Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Driving Tanks Across the Country: Part 1

Here is part 1 of our grand adventure across the country. I'll be putting up correlating videos as well!

Day 1:

We began our trip on June 6, 2014. We had intended to leave at 4:00 a.m. in the morning so we could get some hours under us before Kevin woke up. However, preparations had taken much longer than we had intended and we didn't end up going to bed until 1:30. We had printed off our instructions the night before from Google Maps and we had a road atlas, so we felt pretty prepared. We slept in until about 5:30 and left about 6:15 a.m. instead. We had a 12 and a 1/2 hour trip that day, so we wanted to get an early start.

Kevin slept for a couple of hours, and we had a pretty peaceful beginning. We drove past the Great Bear Lake which was absolutely stunning, except for the fact that we couldn't really look at it. The sun was glinting off of the waters, so we had to look away or go blind. It was still beautiful though.

After a couple of hours we came to Little America in Wyoming. We had heard (and seen) a lot about this place and my grandparents had told me that you could get ice cream for 50 cents. It turned out to be an awesome stop. We went inside and looked around. It had a lot of really neat things on sale, and we bought a piece of bismuth crystal.

Pretty cool, huh?
We had been intending to get a type of native stone from each state we went to, but Wyoming was the only state where we had success. Oh, well.

After we purchased our crystal, we went out to their playground and found a large life-sized bison statue. Kevin was a little worried about it at first, but after a while, he began to enjoy it. 

They had a little playground out there, and after he finished waking up he really began to enjoy running around. 

After Grig and I finished using the restroom, we purchased an ice cream cone. They were a pretty impressive size for only 50 cents. 
I had started off driving, and Grig wanted to take over next. However, he didn't want to try to eat ice cream and drive at the same time, so we hung around the front of the building for a while and shared our ice cream with Kevin. He wasn't sure he liked it at first, but eventually he decided it was pretty great. 

As we waited for Grig to finish eating, we saw a cicada on a wall, which surprised us because we didn't think they were this far west. 

As we were leaving to get back on the road, I spotted something ahead of us. It had a tawny back and I said, "Is that a cow?" We drove closer and realized it wasn't a cow.

It was an antelope.

This is the picture Grig took of the antelope.
We drove pretty close, and it got a little nervous, but we got a couple of great pictures. Then, we drove away and left it in peace.

Once we got back on the highway, we presented Kevin with a gift that we had purchased for him. It was a small laptop computer. It had only been about $20, but he instantly loved it. That purchase was phenomenal! Kevin kept himself entertained for a long time just pushing the buttons and singing along with the songs. 

Eventually, he got tired, and fell asleep. 

With a cracker in his mouth, I might add.

We switched drivers again after a while, and kept going. People tell me that Wyoming is the worst state to drive through, but I found it to be one of the greatest! There were pronghorn everywhere! I counted over 60 pronghorn antelope. That was quite delightful for me. We saw at least two mothers with their fawns. One gave a little leap as we drove past, like a giddy lamb. It was really cute. 

We also saw two female elk, but we were driving so we didn't get a picture. I love Wyoming!

Our next stop was at Laramie, Wyoming at the Lincoln Highway Monument just off of I-80.

We actually didn't know we were stopping at a monument. We just saw a sign for a rest area, and Kevin had just woken up, so we decided to take a break. We had been driving for about 6 hours at that point. It also had a nice visitor's center and we enjoyed taking a break from driving. 

Shortly after that, we passed out of Wyoming. We started off the trip listening to Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, but the audio book we had borrowed from the library only worked through the third disc, and then it stopped working. We then switched to Jonathan Stroud's Amulet of Samarkand which I had read before, but Grig hadn't. That book kept us going for a long time, and we really enjoyed it.

We made another short rest stop in Nebraska before reaching our destination at about 10:00 at night (partially due to the time change). We were staying with family who live in Nebraska, and the day went really quickly. We enjoyed talking to them for a while, and then we went to sleep. 

