Day #1 Topeka Kansas
As I am writing this the time is 10:00 p.m. CST (11:00 p.m. in Wabash). It is a beautiful warm and breezy night. We are camped at a KOA right outside of Topeka Kansas next to a small pond under some trees. The adventure began today with a mostly driving day and we spent a huge amount of time on the road. In fact as we were eating dinner I looked at the miles traveled and it totaled around 670 miles (all in one day). I was very pleased with the kids' attitudes and behavior considering the large amount of time spent on the bus. Counting breaks for lunch and the bathroom we spent a total of 12 hours on a school bus. The students played card games and read books to pass the time. Some even took pictures of others when they were sleeping and laughed at the crazy faces they made. As we arrived at the campsite we were pleased to find that it offered swimming and even a free arcade. Everything considered, it was a great start to our summer trip. Tomorrow we will be another driving day as we reach our first major destination: Colorado Springs. I am not sure whether the next campground will have internet access, so the next posting might be a while.
Justin likes playing euchre.
Jordan is extremely interested in his AP history book.
Days 2 - 5 Divide, Colorado
Our campsite these past couple of days was located in the beautiful town of Divide, Colorado, close to the city of Colorado Springs. The drive to our campsite was extraordinary. Driving in from miles away you could see the mighty Pikes Peak, the tallest eastern most mountain in the country. Even though it is almost summer, there was snow at the top of the mountain. Our campground was "Golden Bell Camp and Conference Center." When I made the reservations I could tell it was going to be a great camp, but when we arrived I was surprised to find that it was better than expected. The camp had an indoor pool, kayaking, basketball, and a zipline, all for free. What made things better was that the campground was in an isolated area that remained quiet and away from the busy world. It was truly a relaxing experience.
Our first day in Divide we visited Pikes Peak via a cog railway system. The railway is the longest in the world. Even though it took the train one and a half hours to get to the top of the mountain, it was an awesome experience. At certain points along the rail we had to climb grades of 25% percent. The train ride exposed us to views that were spectacular, seeing views of the surrounding areas. At a certain point above the tree line called the "Windy Point "the winds picked up and it became extremely cold. Our guide told us that winds were once recorded at 120 mph. The 14,000 foot summit of Pikes Peak offered unparalleled views of the area. We were allowed to walk around for 30 minutes in the thin air before we had to return to the train to head back. After the trip to the top of Pikes Peak, we ate lunch at The Garden Of The Gods, a place where we could see great rock formations with the darkest red colors. Later in the day we toured the United States Olympic Training Center, where we could see how and where athletes trained.
Our second day in Divide had us traveling to a Colorado town called Salida for a zipline adventure. After we got geared up and had a lesson on how to correctly operate a zipline we were off to experience the thrills of traveling over canyons some 250 feet in the air. Even though some were scared, after the first line all fears were wiped away. At the end everyone wanted to do it again. After ziplining, we explored Salida and discovered many small business, coffee shops, and art dealers.
Our third and last day had us returning to Salida for a whitewater experience. All the guides were very knowledgeable and our guide who called himself "Gringo" expressed that he knew 10 times as much as the other two guides. The river rafted (The Arkansas), was much higher than normal, in fact our guide said that he hasn't seen the river that high since 1998. Since the river was higher than normal we had to change our original trip to an alternate one. The rapids that normally were small, became intense. We even had to go under bridges where we had to duck. All in all the students can say that they rafted a river during flood. Later that night we ate at a restaurant called Smashburger, where we could put all sorts of different items on our custom build burgers.
Pikes Peak summit
The US Olympic Training Center
Guy in a chicken suit on the way to Smashburger
Day 6 Estes Park, Colorado
Today we headed to the outskirts of the Rocky Mountains to a place called Estes Park. On the way we stopped in Denver to explore the Denver Museum of Natural Science. There we watched an IMAX movie on the Hubble Telescope and explored an exhibit on the human body. In the exhibit, we saw specimens of the human body that were dissected in various ways all with the muscles and organs in perfect condition. It was as if the skin was removed and you could see everything underneath. Even the veins, arteries, and capillaries were all preserved. The campground was in a great location right at the base of the national park where we could see the high mountains.
Day 7 Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
The drive to Dinosaur National Monument was great! We traveled across Rocky Mountain National Park where we traversed one of the highest roads in the country called Trail Ridge Road. We went high above the treeline to areas where snow was still located. As we descended the mountains we finally reached Dinosaur National Monument. Our campsite was located in a remote area next to a river with huge cliffs surrounding the area. Before dinner some of the kids and I hiked up a small mountain where we could see many of the surrounding lands. Just after dinner and before we went to sleep, a huge storm hit us. There was hardly any rain but the winds were intense. Some tents fell over and had to be put up again while surprisingly some tents were unaffected. The wind gusts of 50 mph continued through the night and made for some tired kids in the morning. Even though the winds were high, the students kept their composure in the face of a tough situation.
