The real reason for this road trip was to visit a very dear friend of mine whom I have known since we were ten years old. Our relationship has always survived on long distance as we’ve never lived within the vicinity of one another for more than a year. Quite impressive when you think about how little technology we had back in the day. Basically, we kept in touch via the good ol’ telephone and by the ye’ old tradition of handwriting letters. My friend, Lauren, had just had a baby a few months back and I made it my mission to see that baby before he grew up and started driving.
We made the conscious decision to take two different routes so that we wouldn’t be bored on the way home, seeing the same scenery and attractions. I’m super happy we decided to do this because Bryce Canyon was amazing and probably a park I never would have visited if it weren’t for this trip. We spent about four hours at Bryce Canyon and quickly got back in the car with the goal of hitting Colorado by the night’s end. In case your geography is not on point, Bryce Canyon is the far southwest corner of Utah so we were looking at a five hour drive ahead of us. We had also just completed a three-mile hike in a canyon so we indeed were ambitious with our planning.
The stretch between Bryce Canyon and Colorado is beautiful but after a couple hours of it, you start to feel a little fatigued looking at the same stretch of land for hours upon end. Thankfully I found the giant soda can attraction that just so happened to be at a gas station for a quick bathroom break and a top-off. Miles could care less really of roadside Americana so he decided to pout instead. His loss.
Once we were in the car, I took a look at other stops of potential interest along our route and discovered that near the border of Utah and Colorado was a ghost town called, Cisco. The town is just off the highway and required us to take a little single-lane road to get to it. It’s certainly a creepy town and we’re not the only ones to think so. The town has been featured in the movies, Vanishing Point and Thelma & Louise and was the subject of a Johnny Cash song. Unfortunately, the town is popular for being a creepy ghost town and due to it’s easy access, has been vandalized quite a bit. You certainly still feel an air of creepiness as you drive slowly down the streets but even more unnerving is the possibility that some of the structures are still being inhabited. We took no chances and headed straight back to the highway for fear that a zombie would attack us.
From here, we arrived in Colorado and we were exhausted and starving. Our initial plan was to stop in Grand Junction but decided to stop in a small town called Fruita because of the recommendation of a most delicious pizza spot. Upon arriving in Fruita, we were greeted by all sorts of dinosaur paraphernalia from larger than life statues to murals on the walls to dinosaur footprints on the sidewalks. The kids were suddenly intrigued. We could smell the pizza spot blocks away and quickly made our way inside, hungry as hell. Just as I was about to order, the manager announced that due to an electrical fire behind the restaurant, the fire department was cutting their power and they would be unable to accept any more orders. NOOOOO!
We left, confused and hungrier still and noticed a brewery across the way. We were seated immediately and were helped by an extremely nice young man. It’s really true when people say Colorado has some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. After we filled our bellies, we decided Fruita was a perfect place to settle for the night and after we discovered there was a hotel less than five minutes away with an indoor pool, we were done.
The next morning we awoke to discover a dinosaur museum directly next door and decided to stretch our legs a bit before heading out for the last leg of our eastward journey. Dinosaur Journey Museum is a fantastic stop if you have children (or are an adult) with even the slightest bit of interest in dinosaurs. From the informational movie to the animatronic dinosaurs to the hands-on displays, there was something for everyone. Sadly, once the kids discovered the gift shop, we had to depart.
We were piling in the car, prepared to embark on the next leg of our journey when Ryan noticed a sign for the Colorado National Monument that appeared to be only a short distance up the road. We decided to take a small detour to see what exactly this national monument was. We both were under the impression that this monument was a statue or something small because when we arrived, we were certain that both of us had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We stopped at a ranger pay station where we were given the gist of what this monument is and it’s a mammoth canyon that spans over twenty-something miles across. The ranger points to a road and basically tells us to just keep driving up. We were incredibly excited and surprised at what lie ahead.
