Texas part 2: July 16-27

And so my idyll continued in the land of sagebrush and bluebonnets.

Breyer took me to her gymnastic class and I saw her pass off an impressive gymnastic move (I think its called the backward handspring). 

A truly incredible candid. Breyer, hand on her hip, and leather glove on for protection, nonchalantly holds a banana as Miller hurls a playing card in an effort to cut it in half.

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My time in the Lonestar State was limited however. Saturday July 18th, while driving back from South Dakota, I received a phone call from Dean Stewart, dean of admissions at BYU Law. She called offering a 1/2 tuition scholarship to BYU, which I happily accepted. I had been holding out hope for a full-ride, but felt grateful for the chance to attend BYU, and see that dream of mine come true. Additionally, the phone call itself was something of a miracle. My phone had no service through all of Nebraska, and parts of South Dakota, and we were quickly approaching the Nebraska border where my service would end. In fact, the service quit out right at the conclusion of our 7+ minute call.

To back up a few days…

One of my summer goals was to visit the last 4 continental states I have never set foot in, namely Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Due to my change of plans and heading to Texas, it didn’t look likely.

I mentioned the idea on Sunday July 12th, as we looked at some old photos as a family. I was using the projector to show the pictures to everyone, and after showing my Boise trip, I pulled up an online map to show my audacious route that I had planned. And thus, we were talking about the great North.

I threw the idea out of making a trip, and it was bounced around intermittently like a pinball, while we laughed and laughed at all the old memories.

Monday saw a comment or two offered in support. Tuesday, was a, “Let’s do this!” 24 hours, and by the afternoon support was consolidated and the crew was packing for a 4-day adventure of a lifetime. It took some convincing to get us going on Wednesday, but Dad has long wanted to go to Mount Rushmore and that was the key. Cooper opted to stay home, and Mom wasn’t jumping at the bit over a 40 hour roundtrip car-ride (plus she had to work,) so the Prius passengers were Dad, me, Sawyer, Miller, and Breyer.

We finished packing late Tuesday and left early Wednesday morning for Oklahoma. One important detail is that it was agreed upon (partly by necessity), that this trip would be travelled “Hunter-style,” aka no plans/reservations made in advance.

We cruised through north Texas, Oklahoma, and made our way into Kansas (one of my longtime favorite states) around lunch. We hauled until Salina, and then stopped at the legendary Hickory Hut BBQ. I ate here once years ago (maybe 2012??) and it was love at first bite. In 2014, I tried stopping by on my way to college, only to reach it when it was already closed. This time, lady luck was on our side, and I again cherished each bite of the world’s best sandwich, The Texas Slammer. My oh my so delicious.

I had been curious as to whether the males or females would talk more during the trip. That question was answered by 2 pm, as my rough word count after the first 8 hours looked like this:

-Dad: 1,356

-Hunter: 450

-Sawyer: 1,532

-Miller: 7

-Breyer: 18,641

Yet, they were 18,641 happy words, and often quite amusing.

Our travels kept us going north and I loved seeing the heart of America. Small towns and lots of farms. One fun stop was at the Midget AutoRacing Hall of Fame. Alas, to the chagrin of the younger kids, this was not for midget race car drivers, but for the type of car. That night, we made it until Chadron, Nebraska, population 5,800. I had looked up hotels along the route, so we knew they had a Holiday Inn there. Holiday Inn is my favorite hotel chain, and I lobbied that it was a good place to spend the night. It was about 10 pm when we pulled in, and we were just under 2 hours from Mount Rushmore (where the hotels were substantially more expensive).

Dad got us a room, we unloaded and made it to room 209, given that the first floor was sold out. We had travelled 993 miles, and were all in high spirits, anticipating the wonders and adventure that the next day would bring.

Thing is, the next day started off a lot earlier than anybody had expected.

I woke up suddenly to screams. And as I type this, the chills I felt come back. These were blood curdling screams and I did what came first into my mind – I started screaming too. Not in a “help me, something is wrong” type of way, but in a “the world is ending right now and I don’t know where I am” manner. Its amazing what the voice is capable of.

It took me a second to realize what was going on. The mind-numbing white strobe light didn’t help at all. Figuring it out, I switched tactics from screaming to shouting, “CALM DOWN!!! CALM DOWN!!!” I don’t know if that helped at all, we were all so confused, (Dad shouting “Where is a light?!?!” and screams still being heard), but a few seconds later we all came to the realization that it was the fire alarm going off, and I flipped a light switch on, and we shuffled out. Correction, we shuffled out, Dad calmly went to use the bathroom, while the rest of us were waiting to get the heck out of Dodge. Nevertheless, we made it out of our door, saw all of our neighbors sticking their heads out asking if anyone knew what was going on, and continued down the stairs to the front lobby. Our bewildered neighbors followed our lead. Apparently our action moved them out of their daze, and they followed us down, many of them shoeless, dentureless, and epitomizing the ‘deer in the headlights’ stare.

It was a long 30 minutes, as the volunteer fire chief in the town woke up and came down to check the situation out, the hotel general manager woke up and came down, and then they both shrugged their shoulders, said they’d keep trying to figure out what set it off and told us all we could return to our rooms.

