Road trip across America: A stop at Fort Smith

A hard wind buffeted us much of the way across the country as we drove and strengthened again as we left Oklahoma and entered Arkansas. We stopped at Fort Smith National Historic Site to see the history of the place and to stretch our legs, but the bitter wind cut our visit short.

I wanted to see the Trail of Tears along the river and see the place where “Hanging Judge” Parker presided. While my mom went inside the building, I spent my whole time there outside with the dog, who was very happy for a lengthy walk in the middle of another long day of driving.

The building that held a jail and courtrooms where Judge Parker presided now holds a museum, too.

Arkansas was the first state with a landscape that felt more familiar to me, more like home than the other states we had driven through. Having just come through the part of the country where bleak reservation land dominates everything, I had an even harder time imagining what these tribes faced as they journeyed from their homes in the east to harsh, unfamiliar land. I was journeying home but looking out at a place of sadness for those who would never see home again.

Overlooking the Trail of Tears at the confluence of the Arkansas River (right) and the Poteau river (left)

In a place of historic battles, the only turmoil on the day of our visit (besides the wind) was the point where the two rivers meet.

This is the last installment of our trip across the country here on the blog, though we would have another day and a half of driving after leaving Arkansas.

We crossed the Mississippi River in the dark, got lost the next day trying to find a state park in Tennessee (Cummins Falls State Park) that would have been our one long stop for the day, and then drove across into North Carolina. Ah, home.

Home is where my thoughts and heart have turned, and so starting next week, the blog will turn toward North Carolina and what it means to be home for this weary traveler.

Road trip across America: A memorial for Holy Week

Oklahoma City marked our midway point of the trip from California to North Carolina. So it feels appropriate, here in the middle of Holy Week, that I share with you a memorial that carries its visitors from horror to hope. After all, that’s what Holy Week is all about: a walk through the horrors of Christ’s arrest and crucifixion to the hope of Easter’s empty tomb.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial sits at the site of the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and serves as a reminder of the unspeakable terror that, on April 19, 1995, killed 168 people, including children who attended a daycare on the building’s second floor. The memorial is somber and serene, a way to honor those lost and to remind us all that life continues.

9:01 marks the moment before the explosion.

A reflecting pool leads across from the 9:01 gate to the 9:03 gate, a time that marked the moment when healing would have to begin.

A field of empty chairs, nine rows for the nine floors of the building, with smaller chairs for the children killed.

The small chairs for the children were the hardest for me to see, especially for the same last names on some of the chairs and the knowledge of what that meant for those children’s surviving families.

The Survivor Tree still stands, and though not yet blooming when we visited, it has just recently begun its springtime renewal.

I recommend watching a video of the outdoor grounds of the memorial, whether you are planning a visit in person or simply want to make a virtual visit. You can also follow the memorial on Twitter (@OKCNM), where they have just this morning tweeted an update on the Survivor Tree.

I’ll leave off today with a wish for your journey toward Easter to leave you filled with hope.

Road trip across America: Piedras Marcadas Canyon

Each day of the journey from California to North Carolina, I tried to plan at least one beautiful or interesting stop. From the Grand Canyon, we drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to spend the night. I wanted to find a good place to walk the dog that next morning and spent the evening sleuthing on the internet.

Early in the morning, I headed to Piedras Marcadas Canyon, part of the Petroglyph National Monument. I had seen petroglyphs before in Hawaii but wasn’t sure what to expect at this park. The park website led me directly to a small parking area. From there, the dog and I took off for an easy walk. The park offers a few helpful signs, and once I knew what to look for, I could see petroglyphs on a number of rocks.

Can you see the moon and the faces?

The view looking back into Albuquerque filled me with peace and made me wish my mom had joined us for the walk.

It’s a beautiful spot to spend a few quiet minutes, and though the park site suggests an hour and a half to walk the area, the trail is sandy and easy to walk, and you could spend less time if you don’t need to find all 300 petroglyphs. We encountered only a few other people, also out walking their dogs, and only one other native to the canyon.

Posing for me? Or more likely trying to hide from my dog.

Have you seen petroglyphs before? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience and what you thought about them.

There are a lot of wonderful places to see in this country. Get out and explore it, y’all!

The long road home

Three years and three months ago (almost to the day), I stopped along the Blue Ridge Parkway to take this picture. I thought it would be my dog’s last time seeing this beautiful view. She loves to ride in the car, and she loves the mountains—almost as much as I do.

She’ll be fourteen this year, and though she can no longer hop up into the wayback of my car, I’m thrilled to be bringing her home. Would you pray for safe travels for my mom, my dog, and me as we head home?