After we left Santa Fe at noon on Wednesday, January 4, the objective was to follow I-40 to Oklahoma City.  This was to be the longest “pure driving” day of our trip, so we’d hoped to start early (but the lure of Meow Wolf was too great–and it was worth it).

We left Santa Fe about noon and headed southeast to 40, then east on I-40.  About 2pm, we pulled off to visit Tepee Curios on Route 66 and have lunch at Del’s.  At the concrete teepee, I bought rattlesnake coffee mugs for my office, which I was sure my paralegal would love.

A couple hours later, we crossed into Texas, and a couple hours after that, we stopped by the U-Drop Inn to see Tow Mater from “Cars.”

A few minutes later, we were into Oklahoma and reached our Courtyard hotel in OK City about 10pm.  While this was a day of few stops and no national parks, we enjoyed seeing the landscape change from New Mexico to Texas to Oklahoma and discussing how distinct each state was (compared to Arizona, too) as we headed east.  The temperatures rose to 70 at the beginning of the day but fell as we headed east.

The next morning, we headed to Arkansas, arriving at Hot Springs National Park about 3pm.  None of us had ever been to this national park, and it’s quite unlike any of the others we’d visited, as instead of showcasing natural beauty, it captures a time period from 100+ years ago when the wealthy (and, later, middle class folks) from all over the U.S. (and beyond) came to be healed of their ailments in the numerous bathhouses utilizing the hot springs there.  We enjoyed seeing the film at the park and touring the visitor center, an upscale former bathhouse/spa.

We had dinner at DeLuca’s Pizzeria at the strong recommendation of the old man behind the desk at the visitor’s center, and it was excellent.  While we waited on our pie, however, I check Facebook and saw that the South was “hunkering down” (as we say) for what appeared to be a significant snow storm that was headed right for us. I looked at the weather channel app on my phone and realized it was headed for us, and that we might be stranded in Little Rock for a few days should we stay the night there.  So, we elected to change our lodging plans to head south to Tupelo, Mississippi.  We arrived at 11:45pm, exhausted.

The next morning, we rose fairly early and continued south toward I-20.  Instead of my usual habit of having Waze on my phone (stuck to the magnetized clip on the middle air vent), I had the weather channel app on and watched the little blue dot representing our location move east as the giant mass of purple, blue, green, and pink followed us.  We entered Alabama about 10am and crossed into Georgia at 12:30pm; we arrived at our house just after 1pm, right as it started to rain (and before the rain turned to freezing rain or sleet).  At times, we went 90-95 mph, but we made it.  I’d be able to make drill weekend at my Reserves base the next day.

We put 2800 miles on our Kia Sportage in 9 days.  We entered 10 states:  AZ, UT, NM, TX, OK, AR, TN, MS, and GA.  We saw single digit temperatures with blinding snow and 80-something degrees with desert sunshine.  We were as low as a couple hundred feet above sea level and as high as 7,000+ feet in elevation.  Somehow, we managed to get along and enjoy every single day.

For 30 years, I’ve wondered if I’d ever get to take my own family on a road trip out west like I did as a child.  Now, all I wonder is when we’ll do it again.

Thank you, Kia, for letting us use the Sportage for our 9-day roadtrip across 3 time zones and 10 states.  Let’s do it again sometime!

We entered New Mexico via I-40 east after our travels through Arizona on Monday, January 2.  We passed Albuquerque, and my eldest let her American Girl doll, Saige, wave out the window to her hometown, but our destination was Santa Fe.  Dinner was at Sazón, which I only found because after we checked into our bed and breakfast, I used the Yelp app to find something still open for dinner that was close.  We arrived at 8:30pm, and it was immediately apparent that it was a nicer place than what the 5 of us had dressed for, but the food and presentation were excellent.  It was the best meal we had on our 9-day trip.

As much as I loved the days in Arizona, I’d been looking forward to our time in Santa Fe quite a bit, too, because it was, in a sense, a pause in the pace of our trip.  Our lodging was at the Don Gaspar Inn, a bed and breakfast where we had an entire house to ourselves (with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms!).  So, for the first time since we left, my bride and I had our own room and bathroom, and for 2 nights (the only place we didn’t leave after 1 night)!  We were able to sleep late, too, as we had no set plans the next day, and the breakfast the innkeeper made us was excellent (and didn’t start until 8).

During breakfast on Tuesday the 3rd, we were told we must visit a place our server the night before had recommended:  Meow Wolf, a sort of artistic “fun house” in an old bowling alley financed by writer George R. R. Martin.  But, there was a problem:  it was closed on Tuesdays, and we were set to leave the next day.  So, we decided it was too good to skip and figured we’d visit from 10-noon the next morning before shoving off.  After breakfast, we drove to Bandelier National Monument (named for an archeologist, not Chewbacca’s carrying strap).

The main reason I was excited about this park is that when my parents took me out west 25+ years ago, they didn’t let us climb up the tall ladders leading to cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and I’ve resented it ever since.  Mesa Verde is closed this time of year, but Bandelier also features cliff dwellings and tall ladders to climb. So, this time, I got to climb them.

We hiked about a mile and saw multiple dwellings along the way, as well as about 10-15 mule deer.  At the end of the trail were the 4 or so ladders up the side of the cliff to the “Alcove House” at the top.  My bride was scared of the climb (and especially with 3 small children), but up we all went.  All believed the climbs were worth it.

