Friday, July 24, 2009

Really, probably the last post

Some have asked about the "Skycoaster" that Lisa, Makaylah and I rode in Colorado. Well, here's the video!


video

Monday, July 20, 2009

Trip Recap

Raw Data
Miles travelled = 7,895.6 (about 395 miles or 6.5 hours per day)
Money spent = $3,277 (about $23.41 per person per day for lodging, transportation, food and entrance to attractions; not included are repairs to van and souvenirs) - for those of you wondering how a pastoral family of 7 can even afford that, we saved for it and used our tax return (with child tax credit) to cover the cost

Lowest elevation = 2 ft. above sea level in New Orleans, LA
Highest elevation = 9,105 ft. above sea level in Poncha Pass, CO
Farthest West = Las Vegas, NV (went into CA but it was not as far West)
Farthest South = San Antonio, TX
Farthest North = Billings, MT

Favorite Road (kids) = AR-27 in Arkansas (kind of like a roller coaster with dips)
Favorite Road (dad) = US-285 in Texas (wide open and no traffic)
Least Favorite Road (dad) = AZ-160 (with 4 single lane construction zones) or almost anything in Louisiana or Mississippi (even the Interstates are not nearly as good as in other states)
Most Traveled Road = I-10 (we were on I-10 for 2,066 miles - 26% of all our miles!)

Number of National Monuments/Parks = 8 (Carlsbad, Guadalupe Mountains, Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Little Big Horn, Devil's Tower, Mt. Rushmore)
Number of Other Monuments/Parks = 6 (Alamo, Four Corners, U.S. Mint, Sacajawea's grave, Pony Express Museum, Crater of Diamonds Park)
Indian Reservation Driven Through = 6 (Gila River, Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Wind River, Crow)
State Capitals Driven Through = 7 (Tallahassee, Baton Rouge, Phoenix, Denver, Cheyenne, Little Rock, Jackson)

Best Unplanned Pull-off = Sacajawea's Grave (it's difficult to find, stop and ask a local for directions)
Worst Unplanned Pull-off = Deadwood, SD (unless you gamble, drink or want to walk to look at people drinking or gambling, there is not much to do in a little amount of time)

Kids' Answers
Favorite Attraction - something you saw
Makenzie = Hummingbirds at Royal Gorge (They are cute and my favorite bird)
Makaylah = Corn Palace (It was fun to look at)
Jordan = Mt. Rushmore (The lighting and the interesting facts)
Jariah = The 100ft Swing at Royal Gorge (It looks scary)
Jedidiah = Mt. Rushmore (Lighting at night)

Least Favorite Attraction - something you saw
Makenzie = Nothing (I liked everything)
Makaylah = Devil's Tower (All we did was walk around it)
Jordan = Devil's Tower (I did not find it that interesting)
Jariah = Corn Palace (Because it made me hungry)
Jedidiah = Old Faithful (Bored waiting)

Favorite Event - something you did
Makenzie = Riding over the Royal Gorge Bridge in the aerial tram
Makaylah = Giant Swing at Royal Gorge Bridge
Jordan = The Alpine Slide in Keystone, SD (It was very fun)
Jariah = Walk around Devil's Tower (Because of the rocks)
Jedidiah = Devil's Tower (It was interesting)

Least Favorite Event - something you did
Makenzie = Walking around Las Vegas (crowds)
Makaylah = Walking in Las Vegas
Jordan = The Las Vegas Strip (Crowded and too many people smoke)
Jariah = The Las Vegas Strip (Because of the clump of people)
Jedidiah = The Las Vegas Strip (crowded)

How did you like riding so much in the van?
Makenzie = I liked watching movies and playing DS but not the headaches and sore muscles
Makaylah = It wasn't that bad but it wasn't my favorite. It had rest time but got sore on my butt after awhile.
Jordan = It was OK. Jariah took up too much space.
Jariah = It was amazing because I could sleep a lot.
Jedidiah = I liked playing games and watching movies.