Day 2:

 The next day, we started off about 10:00 a.m. It was our short day, and so we weren't as worried about leaving early. We were traveling to Nauvoo, IL which was only about 8 hours away. As we drove away from my uncle and aunt's home, we had only been on the road a little over 2 hours when we saw a sign for a dinosaur museum at Milford, Nebraska. Grig was driving, and he asked me, "Should we stop there?" I wasn't sure. We both love dinosaurs, but we weren't sure if it would be worth it.

Then we saw the life-sized statue of a tyrannosaurus rex, and we couldn't resist. We pulled off the highway and turned at a gas station just off the exit. We could see the dinosaur museum from the gas station, and you take a little dirt road through the back of the gas station parking lot to get to the museum. As we looked at the size of the building, we both thought, "This isn't very big."

We decided to go in anyway. We asked them how much it was, and they told us about $9 each. Again, we kind of looked at each other. From the outside, how much could there be? Was it really worth the price of admission?

Again, we decided to go for it, and we were so glad we did. It ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. I don't know how they fit so much into such a small-seeming building, but we were very impressed. The woman later told us that the sculptor who owned the building was tired of having nothing to do with his kids when they went on roadtrips, so he decided to make this museum so people would have something to do when they were driving along I-80 in Nebraska. He doesn't live anywhere nearby, but I think he had an excellent idea.

At first, Kevin was rather terrified of the displays. They were huge with rather large teeth, after all. Who could blame him?

However, he quickly got over it, and soon he was right in the middle of the dinosaurs as cool as a cucumber.

Museum's Facebook Page (in case you want to check them out)
We all had a fantastic time. In fact, we had a really hard time wanting to leave.

There was also a mirror maze, which neither Grig nor I had ever been to before. It was rather exciting and difficult. That was one of our favorite parts of the museum. We had to go through it twice. There was also a cinematic area where you could watch Walking with Dinosaurs (which we own, so we didn't need to watch it). At the end, we took Kevin back to the beginning to see if he would touch the teeth of the carnivore who had first terrified him.

He did.

Our boy is awesome.
We bought him a tiny dinosaur toy who squirts water, and Kevin drank water from its mouth for the next little while during our travels. The people in charge were super nice, and they let Grig go through the Heartland Haunt. While Grig was going through, the lady told me, "He's going to be so scared! He's totally going to jump and to be wide-awake to drive after this."

She was right. the haunt made Grig jump, and the adrenaline kept him going for a while.

Our next stop was in Omaha. We stopped at the Cabela's there. Grig had never been to a Cabela's before.

They have some incredible displays. Grig especially enjoyed the wolverine and I really liked the wolves. However, our favorite part was probably the aquarium with the live fish. They had some huge and incredible specimens there! Grig's favorite was the blue catfish that was close to five feet long. 

We tried really hard to find a native stone there, but there was nothing available. So, we decided to buy a fishing net for when we went to the beach in Virginia.

After these two stops, we found that it was around 4:00 in the afternoon and we hadn't even left Nebraska yet. Whoops. We were staying in a hotel that night, but we had been intending to visit Nauvoo before we went to bed.

We did our best to get there early, but we didn't arrive until about 9:00 p.m. We decided to get groceries in Keokuk, Iowa for the next day and go to bed. At the Wal-mart there, I was surprised to run into someone from Idaho who knew my aunt. Small world. Grig also felt prompted to get some cash when he was checking out our groceries.

We were tired, and everything was already closed in Nauvoo anyway. As we drove to our hotel, I contacted my cousin.

Our original plan the next day was to get up early, go see the sites, and then go to church at 10:00 and leave after Sacrament Meeting to drive the 14 1/2 hours to Virginia. However, my cousin who has lived in Nauvoo more recently than I had told me that the missionaries met for church at 8:00 a.m. and then they went to open the sites.

We decided to go to church then instead, and we went to our apartment. We stayed that night at the Rivers Inn in Fort Madison, Iowa. It was inexpensive, but fairly nice. We'd probably stay there again. We relaxed for a little while and then we went to sleep.