The road was a very curvy one that indeed went straight up, sometimes right up against a rock you were sure would crumble at any given moment and other times you were kissing the edge of the road as you looked at the earth below. After we looked at the breathtaking landscape and Ryan recovered from his mini heart attacks on the ascent, we arrived at the visitor station. Hikers can view the canyon directly behind the visitor station where you’re free to walk as far as you like given that you’re not scared of heights and don’t mind the fact that there is no guardrail and really no trail either. As we started making our way over uneven rock, it begins to sprinkle slightly now making the terrain slippery. Liv and Miles at this point have decided to chase each other leaving both myself and Ryan more nervous than should be allowed when one is sober. After watching Olivia make several attempts at proving to us just how close she can get to the edge and after watching Miles hang on a small railing that had caution tape blowing off of it, we decided to not play with fire and make our way back to solid ground. Despite the near death experiences and white knuckle canyon observing, it really was an amazing monument and I’m quite happy that we decided to be spontaneous at that moment because otherwise it would have been missed.
On our way to Longmont, Colorado, we took a beautiful ride along the Colorado River and drove up into the Rockies where we made a quick stop in Vail to grab a coffee, stretch our legs and feel inferior to everyone else who was vacationing there. Seriously, Vail is a beautiful town but it screams money. I felt quite underdressed wearing jean shorts when obviously I should have pulled out the pearls.
We spent the weekend in Longmont which never felt better. As much fun as the driving is, it definitely takes a toll on you. It was so wonderful to visit with our friends, Lauren and Matt and meet the oh so adorable Micah. During our stay, we visited several beer spots including: Upslope Brewing, Shoes and Brews, Fate Brewing, and Odell Brewery which just may be my favorite given how family friendly the establishment was. Breweries need to understand this simple fact that if your establishment is child friendly and you provide open ample space for kids to run around, I will convince myself it is the best tasting beer around.
During our stay in Colorado, we also had the pleasure of meeting up with Mike who was Ryan’s groom at our wedding and whom we haven’t seen since his wedding to Michelle, six years ago. It was wonderful to spend quality time with all of our friends whom I consider to be some of my favorite people. Apologies to those we couldn’t meet up with–we’ll just have to make another trip out again soon. Our friends put up a good argument as to why we should move to Colorado and we’ll strongly consider it. Making friends is hard and we realize that friends like these are rare and we miss them like crazy. You really don’t realize how much you miss certain people until you see them for a breath of a second and you’re reminded how much you need them on a daily basis.
Olivia became very attached to Colorado and baby Micah and cried hysterically our last night and occasionally since then to be honest. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion, the trip or the deep connection she made with these people but rarely do I see Liv get so worked up when we say goodbye. I surely didn’t want Olivia to feel alone so I shed a few tears with her with the promise that we would return very soon.
Olivia cried the entire drive to the hotel and I’ll admit that I may have been right there with her. We took the kids to the pool that night just to shake things off. We had a great visit and we didn’t want our tears and sadness to overshadow that. We were having fun in the pool until Olivia jumped out while holding her mouth. As she came closer to me, I could see blood running down the back of her hand. Thankfully it was just her front tooth that somehow got hit while she was jumping around. The tooth was barely hanging on and Olivia refused to pull it out. After a few minutes of watching her attempt to touch it and then pull her hand back in fear, I got impatient and bumped her hand as she attempted to touch her tooth for the twentieth time. All of a sudden a look of panic came across her face as she screamed, MY TOOTH IS GONE! I THINK I SWALLOWED IT! Oh shit. I’m not digging through poop again. I quickly looked on the ground but I couldn’t see anything on the white tile. I then got on my knees and started gently sweeping the tile in front of me with my hand and voila, there next to my foot was a very shiny white tooth. Hooray for small miracles.
Leaving Colorado was more difficult than we had imagined and we sat in the car silent for a good while. We drove north to Wyoming with the goal of reaching Salt Lake City by dinnertime. Wyoming is a desolate land with not a lot on the horizon. We needed a break after watching the same scenery blow past our windows for a couple hours and took a break at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site. I love a good prison museum and since our Summer of Awesome bucket list required that we visit at least three museums, decided to check something off the list.
The prison sits on a rather large property with several buildings on site, all of which can be toured. The kids were given an “I spy” game of sorts that required them to look for several objects during our walking tour. It’s go at your own pace and we definitely took our time. It was much more impressive than I had expected and surprisingly enough, the kids seemed to be really into it asking all sorts of questions and running eagerly to the next exhibit. We spent a rather long time reading about the various characters that found their way there and exploring the property. Again, once the kids found the gift shop, it was time to call it a day.
From this point, it felt like an eternity to Salt Lake City. We drove endlessly and the Wyoming scenery did little to pique our interests. We needed a drink and we needed one desperately.
We had little hope as we approached SLC that our thirst would be quenched. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that there was indeed a brewery in town and it served food! Squatter’s Brewpub is exactly what we needed after a long long day of driving and after discovering such a cool eatery/brewpub, we were hopeful that maybe Salt Lake City is more than Mormons and abstinence. While trying to book a hotel at dinner, I was surprised to find that most places near us were booked for the night so I found another decent option by way of the Red Lion. It had decent reviews online and it was close by. After the amount of driving we had just done and the beers we had just consumed, it seemed perfect.
We pull up and there sandwiched between two gas stations and a seedy lingerie store, we found our hotel. I immediately get a vibe that this isn’t a good place to be. We get checked in by a woman who tells me how anxious she is to get off in ten minutes time and proceeds to tell us that we can park in what ever parking is available out back. Basically the dark lot we thought was some kind of holding lot. Our car is stocked with a week’s worth of stuff and we have no intention of taking it all upstairs so we pick what we feel is the safest spot in the lot, say a prayer and lock up the car for the night. We arrive in the room to find a peculiar smell assaulting us.
The kids immediately run around the room and hide in the closet. I put our things down and immediately feel like something is amiss. I open the closet door to retrieve the kids and the smell that exits is beyond offensive. I quickly pull the kids out for fear that the smell will jump on them and hold on permanently. I guess we won’t be using the closet during our stay. During my scan of the room, I open the curtains to take a look at our view and notice that we’re looking directly down at the entrance of the hotel and the view of the main road. I see a group of people smoking and not much else. I return to the room and decide to give the kids a bath. I lay out the foot mat and notice a dirty foot smudge on the towel. I flip that over and pretend it’s not there. After the kids are washed, I prepare their bed for hopefully an early bedtime. I pull down the covers and inspect the sheets like I normally do and I notice a hair. I remove it, take a closer look and notice another hair. And another. And another only these aren’t normal hairs if you catch my drift. In horror, I scream for Ryan to come over and confirm what I’m seeing. He kind of brushes them off and tells me just to have the kids sleep on top of the covers. Had I not been slightly intoxicated and overly tired, I would have asked for a different room but I knew we were only staying for a brief time so maybe we could get past this. Go ahead kids, jump on in your furry bed and try not to contract a venereal disease.
We went to bed and I vowed to sleep with only minor sheet interaction, so there I am, flat on back with my hands at my side and I can’t fall asleep for fear that I will contract something from the bedsheets. As the night progressed, I continued to hear ramblings and shouts from the people on the street below and all the while I’m thinking, great, the homeless are walking right past our well-stocked car that is parked in a dimly lit parking lot. Between the sounds outside and the sensation that things were jumping on my skin while in bed, I really just wanted to pack up and continue driving. I must have passed out for a brief moment because I had awoken, startled by the sound of someone screaming and a car backfiring or peeling out of the parking lot. I actually considered just sleeping in the car that night. I woke up very early the next morning, stiff from not moving from my paranoid burrito position and we packed our things faster than we could say Hepatitis. My biggest fear was that the car was broken into. I was almost certain we were going to walk out to the parking lot and discover half of our possessions thrown about in the street. Thankfully, we returned to the car and everything was as it was. We drove out of Salt Lake City with the confidence in knowing we would never have to return.
