Watching Ken Burns’s “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” on PBS last night reminded me of two great trips we took in 2004 across parts of the continental U.S. where some of the parks are located.
Lower Falls at Yellowstone
This excellent PBS-TV program about the national parks continues every night this week through Friday, 8 to 10 p.m. HST, and repeats at 10 p.m. I highly recommend watching/taping it.
That year, 2004, we decided to meet and enjoy some of our family on Moku Honu (North America, Hawaiian for Turtle Island as Native Americans call it)—an idea inspired by the fact that my father, my hanai (adopted) father, and darling husband’s mother and father all passed over in 2003.
I used the internet and telephone to make all the travel arrangements myself.
The first trip was in May. We had a date with DH’s brother and sister on Memorial Day to spread their father Walter’s ashes at Mount Nittany on the Penn State campus per his request. We started to entertain the idea of driving ‘cross country, but which route?
We also wanted to call on uncles and aunts and their families who DH seldom saw and who I had never met. Walter had two brothers, Uncle Lee in Texas and Uncle Ron in Virginia. Let’s go visit!
We got out the road atlas. I plotted the towns and thought of who else we could call on between Texas and Pennsylvania. I thought of Cousin Eddy in Memphis, Tennessee, of my mom’s side of the family, and my brother-in-law Paul in his new house in North Carolina.
Upon further examination of the map, I could see that we could plan a route and visit a couple of national parks and other visitor attractions too. We agreed we would drive short distances, maybe four or five hours at a time, not all day, then stop and stay no more than three days at each place. We didn’t want to wear out our welcome.
Here is the route and the itinerary, in case you’ll be in the vicinity and want some ideas:
Fly from Honolulu to Dallas. Visit Uncle Lee and family in Plano and Tyler, Texas.
Pick up a rental car in Tyler, drive to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, then to Memphis. Turn in the car.
Tour Memphis with expert tour guide Cousin Eddy. (I have to mention the famous Memphis barbecue, Graceland, Sun Studio, Stax Museum, National Civil Rights Museum, Beale Street (rockabilly music by the Dempskys), soul food, Memphis in May festival, plus a drive to Ripley, Mississippi, to visit Eddy’s aunt and eat pie!)
In Memphis, buy a lot of music CDs. Go pick up the next rental car. (Would we mind driving a van that needs to be delivered to Philadelphia for the same rate? As long as it has a CD player, no problem!)
Listening to our music, drive the length of Tennessee to Nashville, attend the Grand Ol’ Oprey.
Enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg, TN, and over the border to Cherokee, North Carolina. Drive slow along the very scenic Blueridge Parkway from Cherokee to Blowing Rock, NC. Stay at Chetola Lodge for the Celtic Music Festival.
Turn right (east) to visit Paul and family in Summerfield, NC, head up to Virginia to visit Uncle Ron and Aunt Marge, and then on to Sister Penny’s in Collegeville, PA.
At the end of week no. 3, after spreading Walter’s ashes, we were in the Nittany Valley in the exact center of Pennsylvania. We located DH’s grandmother’s old farmhouse of his childhood, and we ran into his other cousins, all still farmers, of a family who has remained in the area since their ancestors arrived from the old country. This trip to the Nittany Valley was the first time DH, his brother and his sister traveled together as adults. I’m sure they will always remember it.
The second road trip was in September. We enjoyed the May experience of driving so much that we decided to meet the Luke relatives before meeting up with two of the Sinclair sisters on their annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone National Park.
Steamy landscape at Yellowstone
I wanted to visit Aunty Julia, my father’s last surviving sister who lived with her daughter Loris’s family in Stockton, California. We started in San Francisco and met Cousin Laureen and family. Together we drove to Stockton to see Julia and Loris. Another cousin Lorene, not to be confused with Laureen, and her husband drove from Sacramento bringing dim sum for lunch. Throughout the afternoon Loris’s several kids stopped in with their kids, and we had a really nice reunion.
Loris has a sister, Bee, who lives in South Fork, Colorado. So next morning we flew from Oakland to Albuquerque and drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico. (In Santa Fe I can recommend El Paradero B&B, El Farol restaurant, and the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and café.) From there we went to Mesa Verde National Park, then to Durango where we rode the narrow gauge railroad to Silverton and back. We continued to South Fork (of the Rio Grande) to visit Bee and her husband.
Aspens and conifers
To get to Yellowstone National Park, we drove the highway that runs along the top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains from south to north. We had dinner with Bee’s son Bret in Steamboat Springs. Next morning we entered Wyoming. There’s a lot of Wyoming before you get to the park’s north entrance. Ruth and Kathy came in from Idaho.
We thoroughly enjoyed our rendezvous, the beauty of the park, its geological features, and all the wildlife.
As it is adjacent to Yellowstone, we also visited Grand Teton National Park in Jackson, WY.
Thus ends my post of our 2004 tour of the national parks by way of some quality time with our families.
When I was in the third grade at Schofield Post Elementary School, our lessons included listening to the Standard School Broadcast radio program about the national parks, featuring a different one each week. That’s how I first learned about these places that were wisely set aside for our benefit and enjoyment. I imagine the Ken Burns films will provide additional education today.
Why did we wait until our parents died to call on our uncles, aunts, and cousins? Because our parents didn’t want to. Now I think, that’s silly. Lee, Ron and Julia have since left the earthy plane as well. I am so glad we visited them in 2004. Now for both DH and myself, our generation is the oldest in our respective families. Gratefully, we still have our cousins, siblings, daughter, nieces and nephews.
Three weeks is long enough to be away from home; three and a half weeks is too long.
When time and finances permit, we ought to do a trip like this again—family and the national parks. Perhaps sooner than later.
Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke