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Mile 4,869 - Home


So we rode together in a van for two weeks and almost 5,000 miles.  What did I learn?
  1. Our country is a vast land full of unique pockets of culture.  I pay just enough attention to politics to be dangerous, but after this road trip I have an all new appreciation for the political process, especially Presidential campaigns.  When you travel Europe you drive three to six hours and you are in another country with people of a different language.  When you drive across America you are exposed to its diversity and are left in awe of how we have held this thing together for the last 200+ years.  You realize how brilliant our representative form of government really is.  There is no human king who could adequately lead this nation with absolute authority.  We need to be weary of the progressive ideology toward centralizing the American government.  If we are not careful it will not be long until our road trips require passports.
  2. When you drive across America you not only realize the challenge of our political process, but of the mission of the gospel.  Christians in the South are often isolated from the larger body of Christ and are deceived into thinking there are only a handful of ways “to do” church and be Biblical.  Yet the Biblical thing to do is to penetrate cultures with the gospel.  The message stands alone, the mission requires creativity.  Our road trip reminded me of the magnitude of the Acts 1:8 mission and why Holy Spirit power is essential.  It also made reading the Book of Revelation that much more alive and magnificent to me, realizing what it means that there will be people of every tribe and tongue brining praise to Jesus in the end.
  3. I covered it in my post about the Grand Canyon so I will not belabor the point here, but going west added to my confidence that theory of evolution is a farce and that it is an intellectual injustice that the Biblical flood is not welcomed into scientific discussion.  It is impossible for science to be unbiased and for religion to be exiled from the lab, because in the end science always leads us to the question of origin.  We have to somehow interpret the data.  Science has a peculiar way of trapping us into pondering God.
  4. I loved my family before we left, but we have never driven 14 days and 5,000 miles together.  I can remember days we have had a hard time with going to Wal-Mart.  There is a certain amount of anticipation to a road trip, but there is also a fair amount of trepidation.  Will I be writing a blog post that reads, “And on the third day, they strangled one another.”  There were a few moments of nervy aggravation, but all of us returned home.  None of us were strangled.  I love being with my family.  I enjoy my daughters.  When we finally felt the comfort of our own mongo-King sized bed again I turned to Shannon and said, “I love it that I got to do all of this with you.”  Experiencing new things is great, but I enjoy it so much better when I am with Shannon. 
  5. I am a fan of dry heat.  I alluded to this along the way, so I won’t belabor this point either, but when we got out of the van in ‘Bama Shannon said something about all the wild fires out West.  I called her attention to the humidity by saying, “And here you can’t even strike a match the air is so wet.”  Our church has relocated twice already.  I vote the next move be to Northern Arizona.
  6. I like the food at home better.  I loved Northern Arizona.  If I had an opportunity to call it home for awhile, I might take it.  However, I would miss the cookin’ of the deep south.  My friend Dave and I went to a deli in Phoenix.  When we walked in they had a wall full of Hellman’s Mayonnaise on display.  In the south men display what they catch or kill on the wall.  It is not unusual to walk into a man’s living room and sit on his couch just under the head of a deer.  Apparently in Phoenix it is not unusual to walk into a deli that displays Hellman’s Mayonnaise like a trophy bass.  When I ordered my sandwich I asked what was on it.  In the ingredient list were the words “Hellman’s Mayonnaise.”  But I’m not a mayo man, so I asked to leave it off.  The guy looked at me like to shot his dog.  He said, “We put mayonnaise on everything, we have to import this stuff from the East coast.”  Obviously Phoenix does not have Hellman’s because Phoenix does not have Piggly Wiggly.  You can’t eat granola your whole life and die a happy man!  
A friend of mine asked me on the phone yesterday if I would do it again.  I told him that I would do it again 10 minutes from now.  I am blessed to have travelled as much as I have, but this trip ranks as one of my all time favorites.  If you ever get the chance to take a road trip, go West.  If you do, I recommend the hot dog at The Snow Cap Drive In – Seligman, AZ, the view from the Grand Canyon, the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff, the sea lions and the zoo in San Diego, and a van.  I also recommend that you take your own bar of soap.   
Back to life.
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Mile 3,189 - Sedona


If you are not familiar with Sedona, AZ it has been in the news quite a bit lately.  Sedona is the place where several people died in a sweat lodge.  We stayed just a few miles away from where the trial is taking place.  I’m not sure what people do in a sweat lodge, but it is supposed to be a spiritual experience.   Getting hot seems sort of anti-spirtitual to me.  Southern men do all they can to avoid getting overheated.  Southern men think that air conditioning and iced tea is a spiritual experience.  

