We’re back for a brief stint in Oklahoma to visit my parents and start a whirlwind tour through Texas to see more family and friends later this week, before flying out of Houston on August 16th for the UK & Ireland. It’s paralyzingly hot here and my body is in shock. The heat is soul-sucking and exhausting. Being a native Texan, the notion that people actually look forward to summer was once a foreign concept for us. Summer was a time to be loathed. A time to walk from house to car, car to store/work/church/restaurant, then back from car to house again whilst trying to avoid swamp-ass (a borrowed term, yet a keen descriptor of what happens when you sit in your car with an interior temperature around 115, then walk around in your sweaty ass pants).
We’ve come to love summers in the mountains and avoid summers in Texas like the plague. However, we scheduled ourselves to be around “these parts” for a month in between beautiful mountain Tahoe summer and gorgeous Scottish fall, in order to provide maximum stability for Kyle, our 6 year old, who had a rough transition after we sold our house in early 2016. This way we’d only be gone from “home” for 3 months at a time in 2017. However, Kyle is doing just swimmingly and I’m kicking myself for this scheduling blunder. We do desperately miss our friends and family and are thankful for the time with them – we just wish Texas was mountainous and 65 degrees in the summer.
Speaking of heat, we left Tahoe on Friday, July 14th to begin the long haul back to Oklahoma. For the temperature shock of the century, we drove through Death Valley National Park. For those as ignorant as I was, Death Valley is the proud owner of the record for the hottest surface temperature ever recorded on the face of planet earth. Apparently this is hotly contested by weather buffs, but let’s roll with it for the sake of the story. This is the most desolate, barren, rocky landscape I’ve ever seen. Every color of the brown scale is represented in the rocks here, as are some funky mineral deposits that make up the pinks, blues, and greens known as Artist’s Palette. As we progressed through the park, we watched the temperature skyrocket from 103 to 122. 122 freaking degrees. It was about 55 when we left Tahoe that morning.
Travis had the bright idea to stop at a scenic overlook and hike up a hill for a photo op. Kyle and I protested, but lost. Kyle stepped out of the car and immediately burst in to tears because his eyes were burning out of his skull. Sunglasses promptly retrieved, we tried again. We walked in the outdoor sauna, up the hill, to view the moonlike landscape below. Granted, this was incredible, but mark my words: not happening again for this gal. Oh, fun fact: Death Valley is also home to the lowest elevation in the contiguous United States, at 282 feet below sea level, and only 82 miles from the highest point in the US (outside of Alaska), Mount Whitney, which stands at 14,505 feet. Travis also informed me that there was an ultra marathon through Death Valley just a few weeks ago. Just to be clear, that’s a 135 mile foot face in mid-July. Kudos if that blows your skirt up, but hard pass for me.
We rolled in to Vegas around 9pm, grabbed dinner and headed to our hotel. We were so lucky that it was only 110 degrees at 10pm for our unloading extravaganza instead of 122. We travel with 4 bikes on the back of our Subaru, a car top carrier, and the car full of our worldly possessions. The bikes are valuable and uninsurable, so we’re extra careful with those. They get to sleep inside with us, often inches from our faces, in cramped hotel rooms. We’ve totally lucked out with super duper nice front desk employees who have allowed us to park under the well lit awning right in front of each hotel’s entrance, so we don’t have to unload all of our stuff – just the electronics and a single carry-on sized back that houses our necessities for the duration of the road trip, and of course, the bikes. In Vegas, the dice did not exactly roll in our favor, as we were put in the hotel room which turned out to be as far as possible from the elevator. Being the logical, intelligent, practical people that we are, we decided we would simply carry all 4 giant bikes up 3 flights of an non-air conditioned stair well. This was a fun exercise for our bodies and our marriage. Following the stair bike parade, showers were had by all, because stank.
Day 2: Vegas, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, to Winslow, AZ (yes the one from the Eagles song). The Hoover Dam was the gigantic monolith of concrete you would expect. Packed to the gills with sweaty tourists. It’s an amazing engineering feat that took 14 years to construct, claimed 122 lives in the process, and required enough concrete to build a 3,000 mile highway. Apparently the engineers designed a super sized refrigerator which dispensed over 1,000 tons of ice every day to drastically reduce the cooling time of the concrete pours.
Fast forward about 4 hours and we were walking up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and spotted an elk drinking from a water fountain in front of the visitors’ center. Of course. Okay y’all, if you haven’t seen this big hole in the ground, you need to do that. The sliver of the canyon we got to see took my breath away. Mind = blown. We’ve put off seeing the Canyon the last few years because it’s on the way to exactly nothing, but we had a day to squeeze it in this year and I’m so overwhelmingly glad we did. I thought it would be overrated, but wow, now I can’t wait to spend more time there. I need to hike this thing. Seriously, go there.
