Abide Culture Road Trip Chronicles
Sliding behind the wheel as Erin sits shotgun. Turn the ignition key and the engine roars to life. Look behind to make sure everyone is accounted for, even our four-legged child. Press the TOW HAUL and slide the gear stick from PARK to DRIVE. Trip B has been zeroed. Slowly step on the gas and make a wide right turn out the driveway. Then a left. We make our way to the I-90 entrance with a green light allowing us to continue. The ramp drops us down. Sipping on cold brew, we head east and exit to meet with the rest of our caravan, my sister's family. “Charged and ready,” I say as I hand over two walkies. “Thanks!”
Back behind the wheel, we leave again, and merge back onto I-90, towards Montana. Our strong, steel stallions pull modern covered wagons. Driving the first mountain pass, the excitement of our road trip builds and is infectious. Keeping in contact with the other two cars via walkies: we talk, make jokes, and laugh. The second pass climbs and spits us out over the stateline. Montana welcomes us with a change from Pacific to Mountain time as we make our descent towards Missoula. Exit 16 brings us our first rest stop: 50,000 Silver Dollar. We park and get out, walk to the double doors and head to the bathrooms. Taking turns and perusing the wares. Back on I-90, we continue heading east. Gas up at the "Y" outside of Missoula, then stop for lunch. Continuing on through Hamiliton, Montana, then back into Idaho, towards the "Shoup Bridge Campground" which is nestled in the valley between the Lemhi Mountain Range and the Bitterroots, on the bank of the Salmon River.
We make camp and prep dinner. Cleanup. Walking the bank of the Salmon, there is really nothing to explore. It is a small BLM campground with a single boat launch and 5 camp spots. Besides us, there is one other camper. He introduces himself to me as “This is my dog, Zipper.” I say hi and he continues the conversation, talking politics. “Do you know why there won't be another American Civil War?” he asks me. Without given a chance to answer, he continues, “because Americans are too fat. We have all the food we want. That's why.” He quickly changes the topic, talking about why he doesn't trust Democrats and Republicans and why he is an Independent. While he keeps on with his one-sided converse, I become distracted by counting the yellowing teeth in his mouth. It's easier to count the remaining teeth instead of the ones that have already made their escape. I counted 9. “I live in Hamilton, but I am heading up to the river. I'm going to pan for gold with a friend. He's got a claim up that way. If I don't make 10 dollars in the first 10 days, I'm done.” He fiddles with an unlit cigarette in his nicotine-stained fingers. His dilapidated covered pickup, complete with trailer, is filled with junkie items. “I sell all this,” he says, again, switching the topic once more. “I've made 400 dollars just by buying stuff and reselling it. I don't need much.”
The conversation ends and I leave as he sits down in his frayed camping chair. I ask Erin if she wants to go for a walk while the kids are playing games. “Sure”, she says, and I grab Abby's leash. We walk to the bridge and listen to the water rush by. We walk up the sandy beach and back to camp. Soon, the light becomes dark and I light a fire. Bedtime comes and the first day is done.
We get up and make breakfast and pour over. Break camp. Cutting through small towns with populations in the double digits, the road is windy and follows the flow of the Salmon River. Climbing to 7100 feet, we summit, then descend to the "Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway" which showcases the snowcapped Lost Mountain Range. Fill up in Arco, Idaho, then to "Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve". Make camp in the preserve, on and in between lava rocks. We check out the visitor center, stamp our trip journals and maps, then drive the preserve, exploring different areas: "Devil's Orchard", Spatter Cones, and other craters, cones, and trails. Staying on paths and walkways we discover new things. The sun warms us as we walk. Black sidewalks and dark lava rocks litter the ground. Death and life mix together; a symbiotic relationship: twisted deadwood and Witch's Broom.
Back to camp, we make dinner, eat, then play some games as the sun begins its descent towards the horizon. Signs emblazoned with WOOD FIRES PROHIBITED warn us not to light a campfire. The wind picks up. The temperature drops. Night comes. Soon, the bedtime ritual begins. As everyone settles in to their respectful homes and beds, I sit under the blackening night sky. The sun has all but disappeared. A new moon begins its dance around the earth. The cold wind shivers me; I pull the hood from my hoodie over my head as more stars appear. Chilled, I head to the trailer and warm myself. I check the clock and look outside again. The sky has become darker and more stars appear. As I go outside, our oldest follows and joins me; she comments on the sheer amount of stars. “That's the most stars I have ever seen.” We stand there, looking up. Erin comes out and joins us. The stars seem to multiply as time passes. Cold, we go back in and shut the door behind us. While everyone crawls into bed, I look outside again, peering into the night sky. Lights clicked off. I grab the camera and walk outside once more. Black as pitch. The flashlight on my phone is the only man-made light around. Trying to walk quietly, dark gray lava rocks crunch under my feet. Silent, I am not. Climbing the small hill behind our camp and set the tripod. To the south a shooting star streaks across the night sky. Another. And another. Alone, I witness a small meteor shower. The camera is pointed in the wrong direction, I think to myself, as it faces east. I open the shutter and count the seconds. As I count, a lone meteor slashes through the night sky and across my glass. I hold my excitement as I continue to count seconds. Closing the shutter at the appropriate time, the screen displays the image; I see a perfect line in the shot, against an eerie green. The lone meteor has been captured. — "The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship." [Psalm 19:1]
I am cold and tired. I call it a night and crawl into bed. Sleep quickly comes.