But that is the sort of place Sedona is, a strange landscape of misguided spirituality.  The Bible speaks of Jerusalem as the center of the universe.  Since moving to Alabama I think it may be Jasper.  If you are into aliens, new age spiritism, and soap without a center, you probably think Sedona is the center of the universe.  Sedona is a very new age, spiritist, mecca for weirdos, and then there's the rest of us who just want some nice pictures and a good restaurant.  So in Sedona you have this eclectic mix of people looking for a good steak and people looking for a good vortex.  
Our first night in Sedona we went to Airport Mesa to watch the sunset.  We had just eaten at a good restaurant.  Upon entering the gate at the overlook we met a woman who had just been to a good vortex.  She was sitting on a stool in a white dress, wearing a tasteful straw hat with a white ribbon, and talking on a cell phone.  When we walked through the gate she paused her cell phone conversation and said, “Welcome to your birthright.  This sunset is your divine right to behold.”  Then she directed her attention to my daughters.  “Girls, no matter what faith we are we are all welcome here.  If we would just tell people of all the beautiful things of the universe the world would be a better place.”  If I am not quoting her exactly, make it more spiritual, influenced by marijuana, and new age and you have it.  The best I could get out was, “O.K.”  
Shortly after the sun set the moon began to rapidly rise behind us.  I went to the van to get the camera.  Ms. Moonbeam was also in the parking lot wrapping up another evening of handing out birthrights.  I retrieved the camera from the van and began to take a picture.  There is a setting on our camera designed for night shots.  To get a proper picture you must hold the camera incredibly still.  Seeing as how the shake in my hands could be measured with a Richter Scale, this would be quite a challenge.  After snapping several pictures Ms. Moonbeam stopped across from me and said, “You hold that camera as if it were an infant child, so beautiful.  You must be a father.”  I responded, “Um.”  Before I could say anything else she said, “Or maybe that camera is your baby.”  I said, “No ma'am, its just a camera.”  Moonbeam then boarded her hybrid vehicle and drove off into the universe.  Peace out.
Sedona is a beautiful place indeed.  If there is anything spiritual about it, it is the way it unfolds like a spectacular mural before your eyes.  The hills and cliffs look like a setting sun no matter the time of day.  The Grand Canyon was beautiful because it was so colorful and vast.  It is in a class all its own.  If that is so, then Sedona is the beginning of a new category.  There is no sentence or picture I can submit to you that would help describe this place.  You must see it for yourself.  
An interesting side note to our stop in Sedona is that we have driven over 3,000 miles to be served for dinner by a lady from Chattanooga.  Small world.
Our final night in Sedona Morgan and I drove a few miles away from the city and found a pull off on an empty desert highway.  We went there to look at the stars.  We had intended to do so the night before.  Yet, the night before Morgan made me mad.  A road trip is a wonderful way for a family to draw closer together; close enough to kill one another.  In 3,000 miles we have yet to draw swords.  On the next to last day before we turn back to ‘Bama the swords were very near coming out of their sheathes.  Sedona was beautiful.  We were a little on edge.  Morgan became totally impatient with the “waiting for the stars process” and paced back and forth venting her boredom in my direction as if I needed to get the message.  She made me mad and when we got back into the car I made her cry.  
Dads hate making their daughters cry, but apparently when I explained how much I love to look at stars and have always wanted to see them in a big western sky she realized how much that moment in the trip meant to me.  Isn’t it funny that after living with me since May 2000 it took a 3,000 mile road trip for her to learn that her dad loves to look at stars.  So it meant a lot to me that on the final night, when I polled the family to see who wanted to go with me one last time to look at the stars, Morgan eagerly came along.  It was a redeeming moment that became one of my favorite experiences of the trip.
We pulled off the road in the perfect spot to star gaze.  I opened the sunroof on the van and because I was wearing flip flops and was so afraid that while I am in Arizona I was going to step on a scorpion, I chose for us to stand on the seats and watch the stars; both of us standing though the sunroof.  Morgan put her mom’s Michael Buble CD on and turned it up.  The second song that played was Buble’s version of the classic “Georgia.”  You talk about an awesome moment for a dad.  There I was watching the moon rise over a mesa with my oldest daughter listening to a song that reminded me of everything about my life growing up, especially wanting to see all the things I have been able to see on this trip.  I shared a lot of it with Morgan.  I hope that these 3,000 miles have helped Morgan know more about the 37.9 years of me.  
I love my girls, but it saddens me to realize how quickly they are growing up.  I cannot preserve time.  Hopefully for Morgan watching the moon rise in the desert with her dad will be a memory forever etched in her mind.  It will be in mine.  There have been a thousand great moments on this road trip, but certainly standing out the sunroof of a van on the side of a desert highway watching the moon rise over the mesa with my oldest daughter will be a moment that supersedes even this trip.  That moment for me was worth the entire trip.
Sometimes it takes 3100 miles to realize what an incredible stewardship it is to be a dad.
Its time now to turn toward home . . .
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Mile 3,000 - Jiffy Lube


I have never been on a trip so long that you had to change the oil.  If we take many excursions off the path on the way home we may have to rotate the tires.  
Mile 3,000 was a reminder that no matter how far you go, you still have to do life.  While our oil was being changed we walked across the street to a post office where we mailed some post cards along with some bills; one of which was our taxes.  Uncle Sam is inescapable.  
Before we left Phoenix we ate at the Over Easy Cafe in Scottsdale.  If you have been following our trip you know that unique places to eat have been a theme.  Blame that on Guy Fierri and the Food Channel.  When you are a foreigner you have no idea where to eat.  I can eat at Applebees at home, but I rarely do.  I can eat at McDonald’s in Moscow (and I have).  When I am on a road trip I want to eat at a dive, a good one, with some local flair.  So all along the way I have been searching for local cafes that have been featured on the Food Channel.  According to the video online Guy Fierri had the Caramelized Banana and Pecan French Toast.  So did I.  Muy bueno!
Growing up my mom had a cactus that was about 4 inches tall.  It bloomed about 4 purple petals a year and she got all excited.  That cactus didn’t do much for me.  Growing up watching Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam makes you want to see a real cactus; one of those tall ones that looks like it has arms.  Driving through Northern Arizona we were looking everywhere for one.  They are not there.  The mega cacti are in Southern Arizona, around Phoenix, and they are huge.  
Apparently there is a bird that nests inside the huge desert cacti.  They bore little holes in the trunk making each huge cactus look like a tacky bird house you would buy at Wal-Mart.  Nesting in a cactus must be a tiny bird’s way of putting all the slithering, egg eating lizards of Arizona on a diet.  
After this trip I’m going to need a cactus right in front of the fridge.
On to Sedona . . .
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Mile 2919 - The SBC, Redeeming Vegas


They say to never mix business with pleasure, or is it religion and politics?  Or is it death and taxes?  I can’t remember.  It doesn’t matter because ultimately we came this way for a few days of business in the form of The Southern Baptist Convention.  
A few posts ago I know that I represented Las Vegas as the underbelly of Hell.  I still believe that is the case.  Yet while driving into Vegas we passed several churches.  I don’t know if it was our route, but it appears there are enough churches in a few miles to compete with Birmingham per capita.  I pointed it out to Shannon and I was pleasantly surprised.  Paul said in Romans 5:20 that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”  A choir at the Pastor’s Conference portion of the Convention proved to me that was indeed true.  They were from Vegas, full of joy and unashamedly proclaiming Jesus in song.  There looked to be a couple hundred of them.  They represented several ethnicities, but I wondered about their stories.  Jesus said the people who love much are those who are forgiven of much.  After seeing Vegas I wondered what Jesus had done for them.  They were not just a choir that accomplished music.  I have heard an infinite number of choirs and bands that can accomplish music.  This was a choir with a message.  This may seem judgmental, but seeing the joy and passion with which they sang it made me wonder if this is the way Mary Magdalene would sing.  
Satan is doing much in Vegas.  God is doing more.

