Posted by Amber Lea
I’ve been gone a while, but wanted to let everyone know that I’m back. I took my son, Christian, on an extended vacation for the summer. We flew from Alaska to Virginia and picked up my Mom’s car. When she passed away, Dad said he didn’t want to keep it and so he gave it to me. But I didn’t have a passport to be able to drive it home at the time. We decided to wait until summer and go on a road trip with it.
We spent about 10 days in Virginia, visiting with Dad and my sister, Nikol and her family. We also went to West Virginia to visit my Aunt Twila. We spent the 4th of July on the Potomac River with Nikol and her family and some friends. Everyone had a great time in the water, and then watched fireworks that night. Christian and I got sunburned, my 4th time this year. The next day we began dealing with DMV and getting things ready for our trip.
We left for Texas on July 9th to visit my other son, Daniel, and his wife Tricia. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia, enjoying beautiful scenery and some wildlife. We also stopped to visit some friends along the way. Going through Tennessee and Arkansas was filled with minor thunderstorms and lots of rain. We spent 4 days in Texas enjoying cool air conditioning – these Alaskan ice cubes didn’t do too well in the 100+ degree heat. But we enjoyed our visit with Daniel & Tricia, and of course, the kitties. Daniel has recovered well from his heart surgery and is now able to do things he’s never been able to do before. What a blessing to see him so vibrant now, knowing he has another shot at a full life! We also attended a communion service at Jason’s (my oldest son) church. I talked to the music director after the service. He remembered Jason very fondly, and was very pleased to receive a copy of our book, “Faith, Hope & Miracles“. We also visited the memorial garden the church put up for Jason. It brought tears of joy to know that Jason had made such an impact on so many in his short years.
After we left Texas, we stopped for a short visit in Carlsbad, New Mexico to see an old friend. A long drive through the desert followed by a good meal made us very sleepy, so we took a short nap before continuing on to Arizona. We made it to Guadalupe Mountain Nat’l Park just as the sun was coming up. It was a beautiful desert sunrise, and we were blessed with a lone coyote’s song from nearby.
We arrived in Tucson, Arizona greeted by 107 degrees. Thank goodness for our “Frogg Toggs” and air conditioning! We had a wonderful visit with Christian’s grandma and uncle. Christian learned how to drive a golf cart and we went swimming at the pool. We also went to the local Elk’s Lodge where we met some really great folks. Christian’s Uncle Ron took us to his church for their Wednesday night service. It was much larger than what we’re used to, but it was a great service. Afterward we had a little birthday dinner for Christian, his 4th celebration this year. He had 2 in Virginia, and another in Texas. The next day I spent re-packing the car to make room for our friend, Amy. I don’t know how we managed to get so much stuff in the car!
Amy flew from Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona where we picked her up. Almost as soon as we were out of the city, we were stopping for pictures. There is so much more life in the desert than one might expect. We worked our way toward Sedona where we had hotel reservations. As evening came, we were watching a storm off in the distance. Christian had never seen a real lightning storm, so he was thoroughly impressed. We ended up driving right into the storm, so we stopped to watch the beauty. We finally arrived at the hotel late that night. The next morning found us doing some sightseeing and shopping for souvenirs. After our shopping spree, we headed on down the road through some gorgeous red cliffs, planning to stop at a natural water slide along the way. However, when we got there, there were so many people already there, we couldn’t get in. Bummer. There were cars parked all along the narrow road, making driving a little hazardous. But we still got to see spectacular views. We all agreed we would like to go back during the off season and spend some time there.
We continued on to Flagstaff, where we stopped at another motel, one with a swimming pool. Christian had been disappointed with not getting to go to the waterslide, so I had to find a place for him to go swimming. There was another storm coming in the distance, so after swimming and soaking in the hot tub, we watched another fantastic display of lightning with lots of loud thunder. One strike was so close and loud, it made Amy and Christian jump over the bed!
The next morning we left early and headed for the Grand Canyon. We spent the day driving around the South Rim and stopping at every place you can stop. The amazing views left us all with our mouths hanging open. Since I have vertigo, I had to stay back from the edges where there were no handrails, but we explored many of the different paths along the way, and took lots of pictures. When we reached the end of the park, we turned back to the visitor center in the middle of the park. From there we took the bus tour in the other direction, stopping at most of the look outs. We noticed another storm coming across the canyon. As it got closer, it began sending out powerful lightning bolts, causing many “oh’s” & “ah’s” from all of the tourists. We were advised from the park ranger that it was time to get away from the canyon’s edge as lightning can travel 10 miles and jump from the metal handrails. We stopped at the very last stop and took pictures and went into the little gift shop. When we came out, the storm was almost on top of us. Getting off the bus, we got soaked on our way back to the car. But we got to watch another impressive lightning show! After the storm was over, we drove on out of the park, deciding it was another place we would like to come back to and stay longer. We took a few hour nap in Cameron, sleeping in the car.
