We boarded the train in York and arrived at King’s Cross on July 7, briefly stopping at Platform 9 3/4 before depositing our bags at the AirBnB in London.

Then, I met my distant German relative, Andreas, and his girlfriend to tour the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio, and it was amazing.

I think this excursion was supposed to be for the children, but I was looking forward to it as much as anyone in the family, if not more.

I read all the books (that were out at the time) while in Iraq in 2003 and then finished the subsequent ones as they came out, and I’d seen all the movies.  The children had all read the first book before we let them see the movie and take the tour.  Andreas was also a fan, but his girlfriend had neither seen any of the movies nor read the books.  Nonetheless, they loved it, too.

There was the Great Hall, Diagon Alley, 4 Privet Drive, the Leaky Cauldron, Hagrid’s Hut, Dumbledore’s office, the Griffindor Boys’ Dorm, and a chance to fly on a broom.

It was awesome, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s read or seen “Harry Potter” and finds himself within the vicinty of London.

The next day, we boarded a bus before 5am to see sunrise at Stonehenge.

Our tour bus stopped in Salisbury on the way back to London, so we could explore Salisbury Cathedral (home of the Magna Carta!) and the Church of St Thomas Becket there.

That evening (Friday, July 8), we met up with the 11 hikers who’d be traversing Hadrian’s Wall with me, starting the next morning, when I’d break from my family for our nearly 100-mile hike.

My bride and the children still had a few more days in London to explore the city.  On Saturday the 9th, they went to the National Gallery to take in the art, the Victoria & Albert museum to take in more art and some artifacts, the London Science Museum, and the Churchill War Rooms (something I’d really wanted to do before I left, but the line was too long after our day at Stonehenge) before having ice cream in Hyde Park.

The next day, Sunday, they toured the Tower of London, rode the London Eye, and saw the Prime Meridian in Greenwich and toured the Cutty Sark ship there.  They loved it.

Monday, they rode a double-decker bus around town and visited the Sherlock Holmes museum before spending the afternoon at the British Museum.  Also a great day for them.

Tuesday morning, they boarded an early flight back to the States, very confident that they’d seen all they’d wanted to see in London, and loving every day they spent there!

The days after I’d left were all planned by my 10-year-old, a privilege we told her she’d get for her birthday, and it really meant a lot to her to have us trust her with planning several days of our trip.  Now, of course, the other two are planning where their “big trips” will be when they’re 10!  Many of the ideas came to her from a video we checked out at the library called “Travel with Kids” focusing on London (I believe it’s a series; we’ll be looking for it next time we go somewhere with them for sure!).

I can’t wait for our next international destination with the children:  Paris!

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)…