Yellowstone National Park was one of our final National Parks. Following our time there, we traveled to Garryowen, Montana. It’s ok if you haven’t heard of Garryowen before. It isn’t exactly the largest town, but we had some great experiences there.
The first was getting to see the Little Bighorn National Monument. Little Bighorn Nat’l Mon. is where Lt. Colonel George Custer fought his last battle. We learned a lot about this battle, and were able to see both sides of the conflict. If you’ve read about, or seen a movie about Custer’s last stand, then you’ve probably realized that there are really two sides to the story: Custer’s side, and the Native American’s side. I don’t have room to fill you in, but if you click on this link, you’ll have more than enough info on the subject. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/recon/jb_recon_custer_1.html
Our second cool experience in Garryowen was that we were able to attend the First Crow Indian Baptist Church. It was, as is the entire town of Garryowen, in the Crow Indian Reservation. We were very blessed to be able to worship with these folks, and enjoyed our time with them.
After a few days in Garryowen, we moved on to Rapid City, South Dakota. Rapid City was a great stop, and we were able to see Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Badlands National Park, and Wind Cave Nat’l Park. Mount Rushmore was pretty cool, and I think the reason why is because it’s like the Statue of Liberty, in that it’s what you think of when you think of the United States as a whole. However, we didn’t spend much time here, since, as you can probably figure out, there weren’t that many things to do there (e.g. Look at the monument and hike the short monument trail). Crazy Horse wasn’t much different it terms of the amount of things to do. However, for this one, I was sorely disappointed at the progress of the monument. For those of you who don’t know, Crazy Horse Monument is dedicated to (who else?) the Native American Crazy Horse, who, incidentally, fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn (a.k.a. Custer’s Last Stand). It’s currently under construction, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that they’ve been working on it for 71 years. And his head and some of his right arm are the only things completed. This was a huge bummer, since I was hoping to see more of it. When it's finished, his face will be 1.45 times as tall as Mount Rushmore, and the entire sculpture will be 263 feet long, making it the second tallest statue in the world. However, Crazy Horse Memorial will hold a place in my memory for another reason. We were able to attend a presentation of a Native American lady who showed us a Native American hoop dance. A hoop dance is basically a person dancing with up to 28 hoops (think about really strong hula hoops). It’s a little hard to explain, so I’d recommend Google searching “hoop dancing videos”. The person hoop dancing is telling a story. The woman that hoop danced for us was telling the story of her life with 28 hoops. At one time (at the very end), she actually had all 28 hoops being used!
Badlands National Park was absolutely incredible. It's home to some really amazing buttes, pinnacles and spires. What's more is that you're allowed to climb all over them! It was really amazing, and we took a cool hike. This hike, Notch Trail, led you through a canyon, then up a steep log ladder to more of the trail. We enjoyed the views at the end. Badlands was certainly a spectacular National Park, and we were very pleased with all of it.
Also, on our way to Badlands, we stopped at Wall Drug. Wall Drug used to be a famous drug store, and now they've turned it into a mall type area. It was really neat, and I enjoyed eating there and checking out the area around. Wall Drug is famous for their "free ice water", which drew customers to them when they first started out in 1908.
Wind Cave National Park is one of my favorite National Parks behind Yellowstone, Capitol Reef and maybe Joshua Tree. It’s the home of the 7th longest cave in the world, and is the 6th oldest National Park. We took one of the tours into the cave, and were astounded at it all. It turns out, a 16 year old boy mapped out 8-10 miles of this cave in the late 1800s. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about him: From the age of 16 until his death at the age of 20, McDonald discovered and mapped the first 8 to 10 miles (13 to 16 km) of Wind Cave using candlelight. His exploration and mapping was so extensive and thorough for the time that it was not until 1963, 70 years after his death, that major new passageways were discovered in Wind Cave. During the guided tour, we came to point where our guide turned off all the electrical lights, and we were able to see what Alvin McDonald saw when he was exploring the cave. The guide had a candle lamp with her that was exactly like what Alvin would've had, and even with this light, it was very dark in there! We really enjoyed seeing Wind Cave.