As the sun rose, we were on the other side of the Grand Canyon. We found a site where some ancient tribes of Indians had built there houses right into the cliffs of the mountains. As the day wore on, the scenery began to change from desert to a little more lush vegetation. We drove through Zion National Park, which was described as “like the view from the bottom of the Grand Canyon”. I was in awe of God’s handiwork all around me! Just as we were entering the park, we got to watch as firefighters were putting out a small wildfire at the top of the cliffs with the aid of a helicopter dumping buckets of water. Zion was an unplanned side trip, but I’m glad we went. The views from the edge of the Grand Canyon made me a little dizzy, and they were beautiful. But the views from Zion looking up made me realize how tiny I am in the big scope of life. It was well worth the extra time.
Our next stop was Salt Lake City. We had been collecting rocks from every state we went through, and I wanted to visit the salt flats and collect a sample of the salt. However, we never found the salt flats. We did find the Morton Salt Plant, but they wouldn’t let us take any pictures. We also met a very nice couple sitting along the roadside waiting for the full moon to rise up over the mountains. The irony of meeting those people was that they had family where Amy lives in Abingdon, and were from Alaska. It was strange, in a nice way.
We traveled through Utah, Idaho and into Wyoming in 1 day, finally arriving at Grand Teton Nat’l Park. We drove through the park until evening, then returned to Jackson Hole looking for a motel. I think we got the very last room available! Tourist season in that area is unbelievable! But we had a great day exploring and saw more wildlife along the way. I was beginning to feel a little more in my element with the mountains there. The next morning we headed on to Yellowstone Nat’l Park. We knew we couldn’t possibly see everything, so we decided to take the eastern road and head north. We saw a magnificent display of “Old Faithful” and several other geysers. We also took a short dip in one of the rivers where the hot springs flowed in, so it was really nice (except the sharp rocks…wear shoes in the river next time.) We also wanted to stop at Mammoth Hot Springs, but it was already dark by the time we arrived. There was a herd of elk walking around the little town at Mammoth, some almost close enough to pet (but we didn’t). We decided for time sake to continue driving. We made it to Boseman late that night.
While in Boseman, we decided to make another stop at a post office, to mail out some of the things we had been collecting. The car was getting so full, we were piling things up on Christian’s lap and he was not liking it. Even after mailing off a couple of boxes, we were still pretty full, so we decided no more large items. From there we mainly stuck to rocks for souvenirs.
The next day we pushed on through Montana, stopping at Lewis & Clark Caverns. Because of time limits, we didn’t get to tour the cave. So that is another item on our bucket list. We did buy a video showing parts of the tour though. We continued on into Idaho and pushed on until we were close to the Canadian border. We stopped and slept for a few hours in a WalMart parking lot outside Couer d’Alene. By this time we were all feeling the effects of being couped up in the car. We really wanted to spend more time exploring and camping, but Amy had to be in Anchorage for her flight back to Virginia soon. So we pushed on to the border.
