Tuesday, July 03, 2018

2018 Great Western Trip

Back when Emily was in 4th grade the National Park Service started a program where you could get a pass to allow their whole family in for free (entrance fees are fairly expensive).  We didn't have time to plan and take advantage of it but we knew we wanted to take the kids out west.  So, we started planning a trip.  Last July we booked a cabin on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and a room on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (bookings open up July 1 of every year and fill up quickly).  We then started filling in the blanks.

Alicia's parents have been taking advantage of being retired and having purchased senior passes before their price increased 8x.  We invited them to join us on our trek.

So, where all did we go?  We started with Mesa Verde in Colorado, moved north to Arches in Utah, jumped to the Western side of Utah to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion (skipping Canyonlands and Capital Reef in the process).  We then moved down into Arizona to visit both rims of the Grand Canyon, and lastly to New Mexico for Carlsbad Canyon.

All told it was about 60 hours in the car (without stops) covering roughly 3760 miles.

We purchased an annual pass for $80.  This got us into all of the parks and got us our tour at Carlsbad Canyon for free.  If we'd paid individual entrance fees it would have been over $200, plus it's good for a year, so we're planning some additional trips.

I'll do more posts for individual parks, but for now I'm going to give a high level summary of what we did and include a few teaser photos.  The kids will chime in on the individual parks as well.

Friday, June 22
We headed out at about 4:30, after a brief stop for gas and food in Alma we pressed on towards Oklahoma City.  We stopped briefly at the Oklahoma Welcome Center (that was closed).  The kids noted that the picnic tables looked like tepees.  We finally got into our room about 10:30 right before a pretty good storm arrived.

Saturday, June 23
After grabbing breakfast at the motel we got on the road about 8:15.  We stopped at the Texas Welcome Center in Amarillo (we noticed they had rather interesting patterns in the tile in the bathrooms, and high wooden ceilings).  They also had metal animal silhouettes outside.  After a brief gas and lunch stop we headed onto Albuquerque.  The New Mexico Welcome Center was essentially at the border.  We stopped in for a bathroom break and to pickup a map.  We adjusted the car clock to self adjust since we would be traveling through several time zone changes on the trip. It was interesting to watch the landscape change, both becoming more mountainous as well as the changes in the vegetation.  It was really pretty coming into Albuquerque.  It was over 100 when we got there, we could also tell that we had gained about 5000 feet of elevation.

Sunday, June 24
Another early start so we can get to Mesa Verde.  We stopped in Durango, CO for lunch (and a WalMart stop).  It was interesting, after leaving Albuquerque we saw no signs of life for about an hour and a half.  From the welcome center to the majority park was a 20 mile drive UP to the top of the mesa.  We took the balcony house tour which involved climbing a 32-foot wooden ladder to get to the dwelling.  And 2 more 11-foot ladders to get out.  After about 5 hours at the park it was time to head on to Thompson Spring, UT where Roy and Judy had an Air B&B for the night.

Monday, June 25
We headed out early to beat the crowds to Arches.  We saw several arches: Delicate Arch - the most famous, Landscape Arch - largest in the US, Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch, Double Arch, and lastly the North, South, and Turret Arches.  After about 5 hours we headed across Utah to our hotel outside of Bryce Canyon.

Tuesday, June 26
We spent the day at Bryce Canyon.  We parked outside of the park and took their free shuttle in (they have 1 parking place for every 4 cars inside the park).  We road the bus around the main portion of the park and also walked around.  We visited Sunset and Sunrise Points.  We then hiked down into the cayon on the Garden Trail (very steep).  After lunch we visited Inspiration and Bryce Points.  We road the shuttle back out to our cars and drove in to goto the back of the park where Rainbow Point @9000-feet is.  We then headed back to the motel for dinner.  We planned on coming back to catch the sunset but we timed it wrong so we missed it.  It was also a near full moon so it was hard to see any stars.

Wednesday, June 27
After breakfast we headed south for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We planned on a brief stop at Zion but due to a miscommunication we wound up driving all the way through the park and then back out.  It was worth the detour (more on that later).  We bought lunch at the last stop before entering the Grand Canyon (The Grand Canyon General Store).  It had 2 gas pumps, one selling desel, the other selling regular.  We bought lunch from a food truck.  We saw a herd of buffalo just inside the park.  We walked around for a while, then had dinner at the Lodge.  After dinner we took a hike we'd planned on doing before dinner.  It was good we went after dinner, we managed to catch the sunset, it was beautiful.  I left the drapes open on my side of the cabin so I could see the stars, unfortunately that also meant the sun could come in early :(.

Thursday, June 28
After a quick breakfast at the saloon, we headed back out to go around to the South Rim.  It's about 1.5 hours back to the intersection where you turn east, we went by Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, crossed the Colorado, then headed back West to reenter the park at the east gate.  We stopped at the Watchtower (beautiful views), had lunch, and then started the 20 mile drive west into the main village.  We stopped at several vistas and also had to contend with construction traffic (they are rebuilding the road).  After checking into our room we took the shuttle to the visitor center.  We then took the shuttle to the far side of the village to eat dinner and walk along some of the rim trail.  After dinner we bumped into a moose eating dinner along the trail.  We tried going back to the visitor center to walk a trail to view more wildlife but it took longer for the bus to return than we expected so we just headed back to our room.  We did get some star viewing in though.

Friday, June 29
Another travel day.  The plan was to drive to Roswell, NM via Albuquerque (about a 9 hour drive).  About 1/2 way there Waze warned us about a traffic problem ahead (truck caught on fire and set grass on the side of the road on fire) and rerouted us.  This reroute took us by the Petrified Forest (so we stopped), the Very Large Array (radio telescopes), and the Smokey the Bear Historic State Park.  After 11.5 hours we finally made it to our hotel.  It was only 2 miles further than if we'd stayed on the interstate.

Saturday, June 30
A relatively short drive down to Carlsbad Caverns where we spent a couple of hours underground enjoying the 56 degree temperatures.  We all walked in via the natural entrance.  Eli didn't want to wait in line for the elevator (30 minute wait) so he and I hiked back out that way (mind you we were 750 feet under ground).  It took us about 30 minutes to get out.  Then it was onto Abileen, TX for the night.  We finally found a Sonic to get a treat at (right on the New Mexico Texas line).  There was a storm racing us for the intersection with I-20 (it won) but we saw lots of cool lightening behind the windmills.  We got ahead of the storm on I-20 and got moved into our room right before it arrived.

Sunday, July 1
We slept in a little and then got on the road home.  I knew the Dallas-Fort Worth area was large but it took us about 1.5 hours to drive across it.  We got lunch on the other side of Dallas and then started looking for another Sonic.  We stopped at the Arkansas Welcome Center in Texarkana.  We finally found a convenient Sonic in Benton.  Finally making it home around 5.

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