Leaving Tuba City, we headed to Kanab, Utah. We planned to spend several days there, visit Zion National Park, get some laundry done, and give Jake a chance to get some work done without trying to squeeze in the hours at night after a long drive.
About halfway there, we saw a sign for Horseshoe Bend, the famous overlook into a section of the Colorado River, snaking around a bend, and creating the shape of, well, a horseshoe. We knew it was nearby but we didn’t realize we’d be passing right by it on our way to Kanab, and we just had to pull off. After all, we’d been seeing pictures of it regularly as we had been researching the Southwest for more than 2 years now. Suddenly, it was right there.
We pulled into the parking lot, which was small and crowded and saw people streaming in and out of the sandy uphill path toward the bend. There was a sign cautioning that the heat was extreme, there was no shade, and all visitors should bring water, wear hats, wear decent shoes (no sandals), etc. Really we thought? That bad? How far is it? Maybe we’ll just run up and take a quick peek. We’re relatively young and healthy. We won’t stay long. It’ll be fairly easy for us, I’m sure.
Jake scrambled up the path to scope it out. He agreed, it was far enough (1.5 miles round trip) and super hot that this would not be great for Isaiah or Scout. But the bigger kids could do it with him. So I sent them up with a bottle of water. When they got to the end of the path, they were extremely hot, exhausted, and wishing for shade, of which there was none. Also, Jake didn’t want to get anywhere near the edge with the kids so he called me and we switched places. I brought Scout and Isaiah to him and he came back with Lucy, who had had enough. Dylan and Eli waited in the sweltering heat for me. I got there as fast as I could – nearly sprained my ankle on a sand covered rock, but finally connected with the boys and made it close enough to the edge that we could appreciate the amazing view down into the canyon.
It was, like almost everything we’ve seen in the west, much more impressive than you think it’s going to be. It was bigger, more beautiful, more majestic. The drop was intimidating at a thousand feet. There were tourists from all over the world crawling all over the place. We ignored them and soaked in the natural beauty instead.
I took a couple of pictures of Dylan and Eli near the edge as they wilted, and we discussed the minuscule amount of water left in our bottle. It must have been 100 degrees but it might as well have been 120. I told the boys to crawl under the one large rock that was making a dash of shade and hoped that neither snake, nor tarantula would greet them. A very nice lady asked me if I wanted a picture that was better than the mirror-selfie I was attempting, so I said sure. I got closer to the edge than I would allow the boys to get and she got a pretty decent shot of the scene.
I was a little worried about the kids getting sunburned, and I felt bad for them knowing that there was no break from the heat. I gave Dylan my hat. I told Eli to tie his shirt around his head to give his face a sun break, even though that would expose his chest and back. After a brief respite, we walked back, rationing our sips of water every 30, then 50, then 100 paces. When we finally made it to the car, we were sandy, exhausted, thirsty and very hot. But it was definitely worth it. And we promise to take the caution signs more seriously next time.
After the Grand Canyon, we were basically headed north but were poking around for interesting things to do before hitting the next major stop. Thus, a night in Tuba City. Oh, you’ve never heard of it? Right. Well, there isn’t a whole lot there. It’s in the middle of a vast tract of land in north eastern Arizona. It’s part of the Navajo Nation, an area of land covering almost 30,000 square miles between Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. This area is governed semi-autonomously with various agencies and layers of Native Americans ruling domestic matters, though the US Federal Government has plenary power.
The area is largely undeveloped, retaining it’s majestic natural beauty, unmarred by commercial interests at every turn. Although within Tuba City itself, there are the standard businesses you’d expect – grocery, gas stations, hotels, a few shops. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, just not over developed or much of a town really. The term “city” is a stretch. But we didn’t go for the gas station or the Quality Inn.
Just before you get into town, there’s a spray-painted sign declaring “Dinosaur Tracks” with an arrow pointing off to a small collection of scrappy little huts and a few pick up trucks in the middle of an enormous, beautiful and otherwise untouched reddish-white rocky landscape. We took the turn, parked the car and were soon greeted by a Navajo guide who promised to show us around the dinosaur fossils still intact that litter the area. Really? Is this a touristy hoax? Well, we did our research ahead of time, and according to paleontologists from the University of Arizona (among others), this is no hoax. At some point in the far distant past, the scaly creatures who capture the hearts and minds of little boys (and girls, and okay, adults too) wandered all over this exact spot.
