Summer Road Trip Series: Part VII “You Have Arrived at Your Final Destination”

By Marianna Boyce

Our departure from Sedona took place on a beautiful, sunny day—quite a contrast from the turbulent weather we experienced the previous night. After driving 2,100 westward miles from the Palmetto State of South Carolina, it was time to turn south toward the U.S.- Mexico border. Phoenix and Tucson stood in the way of our anticipated destination.

The thriving metropolis of Phoenix covers about 519 square miles, making it physically one of the largest cities in the United States of America. The layout is incredible and easily navigated, but there’s no gentle transition when exiting this urban complex. One moment, the view is grandiose, architecturally interesting buildings. The next, it’s back to a vast, inhospitable desert. The abrupt contrast is startling. We were suddenly left with nothing to see but swirling dust devils in the distance as we continued our remaining three-hour sprint to the finish line.

Sierra Vista, our ultimate destination, lies seventy-five miles south of Tucson and about twenty miles north of Mexico. This little dot on the map was our prime location goal for one reason only: our precious family lived there.

Tiffany is my bonus daughter (I’m just not fond of the term, stepdaughter). She married Bill, an Army Major at the time, now a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2015, Bill received orders to report to Fort Huachuca (pronounced wah-CHOO-kah) for a two-year stint.

image 4Abby, Emma, and Avery are our precious granddaughters. We also have a beautiful Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-un-WAH.) grand-puppy named Leo.

As we turned onto their street, the gorgeous mountain range behind their house majestically stood in the distance. Situated on the opposite side of the mountainous terrain lies Mexico.

Little Avery is three. When she spotted us entering their driveway, she rushed outside immediately. Her arms flailing with excitement, along with her pretty blonde hair bobbing up and down as she sprinted toward us, was a wonderful sight to see. Many amazing landmarks we’d seen on our road trip were extraordinary, but this little princess took the prize. This family reunion was sheer bliss.

After a tasty spaghetti supper, we enjoyed each other’s company as we caught up on everything going on in our lives. The girls were thrilled to have an extended bedtime that night.

The following day, we ate lunch in a small town about twenty miles northeast of Sierra Vista. You may have heard of it…

image 3Tombstone is pegged as “The Town Too Tough to Die.” About 450,000 tourists visit each year. Its dusty streets are lined with rustic buildings and landmarks from the 1880s. The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral is re-enacted daily. It’s quite a surreal experience wandering the streets where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday roamed—two of Arizona’s most popular “ghosts of North America.”

We spent one more night in Sierra Vista before embarking on our journey back to South Carolina. The most exciting news was all our girls were traveling back to the Palmetto State for a two-week stay. Bill remained in Arizona with Leo.

Tiffany drove her garnet-colored Explorer packed with enough stuff for a three-month vacation. Cody was in his comfort zone driving my light sage-colored Lincoln MKZ, so we let him drive. He’d passed the test a few nights earlier after driving in the monsoon weather from Flagstaff to Sedona.

I traveled with Tiffany, Abby, and Avery. Gerry and Emma rode with Cody. It was the perfect setup separating Abby and Emma. They were nine and seven at the time, so sibling rivalry was intense.

A year had passed since Tiffany had been home, so she was anxious to get there as quickly as possible. There would be no cool stops along this route, but the fun was just getting started.

Our travels took us about 1,050 miles that day, a little more than halfway. The decision to stop for the night on the outskirts of Houston was a good call. We were all exhausted, but I was one proud GiGi. We heard no complaints from any of the girls.

We departed the western edge of Houston early the following morning with the potential of being home by midnight. We had 1,000 more miles to go, but our aggressive plan just wasn’t meant to be. After an extended traffic delay, our plan simply fell apart. The back of an overturned poultry truck was on fire blocking all lanes on I-10. The driver was fine, but I’m sorry to report that many of the chickens didn’t make it.

image 1We exited the great state of Texas at mile-marker 880 later than we’d expected, and only traveled 400 additional miles after our long delay. Our sibling drivers, Tiffany and Cody, were both exhausted. Tensions mounted, but they merely needed to rest, stretch, and relax. Abby and Emma weren’t the only rivals in the bunch.

We stopped to eat supper in Slidell, Louisiana. We should’ve found a great Cajun restaurant, but Southern homecookin’ at Cracker Barrel is what we chose.

