For those of you who don’t know me personally, you may not know that family is a huge part of my life. I come from a family in East Africa, where my parents had over a dozen siblings, each. I have a modest 5 siblings. We are all very close, and they are all apart of some of my best travel stories. My childhood was peppered with roadtrips to various parts of the North America; from Orlando, Texas, Memphis, and Toronto to name a few. My most recent journey will take us back to October 2015 to a great celebration of love. My sister, Kulthum, has found her other half in our childhood friend, Sean. They decided to further their commitment with a Nikkah. A Nikkah is a religious wedding ceremony that serves as a sacred act and legal agreement that can be witnessed by the two joining families. My father, Yusuf, graciously hosted the Mohamedali’s and Mcnamara’s so our houses could join. It was a quick, simple, ceremony and my sister looked beautiful. Coffee and chocolates are standard at every event by my family. The lovely Dee Thurner made all the arrangements for the special day (Black Eyed Susan Design).
The next day my brother and I said our “see you later’s” to our friends and family before leaving on our cross country journey. I planned a route using an app, RoadTrippers, which would take me through as many national parks as possible. We were leaving from Allentown, Pennsylvania, heading to Los Angeles, California, with hopes to visit a handful of friends and family along the way.
Destination 1 & 2: Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cleveland Ohio
A long journey east through Pennsylvania to Ohio, along with it being a brisk day, led us to decide to take one short hike before continuing on to Cleveland. We hiked around the Brandywine Falls and enjoyed the peaceful sounds of the flowing water and chirping birds. Great first hike! A goal of mine on this journey was to see how America is producing their energy at different levels. The Great Lakes was a prime example of how easily wind energy can be harvested in certain locations. First Energy Stadium and the Great Lakes Science Center both have huge windmills to power their facilities. We had a quick chance to sightsee before the rain came down hard, and then started a long drive to Kentucky to set up camp.
Destination 3: Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Caves, in Kentucky, is the largest cave system in the world. There are 405 miles of explored area, with an estimated over 1,200 miles of potentially accessible caves. We went on one short journey into the caves, but the future may hold a spelunking journey for me in these caves. While picture taking was difficult, I can tell you that we witnessed cave crickets, some bats, and breathtaking natural formations.
An early start left us with plenty of sunlight for a hike above the caves. The National Park has quite the topography of rolling hills, streams, and heavily wooded forests. The butterflies were abundant and the canopies were majestic.
We had hopes of visiting my friend Neal and getting deep dish pizza in Chicago, so, on the road again.
Destination 4: Chi-town
The journey to Chicago made this trip start to feel like something bigger. Our drive through Indiana took us into the sunset with miles and miles of countless windmills. We had entered the open country and it started to dawn on us how far our destinations were from each other. It was a good reminder to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, and to take moments to stop the car and reflect. We bought 3 deep dish pizzas on our way to spend the night with Neal and his brother. Our main destination was to see Millennium Park, but we also wanted to see more of Chicago. We rented bikes for the day and easily put 10 miles on them just cruising around the city. Chicago is beautiful, with its huge sculptures, amazing art, bustling activity, and delicious food. If you live in the Northeast, make it a point to visit this culture filled city. We ate Chicago dogs, and then chased the sunset to a frozen lake.
On the road again.
Destination 5: Dawson, Minnesota
We decided to stay with my sister and her kids for a couple days. A mild October allowed me to take my niece on walks, and teach her about Sumacs. We got to enjoy some quality time together, but I had a timeline to follow.
Destination 6: Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls drew me to a state I had never been in, South Dakota. It is arguably the quietest city I have ever been in. Like I do on most hikes, I followed the water uphill. It led us into town where we found a Michelangelo replica. The town had time capsules scattered about and wall art for days. We spent time watching the falls go through the old Sioux Falls Light & Power Hydroelectric plant and thought how inspiring it was that in 1908 we had the ability to power all the lights and street carts in a town with a single small plant.
Destination 7: Badlands National Park
One badass place, in the middle of the prairie. Our long drive from Sioux Falls got us through South Dakota in time for a sunset at the beginning of our drive into the National Park. The pinks and oranges in the clouds during the sunset provided much tranquility on our search for our campground. The dirt roads and lack of lights made it one bumpy, blind ride along cliff sides. We awoke to grazing buffalo in the field across us, and gave us a warm Midwest welcome. We saw many wild rodents, buffalo, rams, butterflies, and cacti on our hike from sunrise to sunset. We set up camp for the night before heading to the black hills.
Destination 8 and 9: Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
My next two stops were on the western edge of South Dakota. We first stopped at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It was the ultimate experience to walk down to the base, and see it up close on a hike through the evergreen forest. To learn about the construction methods of this national monument was awe-inspiring. Brave men hung off cliff faces, blasting dynamite, using jackhammers, and wedges to finish off the faces. The compressors for the jackhammers and the pipeline from the original construction process can still be observed at the monument.
Having visited Mount Rushmore, I felt it imperative to visit Craze Horse Monument. This monument is a private endeavor, and will be the largest sculpture in the world. If you want your breath taken away, then visit this site. It dwarfs Mount Rushmore, and could even fit the Sphinx at Giza inside of it! It will still be years until it is finally finished, so another visit down the line will be in order. Both of these sculptures in South Dakota can be found in Custer County. One can find beautiful hikes and huge caves there in the Black Hills, which makes it a popular destination in South Dakota. As the sun began to set, we got on the road once again, with Denver in sight.
Destination 10: Denver, Colorado
About this time, my brother and I had started to crave a bed to sleep in and some home cooked meals. We headed to Arvada to stay with Ian, my college roommate. His mom makes a mean taco lasagna that I waited 5 years to have for a second time. It was not a disappointment. We made little plans other than eating good food, hitting all the thrift shops in hopes to find some gear from Vale, and to go to a comedy show. A friend from upstate New York, Tillman, had relocated to Denver and recently had a birthday. He joined us at the comedy show where we got to see Pete Davidson from SNL and Jordan Rock (Chris Rock’s younger brother). We enjoyed many laughs together until my cheeks hurt. Our hopes were to visit and climb Pikes Peak. It is the highest summit of the southern front range of the Rocky Mountains. Terrible weather and hazardous road conditions prevented us from driving up the mountain, so we moved on to Wyoming.
Check back soon to read the second half of my journey out west!