In the planning stages, this trip was one of those things that started relatively small but sort of took on a life of its own, growing in length and ambition until it ultimately spanned 13 days and more than 3,300 miles! It was a memorable adventure that was definitely well documented … as evidenced below.
I’ve written here about our gear setup for travel photography, and those details remained the same for this trip other than that Seth now has an iPhone X. I’ll admit I sometimes experienced separation anxiety in not having access to our higher-end equipment, but it’s much easier to hike through a national park or walk several miles through a city without the weight of a DSLR system. Plus: The best camera always is the one you have on you, and my little Olympus was easy to wear all the time!
Some other things that served us well this trip:
We occupied some of our time on the road with “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki and “Educated” by Tara Westover. They’re both great reads (or listens) if you’re interested in financial savvy (the former) or memoirs (the latter).
We call them “Seth bars” … because Seth makes them, and we evidently aren’t too creative in food-naming! Since Larabars aren’t cheap, it saves quite a bit to make your own. We also traveled with a large cooler that was so well stocked I didn’t eat anything from a restaurant until we were well into our second week of travel (although some of the credit for that goes to my family for feeding us so well during the first few days of our trip … but more on that later!).
multiple navigation apps
In addition to Apple Maps and Google Maps, we also used Navigon, which navigates through satellites rather than cell towers. (And in the event all else failed, we had a trusty road atlas, too.)
America the Beautiful pass
Since we visited four national parks, we more than got our money’s worth out of this $80 annual pass. It was almost an afterthought to purchase it, but I’m so glad we did. (Plus, we now have an excuse to try to fit in another national park visit before next summer!)
But before we get too focused on future trips, here’s a look this one!
06.30.18: Independence, MO to La Junta, CO
We drove all day without making it into the mountains … But we did see a roadrunner, which was a first for both of us, so we chalked it up as a worthwhile first day of travel.
07.01.18: La Junta, CO to Bayfield, CO
What was supposed to be a six-hour drive ended up being more like eight-and-a-half, since we were rerouted due to a fire. But on the plus side, it was a really scenic route, and at the end we were greeted by our beautiful mountain rental house and everyone sharing it with us!
That included my aunt and uncle and my cousins and their families, who made the trip from Texas and California. We took a big family vacation to nearby Durango, Colorado, 19 years ago, and although we missed having my parents and grandparents with us this time, it was fun to get to share a similar experience all these years later. (It was also a little surreal to see my aunt and uncle as the grandparents this time, and my cousins as the parents … )
07.02.18 — 07.04.18: Bayfield, CO and Durango, CO
We visited Lake Vallecito in Bayfield July 2 and ventured into Durango July 3, hiking the Animas Mountain Trail and exploring downtown. July 4, we rode the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The route to Silverton was closed due to the 416 Fire, but the alternative ride we took was awesome anyway!
We also spent some quality time around the house and, as I mentioned earlier, ate some great meals made by my aunt, uncle and cousins. (On a related note, we all brought a ton of food, so the logistics of fitting everything in the refrigerator were interesting early in the week!) If you ever have family that invites you to join them on vacation and cooks breakfast and dinner for you every day, definitely take them up on it.
The impressive front door:
… And very full refrigerator (We also had a pantry to match!):
My cousin and I share a guilty-pleasure kind of love of Lifetime movies, so of course we had to fit in a viewing of one:
An awesome if slightly unsettling site to come across on your evening walk:
And one other scary character:
Making Grandma’s apple pie (literally from our grandma’s recipe):
Hiking the Animas Mountain Trail:
Driving to and from Pinkterton Hot Springs in Durango, we passed this firefighters’ camp:
“Friends” Scene-It: A highlight of the trip for sure. Team Barcalounger won the first game, and Team Central Perk Sofa won the second. My cousins are the pros, but special recognition goes to my uncle for answering two questions correctly without having any substantial knowledge of the show!
Riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad:
Our last evening in Bayfield, we had some backyard visitors:
O7.05.18: Mesa Verde National Park & Four Corners Monument
Seth and I said goodbye to our group and went out on our own at this point, visiting these two sites on our way to our next Airbnb rental in Kanab, Utah.
Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings:
Petroglyph Point Trail:
Seth “wondering” where the petroglyphs were after we almost hiked past them without seeing them!
Standing simultaneously in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona at the Four Corners Monument:
Sunset in Navajo Nation:
07.06.18: Bryce Canyon National Park
We expected to be wowed by Bryce Canyon, and it didn’t disappoint. We were thankful we allotted a full day to spend there.
We were also very thankful for the “secret shuttle” that runs an hour after the last scheduled bus to pick up stragglers in the park!
We hiked quite a bit of the Rim Trail and didn’t tire of the view!
Queen’s Garden Trail:
Seth made a friend!
Starting the Navajo Loop Trail. We took it to the base of the hoodoos (the rock spires), then hurried to get back to the top of the canyon before sunset (although we did have a headlamp to use if necessary!).
The wonderful “secret shuttle” that saved us from having to beg strangers for a ride back to our car, after we discovered circa 8:20 p.m. that the last scheduled shuttle came at 7:30 p.m. …
07.07.18: Zion National Park
We started the day with an invitation from our Airbnb host to see the rattlesnake in his driveway, then spent most of the day at Zion National Park before driving to Las Vegas.
We knew a partial day wasn’t much to spend at Zion, so we did just a couple of short hikes before heading to the last stop on the shuttle line to hike The Narrows (which takes place entirely in a river, between canyon walls). Of all the hikes on our trip, it’s the one I’d most like to do again!
Court of the Patriarchs:
Emerald Pools Trail:
Temple of Sinawava & the Riverside Trail:
The second double rainbow we saw in a span of two days!
07.18.18: Las Vegas
We did wonder if we were a little crazy to visit Las Vegas in July, but we toughed out the 110-degree heat and had a great time in spite of it.
From the top of the Eiffel Tower:
Fun fact: The Planet Hollywood restaurant is actually at Caesars Palace, not Planet Hollywood. After figuring that out and doing the requisite walking, we were more than ready for some burgers, ice cream and AC!
The Titanic exhibit at the Luxor – truly incredible!
The starting point for Travis Pastrana’s attempt at the Ceasars Palace jump – the one that in 1967 left Evel Knievel with more than 40 broken bones and in a coma for 30 days. Fortunately Pastrana fared much better!
Seeing Cirque du Soleil, three rows from the stage, was also incredible!
Seth insisted on going big or going home … and lost $21.
We rode the High Roller at midnight and had a pod entirely to ourselves.
07.09.18: Hoover Dam & the Grand Canyon
We stopped at the Las Vegas sign on our way out of town (managing to fit in some wedding photography while there!), then visited Hoover Dam on our way to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
It was brutally hot at Hoover Dam, but on the plus side, the heat gave me that much more appreciation for the people who had to work in it to build the dam. And it really made an impression on me what an impossible task building it must have seemed initially, given that there wasn’t any infrastructure anywhere around there at the time.
Some of the things you see on the road …
We were lucky a few weeks before our trip to find an opening at Bright Angel Lodge due to a cancellation. It was amazing having the Grand Canyon just a number of yards from our room!
We enjoyed perusing this Harvey House menu from 1924 that hung right by our table:
07.10.18: the Grand Canyon
We were up at 5 a.m. to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon and to get some hiking in before our checkout at 11 a.m. One good thing about getting such an early start was that it felt like we had the whole place almost all to ourselves.
Bright Angel Trail:
Taking in the view from the rim (and making Seth a bit nervous!):
07.11.18: Albuquerque, NM to Sublette, KS
We spent the night of July 10 in Albuquerque and of course had to hit some “Breaking Bad” filming locations before heading out the next day. We’ve watched the series together several times, and it’s probably Seth’s all-time favorite show. So he especially was just a little bit excited!
The restaurant that served as Los Pollos Hermanos in the show really leans into its tourist pull, complete with a “guest book” at the counter.
We also visited the car wash from the show, where Seth made good use of his binoculars to “look for Walt” (because, why not?):
Sites in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas (to make sure all nine states from our journey are featured!):
07.12.18: Sublette, KS to Independence, MO
The Kansas City skyline: A sure sign we were back in our own territory.
The total trip mileage:
Home again! My 2008 Toyota Matrix definitely deserves some recognition for transporting us safely through all those miles of mountains and desert. Seth has been asking for a couple of years now if I want a new car, but I love mine, and it’s obviously still performing like a champ!
– motion pictures –
See below for a slideshow of our adventure!
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