We followed our guide around for a short hike and paused at each track he pointed out. He carried a water bottle with him and sprayed each of the tracks to darken them in the hot, bright sun-soaked landscape. The relief from the water drew them out to a vivid contrast among the paler surrounding rock. He told us which dinosaurs the tracks were said to be from. He showed us what was supposed to be fossilized “droppings,” eggs, claws, and tail-drags. The kids followed quietly, almost speechless.
Impressed? Yeah, I guess you could say so. There’s something special about being in a place where you know with certainty that something else, something magical almost, took place. It doesn’t matter if it was a hundred years ago, a hundred thousand years ago or a hundred million years ago (or more). It was here. And you are here. That’s an experience that transcends study, or movies, or picture books. It launches you through your physical senses via your imagination into what was once very real, right in the spot where you stand.
We stayed in Albuquerque for a few nights. We rented a beautiful adobe home in a quiet neighborhood and spent a good bit of time relaxing, and just enjoying the space. Jake worked some. We went out to a great Mexican dinner one night.
We went to an aquarium, a “bug-arium” and a place called “Explora” which was sort of a combination of a children’s museum and a science museum (exhibits with gravity, magnets, sound waves, light, velocity, water flow, bubbles, building materials of all sorts, computer drawing / design). The kids had an amazing time at the museums. We had fun watching them have fun.
We loved the scenery of the mountains along one side of the city – visible from almost anywhere. We loved the weather (85-90 / sunny / dry). We loved the food. We had a great time there.
On this road trip, we set out to get to the Rocky Mountains in a much shorter time than when we came out this way in 2015. So, instead of 21 days, it took us 6 days.
Our first stop was New Jersey (only about a 3.5 hour ride), where we stayed for one afternoon and overnight with our dear friends, the Hallidays. We all had an amazing time of fun and friendship. The kids played games, bounced on the trampoline, giggled, told secrets, and stories, etc. etc. The adults got to reconnect and we are so appreciative of our time there (thank you, Hallidays!).
From New Jersey to Colorado, the following 5 days are a bit of a blur, that included not much beyond this:
Drive > Rest stops > Drive > Jake working > Gas stops > Hotels > Microwave dinners > Hotel Pool (only once) > Drive > Some of the kids napping > Drive
Not a lot of whining, thankfully. The kids have been great in the car. It helps that Jake has outfitted each of them (not including Scout) with headphones and devices that hold their favorite songs and audio books. Much of the time was actually very quiet, as surprising as that may sound. Headphones work wonders. But the ride was not without the usual issues that you might expect: a bit of whining and crying, a roadside “bathroom” emergency incident, various naps, the occasional bad attitude, and limitless lost items between seats – Cheerios, cranberries, pencils, crayons, socks, baby toys, a shredded styrofoam cup, etc. etc.
There were a couple of very difficult moments. Coming into Columbia, Missouri, we were approaching a very foreboding storm – heavy rains, ominous clouds, lightening streaks across a darkening sky, and the threats of tornados (which we didn’t mention to the kids, obviously). We made it to the hotel without incident, except for being drenched while bringing in the bags.
An hour out of our destination on the 6th day, we stopped to give Scout a break (he was losing it), and get a little gas. And what do you suppose happened? We were so close to making it with no real issues, and then…poor Isaiah. He had his hands in the car door jamb when someone closed it, not realizing where his hand was. His ring and pinky fingers were closed into the door, ever so briefly, but still. Remarkably, God protected his little fingers from being broken, but they were mighty sore. We iced them, taped them, elevated them, and plied him (and the rest of the kids) with ice cream nearly immediately. But before too long, he was really fine. Amazing.
Coming into Aurora, Colorado on Monday evening, we were physically and emotionally tired. Thankfully, we were headed to the Muzaca’s house! For 3 days we stayed and visited in their cosy house. The kids spent time collecting chicken eggs from the back yard, getting friendly with the 2 family dogs, building block structures, flying Mark’s remote controlled helicopter (Dylan), drawing, resting, laughing, playing at the park, and so on.
