In 2005, my dad decided he wanted to take his kids and grandkids on a mega road trip surrounding a family reunion in California.
Months were spent in planning where we would go, what routes we would take, places to stay and activities we would enjoy. We’d hit as many National Parks as we could, not only for beauty but also for education.
He even picked up a second job for a few months to pay for it.
In the end, he and my mom had mapped out a three-week trek that took us from Missouri down to Arizona, the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon, southern California, Hollywood, Disneyland, the reunion in northern California, Sequoia, Yosemite, the Redwoods, up the Oregon and Washington coast, on to Montana and Wyoming to Glacier and Yellowstone, then to South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. There were lots of other little stops along the way as well.
It was, in the end, the summer road trips of all summer road trips.
With all of their extensive planning, however, there were, naturally, a few hiccups. Fighting amongst siblings, car troubles, a couple of less than what we thought we were getting hotel rooms.
Somewhere after the two-week mark of the journey, and after we’d left Yellowstone, we were traveling in northern Wyoming.
Let me just reiterate that my parents had meticulously planned which highways we would take along each section of the trip and how long it would take us to get from one point to the next. This portion of the trip was no different.
At Manderson, WY, we pulled onto Highway 31. We were, it felt like, in the middle of nowhere.
I will now defer to my parents’ journal entries to tell you, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story:
Dad’s journal, July 4, 2005 – “We had planned on taking this road (Highway 31) on our FACT Club trip (a group he helped sponsor at school), but had missed the turn (then) and just about missed it again – and should have…”
This was a sign of what was to come. But in the meantime, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Mom’s trip journal, July 4, 2005 – “Saw an antelope and baby. Saw two long-legged, long-beaked birds, looked like a stork, brown in color. Hannah is watching a Care Bears movie and singing out loud with it.”
Dad’s – “We’re seeing more oil wells, antelope and wildlife, and lots more irrigation for crops and hayfields. We saw a large herd of sheep. Then had to stop. Some ranchers were moving cattle across the road.”
And then the real fun began.
Mom – “Hyattville, WY – population 100; 4,457 elevation…”
Dad – “At Hyattville, the road changed to gravel…”
This is a Wyoming state highway. Yes, we’re in the middle of nowhere, but this is a state highway.
As soon as we hit the gravel, I grabbed the atlas. A closer look revealed that, indeed, the map indicated that portions of this highway were an “unimproved road.”
Mom – “…road changed to gravel. But we are up for the adventure.”
Had we taken a closer look before our journey, we probably would have chosen a different route.
There were a few grumblings, especially from my brother who was following behind us and all of our dust in his car. But the gravel only lasted about 20 minutes and we continued on our way to Devil’s Tower.
I have reflected a lot on this experience in the years since, both because we enjoy laughing about it and also because of what it teaches.
We have been on many road trips since then. They all seem to have some sort of “gravel road” to contend with, some major and some minor. But the memories, experiences and education we receive on each one are why continue to travel.
And my mom’s journal entry has become our philosophy as we road trip … no matter the circumstances: “we are up for the adventure.”