The next morning, we get up and make breakfast and eat amongst the bleak and wonderful landscape. Spots of green show signs of life. There is no cell service, so we look at the road atlas of paper maps we bought and brought, plotting this day's drive. "Craters" is in our mirrors as we start our drive to Utah. Storms and lightning strikes welcome us to the Beehive State. Through Salt Lake City and dinner at In-N-Out.
Making it to Provo, our stop over location where hot showers taken and an early bed. Back on the road. Stopping for gas, an older gentleman with kind eyes, whom I assume is the lot attendant, comes over while holding a squeegee. “Where ya headed?” he asks. “Arches,” I reply. “Where ya comin' from?” he asks. “Provo,” I answer back. He smiles and continues the conversation while happily cleaning the windshield and mirrors. “Thought so, you don't have dead bugs like others.” He makes another pass with the hand held window wiper. “Gotta make sure you're safe and you can see.” He smiles as I say “Thank you, sir.”
Moab, Utah. Our camp spot is in between the high, red canyon walls, on the banks of the Colorado River. The sun shines in a cloudless blue sky. We leave camp and drive to "Arches National Park", where we are stopped at the entrance station. Hand over our annual pass and ID, the ranger visits with us and hands back my credentials, along with some park maps. We park in the visitor center parking lot and walk to the building. As we collect more stamps for our journals and map, a group of older couples questions us as they look at our family. “Are you all journaling?” “Yeah,” I reply, while smiling. They respond with an enthusiastic “That is so great! That is something you will treasure forever.” We chit-chat for a little while and wave goodbyes.
Back to the steel beast, we drive up the switch-backs, into the park, amazed by the massive arches that grow out of Moab's red dirt. Balanced Rock. North Window. South Window. Clouds start rolling in and the wind whips up, sandblasting our bare skin. It gets late and we head back to camp for dinner. It starts getting dark and I light a fire in the pit. Like bugs to a flame, campers are to a campfire. Listening to the Colorado River rush by. Waiting for the cloud cover to disappear so we can see the stars. The clouds move from west to east. A Cheshire-grinning moon smiles down at us. The campfire caldron spews gray smoke upwards, corkscrewing into the black construction paper sky while pinpoints of light shine through. The cloud cover is slowly disappearing.
I set my alarm to wake me in the early morning to view the Milky Way. I fall asleep only to be awakened minutes later. Open the door to the outside world and look up; the clouds are thicker than before. Crawling back into bed, I awake again for the day's adventures of Arches. We drive back in and make our way to Double Arch. Parade of Elephants. Delicate Arch. Broken Arch. Sandy Arch. We trail hike and explore; follow cairns, which are stacked rocks built by rangers to mark invisible trails.
Another day of adventures ends and we travel back to camp. Dinner. Another fire. A waxing moon. One more early morning alarm set. It scares me awake and I stumble out the door, only to be greeted by the brilliance of the Milky Way shining brightly overhead. Jupiter pierces through the mass, wanting to be seen. Moab's light pollutes the sky some, but it is not that noticeable. Camera in hand, I stand below the mass of stars, in between the canyon walls, feeling small and insignificant, but knowing that God knows me — "For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth." [Psalm 139:13-15] The same God who created this gigantic canvas of a universe and holds it all together in the palm of His mighty hand is the same God that made me — "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." [Ephesians 2:10] The same God that measured the oceans in the hollows of His holy hands also has my name etched in His hands — "Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." [Isaiah 49:16a] He knows me. He loves me. He will not forsake me. I am His.
Opening the shutter, counting, close the shutter. I wake Erin and two of our kids that have asked me to wake them to see the Milky Way with me. We stand in amazement and wonder. In awe — "He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names." [Psalm 147:4]
Through tired breath, Erin whispers a “Goodnight.” and goes back to bed. The kids stay up with me for an hour. Back to bed and up, again. Into Moab to do some laundry. Then "Canyonlands National Park". More stamp collecting. More trail hiking. More exploring. "Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail" where we touch actual fossilized dinosaur bones still stuck in stone and rock.
