May 2, 2005 - Crossing Texas

After some final packing, we got on the road at 8:30. Cutting across Fort Worth ws easy on I-35W, then around to 820. We just drove on through as the landscape around us got drier and browner.
After lunch at the DQ, we stopped at the Monahans Sand Hills for a fun hour of dune discin’. West Texas was chilly, especially high in Van Horn. It was close to dusk when the Mexican border came north to meet I-10. We drove a few miles on 20 in the Rio Grande valley between McNary and Fort Hancock. The city lights of El Paso and Juarez twinkled to greet us, and we pulled in to the Quality Inn by 9:00.

May 3, 2005 - Tucson Arizona

With a hearty breakfast in us, we were off by 8. We drove through El Paso at the border and peeked into Mexico, just 50 yards away. We decided not to visit Mexico today because doing so would delay our Arizona visit into the night. We drove across the Rio Grande… but into New Mexico. So we sped along I-10 past the dry mountains and the White Sands Missle Range. About halfway across New Mexico we took a lunch break at a little park in Deming. Then miles and miles of dry, boring desert, with random spurts of dust devils in the distance. One was right across the freeway from us. At the Arizona border, the desert got more interesting. More mountains. Varied vegetation. When Dad offered five dollars for whomever spotted the first saguaro cactus, we drove for miles and miles before Karl spotted several in a small valley just east of Tucson.

Just before town we drove north up to the east section of Saguaro National Park, went into town for dinner and headed back into the park for two beautiful drives around the loop… and a Saguaro Sunset.

May 4, 2005 - Into California

We left our hotel shortly after 8, gassed up, mailed Mother’s Day cards and saw many saguaro flowers on the “shortcut” to I-10. We decided to take the southern route to San Diego instead of staying north on I-10. Southwest Arizona was only slightly less boring than southwest New Mexico. California gave us a special welcome with sand dunes and porta-potties instead of a welcome center.

And then more desert drive through the Imperial Valley, where the desert is irrigated to produce a bounty of hay. Suddenly we headed up and up into the boulder-strewn mountains, cool and misty. Ten miles of 6% grade took us down into suburban San Diego, where we joined in with the early afternoon rush hour.

Soon we were safe and sound in Carlsbad. After we checked in, we drove by Legoland, the Pacific beach, Pei Wei for dinner, Jimbo’s and Ralph’s.

May 5, 2005 - Legoland California!

The Carlsbad hotel was a nice one, but we didn’t have extra time to enjoy it. We checked the weather, packed up the car and went… to the beach, because it was still too early for Legoland. The beach was cool, quiet and nice. Then to Legoland. We were the second car into Legoland. A fifteen minute wait at the entrance with Jim, and we were in. First, Karl and Susanna learned to drive, then they learned to skipper a boat. There were no lines anywhere. We walked right up to the Coastersaurus… real fun!

Miniland was amazing. Then over to the Technics ride which was enjoyed by all, including Karl. But everyone’s favorite was the dragon. We had a delicious lunch at Papa Brickolini’s, shopped at the Big Shop, rode the tour boat, the sky carts… nearly everything. Finally, Mom and Karl closed down the Coastersaurus, while Dad and Susanna closed down the Safari ride. After Legoland, we drove up I-5 from Carlsbad to Burbank. Karl watched the landmarks fly by… Camp Pendleton, Disneyland, the Crystal Cathedral, downtown Los Angeles, etc., while Susanna watched the inside of her eyelids. A drive toward Pasadena ended our long day. We checked in late and carted our bags up to the 2nd floor room.

May 6, 2005 - LA and Hollywood

We took it a bit easier today, especially to avoid the LA traffic. By 10am we were out the door and driving toward Los Angeles, past Dodger Stadium, Staples Center and off to Beverly Hills. We drove top-down through the posh residential streets with tall trees, then up over the steep hills. We drove into Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, ate lunch, and cut up to Hollywood Boulevard. Finding free parking for 2 hours, we walked over to Grauman’s Chinese theater and around the area. From there we drove back out Hollywood Blvd to Laurel Canyon Road into Studio City. We found the Warner Brothers Studios, then drove out to Glendale to a Whole Foods Market. Then dinner (Taco Bell) and a movie (Robots, back at the hotel).

