Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for August, 2015

Journey 4.0: Day 13, and Traveling…

Last night’s campground was quite noisy, and I really did not get much sleep. It was one of those nights when I woke up after sleeping soundly for about 3 hours, and could not get back to sleep. I finally dropped off again after about 2 hours. Plenty of coffee, and a glass of iced tea for lunch, kept me going on the road today. We traveled from Grand Junction, Colorado, to North Platte, Nebraska — a little over 500 miles, much of it through the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies have their own special brand of majesty and splendor, and the drive, while challenging, is not that strenuous. Still, as much as I enjoyed the scenery, I was actually glad when the landscape flattened out east of Denver and we could make some time.

We decided to “hotel it” tonight and tomorrow night to save some time and assure that we get good sleep. We found a Quality Inn and Suites in North Platte — very nice suite for a very small price, and the hotel/conference center also has a very good restaurant. I love to have at least one evening of nice accommodations and a great meal on my way home from these trips. Tonight was it for this trip — and it was very enjoyable.

As I wrap up Journey 4.0, my mind goes back to how these annual journeys got started. In fact, today’s Facebook “On This Day” feature brought up my blog post from last year, and as I read it, I reflected on all that has gone on in these 3+ years — and particularly on how the grief, and the whole grieving process, that inspired the first journey back in 2012, changed me and changed itself over time.

Anyone who has experienced it knows that grief does not honor timetables and does not bow to judgments of how a grieving person “should” feel or behave. The process and journey of grief differ for each individual. But I think what truly gives it all meaning is the ability to look back on it and see how one has changed — and indeed, has been changed — by it. I know that when I began this grief journey after Tom died in July, 2012, I had no clue what it was going to be like. I even was so naive as to think it would not be so bad, because I had had time to prepare for his death — in the long term, from his diagnosis in 2003, and in the short term, for the last 8 months of his life after we learned that the cancer had returned with a vengeance.

My first experience, in the week after Tom’s death, of the waves of grief that take you to your knees and make you bawl out loud like a little kid cured me of that notion. Grief brooks no preparation. You simply have to live through it, a day at a time. You have to let pain have its way with you until it is done, and then live your life as best you can during whatever short time you get between bouts.

You live through the stretch of time when you make what look to everyone else like goofy decisions — decisions that make perfect sense at the time, because you think they are going to cure the pain. Or maybe it’s a time when you can’t make decisions, because everything feels too far out of kilter.

You live through the times when it feels like no one else could possibly understand what this feels like, or what you are going through.

Maybe you try to start a new relationship, only to discover that you can’t recreate, in a few weeks or months, what it took years to build with the person you lost.

And ever so slowly, you begin to realize that the time between those blasts of grief is getting longer; that you are beginning to think like the individual you are, and decisions begin to be easier, because you have begun to accept that the death of that person really changed everything forever, and you have no choice but to go on, and to live out that forever-change.

That’s the key: That death changed everything, forever. Life will never be the way it was. It will only be the way it is going to be, and you get to decide that for yourself. You, as the person you are now becoming — in many ways, someone new and different from the person who was left behind with that death.

And that’s where I find myself, at the end of Journey 4.0: I am beginning, just now, 3 years, one month, and 17 days after Tom’s death, to truly “real”-ize who I am supposed to become. And as Journey 4.0 winds down, I begin to feel a sense of new beginnings — a much sharper, much clearer sense of a fresh start than with my return from any of the previous 3 such journeys. I am excited to get home and begin to shape my forever-changed future.

Throughout this trip, I’ve seen so many reminders of Tom — that little thing that happens when I just happen to look at a clock or the odometer of the car and see the numbers “333” and know that he is just there, beyond my touch but just there, letting me know that yeah, I’m on the right track. Forever changed by having known him, forever changed by having lost him to death, but absolutely on the right track for my future.

Journey 4.0: On the Way Home

Those who know me well know that I am easily confused by time zones, especially when Daylight Saving Time comes into play. Which way does the time difference run? And throw in an area that does not observe Daylight Saving Time, and even though I’m generally opposed to the DST concept, I get beyond confused. So for the past several days, knowing that I would be in Tuba City, AZ, on Sunday morning, I looked forward to going to 11:00 Mass in the little St. Jude church there. It was all planned out — we would check out of the hotel around 10, duck into McDonald’s for a quick cup of coffee, and go to church.

