Last week, for the first time ever, from Palm Desert we drove east. We didn’t drive back to La Canada or straight to Legoland in Carlsbad like we’ve done in previous years. We drove east.
We watched as the landscape changed. From windmills and sand…
To low bushes and cacti…
…to bigger mountains.
After about 6 hours of driving, the surroundings changed again and we drove into a mountainous town with pine trees!
We arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona, a beautiful place where I, myself, had never been. I felt like I could breathe easier with all of those trees arround. The next day we drove through the foresty terrain.
Eventually, the trees became more sparse and we drove to…
…one of the seven wonders of the world…
The great Grand Canyon! This was another first for Isabel, Brady and I. John had been once before in 1994 when he was in the army, driving to his duty station of Fort Irwin, California. An unexpected perk was getting into the park for free since Isabel is still technically a 4th grader until August. All fourth graders and their families get into National Parks free!
We loaded up our backpacks with snacks and three big bottles of water and headed down the Bright Angel Trail along the south rim.
It was a pleasant seventy degrees with a breeze. The hike was tough enough, I can’t imagine doing it with one hundred degree weather. As we were headed down the path, hikers were passing us with backpacks loaded with camping gear, some of them having spent the night down somewhere along the way.
I loved hearing various accents hike by me. They were a reminder that this is a destination for people from all over the world. I met a guy in his twenties from Germany, a family from Sweden, and a couple from…wait for it…Oklahoma! Their road trip was taking them to L.A. The irony.
I have a theory that everyone loves a good view. This little squirrel is no exception.
He was so deep in thought he didn’t even notice me.
John, Isabel and I drank every drop of water we carried and enjoyed snacks of Cheez-its, pita chips and walnuts. The salt tasted so good and the protein kept us going. When we were almost out of water, Brady and I shared a juicy apple as we hiked back up and agreed that it was a saving grace that quenched our thirst.
I feel like when I’m holding a camera I really notice beautiful moments, large and small. Maybe I’m looking for them. As a result, I was constantly dilly-dallying behind Isabel, John and Brady. They got tired of waiting for me!
We only hiked for about 2 ½ hours, which was enough for us this time. Our friend Phill has hiked from one rim to the other, spending the night in the valley in between. Our friend Luke, a backpacking rockstar, once hiked rim to rim to rim in 18 hours!!! Both, very admirable…and not necessarily something I need to do in my lifetime. Haha!
What a fun family activity for us to experience together. When we reached the top of the trail, we felt like we deserved souvenirs from the gift shop and ice cream cones to enjoy with one exceptional view!
Gazing out at the Grand Canyon sure reminds you how small you are in the grand scheme of things!
The next day, we continued to move east. We drove to Meteor Crater outside of Winslow, Arizona.
50,000 years ago, a meteor crashed into the earth at this spot at a rate of almost 26,000 miles an hour. We watched a short film and spent some time in the small museum learning a lot of really interesting facts about this particular meteor crater as well as other meteors in history. The depth of the crater is 560 feet. You could fit 20 football fields on the bottom of this crater and fill the sides with 2 million spectators!
With Brady learning about rocks this year in second grade, he was fascinated by both the Grand Canyon and the meteor crater! He is always pointing out sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks. Thank you, Mrs. Gaska!
As we zipped along the historic Route 66 just out of Gallop, New Mexico, John said in true dad form, “Look! That looks like Radiator Springs.”
We all agreed that he was right.
It’s hard to drive along this route of jagged red rocks and tumbleweeds, and not imagine a time when cowboys and Indians roamed this stretch of earth. I couldn’t help but envision an old Native American on horseback sitting on top of this bluff. This is where stories of the Wild West took place.
Wait! Is that John Bon Jovi up on that plateau at a drive-in movie watching “Young Guns 2” while he dramatically plays his guitar? He’s wearing tight leather pants and cowboy boots, he’s shirtless with a black vest and a native-type necklace, and his hair is waving in the wind! The movie screen has burst into flames! Calm down, I was only hallucinating. For hours driving through this setting, I couldn’t get “Blaze of Glory” out of my head. Damn, that’s a good song. Don’t you just miss the 90’s sometimes? For that reason, I’ve attached the music video below. Watch it. It’s so good.
