One Last Excursion

On June 5th of last year, we as a family set out on a great adventure only few get to experience.  Setting out with a 5th wheel and a dream, we visited thirteen of our country’s National Parks, venturing as far west as Yosemite and ending in our backyard at Shenandoah National Park.  It is something we will never forget and we talk about regularly.

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This morning we had a sad realization.  Our American The Beautiful Pass expires tomorrow May 31st.  So we thought, why not one more adventure on the pass that brought us so much excitement?!?  So off we went on one more hurrah!

With one more year under their belt, the boys are much faster hikers, yet still haven’t gotten the groaning under control.  But there is much more pep in their step.  And I did notice my elbow didn’t hurt as it used to.  In the past it felt as if I was hyperextending it dragging Weston along.

White Oak Canyon Falls was are adventure of choice, just across from the southern entrance to Skyland Campground between milepost 42 & 43.

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Fortunately the weather held and we enjoyed an amazing hike through the forest.  I absolutely love the smell, the coolness of the woods, and the sound of the waters.  More importantly, I love seeing the boys experience it as well.  I hope they choose the mountains over the tv or Xbox.

I am reminded how brief their childhood is and how fast they grow up.  I want to capture every moment I can.  Look at what a difference a year makes!

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End of the Road

Saturday – July 18

Day 44

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Today we rolled into KOA in Fredericksburg.  What in the world is up with this humidity!!!!  Thought for a second to turn around a drive to dryer air, but held back.  It has been an absolutely amazing trip.  I want to thank you all for following along, enjoying the adventure with us, praying for us, and living vicariously!  But it isn’t over.  Stay tuned.  Hopefully in the next day or so I’m going to share a ton of what we experienced, learned, and even give Jennifer and the boys some room to comment on what their favorites were.

Route: Milton, WV to Luray, VA

Campground: Fredericksburg KOA

Time: Left 8:00AM ET, Arrived 9:45AM ET – 1Hrs45Mins

One Last Hurrah

Thursday – July 16

Day 42

Sometimes things don’t turn out like you imagined.  We thought we’d leave Colorado early and roll into Fredericksburg today.  However, every campground is booked over the weekend.  So we find ourselves in Luray for the next few nights.  Our lease on our apartment doesn’t start until Monday.  At least we have a home on 4 wheels.

Route: Milton, WV to Luray, VA

Campground: Outlanders River Camp

Time: Left 8:15AM ET, Arrived 1:45AM ET – 5Hrs45Mins

Friday – July 17

Day 43

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IMG_6525IMG_6547IMG_6548IMG_6559IMG_6568If you are stuck next to national park, go visit.  Why not make it 13 national parks in 42 days?  We ventured up into Big Meadows and got the boys books stamped and devoured some blackberry ice cream.  The campground we are staying at is amazing.  It is only 5 years old and sits on the Shenandoah River.  After 42 days of camping and fishing, we finally caught 3 small mouth bass.  Nothing like a little patience.

Itinerary: Shenendoah National Park, Big Meadows, Shenandoah River

Fiery Furnace

Friday – July 10

Day 36

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The Fiery Furnace isn’t so fiery.  Jennifer says its because God loves me.  That being it was in the low 70’s while we did the Fiery Furnace in Arches.  The ranger said it usually is in the 100’s by the time he starts the hike at 9AM.  If it’s because God loves me, then I’ll take it!  I was so proud of the boys.  The Fiery Furnace is a 2 mile, 3 hour guided tour, with rock scrambles, cliffs, narrows, and fun hiking challenges.  They did amazing.  And the hike was well worth it.  One of our favorites so far.

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The boys did so well on the hike, we thought they deserved another swim break.  If we lived here we’d be at the Moab Aquatics center every day.  Great place!

Itinerary: Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park

Saturday – July 11

Day 37

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Heading East starts to bring about the feelings of finality – that this trip is almost over.  But until then, we’ll milk it for all its worth.  We had a great time driving through Vail, Hot Sulpher Springs, and along the Colorado River.

