May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells… where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.” Edward Abbey

To step off into the unknown…so many let fear hold them back. But to actually do it, take the plunge, how amazing and refreshing! I have been taking the plunge since I was 18 and sent myself onto the ultimate unknown of an Outward Bound Course in North Carolina at the North Carolina Outward Bound School. It is scary. Almost so scary as to not do anything but stay in your safe, known, world. But I have done it, again, and again and found it has helped me become a better person who lives with an adventurous soul, compassion, kindness and love.

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So, this is how I knew we had to do this Epic, three week road trip. It would be good for our family. Or, at least, we would be changed through it. Hopefully, for the better. 😉

After much preparing (link to previous blog) and much planning on how and what to pack. We rented a van and began packing. It all fit, just barely. Packing for two adults, two kids, varied weather and unknown weather, camping, staying in cabins, and taking almost all of our food, well…that is a lot of stuff. No matter how hard one tries to pack light, it isn’t happening with all of that going on.

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After packing and getting a good nights sleep (except for my husband who works nights), we left early Monday morning soon after my husband came home from work.

We packed the kids into backseat and adults into the front seats of the van and we were off!

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We made drive from North Alabama into Mississippi, into Tennessee and into Missouri. Once we made it to St. Louise the excitement began to build. We were at the Gateway of the West. Of course we had to visit the Gateway Arch. We had no idea that the area around the arch was under construction and blocked off. After a few moments, googling on my smart phone (more about this awesome tool later), and asking around, we found out that there were free bus rides to the arch from a spot close to where we parked. After a fun, informative, bus ride, we walked less than a block to the arch. Our first National Monument.

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The Gateway Arch is a 630-foot stainless steel clad monument. It was built in the form of an inverted, weighted catenary arch. It is the world’s tallest arch, the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere, and Missouri’s tallest accessible building. Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, it is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and has become an internationally famous symbol of St. Louis. Of course, being super history-homeschool Mom, I had to add a ton of other facts tying this area in to our studies on Louis and Clark’s Journey, Western Expansion, etc.

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An enclosed tram inside the Arch (fitting five people and not for the faint of heart or the claustrophobic) takes you to the top, where you can experience breathtaking (or heart stopping) views of modern St. Louis – up to 30 miles in each direction on a clear day.

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In 1947, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association conducted a contest to create a structure that would commemorate Thomas Jefferson and European settlers’ expansion into western America. Renowned architect Eero Saarinen won the contest with his concept of a stainless steel arch. His vision was completed in 1965 when workers installed the last exterior shell piece of the Gateway Arch.

It cost $13 million to construct the Arch. The foundations extend 60 feet into the ground, and in its entirety, the Arch weighs 17,246 tons, including 900 tons of stainless steel. Built to withstand earthquakes and high winds, the monument may sway up to one inch in a 20 mile-per-hour wind (and while we were there, we could feel it sway in the wind of a storm blowing in).

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Stairs to the five person trams.

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Once we descended, in the small coffin like five person capsules that clicks along a track like an old-fashioned roller coaster and sways back and forth like a Ferris wheel seat (can you tell I enjoyed this thoroughly?), and rode the bus back, loaded back into our van with snacks and audio books at the ready and drove off toward the west.

We were literally riding into the sunset…my husband was ready to drive all night.

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Next destination: Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

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