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Mile 2,583 - San Diego


In a sermon several months ago I stated that I had no desire to ever visit California.  Yet, while we were planning our road trip I got the Everest Syndrome.  The Everest Syndrome is the delusion climbers get when they think they are close enough to summit Everest, but in reality they are close enough only to summit and die.  When I realized we would only be 6 hours from the Pacific Ocean I got the syndrome.  I determined we would get there even if an extra 12 hours in the car meant we might kill one another.  We rescheduled a few things, made some arrangements and put San Diego on the itinerary.  I’m glad we did.
Sitting in the congregation the day I wrote off California was April Chapman.  April’s husband Stephen is now a Navy Chaplain.  You guessed it, they now live in San Diego.  So I ate crow.  We stayed at the Chapman’s and had a blast.
Standing in the Pacific Ocean, like the Grand Canyon, has long been on my bucket list.  Now I can check that one off too.  This trip as certainly expedited checking off the bucket list.  I am beginning to realize that I have one of three options.  Extend my bucket list.  Slow down on accomplishing the bucket list.  Or, finish the bucket list and . . .well I guess you either die or live bored.  I don’t care for options two or three, so let’s go with number one. 
So I made it to the Pacific Ocean and stood shin high in the water.  What I failed to realize is that the Pacific Ocean is only slightly warmer than the creeks that flow through the Smokies.  Good thing I did not put “swim in the Pacific Ocean” on the bucket list.  I’m not man enough.  Now I realize why people in California wear those tight wet suits.  I just thought they did it to look cool and survive shark bites.  There were several surfers there in wet suits.  They did look cool.  Don’t know about the shark bites.  If I wore a wet suit I would look o.k. from the chest up, but below my chest it would look like I was trying to smuggle a watermelon.  You know they do check fruit in California.  
I know Californians are for the most part stressed out environmentalists with holes in their soap, but they do know how to relax.  While in San Diego April took us to a couple of beach hang outs.  One of them was La Jolla Cove in Del Mar.  In the South we go the park and watch ducks on a pond.  At La Jolla they watch sea lions.  The story is that the town decided to carve out of the rocks a sandy beach where kids could play in the water.  Kid beach didn’t last long, the sea lions took over.  I’ve never seen a sea lion in its natural habitat.  From what I observed they are a lot like Californians, they like to surf and lay on their backs.  They make a lot of noise and you have no idea what they are saying.  There were a few hundred people hanging out at the park, some swimming in the water, everyone lazily watching sea lions.  The funny thing was I think that there were a few dozen sea lions in the water, hanging out and lazily watching people.  Whatever the case La Jolla Cove is a beautiful place with sea lions, a breathtaking view of the Pacific, and rocky cliffs with crashing waves.  I loved it.
If you have ever watched The Tonight Show you have seen Joan Embery from the San Diego Zoo.  If you still don’t know who I am talking about look up the Johnny Carson clip where Joan Embery brings in the Orangutans.  It is classic.  As a young teen I loved to stay up late in the summer and watch Johnny Carson.  I guess Carson was my first exposure to the fact that there is a zoo mecca, San Diego.  Up until that time I had known two zoos, Chattanooga and Knoxville.  The Chattanooga Zoo was little more than a few cages in a park.  I could get the same thing at the Swanson farm, except the Swansons didn’t have a monkey.  The Knoxville Zoo was much bigger and better, but then there’s San Diego.  They make the Late Show.  The Knoxville Zoo makes brochures at the state line welcome center.  
The San Diego Zoo is what I expected, huge and full of animals.  We had four kids in tow so we didn’t make it the whole way.  April Chapman had a pedometer on her phone.  From what she said I figure we tracked about 4 miles by the end of the day.  When you are 6’1” four miles is tiring, but you have more in the tank.  When you are 6 or 7 years old your short legs add to the distance like humidity adds to the heat.  When you’re a kid 4 miles may as well be 40.  
My favorite moment at the zoo happened at the Polar Bear exhibit.  If you have been on my facebook page you may have seen the video.  Polar Bears are massive animals.  Like the Elk thing, I knew they were big, but not that big.  The great moment came when the largest bear of the lot moved over and sat down right in front of me.  It was awesome.  Thankfully there was about a foot of protective glass between he and I, which is the only way I want to see a Polar Bear.  His neck was so large I would have a hard time wrapping both arms around it.  His paws seemed as big as my torso.  Perhaps after this trip, not quite as big as my torso, but under normal circumstances he has me beat.  It was a great day.
While in San Diego we also visited the Hotel Coronado.  I believe this is the Hotel California of Eagles fame, right?  If its not I sounded like a total southern dufus because I sang the line “Welcome to the Hotel California” about a 100 times.  They do have a ghost legend there.  In any event, it is very historic and a great place to visit in San Diego.  Every President since Benjamin Harrison has been there.  Now, so have I.  
We all know military families make a sacrifice for the rest of us.  Living with one for two nights while the husband and father of the family is deployed makes you realize how sacrificial an act military service really is.  Stephen is on the mission trip of a lifetime.  His family is supporting him.  They are true patriots and dear saints of God.  I had a chance to talk to Stephen on the phone.  When you are across the globe on a ship there is quite a delay.  Sorry Stephen, I know I sounded like a moron, but it was great to talk to you again.  From the information he gave me it sounds like he is making a great impact on the souls of those he is deployed with.  April is trying to support him at home by sending him resources.  Being here has made me realize how vital a role we play as their sending church.  We need to really connect with them.  I have some ideas.  
Thank you Chapmans for what you are doing for our country and for The Kingdom.  Hope to see you again soon.
On to Phoenix . . .  
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Mile 2,400 and Something - Caricatures


The left coast is a strange and beautiful world.  When we left Vegas, pre 9:00 a.m. it was almost 90.  Yet just a few miles out of town we noticed a mountain with a snow cap.  It wasn’t too many miles past the snow capped mountain until we were in the Mohave Desert and Death Valley.  There we saw our first mirage.  What looked like a blue lake evaporated into brown sand the closer we got.  We took a moment to point it out to the girls.  We then had a long conversation about Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  I do feel this trip is lacking one unfulfilled joy.  I would love to see a real Road Runner.  We have been in about 84 states this trip.  One of them has the Road Runner as its state bird; Arizona I think.  I think Nevada’s state bird is the ever allusive Snipe.  Upon exiting the desert in California we had to stop at a road block for a fruit inspection.  How ironic.  But it was not long out of Death Valley until once again we saw snow covered mountains.  Victorville, CA is going to have a white 4th of July this year.  You’ve got to love global warming.  All along the way I marveled at the rapid temperature fluctuations in a relatively short 5.5 hour trip.  From the point where we ate lunch in Victorville to a place just 20 miles down the road the temperature dropped about 13 degrees.  The whole way the temperature would rise and fall several degrees at a time.  Once we got to San Diego it was 65 degrees.  Sorry to my mates melting in the ‘ham.  Wish you were here.
Being a Southern fried gentleman, allow me for a moment to correct Cali.  When people in Cali try to “do Southern” they always overdo it.  The end result is more of a caricature than a representation.  This happens most frequently in movies.  If you have ever heard me speak, you will sense the irony in the following statement.  Dear Hollywood, there isn’t a person alive in the South that sounds like Gone With the Wind.  We sound more like Dale Jr. than Rhett Butler.  Pay attention and get it right.  My two days in California will be a clinic in the Georgia brogue.  I have already noticed several Californians passing on the sidewalk, breaking their necks when they hear me speak.  Yes, mam, I said “c’mere,” “whatsat,” and “overdair” in the same sentence.  Pay attention.  Get it right.
In Victorville we found a BBQ joint that tried to pass itself off as being a “Southern style” restaurant.  Shannon called the whole thing cliche, but we ate there anyway.  Being from Alabama I felt like the Dixie rep. for the Food Channel.  I even told the waitress who had a distinctively Cali accent, “We came all the way from Alabama to make sure y’all got this right.”
The restaurant was the epitome of the Southern caricature.  When you opened the front door it triggered a soundtrack of a rooster crowing, chickens scratching, and a dog barking.  The windows of the restaurant were all crooked perhaps assuming that everyone in the South lives in a house that was built with a isosceles triangle instead of a builder’s square.  Dear Mr. Cali restaurant sir, please take my critique of your food kindly.  It was good, but it was more Southern Indiana than Southern U.S. In the South we season everything with ham, bacon, and fat.  We can even tell by the taste of the sweet tea if the person who stirred it had been into the ham hock that morning.  Perhaps these ingredients are contraband at your fruit inspection barricades, but if you truly desire to have a southern kitchen you need some good ol’ southern fat. 
So since Cali has offered us its caricatures of southern men, please allow me to offer a cultural corrective to the left coast.  You people have a beautiful landscape, but your environmentalism is making you crazy.  At the Grand Canyon I pulled an eco friendly bar of soap out of a recycled box with soy print.  The bar of soap was missing the middle.  The box said that the soap was more ergonomically correct and alleviated the middle portion of the bar because that was the most wasted portion of soap.  Mr. environmental, I have no idea how your momma taught you to use soap, but I wear the middle of a bar of soap out first.  Do left coasters use soap end to end?  Why am I even asking?  I bet left coasters use shower gel.  In the South our mommas teach us to use soap in sort of the same way we sop a biscuit.  We lather up.  In fact the problem with soap is not that the middle is wasted, it is that the middle is weak.  In time the bar of soap will break and because Southern men are way too lazy to get another bar we will put two thinned out broken ends together in a rag and rub them together like we are trying to start a fire with a pair of sticks.  Dear Mr. Eco, I want the middle of my soap back.  
Yes, as usual, you people are going to drive the rest of us nuts by legislating how we should live.  It won’t be long until congress raises the debt ceiling, requires us to use florescent bulbs, and outlaws the middle of the soap.
By the way, L.A. is smogville.  Want to know why?    The rest of us have to buy cars with an extra 20 grand of California emissions garbage, but you guys are out here blowing smoke.  You people aren’t driving smart cars, apparently you are fans of the new Camaro. I have been passed by more colors of Camaro out here than Baskin Robbins has flavors of ice cream.  You aren’t saving money on gas, especially at $18.00 a gallon, but your blinker bill must be low.  Maybe in Cali drivers are more battery conscience because you sure don’t waste energy letting people know you are about to cut them off.  There is a little lever on your steering column that produces a blinky little green light.  Blinkers are loads of fun.  Maybe if you used them, along with the middle of your soap, you would be less stressed out and more prone to leave my people alone.  
I digress.  On to San Diego. . .
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Mile 2,177 - The Hoover Dam and Vegas

