In college I drove 279 miles from Spokane, WA to Seattle, WA alone. I remember turning up the music full blast, rolling down my window and eventually pulling over numerous times to jump around on the side of the road in an attempt to wake myself up. In our early years of marriage, there were a few times that I offered to drive on a long trip to relieve Trent when he was getting sleepy. I never lasted more than 30 minutes before he needed to take over again for fear that I would be the one to fall asleep. Therefore, you may understand when I say I had a legitimate concern about driving the van on this trip. “We may die or at the very least, we may arrive a week later than expected due to frequent stops to wake myself up,” I reasoned.
At the beginning of the trip, I did struggle. Montana worked out okay, partially because I was on an adrenaline high from beginning our adventure. However, South Dakota was harsh. My mind was turning to mush out there on the prairie and was threatening to blow away my focus like the tumbleweeds. By the time we arrived in Minnesota, Trent and I were having serious discussions about leaving the van at his parent’s house and simply continuing together as a family in the truck. This option would be doable, but not ideal. Having a second vehicle gives us freedom and flexibility. We can easily leave the truck and RV at the registration desk at a campground, jump in the van together and scout out the best RV site without having to navigate the truck and RV around the countless loops. Once we are parked at a campground, we can use the van for day-trips. Should the truck (or van) have issues, we are not without a second back-up vehicle . . . However, none of these options matter if I can’t stay awake.
Somehow a little miracle happened. This last Thursday I drove 256 miles, stopping just one time so Trent could gas up. I could have kept going! My driving muscles seem to have slowly strengthened with each passing mile. Is that possible? Perhaps more probable is that the landscape has grown increasingly more interesting as we’ve traveled. Thursday was no exception. We left Indiana in the morning and arrived in Virginia by mid-afternoon. It was slightly mind blowing to leave the mid-west and arrive in the east-coast in a matter of hours. Driving through the state of Kentucky was a treat. The distant hillsides were filled with tremendous texture as the hardwoods heralded their splendor, intermingling color and shape and size. Closer to the road we were treated to picturesque views of fenced green meadows with grazing horses. Who could possibly fall asleep while seeing this for the first time?
As we arrived at our campground location in the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, we felt doubly blessed to be situated in such a lovely location for a portion of our trip designed for downtime.
After enjoying a slow start to our morning and completing our school goals, we ventured out to the ranger station for the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. After our three youngest finished their Junior Ranger booklets and received their new badges, we ventured up to the pinnacle overlook. From this location we were able to take in a breathtaking view of the Appalachian Mountains and see where the three states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia come together at the top of a nearby ridge. We could also locate the Cumberland Gap where between 1175-1810, 300,000 settlers traveled after Daniel Boone helped clear a trail for their travels. The kids hurled countless acorns over the side of the viewing platform, but no matter how hard they tried, the acorns kept landing in Virginia.
Fact: I’ve now driven over 2,200 miles.
Fact: I’ve been the only adult in the vehicle.
Fact: I have had at least 3 of the 4 kids with me at all times.
Fact: We are all still alive.
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park has no admissions fee.
Camping is $20 for a site with electricity and $10 without. There is no water or sewer. Camping is first come, first serve with no reservations.
They have a lot of sites but many of them are too uneven or too short to work for our 40-foot RV so this was a time in which we appreciated having our van along to help us scout out where we wanted to go.
Despite the fact that we arrived mid-week, nearly all the sites with electricity were full. We ended up staying at a non-electric site. The public bathroom and showers are very clean.
The camp hosts were friendly, quick to welcome us and fill us in on the details of the park.
We spent about 1 ½ hours at the ranger station. If we were not helping kids with their Jr. Ranger booklets we would likely have been there 45-60 minutes.
There are Gap cave tours available for $8/adult, $4/child (ages 4-12). These book up early so plan at least a day in advance. We opted not to do a tour here as we recently did a cave tour in South Dakota (Jewel Cave) and plan to visit one again in a few weeks (in the Mammoth Cave area).
As we shimmy our way across the map with our little house on wheels, I’m struck by a strange reality: people live over here too. Obvious I know, but it stands out in my mind just the same. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many early American stories with my kids. But I feel like a pioneer traveling to new land only to discover we are not the first ones to travel here. Perhaps the trouble is that we are headed East instead of West? That must be it.
We are currently in eastern Indiana. What has previously only existed as an empty, orange-colored section on my laminated state map is now multi-dimensional and bursting with fall foliage, lovely landscapes and an occasional southern accent. Our little Idaho license plate is a lonely minority among our neighbors on Hwy 74. We are swimming in new seas folks. Countless times when we are asked, “Where are you from?” we are met with the response, “Oh, we don’t get many from Idaho around here.” We’ll do our best to represent you well Idaho!
For the last three days, we have crossed over the Ohio River and dipped down into Kentucky. Two days were spent at the Creation Museum and one at the Ark Encounter. While its difficult to summarize the past three days into an encapsulated description, I can touch on some of the highs and lows from our kid’s as well as our parent’s perspective.
The Creation Museum: kids perspective
At both locations we discovered that the enjoyment went up proportionally with the kid’s ages. After the first day at the museum, Quinten (age 7) exclaimed, “Well that was a waste of money.” At the end of the second day however, both he and his younger 5 year-old brother were more optimistic, partially due to the fact that they were allowed to play longer with the plastic dinosaurs in the gift shop before leaving. For our youngest three kids, the highlight was the petting zoo which featured a variety of animals such as goats, chickens, sheep, alpacas, a cow, camel and even a zorse and zonkey (yes, you read that correctly).