Keep in mind that my phone seemed totally confused about what time it was, and kept switching back and forth by one hour the whole time we were in the Tuba City/Grand Canyon area. I kept checking online for the local time in Phoenix. It got really confusing, though, when we went into the McDonald’s, which had switched to the lunch menu at what I thought was 10:25 on a Sunday morning. Looked at my phone: 11:25. So I asked the cashier, who told me it was indeed almost 11:30. So I said, “I thought Arizona did not observe Daylight Saving Time.” She responded, “Oh, yes, we do observe it.” So I mentioned that I had been checking for local time using Phoenix as a location, and she said, “Well, yeah, in Phoenix and Flagstaff it’s an hour earlier.”


I missed Mass. That’s the first time in all my travels of the past few years that I have not made it to Mass wherever I was staying on the weekend. I’m sure God is very forgiving of the miss, since He probably does not observe DST either. I think I am going to start a big campaign to get rid of the whole concept of DST. It’s way too confusing.

So here we are tonight, the evening of Day 12, at a KOA outside Grand Junction, Colorado. Matt called ahead, and we were lucky to get the last tent site they had! It’s a very nice campground. We went up to the game room and played ping pong earlier this evening. Matt beat me 8 games out of 9. I used to be a lot better at the game. I’m not sure whether it’s a problem with depth perception, or a relative lack of coordination. We had some good volleys, and we had a lot of laughs — much more important than winning, in my view. Then we drove back into town looking for a place to eat. Not much around; we finally settled on a small Mexican restaurant. The food was pretty good.

I can’t predict with any certainty where we will be tomorrow night, but one guess might be Kearney, Nebraska. I know of the town only from its place in the movie “Terms of Endearment.” Wonder if Flap Horton still teaches there? 😉

Today has been very, very hot — we saw temperatures as high as 102 degrees as we drove through Utah. Again, we drove through strikingly beautiful mountain scenery, and again, the mountains on this route had their own distinctive appearance. What also struck me was the sense of isolation and, sometimes, desolation. We drove up US-191, and there are very few towns along the way. What few there are seem sad and lonely, almost desperate. There are very few locations with gas or food along the route, and one begins to feel uncomfortable with the absence of human habitation. When we did find a gas station with restrooms, we had to wait in line for the restrooms. Later, when we stopped at a Subway for a sandwich, we realized we were the only English-speaking customers in the place. All of the other customers were European tourists.

The evening has cooled off nicely, and should be fine for sleeping — I should be used to highway noise by this time! I’m going to sign off now, and get into the tent to read for awhile. Despite my liberal use of Deep Woods Off, the bugs are really pesky and annoying. Until tomorrow!

Journey 4.0: Day 11 — The Grand Canyon

The. Most. Incredible. Sight. Ever.

Today’s trip to the Grand Canyon was truly the epitome of this trip. It took us a little over an hour each way, mostly on curvy two-lane roads with 45 mph speed limits. There were a number of scenic turnouts on the way, each more incredible than the last. We hiked the Rim Trail, spending much of our time “in the rough” on the canyon side of the paved trail. In the end, we decided that after we had put in over 5 miles that way, we weren’t going to push it by hiking down into the canyon, even part-way. That’s for another trip.

The views are just incredibly beautiful; they defy words to describe them. And every turn in the path reveals a new angle on the vast expanse. I pretty much lost my fear of heights, because getting out to the edge and seeing only the formations in the canyon is really what this is about, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

If you have been here, you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t been here, you cannot begin to imagine in, and you need to put this trip on your bucket list, and then do it.

One of the things that impressed me was the number of foreign people who were here visiting and sightseeing. I dare say they made up the majority of today’s visitors — I heard many, many languages. And I thought, how is it that we Americans are in the minority of visitors to this incredibly wonderful sight that is right in our midst? I have no issues with sharing it with all who want to come — I just wish more (all) Americans would come and share in the sense of wonder. It is truly an awesome sight.

We kept trying to get some distance between ourselves and the crowds, and finally at one point we found a fairly isolated spot with great ledges for sitting; the crowds hadn’t arrived yet. I found myself a rock to sit on, and gazed out at the amazing vista, and began to weep at the sheer wonder and awesome beauty of it. My faith is deepened and strengthened as I see these wonders of God’s creation.

And all this beauty and wonder, plus whatever national parks we visit on the way home, are mine (and Matt’s, as my passenger) for the grand sum of $10. People over the age of 62 can purchase a lifetime senior pass for $10. It’s good forever as long as it is presented iwth your ID. So far this trip I have saved $50 in park entry fees. There are a number of national parks on our way home, and the pass will get us into any of those we choose to visit. SCORE!!!

On the way back from Grand Canyon National Park today, we kept watching a big black storm cloud that was hanging to the northeast of us. Finally, we were under it, and we got rain, hail, and a 20-degree temperature drop! The hail was quarter-sized, but it never rained particularly hard. And once we passed under the storm cloud, the temperatures quickly climbed back into the 90s.

My only real mistake of the day was forgetting to take sunblock. Both of us are sunburned, hopefully not too badly.

Tomorrow, already, is the day we start the journey home. Mass in the little local Catholic church is at 11 a.m. I’ve found it a joy and profound blessing to find my way to Mass on Saturday or Sunday in all of my travels these past 3+ years. We’ll be on the road around noon, and get some miles under the wheels before we stop for the night, probably somewhere in western central Colorado. Our plan is to camp all three nights if possible on the way home. And getting a start on the trip tomorrow afternoon will leave us with shorter days on the road so that we can sightsee along the way.

I am continually blown away by the beautiful places that are ours to explore and see, and I’m constantly impressed by my grandson’s desire to see “the real thing” rather than getting hung up on and taken in by the tourist traps and souvenir shops. We have each picked up a few things along the way to remind ourselves of the trip, but we’ve spent astonishingly little money aside from the few nights we’ve spent in hotels (only 4 of the 11 nights so far) and meals out when we were too beat to dig in the cooler.

Who knows what kind of connectivity we will have on the road — I will post when possible!

Journey 4.0: Rockin’ the Road!

Day 10 saw us on the road for better than 12 hours, with only quick meal, gas, and “pit” stops. Most of the drive was on two-lane highways with occasional passing lanes. We started out in Jackson, Wyoming, before 7 a.m., and checked in at our hotel in Tuba City, Arizona, around 8:30 p.m. (7:30 local time — remember, Arizona is smart and opts out of Daylight Saving Time!). I must say we held up remarkably well. Matt and I make great traveling companions. We were talking about that yesterday, among the many subjects we discussed, and it seems that both of us recognize the value of conversation as well as the bliss of silence; long, comfortable silences are the mark of good companionship. We also agree that life is far too short to live on expectations. Expectations always disappoint, because they come with unrealistic definitions of what it takes to meet them. Far better, we decided, to enjoy people as they are, and see what we can learn from that.

Now, here is something that really illustrates that point about expectations. The two of us — grandmother and grandson, for anyone who’s forgotten that — have shared living quarters, including a bathroom, for most nights of this trip. Not once has either of us found it necessary to remind the other of what state the toilet seat should be in. Why? Because we apparently — without prior discussion — have no expectations in that regard, other than of ourselves — to arrange the seat and/or lid in whatever configuration the user desires when they approach this humble appliance. My view: It is just plain silly to waste energy and emotion on having an expectation of, or complaining about, how the toilet seat was left. When I approach the throne, I simply put the seat the way I want it, and leave it that way when I depart. And every other person with whom I share facilities is 100% free to do the same. No conversation necessary. And just think of all the personal energy that’s left for much more positive interactions!

You may think that the long day on the road finally fried my brain. Not so. It did, however, lead me to reflections about how very easy it is to treat others well when one’s focus is outward, and not aimed at the everlastingly self-centered view around “What’s going to please ME?”.

There. Now that I’ve had my say, more about the trip. Yesterday was incredible for how much of the time we spent making our way through, across, and between mountain ranges. Our path took us south from Jackson, Wyoming, through Utah and into Arizona, and mountains were all around us, sometimes towering over the road to block even the noonday sun. What struck me over and over again was the infinite number of faces the mountains have. Every turn of the road brought a new and more breathtaking vista than the last. And some of the beautiful lakes and streams out here — just incredible.

And honestly, that’s what yesterday’s drive was about: The mountains. I do not doubt for one second that I could make that same drive again, and feel that I was seeing a whole new scene — that’s how rich the variety of faces the mountains present.

For dinner last night, we just walked to the Denny’s right next to our hotel. We had been quite distressed, upon our arrival, to see a pretty brown dog, a female obviously nursing puppies, wandering outside the front door of the hotel and later, near the restaurant. She didn’t seem the least afraid, but she would not approach people. She would just kind of hang around looking soulful. I mentioned her to the desk clerk, who I thought seemed quite undisturbed. Then, we saw the sign on the inside of the front doors: “Please don’t feed the animals.” And on the way over to the restaurant, we saw Ms. Dog again and realized that she appears very well fed and not the least bit distressed on her own behalf. The hotel is on tribal property within the reservation and is owned and operated by the Hopi tribe. We concluded that she was a pet belonging to someone local, and just kind of hoping for some extra handouts. We slept better, knowing that.

