Ask most Americans and non-Americans “What symbolizes the American spirit?” and they will point to the Old West. There is something about it that represented opportunity, adventure and a challenge to tame the wild. Thomas Jefferson did not waste any time after the Louisiana Purchase to commission the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the West. In the decades following thousands took the challenge to “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.” This period of our nation’s history created the iconic wild west with cowboys, outlaws, gunslingers, ranches, and trail rides – part reality and part Hollywood. As I write this article I am 30 miles south of Monument Valley, Arizona, the site of many John Ford westerns.

Here are some of the highlights for each of us. Our 14-year-old Rebecca’s favorite was Independence, Kansas – the historic site of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie.” Looking east from the house one can just imagine the covered wagons coming over the hills on the Santa Fé trail. Abigail (10-year-old) loved our visit to the Buffalo Bill Museum and grave in Golden, Colorado. Last year she had done a report on the sharp shooter Annie Oakley, who was a star performer on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. The boys (Nicholas – 5 years old and Thomas – two and a half years old) had two favorites. The first was getting into the Colorado River near scenic Glenwood Springs and the second was the short horseback ride in the Monument Valley. The Indian guides even let them lead the horse on their own. For my wife, Nicole, it was the walk through the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, Kansas. She especially enjoyed walking through the old farm-house. My favorite was the walk through old Dodge City, Kansas, where lawmen like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson earned their reputations. The only showdown we saw where cars, trucks and bikes looking for a parking place!

Although we are ready to be home, there are some priceless things that we are bringing along. The time we have spent together as a family has been the best souvenir. We have come to know each other better than ever, especially being in close quarters for hours at a time! The journey has been more interesting than the many destinations. As Louis L’Amour once said:  “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.” Every family needs this time.

It has also given us a fresh appreciation for the Christian history of our nation. Men and women came to the west because they believed that this was a God-given land of opportunity if one was willing to work hard and not give up. If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). They loved the landscape but did not worship it (Romans 1:25). Pony Express Riders were required to take an oath and received a Bible to carry with them. History abounds with illustrations that the people operated from a biblical framework whether they knew it or not. As John Eldridge pointed out in his book “Wild at Heart,” God made man with an insatiable desire for freedom, adventure and a good fight between right and wrong. That is the Spirit and culture that built America. In recent years much has been about “multiculturalism in America” where “exploring” has been called “exploiting” and “conquering” is replaced with “conserving.” We discovered that America has a culture. Join in.

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