Anyway, we were Grand Canyon bound (the Grandest of Canyons), but we needed to take a leisurely pace, getting there, as check-in for our cabin wasn't until afternoon, and we didn't have that far to go. We decided to stop at Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest for a really lovely hike. We were all glad we did. It was at Red Canyon that we discovered how much the J-bird likes hiking if we just let him...go.
We arrived at Grand Canyon and got checked into our little cabin. We decided that, since we were only staying for two nights, we would get up very early in the morning and watch the sun rise over the canyon. As it happened, since we had no cell connection at all, I set the clock on my phone wrong, and we all got up at 3:30am instead of 4:30, but we had a nice time anyhow, and the sunrise was just gorgeous.
After our sunrise hike, we had breakfast and then went for our second hike of the day, finishing up by 11am, all of us ready for a rest.
That evening, we got to watch an amazing storm over the canyon.
Miss V was not a fan of the thunder
The next morning, we took once last look at the Grandest of Canyons and said goodbye to our little cabin.
I loved our time at Grand Canyon!
Our next stop was Vegas. "Why Vegas?!", you may ask. "That's not really a place for children!" You are correct, BUT it made a nice waystation between Grand Canyon and our next stop, and the VRBO we rented had air conditioning, internet, and THIS:
AND AN AMAZING POOL!!
Which was super great, because it was real hot.
We did some super fun stuff, like the hours we blissfully spent at the Pinball Museum.
And the very painfully expensive visit we made to the M&M store. (Sigh)
James and the J-bird went to see David Copperfield one night, so Miss V and I had a girls' night. We put one of our dwindling number of Love Rocks on a slot machine in the casino, had supper at Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, bought fancy bath stuff in a little boutique, and had some Starbucks. It was great!
Vegas is a weird place - it really is. We enjoyed ourselves there though, and we were definitely sad to leave all that wonderful air conditioning, because we were headed to...
The photo below was taken at 11am. It was so hot. So, so hot. We buzzed in, the kids got their Junior Ranger badges, and we drove back out, but I don't think I can emphasize enough how HOT DEATH VALLEY IS. There are places where you are below sea level, and then you have to climb up to several thousand feet above sea level, and there are posted warnings to turn off your car's air conditioner for the next ten miles, so your car won't overheat and die, leaving you to sweat and curse and kick tires and sand by the side of the road, hopefully with the gallons of water you thoughtfully brought with you in your oven of a car.
Point is: it's no joke.
But it's also really neat.
So once we finished up at Death Valley, it was time to complete our scratch off map (thanks, Wendee!) by driving on in to California for some time at Yosemite National Park.
Yoooooooosemite! So beautiful and imposing and...granite-y.
We hiked and hiked and hiked some more.
There was a lot of this:
Aaaaaaaaand....some of this:
But man, Yosemite is long on beauty.
The Junior Ranger program, like many things, was done a little differently in Yosemite. They like to do things their own way in California. There were a number of different options and levels, and you could complete the whole shebang by just going on a Ranger Hike, so we did that.
Got 'em sworn right in.
See how happy we look here? This is because we had reached the top of our second most strenuous hike of the whole trip. The children's faces are displaying smiles of relief. My face is displaying a smile of triumph, because halfway up the VERY STEEP trail, I got sick of the whining, crying, and general public scene my children had decided to perform in regards to how difficult this activity was, and I sat them both down and very quietly, very calmly laid down the LAW. I laid down the MOM LAW. The Scary Mom Law with the Quiet Scary Voice, and nary a whine was heard after that. In fact, there was happiness and cheer and skipping. Do I like to intimidate my children? No, I do not. That's why I almost never do it. Was it warranted in this case? Oh yes, my friends. It most certainly was. I do not strike or spank my children, so the Scary Mom Voice is my nuclear option.
I just want to keep it real with you, here among all the happy family photos.
And here we are on the bus, happy again, getting photo-bombed by that girl behind us. I completely love that she did that. 100%. A+, random girl on the bus.
To escape the heat, I took the kiddos down to this shallow, slow part of the river where everyone goes to swim. That water is NOT warm, but we had so much fun, just cutting loose and cooling off. The kids immediately made friends with some other children who were down there, swimming, and the J-bird is hoping for another pen-pal.
When James and I were first married, we lived in California for a few years, and we left behind a number of buddies when we moved to Oregon. Random chance and crazy fate reunited us with some of them while we were at Yosemite. We'd posted some photos while we were in the park, and our friend, Karen hit James up to let us know that she and Casey and their kids were going to be there during the same time. She asked if we'd like to have supper with them, and THAT was a giant yes, so we all got together and celebrated a reunion eleven and a half years in the making.
Four of the people in this photo didn't exist the last time we saw the Lees!
Yosemite, you are amazing! You do things your own way, but I'd expect no different. Big love.
It was time to move on.
Very stinky mudpot/Sulfur Works
Throwing rocks in the water.
We were all anxious to press on though. Home was in our sights, but we had one more stop to go.
On the morning of Day 44, we all drove out to Crater Lake for breakfast at the lodge. I want to go back someday, when I'm not jumping out of my skin to get HOMEHOMEHOME, because the lake is so amazing, and I'd love to hike and actually explore. We really just wanted to bust a move though, so we took a look and bailed.
Those last few hours in the car were so incredibly long, but they did finally end. I pulled the car into our own driveway, and there was our own beautiful, wonderful front door. My neighbors had not only watered the plants and fed the fish, but they'd stocked the kitchen with groceries and left supper in the crock pot. I don't even have words to describe how overwhelmed I was at that kindness. I didn't have to unpack and then get back in the car and go to the grocery store. It was major.
So now we're home. We touched down a little less than a week ago, and we are fully settled in. The suitcases are unpacked and put away, the backpacks are emptied out and stowed, the hiking shoes are out in the garage, waiting for the next hike. We put some miles on those babies this summer. I've been buying school supplies and school clothes and new shoes for two kids who are suddenly so much taller than they were six weeks ago. Today, I surprised them with a blow-up kiddie pool and a Slip n' Slide in the back yard. Before long, there were knocks at the door, and we had seven kids in the back yard, playing and sliding and bickering and laughing. Summer.
Already, the reality of this huge thing we did is growing a little hazy. The irritation we couldn't help feeling sometimes with the constant closeness of each other, particularly toward the end, when our reserves were low, is fading into the background, and we're thinking mainly of all the great stuff. And truly, there was a lot of really, really great stuff. Enormous, soaring mountain landscapes, impossible, mind-boggling canyons, geysers and mudpots and springs, the baking heat of the desert, the shocking cold of rivers rushing over every-colored rocks, the sun rising over the Grand Canyon, an entire flock of deer on the lawn of the Zion Lodge at night under a sky full of stars, my children with their grandparents and aunts and uncle and cousins and great grandmothers, my husband relaxing and enjoying his sabbatical...
Would I ever go on a roadtrip that long with two kids again? No. I don't think so. Am I glad we did it? You betcha. It was, as billed, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am so incredibly grateful that I got to experience every minute of it.