This morning as soon as we get around, we are headed for Grand Canyon Village, where we will choose which trails to explore for day hiking. Our research suggests that some of the trails are very challenging, so this should be fun! Lots of water and insect spray, plus lots of pictures of what promise to be spectacular views. It is shaping up to be a gorgeous, sunny day with temperatures in the upper 70s.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow afternoon we will begin to head north and east to make the journey home! But it’s true. Journey 4.0 is on the homeward trail already. And then I must begin to plan ways I can spend such quality time with all of my grandchildren, whatever other commitments their lives hold — I can’t describe the value of this time in building my relationship with the one who came along on this trip!

Journey 4.0: Day 9 — “Awesome” is too small a word.

A word to the wise: Not all KOAs are created equal. Or at least some are less equal than others. Last night’s stay at the Cody, WY, KOA provided all of these things:

  • A great tent side with a nice graveled parking spot;
  • Toilets and shower rooms just a few steps away; HOWEVER,
  • No hot water in those shower rooms, so hike to the main building some distance off for a shower — three shower stalls on the women’s side for the whole place. Good thing I get up very early!
  • If they have a “Quiet Rule” after some specified time, it isn’t enforced. There were some PARTIERS, and I wasn’t invited! I heard people talking and laughing throughout the entire night.
  • Nice picnic table and firepit
  • Handy dumpsters for campsite trash
  • and last, but not least, a visit (fortunately not to our site!) by the local constabulary to break up an incipient brawl between campers at neighboring sites — this at 7:40 a.m.! Those hangovers must have been fierce!

But I digress. This was truly an awesome day. Our first stop was the Buffalo Bill Dam a few miles west of Cody. It’s a beautiful area with great mountain views overlooking a lovely reservoir. After exploring the dam, we headed for Yellowstone. Because of some construction and resulting traffic delays, we did not get into Yellowstone as early as we had hoped, but we still made some stops along the way to Old Faithful and the geothermal area. The first was at the Lake Butte Overlook, which was recommended to us by the by the young lady at the visitor center at the Buffalo Bill Dam. About a mile off the main road, the overlook sits high above Lake Yellowstone and provides an excellent view of the lake and surrounding areas as well as the Grand Teton Mountains in the distance.

Next, we headed for the convenience store/snack bar where we re-iced the cooler and got ourselves some ice cream to fortify us for the road. Yummy! We finally reached Old Faithful around noon and had a sort of terrible lunch in another snack bar. At least there was fresh fruit! And then we were ready for the hike around the area. Old Faithful was snoozing and not expected to erupt for another hour or so, so we went on around the longer boardwalk path and saw all of the lesser geysers and thermal pools. It was just as awesome as last year’s visit, except that unfortunately, Castle Geyser did not choose to favor us with an eruption this year. (Castle only erupts about once every 9 or 10 hours, but when it does, it is spectacular. Last year, my sister-in-law and I just happened upon it, and thinking it looked pretty active, we hung around for a few minutes. Sure enough, after we had been there a short time, we were rewarded with an amazing display.) After Matt and I passed Castle Geyser, we headed back toward the car, and just when we got within good range of Old Faithful, it erupted! It was beautiful to see.

The crowds were pretty heavy in the park, and it took some doing to get out of the place. Then, once again, traffic was quite slow going out.

I have this to say to those motorcyclists and drivers of automobiles who are convinced that they are more important than the rest of us and are too special to abide by speed limits even when everyone else on the road is doing so: When you pass on hills, curves, and double yellow lines, then duck back into traffic just in time to avoid the oncoming car, RV, or truck, you are endangering not only yourself, but all the rest of us who have to slam on our brakes to keep from hitting you. Several times today we really thought we were going to see a tragedy right in front of us. It’s truly senseless to drive like that. There. Stepping off my soap box.

Last year, I drove into Yellowstone from the East Entrance, and we saw the geothermal area, then drove back to Cody by the same route we used to get to the park. This year, when we left the geothermal area, we made a quick stop at the Kepler Cascades — truly a worthwhile sight! Then at West Thumb we turned south. This was my first trip down that road and out through the South Entrance, and what a glorious treat it was! The mountains are just spectacular. The scenery is so gorgeous that there just aren’t adequate words to describe it.

By shortly after 5, we decided we had been on the road long enough for today, especially considering the hike around the geyser area. We found a decent motel just on the north end of Jackson, and that’s where we are. We went into Jackson for supper at Liberty Burger, which was a darned good place to eat. The town itself is a tourist town with 4-lane traffic on 2-lane roads, and tons of people and a lot of noise. I would not do well there.

Our motel is right across the road from a beautiful view of foothills and the elk herd refuge. We are hoping the elk will be visible from our window as dusk approaches.

Tomorrow, we face a nearly 12-hour drive to our destination at Tuba City, Arizona. Our hotel there is just about an hour from the Grand Canyon North Rim, and we are already looking at which trails to explore Saturday. We will only be doing rim-trail hiking, as we don’t have the time or the equipment to hike down into the canyon and back out.

A couple of other worthwhile discoveries on this trip: We have been lucky, so far, to get into campgrounds as easily as we have. We were unable to get into a campsite at Yellowstone, or we would have stayed there last night…but to do so we would have had to reserve weeks if not months in advance. And likewise, to have camped in the North Rim Park at Grand Canyon would have required many weeks of advance planning; by the time we knew exactly when we would be getting there, we could not score a campsite in the national park or in any campground within a reasonable distance. Lesson learned. If I want to explore these places more thoroughly in the future, they will need to be primary destinations, and much more advance planning will be required.

That’s kind of a downer. A lot of the fun of a road trip is not doing too much advance planning — but you can also get caught without a place to stay and thus put in a much longer day on the road than you should. The good news is that America has an endless supply of absolutely beautiful places to see and visit — and apparently, the economy has improved to the point that pretty much everyone is out here seeing them!

So, onward tomorrow. Friday and Saturday nights will be spent in Tuba City, with the whole day Saturday devoted to the Grand Canyon. Sunday morning, Mass at St. Jude’s in Tuba City at 11 a.m., and then we’ll begin the trek eastward and northward to get us home next Wednesday. This trip, which was anticipated for so long and which has been everything we hoped and more, is now more than half over! Time to start planning the next one, I guess!

Oh, I should also mention that JD, the little brown spotted puppy dog, continues to enjoy his stay at Paws A Playin. He seems to be having a wonderful time…I hope he remembers me when I get home!!!

Cheers and God bless to everyone out there!

Journey 4.0: Day 8, On The Road Again

And here we are at the Cody, WY, KOA. We are, by now, quite the experts at setting up camp. It’s a nice campground, and they are absolutely packed full. I guess it was a good thing I made a reservation a few days ago!

The weather is very pleasant, around 80 degrees right now. Skies are clear, and I don’t see a lot of light poles around, so we should get a good view of the Perseid meteor showers tonight. Two years ago, I watched them up at TLHITWBTL with Steve, Mary, Matt, and Q. Last year I didnt’ get to see them, but this year the viewing promises to be excellent.

We had such an enjoyable stay at my brother and sister-in-law’s in Greybull that we really hated to leave. Yesterday, the temperatures got into the upper 90s, so we didn’t do as much outdoors. Matt and I repacked Sophie in the morning to make better use of space and reorganize our stuff. I bought a large storage bin to replace two cardboard boxes which had not recovered well from their exposure to the dew our first night out, and that gives us much better access to things. Also, our food is all in one cooler with regular ice. I’m thinking dry ice is for much bigger jobs than just using it in my Coleman cooler. The 12-volt cooler is currently serving as an additional storage box, but we may put it back in service as we get into cooler weather. It has limitations in very hot weather.

Yesterday morning, we went with my brother to the fitness center he uses in Basin, just down the road. Both Matt and I were glad to get in a good targeted workout after all the hiking and climbing we had done. It is a very nice facility.

The weather in north central Wyoming is going to be very hot the rest of the week — temperatures are forecast to reach a high of 100 on Friday! Yes, the humidity is very low — but that is still HOT! It would be very easy to get dehydrated, because sweat evaporates so quickly you don’t realize you are sweating. When we hiked on Monday, I went through 2 liters of water and was still pretty thirsty.