One other thing that I've forgotten to mention in the last 3 or so posts is that we met some folks from Georgia back in our Heber City campground. Mr. and Mrs. Mathis used to live about 2 miles down the road from our house in Georgia, but we didn't met until we were parked next to each other in Heber City! They are also full time, and we were very blessed to be able to spend time with them in Heber City, Yellowstone and Rapid City! They are very nice people, and we enjoyed exchanging stories from on the road. :)
Following our time in Rapid City, we traveled to Mitchell, South Dakota. Mitchell is the home of the World’s Only Corn Palace (though technically there were corn palaces before this one). It is an event venue, and when there’s not an event going on, it’s free to visit. If you’re wondering what a corn palace is, think about a movie theater, then imagine corn murals on the outside sides of the theater. This is what the Corn Palace is. We enjoyed touring this, and were amazed at what people do with the corn.
We didn’t do much in Mitchell, and soon moved on to Iowa. But, I’ll cover that in the next post. By the way, this is the last blog post that I’ll write while on the trip. We have 2 days left until we get back! Tomorrow (July 30th) we get back!!!
I mentioned in the previous post that I'd be splitting up this subject into 2 parts, with the last one covering our time in Jackson, Wyoming, viewpoints, hikes, etc. This post, I'll be covering what wildlife we saw, and other interesting things to note. Here we go:
Yellowstone National Park, as I mentioned in my last Yellowstone post, is abundant with wildlife. Likely, the most common animal that you'll encounter is a bison. The bison are everywhere in Yellowstone, and it'd really be hard not to find one (or two or five or ten). The downside to their recurring sightings is that they are frequently stopping traffic by crossing the road. We got stopped no less than 3 times by crossing bison. There are really two reasons why traffic slows when bison are crossing. The first reason dominates the first half of the traffic time. It's the fact that the bison are, well, crossing the road. It's a Yellowstone rule that the bison have the right of way, so everyone must stop. The second reason is that a lot of people are goggling at the bison after they've crossed the road. This results in more traffic, and backs up cars for a very long while. However, they're also really cool to look at while in action, since (most of the time) they're really majestic looking. One night, for example, when we were riding back to the RV park, we encountered some buffalo right next to the road, where there were 2-3 little calves chasing each other! They were kicking up dust, and making little grunts every once in a while. This encounter was super cool, and we really enjoyed seeing it.
Another great wildlife encounter that we had was with on my mom's birthday (see OTHER category for more details), and we were on our way to her birthday dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room. (Again, for more details, see OTHER category). Happening upon a large crowd of people taking pictures at we-didn't-know-what on a large grass field, we stopped and had a look. You see, we had learned, from being there for a few days, that when a lot of people are stopped at a place looking at something, you should stop and look too. So, we looked for what was causing such a big to-do. And we looked. And looked. And we still couldn't see anything. Then we noticed that a lot of people had binoculars or telescopes. Well, we didn't have any binoculars or telescopes, so we asked what they were seeing. "Wolves," they said, "are stalking some elk". Wow! Isn't that neat? But we could only see these little dots. Well, that was really cool, but after a while of looking we went to dinner. After dinner, we went back the same way to get home. We happened upon the same crowd again, and asked if they were still watching the wolves. "Oh yes," they said, "We have been watching them. They just killed a baby calf. You can see those dots over there. They're dragging it into the woods." Whoah. It was amazing to think that those were wolves with a dead baby elk who was alive before we ate dinner. That we might have actually seen him alive. This was pretty extraordinary and almost uncanny.
One other animal that we saw at Yellowstone was a bear. All week we'd been trying to see a bear. It was one of the days that I went out alone with my dad. We were driving by when, like the instance with the wolves, we saw a crowd of people. Naturally, we stopped. There was a black bear a mere 250ish feet away on the other side of a river. This was really amazing, since I’ve never seen a bear in the wild. He was just lumbering along, apparently looking for food. We really enjoyed seeing this bear.
Also, we got to see a few mule deer and elk, although this wasn’t quite as stunning as seeing the other creatures. However, one time we did get to see a mother mule deer with her baby from our car. That was really cool.
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE:
I’ve covered all of my main topics, but now I’m just going to give a few minor things that I think are probably good to note. Let’s take a look.
Traffic: Traffic in Yellowstone National Park is pretty unpredictable. As I mentioned in the WILDLIFE section, a spotting of an animal can slow down traffic immensely. Also, there’s 2 or 3 places that have construction on them, causing there to be a one lane road for a 7-10 mile stretch, which causes up to 45 minute delays. This was pretty annoying. I would recommend that you allow an extra (at least) 30 minute add on to your travel time for every hour that you think you’ll be traveling.
The Birthday: My mom had her birthday while we were in Yellowstone, and we celebrated by spending the day in the park. We really enjoyed our time there, and were able to see the wolves, and enjoy a great dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room. My mom had a great birthday, and we were glad to spend it with her in this fashion.
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center: One of the days that we were in Yellowstone, Vice President Pence and his wife visited Old Faithful. So, as you can imagine, traffic was pretty bad. We decided that, for the sake of our sanity and well-being, we'd stay out of the park that day. Luckily for us, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center was in the town that we were staying near. The Discovery Center was like a mini educational zoo. It housed about 7 or 8 grizzly bears, and the same number of wolves. We really enjoyed exploring this center, and learned quite a bit about the two different creatures. They also had a birds of prey presentation that we attended. Here, we learned all about different birds of prey, and got to see an owl and a hawk.
Overall, our time in Yellowstone was phenomenal. We hiked some really neat trails, saw some amazing sights, learned a plethora of information, and really got to see a small part of creation. We'd definitely rank Yellowstone on our top National Parks, and would recommend it as such. With only 7 days left in our incredible journey, we are excited to bring home with us some of the lessons we learned on the trip. Stay tuned!
As many of you know, we are almost 14 months into our journey with another 14 days to go before we re-enter our home base of Georgia. Before we left Atlanta, one of my closest clients gave me a very thoughtful book - Half Time by Bob Buford.
It is a must read for anyone contemplating what their second (or even third) act should look like. In short, the premise of the book focuses on moving from a life of success to a life of significance. I finished the book earlier this year and have had an opportunity to reflect on its ideas as I review my own Halftime Report.
This trip has been quite eye opening and therapeutic on so many levels for me. More than I ever imagined. I am learning things about my family - each one of them - while also gaining clarity for myself on what makes me tick. As I stare down the reality of a milestone birthday this summer, I can’t help but wonder and plan what my second half will look like and determine if I am taking the necessary steps to truly live a life of significance.
During this trip, I’ve witnessed all kinds of things from each of my clan from Nate (Race Car Brain with Bicycle Brakes) to Will (Justice Seeker / Village Elder ) to Beth (My Dreamer and my Reality Checker). Some very important truths have been revealed as we traveled together as a family and as we each gained new perspectives from our destinations and the people whom we met along the way.
Truth #1 - This is a unique season for us that will never be replicated in the same way.
We had our share of ups and downs along the way with several unplanned detours that ultimately rerouted much of our original itinerary. That said, I am still convinced that this will always be a special year in our family as we remember how we lived in 300 square feet for a year.
One of the games we play in our house is “would you rather..” where one of us presents two scenarios (of relatively equal value) and the person who gets the question has to choose a position or preference. Sometimes, these are serious questions and sometimes, we have more lighthearted or even silly choices. I love getting to see these sides of my family (especially in this season of life) and this game sure gets some thought provoking and often funny conversations going at our house. I know we will play this game for many years, and I am excited to see how the answers change from Will and Nate’s perspectives over time. Maybe Beth and I will change a little too...😀
My prayer here is that the memories and experiences we went through together on this adventure will be ones we reminisce about for decades to come.
