31 August 2016

Day 28: One Day More

"There was no where to go but everywhere. So just keep on rolling under the stars." 
---Jack Kerouac (don't really know who this guy is, but I liked this quote from him that I saw on a national park posted in the Blue Ridge Mountains in May) 
WE MADE IT. Today we drove the final 492.6 miles from Williams, Arizona to Coronado Island, San Diego. 

Starting point: Navy Lodge, Norfolk, VA 
Ending point: Navy Lodge, North Island, CA 
Days in transit: 28
Total trip mileage: 3,791.5 miles 
Number of states driven through: 9 States driven through: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California 
Number of time zones occupied: 4 
Number of locations slept in: 20! Dude. 
Emergency roadside bathroom stops: 5 (always for the same four year old passenger with very little warning) 
Driving days we had no rain: 1 (today!) 
We crossed the Mohave Desert, hiked into the Grand Canyon, saw tumbleweeds blowing across the road, spotted a badger, rode an old steam train, flew in a helicopter, passed the Appalachians, drove over the Mississippi River, Rio Grande, and Colorado River, saw a mirage and dust devils in the desert, drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and Historic Route 66, explored caves, passed through Navajo lands, watched lightning storms and rain sweep the western plains, visited at least five national parks, skirted a California wildfire, touched a meteorite, hugged tons of family, admired the Milky Way, got held up by bandits, and sang along with a cowboy. 

Tonight we had California wine and dinner in Poway with my parents and Grandfather at my dad's childhood home, where it always smells like pine needles, eucalyptus and oranges. Lights shone and danced on the water as we drove over the Coronado Bay Bridge. Chris parked the car and I took note of the final trip mileage. 

It's good to (finally) be here. 

"Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road."
---Jack Kerouac 

29 August 2016

Day 27: Bright Angel

The whole family hiked down to the first switchback on the Bright Angel Trail for our last day at the Grand Canyon. Eloise soon fell asleep and her little baby snores set the pace. Here's a shock for everyone: Eloise was the youngest person we saw on the trail. Although, in all fairness, we were not on the trail very long at all. 
This very trail figures prominently (not really) in my family history. In the early 1970s, my parents joined my dad's older brother and his college friends for a late-December hike overnight in the Grand Canyon. 

"But isn't snow in the forecast?" wondered my mom. 
"Oh, it NEVER snows at the bottom of the Grand Canyon," said one of the wise college boys. 

So off they went. They hiked down to the bottom, crossed the river, and hiked halfway up the North Rim before setting up camp. 

The next morning dawned cold and...SNOWY. A ranger came by as they packed up camp. It'll be snowing for days, he told them. Get out now! 

So instead of continuing up the north side, they rerouted back the way they came, climbing back up Bright Angel. It was cold. So cold they couldn't eat their now frozen food when they stopped for lunch. My mom started to cry. What idiot said it never snowed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?! 

It was getting dark when they made it back to the South Rim, where they found two feet of snow and temperatures around 20 degrees. And---because this was the early 70s when gas was scare? expensive? both?---all the gas had been siphoned out of their car! Stolen! An hour or so later they were gassed up and on their way home to SoCal. 

So "it never snows at the bottom of the Grand Canyon" is one of those taglines that crops up every now and then.  
"Look out for MULE POOP!" Isaac announced to everyone on the hike. 
"I don't want to turn around yet! I want to keep going!" Isaac complained when we told him we were about to turn around. 
"I'm tired of walking!" Isaac said five seconds later, before we'd even gotten to the turn around. 
"I'm hot! I don't like walking!" he whined on the way back up. 

Tonight I texted my hip parents about our family vacation's slightly longer hike along the Bright Angel Trail 16 years ago. 
"You were at a different stage of life then," my dad said: "The whiny complaining stage. But look at you now---perpetuating the misery on your own kids!" 
After our morning hike, I completed the National Park Passport Grand Canyon stamps at Kolb Studio. Then we had a very nice lunch at the Arizona Room until the kids started throwing broccoli at each other through their chair backs and we had to leave. Still TWO HOURS to kill before the train boarded. 

So we walked over and saw the famous Grand Canyon mules. Each one goes to the bottom of the canyon once every third day, we learned. A cowboy brought one over for the kids to pet and it mule-hugged Isaac. Other mules rolled around in the dirt, and it all smelled very Wild West and mule-y. That was great fun. 

The rest of our day was spent eating ice cream on the rim and pretending the telescopes were guns for shooting flags and birds.  