Favorite Hotel
Makenzie = I liked most of them but I don't have a favorite
Makaylah = Days Inn in Colorado Springs (The one with the ginormous pool)
Jordan = Prince Charles in Branson, MO (We were with relatives)
Jariah = Prince Charles in Branson (Because we were with people we knew)
Jedidiah = Prince Charles in Branson (pool)

Least Favorite Hotel
Makenzie = Quality Inn in New Orleans (roaches)
Makaylah = Quality Inn in New Orleans (The one with all the bugs)
Jordan = Gold Coast Hotel in Las Vegas (Too many people smoking)
Jariah = Quality Inn in New Orleans (Because it was nasty)
Jedidiah = Quality Inn in New Orleans (bugs)

Favorite Restaurant
Makenzie = Fuddrucker's in Billings, MT
Makaylah = Casa Bonita in Denver (It had cool things to eat and do there)
Jordan = Pizza World in Branson (Good pizza)
Jariah = Pizza World in Branson (Because of the dessert pizza)
Jedidiah = Casa Bonita in Denver

Least Favorite Restaurant
Makenzie = Jack in the Box in Benson, AZ
Makaylah = Jack in the Box in Benson, AZ (It was disgusting)
Jordan = Jack in the Box in Benson, AZ (It was not the best)
Jariah = Jack in the Box in Benson, AZ (Because of the food)
Jedidiah = Jack in the Box in Benson, AZ

Dad's Recommendation - for those considering such a trip
1. Get a National Park Annual Pass. They are only $80 and you can get your use out of them at a lot of places.
2. If you got to a National Park, checkout the Junior Ranger program. It is different in each park and easier in some than others but it really helps the kids learn about the park.
3. WiFi is a must-have hotel amenity. A pool is nice but not necessary if you are going to arrive late and leave early.
4. Try a local restaurant (not a national chain) every once in awhile - we loved Chandler's Restaurant in Dubois, MT.
5. If you got more than 4 people, throw in a sleeping bag (or 3) into the car so you can get 1 room - save your money for attractions.
6. Consider traveling only about 6 hours each day (or less). The miles take a toll on the driver if not anyone else.
7. Arrive early and at least just before the park/site opens. There are few people that do and there is far less traffic (cars and people).
8. Plan some "surprises" for the trip - ours were a day at Royal Gorge Bridge and the Alpine Slide in Keystone, SD.
9. Plan some rest time after the trip - I'm writing this from home and I took today off from work.
10. Take a cooler for the car and keep drinks (juice boxes, sodas, etc.) in it and have a good water bottle for each person. Take snacks so you can "refuel" on the road.
11. Get a portable DVD player (and car mount) so you can entertain for hours on the road.
12. Get a copy of the Bible on tape or CD. We were able to "listen" our way through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans and half of 1 Corinthians.
13. A hot breakfast (free) at the hotel is nice but most continental breakfasts will do well at filling you up as well.
14. Print maps and directions before you go but also take a GPS. The printed maps will give you good information that sometimes the GPS won't but a good GPS will walk you through the "steps" ahead and will let you search the area for a restaurant.
15. You don't need to take as many clothes as you think. Over half of our hotels had laundry facilities. All of our clothes fit into 1 suitcase. We only took 3 changes of clothes per person an d did fine.
16. Download or backup your pictures each night while you are recharging your camera batteries.
17. Take a tripod and learn how to use your camera's auto taking feature before the trip.
18. If you are going to a U.S. Mint, it is free but you HAVE to make reservations.
19. Service your vehicle before going and have a good trusted mechanic give it a once over before leaving. Join AAA if you are not already a member.
20. Remember you are taking the vacation to be with the very people on the trip that are driving you nuts. Remind yourself as often as it takes for you to enjoy the trip and for them to enjoy the trip. Being with them at the sites is the best part of the trip, not just the sites.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

July 19

Daphne, AL to St. Petersburg, FL

Well, this report will be boring for you but great for us. After 544 miles today, we are home! We spent a final 9 hours on the road and got home around 5:30pm. For the record, our trip was 7,895.6 miles. All our animals were fine when we got home - we even had more animals than when we left since one (or more) of Makenzie's fish had babies. The house is in one piece, the animals are fine, the kids are already playing on the PS2, Wii and computer, mom is getting staples from the grocery store and I'm taking care of unpacking.

Thank you for reading and praying. I will write a recap to go over some of our highlights and some of our suggestions for others who might try the same.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

July 18

Hope, AR to Daphne, AL

Today will be a boring day to read about. We didn't visit any place except the highway. We drove 537 miles today and was on the road for about 9 hours (including stops). For the trip we are at about 7,350 miles. Our Bible hour today was Romans 7-15 and we watched Tim Hawkins, Lost in Space, Father of the Bride 2, and the Muppets Show. Our funny incident of the day was Jordan's mustard packet kind-of exploding at lunch and spraying Jariah across the table - a very funny accident! We have visited 18 states on our trip and tomorrow we are back in the state of Florida - right now the best state in the mind of our driver!