As we left Salt Lake City, I did want to actually see the great salt lake so we stopped at a viewing spot that also gave you the opportunity to swim in the lake if you so desired. The park ranger I spoke to encouraged a swim in the lake emphasizing that a natural body of salt water is actually one of the most invigorating things you could ever do. Plus it made your skin look amazing. I was onboard but unfortunately my buzzkill children couldn’t handle the smell nor the brine flies that are covering the shore. Admittedly the brine flies are a nuisance and are quite disgusting as you hear them swarming around you as you move through them. Think of sand fleas but these don’t bite. We decided to pass on the swim and instead passed our attention to the unusual structure we saw as we approached the lake.
The structure turned out to be The Great Saltair which is now a music venue but used to be a much much larger bath house. I was intrigued and I saw they had a gift shop so stop we must. We find out that the original structure was quite expansive and had been destroyed by flooding and several fires. This establishment was built with some similar architecture features but was nowhere near the breathtakingly beautiful structure of its past. The gift shop was a hodgepodge of tourist knick-knacks and the building itself wasn’t available to tour so it turned out to be a bit of a bust.
We returned to the road and prepared ourselves for the vast emptiness of Nevada. We were just about out of Utah when I remembered that we would be driving right past the salt flats. I saw a car stuck on the side of the road, in the flats and was confident we were very close. We approached a rest stop that gave people access to the wide open land and we bolted. I don’t remember why Olivia was angry with us but she was determined to get away from us as fast as possible and took off until she was merely a speck in the distance. The salt flats are incredibly beautiful and incredibly blinding so wear sunglasses if you ever make your way there or prepare to lose your retinas. We spent a good while taking in the beautiful landscape in front of us and we watched Miles try to connect with Olivia with little success. Once we were able to herd our children, we settled back in the car but not without being approached by a poor soul who had tried to entertain his family by driving on to the salt flats from the highway and found himself stuck. Ryan offered to help them and so we sat in the car for a good time, sweltering in the hot humid car. Once I saw your dad drag a giant piece of wood over and wedge it under their tire, I decided I couldn’t watch and for fear of passing out from heat stroke, advised the kids to use the restroom. This was not what Olivia wanted to hear so she bolted without us.
Ryan returned thirty minutes later sweaty and exhausted, having no success helping the other family. He advised them just to call a tow truck and off we went. We were just about to leave Utah when I discovered that there was a plane museum just out of the way. Not only was it a plane museum but they had the actual plane from ConAir! The museum itself was a bit lackluster and the town itself was very sad so we decided just to get a move on. We knew we were close to the Nevada border by the flashy casinos that were located just down the road. We figured that must be where the Utah/Nevada border is and sure enough, we were right. Just before we left the town of death, we decided to stop for an ice cream because our trusty app suggested that we stop. The ice cream shop was nothing more than a taqueria attached to a mechanic shop. We ate our ice cream in a jiffy for fear that we would never escape the wrath of Utah.
We survived Utah!
Nevada is pretty dull and I really don’t understand how people live there if they’re not living in Reno or Las Vegas. Thankfully there was an intense rain/lightening storm we passed through to excite things for awhile. The sun eventually emerged and we settled in for a long tedious drive.
Near the end of the day, we approached the town of Lovelock which is known for the display of locks that people place at the center of the town. Given how much Olivia loves love, we decided to contribute a lock of love on behalf of our family and in honor of our trip. The town was pretty desolate and the city center was found pretty quickly but a lock was something we did not have so we scoured the town’s businesses in search of one. For a town called Lovelock, you would assume that finding a lock would be easy but that was not the case. We tried an uncomfortably small Safeway, a gas station and then the city hall which turned out to be the magical place to find them. But oh, they only sell special locks at the unreasonable cost of $20. I can’t believe I paid $20 for a padlock that I left behind.
