On a certain bluff in Wyoming, along Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie, sits a certain rest area that is near and dear to my heart.
This rest area happens to be sited at the highest elevation of the entire highway, which runs from New Jersey to San Francisco, California. I-80 also happens to be the modern-day route that most closely follows the old Lincoln Highway, which was the first road across America built in 1913.. Along with neat restrooms and shady picnic tables, this rest area has exhibits that offer visitors a thorough explanation of this place's particular role in history
Which is all well and good. But those facts don't explain my emotional connection to this place.
What matters more to me is that this rest stop is like an old friend. Sure, we stopped here last week, as we were heading off to deliver my fourth-born to college. But this wasn't our first time. Over the course of the years, my family and I have visited this place quite a few times.
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In 2008, en route home from a cross-continental trip from Seattle to Halifax, Nova Scotia, we stopped here for a picnic lunch. Our party of two adults, four teens and a big red dog had been jammed in the van for several weeks, and we all needed a little room to breathe. So we hauled our cooler over to a shelter and settled in for what we hoped would be a calm, relaxing lunch. However, Ranger had other ideas. Ever the field dog, he was frantic with energy, pacing back and forth under the shelter, trying to sniff every inch of the wild terrain. Since he was attached to a fifteen foot lead, he ended up wrapping his extra long leash around the table, the stone pillars, our legs, the cooler, and everything else in sight until I thought we would all be trapped there forever.
I also remember stopping here when my daughters were quite young, the little ones not much more than toddlers. Those were the hectic days of corralling and controlling four little girls through the potty process in a busy place full of strangers. Since my two eyes could never keep up with four kids dashing for the bathrooms, I learned to post my husband outside the doorway, to thwart any potential kidnappings, and then buddy up the girls so they could essentially watch each other. The older girls were fast and efficient, and caused me no worry. It was the younger two that I kept my eye on, as they would merrily lock themselves into a stall together, chattering happily while reveling in their new-found independence.
Even further back, my husband and I stopped at this very same rest area on our honeymoon. On our way out west, from our home in Chicago to the California coast, we ate summer sausage and sweet cherries from our new wedding-gift picnic basket. Little did we know that this place, which always seemed to be "out west" from our Midwestern perspective, would soon become "back east," once we moved to Seattle.
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Those memories were drifting through my mind during last week's visit and I thought how pleasant it is to have these bonds to such a particular place on this earth. What a sweet thought it is to know that a tiny patch of countryside, so far from my everyday life, is so familiar to me. Someday I'll be back, little rest area, and all these fond memories will come spilling out once again.
To find out more about this summer's trip, read: