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Family Vacation – Summer 2013

Two words: ROAD TRIP!

My family’s idea (well, maybe just mine) of a great summer vacation is a road trip exploring the roads and towns of the USA. Each summer we pile in our van and set out for a great destination and try to enjoy the scenery as it flies by. Our previous trips have taken us to the witness the beauty of the Canadian Rockies, fishing in one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, searching for sand dollars on the coast of Washington and last year we rode horses on a ranch in western Nebraska. While those were the main destinations of various summer vacations, along the way we’ve been through beautiful national and state parks, driven through numerous “one-horse” towns and figured out which chains of gas stations have the cleanest restrooms.

Our 2013 Summer adventure was broken up into two parts. Part one had my dad flying out from Iowa to drive with me and my two kids back to Iowa where my kids would then spend 3 weeks with my parents. I flew back home and enjoyed twelve “kid-free” days with my husband. Then Scott and I flew back to Iowa to collect our children and drive home.

We set out on a Sunday to drive from Des Moines to Branson, MO. We stopped in Springfield, MO to visit the Wilson Creek National Battlefield. My son, Kevin, is a huge Civil War buff and was absolutely delighted to set foot on his first “official” battlefield. After visiting the battlefield, we drove further south to Branson and had a nice time playing miniature golf with the kids. The scenery driving through the hills of southern Missouri is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. I can only imagine what it looks like when the fall colors set in each year. Stunning, I am sure.

The next stop on our road trip was Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, AR (with a slight detour through downtown Little Rock to visit the AR state capital building!) I should mention that we are huge fans of the National Park system and have the passport book for us and each of our kids. Arkansas was a “donut hole” of visited states – in all of our travels we had never driven through AR, so visiting Hot Springs was a MUST for this trip. HSNP is a park that is more about the cultural/social history of a geological formation than about the formation itself. The location is beautiful, the water refreshing (well, aside from the fact that it comes out of the tap at 140*F!) and walking around the area and looking at the exhibits is like taking a step back in time to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I found it interesting, but my kids were not as enthusiastic (the heat and humidity present during our July visit didn’t help!)

Next up on our road trip was a detour to the SW part of AR to visit the Crater of Diamonds State Park. This was my husbands “must visit” destination for our trip. We set out early in the AM for our digging expedition and it was fun until the heat/humidity kicked in and my son realized we were not going to strike it rich that day. We left my husband digging in the dirt and the kids and I drove back into Murfreesboro to look around the antique shops.

After sweating it out in AR, we headed west to Dallas/Fort Worth. We spent a morning touring the Fort Worth Stockyards, eating BBQ and watching their “cattle drive.”  We couldn’t spend too much time in DFW, however, as we needed to keep moving west towards AZ.

We did have time in our travels for one last stop – Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. I was not sure what to expect from the park, but was completely blown away by the scene that awaited us underground. No words I use or measly cell phone pictures I took can capture the beauty. If you have never been to Carlsbad Caverns, it is definitely worth visiting “middle of nowhere” New Mexico to see. After touring the caverns, we headed north to Roswell to check out the alien scene. We sneaked out of town without being abducted or probed, so we consider ourselves lucky. 🙂

Overall we really enjoyed our trip and have a bucket full of memories of the places we visited and activities we tried.