We’re back from our family vacation! First, we had seven weeks at the Collegiate Church Network‘s Leadership Training program in Estes Park. Then, Marci, Cor, and I took the better part of two weeks to swing further west: to enjoy some dedicated vacation time centered in Utah and Nevada. We drove our minivan, however, so the trip ultimately included ten states in twelve days. And I have to say that it was a pretty epic odyssey in our Odyssey! I wanted to winnow down our considerable collection of pictures that I took to a sort of Top Ten, roughly corresponding to the ten states that we visited.
But first, a disclaimer: I don’t believe in the concept of “flyover states,” that is, disregarding certain parts of the country that are less populous or that seem less interesting to outsiders. All the different places we passed through are amazing in their own ways. Still, I didn’t happen to get any decent pictures in Wyoming or Indiana. So I’m going to acknowledge them as legitimate parts of our trip — but I’m going to give their “picture places” to Utah and Nevada (doubling up their allowance), since those were really our destination spots. So anyway: here are the pictures and stories that go with them…
Wyoming (Not Pictured)
We drove through a steady drizzle for much of our travel from (my job assignment in) Estes Park, Colorado, through the great state of Wyoming, to (our first vacation stay in) Honeyville, Utah. So we really just made two stops: one for lunch and one for fueling up the car. I love Wyoming, though.
I already covered a number of highlights from our time in the weird-and-wonderful state of Utah in a different post. But as we were driving West from the Great Salt Lake, just approaching the Utah-Nevada border, we passed through the Bonneville Salt Flats. They run automotive speed trials through this area. They film car commercials with this backdrop. And yes: the ground tastes salty! (I tried it myself). Again, I was reminded what a weird and wonderful state Utah is.
This vacation was our first real test run of life as a family of three, now that the proverbial nest has started to empty out with our baby birds (Elliot and Olivia) flying towards greater independence (college and careers). It was unfamiliar. Maybe even uncomfortable at times. But I think we started figuring some things out. And one of the fondest memories of the inauguration of this era — and particularly this vacation time in Mormon Country — was our nearly-daily trips to the drink shops, or soda shops, of Utah and Nevada.
I still prefer espresso drinks or bubble tea, myself, but it’s interesting to see how much carbonated beverages like Sprite and Coca-Cola can also be customized with various shots of Torani syrups… or cream… or pureed fruit. Our favorite place ended up being Fiiz Drinks, in downtown Elko. We especially appreciated their air conditioning and iced drinks, seeing how daytime temperatures were in the mid-90s. Good drinks lead to good conversations. And good conversations lead to good bonding time.
The place where we stayed in Northern Nevada had some significant challenges, mostly related to the Nothingness of Nevada. But it also had some spectacular sunsets. And we had time to watch them and enjoy them together every night, which is pretty special.
We were in Arizona for less than an hour on this trip. And all from within our Honda Odyssey. It was the start of our big push back East, and we hit the state line just before dawn, while Olivia and Cor were still sleeping in the back seats. Marci snagged this picture — which is pretty spectacular in spite of all the bug guts on the windshield — and then drifted back to sleep, herself. But those next ten miles or so happened to coincide with a beautiful canyon and a glorious sunrise. There were times when my jaw literally dropped, as I took in some of those views! I liked having these views “to myself,” but also having Marci, Cor, and Olivia (who met up with us in Las Vegas the previous day) within an arm’s length. Even a little bit of Arizona packs a powerful punch, I’d say.
I like this picture from Bryce Canyon National Park because it seems like something from a different era. The expressions on Olivia’s, Cor’s, and Marci’s faces are almost candid. And it’s the only photo from this particular spot on the rim of the canyon, where there were no railings or other crowds of tourists to clutter the background. It just seems like the kind of picture that would come about from that era when pictures were captured on rolls of film, developed weeks after the trip was finished. Bryce Canyon was beautiful — and even better than I expected it to be because of the short hike along the Navajo Loop we were able to do while we were there.
On our way back through Colorado, we got to visit the newly-acquired home of our former (Kent) neighbors: Curt, Amy, Max, Lila, and Sam. It felt like a surprisingly sweet reunion, since Olivia was the only person from our family who was able to attend their Farewell Festivities earlier in the summer. Of course, they demonstrated the same hospitality that we knew from living right next door to each other for ten years. They let us tour the new house (even though they were barely moved in, themselves). The kids had a dance party in the basement, while the adults caught up. And we had delicious ice cream sundaes in their amazing new open kitchen. Our visit was only about two hours, but it felt like a gift.
I had hoped to take the “scenic route” through the Sandhills of Western Nebraska, on our way from Colorado to Iowa. But we ultimately decided that expedience would be better than the experience. So, I talked the family into choosing a quirky diner for lunch. And our stop in North Platte, Nebraska, at the Lincoln Highway Diner, did not disappoint. I had chicken-fried steak and eggs, and the food was excellent. But the thing I appreciated most about the Lincoln Highway Diner was the way that it seemed to provide a window into the “real” Nebraska. Cornhusker flags on the walls… men with walrus mustaches… women with tall perms… We were the only tourists there for lunch that day. And we felt right at home.
I actually lived in Iowa for about six months, just before my first birthday. There’s not much to Elk Horn (even the church where my Dad got his first job out of seminary has ceased to exist), but there is a windmill. A few other outbuildings, too, paying tribute to the town’s Danish heritage. Kind of kitschy, but actually perfect for a road trip like ours. We had hoped to get dinner in Elk Horn that night, but both of the town’s dining establishments — The Norse Horse Tavern and Larsen’s — were closed for some reason. Ah, well… It was interesting to see the place that I’d only ever remembered seeing in photographs, before.
Time keeps ticking for our 2010 Honda Odyssey, just like it does for the rest of us. It’s nearing 200,000 miles on the odometer. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it gave me some stress on this trip. The air conditioning system kept acting up. The brake pads will need to be replaced soon. And both of the rear sliding doors are getting pretty janky. Still, I’m very grateful that we made it all the way back through Illinois (where this picture was taken) to Ohio without any major incidents. Hopefully we can give the Odyssey some tender loving care, now that we’re back to trusted mechanics in Kent. And hopefully it will serve us for many more road trips to come.
Indiana (Not Pictured)
We made record time across Indiana, not even stopping for food or fuel. It was just that point in the trip, where we were eager to get home. But Indiana is great. We made it to and through Indiana, and we were all glad for that.
Vacations always help me to appreciate everyday life, when I get back home. I like Ohio (probably my favorite of the ten states). I like Kent: our friends and family… our house… our church… our cafes and shops… We’re still not fully up to speed here in Northeast Ohio, but we’re glad to be back.