There was no need to push the envelope, so I devised a new plan. As I ate my chicken fried steak, rice and gravy, and fried okra, I made what my bonus daughter calls, a “Mama Bear” move. There was a newly built Hampton Inn and Suites directly across the road, so I asked Tiffany to book two rooms for us, and she did.

image 5The heated, salt-water swimming pool was calling our name. We basically all stepped into a nice, long, Epsom salt bath. This place was perfect, and exactly what “Mama Bear” ordered. Everyone loved each other again.

The following morning, June 16, 2016, was a Thursday I’ll not soon forget. Eight more hours would officially end our remarkable road trip. Unknown to me, at the end of this time span, I would begin my next journey deep into a dark, unfamiliar place that I often refer to as my alternate universe.

We quickly left Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in our dust. We crossed the South Carolina state line about 3:00 p.m. About thirty miles from home, Avery began crying uncontrollably. She told me her tummy was hurting, so I cautiously removed her from the car seat and held her tightly in my arms. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did it anyway. Any great GiGi would’ve done the same.

As I silently prayed for her, a tingling sensation started in my feet. I thought they were asleep, just as Avery now was. As we got closer to home, a perplexing coldness began to overwhelm them. Trying not to disturb her as she slept, I haphazardly tossed my sweater over my feet. An odd gesture, given South Carolina in mid-June, is usually a hot, humid, 100-degrees.

Tiffany drove to her Mom’s house where they’d be staying for the next several days. She hadn’t seen her in a year, so it was reasonable for them to spend time together before heading back to Arizona in two short weeks. I jumped in the car with Gerry and Cody anticipating the arrival at our final destination. Bill selflessly planned to fly to the Palmetto State and drive back with them so they wouldn’t have to travel cross-country alone. I know—he’s great, right?

Four-thousand, six-hundred, and fourteen miles after our journey began, Gerry, Cody, and I pulled into our driveway and opened the garage door—home sweet home!

As soon as my feet touched the ground, the intense cold sensation in them immediately changed to insanely hot. It was as though a high fever spiked, but only in my feet. I stopped dead in my tracks not knowing exactly how to react. I’d never felt that type of pain.

My new journey had officially begun.

image 2I told my husband I couldn’t walk on my own, so he assisted as I hobbled along beside him. I literally watched my feet and ankles swell beyond recognition. Gerry instructed me to sit, relax, and prop up my throbbing, fiery-hot feet. I was horrified at the time, but we actually had a good chuckle about it later in the evening. In our infinite wisdom, we thought riding in the car for an extended period contributed to this unfortunate event. Were we ever wrong!

I am; however, thankful my symptoms stayed at bay until our arrival home. Leaving my driveway eight days earlier, I didn’t realize a life-altering illness was lurking inside my body. Stepping out of my car ignited a chain of events that maniacally unfolded and completely unraveled life as I knew it. Not only was coping with extraordinary pain physically debilitating, but it was also mentally grueling. I didn’t recognize myself after two short weeks.

My 2016 summer road trip served as the catalyst that ushered me from my normal life into an alternate universe. I straddled two worlds on a mission to control them both. Horrible symptoms relating to rheumatoid arthritis ruled my life for an extended period, but I was determined not to go down without a fight. I had a great life. I wasn’t willing to give it up to this vicious disease.

All our circumstances differ, but one thing is constant for everyone: change. Life adjustments are constantly transforming our lives. Many changes are subtle and can easily be absorbed with our fighting human spirit, but as in my case, significant negative transitions create utter chaos.

As I conclude my lengthy road trip series, I want to express my gratitude for those who chose to ride along with me. Enjoy your ride in life. What you don’t enjoy—endure. Remember who’s in control of it all. Come what may, God is good, all the time.

Summer Road Trip Series: Part VI God’s Protective Hand

By Marianna Boyce

God had graciously paused a thunderstorm to grant us a couple of hours at the Grand Canyon for some breathtaking views. As we were walking to the car after a phenomenal sunset, Gerry mentioned his throat was sore, so our son, Cody, drove the eighty-mile trek back to Flagstaff. The heavy downpour resumed as we were exiting the park.

Gerry dozed in the front seat while I searched my travel app for room availability at Little America Hotel. I fell in love with this eclectic little place during our visit in 2015, but wouldn’t you know, there would be no vacancies this year. The one reservation I should’ve booked months in advance, I didn’t. Being on a whirlwind road trip, I wasn’t sure the exact day we’d arrive—until today.