IMG_6427 IMG_6425Lastly, nothing can beat hot chocolate…. except hot chocolate with a roasted marshmallow in it.

Route: Moab, UT to Grand Lake, CO

Campground: Winding River Resort

Time: Left 8:15 MT.  Arrived 5:00 MT 8hrs 45mins.  Stopped for groceries and Sally (our GPS) mis-behaved.

Big ‘Ol Makeup Post

There is an assumption being from the east that a national park will have a gateway town next to it.  Think Culpeper, Gatlinburg, or Pigeon Forge.  Lots of shops.  Lots of entertainment.  Grocery stores.  Restaurants.  Civilization.  Not so with Yosemite.  And thus, for the past week, I have had ZERO cell service.  Nada.  Nunca.  Niente.  So I have a bit to tell everyone.  I did keep up with my notes and everything will read, though, as if it is the end of the day.  I don’t want to spoil anything.  Let’s start with…

Monday – June 15

How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make – leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone – we all dwell in a house of one room – the world with the firmament for its roof – and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track. – John Muir

Day 11:

Don’t try to pack egg salad sandwiches for lunch.  You know that last day you see in Yellowstone?  The one fishing and taking in Old Faithful one last time.  It didn’t end very well.  Everyone else was fine.  Not so me.  Only thing I can think of is that we packed an egg salad sandwich for me.  Never again.  I spent the better part of Monday sleeping off my queasiness.  I missed walking around the very quaint and bustling downtown of Jackson.  But being a contributing member of society was more important.

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The Grand Tetons are Grand for a reason.  We took a route through Yellowstone park and out of the South entrance.  The fun thing about the Tetons is that you pull off really quick to get the only shot you believe you’ll get of the mountains.  Um… not the case.  Every time we topped a new hill, or turned a corner, the Tetons (out our right window) got bigger and bigger.  Every angle we viewed them from, was grander than the last.  Imagine flat prairie, then straight up mountains.  They were stunning.

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I’m a sucker for good ‘ol Western music.After sleeping off my queasiness, we headed out to the Bar J Ranch in Jackson Hole.  Food, fun, laughs, and a great change of pace.  And yes I did eat a steak.  I’m also a sucker for a good ‘ol ribeye.  I was feeling much better.  If you are ever in Jackson, this is a must for you.  Everyone was over the top polite.  The kids loved it.  The music was outstanding.  The people who checked you in were the people who served you were the people who sang were the people who… well they did about everything.  Some of the best Western music I’ve ever heard.

Final thoughts on Yellowstone…  Unique.  I found Yellowstone to really cater to crowds.  You went somewhere, parked, walked a boardwalk, and saw what you wanted to see.  Only thing we didn’t get to do was hike any off beaten trails.  But with a 6 and soon to be 8 year old in tow, that is a tough order.  Yellowstone was accessible.  It was easy in and easy out.  You did have to drive a bit to get to some of the other regions of the park.  The visitor centers are almost brand new and have great displays.  I wasn’t thrilled about Mammoth Springs.  The geysers, fumerols, and thermal springs were quite a show.  But the show stopper, per se, was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  It was by far my favorite even over Old Faithful.  Yellowstone also has TONS of wildlife.  We saw Elk galore, bison galore, a black bear, a grizzly from a distance, and some fox pups.  I finally saw my moose in Jackson.  Only thing I wanted to see, but missed, were big horn sheep.

Route: West Yellowstone, MT through Yellowstone NP, through South Entrance.  Through Grand Teton NP to Jackson, WY

Campground: The Virginian RV Park  By far our least favorite RV park and the most expensive yet.  However, it is right in the middle of Jackson.

Time: Left 8:00 AM CT.  Arrived 1:30 PM CT. 5.5 Hrs with a stop in Grand Teton.