Back in ’79 Lex Luther created an earthquake so strong that it destroyed the Hoover Dam.  Superman reversed the rotation of the earth, turned back time and saved not only Lois Lane, but also the Hoover Dam.  When you are a six year old boy huge, crumbling dams are cool. Since that time I’ve always wanted to see Hoover Dam before another comic book villain tries to destroy it again.  The good news is that with terrorism a real threat, they now inspect your car before you get to the dam.  It will not be so easy for Lex Luther next time.
We didn’t spend a whole lot of time at Hoover Dam, but it was a decided destination on our road trip.  History Channel documentaries fail to capture just how harsh and unforgiving the landscape of the Hoover Dam really is.  The sheer size of it speaks for itself, but it is the place they put it that makes it a true engineering marvel.  Above the Dam is the recently constructed Pat Tillman bridge.  The bridge not only serves the highway system but also serves as a pedestrian/observation bridge.  The Hoover Dam is high.  The Tillman bridge is way, way up there.  At the time of our visit the wind was gusting with such force that it would stop you in your tracks and take your breath away.  I love looking at big, huge things, but I freak out in heights.  Adding 65 mph wind to the mix didn’t help.  I held on to Kiley, but I’m not sure if I was holding onto her for her own security or for mine.  It doesn’t matter.  We work as a team.
Apparently if you go to The Hoover Dam you either stay the night in Vegas or you sleep with the coyotes.  At the time Vegas seemed like the safer choice.  Now I’m not so sure.  We are well aware of the Vegas reputation, but with some counsel from a few friends who have been there I was under the impression that it is indeed sin city, but you can steer your family clear of that stuff.  I've been a student in New Orleans for the last four years.  I know how to "steer" New Orleans, surely I could navigate Las Vegas.  Wrong.  Sin city means that the depravity is unavoidable. 
We stayed at the New York, New York, which is probably the finest hotel I have ever slept in.  If you are hotel geek, Vegas is your place.  The size, themes, and history of Vegas hotels is truly awe inspiring.  The problem is that the filth and depravity overshadows the splendor.  We set out to make a simple trip to the Bellagio to see the fountains.  The journey would require crossing a few blocks and a tram ride.  At the first street crossing we were a part of a massive pack of people.  When the “walk” sign lit up the dude next to us did a handstand and began to cross the street upside down.  A guy walking the opposite direction knocked him down, words were exchanged.  On the other side of the crossing a group of people in neon T-shirts that read “Girls, Girls, Girls” were handing out cards of nude strippers advertising their escort service.  Those that didn’t want the cards threw them down thus covering the sidewalk with pornography.  The first business we encountered on the new block was called The Inferno, or something to that effect.  Two guys dressed up like Kiss as well as several scantily clad women fronted the restaurant.  About this time Kiley had a mental breakdown thinking people were trying to take her away.  We assured her that no one in Vegas wants to deal with kids, so she was safe.  The next hurdle to overcome was The Monte Carlo.  We were instructed to catch the tram there.  Little did we know that “catch the tram at the Monte Carlo” translates “walk your family through the bastion of sleaze and infidelity.”  It was hard to know what to do.  I had the girls by the hand trying to walk them away from the filth as quickly as I could, so in just a matter of a few moments we were deep in the muck.  If we turned around and went back we had to do so over a sea of pornography. If we went on would it get worse?  Shannon described it aptly, “There are no exits in Hell.”  
By the time we made it to the Bellagio and saw the fountains we were a nervous wreck.  The fountains were awe inspiring, but when it was over we were sick to our stomachs knowing that somehow we had to navigate Sodom again.  Yet somehow we made a wrong turn off the tram on the return trip and missed most of the sleaze on the first go round.  
I hate Vegas.  I will never go back.
The next morning we woke up early so we could do one thing, leave.  I wanted to get to the mountains before the fire and brimstone began falling.  However, if I did have a pillar of salt moment it was that I had to go by the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, the store that serves as the subject of the reality show Pawn Stars.  I do enjoy the show.  It is about the only thing left on the History Channel that has any historical value.  It is amazing the relics of the past that are traded in a pawn shop.  What a brilliant and creative move by the History Channel folks.  From watching the show, I was under the understanding that it was a 24hr pawn shop.  I suppose in Vegas 24hr means that it doesn’t open until 9:00 a.m.  Wanting to miss the brimstone shower we didn’t stick around to see.  I got my pic.  I am happy.
On to California . . .

