Southwest Road Trip Part I: Home to Grand Canyon National Park

Chances are if you grew up in the 80s or 90s ear of MTV, the phrase “spring break” conjures up images of beaches fat with velvety sand, tanned dancing bodies clad only in swimsuits, copious alcohol, loud music, and hedonistic parties.  However when you add adulthood and kids to the mix, spring break morphs into something completely different. There may be beaches, but there is also an avalanche of of gear. There may be alcohol, but it’s less likely to be free flowing and more likely to be an exhausted night cap.  And with four decades under my belt and two c-sections I am not even going to broach the subject of bikinis. In fact, this year’s spring break trip was the polar opposite of beach getaway. While it was drenched in sunshine, it was also full of arid southwestern deserts. Spring break 2018 consisted of four adults, five kids, 1,889+ miles of driving, over 30 hours in the car, 147,895 potty breaks (a low ball estimate), three national parks, four states, and a whopping 17 hours in Sin City.  Oh, and there was flossing. So. much. flossing.

Day one of our road trip we rose with the morning sun on Easter.  We had substantial mileage to log onto our odometers from the bay area to Kingman, Arizona.  Some of these miles even included an occasional peak at Route 66. Honestly, my knowledge of Route 66 is limited to a song, an oldies TV show, and Pixar’s Cars.  Kingman is an ideal stopover for Grand Canyon tips and Route 66 travelers. When we mapped out our trip we had no idea of the city’s road trip history or its nostalgia, it simply met our needs of being economical and getting us over the Arizona border.  But after a modicum of research we were eager to see some of Kingman’s vintage neon signs and roadside kitsch that harkened back to a bygone era. Although first we needed to address the rumbling tummies and road weary nerves.

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Courtesy of a TripAdvisor search we found a watering hole that was our oasis in the middle of the Arizona desert, the Rickety Cricket.  Their menu checked all of our boxes with one simple sentence, “Our food is scratch made, chef-driven, and carefully crafted.”  That described the ideal Easter dinner for our band of hangry misfits. Before we knew it we were knee deep in pretzel bites, mozzarella sticks, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and beer, all of which were served with a warm Arizona greeting.  The food was mouth-watering, the beer soothed the most frayed of road tripping nerves (nine hours in a car with kids can have that effect), and the service was fantastic. Day one was a wrap.

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As we greeted the morning on day two of our southwest road trip the adults wore heavy lidded eyes as a road trip badge of honor.  We were headed to the Grand Canyon with an ambitious plan to conquer as much of the park as possible during our short visit. As it turned out we were not the only ones eschewing the beaches for the deserts of the southwest. Our group would be growing for the day with friends and family from back home. There was excitement brewing at the prospect of sharing our Grand Canyon experience with more people.

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While we sat in the growing line at the south rim park entrance, listening to the hum of engines and roar of helicopters above I kept an open mind.  I knew the majority of visitors had one of two reactions. Some visitors see it as one giant hole much like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation.  One lingering glimpse, a couple of head nods and their curiosity is satiated for a lifetime. Others have equated its beauty to a religious experience and called it life changing.  After three hours in the park our entire group of 14 unanimously agreed with the former. In terms of leaving an impression that was life altering it fell, well, a little flat. I cringe even writing this because I feel it is a betrayal to my grandmother who taught me to find beauty in everything.  The Grand Canyon is beautiful and a is testament to the power of nature. Unfortunately for us it was not a bring us to our knees kind of majestic beauty. In addition to that there were crowds. So many crowds with everyone vying for the perfect selfie. In terms of people, it is the Disneyland of our national park system.  Unfortunately for us, crowds are the Achilles heel of our family. Few things weaken us like throngs of pushy people. Although we anticipated more people due to spring break travelers we did not expect this many people.     

In addition to the sheer volume of people, the visitor center and museum were antiquated and unimpressive.  The rock geeks in our group (myself included) were excited to visit the Yavapi Point and Geology Museum. First impression: aack, so many people!  Second impression: we thought it would be better. I think given the park’s popularity we had assumed the visitor center and museum would be more modern much like those in Yellowstone or the Grand Teton’s Craig Thomas Visitor Center.  But I will mention in the spirit of transparency, we did not have time to see Vercamp’s Visitor Center, so that may have been a better experience.

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Before you close your web browser and vow never to read another post on our blog because you vehemently disagree with our impressions of the Grand Canyon please know we do have some positive things to say as well.  Grand Canyon National Park is an American icon and we feel everyone should pay homage to this natural wonder. If anything visit it for the Brady Bunch nostalgia (don’t think for one minute Todd and I weren’t coveting an old school station wagon during our time there!) and to check it off your travel list.  Also, GCNP is magical at sunrise with the warm pink light bathing every crevasse and cranny until the most ethereal landscape unfolds in front of you. The park truly redeemed itself to us during the wee morning hour as we drove through and made a stop at Navajo Point. Everything in the park is still and hushed which was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the day.  We had skipped the chaos of sunset in favor of sunrise during our drive to Page and I was grateful for this moment. It was well worth the 4:30am wake up call.

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Ultimately our most cherished memory was experiencing the park and neighboring city with friends.  Friends make everything that much better. It allows you to share in these moments and bask in the lovely memory of them for days to come.  Between our “travel tribe” (what we affectionately call the family we travel with), their family members, and our friends from home our time in this park was full of beautiful moments that we can replay in the movie reel of our life.  I am not sure what the odds are for this many of us accidentally planning a trip to the same national park, but I’ll take them! Sharing life’s special moments with others was the silver lining to a somewhat disappointing park experience. We laughed, we toasted margaritas, and celebrated with joy in one another’s company.

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Your travel experience may not always be what you had hoped for, but with the right travel tribe you will always carve out some fun and create priceless moments.  This is what travel is meant for. I am glad spring break is no longer beaches and bikinis because it is now filled with friends and creating a lifetime of memories.  And fortunately there are no MTV cameras following our every move, including the flossing!

What I Wish We Did Differently:

  • Had more time and energy to explore Route 66.  So many photo ops!
  • Traveled during the off season
  • Spent more time in the village area
  • Hiked the Bright Angel Trail
  • Visited Desert View Watch Tower

Helpful Links:
Where we stayed:

Kingman, AZ

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Where we ate:

In Kingman, AZ:  Rickety Cricket

In Tusayan, AZ: Plaza Bonita

Kingman and Route 66:

Grand Canyon National Park:

To purchase fine art landscape prints click here and go to the “national parks” tab

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