Our grand plan to continue traveling once we got back to the United States quickly fizzled. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to take adventures, but life got in the way and “travel” turned into “visiting family” and that’s kind of far from adventure. But then winter hit, with its cold, and long work days and long school days and the doldrums that include laundry and the grocery store. A travel plan was made in order to have something to look forward to. Something to organize that didn’t revolve around dinner menus or school clothes.
We chose a part of the United States that was as completely different as our current living situation is. We wanted to come back from this trip, look around and think, “Man, Ohio is dull.” Pack your bags, kids! We’re headed west!
We flew to Las Vegas. The kids were not impressed. Who can blame them? Las Vegas is adult world but then we got them to the pool, which, in typical Las Vegas fashion, was empty. People don’t swim at a Vegas pool. They lounge. More water space for my kids!
Asian tour groups document everything.
From Vegas we rented a car and hit the road. First stop, the Hoover Dam.
We explained to the kids that the Hoover Dam provided all the power for Las Vegas and that without it, the city wouldn’t exist. They seemed perfectly fine with a world with no Vegas but they were impressed with the dam.
We got back in the car, pumped the air conditioning, and drove back out into the desert with a goal of seeing at least part of historic Route 66.
Somewhere along the road, Ben mentioned that it seemed patently ridiculous that there is actual talk of trying to colonize Mars when there is clearly so very much space left in the American west that absolutely no one touches. Because, while the land out the window seemed pretty inhospitable to me, compared to Mars? Paradise.
The old Route 66 and other, not quite major highway roads that weave through the west really are just as you imagine them. Mostly deserted, peppered with tiny towns that have seen better days, dusty and dry. About ten years ago they all tried to capitalize on the movie Cars so at every gas station you’ll find an old tow truck with two big teeth painted on the front as an ode to Tow Mater and dying gift shops that have renamed themselves some form of Radiator Springs.
That evening we reached the first of seven national parks and monuments that were part of our itinerary. And it was a big one. The Grand Canyon.
Of all of us, I’m the only one who’s ever seen it before and I was looking forward to everyone’s reaction when they first got a glimpse. Truth be told, there is nothing leading up to it that would even hint that there’s a really, really, really big hole in your path. You’re just walking down a trail in a scrubby forest and BAM! Big hole.
We took a walk to the rim just before sunset on our first day in the park.
Our second day at the Grand Canyon saw us attempt the Hermit Trail, a rather steep path down into the canyon. A trail that had just that day reopened after a small rock slide had made the path impassable. The team of rock movers was still there as we climbed over the boulders that hadn’t yet been pushed aside. We didn’t make it too far down the trail before I had to stop that madness. This was not the best way to start off two weeks of hiking. A description of this path calls it a “challenging route for more experienced canyon hikers”. I turned us around.
After crawling our way back up to the top, with a few Mommy-requested rest stops, we walked the rim trail back to the village. As we had taken the shuttle all the way to the end to reach Hermit Trail, it was a long, hot, beautiful hike back. But the boys weren’t finished. While the girls went back to the cabin, Ben took E back down by way of the Bright Angel Trail. (A much easier path.) Three miles down, which is just about halfway. And then, three miles back up. How that little boy didn’t drop from exhaustion is beyond me.
The next morning, we loaded up the car (Ben had already figured out the puzzle of fitting all the suitcases in properly), made sure we had enough water just in case and started the long drive toward Moab, Utah, with a stop at the Four Corners because you might as well, since you’re there.
The Four Corners is really, truly in middle of nowhere. The entire northeast corner of Arizona is set aside as reservation land and is, for the most part, empty. While the idea of being able to stand in four states at once is quite novel, feel free to skip it if you’re low on time.
We arrived in Moab to find we had fallen into a sort of hippie civilization, if hippies spend their days riding mountain bikes or 4-wheeling along trails through the red rocks, their evenings slacklining wherever they can hook up their strap, and their nights loitering barefoot outside the local restaurants that provide a constant cooling mist blowing from the edges of their outdoor patios. But never mind the sport-hippies, we were here to hike our second and third national parks.
Arches National Park is unbelievable. As an East coast girl, the arches and spires and balanced rocks and fins that make up this part of the country are so foreign to me that I couldn’t get enough pictures, couldn’t stop staring, and cursed the fact that I don’t have eyes in the back of my head because there is just so much to take in. The colors are so unique, and change throughout the day. Late afternoon was my favorite time at Arches, as the shadows started to get longer and the colors deeper.
We drove to each area we wanted to see, then took walks amongst the arches. With only one day in the park and so much to see, we did less trail hiking, which was fine by me. Because it was hot. Like, really hot. And it was only May. I can’t imagine doing these parks in July. Here’s a hint… be prepared for heat when the park you’re in has features with names like Devil’s Garden and the Fiery Furnace.
One little boy I know was enthralled by Utah. Because hiking. And fossils. And dinosaurs. And Indiana Jones. He loved it.
But we weren’t done with Utah (or even Moab) yet.