Well, we are home from our 7 day cross country (almost) road trip!
This was our first road trip as a family that doesn't include just a one day drive to a relative's house. A few months back, Jason's family decided to have a small reunion in Flagstaff, AZ, so we decided to use that as an excuse to take our time and see some sights along the way. I am really glad we did! We broke up our trip to AZ into four-5 hour day drives and it was so much nicer that way!
We started off our trip on Tuesday night and before we headed out, we stopped at Texas Roadhouse to grab some dinner. Very tasty way to start off our trip!
Our first stop was in Sweetwater, TX. We drove just long enough to get a good head start and left Tuesday after work. It turned out to be a great idea. The kids absolutely loved staying in all of the hotels.
Before we left, we stopped at Sam Moon for some new luggage for the kids. They were much needed - $12.99 for each of these and they are GREAT for organizing and traveling. They were the perfect size, too!
After Sweetwater, we drove about 4 hours to Carlsbad Caverns. Our trip was incredibly planned well (by me, if I must say) and we had all of the electronics, distractions, and seating arrangements organized for the best trip possible. In order to help with keeping up with things, we brought two power strips with all of the power cords pre-plugged in. We had 8 electronic items in all, including two tablets, three cell phones, and three DVD players. We just plugged in the two strips at each stop then unplugged them each morning so we wouldn't have to find 8 individual plugs each time. Every morning, we had freshly charged devices, even though we didn't always let them play on them. Jason wanted them to pay attention to the scenery, so every so often, we would have an electronics free hour. I stopped at Five Below and got each kid their own headphones for $5 and they worked great!
In Carlsbad, we stopped at the Rodeway Inn, which was at the entrance to Carlsbad, at the base of the mountain. This hotel wasn't the nicest in the whole world, but it was fantastic in terms of location. It was also clean, although the "continental breakfast" of bananas and prepackaged muffins left something to be desired. However, this hotel had two things going for it. First, there was a mini-water park in the parking lot and each room came equipped with free entrance for all. When I say mini, it was. There were two big slides, a pirate ship with small slides, and a large pool, but it was certainly better than any hotel pool I'd seen! Second, the actual entrance to Carlsbad was still another 20 minutes up the mountain from our hotel. If you stay in Carlsbad, it's actually about a 30 - 40 minute trip. After we'd been there about six hours and drove back around 9 pm, a short trip back was much appreciated.
The caverns were very pretty. We had to buy Jason, Jordan and myself a long sleeve shirt. We didn't realize how cool the caverns would be and how long we'd be down there. The hike itself, after you take an elevator down, is about a mile and a half. I guess it took an hour and a half or so to get through. It is 56 degrees and no sun, so needless to say, long sleeves were nice. I am incredibly impressed with how well my iPhone took pictures in a place with very little light!
After we were finished in the caverns and had some dinner, we got wind of a thing called the bat flight show. The bad part was that it didn't start until 8:15 and by start, I mean, you sit in this amphitheater at the entrance of the cave at 7:45 to get a good seat, the Park Ranger starts talking at 8:15, and the bats fly out whenever they very-well please. We sat there for a while, until it got darker. We weren't allowed to use cameras or cell phones at all once she started talking so all I got was a picture before they started flying. To me, this was one of the coolest things we did on our trip. It was completely free and once the bats started flying out, it was unbelievable. There were thousands of them and they would exit the cave in masses, fly around like a tornado, then fly out over the desert above our heads. I can't believe they didn't fly right into us! They were pretty small but it was amazing. Once they started flying, they flew out for a long time, probably half an hour. Just bats upon bats upon bats! We ended up leaving when it got too dark to see them, but man, it was a cool experience. I would highly recommend this as an extra activity if you ever visit Carlsbad!