The drive from the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff is gorgeous. We spent some time in Flagstaff in 2015 and loved it. It’s like a mini Boulder, CO. Thriving, yet small, downtown area, super nice folks, great foodie culture, tons of hiking and biking. We were treated to a full double rainbow on our way out of town. 45 minutes later we were in Winslow. The bike unloading drill was far less treacherous, as we were on the first floor this time. It’s worth mentioning that there’s a spectacular meteor crater just west of Winslow, AZ, that’s worth a visit. We didn’t get to do that this time, but I took Kyle in 2015, and would love to see it again.
Day 3: Winslow, AZ to Tumcumcari, NM: Soooo much of I-40
This day was a bit of a blur. I mean, I-40 takes the cake over I-10, but it’s still I-40. First stop: Petrified Forest National Park. By the way, we use a site called roadtrippers.com when planning, well, road trips. You plug in your starting point and end destination and the site suggests points of interests, scenic routes, etc. along the way. I can assure you that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about the aforementioned Petrified Forest. A quick stop in the visitors’ center, however, let on that to actually see any petrified wood you have to drive about 35 minutes south into the park. Not wanting to tack on any more time than already required in the car, we opted to see what we could of the Painted Desert (only a 5 minute drive from the park entrance), snapped some photos, and headed back to the highway. We ate a giant meal at a hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant in a trashy strip center in Albuquerque, The Basil Leaf, at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon. The place was packed. It was delicious, didn’t make anyone sick (which means I was actually served a gluten-free meal as promised), and the wait staff all wore shirts reading, “I’m high as Pho.” Brilliant.
Nothing of note to report on Day 4 from Tucumcari to Oklahoma City. Shockingly, roadtrippers.com was silent on the route at hand. Apparently their site just doesn’t appreciate vast, flat, brown land OR 9 million gargantuan wind turbines. But, the cherry on top of the week was taking Kyle and my parents to see Paul McCartney in Oklahoma City. My mom is a bit of a Beatles fan and has basically been in love with Paul McCartney forever and ever and ever. Months ago as we were thinking through our UK trip this fall, I thought it would be awesome to see Sir Paul in England, so I started periodically checking his upcoming tour dates. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he’d be in Oklahoma City of all places in mid-July and touring throughout the States for the entire duration of our UK trip. So, we jumped on tickets with my parents as soon as they came available and subsequently traveled 2,000 miles and stayed in 4 different hotels in 4 different states 4 nights in a row to make the show. Worth it? Yes! This was Kyle’s first big production show and it totally blew his mind. He sang, danced, and air drummed his way in to the heart of the lady who sat behind us. Kyle made fast friends with this complete stranger, who later surprised his with a concert t-shirt and some kind words. He was in awe of the show’s pyrotechnics, brilliant lighting, and Sir Paul’s rendition of Blackbird, his favorite Beatles’ song. Kyle was a total trooper until the show ended around 11:30.
Our plan to overcome 6-year-old sleep deficit the next day was to black out the hotel room and sleep until mid-morning the next day. Our bodies still being on Pacific time gave us a fighting chance at sleeping late and having a reasonable final day of our road trip to my parents’ ranch in southern Oklahoma. The fire alarm had other plans. We were jolted awake at 7:52am the next morning to a blaring fire alarm. Kyle’s crying, we’re in our underwear, and confused as hell. Through my son’s tears, mind you, he’s asking if I checked to see if the door handle was hot before I opened it and pointing us to the closest exit. We managed to get out of the room fairly quickly and go sit on the curb for a while until we got the all clear. Apparently one of the hotel water heaters overheated and that sets off the alarm. Awesome. We’re thankful it was not an actual fire, but holy crap. There’s no going back to bed after something like that, so for the fifth morning in a row, we packed up our room, loaded the bikes, and toughed out the final 2 hours of our journey. Once I’d come to my senses, I later asked Kyle how he knew to give us fire safety and exit instructions, his response: I read the fire escape plan on the hotel wall. Figures. I guess we’ll keep him around, he’s proving to be pretty handy and a stellar travel companion ; )
And here we are, in the hot, but we’re with family, the A/C works, Kyle is a happy kid, and all is well. We love our life, our flexibility, and are so grateful to spend the next month with our people. However, you can put money on us being in the mountains ALL summer moving forward. Our dear friends and family, you are welcome to come visit us next year ; )
Here are some road trip pics and a few of my favorites from Boulder and Tahoe: