I had started on a somewhat meticulous plan for our “Great Colorado Vacation” during my husband’s block leave. He said he wanted to see Colorado and he wanted to “camp”. I created a power point presentation including imbedded maps for each of our travel days with distances and travel times, even suggested activities at most of the locations. I planned out a few things that would hopefully keep the kids engaged. We were going to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park; Dinosaur National Monument in the very north-western part of the state; have lunch and a short hike at the Black Canyon on our way to Durango; ride the steam engine on the narrow gauge railroad themed after one of the boys favorite shows, Dinosaur Train; make a day trip from Durango to Mesa Verde; then stop off at the Great Sand Dunes on our return trip to Colorado Springs.
Then, life got a little bit crazy with redeployment and our trip to visit the relatives in Illinois. Matt kept asking if I had booked our campgrounds and I kept hoping he would just do it. He made us a reservation in a nice place between Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Forest and we had a lovely time there. We clambered up the rocks along the Alluvial Fan Waterfall; drove through montane, sub-alpine and alpine climates, enjoying the changes of vegetation and animal life in all of them; and the boys earned Junior Ranger badges there; had a night of fun and games in downtown Estes Park; and unsuccessfully attempted fishing in the Big Johnson River; crossed the Continental Divide for the first of three times on our trip; marvelled at the plume of smoke from forest fires over 80 miles away; and played in the snow.
I made a reservation for what we thought would be our last two overnights in Durango. The plan for overnight accommodations for the remaining 4 nights were oddly up in the air. What an opportunity to test the popular phrase, “Let go and let God!”
If I had insisted on paying for a reservation at an RV Park in Dinosaur, Colorado (where one would assume you could see dinosaur bones) we would not have ended up in Utah on our Colorado Vacation. It turns out that there aren’t actually any fossils to be seen in Dinosaur. They are 30 miles west near Jensen, UT. So, after having driven through the middle of nowhere for nearly 100 miles, we loaded back up in the truck and kept going to be closer to the quarry the next morning. We had been using electric and water hook ups as a necessary attribute for booking campgrounds, but the only one with those amenities in Jensen was very crowded and a little bit scary. We decided to check out the campground inside the National Monument and opted for “roughing it.” We were right on the Green River, with stunning views of the white rock cliffs, and in the only place on our 10 day trip that we were allowed to have a campfire. Being inside the park also allowed us to leisurely take a driving tour along which we saw petroglyphs, hike in a box canyon, and make one of my favorite memories of the trip – watching all three of my boys throwing rocks into the Green River and giggling and hearing their laughter echo off the rocks on the opposite bank. We didn’t even miss having showers for two nights…well, not too much anyway.
Instead of driving all the way to Durango the next day, we opted to take it slow and only make it about half way. We cheated and stayed in a hotel in Grand Junction where we got to stay clean for more than 5 minutes, swim in the pool and do some laundry. I booked our hotel after our oldest son requested that we take the 23 mile drive through Colorado National Monument. Who am I to deprive a six-year-old of the chance to see living history, geology and wildlife?
Staying overnight gave us enough time to stop at the visitors center, have a picnic in a shady spot and take a nice hike at Black Canyon National Park. The boys got to test their endurance on a moderately rated trail out past the highest point overlooking the awe-inspiring canyon and Gunnison River below. And I got some wonderful pictures of the scenery, wildflowers and my family!
I was completely awestruck as we drove through the San Juan Mountains and I think we might have just decided to stay in Ouray, except that one of the marks we had to make was being in Durango on the night of the 14th because we had paid for a reservation on the Dinosaur Train for the 15th. What I thought was going to be a lovely ride back through the San Juans to Silverton and a very long day for the boys on the train, turned into a much shorter day with a stop at a kid-friendly dinosaur-filled activity camp.
The plan called for a 100+ mile day trip to Mesa Verde and Four Corners on the 16th. We decided to scrap the plan and hang out near the campground, splashing in the freezing Animas River, swimming in the pool and playing on the playground. What a blessing this day of rest was for us all. With one small exception…I had to chase a fishing pole into the river…brrrr! It also gave us time to find a lovely little local/organic mexican restaurant to celebrate my husband’s birthday. It was fun for us all to see on a map the farms that grew our dinner.
On Father’s Day, we were supposed to pack up early in Durango, hit Great Sand Dunes National Park and get home to Colorado Springs late in the evening. Instead, we got a late start after a delicious pancake breakfast sponsored by the campground and only made it to Salida. I had been to Great Sand Dunes in college and really wanted my family to see them. I did sense a little hesitancy on my husband’s part, something along the lines of disbelief that there could be a spectacular amount of sand here between the Rio Grand and the Sangre de Christo mountains. But I think he was pleasantly surprised by the vastness of sand that collected here in this spot. The boys we probably more excited about digging for water in the dry creek bed that trudging through the dunes.
After leaving the dunes, I made a reservation for a hotel in Salida and as we looked at the map and reevaluated our route, I realized this little detour meant we would not have to return to the interstate to complete our journey. We had travelled only 107 miles of the 1,000+ mile trip on a highway…the rest on scenic byways through deserts, open ranges, and over mountain passes full of switchbacks and hair pin turns with steep grades. How incredible! It also meant we could make one more historic stop on our adventure – Royal Gorge. Only about 50 miles from Colorado Springs, it would seem a shame to have lived here two years and not seen one of the highest suspension bridges in the world. It was by far the most touristy of stops we made, but the boys enjoyed it and we finally saw a big horn sheep (albeit in captivity). I’m pleased to say it does not appear that my children have inherited my fear of heights. I think the oldest one surprised himself with his bravery while riding the zip line carriage with Daddy and the younger boy found the coolest view of the Arkansas River through the slats of the bridge, though it made me queasy just watching them do both of these things.
It certainly wasn’t exactly what we had planned. It was so much more. In my journal on June 15th I quoted Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and He will establish your plans.” As I have been pondering our trip and this verse, I can feel God’s hand in our lives in a very real and practical way.
It is upon this reassurance that I am resting my hope for all the things that are yet undecided about our upcoming move to Louisiana. There are still so many unknown details: my husband’s job description, schools for the children, our house, what shape my business will take there, to name a few. The planner in me wants to work out every detail and prepare a time line and a synch matrix to follow, but the Christian in me yearns to turn it all over to God, trusting that His way is the best way for us. For sure, it is a daily struggle, but I find reassurance in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Especially when I don’t understand His plan for us, I have to remember that “…all things work together for good to those who love God…” Romans 8:28. There is goodness in all His plans for me, perhaps it is not immediately recognizable but even in our struggles today, He is preparing our bodies and minds to overcome future obstacles.
Even on our wonderful Colorado vacation, we didn’t do all we had planned and saw some enticing things along that way that the timing wasn’t right for. White water rafting, Mesa Verde, Four Corners, hot springs, Ouray, four-wheeling in the San Juans… that just leaves room for me to plan another vacation when God calls us to return to His lovely creation in Colorado!