Jason had been to White Sands, NM as a kid and we started talking about going a long time ago, but I just didn't think it would be all that fun. Our trip was planned without us going there, but after several people told me how cool it was, we left one night early to fit it in. This was my very least favorite thing we did. It was sooo hot and the way our trip was, we couldn't have gotten there any earlier in the day. Perhaps if it was cooler, I would have like it better. We drove about a day out of our way and spent about $80 once we got there on three sand sleds, two pairs of sunglasses for the girls that we didn't think about before, entrance to the park, and two cubes of wax for the sleds. We stopped at the first parking lot we found because we didn't really have a lot of time to go further into the park, and climbed up the dunes. It was so hard - I had a backpack with 8 bottles of water and ended up carrying two pairs of flip flops up these dunes and it was so hard to get up them. It was so hot and our energy was just zapped the second we got up the first dune. They went down a few times but we lost interest in it after about 30 minutes. We got back in the car, sandy and sweaty, then had to drive another four hours to Albequerque. Needless to say, my attitude was pretty poor. We were tired, hot and annoyed, but ultimately glad we stopped and saw one more sight. It was a cool sight, all that white sand out in the middle of no where.
We almost didn't drive to Albequerque, but we did and I am glad we did. The hotel we stayed at there was the MCM Elegante and was not only affordable, but nice. They had an indoor pool and hot tub that we had a great time playing it. They also had an amazing breakfast buffet, complete with omelet station, included in our stay. We got to the hotel that night, took quick showers, then headed out to a Mexican food restaurant because we were all just craving Mexican food! It was great, but we got there really close to closing. We had to kind of hurry because we felt bad, and by the time we got back to the room, it was about 10:30. The next day, we spend our morning swimming, eating breakfast and relaxing before the five hour trip to Flagstaff.
We made it to Flagstaff around 5:30 Friday evening and we were so glad to be with family! Flagstaff is a gorgeous town and the cabin we got to stay in that Jason's aunt and uncle so nicely offered was the perfect fit for all of us! Everyone had beds (except for the little ones, who ended up sleeping in our bed anyway) and there was lots of room outside to run and play. I didn't get a ton of pictures, but they did have this tire swing that they said has been there forever that was a huge hit with the kids!!
Saturday was shopping and spending time with the family! he women (and Jason's cousin Phillip) were kid free and walked around the downtown area, which I must admit, is very nice. We ate at this hotel restaurant called Charly's. It was very affordable and delicious!
Sunday was the Grand Canyon. From Flagstaff, this was a four hour round trip drive, so I wasn't looking forward to it as much as I probably should have been. Once we got there, of course, it was breathtaking. When I got to the top, I am ashamed to say I had either altitude sickness or an attack of mild dehydration because I almost passed out! Drink a bunch and bunch of water if you ever go because they way I felt just about ruined my whole experience. Avery didn't really know what we were looking at, neither did Sophia, but Jordan really loved that we got to go. There is a really cool town just a few minutes from the entrance, and if I ever go again, I would totally spend the day and night there. We were really rushed and none of us were too keen on spending so much time in the car the day before what turned out to be about a 10 hour drive, so I am sure we could have had a better experience if we had more time. But, you can only do so much, you know!
Monday, we left around 9 and made the very long trip to Amarillo. It was the longest day of driving and after talking with my brother in law, he gave me the great idea of getting an audio book to listen to. I am so glad we did! We got The Red Pyramid on our way out of Flagstaff and it is an excellent adventure book for tweens. It is 12 cds and almost 12 hours of listening fun. We started and stopped it a few times, so even after Monday and Tuesday, we still have two CDs to go to make it to the end.
Even though we knew it was going to be expensive, we couldn't make it out of Amarillo without eating at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, which none of us had ever eaten at before. It was expensive for sure, we had about a $100 bill, but boy, is it a fun place to eat. It is surely a tourist trap and reminded me of Landry's in Alabama - big, bold, huge gift shop - but it was worth the stop. They had this really big shooting gallery (I took pictures but can't find them now!) and it cost only $1 for 40 shots. The kids spent like, $10, and had a great time. We didn't end up getting back to the hotel until after 11 that night, but we were full and happy.