While not exactly from sea to shining sea, though close, a trio of Marion Senior High School graduates traveled the country this summer, making a two-week loop from Southwest Virginia to the Pacific coast and back.
It was the trip of a lifetime, with music, history, grandeur and football highlighting the way.
“We knew we didn’t want to go on the senior trip (to Disney World),” said Ben Clark, who embarked on the adventure with his friends Isaiah Blevins and Dylan Roberts. “We kinda had that plan for awhile. We decided a road trip was the way to go.”
The three members of the Class of 2019 had discovery in mind but no particular destination.
“Just loop around the country,” Clark said. “I guess the Pacific Ocean was the goal. And we saw some amazing things.”
They had to save up a little money so the young men worked after graduating until their departure date. They left on July 17 making it to St. Louis, Missouri, the first day.
“We actually went inside the arch,” said Blevins. “It was pretty cool, especially with the lightning and thunder outside.”
“We didn’t want to stay in the city, so we drove out to the country, to Hannibal, Missouri (Mark Twain’s childhood home),” added Roberts. “We got there about midnight and stayed at the Hannibal Inn.”
The next day they drove to Clear Lake, Iowa, and saw “the place where the day the music died,” Roberts said. That was the site of the 1959 plane crash that killed music legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper.”
There was a path through a cornfield where people came to leave mementoes at the memorial to the late singers, Clark said, adding that as fans of their music it was an emotional moment seeing the site.
The trio drove to Rapid City, South Dakota, the next day visiting Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument under construction, and the South Dakota Air and Space Museum.
“I liked the rolling hills in South Dakota,” said Blevins. “They were really awesome. Like an ocean of hills that went on forever.”
“I liked being able to see for miles with the mountains in the distance,” Roberts said, “and trying to see how long it took to get there.”
From there it was a straight shot to Yellowstone National Park.
“It was a beautiful park,” Clark said. “We got to see Old Faithful. Such a beautiful park. We camped in the campground.”
From the beauty of Yellowstone on to the magnificence of the Redwood Forest, this trip was offering the young men up close glimpses of the nation’s natural wonders.
In Northern California, they stood side by side inside one of the giant redwoods.
“They are awesome,” Clark said of the trees. “To see a tree you can’t put your arms around.”
“Pictures don’t do them justice,” Blevins added.
“They were breathtaking to look at, knowing you can’t see the top,” Roberts added.
Clark said they drove down the Avenue of the Giants through the redwoods. “It was really cool.”
The next glorious sight was the Pacific Ocean.
“Wow, we are here!” is what Blevins said he thought at that moment.
“It was definitely a moment. We actually made it,” Clark said.
And for Roberts, “It was like the moment we all three waited for. Finally we got to see what we set out to see.”
They drove down the coast viewing the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the famous fog before reaching Los Angeles and Venice Beach.
That’s when they stopped to stay for a couple days just to enjoy the beach and the Pacific coast. Touring the city, they saw the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame.
Roberts said he enjoyed visiting the Troubadour in West L.A., the center of the music scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
They visited Joshua Tree National Park, stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, stopped in Las Vegas at night to get something to eat, and stayed the night at the Hoover Dam Lodge. Blevins said they all got T-shirts saying “My dam t-shirt.”
The next stop was the Grand Canyon, another momentous sight for the three young men from Appalachia.
“Pictures do not do that justice,” Roberts said, echoing Blevins’ comment about the redwoods.
“It’s like walking into a painting,” Blevins said. “It was a gorgeous sunset.”
Still in awe of the canyon, the guys traveled to Arches National Park in Utah and camped out, spreading their sleeping bags in the back of the truck and just looking up at the stars all night.
“It was better than any picture I’d ever seen,” Clark said of the stars in that dark sky. “It was one of the most unforgettable moments.”
“Just when you thought you’d seen them all, there were more,” Blevins said of the star-filled sky. “It almost looked bottomless.”
From Utah, they headed to Denver, Colorado, to fulfill a dream Blevins had – to see the Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos.
“Denver was one of the highlights for me,” he said. “I got to tour the stadium of my favorite team.”
Clark and Roberts enjoyed the stop in Denver as well, amazed at the city that Roberts said was so spread out it didn’t look like a big city, and at the incredible height of the Rocky Mountains.
From a mile above sea level they traveled down -- much closer to sea level in Memphis, Tennessee, on the Mississippi River, where a stop at Graceland was in order. Clark and Roberts toured the home of Elvis while Blevins caught a little shut-eye. They also walked on Beale Street, saw the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was shot, and the Civil Rights Museum.
Clark said he was impressed by Graceland but not by all the trash and graffiti everywhere.
The last stop was also in Tennessee to surprise Clark’s girlfriend who had a summer job clogging in Gatlinburg.
“From there we went straight home,” Clark said. “We got home about 2 a.m. on a Wednesday. We got out of the truck and looked at each other and said, ‘It’s good to be home.’”
They put about 8,000 miles on Clark’s mother’s 2004 Chevy Avalanche, a comfortable ride, he said.
Each one said they’d love to take another trip, maybe to tour Canada after college.
Roberts plans to attend Emory & Henry to study physical therapy.
Clark is going to Wytheville Community College to study for a career in precision machine technology.
And Blevins may get to travel quite a bit more as he intends to become a commercial pilot, currently working on his private pilot’s license and looking to study at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Perhaps he will be the one to fly them all on another great adventure somewhere down the road.