My apologies for the non-creative title. It sounded better than “A road trip with my sister’s family from Tulsa to Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Crazy Horse, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation, The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks, Garden of the Gods, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Roswell, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park”.
The good news is if I have bored you already, you have the Cliff’s Notes and synopsis of the trip.
Usually when I mention a place I want to go to friends or family, they patronize me by giving me a “that would be cool” response. That’s not to say they don’t want to go, it’s just not at the top of their list of things to do. I used to just hope it would work out to go do some of these things, now I try to plan and go. My brother Brad really lit the travel fuse in me over ten years ago. He’s had the fortune to travel all over the world for business and leisure. Instead of talking about how unreasonable a trip to somewhere cool is, he showed me if you planned it, you can take the trip. The trip with he and his wife Angela to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe (and Reno if I am being honest) in 2008 was the first time I saw California, as well as Nevada. I know it’s cliché to say, but I came back different from that trip and every trip since. I don’t know that I am more passionate about anything else now than getting out and seeing new places or revisiting favorites.
Ever since I found out there was a Red Rocks Amphitheatre, I have wanted to go there. This may surprise you, but I think the first I became aware of its existence was watching Bill Gaither and Friends at Red Rocks. Some of my favorite memories are watching the Gaither Gospel series with my parents and paternal grandparents. Along the way I have picked up various cd’s of live recordings at Red Rocks. For several years, I have said “I want to go see a show there.” I have mentioned the Avett Brothers in previous posts, but I’ve been enamored with them for a couple of years. Their lyrics and songs have connected with me a lot over the last couple of years. They usually play Red Rocks during the summer and when they confirmed they were playing there June 29, 30, and July 1, I thought this was the year to see a show at Red Rocks, specifically the Avett Brothers at Red Rocks. When I asked my sister Gaylyna if she would be interested, she jumped on board. Once I secured a couple of tickets back in January for Friday June 29, 2018, a massive road trip started being planned. Her and I would go to the show at Red Rocks, but her whole family would be with us for the road trip. This is the story of our Red Rocks and Beyond road trip with Gaylyna, her husband Jonathan, and their kids Brynleigh, Addisyn, and Caleb. For the sake of space, when I reference “my family” on this trip, it is they I am referring to.
Friday, June 22, 2018
I put in a full day of working for “The Man” now known as “De Fuhrer” since the company was acquired March 1, 2018. My sister in law Angela brought my brother to the lair, so my brother could take me to Hobby airport, and then he would drive my car to his house in Smithville, TX so my car would be waiting there at the end of the trip. We stopped for dinner at the Smoke’n Honey House on the way. It was a forgettable dining experience. I arrived at Hobby about 6:30 and had a very thorough pat down in the TSA line. It is par for the course for my airport experiences. This one was probably the most intrusive. My legs were sore, if I had handed the TSA guy some ICY HOT, he could have rubbed it in as long as he took checking me for contraband. After the hand swap explosives residue test, I was finally cleared to fly.
The flight left on time at 10:15 pm and arrived in Tulsa on time about 11:30 pm. My sister Gaylyna picked me up and we went to her house for the night.
Saturday, June 23, 2018
My sister’s family and I met our uncle James and Uncle Larry, along with Larry’s family (Aunt Terry, cousins Heather & Kristian, and Heather’s kid), in Sperry, OK for breakfast. It was a quick visit, but nice to see all of them. Uncle James and Larry have had some health challenges as of late, but they both seem to be on the mend, which is obviously great news!
After breakfast, we (Gaylyna’s family and I) stopped by the cemetery in Sperry to pay respects to Mom, Grandad, Grandma, and Aunt Judy. My sister does a great job of looking after the graves of Mom, Grandad and Grandma, and our brothers Dustin, and Jerod. After a few minutes we left to go pack our bags at Gaylyna’s hose, wishing those that have gone before us were going with us.
We left Gaylyna’s house a little after noon and started our 11 day journey through eight states.