I am planning on doing a final day blog and then a final blog for the trip. Thanks for remembering us and praying for us! I got a copy of our family photo from my dad - he's still home and doing better!

Friday, July 17, 2009

July 17

Branson, MO to Hope, AR

We started early (7:45am) for our 333 mile trip today. We left Branson with very little traffic and headed south for Arkansas. Shortly after the drive began, most of the vehicle passengers were asleep so we didn't watch any movies and waited to have our Bible hour later. We hit all the major fast-food restaurants today - McDonalds for breakfast, KFC for lunch and Wendy's for dinner.

After arriving in Arkansas, we headed for Mufreesboro and the Crater of Diamonds State Park. It is the world's 8th largest source of diamonds and the world's largest (and I think only) diamond mine open to the public and that allows you to keep what you find. For a really rather modest entrance fee and rental of mining equipment, we headed out for our adventure! Half the group spent the time surface mining - walking around and looking at what was on the top surface. Well, that's what they were supposed to be doing, in fact, they spent a lot of time playing in the mud!

The other half of us would dig spots, put the dirt in a bucket and then bring it to a station to wet sift the mud to find the treasures within. For the record, it was 97 degrees today at the mine field with a heat index of 110 so we spent considerable amount of time in the shade! We dug and sorted for about 3 hours and collected our valuable finds. After returning our equipment (and getting our deposit back), we had them look at our finds and the only real gems we found was some jasper. Well, at least we had fun.

We cleaned up a bit, or changed clothes when necessary - like Jedi, and then headed for Hope, AR and our hotel for the night. It was a good trip with the opportunity to watch an episode of the Muppet Show. We had our Bible hour on the way to the Diamond park, it was Acts 19-26. After dinner at Wendys, we stopped at Walmart and got some ice cream cones for dessert. All in all, it was a good day and we are looking forward to getting home in only 2 more days!

July 16

Branson, MO

Today was a leisure morning of sleeping in, shopping at the outlet mall, swimming in the pool and then going in the afternoon to see "Noah" at the Sight & Sound Theater. If you want to go to an amazing show in Branson that's great for the whole family - it's Noah! We really enjoyed it and thought they did a fantastic job in telling the Biblical story and expanding it appropriately. After the show, we said goodbye to Uncle John, Aunt Tracy and our cousins from NC. We went to dinner with Uncle Matt and Aunt Tina - pizza buffet. Back to the hotel for an early bedtime, we said goodbye to Uncle Matt and Aunt Tina since they are not getting up as early as we are.

We got word that Dad was released from the hospital and back home again so that was good to hear. Again, thanks for praying!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 15

Ashland, NE to Branson, MO

We were up early to get ready for our family picture at 7:30am. What a chore to get 10 adults and 15 children ready, in place, and smiling for a photo! I'll post a copy when we have it. After the photo, we had a big breakfast together and then those leaving for Branson began to load their vehicles. We got our van back - $213 for repairs. We left Ashland around 10:30am and headed south for Branson.

On the way to Branson, we stopped at the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, MO. I'll put up a picture or two later but it is enough to say we enjoyed it! What a remarkable endeavor and I guess I forgot that they only operated for 18 months - seems like such an important part of our history even though it only occupied a small time in our history. Take your kids, they will enjoy it!

Back on the road, we completed our 424 mile trip in about 7 hours of driving (plus stops) and got to Branson just before 7:00pm. Friends of ours had given us tickets to go see the Acrobats of China. I've seen them in Shanghai and in Beijing and they certainly were worth seeing again. The kids really loved it and it is one of the shows in Branson kids really would enjoy. We got out of the show just after 10:00pm and got into Branson traffic (all the shows letting out). It took us about 45 minutes to go 1.2 miles back to our hotel with a stop at McDonald's for a very late supper. We plan on sleeping in tomorrow morning.

While on the road, we got a phone call that dad was taken back to the hospital. He wasn't feeling well and mom was concerned so she took him back and they decided to keep him for observation. Thanks for praying!

July 14

Ashland, NE

Sorry...got busy with family things. First things first, dad came home from the hospital late today (Tuesday) - around 5:30 pm. They finally got his heart back to a normal beat and then discharged him. We rescheduled our family photo for Wednesday morning. So, our day was filled with sleeping, playing Wii with cousins (nieces and nephews), eating, swimming in Grandma's pool, and getting updates from the hospital on how Grandpa was doing. Our van isn't done but should be done in the morning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 13

Ashland, NE

Today was an off-trip day as we did nothing but hang around my parents house with sisters (3), brother-in-laws (3), nieces (5) and nephews (5) - plus Lisa, me and our kids. We went to Famous Dave's BBQ for lunch and had a real Swiss fondue dinner when our family friend, Sam - a real Swiss native, came over and made fondue for our family. Other than that, the ladies went shopping, we all played a lot of Wii, the kids went swimming several times, we watched children (ages of this group are 17, 16, 16, 15, 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 7, 3, 2 and 1), and just enjoyed being with each other. I got our van into the shop and they should get parts tomorrow so by Tuesday evening we should have it back. No pictures to show - sorry.

