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In 1997, three boys entered my life, my first grandsons. Matt, Alex and Zac were all born that year, the same year that we found out that my husband had cancer. He died a week after Matt turned 1 and these three boys are a big portion of the glue that helped mend my shattered heart that year. In my heart, they are Alan’s boys, the ones he got to meet. I love all eight of my grandchildren, no one more than the others, but these boys just happened to be the first and are part of that year of my life.Scan 20Now I have eight grandchildren and my family all lives in Tulsa, but it’s hard to get us together for a vacation with baseball and soccer and school and work. Besides, when we are all together, the kids tend to hang out together and I don’t get to visit with them as much as they visit with each other. As I get older, my realization of time gets more frantic and I feel the urge to go and do before I just can’t. So many adventures out there…

Last winter, I asked the boys if they would like to go on a road trip with me. I’m not sure what their reaction was. Can you imagine? Your 71 year old grandmother asks you to go on a trip with her? Is that even cool? Sitting together with all three of them as they pondered this made me smile. I ran it by them several times, asking them where they would like to go, over the next few months. I kept expecting them to bail on me, but I persevered. It’s hard to duck out when your cousins are going – who wants to be that one? I chose the week after all their college finals were over, while their siblings were still in school, before they had jobs. And I began to plan. I’ve taken many road trips over the past decade, everything from 6,000 mile trips to day excursions around Oklahoma, so I had ideas. I sat with my iPad, mapping out places and times, trying to schedule things I thought they would like, while leaving flexible time to explore. I didn’t want to waste a minute of this precious time with them.

We took off on a Monday after I picked up a rental car, a big SUV. Did I mention how big these guys are now? 6’5″, 6″4″ and 6″ with athletic builds. There was no room in my little hybrid and the rental car was like a toy for them with all the gadgets new cars have. They took to it like the new computer it was, programming maps, music, and figuring it all out. We took off, heading west.

While planning, I was asked if I was going to have them put their phones away. This was a thought, but I decided we would play it by ear. I’m as glued to mine as they are, so I can’t exactly preach. Besides, this wasn’t about me having a bunch of rules. The first things we figured out is that they would each take turns playing their music. During the course of the week, I told them that they owed a lot of their music to my generation, the 50s and 60s rock. I listened to Matt’s country mixed with some rap, Alex’s blend of pop, rap and a little country, and Zac’s rap and harder rock, all loud. At one point, I figured out how to make my own play list and they were treated to some Beatles, Chuck Berry, Motown, Willie Nelson and others. I liked it all.

Being in the front seat, I got to talk to each one of them for awhile. Sometimes, I turned the music down to tell them something. As we drove through western Oklahoma, I told them a little about the Land Rush. When we got close to the Panhandle, I told them stories and pulled up photos from the Dust Bowl. There is nothing like being able to look things up while you travel rather than waiting until you get home to find answers. I would look up the history of towns we drove through and point out things they might miss. They started to look more closely at the old houses we passed, wondering out loud how old they were.DSC_1169After eating in a small town diner, rather than a fast food place like they are used to, we made a quick stop at Gloss (or Glass) Mountains in Oklahoma. DSC_1141I’d wanted to stop here before and we discovered that the rocks that shined in the sun looked like pieces of glass close up and were selenite gypsum. The boys read the signs and seemed genuinely interested to have discovered this new fact about their home state. I was tentatively seeing how they reacted to stopping with no warning, exploring a little along the way.

We crossed through New Mexico and on to Colorado, commenting on the ever changing scenery as we went from the plains to mesas to snow topped mountains in our first day. We stopped in Trinidad, CO for the night, across from a mountain range, next door to a pot shop. I posed them in front of the sign so we could text it to their mothers. All I said was “We’re in Colorado.”IMG_2409I thought it was funny, but it went right over their mother’s heads. I pointed it out to my girls and they sent funny emojis. The boys and I talked about alcohol and drugs while we drove. These three are pretty smart about it and I hope it stays that way. Not saying they’re innocent, but they’re smart.