We arrived in Kearney, Nebraska at our lodging for the night about 8 pm. It was an older property and they still use room keys and do everything on paper. Although no computer was present in the office, they somehow had our information on paper slips. I found this curious since I had reserved the rooms on Hotels.com. For most of the trip, we had two rooms, one for the boys, and one for the girls.
Sunday, June 24, 2018
(Picture credits: the whole family)
After a nutritious breakfast at the Kearney McDonald’s we headed for Badlands National Park. Along the way we stopped in the Nebraska National Forest. While Nebraska’s corn fields can be a pretty sight to see, the forest was a nice change. After the forest was a drive through the Nebraska Sandhills. This was all along the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.
We crossed into South Dakota around 4pm mountain time; we crossed time zones somewhere in northwest Nebraska.
We arrived in The Badlands close to 6 pm. We stopped at a visitor center and Gaylyna went in and received recommendations on what we should do. We drove to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and spent some time, and then went to the Door Trail where we did a little hiking. The family hiked further while I took pictures on the boardwalk of the Door Trail.
Then we (Jonathan) drove through the park and stopped a few more times. We saw some bighorn sheep, and lots of prairie dogs. We made it to Wall, South Dakota, and our stop for the night about 8:30 pm. We had a family suite at the Best Western. It seemed like a good cost cutting idea when I booked it. It had two bedrooms, but only one bathroom. We managed though.
Monday, June 25, 2018
We were going to have breakfast at the Best Western, but it was overrun with fellow guests. Thus we headed to the famous Wall Drug store to try our luck there for breakfast. The Wall Drug store became famous in the 1940’s for advertising free ice water, what started as a small shop now consumes a whole city block with multiple gift shops and eating options. The breakfast buffet seemed a little high at $15 a person, so we opted for trying their donuts. The donuts are all cake donuts with a few different flavor options. However, I was a little miffed they didn’t have hot donuts available. The register at “The Donut Factory” was closed, and you had to go to the restaurant for donuts, which were good, but room temperature.
From Wall, we drove to Custer State Park in Custer, South Dakota. Along the way we picked up picnic supplies for lunch in the park. Custer State Park is one I missed on my solo trip last year. I drove up to the entrance, but ran out of time. This trip we spent a good four hours or so in the park, seeing lots of bison, Pronghorn sheep, prairie dogs, and few different types of deer. We ended the drive in the park on the Needles Highway, which takes you by Cathedral Spires, and several one car width rock tunnels.
From there we checked in at the Ramada Inn in Keystone, South Dakota. We had dinner in Keystone at Grizzly Creek Restaurant, and were served by a young lady from Thailand. She was very friendly and spoke really good English. Keystone has a lot of foreign workers using work visas I am assuming.
After dinner, we headed to Mount Rushmore which is only a couple of miles away from where all the hotels and shops are in Keystone. We arrived in time to get a good seat in the amphitheater for the nightly lighting ceremony. I had attended this last September when I visited, but was glad to share it again with family. They play patriotic music over the speakers (Amazing grace is also mixed in). A ranger comes out and gives a short talk, on this night it was a lady ranger. Then a 20 minute video about Mount Rushmore, and the four presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Then the ranger comes out and talks a little more. At some point she asked people to clap for their favorite president. I wish I had captured the excitement as my nephew Caleb clapped for Abraham Lincoln with a huge smile on his face. It is one of my favorite moments from the trip.
While the national anthem is played (and the audience sings along) the four presidents are lit up. After that they call all of the veterans in attendance down to the stage, then a group of them take the flag down, and the audience is given the chance to applaud the veterans. I think I mentioned the same when I witnessed this back in September, but it’s hard to describe the patriotism that is exhibited. I’m glad I have now been able to witness it twice.
We arrived back at the hotel close to 11 pm after a full day of excursions.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
We visited Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Keystone to the park.
We arrived early enough to get on the first Garden of Eden Tour of the day. From the park website description:
“This 1-hour tour is our least strenuous tour. It is a wonderful sample of Wind Cave. Small amounts of all of the beautiful cave formations – boxwork, cave popcorn, and flowstone – are seen along this 1/3 mile tour. The tour is designed for people with limited time or abilities. It enters and leaves the cave by elevator with 150 steps along the tour route.”
