3,202 Miles of Life Lived in the Sand

Every trip we take pushes me to grow in some way. Sometimes it’s a little, and then sometimes it’s a lot. Sometimes it’s in ways I expect, and then other times, I don’t see it coming.  Sometimes it’s in the views at the top of the mountains and sometimes it’s when I’m down in the valley wondering how I’ll ever make it to the top.  This trip was all of that and more.  Here’s an outline of the 3,202 miles we traveled and all that happened in-between.

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This was our first major road trip as a family of 5.  My hubs tends to avoid road-trips like the plague.  He just doesn’t like the car.  It doesn’t matter what playlist, audiobook, game, or riveting conversation you got going on, he wants out.  But the call of the canyons was too strong and he agreed with one stipulation: we don’t have days where we just drive.

For anyone planning a road trip I highly recommend using roadtrippers.com.  It allows you to outline your route, search for pit-stop ideas, destinations, restaurants, hotels and it will calculate your gas cost along the way.

Sedona, AZ. Miles: 461. Travel Time: 7 hours. 

Our starting point was L.A.  My baby brother got married there this summer and we decided to take advantage of the purchased airfare.  The first leg was our longest stretch.

We arrived in Sedona after dark and headed out for a walk to stretch our legs.  We ended up spending the remainder of the evening by the pool, watching bats swoop down for bugs.  On the heels of a successful afternoon of driving, as I listened to Chase shout “Papa Drac” at each bat, my anticipation for what the next days would hold was high.  I could barely contain my excitement as I thought about all the experiences we would all be collecting on this journey.

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In the morning, we headed to Slide Rock a swimming hole with natural water slides.  We figured it was the perfect way to spend a hot day.  We knew it would be hot but we had no idea what 110 degrees actually meant.  It meant my fair skinned 25lbs-soaking-wet-two year old was set up for failure.  It wasn’t long before I noticed her skin felt so much hotter than everyone else’s.  As she became lethargic and refused to drink we knew we had to get her out of the heat.

A popsicle and some time in the A/C seemed to perk her up.  We took it slow for the rest of the afternoon; Addi James and I stayed in the shade while the boys learned to trout-fish at an old-fashioned fishing hole.  By evening Addi girl seemed to be acting like her normal self.  We decided to finish the day with a hike up the famous Bell Rock.  About 1.5 miles in Addi started with the same behaviors.  She was practically limp by the time we got to the car.  She threw up when we got back to the hotel room and went right to bed.  We were not off to a good start. As I lay there next to her, monitoring her breathing and temperature all night, the thoughts started to creep in – “I’m a terrible mother.  How could I put my children at risk like this?  This trip is too much for them.  This was selfish.”

She woke up perfectly fine.  But I was weary, riddled with self-doubt.   Just one day in and I was second-guessing the whole thing.

Bearizona Wildlife Park.  Miles: 60.  Travel Time: 1 hour 13 Minutes

Up first: a bear hunt.  There is a three-mile drive where you can see animals in their natural habitats.  The bears can come right up to your car if they choose and my littles loved it.  We took our time driving through and enjoyed the anticipation of seeing the bears, listening to the giggles as we watched them wrestle, and the suspense as we wondered if they’d get too close.   After the drive-thru adventure, we walked the rest of the property that had a zoo type setting and feel to it.  My kids fed otters, chickens, and had lunch next to a jaguar.  It was the perfect place to regroup.

The Grand Canyon (Southern Rim).  Miles 89.  Travel Time: 1 hour 09 Minutes

I grew up traveling, Jimmy didn’t.  When we first got married, it was more of an ‘extra’ to him than priority.  I didn’t know then how much of a part of me travel was and would become.  We spent 7 hard.broken.stalled years waiting for God to design our family.  During those years traveling became a source of excitement and joy, a way to grieve, a way to grow together.  Somewhere between Scotland and Mexico traveling became just as much a part of him as it is me.  In a time of seeming chaos, He was aligning our hearts and priorities.  As I watched my littles take in this vast canyon with my husband by my side I couldn’t help but overflow with thankfulness as I was reminded that God uses all the parts of the waiting room.  The wait is never wasted.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking the Rim Trail.  It has no rail, nothing to stop you from falling.  I’ve got one boy who wants to dangle over the edge and another who cried if he could even see the edge.  Each day brought opportunities for one to learn boundaries and the other to push his further. And for me to be privy to it all.

Desert View WatchTower, The Grand Canyon.  Miles: 24.  Travel Time: 38 Minutes

After a night in the non-airconditioned lodge (oops, my bad kids). We headed a little further south to the Desert View Watch Tower for a little cultural lesson.  It’s a tower built to honor the Ancestral Puebloan people.  You can climb to the top for incredible views but also gaze at the murals and learn from the cultural demonstrations.  One of the reasons we choose to travel with our kids is because we want them to be exposed to different cultures and people.  I want them to be inspired, motivated, and challenged by how amazing people are across the globe.  I want them to gain perspective into the ingenuity of our Creator – how people are made so similar and yet so different and I want them to see the beauty in that.  (For more of the why we prioritize travel click here.)

