The Ups and Downs of Traveling

The Ups and Downs of Traveling


It’s been one year since we’ve been on the road and so far we’ve been to 25 states. My favorite states we’ve been to so far are Colorado, because it was just so lush and green, and Texas, because…well, I just liked Texas. Now, my least favorite state was Alabama. (Sorry to all the people who live there.) The campground we were at was horrible, the capitol looked like it was completely abandoned, the area we were in was not a very pleasant area, and the skies were NOT so blue!  Some of my favorite attractions were Yellowstone, because the mountains, wildlife, and rivers combined were just breathtaking! Bryce Canyon, The hoodoos were so cool! Grand Canyon, it was just so massive and amazing! And, I liked Rocky Mountain for pretty much the same reason as Yellowstone, (they were a lot alike.) The cities I liked were Austin, because during SXSW it was so much fun (and I got a lot of free stuff.) Vegas, the shows we saw there were cool and the light are really colorful. Seattle, because the Pike Place Market, the EMP museum, and the Space Needle were all so awesome! New Orleans, because it was so alive, and I can’t wait ’till we go to all the cities in California!! Right now we’re in Sidney, Montana where there is next to nothing. Our parents are working the beet harvest so my mom is gone from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and my dad is gone from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.! This is the only reason we’re in Sidney, and if my mom and dad weren’t working we would most definitely not be here!! On the bright side, there have been kids here the whole time for us to hang out with, while the parents are working, although they are leaving tomorrow. That’s what I don’t like about being on the road. Whenever I meet a friend either we always have to leave or they always have to leave. I also have to share a room with my brother which is not very fun because of the limited space, and he is always yelling at me to pick up my stuff. When the harvest is done we’re heading towards California to work at a Christmas tree lot for a while. I’m excited for that because I heard that my brother and I get to work too! 

Seattle Gum wall
Seattle Gum wall






We have been on the road for almost a year now. In trying to find the right word to describe it, I chose: interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been having the time of my life. I will admit though that parts of the trip are hard. Living in a small space with three other people can get very frustrating at times. Especially when I have to share a room with Mercy who RARELY picks up after herself! It drives me crazy! I also miss all of my friends and family back home, but it’s not like I’ll never see them again.
In spite of all the hardships, I am having a great time. We have seen and done so many things that some people unfortunately never will. I don’t think that I could just choose one part of the trip to be my favorite because it has all been so awesome. A few of the most memorable experiences were hiking in the Grand Canyon, seeing the Carlsbad Caverns, and watching a wolf chow on a dead elk in Yellowstone. It was not all woods, caves and canyons though. I also had a great time at Universal in Orlando, Florida. We also saw Smash Mouth in Tillamook, Oregon. Then there was BurntWoodsStock. See my mom’s post: “Summertime,” for more information on that. Yes, sometimes it is hard, and sometimes I am in a bad mood. But all the good things far outweigh those occasional less than fun times. If I was asked if I ever regret going on this trip, I would not hesitate for a second before giving you my answer. Which is: no.

Hangin’ with Smash Mouth guitarist Mike Krompass


Summertime Blues just hit me. Not because of the weather as I do so enjoy the crispness of the autumn air and the beautiful colors the season brings with it.  Here in Montana (where we are working a sugar beet harvest until mid-October), it’s almost as comparable to Maine…..almost.  But let’s be factual here. Living this nomadic lifestyle allows us to chase the warm weather and enjoy summertime climates year round.  So what’s the deal?  Why so blue?

I’m missing something that highlighted my summer in more ways than one. I’m missing  the celebration of happy people gathering together amidst the trees and fields, under the sun and stars to celebrate life and love in the form of music. I’m missing  BurntWoodsStock.

Family, live music, nature, people, local food,  and quality beer.  If you know us, you’d agree that those are the elements that make The Dunns  “Happy Campers” !  So, when we stumbled upon an opportunity to volunteer at a 3 day music festival in the Burnt  Woods of Oregon, we immediately jumped on it. (Well, I did the jumping.  They had me with the name as  I’m a sucker for anything relating to the flower power era.  Bri, on the other hand, needed a few more details of what I was signing us up for).


