I had a brand new van, two children ready to go, a vacation coming up and no money. I am not, nor was I then, the type of person to let a little detail like that stop me from my goal. I planned a trip anyway, knowing in the long run, things would work out.
. . . and work out, they did. Shortly before we were ready to leave, my sister and her husband offered me the loan of a gas credit card, and I knew that was the signal I was to go.
Friday afternoon, the van was packed and ready to go! Mattress on the floor, a ice box full of food, lawn chairs, clothes, blankets and towels for three and two kids already fighting over “shotgun,” we hit the road in the big blue and white Chevy van ~ Mickey Mouse painted on one side, and Minnie on the other. The Mom-mobile was hitting the road and we were heading east!
Plan was to cross the desert in the evening hours when it was cooler. First leg of the journey was I 15 to I 40, with KOA, Kingman, Arizona our first stop. From Kingman, we continued on I 40 until we reached AZ 64 and headed north to the Grand Canyon and we were excited! We had no reservations for a camping spot, but as I said in the first paragraph, I wasn’t going to let little things like that get in the way!
First stop, Visitor Center, where we planned everything we wanted to see. Leaving the Visitor Center the plan was to go to the edge of the rim, see the view and take the obligatory pictures there. As we were doing so, the kids started to get excited and said something about their friends from school and were pointing at two boys who were with their mother! It’s that “small world” thing that happens when you meet a neighbor who lives 3 blocks away and you’re in the most unlikely spot! I had never met the woman, nor had I even heard of her children, but one was in Blaine’s class and the other was in Paige’s! and remember that little detail like a camping reservation? Didn’t need one after all! She invited us to pull our van into her camping site with them! Free camping for the night, playmates for my kids and a real live adult to talk to – life is good.
After two days and nights in the Grand Canyon, it was time to move on and see something else. Paige had requested a stop at Page, Arizona, and got her wish. One night camping at the Glen Canyon National Park and then on to Four Corners! We all had to either sit or lay on all four states – Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado before we traveled on to Mesa Verde National Park.
If you have never visited this area, I would highly recommend this corner of Colorado, Four Corners for the obvious and the Cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde for the historic value, the petroglyphs, or just to walk thru a cliff dwelling and comprehend how these people lived hundreds of years ago. After a full day of exploring, we settled in a campground north of Durango, Colorado and prepared for our big train trip the next day!
One of the highlights of the trip, for the kids as well as their Mama was the day we set aside for a trip on the Durango-Silverton Narrow GaugeRailroad. The day started in Durango where we purchased our tickets and boarded the train. We were not prepared for the sights we were going to see as we headed north to Silverton. Nothing tastes better than soot in your mouth as the old engines chugs and chugs as it pulls cars full of tourists through beautiful canyons with views of the Animas River far below!
45 miles later we arrive in Silverton, an old miner’s town and a place for lunch and exploration. The time went much too fast and it was soon time to board for our return trip to Durango. The train will stop along the trip if there are people to pick up or drop off, and remember that scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where they jump from a high cliff into a river? Yup! This is where it was filmed ~ along the route we had just traveled through.
With what we considered the most memorable part of our trip behind us, we headed north to visit Golden, Colorado, home of, what else? but the Coors Brewery! Leaving Durango on I 60, we had to go over Wolf Creek Pass on our way to Colorado 17, where we headed north. As we started through the desert in Colorado we saw two hitch hikers, looking hot, dusty and really in the need for a ride. Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to stop and pick them up! Not a mistake!
I can’t remember where we dropped the first one off, but the second one invited us to spend the night at his boarding (?) house (and I use the term very loosely!) They were actually a mixture of college students and hippies and you couldn’t have asked neater people! The kids and I spread our sleeping bags out on the living room floor and people would step over us and continue on their way upstairs! In addition to a garden in the backyard, our host was very proud of this Sunflower. He is standing next to it. I wish I could remember his name or kept the letter he sent me from South America where he went with the Peace Corps the next year. It was a neat experience, but in retrospect, and with age and maturity, I probably shouldn’t have done it, but it gave my children a chance to meet and talk to people they would have never had a chance to.
The next day we took our Coors Plant tour that we were so looking forward to. At the end of the tour anyone over 21 got a cup of good ol’ Coors, and anyone under 21 got a cup of “Rocky Mountain Spring Water.” Well, my son was disappointed and told them his Mom let him drink beer, so it was OK if he had some. They didn’t go along with that and poor Blaine had to wait until we got to the van and I popped open a “Lady Coors” and shared it with him!
In the North West corner of Colorado and flowing over into Utah is the Dinosaur National Monument. We decided to go out of our way to see a Dinosaur. What we saw was not a real live Dinosaur, but a group of Archaeologists painstakingly working on a fossil, slowly removing it, scrape by scrape. They allowed Blaine and Paige to go down and watch them closely. Sometimes, being the only people interested in something pays big rewards. Although they were very interested at the time, neither one remembers much of the experience today. I do.
