One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Month: June 2021

Day 5 – New Mexico

We left Los Alamos this morning heading for Puya Cliffs Monument to the East of us, only to arrive to a big visitor center that said “WE ARE OPEN” (and the website said they were open) only to find out the gift shop was open but the actual cliffs and tours have been closed for over a year from COVID. So…while I understand… that felt a little crappy because we drove a bit to go there and they could have been a little more forthcoming.

We turned around and headed in the opposite direction to Bandelier National Monument, a part of the Pajarito Plateau that was the ancestral site of Puebloan Indians. It was our first chance to use our National Parks Annual Pass!

There is evidence of human activity in the area from 11,000 years ago, but these preserved petroglyphs and cave dwellings date from around 1150 to 1600. We started out at the Frijoles Canyon overlook and you could really feel how vast the canyon was.

We stopped at the visitor center which had some really good models of the area in its prime.

We did the Main Loop Trail which is where the majority of the sites were marked.

This rock with all of the porous looking holes is actually called Tuff. It’s a thick layer of compressed volcanic ash from an ancient volcano. This soft rock made it easier to carve out dwellings and cave houses. Although I’m sure it was still a crazy undertaking with just the tools they had available.

The model of the structure above as it would have looked when the area was occupied.

We were able to climb up the rock and climb ladders into the little cave dwellings to explore.

After exploring Bandelier for a while and walking the Nature Trail back to the visitor center, it was time to head over the mountain pass to go to the west side of New Mexico into Navajo land.

At one point the road said “unmaintained mountain road ahead, no semis or large trucks” and we were nervous. ha Turns out it was fine! It was dirt…but wide and fairly smooth. It honestly looked exactly like rural Norway when we were driving from Sweden out towards waterfalls. I expected to see Moose but all I got were deer.

The other side of the mountain looked much more “new mexico” with the striated rock beds and flat mesas.

Those mesas and plateaus gave way to flat plains for quite a way.

We drove another 1.5 hours through navajo nation off-reservation trust land on a terrible TERRIBLE dirt washed out road for about 15 miles to reach Chaco Culture Center, Another ancestral Native American site of ruins. We have a hilarious video of us bouncing all over the car capturing the craziness of the drive, but I cant upload it here. ha

This area, from around 950 to 1100, was a very advanced and huge community of Puebloan Indians. No other structures this large would be built anywhere in North America until the 1800s. They have found cocoa bean residue in pots indicating vast trade routes and networks as cacao beans cant grow in this area of New Mexico. They also found macaw and parrot skulls which would have only come from South America.

They found over 50,000 pieces of turquoise in just that one lit up square room!

This culture was very tied to astronomy and the moon. They had spirals carved into rocks that hit exactly on the minimum and maximum of the suns trajectory over a 9 year cycle. They set up their long walls of the buildings exactly along moon track lines across the sky. Crazy the amount of knowledge acquired over time that would have been needed to lay this sort of thing out. It would have taken at least 18.5 years alone just to witness and document one full minimum and maximum of the moon cycle.. so obviously multiples of those were witnessed over generations to know that they repeated!

The ruins are in a 9 mile loop that you can drive and park nearer the sites. We walked between 2 of the biggest ruins along what is called the Petroglyph trail.

We had a nice time out walking in the sun and some warmth for the first time in 3 days. It has been so rainy and gloomy almost everywhere until we hit the west side of the mountain. I very much enjoyed it.

We were saved by the trusty Honda Pilot and her built-in 2014 GPS system as none of us had signal and our phones wouldn’t tell us which road to take towards Arizona!

I had planned to visit Window Rock, the capital of Navajo Nation, eat at a Navajo DinĂ© restaurant and see the navajo museum, but unfortunately everything on Navajo land is still closed to non-residents. They have been going back and forth for a couple weeks here…so I still had hopes we could visit… but it looks like we are missing the opening by a couple weeks. So, on to Gallup, New Mexico for the night. We were arriving around 8:30pm and a lot of places close then, so we ended up with Mediterranean food again at a place called Oasis Restaurant. Lamb kabob and a combo plate.

Tomorrow we will cross into Arizona and end our night at the Grand Canyon. Let’s see what we can find open 🙂

Day 4 – Texas Panhandle into Eastern New Mexico

We started out fairly early for us. I think we were on the road by 7:30am. We knew we had a lot of ground to cover today!

Our first planned stop was Cadillac Ranch on I-40 just past Amarillo, Texas. At the exit is the “2nd Amendment Cowboy”. He’s an old muffler man purchased at an auction in 2014 by this RV Park right by Cadillac Ranch.

I was honestly super surprised at the number of people already out at Cadillac Ranch before 9am. The guy who runs the show out here selling merch, spraypaint and food wasn’t even set up yet. We beat him here! ha

We came prepared with out own spray paint because I figured it would cost $20 a can there. Actually, it was quite reasonable at $6/can… (pending you don’t beat the vendor to their own site)

Norah had been excited about this since before the trip. So she spray painted everything.

Her name.

A tire.

The dirt. haha

Overall, she really enjoyed herself. On our way back, we saw a couple headed out with no spray paint, so we offered them our cans that still had plenty of paint in them and off on our merry way we went. 🙂

Right at the New Mexico line is an exit for Glenrio. Not much left at Glenrio, but I wanted to stop because its such a great (terrible) example of what happened to some of these towns when the interstate highway system was put in.

Every building down through here was just sitting derelict- a casualty of Route 66’s fading of importance. At one time, this place was quite interesting. Sitting right on the border of New Mexico and Texas, the town got creative. Gas tax was cheaper in Texas, so all of the fuel was sold on the Texas side. But Texas was a dry county there, so all the bar and liquor items were sold on the New Mexico side.

We drove through Tucumcari, New Mexico next. Such a neatly preserved Route 66 gem. So many mid century hotel signs. This town actually didn’t feel like it died 40 years ago… it was alive and well. I really loved its character. We planned to go to the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum here, but they were closed on Mondays. Go figure. The Route 66 museums we passed in Oklahoma were closed on Sundays. We should have left 1 day later, I guess!

We did lunch at Blake’s Lotaburger- a New Mexico chain that started after WWII in Albuquerque. They are famous for their chopped hatch green chilis you can add to your burger or your breakfast burrito.

We loved their fries- very crispy and good. Their chicken sandwich that Norah ordered was good… but their burger was just…ok. The hatch chilis on it though were good. I also wanted to sample the breakfast burritos they have…and it was only 10:15am, so I added a carne adovada to our order. and THAT is where the prize is- their breakfast burritos. ha So we’ll have to pick up one of those one morning here before we leave New Mexico.

After leaving Tucumcari, we headed north toward the town of Taos to see the Taos Pueblo.

Finally after winding up through the roads for a couple hours, we arrived in Taos. I knew that we couldn’t enter the pueblo because of COVID restrictions still in place on Indian land… but I figured we could at least look at the outside. Nope. Big blockade keeping anyone that is not a resident out. So that was a big disappointment and 3 hours of driving for nothing. Well, not nothing… I felt like I would really like Taos… so I wanted to explore it. We have entertained a rental house out west- Vegas, Phoenix, New Mexico.. Taos’ hat had been in the ring. It’s no longer. It’s out. ha

Apparently it snows a lot there in the winter and its a ski destination because the elevation is so high (which made me feel better when Kegan told me I WAS out of shape…but I wasn’t just huffing and puffing walking through town because of that. ha I hadn’t even considered the elevation!)

The whole town was under construction that had standstill traffic up and down the streets. We stopped to go to the Kit Carson home and museum- guy standing out front that works there tells us it’s closed for the day. When everything and the signs all said it was open. He told us to come back at 11am the next day (it was like 3pm at the time ha)

We went to get a bite of food and beer at the Taos Mesa Brewery that had “crowlers” to go- basically giant “growler” cans. So Kegan got one. We tried to get a table, but the person working told us it was a 30-45 minute wait but we could order takeout and it would be done super fast. Ok, so we ordered Norah a small pizza- which did look great, by the way… but it took 35 minutes for it to come out. and Everyone around us got seating in less than 15. We bet on the wrong horse. Per usual.

So, with Taos being a bust all around.. we headed back down towards Santa Fe. I had skipped Sante Fe this trip because as I was researching I found tons of stuff I wanted to do and we could see it all on a quick pass through- so we decided to skip it entirely and make a long weekend trip to Sante Fe sometime in the future. Well, now we had 4 hours of evening I didnt plan for… so we headed down the 2 hours towards the city.

We saw Camel Rock along the way. It wasnt very “camel-y” more like Turtle Rock.

We arrived at Meow Wolf Sante Fe, a giant art installation of over 70 rooms with blacklight psychedelic experiences that was actually commissioned by George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. He actually lives in Sante Fe. When asked WHY SANTE FE?? he said:

“It’s one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Older than anything even on the East Coast. Because it’s a state capital, it has many amenities that you associate with a larger city—great museums and wonderful restaurants. “At the same time, I like the small town thing. You can get in the car and get anywhere in 10 minutes. Of my 10 years in L.A., two of them were on the freeways…” Then there’s the question of addiction. When I got to Santa Fe, I became addicted to green chile. You can’t get it anywhere else. I can’t imagine life anywhere else.”

So, of course- I REALLY wanted to go to this- so I picked this one thing to go do in Sante Fe for the night. Sold out for the evening. Even though they themselves on the Google Reviews said you didn’t need advance tickets for weekdays. (I did try to book online but it only allowed you to book two days in advance) *sigh* another item for the day, closed. So basically we did 6 hours of driving for no reason today except to see the scenery.

At this point, we were defeated for the day- time to pack it in and try again tomorrow, so we headed for Los Alamos. We climbed back up some elevation from Santa Fe and had some great features and views outside.

When we arrived, I was shocked to find that it was a cute vibrant nice town! Its home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory which was the site of the atomic bomb testing or the Manhattan Project in WWII. They have repurposed the old project gate into restroom facilities at the town park.

This hotel ended up being the nicest one we have had yet- it was brand new and its the first one with the pool or fitness center open AND they had a hot breakfast instead of just grab and go. I am SHOCKED at how closed down these hotels are. I personally think it has nothing to do with COVID and everything to do with needed fewer people and costing less money. But maybe I’m just a grumpy Karen. Anyway- this hotel was fantastic and the pool was available “by reservation” so Norah got to block an entire hour for herself to float around. We also found a fantastic Mediterranean restaurant for carryout and I was in low carb heaven (I’ve been really trying to stick to a keto diet this trip… we’ll see how I do.)

They had a shrimp/butter/ white wine appetizer.

Lamb shank that was amazing… I could eat this every day.

Kegan has kebab skewers with gyro meat… and Norah basically ate pita bread because she had the pizza earlier.

So, overall, the hotel and the food ended the day on a high note and made up for some travel bad luck and closures earlier. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Day 2 – Graceland, Memphis and Arkansas

Today started out just a quarter mile from our hotel at Graceland! The home of the King. We bought the VIP experience to skip the lines for the mansion. tour and have full access to the airplanes and museums as quickly as we wanted because we knew we would be on a timeline today. We arrived at 9am when the gates opened and our mansion tour was scheduled for 10am, so that gave us an hour in the museums that were built across the street in what appeared to be a Tanger Outlet Center repurposed for Elvis. Ha

They had different shop areas turned into specific museums dedicated to portions of Elvis’s life- army life, music, Vegas jumpsuits, early recording, his cars. Tons of real items on display, items like his hand written notes as he arranged How Great Thou Art. I thought his personal set of keys to Graceland was a cool little display.

The Mad Tiger Jumpsuit is by far my favorite of all of the jumpsuits. it’s absolutely ridiculous haha

We got a private VIP shuttle over to the mansion. (And then dumped right into the same line as everyone else haha)

There was an audio tour room by room inside the mansion and it was narrated by John Stamos describing all the items and decor in the house.

