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Month: June 2018

Day 24 – Mt. Rushmore to the Badlands

Day 24 – Mt. Rushmore to the Badlands

I purposefully chose The Powder House Lodge in Keystone, South Dakota because it was a 10-minute drive away from Mt. Rushmore.

On the way to the hotel yesterday, we had to call and let them know we’d be arriving after office hours.

They left the keys on the office door in an envelope with our name on it.  This was certainly not a chain hotel.

It was raining when we arrived and raining when we woke up this morning.

A dense fog, like a thick, white blanket, had settled into the area.  It was a chilly 50 degrees.

This might be the first day that our plans would change due to weather.


We quickly got in the car and headed in the direction of Mt. Rushmore.  As we drove, I read some history of the building of Mt. Rushmore to the family.  It took 14 years (1927-1941), 400 men and women (paid $8 an hour), and loads of jackhammers and dynamite to sculpt the four presidential faces (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) into the granite rock face.  In the building of the monument, there was not one fatality.  Extraordinary.

My plan was a quick visit and some quick family pictures at Mt. Rushmore before we headed on to the Badlands National Park.

As we arrived at the parking lot of Mt. Rushmore, we prepared to pay the $10 parking fee even though the weather wasn’t good.  The young lady taking the parking fees told us immediately that the fog was completely obscuring the faces in the granite.

“Do you still want to pay to park,” she asked?

Ohhhh…..that’s disappointing.  Would we ever get to South Dakota again?  All I wanted was a quick picture but…it wasn’t the Lord’s plan for us that day.  Our whole trip thus far has been marked by perfect weather – how could we complain when we missed one stop three weeks into the trip?

We turned around and headed on to find food and The Badlands (cue ominous music).

Our next official stop would be Roberts Prairie Dog Town – a large, natural habitat for prairie dogs in the Badlands that was highly recommended by other visitors.  As we drove nearer, the flatlands turned into green, rolling hills.  It was only drizzling now.


We passed by several cattle ranches.

We stopped once to get a photo and the cattle seemed to pose in unison.

It’s a wonderful gift to a photographer when your subjects cooperate.







About two miles from Roberts Prairie Dog Town, the paved road turned into dirt.  We were on Sage Creek Rim Road in the northern most part of Badlands National Park.  The ruts in the dirt made for a very bumpy ride.

As we came over the hill, we saw a huge herd of bison in the roadway.

Oh my, are we in the right place?  Could we continue on this road without asking for trouble?

One child (to remain unnamed) was convinced that these were cattle.  We had a heated discussion about the fact that we know what buffalo look like.  We’d seen plenty of them in Yellowstone.  These were buffalo.

As we decided whether to proceed, a truck was slowly approaching us on the other side of the dirt road.

The truck’s emblem read:  Blackhills Patrol.

The truck driver was a very nice man – super helpful.  We asked him what these animals were.  He confirmed that they were buffalo!  Mmmmhmmm…

He told us that the male buffalo had sent the females and babies on ahead of them.  The males were still behind us – watching us.  The females and babies made up the large herd in our way on the road.  He recommended just driving slowly through them.  He said they would move.

He said, “Just beware if one turns toward you and drops his head – he might charge.  Just don’t move and slowly back out of there.”

We asked about Roberts Prairie Dog Town and he told us that we’d find the left hand turn to it just ahead.  We followed the mommas and babies slowly up the hill.

At the top of the hill, we saw the road on the left side that led to the prairie dog habitat.  It was closed – with rope and a sign blocking it.


So we followed the main road to the right only to find another large herd of buffalo.

They were all staring at us.

And there were some really big ones.

I was having flashbacks of the fear I felt in the tent in Yellowstone.

We just sat in our car observing the bison – trying not to upset them and waiting to see if they would move.






One very large buffalo was actually rubbing his belly on a wood post.  We got a kick out of that.


Finally, the two “gatekeepers” of the road moved out of the way and let us proceed.  Shortly after, our GPS was trying to reroute us but it was just as confused as we were.  I think we’re lost.

We stopped to look at our maps and try to figure out if there was another way to see the prairie dogs.


At that point, Nate got out of the car to stretch.

He wanted to kick the soccer ball around while we tried to figure out which way to go.

He saw a small hill and thought what most boys would think:  that looks like a good thing to climb!







He took one step onto the hill and his shoe got stuck in the red mud.

We had to throw some paper towels out the window for him to get cleaned up before we let him back in the van.





After all that mess of getting around the buffalo, we had to turn around.  Thankfully, as we came around the corner, the buffalo were all out of the road.  We quickly got back to the paved roads and found our way to the Pinnacles Entrance to the park.

At the guard gate, we showed our 4th grade pass (of course) and the attendant told us two things we already learned the hard way – Roberts Prairie Dog Town is closed and hiking isn’t advisable in the rain because you’ll sink into the mud.  Yes!


At our first overlook (Pinnacles Overlook) just inside the park, we saw a large group of bighorn sheep females and their babies.  Nate did his 2nd grade animal report on bighorn sheep.  Even though he’s a rising 7th grader, he really wanted to see the star of his report up close.  He was so excited.




Just to our left, we saw a mamma and her baby perched atop the steep hill.

How in the world did they get up there?












It’s so amazing how God has created these animals to live in what people named the Badlands for its harsh terrain and lack of food/water supply.






As we continued along Badlands Loop Road, we saw prairie dog mounds on either side.  We were happy when one peaked his head out to say hello.

Then I found some beautiful grass to take a picture of.  The kids made fun of me for taking pictures of the grass.  But look how pretty it is.

“We have grass at home, mom!”

“No, we only have weeds.”

“This is special grass – a part of Buffalo Gap National Grassland.”




Later that day, I heard Seth say, “Oh Luke, a trashcan.  We don’t have those at home.  Mom, you should take a picture of the trashcan.”

Funny, real funny!


The Badlands are a real mix of interesting topography – hard clay buttes surrounded by beautiful grasslands.

The variations in the clay make for beautiful patterns in the peaks.

Doesn’t this one look like a golfing green in the middle?  I know that I couldn’t hit the green on this hole.


As we were leaving the park, we saw some male bighorn sheep in the parking lot.  Nate was even more excited to see a male, with his large horns, so close.  Thank you, Lord!

From the Northeast Entrance of Badlands National Park, we headed east on I-90 to Iowa.  Our plan was to make it to Des Moines for a hotel.  I knew when I planned this trip that the two longest days of driving would be today and tomorrow when we traveled from Iowa to Ohio.  But overall, the driving hasn’t felt overwhelming.  Today’s drive and tomorrow’s drive would test our resilience by the long hours and by the fact that we would lose one hour each day when changing time zones.

We’re almost to the end.  God has been so good in helping us make it this far and allowing us to see so much of his creation.  Thank you, Lord.

Day 23 – Yellowstone to South Dakota

Day 23 – Yellowstone to South Dakota

At 3 a.m., I woke up to rain drops slowly hitting the tent.  Pretty quickly, the drops came faster and faster, turning into a pouring rain.

It was cold too – a low of 38 degrees was predicted.  But I had jeans and sweatpants on my lower half, four layers on my upper half, and a winter hat.  I was comfortable.

I fell back asleep in my sleeping bag until Luke and Nate woke us up suddenly at 4 a.m.  It was still pouring.

“Mom and Dad, there’s an animal outside our tent!” – they screamed in a whisper.

Me – “What?!?    Get in the middle of tent!”

We had to work hard to get Emma Grace up – but once she heard the noises, she got to the middle of the tent very quickly.

The noises – they sounded like snorts or growls at the backside of our tent.

Maybe it’s just a friendly bison, I thought.  We’re gonna be fine.

Then more snorts…

Jimmy thunderously clapped four times to try to scare off whatever was outside the tent.

More snorts…

More loud claps.

Admittedly, I was scared.  My heart was racing and I was shivering all at the same time.

The lady that checked us into the campground came to mind.  She told us that there had been a bear in the camp earlier in the week.  Could we be experiencing the next bear sighting in camp?

My imagination can run wild in these types of situations.  I could envision a grizzly bear outside our tent, with his large claw poised to rip through the fabric.

As we huddled together, I prayed – asking the Lord to protect our family.  We can’t all die in Yellowstone.

We were all freaking out!  Here’s some of the famous quotes:

“They’re surrounding us!”