On the train ride back, gasp! Bandits rode up alongside and boarded the train!! Yikes! I'd given the kids money to give the bandits, but when I said, "Please! Don't hurt my baby!" and told Eloise to hand over her dollar she stole it back! The poor bandit wasn't sure what to do, so I tried to get her to give it back to him. "Nooooo!" she wailed. "Great, I'm going to have nightmares about robbing kids tonight," said the bandit. Isaac kept his dollar ("if I gave it to them, they were gonna KEEP it!") and opted instead to give it to the kind hostess of our train car. 

The most excited I saw the kids the entire Grand Canyon vacation was over getting to operate the soft-serve ice cream dispenser at dinner. 

"Isaac, what was your favorite part of the trip?" I asked, afraid of the answer. 
"The mountains over the river," came his immediate reply. The helicopter ride. Oh thank goodness. 

So I guess all the ice cream is just bonus! 

28 August 2016

Day 26

Ok, math people, I need an equation. What is the maximum amount of whiny-ness allowable to still truthfully let all parties say "we sure had a fun day!" Even "that was kind of fun!" would suffice. I think we exceeded our alotment today for sure. But sometimes Isaac's whiniest days deliver an inexplicable "that was a fun day!" at the end. Somebody give me the formula! 
Today WE WENT ON A HELICOPTER RIDE OVER THE GRAND CANYON. It was amazing. We flew along the rim where the land is Navajo as far as the eye can see, and dirt paths dead end on the razor edge of the precipice. We swung out over nothing as the pine trees fell away and the canyon plummeted thousands of feet in elevation. We saw millimeter-long white water rafts and ants that were actually grazing buffalo. We looped around the north rim and swooped down a dragon-shaped ravine. It was incredible. "Mom! I don't know about this!" Isaac was brave and adorable. Flying over the river was his favorite part. It was so fun! 
The whole family was flying high over that successful adventure. The plan for the rest of the day was simple: naps, food, canyon rim walk, food, sunset. I'm not sure where it went south. Probably around the time Eloise pooped instead of napping, so no one rested. Then the kids didn't want to eat, so they were hungry and grouchy on our walk. Yesterday there were some kids on the train, so it took me until now to realize: we are the only idiots here with little kids. Of course this isn't enjoyable; Chris and I are both constantly saving the lives of our precious NAFODs (no apparent fear of death). 

"MY BUTT IS ITCHY AND I AM TIRED OF WALKING!" said Isaac on repeat. 

They touch everything. They eat nothing. They spill milk all over the bed. There is all the crying and whining. 

Are we having fun yet? 

27 August 2016

Day 25: Isn't it Grand?

You know what's not so grand? Writhing awake half the night and constantly rushing to the hotel bathroom. Being sick makes me want to die. Knowing I had to get up early to catch a train made it even worse. At 3am, I hated this whole dumb journey we're on. 
Today was beautiful. Rainy and cold, with the sun breaking through the clouds occasionally, and Eloise even fell asleep in my arms on the train. 

But long road trips kind of require everyone to be on their game, and I was very off game today. I felt OK after meds, toast, and tea, but we had a packed day of train catching and a Grand Canyon south rim bus tour. Since 2-3 people FALL INTO THE CANYON annually, I was holding a squirmy Eloise a lot of the time. Plus Chris' back is killing him, probably from all the heavy lifting of unloading and loading the car all month. Today was beautiful, but exhausting and draining. 

I'm bummed, because Isaac was delirious with excitement last night at dinner, watching diligently for the "sneaky train" winding its way around the top of the room. 

"This is really fun! Thanks for getting this all set up!" Chris had enthused. 

In all the town of Williams, I'm pretty sure no one was as excited as our little boy. And I feel like I let him down by getting sick. 
I'm hoping for a complete recovery for both of us by tomorrow so we can really appreciate the #1 of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. This part of our trip is our birthday present to each other. But tonight I just feel like "it's my party and I'll cry if I want to." 

26 August 2016

Day 24: Out of This World

Today was so much better than yesterday. I made jokes, but seriously, yesterday had me considering jumping out of the moving car on the freeway and hitchhiking. Today, people were praying for us and we drank more caffeine and we (mostly) didn't bicker.  
We woke up with trains rolling by between us and the rocky hills of Gallup, NM. Historic Route 66 led us out of Gallup and to I-40 West, and in a few minutes (just kidding. We had to stop like three times so it took like an hour) we crossed the border to Arizona. 
Then there was NOTHING for a long time. The kids were hungry and crying. Chris tried to eat their goldfish and I swatted him. He didn't like that. 

