Day 18: A Recap

As we head from Denver to Omaha, Nebraska for the night, I am reflecting on our trip. Here’s our “Best of” the Merck Western Adventure:

Best Quotes:

  • Aidan, in our kitchen prior to departure, “Let’s get going. We’re burnin’ daylight here, people.”
  • Aidan (emphatically), in the midst of a tough hike in the Badlands, “This hike is stenuous!”
  • Aidan (very seriously), reaching for a Junior Ranger Badge that Austin was holding, “Put that down, Austin. You are not a Junior Ranger. You are not allowed to wear that.”
  • Aidan, in the middle of a hike, “I did not sign up for this.”
  • Haley (walking through downtown Denver), “Why are we going on this walk?” Hal (sarcastically), “To torture you.” Haley (seriously and emphatically), “I knew it!”
  • Hal (directing toward scenic views), “Pretty on your left. Pretty on your left.”

Best Lodging:

Zion Mountain Ranch (Orderville, UT: Zion National Park) hands down for cabins with exactly what we needed & for extra-fun amenities such as buffalo, horses, and a dog for fetching

Rio Grande Southern Hotel (Dolores, CO: Mesa Verde National Park) for comfortable, private rooms, a great price, a wonderful breakfast, and an adorable puppy

Roosevelt Inn & Suites (Keystone, SD: Mount Rushmore & Custer State Park) for a loft for the kids, meaning a bit of space to spread out

1225 Pennsylania (Denver, CO: David’s house) for historic significance, brotherly hospitality and thoughtful and historically authentic construction

Mather Campground (Grand Canyon National Park) for best (first?) camping experience, and for the company of family

Best Eating:

The Lodge at Bryce Canyon (Utah), with Tim from Washington State, for excellent sustainable food, attentive service, entertainment and stories by Tim

The State Game Lodge at Custer State Park (South Dakota) for amazing food and perfectly attentive service, as well as a lovely place for dinner as a family in a historically significant setting

The Buffalo Grill at Zion Mountain Ranch (Utah) for breakfast, for delicious food, attentive waitresses, a thoughtful chef, a gorgeous view, and Dakota (the Chocolate Lab)

Cafe Soleil (Springdale, Utah) near Zion National Park for lunch, for Mountain Huckleberry Soda (heaven in a bottle), delicious wraps & sandwiches and ice cream bars

Best Medical Care (ok, only medical care):

Zion Medical Clinic (Springdale, Utah) for thoughtful, prompt medical care with a smile, several good jokes, and excellent communication

Best National Park Experiences:

The Badlands, for its “stenuous hike”

Custer State Park (had to include this, though its a State Park), for the Wildlife Loop Road . . . amazing

Yellowstone, because you just don’t find geysers and hot springs like that anywhere

Grand Teton, for the most impressive view, the Jenny Lake Boat ride, and for mountain swimming at String Lake

Zion, for its shuttle bus, gorgeous canyon views, waterfalls, rattlesnakes, and columbine

Mesa Verde, for the Social Studies lessons turned on their head, most adventurous tour, best activities specifically designed for kids, and the best Park Ranger, Ali


As I reflect upon this adventure we’ve been on for the past three weeks, I am struck by something we probably didn’t need to leave home to find out. At each of his children’s weddings, my Uncle Ted has mentioned a value that is near and dear to him, “The best things in life aren’t things.” As we’ve traveled all these miles together, it seems that the most memorable moments are the ones impacted by thoughtful planning (ours or someone else’s), personal connection and/or a generous Creator.

The views have been amazing. We will not forget them for many years. I have often wondered at the variety of these breathtaking sights. Why would God make red rock walls and grand snow-topped mountains and deep pink canyons and green-topped mesas and bubbling mud and bursting geysers? I understand some of the science behind it all, but why? Why the variety? Why the colors? This may be simple, but it seems that He must have made all of these because it brings Him pleasure and He knew it would bring us pleasure as well. The world did not need to be a beautiful place for it to function. But with God planning it, I think it must be inherently beautiful. We have certainly enjoyed it on this adventure.

Thoughtful planning has been evident in so many circumstances on this trip. From the touches of home that show up in certain hotels to the organization of lines and shuttle bus schedules to the information presented in the summer newspapers to the excellent maps to the trails to the suggestions we have found for doing National Parks with kids. Without the thoughtful planning of our family, the National Park Service, and many others who have visited before us, we would not have had the trip we did. Thank you to each one who contributed to how smoothly things went for us.

At meals, at hotels, and at the Parks, it has been clear that personal connection is what gives life its flavor. Beyond our own family (the Mercks, as well as Dave, Rebecca, Gray, David, Brian and Amy, all of whom we enjoyed), some of our favorite people, who made our adventure memorable:

This adventure has been brought to us courtesy of Hal Burns Merck and the good people at McDonald’s.

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