“Why in the world did we camp at Yellowstone?  There’s too many animals here.”

“Where’s my knife?”

“Can we get in the van?”

Then we heard what sounded like someone (or something) knocking over a table – metal clanged to the ground.

Oh boy – keep praying!

As we prayed, the tent was being compromised by the heavy rain.  Rain drops were slowly hitting our pillows and sleeping bags.

Eventually, the noises slowed down and then stopped.

We unzippered a very small corner of the tent door to see outside.  We didn’t see any animals.

I only saw our silver van shimmering in the rain and the moonlight.  It was the only safe zone in sight.  It looked so good.

I was dreaming of making a dash for the van and getting inside to safety.

But that 20 feet or so seemed like miles.  How would we all get there in time?

Then Nate yelled in a whisper, “It’s a ranger, he’s coming with his light!”

“He’s coming to save us!”

It was an old man coming back from the bathroom with a lantern.

It was 4:55 a.m. and we were convinced that the animals (whatever they were) were gone.

All of sudden, another loud animal-like noise.

That’s weird!

It sounds like water hitting the tarp under the tent.

Jimmy then hit the roof of the tent to dislodge some collected rain and sure enough, a loud noise that sounded like snorting/growling occurred.

It was the rain falling on the tent the whole time.

The kids were not convinced.

At this point, the sun was beginning to rise and birds were beginning their morning calls.

I suggested that we all go back to bed – even if our beds were soggy.

Nate wouldn’t have any of it.  He decided to stay up to keep watch for the family.

Jimmy was joking about how silly we must have looked to God from His vantage point.  He must have been laughing at us as He looked down on our tent and saw no animals – only figments of our imaginations.

Again, Emma Grace was convinced that there was at least a wolf outside the tent.

Either way, the $26 I spent for the campsite was the best money we spent all trip.  The kids will have many tales (even if they are tall tales) to tell their kids someday.  Looking back, it was a great family memory, even if it was scary.

Who knew camping could be so entertaining and frightening?

As we slept, Luke and Emma Grace got into the van to sleep.

At 6:35 a.m., the van alarm screamed into the quiet campground and I bolted up in the tent.

“Jimmy, where are the keys?”

Thankfully, he had the keys in his hand as he slept and could turn off the alarm pretty quickly.

Leave it to the Stoppers to wake up the whole place!  Oh boy!

By the time of the van alarm wake-up call, we had a small version of Lake Yellowstone at the base of our tent.  It was treacherous trying to pack as thunder, lightning, and fits and starts of rain came through.

By the time we got back on the roads in Yellowstone, the rain had slowed to a chilly, light mist.

Our first recommendation for wildlife viewing was Hayden Valley.  Almost as soon as we turned in the valley, we saw male elk.

Along the way, we saw huge herds of buffalo as well as some right next to the road.

Did I mention that it was Father’s Day?  I had totally forgotten because the days tend to run together when you’re on vacation.  Jimmy loved getting to see all the animals in Yellowstone – a sweet Father’s Day gift with his family.

We also walked down the “Brink of Lower Falls” trail to see the 308 foot waterfall.  The .4 mile trail descends quickly to the viewing area.  You get a great view of the powerful, rushing water descending into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  Amazing!


As we headed on, we found a parking lot where we could touch the snow.  We got out the two sleds we’d carried around the country and let Jimmy, Nate, and Seth sled down the hill.  Sledding in June…


Then we hit a back-up…

a black bear in the road.  Her cub was up in the trees.

Next we drove through Lamar Valley – another good area to see wildlife.

We saw thousands more buffalo.

We were hoping to see a grizzly bear along the river but we were not successful.




But we did get to see another black bear with her three cubs.

Then we saw a buffalo momma and her calf.  Apparently, June is the time to see females and their babies.

We also saw a groundhog…

and a pronghorn…

and a fox.

We had a banner day of wildlife.  Thank you, Lord.

From there, we exited Yellowstone at the northeast entrance and headed toward South Dakota.

Once again, we had to drive through the mountains, this time in NE Wyoming.  The visibility was about 30 feet in front of us because of thick fog.  We were thankful to drive into Cody, WY and get some lunch.

About an hour past Cody, we saw a McDonald’s in Buffalo, Wyoming (see a theme?).  I decided to stop for a bathroom break and Jimmy treated himself to a Father’s Day dessert.

I got back in the driver’s seat and as Jimmy was getting back in the passenger seat, an obviously upset woman walked in front of our van.  Jimmy asked her if she was okay.

From my vantage point, I could see that she had bruises all over her face and neck.  The rest of her body was covered up.  She told Jimmy that she had been beaten by her boyfriend and she was running away to her mom’s house.

I got out of the car to join Jimmy in the conversation.  This lady’s name was Leslie.

She looked at me with a strange look on her face.

She said, “I know you.”

Me – “No, I don’t think so.  I’ve never met you before.”

Leslie:  “No, you’re the lady who helped me this morning.  You let me use your cell phone.  The blond hair, your height…I know you.  Don’t you remember?”

All I can say is that I think it was one of God’s small graces – I looked familiar to her so I immediately had favor in her eyes.

We explained to her that we had prayed before our trip for God to bring people into our path that He wanted us to minister to.  It was not an accident that we ran into her.  God was pursuing her.

We talked to Leslie about what true love is.  It’s not being hit by someone who says he loves you.  It’s the pure love of God.  She cried.  She told us that she kept looking over her shoulder, afraid that he was following her.

Jimmy shared the gospel and she said that she’d been saved about nine months ago in Portland, Oregon.  She confessed that she wasn’t following God.

Leslie was on her way to her mom’s house in South Dakota.  She’d taken a bus to that point and was going to catch the next bus in the morning.

We asked her where she was staying.  She told us that she was going to hang out in the gas station across the parking lot until they closed and then just sleep outside.

At that moment, I looked up and saw a Super 8 motel across the street.

We asked Leslie if we could put her up in the motel for the night.  She agreed after a little convincing.

Once we cleaned out a spot in the van, we were able to drive her over to the motel and get her a room.

While Jimmy went in to get a room, the kids and I talked more with Leslie.  She has a 19 year-old son.  The kids were very welcoming to this lady that we just met.

When Jimmy returned, we all stood outside the van holding hands in a circle and prayed for Leslie.  The prayers the kids offered up to the Lord were a sweet chorus to Jimmy and me.  Even the youngest, Seth, prayed in such a tender yet biblical way for this broken woman.

We walked Leslie to her room (so she’d feel safe), showed her the complete Bible the receptionist said she could keep (normally they don’t let guests take them), and marked a few verses/chapters for her to read.  We had already encouraged her to find a Bible-believing church in South Dakota and go straight to the pastor for help.  We implored her to let God’s people, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word minister to her and help her to walk with God.

Her boyfriend smashed her phone so I couldn’t get her number.  We begged her not to go back to him – not to believe his lies.

As I thought about her situation, it reminded me of the new song, “Fear is a Liar” by Zach Williams.

Here’s a part of the song:

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough
Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar
When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change
Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

Please pray for Leslie, that she won’t be sucked back into this hateful relationship with her boyfriend and that she would seek’s God help to walk a new path with Him.  We know that leaving an abusive relationship is nearly impossible – but God is about the impossible.  In our line of work, we get the privilege of seeing Him do the impossible on a regular basis.

From there, we traveled on to Keystone, South Dakota where we’d spend the night.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing Leslie into our lives.  We ask that you give her strength to seek you and to see that you love to welcome the weary and burdened – Matthew 11: 28-30.

Day 22 – Yellowstone National Park

Day 22 – Yellowstone National Park

We woke up today in Rexburg, Idaho at 8:55 a.m.  The hotel breakfast ended at 9 a.m. Jimmy and I used our hands to smooth out our hair and hurried to the hotel lobby.  The kids followed us a few minutes later.  The young lady in charge of breakfast was cleaning up and putting everything away.  When we explained that we’d gotten in last night at 3 a.m., she gladly turned the waffle makers back on and agreed to extend breakfast a few minutes.  Thank you, Lord!

Next, we were headed to Yellowstone National Park – Emma Grace’s choice for the trip.  She was in search of the Grand Prismatic Spring (or as Jimmy named it – the Grand Pragmatic Springer – him and names!).  We still had a two-hour drive to the West Entrance of the park.  Normally, I would have tried to get the family up earlier to get to the park but honestly, we all needed the sleep!