Tuesday – June 16

Day 12:

IMG_5311I’m not a fan of Nevada.  If I said a couple of days ago that Wyoming is where you want to disappear, Nevada has won that title.  Not only is Nevada vast, it is barren.  We climbed over the south ridge of the Tetons, into Idaho (Yes they do grow lots of Potatoes) and then down into Nevada.  I’m not a fan of Nevada.  The gambling culture permeates the state and it just turns me off.

New isn’t always the best.  We stayed at the New Frontier RV Park in Winnemucca.  (Apparently Johnny Cash, in going ‘Everywhere’ was in Winnemucca too).  The RV park was so new, that hardly anyone was staying there.  Nice bathhouses.  But when you are in there all alone it can be a bit creepy.

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Sometimes I do like Wal-mart.  When looking for groceries before heading to Yosemite, sometimes its nice to see something you recognize.  West Yellowstone had NOTHING for  a grocery store.  We were left to digging grub worms out from under rocks for sustenance.  Actually my parents grabbed food in Idaho before meeting us.  We learned our lesson there and decided to get groceries when we had the chance.  Walmart was a site for sore eyes.

Route: Jackson, WY to Winnemucca, NV via Idaho Falls, I15, I86, Hwy 93, and I80

CampgroundNew Frontier RV Park Winnemucca, NV

Time: Left 7:30 AM CT.  Arrived 5:00 PM PT.  10 Hrs 30 Mins

Wednesday – June 17

Day 13

Going to the mountains is going home. – John Muir

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Gen 1:1

Big hills can sneak up on you.  When you route a trip like this, you pay attention to the mountains.  Big mountains take some planning.  You want to get fuel before hand.  You want to rest after.  You want to make sure your truck is in good working order.  However, when driving in Nevada, there are hills everywhere.  And they sneak up on you.  You’ll start climbing, and realize you are still climbing a minute later.  Then you hear your truck’s fan kick in and start cooling everything down.  Climb, climb, climb.  It happened several times.  I would realize we were doing it until my speed dropped.  Otherwise I’d have given it more fuel.

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If I thought Wyoming was desolate, I was wrong – its Nevada.  Want to lose a dead body? Look at Nevada first.  We took a hwy 95 through Fallon, NV from I80.  You’d drive miles without seeing a soul.  Solitude of that sort makes you uneasy.  There were no shoulders, no cellular service, and nothing to look at.  I breathed easier when we got to Lee Vining.
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California doesn’t believe in guardrails.  One of the things I was looking forward to was the Tioga Pass.  It is beautiful.  However, it doesn’t have guardrails.  It was a pretty harry drive.  Fortunately I was ascending instead of descending.  Thinking about descending that portion makes me faint-headed.  I wish I got a picture of the ascent, but I was white-knuckled holding the wheel, and Jennifer, I think, had her eyes closed.  Wyatt did happen to snap a fuzzy picture last second with his 100 year old iPod.  I posted a stock photo just so you could see.

So far, from what I can tell, California doesn’t believe in mobile service either.  I haven’t had a signal for hours.  There is, of course, no signal in Yosemite.  There is no signal outside of Yosemite.  And the RV park has horrible wifi.  It is going to be a long week.

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Yosemite is freakn’ amazing.  I can already tell this is going to be an amazing park.  I saw things on the drive in I’ve never seen before.  It is like driving in the Alpines.  There are huge granite monoliths with pine meadows and lakes underneath.  It really is amazing!  I cannot wait to begin exploring.

Route: Winnemucca, NV to Buck Meadows, CA via I80, Hwy 95, Lee Vining, through Tioga Pass

Campground: Yosemite Ridge RV Park

Time: Left 7:45 AM PT  Arrived 5:30 PM PT.  Had quite a delay in Fallon, NV at a pharmacy.

Thursday – June 18

Day 14

One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books. – John Muir

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. – Gen 1:31

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Yosemite is more than freakn’ amazing.  Driving into the valley really takes your breath away.  You just about break your neck looking up at all of the granite walls.  Standing right under El Capitan, you think if he decides to sneeze you are dead meat.  Everything you look at begs to have its picture taken!

