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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Last Leg

When we last left you we were in Idaho Falls, about 1,000 miles from home. Looking at the map we considered adding an extra night to our stop so the girls, in particular Jenna who has had a fascination with the place, could see Las Vegas. After looking at the cost of the trip so far and the cost of adding an extra night in Vegas we decided Thursday night would be our last of the trip. In addition both girls were becoming a bit more vocal that they wanted to get home.

Thursday started with the early risers, Jenna and me, heading down to the breakfast included with the room at the Shilo Inn around 8:00. Of the breakfast-includeds we have had during the trip the Shilo's was by far the best. When we returned to the room the sleeper-inners, Mom and Blaire, were ready for their turn at the buffet. We hit the road around 10:00 with the goal being Cedar City, Utah, a straight 465 miles south on I-15. For our trip so far a very light day spent with the girls singing camp songs and our playing several of our favorite car games (see below).

Once again Leslie put the in car technology to the test and searching hotels under $100 in Cedar City settled on an Okay-8, our second of the trip. Since we were in town around 5:30 we decided to drive around a bit and found Cedar City to be a neat little town. It is a university town with Southern Utah University located there, as well it is a gateway into Dixie National Forest, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. It also has a Shakespeare Festival which is evidently a big draw for the town.

Part of our drive around was a scouting mission for dinner. We located some possibles in town but upon returning to the hotel noticed an English Pub/restaurant attached to hotel across the parking lot and decided to eat there since they were billing different types of food that might satisfy everyone in the family. Back at the Okay-8 we inquired of our inn-keeper about the place and he said other guests had reported favorably.

There standards must be pretty low as it was by far the worst meal on our trip. Jenna had a pizza in which she just ate off the cheese and olives indicating the sauce and dough were not palatable. Leslie, Blaire and I opted for the buffet with a soup and salad bar, roast chicken, pork, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans. Thank goodness for the salad bar is my favorable comment. Blaire wondered how the roast chicken, which was only legs and wings, could be so dry for dark meat and further wondered what was used for the potatoes for the garlic mash. Two good inquiries from my buddy Foodie.

Like our prior Okay-8 stay in Nebraska, the room was "non-smoking" but the corridor reeked of stale cigarette smoke. Oh for two on the Okay-8's we will consider the risk reward scenario of quality versus price very strongly before staying at one again.

Friday morning we were up and on the road by 8:30 local (Mountain) time. Heading east into the forests and mountains we quickly began an winding assent into the hills and the Dixie National Forest. Not a road for the faint of heart, we wound up sharp turns with no guard rails protecting from hundred foot drops. Surrounded by lush forest with streams and creeks the morning drive was as beautiful as any we have had on the trip. As we neared the peak the ground changed from grass and plants to what looked like plowed fields with very black dirt. It was not dirt however but rock that must have been lava rock from millenia ago. Very interesting change in the geology.

When we stopped climbing we were in large expanses of meadows and fields used for livestock grazing, high country ranching. I love this type of country and enjoyed the winding drive across the plateau and subsequent descent through the other side of Dixie.

Exiting Dixie we turned south and headed towards Zion National Park. The road was dotted with small towns, each with a posted 45 speed limit and a parked Sheriff guarding the entrance to town, a neat trick to slow everyone down. Seemingly out of nowhere the trees and forests gave was to plateaus, cliffs and yellow and red rocks soaring out of the ground.

As we entered the road into Zion the change in landscape was astounding, from lush, verdant terrain to desert scrub and soaring rocks. At the entrance the Park Ranger taking our fee inquired if we wanted an annual pass for $80 or pay the $25 for a visitor pass. We said we were just there to drive through and see the Park and he told us to save our receipts as they could be applied to an annual pass. Having paid $25 each for Rushmore and Yellowstone we were now $75 towards an annual pass should we visit another national park in the near future. Should you be visiting several parks in the next year keep this in mind.

Zion was just as awe inspiring, "Wow" provoking and incredible as anything we have seen so far on the trip. The massive cliffs that loom over the road, the incredible color that we could not replicate in any of our pictures, the sheer size. Each element of the place is fascinating, combined it was a perfect way to complete our list of sites we had on our list before we had left Long Beach ten days before.