I took a hundred or more photos of the place so if you’re super into it, just ask and I can show you the entirety! But for everyone else, just a few highlights:

The living room with the peacock stained glass panels

The 1960s kitchen that was the height of function and fashion when it was last remodeled.

The famous, yet slightly underwhelming, Jungle Room. The green ceiling and green carpet were interesting choices 🙂

The stairs to the basement were mirrored on the walls and the ceiling which was really trippy!

The light switches won my little mid-century heart. I didn’t even hate some of the panelling!

Elvis’s TV lounge in the basement with its own yellow bar. He heard President Lyndon Johnson had three TVs rolling so he could watch all the news channels at once, so he wanted the same.

The pool room had fabric stretched over the entire thing! Insane haha

I was envious of his racquetball court with a mid century seating area and bar. This was definitely something I’d like to transport to my own house!

On our way out, we stopped by Gladys’ Diner for a traditional Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich grilled with bacon grease. Elvis’s favorite.

Lastly, we walked out to the airplanes and did a quick tour of Elvis’s private planes.

We got back to the car and were setting the GPS and I heard crinkling of foil in the backseat. I turned around to see Norah eating a chicken finger. From her dinner last night. That sat in the hot car for 15 hours at that point.

She is a really smart kid, but somehow we missed food safety class. My goodness. So, after prying chicken fingers from her hands as quickly as possible we made a “you don’t eat anything until you ask” rule. (We’re now 22 hours out so I think the food poisoning window has passed thankfully!)

After Graceland, we headed towards downtown Memphis. We sought out Aretha Franklin’s birthplace and if you can tell by the condition of her house, you can guess that the area was a little sketchy… no one has preserved Aretha’s childhood home like Elvis’s in Tupelo, Mississippi…instead this one sits abandoned, falling down. The internet says that Aretha wasn’t terribly attached to this house though, that she felt more of Detroit as her home…. So maybe that’s Ok.

Downtown Memphis had lots of statues and tributes to various artists and prominent figures.

We did a drive by of Beale Street just because we were going 6 blocks away. Beale street is the home of the Blues- specifically of course , the Memphis blues. WC Handy was the first famous musician making music on Beale Street- but tons of famous artists played the clubs here from the 1940s to the 60s- BB King, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong just to name a couple of the most famous.

But just like most things, Beale street as it was is dead. By the 1970s, it was a ghost town and the city was trying to clean up downtown… leveled blocks of buildings around Beale. But, people eventually saw the significance and history and brought it back as a historical preservation effort. Now , it seems there are still lots of blues clubs playing the blues at night… but places like Hard Rock Cafe are now the major attractions.

We headed back down towards the National Civil Rights Museum which was our true destination downtown but we had 45 minutes until our timed entry so we crossed the street to Central BBQ for some lunch.

We both got a 1/2 slab of dry rub Memphis style ribs with house made pork rinds and greens. They were stellar. All of it.

Finally, it was time to go queue up for our entry to the Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum- the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968.

This museum was powerful. I’ve been thinking about how best to blog all of the information in my head about Civil Rights, black history, MLKs vision, the struggle ongoing today… but I just can’t do it justice. I feel like everyone should take a long slow walk through this museum and really “feel” the history. Get uncomfortable with it.

The museum did an amazing job of making everything factually based and well-documented. Photos, news articles, statistics and quotes accompanied every exhibit. I liked that because I think it’s easy- especially as white people who have never experienced that oppressiveness or people actively trying to keep me from exercising my rights- to think that maybe it wasn’t SO bad or maybe it’s people exploiting some previous racism for gain currently… but you go see example after example of this oppression, the blatant hatred, the state and local government’s unveiled attempts to keep the status quo and it’s hard to keep that mindset. It is just disgusting to really look at the history all together. I think we’ve grown and learned a lot as a society since the 1960s…but I know we aren’t through yet. I don’t think we get enough education on the hard truths and people who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat it…

We watched a fantastic documentary on MLK in preparation of the trip called King:A filmed Record. I would HIGHLY recommend it. Also The 1960’s mini series by Tom Hanks that CNN aired was a really good visual representation of all the various forces in play at the same time.