Rain 2I was disappointed, but more so, I was concerned when every familiar hotel lining Flagstaff’s main thoroughfare also showed no vacancy. Not sure where to go, Cody stopped for gasoline while we determined our next course of action. I ran inside the store to purchase Hall’s cherry-flavored cough drops for Gerry. Clouds were still pouring buckets of water on this crisp, dark night, so I was drenched and shivering, laughing uncontrollably at myself as I jumped back into the car. Gerry also chuckled at my misfortune but appreciated the nice gesture in my attempt to make him feel better.

I finally found a room available at a Hampton Inn further north of our current location. I asked Gerry for his wallet in order to book it. God, on the other hand, had a different plan.

In transit, I pulled out our Chase credit card and entered the requested information into my iPhone. We’d had this card for more than twenty-five years and never had any problems; yet tonight, it declined—four times in a row.

God’s unique warning in something as simple as this declined credit card is no coincidence.

No longer in the tourist section of Flagstaff, we slowly drove through the relentless rainstorm finding ourselves amidst their local nightlife district—clearly the wrong side of town for us. I’m not sure if there was a college or university close-by, but the young, raucous crew was having a blast, unconcerned about the downpour and thunder clapping around them. Most were beyond tipsy as they entered and exited local bars, so we wasted no time turning the car around to head in the opposite direction. I’m sure the hotel further north of this little party district was a nice one, but we were suddenly okay with our current ‘declined credit card’ situation.

Rain 1Our energy levels were completely depleted. I dreaded mentioning there were no hotels south of us for sixty additional miles. Gerry stated we’d be heading south in the morning anyway, so why not get a head start? We both did our part keeping Cody alert as he navigated unfamiliar roads in the deluge of falling waters from the sky. I’d never seen so much rain in my entire life. The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona was quite treacherous. Little did we know, it was the beginning of monsoon season for North America.

Monsoons originate in Mexico. They quickly form when seasonal shifts in wind direction create an entirely different type of weather pattern. These nasty storms push into the southwestern states and are quite dangerous—especially with flash flooding. We were oblivious to the seriousness of the monsoon winds and torrential rain. God saw fit to safely guide us through it all.

I managed to find a delightful room in Sedona at a Holiday Inn using my handy-dandy travel app, but in order to book it, we needed that pesky little credit card. Surely, it had been flagged for suspicious activity, so I suggested using another card. Gerry, however, was adamant in using the one rejected earlier. With a smirk on my face, I shook my head the entire time thinking it would decline again. This time, he verbally called out the card number, expiration date, and CVV code, as I re-entered them into my iPhone.

I quickly sat straight up in my seat, dropping my phone in the process. I wiped away the smirk as my eyes widened and asked, “Wait—what? What’s that expiration date again?”

Gerry’s calm reply was, “October, 2020.”

Fumbling for my phone in the darkness, I giggled and said, “Honey, no wonder the card rejected earlier. I was giving the expiration date as September, not October. What was I thinking?”

I’m almost positive Gerry rolled his eyes as Cody burst out laughing. We were all clearly amused for the bone-headed moment I had earlier as I tried booking a room in northern Flagstaff.

When we entered the parking lot of our hotel in Sedona, we quietly sat in the car for a few moments. Mesmerized by the rain now gently falling from the heavens, we listened to the soothing sound created on the windshield, but the hypnotic state we were all experiencing could’ve also had something to do with our sheer exhaustion.

Selfie With RocksAs we laid our heads on the fluffy white pillows and drifted off to sleep that stormy night, we were all comforted, knowing every single detail unfolded exactly as it should have. Without God’s protective hand, who knows what we may have encountered otherwise.

He had clearly spoken—not audibly, but God was present the entire day. From the splendor and beauty of the sights we’d seen to the minor inconveniences we needed to block our so-called, brilliant plan—He was attentive to our every need. As always, He had everything under control. God reminded us of how our way is not always the best way. When things don’t go accordingly, it may be for our own good. God’s protection thousands of miles from home was His priority for my family—I’m absolutely convinced of it.

I was elated departing Sedona the following morning on a beautiful, sunshiny day. We were less than six hours from the sole purpose of this entire road trip. It would be our final destination before heading back to the Palmetto State of South Carolina, and I could hardly wait…

Summer Road Trip Series: Part V All Things Grand – A Sunset for the Ages

By: Marianna Boyce

After driving 2,000 miles in forty-eight hours, we were on target to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world before nightfall. I’m a fool for amazing sunsets, so having a unique opportunity to witness one at the Grand Canyon in Arizona was a gift from God Himself. Rest assured, this particular visit was unlike any other.

