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)

Yes, some musicians and actors and athletes I like died, and we had a really contentious and nasty Presidential election, but entertainers and politicians aren’t responsible for my day-to-day (or year-to-year) happiness or contentment; I am.

This was the most successful year I’ve ever had professionally and financially, but that’s not how to measure whether a year was great or not.  For me, it’s in large part concerts and travel.

This year, I got to see Madonna, Prince, Duran Duran, They Might Be Giants, Van Morrison, Smashing Pumpkins + Liz Phair, Willie Nelson + Kris Kristofferson, Cyndi Lauper, Journey + Doobie Brothers, Kenny Rogers, The Cure, Guns & Roses + The Cult, Richard Marx, Kanye West, Heart + Joan Jett + Cheap Trick, Adel, and Beyonce in concert.

I traveled to the Hike Inn in north GA (twice), Washington DC (twice), New Orleans, San Antonio, Edinburgh + York + London, Hadrian’s Wall hiking trail from Carlisle to Newcastle, Amelia Island, the Hiwassee River for kayaking, Dallas for a Bama game, Lake Guntersville to see my parents, St Simons Island, Cumberland Island, and Nashville (thrice).  Even better, most of these trips included my wife and children.

For the past 3 days, I’ve been in Phoenix + the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert + Monument Valley + the Grand Canyon (where I am now!) with my family.  Today, I stood where Forrest Gump stood when he stopped his 3+ years of running and decided to go home (and I made a reenactment video of same).

I can only hope we can have as many exciting adventures,  good fortune, great health, and wise decisions in 2017 as we’ve had in 2016.  And I hope the same for you.

Not long ago, my friend Jeff Bogle told me Kia was sponsoring a road trip from Atlanta to Nashville a few days before Thanksgiving and asked if I’d like to participate.  He promised good food, good music, and good company.

The last time I’d spent any time with Bogle was when we walked 100 miles across England to raise over $40,000 for Camp Kesem last summer.  As awesome as that was, the opportunity to drive a couple hundred miles instead was quite appealing.

We started with brunch at South City Kitchen, one of my favorite places to eat around these parts.  Then, we took off in our Optima Hybrid for a stop for coffee in Chattanooga.  Bogle found a mural and went to work creating artful photographs.

Once we arrived in Nashville, we walked to Third Man Records to check out some vinyl (the conversation during the mile or so walk there lead me to ask Santa for the record player Bogle has, so, hopefully, I too will want to walk to obscure record stores across train tracks in newly-visited cities in search of vinyl, too!).  Then, we had dinner at Union Common and hit Winner’s Bar and Losers Bar in the Gulch area before sleeping at Lowes Vanderbilt.

The next morning started at Pancake Pantry, where obscene amounts of processed meats and maple drizzled carbs provided the base coat for a day of exploring Franklin (just south of Nashville).  Our first stop in Franklin was the Factory, where we toured  Artisan Guitars (and got leather guitar straps as gifts that I’ve already affixed to my Taylor) before visiting Honest Coffee Roasters and myriad other little shops.

Then, we toured Arrington Vineyards and tasted lots of wines and chocolates and cheeses, and even the most Philistine among us felt sophisticated.  We all got to bring home a dessert wine and additional bottle of our choosing (I went with the Red Fox red; it was delicious).

After that, Bogle drove the Kia (he abstains from the firewater, so I tend to take his share, as I really can’t stand waste), and we headed back into town to let him take some pictures by the river and of Second Ave (where I could lament the absence of all the places I used to visit in high school and college, when I called nearby Hendersonville, Tennessee “home”).

Dinner was at Merchants, where I had dinner before one of my high school proms.  Then, the whole group went out to hear live music and enjoy the Nashville night life on a Tuesday.  Stops included the Valentine, Coyote Ugly, Skull’s Rainbow Room, Crazytown, Robert’s, Tootsie’s.

When the last haunt closed at 2:30am, we listened a talented busker channel Randy Travis on the sidewalk by Broadway before catching a 3am cab back to the hotel, so Bogle could pack and make his 5am flight.

The next morning, I drove back to Atlanta.

This was a wonderful trip.  I loved the conversation and scenery along I-75 north and I-24 west.  I loved the myriad live music venues we got to experience Tuesday night.  I loved the meals we enjoyed and the folks who surrounded me at each one.  As someone who’s had a 6,000# vehicle for the past 5 years or so, I also enjoyed driving the peppy little Optima that never seemed to need gas!  I’m grateful to Bogle for extending the invitation and to the folks at Kia for including me in this adventure (to read Bogle’s synopsis of this trip, click here).

And speaking of adventures, in just a couple weeks, our family will take Sorento on a national park filled roadtrip from Phoenix to Atlanta!