Please pray for my dad. He had gotten home from the hospital on Sunday from his knee replacement surgery and was still in a fair amount of pain. At his physical therapy today, he started to feel faint and so they took him back to the ER to be checked out. Well, he's back in the hospital because his blood pressure is up and down and up again. We are praying it is nothing major but that means he's not here (and the grandkids can't be there) and will probably miss our family photo on Tuesday.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

July 12

Oacoma, SD to Ashland, NE

We started the day with an attempt to repatch our leaking gas line one last time so we could fill up and make it to Nebraska. It didn't really work well but we got filled up and on our way just before the rain started. Our first stop was only about 4 miles down the road - a Lewis and Clark exhibit at the rest area along I-90. They had some great information and displays including a replica of the keelboat that they used. It was impressive and enjoyable for the kids.

Getting back on the interstate, we headed about an hour east to Mitchell, SD. Along the way we had our morning Bible hour - Acts 9-17. We arrived in Mitchell and went to the Corn Palace. It's a large building, whose chief purpose now seems to be to sell souvenirs, that is decorated with corn husks throughout the season in a variety of pictures. The kids enjoyed it, but then again they had not met a souvenir shop they didn't like.

With concerns for our gas situation, we decided to go from there to Grandma and Grandpa's instead of taking the diversion into Minnesota. So, after driving 353 miles for the day, and driving through South Dakota, Iowa and into Nebraska, and passing the 6000 miles mark for the trip (about 3 miles from Grandma and Grandpa's) we arrived at their house in Nebraska.

So, now we have a couple of days with family in Nebraska before we head out again. We are grateful for the time with family and the time to rest. It's been a good trip but I think everyone is looking to some more sleep and relaxing time. Also, I take the van into the shop tomorrow morning to have the gas line fixed and a once over to make sure we are ready for the trip home.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 11

Rapid City, SD to Oacoma, SD

We got out of our hotel at 7:00 am and got to Mt. Rushmore before 7:40am - we were one of the first dozen people in the park. Our accomplishment was partly due to the time, partly due to that fact that there had been severe thunderstorms that morning with continued light rain, and partly because there was some heavy fog or low lying clouds passing over the carved faces. We took the time to walk around the .6 mile President's Trail as the rain had finished and by the time we got back, the sun was coming out. We finished our visit to Mt. Rushmore with a visit, of course, to the Gift Shop.

From Mt. Rushmore, we went down into Keystone where Lisa and I had planned an extra "surprise" for the kids. We took them to Rushmore Tramway (www.rushmorealpineslide.com) which has a ski lift to an adjacent hill, from which you get a unique perspective on Mt. Rushmore, and an Alpine slide back down. You sit in a little cart, controlling the speed of your own descent, and race down the mountain in a bobsled type track. It was a blast!

We then made an unplanned stop at Ft. Hayes - a tourist attraction just south of Rapid City. We stopped because it was FREE (that's me) and because they advertised that they had some of the props from "Dances with Wolves." What a surprise when we can across the Ft. Hayes command house used in the movies. We even got to stand on the spot Kevin Costner did when receiving his orders to go west.

Leaving the Mt. Rushmore area, we headed east on I-90 for our next destination - Wall Drug. For those of you not familiar with it, it's kind of hard to explain Wall Drug. It's part souvenir store, part restaurant, part western museum, part playground, part everything. We had lunch there including a buffalo burger for everyone to share. Having seen the buffalo a couple of days earlier, we didn't really enjoy it even though we thought it tasted okay! We then spent about an hour looking around the various stores that are a part of Wall Drug.

Out back, Wall Drug has an area setup for families to take pictures of their kids in a variety of western situations. As always, Jariah is our clown and very photogenic! Everyone had a great time. We then drove the final 2 hours to our hotel for the night. Our Bible Hour today was Acts 1-8. Our in-car movie was National Treasure 1. We only drove 266 miles today. We've been swimming tonight and are looking forward to getting to Grandma and Grandpa Kroll's tomorrow afternoon (after visiting a Lewis & Clark exhibit, the Corn Palace and possibly a short trip into Minnesota).

