Seven states… thirteen days… more than 3,600 miles of driving: the Richardson 2019 Wild West road trip was a success! It’s taken me some time to wrap my mind around our whirlwind trip. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and while no vacation is absolutely perfect, we had lots of pretty perfect moments.
We started our trip on Friday, September 20, as soon as Trey got home from work. I had stuffed our car to full capacity, dropped off the animals with family members, and purchased enough snacks to keep the whining at bay (and I’m not just talking about the kids here.) The first evening was just a few hours of driving to get us into Oklahoma. We had a minor hiccup when we discovered our coolant reservoir was completely empty, but we refilled it and poured in some amazing magic patching solution to plug the leak, and voila—good as new. (Unfortunately Trey didn’t screw the reservoir lid back on quite right, so we lost it somewhere along I40 and had to fashion a new one out of a plastic bag and a rubber band… but all’s well that ends well, and we made it home with the plastic bag still steadfastly doing its job.)
The next day was a long day of driving across Oklahoma and Texas, but we did briefly stop at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo to let the kids try their hand at spray-painting cars buried nose-down in a cow field. The kids really got into the whole graffiti thing, spray-painting their names on every available surface, even the ground. I’ll have to let them graffiti their names on public property more often! (Just kidding. I, of course, will encourage them to use tag names rather than their real names.)
We stopped for the night at a cute little hotel on historic Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, where we ate green chili burgers for dinner and green chili scrambled eggs for breakfast. Sunday we drove to Santa Fe and explored their downtown art district, then spent a couple hours at Meow Wolf. I don’t know how to describe Meow Wolf. I guess you could call it a museum, or an art installation, or a psychedelic experience minus the drugs. It started as a house, then we were in an underwater coral reef, then we were in an ice cave, then we were in a treehouse, then we were in a space station, then we were in a dark room with lasers and OH MY GOODNESS THE LASERS MAKE MUSIC WHEN YOU TOUCH THEM! AND THE DRYER IS ACTUALLY A SLIDE! AND THERE ARE TWINKLY LIGHTS AND SECRET PASSAGEWAYS AND MISSING HAMSTERS TO FIND! I finally feel like I know what it feels like to be a person with ADD… everywhere I looked was something new and bizarre commanding my attention.
After Meow Wolf we drove south to Albuquerque and had enough time to do a few uphill climbs at Petroglyph National Monument before going in search of our hotel for the night. Funny thing about booking hotels online is you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting. We realized pretty quickly that we weren’t in the best area of Albuquerque, but we’re pretty adventurous and don’t mind too much staying in a less-than-stellar hotel when all we need is a place to sleep. But after a rough check-in experience followed by a near electrocution in our room (the housekeeper was okay; the air conditioner wasn’t), followed by what appeared to be a drug deal in the parking lot, we decided this particular resort wasn’t exactly our cup of tea. For $14 more, we found a nearby hotel with an indoor pool, free breakfast, and a lot less creepiness.
The next day was another long day of driving through New Mexico and Arizona with brief stops to see the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, where the kids earned their first junior ranger badges of the trip. We ended the day at a nice hotel about an hour’s drive from the Grand Canyon. (Side note… I was constantly confused about what time it was. We crossed from Central Time into Mountain Time, and I was doing okay with remembering we were an hour earlier than back home. But apparently Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time, so then we were two hours off… we never knew what time to go to sleep or wake up, with the result being that I woke up at 3:30 every morning Arizona time and sat in the bathtub reading and waiting for everyone else to wake up. By the time they were emerging from bed at 6 or 6:30, I was impatiently chiding them for sleeping the day away.)
Tuesday morning we finally made it to the Grand Canyon. I had hoped we would have a “wow” moment seeing the canyon for the first time, and I wasn’t disappointed! It was breathtaking. We spent the morning wandering along the rim trail, constantly telling each other how amazing and beautiful it was. We had a picnic lunch to enjoy the view and gorgeous fall weather. The wildlife was very friendly. Brielle met an excited chipmunk who tried to sample her hot chocolate, and Perrin actually had a squirrel crawl into his lap to try to take a bite of his ice cream cone (it obviously didn’t know my son very well… Perrin doesn’t share his ice cream with ANYBODY.) Even the elk were wandering around everywhere without a care in the world.
We spent the afternoon and early evening riding the free shuttle bus so we could see the canyon from different overlooks. We stayed the night at one of the hotels right on the rim. We walked outside in the evening to look at the stars, then we got up early the next morning and stepped right outside our room to watch the sun rise over the canyon.