The ranger who led the tour was nice, but did take a wrong turn at one point and asked the group to hang out a few minutes in the cave while she verified the way we needed to go. She led us on the rest of the tour and back to the elevator with no incident.
On the way back from Wind Cave NP, we stopped by the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The family went inside the visitor center for a bit, I stayed outside and took pictures from the parking lot. They give away rocks that have been blasted from the site; my sister picked one up for me. We all have a piece of Crazy Horse.
From there we went back to the hotel in Keystone and had lunch at the nearby Ruby House Restaurant. It’s setup like an old saloon, the food was decent.
We spent the rest of the day swimming at the hotel and went for ice cream at Turtle Town, a sweets shop on the main road in Keystone. Some of the family went looking around the shops in town for a bit; Brynleigh and I went back to the hotel and relaxed for the evening.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Most of this day was spent driving from Keystone through Wyoming to Estes Park, CO. We arrived at the Saddle and Surrey Motel in Estes Park about 5pm. The people at the motel were really friendly, and the motel is older, but kept up pretty nice.
Gaylyna found a hike for us to go on that wasn’t too far away from the motel, Copeland Falls. The drive there was nice and literally over the mountains and through the woods. It’s a 0.6 mile hike from the parking lot. Even though it wasn’t that far I was sucking wind due to the elevation (and being way out of shape). While we were out there, thunder started rolling pretty good, I started hoofing it back ahead of the family as I figured it would take me longer to get back.
I was almost all the way back before the rain set in. I took a few minutes to record audio of a stream and the rain/thunder which I plan to add to my sleep soundtrack (which includes Yosemite Falls, rain in Yellowstone, and crashing waves in Galveston).
Brynleigh and Addisyn came running down the trail with the keys to the car ahead of Jonathan, Gaylyna, and Caleb. We only had to wait a few minutes before they arrived.
From there we drove back into Estes Park and toured the streets a little while looking for a place to eat dinner. We spotted a couple of elk out and about. For dinner, we ended up at a place called “You Need Pie”. We walked in at 8:45 pm, not realizing the closed at 9. The staff was all friendly despite us crashing in right before closing. Our waitress was really nice and said as long as we placed our order by 9, we were ok. I had a Philly cheese steak; the rest of the family had burgers and sandwiches. We took a Key Lime Pie to go for Thursday’s breakfast.
Then we stopped at the nearby grocery store where Gaylyna picked up picnic stuff for Thursday’s drive through Rocky Mountain National Park.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
The Key Lime pie from You Need Pie made for a great breakfast!
We left the motel about 8 am and started making our way through Rocky Mountain National Park. The first stop was a great view of Long’s Peak. Then we proceeded up Trail Ridge Road, making several stops along the way.
We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center for a bit to check out the views and gift shop. It is 11,796 feet above sea level. The gift shop had a lot of items with “Got Oxygen?” available for sale, which is very appropriate with the thinner air. Jonathan and Addisyn showed us all up and went up to the summit which is 12,005 feet, and a whole lot of steps. The rest of us sat and waited while they made the trek.
From there we continued west on Trail Ridge Road and stopped for lunch at a picnic area.
After lunch, we headed south and made our way out of the park and towards Denver.
We stayed at Lakewood Hotel in Lakewood, CO. It used to be a Hampton Inn and probably at one time was a pretty nice hotel. It is not in terrible shape now, but the room us guys were in was pretty warm, and the common areas in general were warm. Of course, I never count on AC working in any hotel I am in, I just get used to trying to sleep very warm.
Friday, June 29, 2018
Originally, I had planned for us to have a leisure day around Denver as this was the day of the Avett Brothers at Red Rocks. However, I came across an article about the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Foundation (https://www.rmwf.org/) where they rescue wolves and wolfdogs. I sent the link to my nieces to see if they would be interested in visiting, and they were excited about it, so I set out to get us a tour. I was hoping to get something for Saturday morning to work out better for our trip schedule, but all they had was openings on Friday morning. After a quick look at the map, I figured it would be a tight but doable squeeze to get it in and be back in time for Gaylyna and I to make it to Red Rocks.