At the top end of the age scale, Hunter (13), was so enthusiastic about his visit that he begged to stay longer on the first day and was first to be ready to leave for the museum the next morning. He was like a sponge soaking up all the information the displays had to offer and summarizing some of his favorite discoveries. Borrowing my phone and ear buds, Hunter also found the audio tour a great way to learn additional details as he moved through the museum. At the end of the day we ordered the first Answers book for Teens (affiliate link) because his interest was spiked so high to learn more.
The Creation Museum: Parent perspective
As a parent, I enjoyed that many of the displays were created interactively with kids in mind. Asking Noah questions or helping to build the ark by answering questions via a computer touchscreen drew them right in, as did a little museum scavenger hunt page offered at one of the first displays (bring your own pencil). I noticed rooms for nursing mothers, changing stalls in the bathrooms and easy ramp and elevator access if you are using a stroller (provided it wasn’t too crowded). However, may areas of the museum, while impressively designed, relied heavily on reading and attention inevitably waned soonest with the littles.
Final thoughts on the Creation Museum: Definitely worth our time, however very pricey for a family of 6. Everyone over the age of 5 requires a ticket and kids 13 and over are charged the adult rate. Our ticket did allow us to return a second day which proved to be helpful in seeing everything with younger kids in tow. I would really love to see lower prices for the kids and I’d like to see the adult rate match adult ages.
Some tips if you plan to visit:
Be aware that there are several “add on” attractions (zip lines, camel rides, special talks, planetarium shows, etc). I’d recommend looking these over on their website ahead of time so that you can decide what you plan to do while there. A few weeks before our visit we informed our kids that a $5 (at the time of our visit) camel ride would be optional if they wished to save up their money for it. Two of our kids saved and enjoyed their bumpy ride.
There are a few free 60 minute lectures offered a few times a day. They are interesting and worth it for teens and up however, because of the labyrinth design of the museum, it is not easy to exit quickly once you have begun touring the displays. Should you wish to attend a lecture, plan accordingly.
We saw two videos while there. The Last Adam contains some images of the crucifixion that may upset younger viewers. The Men in White video was appropriate for all ages and included some sound/light/water effects that were fun for the audience.
Both days we found that the crowds were heaviest before lunch. I’d recommend avoiding the weekends or holidays if at all possible.
You can purchase your tickets ahead of time online. While standing in a long ticket line, we regretted not doing that. However, it did appear that your online purchase might be scannable on your smart phone so you could possibly even purchase your ticket while standing in line if you forget like we did.
There are nice outside picnic tables. We brought our lunch to save money. However, there is a café on site if you prefer to go that route. They also have an ice cream stand as well as fudge made on site that smells divine.
They have free (very fast) wi-fi so be sure to look for (or ask) for the password to use that as it wasn’t prominently displayed and we could have easily missed it.
The Ark Encounter
By faith Noah, after being warned by God about events not yet seen, constructed am Ark in great reverence for the saving of his family. In doing this, he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. ~Hebrews 11:7
Located about 45 miles south of the Creation Museum is the Ark Encounter. Here a life-size full-scale replica of Noah’s ark stands. 510 feet long, 85 feet across and a total of 110,540 sq feet (with three levels). It is the largest timber-frame structure in the world and is astounding to behold. As we approached the ark my kids could be heard saying,
“I know its going to be huge. . . oh my!”
“It so big!”
It’s difficult to articulate what it was like to walk beside and then into such a structure. Awesome seems appropriate, yet it is an overused statement, that has unfortunately been watered down in our culture. It humbled me and made me feel small in light of the powerful God that skillfully directed its construction. The interior displays were both impressive and informative while also being incredibly intricate in detail.
I’ve previously spent a good deal of time on the Answers in Genesis website so several of their displays contained content familiar to me. I’d highly recommend checking it out for yourself if you have any questions related to how the book of Genesis (the first book of the Bible) relates to the topics of origin, evolution, the flood, aliens, fossil layers, carbon dating, age of the earth, etc. They have a very extensive database of articles so you can easily search for any topic you have questions about.
Final Ark Encounter thoughts:
After our visit, I asked the kids to rate their impression of the Ark Encounter on a scale of 1 to 10 and what could have made it better.
Hunter (age 13): rating of 10: nothing could have made it better.
Quinten (age 7): rating of 3: the ark was ‘too big’ so it took too long to walk through (i.e. if God could have made the ark smaller, it would have been a lot easier on him today).
Tanner (age 5): rating 5: he was ready to leave at lunchtime but had a good attitude when we returned for a few more hours.
We unanimously agreed that if had to choose between visiting the Creation Museum or the Ark Encounter, we would choose the Ark. Our reasoning was based on our opinion that both offered great content but being inside the ark was an experience that you can’t get any other way.
Some tips if you plan to visit the Ark Encounter:
We spent about 6 hours total at the Ark Encounter including our time returning to the car to eat lunch. Be aware that you are shuttled to the ark from the parking lot, so if you bring a lunch and leave it in the car it will take you longer to get to it.
Again, the crowd was much smaller after lunch. Some of the displays that required more reading had a line. We skipped them and returned after lunch when the lines were slower. We visited mid-week on a Wednesday. I suggest avoiding the weekends or a holiday if possible.
You can purchase Ark Encounter tickets online (including parking which was $10–at the time of our visit–if you can park in one spot, $20 if you take up two spots).
There is a petting zoo and zip lines at this location as well as camel and donkey rides. We did not visit the petting zoo at the Ark Encounter but I assume it is free while the other activities likely require an additional payment.
Tomorrow we will venture into new territory as we retrace Daniel Boone’s steps and stay at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. For the first time on our trip we have NO planned activities for a solid three days! We are looking forward to some downtime that hopefully includes the beautiful outdoors.