We parked and were prepared to leave our lock when suddenly the word’s largest fly landed on the driver’s side window holding us hostage for several minutes as we contemplated our next move. Seriously, I could actually see the hands of the fly! Once the behemoth fly took off, we made a run for it, attached the lock and beelined the hell out of there for fear of what other abnormally large insects we would have contact with.
From this point, Reno was only a short distance away so we decided to call it a night there. We had dinner at the Silver Peak Brewery which was ok. Would have been a much more enjoyable visit had Olivia and Miles not gone on dinner strike. Nothing pisses me off more than ordering meals, the kids taking one look at it and then deciding they’re not hungry. GAH! I made reservations at the dinner table to spend the night at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino because it was off the main strip and the rooms looked like a safe place where I wouldn’t find unwanted hairs in my bed.
Thanks to Reno traffic and construction, we were detoured three times and forced to drive thirty minutes out of the way to get to our hotel that would have been five minutes away. We arrive at the resort and it was incredible. I forget how nice a decent casino can be. The kids walk in and gasp at the sight of the slot machines. Once we get our room assignment, we head upstairs and the room is amazing. So amazing, I wish the kids weren’t with us. We sleep very well that night and thank goodness because being it was the end of our trip, I couldn’t stomach another night like the night in SLC.
After our obligatory breakfast buffet, we decided to check out the bowling alley that was housed in the bottom floor of the casino. We opened the joint and pretty much had the whole place to ourselves until the seventh frame. Once our game was done, we let the children run around the expansive halls and I determined that I might be ok with the idea of returning to Reno at some distant time just as long as I can stay at that particular resort.
Our final leg of the trip was upon us and thanks to the wildfires that were swallowing California whole, we had to add a couple hours to our trek. From Reno, we drove down to Vallejo where we headed north to Manchester Beach. We initially thought about heading to Sierra Nevada Brewing before making our way to the coast but ultimately decided that it wouldn’t be wise to consume that much beer before such a long drive. Instead we took a small detour and went to Anderson Valley Brewing. We knew we had to drive on a very narrow winding road to get to our destination so we kept the drinking brief.
We arrived at Manchester State Beach much later than I had hoped but thankfully we were able to get the tent up before sundown. My parents and other family friends were there so more drinking was had. Miles immediately made friends with neighboring campers and Olivia took a seat where she scowled at the ease at which Miles makes friends.
The next day we drove north to Fort Bragg to go to Glass Beach. I had recently learned about Glass Beach and knew it would be a great place to take the kids. For those not familiar, Glass Beach used to be a garbage site and over time, the ocean broke down the glass and made everything smooth and pebble-shaped. The shore is nothing but beautiful glass beads. We arrive and there are very little markings as to the whereabouts of the site as the state is now trying to protect the beach and asks that people no longer take glass with them. The first stop had little glass and we thought maybe the beach itself was a bust. We decided to walk a ways up the path where we discovered a flight of stairs that led us to the most amazing shore one has ever seen. Glass of greens, browns and yellows sparkled everywhere to the point of almost feeling unreal.
Glass Beach was amazing but we needed food (and beer!) so we attempted to go to North Coast Brewing that was unfortunately not open for lunch when we arrived so instead they suggested we try a little fish spot down under the bridge at the edge of town. The spot was certainly more of a locals spot and gave the kids a great view of the incoming fishing boats. They had a great beer selection too which is always a plus.
We returned back to our campground for one final night of our road trip.
As we returned home, I couldn’t help but think back on the ambitious and amazing trip we had just completed. The kids did far better than expected and the car survived! We were spontaneous a great deal of the time and it mostly paid off. Visiting with dear friends we haven’t seen in ages was exactly what we needed to feel refreshed and invigorated to jump back in the throes of life. We made a lot of memories on this trip which is all I wanted. I have many fond memories of roadtripping with my folks and despite the many hours of boredom, there were also moments of complete awe and admiration. I remember seeing things I never would have seen had it not been for my parents forcing me to embark on these road journeys. This trip was a trip to remember and I can’t wait to do it again.