Once we were in Canada, the scenery began to change and I felt even more at home. Our first stop was at Radium Hot Springs in Banff. As we entered the town, there was a herd of mountain sheep hanging out on the side of the road, and of course, we stopped for pictures. Then we headed on to the hot springs. As far as hot springs go, it was more of a man-made resort. But it still felt good to soak in the hot water, followed by a dip in the cool swimming pool. Christian didn’t want to get out, but we continued on a little farther. We spent the night at a campground in Jasper Nat’l Park and left early the next morning. We did a power drive into Dawson Creek where we stopped, looking for a “Milepost 0” souvenir. No luck there. It seems they don’t care so much about the building of the Alaskan Highway there anymore. We did get our pictures taken at the milepost sign in the center of town though. We drove on to Ft. Nelson and took a 4 hour nap there. When we left Ft. Nelson, I was determined to make it to Liard Hot Springs where we had made a reservation for a room at the lodge. We saw many different species of wildlife along the way, including buffalo, elk, wolves, and a couple of black bears. We arrived at the hot springs in mid afternoon and took a long soak. It was wonderful! These hot springs are left in a more natural state, which adds to the serenity and relaxation. Other than the boardwalk to the springs, and the deck with stairs leading down into the water, the rest is the natural vegetation surrounding the springs, giving the sense of still being out in the wilderness (especially with the sign at the gate reading “Warning: aggressive bear activity here”). The lower end of the springs are fed by a cold water spring, which was nice for cooling off. Most of the kids visiting the springs stayed down at that end, as the upper end is much hotter. Christian quickly abandoned Amy & I for some playtime with kids his own age. We met some really friendly and wonderful people from all over while we were there, including a teacher named Linda from one of the villages on the Kuskokwim River here in Alaska. She really made an impression on Christian with her love for rocks and geology. After a 2 hour soak, we went back to the lodge for dinner, with Linda joining us. She was such good company, and told us of a few places to stop for rock collecting. Dinner was followed by another soak in the hot springs. By the time we returned to our room, we were so completely relaxed, it didn’t take more than a few minutes to fall asleep. We enjoyed another long soak the next morning and a quick shower before taking off again.
(Sidenote: Besides Kauai, Hawaii, Liard Hot Springs is one place I would like to live.)
The next place we stopped was at the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake. I had been there in the winter, only able to look from the road as the snow was waist deep and I couldn’t get into the “forest”. It was much bigger than I had expected. There were over 72,000 signs ranging from license plates to road signs to hand made signs. Items such as flip flops, hub caps, and snow shoes were also used to make signs. We donated our front license plate after painting our initials on it to a brand new post near one of the gateways.
After leaving Watson Lake, we headed to White Horse. We arrived at dusk, just in time to see a blazing meteor fall through the sky. It was more brilliant than anything I had ever seen! We weren’t sure if it was a meteor or a plane crashing at first, but nothing was ever said on the radio about it. (I googled it after we got home.) During the drive from Watson Lake to White Horse, I realized that the bugs in Alaska were nothing compared to what we experienced on that stretch of road. I had stop about every 20 – 30 minutes to scrape off the windshield because I couldn’t see through all the bugs! The red gas can on top of the car had turned black, along with the grill and headlights of the car. Now I understand what my Dad was talking about when he said he hated the bugs in Canada. 🙂
We did another short nap in White Horse and left about 4:30 am. We stopped briefly at Soldier’s Summit in Kluane, where the Americans and Canadians met each other in the building of the Alaskan Highway. It was a stop I had made in 1994 with my dog, Kavik. It was winter then, and there was a surreal peacefulness there. It had been surrounded by a frozen mist, and we never saw another soul there. This stop allowed me to see more of the surrounding area, but it was still a very peaceful place. Someone had put up a handwritten sign warning of a grizzly bear on the trail head just the day before, so we were on guard but still walked up the trail a little ways and took pictures.
After leaving Soldier’s Summit, we were talking about putting a note in a bottle, but wanted to do something a little different (we’re kinda weird that way). We came up with the idea of using a few of our rocks and writing notes on them, asking for their return to us if found. We put our names & addresses on them, and threw them into Beaver Creek just before crossing the border into Alaska. I don’t know if anyone will ever find them, but it would be interesting, maybe another story in the waiting about the person who finds them.
We did the typical tourist picture thing at the border, thankful that we had made it safely. By then, I was looking forward to getting home. We drove on through Tok where we were treated to another lightning storm, followed by another one in Glen Allen. We stopped along the way for more pictures, and the infamous road construction areas, finally arriving back in Palmer around 9:00 pm. God is good…we made it! 7,165 miles in all, a trip of a lifetime with my young son and a very good friend. I want to do it again, but take more time to explore. There are many places I would like to see, and God willing, we will. But if not, I am so grateful for the opportunities He has given me, to see and experience the things I have! And the wonderful fellowship along the way has left a special imprint on my heart that won’t be forgotten.
I know this post is very long, and I hope it wasn’t too boring to read. I had to write it, as a way to help me keep the places and the memories straight, and to say a special thanks to God, my Mom & Dad, and to all of those who helped make this trip possible. I’ll be posting some pictures we took along the way on my other blog, http://amberleaofalaska.wordpress.com/
Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear your comments, or if you have any suggestions for places to visit. Get out and enjoy some of God’s beauty around you, you’ll be glad you did! Take care, and God bless!