Ok we’ve had a nice restful slumber, the kids had a quick bath, electronic devices are charged so it’s time to get back on the road.
We have the kids sleep in t-shirts after baths so in the morning all they have to do is put on shorts and Crocs and get in the car. Most of our luggage stays in the car overnight and we only bring in the next day’s clothes, toiletries and anything valuable. It should be noted that in 5 cross-country trips we’ve never had anything stolen from our car and we only left one battery charger behind.
The morning ritual is fill up the gas tank, get breakfast and coffee and turn to the next page of directions. It’s always a good idea to let the kids know where you’re headed that day and how long it should take though they don’t always understand and while crossing Iowa will ask if we’ll be to California soon. I tried to give them maps so they could follow along, but they weren’t all that interested. At 9, 5 and 1 they’re still young enough to be excited by little things but also young enough to be lulled into a semi catatonic state by the DVD player…a must have for 7,000 plus miles.
Inevitably as soon as you get back on the highway and away from civilization one of the children has to go to the bathroom ‘very badly.’ Out in the middle of nowhere we had no issues with pulling over to let them go on the side of the road, though unless a real emergency they often refused. The rule is Always Go Before You Leave…oh if only that worked. Our middle child couldn’t perform both functions at one stop and so each one required its own rest area. Whenever we were about to pass one an announcement was made…if anyone has to go, speak now or hold it for the next 55 miles.
Unless we just got in the car we try to linger a little at rest areas to let them run around. Some even had small playgrounds so we’d stay a little longer. The same goes for any lunch stops, always look for a place the kids can run around. When your car has New York plates you sometimes get bewildered looks or questions from the locals. Most people just thought we were insane.
Obviously you’re going to want to document your trip with pictures…lots and lots of pictures. So make sure you have enough storage or plan to dump some to a disc if possible. For some reason we’re a family that used to take a lot of video but never watch any of it, so we gave up taking video a long time ago. We also keep a journal of each trip to make logistical notes, jot down anything eventful and collect ‘What Was Your Favorite Part’ quotes. On this last trip we even brought along the 2005 journal and read that at the appropriate times which was fun. I also like to take close up pictures of any signs or historical markers so we’re not left guessing why we have a picture of a certain building, rock or landscape.
Across the middle of the country it gets a little unclear as to why we’re driving because frankly there isn’t a lot to see. Sometimes you have to look hard or make things up. Since you can see so far ahead a pillar of smoke will be a topic of conversation for miles. What do you think it is? When do you think we’ll get to it? If you’re lucky you’ll come across some thunder storms, those are always fun to watch from a distance. We followed one across Nebraska, but never quite caught it which is good because it would have washed away our dead bug collection on the front of the car and the boys would have been crushed.
Once you get ‘out West’ the scenery starts to pick up. If you were born and raised in the Northeast and have never seen this kind of topography you’ll be amazed for several days just looking out the windows. Leaving the flat plains of Nebraska for the increasingly rocky Wyoming is gradual but impressive and Interstate 80 into Salt Lake City is beautiful. The Salt Flats are impressive and be sure to get a good look because the drive across Nevada is pretty barren.
Once we get to Reno we’ve reached one of our destinations as we have a lot of family there so the pace slows down. No one is much interested in the casino scene so we tend to avoid that. One year we went to a wedding and the reception was help at the National Automobile Museum so that was cool. Last trip I took the kids for a morning mountain bike ride circling the hills around the city and they loved that.
Leaving Reno you head into the mountains and up past Lake Tahoe. Sadly we’ve never stopped there though we did take the loop around it once. This is one of the drawbacks to this kind of trip, you can’t do everything but you can at least get a glimpse which is better than not going at all. Traffic is bad so I wouldn’t suggest it unless you have the time to spare. Of course Interstate 80 goes through Donner Pass so that’s always a fun discussion around lunch time. If you’re lucky there may still be some leftover snow in the pass for the kids to play in.
California is so big and so varied that it would take 3 weeks just to start seeing it. Since we have family and friends in both Northern and Southern California we’ve been able to see most of it. The big decision you have when driving in California is Coast or Valley. If you need to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles relatively quickly you probably need to take 5. It’s not all that exciting, but you do get to see where most of America’s produce is grown. One of our favorite games is called ‘What Are They Growing?’ Maybe the locals know already but us New Yorkers are used to seeing Avocados in big piles at the grocery store so we don’t know how they grow. We all decided that each field should have a sign that told us city folk what was growing.
If you have the time though, you should really take The Pacific Coast Highway AKA Route 1 because it’s breathtaking. Some parts are not for the faint of heart though as you’re perched on the edge of the continent or crossing high and narrow bridges. If you’re luck it will be clear; when we did it last it was shrouded in fog. That just makes the blind hairpin turns more interesting.
Now unless you want to go to Mexico and Central or South America you have to turn around and start heading back home at this point. This is always kind of depressing because it’s the beginning of the end in a way. Sure there’s a lot to see, but you can’t help but realize that you’re no longer getting away from home but closer to home. It also means leaving the family and friends part of the trip which is always sad.
Over the years we have visited a lot of the big National Parks: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mt. Rushmore, The Grand Canyon and even Death Valley but never the Parks of Southern Utah: Zion, Bryce and Arches. In 2009 we were finally going to do it and I for one was really looking forward to it. After leaving LA we made a quick stop at the Hoover Dam which the boys will tell you was their favorite part then headed back North on 15 to St. George Utah. One of my regrets is that the last part of this drive was in the dark so we missed what I hear is some unbelievable scenery.
Finally the big day or at least MY big day. We planned on hitting Zion and Bryce Canyons as well as Capitol Reef National Park. Now everyone always asks me why we didn’t stay longer or camp in one of the parks or hike all over the place. Because we didn’t. For one the kids are too young and for another we didn’t really have the time. Would I like to go back and do all of that someday, you’re damn right I would, but this was about seeing as much as we could before it got dark.
Now if you’ll excuse the dramatic pause I really need to go have a sword battle with my kids…part three coming up soon.
To Be Continued…