Before unpacking my personal experiences, I’ll share a few interesting tidbits of information about this internationally famous landmark.

The Grand Canyon was formed millions of years ago. It stretches for 277 miles and is eighteen miles wide. Millions of people from all around the world choose to visit this popular destination each year.

The natural force of plate tectonics and subduction lifted the Colorado Plateau high, and to this day, it remains relatively flat. This uplift was a key element to the formation of a majestic sight, allowing erosion to take over when the Colorado River cut back down into the canyon creating this natural beauty.

grand canyon 2

Gazing into the gorge from lookout points high above, you can see this mighty river—only if you squint. If you didn’t know it was there, you may not even notice it. Some believe there’s no way this itty-bitty river—as compared to the enormity of the canyon—could’ve carved this astonishing sight.

Fossils of fish and sea creatures have been discovered at the top of this famous canyon. This sounds reasonable, especially since the uppermost layer of rock was actually formed at the bottom of the ocean.

Some on the other hand, have said the massive waters of God’s Great Flood in Noah’s day created this gigantic chasm in the earth. Sure, Noah didn’t witness this grand event. God saw fit to place his ark at the top of Mount Ararat in modern day Turkey. Nonetheless, water did cover the entire earth several thousand years ago. Could it be the fossils of fish and sea creatures in the top layer of the canyon are from this historical flood once the waters began to subside?

No matter your belief, the Grand Canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list.

A Double Rainbow to Kiss the Clouds
My Personal Experience

As we approached Grand Canyon National Park, it started drizzling rain. Since the Bible says to pray about everything, Gerry, Cody, and I did just that. We were all confident God could halt the rain, but He must’ve needed to test our faith because the nearer we drew, the heavier the drops became.

As we approached the front gate to purchase our parking pass, we concluded God had a wonderful sense of humor because a heavy downpour had officially ensued, but as quickly as it began, this gully-washer also abruptly stopped. We didn’t see or feel one drop of rain once we entered the park. I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Well, maybe a little…

We slowly drove through the heavily wooded area absorbing the wonder of it all. There were lots of rabbits, squirrel, deer, and elk close by, but no canyon to speak of. Gerry and I were here in 2015 so we already knew, but Cody was curious where this natural wonder was hiding. This great canyon doesn’t visibly appear until you walk around the first bend of the walking path after parking the car. It isn’t there until suddenly, it is.

grand canyonThe initial sight of it is truly awe-inspiring.

It was an hour before sunset so our timing was impeccable; however, we were still contending with a blanket of clouds looming from the thunderstorm that ignited about eighty miles back around Flagstaff. We all surmised a sunset scene might possibly be out of the question, and that would be okay, but we’d no more uttered those words than something miraculous occurred.

The ominous curtain of clouds rolled back as if the portals of heaven opened about the time the sun began to dip behind the canyon walls. The sculpted land masses proudly stood as if they themselves commanded those clouds to clear, but we all know who it was. Only God could have orchestrated such an event.

The late-day sun peeking through after the rainstorm created a brilliant double rainbow that kissed the menacing clouds in the distance. The sunbeams were shimmering on the rim of the canyon walls just before disappearing for another cool night.

When the evening revealed this magical moment, a complete silence fell over the crowd. Time stood still, and in reverence, we all did the same. The splendor God exhibited by revealing such a sunset for thousands of people visiting from all around the world couldn’t have been more perfect.

We witnessed one of the most majestic sights anyone could ever see. I could almost hear the angels singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

I certainly didn’t want to miss this moment by looking through a lens on my iPhone, so this sacred picture is unapologetically saved in my mind’s eye.

As we exited the park at nightfall, the temperature dropped dramatically. Once we were safely in the car, it started raining relentlessly—again. We doubled back to Flagstaff to hopefully find a room for the night. That was the plan anyway.

