Road Trip 2009
Sacramento - Yosemite - Death Valley - Vegas - Grand Canyon - Scottsdale - NM - Canyonlands - Sacramento
Last fall, I had two weeks off and decided to take a long roadtrip with the family. It would be a mix of national parks, visitng family, exploring the southwest and some offroad camping. Our farthest destination from Sacramento was Albuquerque, NM to visit family and see the Hot Air Balloon Festival, the largest in the world. The trip was definitely going to be a challenge with 2 kids age 2 1/2 and 11 months. The trip gave me an excuse to buy the new ARB freezer/fridge to keep the milk cold and food ready. I spent a great deal of time researching areas and planning the trip using info from ExPo, maps and books. Overall, it was a great trip. Here is a brief synopsis...
Started out leaving Sacramento early in hopes of making it to Death Valley by nightfall. An ambitious first day. We drove through Yosemite on our way to 395 and bought our National Parks yearly pass. Driving through the winding roads of yosemite, my daughter decided to get sick all over her car seat. An ominous sign for just 4 hours into a 2 week trip...
Turn-off to Yosemite
Through Yosemite, over Tioga pass and lunch at the Mobil1 station at 395. This 'rest stop' is famous for great food and people. During the summer, they have outdoor concerts and the food is fantastic. With the kids bellies full, we continued our long trek to Death Valley.
We arrived in DV in the late afternoon and thankfully so. Normally, October is a pleasant time of year in DV, but it happened to be close to a record high of 112 when we rolled in. Toasty...
Kept the A/C until we made camp and it didn't start cooling off until around 9pm. Set-up camp... cooked some nice steaks and headed to bed. It was simply too hot to enjoy the wine that night.
Up early the next day and headed to Badwater, the lowest point in the US.
My daughter ran around enjoying the open space.
We saw some remarkable mineral colors in the rock along the way. DV has an eerie beauty in such a desolute environment.
We then took a southern route out of DV on our way to Vegas.
We stayed at Circus Circus for the kids. The rooms in Vegas were so cheap, we had to stay. With the economy in the dumps, rooms were almost as cheap as camping. We saw a few circus acts and the kids enjoyed the games and winning stuffed toys. We spent two nights and took full advantage to cool off in the pool.
Another great reason for the ARB fridge - always a cold beer in your hotel room.
My daughter took to gambling a bit early...
After leaving Vegas we set off for the Grand Canyon.
A long day of driving from Vegas to the South Rim. When I go back, I want to experience the North Rim. With the kids and being the first time for my wife, we got a designated campsite. That night, it dropped 15 degrees from the previous night and we were camping in 30deg weather. We went from DV at 112 degrees three days prior to a 30 degree low overnight. We bundled up in our down sleeping bags and huddled with the kids to keep warm. Surprising, everyone slept pretty well. I got up early to see the sunrise. It is truly a spectacular sight.
Taking a stroll in the morning, we crossed paths with a family of deer. It was nice being on the rim early without any crowds.
After GC, we headed to visit family in Scottsdale. We took a side route through Sedona and the beautiful red rock canyons. Nice to look at, but a bit windy for the kids. We were rewarded with another carsick child leaving Sedona. We stayed overnight after watching cousins play in a softball game. Then it was off to Albuquerque.
We arrived after a full day driving and thankful we would be in one place for a few days. The Ballon Festival was going on and the city was buzying with visitors. We watched the 'mass ascension' one early morning as the ballons take flight at sunrise. Its an amazing site as hundreds of balloons take off from the same place.
We took a day trip to Santa Fe to take in some southwest culture. Its a great little town and we bought my daughter a little bracelet from one of the vendors.
After 5 days or so, we geared up again and headed to Moab. We made a short detour to checkout Mesa Verde, a ancient inian dwelling near the Colorado/Utah border. Its amazing what they built without welding, duct tape and bailing wire...