After our hike, we ate in Santa Fe again (where I had the city’s signature meal:  a green chili cheeseburger) before exploring some of the many art galleries on Canyon Road, which was great, until my littlest dropped her Ranger Reagan doll somewhere among some outdoor art and didn’t realize it was gone until we were about to go to bed a couple hours later and cried about it for a good hour, before the two of us got back in the car to search for it in windy 20-something degree temperatures and darkness.  We found her, though.

The next morning after breakfast and packing up the car, we arrived at Meow Wolf about 40 minutes before it opened, so I took our borrowed Kia Sportage to a nearby car wash, as it was disgusting from the snowy/salty roads in Arizona.  Then, we entered Meow Wolf, and we spent the next hour or so with the children sprinting through passage ways and squealing in delight at all they discovered.

Like laser harps.

Or giant white rabbits.

Or chimneys that lead to new worlds, or a refrigerator that revealed a secret passageway.  It was awesome.

After a couple hours, however, we knew we’d better head east, as were slated to sleep in Oklahoma City that night.

To be continued(er)…

The 5 of us took a one-way flight to Phoenix on Thursday morning, December 29th, picked up a 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo, loaded it with bags and children, and then met 4 of my cousins and 5 of their children for authentic Mexican food for lunch. Then, all 14 of us went to my uncle Chuck’s house (my cousins’ dad) to visit with him a few days before he turns 90.

That evening, we left the high 70s of Phoenix for the low 30s of Flagstaff.  Friday morning, we headed east on I-40 for the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.  Want to see how 2 adults and 3 children pack for a 9-day road trip?  Look below:

I’d seen the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert in the late ’80s when my parents took me in an ’83 Suburban, but neither my bride nor my children had ever visited them.  They were absolutely amazed.

My youngest spent the afternoon writing out the “presentation” she’s decided she’ll give her first grade class upon returning to school on how she spent her winter break at this park.  “Slow your roll,” I told her, “as this is only day 2 of 9!”  Her roll continued.

After several photos with logs that had been scared stiff, we re-boarded the car and headed north to Monument Valley, arriving just before it got dark.  But before we re-boarded, the children turned in their “junior rangers” workbooks and took the pledge–an activity they’ve enjoyed at every national park we’ve visited.

The drive to northern Arizona was beautiful.  Upon arrival at the Navajo park, we had time for a couple pictures before having dinner and settling in at The View hotel there.  There’s my boy; the hotel is behind him.

The next morning (Saturday the 31st), the view looked like this:

The children loved it, but they weren’t worried about driving to the Grand Canyon like I was.  At least I got a cute picture with my bride on the 12th anniversary of our meeting.

Also, I’d really hoped to recreate the scene from “Forrest Gump” when he decided to stop running (which was shot just a few miles from where we slept that night), and despite the weather’s killing the visibility, which meant no one can tell it was shot in the same spot as the film, we reenacted it anyway (you can see it here).

That video meant 13 miles in the snow in the wrong direction, but I think it was worth it.  Three and a half hours later, we were at the Grand Canyon.  The ranger at the entrance apologized for the severe lack of visibility but pointed out, “At least your ticket is free, since you’re military!”  I was worried we’d spend 2 days in fog and snow, and never see the only one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World in the U.S.

We explored the visitor center and the Tusayan museum and ruins in the snow, enjoyed a meal at the Bright Angel Lodge, and watched the second half of the Alabama game in the lounge there.

A few minutes after the game, I wandered outside to see if the sky had cleared a bit, and it had!  We were able to enjoy the last half hour of daylight and actually see the canyon.

Once it was dark, we went to our hotel for the night, the Best Western just outside the park.  It had a bowling alley and arcade on the ground floor that the children were very excited about.  There was also an indoor and outdoor pool, and I had the great idea to use the latter, because it was heated, and I’d never had the experience of being in a hot tub or pool when there was snow on the ground.  The boy joined me for this experience, and eventually, his two sisters did, too (their mother came outside for 2 minutes to bring us towels and then scurried into the warm indoor pool area).

I stayed up until it was midnight in the Eastern time zone and then went to bed.

The next morning, New Year’s Day, we were at the park when it opened at 9am, checked out the visitors center a bit, and then started our “ride the rim” bike tour with Bright Angel Bicycles, led by Penny and Chuck, our guides.  The children loved it.  The grownups did, too.

Our guides had never seen a rainbow inside the canyon, so there was much excitement over seeing one during the ride back.

We then drove to Hopi Point and Hermits Rest for some more spectacular views of the canyon, some elk, and the Colorado River before checking into the historic El Tovar hotel inside the park.

The El Tovar is beautiful inside.  It’s over 100 years old.  It still had Christmas decorations up everywhere, which made it even prettier.

The next morning, Monday the 2nd, we got up, dressed, and packed before sunrise and watched the sun come up over the canyon, right behind our hotel.  Then we had breakfast by huge windows that allowed us to continue to watch the canyon’s colors come alive as the sunlight gave them life. After that, it was time to head south to I-40 again.

Our first stop on 40 east was at Meteor Crater, a place I’d enjoyed seeing when my parents took my brother and me 25+ years ago.

The kids loved it, and my bride was pleasantly surprised by it, too. It’s about a mile across!

Next, we drove another few miles east and stopped for lunch in Winslow, and, naturally, I had to get a photo standing on a corner.

Two hours later, we were at the New Mexico welcome center for a stop on our way to Santa Fe.

Five days and 1000 miles in Arizona had concluded, but our roadtrip vacation was only half over… (continued)