For dinner, I learned that this wasn’t like trips I take with my friends where we share meals. These boys eat. A lot. I have new appreciation for their parents’ grocery bills. I also learned that fitting them in beds was going to be interesting. The best bet were suites with two queens and a sleeper sofa. Zac brought his laptop and hooked up video games for Matt and him to play each night and they sprawled across whatever beds we had. I felt a little, just a little, guilty taking up a whole bed for myself. Well, not too guilty – I’m old.

Conversation was interesting. These three guys’ mothers are sisters and they have grown up together, but they couldn’t be more different. They went to the same elementary school and the same high school, where Matt played baseball, Alex played soccer and Zac played football. They have different friends. Matt just finished his sophomore year and Alex finished his freshman year, both at Oklahoma State, where both are business majors. Matt wants to be an entrepreneur and dreams of flipping houses. Alex isn’t sure. They belong to different fraternities. Zac is following his dream of being a filmmaker and finished his freshman year at Tulsa Community College, trying to decide if he will continue on to the University of Tulsa or head on into his chosen profession after next year. Their talk went from Alex and Matt comparing classes or fraternity experiences to all of them sharing videos on their phones to talking about people they all know or remembering things they had done together. It was like those days when I drove carpool and just listened as the kids talked as if I wasn’t really there some of the time – and that’s ok with me. Sometimes, I spoke up and told them about something from my time that was so much like what they were talking about. Not everything changes from one generation to several on down the line. There’s always the realization that I’m 2 1/2 times their age, but I didn’t point that out. Yikes!

Mornings were the hardest because I tend to get up early when I’m traveling and hit the road, eager to not miss anything. Traveling with three college boys gave me plenty of time to get dressed and wake up – an understatement. Trying to pry three big old sleeping giants out of bed was cute. I tried not to bug them too much, but we had to get moving. Day two started with driving by mountains, while they patiently waited while I stopped to take pics. We saw a herd of antelope and some elk by the road and beautiful scenery. I was traveling with giants, as you can see.IMG_2433In Ft. Garland, we ate breakfast at the Old West Cafe and toured Ft. Garland, where Kit Carson was once in command while protecting the settlers from the Indians. Here is where we had a big generation gap. Not only did they not know who Kit Carson was, but they weren’t familiar with the old westerns my generation grew up on. There was a Kit Carson television series, Kit Carson comic books, and the history of the west, no matter how skewered it was by pop culture. The American West was something embedded in our cultural sense. We played cowboys and Indians, we had images of the west in our minds. Oh well. We toured the old fort and the boys played around with the old soldier stuff, getting a feel for it all. IMG_2444I told them several times, probably once too many, that travel is the best way to learn history, geography and geology. Duh!

Our first big stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, which I had been wanting to visit for years. My only mistake was having them sit through the film in the visitor center. Usually, these are excellent and informative, but this one was too long and repetitive. They were good sports about it and we got to the river with little expectation. Being kids at heart, they crossed the water, which was freezing cold and running fast. DSC_1236They came back to help me across, which was good since my sandals weren’t all the way on and I would have washed away. They decided to at least climb to the top of the lowest dune and I decided to stay behind and watch. I could have made it, but I could see rain coming from behind the mountains behind us and I didn’t think I could retreat as quickly as they could. Dang. I should have remembered how hard it is to follow them since my husband was 6’4″ and I learned a quick step and a half to keep up with him when I was younger. Now, think how big these guys are as you spot them on the dunes with ant sized people on the higher dunes beyond.DSC_1245They stayed there quite awhile as I could only envision what they were talking about. I know they laughed about filming Star Wars in that environment. We left with the rain moving in and moved westward, climbing higher on mountain roads where snow was falling and spring thaws brought running water down rocks and in the creeks running beside the roads. Beautiful change in scenery as we drove to Durango for the night. After dinner, the guys found the hot tub and that became their nightly routine, while I showered and relaxed. Once again, one can only imagine the hilarious discussions these three had in their hot tub sessions. Did I mention that they are all funny and know how to crack each other up?