There are many places to stay in just outside of Zion on the western side, as well it is not far from Southern California making it a great weekend trip for the family. Though looking at traffic going the other way my suggestion would be to take the kids out of school on Friday and leave early.

Having taken our leave of Zion we pointed the Odyssey to home. Before we got there however we had one more side trip we had to make. Approaching from the north we exited the I-15 at Las Vegas Blvd and drove down the Strip so Jenna could see the hotels and sites. All the way down she was asking if we could stay, how she wanted to go to Vegas, and knowing I had told her not until she was 21 when I would take her she pointed out several hotels she wanted us to stay at twelve years hence when that would occur. Of all the sites we had seen during the trip the most vocal response from Jenna of all was the drive down Las Vega Boulevard in 104 degree heat in the early afternoon. That is Jenna, bright lights and flashing billboards.

Having done the Vegas to Long Beach drive many times we knew we were four to five hours from home depending on traffic. Leaving Vegas we also encountered something I had not missed in the previous 4500 miles: Southern California drivers. Tailgating at 75 miles per hour when it is evident you cannot go faster due to car in front of you or move over due to cars in the lane next to you, going 60 in the fast lane when flow of traffic is closer to 80, suddenly slowing down for no reason, and increasingly crowded traffic lanes. Ahhhh, home is near!

With a stop at The Mad Greek in Baker for milkshakes we were all ready for the final, final leg of our return. The girls started counting down the time to my estimated 6:00 time of arrival.

Two hundred and forty hours and 4,875 miles after we had left, Lesie and I were back home with our girls. The trip from Camp Birchwood was 2725 miles traveling through Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California. The girls were great throughout and gave some fuel to our idea for next summer: driving the girls to camp through Arizona (Grand Canyon), Oklahoma to see their ancestral roots, then up the Mississippi to its source a few miles from their camp.

Before we left when Leslie and I told people we were headed off on the Great American Road Trip many people inquired why we would want to drive to Minnesota when we could fly, looked at us wondering why we would want to spend eight days driving across the country, told us we were nuts for thinking our screen-oriented kids would be able to handle such a long drive. Many others envied our wanderlust and told of how when they were kids they had many family vacations in back of the family station wagon headed somewhere.

To the skeptics we say, put your kids in the car and drive somewhere wonderful--which is most of the country outside the urban sprawl that covers Southern California. We have an incredibly beautiful country, not just the landscapes but the people who live in those "remote" areas. Leslie and I both grew up spending parts of our summers, winter and spring breaks in the back seat of a station wagon headed somewhere. Trips we remember still. Now we have a trip our children will remember and share with our grandchildren, hopefully when they are headed to Yellowstone, or Rushmore, or Zion, or Camp Birchwood in Minnesota.

Pictures below are again the poor Blackberry takes of Zion, Leslie finally home, and our welcoming committee wondering where we had gone. I am hoping to have loaded on YouTube ( some brief videos taken with the Flip, check in Sunday.

Thanks for following along on the Great American Road Trip and the positive feedback. It's good to be home, but it was just as good to be on the road with the family.

Car Games Here are some games we play in the car

License Plates: we keep a list of license plates we see from states we are not currently traveling in. On the way there Leslie and I saw 32 states. On the way back we saw 42 states, nailing Alaska on the final off ramp in Long Beach.

A to Z: Several variations of this game. 1) See how fast you can go from A to Z spotting letters using road signs, license plates, billboards, etc. 2) Rotating through the car name movies that start with the letter at your turn, to make it more difficult do not allow "The", i.e. "The Incredibles" does not count as "I". First person, "Avatar", next "Boyz In The Hood", next "Cars" and so on. 3) Same game but use television shows. Titles cannot be repeated, though after several rounds we gave options for person to skip Q, X and/or Z when it was their turn.

Last to First: Rotate through the car and using either famous people or places each person must name a person or place that begins with the last letter of the previous answer. I.e first person starts with Anaheim, next is Manhattan, next is Nebraska, and so on.

Guess How Far: Pick a point way in the distance and guess how many miles it is or how long it will take to get there

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