“It’s about the journey not the destination” might be a cliche but that’s the principle we apply when it comes to planning our trips. We usually go for the slowest mode of transportation possible to get up close and personal with the lands through which we travel. This year, our road trip took us all the way to Los Angeles to see my new niece, and while walking or biking to California would have been fun, I wanted to see the kid before she started school so driving it was.
Our three-week trip was about all things big: the bottomless skies of the Plains, giant red sandcastles of Utah, endless expanse of the Pacific, imposing majesty of Monument Valley, and, of course, awe-inspiring grandness of Grand Canyon. But the biggest impression was left by someone barely two feet tall – my seven-month-old niece, the main reason for our westbound quest.
Three weeks of travels result in thousands of pictures and stories so it will take a while to sift through them. For now, I pulled together some of the highlights.
When I shared our travel plans, people often replied that they had no patience for long road travels and would much rather fly. But we love road trips, and cost isn’t the main reason (although air fare for four people is not insignificant). There is something extremely satisfying and exciting in watching the map spring to life, squiggles and lines transform into roads and rivers, lifeless expanses fill with forests, fields and cities.
Granted, endless corn fields of Iowa and Nebraska get monotonous at times but the sky provides lots of entertainment from puffy clouds to sunsets and rainbows. And once the straight lines of the Plains start giving way to ragged outlines of Colorado, it’s hard to tear yourself away from the window.
Usually we have our entire route planned out before we go, but we also leave space for unexpected detours, like taking the road hugging the southern border of Arches National Park, driving through Valley of the Fire in Nevada or stopping to take in majestic views from lookouts along the way.
There was no shortage of some incredible hiking during this trip. Up and down, down and up, winding paths, zigzagging trails. Through tunnels, past towering cliffs, down into canyons, up tall mountains. In the end my knees were not happy but we all agreed that those were some spectacular treks, with the Angels Landing Trail in Zion being our all time favourite hike. It’s not every day you climb a narrow ledge with drop-offs on both sides holding onto chains.
Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon where going down is optional but going up is mandatory
Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon
North Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon’s north rim
Grand Wash Trail at Capitol Reef – this one was level but oh, so hot
Wall Street section of Navajo Loop Trail at Bryce Canyon – not a fan of sticking names of urban landmarks onto million-year old rocks
Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail at Bryce Canyon – some of the most picturesque trails we’ve ever hiked
Angels Landing Trail at Zion – yes, we got to walk all those zigzags, twice
Angels Landing Trail at Zion is so much fun
All those trails were a lot of work but they all led to spectacular views. Sometimes the beauty was too much to take in. So with every new sight I felt like my brain had to erase the old information in order to be able to process new views.
Aptly named Grandview Point at Grand Canyon
Bright Angel Point at the north rim of Grand Canyon
View from Angels Landing Trail at Zion
View from Angels Landing Trail at Zion (on the other side)
Three Sisters at Monument Valley
Panorama Point at Capitol Reef
Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon
Fairview Point at Bryce Canyon
View from the Double Arch at Arches National Park
Following the sun
Making fun of my pursuit of sunsets and sunrises became my family’s favourite pastime. According to my husband, my day is divided into waiting for a sunset, it’s almost sunset, it’s sunset, and I can’t wait for the next sunset. I don’t completely agree with him, there are sunrises somewhere there as well.
Sunset at Arches National Park
Sunset from Hopi Point at Grand Canyon
Sunset from Keys View Point at Joshua Tree
Sunset from Pima Point at Grand Canyon
Sunset at Huntington Beach
Sunrise from Mather Point at Grand Canyon
Monument Valley after sunrise
Dramatic sunset at Mesa Verde
The power of the ocean is hard to describe. It’s something that has to be experienced. Crushing waves, splashing water. Not to mention hours of fun. And there is no better place to enjoy the ocean and absorb some sun than California.
Sunset at Santa Monica Beach
Leo Carillo State Park in California
Leo Carillo State Park in California
Geocaching and other adventures
Regular readers of this blog know that our younger son is a big fan of geocaching. So naturally this trip include quite a few geo-stops.
Geocaching near Capitol Reef
Geocaching in Los Angeles
Geocaching was not the only treasure hunt he engaged in. National parks in the United States run Junior Ranger programs, where you can get a special park badge for completing a number of activities about park’s natural and human history, attend programs and visit different spots in the park. A few years ago, he insisted on getting a badge in every park we visited, no mater how short the visit was. This time he limited it to three. I guess he is growing up.
Every trip is an opportunity to learn: about geological history and wildlife, about people who have made the area their home for thousands of years, about the wonders of the night sky.
Grand Canyon Visitor Centre
Breaking Ground – Grand Canyon’s north rim
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
Petroglyphs at Valley of the Fire
Mesa Verde – Far View Site and Cliff Palace
Discovering new plants and animals, and watching familiar ones against unfamiliar backdrops is another exciting thing about road trips.
Elks at Grand Canyon just wandered around the campground
Deer at Capitol Reef
Raven and turkeys at Capitol Reef – that was an epic battle
Tarantula at Zion gave us quite a scare
Lizard at Valley of the Fire – master of disguise
Bighorn Sheep at Valley of the Fire – that last one almost ended under our car
Ruby-throated hummingbird – there were dozens of them near Griffith Observatory
Scrub Jay at Grand Canyon followed us for at least half an hour
Kaibab squirrel at Grand Canyon’s north rim – trying a skunk look
Joshua Trees look like something straight out of Dr. Seuss’s imagination
Prickly pear cactus (it’s prickly but it also has a heart) and cholla cactus (apparently, extremely easy to attach and hard to remove so never get close)
Pomegranate – it was weird to see it on a tree instead of a grocery aisle
Ficus in bloom, crane flower, beavertail cactus and weirdly shaped acorns the name of which I don’t know and would appreciate help
We are not really into cities. Occasionally, through, it’s fun to explore new urban places. Old streets of Pasadena, sweeping views of Los Angeles, sea of light at night, both fascinating and incredibly wasteful.
City Hall in Pasadena
Memorial Park in Pasadena
The Grove and Farmers Market in Los Angeles
The Spirit of Los Angeles and Levitated Mass
Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier
Sunset from Griffith Park in Los Angeles
Los Angeles at night from Griffith Observatory
Spending time with family
Without distractions and schedules, road trips offer lots of uninterrupted time with family. In fact, time is the biggest gift road trips bring. Once you stop measuring it in minutes and hours, time stretches and at the end weeks feel like months, years, eternity.