Truth #2 - Low and Slow is the Way to go ….most of the time.
Having a spirited kindergartener and now a rising high schooler has taught me the importance of stepping back, doing my best to understand my boys and slowing down the pace of non-life threatening decisions and choices. I’m a huge fan of crock pot cooking and Big Green Egg experimentation - two methods that require “low and slow” preparation with the promise and delivery of outstanding results. Same holds true with my crew if I can just remember to dial it down with them and let time and love take care of the rest.
Truth #3 - Relationships (new and old) matter more than anything else.
We’ve met some amazing people along the journey from RV park owners to fellow wanderers to kids of locals and RV families on the community playgrounds. Many of these people, essentially strangers, extended great hospitality and kindness to us during our various stops. We especially had the blessing of spending one week with each set of our parents during the course of our trip (they flew out to visit us) and were also able to connect with several family members and friends we know along the way. We had our closest friends from Atlanta fly out to Monterey CA to visit with us as well. Very special.
My desire is that this experience helps us take the spirit of kindness and hospitality further and “pay it forward” at home as we meet new people and as we strengthen our existing relationships.
Truth #4- Comfort Zones are Safe, Growth Zones are Life Changing.
Before leaving on this trip, our life was quite safe and comfortable. We were blessed with solid finances, a reliable home and steady income to maintain a very comfortable life. Our friends and family were fairly close by which made our relationships also quite secure and comfortable. Our life was rather predictable and routine. Perhaps too comfortable...
After embracing this wonderful, crazy and nomadic lifestyle for a year, I’ve realized that life transformation happens outside of comfort zones and most often, in growth zones. Learning new skills , trying new foods, meeting new people and experiencing new places all created opportunities for learning and personal growth. I never thought that I would ever quit a great job, drive a large pickup, and tow a 40 foot house behind it every week across the country.
When I look back at my life and review the highlight films of where I took risks and played outside of my comfort zone, that’s when I experienced the greatest personal growth. My prayer here is that I will always have a healthy appetite for risk taking and a fearless spirit to spend more time in my growth zone - especially in my faith, my family, my work and my charitable giving
Truth #5 - America is truly a magnificent country full of extraordinary beauty in various forms - oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, hills, cliffs, canyons and much much more.
There’s no way this beauty is coincidental or even formed by accident. I am humbled by God’s handiwork in ALL of it, right down to the tiniest of animals and their unique features to the massive rock formations and canyons of the West. We have been simply astounded by the variation, intricacy and range of His work. Having traveled to many countries in the world in my earlier life, I now have a much deeper appreciation for America and its endless beauty. We’ve kept some of our original bucket list destinations on the list to visit again in the future....too much to see (maybe we’ll finish the list during Nate’s gap year!).
Truth #6- Work will always be there when I am ready to re-engage in my next chapter.
The marketplace is a wonderful place with plenty of opportunities of all shapes and sizes. Stepping away for a year+ from an exciting and fast-paced corporate career helped me to think clearly with great discernment about my next move professionally. I am honored and pleased to have a wonderful network of colleagues, clients and friends who have been nothing short of encouraging and supportive during this year of reflection. While I do look forward to accelerating my contributions in the marketplace (still undecided on what and how), I am confident that my perspective will be different and my career will forever be shaped by the value of this year long adventure.
Truth #7 - Quality AND quantity time with family matters.
This adventure has allowed me to have both in large portions. People joked with me before we left on our journey by saying things like “I hope you don’t mind being around your family that much” or “Hopefully you all won’t drive each other crazy being in such close quarters.” The truth is - I loved being around my family that much and there were plenty of days where we all drove each other crazy being in such close range. That’s life on the road...I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I’ve always enjoyed road travel days (before and during this trip) when I can catch up on life with Beth while the boys are listening to their audio books (while we also enjoyed 70s and 80s tunes alongside The Message on our satellite radio). This is valuable time for the two of us- always.
