Wild West Road Trip {Days 17-20}


After two and a half years of planning and saving, we finally took our big Wild West Road Trip in July! We drove 8,775 miles over 35 days, spent 203 hours in the van, stayed in 26 different hotels/cabins/Airbnbs, and visited 12 national parks, 1 national historic site, 4 national monuments, 2 tribal parks, and 16 states! It was a crazy awesome trip - of course there were a few rough patches here and there, but overall it was amazing to spend so much uninterrupted time with my favorite people and having such gorgeous views made it even better!

I'll eventually get through blogging the whole trip, because so many people have asked for details, but it's going to take a while to get through it all! By the way, some of these photos I'm posting were taken by my husband - he has a great eye and he took a TON of photos! 

If you want to see more of the story, start here for Day 1!

Select landscape prints are available here

Day 17

This morning was one of my favorites. I got up super early, let everyone else sleep, and drove to Mono Lake to watch the sunrise. There was one other photographer and a group of 20-somethings there, but it was easy enough to find a spot away from them to enjoy the views in solitude. It was chilly - maybe 50 degrees at the most - and I was a dummy and wore shorts and a tshirt. But that didn't even matter. It was beautiful. And I got some much-needed time alone. I took lots of photos, I read the Bible and prayed for a while, and while this was the only Sunday we didn't make it to a church, I absolutely felt God's presence there.

We had actually planned to have church on our own that night but it didn't happen. We did, however, do an awful lot of praying while driving down a mountain. More on that later!

The rock formations at Mono Lake are called Tufa. They used to be under the water, but back in the 1940's the tributary springs started being diverted to Los Angeles and the lake's water level dropped significantly. The area's water is now protected and the water level is rising so they'll probably be underwater again at some point. So go see them now while you still can!

Later in the morning, we all went back to the lake. Mono Lake is super salty so, just like in the Dead Sea, everyone can float! Daniel usually sinks like a rock in water but even he was able to! It's a weird feeling - I can float anyway, but you definitely feel more buoyant in the salty water.  Joey refused to get in and Jonah freaked out when I tried to get him to lay back and float. But the rest of us enjoyed it even though it was crazy cold. The air had warmed up to around 70 or so at that point but the water was still cold.

The water was super cold - probably even colder than Lake Michigan.

After lunch, we made a 40-minute drive up to Bodie State Historic Park. It's an old gold mining town that the state keeps in arrested decay - meaning they step in and fix things if a building is going to collapse or something, but otherwise everything is left alone and is just like when it was left. A few of the buildings are open but most of them are closed. You can peek in the windows and see all the things that were left, from furniture to schoolbooks. I liked this place, Daniel loved it, and the kids liked it at first but got bored with it way before Daniel was ready to leave.

The last few miles of the road to Bodie are very rough - a regular car can make it just fine, but you'll definitely want to drive slow!

These photos were taken at a vista point on Hwy 395 heading back toward Mono Lake.

That photo above looks like a nice, peaceful drive down a mountain road, right? WRONG. After leaving Bodie, we headed south toward Bishop and decided we had enough time to drive out to see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google it. These trees are amazing and we really wanted to see them - lots of them are well over 2,000-3,000 years old and some are even older than that.

Anyway, it should have taken about an hour to get from Bishop to the forest, up a long and winding road that, like most mountain roads, did not have guardrails most of the places that I thought it should have. Daniel says he looked at the gas gauge and we should have had plenty of gas. But when we were about 5 miles from our destination, he looked down and saw the gas light was on. We hadn't seen any other cars on this road (we did pass a campground though, but it was back off the road), there were no gas stations around other than the ones back in Bishop an hour away, and it was starting to get dark anyway. So, we decided we'd better turn around.

I was freaking out, like I do, and I was sure we were going to run out of gas and there would be no one to help us and we'd have to sleep in the van until someone came by in the morning. Also, keep in mind that I'm terrified of bears and mountain lions (like any sane person would be) and both of them are common in the area. Anyway, there were lots of prayers going up and we did make it to the gas station but just barely - we put 19.75 gallons of gas in a 20 gallon tank!