When we stepped outside the hotel, planes were flying just overhead performing tricks for the families lined up in the hotel parking lot with foldable chairs.  We found out it was the Legacy Flight Museum air show.  The sunny blue skies were a great backdrop to the soaring planes.  As the daughter of an Air Force officer, it brought back good memories of weekends spent at air shows in my childhood.

After leaving the hotel, we found a local Wal-Mart Supercenter where we could stock up on food supplies.  I also tried to find Nate a sweatshirt at Wal-Mart but apparently, 50 degrees is summer in these parts of Idaho so they don’t sell sweatshirts this time of year.

On the way to Yellowstone, we passed thousands of fields of farmland with the mountain peaks as a backdrop.


Slowly, the farmland turned into forest (Targhee National Forest) as we neared the park.  Also, the streams next to road were teaming with fly fisherman and for their sakes, hopefully trout.  Close to the west entrance, we saw the sign welcoming us to Montana.

Yellowstone, the first National Park of the U.S., is mostly in Wyoming but parts of it stretch into Montana and Idaho.

Wyoming, Montana, Idaho – as an East Coast girl, these are states that I never dreamed of visiting.  But I’m here and ready with my camera to document all of it.

Yellowstone sits on the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano in North America.  The heat of the Earth’s core along with a huge chamber of magna produce over 10,000 geothermal features, including 300 geysers in Yellowstone National Park.  It’s an active volcano but supposedly it hasn’t erupted in 640,000 years.  As a Young-Earth proponent of creation, I wasn’t worried about witnessing an eruption.

As we entered the park, we followed the road along the Madison River.  Again, fly fisherman littered the banks and river.  At one point, we stopped at a parking lot to talk to a fisherman.  We met a man named Stan and he told us he’d been fishing at Yellowstone all week and had not caught ONE fish.  Eeekkkk!

In Yellowstone, they only allow fishing with flies (lures that are artificial bugs).  I’m sure that fishing at Yellowstone is a dream come true for avid fly fisherman but they really make it hard for them to catch anything.  The boys showed Stan the pictures of the fish they caught in Tahoe.  Stan had some colorful language when he saw the colorful rainbow trout.  Seeing the pictures seemed to give Stan some energy to keep fishing – good deed done for the day.  😉

Driving around the park, there are holes everywhere with steam floating up into the sky.  These are all geothermal features.

We decided that we wanted to head south from the Madison Campground (where we’d be sleeping that night) first in order to see the Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful.  At 1:14 p.m., we encountered very slow-moving traffic.

We waited and waited… We considered turning around because I thought it was just Saturday traffic at a National Park.  Maybe we could come this way early in the morning tomorrow?  Everyone else wanted to push through the traffic.

At one point, we wanted one of the kids to get out in the traffic and get lunchmeat out of the cooler so we could start making sandwiches.  The kids had already heard some stories about the wildlife we might encounter at Yellowstone.  No one wanted to get out.

Finally, Luke agreed and said, “I don’t mind if I’m lunchmeat.”  Funny!

At 2:23, we saw the reason for the long delay – buffalo.  Stan (the fisherman) had told us to beware of the “buffalo jams” – back-ups due to buffalo sightings.  Sure enough, we were in one hour and nine minutes of traffic for buffalo.  Apparently, they are the rockstars of Yellowstone.

Finally, we arrived at the Midway Geyser Basin, home of Grand Prismatic Spring.  We had to use the facilities before finding the Spring.  One lady in line (about my age and American) asked me what I thought of the strange signs in the restrooms.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  Then, she said, “I guess a lot of international people must stand on the toilets.”

Here’s the sign she was referring to:


Very interesting!  I would see this sign in every bathroom at Yellowstone.

It’s been surprising to see how many people from other countries visit our National Parks.

We heard so many different languages – it seemed that English-speaking people were in the minority in the parks.






After the bathroom break, we made our way to the boardwalk that surrounds Grand Prismatic Spring.  Around it are several other lesser-known springs that still boast the beautiful blue-green water.

It was a chilly day – around 50 degrees as a high.  So as a cold-blooded person, I loved walking through the spring’s steam.  It wasn’t good for my hair but it sure did warm me up – albeit momentarily.  As soon as I felt the warm air, the wind would blow the steam by and a cold, damp pocket of air would slam into me.  Ooooooohhhhh!

One lady that passed was explaining to her kids, “This is what it feels like when I have a facial.”  Yes!!

Here’s the view of Grand Prismatic Spring from the boardwalk:

This is a not an edited picture.  I love the contrast of the bright, blue sky against the orange color of the bacteria layers around the spring.

Next, we drove a little farther down the road to find the entrance to the Fairy Falls Trail.  We hiked up about 20 minutes to get this view of Grand Prismatic Spring:

From there, we drove further south to try to see the Old Faithful geyser erupt.  We got to the viewing area of Old Faithful at 4:15 p.m.  The area was packed with visitors.  We had no idea what the projected eruption time was.  Another visitor told us – 4:20 p.m.  The next projected Old Faithful eruption – 6:55 p.m.  Perfect timing – almost like we’d planned it.

Did I mention that the weather forecast for the whole day at Yellowstone was rain?  Thank you, Lord.

After Old Faithful, we waited in line at the Visitor’s Center to ask a ranger about the best places to see in the park tomorrow.  Jimmy had his heart set on seeing more wildlife.  The ranger gave us recommendations for the best wildlife viewing areas that we could visit tomorrow morning.

From there, I told the family that even though I had something to cook for dinner at our campground, I’d prefer to just find an inexpensive place to eat at the park.  Less mess, less clean-up – less chance of attracting bears.

We quickly found the Geyser grill.  On the overhead menu, they advertised that they only used organic or local beef sources.  This should be good – and it’s pretty inexpensive for a park.

It wasn’t good at all.  Emma Grace still talks about the “rubber burgers” we had there.  Those “fresh” burgers were cold.  Thankfully, we heated them in the microwave to make them edible.  Once other customers saw us heating up our burgers, there was a line at the microwave.  Hey, the fries were good – and the water.

Time to head to our campground.  This camping spot was another gift from the Lord.  I got it by checking the website over and over again for a cancellation.  When I found it, I was shaking because I was so excited to see a spot open up.  After multiple error messages, I called customer service and was able to book the site.

The only catch – we’d have to borrow a smaller tent to fit in this spot.  But hey, we’d get to camp at Yellowstone.  Little did I know then what type of memories we’d make that night.

We set up camp, got our fire started, and put our food in the van.

As opposed to Yosemite, at Yellowstone they allow you to put your coolers and/or food bins in your car.

The kids got creative in putting together their own form of bowling – with our ubiquitous Crystal Geyser water bottles, 2 Pringles cans duct-taped together, and a soccer ball.  At one point, we had a family tournament.  Let’s just say I carried my team but in the end, the champions were Luke and Seth’s team.

At dusk (around 9:30 p.m.!), Emma Grace and Jimmy headed to the very close restrooms (another advantage of the campsite that just happened to come open).  On the way, they saw a white wolf in the camp.

All of a sudden, I heard from husband shouting, “Wolf in the camp!  Wolf in the camp!”

He was trying to let the other campers know.  Good job, babe!

Thankfully, I was already in the tent and I assumed the boys got in the van.  Just then, I heard Seth at the tent door asking to come in.  What is he thinking?  I was flipping out – probably too much – but I didn’t want him getting bit by a wolf.  The kids like to re-enact this story.  I don’t think I was overreacting but according to them, I was very dramatic.

Let’s see who’s going to get dramatic tonight?

Thank you, Lord, for another special day in your magnificent creation!

Day 21 – Lake Tahoe to Idaho

Day 21 – Lake Tahoe to Idaho

The boys had set up their rods last night in preparation for an early morning fishing excursion.  As much as I wanted to go to watch the action, I decided to stay back at the hotel to get some rest.  Emma Grace had no desire to watch the action, she just wanted to sleep in.

Jimmy and the boys headed to Lake Baron, about 20 minutes from our hotel in South Lake Tahoe.

It was the spot where the Tahoe Sportfishing ladies had caught some big rainbow trout just a week before.