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Mile 2000 - The Snow Cap Drive In (about half way, I think)


So far our millennial miles have been providential.  At mile 1,000 we pulled over in Nowhere, TX in front of a rusted out bus in a cattle stall.  At mile 2,000 we were in Seligman, AZ.  We were hungry so it was a great opportunity to stop for lunch.  Lucky us as we found the Snow Cap Drive In, a jewel preserved from old Route 66.  According to the story the drive in was founded by a beloved, jokester of a man in the 50’s.  The tradition continues. 
Not unusual on a road trip is Kiley’s call, “I’m about to pop.”  You know what that means.    But having to pop at The Snow Cap Drive In means that for the first time in your 7 year old life you will be “going” in an outhouse.  Kiley saw the out house as pure entertainment, Morgan viewed it as a death trap.  Besides the outhouse walking the grounds of The Snow Cap is indeed entertaining.  The old cars have eyes, there are one liners galore, and when you visit you are free to contribute to the chaos thus leaving the decor an international conglomerate of journey mementos and jokes.  The place provides some primo road trip photo ops.  Morgan insisted that my business card be taped to the front window which is now officially the most boring thing in Seligman, AZ.
Let’s talk food.  I ordered the Oink which is a cheeseburger with bacon.  It was good.  The girls ordered hot dogs which turned out to be the lunch order of choice.  They were awesome.  The Oink was great, but the dogs were unbelievable.  We also had milk shakes which at The Snow Cap are huge and pretty much perfect.  I usually do not go far for lunch, but after eating at The Snow Cap I might be tempted to go 2,000 miles.  Those dogs and shakes make it worth the drive.
On to Vegas . . .
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Mile 1859 - The Grand Canyon


Driving to the Grand Canyon I found the town that I should have been born in, Flagstaff.  We didn’t have time to stop there.  In fact all I can say I have ever done in Flagstaff is pump about 70 bucks of gas, but I love the place.  Besides the barely 70 degree weather with no humidity in June (which is very appealing to a Southern boy), the downtown is close, crammed, full of people, and lined with local businesses.  I love local flavor.  From what I saw, Flagstaff is nothing but local flavor.  To beat it all it is at the base of the San Francisco Peaks.  And now, I will sound like a man from Florida talking about mountains, but just to give a frame of reference, as we were driving I told Shannon that I think the highest point in the Smokies is about 6,500ft.  We were driving, in Flagstaff at 8,000ft and the San Francisco Peaks dwarfed us.  We first saw them 212 miles away in The Painted Desert.  I know this because I saw it on a sign there.  They are so high there are still slopes covered in snow.  So in 2 hours we came from the painted desert to a town with mountain peaks with snow on them.  I love Flagstaff.  Shannon was driving and all I could do was hang my head out the window and snap pictures.  What a beautiful town.  
The caveat to this is that The San Francisco Peaks are, or were, volcanic.  I didn’t quite catch that part.  In Alabama we get blown away by tornados.  In Flagstaff you may be blown away by a volcanic eruption.  I wonder what kind of freak out James Spann would broadcast during a volcanic eruption?  
So after 1859 miles and 37.9 years I finally laid eyes on The Grand Canyon.  I have watched film after film on the place.  I have combed a thousand photos of it.  I have read hundreds of articles about it throughout my life, but my brain sold it way short.  It is wider, deeper, and glows more red in the sun than I ever pictured it.  Shannon and I walked up to the railing in stunned silence.  If the girls had been captured at gunpoint by terrorists in that moment, we would have had no idea.  It is so huge it sucks you in.  It frightens you and fills you with awe.  Your instinct is to step back because it is more safe, but it calls you forward, daring you to try and take it all in.  It is almost as if the Canyon taunts you, knowing how tiny you are and that there is no way your eyes have the capacity to comprehend all that it offers.  We took pictures, but we realized quickly that photography was a pathetic representation of what we were seeing.  Taking a picture of the Grand Canyon is like putting a thimble in the sea.
I prayed as we left for experiences on this road trip that would challenge and change me.  Seeing the Grand Canyon has made me realize the God of my mind is way too small and I fear in some ways I have dismissed the Creator and instead worship a mental idol.  There is not a worship hymn I have ever sung or a sermon I have ever preached that has done justice to the God how created this world, flooded it, and carved out this Canyon.  His power is so great and I am so small.  Paul prayed that the Ephesians would comprehend with all the saints the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ and to be filled with all the fullness of God.  I had no idea what breadth, length, height, and depth were until I saw this Canyon.  We talked to a woman this afternoon who has hiked 600 miles in the Canyon.  By her own admission she has seen very little of it.  The Grand Canyon makes me realize that I have been far to satisfied with far too little of Christ. 
So I’m having my moment at the rim of the Canyon.  We have only been there a few minutes, my soul is full and so I ask Shannon to snap a picture.  The pose will be arms raised, one of those “worship” shots.  Shannon has been a little “angle” sensitive this trip, trying to get the proper lighting and focus on every shot.  I think she is tired of going home from trips and seeing bad pictures.  So this whole “worship” shot is taking a minute.  About the time she finally snaps the camera a bee flies into my face.  The end result was “psycho worship.”  I hope you enjoy laughing at the end result as much as we have.
The Grand Canyon also confirms to me that I don’t have enough faith to be an evolutionist.  If you have watched 10 minutes of Discovery Channel or one of their spin offs over the years you know that the Canyon is the centerpiece for evolutionary propaganda.  If you visit the geology museum at the rim you will quickly realize you are at ground zero.  The story goes that the area of the Canyon was once an inland sea, then a volcanic desert, then the victim of massive plates of land thrusting upward, and then the crown jewel responsible for finishing off the Canyon as we know it is the mighty Colorado River.  I took Morgan through the whole display and then walked her outside and pointed down to the tiny green vein, the river, that ran through the Canyon almost 2 miles below us.  I explained to her that the Biblical flood story gives room for all of the things that evolutionist theorize to happen over billions of years to happen in a short period of time (Everest proves this possible).  We talked sediment, erosion, the whole bit.  Finally I asked her, which is easier to believe, the Biblical flood did this or that river?”  Even a child can answer that one.  
Shannon and I honeymooned in Vermont.  Vermont is supposed to be full of Elk and Moose.  They must all be dead.  I wanted so badly to see something but saw nothing.  After we dumped our luggage in the room at the Canyon I went to park the van.  The place was packed so all the parking spaces adjacent to our lodge were full so I went on a long journey to park.  While searching for a parking space I turned a corner and came face to face with an Elk.  People nearby saw what was happening and starting coming out of the surrounding buildings and off the sidewalks.  It was not but just a few minutes later that a man began to calmly, but sternly warn his wife, who was standing beside my van, “Honey, he wants the space you are in.”  I thought for a moment that the man realized I was trying to park.  But he wasn’t talking about me wanting the space she was in, he was talking about Elk #2 wanting the space she was in.  That space, again, was right beside my van.  So in the next moment, the lady moved and sure enough I had Elk #2 standing at the back sliding door of the van.  The bottom of his shoulders were level with the top of the van.  I never realized it, but Elk are very tall.  I got some great video, hopefully I can get it online soon.
We will spend tomorrow morning touring more of the Canyon then its off to Hoover Dam and Vegas.  I love the Ocean’s movies.  I need to find a cool suit before we get there.  
On to Vegas . . .
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Mile 1674 - The Painted Desert and Petrified Forrest


