The year was 1995, August. Our new baby was now a little over a year old and was not ready for a National Lampoon, cross country Grand Canyon pop-up trailer trip – but Mom and Dad sure were!
The World Wide Web had been invented but computer usage was still very sparse. For the most part, trip planning was still done manually using something called maps. Maps were crazy pieces of paper that looked just like Google Maps only there was no clicking, no satellite or street views and no crazy reviews written about any of the sights and places one might encounter if one was inclined to venture about. One other thing – our phones didn’t talk to us; they couldn’t direct us or talk dirty to us. If we got lost or made a wrong turn, we would stop at a gas station and ask a disgruntled minimum wage employee for directions. These were the good old days.
I had it all planned. The fearless long term planner, (moi), had plotted out our entire journey. We would drive our dependable Mazda MPV across most of the lower part of our country, towing our pop up camper. We would drive maybe 7-8 hours per day and spend the nights in a campground or a hotel, depending upon our location and weather. No Aunt Edna’s on this trip.
Some preparations were needed. The first thing I had to make certain was whether our camper could take the trip. Pop up campers have small wheels, generally 12 inches. By 1995, most of these tires were radial in construction as the previous bias (link) tires had a lot of blowouts, especially in hot areas of the country. Our rims showed a little bit of rust but otherwise looked suitable. I’m sure that today’s wheels can likely handle speeds above 60mph but back in ’95 I was told to keep my speed below 60. This was key information for my trip planning.
After my dad heard about our trip plan, he felt he should share his wisdom in the trip planning arena. In his opinion, the most important aspect of the trip was safety; that is to say, making sure that I had a good gun with me. So he handed me a 9mm and gave me the quick rundown on the safety features for that pistol.
And so, brilliant me, I likewise shared those features and protocol with my wife when I got home. We were upstairs in our bedroom and this was the very first time we had ever had a handgun in the house. I demonstrated how to load the clip, where the safety switch was and how to load the chamber. After that I demonstrated how to eject the clip.
At this point, you gun enthusiasts out there know where this is going.
Next, I then demonstrated what I felt was one of the most important aspects of gun safety – knowing whether the weapon is loaded or not.
Me – “and it’s important to make sure it’s not loaded, so aim at the ground and pull the trigger.”
Duh! Such an idiot! No, I didn’t pull back the slide to eject any bullet that might be in the chamber. Dummy me, I pulled the trigger and the piece did what it was designed to do; it fired a small lead pellet into our floor. Luckily, that’s where it stayed – in the floor and not ‘through’ the floor! I hate to think what might have occurred had that been a stronger caliber and our children in the lower floor. I’m now thinking………yes, it is – this is the single most stupid mistake I ever made!
But onto the trip. I plotted out our stops, made a few reservations and made sure the camper was ready for the trip.
This was to be the family trip of a lifetime. Our first stop was Jackson, Tennessee on Saturday night. When plotting the trip I didn’t find a suitable camping area in mid-Tennessee, one that was on our direct route and one we would get to before dark. I was familiar though with the main hotel in Jackson since I’d spent time there on business. It was raining that night so we ‘camped out’ in a hotel. This did not break my wife’s heart.
Do you love surprises? How about someone popping into your hotel room at 2am, unannounced of course. Yep…scared the (you know what) out of us. Evidently the hotel staff did not mark our room as occupied. There was a bit of noise from someone trying to open the door and that is when I awoke with a start and yelled out that we are in this room! Subsequently I phoned the front desk and let someone have it. They apologized, naturally, but still….not a good start for our vacation of a lifetime.
Night two – another hotel.
Day 3 of travel was, (finally), a nice change of pace as we took a relaxing Lunch break at Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park, a little ways off of Interstate 40 in Oklahoma. What strikes me most from memory is the amazing downhill drive to the picnic areas. I confess here that I was a little more than mildly worried about the toll on the transmission the uphill drive back would provide. The boys were anxious to get out and do a little red rock climbing as Kim and I got the turkey sandwiches ready out of the big cooler we were toting.