Beautiful sunset

Day 3:

We got up early and quickly packed our belongings. Most of our stuff was in a larger suitcase, but we packed three days worth of clothes (including our church clothes) into a duffel bag so we only had to pull that out of our car at night. It made packing and unpacking much easier. Then, we took the toll bridge across the Mississippi (which was awesome) and went to church with the missionaries. The cash that Grig had taken out the night before suddenly became essential, as they only took cash on the toll bridge. A blessing from the Lord. I was worried we wouldn't make it on time, but we did great.

As we walked in, I glanced through the doors into the chapel, and saw my kindergarten teacher! Randomness. They had some really good talks about following the prophet. It was a wonderful meeting. Afterwards, Kevin played outside and then we walked around Nauvoo a bit. I changed into pants for the walking part (and the drive afterward). I didn't feel like wearing my skirt and Sunday shoes. 

We walked up to the temple and the Joseph and Hyrum Smith statues across from it.

 It was beautiful there, and I've really missed it. Back in 2005, I'd lived there for a few months through BYU's travel study program. It's a small town, but it has a lot of significance for Latter-day Saints (Mormons). After we visited the temple, we decided to go back to our car and drive around. We didn't have much time and we had a long drive ahead of us.

We took a quick tour of the historic sites (which were all closed because it was Sunday morning and they didn't open until 12:30), and then we went and visited Joseph and Hyrum's graves.

Kevin is always adorable
As we were leaving the graves, we spotted some geese. Kevin and Grig decided to go see how close they could get. I was filming and they were getting pretty close when suddenly we heard a loud racket. A new group of geese was creating quite a commotion in the sky, and they soared in and landed right in front of Kevin and Grig. They were only a few feet over their heads at one point. It was rather exciting. (Look to the video to see this scene, it was pretty cool.) 

After that, we went back to the visitor's center briefly to use their facilities, and then we took off. 

The drive was pretty long, but we had a few exciting moments when we thought we'd missed our turn off. We would pray, and soon we would find out that we were still on track. As the day grew later, Kevin eventually fell asleep and Grig and I continued to travel from state to state. We crossed from Illinois to Indiana to Ohio to Pennsylvania to West Virginia to Virginia. It was a long trip. We stopped for a rest stop at about 10:00, and then we kept going through the night until we reached our destination. We passed through some heavy rain at one point, but for the most part we had fantastic weather. As we entered Virginia, I began to feel claustrophobic. Mist was all around us, it was dark, and trees loomed out of the darkness like ghostly figures. It was kind of creepy. 

At one point, we were traveling through a national forest, and we didn't know where we were. We thought we had missed our turn, and it was kind of scary. A couple times we saw deer just off of the side of the road and we were grateful that they hadn't jumped into the road. We prayed, and soon we found that we were right on track. 

A little while later, Grig began to grow tired and I took the wheel. We knew we were on the right road, but then the signs for the town we were heading to disappeared. I shook him awake and we found that we had missed our exit a few miles back. I turned around at the next exit and went back. Grig slept and I drove through the mist listening to our book on tape. Sometimes as I would dip down a hill, the fog would form a lid over my head, and it looked like I was driving into a wall of mist. It was kind of eerie.

Finally, we reached a place that Grig recognized and the last 45 minutes seemed to take forever. It was not after 4:00 in the morning, and we were exhausted. On the second to the last road, I glanced at the trees to the side of the road for an instant and didn't see the skunk in our path. We hit the already dead skunk and a pungent odor filled the interior of our car. The smell clung to our car for days. 

We reached our destination at 5:00 a.m. Grig's parents were already awake because his dad had to leave for work in a couple of hours and Kevin woke up as we arrived. Carmen, Grig's dog, didn't recognize us at first, but she soon remembered him. Grig, Kevin, and his parents talked for a while, but I hadn't slept at all and I was exhausted. I stayed up for a few minutes, and then I went upstairs and collapsed on our bed. I quickly fell asleep, grateful that our long drive was over.

That's it for part 1. I'll write more about our trip tomorrow.

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