The RMWF is located in Guffey, CO, and the two hour drive south of Denver to get there is very pretty, although you could say that for most of Colorado. We arrived a little bit early before our 11 AM slot and were quickly seated in a shaded area where two female volunteers told us about the history of the foundation and the wolves. Shortly after we arrived, another group showed up that was supposed to be there at 9. One of the volunteers moved over to that group. I did not get the name of the volunteers, but they were both really nice, the one that took us on our tour is a recent college graduate from New Jersey and had a few weeks left on her six week commitment.
Mark Johnson is the founder of RMWF and he came over for a minute before our tour began. He didn’t think it would be safe for my nephew Caleb to go into a couple of the pens that the rest of us could go in. I think there were a total of four pens we visited. Some of the wolves were very passive, some were very friendly and made repeated pleas for petting and belly rubs. My nieces really enjoyed it and had big smiles the whole time. My nephew enjoyed it too after being briefly excluded from a couple of the pens. Jonathan and I stayed out with him so he wouldn’t feel alone. It was a really cool experience, the kids picked up some souvenirs including wolf fur.
The tour is officially free, but we did give a donation. They are trying to raise money to buy a permanent property. The current property is being provided free of charge for Mark’s lifetime, but he wants to get something setup that will be around after he is gone. If you are out that way, I recommend looking them up and setting up a tour.
On the way back we stopped for lunch at River Bend Market & Eatery, an Italian restaurant that sits on the North Fork South Platte River a tributary of the Colorado River. We sat by open windows with the river flowing right outside. The views were great and the lasagna was really good! Everyone else seemed to like their food too.
We made it back to Lakewood a little after 4pm. Gaylyna and I took 15 minutes to freshen up before driving to Red Rocks. Jonathan and the kids relaxed at the hotel for the night.
The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks
We arrived a little after 5, and parked in the Upper South Parking Lot at Red Rocks, which still sits below the amphitheater. A long line of people were already camped out waiting for the doors to open at 6:30 PM. We could have gotten in 30 minutes early; I am a member of the Avett Guild (their fan club) which I had signed up for in January in hopes of getting great seats in the presale for Red Rocks. I didn’t end up getting tickets in the presale, but members of the Avett Guild are typically let into the venue 30 minutes early. It would have been a lot of effort to get to the Upper North Parking lot where that line was, so I we just stayed put and sit in Gaylyna’s vehicle. There was a lot of tailgating going on. Sometime after 6, the line started moving up the huge ramp. We made our way over and since the line was stopped on the ramp, it gave me a chance to catch my breath.
At 6:30pm the gates opened and we made it in about 6:45. Once inside there are several flights of stairs to get to the seating area. Slowly but surely we made it to row 31, seats 111 & 112.
David Crosby was the opener and started at 7:30pm. I guess since I wasn’t partaking in the local product, his music didn’t do a lot for me. He let his political activism show and kept talking about “the state of things” and letting “they hear you in Washington”. Groovy, Man.
The Avett Brothers came on a little after 9 PM.
Setlist (Credit: Avett Setlist Database, https://db.nov.blue/shows/1672)
- Die Die Die
- Will You Return?
- Distraction #74
- February Seven
- Ain’t No Man
- I Would Be Sad
- Through My Prayers
- The Fall
- November Blue
- True Sadness
- Hard Worker
- Rejects in the Attic
- At the Beach
- Pretty Girl from Chile
- I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan Cover)
- C-Sections and Railway Trestles
- Murder in the City
- Salvation Song
- Down with the Shine
- Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise
- Standing With You
- The Clearness is Gone
- No Hard Feelings
Everything about seeing a show at Red Rocks lived up to what I thought it would be, the acoustics are great. Even in row 31, everything sounded clear, but not overpowering.