July 10

Billings, MT to Rapid City, SD

We started our day with a good breakfast at our Quality Inn hotel in Billings before heading out for the hour drive to Little Big Horn. Along the way, we had our Bible Hour of John 12-21. We got to the Monument at 8:30am and spent about90 minutes at the monument and a shop in the area. We saw the spot Custer fell as well as many other interesting sites.

Jariah even found his Indian namesake listed among the Native Americans who perished in the battle. Speaking of Jariah, the boys filled out a historical survey and then were each sworn in as Junior Rangers - complete with badges! It is a great program in the National Parks and each park is a little different in what is required and what badge they get.

From there, we traveled east and south back into Wyoming and to Devil's Tower. What an awesome site! We had gotten our lunch (Subway) right before getting to the park so when we got there we were ready for a walk. We took the 1.3 mile trail around the base of the mountain and got some wonderful pictures and a better understanding of what the mountain is really like.

Before coming on the trip, we had the kids watch "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" so they would have some idea of what the mountain was like. As good as the movie was, we were all still in awe when we were that close to it. We climbed up on some rocks near the base to get a good picture with the kids. From Devil's Tower we were going to go to Bell Fourche (the geographical center of the U.S.) but decided (on a whim) to go through Deadwood instead. What a mistake! If you are not really looking to gamble or drink or have more than a little time to spare (all parking is outside of town and you need to walk in or wait for and ride the trolley), it's not for you, and it wasn't for us.

We finally got to Rapid City, our destination for the evening and checked into our hotel. After some swimming, we got some dinner and headed to Mt. Rushmore for their evening program of lighting the memorial. It was very good and we can't wait to go back in the morning. Well, it's 11:29pm (our time) and I need to be up at 5:30am so I guess that's it for today. Thanks for reading and following our travels and for the many great comments and emails about the blog. Also, thank you all who sent birthday wishes to Jedi - I read them all to him and he really enjoyed them all!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

July 9

Dubois, WY to Billings, MT

It seems hard to believe but we started our 10th day of the trip this morning. It's been a really good trip (except for the tire blowout) and we are still enjoying the trip and each other! We started out just before 7:00am this morning for our 393 miles of driving for the day. Our morning Bible hour was John 5-12. We drove to Yellowstone National Park through the southern entrance which comes through Grand Teton National Park. We didn't originally have the Grand Tetons on our itinerary but are so glad we changed our itinerary to include them.

The only negative to our trip into Yellowstone was the 6 miles of single road construction just before the park and it's half hour delay. We finally got into the park and headed immediately for Old Faithful. It took about an hour to get there from the south entrance and we didn't stop anywhere on the way because we didn't want to miss an eruption. They list the eruption times at the Visitor Center at Old Faithful (which doesn't help until you get there) and by phone call (but there is limited to no service in the park).

We go to Old Faithful at 10:37 and the next eruption was listed as being within 10 minutes of 10:49. What great timing! The eruption happened around 10:52. It was great - we loved it, the crowd loved, God is great! We enjoyed the 3+ minute eruption and then waited for the crowd to thin out before hitting the Visitor Center (and bathrooms) and a couple of gift shops in the area. From there, we went back towards the south entrance and stopped at the Kepler Cascades. We were planning on going out of the park through the North entrance but our GPS wanted us to go out through the East entrance. Are we glad we didn't listen to our GPS!

Soon after passing the East entrance, we came across 5 bison grazing alongside the road. We had seen 1 bison earlier but he was far from the road and barely visible. These 5 were up close and active. We stopped and took some pictures and then headed on the road. We hoped to find another bison - 7 bison for 7 people in our family. Shortly, we came across the guy in the picture with the kids. He was sitting at one of the rest areas in the park and we stood about 15 feet from him.

In all, we saw about 80 bison in the Park and about 40-60 more on farms right outside of the park. Most were adults but Jordan found this little guy he could hold in his hand! From the Park, we travelled to Billings, MT. We had dinner at Fuddrucker's (a restaurant Lisa and I went to when we were dating). Another great day of traveling and enjoying our family together!
Tomorrow is Jedi's birthday - hard to believe that our baby will be 8. I hope our on-the-road celebration is one he enjoys!

