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.
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!
We are planning an upcoming trip to _____________. This is my dilemma, the blank space. I know, I know, there are people making really tough decisions in life. I don't mean to marginalize those struggles. Mine is trivial. My husband and I are about to celebrate 15 years of marriage, and we are going on our first vacation without the kids. Just he and I, the Dreamer (our vintage camper), and the open road. Residing in the middle of the country has its advantages. Unique adventures in all regions are within reach. Here's my working list:
Aspen Viewing in Colorado- Although I was just there a few months ago, I can't help but long to return. Before my first visit to the Rockies, I had no clue just how hard I would fall for those mountains. The air is intoxicating, so pure and fresh. The feeling you get when you're sitting at the base of massive rocks is only matched by the exhilaration of climbing to the top. While I've visited this beloved state several times, I have yet to experience the splendor of fall.
Minnesota's North Shore- I've been highly intrigued by this possibility. It seems there are so many activities that appeal to both my husband and I: biking, hiking, fishing, waterfalls to explore, and wildlife to see. Although there aren't mountains to climb, it seems outdoor adventures in Minnesota are plentiful. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports peak fall colors are timed perfectly with our travel dates, making it the icing on the cake.
Getting Away in the Natural State- I often wonder why I have yet to explore the abundance of recreational opportunities in Arkansas. It is a very short drive for us, and their slogan speaks volumes for what you can expect in this state. Waterfalls, mountains, lakes, hot springs, eclectic towns, and over 250 day hikes means I will satisfy the wild inside of me.
Discovering More in the Land of Lincoln- Another neighboring state that I wouldn't normally think of when trip planning. When I think of Illinois, I think of getting to the other side. It turns out, there is more to see between the farm fields east of the Mississippi and a big lake to the north. Starved Rock State Park and Matthiesssen State Park boast waterfalls, rocky bluffs to conquer, and a quiet reprieve close to home.
Putting our Toes in the Water and Sand- This one is totally for the hubs! Although, I still have a piece of my heart on the beaches of Florida. With so many state parks dotted along the Panhandle, it may be best to give one more salute to summer and spend our few days alone salty and sandy.
What do you think? What is your favorite fall vacation? We love spontaneity, and will likely surprise everyone with our choice. Here's to 15 years of marriage, loads of adventure, and a lifetime of memories!
Born with a severe case of wanderlust, I'm always searching for new adventures and sharing those stories here.