipped behind the western mountains, leaving only a glow to remind us of its departure. The temperatures cooled, and we rolled down the windows to enjoy the refreshing air that came rushing into the truck. Sticking her head out of the vehicle in canine-like fashion, my free-spirited daughter kicked her head back to let out a primitive howl. Giggles filled our cab, and she dared us to join in. Of course we obliged; everyone wants to let a little wild out sometimes.
We parked, immediately noticing the eerie silence. Little beams of light and the crunch of desert floor beneath four sets of sneakers was all that identified us against the vastness of night. The trail turned, leading us between spires of rock that dimmed what moonlight existed. Trudging through deep sand, we huffed and puffed as we dove deeper into the rocks whose shapes were hidden behind the dark curtain of night.
It's amazing how a short .4 mile trail can seem like a trek across the sahara with no light to give perspective. When we finally reached the arch, we were victors, celebrating the long-anticipated quest. Hoots of joy rose above the canyon walls, and we momentarily forgot about life beyond them. All that existed was us and a conquered arch.
Not every adventure turns out the way you plan it. Sometimes you miss your goal altogether. Sometimes it takes more than one attempt to accomplish what you set out to do. That night solidified a deep truth for our family: it's not about the destination, but the memories you make getting there.
This was a summer of transitions. Moving to the in-laws' basement mid-winter left me even more restless as the days stretched out and the sun warmed the sky. With the advent of spring came a new beginning for me: unfolding the crisp black gown and donning the square hat, I prepared to complete one of the most challenging journeys of my life. With a fancy piece of paper entitling me to a few initials to add to my resume, I was certain that words would flow from my fingers as I chronicled new adventures that lay ahead. Summer was in full-swing, and I was hungry for adventure.
I was not disappointed. Starting with our trip to New Hampshire and ending with a new local favorite, my little family covered 21 states in a matter of two months. As I tallied up the state count, I suddenly realized why my kids complain that they are 'vacationed-out' (who says that?!). We saw The Big Apple, rubbed elbows with those whose lives revolve around the sport of kings, traveled the Mother Road, and saw a canyon so inspiring that tears replaced words of awe. I still have yet to grasp the privilege of experiencing first-hand, so many of our nation's most sought-after destinations.
Something's got to give when you're living life as partial nomads, and adventure trumped tacking myself to to my chair in order to write. So here I sit, as summer draws to a close: breathless from wild adventures, and a head full of stories I can't wait to share with you. We're still in transition; a mere three weeks away from closing on our little cabin in the woods. After a nine month sabbatical from mortgage payments, I am ready to be a homeowner again. (I'm not as excited about those mortgage payments.) I've loaded my Pintrest board with inspiration, aching for the day when I can pull those boards out of imagination and onto the walls of my new creative space.
I look forward to telling you about our conquest of Arches, and of out-of-this-world volcanic ruins. You'll laugh when you hear about the snowstorm we faced while towing our camper through narrow mountain passes, and the surprises of nature we witnessed on the other side. You'll thank me for sharing information on the newest hidden gem in the Missouri State Park system. We learned many lessons on the road. For example, the shortest route may not be the most passable route. We met incredible people along the way too.
Stay tuned, while I sort it all out. I'd love to hear from you as well! What adventures made this summer memorable for you?
One doesn't simply drive through Iowa without stopping to see the Field of Dreams. It's a pilgrimage for anyone who has ever felt their heart jump when they've heard the whisper, "If you build it, they will come". After all, the field is about so much more than baseball. Then again, it isn't.
That's the beauty of the sport. In a chaotic world where it seems humanity is self-destructing, life hushes and appears a little more simple when we gather around a baseball diamond. We forget all of the fights, the hate, the confusion... we're just people, enjoying America's favorite past time. You don't have to be Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Stan the Man. Just grab your bat, ball, and glove, and dream big.
And so, that's what we did-- we were dreaming big as we drove under a gray blanketed sky through Minnesota. We had witnessed the wonder of the Apostle Islands, but hadn't quiet satisfied our wanderlusty-souls. The clouds vanished as we rolled through the seemingly endless miles of cornfields in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Iowa. Our hopes of something different than the typical American Dream waved around like the golden corn blowing by. We'd been on an adventure since the day we met, and our hearts were stirring for something new.
Cell service is sparse along the rural highways leading to Dyersville, home to the legendary Field of Dreams. According to our atlas we were nearing our destination, yet the monotony of farms gave no hint to the existence of the iconic landmark. Even as we entered town, a few unassuming signs were all that made mention of the famous field. Suddenly as we turned down a gravel road, the stadium lights appeared, standing taller than the stalks surrounding us. Our hearts raced as we parked our rig. Hopping out of the truck with the enthusiasm of a wonder-struck child, my husband disappeared into the camper, quickly returning with a wiffle ball and bat. He was beaming as we approached the field, talking about how he couldn't wait to hit one on the Field of Dreams.
