Whenever I go on any trip, there are three things that typically happen:
- I meet someone new
- I learn something
- I experience something breathtaking
Generally, these things happen organically. I’ve never had to set off in hopes of meeting somebody new…it just happens. I think my whole philosophy of never making a plan helps. Sure, there are some major flaws to this way of thinking – kind of like me getting stuck in Santa Fe, NM with literally no hotel around for less than $200 a night. That was a major set back. I kind of wish I would have had a plan then. But it all worked out! (Another one of my many philosophies.)
The point, of course, is to be spontaneous. To be free to do exactly what I want at any given time without having any sort of predetermined plan. I had only one goal: get to the Grand Canyon.
I borrowed my mom’s 2008 atlas, picked up the essentials (Mountain Dew and sunflower seeds, of course), and headed west.
I’m not going to lie, life had kind of rocked me the past couple of months leading up to this trip. I was overdue for some time alone on the road. Some girls have retail therapy, I have adventure therapy, and I was ready to hash some things out with God. It almost felt like I was running away. And in a sense, I think I kind of was. But not because I didn’t want to deal with it. That’s HOW I was dealing with it.
Luckily, Western Kansas gave me a whooole lot of time to think. If you’ve ever been to Western Kansas, you know exactly what I mean. There’s literally nothing out there. I had zero distractions.
It was almost immediately after I crossed into New Mexico that the landscape began to change, and I began to become distracted by its beauty. It seemed like the farther I drove, the more in love I fell with the state.
I got to Santa Fe, NM shortly after 10PM, and after having a mini panic attack for spending a small fortune on a room that I was literally going to be in for less than 12 hours, I finally got settled in and started to regroup for the next day’s excursions. I had a list of places I wanted to see around the city, and I had every intention of hitting up some of the night life, but the second I laid down on what had to be the world’s most comfortable king-sized bed, I knew I was done for. Plus, I knew my mom wouldn’t worry if I just stayed in. Yes, at 28 years old, my mother is still the voice inside my head. I’m not upset about it.
Around noon the next day I was back on the road. Seeing New Mexico in sunlight rather than the dreariness of the day before amplified its beauty.
I had driven through this area before. My brothers and I used to drive this way to visit my dad in California. But back then, I wasn’t nearly as aware of the world as a 16-year-old as I am today. That’s another reason I love and I crave traveling so much: to get me out of my own little world. To experience something that’s not my norm.
Hence where the learning part comes in.
As I was finishing up my route through New Mexico, I couldn’t help but notice these small communities I kept passing on the interstate. Eventually, I saw a sign for the Historic Route 66, so of course I had to drive down it a little bit. Somewhere, I got off course, and that’s when I learned what those little communities were. They were Indian Reservations.
I don’t know what comes to mind for you when you hear Indian Reservation, but to me, I was immediately overcome by fear. “That’s so immature and naive, Mickelle!” I know. I couldn’t help it, though. I’ve always been stold to stay away from them. The longer I drove through them, though, the fear I experienced quickly turned to sadness. Mostly because I could tell simply driving through that these were inadequate living conditions. Turns out…90,000 Native American families are either homeless or considered “under-housed,” 30% of Indian housing is overcrowded, and less than 50% is connected to a public sewer.
Did you know that?
Did you also know that a newspaper once compared living conditions on Reservations to those of a third world country? The scarcity of jobs and lack of economic opportunity result in four to eight out of ten adults being unemployed. Sub-par health services and the pressure to shift from a traditional way of life to a more Western lifestyle has dramatically changed the health status of the Native people, and created a terrible epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, tuberculosis, and cancer.
No, I didn’t learn ALL of that just by driving through, but I did some research immediately when I got home because I was that impacted by it. (Side Note: If you want to learn more about how you can help a wonderful organization that has been serving Native Americans for 25 years, please visit the Partnership with Native Americans’ website.)
Maybe that’s an issue that’s widely known. I sure hope it’s not, though, otherwise we’ve done a crappy job trying to help improve their way of life. But do you see what I mean? The moment we intentionally look outside of ourselves, we can see life from a different perspective. And in that moment, I realized that whatever petty issue I was dealing with, was nothing compared to what these people have endured.
I let that reality sink in a bit, and I knew God was speaking to me.
I continued on Route 66 for a while, as it was a lot more scenic than the interstate.
Finally, after a few more hours, I was in Arizona.
I don’t know how to explain this, but I’m the type of person who, when they get an idea, have to execute that idea immediately. And then gets bored with said idea after a while. Well, that was me and this road trip at this point. It wasn’t that I was bored…I just wish it didn’t take so long to drive to the Grand Canyon from Sterling, Kansas.
So, you can understand my excitement when I start seeing signs for a meteor crater museum.