When we got our tent set up this afternoon, we went on into Cody to look around. It’s a very, very busy little city, and I think everyone is out for a last-blast vacation before fall comes. I hear that this area has had snow as early as Labor Day in some past years, and I know that two years ago, an early October blizzard created brought things to a standstill over a wide area. August is about it for summer vacations here. Anyway, we found the Buffalo Bill Center on the west side of Cody and decided to check it out. We got there about 90 minutes before it closed, and the guy at the desk very kindly gave us a very big discount on our admission fees — more than 50% off. The center houses several museums, from art to natural history to wildlife to firearms to historical exhibits. We made full use of our time and managed to see quite a bit of the place before we left for dinner. We ate at the Hotel Irma, which originally was built by Buffalo Bill Cody (and, incidentally, which eventually ruined him financially). The food and service were great.

When we get up in the morning, it’s another campsite breakfast; then we will break camp and head West to Yellowstone. The plan for the day is to drive over to the Old Faithful area, hike around the geothermal area, have lunch at the Lodge, and then head on out, taking the southern route out of Yellowstone through Jackson. We will get as far south as we can manage tomorrow night and look for a campground. Then Friday we will drive the rest of the way down to the Grand Canyon. We’ll have a couple of hotel nights there, as I was not able to find any available campsites within a reasonable distance. That gives us all day Saturday to explore and hike. Sunday morning I will find a church where I can attend Mass, and then we will begin the journey home. We’ll be back in Lansing sometime next Wednesday.

It is always wrenching to leave family, especially when I only see them once a year. At the same time, it is exciting to get back on the road and see new sights — always, seeing them through Matt’s eyes as well, and enjoying how much he is loving the experience. It has been wonderful to get to know him better and see our relationship deepen. I would dearly love to have the opportunity to do this with all my grandchildren, but given how deep they are in their own obligations it may not be possible. ! I’m already hatching a plan to do a trip like this with those three little great-grandsons once they are old enough to enjoy and appreciate the experience.

I’ll sign off for tonight. Tomorrow I will have stories of animals, and geysers, and waterfalls, and wonderful sights.

Cheers to one and all!

Journey 4.0: Day 6 (Already??!)

This morning after breakfast, Matt and I hiked on the bluffs overlooking the Big Horn River. What an experience! There was nothing particularly strenuous, but the adventure was in hiking an area that is quite uninhabited; there are some paths but no formal trails, and we had great fun exploring in different directions. We kept ourselves oriented to the river running way below us, and had no trouble finding our way. We would pick a rock feature in the distance and then hike toward it. We found formations to climb and crevasses to avoid. We also dodged a number of fire ant hills, and we saw a few lizards; fortunately, we didn’t encounter any snakes or big animals!

Once we had the hike under our belts, we headed out with my brother and sister-in-law for lunch at Dirty Annie’s, at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. The food was as good as I remembered, and I also replenished my supply of T-shirts. A large group of motorcyclists arrived just as we were leaving, so I’d guess the place was going to stay busy for awhile after we left.

Then it was on up the mountain to Shell Falls, which is just as incredibly beautiful as it was last time I saw it. 🙂 Trekking around the viewing path was a cakewalk compared to the morning’s hike, but the views are amazing, and the sound of the rushing water reaches your very soul. Also, today I got the best look I ever got at the smaller waterfall that lies far across the gorge. I’d love to be able to hike back in to that smaller cascade some day.

Next stop was a little park/camping area beside Shell Creek. The water runs swift and clear there, and although the area is quite overgrown with brush we were able to hike some distance along the bank. The opposite side of the creek is a rock wall so high that you have to bend way back to see the top, and there are some very interesting caves along the river bank on that side. It’s a gorgeous little spot, and seems to be pretty much undiscovered.

We wrapped up with a stop at the Dinosaur Track Site, which is an archeological dig where, many millions of years ago, a mud flat fossilized, capturing the footprints of a number of dinosaurs who were traveling across the area. It’s fascinating. Today I learned a little more about the history of the site. It was discovered by a local man who had become an archeologist, and he was then instrumental in setting up a formal dig project and documenting the discoveries.

I seem to have acclimated to the altitude and thin air in fairly short order, but a strenuous day like today will take the starch out of anyone. As soon as the laundry is dry, I think I will be taking my tired self off to bed. Tomorrow is a day for repacking the cargo area of the Equinox (Sophie), then a visit to Sheep Mountain. Wednesday we will pack up and head out for Cody; Thursday is for Yellowstone!

More tomorrow. Who knows what we will find on Sheep Mountain?