Day 8 Jackson, Wyoming
Today we headed north through Wyoming to the Jackson area. It was raining most of the day but we pushed through with positive attitudes. Before stopping for the night, we went to a very remote location in the middle of the mountains to swim in a hot spring. To get to the spring we had to travel 10 miles on an unimproved dirt road that winded through the backcountry. These roads were extremely bumpy with potholes everywhere. Even through we only had to go 10 miles, we only could travel 15 mph. The wait was worth it though, as we entered a beautiful area surrounded by high cliffs, pine trees, and even snow. The air was cold but the water was a warm 92 - 97 degrees. Someone even described the spring's location as, "The most beautiful place in the country." After about an hour of swimming in the high mountain spring we departed for our campsite 20 miles away in a National Forrest.
Days 9 - 11 Yellowstone National Park
The drive into Yellowstone took us through Grand Teton National Park. It was too bad the low clouds prevented us from seeing the Tetons. We first entered the park through the south entrance and proceeded to check into our campsite. As I was checking in the ranger told me that just that morning a Grizzly Bear was seen walking through our campsite. This affirmed that we were in a place where the animals ruled and we were just visiting. What is even better is that our tents were placed right by the forest and a ranger was putting up a sign that read, "No one beyond this point, high bear activity." After setting up camp we drove around a majority of the park and saw some amazing animals. We saw a Black Bear, Grizzly Bear with cubs, and even a wolf, all on the same day, which is extremely rare. You could go weeks without seeing a wolf in Yellowstone.
Our itinerary was a little mixed up due to a combination of weather (highs in the low 50's) and bear activity (which closed a hiking trail). We made the most of all of this and came away with a great experience. We hiked down to the falls of the Yellowstone River to see the breathtaking sights. We even hiked a muddy trail, had a snowball fight, and walked right next to Bison on the Mary Mountain Trail. One of the nights we heard a ranger talk about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. The last day we traveled to Old Faithful to see the most popular destination in Yellowstone.
Isaiah next to an Elephant Seal at the museum
Justin doesn't like the smell of Mammoth Hot Springs
A view of Lake Yellowstone
Day 12 Cody, Wyoming
Today was a rather short traveling day as we headed out of Yellowstone and into Cody, Wyoming, the rodeo capital of the world. As we were leaving Yellowstone we were once again reminded of how wild the park really is by seeing a Grizzly bear climb up the side of a mountain. Since Cody was about 2,500 lower in elevation the weather was much warmer. We had a chance to break out the shorts for once in 3 days. Our campsite was located by a small creek with the sound of rushing water. It was quite a tranquil setting. Instead of putting up tents for the night some groups had a chance to sleep in tepees that where already set up by the campground for guests to sleep in. For dinner that night we had the chance to see what the wild west was all about by eating at a western themed chuckwagon. We had an all you can eat buffet with chicken, salad, cornbread, among other things. While eating we were entertained by a cowboy singing group that told stories, sang western folk songs, and interacted with the audience. After dinner we had a chance to see the Cody Night Rodeo where cowboys and cowgirls enter the various rodeo events: bull riding, barrel racing, bucking bronco riding, and calf roping. We really learned how the western culture influences the people. I even bought a cowbow hat.
Day 13 Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Today we had a little change in plans. We decided to see both Devil's Tower and Mount Rushmore since they were fairly close together. Devil's Tower was neat as we learned that the tower actually formed when the inside of an underground volcano cooled forming igneous rock. As the sedimentary rock around the volcano eroded away it left behind the inside of the volcano which still stands today as the famous Devil's tower. After Devil's tower we traveled to Mount Rushmore to see the famous faces carved into the granite rock. The road we decided to take was the most curvy road I have ever traveled on. It even had one lane tunnels that were carved out of the side of the mountain. We arrived at our campsite after dark and had to set up our tents on the spot and even cook our meal. Since we are all pros and camping the tents went up in no time. Hats off to our amazing cooks who despite the dark conditions prepared a wonderful meal.
Day 14 Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Toady we are on the other side of South Dakota in Sioux Falls at a beautiful campsite. Today we have a luxury: grass to sleep on. Most other campsites we have to set up our tents on dirt or gravel, so its nice to have soft grass for a change. Today was a driving day and I was really impressed with how the students handled the situation considering how many days we have been together on the road. Sometimes tensions can run high when you are in close proximity to each other, but these kids seem to find a way to get along in whatever conditions they find themselves. Besides getting a chance to sleep on the grass, we had a chance to do something else which hasn't been done in many days: eat at a restaurant. It's amazing how many simple things we take for granted when you don't do them. Even though our camp food has always been great, its nice to relax and let someone else prepare your meal.
At the Cody Night Rodeo
Climbing Devil's Tower
Another one from Yellowstone
Day 15 Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Today as we end our journey, everyone enjoyed the fun of Noah's Ark Waterpark. The park had something for everyone: water slides, water coasters, a lazy river, and of course a wave pool. This was just the right thing after a long and fulfilling journey across the country to see and learn some amzing things. Thanks to everyone who made this a reality for our middle school students. Without support we could never undertake this extraordinary expedition.