Another morning to get them up as we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. The visitor center had been redesigned since I saw it about 8 years ago and it was spectacular. I took over the wheel since I felt very responsible for my three kiddos on the curvy roads. Not that I love driving like that, but I can do it and it is nerve wracking as you wind upwards, looking down into canyons. The archeological museum was as interesting as I remembered and they got their first look at the incredible cliff dwellings. We didn’t get to climb down due to rock slides, but we drove to see the canyons and dwellings. The boys were starting to get more interested, I think. The canyons are beautiful and the experience is fascinating. DSC_1318We took a 3/4 mile hike to get one view and I fell victim to the altitude since I hadn’t had enough water, but was able to follow them reasonably well. Those long legs! Once again, weather started moving in, so we cut our drive a little short to get off the mountain before the rain and snow.

The landscape changed from mountains and mesas to more flat land as we stopped at Four Corners. I told them it was one of those things that you have to do because you are there, and I read them the history of the monument. It is kind of fun to stand in four states.IMG_2518Once again, we left as the rain began to fall and headed for Monument Valley, listening to heavy rock, my stuff and rap as we covered the desert. I had the foresight to book a room for the night, thank goodness. We had a cabin that overlooked Monument Valley and we could see the stars at night. I couldn’t imagine anything prettier.

Monument Valley was a place they had no knowledge of – at least they didn’t think they did. I love the place, so I was hoping this would be the highlight of the trip. As we approached, the weather changed again and the clouds dropped down to cover the tops of the buttes. Hmmm. Where was our starry night? As I ran into the hotel to check in, freezing rain pelted me. By the time we reached the cabin, it had changed to snow and it was getting heavier. Wow. This was unexpected, but one of those unique experiences that you learn to appreciate. At dinner, we watched the snowflakes get bigger and bigger. By the time, we settled in for the night, the snow was covering the ground. This was the view from our cabin before it got to the heaviest point. IMG_2523I was lucky to get the cabin, the last of two rooms, which had a queen bed and bunk beds. We had also brought a blow up bed. The room was tight with a small bath for the four of us, but it would have been perfect for a family with two kids. There was no tv (horrors), but they had phones & laptop. The hilarity of sleeping that night…none of them fit in their beds.IMG_2539Morning was spectacular, as I had planned (hoped), and we had a tour scheduled at 9 with a Navajo guide. We had to get up, although they cut it close. None of us looked too fancy. IMG_2556I had been to Monument Valley twice before, driving it in my car. This time, the roads were muddy and rough, so I was glad for the guide and jeep/truck. This time was the best and I will never go there again without the guide, who drove us into restricted areas and shared Navajo history, stories and songs. Our companions on the trip were a woman from Manhattan and her parents from Columbia. The kids were learning how many people from foreign countries tour the US. Our guide said 70% of the visitors to Monument Valley are from foreign countries and we heard French, German, Japanese and other languages spoken.

The scale of Monument Valley is what I wanted them to see. I’m a firm believer in getting into nature, finding places that are bigger than you are, to put your life in perspective and to restore your soul. I can find God in lots of places, but in nature, I agree with John Muir as to the beauty of natural cathedrals. I love this picture of the boys, huge men, in perspective. DSC_1396Or this one, taken by the guide, showing them near a huge arch. They are the dots under the tree branch. He and I climbed up another spot where he showed me this shot. IMG_2570At this stop, he had them lie back to look up and see the image of an eagle’s head above them. Then he told a coyote story and sang a Navajo traveling song. As we left, he showed us the image of the Mohawk in the rock – can you spot it? The braid is on the right. IMG_2580This tour changed the trip in exactly the way I had hoped. They got it. After we left, we drove to Goulding’s Trading Post across the highway so I could show Zac all the movies that had been made in the valley. They started to recognize it. I love this picture of the three of them with a model of the valley, locating all the places we had been. IMG_2602From there we drove to Albuquerque for the night, where they headed for their hot tub night while I kicked back. Whew. I knew the trip was a success. The next morning we took a detour and spent a few hours in Santa Fe for lunch, tour of Loretto Chapel and walking around before we hit the road, traveling the freeway along old Route 66 to home. Oh, it snowed on us as we got to Santa Fe then cleared for a beautiful day as we ate lunch. We hadn’t expected so much snow in mid-May.IMG_2619A much anticipated stop on Route 66 was the Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo. I had brought a can of spray paint and we hit the iconic spot with a rainbow beside us. I wish I could say I planned that, but who plans snow and rainbows?IMG_2624The boys had fun painting whatever on the cars, IMG_2627before we headed to the Big Texan in Amarillo for a perfect last dinner. They consumed 18 oz steaks each with only a tad left on Alex’s plate. Big boys with big appetites. One more hot tub visit, sleeping late, and a final stop at the VW Slugbug Ranch, east of Amarillo, for our final stop. Perfect! IMG_2667At home, they were out of the car and back to their friends and lives. As they should be.