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My boys are tough.  We started our Yosemite adventure in style hiking the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls.  1000ft elevation gain.  Strenuous.  And over 600 granite steps, many of which were doused in waterfall spray.  It is hot here and the waterfall mist was a welcomed respite.  Wyatt adventured with me to the top of the falls.   Absolutely amazing.  What is even more amazing is they didn’t complain once.  We had a beautiful picnic under some amazing trees at lunch.

Itinerary:  Vernal Falls via Mist Trail.  Lower Yosemite Falls.

Friday – June 19

Day 15:

I never saw a discontented tree. – John Muir

How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!
    How plainly it shows what he has done! – Ps 19:1

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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  When I walked out this morning I could smell wood smoke immediately.  The wildfires of California are close at the southern boundary of the park.  The smoke actually drifted into the valley obscuring the valley at Tunnel View.  Everywhere you drive you see remnants of the Rim Fire of 2013.  In fact, our RV park is right off of Hwy 120 where the fire originated.

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Sometimes words just don’t cut it.  These trees are beyond description.  We saw the Grizzy Giant today.  It is taller than the Statue of Liberty and taller than a 747 Jet.  It grows enough new wood each year to make up a 60 foot tree of typical proportions.  It just looks gnarly.  But every tree I see is big.  Even the trees that aren’t Sequoias are taller than I’m accustomed to.  You are always looking up.  When you arrive at Mariposa, you barely even make it onto the trail because of looking at a massive Sequoia sitting right there in front of you!  They are tremendous creatures, if I can call them that.  They make me think of Ents from Lord of the Rings.  I can imagine them all having discussions when we leave.  The big pine cone isn’t from a Sequoia, rather its a Sugar Pine.

Itinerary:  Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View.

Saturday – June 20

Day 16:

It is impossible to overestimate the value of wild mountains and mountain temples as places for people to grow in, recreation grounds for soul and body. They are the greatest of our natural resources, God’s best gifts, but none, however high and holy, is beyond reach of the spoiler. – John Muir

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Hetch Hetchy feels somewhat like a graveyard.  The National Parks story is very interesting and very complicated.  For instance, Yosemite wasn’t a National Park at first.  It first was set aside as parkland by President Lincoln and given to the State of California.  Exploration was the parks enemy.  And misuse of the land above the park began to show its effects.  The land set aside was then enlarged to incorporate the High Sierras and Tuolumne Meadows.  But as the country grew, and as the National Park system began to take shape, certain battles were waged to help define what kind of protection a National Park actually had.  Many politicians in the early 1900’s wanted Hetch Hetchy Valley as a resoivoir for San Francisco.  It was argued it was too remote and no one would care.  John Muir cared.  Hetch Hetchy was his favorite over Yosemite Valley because of its seclusion.  He fought hard to protect it.  But the earthquake of 1906 was too much of a persuasion, and Muir lost the fight.  Coincidently he died a year later.  The Tuolumne River was dammed and  Hetch Hetchy was flooded.  I knew the story before driving there today and it seemed a bit ominous.  If you want seclusion and no park crowds, this is the place to be.  It is a bit sad too.  I can only think there had to be a better solution.

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If you want to drive curvy roads, go to California.  You see that road?  8 miles of that curvy stuff.  At least it had a guard rail.  There is nothing outside of Yosemite.  It takes all of that driving to get to the nearest town of Sonora.

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The drought is sad.  The ground is crunchy.  The rivers are weak.  The streams are dry.  And the trees look tired.  Pray for rain.

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God is watching out for me.  We went into Sonora to get some circuit breakers and have a nice meal out.  I installed a 2nd A/C unit before I left and we realized it wouldn’t run when we were passing through Nevada.  Something about high 90’s makes you catch on real quick to air troubles.  The simplest thing I could think of was a bad breaker.  I was praying and praying it wasn’t a compressor or run capacitor.  When I walked back to the truck at Lowe’s, Jennifer mentioned she smelled diesel.  Sure enough, I had a diesel leak in my fuel filter housing.  I called around and wouldn’t you know I talked to a guy at an Auto Zone who had just done the same fix on his Chevy last week.  He knew the part I needed and pointed me to the directions on how to fix it.  Looks like I’ll be spending my Father’s Day in Sonora working on the truck.  Oh, and the breaker was bad.  I pulled it out and the wire wasn’t holding.  The set screw was stripped.  Thank you Jesus!