July 8

Colorado Springs, CO to Dubois, WY

Today was a long day of driving - 554 miles and about 480 of that after lunch. We started the day in Colorado Springs and left our hotel around 7:30am heading to Denver. Our Bible Hour was Luke 22 to John 4. We had two stops in Denver to look at, the Denver Mint and Casa Bonita. I had looked into the Denver Mint at the beginning of our planning for the trip but forgot to look again once our dates and itinerary was set. They offer a free tour but you MUST make reservations. I was reminded of this last night in my nightly prep for the next day. They said they do take walk-ups but a limited number.

In blind faith or desperate hope, we headed to the Mint in the attempt to get in the 9:00am tour as we had planned. They would add us to the next available tour - at noon! So, we went to the gift shop and took a couple pictures of the outside of the Mint. Way to go Dad in ruining our trip to the Mint!

So with a little extra time, we went to Casa Bonita to make sure we were there when they opened. We got there at 9:47am. They open at 11:00am. We wasted some time in the "Everything $1" store and the Family Dollar store in the plaza before heading to the restaurant. Casa Bonita is a Mexican restaurant where the food is only part of the experience. They have a 30-foot waterfall in the restaurant and a cliff diver (see the picture of him doing a handstand dive) who regularly comes out and dives for your entertainment. As well there are gunfights, and escaped gorilla, an arcade, a gift shop, a haunted tunnel and much more to do. We stayed 2 hours!

We then got on the road for Wyoming. If you are looking to go to the Grand Tetons or to Yellowstone from Denver, I highly recommend the I-80/287 route through Dubois, WY. The US-287 road is only 1 lane each way but it's 65 the whole way, except for 3 or 4 towns. You feel like you are driving through "Dances with Wolves!" Along the way we saw a sign for Sacajawea's grave and pulled off to find it only about 4 miles from the road. What an unexpected treat! If you are ever in Dubois, WY, the Super 8 motel is very nice and Chandler's Restaurant (next door) is a wonderful local restaurant with great food and a wonderful staff.

Well, everyone else is in bed except me. It's 11:01pm local time and we need to be up at 5:30am to begin our trek to Yellowstone. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 7

Alamosa, CO to Colorado Springs, CO

This morning was our "special" day. We only drove 198 miles today - our Bible Hour was from Luke 13-21, our movies were the Muppet Show. We left our Motel 8 (not good but no bad) about 7:30am and got on the rode for Canon City, CO. Just outside of Canon City is a place called Royal Gorge which has the world's highest suspension bridge.

The bridge is 1,053 feet high over the Arkansas River. It was constructed in 1929 and made largely of wooden planks and steel cables. It crosses a span of 880 feet. It connects several shops, rides and attractions on both sides of the gorge. Besides the bridge we took the aerial tram across the gorge. The tram is the world's largest single-span aerial tram. We took the tram over and then visited their animal zoo (elk and bison including a white bull bison), petting zoo, rides, shops and shows, and then walked on the bridge back to the other side.

We rode their train to the bottom of the gorge. The train is the world's steepest incline railway - a 100% grade (45 degrees). We rode the train down to the Arkansas river. One of the neat things at the bottom is the remains of the old 30" wooden pipe that used to supply water to Canon City from the river. The train only goes 3 MPH and takes 5.5 minutes from top to bottom (or bottom to top), Everything went well until the brakes failed and Jariah panicked - just kidding, it was fine.

One last special treat was that Lisa, Makaylah and I took a ride on the Skycoaster. A Super Swing like the one in Old Town (Orlando). The one in Orlando is 300 feet high and this one is only 100 feet high BUT it is on the edge of the gorge so when they let you go you swing out over the gorge and are 1,300 feet above the river below. What a rush - we have a video of the flight!

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 6

Williams, AZ to Alamosa, CO

This morning started at night, 2:30am to be exact. That's when we got up and then the kids got up shortly after that. We left our hotel at 3:30am to head to the Grand Canyon. We did our Daily Bible Hour on the way - Luke 8-12. We got there and parked at one of the many open spaces at Mather Point and then caught the Kaibab Trail shuttle to Yaki Point. That's the farthest East point at the South Entrance (best spot on the South to see the sunrise and hardly anyone was there - maybe 20 people).

After taking some pictures, we walked back to the Kaibab Trailhead (about 15 minutes). At 5:57am we headed down the trail intending to go down the .75 mile to Ooh Aah Point. The ranger estimate the roundtrip to be 1-2 hours. We got down in about 25 minutes...oohed and aahed...took some pictures and then began our ascent.

They tell you to bring water or Gatorade type drinks and some snacks but we forgot our snacks. Don't do that. Jariah started to have a hard time going back up and nearly passed out. He sat down and waited and then took turns walking and riding on dad's back (making dad's trip up all the more challenging). We all made it back up in about 35 minutes, so we felt good with a 1 hour time on the trail.