Of course he hit on the first pitch. He always does. Bounding around the bases, he grinned from ear to ear as I cheered for him. Onlookers joined in the applause, and the older gentleman had a look of longing as my husband rounded for home. Extending the bat to him, he quickly accepted the invitation to hit a few. Like a scene from the movie, as the man headed to first it seemed his age disappeared, leaving a youthful version of himself to run the bases. The game continued as another man approached, asking if he could pitch a few. "I promised my son I'd throw the ball when I got here," he said as he motioned for his buddy to record the event. Perhaps more beautiful than the pristine farm and field, was the ongoing game of ball between strangers that has perpetuated through the years.
When we had our share of fun, we made our way to the concession stand, which was lined with memorabilia available for purchase. These trinkets, along with donations, were the only funds supporting the place. Like a kid in a candy store, we pondered which treasure was the best representation of our time at the Field of Dreams. The woman at the counter was a perfect representation of the wholesomeness of this place. The lines that graced her face curved around her gentle smile as she thanked us for visiting.
As we drove towards home, full of joy, we thought of what the Field of Dreams meant to us. It goes far beyond baseball. The field represents the crazy calls on our lives and the amazing things that can happen when we take risks to go for our dreams. We are building our field of dreams. Our goals may seem crazy... they make no sense to the sensible. But I believe that if we keep plowing ahead, planting the seeds of our plans, our time will come.
It seems our travels always involve three things: adventure, education, and missed chances. Even if I were to never recount our journeys here, their memories will forever remain incredibly vivid in our minds. To us, they're legendary. Our recent trip to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was no exception.
We awoke early that morning to the sweet symphony of nature outside our camper's windows. Perched above Lake Superior and nestled beneath towering oaks and pines, we continued to revel in our campsite victory. The city of Bayfield, Wisconsin maintains a campground just north of the marina. When my husband suggested camping there, I was reluctant because I had pictured a slab of concrete with little privacy or amenities. While the park lacked amenities beyond the basics, it more than made up for it in privacy. With our only neighbors tucked distantly behind the trees, we felt like camping royalty with our hidden spot and superior views.
The air was crisp, and the winds were charging off of the lake, cutting into our still thin Midwest skin. As groups of tourists gathered on the marina docks, whispers of six foot swells began to circulate through the formed line of guests anxiously awaiting the blessing to board the tour boats. Compassionate guides began making their way down the line with the disheartening news: due to the size of the swells on open water, we were not going to make it to the highly acclaimed Devil's Island-- an island known for jaw-dropping sea caves carved by the forces of nature. It was strongly recommended that weak-stomached landlubbers stay ashore, full refunds available. With a mix of ignorance and excitement, we shrugged off the warnings and climbed aboard.
Prior to shoving off, our captain reiterated the warning of choppy seas and offered us two things: last chances and barf bags. We refused, nervously chuckling about the thought that while rough waters weren't tummy-turning, a boat full of puking guests would certainly weaken the most iron-clad stomachs. Once we were no longer protected by the marina barriers, the chop was evident but more closely resembled a busy weekend on a Midwest lake. We settled in and began to soak in the panoramic scenery beyond our vessel.
Each island had a fascinating story that was animatedly described by our captivating captain. For example, Hermit Island was aptly named in honor of the legend of William Wilson, a man who despised the thought of company on his private island so much that he kept hopeful visitors away by firing rounds from his shotgun. Even if there were no tall tales to be told, our vigilant captain readily peered through his binoculars in search of wildlife that was abundant on the islands. We were privileged to see the majestic bald eagle, circling a nest on the tip of Oak Island. We were awed by the rock formations and boulder outcroppings that only enhanced the picturesque beauty of the shorelines.
As we neared the approach to Devil's Island, the waves begin to grow, tossing us around. Suddenly our sizable ship seemed to diminish in stature against the tumultuous waters. After some off-mic conversation between the captain and his crew, he addressed his guests by gesturing towards the fifteen foot spray crashing into the southern tip of the forbidden island. Avoiding a dance with the devil, he steered our ship towards calmer waters and redirected our attention to more island folklore.
As we approached Raspberry Island, the ship filled with shutter noise from every camera that was intently aimed at the crown jewel of the park. The lighthouse stood gleaming and proud atop the rocky shores, ready to beacon passing ships. A recent $3.4 million dollar restoration, equal to the annual operating budget for the entire park, brought this crown jewel back to its former glory. Although we did not go ashore, we immediately decided to make it part of our return visit.
Returning to the marina, the skies parted giving way to brilliant blue skies. The sun sparkled across the lake, marina, and charming city. As a gesture of kindness, the captain offered partial refunds to all guests in reparation for the missed island. Although we were impressed by this offer, we never felt slighted. Sure, it would have been incredible to witness the sea caves of Devil's Island, but we were equally satisfied with our adventure.
Oh, and I'm happy to report that no barf bags were filled on our journey!
Born with a severe case of wanderlust, I'm always searching for new adventures and sharing those stories here.