I was amazed how these events transpired, but God wasn’t finished. By the end of this night, He would reveal Himself to us in a very different way. Our safety and protection depended on it…

 

Summer Road Trip Series: Part IV “Take It Easy”

By Marianna Boyce

New Mexico’s rising sun warmed my face, but the brisk wind chilled me to the bone. This made our morning coffee that much more satisfying. It was the best cup we had since leaving the Palmetto State of South Carolina thirty-six hours earlier.

pic 1As our journey continued westward, we crossed the Continental Divide. This is the point where water basins drain into the Pacific Ocean from those that empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Am I the only one thinking this happened at the Mississippi River? Apparently, I am not smarter than a 5th grader.

pic 2Several hours after crossing this Great Divide, we reached Northeastern Arizona to visit the Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook. This park is known for fossils of fallen trees dating to the late Triassic Epoch. Although very friendly, the rangers are quite protective of their treasures—for a good reason. With more petrified wood than anywhere else in the world, they have a watchful eye on park visitors. It is forbidden to move anything from its original location due to in-situ experiments being conducted by geologists, paleontologists, and archaeologists. Their research is deemed void of scientific value if any fossil is disturbed.

pic 3Those who have found a way to smuggle the 225-million-year-old wood from the park didn’t fare well. “The Curse of the Petrified Forest” is a legend that’s prompted many people to mail it back to the ranger station. This gesture supposedly helps clear their conscience and rid themselves of “streaks of bad luck” they’d experienced since stealing it. A room is dedicated to these “cursed thieves” displaying their “bucket loads of confessions” in the Rainbow Forest Museum at the park. (Facts and quotes provided by Legendsofamerica.com)

We drove through the park getting out only at designated lookout points. There were marked trails to explore so of course, our son walked about a quarter mile into this mysterious realm. Cody is in the blue shirt at the top of the trail in one photo. If you look closely in the other, you can barely see him on the trail. Gerry and I preferred gazing from the lookouts.

pic 6As we peered down into the mountainous desert, it was difficult gauging how big or small anything was. From our viewpoint, everything looked distorted because we were situated in a higher elevation. The clouds billowing just above eye-level casts shadows over the Painted Desert creating a mirage. The manner in which these shadows danced across the vast land made the terrain appear as if it were charred by a forest fire. The effect was quite stunning.

The cool morning transitioned to warm rather quickly, so we were happy having clouds move above us. By early lunch, it was scorching hot. The parking lots for all the lookout stations had recently been resurfaced, so the scent of newly poured asphalt filled the air. Standing in one place too long resulted in asphalt sticking to the bottom of your shoe. It happened to me, and proof of it appeared on the floor mat of my car. I prefer thinking of it as bringing home a little piece of Route 66.

*****

About thirty-seven miles east of Flagstaff, there’s a huge hole in the earth created by a meteor impact 50,000 years ago. Along the lengthy road leading to the crater are massive clay-looking boulders strewn over the terrain. I assume these rocks were blasted to where they now permanently remain after this colossal impact. They appear to be out of place, as they don’t match the natural surroundings.

pic 10The crater itself measures almost a mile in diameter and 560 feet deep. We climbed the steps to stand close to the rim. The photo taken with people standing on the deck gives a little perspective.

The white center is rubble lying above the bedrock with a life-sized astronaut standing next to an American flag. There is no need to zoom in on the photos. This sight cannot be seen with the naked eye. There are free, mounted binoculars on the rail of the deck to see him. Why this is not a National Park is a mystery to me, but it’s well taken care of by the private landowner.

*****

A few miles down the road from this notable impact site is a famous corner you can stand on in Winslow, Arizona. It’s a fine sight to see. This little dot on the map was made famous by the Eagles, so if you’re not familiar with the song, “Take It Easy,” this information probably makes zero sense to you.

There’s not a lot to see, but they have a red flatbed Ford parked on the side of the road, along with a bronze statue of Glenn Frey holding his acoustic guitar. A small gift shop stands adjacent to the corner, and the largest “Route 66” sign is painted in the middle of the two lane crossroads where this historic highway intersects with Winslow’s main thoroughfare. This stop is meant for people who need to take a break from driving, for those who wish to stand on that famous corner, or of course, for those who merely want to get the t-shirt. (We didn’t get photos this year, so I’m sharing a few from last year’s road trip.)

The closer we got to Flagstaff, the taller the trees stood. Strangely, the terrain resembled that of South Carolina. We were mesmerized by the unobstructed dome of blue sky in Texas and New Mexico, but in northwestern Arizona, the enormity of the western skies disappeared behind the brilliant green cover of leaves.

All we could see was the road in front of us. Little did we know what lay ahead…