From there, we left the South Rim and went to the East Entrance to look at the old tower there and bought our souvenirs there. Finally, about 9:30am we left the Grand Canyon. We headed out for Colorado by way of Four Corners. So far, if there was one "attraction" I would cut from the trip it would be Four Corners. It's neat but to get there is on no major roads (1 lane each way with some passing) and the one road there had 4 construction zones...ugh!

Well, we did finally get there. Here is Jedi visiting his four siblings each in a different state all at the same time. From there we drove into Colorado and across the lower Rockies to our destination Alamosa, CO. We drove 546 miles today. Our in-car movies for the day were the Muppet Show, Ice Age 1, National Treasure 2, and Star Wars 2. Tomorrow is a "special" day we haven't told the kids about. We'll see if they are surprised and if they enjoy it!

July 5

Las Vegas, NV to Williams, AZ

Blog written 7/9.

This was going to be one of our light travel days or so we thought. The boys, Makaylah and I got up early and went down to the Casino's bowling alley for $1 bowling at 7:00am. After bowling a game, we joined Lisa and Makenzie in loading the van and then heading to breakfast. Traveling out of Las Vegas we went to the Hoover Dam. It is one of the most impression feats of human engineering. The picture is of the kids standing in Nevada (right foot) and Arizona (left foot) in the middle of the dam.


From the Hoover Dam we went south to Lake Havasu City, AZ to visit the old London Bridge. It is quite the drive into the desert and the Lake itself is impressive. We got out of the fan and hit heat that we NEVER have in Florida. I think it was over 100 plus extra from the heat index. The bridge was purchased and moved from London to Arizona by a man looking to preserve it and to bring some attention to his home area.
Leaving Lake Havasu City we headed back towards Kingman, AZ to make our way to Williams, AZ for the night. About 20 miles west of Kingsman we noticed a real shudder in the back of the van and both back tires seemed to be shaking. We pulled over and I used my unskilled, untrained ability as a mechanic to check the tires - nothing noticeable. We got back on the road and went 20 MPH under the speed limit. Pulled off again in 20 miles and let the van cool down and re-examined it again - nothing. Got back on the road and about 10 minutes later blew out the driver-side rear tire. We called AAA to come help change tire (not that I couldn't) so we could get a recommendation on who we could get a tire from on Sunday evening of a holiday weekend. The mechanic came and immediately called a tire guy who was still open (4:00pm) and was willing to stay open until we got there. $400 and 4 hours after the tire blew, we were back on the road with new tires (the one that blew and 2 others were original tires - 6 years old with only 48,000 miles).
Instead of arriving in Williams around 4:00-5:00pm we got in around 9:00pm and needed to get to bed to get up by 2:20am to head to the Grand Canyon. As you can see, the kids were wiped out by the time we got there. Our only lingering issue with the van (besides some finishing attachments to the back panel near where the tire blew) is that the gas line (from where you put gas into the van) is not attached as it should and leaks when gas is being put into the van (not after it is in the tank only when in the line going into, not out of, the tank). I have crawled under the van several times and tried to tape it, and it has slowed or temporarily stopped the leak. It will be good until we get home. What an adventure!

July 4

Benson, AR to Las Vegas, NV

Blog written 7/9.
We left our hotel in Benson and headed south to Tombstone, AZ. It only took about 45 minutes to get there and our first stop was the Boothill cemetery. The cemetery is free to enter through a souvenir shop and the people there are very friendly. You can get a brochure to help you walk through the cemetery and find the notable tombstones or notable people. The tombs of those killed in the gunfight at the OK Corral are there as well as the men hanged for the Bissel massacre.
From there, we went into town and to the site of the OK Corral. You can only get to the actual site if you buy an admission ticket - we didn't. Besides, we were there early and they didn't have a show yet and we were looking to leave by their first show because of the special parade for the 4th of July. Better than any show, is walking through the town, it's like walking back in time - wooden sidewalks, old shops, original buildings, etc. This is one of our kids' favorite stops on our trip.
From Tombstone we drove to Las Vegas, that's 505 miles of driving for the day and over 8 hours of driving. We got into Vegas, after a short drive into California so they kids could say they visited that state, around 6:00 pm. After dinner and getting settled in our hotel/casino, we caught their free shuttle to the Strip. We immediately headed down to Treasure Island to see if we could catch any of their out-front show. We caught the fireworks as the end. We then went back to the Mirage and watched their Volcano eruption. It was pretty good.
We then tried to head back up to the Bellagio to watch the fountains. We got caught in the crowd (Las Vegas - Saturday night - July 4th) in front of Caesar's Palace during their fireworks celebration for the 4th. We finally broke through and got back down to the Bellagio and got to see fountains at night - what a show! Fighting our way back through the crowd to our shuttle bus stop (and onto our shuttle bus), we got back to our hotel and to sleep around 11:30pm.
Overall, the kids were less than impressed with Las Vegas but the pressing crowds were overwhelming.