Having breakfast almost exclusively with Nate every day of this journey (we’re the early risers), playing games or telling jokes with Will at night or just making time for family fun have been huge blessings and ones that I will always cherish even more than the places and sites we visited.
So why all of this rambling on about our adventure? Simple...I want to make sure that my Half Time journey reflects what I’ve learned in these Seven Truths. I am committed to moving from Success to Significance in my second half and look forward to seeing what the Lord has planned for me and my family.
Utah was great, but we soon were on to something new. From Salt Lake City, we traveled to the town of West Yellowstone. We spent a little over a week here. If you haven’t been to Yellowstone Nat’l Park, I’ll fill you in on what it’s known for. Yellowstone has 60% of the world’s hot water geysers. You’ve likely seen pictures of, or heard of the geyser Old Faithful. Well, Old Faithful’s in Yellowstone. Also, Yellowstone is known for its wildlife population. It’d be hard to go to Yellowstone without seeing either buffalo, bears, wolves, or some other hard-to-find animal.
We actually pulled into our Yellowstone campground only to leave the RV there for a few days while we rented a small condo in Jackson, Wyoming, a mere 2 hours away. We went to tour Grand Teton National Park. I’d like to mention that the condo was MASSIVE! I had an entire room to myself (as you know, in the RV I have a small, maybe 20 sq. ft. loft), we had a living area with square footage the size of the RV’s, and 3 bathrooms!
Anyways, back to Jackson. Jackson is a very touristy town, and has many shops, restaurants and attractions. We enjoyed some time at Snow King Mountain, which is a sort of amusement park. I say amusement park, but before you get all excited, there weren’t that many things to do. However, we rode their ski lift up to an “alpine slide”, and rode a mountain coaster down the hillside. Snow King Mountain was a lot of fun for sure.
Also while in Jackson, we attended a rodeo. I did a Stories Behind the Pictures post on this one, and it deserves to be in 2 of our posts. We really enjoyed watching the cowboys get bucked off horses and bulls, roping young calves, and navigating their horses around barrels. It was one of those shows that you can't take your eyes off of the contestants. We were very pleased with the Jackson Hole Rodeo, and would definitely recommend it if you are staying in Jackson.
Grand Teton National Park is tiny compared to Yellowstone. However the hike we did, called “String Lake”, was totally worth it, and we enjoyed views of a crystal clear lake (you could see the bottom of it!), the 3 Tetons, and an amazing variety of landscape.
After spending a couple of days in Jackson, we returned to our Yellowstone campground. Yellowstone is split into 7 areas that each have unique landscape. I’ll list them here with a short description, then later I’ll go into more detail. For now, you need to get a general idea of the layout of the park. The travel time between adjacent areas is between 25-45 minutes.
1. Old Faithful: Old Faithful is the site of the famous geyser, along with a few other lesser known geysers. It’s here that you can visit one of the parks larger visitor centers and learn about geysers, Yellowstone Nat’l Park in general, and get some souvenirs at the gift shop. Old Faithful is actually a small town, so they have restaurants, a clinic, hotel, campground, etc.
2. Mammoth Hot Springs: Mammoth Hot Springs is an area that we actually didn’t spend much time in. We (my dad and I) visited Mammoth Hot Springs’ Albright Visitor Center to inquire about a hike, but other than that we didn’t do much in this area. Mammoth Hot Springs is also like a little town, with accommodations and dining options.
3. Canyon Village: Canyon Village is situated right next to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the reason that Yellowstone Nat’l Park got its name. The canyon walls are a pale yellow color, and its definitely worth seeing. Canyon Village has hotels, restaurants, a visitor center, etc.
4: West Thumb: West Thumb is an area of Yellowstone Lake with a good boardwalk to check out steaming hot springs, and is a great place to start off your trip if you are entering from the south.
