BND Magazine

July 20, 2014

On the road again: Highland couple has visited all 50 states

See Dick and Betty Eilers and kids riding horses among the buffalo in North Dakota.

See the Eilers family sitting around a campfire in Yellowstone.

That's them sitting at a mile-long table at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, too.

And, finally, here they are in Alaska. The Highland couple recently returned from a two-week Alaska cruise, the last leg of a 43-year pursuit -- traveling to all 50 states.

"We've been to 145 national parks," Betty said. "That's basically how we plan."

Except for the trips to Alaska and Hawaii (2004), the Eilerses drove to their destinations. Always as a family.

"A road trip will make you a family again," said Betty, 61, who recently retired as a secretary with Highland Elementary School. "For two weeks, the family is as close as possible. Like it or not, the kids have to play together."

The Eilerses had no idea when they loaded up the station wagon and took a family vacation to Florida in 1971 that they had taken the first step in an adventure.

"But after making a few trips, we started to realize if we traveled to 'this state' or 'these states' on a journey, we could possibly do it," Betty said.

They started out with the station wagon, graduated to a pop-up trailer and now have a 38-foot motor home.

"Things have changed a lot," Betty said. "When we started, there were not cellphones. No computer games. No TV. It was just us. We played euchre around a lantern. That's what the kids remember."

The Eilerses' three grown children -- Katie Ambuel, Wendy Eilers and Angie Neske -- accompanied their parents to all the states except Alaska and Hawaii. They have four grandchildren they like to take along, too. Two of them have already been in 32 states.

The Eilerses try to stay in national parks or campgrounds on their trips. They also try to visit historic Civil War battlefields, which Dick finds intriguing. Gettysburg is his favorite.

Growing up, Dick said, his parents didn't like to travel.

"I guess I got the itch to travel once I got older," said Dick, who is now 63 and recently retired as vice president of Dynamic Technology Inc. in St. Louis.

The Eilerses are not sure where they will go on their next trip, but it may require a passport.

Betty said she would like to see Nova Scotia.

"I know it's not in the United States, Betty said and laughed. But that's OK with Dick. "That sounds like a good one," he said.

Biggest surprise: Craters of the Moon in Idaho. "It's basically cinders, so we didn't expect much. It's where three dead volcanoes come together. There are lava tunnels you can actually walk through. It's cold in there. You have to wear a hat."

Most fun: "Horseback riding in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. You can ride horses right in the the buffalo."

Talkers: The World's Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kan. And a buffalo made out of barbed wire in North Dakota. "Then there was this bridge I really wanted to see in Vermont. We drove miles out of our way. It was a disappointment."

Best souvenir: "We bring a handful of dirt home for our daughter who is a sixth-grade teacher. It's neat for her students to compare the red dirt of Oklahoma black dirt" from farm country. "We don't go to buy souvenirs. The best souvenirs are our memories."

A few favorite places (with Betty's comments):

Glacier National Park. Montana: "There was 21 feet of snow in July. We go through Bear Tooth Pass into Yellowstone and there's always snow in July. The kids love it. They have a great time throwing snowballs."

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Wyoming: "It's a smaller Grand Canyon. It has falls and you can walk down into it."

Seaside, Oregon: "It's beautiful. There are no bugs. You can see Haystack Rocks, where they filmed 'Goonies' and 'Kindergarten Cop.' We said, 'Hey, we saw those rocks in the movies."

Asheville, North Carolina: The Biltmore Mansion. "It's breathraking. Two hundred and fifty rooms. It'll cost you fifty bucks or so, but it's worth it. The libraries are great, and the dining room has a long table where you can sit twenty feet away from someone and hear everything he says."

Other can't-miss places: Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Hurst Castle on the California coast. The Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Betty's advice for a family road vacation

* Just do it. Make plans and go. All kinds of things come up to get in the way. Kids' summer jobs. "We tell their employers before they start working that this will happen. Work around things. Make it work."

* "Don't be in a hurry. If you're heading to Florida, don't drive straight through till you get there. You'll miss a lot of good stuff in Georgia. Driving directly to a destination is not a vacation. Stop often and stop early. Then enjoy what there is to do there."

* "When you get to a national park, watch and listen to the 15-minute movie. A lot of people skip it. Big mistake. It will tell you everything you need to see. I tell people, those national parks are our treasures. We pay for them. You should go see them."

* "Get a good map and follow it. Those little red dots tell you points of interest." You also need a good book that tells you what's worth seeing.

"Someone recently asked me if we'd ever consider using a GPS," Betty said. "Our GPS is our M-A-P."

* Camp instead of staying in a hotel. "You meet the nicest people when you're sitting around the campfire in lawn chairs. They're from all over. They give you the best tips. The best roads. What to do and not do in the places they've been. They want to hear what you have to say, too."

* Make a scrapbook after each trip. Betty does. "When you open one, the memories come right back."

-- Patrick Kuhl (Some information was provided by Mark Hodapp of the Highland News-Leader.)

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