Our three-week summer road trip took us through 7 states, over 8000 km and through mountains, desert, and grasslands. Our friends and family thought we were crazy to take a 10 year old on such a long journey, but it proved to be the most educational vacation we've ever taken. What's more, it was great fun for all.
Kids can learn about the desert and ancient civilizations in a classroom but to actually experience them is a far different education. Feeling the desert heat on your skin and watching water rush over rocks during a flash flood makes the desert come alive. Tasting authentic Southwestern cuisine and touring ancient ruins makes ancient cultures real.
Our first stop was Wendover, Utah where the Bonneville Speed Week was in full swing out on the Salt Flats. My husband and 10 year old son are both car buffs, hence the prospect of watching cars attempt land speed records was nothing short of exciting! We checked out the cars, talked to the teams and drivers, and cheered for our favorites on the blinding, white, salty salt flats. The harsh and unforgiving environment, combined with the infectious enthusiasm of the crowd made it a truly awesome experience.
Our stop in Moab, Utah was a different kind of adventure. This little town in the heart of Canyon Country boasts a nearly endless offering of outdoor activities. We signed up for a Hummer tour with High Point Hummer and soon found ourselves bumping along steep rocky inclines. As our guide cheerfully navigated gullies and hills while we enjoyed the views of the area's red, sandstone cliffs. The next morning we burned up the red dirt just outside of Moab on a guided ATV tour. Our easy to drive vehicles wove through sandstone trails past slot canyons, jackrabbits, and the occasional lizard. As we disembarked, my son exclaimed, 'this is so much better than Disneyland!"
The Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado was one of the highlights of our journey. Cited by National Geographic as one of the top cultural spots in the United States, Mesa Verde has an extraordinary quantity of ancient ruins to explore. In fact it took us a few days to see it all. The park's museum is chock-a-block with ancient pottery and weapons as well as dioramas and other examples of the area's puebloan cultures. It was the perfect place to begin our family tour. In route to the Cliff Palace Ruins, we walked through what is thought to be the "community center", the place where ceremonies and community events were held up to 1200AD. Walking on the same path as ancient civilizations was a rush but the real surprise came as we rounded the bend. As we entered the ruins and came face to face with beautiful ghostly white stone buildings, all incredibly well preserved, a hush came over our group of thirty people. My son simply stood and stared. "Wow." he breathed softly.
Summer is hardly the tourist season in Tucson, Arizona. But we didn't let the heat or risk of thunderstorms dissuade us. Tourist attractions in Tucson abound. With our Tucson city passport in hand, we quickly decided which family friendly activities could not be missed. We were humbled by the sight of 250 aircraft at the Pima Air and Space Museum, the "Bone Yard" of decommissioned naval airplanes. The Titan Missile Museum was a little eerie; my ten-year-old son partook in the ultimate simulation and pushed the button to launch a nuclear missile. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum allowed us to get up close and personal with desert animals and cacti. At Old Tucson Studios we were happily entertainment by the antics of cowboys. But the highlight of our trip to Tucson was Kartchner Caverns; their beauty was awe-inspiring even for a 10 year old.
We were home but a few days, when my husband asked, "Where do you want to go next year?" The map is already covered in post it notes, websites are already bookmarked, and the research is continuing for another year. On the Road Again? We can't wait. Our last trip created memories of a lifetime.
Karen Humphrey is the author of the blog Notes from the Cookie Jar.