I do not particularly enjoy driving, but ever since we moved from Little House on the Prairie to Hang ‘em High the ride has been the highlight.  I know I am driving Shannon crazy as at every rise in the road I ask her to grab the camera as the panorama of a world I have never known unfolds before me.  I have yet to adjust to depth perception in the West.  Back home if you see something in the distance you better have your camera handy because it will not be there long.  Out here you may see a spectacular mountain range or a distant mesa and it will be with you for hours.  Now I understand why all the tornado chaser shows are shot in the plains. I start snapping pictures thinking I am getting the best shots.  By the time we finally pass the thing 3 hours later I have 50 pictures.  
Let’s talk weather.  So far Northern, AZ is like a spring day.  Like yesterday, we did a road side lunch, but instead of a rusted out Stuckey’s in Texas we used a pavilion at the Arizona state line.  Shannon wore a jacket.  The sky is eye popping blue and we have craggy hills and cliffs all around us.  There is little to no humidity in the air.  It feels like late season college football, but its June.  A train passes nearby and each time it blows its whistle we get a kick out of the echo.  For the first time in my life I can see a train from engine to end.  The whole scene looks similar to the ones you tried to build as a kid with the old model train set.
I know in a previous post I referred to the colors of the dessert.  Again, like a man from Florida talking about mountains, I had no idea what I was talking about.  The best was yet to come. On our way to the Grand Canyon we made a side jaunt to The Painted Dessert and Petrified Forrest National Park.  The park is a 28 mile driving tour of breathtaking desert color and scenery.  We took pictures and I have posted a few of them, but the 1.5 million pictures of the painted desert you can find online could not adequately communicate what the human eye comprehends in this place.  All Shannon and I can get out is, “Oh wow.”  Like babies catching on to a new word we babble it over and over again.  
I remember studying the petrified forest and fossils in elementary school.  Now I have seen it.  You talk about odd.  It looks like a tree, it even appears to have the texture of a tree, but its a rock.  Some of the larger trunks we looked at were quartz.  I think that bronzing baby shoes has become passe, but the petrified forest is sort of like bronzed baby shoes, but it is massive trees of quartz.  
Of the 1674 miles we have travelled so far, we just completed 28 of the most spectacular ones.  But I must say again, I can’t wait to get to the Grand Canyon.
On to the Canyon . . .  
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Mile 1,448 - Old Town Albuquerque, Route 66

Somewhere between Amarillo and Albuquerque you change planets.  The terrain goes from Little House on the Prairie to Hang ‘em High.  Plains filled with desert trees, cacti (I have always wanted to legitimately use this word), and distant mesas; it was surreal and strangely beautiful.  The backdrop for Albuquerque is a long range of rough, jagged mountains; the kind I’ve always wanted to see. 

We did a very road trip thing along the way.  We pulled over into a rusted out Stuckey’s gas station, used the canopy over a dilapidated gas pump and had a picnic.  After lunch we got stuck in a Texas panhandle traffic jam.  Three harvesters were trying to cross a bridge.  We were the morons in a mini van from Alabama taking their picture.  

We went to old town Albuquerque, a tourist trap of shops, adobe architecture, and mexican restaurants.  The difference between mexican food in Birmingham and mexican food in Albuquerque is about 90 degrees of chile.  Mexican food in the ‘ham is tomato based.  Mexican food in the AbQ is flame based. 

Apparently the name “Old Town” is apropos as some buildings in the area were built 70 years before the revolutionary war.  The Catholic church in the square is 300 years old.  These are the sorts of places that remind you just how young we Americans really are.  Compared to the rest of the world’s cultures we are the newbies.  Hopefully we are not just a flash in the pan of world history.

After dinner we drove up to Nob Hill, an old stretch of historic Route 66.  Though the old landmarks are gone, the city has chosen to preserve what are now very cool, retro neon signs.  Albuquerque is #5 in America’s top art destinations.  There are galleries everywhere, but a drive across the city to Nob Hill exposes just how freely the paint flows here.  Everything in Albuquerque is a canvas from brick buildings to skin.  I don’t think we have ever seen so many tattoos per capita.  But the way this city has interwoven the old with the new, the historic with the artistic, is worth the time to see.

Unfortunately the afternoon started beautifully, but by the time we reached Nob Hill the smoke from the wildfires in Arizona rolled in.  It is stifling.  We are about to choke.  The smoke in the air makes the moon appear red.  It is very apocalyptic looking.

By the way, our fly is gone.  We first noticed him missing in Stockyard City, OK.  Perhaps he reached his destination.  What fly wouldn’t want to live in a place full of cattle and dung?  For him the road trip has ended, for us it goes on.

On to Arizona . . .
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Mile 1153 - Palo Duro Canyon and The Cadillac Ranch

It is true that we have plains in Alabama and Georgia, but comparing our plains to Texas plains is like comparing a hill to a mountain.  Anyone who has ever lived in Tennessee is laughs at the things Florida people call mountains.  If you have never seen the plains of Texas the closest image I can draw to the mind is it is like looking at the ocean but the whole thing is brown grass.  Like looking out over the ocean you can see for miles until the sky meets the water at the horizon.  The Texas plains are huge brown oceans of grass that go as far as the sky.  
Back home we go up to the canyons.  For us a canyon is a gap between two mountains.  I have now learned that there is another way to do “canyon.”  You are supposed to go down to a canyon, as in drive along the very flat prairie and all the sudden there will be a mega ditch in the ground that goes for miles.  
While in the Amarillo/Canyon, Texas area we visited the Palo Duro Canyon and saw the outdoor musical aptly named Texas.  I had never seen an on stage musical until I married Shannon.  Now I am acquainted with several.  The musical Texas is a more manly way to do a musical as it is outdoor, in a canyon, with horses in full sprint, stage coaches, and even a snake that slithered across the stage just before the performance began.  It was an entertaining show.  From all the staged musicals I have seen I give it an above average grade, but the setting is what really makes the show.  There is not a play in Broadway that has a canyon as a backdrop. Furthermore, it is hard to fabricate real tree splitting lightening bolts in a playhouse.  They do it at Palo Duro and it is very cool.
I know we are on our way to the Grand Canyon, but since I have never seen a real, out west canyon, Palo Duro was an awesome orientation.  The colors of the canyon walls were spectacular.  I have always heard people talk about the colors in the canyons, now I have seen it.  We arrived at Palo Duro as the sun was setting which only added to the majesty of the sight.  If the next canyon we visit is the “Grand” one, I can’t wait to see it.
We knew that The Cadillac Ranch was in Amarillo, but it had somehow slipped off the radar.  There were no signs along the way, and after a good morning swim we had all but forgotten about it.  Shannon was driving, I was blogging and just happened to look up and see a trail of people walking out into a brown field.  I looked further out to see huge hunks of metal aligned in a perfect row.  “What is that?”  Then I realized, these huge hunks of metal were the back ends of 10 Cadillacs rising up out of the dirt.  We had found the Cadillac Ranch.  This is the sort of road art we expected to see on this trip.  I’m not sure if The Cadillac Ranch is one of the 1,000 things you must do before you die, but now I can say we have been there.  Someone gave the girls a few cans of spray paint.  We left our Branam mark.  Too bad some dudes with blue paint were slowly covering up the most recent spray paint art, but that must be the cycle as each car was no longer metal but a paint bubble build up encased Cadi.  We need something like that in the South.  Like a field of sculpted SEC football coaches that you can stop by and desecrate.  Maybe if we had a “Coach Ranch” we would go easy on the trees!  
On to Albuquerque . . .