5: Tower/Roosevelt: Tower/Roosevelt is the one area in the listed 7 that we actually didn’t visit. I know that it has gas, restaurants, lodging and activities, but not much else. This was one of the farthest areas away from our RV park.
6: Norris: Norris doesn’t have accommodations, and is one of the smaller areas on the list. It’s a fairly good “central point” if you want to visit all of the areas of Yellowstone.
7: Madison: Madison served as our sort of “gateway” into Yellowstone as it is close to the West entrance. It’s probably the smallest area on the list, and has an “information station” and a campground.
I’ll recount our Yellowstone experience in this order: Viewpoints, hikes, wildlife, and other interesting things to note. However, due to the massive amount of information that we have, I’ve split all of our happenings into 2 blog posts. The second will come out next week.
VIEWPOINTS: Yellowstone roads have a ton of pullouts, and we took many of them. We saw Gibbon Falls, a massive cascading waterfall, which was very incredible and unique. We really enjoyed seeing, from multiple viewpoints, the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. The Lower Falls, the taller of the two, can be seen from both sides of Yellowstone Canyon (which the river runs through), and is absolutely stunning from both sides. Another pullout that we found interesting was one that led you straight to the brink of a (at least) 40 foot waterfall. This was amazing, since you could literally stand on the edge of a cliff and look down (with no railing) and see the water hitting the bottom below you. There were many viewpoints, but I think that I’ve pointed out the ones that stuck out to me the most. I’ll mention that there were a lot more that were interesting, but that I’ll mention in the “wildlife” section in a minute.
HIKES: I started off the “viewpoints” section by say that Yellowstone has a ton of pullouts. Did I also mention that it has hundreds of trails? It has over 1,100 miles of trails over a 3,472 square mile area. Wow. We took many hikes, and I’ll skim over them here:
Bensen Peak: My dad and I hiked this 4.5 mile trail that leads you up very steep switchbacks with an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet to get to the top of a mountain that provides you with amazing views of the surrounding countryside. We took a while going up this trail, since there is no flat part on any of it, but when we got to the last 100 or so yards, we ended up finding a massive snow patch leading up to the finish. This snow patch wasn’t just any snow patch, however. It was on a 45+ degree slant. And climbing up it was one of the best experiences of my life. It took us about 10 minutes to scale it since it involved a lot of “path finding”. We dug our walking sticks into the snow, and found that the snow was over 2 feet deep!
Artist Paint Pots: I went to this trail with my mom, and we really enjoyed it. Artist Paint Pots, near Norris, takes you to a very strange, unearthly site of boiling hot goop. Ok, maybe not goop. The Paint Pots are made up of extremely acidic mud and are very, very hot. It’s not a difficult, nor long trail to get to them, although climbing a few (maybe 20) fairly rugged stairs to get to the top is necessary. It’s definitely one that I’d recommend.
Fairy Falls: This (approx.) 1 mile hike took you to an amazing view of the Grand Prismatic Springs, which is near Old Faithful. Grand Prismatic Springs is an extremely colorful hot spring, and you can’t see many of the colors from the official “Grand Prismatic” pullout. But hiking Fairy Falls gives you an incredible view of it. We (my mom and I) had a fun time on this one, however it’s definitely not for people who would consider themselves “seriously out of shape”. It requires climbing a pretty steep hill that’s around 75 yards long, and will really take the breath out of you.
So you may have been wondering why, on the hikes, I mentioned that “me and my mom” or “me and my dad” did “this” or “that” hike. I’ll clear that up for you. Nate is younger, and doesn’t do very well on lots of hikes. So we decided to leave him with one of my parents on some of the days that we were in Yellowstone, while the other went with me to explore the park. It just so happens that most of the hikes that we did in there were not with him.
Well, now you know a lot about what we did in Yellowstone. But what we have in store for the next post is also phenomenal, so stay tuned!
Will is 14, and enjoys running track, writing,