MLK was in Memphis to help bring visibility to the Sanitation Workers strike that was ongoing at the time.

The museum is in the motel where he was shot and the rooms that were rented for him and other folks staying here at that time are preserved just as they were when he was shot. He was standing on the balcony when James Earl Ray , from a boarding house across the street, shot a single bullet that hit him in the neck. He immediately fell and never uttered another word. Upon, hearing this news- the hotel owner of the Lorraine Motel suffered a stroke and died as well.

Overall, a very moving experience and something I wish everyone would experience.

After leaving there, we started our trek across the state of Arkansas. First stop in Arkansas was the RoundTop Filling Station in Sherwood, Arkansas. It’s an old gas station built in 1937, a Sinclair gas station in the 1940s, then a Philips from the 50s-70s, then closed..sat empty- auctioned in the 1980s, the guy died that bought it and his family donated it to the city which has been trying to restore it from the early 2000s. They finally decided to turn it into a police substation for the department and a day before it was to open, someone set a fire damaging the exterior. It looks like it is currently being used by the police department but there was no one there when we drove through.

We crossed the river into Little Rock and just made a brief stop downtown

We needed a bathroom break so we went into Hurts Doughnuts and Norah got a bright pink food dye heaven doughnut called The Homer (that we all paid for later this evening haha) kegan was boring with an Old Fashioned. All of those doughnuts in the case and he picked the plain cake doughnut haha he said it was great.

We wanted to see this very strange item for Little Rock Arkansas- the 80 Ton Korean Gate and Memorial garden. It is dedicated to the memory of Haeng Ung Lee- the Taekwondo Grandmaster- who founded the American Taekwondo Association in Little Rock in the 1970s.

After that it was back in the car to Alma, AR- the self-dubbed Spinach capital of the world to see their Popeye Statue.

Their downtown street was a literal ghost town. I’d say at least 20-30 storefronts and buildings- all closed and empty, the only building still open was the Alma public library.

We continued on to Van Buren which had a very active downtown area. Lots of old buildings to see.

Kegan looped the car around so I could capture the amazingness of a Papa John’s in an old Pizza Hut building. Ha

It is interesting to see what these old pizza huts get repurposed into.

Finally we arrived in Ft Smith, Arkansas- which I have to say was my favorite of the Arkansas towns- we didn’t explore anything on this trip, but I think I could spend a long weekend here exploring the area. I’d recommend a stop for anyone driving through.

We just wanted salad for dinner so we ordered salads from Texas Roadhouse outside our hotel and called it a night. Nothing exciting on the dinner front. Back on the road tomorrow across Oklahoma!

Day 1 – Indiana to Memphis, Tennessee

We started out from the house around 10am, so a rather short day really. Gave us plenty of time to clean up the house and get a start. We skipped breakfast and stopped in Evansville at Gerst Bavarian Hous German restaurant. I had read it was great and a friend even said it was great. I was pretty underwhelmed to be honest…their sausage sampler that I had high hopes for smelled like cheap hot dogs and 2 of the varieties tasted like the Eckrich packaged smoked sausage. So that was disappointing, but the pork knuckle was fantastic! It was sort of like a smoked turkey leg you’d get at the Renaissance fair. I think they are more known for their beer selection-they had 49 beers on tap.

Overall, it felt authentic German… but not like foodie German if that makes sense… There is a German restaurant-Schnitzelbank- in Jasper, Indiana that in my opinion is WAY better. If you need your German fix, I’d head there.

Next we drove through a town, I think it was Eldorado, IL that had an old “muffler man” style statue left over from the 1950s and 1960s. These were really iconic along Route 66 for service stations and auto parts (hence the name Muffler Men)… but this one is for Big John grocery stores. They are pretty rare these days- only 8 Big Johns remain around the country. Ironically, one is in Cape Coral, FL where we have a house! That Big John grocery is long since closed, but the Big John statue still stands in a shopping center.