Leaving Mesa Verde, we stopped at a McDonalds with a play area. Now, I saw Super Size Me and I am not a fan of McDonald or fastfood in general. But I do give someone credit for being a genius. We let the kids run around the playground for a hour in the hopes of exhausting them for the continued ride. Luckily, it worked and we kept driving to Moab with the little ones crashed out in the carseats. The long day of driving didn't end as expected. We were planning on meeting some fellow ExPo members at Horsethief campground near Moab, but I started to feel sick as we rolled in. We headed to Green River where hotels were 1/3 of the price of Moab. As soon as we checked in, I opened the door and proceded to get sick. We were holed up in the motel for two days recovering as my daughter also cam down with something. Two days that we should have been on the White Rim trail. Needless to say, after 2000 miles of driving and all the preparation, I was a bit disappointed.
After a couple days recovering, we drove to Arches National Park, another first for my wife. We did some hiking out to landscape arch and took a backroad out of the park near the north end. We were prepared to start the long journey home.
As a last ditch effort and everyone feeling better, I convinced my wife to head to Canyonlands and see if there were any spots available on the White Rim trail. People reserve campsites a year in advance and camping is only allowed in designated sites. The trail is about 100 miles long and takes a few nights to complete the trail. Other stay longer to exlore the many trails by truck and on foot.
Arriving at the ranger station, there were two open spots within driving distance that afternoon. An older gentlemen and myself arrived the same time. He had travelled all the way from Alaska in an old pickup. He lives with no phone and definitely looked the 'back-country' type. Only two sites left Airport and Gooseberry. We both wanted Gooseberry. It was decided with the age-old game of skill... a coin toss. I called 'heads' and won! I thought about the family, the extra distance and the fact that this man came all the way down from the Yukon. I let him have the campsite farther in. Besides, we were only going to be able to stay one night.
We set off to find the site and try and relax before it got dark on us. We descended down the switchbacks and onto the main trail. Beautiful country. The trail itself is not technically difficult, but amazing scenery.
The White Rim Trail follows the Colorado river and winds down among cliffs and balancing rocks. We saw folks mountain biking along with a support vehicle. Definitely something to think about next trip. After about 3 hours of driving to go 15 miles, we came to our campsite, Airport C. There is another site in the same area, but they are far enough away you can't even hear them. We set-up camp and to enjoy our last night under the stars. Being far away from any big city the Milky Way was clearly visible in the night sky. My wife and I relaxed when the kids were asleep counting the shooting stars.
The next morning, we packed up and headed back to the pavement. I really wished we could have done the whole trail, but I was thankful to at least get a taste of it. Tips if you are interested... reserve your campsites early, up to a year in advance... spend a few days to see and experience the trail... call a few days before to see if there were any cancellations... those spots are then first-come-first-serve... midweek is more likely to get you a spot.
Back on the freeway, we headed home. We had planned to stop at a motel along the way, but once we were driving and the kids were sleeping, we drove straight through. 16 hours later, we rolled into the driveway... tired, but knowing we made the best of my two weeks off work.
A funny thing happened on the way home. The morning after camping in Canyonlands, I noticed one of the garbage bags had been gnawed through. I figured it must have happened after it got dark, but before I loaded the garbage/food back into the truck before heading to sleep. Later that evening, when we were driving home, the sun went down. My wife took over driving duties for a few hours so I could rest somewhere bewteen Elko and Battle Mountain. The light from the GPS cast a glow in the front seats. The kids were resting quietly. My wife switched the GPS to 'nightime' mode. Not 2 minutes later, she lets out a screech and almost jumps out of her seat! What happened??!! A MOUSE, A MOUSE!!! Needless to say, she was practically hyperventilating, the kids were awake and she was a bit freaked out. I tried to assure her that he won't hurt her and that she is still driving. We head to the first exit and a well-lit gas station. She jumps out of the car and grabs the kids. I tell her we can stop and I can unload the gear, but then logic steps in... even if I get all the gear out of the truck, I have no assurance the little guy left and he is probably terrified and hiding somewhere in the dash. It took a lot of convincing, but I finally got her back in the truck. We drove the rest of the way home with all the lights on in the truck.