The next stop I had planned was our campsite for the Day 3 evening – Palo Duro Canyon State Park in northern Texas. Pulling a pop up is relatively slow driving because we were traveling around 60 mph but we made it into the park early enough for the kids to do a little more mild rock climbing while Kim and I set up camp. If memory serves me right, I seem to remember that we had picked up some KFC chicken before leaving the highway. A nice American picnic dinner and a comfortable temperature made for a very nice evening in Palo Duro.
The next morning we continued our cross country trek. The New Mexico welcome center across the Texas border was our lunch stop. What stuck out for me about this stop was the general cleanliness and attractiveness of the eating areas. We had a nice covered picnic table area; good memory.
Next stop, none other than the annual Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremony held at the Gallup, New Mexico Red Rock Arena. I had reserved a camping space which was conveniently located in short walking distance to the arena. If you’re not familiar, please spend a little time visiting their website (link). I hadn’t any knowledge of this ceremony week beforehand but found it as I was doing my trip planning. My wife claims to be 1/8 Native American but until we do the DNA test or she proves she knows a good powwow dance, I’m not buying it.
We arrived to our campsite early enough to walk over to the arena for food and entertainment. Naturally, (growing up in Ohio and never going anywhere for vacation other than grandma’s noodles and German chocolate cake), the only tribal dances I had ever been exposed to were the goofy white kid square dancing of the seventh grade. The special dancing we got to enjoy this evening was for us a once in a lifetime event.
We captured several minutes of the powwow in this home video so if interested, the footage begins around the two minute mark.
Coming up next, the Grand Canyon, but first, a couple of very interesting stops. First up was the Petrified Forest National Park.
Part 3 here around 4:20 begins the Petrified Forest tour. As with most national parks we’ve had the benefit of visiting, this one too had several different fascinating sections such as the Painted Deset, deserted native settlements and much petrified wood; each area portraying its own unique beauty. And yes, I had to remind the kids a couple of times not to carry any petrified wood into the car….(sigh).
After that, Meteor Crater National Landmark just outside of Winslow, AZ and only a little over an hour from our petrified forest stop. This was to be a short stop, but very amazing. Have you seen the movie called Starman starring Jeff Bridges? The very end of the movie was shot here. Visible from space, the crater is estimated at 50,000 years of age and formed by the strike from a meteorite. Astronauts have trained here and there is a small museum. If you are in the northern Arizona area, it’s worth the visit.
Part 4 here continues the Petrified Forest d Winslow Crater then begins the Grand Canyon around the 4 minute mark
And with that my readers, this brings us next to the Grand Canyon. What is most vivid in my memory is the hike down into the canyon. We took the South Kaibab Trail which offers great views but is relatively steep, evidenced by a 9 year old who kept asking to stop and rest. I suppose one can still take a mule ride down the trail but what if you get one who has suicide in mind? The trail looks dangerous enough without having to worry about a mule who’s having a rough day! And what can anyone say about the Grand Canyon that hasn’t already been said and written hundreds of times. As a side note, I have met people here in Arizona and California who have never seen this fantastic natural wonder. How can this be?
Part 5 continues our epic adventure
On Sunday we packed up the camper for the trek home. A full view of the camper and SUV can be seen in Part 5 around the 6:45 mark.
No sooner did we depart down the only road from the Grand Canyon through Flagstaff had we come to a dead stop. Apparently a head-on crash or at least something that held up traffic both ways, was guilty of providing hundreds of road warriors some quality down time. Around 7:10 in Part 5 we see everyone in a dead stop. Eventually the traffic began moving and if memory serves me, I think we made it to Albuquerque to spend the night in a hotel.
The next morning we awoke to rain but hoped it would let up by the time we hit White Sands, New Mexico. Thankfully, it did. We hit the White Sands Visitor Center at 8:30 in part 5. Everyone enjoyed White Sands. They especially enjoyed my wonderful narrative while touring the sand paths. Don’t believe me? Check out Part 5 in its entirety. I know, I know…it’s just a bunch of sand. The weather was great though and it was like nothing else we had ever seen.