What were the lessons of this road trip?

  1. Maybe they will remember that they spent 6 days with their Mimi, visiting 6 states and seeing new things every day. I hope so. I hope they realize that they are never too old to have adventures and to have them as long as they are able. You never know how many years you have.
  2. I hope they learned to explore, look up information on places they might just drive by otherwise, and take the time to stop.
  3. I hope they learned to take a deep breath and restore their souls in nature. I also hope they respect our natural resources and vow to protect them.
  4. I hope they got a new look at our beautiful country and want to see more.
  5. I hope they want to return to these places with their own families and I hope they want to find more places of their own. I told them the only thing you can give your children is memories, so make them good ones. A friend told me that bit of wisdom.
  6. I hope they know that I am proud of them and love them very much.

I can’t wait to plan the trip for the next group of grandkids. I’m already working on it!

I’m told that the first years of retirement are for travel, before your body or your mind gets too weak and you just don’t feel like making the effort any more. Before I get depressed by that thought, I’m thinking back over the wonderful places I’ve been in my life and wondering which way to go this year with almost an entire year stretched before me.

One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to go far to find beauty, history, and interesting people and stories. Last year, way back in 2013, I explored some areas of my home state of Oklahoma that I’d never passed through in my 68 years here. I also travelled to the northwest and the southeast. Maybe this year, I’ll go northeast and southwest. Or all of them. I’ve travelled to other countries in my lifetime and have plenty of places to add to my global wish list. Right now I’m loving our country, which I can never get enough of, so I spend my cold evenings with my iPad in hand, searching maps and places, trying to narrow down where to go, knowing that new opportunities will be there as the days progress.

For your winter dreams, here are sunrises and sunsets in various places. . .

Oklahoma sunset

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Naples, Florida sunrise

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Pass Christian, Mississippi sunset

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Smokey sunrise over the Grand Canyon

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Texas sunset

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Sunrise over Depoe Bay, Oregon

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Sunset over San Francisco Bay from Oakland

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Sunset over the Grand Tetons, Wyoming

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Sunset over Nye Beach, Oregon

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And, another Oklahoma sunset to top it off. . .

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May your 2014 be filled with sunrises and sunsets in all the places you dream of.

One of my favorite all-time movies is “Giant” – maybe my number one. It’s right up there. I saw it for the first time in 1956 when I was 11 years old. My memory is taking my friends to see it for my birthday. Whatever, I loved it then and I love it now. There are movies that begin to seem dated or aren’t as good when you see them years later. This one holds up for me. When it comes on, I can’t stop watching, even though I know it so well.

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Edna Ferber wrote the book, creating the characters that told a 25 year story of Texas…cattle…oil…immigration…prejudice…love…family. Bick Benedict, Leslie Benedict, Jett Rink. Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean. No wonder they’ve never had to do it again – they were all magnificent. Great love story, great saga, one of the greatest fight scenes on film. Big vistas, big characters, big story.

The movie was on TV recently and I watched it, even though I have a copy to watch anytime, remembering things I’d forgotten, discovering new moments that mean more to me now than when I was 11. I’ve got the book here to read. Written in 1952, the story covers subjects that I wish weren’t as current as they are. The book has its variations from the movie, but I’m ok with that, even though I hate when movies mess too much with a story.

When it comes on or you get a chance, spend an evening with “Giant.” It sticks with you.