Back to Moab for some waffle cone ice cream. The daylight slowly slips away as our last night in Moab is ending. More cold brew is poured as another travel day begins. Driving through Moab, Erin and I talk about the magnificence of God's creation. I'm reminded of Beautiful Eulogy's beginning lyrics to "Instruments of Mercy" —
♫♪ The same God who measured the waters in the hollows of His holy handsis the same God that uses broken man to expand His fixed plan
Sovereign, Infinite, Eternal, Personal, and Intimate ♪♫
Another day of driving gives our family another opportunity to talk and discuss theology, apologetics, politics, social issues, as well as joking and telling stories. The next destination: "The Grand Canyon". Through another entrance station, show our pass and ID. Another park. Another campground. This time, pouring rain. Camp is roughly set up and we leave for the village, breaking free from the cold and rain as the canyon sits to the right of us. Stopping at an overlook, we get out and bask in the sunshine and experience the magnitude of God's awesome creation — "In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land." [Psalm 95:4-5] More exploration.
Back to the campsite, the rain has moved back in. The majority of us gather in the trailer and get warm and dry. The next morning, my sister's family have decided to move on to the next pin in our digital itinerary because of the miserable conditions of tent camping in the freezing cold and rain. “It was a rough night. We'll scout out a campground.” “Ok. Keep in touch.” We say our goodbyes and we leave to collect more stamps and see "The Grand Canyon". Taking the asphalt path of the south rim, we discuss and talk, joke and walk. Rain falls in the distance over the canyon. We are dry and comfortable, a slight breeze cools us.
Another full day of walking, hiking, exploring, and driving along the canyon. It gets late and we call it a day. Rock hunting and barbequing burgers. We eat and play some Scattergories.
Zion is our next stop. Erin pulls out the map book; the scent of paper mixed with ink fills my nostrils. She syncs old school navigation with modern technology. With a campground already found, we set the trailer. A quick lunch and a drive to "Zion National Park" where we are stopped at the entrance station. Show the pass and ID, again. Maps and information given to us. A short tour as we make our way from one entrance to the other with a trip through the one mile Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel. The first glimpse of Zion astounds us. Canyon parks allow us to look down; Zion persuades us to look up. The road winds down to the canyon floor and leads us to the visitor center. The Cottonwood game is strong at Zion. White pollen covers the ground like soft, fluffy snow, and swirls in the spiraling wind. We collect our stamps, and walk a trail that stretches between the high rock walls. The sun crawls across the sky and lets us know it has become late. Back to the camp ground where hot showers are taken and a couple loads of laundry begins. While clothes are being washed, we walk across the road to a small shop that looks over the campground. We browse the goods and head back to switch the laundry from washer to dryer.
The next day, we park in Springdale and use the shuttle to take us to various stops at Zion. The following day is an hour drive to "Bryce Canyon National Park". Stamps collected. Looking at "Thor's Hammer", we walk the rim of the canyon. Down the trail into the tall hoodoos; hiking at 8000 feet along the orange and white spires. More of God's creation; we are reminded once again of His magnitude — "Who else has held the oceans in His hand? Who has measured off the heavens with His fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?" [Isaiah 40:12]
Waking at 4:45am to an already set moon. The Milky Way stretches its arm high above us as the first rays of the rising sun crest over Zion, two miles to the east of us. Everything packed, we leave the campground that sits on highway 9, turning west. Drive about half a mile only to get stopped by a herd of buffalo on the highway. As they lazily cross, we watch to make sure the road is clear before driving to the Mt. Carmel junction where the 9 meets the 89, left turn to the north to the 20 to make our way to I-15. North bound to Salt Lake City. In-N-Out for lunch. Milkshakes afterward. Drive another 50 miles to Clearfield, Utah, where we finally meet Paul at Futures Coffee Collective.
We spend time talking and fellow-shipping about Jesus and coffee. Paul hooks up our caffeine needs and some cold brew for the road. We take some pictures together and say our goodbyes.
The landscape constantly changes: pastures, farms, fields, cities, mountains, volcanoes.
One more campground. One more night. One more river's edge: the Snake River.
Another morning sun. Pour some Futures cold brew and make our way towards home. I-15 is peppered with billboards boasting big bathrooms; clean. Sagebrush completes the ensemble. As the minutes tick down the hours, mile markers count the distance from here to home. Coffee and water chasers fuel us. The road hums underneath our tires. Music digitally spins and shuffles. Mountain time back to Pacific. Lookout Pass. 4th of July Pass. Lake Coeur d'Alene. Home.
3174 miles driven. Southwest storms have washed away Moab's red dirt from our steel beast. Our trail-hiking footprints have been blown away and disappeared from the harsh and sandy wind. These memories live on.