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Friday, August 15, 2014

Somewhere to rest my weary head.

Well, hello there! I haven't actually forgotten that I had a blog, but we went on vacation and when we came back life was too busy to sit down and write all about it.  Actually, with school starting up and such, life is still too busy to sit down and write, but I miss it.  That's good news to all of you who aren't speed readers because maybe it means my vacation posts will be a little shorter than usual.  Maybe.  :)

We left for our trip on a Thursday, and we started planning it in earnest on that Monday.  While the procrastination caused me all kinds of stress, I had nothing to worry about because things came together beautifully.  Our destination was Nathan's boot camp graduation at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, a short 1,875 mile drive from our house --that is, if you went the most direct route.  We did not.

We couldn't afford to fly the four of us, so in order to break up the long drive we made it a vacation road trip, stopping at lots of cool places on the way out (and a few on the way back).  To minimize costs, we did some tent camping, stayed with family and friends, ate most of our meals out of a cooler.  Never a big fan of lunch meat, I may never touch it again.

The camping was my plan; Jeff was a little bit more skeptical.  We got a pop-up camper when Jacob was a baby and never looked back.  The camper's been parked for a couple years, though, and neither one of us wanted to tow it through the mountains. That left our tent, which thankfully was still in decent shape, plenty big for the four of us to sleep in, and (as it turned out) still rain resistant.  And it gave us the opportunity to sleep in some pretty cool places, which brings us to the point of today's post: where we stayed our nights on vacation.

Thursday (departure day): Pueblo, CO, KOA.




With 13 hours of drive time on our first day, we opted for something easy.  Staying in a cabin meant all we had to do was throw our sleeping bags onto the mattresses at the end of a long day and have little to pack up the next morning.  Plus, many KOAs have that jumping pillow you see in the last picture.  Jacob loves them, Daniel loves tormenting me by bouncing me off of them, and they provide a good opportunity to burn off excess energy after sitting in the car all day.

I'd so hoped to be able to meet up with Jill, Kathy, Terzah, and Cynthia during this trip, but in the end it just made more sense for us to take a more southerly route through Colorado.  Next time!!

Friday: Morefield Campground, Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

Mesa verde
That's our tent in the foreground
Not particularly cheap at $35 for a primitive tent site (no electric or water on the site, but there were showers and bathrooms available a short walk away), it was hard to beat Morefield's location 4 miles inside the gates of Mesa Verde.  This was also our first campground to give us very strict guidelines on what could be in the tent (basically, us and our bedding) and what could not (food, water, toiletries) due to bears in the area.  You either had to lock up your coolers and food tubs in the car or in the bear bins located around the campground.  We didn't have any bear problems, but Jeff did think maybe he saw one running away from our campsite when he got up early in the morning for more blankets.

None of us slept well this night, a combination of the cold, attempting to balance on overfilled (cheap) sleeping mats, and who knows what else.  It was a long night.

Mesa verde
View behind our campsite...you can see some of the tents in the other loop.
  Saturday: Devil's Garden Campground, Arches National Park (Utah)

Arches
Not a bad view for $20.
In a stroke of luck, we got the very last campsite available inside Arches National Park. Another primitive site with bathrooms and running water a short walk away (but no showers), this one was almost half the cost of our Mesa Verde site.  We got no bear warnings, but Utah was WAY hotter than Colorado. Thankfully the temperatures cooled once the sun went down and we got a decent night's sleep before rising early for a hike before heading off to our next stop.

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Putting the kid to work the next day
Trying to keep our luggage to a minimum, we didn't bring many extras in the gear department.  We had sleeping bags and sleeping mats for everyone, a couple extra blankets, and a couple lights. No cooking equipment or other camping gear.  This definitely made packing up easier.

Sunday: Zion Lodge, Zion National Park (Utah)

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Crazy scenic
This wasn't a bargain-priced overnight at all, except for the fact that my father-in-law, having stayed at Zion Lodge and loved it, sprung for a night there for us.