On Wednesday after spending a few hours enjoying our last glimpses of the Grand Canyon, we got back in the car and drove several hours north into Utah. We stopped briefly at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and the kids got to feed some bunnies and play with kitties (which maybe wasn’t the best idea because I had to explain about a dozen times that no, we COULD NOT take a kitty on our road trip with us). That evening we arrived at our hotel just outside of Zion National Park, which was Garden-of-Eden-level beautiful.
Thursday was a day for hiking and exploring Zion. Trey nixed the Angel’s Landing trail, which has a ridge near the top with 1,000 foot drop-offs on either side. Instead we hiked the beautiful Riverwalk trail and the Lower Emerald Pool trail (still tons of beauty; far less risk of death).
Friday we got up early (again… are you sensing a pattern with my vacation style? I might have driven my family a little crazy) and drove about an hour and a half to Bryce Canyon National Park. The elevation here was higher (8,000-9,000 feet above sea level in some places), and we did a very strenuous hike down into the canyon and back up. As difficult as it was, and although we all sounded like a family of wheezy nicotine addicts on the upward portion of the hike, I’m really glad we challenged ourselves and did this amazing hike. We went down several switchbacks, through a slot canyon (narrow path with towering canyon walls on both sides) and hiked among the hoodoos, which Bryce is famous for. The hike back up had amazing views (i.e. good excuses to stop: “No, I’m not dying for lack of oxygen. I just want to see the pretty hoodoos. Again.”)
We were pretty beat by dinner time, but we still took time to walk around and explore the adorable town of Bryce before bed.
Saturday was another driving day, this time to the eastern side of Utah. We took the scenic route so that we could stop at Capital Reef National Park for a picnic lunch. We visited the apple orchards and picked several varieties of apples for our lunch (except for Perrin, who spent most of the time in the orchard giving the wild turkeys some exercise).
Then we hit the road again and drove straight on to Moab. We had a couple hours of daylight remaining (and I couldn’t let that go to waste, could I?) so we did a couple of short hikes at Arches National Park before turning in for the night.
Sunday we got up and drove to Canyonlands National Park. We did an easy but beautiful hike to Mesa Arch and saw some amazing views. We could see for about 150 miles from some of the overlooks. The only problem is that it was super windy that day, to the point that the sand was stinging our arms and legs. All of our pictures show us clutching our sunglasses and hats and smiling with closed mouths to keep the sand out of our teeth (we learned that the hard way).
Monday was a full day to explore Arches. We did a hike classified as “difficult” because it was very steep, but the views of Delicate Arch at the end were worth the pain. We motivated Perrin with the promise of snacks at the top (and he got some good laughs along the way out of a rock that he dubbed “toilet rock.” In all fairness, it was shaped like a toilet.)
Tuesday we left Moab and drove into Colorado. We spent the morning going horseback riding on a lovely ranch. Bri rode Spirit, Perrin was on Dog, I rode Oreo, and Trey was on Chunky Monkey (who tried several times to stray off the trail to snack on some grass or leaves. I think Trey felt he had found a kindred spirit. I mean the straying-off-the-trail-to-snack part, not the eating-grass-and-leaves part.)
The rest of that afternoon and evening we spent at Mesa Verde, where the kids received their 8th and final junior ranger badges of the trip. We bought tickets to tour the Cliff Palace, which has 150 rooms. Any time my kids start complaining about having to go all the way out to the end of our driveway to get the trash can or check the mail, I’m going to remind them of the hand and foot holds we saw that were carved into the rocks for the cliff dwellers to climb in and out of their homes.
The next two days were long days of driving to get back home. I think the family was secretly grateful for two days of sitting in the car and not having Mom urging them on like some kind of crazy vacation drill sergeant (“Hurry up! Hurry up! We’ve got to go have more fun! NOW!”) I admit we kept up a hectic pace for the two weeks we were gone, but we were thankful that we got to see and do as much as we did. (Right, family? RIGHT??)
But as they say, there’s no place like home, and it’s good to be back safe and sound with plenty of fun memories to look back on (not to mention about 50 gazillion pictures . . . I had planned to print them and put them in a photo album, but I’m pretty sure they don’t make photo albums that big). Because Perrin’s in 4th grade this year, he got a National Parks 4th-grader pass that got us in free to all the parks. Now Brielle’s planning her 4th grade trip, so it looks like we might have to hit the road again in a few years. Maybe by then we’ll have recovered from this trip.