Did I stop to check it out? DUH! I was a bit skeptical at first, though. The signs trying to get people to stop resembled those in Kansas that urged you to stop to see the world’s largest prairie dog, or the world’s largest ball of twine. They seemed a bit desperate. For some reason I thought it was going to be very underwhelming to see a meteor crater. A freaking ME-TE-OR Crater!
Well, it wasn’t. I was geeking out so hard at this thing! I was lucky I even made it. Turns out they close at 5:00, and here I am pulling in promptly at 4:57. I promised the cashier as I purchased my $18 ticket that I would be quick – I just needed to see it! I sprinted up to the viewing station at the very highest point and I was speechless.
I just stood there in awe for like 10 minutes. Some kids came up to use the binoculars (because you had to use freaking binoculars to see the bottom of this thing) and I was like, “ummmm I was here first.” I wasn’t about to act like an adult when I felt like a kid in a candy store. Pictures don’t do it justice, but here’s one anyway:
Like I said…it was massive.
Eventually, they had to kick me out. Which was fine, I had to get back on the road anyway.
So, remember when I said I fell in love with New Mexico? Yeah, that was before I saw Arizona. I mean, come on. Who can beat a state that is home to one of God’s most amazing creations? It got dark pretty quickly after I left the museum, so I didn’t get to experience much of Arizona’s scenery until the next day. About 3 hours later, I was finally at my second and final stop, Kanab, Utah.
I read a statistic that of all the tourists that visit the Grand Canyon each year, only about 10% visit the North Rim. Always having to be against the norm, I was set on giving up the skywalk at the South Rim for a more intimate experience up north. Hence why I was in Utah. It was the closest I could get without camping on the side of a mountain.
After I got to the hostel I booked a reservation at that night, I set everything out for the next day (since I was determined to see the sun rise at the Grand Canyon), and went back out to the lobby to hang out. Because that’s what you do at hostels – you branch out and meet new people! Turns out…America has no idea how to do hostels. Or maybe it was the fact that this hostel was an old hospital. Had I known that when I booked it, well…I wouldn’t have booked it. I’ve seen WAY too many scary movies to even mess with that. Needless to say, I think I was just avoiding going to sleep.
The girls that were running the front desk were very nice. I never did catch their names, but we instantly hit it off. They both had pretty thick accents, so I asked where they were from. They told me one was from Spain and the other Holland. When they asked me where I was from, I don’t know where it came from, but I said, “Kansas” with the worst twang ever. I was so embarrassed.
They told me they had just graduated college but they didn’t want to start living in the real world yet.
Ummm hello! Did I just meet myself at 23 years old?! I couldn’t help it, I just started laughing. We swapped stories of how they’re traveling all over the US, and how I was in their same position when I moved to China. It’s always so nice when you meet people that just get it. For once, it was nice not to have someone say, “What, you’re going alone?!” or, “Be careful, it’s a crazy world out there…” It was so refreshing to talk to others who had the same adventurous and independent mindset. Who, instead, encouraged me. “Yes! You should absolutely travel alone. You learn so much about yourself and what you’re capable of,” and “What a beautifully crazy world it is out there…you should try to experience every single bit of it!”
Okay, they didn’t say that word for word…but it was implied. And I think I felt God speaking to me for the second time that trip.
6:30 came way too early that next morning. I didn’t mind…I was simply grateful to have slept through the night. Old hospital…what was I thinking?!
I didn’t quite make it in time to see the sun rise at the Grand Canyon, but I did get to see it rise during my drive through the mountains…and that was enough.
I don’t really have words to explain my experience actually seeing the Grand Canyon. I guess I didn’t really have any expectations…I knew it would amazing.
Amazing…what an incredibly huge understatement.
As I sat on the viewing ledge, with just myself and one other person…I was so grateful I decided to visit the less busy of the two destinations. The experience was so intimate. The fact that it was Sunday morning didn’t go overlooked, either. In fact, it was kind of planned. Maybe the only thing that was planned. I couldn’t think of a better way to worship my amazing God than just being in that moment.
There’s a line in one of my favorite songs that goes something like this, “I’ve been better, I’ve been worse // I’ve seen a couple places that I never thought I’d see // I’ve walked into harder times, I’ve walked out the other side // It seems like you end up getting what you need // Yeah, looking down from 30,000 feet, life’s been good to me”
Even though I was only at about 8,000 feet, yeah…life seemed pretty good to me. And for the 3rd time that trip, I felt God speak to me.
In conclusion, I guess what I’m trying to say is…sometimes, things might feel like the end of the world, or just very overwhelming. I’m not saying life is easy or undermining something you may be going through. God never promised it would be a smooth ride. Sometimes, though, if we can get far enough out of our predicaments and our own little mess, and instead focus our eyes on Him (and only Him), well…you might just end up getting what you need. I know I did.
Experience something breathtaking… √