May 7, 2005 - California Highway 1

We packed up and left for San Francisco, starting with the same slingshot drive through town as yesterday, then found the absolute end of I-10 at Santa Monica. Top-down, Highway 1 was a little cool, even in the sunshine. We couldn’t get through Malibu without stopping at the beach – Zuma Beach. Our two sandpipers played nonstop, even after getting soaked by the big wave. Back on the road, we admired the scenery, through mountains, miles of strawberry fields, wine country, and past the Hearst castle.

At the cute little town of Cambria we picked up a few things to eat, then drove over to a nice local beach park for another few minutes at the shores of the great Pacific.

We drove north along the edge of the Santa Lucia range, with beautiful cliff views of the Pacific from the winding road cut into the side of the mountain.

At Gorda, we saw a little sign that mentioned whales. Upon getting out and scanning the vast waters, we saw no whales… but hearing bellowing from below, we saw a group of elephant seals on the beach far below. What a show! Leaving there, we had more awesome views of the Pacific with a misty sunset, and drove long into the night to our hotel in San Francisco.

May 8, 2005 - San Francisco

Another two-night hotel stay meant we did not have to spend the morning packing. We drove straight to the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped at the north side to view it… in the cold rain. In the mist, we could barely see an outline of downtown and Alcatraz Island. Then the rain let up and we could gradually see more and more. We drove up to Marin Highlands and saw an old Nike missile base, tunnels, and beautiful vistas of the Pacific, the Bridge, and San Francisco. After a stop at Whole Foods and a quick lunch, we headed to Chinatown, parking our car and taking the Cable Cars there. The shops and wares were amazing. Another Cable Car ride took us to Fishermans Wharf for a Mother’s Day dinner at Rain Forest Café.

May 9, 2005 - Yosemite

Another late night meant a late start at 11. We cut up and across the Bay Bridge to Oakland and started our weeklong drive back home. On the ridge past Walnut Creek were hundreds of windmills. Then we descended into the San Joaquin valley. By 3:00 we checked into the Oakhurst Lodge, at 3,000 feet elevation in downtown Oakhurst. We had intermittent rain and even hail on our way in. Although it had just stopped pouring at Oakhurst, we drove up to Yosemite. Our first stop was the Mariposa Grove.

Wow! The Sequoias are just plain massive! We didn’t stay long because it was still an hour’s drive to the valley, on a tightly-winding road through the bluebonnets, dogwoods, rain, sleet and snow, climbing a couple of times past 6,000 feet into the clouds. Just before the tunnel into the valley, we stopped to admire the rocky face and scattered waterfalls across the road. We could see some of Yosemite through the low clouds wafting through. We put the top down.

After the tunnel we stopped and soaked in the view. It was cold and the tall trees were dripping from the recent rain, but we had our winter coats, hats and gloves. We drove through in awe… Bridal Veil Falls was gushing over the mountainside. Frozen trees glistened across the tops of the cliffs. The valley had mostly cleared of clouds during our one-hour drive to get there, but by then the rain and cold had nearly emptied the valley of people… we and a few others had the park to ourselves. Every turnout was beautiful; the trees, the cliffs, the sky, the low clouds… all added to the beauty.

We left around sunset, which left us with a difficult drive down the mountain back to Oakhurst. At the golf course and hotel, a couple of deer ran in front of the car, and we stopped to watch the large herd for a while.

May 10, 2005 - Yosemite and Sequoia

After weighing our options for the next several days, we decided that we had not spent enough time in Yosemite Valley. So back up the mountain we drove, and by 9:30 we were back into “awestruck” mode.

The sun was out most of the morning, and we took our time through the park that we had rushed through the afternoon before. We took the short hike to Bridal Veil Falls and got pretty soaked in the spray. We stopped at the swinging bridge, watched the unfamiliar western birds and admired more scenery. We parked the car and went to the visitor center and huge camp store. Then with eyes satiated and camera memory cards full, we left Yosemite.

We drove down to Fresno, then across toward Sequoia National Park. On the way we saw many vegetables and fruits grown in the San Joaquin Valley… olives, grapes, oranges, pears, lemons, nectarines, kale, corn… a whole produce extravaganza. We picked up three pints of strawberries at a fruit stand... delicious!

We finally arrived at Three Rivers at 6:15pm, passed our hotel and drove immediately up the mountain to the Sequoias. On the way up, we saw more deer (8) than upward-bound vehicles (4). At the top, we found deep snow, clouds and the massive Sequoias, shrouded in cloud. Again with coats and gloves, we put the top down, to fully absorb the awesome vertical panorama. Karl and Susanna played a little in the snow, but we quickly ran out of daylight. We did drive as far as the General Sherman tree, the largest tree in the world.

