(That sentence was so satisfying to write, I want to give it its own paragraph. Let me pause while I contemplate it further…)
Ellie, Jo-Jo, Owen and I arrived at the Van Eyk residence in Fort Defiance, Arizona, Thursday evening at 5 p.m., 1,663 miles, three days and ten hours after our departure from Portland. Everyone is safe—if a little grump from too many hours on the road. We are a little sunburned from a two-hour scramble atop the cliffs at El Morro National Monument. Alas, we are also trying to dry out from the fact that it rained and poured—mostly when we were ensconced in our accursed tent.
How can I describe the trip in one blog entry? It has been an epic journey in many ways: long, full of passion, intrigue, despair, hope, and heartbreak. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any Iliad-length blog entries, so I’ll have to get started with this.
I had planned to travel about 450 miles a day with the kids, stopping at a number of attractions along the way to break up the monotony. For the most part, things went according to schedule.
On Monday we drove to Memphis and visited the zoo. It’s a wonderful place with some of the most fascinating zoo exhibits I’ve seen anywhere. They do a good job there incorporating architecture and statuary with the exhibits. We had planned to visit the pandas, but we were distracted by other fascinating sites including penguins, hippos, and komodo dragons. We met a polar bear named Cranberry who was the same age as Jo-Bear, but outweighed him by more than 300 pounds.
We continued into Arkansas and left I-40 to climb into the Ozark town of Ozone to camp for the night. I hadn’t visited the Ozarks before, so it was virgin territory. Sadly, the skies opened up after we arrived and rained on our shoddy efforts to put up the tent. Moreover, three exhausted kids also felt very homesick for their incredible mama, adding tears to the raindrops. The next morning I awoke to the sounds of thunder, so we hurriedly packed and zipped on down the road to Oklahoma.
Our Tuesday drive through Oklahoma featured visits to two museums. In Muskogee, we visited the Five Civilized Nations Museum, which traces the paths of the Cherokee, Creek, Chippawa, Choctaw, and Seminole nations in their exoduses from the southeastern states to Oklahoma in the 1830s and 40s. The exhibits were spare, but the art gallery on the 2nd floor was amazing, providing unique insights into the spirit and the imagination of Native America.
We drove from Indians to cowboys. The second museum in Kingfisher was the highlight of the drive for me. The Seay Mansion and Chisholm Trail Museum was the ultimate hands-on exposure to the cowboy experience along the Chisholm Trail. There were a number of restored buildings that were open to explore, so the kids got to look around two cabins, a frontier bank, an old schoolhouse, and even a jail! Ellie took orders at the chuck wagon and dipped water for us to drink. It was just an awesome, awesome place.
Wednesday we zipped through Texas and entered New Mexico, eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Tucamcari and getting Route 66 souvenirs at a teepee-shaped curio shop. Then we left I-40 to take state highway 104 from Tucumcari to Las Vegas (New Mexico, it’s a cow town on the foothills of the Rockies, not the gambling mecca in Nevada). We drove over 100 miles, and I probably passed six other cars on the highway the whole way. It was amazing how, when we zipped over the edge of a mountain range, we could see miles and miles of highway. It reminded me of the classic Pete Seeger song,
“As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway,
I saw below me the golden valley,
This land was made for you and me.”
Wednesday night we cruised the historic district of Santa Fe, window shopping at high-end jewelry and pottery stores. The boys played in the square outside the Palace of the Governors, running laps around an obelisk that honors soldiers killed in the Indian wars. It was amazing to be in an American city that is almost 500 years old.
Thursday, after camping in an RV park outside of Albuquerque, we crossed the Continental Divide at high noon and visited El Morro National Monument. This place has always been a favorite for Jenny and me. At the base of the cliffs is Inscription Rock, a sandstone face that features 1000-year-old Native American petroglyphs as well as the autographs of 17th-century Spanish explorers and 19th-century American pioneers, soldiers, and railroad men. At the top of the cliffs is cliff dwelling known as Atsinna, abandoned 600 years ago by the waning Pueblo culture.
That’s the trip in a nutshell. All I’ve listed above are points of interest. I haven’t mentioned the fascinating things I’ve learned about Ellie, Owen, and Jonah. I haven’t talked about the challenges I’ve faced as a father and a family manager. I haven’t even begun to describe the interesting people and offbeat sites I encountered along the way.
That’s where the Epic part of this journey comes in. That’s what will take many, many further pages of writing to figure out for myself.
We will be in Fort Defiance until Wednesday. I’ll blog further about the Navajo Reservation in upcoming days. My friend, John, is a lay pastor here, and he’s taken us out on his pastoral rounds, introducing us to the fascinating people, customs and traditions that make up Navajo culture.