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Road Trip- Our Family Quest for Summer Continued!

Our western adventures commenced anew after a restorative night at the Historic Cameron Trading Post and Motel. I was feeling a bit better because the black interior of the Truckster had been swept clean of the neon orange crackers that had been spilled and crushed. The kids were happy since their devices were fully charged and their snack supply had been replenished. My husband was in a good mood because he got to sleep on a couch alone in the living room of our motel suite, thereby avoiding the inevitable constant kicking when he snored. Relaxed and refreshed, our family quest for summer continued as we headed for the Grand Canyon.

We were about 15 miles into the desert when my daughter noticed a funny smell. Assuming it was our sons shoeless feet, we ignored her until we all began smelling it. Thats when we noticed that the light on the dash indicating our emergency brake was still engaged glowed brightly. There arent many places to pull off in the middle of nowhere, but we quickly created our own and just as quickly unloaded the van as the brakes smoked and sizzled. My husband confiscated everyones recently filled water bottles to douse the burning brakes and we stood in the 100-degree heat watching for rattlesnakes until he deemed the Truckster safe to re-enter. My husband knows less than nothing about cars, so this was really a faith walk (or ride!).

 

About 30 minutes later, we arrived safely at the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. This national treasure is 277 miles long by river, 18 miles wide and a mile deep. The sheer enormity of the canyon is staggering, giving a sense of being consumed by your surroundings. It is profoundly inspiring. We stayed on the rim during our visit, although there are many opportunities for exploration. Hike the canyon, raft the river or camp the back country if you have a more adventurous spirit. Stay in the comfort lodging on property and shuttle to your destinations if you prefer a more relaxed approach. Whatever you choose, youll be awed by your surroundings!

 

 

We left the Grand Canyon and continued to the rootin, tootin town of Williams, Arizona. This charming whistle-stop is known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon and offers travelers six blocks of historic Route 66 food, fun and memorabilia. Hop on the Grand Canyon Railway, get a picture with Elvis, or wait until sundown for a genuine cowboy street show shoot out! My son acquired a much sought-after cowboy hat Williams and considered our trip a bonafide success upon its purchase!

Getting our kicks was the theme of the day as we ditched the highway and drove the iconic Route 66. Great stretches of very little gave way to some awesome roadside stops, like the tiny town of Seligman. While other Route 66 stops faded away with the construction of the interstate, this little commercial district tenaciously held on to its roots and vitality. Seligman is rumored to be the inspiration for the animated town of Radiator Springs and despite its population of roughly 450, has successfully promoted its historic businesses and unique stops as an oasis in the middle of the Arizona high desert.

A mere two plus hours beyond Seligman brought us to Kingman, AZ. Perched at an elevation of 3,300 feet, Kingman was a cool (both figuratively and literally) spot in our travels and just a stones throw(ish) from our next stop- the Hoover Dam.

My children took great joy in our visit to Hoover Dam, expressing verbally at every opportunity how many dam pictures they took, what dam facts they learned, and how high the dam observation deck was. Sigh. Hoover Dam truly was a marvel of modern engineering and worth the stop. Tickets are only available on site, though, and only a first come, first served basis.

Our final stop on our quest to reclaim summer was Las Vegas, the City of Lights. While most consider Las Vegas an adult destination, there are tons of great family-friendly attractions as well. Take a gondola ride at the Venetian, check out celebrities (of the waxed variety) at Madame Tussauds, or take in the Fall of Atlantis at Caesars with impressive special effects. Ride the Big Apple Roller Coaster at New York New York, followed by a trip to the arcade. Visit the M&Ms World and personalize your own M&Ms! Youll be pleasantly surprised at how much g-rated fun you can have!

After eight days on the road, our family road trip was nearing its inevitable conclusion. I gave up trying to keep the Trucksters interior clean and focused on the fun we had together exploring this great nation. We saw incredible sights, experienced extraordinary beauty and spent a fantastic family week together without the usual interruptions of work, school, sports and more. Summer is back, Baby!

Road Trip- One Family’s Quest to Reclaim Summer

Like most, our familys summer isnt the relaxing oasis of calm we remember from childhood. I fondly recall days spent splashing in the community pool, walking to my grandmas house or spending hours cruising the streets of our small town on my beloved pink Huffy. It was a glorious time that made previous school year a distant memory and the coming year a far-off reality. Now the few short weeks between school semesters are packed with camps, practices and even a hefty load of summer homework (whats that about?!?). This year, my husband and I decided to do something about it. Thats right, we reclaimed summer vacation Griswold style, with an old-fashioned, family road trip!

We loaded up the Family Truckster (disguised as a Dodge minivan) and started on our way. Our first stop was a Wal-Mart for snacks to last the duration of our eight-day journey (they were gone by Day Two). Our first actual stop was beautiful Grand Junction, CO and a visit to the Museum of the West for a quick lesson in Colorado history. Native American galleries, a uranium mining exhibit and a re-creation of historic Grand Junction were on display. It was a great way to kick off our western adventures!

 

Next was a spectacular drive through the mountains of Colorado and a stop at the Phoenix Gold Mine. Nestled in the mountains, the mine is one of a select few that allows public panning in its creek. A relatively inexpensive ticket also included a tour of this historic mine and a visit with some friendly Rocky Mountain squirrels. We didnt strike it rich but had an awesome time trying!

 

A quick drive from the mine landed us in Colorado Springs and the stunning Garden of the Gods. A registered National Natural Landmark, the Garden of the Gods offers exquisite views and towering 300 sandstone formations against a brilliant Colorado sky. Its like walking through a post card! For those looking for a more adventurous experience, the Garden of the Gods offers jeep and Segway tours, biking/electric biking, front range climbing and other adventure programs.