The boys were hoping for the same result.

They left the hotel at 6 a.m.

Notice the reflection of the trees in the water?

Jimmy is not a big picture taker.  If I can get him to take one picture, it’s a victory.

Today, he took my nice camera and he took a lot of pictures.  Yay!



Jimmy decided not to fish because he’d have to buy a fishing license.


The boys could fish without a license because they are all under 16.

About 9 a.m., I finally heard from the boys.

I had prayed for a good fishing day for them so I was anxious to hear how it went.

Luke caught a very small catfish.

Seth had a rainbow trout on the line but it snapped the line as he brought it closer to shore.


Nate had the big catch of the day – two 21” Rainbow trout.  He was ecstatic.  Jimmy said that the trout were so big (and wide) that he couldn’t get his hands all the way around them.

Nate found a stick in the trees that he used to mark the length of the trout.  He said that he was going to keep that stick “forever.”

The Tahoe Sportfishing ladies would be proud.  Fishilitus was held off for one more day.

(Side note: The boys showed many fisherman the rainbow trout that Nate caught in the days following.  Every one of these adult men couldn’t believe that a 12 year-old boy had caught such huge trout.  Many of these men had tried all their lives for one this big.  Thank you, Lord!)

From there, we packed up our belongings, pulled out Bart’s handwritten map to Cave Rock, and headed north into Nevaaada.  The map was a winner.  We easily navigated our way to Cave Rock.  However, when I saw the “rock” that Bart wanted us to climb up, I said outloud, “What was Bart thinking?”



Last night, Bart told us that it was a short hike from the parking lot to the rock and then an “easy scramble” to the top.

Instead, Cave Rock looked like it was barely balancing on the side of the mountain, with a good chance of toppling into Lake Tahoe.







Can you see Luke and Seth in the middle of the rocks?

I’m wasn’t sure if the dangerous scramble up the rock was worth the view.










When we got up to the rock, we saw some other people climbing down.  They confirmed that the climb wasn’t that bad.

I must say that the climb ended up being relatively easy as long as you took it slow and carefully selected each stone to climb on.

Thankfully, my kids are old enough now to have a reasonable respect for heights.  They didn’t get too close to the edge.





This is what Bart was thinking – a 180 degree view of the majestic Lake Tahoe:


Thanks Bart!

From there, we had a very long drive to Rexburg, Idaho.  I had only found the hotel the night before.  I’m getting to be an expert on finding inexpensive hotel rooms at the last minute.

The GPS said 9 hours and 58 minutes.  Yikes! It was already 1 p.m. so our ETA was 11 p.m. without stops and without the expected hour time change.  This was going to be a late night.

Our mileage rolled over 5000 in Fernley, Nevada just east of Reno.  Shortly after, we stopped at a rest stop.  In the women’s restroom, there were about 8-10 EMPTY toilet paper rolls in each stall.


I had just the solution – my stash of TP in the glove compartment.  It was a last-minute addition to the van before we left our driveway.  Today it would pay off.

I was beaming with pride as I was able to bless our family by my preparation.

Emma Grace asked me, “Why did you bring toilet paper?”

I could reply in truth, “For such a time as this!”

My Brownie and Girl Scout training had come in handy.  Way to go, me!



As we left the rest stop, intermittent drops of rain hit the windshield.  It was the first sign of rain we’d seen since Day 2 of our trip.  God had surely blessed our weather so far.  I drove and enjoyed the beautiful scenery – the wide plains with a view of shadow-draped mountain in the distance – while the Jimmy and the kids watched the movie “I Can Only Imagine” in the back seat.  We’ve never had a DVD player in our car until this trip but it sure has come in handy on some of our long drives.

The other thing that I haven’t mentioned about our trip is that we picked certain Christian books and booklets for each of our kids to read based on areas they needed to grow in.  Hey, isn’t that what you would expect from parents who are both biblical counselors?

We picked specific reading out for each kid and packed it into their individual backpacks.

The topics include:

-anger (Lou Priolo’s great book entitled – Keeping Your Cool:  A Teen’s Survival Guide)



-living for God (Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper)

-general discipleship

Each book or booklet directs the reader to examine the Scriptures surrounding the topic and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in pleasing the Lord in that area.  We’ve had some great discussions on our long drives about what the kids are reading.  Our son who is reading the book on anger blew us out of the water on one drive when he told us about the chapter he was reading about responding to your parents.  He said that the author listed many Bible verses from Proverbs.  This son (who will remain unnamed) said that he decided to underline all the verbs in the Proverbs verses.  He told us that he needed to change in this area – to put these verbs into action in his own life.

Wow – God!  Thank you for working in the lives of our kids, even with broken parents like us.

As the sun went down on our day, the rain got heavier and heavier.  We had to slow down to drive through the rain safely.  Heavy rain isn’t fun to navigate through, especially in unfamiliar territory.  But I silently thanked the Lord for our van when I saw motorcyclists traveling in the driving rain and a poor soul dragging a trailer with a mattress in it.

We arrived at our hotel at 3 a.m.  We were exhausted!  Like zombies, we trudged into our room and fell into bed.

Thank you, Lord, for protecting us again on another long drive.

Day 20 – Driving from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe

Day 20 – Driving from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe

I woke up in the tent at 6:45 a.m. to the smell of charcoal.  Someone was up early cooking breakfast – overachiever!  But I do love the smell of a charcoal fire.

Today, our goal was to make it to Lake Tahoe.  This is Seth’s pick for our trip.  He wanted to fish at Lake Tahoe.

Did I mention that Nate did get a chance to fish at Yosemite?  Fishing, not catching.

We didn’t let “fishilitus” set in.  What doctor would you take him to for that anyway?


But first, we had to get all the camping gear packed up and put back in the car top carrier.

We woke the kids and got started.  One son (the sleeper) wouldn’t budge so we just packed up the tent.  He’d have to go in the car top carrier.





On the way out of Yosemite, we promised the boys that we’d let them fish.  The problem was that we’d have to find our way out of the park before we could find a fishing spot.  We were trying to travel northeast out of the park.  We had no signal on our cell phones.  We asked bus drivers and other tourists to no avail.  Finally, we asked a road construction flagger at the park and he told us to head out on 120 and take it over Tioga pass to get on 395.  After a short fishing break (and a catnap for me in the car), we found our exit and headed out.

The drive out of Yosemite was my favorite of the whole trip.  The views of the trees, the mountains, the river, the snowcapped peaks, and the crystal clear lakes were magnificent.


First, we traveled up the mountain, having to pass through a tunnel or two.


The landscape was littered with stick-straight evergreen pine trees.


Among the living were many dead, blackened trees.


You could tell that at one point in time not long ago, a fire had raged through this beautiful part of the country.



As we descended the first mountain, we had gorgeous views of the snow-capped peaks on the horizon. At first, we saw Tenaya Lake in the distance.


Then we drove next to the lake and admired its crystal clear water.





More gorgeous views as we passed Tuolumme Meadows…

We were getting closer to the snow-capped peaks.  At the Tioga Pass gate, the sign said that the elevation there is 9945 feet.  At the peak, it was 63 degrees.  How is the snow not melting here?

At this point, it was around 10:30 or 11 a.m. and we’d had no breakfast.  The kids were starting to complain.

One child said from the back seat, “We need to stop and get some food.”

Me – “Hello, we’re 10,000 feet up.  Should I just drop you off to get some food?”

The above child, “No, I’m Gucci.”  (slang for no – I’m good.)

We got out our car stash of snacks to hold us over.

As we passed more water, we saw fly fisherman sitting in tubes and casting as they floated in the river.

Nate again, “I’m gonna die!”  (A reference to the fact that not getting a chance to fish when he sees water is life-threatening for him)

In the same breath, he had another idea, “Mom, since Dad froze his phone, his battery never dies.  Emma, you should freeze your phone.”

I wouldn’t recommend it.

Next, the kids tried to compare who was the dirtiest.  We had hiked through dirt the day before and then we camped outside.  I was reminded quickly how dirty you can get when camping.  I certainly had some dirt on my ankles and legs from hiking.  Emma Grace had hiked in sandals so her feet were black (and she slept next to me last night).

Nate, “I have so much dirt on my legs that my soccer sock outline is gone.”

Seth, “You should see my face.”  Oh boy!