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Mile 1000 - Dry Heat

The drive from Oklahoma City to Amarillo turned out to be the first real “cool stuff on the side of the road day” of our road trip.  I am a veteran of the Florida panhandle road trip on which you will see the great metal chicken, countless hot boiled peanut stands, and where you will quickly learn the meaning of the term “speed trap.”  Driving from Oklahoma into the panhandle of Texas is a bit different.  There are windmill farms, several old route 66 towns, oil wells, prairie dogs, and plains.  Seeing all of which are first experiences for me.  At mile 1,000 we pulled over and could not have picked a more fitting scene to commemorate the millennial mile.  
I also need to take a moment to put an issue that we Southerners commonly argue with Westerners to rest.  Yes, it is hot in Texas - and here comes the argument - but its a dry heat.  For 37.9 years I have always heard that argument and at times I have heard it become heated.  Now that I have experienced “dry heat” so allow me to settle the argument. 
Dryness does not diminish heat.  When Southerners say, “But its a dry heat” we are not taking anything away from 105 degrees.  Yet the mistake Westerners make is that they fail to appreciate what humidity ADDS to heat.  If it is 105 in Alabama it is really only 83.  105 in Alabama is 120.  In dry heat the air still burns, I’ll give you that.  But in humidity the air will smother you.  If you have ever seen the musical Oklahoma you know that “the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains.”  Yes it does, nonstop.  Hairspray is useless in Texas.  In humidity the air doesn’t move.  It can’t.  Its too thick.  In Alabama there is no such thing as wind.  Dry heat is warming, it is like living in an oven.  Now I will give you that dry heat means that you are being slowly baked to death, but in the South it is like living in a boiling pot of water.  In Texas you can walk around and your shirt stays dry.  In Bama there is no possibility of a dry shirt.
So I vote for dry heat.  Dry heat is warming, almost energizing.  In dry heat the body sweats and it actually evaporates off of your body, which is what it is designed by God to do.  I have never experienced the purpose of sweat until now.  God bless Texas.  Sweat works here!
On to Amarillo . . .

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Mile 813 - The Oklahoma City Bombing National Memorial

On our way out of Oklahoma City we wanted to do a quick drive by of the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.  At the time of the bombing I was just a few days away from graduating college.  It is hard to believe it has been 16 years.  When we arrived we quickly realized this was more than a drive by, this was a meaningful place with a message.
Approaching the memorial you walk beside 200 feet of the original safety fencing that surrounded the disaster site.  On day one people used the fencing to leave their memorials to lost loved ones.  16 years later people continue to do so.  Seeing the pictures of children, mothers, fathers, sisters, parents - people who in a moment were gone, creates a personal connection for people like me who watched it all unfold from the safe distance of a 24 hour news network.  Across the street is a large statue of Jesus, weeping, with his face turned away from the site.  The statue was a powerful reminder that Jesus identifies deeply with humanity.  The bombing was indeed a Lazarus moment.  It hurts to lose a friend.
We walked in through a massive black paneled gateway with the number 903.  We emerged from the gateway facing a long reflecting pool that led to an opposing gate on the other side of the park, identical in design but with the number 901.  The reflecting pool was once the street on which evil men parked a truck loaded with explosive material in front of the federal building.  The bomb detonated at 9:02 a.m.  The 9:01 gate commemorates what life was like before the bomb.  The 9:03 gate points to life after the bomb.  Everything inside the gates helps us to remember a single moment; the people who died, those who helped to rescue, and those who survived.  From the orchard of trees, to a single surviving elm, the pool, the empty chairs, the children’s tiles, the fencing - all of it was so incredibly well thought out and deeply symbolic.  The memorial’s website is highly informative and provides a way that a person can use a cell phone to help them interpret the park.
We had determined only to drive by on our way out of town, but Shannon and I were more moved by the experience than we could have ever imagined.  The memorial provided a powerful teaching moment for our daughters, which is indeed the purpose of the park.  Etched into the gateways are these words, “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.  May all who leave here know the impact of violence.  May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.”  Mission accomplished with the Branams.
If you are ever traveling through Oklahoma City, the memorial park is a must.
On to Amarillo . . .

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Mile 801 - Cattleman’s Steakhouse and Bricktown, OKC


According to the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die I now have 999 to go.  I can now cross off Cattleman’s Cafe (Steakhouse) in Stockyard City, OK.  Apparently its on the list.  Did the Grand Canyon make the list?  This is America, which means it is entirely possible that a steak house makes the top 1,000 but a natural wonder does not.  This is why people who have never been to the Grand Canyon make stops at Graceland.  
Cattleman’s Cafe is a 100 year old joint that has a few wings that haven’t changed much over the years, which definitely adds to the cowboy, steakhouse ambiance.  I have had my fair share of steak through the years, but I have never had a real Oklahoma/Texas style steak that came out of the cattle shoot just after I ordered it.  It was delicious.  
FYI.  In Alabama the waitress usually offers the table the standard appetizers such as chips and salsa, cheese sticks, dinner rolls, or fried pickles.  Our Okie waitress threw me a curve ball.  “Would y’all like some lamb fries?”  Lamb fries - now that sounds innocent enough doesn’t it?  Well here’s what I learned.  If you are in a cattleman steakhouse in Oklahoma with your lovely wife and two very young daughters don’t ask, “What are lamb fries?”  Without missing a beat sister Okie let us know that lamb fries are sheep boy parts, deep fried to a golden brown.  Except she didn’t use the word “boy parts” she used the word that sounds like “tentacles,” but its not.  I “sheepishly” replied back, “I don’t think we’ll have that tonight.”  
But the steak was good.
After dinner we went to Bricktown, a section of downtown Oklahoma City aptly named for its red brick architecture.  This area of the city has a lot of restaurants, a movie theater, a minor league baseball stadium, and a canal on which you can catch a “river taxi” for a small fee.  We didn’t stay long as it was getting pretty late and we were very tired from a long day of driving, but it was a neat place to experience.
The first shop we came to in Bricktown was Pinkitzel cup cake shop and candy store.  The girls saw it and went nuts.  When they got inside, more nuts.  The place was very girl frilly, full of candy, and had a huge cup cake bar.  To top it off they were kicking some very electronica/rave music.  Kiley got out of the van and went John Travolta right there in the parking lot.  We had a couple of Strawberry Shortcake cupcakes laced with fresh strawberries.  Morgan had some sort of chocolate cupcake that would put Willie Wonka into a sugar comma.  Like the steak (unlike the lamb fries) it was really good.  To top it off the dude at the counter gave us a few complimentary cupcakes for the road.  I told him we were on a road trip.  He saw that I was a man on a 4,000 mile journey with young children.  The dude at Pinkitzel stepped in and saved my life.  Thanks bro!
Oklahoma City is a nice city and seems to be a great place to visit.  I am sorry that we only have a few hours to spend here.  
On to Texas.  
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Mile 410 - Bill Clinton and Billy Bass