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We were on the second floor, in back
 I can't even begin to tell you how lovely it was to sleep in a bed after a couple nights on sub-par sleeping mats.

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 By the time we got our stuff into the room and finished eating, it was dark outside. We just chilled in the room, slept hard, and did our hiking the next day.

Monday: Mardi Gras Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

Somewhere on an SD card is a shot of our room and a few pictures of the pool.  You aren't missing that much.  Suffice it to say that when booking.com congratulates you, "You've booked the cheapest room in the hotel!!" it doesn't entirely feel like a compliment. That said, the room was spacious and clean, the pool was nice, and we left Vegas without being killed in our beds or bringing along bedbugs, so I was happy.

Tuesday-Thursday: Orange, CA

Thank God for family.  Because Comic Con was in San Diego the same weekend as Nathan's graduation from Marine Corps boot camp, by the time I got around to making reservation hotels like Motel 6 were running around $200/night. Hell no.  Instead we stayed with two of Jeff's uncles and drove the 1-1.5 hours to San Diego on Thursday and Friday.

Friday: Tucson, AZ

Thank God for old friends.  I actually have several family members with places in the Phoenix area, but it didn't work out for us to stay with any of them.  Luckily I was able to message my friend Kelly, my best friend from 3rd grade (when she moved to my town) until 7th grade (when she moved to Arizona) and still one of those lifelong friends you can see/talk to once every 5 years and still fall right back into the friendship. We rolled up their driveway around 11 pm and crashed in their guest room after little more than a "hi".

Saturday: Mt. Graham, Stafford, AZ

Home, sweet home for the night
 We stayed on Mt. Graham with Kelly, her husband, and their daughter.  Since James works at the Large Binocular Telescope on the mountain, they're pretty much regulars here.

Jacob and Grace spent a long of time working on this fort uphill from our site.
 The fort building opportunities shot Mt. Graham towards the top of Jacob's vacation ranking of our various destinations.  He would've spent every waking moment working on that fort, but he was thwarted by the approaching storm and lightning.

The second bear-warning site of our trip; no bears to be seen, though.
This was one of my favorite stops of the trip too, and not just because the temperature above 9,000 feet was a good 25-30 degrees cooler than down mountain.  I loved the pine forest; I loved the fact that we had the entire campground loop to ourselves.  I did not love the white-knuckle switchbacks on the road or the long stretch of Kanza-esque gravel (driven in our aging minivan).

Sunday: Holbrook KOA, Holbrook AZ

Another KOA, another cabin, and while KOAs typically have nice features like pools or the jumping pillow at our top picture, we basically rolled in, ate supper, showered, and went to bed.

Monday (Tuesday morning): Elk City KOA, Elk City, OK

It may have been daylight when we hit Holbrook; we'd already eased into the next day by the time we reached Oklahoma.  After some touring in the Holbrook area, we pointed ourselves towards home with three potential stops (all KOAs, which make up in proximity to the highway what they lack in atmosphere), knowing we'd have to commit to a destination before the offices closed if we wanted to stay into a cabin.  We settled on Elk City, our furthest option, and they just left the cabin unlocked for us with the key inside.  Our return to the midwest featured bugs, something we'd seen little of since leaving home thirteen days earlier.  I hadn't missed them at all.

Tuesday: home!

In all, we traveled for 13 days, driving a total of 4,700 miles.  Not necessarily a restful vacation, but a really great trip. I'd love to do another long road trip, maybe with a slightly more forgiving schedule, and take my bike(s) along for the ride. Maybe next year...

4 comments:

  1. What a great trip. I would like to come back to USA but my wife is scared of flying. Sorry you couldn't take a pic of the bears.....

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  2. This was quite the adventure! Yikes on all the bears!

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  3. Sounds like a great trip! Loved all the pics. Good memories made for sure.

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  4. I loved following your trip on FB and IG. You saw lots of wonderful places. My favorite comment was Jacob's at the end. "I can see it from the car."

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