The festival was created four years ago by James and Julz Kasner, musicians themselves, who wanted to share their vision of  an all ages  family oriented gathering down on Kasner’s farm.  Well, their vision turned out to be a successful one and for 3 days in July, a variety of regional and local bands show up to do their thing!  Whether it’s rockin, groovin, swingin or jammin, hippies and hipsters alike all gather together for some soul singin!  And the four of us were fortunate to get the chance to be a part of all this magic.

I corresponded with Julz via email months prior to the event and I knew without even meeting her that she was an energetic soul oozing with kindness and personality. My feelings were confirmed upon our arrival at the farm when we were greeted with smiles, hugs, a headful of blonde dreadlocks and a baby blue canopy. (See Bri’s post, “Final Thoughts On The Ranch, A Comedic Interlude Part 1”).  Amazingly enough, she knew all of our names.  Mercy immediately became a big fan!Mercy and Julz

After we set up camp in the field with the other volunteers and vendors we went to the information tent to sign up for our duties.  Enter… MrWavyGravyMadHatterPsychadelicJesterMan and volunteer headmaster…Kevin.  A tried and true BurntWoodsStock head, (I believe he is still wearing his bracelet), he and his wife Chris were our super supervisors.  Never a dull moment at their camper… aka… registration booth, security center, ticket counter, supply closet, and volunteer meal shack, they kept things pretty well-organized on very little sleep.


Bri, Riv and I took gate duty.  Mercy, at her request, was assigned to the kids area and that is where she remained the entire time.  She kept busy crafting and gaming with the little ones. We saw her when she got hungry or when she decided  a hula hooping break was in order.


Our gate shifts were a mere 4 hours, leaving us ample time to play. Naturally, Bri and I hit the beer tent where the owners of  Rusty Truck, poured us a mighty tasty IPA.  River decided he would hang out with the wood fired pizza guys.  It didn’t take long for him to become a repeat customer.


We also became quite friendly with the merchandise vendors.  It was great to see folks, mainly families, peddling their goods to people who appreciate supporting “the little guy”.  The tie-dye family was very popular. They kept everyone colorful and comfortable.


There’s nothing like being able to see and hear live music for 12 hours a day to keep your mojo going.   Not being from the west coast we were unfamiliar with pretty much all of the bands but that didn’t matter. Each one put on a spectacular performance and kept the crowd singing and dancing well into the night.  Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the  impressive fire dancers whose mesmerizing performance left you in a daze.  And the belly dancer who put you in a trance.  Talk about keeping you entertained between band changes!

Bri and I took in as much as our bodies would let us. ( It’s not like the old days where we would dance until the sun came up).  We both agree that our favorite was, ironically enough, The Sugar Beets,  from Eugene Oregon.

What sets this festival apart from others is what happens on the last day. This is when local teens are given the opportunity to take the stage (some for the first time) and showcase their musical talents. I truly admire James and Julz for seeing how important it is to provide a venue for our youth.  We witnessed some amazing talent and  it’s highly likely that some of these kids may find themselves as future BurntWoodsStock headliners.

I can’t imagine the amount of work and time that goes into planning and pulling together an event of this caliber.   My wish is for its continued  growth and success and that we will be able to return in the years to come.


Until then, I think we’ll just head to California, where there just may be a cure for the summertime blues.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Have you ever experienced the majesty of Glacier National Park in Montana? I have, but my plan for the first day we were there did NOT include throwing up outside the visitor center, the Ranger telling me to move into the grass, and spending the whole day sprawled across the back seat reminding my family every 5 minutes that I didn’t feel good. Besides all that, Glacier was amazing! The second day there we planned to do a hike, but the one we wanted to do was along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which we already went on, so it would be the same view. (Not to mention it was really windy!) The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the most famous road in Glacier. It runs from the west to the east entrances. On that road we saw 2 mountain goats and 2 bighorn sheep.They were so cute!!!

Big Horns
Big Horns

So that day we just drove around the park and stopped to take pictures and admire the views. Scientists predict that all the glaciers will be gone by the year 2030. They are all melting faster than they normally would, because of Global Warming. One of the glaciers we saw was called Jackson Glacier, it was absolutely breathtaking!

Jackson Glacier
Jackson Glacier

There were also unbelievably clear lakes. My favorite was called Lake McDonald, which is the largest lake in Glacier. It was formed during the last ice age ten thousand years ago. Huge glaciers slowly pushed down the mountain taking rock, dirt and other debris with it, when the ice melted it became Lake McDonald.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald

The last day we were there we finally did a hike. It was called Avalanche trail because it leads to Avalanche Lake. The hike was 4.8 miles round trip and it was very cool. When we come off the trail we saw a big lake surrounded by mountains and one of the mountains had a massive waterfall flowing off of it. On our way back down, the people in front of us said there was a bear that had just crossed the trail 4 minutes ago. I guess we were too late because we didn’t see it.


On all 3 days we were there we went on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The weather there was nice, but I would’ve liked it a lot better if it wasn’t so windy. 

Going to the Sun
Going to the Sun
Experience Music Project

Experience Music Project

EMP museum

Being in the Northwest, we  decided to visit Seattle, Washington. One of the main reasons being that Mercy wanted to go to the Space Needle. While we were there we went to the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum. Most of the exhibits were based on musicians from Seattle, but some were not. We managed to get a home school discount which saved us about fifty dollars. The museum has exhibits mostly on music and film. The first exhibit we went to was about Nirvana. It featured in-depth explanations of how Nirvana basically revolutionized punk rock. There were copies of fan letters, some of the band members’ personal belongings and even the remnants of a guitar smashed by Kurt Cobain.


I do have to say, my favorite music exhibit was the one about AC/DC. It has photos, posters, instruments, and even some of Angus Young’s costumes like his school uniform and ‘Super Ang’ costume. We also went into the Sound Lab. It is an area filled with instruments in sound proof rooms that allow people to take a virtual lesson on that particular instrument, or just jam with other people. There was also a guitar gallery which displayed all kinds of guitars from the late 1700’s to the present. I was amazed by what some of them looked like. There was also an exhibit about Jimi Hendrix, but I didn’t go in because I’m don’t really know enough about him to really be interested.


My favorite part of the whole museum was the exhibit about the movie Avatar. If you have seen the movie you should know what everything I’m talking about is. I was amazed by the 3D models of structures and even a 13 foot tall model of an AMP Suit used by the soldiers in the movie. They also had examples of the clothing size worn by Jake Sully’s Avatar. There was a station where you could learn phrases from the Na’vi language, and an area where you could act out a scene from the movie using motion capture. You would stand in a small area and follow the prompts that showed up on the floor as the computer tracked your movements.


Aside from Avatar, there was a whole other area filled with science fiction movie exhibits. They had the hilt of Darth Vader’s lightsaber from The Empire strikes back, a few of the guns used in Men In Black, and even the costume worn by Christopher Reeve in one of the Superman movies. They also had an area with exhibits on horror movies, which I didn’t spend that much time in. This museum was what I enjoyed most about Seattle and I would recommend it to anyone who is spending time there.

Vader's Lightsaber Superman

The Black Hills…”Native” vs.” American” History

The Black Hills…”Native” vs.” American” History


Mt. Rushmore


Crazy Horse



White Man vs. Red Man?

Power vs. Honor?

The Beach Boys vs. Steven Tyler?

The Black Hills of South Dakota behold many miles of impressive scenery and a wealth of wild west history.  It is also home to two majestic stone mountain carvings drawing millions of tourists annually to marvel at the beauty and perhaps embrace the history that so inspired these masterpieces. And although we don’t like to put ourselves in that “tourist” category (yes, we have totally become travel snobs), I will say that our initial reason for visiting the area was to do just that.

We decided to start at Mt. Rushmore, the monument that epitomizes what most Americans consider the ultimate memorial to the birth, growth, development and preservation of our country. Admission to the memorial is free, however they do get you with an $11 parking fee which was not covered by our National park pass. Apparently, federal funds weren’t used in the construction of the lot which is a concession operating under a contract between the National Park Service and The Mt. Rushmore society.  What???   That aside, the sight of the 60 foot heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln from The Grand View Terrace is well worth paying the parking fee.

We began our tour the same way we do at every National Park we visit.  We spent about 45 minutes in the visitor center, first checking out the exhibits followed by a viewing of the park movie detailing its history, culture, science and nature. Then we headed out to walk the 1/2 mile Presidential Trail loop, admiring the different viewpoints, waiting patiently for our turn at the prime photo spots and shooting a few takes for the  “On the Road with Mercy ” series.

This  is what we learned while we were there…

Gutzon Borglum was an incredibly talented sculptor.  It took 400 workers 14 years to complete. The conditions were at times very harsh but there were no deaths. They blasted with Dynamite.

This is what we did not learn while we were there…

The land on which Mt. Rushmore sits was wrongfully taken by our government from the Lakota Indian tribe .

Gutzon Borglum was at one time an active member of the KKK.

17 miles away sits Crazy Horse,  the memorial honoring the culture, tradition and living heritage of  North American Indians.  When finished (which most likely will not be in my lifetime) it will be the largest outdoor sculpture in the world.

Being the colossal size that it is, you can actually get a fairly decent view  from the road.  That being said, we had already planned on going in for a closer look  as for some reason or another Bri and I bypassed this one 20 years ago. Paying the $27  wasn’t  all that difficult to swallow once we were informed that every bit of the fee goes to the non-profit foundation which funds construction of the monument as well as various educational programs and scholarships. The fact that we were able to leave with a chunk of the granite blasted from the mountain was an added bonus.

Once you’re on what they refer to as their campus, you have access to the entire visitor complex which consists of  The Visitor Center, The Indian Museum of North America, The Native American Education and Cultural Center and Korczak’s Studio/Home. Again,we began by viewing the 20 minute orientation movie, “Dynamite and Dreams” which left us all just sitting in our seats trying to absorb the magnificent feat set out upon by one determined man whose motto was “Never Forget Your Dreams”.  We spent the next couple of hours on campus.

This is what we learned while we were there….

Korczak Ziolkowski was a gifted sculptor who worked briefly on Mt. Rushmore.  He was invited by  Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to carve a memorial celebrating the spirit of their Sioux Warrior Crazy Horse.

Ziolkowski accepted the invitation and singlehandedly took on the project first by constructing roads to the base, stairs to the 600 ft. summit and a cabin to live in. He declined two offers of  10 million dollars in federal funding. He married and had ten children. He worked on Crazy Horse until his death and left detailed plans to carry on his work. His wife Ruth, now in her 80s and 7 of their children are dedicated to continuing his dream. When completed, all four presidential heads will be able to fit inside Crazy Horse’s head.

Crazy Horse was an inspiration to Native American tribes. A legendary leader who wanted for his people to remain on their lands and live freely without having to seek out permission of the white man.  He was stabbed and killed by an American soldier while under a flag of truce.

This is what we didn’t learn while we were there…..

Hmmmmm…..nothing comes to mind.

We ended up extending our stay in The Black Hills region where we camped in an area held sacred to many Native American tribes. We experienced the land, the legends, the history and the culture of these indigenous people and I personally left with a spiritual connection.

However, there is one thing that does not sit well with me and perhaps the reason for me writing this post. From a moral standpoint, how was the US government able to   continuously violate treaties allowing the Indian tribes to keep their own land every time an opportunity for personal gain was revealed?  How ironic is it that the very culture of the indigenous people revolved around respecting and protecting  the land and today these reservations are some of the most run-down and impoverished  areas of our country.  I have seen this personally. This, my friends is American history and it is unfortunate that for centuries this feeling of entitlement may be the only thing that has “trickled down”.

As for the music reference, these “rock” stars  have their own style and perhaps each a different following…..  And, although there are no documented photos of Crazy Horse, I’m guessing he would be the one with the more eccentric wardrobe,  the flashier peace pipe and the more indiscriminate fan base.