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Page, AZ.  Miles: 113. Travel Time: 1 hour 55 minutes.

I assumed the Grand Canyon would be the crescendo of the trip. But each stop after left me more amazed than the one more.   Horseshoe Bend is a relatively easy hike but leaves you with an incredible view.

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If you make the trip out west and are near Page, Arizona don’t miss Lower Antelope Canyon.  Driving along the road, you wouldn’t even know these canyons exist.  People, that’s an unedited picture above.  I can’t find a word that would begin to describe what it was like to see it in person.  But it’s not until you are beneath ground level you find the beauty.  Before you enter the canyon all you can see is flat empty roads.  It made me think about how much I miss in my daily life.  How often I settled for the flat empty roads.  How often do I accept only what’s in front of me because my eyes are not trained to search for beauty?  Trips like these are a good exercise for my eyes, training them to always search for more – for the hidden beauties.

Travel note:  These canyons are located on the Navajo Reservation and you need a guided tour to enter them.  They book fast, so plan ahead.

Tropic, UT (Bryce Canyon Entrance).  Miles: 156.  Travel Time: 1 hour 56 minutes. 

I’ve never seen anything like Bryce Canyon and its world famous “hoodoos” (yep, that’s what they are really called).  But the steep climb down into them and back out, in the 107-degree weather, with a toddler on my back was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve done to date.  I reminded myself that I can do hard things and just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  I knew there were 6 little eyes on me watching me struggle that day, up those mountains, and what I’ve come to understand is that my voice will become their inner voice. What they believe about themselves is what they will become.   So we huffed and we puffed and we told each other over and over all the way out – “We can do hard things. Diakandrus never quit.  One step at a time.”  And folks, they ain’t lying when they say the best views come after the hardest climbs.

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It was here where Chase dared to let go of my hand and explore.  This child of mine who is riddled with anxiety (details here) and sensory issues was climbing in a canyon!  I’m constantly questioning myself when it comes to him.  Do I push him too far?  And then these moments, so full of grace, as I get to watch him gain courage and push himself a little further it affirms that he’s right where he needs to be.

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Zion National Park.  Miles: 89.  Travel Time: 1 hour 49 minutes.

Somewhere on the drive from Bryce to Zion, we sold our house.  Our first house. We were newlyweds when we bought it. We didn’t know anything about home ownership or about life.  We spent countless hours peeling wallpaper and gallons of elbow grease making it our own.  I graduated from college there.  We grieved the loss of our babies between those walls.  We met Cam on the front porch and brought our miracle babies home there.  We opened our doors to family and friends and we’ve rejoiced over good news and mourned heart-breaking news around our kitchen table.  We’ve laughed and cried and messed up and fessed up.  A decade of memories made within those walls.  I was choking back the tears as I remembered all we built there (with grace upon grace upon grace).  But as I drove through the desert it dawned on me – four walls don’t make a home for me.  Here I am adventuring with my 4 favorites thousands of miles from those four walls and I still feel at home because home is not a place, its these people.

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All five of us hiked the Narrows and it was one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to cross off my bucket list.  We passed on the water-proof boot rental, figuring cold water would feel good in the intense heat.  Word to the wise, get the boots.  It doesn’t matter how hot you are, ice is still cold!  Some of us found the rhythm of the water a little too soothing…

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Virgin, UT.  Miles: 57.  Travel Time: 59 minutes.  

In a culture that’s saturated with things (our home included!), it takes intentionality to teach the value of experiences over things.  We spent one night in a yurt in the middle of the desert.  We star-gazed at the brightest stars I’ve ever seen.  It looked like a photo-shopped sky.  These lyrics played on repeat in my heart “You are the Lord Almighty.  Outshining all the stars in glory.  Your love is like the wildest ocean. Oh, nothing else compares.”  I want nothing more than for my children to look at those brilliantly shining stars and know the very Hands that made each of those stars and taught them how to shine looks at their faces as more beautiful than the entire night sky.

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I did, however, require the splurge to the yurt with the private bathroom – this girl couldn’t fathom walking through the land of scorpions and rattlesnakes to use the facilities in the night.  That’s not an experience I’m interested in collecting.

Las Vegas, Nevada.  Miles: 174.  Travel Time:  2 hours 28 minutes.  

2 flights later and another 2,077 miles and we’re home again home again.

Day one left me feeling a little lost.  The pull between giving my children a life of adventure and a life of stability felt like a serious game of tug-o-war.   I realized that I’m the type of person that grows restless in the mundane and so I’m always looking towards the next adventure; and yet I care about throw pillows and scented candles.  I was reminded out here, that life is meant to be lived in the ordinary.  And by day 10 I realized we choose our ordinary.   And sometimes ordinary for us is sorting socks and sometimes its hiking through ice cold water trails in Zion National Park. We can be both adventurous and steady. Each day is what we make it.   The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is just a little extra.

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Jimmy’s word’s still ring in my ear when he leaned over to me and said: “I don’t know if they will remember all of this, but I sure will.” This trip left me awestruck.  It left me filled.  It left me grateful.

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”  (Mark Twain)  Don’t be afraid to expand your corner, you never know what you will find.

XOXO,Holly

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