Friday, July 3, 2009

July 3

Carlsbad, NM to Benson, AZ


We got up early (5:00am) this morning so we could eat breakfast (6:00am - hot breakfast at Holiday Inn Express) and leave for Carlsbad Caverns by 7:00am. Well, the kids did so well, we left 20 minutes early and got to the park early. That gave us time to take some extra photos including some at the opening sign, some wild deer we saw on the cavern road, and some scenery around the National Park center. We were the 2nd family to arrive at the center but had to wait for it to open (about 15 minutes).


We had bought an annual national park pass (highly recommend it if you are going to multiple parks) and so we just waited in line to get our tickets, then watched a movie about the caverns and at 8:30am started our walk into the caverns. There are two self-guided routes you can take: the natural entrance and the big room route. We were told the first takes 1 hour and the second takes 1.5 hours but if you are not pressed for time, you could do both. Well, we were looking to leave around 11:00am so we thought we might have the time.


We started down the natural entrance after a brief orientation from the park ranger. We nicknamed Jariah, "Guano", after the report and he thinks it's funny but then when doesn't a 10-year old boy think poop is funny? The wonder of the entrance is how people years ago ever really got into or out of the cave safely. We finished this route in about 40 minutes - way to go Team Kroll.


We then launched out into the Big Room route and finished it in 40 minutes - taking our time to see and enjoy the cavern and take a bunch of pictures. I think since we were in the first couple into the cavern and there was no one really in front of us, we could move at our own pace. After leaving the cavern, we spent a little time in the gift shop, and a little money, before heading out to our next hotel in Benson, AZ (a trip of 452 miles).


On the way, we drove around and through the Guadalupe Mountain National Forest - not planned but what a blessing! We then ended up passing back into Texas (the kids thought we were done with Texas having driven over 700 miles in Texas), through El Paso, back into New Mexico and then into Arizona. Our Bible Hour was Matthew 23-28 and our in-car movies of the day were the Mummy 3 and The Two Towers. We got to our hotel early and ate (first time for Lisa and kids, first time in 35 years for Tim) at a Jack in the Box right next to our hotel. Kids are swimming before bed. We head out tomorrow for Tombstone and then Las Vegas.


Pray for Dave and Cindy Bintz as they travel to Spain today. We thank God for Bob Rajewski (he sold us our great van which is doing spectacular on this trip)!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July 2

San Antonio, TX to Carlsbad, NM



We left our hotel around 8:30 am this morning and headed downtown to the Alamo. Jordan gave his report on the Alamo on the way there. We visited for about 1.5 hours and then walked around the surrounding area and the Riverwalk again for another 1.5 hours (shopping for souvenirs). We left San Antonio around 12:00 pm.



We drove to Carslbad, NM. A trip of about 480 miles. Our Bible hour was Matthew 15-22. Our in-car movies were I, Robot and Benji. We got a little lost and endded up at Stonehenge. Not really. We stopped by Ingram, TX and visited Stonehenge II (Texas actually has two such replicas - the other is in Odessa). The kids not only liked the Stonehenge replica but the Easter Island Head replica - given the "Dum Dum" character in the "Night at the Museum" movies. We got pictures of Jedi picking his nose and Makaylah catching a "booger" when he sneezed.


We drove for over 250 miles on I-10 towards El Paso - the speed limit is 80! We then spent a couple of hours on SR-285 which looks like nothing on the map but is 70 MPH, wide, flat and the most desolate road we have travelled for this trip. We came over one ridge and in the distance I could see a water tower. We measured it and it was 16.5 miles away - now that's flat and desolate!



Finally got to Carlsbad, NM and had time for dinner, swimming and laundry. Some last minute "go to sleep!" to the kids while I write this and soon we should be in bed. It's 9:19 Mountain Time (first time Lisa or any of the kids have been in Mountain time) and we need to start our day around 5:00am so we can eat breakfast and leave the hotel by 7:00am. We head to Carlsbad Caverns first thing in the morning.