Epic Road Trip – Week 1

How do you prepare for a three-week road trip with a two-and-a-half-year-old?  With the help of my dad, Molly and I built out our 4Runner into a 4WD camper, spent countless hours dehydrating food, researching routes, purchasing gear, and booking hotel rooms. After a year of thinking, planning, discussing, and anticipating the trip was finally here… we were off like a herd of turtles!


A wedding and college reunion of sorts kicked off the trip and got the 4Runner headed west.  After finishing my last final exam of the semester, Molly and I dropped Crosby off at my parents’ house late Thursday night and headed to Des Moines, Iowa for our good friends Kevin and Stef’s wedding weekend.  After a little too much fun catching up with old friends, my parents delivered Cros to Des Moines on Sunday afternoon to save us some back tracking and we were off!

Hoping that Crosby would sleep through the night and we could take down some REALLY boring miles in the dark, we arrived at the Hyatt Place in Santa Fe, NM just as the sun was coming up Monday morning.  The hotel graciously allowed us to check in early (as in 5:30 am!) and we took a family nap before waking up just in time to catch the end of the free hotel breakfast.  We got a great hike in at Atalaya Mountain (Molly was NOT a fan of the giant snake) and retired to the hotel for some swimming, great Mexican take out and an early bed time.

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Next stop, Sedona, AZ.  Petrified Forest National Park had not been on our original itinerary, however, in the spirit of a true road trip (and because of an antsy toddler) we stopped in to check it out.  We spent a few hours scrambling and taking in the surreal geology of the park before pushing onward.

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Arriving in Sedona at dusk, we checked into the Hyatt Pinion Point and were impressed.  The hotel was a vacation club with large, lodge-type condos perched in the hills with good views from the rooms and great views from the pool.  We played away the evening at the pool and enjoyed an extraordinary full moon from the hot tub.

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Wednesday, we got out and explored Sedona, taking a walking tour of the city and attempting to do some shopping at the prodigious number of stores.  I could best describe the shopping experience as an upgraded and expanded Wall Drug.  While I find this quaint and funny at a known tourist trap like Wall Drug, it was a little obnoxious in Sedona.  That aside, we did find a couple stores with some good souvenirs and picked up a couple things including a hand-made leather holster and accompanying cap gun for Crosby from the Cowboy Corral.  After a nap for Crosby and a cigar on the patio for me, we hit the town again for dinner.  We found a great outdoor patio and enjoyed some prickly pear margaritas, decent food, and a spectacular sunset.

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Thursday morning we got one last pool session in and loaded up the truck for the Grand Canyon.  We had not got much in the way of outdoor activities (other than our somewhat excessive pool time) in Sedona, but we hoped the Grand Canyon would offer a chance to get off the grid.  After an easy drive, we pulled in to Visitor Center and took a look.  The canyon was incredible, but the crowds were annoying and Crosby did not give two shits about the view.  I don’t think he could really grasp what he was looking at because it was hard for even Molly and I to get our heads around the immensity of the canyon.  We got some great camping advice from the ranger at the visitor center and headed out to find a spot to camp, intending to hike the following day.

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We drove down Highway 64 until just past Grandview Point, then turned south on Coconino Road (Fire Rd 310)  and entered Kaibab National Forest where dispersed camping is allowed.  After locating a great campsite, we parked the truck and got settled.  A complete 180 from our experience the prior year camping with the little guy, Crosby had a blast playing in the dirt, catching lizards, finding “ant castles” (giant ant hills), and peeing in the grass.  We enjoyed the sunset on a partial view of the canyon, a hot dinner, and solitude as Crosby fell asleep in Molly’s arms at the evening campfire.

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After a sound night’s sleep in the 4Runner, we broke camp and headed back to the rim for some sightseeing.  We stopped at Grandview Point and took in the canyon again while hiking a short way down the trail.  We got back in the car to drive to the planned trail, only to find Crosby had instantly fallen asleep in his car seat.  The day was hot and the trails not toddler-friendly, meaning Cros would be stuck in a backpack all day… we reconsidered our plan and decided to move on.  The canyon was beautiful, but would still be there if we decided to return when Crosby was older.

I had dreamed of taking Crosby to Joshua Tree National Park ever since we visited the park with our friend Leif on a previous trip and Molly had always wanted to visit Palm Springs; so we decided to knock out two birds with one stone and continue west. The drive from the Grand Canyon to Joshua Tree was an experience to say the least.  I can definitely say it was the most desolate piece of country I have ever seen and the eeriness of the countless miles of empty desert was amplified driving through Wonder Valley just outside the park.  As we had predicted, Joshua Tree was an instant hit for our adventurous little Crosby and he went nuts trying to spider up almost any obstacle in front of him.

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After a picture-perfect evening bouldering, scrambling, getting raspberries, and exploring Joshua Tree, we reluctantly headed for the Hyatt Palm Springs.  The hotel, like most of Palm Springs, was dated but not without charm.  Molly and I had a patio overlooking the city and we enjoyed a few cocktails taking in the sights and sounds of Palm Springs after putting Crosby to bed in the spacious suite.  In the morning, we partook in the obligatory pool time (part of vacationing with a kid), and headed for Ventura, CA to stay with our friends Leif and Adrienne.

WTF Los Angeles?!?! After living in Chicago for more than a decade, I am used to bad traffic, but LA is on a whole new level of suck.  We pushed through miserable Saturday jams in time to enjoy a bite at Beach House Tacos and play time on the beach in Ventura.  Adrienne had arranged a babysitter for the evening so we said bye to Cros and headed out for some much-needed adult time.  Dinner was at Paradise Pantry and was absolutely delicious.  Drinks were at…. hmm… a bunch of bars which get increasingly blurry until closing time… but it was a great night of catching up, excellent drinks, bad shots, and a bit of a hangover in the morning.

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Leif needed to sweat out the night before and Ollie (their dog) needed a walk Sunday morning so we hit up the nearby Ventura Botanical Gardens and enjoyed working through our hangovers while getting eagle-eye views of Ventura and the Pacific.  The rest of the day was spent shopping in the downtown area and relaxing on the beach.  Sunday night came way too quickly as Leif and Adrienne had to return to the real world Monday morning. As for us, onward to Big Sur!

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Continue to WEEK 2

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