March 06, 2019

Unique Travel Experiences Enrich Our Lives in Distinctive Ways

Since I posted the most recent installment detailing the second of our cross country National Parks camping trips, a thought has been percolating in my mind that I’ve been having a hard time putting into words.  Actually, I think it’s more about feelings than words and, although I’ve been pondering for weeks, I’m still having a difficult time expressing those thoughts and feelings.

When I wrote about our visit to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, I felt like I didn’t successfully convey just how much the opportunity to ride the tiny tram up to the top of the Arch really affected me.  That got me thinking about a number of other experiences we’ve had in our travels.  Let’s face it – I love to travel and I believe that all travel experiences enrich our lives in many ways.  I remember almost every single one of our travel adventures in a positive light (although there are a few exceptions that I’d be just as happy to forget).  Some served to relax and recharge after an exceptionally busy or stressful time.  Some provided a sense of personal satisfaction as a check mark was placed next to a Bucket List item.  Some simply brought the pure enjoyment of being in a magnificently scenic setting. But, every once in a while, we enjoy an experience so rich, so unique or so fascinating that it is forever imprinted on my mind, my heart and, maybe, even in my soul.  Like I said, it’s really hard to explain, but I’m going to give it a try.

First of all, I have say I find it extremely interesting that the four members of our family can go on the very same trip and everyone will remember different places or experiences.  I can’t tell you how many times a conversation at our house has begun, “Do you remember . . . “and the response (or responses) has been, “No.”  Why is that?  How and why does our brain – or our heart – decide that a place, scene or activity is a valuable memory, while other places, scenes and activities just don’t make the cut and drop off into oblivion?  So intriguing!

Before I started planning for that second National Parks trip, I never knew that you could actually go in the Gateway Arch and all the way up to the top.  Because Alan and I are always on the lookout for memorable experiences for both ourselves and our kids, a trip to the top of the Arch sounded like an adventure we didn’t want to pass up.  That unique opportunity - standing at the very tippy-top of a monument I had seen photos of and recognized throughout my entire life - had a profound impact on me.  Never in a million years would I have imagined myself being in St. Louis, Missouri, enjoying the view from the top of that iconic monument, and yet there I was.  To this day, any time I see a photo of the Gateway Arch, it takes me back to the moment in time when I was there, right THERE at the top.  Was it a life-defining moment?  No, definitely not.  But it was a life-enriching moment - a moment that impressed me so much that my heart locked it away in its vault of special memories.

Gateway Arch National Park ~ St. Louis, Missouri

On a visit to Acadia National Park when our son, Ryan, was 17 and our daughter, Kyra, was 12, we launched our kayaks on a warm summer day at Long Pond.  Ryan and I were each in our own kayak; Alan and Kyra had teamed up in the tandem.  (By teamed up, I mean that Alan was paddling and Kyra was sightseeing.)  As we moved away from the sounds of kids at the beach enjoying their water activities, a peaceful sense of calm settled over us.  There weren’t many people out on the pond that day and we enjoyed the quiet solitude as we drifted under the summer sun.  Alan and Kyra were arguing good-naturedly about who was doing (and not doing) all the work, but it was Ryan who was responsible for indelibly imprinting that day on my heart.  He had propped his legs up on his kayak and settled his paddle across his lap.  He was just drifting with not a care in the world, silently enjoying the tranquility of the pond, a picture of total relaxation.  I wish that I could magically provide our kids with a sense of peace that would envelop them every day of their lives, but you and I know that’s not possible.  I will, however, settle for moments like this when the grandeur of nature can work that magic for me.

Ryan, chillin' on Long Pond ~ Acadia National Park ~ Maine

During our third cross country National Parks trip in 2017, we were traveling through California and stopped in Fresno to search out an ice cream shop called Ampersand.  Although I don’t recall exactly what had clued me in to this small, independent shop with such an excellent reputation, I do remember we arrived shortly before it opened and ended up waiting on a bench outside for maybe 20 minutes or so.  During that time, an older gentleman out for a walk happened by and we got into an extremely interesting conversation.  He had grown up in that area and shared with us his memories of how things used to be in an earlier Fresno – a very fortuitous chance encounter that exponentially increased our knowledge of the area we were passing through.  When Ampersand opened for business, Alan, Kyra and I must have spent five minutes just looking at the choices on the menu board.  (Ryan, by this time, had aged out of our epic journeys due to full time employment and limited vacation days.)  The ice cream at Ampersand is made from locally sourced ingredients and all of the mix-ins are produced in-house.  According to their web site, “Ampersand Ice Cream is a small batch creamery focused on utilizing the best products the Central Valley has to offer.  Our ice cream is made completely from scratch daily by hand and with lots of love.”  The owners, Jeff and Amelia Bennett, appreciate their historic neighborhood and its residents, and named the shop Ampersand as a reflection of their interest in developing a connection between the shop and the members of the Fresno community.  We learned much of this information from the lovely young woman who happily assisted us with our ice cream choices.  (I am still kicking myself for forgetting her name – she was such a gem!)  It was obvious this young woman was working there because she believed in the owners’ vision, as well as the quality of the products she served her customers.  After much discussion and with advice from our enthusiastic scooper, we decided on a Flight of Four for each of us.  Perfect choice!  Although there were some duplicates in our choices, our individual tastes vary enough that we all had an opportunity to enjoy an array of scrumptious flavors by sharing our flights.  Not only was it excellent ice cream (the Nectarine with Sage was AMAZING!), but it was an excellent experience, made so by the owners’ dedication to providing a top quality product and our scooper’s unbridled enthusiasm for the ice cream and the company.  Interestingly, we made another stop for “gourmet ice cream” somewhere else on that trip and I couldn’t tell you the name of the shop or where it was.  The ice cream itself was sub-par (an opinion shared by all three of us) and the staff was about as interested in customer service as they would have been in a root canal.  What a huge difference!  Our visit to Ampersand will forever remain in our memories as an incredible experience that enriched our vacation tremendously.