Journey 4.0: Day 5

The most wonderful meal of tostadas with fresh salsa is settling itself inside my very happy tummy this night. My sister-in-law may just be the best cook I know. Not only were the tostadas marvelous, but her homemade Spanish rice is amazing.

The meal was a great way to cap a busy, active day. After breakfast, Maria, Matt, and I went out and walked the trail that runs along the Big Horn River here. It’s a beautiful walk, and it was a beautiful morning for it. What a way to work off a breakfast of biscuits, sausage gravy, and scrambled eggs! Then after lunch, we headed for Devil’s Kitchen to hike. We covered a lot of ground there, some of it more vertical than horizontal. I did a fair amount of climbing, getting as far as I could before discretion became the better part of valor. Matt did a lot of climbing and exploring. At one point, I spotted a notch in the rock formations that make up one side of the rim, and I said it looked for all the world like we could climb up to it and see what was on the other side. And that’s what we did — except that Matt was able to climb through the notch and continue on the other side. I could pull myself up enough to see over, but the vertical was too much for me to scale and get over. So I went back down, and Maria and I met Matt at the other end of the rock formation.

Two years ago, when I was here with my brother Paul, we had spied a cave, and we had all agreed that we weren’t going in there — no way! Too spooky, or maybe it was a critter lair. Today, Maria spotted the same cave, and pointed it out to Matt. Before we could say “Be careful,” he was up at the entrance to the cave (not easily accessible) and inside. Turns out it was just deep enough to walk into it and stand there. I climbed up to and into it, and it was very pretty and grotto-like inside. We got some great pictures!

What is so amazing about hiking at Devils Kitchen is that it is completely non-commercialized and uninhabited. No kiosks, no brochures, no concession stands, no admission gates or fees, and no people. We were the only people there, and we hiked as much of the area as we could. We did see some tracks from other hikers and from some animals, including deer and horses; we were gratified to see that there was very little of the detritus of civilization. There were only one or two areas where we found any evidence that humans had been there — broken bottles, nails, and barbed wire around what might have been a campfire. This place is just full of amazing rock and gravel formations and places to climb. And when you climb, the rewards are magnificent! Views of the valley below, views of other parts of the Devils Kitchen itself, views of the mountains — all just laid out to amaze us. I can visit this place every year when I come out here, and I always see something new and something even more beautiful than before.

We’ve shaped up our plans for the rest of the trip. Wednesday we will head for Cody and will camp at a KOA there. Thursday we will get into Yellowstone and will hike the geothermal area, then head south out of the park and find a place to stay once we get some miles behind us. Friday we will complete the jaunt to the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t able to find available camping within a reasonable distance, so we’ll spend a couple of nights it a hotel about an hour away, and drive to what we want to see, then hike. And by next Sunday afternoon, we will be on the road back to Michigan, having created two weeks worth of the most wonderful memories.

Hiking at this altitude is tiring, and I’m just about worn out for today, so I’ll sign off. The adventure continues tomorrow with a hike to the bluffs over the Big Horn River, followed by a trip to Shell Falls and lunch at Dirty Annie’s! More tomorrow —

“Sparky the Intrepid”

Journey 4.0: Day 4

Magical days are born Out West, and they just get more magical. Where else could I turn a 4-hour drive into an all-day project and take delight in every single minute of it? And the greatest delight of all was in sharing the experiences today with Matt, and seeing everything through his eyes as if for the first time. My grandson has been so utterly delighted with what he saw and did today that it just makes my heart soar.

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming is an amazing structure that sprouts out of the ground and goes almost 1300 feet straight up. It is made up of columns of ancient igneous rock, and many years ago some of these columns broke off high up and rolled down the hillside. It’s astounding to see a chunk of rock the size of a house, lying on the ground; then to look up and realize where it came from on this monolith and what havoc it must have wreaked when it tumbled. Around the foot of the monolith lies a field of boulders, many acres in size, and we did some climbing among them. I went up as far as I felt safe, and Matt went all the way up to the signs that warn it’s a federal offense to go farther without being registered. Coming back down was easily as rigorous as going up, perhaps more so. And given the high altitude, we were both pretty worn out!

From there, we started the trek to Buffalo, Wyoming, to make our way over the mountain. Greybull, my brother’s town, lies between the Big Horn mountains and the Greybull River, with the Grand Tetons beckoning farther to the west.

