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A Present Worth Waiting to Open

Although it's the middle of September and Christmas 2023 is only 94 days away, my wife and I in just the last two weeks opened a present from Christmas 2022.

No, it didn't get lost in a closet somewhere and we're just now discovering it. Rather, it was a trip "out West," courtesy of our youngest daughter and her husband.

An executive project manager, our daughter attended to every detail and arranged all the times and places we would visit, taking into consideration the various places that not only she and our son-in-law but also my wife and I most wanted to see. All we had to do was tag along--and try to keep pace with the young'ns.

We flew from North Carolina to Denver and rented a vehicle for our two week adventure. It started with a stopover at the Scotts Bluff National Monument, where we climbed the mountain on the site where the Oregon Trail traversed Mitchell Pass between Sentinel Rock and Eagle Rock.

From there, we traveled to the ranch of Lynn and Christie Hollingsworth in Custer, South Dakota, where we enjoyed a two-hour horseback ride. Guiding us through the beautiful scenery of the ranch was the owners' daughter, Kristin Waage, and one of her wranglers, Brandon Holmes.

Before letting us leap into the saddle, however, Kristin assigned each of us a horse appropriate to our size and relative riding experience. (Thankfully, I wasn't assigned a Clydesdale as I feared might happen.) Moreover, she explained the idiosyncrasies and characteristics of each mount and how we should treat each of them. That proved especially helpful to me since my assigned steed, Black Jack, tended to want to stop and eat all along the way. Before we were back to the barn, the two of us had reached an understanding.

The trails wound across low-lying ground, over rocky hills, and through majestic woodlands. Throughout the ride, Kristin regaled us with stories and information about the horses, the ranch, the geography, and the wildlife and patiently answered our many questions. She truly made us "dudes" feel almost like respectable cowboys and cowgirls. (Moreover, none of us was sore afterwards!)

If you want a memorable riding experience and are anywhere near Custer, S.D., check out the Hollingsworth Horses ( ; 605-517-0860). Ask about Kristin. Tell her that the overweight writer with the Southern accent recommended her.

We next visited Mount Rushmore and then spent the night in Deadwood, S.D. The next morning, we visited the graves of the famous (or infamous) Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane on Boot Hill.

Then came a serendipitous surprise when we discovered that we were passing the Little Bighorn Battlefield where Custer made his last stand. During the stop there, we saw the tombstones marking where each of the outnumbered soldiers, including Custer, and the dead warriors of various Northern Plains Indians under Chief Sitting Bull are buried. (It pays to build into one's schedule time for unexpected opportunities such as this.)

We spent the next three days in Glacier National Park. The scenery was spectacular. Those sheer mountain heights truly make one realize just how small and insignificant he is and what a great Creator we have. Parking was a major challenge, especially at Logan's Pass, but the Park Service runs shuttles with stops at every major point of interest. If you plan to hike, however, wear well-cushioned hiking shoes or boots. I learned that lesson the hard way, developing several blisters.

From Glacier, we traveled to Yellowstone, where we spent two days among the fumaroles, mud volcanoes, geysers, and assorted wildlife. Bison, elk, antelopes, and chipmunks were abundant. We were somewhat disappointed in not seeing a single bear, especially since warnings were ubiquitous. Our son-in-law sold our highly recommended but unused can of bear spray at a slight loss.

The highlight for me was seeing the eruption of Old Faithful--not once but twice. The first eruption was on a misty, foggy, rainy afternoon when the steam cloud belching from the famous geyser so blended with the cloudy background that the grandeur of the event was obscured. That disappointment, however, was overcome the next day, when we witnessed the geyser erupt in all its glory and for a near-record time against the background of a brilliant blue sky. Ranging from 1.5 to 5 minutes, this one was nearly 4 minutes. (Wait for it!)

From Yellowstone, we spent a day traveling through the splendor of the majestic Grand Tetons. Photos don't begin to do the vista justice. One event, however, provided us perspective on the scene. Jets landing at the airport in nearby Jackson Hole pass directly between the scenic highway and the Tetons, and they look like mere flying insects against the backdrop of the towering Tetons. (Can you see the white sliver that is the airplane just to the right of center in the photo?)

We flew back home from that very Jackson Hole airport, but it was too dark out my window to see the mountains well.

I didn't get even a bit of writing done during the entire trip, but what a trip it was! Thanks, Stacy and Daniel Connor, for a Christmas gift that was well worth waiting to open! It's a gift that will continue to give through the memories and photos we now have.

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