Flight of Four ~ Ampersand Ice Cream ~ Fresno, California

Also on the itinerary for that third National Parks trip was a stop in Winslow, Arizona.  We had to stop.  Why?  There was something about the experience of “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” that held a certain appeal.  The city of Winslow obviously saw a perfect marketing opportunity when the Eagles song “Take it Easy” became such a hit.  In 1998, the city created the “Standing on the Corner Park.”  (Why it’s “the” corner and not “a” corner as it is in the actual song lyrics, I don’t know.)  There are bronze statues of Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne (the co-writers of the song), as well as a mural of a girl in a flatbed Ford on the outside wall of the building on the corner - and a real flatbed Ford parked at the curb.  As we approached that corner back in the summer of 2017, Kyra pulled up “Take it Easy” on her phone and Alan and I, baby boomers through and through, enjoyed a nostalgic moment from our years as young adults.  I have no doubt that some would consider it corny or cheesy but, for us, standing on that corner in Winslow, Arizona, was a unique and fun-filled experience that still brings smiles to our faces every time we hear the Eagles sing “Take it Easy” - a special connection to an iconic piece of music (if music can, indeed, be considered iconic) that remains a priceless memory.

Yup, that's us, standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona!

Back in the summer of 1990, Alan and I flew out to Washington for the wedding of my childhood friend, Valerie.  Val had asked me to be a bridesmaid and we were excited about both the wedding and the trip.  Val's sister (the matron of honor) and her brother-in law (the “father of the bride”) would be flying out from the northeast, as well.  Valerie and her fiancĂ©, Charles, lived on Whidbey Island and had chosen a church on the mainland for their wedding.  The ceremony would be followed by a reception on the island.  In anticipation of the ferry rides back and forth, some cars were left on the island, rides were arranged to and from the ferry dock and the “commuters” paid a walk-on fare.  Since Alan and I were staying on the mainland, we left our rental car parked there and planned on “commuting” to Whidbey Island and back as walk-ons with the rest of the wedding party.  That day in August dawned sunny and hot.  Really hot.  Aside from a last minute scramble to get fans set up in the church, the wedding ceremony went perfectly and, following an outdoor photo session, it was soon time to head over to the reception.  At that point, I’m not sure exactly what happened.  Somehow, the wedding party became separated and wound up taking two different ferries over to the island.  Alan and I ended up with the matron of honor and the father of the bride.  So, there we were - two women in gowns with flowers in their hair and two gents in suits, standing in the brilliant sunshine at the bow of the ship as the ferry made its way to the island through sparkling waters.  Anyone who has traveled to the Pacific Northwest will understand when I say that it was an absolutely glorious experience.  Just to be present when my childhood friend tied the knot was a blessing.  To have such a stunningly beautiful day on which to celebrate the special occasion was just icing on the (wedding) cake.  When ferry passengers asked if we were in a wedding and we said yes, they would inevitably ask where the bride and groom were.  We, of course, told them that we had absolutely no idea, and comments about searching for a bride and groom to complete our wedding party abounded.  Although nearly 30 years have passed, in my mind’s eye, I can still see the four of us at the front of that ferry, enveloped in the happiness of the day, laughing and enjoying the magnificent scenery that surrounded us.  It was a moment in time that I’ll never forget.

My favorite pic from the wedding captured the mood of the day perfectly!

Well, I tried.  I really did.  I tried to convey how deeply these experiences have enriched my life, but I feel like I failed miserably.  What is it about a certain experience that touches us so deeply, that creates indelible memories and that causes a spark to flare whenever we are reminded of it?  I have absolutely no idea.  I can only tell you that I’m filled with gratitude for every single one of the special memories they create and the way those memories continue to warm my heart and brighten my days.

How about you?  Do you have any “especially special” travel memories to share?  If so, please do!


  1. You are describing the miracle of life. So many of us (and I'm including myself to a degree) fail to take full advantage of God's gift to humans over all other creatures--that being the ability to understand and reflect upon the wonders of that gift--our human lives and the unimaginable odds against even having one to live at all. With your sensitivity to this and the appreciation of your surroundings, you will have few regrets in the life you've lived. Thanks for such a contemplative piece and the pause it gave me.

    1. Your thoughtful comments and kind words are very much appreciated, Mike. I never had a tough time writing a post until this one. All the words in the dictionary couldn't help me translate what I felt in my heart. We are truly blessed.


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