After a quick visit with family and an impressive stop at the Air Force Academy, we were on our way to the very chic southwestern Colorado town of Durango. Great shops, magnificent vistas, intriguing galleries and a wide and varied range of outdoor activities are readily available. While in Durango, we purchased our tickets for the highlight of my trip, Mesa Verde and the Pueblo Cliff Dwellings. Soaring nearly 9,000 feet in the air, these feats of ancient architecture were home to the Ancestral Pueblo people from AD 600 to 1300. Incredible!

Another short drive (meaning less than 400 miles by my husbands barometer!) and we arrived at the Four Corners Monument. The Four Corners is the only place in the U.S. where you can stand in four states at the same time (well, you may need to use hands as well as feet!). Its a terrific photo opportunity and resting place in the middle of the desert!

At this point in our journey, the Truckster had logged many, MANY miles. It goes without saying that our family bonding was experiencing some fissures and we were ready for a break. Enter the Historic Cameron Trading Post and Motel, nestled along the Little Colorado River and just 30 minutes from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The word motel caused our 11 year-old to quake with fear, envisioning, well, the motels at which I stayed during my childhood family vacations. Fortunately, the Historic Cameron Trading Post had rooms that were large, clean, and incredibly comfortable. Delicious dining, beautiful gardens and a super kitschy gift shop rounded out the experience. Oh, and did I mention watching the sunset while a herd of wild horses ran by? The Historic Cameron Trading Post gave us just the lift we needed to prepare for the second half of our expedition. Stay tuned!

Have A Blast in Branson!


Last summer, our family was planning a series of quick jaunts. We wanted to jump in the car and spend a few days somewhere wed never been! As we tossed around ideas, my husband suggested Branson, Missouri. I snickered a little, remembering the Branson trips Great Uncle Frank and Aunt Ruth had taken to hear their favorite crooners. I pointed out that while I was sure it was a lovely place, it probably wouldnt be much fun for the kids.
Its tough admitting to not only being wrong, but off the charts wrong! This beautiful town in the heart of the Ozarks was one of our favorite vacation spots EVER! There was so much to do- we could have stayed much longer! Not only was it super kid-friendly but wholesome fun for the entire family. The people of Branson were gracious and welcoming, the scenery spectacular and the adventures endless!


Both of our children are completely enamored with anything related to the Titanic, so a stop at the worlds largest Titanic Museum attraction was definitely on our agenda. It was like stepping back in time as we each took on the role of one of the original passengers (not even knowing if we survived until the end of the tour!). Artifacts, oral histories and an experience with the frigid waters made our visit interactive and, at times, quite poignant.

While I tend to be more of an indoor girl, my family loves to explore the great outdoors. Kayak Branson fit the bill perfectly, and we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon gliding through the stunning waters of Lake Taneycomo.

We followed our experience on the water with a drive INTO the water as part of the Ride the Ducks Branson experience. We bumped along as we climbed to the top of the mountain quacking all the way, only to ease into the water for a completely different perspective. We were fascinated as we learned about the unique military vehicles we passed during our 70-minute ride and the kids loved helping the captain by steering the amphibious vehicle once we were cruising the lake.

The Track Family Fun Park was a definite highlight of our Branson excursion! Featuring three high-rise go-kart tracks (one smooth concrete and metal and two of the jaw-jarring wooden variety), we careened through the twists and turns as we raced to the top and back down. I wish I could say I won, but found my foot on the brake more than the gas and watched as my kids flew right by me! We also happened to be visiting during the inaugural spin of the Ferris Wheel- talk about a breathtaking birds eye view of the Live Music Capital of the World! Of course, we couldnt leave the Track without a visit to Andys Frozen Custard, which serves my version of heaven in a dish!

Speaking of heavenly experiences, our show at the Sight and Sound Theater was a phenomenon not to be missed! Moses captured the audience with astonishing special effects and live animals while drawing us in to a story as old as time itself. Remarkable!

Regardless of where we travel, we seek out the nearest theme park to the destination. My adrenaline-loving family is always game for new coasters and rides while I am usually content riding the benches or taking in a show. Silver Dollar City managed to exceed all our expectations! This 1880s theme park in the heartland of America was nestled in abundant shade and offered exceptional entertainment and thrilling rides. There was so much to do, we considered going a second day!

Tagged as the most fun place to eat in Branson, our dinner and show at Dolly Partons Dixie Stampede did not disappoint. Competition between the North and South is still alive and well in this arena and featured astonishing horse riding stunts, special effects and the tastiest of family feasts. We ate, whooped and laughed, all while cheering on our favorite riders. Loved the energy of this show!

Ive shared some of our familys favorite Branson highlights, but really didnt even scratch the surface of all there is to do- Parakeet Petes Zipline, shopping at Branson Landing, the Branson IMAX, and a wonderful visit to Shepherd of the Hills (which I understand is now temporarily closed) rounded out our escapades in Branson. Since our visit, a new family-friendly attraction has been added that just may entice us to take another road trip. Frtizs Adventure opened in November of 2016 to stellar reviews. One visitor commented that it is a fully interactive adventure where everything you see is meant to be crawled under, climbed upon or through. Who wouldnt want to check it out?!?

Branson is an amazing and vibrant town, still brimming with the energy of live shows and entertainment daily but with a youthful edge of activity. It is so completely family-friendly and reasonably priced that its a great vacation option for anyone. Go on- have a blast in Branson!