On our way back to our room, I freaked out and started feeling really bad, fearful of what could happen. In my mind, it was the classic “cry wolf” scenario in which the fire hadn’t been discovered and now that the alarms had been manually turned off and our guards put down, we would all burn later in the night. That kept me and Sawyer both up for nearly three additional hours, until around 5 a.m. I finally dozed off….

Too much to say, I must sum up.

We visited Mount Rushmore the next morning. It exceeded expectations and we spent a few hours there. One highlight was meeting Daryl Redcloud, the great (x4?) grandson of Chief Redcloud. He provided an interesting perspective. Next, we traveled to see the Crazy horse monument. A quick peek was sufficient and we headed to downtown Keystone. Meandering, we loved the old-time styled shops and ate at a local pizzeria. The crowds were amazing. A few people had masks, but for the most part, you never would have guessed we were visiting in the midst of a pandemic.

After stopping by a Norwegian Chapel, that evening, we took a drive through Custer State Park. I think this was my favorite place that we visited. I LOVED the scenery. Truly breathtaking. The rock formations were otherworldly. We ended up getting a little lost, and I may or may not have been acting as co-pilot at the time. Yet, we saw lots of wildlife including two buffalo, and after some scary moments, worrying about long-dead indians and miners, and stopping for a rattlesnake on the road, we made it out of the park.

That night was much less eventful, and we enjoyed a good sleep in another Holiday Inn, this one located in Rapid City.

Friday morning we went to Deadwood, famous as the place where Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead while playing cards. We visited his and Calamity Jane’s gravestones and wandered around the town, now filled with casino’s before making a stop at Sturgis. Sturgis is a small-town of about 6,000 people, but every summer holds the world’s largest motorcycle rally, with between 400,000-800,000 attendees. We were 3 weeks too early, but the town was already in full-on preparation mode. After a quick stop at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, we stopped at a national cemetery where some of Custer’s 7th calvary members were buried, and started our way home.

Lunch was late, but we were trying to make it to Wall Drug and succeeded. I first heard about it years ago, from reading a Richard Paul Evans book, “the Walk” and have wanted to visit since. As has my father, so we eagerly watched each billboard go by, and made it to the tiny town which has nothing except for this gigantic drugstore/mall. It has everything imaginable, and then some. I bought a belt buckle for one of the belts I made with Sawyer, then we hightailed it from there, and hit the highway again.

We were on our way to the Badlands, when I received the call from Dean Stewart. I had told her a few weeks earlier that my minimum to attend BYU was a 1/2 ride, and sure enough, that’s what they offered. Since then, I’ve gone over and over our conversations, wondering if I should have asked for a full-ride. I think they would have given it to me. But, who knows, and I consider myself very blessed to even be accepted and now attending school at BYU.

We cruised through the badlands, and while it was extraordinary, I don’t think it measured up to the heights that Custer State Park set. To be fair, everyone says that at sunrise and sunset the reflecting light illuminates the park and is spectacular, and we were only going through in the afternoon.

We tried one small hike, but with our limited supply of water, we ran out, and called the attempt off due to the 100+ degree heat. That was our last stop in South Dakota, and we went all the way  to North Platte before stopping for a night. It took us 15 tries to get a hotel, but we were eventually able to spend the night at a new motel 6.

The next day saw our return to Kansas. My oh my, I just love Kansas. We again stopped at the Hickory Hut, and my stomach is growling just thinking about eating there again. It is the BEST BBQ. We made additional stops at the midpoint of the continental USA, and then at the cabin where “Home on the Range,” was written. I loved that quick detour, and could feel the peace that exists living off of the land, on the prairie, scraping out a living, and communing daily with nature.

3 days. 6 states. 2,000 miles. We were back home again.

Before I left to go to Utah again, a member of the Granbury Ward, Bro. Cranford, got Sawyer, Miller and I, out to play golf at one of the nicest public courses in Texas. That was a blast, and a perfect ending. Sawyer had one of the best approach shots I’ve ever seen, birdieing the first hole. My best shot came on the 7th, a dogleg left over a lake. I drove the green, 340 yards away, then sunk the 20 foot downhill eagle putt. Sawyer and Miller are thus some of the few people who have ever seen my screaming eagle dance. Not that they wanted to or will ever be able to forget it now. And Miller. The kid knows how to do a Happy Gilmore, and he beat his front nine score by 10 shots, by doing the routine on every tee shot on the back. Unbelievable.

I planned to leave Monday July 27th, but last minute decided to stay one more day. Twas as wonderful as the rest, and we were able to get in some chinese checkers and other games. We also went and saw the german shepherds at the rescue. Given that I was going to BYU, I know that it wasn’t a good time to get a pet. But Mom wanted to go and I was sure it would be fun. Hilariously, it took about 5 minutes before Mom and Miller concluded that they needed to get one of the dogs. I guess they were just going to miss me too much 🙂 And sure enough, within 10 hours of me leaving, they went back and picked up the dog, now named Dodger. I also said goodbye to Cooper, unsure if I’d see him again before his mission, and headed out dark and early Tuesday morning for the long, lonely drive back to Provo.

The next missionary: Going to SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA!!!!