I am a conservative Southern Baptist preacher married to a formerly independent Baptist gal.  Nevertheless, while passing through Little Rock, AR we went to the Bill Clinton Presidential Library; and they let us in.  But that is not to say that they didn’t almost refuse to let us in.  Not due to our conservative beliefs, but because Kiley believed that the really nice, glass rotating door was a toy.  When a child sees a rotating door there will be fingerprints, there will be speed, and there will be multiple rotations of joy that are completely oblivious to the safety of anyone else wishing to use the door.  The security guard grabbed the door to stop her and almost lost a finger.  Rotating doors become guillotines going at the same speed as a 7 year old.  Yet after a trip or two around, the guard kept his fingers, stopped the spinning doors, and forced Kiley to emerge.  “This door is not a toy young lady,” he said.  She just smiled at him as he ushered us on toward the metal detector.  As we walked away I faintly heard him whisper, “Dang conservative kid.”  
Just kidding.
The Clinton museum was a relatively cheap ticket, an incredible facility, and an interesting chronicle of a Presidency.  Along with the expected memorabilia and an interactive timeline of his time in office are built to scale replicas of the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office, each decorated and furnished as they were during the Clinton years.  Throughout the archives are notebooks of Clinton’s daily schedules.  Flipping through them makes you realize that being President means that you lead for four years  five minutes at a time.  
The third floor of the museum houses artifacts such as a table setting for a state dinner, a crystal Christmas tree, and hundreds of gifts to the Clintons from around the world.  Shannon read a plaque that told the story of George Washington’s discomfort with receiving gifts as President.  Because he could not find a tactful way to refuse them without offending the giver, Washington decided that all gifts given to the President would not be received as personal property; instead they would be received on behalf of the American people.  So the good news is that you and I have some very cool swords bedazzled with expensive jewels, some odd things from China, Lance Armstrong’s bicycle, and a tiny golden Buddha.  If you ever want to see your stuff, head to Little Rock, cross the river, and turn left toward the Clinton Library; a wonderful place for any American to visit on a road trip.
Apparently Clinton was a huge Elvis fan so the museum was also full of Elvis.  We are 410 miles into this trip and we can’t get away from E.
Sidenote, we also can’t seem to escape the fly we picked up back in Bama.  He survived the night in Memphis.  He has survived the blazing heat of the van while we were in the Clinton Library.  He has made it now into Oklahoma.  He’s got to go.  
For lunch we ate at a place near the riverfront in Little Rock called the Flying Fish.  The food was good, but not unique.  It was fish without a twist.  In my book, fish needs a twist or it is just fish.  The place however was unique enough to make the food better (if you know what I mean).  I love local dives.  The walls are covered with used fishing equipment and old things you would find around the dock.  However the most notable wing of the restaurant is a small dining room decorated with every “Billy Bass” that has been donated to the restaurant since ’02.  “Billy Bass” is that annoying motion sensor, singing fish you find at your local Wal-Mart.  At The Flying Fish you donate your “Billy Bass” you get a basket of fried catfish.  By far, a good trade!  Those who donate their “Billy Bass-(i?)” not only get creative with the process but also get to sign and date the wall, forever commemorating the day The Flying Fish adopted their “Billy Bass.”  Needless to say the result is an artistic and humorous museum of “Billy Bass” and a fun room in which to enjoy fried fish.
On to Oklahoma.

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Mile 258 - Graceland


Americans are strange birds.  Muslim cultures have pilgrimages.  We do road trips.  Great Britain has Buckingham Palace, an estate acquired by the royals in the mid 1600’s by King insert Louis or George here # insert Roman numerals here.  We have Graceland, the home of the King of Rock ‘N Roll, Elvis 1, who died in ’77.  For an American, no journey is complete without Graceland.  So we made it the first stop on our road trip.  
It was late in the evening.  Graceland was closed.  Kiley signed the wall with a washable Crayola green marker.  We took a few pictures.  That’s about it, but now I can say I’ve been.  I am an American.  But no road trip through Memphis is complete without a few tacky pictures in front of Graceland.  Tacky pictures at Graceland, check.
I have been to Russia, Romania, Hungary, and The Bahamas.  I have been from Maine to Miami, but at 37.9 years old I have never crossed the Mississippi River.  Last week I ate lunch on its banks in New Orleans, but until now, its western shore is a mystery to me.  Tomorrow I cross that great divide headed west.
For a good part of my life the Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list.  Being a man who fears heights, it may sound strange that I have always wanted to see a place where I could fall to my death.  Someone at church yesterday asked me if I planned to ride a donkey to the bottom of the canyon.  That question was strangely ironic as I had just completed a sermon exploring a text in Genesis that refers to Ishmael as a “wild donkey of a man.”  So for my readers allow me to clarify my phobias.  I do not trust my life to animals, therefore I do not ride them.  I do not do things that may lead to falls long enough to give me time to think about how hard I’m about to hit bottom.  Therefore I will not be riding a donkey or a horse to the bottom of anything, including the Grand Canyon.
Two young thugs :), I know who you are, rolled our yard two weeks ago. Shannon missed garbage day last week, so our garbage can overflowed this week.  It became a resort for flies.  In our final moments of packing on Sunday afternoon it seems that one of them entered our van.  Two things about flies.  1)  Flies know how to enter vehicles, but they have no idea how to get out.  2)  Flies have borderline miraculous escape powers.  So there is a fly in the van with us.  He checks in every hour on the hour.  Perhaps he knows that as a fly he won’t live long and that without a van he won’t get very far.  He wants more our of life than our garbage can.  Perhaps he needs a road trip.
You’ve got to love the prospects of a road trip to a place you’ve never been before.  For us, every inch of all 4,000 miles will be new.  We prayed before we left that God would protect us on the journey, show us new things, and that we would be different when we returned than we were when we left.  For the first 258, so far, so good.  I’m curious to see what comes next.
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