Gift #2: Taking the Long Way Around

“I hit the highway in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling
Lived like a gypsy
Six strong hands on the steering wheel.
I’ve been a long time gone now,
Maybe someday, someday, I’m going to settle down.
But I’ve always found my way somehow,
By taking the long way around.”
— Dixie Chicks

I often listen to this song, The Long Way Around by the Dixie Chicks, as I drive our RV across the country, admiring the beauty of the towering mountains, flowing prairies and wide open skies.  As I wrote in an earlier post, this adventure has given us 5 gifts.  The first gift is the luxury of time. This song exemplifies Gift #2, the gift of being able to take the long way around to experience the beauty and sights off the beaten path.  We have had the opportunity to explore the many lesser known lands in North America, found places to camp in the middle of nowhere, stopped at zany roadside tourist traps, and met many genuinely nice people.  Taking the long way around.

Driving through Canada on our way to Banff National Park.

During our past vacations, we’ve been limited to 2 weeks per year to hike in a park.  Like most people, we’ve spent our limited time visiting famous national parks, like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Yosemite.  These are the gems of the U.S. park system and are beautiful beyond words.

This year-long adventure lets us visit not only the well-known parks, but also spend time in the lesser known parks.  Many of our favorite memories and experiences of this first 5 months of travel are in the parks few people have heard of:

  • Who would guess that there is so much wildlife is in Custer State Park in South Dakota?
  • Magnificent Mohave National Preserve in California is a gem that few have heard of, let alone visited.  So we felt we had the entire 1.6 million acres all to ourselves.
  • After seeing pictures of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona in a National Geographic magazine Timm’s sister Lisa sent to us, we took a detour and explored its splendid peaks and valleys for several days.
  • Who knew that Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in South Dakota would have the best and loudest bird and cricket serenade?   We also learned that rain, grasslands and a 12,000 pound RV are ingredients for getting stuck in the mud for 3 days!
  • The fantastical hoodoos at Goblin Valley State Park in Utah were like nothing we’d ever seen before.
  • White Sands National Monument in New Mexico was a place Timm and the dogs could romp up and down the dunes.
  • Brazos Bend State Park in Texas was the scariest place we visited.  It has the highest concentration of alligators outside the Everglades.

Each park has a special place in our memories and is beautifully photographed and described in our blogs.  But not only have we experienced parks that are less well known, we’ve also had the good fortune to be able to camp in the wilderness.  Being by ourselves in the middle of natural beauty extends the experience to include camping time, while we eat, sleep and relax in the RV.  Some of our most memorable wildlife experiences have been while dispersed camping.  This was when we encountered a bear biting our tow bar, heard our first wolf howling and saw a deer swimming in a river.

The view from our dispersed camping spot outside Yoho National Park.

Our main activity and interest during this trip is to hike in the parks but we also visited other more traditional tourist attractions that interest us.  During our trip up the Alaska Highway, we enjoyed many tourist stops as described in The Milepost, such as the Signpost Forest and the worlds biggest gold pan. Timm came away from Graceland in Tennessee with a new-found admiration for Elvis.  We were both inspired by the work done to enact legislation to protect wolves in Alberta by the dedicated people at the Northern Lights Wolf Center. Getting to take home a foul ball at the Midnight Sun Baseball Game in Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of good luck. Swimming in the warm water in the rain in the Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia Canada was a treat.  Two historic stops include the inspiring Mt. Rushmore and the sobering Minuteman Missile Silo.  One memory I’d like to forget is the crash, where our RV was destroyed but even that event had a silver lining: we got a do-over on our trip.

Finally, we have met many interesting, caring and supportive people on our journey.  Each person has a story.  Each person has a bit of advice to offer.  Each person has a memory to share.  I remember the ranger in Saguaro West National Park in Arizona reminiscing with longing about his trip up the Alaska Highway and he was the one who suggested we get a copy of the Milepost.  Tom in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in New Mexico suggested we visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, which is one of Timm’s favorite parks.  The nice people in Yucca Valley were so kind when they learned our RV was wrecked by the California Highway Patrol car.  And I’ll never forget Ester, the fire-dancing river tour guide we camped next to near Arches National Park.

It is a gift to be able to wander across the U.S. and Canada this last 5 months, taking the long way around on the road less traveled while seeking nothing in particular.  we have discovered hidden beauties in nature, qualities that make our country unique and the everyday people that make the journey pleasant.  This is an unexpected gift of great value, one that I will forever cherish.

Our home for the past 5 months.

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