Speaking of music, with the kids plugged into their ipads and headphones, John and I listened to the “Remember the Titans” soundtrack. With songs by Cat Stevens, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell to name a few, we agreed that it is a great roadtrip cd. We followed it with Tim McGraw “A Place in the Sun”. On this note, John and I agree- we still love putting in a cd and listening to the entire thing. Together we still own hundreds of cd’s and we’ll probably never get rid of them. There are some things we don’t feel the need to evolve from. (Our entire roadtrip music lineup is below.)
We stopped in Santa Rosa, New Mexico to gas up and eat dinner. We were lucky to stumble upon Chico’s Tortas y Pinas Lokas Mexican Food.
Trust me. If you’re passing through Santa Rosa, you should eat here.
When you first walk in, you’re greeted by a real life iguana. Bienvenidos! Order the beef tacos.
I was so excited by the counter decorated with colorful jugs of aguafrescas, jars of fresh honey and packets of tamarindo candy. I settled on a giant glass of sweet and creamy horchata. I can never pass up horchata.
Meanwhile, a crew of ladies and gentlemen in the kitchen were hard at work making homemade tortillas and the like, and the few that looked up from their work and caught my eye, greeted me with a smile.
We started with chips and salsa. And, boy, merely calling them chips and salsa is an understatement.
Fresh salsa verde and fresh, homemade tortilla chips. I don’t even know how to describe the red one. Smoked chiles with a truly spicy kick!
They both paired beautifully with the beef tacos and chicken burrito filled with rice and beans.
Thank goodness I had my generous portion of cold, milky horchata to cool off my tastebuds!
Chico’s Tortas y Pinas Lokas is so unassuming yet with such straightforward, simple yet done right, authentic Mexican fare, and the price is right. Delicioso!
As we continued to drive with our end goal for the day being Amarillo, we passed the time by answering questions in the book, If… (Questions for the Game of Life) by Evelyn McFarlane & James Saywell. It has hundreds of questions like, “If you could have a superpower, what would it be? If you and the people you are with could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be? If you could suddenly play an instrument that you don’t already play, what would it be?” This sparked so much interesting conversation for the four of us. We definitely had our trends of answers. John’s answers were usually practical and mine were a little more… I don’t know, exciting? For instance, if you could have dinner with anyone from history, Isabel and Brady said their best friends, John answered Abraham Lincoln, and I answered Adam Levine wearing a tuxedo. If you had to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island with someone platonic (that takes Adam Levine out of the equation for this one), who would it be? Again, Isabel and Brady answered their best friends, John answered Bear Grylls so he’d know how to survive, and I answered, one of my very best friend’s Sharon, who lives in Israel and I don’t see her very often. We always have so much to talk about and, well, she’s just fun! Isabel and Brady had us “playing the If game” until I was tired of playing the If game. But, it kept them off the ipads… for a while!
Later, when we crossed over the stateline of New Mexico into Texas, Alan Jackson welcomed us with his lyrics, “Where I come from, it’s cornbread and chicken, where I come from, a lot of front porch sittin’…”
That right there is a big sky.
More of the telltale signs that we were in Texas started to appear.
We started to see big rigs representing familiar stores and restaurants- Braum’s, Hobby Lobby, Walmart… And more and more truck trailers transporting horses.
The stars at night are big and bright, (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas!
Without warning, John pulled off the highway.
The legendary Cadillac Ranch!
There were piles of cans of spray paint on the ground encouraging us to participate in this ever-changing expression of art. Isabel and Brady loved it.
This is our consecutive list of roadtrip music- Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (Greatest Hits), John Mellencamp (The best that I Could Do 1978-1988), Tom Petty (Greatest Hits), Restless Heart (Greatest Hits), The Best of Hootie & the Blowfish 1993-2003, Jason Aldean (My Kinda Party), Remember the Titans Soundtrack, Tim McGraw (A Place in the Sun), Matchbox 20 (Yourself or Someone Like You), The Essential Billy Joel (Disc 1), Alan Jackson (Greatest Hits, Volume 2).