Updated on June 10, 2018
The Great American Road Trip
We’re feeling very Griswald-y around here, with our tent and our van and all our gear; we actually heard someone in a bathroom singing “Holiday Road,” for a little background music. After shipping about 750 pounds of stuff to my very patient and accommodating cousin in Madison, our family headed north from Tucson towards the Grand Canyon.
We’re really used to traveling without a specific itinerary, after two years of being weather-dependent, so one of the challenging shifts for us is to learn to operate within the time-specific parameters of the US. People want to know when, exactly, we’ll be showing up at their house; we’re trying to wedge ourselves into campgrounds where people have made reservations six months in advance. We’re trying to adjust, roughing out a schedule, but there’s not much we can do about campground reservation systems.
So far, we’ve lucked out. We positioned ourselves for success at the Grand Canyon, pitching our tents for the first time at the Coconino National Forest, just outside of Flagstaff. Fire danger is high around the southwest, so no campfires, and the van backseat does not make the world’s most luxurious mattress, but we scrapped it together and started to invent systems for efficient camping. The next day, we rushed north to nab a spot at Desert View campground, a no-reservation site on the eastern edge of the south rim.The advantages of traveling by boat have become glaringly clear. On Milou: arrive at a spot; relax immediately; prep dinner in the fully-equipped galley; any teenagers feeling angsty can escape to the privacy of their room; beds are made, comfy, ready to rock. On the van trip: arrive at a spot; pull most of the gear out of the van immediately to set up the tent, van bed, access clothing, etc.; prep dinner on the picnic table, shuttling between van food-storage, kitchen equipment in bins, and wet food in a cooler full of ice; any teenagers feeling angsty can read off to the side in a camp chair and glower at anyone who approaches them; beds are lumpy (van) or hard (tent).
We spent just two nights at the Grand Canyon, but managed to explore much of the south rim. Rafting adventures and multi-day hikes are beyond the scope of this trip, but we managed a successful three-mile hike on the Bright Angel Trail, and rewarded ourselves generously with massive sundaes. We mastered the Park Service bus shuttle system, and watched the sun go down from the Desert View observation spot. We managed the crowds without losing our minds. According to one of the rangers we spoke to, the majority of the six million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon are not American; our suspicion is that it’s becoming more difficult for people in the US to take the extended road trip that was a classic when we were kids, going from Yellowstone to Bryce to Zion to the Grand Canyon to Yosemite and home. We overheard one German tourist explaining his itinerary, and the American he was talking to couldn’t believe he was fitting in so many parks over two weeks; the German explained that, no, he was traveling for two months. The ranger was enthusiastically promoting their distance-learning programs, but it’s a pale substitute for experiencing those actual vistas. We feel lucky to have this time to explore our own country before heading back to the Midwest.
From the Grand Canyon, we struck out to the west, headed for California. Friends and family were lined up, so our schedule led us to put some miles on Iron Van. We spent one last night in the desert, at the Hole-in-the-Wall campground in the Mohave National Preserve, before shifting north and making our way to Sequoia National Park.
Michu and I have both been through Redwoods National Park, and I think we expected Sequoia to be similar. We were wrong. Sequoia is in the High Sierras, and the van performed admirably up the twisted mountain roads, climbing up to almost 8000 feet in pursuit of tall trees and a place to pitch the tent. Once again, we scored a campsite in the park. With our Grand Canyon experience under our belts, we aced the shuttle bus to check out the General Sherman tree and hike among the forest giants, learning the differences between redwoods and sequoias, and enjoying the cool, moist air. There’s no question, we’re in trouble when the Wisconsin winter sets in, but the shift to jeans-wearing weather has been pretty pleasant. Our desert-accustomed eyes are pretty impressed with freely-running freshwater streams, as well.
So now, we’re in the Bay Area, meeting up with cruising friends and spending time with family. We’ve spent our first night in American house in a very long time, and have immediately acclimated to gigantic refrigerators, unlimited hot water, and comfy beds with lots of foot space. We’re starting to look forward to our own return to a regular house…eventually.