"Look," I tried to soften the blow, "if you eat their food, you'll never want to stop for lunch and they need to eat." 
"It's not MY FAULT no one's built a city here yet!" Chris grumped. 
I was looking at Chris to see if he was kidding, and he wasn't, which made me laugh really hard. Chris smiled a little too, which made me laugh harder. 
"You're welcome for that little gem," Chris said. "Is that going to make it onto your blog for today?" 
We DID find somewhere for lunch: the Painted Desert Diner in the Petrified Forest National Park. 

By now it should be evident that WE LOVE NATIONAL PARKS. We love them. Or at least I do, and Chris likes them ok, and the kids may be bored but whatever. We're building the foundation for their future of listening to NPR and boring their own kids someday. AND we have a FREE military annual pass. Love. 
Please note Eloise's SHOES. The turquoise Minnetonka moccasins that matched my boots weren't in her size but I love the red just as much. DELIGHT! 
Ok, next we stopped at Meteor Crater. This was SO COOL. A storm rolled in as we arrived so no one was allowed up to the top of the rim, but we walked down to the vertigo-inducing viewing platform until the rain started. The rim is a mile in diameter. It's pretty impressive. A big chunk of the 50,000 year old meteorite is on display in the on-sight museum, and you can touch it!!! It's kind of expensive at like $16 per person, but under fives and military are FREE, and I got a discount, so it was only $9. There's a 10-minute movie about the impact and every time there was a shot of the meteor exploding into the earth Eloise SCREAMED...with laughter. Every single time. ....? She was very cute...and a little terrifying. Isaac also loved it. I'd shown him a photo of the crater that morning when we talked about where we were going today, and he asked questions about meteors all day. So that little jaunt was awesome and totally worth it. The storm sweeping in over the ridge, rumbling with thunder, only added to the excitement. It is NOT a national park, but I highly recommend it! 
Midday we gained another hour, which totally confused us until we remembered Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings. So that was nice too. We drove from rocky hills, through towering rock formations, to genuine desert, to snow-capped mountains, to forested hills---all in one day. Tonight we are in Williams, Arizona's Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. I was a little afraid Isaac wouldn't be as excited about trains as he used to be, but that concern was completely unfounded. He is in train heaven, and the rest of us are right behind! Tomorrow we catch our train north! 

25 August 2016

Day 23: Are We There Yet?

Today was kind of a doozy. Eloise woke up many times last night. This morning there was a badly timed bathroom accident. No one napped all day. Eloise knocked over a mannequin and Isaac ripped a page out of a book at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Isaac lied several times. Eloise screamed and pouted at random intervals during dinner, drawing well-meaning but embarrassing attention from the staff. 

Chris and I, of course, had perfect, flawless communication and zero misunderstandings, did not bicker in front of the kids, and certainly did not get in an argument in a roundabout while Eloise was screaming. 
Highlights of the day include: 
---NOT that roundabout or any part of the morning 
---Native American inspired lunch at the Pueblo Harvest Cafe 
---briefly seeing Old Town Albuquerque 
---crossing the RIO GRANDE on Historic Route 66 
---passing the Continental Divide at 7,295 ft elevation 
---driving along Laguna and Acoma pueblo tribal lands 
From a scenic outlook we saw an ancient church on a hill in the middle of a valley, surrounded by red mesas and hills. 

"Isaac, see that church? It's more than 300 years old!" 
"Is that older than you and dad?" 
Today I couldn't help but think about Hannah's recent reflections on road trips with kids. In the movie Cars, Sally laments the cars all bypassing Radiator Sprigs on the highway. In the old days, she sighs, "cars didn't drive to MAKE great time. They drove to HAVE a great time." Hannah said this line sprang to mind while she was solo driving 7+ hours with all three kids going bat-poo crazy in the back seats. "'I am driving to have a great time' said no mom ever!!" 

Right there with you, Han. But tomorrow is another day...oh wait, another day OF DRIVING. HELP US ALL. 

24 August 2016

Day 22: Under Ground

What did you think of Carlsbad Caverns? 
Ezekiel: "Cool." 
Isaac: "It was scary." 
Jane: "I was bored." 
Hannah: "I kind of deserve that for every time I complained at a national park on family vacation when I was little." 
My favorite part was the kids whispering the entire time we were 750 feet underground. Flash flooding in the area caused the park to delay opening and it was not crowded at all, so there were times we had huge sections of the massive caverns to ourselves: slick walkways, echoing baby noise, hushed kid whispers. 

"Is it still going to be dark when we get out?" Isaac shined his flashlight around the path. 
"Is this real?" 
"Yes! We're really far underground in a huge cave! Isn't this cool?" 
"But is this REAL? Is it REAL?" 
Once we assured him it was real, he became afraid of cave monsters. 