We finally made it down out of the mountains and to Mono Lake – another gorgeous lake with beautiful blue water.

Soon after, we found a restaurant called Walker Burger.  It was one of the only places to stop but hey, the local sheriffs were there so it couldn’t be that bad.  It was good, not like the Tiger burgers we had in New Mexico.  So far, no burger has topped that one.

While planning our road trip, I had this crazy idea that we would go to Lake Tahoe, then drive through the night (12 hours with no stops) to Grand Tetons National Park.  What was I thinking?

Instead, we decided to find a hotel online as we drove to Lake Tahoe.  Thankfully, we found Bluelake Inn in South Lake Tahoe.  It was sufficient.

At the hotel, Emma Grace told us that she could not go out this dirty.  She “had to take a shower.”

Jimmy said, “This is a town of rich people, maybe someone will feel sorry for you and give us some money for dinner.”

I thought that was funny – Emma Grace didn’t.

One great thing about the hotel was that the shower water pressure reminded me of a power washer.  We all needed power washing at that point so it worked out.



After cleaning up a bit, we headed out with two goals – to ask the locals about fishing and to find dinner.

About a mile down the road from our hotel, we found Tahoe Sportfishing.  The party fishing boats (they take out a lot of fisherman at once) started at $145 per person – definitely not possible.  We then asked the two ladies that worked at Tahoe Sportfishing where the best spots were to fish from shore.  Let’s just say that they hooked the boys up.  They gave us a list of great fishing spots around Lake Tahoe and told the boys exactly what type of fishing gear they needed.  At one point, these two ladies broke into the fishing language that only Jimmy and the boys understand.  I was impressed (and so were the boys).

Jimmy, Luke, Nate, and Seth left there excited about the Tahoe fishing possibilities.  From there, we went to get the fishing gear they needed so they’d be ready to go early in the morning.

Then, we tried to find a place to eat dinner.  The first option was IHOP.  We were craving some breakfast for dinner – the only reason you go to IHOP at dinnertime.  When we arrived at IHOP, nobody was there.  We reasoned, “Who goes to IHOP in Lake Tahoe?”  Nobody – except the Stoppers.

We walked in and looked at the menu.  $10 for French toast!  $15 for pancakes with bacon!  Never mind!  If we were going to spend that much money, it wasn’t going to be at IHOP.

From there, we found this obscure restaurant just over the Nevada line in the Lakeside Inn called Latin Soul.  There were only a few people there too and the restaurant was adjacent to a casino.  We had to roll the dice because the troops were restless (and hungry).

The décor said “casino” – tables with a psychedelic metallic finish.

Oh…but the food…

Amazing!  The kids each shared a $19 huge plate of various Latin meats and sides.  It blew a $10 plate of IHOP French toast out of the water.

I had steak fajitas and honestly, I just enjoyed eating the steak by itself after all the hot dogs, burgers, and sandwiches we’d had.  Jimmy had this to-die-for chicken quesadilla with balsamic glaze on top.  It was the most packed and delicious quesadilla I’ve ever tried.

Bart, our waiter, was fantastic.  He was so personable!  He taught me how to say Nevada – with a short a, not a long a (Nevaaaada).  Then, he not only gave us his fishing recommendations but he also drew us a map to a great family picture spot on Lake Tahoe – Cave Rock.  By the end of dinner, Bart had shared his life story with us and told us about camps he started for Down Syndrome adults (Jimmy’s brother has Down Syndrome).  We were able to encourage him to make seeking the Lord a priority.   We really enjoyed our time at Latin Soul – the food and the people.

Time to get to bed so we can get up early for fishing at Lake Tahoe.

Thank you, Lord, for all the food you provided and the people we’ve gotten to meet along the way.

Day 19 – Yosemite National Park

Day 19 – Yosemite National Park

We woke up in Merced, CA, NOT at the Motel 6 thankfully.  Jimmy had misplaced his cell phone sometime on our drive from San Francisco last night.  This morning as he added more ice to the cooler, he found his phone – packed in the ice!  Oh boy – never a dull moment around here.  We’ll just have to thaw it out and see what happens.

We had a two-hour drive from Merced to Yosemite.  Jimmy and I quickly got lunch and snacks at the local Grocery Outlet – a great store with many organic and natural items at dirt cheap prices. All set for the day!

As we drive, we hear a lot of random statements from our kids.  One such statement came from Nate this morning:

“I hope my wife likes seafood.”  Ok, me too.

As we neared Yosemite, we passed through the small town of Mariposa.  Thankfully, we had gotten gas earlier today in Merced at $3.49 per gallon.  It was $5.45 per gallon in Mariposa.  Yikes Yosemite!

We were following the Merced River into Yosemite.  The head scratcher was the direction of the river.  It appeared that as we were driving downhill, the river was flowing towards us – uphill.  Must be that Yosemite magic.




As Nate watched the river outside his window, he declared, “I’m going to die of not being able to fish – of fishilitus.”

Nate again, “If I can’t fish here, I’m going to protest to the President.”  Good luck!


We then dropped the boys off at a bridge next to the Visitor’s Center so they could look for fish.


From there, our goal was to find a park ranger to ask about the best hiking trails for a one-day visit.  We got to the parking area closest to the Visitor’s Center but we couldn’t find a parking spot.  Jimmy let me out when I spotted a park information tent.

A very nice gentleman, Michael, gave me wonderful hiking recommendations.  We decided to hike the beginning of the Upper Yosemite Falls trail.  According to Michael, we would hike about one mile up to Columbia Rock and then twenty minutes more to a great view of the falls.  We had no interest in hiking the 3.5 miles with a 2,600 foot increase to the top.

We picked up the boys who saw a coyote, rainbow trout, and brown trout.  They were excited.  Then, we ate sandwiches at the van, packed our backpacks with snacks and water, and started up the trail.  Let’s just say that it was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  I think that’s a common trend on our hikes.

Just imagine walking (climbing) up stairs for one mile – that is literally what we did on this trail.  The first ¼  mile of the trail was in the shade of the trees.  The shade was nice but the climb was very strenuous.  The picture to the left shows one of the very few easy step areas.  Most of it was just rocks that you had to navigate around.  On this first section of the trail, the boys were continually finding shortcuts up the switchbacks.  At one point, I tried a shortcut.  It looked like an easy one.

Bad idea – my shoe slipped stepping over a fallen tree and my camera thudded against a rock and I scraped both legs up.  That was my last attempt at a shortcut.


The mile up to Columbia point – a big rock with a fabulous view of Half Dome – was grueling.  The last ¾ mile of the trail to the rock was in the sun.  I was huffing and puffing making my way up.  My husband reminded me that it’s only going to get harder the higher we climb.  Great!

As usual, we kept asking people how far the we had to go.   We had to have hiked a mile already!  Everyone had a different answer.  At one point, I told the kids how nice it would be if they put encouraging signs along the way like…

“You’ve got this!”

“You can do it!”

Almost as soon as I told the kids about my idea for signs, a nice man stopped us and told us that we were almost there.  He was all decked out with all the right hiking gear.  He was a small gift from the Lord to me – an encourager.

Sure enough, we rounded the corner and we saw the rock – Columbia Point.  We made it.  Time to rest, eat some snacks, drink some water, catch our breath, and enjoy the view of Half Dome – a gorgeous granite formation that many courageous (or crazy) people climb up.

We also had a friend accompany us up the trail – a Stellar’s jay.  He was much nicer (and prettier) than The Grand Canyon squirrels.

I don’t know how accurate it is but I just happened to check my Heart app on my Iphone.   By the time I reached Columbia Point, the app said that I’d climbed 54 floors.  It sure felt like 54 floors.

I was very tired but I didn’t want to stop before we got a good view of the falls.  Michael had told us that we needed to hike about 20 more minutes from Columbia Point before we’d get a good view of the falls from below.  I convinced Jimmy and Seth to come with me.   The other three would wait at Columbia Point until we came back.

As we kept hiking up, we rounded a corner, heard a trickle of water, and the scent of a natural herb garden hit me.  The smell was a sweet mixture of rosemary and mint.  I picked some to smell the sweet fragrance along the way.

Have you ever thought about God’s goodness in creating our sense of smell?  Smells have the power to move us in unique ways – both good and bad.  Some smells I’d rather never experience again but this sweet scent was a boost to my energy level.

