Travel tip #43…go back

Travel is about exploring new places…the thrill of navigating unfamiliar cities or watching the sunrise over a range of mountains for the first time. Drive the same road often enough and it becomes routine. You lose sight of what’s special.

I once met a man who complained he was late to work because a herd of elk blocked his back road commute for a full hour. I envied him. But then, I had never been stalled by a herd of elk.

Getting out of your routine…finding new experiences…these are the reasons we hit the road. I usually seek out new destinations, but sometimes, a place will draw me back repeatedly, and each time reward me with a deeper understanding of the place.

If you spend a week in a town and feel you’ve seen it all, you haven’t dug deep enough. I may have seen the Grand Canyon, but I haven’t seen it in the winter. I haven’t seen it in the fog or with a rainbow overhead. I haven’t hiked to the bottom, ridden a mule, or rafted through it. There are always reasons to go back.

So I won’t call this year’s summer road trip a repeat. It’s more like a revisit. I think I was about 11 the first time I made the Black Hills circuit. You know the one…the Corn Palace, Wall Drug, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore…you’ve probably done it yourself.

That first trip I panned for gold until my fingers were pruney. Since then I’ve rock climbed in the Needles. I’ve photographed the autumn buffalo roundup in Custer State Park, snowmobiled Spearfish Canyon, watched corny western shootout reenactments, and watched the prairie dogs play. I’ve been hailed on and snowed on and chased off peaks by lightening.

Once I thought I had seen it all, we brought our kids and found a whole new view. Jordan was a toddler, holding my hand as we climbed a Badlands ridge. At the top, with ragged formations unfolding in front of us, his eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped. I had seen the landscape many times, but never with the awe and wonder that filled that day.

When our kids were older, we enjoyed a chuck wagon dinner. Slab o’ beef, scoop o’ beans and some pretty mediocre musicians in front of a crackling microphone. But then the crew moved into an open meadow. We shouted echoes into the surrounding hills that returned loud and sharp, and we all felt small in that great big world.

It’s been almost ten years, and the Black Hills are calling. We will visit familiar places, and discover new secrets. I’ve never hiked Harney Peak. I want to see the lighting of Mt. Rushmore at dusk and hear a buffalo rustling in the prairie before dawn. I want to smell the sun on the pine and scramble on the boulders around Sylvan Lake. I want to go back again.

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