Taking a road trip through the Southwest United States is one of those things that people tell you to check off your list before having children. And if you missed that boat, well, you’ll probably have to wait until your kids are in middle school, or, at the very least, old enough to have the good sense not to jump head-first into the Grand Canyon. But what if you’re somewhere in between? What if you have–heavens!–a two year old? What if you don’t want to wait until they’re eight? What would happen if you were to jump in a car, stock that car with water, Wee Sing CDs, and canned beans, and…go?
I’m not saying that a big fat road trip is for every family or every toddler. Everyone is geared differently, and there are plenty of factors that play into whether or not a trip like this is right for you. All I’m saying is that maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to write off adventures of a lifetime because they seem too hard, too not-kid-friendly, too not what people do. Actually, most good adventures are all of the above. They might be hard, challenging, and a tiny bit insane, but usually they are also possible. Not that I didn’t spend several late nights before our trip lying awake in bed, thinking, “I am crazy. I am crazy. This is a disastrous plan. We are all going to end up at the bottom of the Grand Canyon or deaf from Sam’s screams of frustration from the backseat. I am crazy.” In the end, though, it wasn’t a disaster. It was actually the best trip we ever took.
Since we only had a week to travel, our trip was really a whirlwind tour of the places we wanted to see most. We took cheap flights into Phoenix and rented a car. On the fly, we devised our own form of glamping (minus the yurts); we stocked the car full of water jugs and as many non-perishable groceries as possible and, except for sleeping in hotels along our route, we essentially lived out of our car. We did grab hot meals in towns along the way, but it was nice to have plenty of food on hand for Sam’s growth-spurt feeding frenzies and for times that we didn’t want to take too much time to stop (as it turns out, both you and your toddler can get a lot of mileage out of quick-cooking oats, peanut butter, canned beans and soups, fresh fruit, and avocados). Jordan went into coffee snob survivalist mode, and he came prepared with an entire on-the-go coffee station with a cigarette-lighter-powered water-heating thermos and an Aeropress so that he could make a good cuppa in the middle of the desert (and I brought my own stash of mini half and half cups and sugar cubes–as I said, this was hardcore glamping).
Adjusting our expectations in advance was key to staying sane: I had to be okay with prioritizing our destinations and not seeing everything on my list*, and Jordan and I both had to be mentally prepared for the fact that this wasn’t going to be a quiet, restful sort of vacation, but an on-the-go, exploration vacation. We packed diversions for Sam, but not too many–one favorite kids’ CD, a fat and involved sticker book, his favorite snacks (the smaller and more time-consuming, the better, ie. popcorn), a couple of books, and his stuffed dog. In the car, Sam spent most of his time looking out the window to spot cows, sleeping, and eating large meals. At our destinations, we took turns keeping an eye on him or carrying him in the pack, and we tried to find as many spots as possible where he could throw rocks and run free. At the hotels, Sam spent the evenings jumping on the bed and splashing around in the tub, and then when he fell asleep in the pack n’ play we would read books, watch movies on a laptop with the headphone splitter, and scope out the next day’s adventures.
Sam and I love a good playground. In fact, one of our favorite places is the wooded playground around the corner from our house. But I’ve been realizing lately that the whole world is Sam’s playground. Not just places with metal swings and wood chip floors, but places with big rocks to climb and little rocks to throw, with big skies and open fields and wild horses and deep canyons and huge sunsets. That playground isn’t always safe or child-proof, and Yelp reviews might not always call it kid-friendly. But it’s big and wild and awe-inspiring, and it’s ours to explore.
Day 1: Fly to Phoenix
Day 2: Phoenix / Tonto National Forest (sleep in Phoenix)
Day 3: Sedona (sleep in Flagstaff)
Day 4: Grand Canyon / Horseshoe Bend / Lake Powell (sleep in Page, AZ)
Day 5: Antelope Canyon / Day trip to Monument Valley (sleep in Page)
Day 6: Zion National Park / Drive to Las Vegas (sleep in Vegas)
Day 7: Las Vegas / Home
Shot on Canon 6D with 17-35mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/1.4
Sedona, AZ: West Fork Canyon Trail, Viewpoint at Church of the Holy Cross, Airport Mesa Overlook
Grand Canyon National Park: South Rim Trail, Yavapai Point, Mather Point, Little Colorado Gorge Overlook
Page, AZ: Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell Resort, Glen Canyon Dam, Lower Antelope Canyon
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, UT
Zion National Park, UT
Las Vegas: Neon Sign Museum & Boneyard
**Other highlights on my list that we just didn’t get to included Meteor Crater, Vermilion Cliffs/Marble Canyon, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Grand Staircase, and Bryce Canyon
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