Isaiah made amazing progress getting over his fear of dogs, and almost made friends with them. We ate delicious food, had wonderful conversation, slept, cleaned out the car, organized the bags again, and reconnected with our friends. We could not possibly thank them enough for being so open and welcoming and once again, as on our last road trip, giving us a taste of home so far away from home.
This morning, as Jake is driving south, I am in the passenger seat and we are flanked on our west side by the most stunning snow-capped mountain range. After days of driving through the Great Plains, then staying in and resting at the house with friends, the Rockies are a beautiful and most welcome sight.
So, we’re are off to Colorado Springs for one night, then south to Taos, New Mexico to stay in a cabin on a goji berry farm for a couple of days. We are excited for what the next adventures will be, and we’ll keep you posted periodically.
And it wasn’t the trip we were taking either. We were originally headed out to the southwest. We were going to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches and Bryce National Parks, among other places. We researched those places. We watched National Parks films and listened to audio books about them. We followed each of those National Parks feeds on Instagram. We got books from the library. We plotted our map on the computer and then looked up all the places on a huge wall map. The kids wrote out descriptions of each of those places. We packed for weeks. It takes a lot to get 7 people ready for a 6 week road trip. We bought special gear. Camp stuff. Things to keep the kids entertained in the car. Some fancy gadget to keep the internet flowing in the middle of nowhere so Jake could work from the passenger seat while I drove along.
And then we met with Scout’s cardiologist one more time to be sure we were cleared for the trip. She was cautious but permissive. She gave us an elevation limit for him (8000 feet). She explained that the lower percentage of oxygen in the air meant that Scout’s heart would be working harder and how that might be a problem at some point. She wanted to make sure we could get to a hospital if he were struggling. But then she said “I’m sure it’ll be fine. Go. You’ll have a great time.”
So, obviously, we scrapped the entire trip.
4 days before we were to go. That’s not a lot of time to come up with plan B.
We came up with another route, other things to see. But there were problems with it…it was too far to go for only a few cool things, and it was so close to other things that were fun but the elevations were too high. So that was out.
We came up with a 3rd idea. Canada! But after mapping it out, it just seemed sort of underwhelming, and needed more than 4 days to figure out the stops and get excited about the places.
We came up with a 4th idea. Florida. But neither one of us was really excited about Florida. It didn’t seem very adventurous. And it was pretty far to go just for a nice pool and an affordable condo.
So we just headed south, toward DC. We thought we would do this, then that then the other thing after DC. But we started to get sick. On day 2, I got a migraine that lasted 3 days. Then Isaiah got a fever and a bad cough. Then he got sick to his stomach. And we felt less adventurous. Going wherever the wind blows suddenly seemed foolish, and impractical, and expensive. So we scraped together a few other stops, and couldn’t cancel Niagara Falls, which we promised the kids we would see (again). And in the end that’s what we did. We went south to go north.
As the trip went on, we did have fun. We did see cool things. And we continued to get sick. Lucy, then Dylan, then Jake. Finally me, and Scout. And so we are happy to just reel it in, and head home. We’re on the last leg, due in this afternoon. As I type this, we’re cruising down I-90 through NY, with 3 kids coughing, and another with a stuffy nose. One adult with an upset stomach, and no clean laundry left.
My sister asked me if I was happy we still did the trip. I am. It was hard. It wasn’t what we’d planned. But when do things work out exactly as you plan? Sometimes it comes close. Sometimes it doesn’t. This time, it was pretty far from our mark. But we tried. We got out. With 5 kids (including the WILDLY uncontrollable Isaiah, and the 4 month old with the heart condition), we hit the road. We went to new, and sometimes familiar places. We had great coffee. We met nice people. We almost got arrested (for leaving our car “unattended” at a gas station while having lunch in the rest stop). One of our sons got trapped and then freed from an elevator (!). We saw beautiful natural beauty and the foolish tourist attractions that surround these majestic places (Niagara Falls, underground caverns, Pennsylvania countryside). We went to awesome museums, and walked in the footsteps of our first president. We had a picnic on America’s front yard, and had steel cut oatmeal at the cutest little coffee shop you can imagine.
It was a good trip. It was hard, and it was shorter than we wanted it to be. But yeah, I’m glad we did it.