Crazy Horse

The Devil Made Me Do It

The Devil Made Me Do It

Devils Tower    On our way to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming along Highway 24 I was hoping beyond reason that it would live up to all of my expectations. After all, I have been envisioning that huge monolithic tree trunk of sorts, in my mind and dreams for almost as long as I can remember. I used to draw pictures of it in school while I was supposed to be doing math, and even built a model of it out of Lego once.
As we approached along the winding road, rising and falling with the hills, I began to notice something odd. There was no traffic coming from the other direction. This went on for miles and miles as I began to see that there were no people about either. The few businesses we passed seemed to be closed, the only motion being the swirling dirt clouds kicked up around the dusty parking lots. Strange.
With the tower hazily coming into view in the distance, I saw some cattle lying down in the grassy field we were passing. Coming up to another ranch, we noticed that those cattle were also sleeping. Because the area presented a nice view of the surrounding area, we pulled over to take a few pictures. The cattle lying near the road continued their slumber regardless of our noisy presence. As we got out of the truck Mercy exclaimed, “Eww, what is that smell?!” I approached the cattle while at the same time slapping at a rather large green fly, and realized that the smell was coming from them. Immediately it dawned on me that these cows weren’t sleeping… they were dead. In fact all of them were dead!
We jumped back into the truck and continued on our way towards the tower. Suddenly a military jeep came flying up over the hill before us. As they passed in the opposite direction I looked in my rear view mirror only to see them spin around to give us chase. Not wanting to get myself in trouble, I pulled over hoping that they would continue past us. Unfortunately the jeep pulled off right behind us and two armed MP’s wearing gas masks approached both sides of the truck. “Please step out of the truck sir,” the one on my side said through his mask.
“What’s the problem Sergent?” I replied.
“This area has been evacuated due to an airborne contagion. You’ll all need to come with us,” he ordered as I noticed his grip tighten on his assault weapon. With that I threw the truck into gear and sped away as fast as I could leaving behind a huge cloud of dust as the tires bit into the dirt. Tan screamed at me as we hurled down the road when suddenly a barbed wire barrier stretching across the asphalt ahead came into view. Not wanting to get caught up in this madness and unable to stop in time, I crashed the gate sending wood and wire in all directions, as I continued our race towards Devil’s Tower!
As dusk began to settle over the hills we continued our mad trek towards the tower, the military jeep left in our dust. Finally we neared the base of the huge dome; a mountain of pure rock jutting into the open sky surrounded only by the emerging stars. I put the truck in park and dove out never even bothering to close the door.
“Hurry!!” I yelled to Tan and the kids, “We’re going to miss it!”
“Miss what?” they asked, unable to comprehend my apparent madness. But suddenly we heard an ear-rattling rumbling noise and the sound of what could only be described as the blowing of a giant tuba. And there before us, but somewhat eclipsed by Devil’s Tower came rising a huge craft of metal, and lights, and glass…
“The aliens!” I shouted as I felt Tan’s hand on my shoulder. Quickly she began shaking me and I turned as she yelled in my ear.
“Bri, you’re dreaming about Close Encounters of the Third Kind Again!”

    That’s what I was hoping for anyway… an immense cornucopia of lights and sound floating behind Devil’s Tower and rising into the sky. I could most definitely see why Steven Spielberg chose this place as a major “character” and the setting for the film’s climax.
Formed millions of years ago (ask Mercy, she’ll know) it is truly mysterious and magnificent at the same time.  An immense body of lava rock that cooled within its path to the surface, forming what can only be described as a molten plug. Then, over the course of eons, the land around it was slowly eroded away leaving the solid rock jutting over 1200 feet into the air. To the Native Americans this is sacred land, and it’s easy to understand why. As it sits upon a rising bluff gloriously overlooking all of the surrounding area, you can’t help being transfixed as the sun sets and the stars come into view around its darkened silhouette. With the quiet of night, broken  perhaps only by the howling of wolves, I was filled with the spirituality that this place invokes.Devils Tower

During the day we took a hike up to, and around the tower. It was quite a walk up the hill and I kept looking over my shoulder for some sort of devil or odd creature to pop out of the woods and give reason for the tower’s name. Unfortunately (fortunately?) none materialized and we enjoyed a nice walk around the base gazing up at the shifting faces and shadows as we made our way through the surrounding woods.

The trip back down was highlighted by a jaunt through “Prairie Dog Town”, a field bordering the campground that is the home to countless prairie dogs. It was quite comical to walk along the path as one would bark out a little warning of our presence only to disappear down its hole as we approached. The warning call would then be taken up by another ‘little dog’ further down the path, again vanishing as we neared. This little scenario played out again and again for half a mile keeping us in stitches the entire time.

Once again the time came to move on. Driving off I couldn’t help stealing as many views of the tower as possible as we headed back over the hills and by the fields we passed on the way in. With Devil’s Tower receding in the distance I told myself that I will most definitely have to return there someday. As we finally neared the pair of MP’s standing off to the side of the road I gave one a nod of recognition, and noticed the gas mask attached to his belt. He returned the acknowledgement saying, “Nice to see you again.”
Wait… what?Devils Tower