Shortly after, we rounded the corner, heard the roar of the falls, and saw the prize before us.


Wow!  Striking!


Jimmy thanked me for pushing him to hike the rest of the way.  I’d need him to push me during other hikes.


We sat there for a while and just admired the view to the right of Half Dome and the view straight ahead of the Upper Yosemite Falls.  How nice it would have been to have an eno to set up in the trees and fall asleep to the sound of the falls?


Strangely enough, we had service there so we were able to call Emma Grace and encourage her and the boys to make the final climb to the falls.  We were also able to Facetime my brother and his family from the top of the trail.  It was fun to show them where we were.








On the way down, we got a special treat – a rattlesnake crossing the path.

Can you spot him on the lowest step?

We gave him the right of way.







Thankfully, it took us one hour and 45 minutes to get to the falls but only one hour to get down.  At that point, we were all ready to find our campsite.  While planning for the trip, I kept checking the sight for camping site cancellations at Yosemite.  One day when I checked, a site was available in the Upper Pines campground very close to the bathroom.  These sites are usually booked months in advance.  Yay God!

We found our campsite easily, bought some firewood from the Yosemite truck driving through the campground, and began to set up the tent.

Travel tip:  we set up all our camping equipment in our family room and dining room before our trip just to make sure nothing was broken.  I didn’t want to drag broken camping equipment all over the country.



At Yosemite, we were told that all of our food, drinks, toiletries, and anything with a strong smell (like wipes) had to go in the bear locker.  I was concerned that our cooler, our big bin, a smaller bin of food, and all the other “smellable” mess we kept in the trunk/van wasn’t going to fit.  It all fit perfectly in the locker.  Thank you, Lord.


We smoked out the campground a little when we tried to get our fire started.  Somehow, we always make a scene when we go anywhere.

Eventually, other campers let us borrow a hatchet to cut our firewood and lighter fluid to keep the fire going.  We cooked hot dogs, beans, and queso dip with chips in two cast iron pans over the fire.  I bought special heat gloves for cast iron off Amazon that really came in handy when taking the pans off the fire.

Dinner hit the spot.

I was exhausted so I retired to the tent a little earlier to read my book before falling asleep.  About an hour later, the rest of the family came to bed.  I was out of it so I didn’t notice (until the middle of the night) that Jimmy, Emma Grace, and I were all on one queen air mattress.



Not a good idea.  I tossed and turned all night, trying to find a little space for myself.  Note to self: next time, don’t put three adult sized people on one air mattress.

But overall, our first night of camping was uneventful.  Emma Grace didn’t succeed in getting out into the wild away from her brothers though.  There’s always tomorrow.

Thank you, Lord, for another full day!

Day 18 – San Francisco

Day 18 – San Francisco

We woke up at the Rodeway Inn on the outskirts of San Francisco.  It was the worst hotel of our trip (not as clean, no wi-fi) even though it cost $189 for the night.  I’m sure this is a deal for San Francisco.

Thankfully, the night before I was able to do a load of laundry in an oversized washer and dryer at local laundromat.

Emma Grace got an education in laundromats – it was fun to work together.

LaunderLand looked like it was built in the 70s and never updated.

But hey, our clothes are clean and we’re ready to hit the big city.





The first stop of the day – an Amazon locker to pick up a replacement camera charger.  Yes, I left my charger at the hotel in Hurricane, Utah.  I guess I’m not immume from our “Leave Stuff All Over America” tour.

I’ve never used an Amazon locker before.  It was something out of a sci-fi movie.  The locker has a name – Seymour.  I put in my code and all of a sudden, I hear the sound of a safe automatically open and my package magically appeared.  Super cool!

From there, we made our way across the Golden Gate Bridge and north up the mountains to Muir Woods National Monument.  This quiet forest is so popular that you have to make a parking reservation for it.  It cost $8 for me to reserve a spot for the 9 to 9:30 p.m. timeslot.  We actually got there right at 9 a.m.

We’d had a very tough morning with one of our sons so Jimmy was considering staying back with him in the parking lot.  Eventually, he came along with us.


Muir Woods National Monument is a tribute to the Redwood trees of California.

Our 4th grade pass got us in for free.  We walked only a mile or so along the quiet path gazing at the beautiful flora and fauna – Redwoods, ferns, lichen, and so much more lush greenery.


It’s unbelievable that so many lovely plants can grow with so little sunlight.  This one plant actually turns its leaves downward when sun hits it – almost shielding itself from the sun.


There is only one spot along the path where you’re asked to be quiet but visitors remain quiet most of the time – I think in stunned silence over the beauty before them.   A stream flows through the park that only adds to the scene.

Along the way, all I could think of was an enchanted forest.  I was waiting for fairies or the Seven Dwarfs to come out from behind a large Redwood.

This park would be in stark opposition to our afternoon stop – Alcatraz.




But first, we had to get lunch and take it to our Golden Gate Bridge viewing area.  The only thing that we could find on the way was a natural foods store.

Jimmy got us some lunch supplies there and we followed the signs for Marin Headlands – the recommended spot for good views of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We made sandwiches in the car as we drove up the winding mountain road to the very end.








We got some great pictures of the bridge.  You can’t go to San Francisco (in my opinion) without getting a good picture of the bridge.

Next, we took a small detour to Ghiradelli Square and shared two sundaes.  $25 for two sundaes!  They were very, very delicious and of course, the Stoppers dove in like vultures and destroyed them.

For the afternoon, we had a 1:30 p.m. tour scheduled with Alcatraz Cruises.  Alcatraz is actually a National Park but they offer tours through their officially sanctioned cruised company.  This was another splurge – around $200 for all of us to get the ferry to the island and listen to the famous audio tour of the cell house on Alcatraz.

Alcatraz was surprising to me in many ways.  First, the ferry offers beautiful views of Alcatraz and San Francisco.  I couldn’t help but take a ton of pictures.



Also, they have beautiful flowers on the island.


Can you see the sailboats in the background?







They even have a spectacular garden that was called The Officer’s Garden.



One of the prettiest gardens I’ve seen on our trip – at Alcatraz!!










The kids loved the audio tour.  When we put on the headphones, it was like we were whisked back in time to the 1930’s and 40’s.  The narrators of the audio tour are former Alcatraz guards and inmates.  In the background of the narration, you hear the sounds of the jail just like you were there.







We got to see the cells up close.

Alcatraz was open from 1934 to 1963.  Most often, it was a prison for men who had broken the rules at other prisons.  They only housed a few notorious inmates – the most well known being Al Capone.  In the May of 1946, an unsuccessful escape attempt resulted in the death of  two inmates and three guards.  The Marines drilled holes in the prison roof in order to drop grenades on the jail to stop the coup.  They named the escape attempt “The Battle of Alcatraz.”

Also, in 1962, three inmates escaped through the jail pipes onto the roof and were never seen again.  It is believed that they drowned in the San Francisco Bay.

Overall, our Alcatraz tour was very intriguing.  We got back to our car at 4 p.m. – just in time for San Francisco rush hour.



We sat in very slow-moving traffic in San Francisco and through Alameda.  When we finally got out of traffic, we stopped in Tracey, CA at an In-N-Out Burger for dinner.  We noticed the temperature difference right away – 72 to 95 degrees.  We weren’t in San Francisco anymore.  We were in the San Joaquin Valley.  I love to say that – San Joaquin (Wackeen).

At the restaurant, Jimmy, Luke, and Seth brought a burger to a man looking for food outside.  Jimmy was able to ask Scotty his story and share the gospel with him.  Scotty said that he is saved but he’s not walking with the Lord.  Jimmy and the boys prayed for him to start seeking after the Lord.  It was a great discipleship opportunity for the boys.

As I waited for the boys to return, I noticed a Scripture verse on the fry bag from In-N-Out Burger:

Nahum 1:7

That verse wasn’t familiar to me so I looked it up:

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in Him…”

An apt verse for Scotty and a great reminder for us all.

Our two-hour trip to Merced, CA turned into a four trip with traffic.  Around 9 p.m., we drove into the Motel 6 in Merced, CA.  We quickly got our stuff together and checked in.  The kids went ahead of us while Jimmy and I cleaned out the car.  We noticed that a young couple was starting at us the whole time we were working on the car.  It was kind of creepy.  We kept thinking that maybe they were looking past us to the gas station.  But when we headed their direction, the woman stopped me and warned me, “I wouldn’t leave anything on the back of your car.  People around here will snatch it up real quick.”  I thanked her and headed to the room.  This place is making me nervous.