Next we saw a sign for Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest but we had never heard of this Garden of the Gods- only the big popular park out west… so a quick Google said we should go! So we did a quick detour and hike and it was well worth it! It was a quick 1/4 to 1/2 mile loop called The Observation Trail that I would recommend if you’re near the area.

The sandstone hoodoos are like a feature from out west. Very strange and cool geologic features for southern Illinois!

One spot the walkway was very narrow between two rocks.

The rocks had these really papery layers in places. Almost like laminated dough. I hadn’t seen that before. It was neat.

Kegan caught me by surprise for a photo- a rare occurrence for a vacation photo of me! Ha I had to post it 🙂

Next stop: Metropolis, Illinois – home of Superman and Lois Lane! Metropolis,IL has been around since the late 1800s, but in 1972 is was officially given the title Hometown of Superman.

There is a SuperMuseum there and a large comic themed gift shop.

We crossed from Illinois into Kentucky on a side street bridge because the interstate was stopped for construction. It was one of those 25 mile per hour bridges where the wavy road part feels like it’s trying to wreck you. Ha did not enjoy.

Our destination next was Paducah, Kentucky, a riverfront town found by William Clark (of Lewis and Clark expedition fame).

We stopped by the carved Indian head art piece of Chief Paduke who is said to be the namesake of the town by local lore. However, the Chickasaw tribe leaders say there was never any known chief by this name and that the Chickasaw don’t even have words for Paduke. Instead they think maybe William Clark named the town after a Spanish word for Comanche Indians “Padoucas”

Downtown was super cute and very revitalized. Horse and carriage rides, riverfront sidewalks for strolling, tons of new and trendy restaurants… I was surprised! I don’t think I had been to Paducah before.

The irony of the Tent &Awning company’s awning being in this shape…well, it deserved a photo. Ha

Paducah was an important river transport/ port town. Many barge companies had headquarters in Paducah because there were tons of dry dock facilities. Also, because of its proximity to Kentucky coal mines, it was an important railway hub for the Illinois Central railroad and was the main connection between St. Louis and Chicago to the Mississippi.

In 1937, there was a historic flood and water was 60 feet above normal level..this prompted the building of a flood wall by the US Army Corp of Engineers. The inside of this floors wall has been turned into an art installation of murals about the town’s history. They were really really cool.

The above mural was my favorite because of the realness of the Old photos being painted and the paint techniques for the borders in the teal color. Just a really well done panel.

After the mural we walked down a couple downtown streets and worked our way back to dinner.

Kegan used to do some environmental work around Paducah and had eaten at Doe’s Eat Place back then…and for years he has talked about their steak and wanting to go back. So…we made that happen for dinner!

We ordered the 2lb Bone-In Ribeye to share and while it was good…I didn’t think it was anything crazy good and Kegan agreed that either his memories were rosy or the quality just wasn’t there tonight. So both our stops today weren’t anything to really write home about…I hope that’s not a sign for the trip! Ha

We continued back on the road for another 3.5 hours to south Memphis, Tennessee where we stayed for the night. Tomorrow is Graceland, the Lorraine motel and Civil Rights Museum and a trek across Arkansas on I-40.

On the road again! Road Trip USA

Hellllo to everyone who likely forgot they got emails from me when I put new posts on my blog. 🙂 ha It has been a WHILE since we’ve been able to go anywhere. For most people, it was COVID that has limited their travel ability…but for me it was a long client project I committed to for 2019-2020 (and then extended into 2021 with COVID)… so my travel moratorium was initially self-imposed…but then lengthened for the same reason as everyone else’s! I don’t know about you but I am DYING to go somewhere new! I have always loved travel, but these last 2 years have really proven to me that travel is a lifestyle…and I’m a much better person when I have a vacation to plan. ha I don’t know how it is for other people… but for me, just having a trip coming up on the horizon makes the monotonous or boring days go by so much easier knowing I’m working towards that goal. I’m sure for others its a hobby meet up or a quiet weekend where they can finally fish or read that novel they’ve been dying to read- but for me… its experiencing someplace new. For sure.