Then, another dark and difficult drive down the mountain and soon we were safe, sound and warm in our hotel at Three Rivers.

May 11, 2005 - Leaving California

We left Three Rivers, heading west toward Visalia and then south to Bakersfield. We couldn’t resist buying fresh cherries and oranges. Yum. We lunched just outside of Bakersfield and drove on, finding the Tehachapi Loop, passing Edwards Airforce Base with the San Gabriel Mountains further to the south, and Los Angeles past them. Joshua trees popped up all over as the Mojave desert came into view. We chuckled at the “Mojave River” sign when we saw nothing but sand in the riverbed. Another chuckle when the sign at the western end of I-40 that said it was 2,554 miles to Wilmington, NC.

Just after Barstow, we took a 90-minute break at Calico, an old silver mining town that was rebuilt by the Knotts people. We visited the mine and walked through several shops. Soon we were back on the road. 130 miles to Needles. At Needles we turned left, driving into the extreme lower end of Nevada for our $25 luxury hotel in Laughlin. We ate a quick dinner and went to bed.

May 12, 2005 - Ancient Arizona

Before checking out, we took a quick tour of the casino. Then after a quick McBreakfast, we were on our way to Flagstaff. We drove through varied terrain, first mountainous desert, then high country. We first saw the snow-capped San Francisco peaks from about 90 miles away, and they led us to our destination. At Flagstaff we gassed up, did a little food shopping, and ate lunch. Then we drove to Walnut Canyon and had a cool sunlit walking tour of the cliff dwellings of the Sinagua. Beautiful and moving.

Leaving the cliff dwellings, we drove north to Sunset Crater. Dad and the kids took the long hike through the ancient lava beds. Beautiful scenery, all painted in black, green, white and blue.

After the cinder cones, we found the Painted Desert overlook, then drove to the three ancient ruins in the northern desert area of the park. We watched the sun go down, perched atop the ruins of the Citadel. We capped our first Native American day by checking in to the motel at the Cameron Trading Post and having Navajo Tacos for supper.

May 13, 2005 - The Grand Canyon

We awoke in the desert in Cameron and hit the road early for our Grand Canyon day. On the way, we stopped at a couple of roadside stands and bought some items from the Navajo.

Then we arrived. The Grand Canyon. Huge. Unbelievable. Breathtaking. After a couple of pullouts, we checked in at the Yavapai Lodge and ate lunch.

Dad and Karl hiked for a couple of hours into the canyon and back. The weather was beautiful, cool, and the California Condors were soaring high above and below us. We got as far as the third switchback, and were passed twice by mules. Then Dad and Susanna hiked down to the first switchback and back, also admiring the soaring condors. After dinner at the lodge, we went to Grandview Point to watch the sunset. The canyon was awesome, of course, but the sun retired early behind high clouds and contrails, and there was no explosion of color. To the showers and to bed.

May 14, 2005 - Through the Navajo Nation

This morning we ate a quick breakfast in the room and headed out. The sky was a high and bright overcast, so the views of the canyon were just as grand on the way out. One stop at Cameron loaded us up with souvenirs, snacks and gas. Then we were on our way for a day-long arc through the Navajo Nation. First we drove through a portion of the Painted Desert, admiring the multi-hued rocks and sand all around us. The landscape changed several times as we drove through the desolate stretch, with only a few buildings dotting the hills and rocks. Monument Valley was beautiful, both from the vista and from the dusty drive. Incredible. We drove through a corner of the Utah Redlands and past the Valley of the Gods, wishing we had another 3 or 4 days to visit Utah.

At the next town we topped the tank and headed to Four Corners. There we walked to the monument, each stood in a different state and held hands. We each stood on the corners, standing in four states at once. Fun. And we bought a few more souvenirs at the Navajo stands. Before leaving, we drove the traffic circle around the monument and drove through four states in fifteen seconds! We made it to Shiprock by sunset, then hurried down to Gallup, NM for our last motel stay of the trip.

May 15, 2005 - Heading Home

With a long drive ahead of us, we were out by 8:00. We made good time, crossing the Continental Divide, the Rocky Mountains, and playing tag with Route 66. Karl and Susanna practiced their Indian Flute music in the back seat as we headed for home. The scenery wasn’t as interesting today, especially since we were intent on heading home. Three gas stations, one rest area, two movies, one coyote, and 775 miles later… whew! We made it home by 11:00pm. The end of a wonderful and memorable trip.

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