In the room, the kids were killing flies.  There were a lot of dead flies on the floor and a whole family buzzing around the room.  Although, the rest of the room was clean, the flies were getting to me.  After Jimmy saw the state of the room, he asked me to join him in the hallway.  He thought we should find another hotel.  I agreed.  I was glad to get out of there. Thankfully, the hotel gave us our money back and we were off to find another hotel.

We drove to the Hampton Inn down the street.  They were fully booked but the lady at the desk was so helpful.  She called a few other local hotels and asked about availability.  She found us a room at America’s Best Inn and Suites.  It was adequate for the night – we wouldn’t be there long.  How kind of this Hampton Inn employee to not only recommend hotels for us but also to find something for us?

At one point in all the craziness of three brothers and the hotel fiasco, Emma Grace said, “Sometimes I just want to go live in the wild.”

I just thought to myself – you’ll have that opportunity tomorrow night when we camp.

Thank you, Lord, for directing our steps again today!

Day 17 – Pacific Grove Up the Coast to San Francisco

Day 17 – Pacific Grove Up the Coast to San Francisco

We got up this morning to a calm morning – the water was like glass, the wind was calm, and fog was settling in over the Pacific – much different than the cold wind of the night before.

Lover’s Point Inn had a small continental breakfast.  The kids were especially mesmerized by the automatic pancake maker – you just put your batter in and in a few seconds, it shoots out pancakes on the side.  We ate on small bistro tables on the patio outside the hotel.  It felt like a California version of Paris – except for the super-sized seagulls that were looking to eat breakfast as well.

When Luke got up from the table for a drink refill, a seagull turned over his bowl of fruit loops and they scattered all over the sidewalk.


Side note: Why do all hotels have fruit loops as a breakfast option?  Are they an American specialty?

After breakfast, we let the boys play football for about an hour in Lover’s Point Park.  They needed to run around and get some energy out before we got back on the road.  We found out later that Nate left his only sweatshirt at the park – a necessity for the windy, chilly Pacific coast.

As we left Pacific Grove, we drove through the town of Monterey.  I was yearning to stop at several of the consignment/thrift shops along the way but there was no time for that.


Eventually, we hit flatter farm land where we saw workers running up and down the aisles picking strawberries.  I guess you get paid by how quickly you can pick.


We stopped in Moss Landing at a produce stand where we bought fresh strawberries and cherries.


From there, we got on 1 North to Santa Cruz.  While driving, I saw a sign for CHP (California Highway Patrol) and immediately the TV show CHiPS came to mind.  Are you old enough to remember that show about the two highway patrolman?  I mentioned it to Jimmy and asked him what the name was of dark hair police man.

He said, “Fonz – Fonzi.”

Me – “No, that’s Happy Days.”

It came to me later in the day – Ponch – Poncherello – played by Erik Estrada.  I loved that show as a kid.

A question from the backseat startled me out of my walk down memory lane:

“Oooh there’s a pond there – can we fish at it, Dad?”

That question has been a constant refrain the whole trip, mainly from Nate.

At one point in California, he asked the question again as we passed some visible water.

I said, “No, you can’t fish there.  It’s a wastewater treatment plant.”

Nate – “Why can’t I fish there?”

“You just can’t.  Sorry.”


Our first stop of the day would be Santa Cruz.  As we got drove into town, we saw another Costco.  Could we possibly eat another foot long hot dog?  Thankfully, some of the kids had gradated to the chicken bake – with cheese and chicken inside.  Did I mention that this isn’t a diet trip?


We were able to secure a “diva” parking spot (as my aunt calls it) right next to the Santa Cruz pier.  We spent the next 45 minutes walking on the pier taking pictures, watching the seals up close, and the letting the boys talk to the local fisherman.  I could watch the lazy seals lay around all day – just waiting for a move, scratch, or yelp.  What a life!






One seal we saw slithered back into the water and started barking continuously.


Jimmy said, “He’s asking us for fish.”

Whatever he was communicating, he was loud.

On our way back on the pier, we saw a seal with a fish in his mouth.  The seagulls and other birds were swarming him trying to get a piece of the action (literally).


We continued heading up the coast and found a beautiful spot where we were able to climb out on a rock to see the view.





The wind was howling – it was very cold.  We had to walk across a huge path of spent clam shells as we navigated the tide to get to the top of the rock.  Once we got to the top, the wind was overwhelming.

The boys especially love the adventure of climbing.  This was a highlight of the day for them.


From there, we headed to Ano Nuevo State Park where we hoped to get more views of the seals.  We arrived at 4:15 p.m.

Sadly, the guard gate attendant told us that they stopped giving permits out at 3:30 for the day because it’s a 2 ½ hour roundtrip walk to the seal habitat.

Bummer, I guess it’s onto San Francisco.


One other fun thing (not so fun according to Emma Grace) is that we have a continual gas letter-outer.  These emissions smell bad too.

I’m trying to figure out how much to disclose on this subject.  It might not be a popular topic of discussion.  It’s certainly not popular for our daughter.  This is life with three brothers, I guess.



We’ve had way too much conversation on this topic on the road but I guess this is what happens when you’re together in such close quarters for a month.

I have a simple solution – I just quietly put my window down and send the air to the back seat


Lord, thank you for my wonderful family – even if they can be smelly sometimes.

Day 16 – Up the Coast from L.A. to Monterey

Day 16 – Up the Coast from L.A. to Monterey

Today seemed like a very long day.  It started in L.A. with heavy Sunday morning traffic on I-5 North.  Ugh!  Our family is always running late for church.  How would we ever get there if we had to fight traffic on Sunday mornings?

So long L.A. – we’re not a fan of your traffic.

Quickly, L.A. traffic turned into desolate mountains with trees dotting the landscape.  It was 73 degrees in L.A. but the temperature was dropping as we drove north.  We drove by Hungry Valley State Park and the winds really picked up.  We saw signs warning of gusty winds.  By the time we hit the Tejon Pass rest area, it was 63 degrees with a chilly wind.

Originally, we wanted to travel Highway 1 up the coast but my Roadtrippers App kept redirecting me inland as I tried to plan our trip.  I finally googled it only to find out that many parts of Highway 1 have been washed out.  Needless to say, the highway is closed at many points.  I decided to route us inland until we reached Monterey.


For the next few hours, we passed farm after farm.



We saw corn fields, grapevines, and thousands of trees.






Eventually, we hit our exit in Lost Hills, CA for a lunch stop.  Oh my!  It was bad.  Everyone and their mother was at this stop – I think because there isn’t much around it.  We reluctantly decided to order our food at Taco Bell – very, very bad idea.  They told us that our food would take 10-15 minutes.  Ok, that’s fine.  When our $3.50 burritos came out, the filling was so wimpy.  I counted five shreds of cheese.  So long to you too, Taco Bell.

You see all kinds of interesting things at lunch stops.  One family bought a huge bottle of Smirnoff Ice and was swigging it at a table next to us.  Oh my!  Another member of the “Smirnoff family”, let out a huge gas noise.  What do I call it?  Fart, fluffy, letting fluffy off the leash (Dude Perfect)…

What am I doing here?!?   Whose idea was this trip anyway?

Jimmy saved the day by buying some chicken tenders from Chester’s Chicken next door.  Since the Taco Bell burritos were so skimpy, we all were still hungry.  Chester’s Chicken tenders were not wimpy – they were full of chicken.  We got gas and got out of there.

From there, we traveled on SR-46N.  We passed oil fields, solar panels fields, and massive fields of neatly planted trees.  I decided to google the type of tree we were seeing.  They were almond trees.  We guessed that there were 100,000 or more almond trees.  Apparently, this almond farm called Pacific Almond that we passed is owned by billionaires.  No wonder – I’ve never seen so many trees in such perfect rows.  We could see trees for miles and miles.

One common thing we saw at all the farms we passed – large cut-outs of farm owners or farm workers.  I guess it made them come alive.

Farmer cutouts – look in e-mail

At one point, we passed a small, makeshift memorial.  A sign said, “James Dean Memorial Highway.”  Apparently, the memorial marked the spot where James Dean was killed in his Porsche in 1955.