Life isn’t much different for us than a couple years ago… still live in the house in Freetown, its still a bit under construction (3 years later) but really close to being done. Norah completed 3rd grade this past year in online school and did really well- but she misses her friends and clubs at her school, so has she opted to go back in the fall. (Much to my dismay because I was REALLY hoping she wanted to keep doing online for my own selfish travel reasons! ha)

I just finished a couple client conversions from one medical record system to another…and I was looking forward to NOT working 50+ hours a week for the first time in 2 years starting with this road trip…and then last week I took on a new job role for an existing client running projects for their IT department. So, now I get to road trip and juggle work. Fun…but necessary.

Kegan has been very busy with his home remodel business. We haven’t done any advertising yet because with my work schedule and Norah’s school schedule, there are days he still has to be home to supervise her…and he’s staying plenty busy with word of mouth references! Just so far this year he’s completed 6 total bathroom renovations, a new kitchen, a whole house of new flooring and about 15 other projects. Sometime this year we’ll likely activate the Facebook feed and start actively marketing some of his before and after work. He’s on Instagram as @mckinneyhomeservices if you want to check out any of his stuff.

Our trip this summer is focused on the US- mostly because of COVID restrictions and too many unknowns leading up to the summer months, but also because Norah has never seen much of the US that she can remember. Most of our USA travel occurred either before she was born or when she was too little to remember. She barely remembers just tiny glimpses of our house in California or Florida…she remembers just a couple things about our house in Georgia before moving to Ireland. (She remembers Ireland ha) so this kid has seen way more of Europe that most adults, but nothing in the US. Her top things to see were: Grand Canyon, Mt Rushmore, Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty. We’ll at least be knocking out 2 of those this trip.

We initially planned to do a full US road trip… but the more I planned it out, then more green flags I kept adding to Google Maps and I quickly realized that to do it justice there was just no way we could cover the whole country in two months without just hitting the highlights, and that’s just not how we roll! So, we revised our plan to break down the whole country into 4 road trips. One each summer. Up first this summer: The “Inner West”!

We’ll start out with a drive to Memphis- shoot across Arkansas,Oklahoma and Texas to really start diving into “the west”. Northern New Mexico and Arizona, all over Utah, a trip out to Vegas, a bit of Southern Idaho, a lot of Wyoming and South Dakota… and then a few days working our way back home via Minneapolis and A bit of Iowa.

Future trips (dates to be determined):

The “outer west” – West Texas, southern NM and AZ, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin

The Northeast – Up through Michigan into Canada over to the Canadian side of Niagra Falls, Montreal, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

The South – Starting in Washington, DC, down the coast into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, ending in Texas and back home

Not sure of the order of these yet, basically depends on if after this month of travel (we’ll be gone 24 days for this trip) we want MORE of the west or if we’re ready to switch it up for another side of the US.

So, now would be the time to unsubscribe from emails or alerts if you don’t want them as we are headed out and I’ll be posting almost every day so I can record everything we are doing. I anticipate a lot of landscapes and photo ops with various “Americana” – world’s largest wooden nickels and things like that. 🙂 Lots of food photos because we have scoped out meals in about every town we are staying in…not much to note on the hotels though. One of the reasons we could plan this is because with all of the client travel I did pre-Covid, I was staying at a Holiday Inn in a small town in Missouri. By getting the Holiday Inn credit card that had some huge “first 12 months” bonuses- I racked up CRAZY hotel points, and we were able to book EVERY NIGHT for free for the entire trip plus a week coming up this fall in Times Square in Manhattan… and STILL have enough for the next summer trip (once I make sure they don’t expire before then!) So, while it doesn’t thrill me that we are staying in 21 different Holiday Inns across the country… you just can’t beat FREE. A very rare opportunity that I do not take for granted that we have the ability to do. So by driving our own car and having free hotel- the cost for this month long trip is literally gas, food, admission to attractions and the sunk cost of wear and tear on the vehicle. Plus whatever USA souvenirs I come home with. I’m sure there will be a few. We’re giving Norah her own “souvenir budget” as well. She got cash to start in a little pouch and she has to budget and figure out how bad she wants something along the way. Economics is cruel but so is life. ha Maybe we can squeak out a life lesson or two on this trip 🙂