Leaving the Monument area, our goal was getting to Provo or Salt Lake City and a motel with soft beds and a bath tub! Although close to 40 years later I cannot remember whether we stayed in Provo, Salt Lake City or Timbuktu, I still remember the bath tub and the long soak as being the most relaxing thing I have ever experienced! I was preparing myself for the next day continuing the trip west on the I 80.
The first thing you see as you leave Salt Lake City is the Great Salt Lake, not the most scenic lake, but a lake, nevertheless. Our goal today was to see the Bonneville Salt Flats and it was about 100 miles from Salt Lake City. Bonneville is open to the public when there is no other event taking place (ie. filming of commercials, movies or sanctioned events) We were there the day nothing else was going on. I wanted to just drive on the Salt Flats, but we decided I’d “open it up” and see how fast I could get that 3/4 ton, ’74 Chevy van to go. Although I do not remember the exact speed, I do remember it was close to 100 MPH. When the van started shaking, I backed off. (Blaine described it as a “Rattletrap!”) Didn’t need it falling apart in the middle of no where! Nevertheless, that was a cool van!
The next stop on the trip was simply overnight camping between Bonneville and Lake Almanor, California ~ exactly where, I do not remember. On the way thru Nevada, we stopped in Reno and visited a Bookstore ~ what else? and Paige and Blaine each got a book. I’m sure I must have, also, but I don’t remember, since there’s no tale to tell about mine. I do know I took this picture of a citizen of Reno sleeping on a bus bench . . . .
and I do remember Lake Almanor! My aunt and uncle lived on Lake Almanor and had since the 50′s and now my Grandmother lived with them. When we arrived at Aunt Pat’s house my cousin Mike, his wife Roberta and their baby, Abbie were there. I hadn’t seen Mike in years and had never met Roberta and Abbie. It was like a mini-family reunion! We visited with Nana and the children “got to” pick beans in the garden for dinner. After dinner, dishes done, it was family time. Family time this night was reading out of Paige’s new book, one in the Nancy Drew series, “The Clue of the Dancing Puppet.” Paige still remembers the name of the book and furnishing the book for all to enjoy. We visited with Mike and Roberta outside before climbing in our cozy house on wheels. Tomorrow San Francisco!
California was our Family Reunion or just plain Family Tour! My mother’s oldest brother, Henry, lived in San Francisco, and I had not seen him in years, so the next stop was a short visit to his home, to introduce my children to my Uncle. We had a delightful visit with him showing us his ancient Greek coin collection. Each child left with one coin, a souvenir of an unforgettable visit.
Our next stop was just south of San Francisco and San Jose was our destination! Cousin Mike’s sister, and his parents had lived in San Jose for years. I had not seen Suzie since we were teenagers, and now we were both mothers with children about the same age. It would be nice to touch base with her and spend some time getting to know her. . . and that’s exactly what we did! We laughed, the kids played, and we saw the sights and visited Uncle Harry and Aunt Bettie.
One of the favorite tours we took was the Winchester House, home of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Construction continued on the house from 1884 until the day of her death in September of 1922, non-stop, around the clock. Legend has it that she believed as long as she kept building, she would never die. The house has many strange elements – 160 rooms in the house, staircases leading nowhere, doors opening only to reveal a wall, etc.
Time in San Jose drew to a close. It was Friday and I had to be at work on Monday, but I had to stop in Riverside to say Happy Birthday to my Father. I had called him on his actual birthday (4 September) but that was two days ago and I had a card and small gift for him. Our chariot was waiting to head down I 5 towards the Southern California, “The Land of Many People.” We arrived in time for dinner and gave a recap of our two weeks to Grandma and Grandpa, showered, slept in a clean, warm bed and were ready for the final and shortest leg of our trip the next morning. Palm Springs was only a short hour away and we all wanted to see our cat and the two shortest wanted to see their friends.
As I reconstructed this trip, I kept thinking we fit an awful lot into two weeks. We had experiences that would live in our memories for a long time, and some that we would never forget. The only thing I would do differently is to keep a log and/or receipts. I’m sure I knew way-y-y-y back then how much it cost, but I sure can’t remember now!
And my final thought on this trip is this: Everybody should have children like I did, children who you could share experiences with and enjoyed most of them, and yet still knew who was in charge. If I were in the same position today, with these same two children, would I try to duplicate this experience?
In a New York Minute! I would!
I love you Kids!!
The photos are terrible. Remember they are almost 40 years old, and although I won’t admit I look terrible after 40 years, I do not look nearly as good as I did 40 years ago.
Photos are lucky; colors fade so you can’t see their faults. I’m not so lucky, wrinkles and white hair stand out like red chair in the living room of an 1890 townhouse! (Yes, I did it and as far as I’m concerned, it was the “pop” that living room needed!)
All this to say the photos are not my best, but they’re better than nothing!