Overlooking the bottomless pit, Eloise started growling. GROWLING. Then she cackled with laughter. I think we had the only cave monster in our possession. 

Chris was obsessed with finding bats. 
I think I was 12-ish the first time Hannah and I were here. We did some cool stuff on family vacations. It's fun to do it again with my family. 

After lunch back above ground, it was time to say goodbye. From here to the coast, it's just us four again. 
I have this idea that we used to get blizzards (you know, the frozen DQ treats) on summer road trip vacations. That means we probably did it once or twice and it was fun to pass the car hours shoveling ice cream in my face, so memory gives it a much larger prominence then it ever actually had. 

Anyway, Chris and I have enjoyed blizzards on a couple of our road trips, and that was something I wanted to do once on this adventure, too. Today was the day. On Main Street in Roswell, New Mexico---not too far from the UFO Museum and Research Center---we found our DQ. Unsurprisingly, it was out of this world...awful. It took forever. They were melty and dripping everywhere when we got them (dripping out of their cups! Gross!), we stopped to eat them outside in a lovely park but there was an unending smell of manure on the breeze, the mix-ins were grainy, and the ice cream tasted bad. For the first time ever, I threw away a blizzard. Did it change, or did I? Well even Eloise didn't want hers. It must have been the blizzard. Sometimes a new tradition is born on a family road trip. Here in Roswell, one died. RIP, blizzard. Bleck. Next time I'll just go to Starbucks, even if it means a chorus of "can we get a CAKE POP?" "Pop! POP! POP!" 

Today was our prettiest driving yet! We needed the diversion. I think we're all getting a liiiiiiiiittle tired of each other at times. 

23 August 2016

Day 21: Wagons West

There wasn't a big sign or welcome center on the small backroad road we followed from West Texas to Carlsbad, New Mexico---just curtains of rain on the horizon and an exciting lightning storm. This is exactly what I remember/picture when I think of New Mexico: horizons, clouds, open space. It's so beautiful. 
We arrived in Carlsbad along with flash flooding and Mountain Time. The Lucky Bull restaurant, housed in the old city hall, served up New Mexico draft beef and perfect sliders and burgers. The lightning Storm continued until well past bedtime. 

Hannah and Justin and company caravanned with us, leading the way, and if we don't get rained out we'll explore some caves before parting ways. 

Days since leaving Norfolk: 21
Days until San Diego: 7
Emergency highway-side bathroom stops (trip to date): 4
Road kill armadillos: 6 
Snakes run over today: 1
Percentage of driving days we've had rain: 100% 
Time zones: 3 
Number of places slept: 13 
Trip mileage to date: ? (left the mileage notebook in the car) 
Total party in Carlsbad: 9 souls 

Day 20-21: Midland

The recent rains across the South made what usually is dry and brown bloom green and lush. Midland is the last stop on Phase Two of our Manifest Destiny transcontinental journey. Phase One was somewhat familiar territory driving across the Appalachians and Mississippi River to Texas. Phase Two has been thr Texas Tour, chillin with family across the wide state we call home (of record). Tonight we cross the border to New Mexico and into Phase Three: Wagons West. 
So Midland is the last stop, the jumping off point. After this, it's hotels for months. 
We attended Hannah and Justin's church, toured the Petroleum Museum, and ate tasty smoked meat and drank Texas beer and port. 

"Look! A pump jack!" Isaac shouts every time we drive past one of the iconic pumps. 
I asked my mom what her favorite part was of our visit to Katy, and I think she spoke for everyone when she said the kids playing so well together, the fun outings we all went on, and most of all, the times we spent just together: chatting over morning coffee, dinner or evening wine, hanging out after the kids went to bed, especially our ridiculous game night playing Heads Up. 

I love seeing the kids play Crack the Egg on the trampoline with Chris, or Jerico with Simon, or any number of high hilarity games with Pa. Y'all are so fun and such a blessing. 

I am thankful for our time together! Thank you for hosting us and being related. I love y'all. 

Phase Two COMPLETE. 

Day 19: The Road Goes on Forever

"WHAT is THAT?!" I pointed to several inches of squished exoskeleton with lots of pointy legs. Chris called back from the other side of the car, "I don't know, but here's a bigger one!" 

We found lots of interesting things at Texas rest stops, like a wide selection of fried pork fat. I opted for the pecan brittle instead. 
From Katy we'd driven up to Dallas, through Fort Worth, and then it was wagons west to Midland. 

Isaac and Eloise were overjoyed to see their cousins again, meet their Midland racing turtles, and enjoyed delicious smoked brisket and salmon from Justin's smoker! Thank you for the warm Midland welcome!