Since they were playing three nights at Red Rocks and we were there for the first night of the run, I knew we wouldn’t get every song we wanted, but it was a great set! I was happy to hear several for the first time live including Through My Prayers, The Fall, November Blue, Salvation Song, and No Hard Feelings. November Blue was probably the one I wanted to hear most.
They have played Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise at each of the three shows I have been at, and I hope they play it any shows in the future I am at.
“Decide what to be and go be it.”
I think they finished the encore around 11:30.
The show was great and hopefully Gaylyna enjoyed it as much as I did. I wish we could have been there for all three nights, but time and money did not permit.
We waited for the crowd to thin out a bit before making the trek down the stairs, stopped at the merchandise stand where Gaylyna bought a shirt; I bought a hat, then on down the ramp.
I think we ended up back at the hotel about 12:30 AM.
There are also annoyances at Red Rocks that exist in other venues, and that is the people that don’t seem to go to shows to go to the shows. There seemed to be a constant parade of people going to and from the bathroom, to the beverage cart, to smoke pot. You also have the people that wait for quiet songs to start having conversations. Two guys next to me carried on for about five minutes about random things. My ticket cost $80 or so with fees, I am assuming it cost them the same. They really couldn’t chat some other time? It was mostly a well-mannered crowd through.
Saturday, June 30 2018
We left Lakewood about 8 AM (a common trend on this trip) and headed for Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. By the time we arrived there about 10, it was already very crowded with no parking spaces to spare.
06.30.18 Road Trip: Royal Gorge
We were at Royal Gorge from Noon to about 4PM. We took the Gondola to the other side. After Red Rocks the night before, I was pretty sore, so while the family went to the kids play area I made my way back over the bridge via one of the shuttles. I found a spot on the observation deck and enjoyed the view for a few hours.
We left there and headed for our stop for the night Pueblo, CO.
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Most of the day was spent driving. We stopped in Roswell, NM to say we had. I stopped too soon at a place called Alien World, the official UFO Museum was a half a block down the road. Alien World cost $13 for all of us to see some kind of Alien themed haunted house that looks like it was put together in the 60’s, and never updated or dusted since. We spent about 15 minutes in there, laughing at how ridiculous the place was. At this point we decided we just wanted to continue the journey than pay more money to go in the UFO museum. Now we can say we have been to Roswell.
We stayed in Whites City, NM which is right outside the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We stayed at the Rodeway Inn which has a decent sized slide and kids play area next to the pool, but they turned it off soon after we arrived. My nephew was a little bummed, but he enjoyed swimming in the pool along with the rest of us.
Monday, July 2, 2018
We beat the crowds to Carlsbad Cavern National Park; on the way in we saw some barbary sheep. At the visitor center, the family decided to take the natural bridge entrance which is an hour long hike down. I made it down in about three minutes via the elevator with time to peruse the exhibits up top before taking the 750 foot descent. Once they made it down, we proceeded to take the Big Room Self-Guided Tour. It really is spectacular! I’d recommend anyone who has the chance to go see it.
After the tour, we had lunch at the restaurant in the visitor center, and then headed toward Texas, which was only about ten minutes away from the park.
It was supposed to take us three hours to get to Fort Stockton, Texas for the night. We were stuck behind a wreck on a road in the middle of desert oil patch for over an hour. We finally arrived in Fort Stockton a little after 7PM.
Tuesday, July 3, 2018
All that was left of the trip now was the trip back across the state to my brother’s house in Smithville, Texas. We arrived there after 3 PM where we commenced visiting with my brother and his wife. We also took advantage of their pool.
We saw a lot, drove a lot, saw a lot, and drove a lot more. My guess is we probably hit close to 4000 miles for the trip, and my sister’s family still has a drive back to Oklahoma next week.
I love visiting the national parks, even though I’ve really only started seeing them in the last few years. If I had the money, I would load all the family that wanted to go on a bus and we set off seeing as many as we could. It was nice taking this trip with family as the last couple have been solo trips. Hopefully they weren’t too overwhelmed with all we saw and how far we went. This all started because I wanted to see The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks. Music is a powerful force.