So, we didn't get stranded on a mountain. Yay! But it gets better. Later than night I was googling some stuff about the bristlecone pines, trying to decide if we would have time to see them the next morning before heading to Las Vegas, and I saw this news story.  A woman had been reported missing from the campground we passed, and she hadn't been found yet. So were thinking that if her husband hadn't killed her then it was probably a bear or a mountain lion and we were really glad that we didn't get stuck up there on the mountain.

I kept following the story to find out what happened to her, and luckily she was found a couple of days later (you can read about it here if you're interested), but it turns out that she had been abducted by a man with a knife. At the time we were in that area, she had already escaped from him and as far I know he was never found. So there very well may have been a knife-wielding man hanging out on that mountain just waiting for someone else to take. So we figure God just siphoned that gas right out of our tank to save us from that. Of course, I have no way to know for sure if he was still there and if anything would have happened - but we definitely should have had enough gas and we didn't, and God has definitely worked in more mysterious ways than that before.

Oh, and after reading about the missing woman, of course we didn't try to see the trees the next morning - guess I'll have to go to California again sometime!

Day 18

The next morning, we made a fairly quick stop at Manzanar. The US imprisoned Japanese Americans there for a while during WWII. It was fascinating and sad and we all learned a lot. Definitely glad we stopped!

Our next stop was Alabama Hills to hike to Mobius Arch and see Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. We'd also see Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, later in the day - they're only about 2 hours apart!

The trail to Mobius Arch is short, easy, and has incredible views along the whole trail.

There were a few people around the arch and we had to wait for our turn for a picture - but it wasn't really crowded, and the upside to too many people is that there is always someone willing to take a picture for you. Sometimes you even get lucky and someone who actually knows what they're doing takes it for you!

No, the arch is not wider than it looks at the top! Abbie said she wanted a photo there but I thought she was going to sit, not balance on one foot!

Death Valley was so much prettier than we expected! I thought it would be just flat desert for miles and miles, but it was hillier and much more colorful than we expected!

We were also surprised by the Joshua Trees we saw on the way into the park!

The heat was insane. We knew it would be, but we did not expect the hills, and we had to pull over several times to let the van cool down (preventative measure - it never overheated, but the air conditioning didn't work nearly as well as we would have liked!)

Generally, we found the heat on this trip to be bearable due to the low humidity - but 121 degrees is miserable, humidity or no humidity. It was so hot it hurt. We managed to not get sunburned, but it literally hurt to be outside. The only places the heat was really a problem was Death Valley, Las Vegas, and Moab, Utah. We would have loved to take this trip in fall or spring instead of the middle of summer, but with 4 kids in school that's just not an option.

Later that evening when we finally made it to the rental house in Vegas, Joey ran right out to the pool and jumped right in with his clothes on. We thought it was a great idea so we all jumped in!

Day 19

The next day we swam, went out for lunch, drove down the strip, went to the Shelby museum, and swam some more. It was an ok day, but honestly the only thing I really liked was the pool!

Day 20

The next morning, we drove a few hours to Zion National Park. I would have loved to have more time here - I think I've said that about every national park, but I think this is the one we saw the least of. I'd love to go back someday!

Since we didn't have much time here, we picked the trail we were the most excited about - The Narrows. You take the Riverside Walk to the start of the Narrows, which is literally just walking through a river. The whole trail is pretty long and gets kind of technical toward the end, but we just walked until we felt like turning around. I have no idea how far we walked, but it was so much fun! This was hands down my favorite trail we hiked on this trip - maybe my favorite ever!

There were a few deep parts, but it was mostly very shallow. If you ever go, make sure you don't go when there's a chance of rain or if it's rained nearby recently - you don't want to get caught in a flash flood here!

The squirrels in this park are crazy! They have no fear of humans - they'll come right up to you and even steal food from your bag!

 That's it for Day 20! Next Up is Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley!

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