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Column: Heading west, visiting sites

<p>photo by KABEE SULLIVAN</p><p>George “Clay” Mitchell photobombs his nephew’s (Brent Davidson of Fort Smith) picture at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado in early June.</p>

photo by KABEE SULLIVAN

George “Clay” Mitchell photobombs his nephew’s (Brent Davidson of Fort Smith) picture at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado in early June.

I’m horrible at vacations.

I don’t like leaving work behind for more than five days. It doesn’t help that I’m pretty much a homebody. I consider it an accomplishment if I could stay home a single day and not make it past the front door. However, I can’t do that for more than two days in a row. While I may be homebody, I’m very subject to cabin fever.

In the past six months I took off from work and home for 22 days.

I took my crew to Disney for Christmas (which may be the only time of the year I’ll ever go back) and this summer I was gone for two weeks with 15 other people to visit nine states and number of state and national parks, as well as museums.

To me it was visiting the natural elements of what makes America a unique place.

It was a carpool of three vehicles. Since I had six people in my vehicle, I had to resort to a U-Haul trailer to cart around luggage.

Day 1 — Left out on a Saturday morning and headed straight to Oklahoma City to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. It was a good place to begin the trip as we headed further west.

Next stop… The Big Texan Steakhouse, the home of the 72 oz. steak. I broke tradition and ordered a chicken fried steak. I took some grief from family members about my order. However, most of them complained about how undercooked, overcooked and other some other issues they had with their steak. So, I win.

The gravy that came with the chicken fried steak was unimpressive. My wife does a better job with the packaged gravy she puts together. For something that bills itself as an icon, the food was rather inconsistent and uninspiring.

Day 2 — We headed north to Colorado with a stop at Old Bent’s Fort Historic Site before arriving at the Great Sand Dunes. I had visited both places before when my crew went to Colorado a few years back.

When I get to build my dream home, it would be a scaled down version of this fort. We got to the sand dunes late, but we were staying at a lodge nearby. Strangely enough, that place had the best Wi-Fi service of any hotel we visited during our vacation. This was our longest driving day.

A note about the scenery: I love driving through mountainous regions. I just love the mountains. The drive from the Great Sand Dunes until we got into the eastern part of Wyoming over a week later was my favorite part of the drive.

Day 3 — Since we had a late start on Day 2, we decided to spend some of our morning at the sand dunes. My daughters and I brought sleds to slide down the dunes. We should have done some research before the trip. We had the wrong sleds, or it just wasn’t going to happen. The sand had too much friction.

Most of us tried to trek out to larger sand dunes. However, we trickled off in groups. It was like a scattering line of people who had the most fortitude to walk on sand uphill. My brother-in-law Scott and nephew Wes were the furthest out, my youngest was the second furthest out and I was the third. I dawned on me at one point: The further I walked, the longer it will take me to walk back. At that point, I decided I went far enough.

From there we traveled to Rangely, Co., and stopped off to see the Black Canyon near Gunnison. That was probably the most inspirational part of the trip for me (as a writer). However, folks’ fear of heights really came into play. Conversations of admiring the scenery were interrupted by “You’re too close to the edge!” and “Where’s the baby?”

I was thankful I overcame my acrophobia years ago to enjoy the view.

We arrived in Gunnison (I think) for the night.

Day 4 — We started late. (This is going to become a trend for us during the entire trip.) I didn’t know I was going into Utah. I’ve never been to Utah. I should have read the wife’s itinerary. Considering that this was also our anniversary and I haven’t read one page of the travel plans she spent over a year working, the irony didn’t escape me. So, we ventured over to the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. It was really cool to see that many dinosaur bones and the variety of dinosaurs all in one place. We had a picnic near some lake and headed to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Next week: Jackson Hole and West Yellowstone.

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