Making memories as a family is important, not only for now but for the future as well. Memorable moments come from daily life, but also from the adventures you take and what could be more memorable than a cross country trip with the family?
I distinctly remember my cross country trip as a kid. My best friend invited me to spend a couple weeks with him and his family as they drove from Pittsburgh, PA to San Diego, CA. I remember the amazing sights, both the fun and monotonous moments of riding in the car, and the cool folks we met along the way; we made some awesome memories!
Fast forward to January 2018, and my family was planning a trip across the country as we moved from San Diego, CA to Virginia Beach, VA. My wife and I had made the reverse trip in 2012, but now we were bringing our 4 year old son, and our dog and cat, so we had to do a little bit more planning. As I write this blog post, I'm happy that we did because now I get to share all the awesome stuff we saw and the memories we made.
All the photos included here were created by me with either my iPhone 6, Nikon point and shoot camera, and my Canon 5D Mk III and 7D.
For those that don't have kids or have never traveled with a toddler, there is a lot more planning that goes into any longer trip: Travel times, sights to see, toys and snacks, meal planning, and hotels to name but a few. Add to that traveling with a dog and cat, and you're now dealing with organized chaos at best.
No plan survives contact with the enemy.
And as it goes, neither would this plan, but as with all plans it was simply something to deviate from; a guideline so to speak...
So, with all these things in mind and drawing on my previous cross country trips I formulated a plan. The goal was to keep the driving times to 3-4 hours at a time, and allow for the good breaks in between. We also planned to eat out only once a day, so breakfast would be at the hotel, lunch would be peanut butter and jelly or something similar in the car, and dinner would be out after we arrived at our hotel for the night.
Here is the basic trip itinerary...
Day 1: San Diego, CA to Henderson, NV
Day 2: Henderson, NV to Flagstaff, AZ
Day 3: Flagstaff, AZ to Albuquerque, NM
Day 4: Albuquerque, NM to Amarillo, TX
Day 5: Amarillo, TX to Oklahoma City, OK
Day 6: Oklahoma City, OK to Memphis, TN
Day 7: Memphis, TN to Nashville, TN
Day 8: Nashville, TN to Radford, VA
Day 9: Radford, VA to Virginia Beach, VA
day 1: San Diego, ca to Henderson, NV
After packing up the car and turning over the keys to our rental house, we got on the road and headed away from San Diego to Henderson, NV.
Our first stop of the day, the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, CA. The museum is small, but chock full of awesome stuff - from vintage cars to posters, models, and signs, the museum is a must for any Route 66 fan.
You can check out more about the California Route 66 Museum at:
Shortly after leaving Victorville and the California Route 66 Museum, we arrived at our next planned stop, the Concrete Dinosaurs in Applevalley, CA. Unfortunately, the stop was a complete bust. The dinos were located on private property and had totally fallen in to disarray. With a now whiny toddler, we cruised on up to Barstow, a short drive away.
Pulling into Barstow, CA, we remembered a cool little stop that had some fast food options and was created out of old train cars. It happened to be the same place the kiddo had his very first McDonald's a little over a year ago. And little did we know at the time, but they also had a penny smash machine with a Route 66 option!
Refreshed with McDonald's fries, potty break complete, and a smashed penny sporting a Route 66 image, we got back on the road. With no other major stops planned, we headed to Henderson, NV, and the end of our first day of travel.
DAY 2: Henderson, NV to Flagstaff, AZ
Day 2 of our trip was going to be busy, and we knew this going in. After a busy first day, and restful night's sleep, we left our hotel at the perfect time to arrive at the Hoover Dam which was only a short drive away.
The Hoover Dam is not only a modern building marvel, but it also plays a major role in providing power to the West Coast. As a result getting in to the dam area requires travelers to pass through a security check point, in our case this also meant they needed to take a look at the stuff in our roof top carrier; not a major problem, but something we hadn't considered. Fortunately, the security folks were thorough, but quick, and very polite.
The other thing we hadn't considered in advance, was that dogs were not allowed onto the dam and nor were they allowed to be left in vehicles (considering the number of tourist passing through with animals this didn't bother us at all, but was a minor inconvenience). So, instead of getting out to explore the top of the dam, we crossed it in the car and were able to park on the AZ side which allowed us to get out (with the dog) and have a nice view and photo opportunity of the dam. All things considered, it worked out great.