I’ve been planning this trip since February. I knew if we were going out west, that I would need to be on my game. We knew we wouldn’t be the only family with an idea for a go-west road trip in this year of COVID. I knew the national parks would be one of the last places to ease restrictions and there would likely be limits to entry and hotels would be hard to book if I didn’t do it early. I had all hotels booked by the beginning of March and still struggled to find a room at Yellowstone for July! Zion National Park was limiting entries into most of the park if you didn’t have a shuttle pass, but they stopped that just a couple weeks before we had to compete for a pass. I’m really going to have to work on my zen some of these places. haha We’ll see how I do with the crowds and completely unaware and obnoxious tourists.

I stalked the dining reservations for a couple restaurants for the exact day the reservations popped open for the day we could dine and had a recurring calendar reminder twice weekly to remind me to check in on a couple things that still werent open- like Las Vegas shows and Navajo Reservation Parks like Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon.

All in all, I’d say about 120 hours went into just planning and research for this trip. I hope its an amazing time to remember. 🙂 (and I hope I didn’t miss planning to see anything along the way!)

I was going to rent an SUV for the trip…but as its the year of the summer road trip… I found rental prices to be ridiculous so we prepared our chariot. ha

The 2014 Honda Pilot will be our carriage. When we bought it, I said I was driving it until it broke down…then I was fixing her again and driving her some more. ha It currently has 120,000 miles but I still enjoy driving it and its pretty comfortable. I think it’ll do fine..but you never know. We at least have the option that if it does break down, to leave it somewhere to be repaired for a couple weeks and rent a car at that time to continue our road trip, circling back at some later point. (We’ll deal with that- hopefully unlikely scenario- if we have to).

She got a full service inspection and an interior cleaning and I researched how to best outfit an SUV for a month long trip to keep things within reach and somewhat short of disaster two days down the road.

I bought seat back organizers for both of the backseats with built in USB ports and tray tables as my mother will be joining us for 7 days of the trip, meeting us in Salt Lake City and leaving in South Dakota. Even if we had a rhythm of where things went and which electronics charged where, adding another adult to the mix two weeks into the trip might mess it all up, so now she has her own space and charging spots!

Also bought a backseat middle seat organizer for all of our snacks. Front seat “crack” fillers since I always have my phone slide off my lap and into the abyss under the seat. It’s been a joke for a while. All of a sudden you’ll just hear it *clunk clunk* on all the seat parts on the way down. “Byebye, phone…” lol

Also, a cargo area organizer for the things we likely wont need much but need to take anyway: Binoculars, bug spray, a battery jumper, first aid kit, etc.

But really, the Pièce de rĂ©sistance is the Apple TV I managed to rig up in the rear. The Honda has a rear entertainment system because it was FANCY back in 2014. lol But, it was 2014… so it only has RCA cable inputs. But my friend Amazon had this HDMI to RCA adapter setup… and luckily, there is a full 110v outlet in the console- allowing Norah to have the entirety of the world on the TV as long as we have Verizon internet reception! I also had a nice pair of comfy over the ear headphones with a long cord that I used to use at my desk that will allow us to listen to music up front or just talk without being subjected to whatever YouTube ridiculousness she decides to stream in the back. ha

For me, in the front- since I will likely have to do some work here and there while driving in between towns-or at a minimum catching up on my blog post that I fell asleep without finishing the night before- I bought a cigarette adapter power converter and mounted it on the front passenger area for plugging in my phone and my laptop. High tech fancy. The car can now charge 11 devices via USB while powering a laptop and an Apple TV. Rolling space station! ha

I’m excited to hit the road and excited to share all of our finds along the way! Thanks for following our caravan!