Itinerary:  Hetch Hetchy Valley

Sunday – June 21

Day 17:

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God made me special.  I know that’s an old Veggietales quote, but it suffices.  I have always been mechanical and like to know how things work.  At 8 I was taking apart my Fisher Price tape player and putting it back together.  I am thankful God has wired me that way.  It pays off in moments like these.  That there is a housing for my fuel filter.  A $25 rebuild kit, new O-rings, and an hour and a half later I’m back in business.  I did all of the work in the back of my truck in the parking lot.  Special thanks to Mr. Willie Rowe for giving me the confidence!

IMG_5501 IMG_5485 IMG_5461 IMG_5460 IMG_5458 IMG_5456 IMG_5455 IMG_5454Final thoughts on Yosemite:  I can’t get enough of Yosemite.  It is by far the most beautiful place on the planet.  I didn’t want to leave.  Yellowstone I cut a day short.  Yosemite I wish I had 5 days more.  There are so many trails to explore, granite faces to look up, valleys to look down, trees to meet, rivers to wade, glaciers to scale, and images to burn into my mind.  I will be back here again.  It is too majestic to only experience once.

Itinerary: Tuolumne Meadows, Tunnel View

Monday – June 22

Day 18:

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!  – John Muir

Holy Cow does California have curvy roads!!!!!!!  That 8 mile trek I posted about earlier?  I had to do that for the better part of 2 hours!  Up.  Down.  Around.  Up.  Down.  Around.  It was ridiculous.  This is the first time I felt sorry for my truck.  Do they not have highways around here?

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Animal Style is the way to go!  How can I go to California and not go to In-N-Out and order an Animal Style Cheeseburger?  Did you know at the bottom of every In-N-Out soda cup is printed John 3:16?  Now you know… and knowing is half the battle.

Memories are made each day.  I look back through the pictures over the past two weeks and it is hard to believe that those experiences are over and have transitioned to memories.  They seem so long ago.  And the experiences I have tomorrow are destined to the same fate.  It makes me think I need to slow down and soak in each day.

Route: Buck Meadows, CA to Three Rivers, CA via HWY 49 (NEVER AGAIN!!)

CampgroundSequoia Ranch RV Park

Time: Left 8:00AM PT.  Arrived 3:20PM PT 7Hrs 20Mins

It’s Only a 5% Chance

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. – John Muir

What I learned, day 5.

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Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  Where do I start?  First, I was planning on doing Iron mountain highway because it has several amazing tunnels that frame up the faces of Mount Rushmore.  But they closed part of the road and cut off 2 of the 3 tunnels.  At least we got the first one in.  Then, we were going to do the needles highway on the way back.  Road construction prevented us from following our schedule and made us push it to the evening.  We did the Wildlife Loop.  Most of the wildlife was on a coffee break.  The biggest unforeseen was, well read on.

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Mount Rushmore really is remarkable.  However, we felt it was ‘take a picture and go.’  We did watch a 15 minute film on how it was made.  But that was just to beat the heat.  It was so hot today!  We got our pictures and got back into the A/C.

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Pictures are deceiving.  We may look like we are having fun.  But I think at this point we were all spent.  Too much in one day.  The ATV seemed like a good idea.  But after about 15 minutes, 20% of your hearing gone, and your face windburned, you realize you’d rather be in the air conditioned truck.  Great picture though.

