Friday, January 3, 2014

A Road Trip with Four Kids

At the end of December we took a six-day road trip from our home near San Francisco to Las Vegas and San Diego and back home. From home to Las Vegas is about a 10-hour drive, according to Google Maps, and from Las Vegas to San Diego is about 5 hours, and then from San Diego back home is about 8 hours. Those are, of course, optimistic estimates that don't take into account the needs of four kids while on the road!

We left on Tuesday the 24th mid-morning, with the return trip planned for Monday the 30th. Our first unscheduled stop was when N, the 7-year-old, had a sudden bout of car sickness and threw up all over himself. We pulled off at a truck stop to clean him and the car up, instructed him in no uncertain terms that he was to spend some time looking out the window and not down at his tablet the whole drive, helped him change his clothes, and continued on our way. Fortunately, that was the first and last problem with illness we had on the whole trip, which I count as nothing short of miraculous!

We had hotel reservations in Bakersfield, Las Vegas, and Oceanside, the three cities where we expected to sleep. My mom was traveling with us, and we needed rooms for the six of us and her. Our older two boys, N and S, stayed in a room with her, and Baby Y and the two-year-old, G, stayed with us. Since N and S are 7 and 5 and can handle their bedtime routines on their own, it seemed like a great opportunity to give them time with Grandma and away from the babies.

We had planned to drive straight through to Bakersfield, which is almost exactly halfway from our house to Las Vegas, but on the way we noticed as we played with our route options that Yosemite National Park wasn't that far out of our way, if we wanted to take a side trip. We decided to go for it and were not disappointed! Yosemite is indescribably beautiful. There was snow on the ground from a recent snowfall, but it was between 45 and 60 degrees the whole day, depending on our elevation, so it was pleasant to stop by the side of the road frequently and see one incredible vista after another. There are many well-placed turnouts and parking areas where you can stop, get out, and enjoy untainted views.

(Click for larger images)



After a few hours in Yosemite, we continued on our way to Bakersfield. The only problem with traveling in the winter is how early the sun sets. By the time we stopped for dinner at a steakhouse in Selma, California, it was quite dark, even though it was barely 6:00. No longer able to enjoy the scenery, which was fantastic the whole way, the drive became more of a chore, trudging along to Bakersfield in an "are we there yet" kind of mood. We arrived, exhausted, relatively late on Christmas Eve in Bakersfield and were happy to relax in the hotel room.

The next morning, we continued on our way to Las Vegas. Our first surprise was the windmill farm in Tehachapi, California. I remembered a drive as a kid during which we had passed dozens, if not hundreds, of windmills on the desert hills, but I didn't remember where I'd seen them. Apparently, they are along the way from Bakersfield to Las Vegas!

After a stop by the side of the freeway to take pictures of the windmills, we headed on down the road to Vegas. Our next pleasant surprise was that the road went straight through Red Rock Canyon, a California State Park. We stopped by the side of the road there, too, to admire the desert scenery, nurse the baby, and, of course, take some pictures!


For some reason, Baby Y didn't want to nurse in a traditional manner like, say, the cradle hold, but he happily nursed when I contorted myself into this uncomfortable position.

As we continued through the colorful winter desert, we investigated the possibility of detouring through Death Valley, as another spontaneous visit to a national park. It was a couple of hours out of the way, but since Yosemite had been such a success, we figured, why not? The kids were being amazingly good and patient, the baby seemed to be enjoying the ride, and the adults were finding the drive relaxing, beautiful, and, dare I say it?, fun!

Death Valley in winter is only between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was pleasantly warm but not painfully hot. The air is incredibly dry, though, and everyone was thirsty. 

We stopped at a pullout overlooking Panamint Valley, on the way down to sea level and beyond.
We had a picnic lunch at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, where their "official" thermometer informed us the temperature was 80 degrees. Our car said 75. Warm for December, but chilly for Death Valley!

We drove on through Death Valley and climbed up to Zabriskie Point, where I wore Baby Y in the Moby wrap to give myself some freedom of movement and a couple of free hands.


After Death Valley, we drove straight on to the Nevada border, where a giant (fake) cow welcomed us across the state line. It seemed an appropriate place to stop and nurse the baby.

Near the border is the "Area 51 Alien Center," really a quirky convenience store with lots of Area 51 "memorabilia." It's also attached to a (legal) brothel, so there was some brothel memorabilia as well. A funny and bizarre place to stop for some water and alien-themed souvenirs and photos.

Soon after, the sun set, and our journey into Las Vegas was cloaked in darkness. The kids fell asleep, and the lights of Las Vegas welcomed us quietly. We were staying at the Suncoast Hotel, off the Strip. We had dinner at an amazing Brazilian steakhouse and then settled in for the night.

Our plan the next day was to have brunch with my grandparents, who live in Las Vegas, and then head over to the Hoover Dam. We had brunch, and my grandparents very much enjoyed seeing the kids, whom they hadn't seen in two years. After a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Thanksgiving weekend, we had decided we needed some way to visually track the three mobile kids when we're in a crowded place. I bought bright orange polo shirts for each of them, and they wore them on this trip. It worked great, and we were easily able to spot and count our three boys in the casinos and out and about. We set off for the Dam, but traffic from Lake Mead on to the Dam entrance was so heavy we decided to leave it for another visit and just go down to Lake Mead instead. This made National Park number 3! Lake Mead was nearly empty of visitors, and we drove down to Calville Bay, where there's a marina. We had a snack and wandered down to the docks, where a bunch of ducks found G fascinating.


Back in Las Vegas, we took them to an arcade at Red Rock Casino (where the orange shirts really came in handy!), had smoothies at the food court, and then met my grandparents for dinner.


We were due to leave for Oceanside, our last stop, the next morning. We again had brunch with my grandparents, then hit the road.

One planned stop between Las Vegas and San Diego was Peggy Sue's 50's Style Diner, in Yermo, California. It's a fun place, with a "Diner-Saur" park in the back where the kids played for a bit.


We also stopped at a rest stop to nurse the baby and use the bathroom. We finally made it to Oceanside around 6 in the evening and met some close friends for dinner. We sent the older two boys to sleep at Grandma's house, and my husband and I took G and Baby Y with us to a hotel to sleep. We spent Saturday and Sunday visiting with old friends, then headed home early Monday morning, with a stopover in LA to visit my aunt. We pretty much drove straight home, with a stop at Starbucks in Castaic, California (the last city as you leave L.A. County and enter the desert), to pee and feed the baby, and the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant in Coalinga for a delicious late lunch.

It was a relief to arrive home and sleep in our own beds, but the trip overall was excellent. The kids did very well in the car, and I hope that N and S will remember at least some of the journey. I enjoyed seeing parts of the country I hadn't been to, visiting our old home and seeing good friends, and taking in a range of scenery from the evergreen forests of Yosemite to the surprisingly colorful, sandy Mojave desert, to the lights and energy of Las Vegas.

The whole family in one picture!

Family vacations are a way to reconnect with your kids, see the world through their eyes, and build memories together. What is the most memorable trip you took as a kid? Are you planning to take your kids on an adventure someday? Where do you want to go?

Also, see my companion "Family Road Trip" playlist on my YouTube channel! Subscribe to the channel to see new videos as they're published.

1 comment:

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