As we drove into Monterey (finally), we drove through winding roads and lush greenery.  The temperature was also dropping so we had to be getting closer to water.  No stunning views yet.  Just when I started to get a little disappointed, we rounded the bend and saw the Pacific Ocean in all it’s splendor – bright blue water along the rocky coast.


Our first stop was Point Lobos State Reserve – a state park along the coast.  We paid $10 to park.  The park ranger at the guard shack told us to drive as far back into the park as possible to China Grove to get a good view of the seals.  First, we saw sea otters playing in the wild waves.






Then the beautifully landscaped path led us to the money spot – a wonderful view of 22 (Seth my number guy counted them) seals along the beach.  With my high zoom lens and our binoculars, we got a great view of the funny creatures.



They looked like they were enjoying their afternoon siesta.

They didn’t move much – only if they needed to scratch an itch or scoot a little farther out of the waves.








The scenery reminded me of the Caribbean – crystal blue/green water among rocky crags – spectacular.

From there, we hit the 17 Mile Drive guard shack.  It costs $10.25 to get on 17 Mile drive.  The attendant told us that if we ate at a restaurant along the drive, they would deduct the entrance fee off of our bill if we spent $35 or more.  The restaurants along the way were very pricey.  We’d have to eat dinner later.



In Pebble Beach, we got out to take pictures at an overlook.  The wind had to be around 40 miles an hour.

Pebble Beach tree From our spot, we could see a golf goal with the pin flag straight out.  How would you play golf here – at least how would you play golf well?  I took a picture of one of the trees along the drive.  They are all leaning east – in the direction that the wind relentlessly pounds them day after day.

Honestly, the 17 Mile Drive wasn’t worth the entry fee.  Trees obscure the view of the Pacific for about one third of the drive and the rest isn’t anything you won’t see as you drive farther up the coast.


We continued up the coast to our hotel in Pacific Grove.  We stayed at Lover’s Point Inn.  I knew when I booked this hotel several months ago that the name of the hotel would stir up a lot of conversation with my kids.  The hotel is named after the small park across the street (Lover’s Point Park).  It is located at the top of the Monterey Peninsula – offering beautiful views of the Pacific.


After checking in, it was about 8 p.m. and we were all starving.  We tried the Beachhouse Restaurant next to the park but at $32 a plate, it wasn’t in our budget.  So we walked the windy, cold few blocks to a Mexican restaurant called Mexicali.   Luke declared it the best taco ever because of the thick homemade taco shell.  Jimmy had a huge plate with several options including a beef tostado that was out of this world.  Seth even lost a tooth.





We were glad that we had to walk a few blocks to our hotel – we needed to walk off all the food we ate before we fell into bed.

Thank you, Lord, for another wonderful and safe day!

Day 15 – Los Angeles

Day 15 – Los Angeles

We woke up today in someone’s home.  What a privilege!  With the use of their kitchen, Jimmy was able to run to Trader Joe’s around the corner and get some milk and bananas to eat with the cereal I brought.  Of course, he also came back with donuts – Yum-Yum donuts.  We noticed a lot of different donut joints all over L.A.  Los Angeles’ers (is that what you call them?) must like donuts.

We have a few destinations in mind for the day – the iconic Hollywood sign, the Santa Monica pier, and an LA Galaxy soccer game.

We hit the Hollywood sign first.  Thankfully, I watched a few YouTube videos about how to get the best photo spot of the sign.  Apparently, the residents who live in the neighborhood near the sign have erected their own warnings and obstacles to keep people out.  You can actually hike all the way up to the area behind the sign but we were just looking for a spot to take good pictures from below.

We drove to Lake Hollywood Park (3160 N. Canyon Drive) and started trekking up the hill.  It’s pretty steep at the beginning but the views are excellent.

In the picture to the left, you can see the steep hill we parked on and the grassy area of the park.








After the park, we meandered through the neighborhood looking for Mulholland.  When we found Mulholland Hwy, we followed it until the paved road became a dirt road.

At the end of the dirt road, we found the Deronda gate.  The gate looks ominous but you can simply walk around it to the left.  There we saw a police officer ticketing a car.

We heard that this was common so don’t try to drive your car up to the sign.



We had a good time getting pictures – some serious ones and some silly ones.

It probably only took about 30-45 minutes to hike round trip so in my opinion, it was worth it.  We also got to see some pretty houses and landscaping along the way.


Next, we headed back to the apartment to make lunch and prepare for the remainder of the day.  We’d see pretty quickly that we’d need that rest to fight against L.A.

Around 3 p.m., we headed out for the Santa Monica pier.  Some friends in NC who are native Californians told me that the traffic is bad in L.A. – “leave extra time to get where you want to go.”  They weren’t kidding!  Our GPS said that Santa Monica is 32 miles from the apartment but an hour drive.  Once we got close to Santa Monica, we hit very heavy traffic and very crazy drivers.  Jimmy navigated the roads very well.  Of course, parking in a “touristy” city is hard to find.  At one point, we found a parking garage and headed up to find a spot.  We didn’t get very far.

On the first level, our car top carrier hit the top of the parking garage.  Thankfully, Jimmy only hit the front when he realized we couldn’t go any further.  We were stuck in a very busy parking garage trying to back up and get out without damaging the car top carrier.  I had to direct traffic and Jimmy was able to turn around.  No more parking garages for us.

I had read online about the Original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica.  The kids started complaining when I told them about it but once we got to it, they loved it.  Venice beach, the more well-known muscle beach, is just south of Santa Monica but apparently this muscle beach is the “Original.” They had all kinds of gymnastics equipment and balance ropes on the beach.  The kids had fun taking their turn at the ropes and the rings.  There are experts that spend all day at the equipment either showing off or helping beginners “learn the ropes.”  (Bada bing!).”



Look at that form!  (Don’t tell anyone – but do you notice the guy sitting on the rope?  That stabilizes it and makes it a lot of easier to balance yourself.)

We had to quickly get back to our van (the meter was going to run out) so we could only get a quick shot of the Santa Monica Pier in the background.




Our third stop of the day was the LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake men’s professional soccer game at 7:30 p.m.  I found the tickets on StubHub at a reasonable price.  We planned to make a quick detour to In-N-Out Burger for dinner before the game.  We’d seen In-N-Outs since Texas but we only wanted to go to our first one in California.

Let’s just say that my son, Nate, nicknamed it “In-N-Never Out” Burger because it took so long for the food to come.  When you have all these people with special orders, it’s a recipe for disaster.  After waiting for a while, I had to go to the car and wait.  The restaurant was such a buzz of energy that it was stressing me out.  Chick-fil-A is just as busy but at In-N-Out, the food line is visible to customers making it seem more chaotic.  I knew that with the traffic and the slow service at In-N-Out, we were going to be late for the game.  Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.

Once we parked at the Stubhub Center for the game, we ran (me in my cute shoes) to the entrance.  Our seats were fabulous.  Originally, all we could afford was the top row of the stadium. We debated whether it was worth it to see the game from the top row.  I kept checking back with Stubhub to see if better seats came up.  They sure did – exactly six seats in the first row of the mezzanine.  The mezzanine level hung over the lower level and in the first row, you had a great view of the whole field.  For soccer lovers like us, you could really see the tactical play of the game from a great angle.  Thank you, Lord!


The L.A. Galaxy won 3-0.  Two of their goals were scored by their star forward, Zlatan Ibrahimavic, a 6’5” controversial player from Sweden.  Here’s some of his outrageous quotes:

“I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am.”  Can you spot him in the middle of the photo?

“Swedish style? No. Yugoslavian style? Of course not. It has to be Zlatan-style.”  Here’s his header goal – Zlatan style:


For each goal he scored, the announcer would yell, “Goal scored by ZLAAAAATAAAAN….”

The crowd would respond with,” IBRAAAHIIIIIMOOOVIIIIICH!”

The announcer, “Thank you.”

The crowd, “You’re welcome.”

It was a fun back and forth after each goal – so much so that the kids keep repeating it.

We got out of the game around 9:45 p.m. and believe it or not, we hit traffic heading north back to Burbank.  Ohhhhhh!  L.A. traffic!  My friends were right!

Thank you, Lord, for another great day!