Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

Dear Jack,

After leaving Saturday morning at 5:30 AM from our home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and having a few adventures in between, we finally made it to Fort Payne, Alabama, about 13 hours later; where Nonna and Papa live.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d3

The next afternoon, we loaded up for our final stop on our 1st father and son road trip. Nonna and Papa joined us in the Lexus ES; while Uncle Andrew and your cousin Calla followed us in their Toyota Highlander.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

On route to the hiking spot, I made a quick detour to show you the little brick house I grew up in, until I was a high school freshman in 1995 when the “new house” (which serves as your summer camp headquarters for the week) was built.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d13 d14 d15 d16

Just a few miles away was the DeSoto State Park, where we began our journey down the Azalea Cascade Trail.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

I chose for you to go on this trail as a way to keep you from having to take a nap: In the afternoons, you get way too much energy if you don’t sleep; so I catered to your needs by providing an agenda and landscape for you:

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

It was a long, strenuous trail for the likes of a 5 and a half year-old boy. I was very pleased with the results.

You encountered a wall of a hill…

d12 Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

A treacherous bridge…

d23

And a giant rock or two for us to climb together.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d27

Perhaps one of your favorite parts of the trail was when you amazingly found a baby slug that you took along for a leg of the hike.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d26

About 15 minutes later, you declared, “Daddy, it’s time for me to part ways with Sluggy.”

And so you did.

I helped you find a nice place in the grass for him to hang out.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d21 d22 d24

Hiking that trail with you showed me what you’re capable of for next time!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d6 d7

I figured it would be a good idea for you and your cousin to cool down by playing at the playground across from where we parked the Lexus ES.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d30 d31

It just so happens, the playground equipment company Papa has worked for since 1979 made and installed the equipment the two of you played on.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d33

From there, we got cleaned up and got ready for your goodbye dinner at the Thai restaurant…

Love,

Daddy

P.S.

Here’s the collection of stories from our father and son road trip…

Ghostbusters and the BFG

Nick A Jack Road

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park

2016 Lexus ES 300h Father & Son Road Trip (Table of Contents)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

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Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

Right before we crossed over from Mentone to Fort Payne, Alabama, I surprised you by parking the Lexus ES 300h at an old church that is built around a giant rock; which is named Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

It was built back in 1937, when Colonel Milford Howard constructed the chapel as a memorial to his wife. And equally interesting is the fact his ashes are inside the rock itself, as his sort of burial place.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Another fascinating thing about “Howard’s Chapel” is that the doors are never locked. That means that travelling passersby from DeSoto State Park can visit it at their convenience. This fact is openly promoted on the sign.

A couple Christmases back, I took you there with Uncle Andrew and Papa. However, you told me you don’t remember that.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

So it was like a brand new experience for you this time. I believe I was about your age when I first became aware of this chapel.

It’s such a rare thing- to be able to walk inside an old church with a giant rock inside, which contains the builder’s ashes. Seriously, how many people can say they actually have been there and seen the inside?

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

I bet most people have never even heard of it, outside of my hometown. It’s just so tucked away.

You were obviously fascinated. I’m sure it seemed like a bizarre dream to you. But it was all real… I was there too with you.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

And to think, I just grew up a few miles from there.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

The next stop on our father and son trip: The Azalea Trail at DeSoto State Park. But first, on the way there, I decided it would be cool to show you that little brick house I grew up in… coming up next.

Love,

Daddy

P.S.

Here’s the collection of stories from our father and son road trip…

Ghostbusters and the BFG

Nick A Jack Road

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park

2016 Lexus ES 300h Father & Son Road Trip (Table of Contents)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

Throughout my entire childhood, as Papa drove our family to and from Chattanooga where his side of family lives, we would always pass this brown government sign, pointing towards Cloudland Canyon State Park; near Trenton, Georgia.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

I never stopped wondering what was there, just 4 miles off the main road. So I decided to make it an official stop on our 1st father and son road trip.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Neither of our preconceived ideas of Cloudland Canyon State Park were accurate. I was expecting something much smaller and mediocre. And you later revealed to me you thought it was like a carnival with rides.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

However, we were both very pleased with what the park actually is. It was amazing!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

There’s a walkway that goes along the side of Lookout Mountain, which allowed us to see down into the valley… way down there.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

And at one part of the trail, we were able to climb a staircase down to a really cool viewpoint.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

I think my favorite part of our visit to Cloudland Canyon was when you looked out and announced, “Oh, I see the 10 Commandments.”

(It was actually a set of rock posts that are part of another trail across the valley.)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

When you are older, I will take you back because there’s another trail that is 2 hours long that goes all the way down to where there’s a waterfall! Maybe in a year or two you’ll be ready for that. I am really looking forward to that…

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

So it turns out that my whole life, there really was something pretty awesome, had we just turned 4 miles down that road where the brown government sign was.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Cloudland Canyon State Park is a wondrous place to visit. After we left there, we opened the sun roof in the Lexus ES, per your request, and enjoyed the breeze as we made our way closer to Fort Payne, Alabama.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

But first, I had a surprise stop planned: an old chapel built into a giant rock…

Love,

Daddy

P.S.

Here’s the collection of stories from our father and son road trip…

Ghostbusters and the BFG

Nick A Jack Road

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park

2016 Lexus ES 300h Father & Son Road Trip (Table of Contents)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Cloudland Canyon State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nick A Jack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

As you and I were getting ready to start off our 1st ever father and son road trip, you decided to pack a few more of your stuffed animals, in addition to the dozen or so you already had ready by the door.

I let you pack up the Lexus ES with much more than was necessary for your upcoming week-long stay at Nonna and Papa’s, but with the road trip just being you and me, I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Just as the sun was coming up, we left our home in Spring Hill, Tennessee. You used a glow stick and your finger-flashlight to help see in the dark as you spent the first hour designing monster trucks on Mommy’s Kindle.

You also enjoyed checking out one of many brochures you picked up at the rest stop. Your favorite was for Star Cars, which features the car from Ghostbusters; the movie we saw together just the night before.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Granted, we stopped at the Whole Foods Market in Chattanooga, Tennessee for lunch; to cater to my vegan and your vegetarian lifestyle. Right across the road was Learning Express Toys where I bought you a souvenir that you are currently obsessed with.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

The first major stop on our trip was Nick A Jack Road, in Flintstone, Georgia; which borders Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am very familiar with it, since that’s where Papa’s side of the family lives.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

It’s the road that goes from the bottom to the top of Lookout Mountain on the Georgia side; where as Nonna and Papa live on the other end of the mountain, an hour away on the Alabama side.

Nick A Jack Road is a particularly special road for us as father and son, as it always was for Papa and me when I was a kid. Papa’s first name is Jack, just like yours; and of course mine is Nick.

So “Nick A Jack” combines both your name and mine; as it always has for Papa and me…

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Therefore, I made sure we stopped for a photo op there at the top of the mountain, where Nick A Jack Road comes to an end.

I have always wanted us to take our picture together there in front of that street sign. My dream finally came true!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

From there, we drove another 20 minutes to Cloudland Canyon Sate Park, which made for our next amazing stop on our 1st father and son road trip…

Love,

Daddy

P.S.

Here’s the collection of stories from our father and son road trip…

Ghostbusters and the BFG

Nick A Jack Road

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park

2016 Lexus ES 300h Father & Son Road Trip (Table of Contents)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Nickajack Road (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)