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WOW: Wells Out West Trip!

I will turn 40 years old on July 30, and to celebrate this mid-(ish)-life landmark, I decided to give myself a trip out west with my family. Let’s call it the Wells Out West, WOW trip, because that’s what I expect to say about thirty trillion times a day. Wow, look at that mountain! Wow, look at those prairie dogs! Wow, look at the buffalo! Wow, look at the gas gauge! 

You get the idea.

Our trip will take place in three legs. The first leg is the WOW Roughin’ It Road Trip. My two boys and I will drive from our home in Ohio across the northern part of the country, all the way to Boise, Idaho, with stops at campgrounds and national parks along the way. My goal for this part of our adventure is to spend the least amount of money possible, eating peanut butter sandwiches, tent camping, and hiking for entertainment. There might be a couple of restaurant based meals on days we’ve driven a long way (and showered), but for the most part, it’ll be hot dogs and granola bars. 

Image: Matt Whitacre

The second leg of our trip is four days in Boise, Idaho, where I will be leading a couple of workshops at the Brethren Church National Conference. My boys will spend those days at the youth conference, so we’ll all three have a little break from one another while enjoying the amenities of civilization, particularly fresh sheets and air conditioning.

Once the conference is over, the boys and I will drive to Salt Lake City, Utah, to meet up with my daughter and husband, who are flying in and then driving home with us. Believe it or not, some people don’t have freelance jobs that allow them to travel across the country for three weeks at a time. (A rare gift for which I am super grateful.) This part of the trip is designed for our less adventurous family members, who like the wilderness well enough but not if it means sleeping in it. Together, the five of us will make our way back through the center of the country, making stops at more national parks and friends’ homes until we pull in our driveway, road weary and content, on my birthday.

I’m trying to stay realistic here; I know that our trip is not going to be all sunshine and amazed children. We will bicker. We will argue about screen time. No one will want to help me put up the tent or unpack the truck. These things are going to happen. But ultimately, my hopes for this trip are that we each get a greater sense for how huge the world is and how small we are in it. I want each of us to grow in wonder and awe—for the natural world, for our connection to it and to each other, and for God’s love and gift to us as evidenced through creation. Along the way, I want my family to develop a greater love for creation, one that will fuel their future choices and behaviors. We’ll practice living simply, aim to be good stewards of our resources, and make sustainable choices—especially when we’re camping and as much as we can when we’re in the pampered part of our journey—and spend some time disconnected from electronics. Unplugging from screens to experience the world has a way of clearing the mind and heart and restoring the soul.

SO, do you want to know where we’re going?!

State Parks and National Parks Galore

Besides our stays in Boise and Salt Lake City, the majority of our trip is geared toward hiking and sightseeing in our country’s parks. Our children haven’t been west of Indiana, and I haven’t been to the majority of the places we’re visiting either. The landscape will be completely new to most of us, most of the time.

During the Roughin’ It Road Trip, the boys and I will visit the Indiana Dunes National Park and then camp in Illinois at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park. From there, we drive to Big Sioux Recreation Area and camp there. The next morning, we’ll visit the Badlands National Park, hiking several loop trails and driving through, aiming to watch the sunset at Panorama Point. We’re camping outside of Wall, South Dakota (and of course exploring the Wall Drug store).

Image: Jéan Béller

The next morning we will visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial and then drive to the east side of Yellowstone, where we’ll camp for the night. The next morning, we’ll explore the east side of the park, making our way through whatever we’re able to see (because of the recent 1,000-year flood in the northern part of the park) and then camping on the west side of Yellowstone. The next day, provided we’re able to reenter the park (there are license plate rules about entering and exiting the park on even and odd days right now), we’ll go back in and visit the west side of the park’s sights. If we’re unable to reenter that day, we’ll explore the area around our campground or drive to Grand Teton National Park. It’s a big country. There’s lots that none of us has ever seen.

After our stay in Boise, we’ll make our way to Salt Lake City, where the rest of our family will join us. We plan to visit Antelope Island State Park around sunset to see the Great Salt Lake and its wildlife. From there, we head to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Arches. After an expensive sleepover in Moab, we’ll drive to Denver to stay with some friends, making a trip into Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park, our last (planned) park on our itinerary.

Once we’ve visited with our friends for a couple of days, we’ll head out across Kansas and stay over in or near Kansas City, Missouri, then stay with another friend in the Indianapolis area. And then home.

I’ll be sharing updates from on the road, especially when we’re visiting national parks, so stay tuned for all kinds of hijinks and hilarities, anecdotes, maybe even a few spiritual revelations, and of course, some WOW moments. Ah ah ah.

I. Can’t. Wait.
Do you have a place, park, or trail you think is an absolute must-see along our route? I’d love to hear some recommendations! Feel free to share in the comments on Instagram.

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