That same day we headed east for Carlsbad Cavern. If you make it out to the southwest here in the US, please visit Carlsbad. Given the 90’s video technology and the darkness of the caverns, the video you see here in our home movie is not great. Some 750 feet below the surface however, our trek continues around 2:40 in part 6
Or if you are a lover of flying mammals, how about reading this short blog about the bat population there.
Or how about this! https://youtu.be/yLufIO5fZ6o
Tuesday morning, we headed east. Yes, we had intended to make decent headway however one of the camper tires decided otherwise. We made it to Snyder, Texas. We had a spare but managed to find a replacement for purchase at, (I want to say it was a welding machine shop), with the help of a few phone calls from a UHaul dealer. Since our rim was broken we were able to secure two new spares.
While waiting, we took in some authentic Mexican cuisine from a local diner. It was the first, (and only), time we got to enjoy green chicken (at least we think it was chicken).
And just like that, flat tire #2. We managed to capture a brief moment here at 7:10
We ended up not getting much further than Snyder on Tuesday.
Wednesday is a total blur and we didn’t record anything on video so I guess we focused on making some headway home.
Thursday night was our final night away from home. We camped on the outside of Memphis. It’s hard to forget weather like that evening. It must have been low 90’s and 95% humidity. Luckily, we had a very good air conditioner mounted to the top of the camper. Check out Part 6 at around 7:35 where you can still see the moisture in the air.
While the westerly ride was relatively easy, the drive home was anything but. Just outside of Nashville we ran into another hurdle – torrential rain that caused us to pull off the road for a bit. Check out Part 6 at around 7:53. Luckily, this rain was to be our final obstacle.
Kim’s sister Traci was watching our toddler while we were on vacation. At only 15 months of age, we got to experience what it felt like to have your own child not remember his parents. For whatever reason, he recognized me first and came into my arms from Traci’s. Kim was near tears as I was holding him and she was trying to get him to come to her. Perhaps another 60 seconds elapsed when suddenly little Timmy smiled and, with a relieved expression, just said “Mommy”. Mother and child were reunited.
Our trip of a lifetime was over.
At some point in our lives, we grow up. I like to think that this happens to all of us. For me it was sometime in my fifties. My outlook on life changed. For one, even more than before, I appreciated that I did not die at age 7 from the smack of a school bus. Also, my wife, with her very early childhood heart surgery, could possibly have not survived. She too was age 7. Perhaps we were even in the hospitals at the same time. This trip was for me, a trip of a lifetime, one I dreamed of having all my life. To those of you who now have shared this trip with us, I thank you and hope I did not bore you.
As I sit here on Sunday morning, dusting off this little piece with a warm cat on my lap, I am thinking about life….and death. You see, my wife is in Ohio. Her brother passed away yesterday. I’ve mentioned in several of my recounts of how I’m always watching for coincidences and connections as I feel they make life more interesting. You see, I was ‘introduced’ to my wife’s brother Scott some 4 years before I ever saw my future wife and 7 years before I got up the nerve to chase her through the halls of our high school. I was in 5th grade. My younger brother Steve and Scott were both in 3rd at Lincoln Elementary School. Steve came home one day soon after we had begun attending our new school, (we had recently moved), and told the tale of this funny pudgy guy who was playing King of the Mountain down on a small hill in the school’s baseball diamond area. I went down at recess the next day to watch and there he was, along with ten or so other smaller 3rd graders. The small ones would rush up the hill and bump into Scott. Scott would give them a light push and the smaller ones would go rolling down. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. I think this is how I will choose to remember Scott. I didn’t even know Kim existed. One day my time, (or Kim’s), will come. Until then though we keep on, trying to maintain our broad smiles.
Writing this little piece of biography and watching all of our home video for some reason reminds me of one of my favorite television soliloquies – the end of The Wonder Years series. It means something to me and I hope it hits you in the same spot as it does to me.
Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers; next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place…a town…a house like a lot of other houses… A yard like a lot of other yards…on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is…after all these years, I still look back…with wonder.
My growing up may have begun on Prytania, but there is still more to do.