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5% chance of rain means that there could be rain, not there’s a 95% chance it won’t rain. After driving in the ATV through the Wildlife Loop, we headed into Custer to top off the tank and get a blizzard from the DQ.  I just happened to look out the window as I was throwing away some trash and said “We got’s to go now!”  There were dark clouds on the horizon.  Keep in mind, we have no windshield.  We have no doors.  We have no windows.  We only have a fabric roof.  And we are about 10 minutes from our campground.  About half way back it started hailing – little pea size hail.  Not that bad if you were looking out the window.  But not too pleasant if it is hitting you while you are doing 30 mph.  Ouch!  At least the kids had helmets.  The wind kicked up.  The rain started.  And I am sure the temp dropped from 85 to 65 in a hurry.  It was cold!  We could not stop laughing the entire way back.  Soaked to the bone we turned the heat on and let the kids eat dinner in their underwear.  Of course, none of this was in my spreadsheet.

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Needles highway is a must see.  I’m so glad we made ourselves go back out and see it.  The rock formations are unreal.  I have just too many pictures to post!  At one point I thought I was Matthew Mcconaugheyn a Lincoln commercial because we had a buffalo staring us down.

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You can’t take a picture of smell.  Pine.  Mist.  Streams.  Wildflowers.  Clean.  When we went through needles it had just rained.  It smelled amazing.  Too bad I can’t share that with you.

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Route/Itinerary: Custer State Park – Iron Mountain Hwy to Mt. Rushmore.  Wildlife Loop.  Needles Highway.

Bad ain’t so bad

What I learned:

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Sleeping in isn’t what it used to be. Last night I was tired. Jennifer was tired. The boys were tired. We hosed them down, put them to bed, and set no alarms. I mean, come on! Just the other morning we couldn’t get them up! Surely they’ll sleep in?  Nope. 6:30 rolled around and you could feel the camper moving. Its like a jungle gym to them. Another thing I learned is the tooth fairy visits you no matter where you are. We’ve told Weston there isn’t such a person, but he doesn’t care. He still pretends.

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The National Parks system is such a gem.  Jennifer wondered allowed if people drive by what we are seeing everyday without thinking about it.  I’m sure they do because we do the same.  But if you have a chance, get to a National Park.  Go visit a memorial in DC.  Go to Shenandoah.  Go somewhere!  There is a National Park or Monument close to you. I’m sure of it.  And they are there for you to enjoy!  I think that is why I love Teddy Roosevelt so much.

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The Badlands aren’t so bad. It was really remarkable to be driving in such flat country, and to top a horizon with these formations in your view. I truly felt I was riding through an attraction created by Disney, but so much better. You could spend a day in there letting your kids climb everything in site.

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Rattlesnakes are shy.  I was hoping to snap a picture of a rattlesnake, but they resisted. I did get a prairie dog. They were running around everywhere!

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Everywhere is God’s country. I used to say Tennessee was God’s country because it is so beautiful. Everywhere I have driven has been just as beautiful. The Badlands? Their own unique beauty. Then drive into the Black Hills. They are simply breathtaking. Tomorrow is Mount Rushmore, Iron Mountain Highway, Needles Highway, and Wildlife Loop.

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Chevy makes a mean truck. Everyone thinks my truck is new. “Is that a 2013?” “Nice truck! Is it new?” Um…. No. Its not new. I bought it with 113,000 miles on it and it’s a 2008 Silverado 2500HD with a Duramax Diesel and Allison transmission. I put on some airbags myself for added support, brake controller, and the fifth wheel hitch. Today we crossed the 1700 mile mark for our trip and we did some serious climbing. Up, down, around, up again, turn the corner, transmission brake going down. The truck just kept taking it. My transmission got hotter than I’ve seen it at 195. But according Allison I have till 270 to get worried.

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Boys will look at anything you ask them to and then some if you give them a pair of binoculars. They look at the hills. They turn around and look at the truck. The turn and look at each other. You want to keep your kids entertained, give them some binoculars.

Route: Kennebec, SD to Custer, SD via Badlands Loop Road

CampgroundCusters Gulch RV Park (Spotty website)

Time: Left 9:18AM CT.  Arrived 2:30PM MT 6Hrs 12 Mins