Our 7,000 Mile Trip Out West!!

Just a few days ago, the kids and I got back from a 7,000 mile cross-country trip. We visited more than 10 national parks and monuments as well as a number of famous state parks.  We spent time looking for diamonds in the world’s only diamond mine open to the public, had a long tour of Canyon De Chelly which we had studied about this spring with a Navajo guide who treated me and the kids to an incredible in-depth tour.  We visited many of the famous parks out West– like the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Yellowstone and more!

This six-week trip was a long time in the making. It began as a dream when I went through some terrible, horrific health problems two years ago.  I know I have many new readers now so for those of you who don’t know I’ll summarize that here (others can skip it if you know my story!)

I had ear surgery a little over two years ago to improve the hearing in my left ear. I had had ear infections as a child that damaged the bones in my ear/s.  The plan was to put in a prosthesis for one of the bones and to fill in the missing bone along my ear canal.  Things went terribly wrong.  First, I was allergic to the bone filler they used. And second, I had a hole near the semi-circular canals (that serve as your balance system) that they didn’t realize I had had (probably had it for decades stemming from ear infections, etc.).  With all the inflammation that hole got steadily bigger. This is in hind-sight, but for months we couldn’t figure out exactly what was going wrong.  I began to get more and more crazy symptoms. I had five surgeries to try and plug that little hole, but all the while my symptoms became worse… I became sensitive to any noise. Noise made my vision blur and made me feel sick. And also, any movement made me feel sick to my stomach as well. For example, the horizon would jump up and down when I walked around.  When I moved my head to the side my vision slid and blurred.  I had horrible tinnitus 24/7… jingle bells, swooshing, clanging, cicada-sounds that became ever louder and more intense as weeks became months… I began to be able to hear my blood pulsating, my tongue moving, my bones clicking, water falling on my back in the shower…  My own voice made me ill and sea sick.  Any noise made my vision blur.  As time went on, I had to isolate myself more and more away from everyone because any noise and any movement made me sick.  The savior was the blog because I could write and stay still.

Anyway, I was so sick that I wondered if I would ever be able to do normal things again.  Would I be able to take the kids camping? Traveling? Hiking?  For months, I sat in a chair looking out at the woods and praying that I would get better.

In the end, I went to Johns Hopkins. There was no saving my hearing or balance system in that ear, but by that point I just wanted to get better!  The doctor removed everything in my left ear (ear drum, bones, semi-circular canals/balance system) and plugged it up. I went deaf in that ear (I’m hard of hearing in my right ear & wear a hearing aide), but then I slowly began to get better and the symptoms (tinnitus, vision issues, blurring/balance problems) began to subside.

So… then came the planning of this trip! When you go through something that shakes you to the core, you know you really *have* to live life to its fullest!

Years ago, I visited many of these same national parks. I was born in Seattle but grew up outside of Philadelphia so my family made many trips across the country to visit our relatives out West.  We drove out, camping and visiting national parks along the way. This wasn’t a hard trip, but it did take some planning (especially since you have to make camping reservations in the national parks six months in advance).

Since Hubby doesn’t have the time available to travel for that long, I set out with the kids.  Hubby met us in Flagstaff (Arizona, just south of the Grand Canyon) and traveled with us for two weeks (until we dropped him off in Minneapolis).

Back in mid-May we packed up our car and the kids and I headed out for a huge cross-country trip.

To be able to travel for quite this long we camped all along the way.  We stuffed the car to the max with sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, cooking gear, clothes (we had to get a car-top carrier to be able to fit in all our camping gear! We got a soft top carrier and that worked out well (though we put everything in heavy duty plastic bags before putting it up there.))… and off we went!!

Trip-Out-West-2016-HeadingOutWe saw all kinds of amazing wildlife — from woodpeckers to prairie dogs, buffalo to marmots, chipmunks to elk and mule deer. We saw two momma bears with their cubs (from afar!). And, we even saw a huge turtle laying her eggs in the sand!!!


As many of you know, I made a Travel Log for the kids.  They LOVED that!! Each morning when we set out in the car, they’d grab their Travel Logs and would fill out the itinerary for the day.  They also collected the National Park Stamps in their Travel Logs (you can also purchase National Park Passport Books, but this worked out better.) Some of the state parks had really amazing stamps, others just had generic ones.

P.S. One of the pages in the Travel Log had the kids try to find all the U.S. License plates.  They got all of them except Hawaii and Alaska!

The USA Road Trip Travel Log is free and has various activities that you could do even if you’re not traveling this summer (like rock collecting, identifying all the clouds, a checklist of constellations to try to find, geo-caching pages and more!!)

National-Park-Passport-StampsHere was our itinerary in a nutshell:

  • Visited my sister’s family outside of Nashville, TN
  • Crater of Diamonds State Park: the world’s only diamond mine open to the public and the world’s eighth largest diamond-bearing volcanic crater in Arkansas
  • Visited friends outside Dallas, TX [who lived in Alice Springs, Australia when we lived there (The kids were all born in Australia; we lived there for 12 years.)]
  • Sky City Cultural Center of the Acoma Pueblo (New Mexico)
  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona) – [See our free materials about Navajo history and Canyon de Chelly here.]
  • Petrified Forest (Arizona)
  • Montezuma’s Castle National Monument, Montezuma’s Well, Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)
  • Grand Canyon (Arizona)
  • Antelope Canyon (Navajo Reservation, Arizona)
  • Bryce National Park (Utah)
  • Zion National Park (Utah)
  • Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
  • Crazy Horse Memorial (South Dakota)
  • Custer State Park (South Dakota)
  • Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)
  • Mt. Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota)
  • Waldsee (German Immersion Camp – Concordia Language Villages) in northern Minnesota for a one week family-camp
  • Visited friends in Iowa
  • Visited friends in Ohio

We asked the kids what their favorite places were.  Their answer? Everything!!

Trip-Out-West-2016The trip was really life-changing for our family… the bonds and memories we created together, seeing a world beyond our normal every-day lives, camping and really living life differently (while camping and being out & about for such a long time), getting used to being away from internet/phone service connectivity for days on end, meeting new people, and getting used to long travel days!

In the coming days/weeks, I’ll be going through out pictures and sharing our stories and photos. I know my Dad is especially looking forward to these, right Dad?!! 🙂

What an amazing adventure!! See you again soon! ~Liesl (and the kids!)

You might be interested in these related posts:

See you again soon here or over at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page!

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