We pulled out of Walsenburg, Colorado, and I had the Rockies in my rear view mirror. On the road shortly after 8:00, with breakfast already eaten. This group of travelers was ready to chew up some highway.
Miles entertained the girls with his reading of a Captain Underpants book. He had been reading a chapter a day to them, but since we were on the final day, he gave them an extended reading.
We started off the day with a marathon cruise of over 3 hours, and we ended up at Garden City, Kansas for lunch. When we researched what we could see on our last day of the trip, the two most interesting things to pop up were in Garden City. I know – I was shocked, too.
We topped off our tanks, and we made separate plans for lunch. KK and PK saw a Golden Corral, and their search was over. The rest of us did some exploring.
Our first stop was at the World’s Largest Hairball, found at the County Historical Museum, fittingly enough. We walked in and started scanning their displays for the hairball, but could not find it. I finally asked the receptionist, who sits at a desk inside the front door, where it was. She pointed to a round ball sitting on top of a spittoon on her desk. They had hidden it in plain sight!
The hairball was removed from a cow’s stomach in 1993, and at the time it weighed 55 pounds and had a 37 inch circumference. Ouch. The display came complete with a warning to “Please, do not pick up the hairball!”
As we left the museum, I asked the receptionist for a recommendation for a good local place that we could eat lunch. Her first suggestion was the Golden Corral. So, I asked again. This time, she suggested a Mexican place we saw on our drive through town called Mr. Torta. At least we now had a plan for lunch.
Our next tourist stop was conveniently across the parking lot from the museum. It is the World’s Largest Outdoor Municipal Concrete Swimming Pool. Originally built in 1922, the pool holds 2.2 million gallons of water. It requires a minimum of 14 lifeguards to be on duty at any one time. It is a big pool.
The most shocking thing to us was how few people were at the pool. The parking lot had maybe 10 cars in it. Keep in mind that the sun was shining and our car thermometer peaked at 108 while we were in Garden City. The pool looked refreshing and we all wished that we had time to jump in. But we were still a long way from home, so it was not happening today.
We found Mr. Torta and it was a big success. Mallory and Marissa ordered some kind of cheese fries, but Miles, Stephanie and I all ordered the featured item on the menu – the Mr. Torta. This torta had steak, sausage and ham, as well as avocado, onions and lettuce. It was maybe the best thing I have tasted on this vacation. I am already looking forward to my next opportunity to eat a torta.
We hooked up with KK and PK, as they had completed their domination of the Golden Corral. We hit the road in the direction of Dodge City. We tried to find something quick & touristy to do in Dodge during the planning stages, but had no success. Our plan was to cruise right through town. And we did. On the wrong highway!
KK and PK had a Kansas highway map, but we did not. We didn’t pack one, and there was no Kansas welcome center when we entered the state. Actually, there was not even a “Welcome to Kansas” sign at all. We would not have known we crossed the state line, except we turned around and saw the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign headed the opposite direction.
Luckily, just a few miles outside of town, PK alerted us via the two-way radio that we were headed the wrong direction. We stopped on a dirt road and had a pow wow with the map and KK’s iPhone. We decided we would be better off to backtrack to Dodge City and get on the right road, even though we could have eventually made it on the road we were on.
As we drove through Kansas, Marissa was shipped to the back of the van and she was allowed to watch some movies on the portable DVD player. That would have never happened on Day 1 of a vacation, but by Day 12, the rules start relaxing.
Miles and Mallory played their new Monopoly board game all the way home from Dodge City, Kansas. They sat in the middle row and put the board on the ice chest between the two seats. I would have never predicted this would work, but they made it work, and I’m proud of their ingenuity.
Driving through Kansas is uneventful for the most part – Sorry, Kansas – and we pulled off for gas & goodbyes at the Dairy Queen on I-35 just North of the Cimarron Turnpike in Oklahoma. And this time, we didn’t eat any ice cream!