Leaving the Hoover Dam, we drove on to our next big stop of the day: the southern rim of the Grand Canyon!
Fortunately, and unfortunately at the same time, the Government was in a shutdown because they couldn't pass a budget. The Grand Canyon was "open", but there was no staff around save for the contracted folks operating a coffee shop at the center. This also meant, that everyone who visited was able to visit for free!
My wife and I had visited the Grand Canyon on our trip out west, but that time it was summer and insanely hot. This time, it was winter and cold; cold enough that we had to bundle up and there was snow! The kiddo was all decked out in his winter jacket, hat, and gloves and was sooo excited to see snow! In reality this was his FIRST TIME actually seeing and playing in snow!
We ended up with some great photos here and everyone, including the dog, had an awesome time!
With the Grand Canyon behind us we headed on to Flagstaff, AZ, our stop for the night.
Day 3: Flagstaff, AZ to Albuquerque, NM
The third day of our road trip started with quick stop at the Firecreek Coffee Company in downtown Flagstaff. The Firecreek Coffee Company was amazing. With lattes exceptionally made, a rocking atmosphere, and whole bean coffee sourced from the region at a good price our stop at the Firecreek Coffee Company was the perfect start to our day!
You can checkout more about the Firecreek Coffee Company on their website, including their coffee subscriptions, at: http://firecreekcoffee.com/
Leaving Flagstaff, AZ, we headed east on U.S. Route 40 towards the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, our first planned stop of the day. Located a short distance off the highway, the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark is more than just a huge crater. Boasting a visitor center with an educational video, a chunk of meteor rock found nearby, and a staff of knowledgeable and friendly guides the Meteor Crater is a great stop for everyone; my son absolutely loved it and couldn't stop telling us about it!
Find out more about the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark on their website:
With the Meteor Crater behind us, we moved east on U.S. Route 40 towards Holbrook, AZ, and a historic Route 66 site, the Wigwam Motel.
The Wigwam Motel has been around for ages, and with the kid loving everything to do with the Disney Cars movies and Route 66, it was a no-brainer for us to swing by. With classic cars arrayed around the parking lot and vintage neon signs, arriving at the motel was like stepping back in time. While the motel lobby wasn't open while we were there, it was still a lot of fun to explore the vintage cars and take in the historic ambience.
The Wigwam Motel was a blast for all of us, and I wish we could've stayed a night in one, but unfortunately our travel plans didn't permit it. If your travels take you that way, I highly recommend checking it out.
Find out more about the Wigwam Motel on their website: https://sleepinawigwam.com
Leaving Holbrook, we took a detour down 77 towards Route 180 and on towards the southern entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park. Unfortunately, we arrived only to find out that the park was closed due to the government shut down. Fortunately though, the two privately owned gift shops just outside the park were open giving us a chance to peruse petrified wood and some native american made items. The kiddo had a ton of fun checking out the petrified wood and choosing a couple pieces to purchase from the shops, he even tried to "roll" a petrified wood log which was probably 10 times his size.
With the park closed I couldn't get any photos from this trip, but I thought the I'd share these two photos below which were taken during our trip from East to West back in 2012.
If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out Petrified Forest National Park. I had the opportunity on two separate occasions, and both times I was in awe of the beauty and amazed at what nature creates over time.
Check out the Petrified Forest National Park, and if you have the time the two little shops at the south entrance to the park; the staff at the shops were fantastic and super friendly!
Petrified Forest National Park: https://www.nps.gov/pefo/index.htm
Petrified Forest Gift Shop: https://www.yelp.com/biz/petrified-forest-gift-shop-holbrook
Crystal Forest Museum & Gifts: www.facebook.com/pages/Crystal-Forest-Museum-Gifts/146932442002713
Leaving the gift shops we headed back towards Holbrook and Route 40 to continue our trip on towards Albuquerque, NM, our destination for the night.
Here ends part 1 of our cross country trip story. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, and a recap in which I'll be putting some notes and lessons we learned to help others out. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions here as well, we'd love to hear what you have to say!