What makes this area so spectacular is that every small turn of the path reveals a new and splendidly different vista. It’s as true of the road across the mountain as it is of the Devils Tower and surrounding valleys, and especially of the sights along the road from Buffalo to Ten Sleep. That’s what stretched our day out. We were up at 6 a.m. and at Devils Tower before 9 a.m. One hike around the shorter trail, two climbs, and at least a dozen stops for views and pictures later, we were finally ready to leave around 11:30. After lunch in Gillette, we continued on I-90 toward Buffalo. Then when we were almost through the mountains, we stopped at one of the overlooks and spent some time taking pictures and just drinking in the view, and talking.

We were looking down at a valley with a lovely stream running through it, with mountains — walls and towers of solid rock — on both sides. The road is an insignificant and very late addition to the scene. We imagined what it would have been like to explore this wild, beautiful land before any roads had marked and crossed it, and the prospect was both daunting and enticing. We imagined the challenges and delights of traveling with a bedroll, tent, and some food, of walking over the land with no idea of what lay beyond the next rise, with no town just over the hill where supplies could be refreshed, no cooler full of drinks and fresh fruit to sustain us. And no noise except that made by God’s own creatures.

We talked a great deal, after leaving the mountain behind, about how our lives get planned, and how important it is to follow one’s own heart and imagination rather than being locked into what one “should” do or what everyone else does. People often look askance at someone they perceive as a “free spirit,” as if the designation as a “free spirit” carries with it a certain level of irresponsibility.

Here I am, just now at the age of 68, living pretty much exactly as I want to live. What took me so long? Why must we wait for retirement to do such things? Why do we place such a high value on stability and so little on having a sense of adventure and on being awake and alive to the serendipity that is — that ought to be — life?

Tonight, we are at my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Greybull, and loving the sense of family and love that surrounds us. Tomorrow, after I go to Mass just down the street, it’s on to hiking adventures at Devils Kitchen nearby. We have several days of activity planned here before we head for Yellowstone later in the week. Adventures abound! Serendipity is just around every corner, waiting to be discovered and unleashed.

Journey 4.0: Day 3

Here we are in Wyoming, camped just a couple of miles from Devils Tower! We put in a long day on the road to make this destination. Our campsite is on the rim of a little canyon, there’s a great little restaurant here, and the proprietor assured us that the mountain lions don’t bother the campers much. He showed us pictures of three large cats that were taken within 10 miles of here. The largest weighed 170 pounds, and the paws were the size of a person’s head. We had a good laugh, much like laughing past the graveyard. 😉

I will never get tired of the scenery in this gorgeous part of our fantastic country. I love being in the mountains, and there is no fresher, purer air than out here. We are at about 4,500 feet of elevation, and looking forward to seeing the stars tonight if the clouds break up a little.

Better than seeing all of the sights I have come to love here in “Forever West” Wyoming is seeing them all new and fresh through my grandson’s eyes. Matt is absolutely thrilled with the trip and with all that he is seeing, and it just delights me to no end to see him enjoying this.

Today’s sights included countless, endless fields of sunflowers all across North Dakota. It’s like thousands of acres of happy all crowded together.

We stopped for lunch at a Subway in Jamestown, North Dakota — the town where Tom’s grandfather William was born back in the 1860s or 1870s. We see Subway restaurants in nearly every town we pass through — they might not have a McDonald’s or Burger King, but there’s a Subway!

It’s no small irony that I am sitting here with only the light from two faint mercury lights at each end of the campground, and my little battery lantern…clicking away on my laptop which is connected to the world via my Verizon hotspot. What a collision of worlds!

We drove a bit over 10 hours today to get here, and of course we have gained another hour thanks to time zones. Tomorrow, we will pack up, have breakfast here, and head over to Devils Tower to hike, climb, and explore; then it’s on to Greybull to see my brother Mike and sister-in-law Maria for a few days. Lots of favorite places to visit there as well, before we head out toward Yellowstone Wednesday afternoon.

News from the Little Brown Spotted Puppy Dog: He has shown his new attachment to the folks as Paws A Playin by stealing socks — that’s his way of telling people he really, truly loves them. And he let one of the other dogs use his bed while he slept in one of his other favorite spots there. He seems to be doing very well, except that sometimes he does not want to go outside when it’s time for everydog to go out in the yard. I miss the little guy, but I think he is much better off having his vacation at Miss Jamie’s than trying to keep up with Matt and me out here.

I realize that this post is a bit disjointed — my brain is a little fried from a long day on the road, and I need to sit for awhile and let it settle so that I can sleep! On to more adventures tomorrow!


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