About a decade ago, Amy and I and our two sons drove a Winnebago through southeastern New Mexico. One day, our trek took us from Alamogordo to Carlsbad via a mountain pass that included a steep temperature drop and a smattering of snowflakes. Later that evening, I was tucking my four-year-old into bed in the RV when he turned to face me.
"Daddy, I have question," he said. "What's snow?"
When we're not exploring the back roads for a couple months every year, we live in a part of California that doesn't get wintry white. But what Luke really meant was: How does snow happen? I gave him my best meteorological reply, and all the while I was thinking, This is good. This traveling is good for my sons.
That's what we hoped for--and what we received--when we took our sons with us for a decade of summer RV excursions. Enlightenment through observation. Luke and his younger brother Jesse hit 48 states before hitting double digits in age. As a result of traveling far and wide, of appreciating myriad lifestyles and options along the open road, I sincerely believe that we avoided raising boys with closed minds.
So kudos to us. But really, thanks to the lessons of the road. Experience turns knowledge into meaningful associations and lasting imprints. It is the difference between going to school and reading about the Alamo (yawn) and going to San Antonio and seeing the mission for yourself, pock-marked with bullet holes (wow!). Travel brings the subjects to life. It is the ultimate field trip.
I suppose this is what I was thinking as we strolled around Salt Lake City's Temple Square recently. We had passed through SLC a couple of times before and had never really taken the time to explore the epicenter of the Latter Day Saints movement. Frankly, we weren't all that interested. But this time, as we wandered the pristine 35 acres in the heart of a truly gorgeous urban setting, we quickly realized that it wasn't only about exploring religion. Sure, a stop in the North Visitors' Center offers an immersion in Mormonism...
But no, our tour of Temple Square offered all the educational advantages that we've come to appreciate from the RV experience. It was an exploration of so many things. It was a view, for instance, of architectural ambition (the Salt Lake Temple, built by Mormon pioneers in the 19th century, has the qualities of a castle).
And it was a study in interior design, just by peeking into the impressive Tabernacle.
It was a lesson that charm can survive amid highrises and hotels (consider 133-year-old Assembly Hall).
And it was a lesson that urban design can bring an oasis to the desert (we lunched amid the fountains and upscale offerings of The Commons at City Creek, just a few steps from Temple Square).
It was a foray into history (here's Brigham Young's former residence, Beehive House)
And it was a trip through genealogy. We stopped at the Family History Library and explored our roots. Although we didn't actually discover anything new, we did learn that the descendants of two 16th century English subjects, Robert White and Bridget Allgar, included Ulysses Grant, Emily Dickinson, the Wright brothers, Shirley Temple, Lucille Ball, Steve Young, and Donny Osmond. Go figure.
So yes, Temple Square was enlightening. But sometimes you just want straight-out awe. So we took our leave of Salt Lake City and headed two hours west. About ten miles from the Nevada state line, we pulled over at a rest stop and had one of those memorable "whoa" moments that punctuate every journey.
How to describe the Bonneville Salt Flats? It's one of those otherworldly American places--like New Mexico's White Sands or Idaho's Craters of the Moon or standing at the base of a giant sequoia--that literally elicits a drop of the jaw and a slow shake of the head. If we had wandered about seven miles into the Flats (and we weren't about to), we would have reached Utah's famed measured mile--site of land speed records. And I'm talking more than 622 miles per hour.
But for us, it was actually a reason to slow down, to immerse ourselves in something utterly unusual, to ponder the nearly unfathomable, to try to gauge our place in a world that continues to amaze us in so many ways. Sometimes, when you feel like you can see forever, you have to wear shades.
And then we continued on. Because the road beckons. And enlightenment never ends.