KK and PK were just a half hour from home when we stopped around 8:00. They were so excited they were going to get home before dark. That is an actual quote, and not a jab at their age.
We arrived home in Tulsa 13 ½ hours after leaving Walsenburg, Colorado. The drive today covered 648 miles, and for the entire trip, 3104 miles.
I always like to ask the family what their favorite part of a trip is when we return. My responses this year were:
Miles – Zion National Park. He has never wavered on this selection, ever since we left that Park.
Marissa – Apparently, Marissa enjoyed our how trip started. Her favorite parts of the trip were the visit to Pops, eating at the Big Texan, and the Big Red Barn, which all occurred on Day 1. Also, she enjoyed seeing Aunt Mary in Albuquerque on Day 2.
Mallory – She thought a long time about the question, and ultimately said that she liked all the Parks. She especially liked when we were able to stay at the same motel two nights in a row, which happened twice during our trip.
Stephanie – Loved the family bonding and making family memories. The sounds of giggling, kids playing games, and making up songs.
Steve – My favorite locations on the trip were Zion National Park and Arches National Park. Just as much though, are the lasting memories of Stephanie leading a family hike, Miles making up and singing songs, Mallory riding in the truck with her grandparents keeping them company, and Marissa’s wonderful disposition every morning (and her excitement over our daily ice cream purchases). I know I am fortunate to get to spend such an extended vacation with my family, my parents, and my brother & sister-in-law.
We had never visited Utah before, nor the Four Corners area. Every site we made it to past Day 2 was a brand new experience. We visited the following National Parks, or other noteworthy sites, on this trip:
Canyon de Chelly National Park, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon (slot canyon), Horseshoe Bend, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Mesa Verde National Park.
Our trip contained an action-packed itinerary, and while we didn’t get to experience any of the Parks in full depth, we got to get a sense of all of them.
What was amazing was how many National Parks and National Monuments we drove within 25 or 30 miles of on this trip, but didn’t have time to visit. There were at least 8 that we literally drove by so that we could get to our destination.
A few odds and ends about this 12 day vacation to Utah that we called the Southwest Expedition…
You learn a lot about your kids when you sleep in the same room with them. All three kids at on at least one occasion would get out of bed and wander around the room, or try to carry on a conversation in their sleep. One night, Marissa got up to go to the bathroom and tried to leave the room. Miles regularly would talk/yell in his sleep or was getting out of bed. There is nothing to ruin a tranquil night’s rest like Stephanie yelling at Miles to “GET BACK IN BED!”.
I would recommend buying stock in CruiseAmerica.com. They rent the RVs to families who want the road trip experience without buying their own RV. The National Parks we visited were thick with these RVs. The kids are already lobbying for us to try that sometime. Stephanie and I think it would be fun, but would we need to mortgage the house to pay for the gasoline?
For our second trip in a row, Miles brought a musical instrument. He took his bells to St. Louis and his recorder on this trip. He kept us entertained playing that recorder, and there were some good-natured arguments about who was going to get Miles (and his music) in their vehicle. I highly recommend encouraging your kids to bring an instrument, and make some music on your road trip.
The kids brought a portable DVD player for our 3,000 mile trip, and only packed 3 movies. That reminds me of the Steven Wright joke where he drove cross country and only had one cassette tape to listen to over and over. And he couldn’t remember what tape it was.
We found it interesting the lack of people at the National Parks. It was the first two weeks of July, and we never encountered the expected huge crowds. The Europeans and Asians showed up in droves at the Utah National Parks.
Moab was a great town, and makes a phenomenal jumping off point for lots of different activities. Two National Parks within a few miles, white water river rafting, and mountain biking. We saw so many vehicles in the Moab area that had kayaks attached to the roof of their car. We also saw a Landcruiser with a foreign license plate that was purchased at Islamabad Toyota!
And lastly, nothing will get you noticed like 9 matching hot pink t-shirts. Other tourists know that you mean business when you look as good as we did.