Road Trips – Through the Eyes of an 11 Year Old

*Recently, my son had to write a personal narrative for his language arts course. He chose to write about our summer road trip and how it affected him. I am posting this here with his permission.

Road Trips

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Road trips are the best thing ever, especially this one. My sister, my mom, my grandma, my three cousins, and I went on a road trip this summer. We planned to visit Tucson, Arizona, see the Four Corners, and explore Mesa Verde National Park but we didn’t know our trip would take a detour. Road trips give you the chance to learn interesting facts, see new places, and learn new things about yourself.

First, we decided we were going to go on a road trip and it was the longest one I’ve been on. We got packed up, got into the car, and then we took off. We all knew that it was going to be a long drive to Tucson, Arizona but we didn’t know how hot we would get. After a while we were all sweating. We were asking to turn the air up. Even when the air was all the way up it was still pretty hot.This weather was very different than the weather in Colorado. Then we started to run into some Saguaro cacti. It got everybody’s attention. We learned that a fifteen foot Saguaro cactus is a hundred years old and that is when they grow their first arms. This was the most interesting fact I learned about Saguaro cacti.

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When it was time to leave Tucson, my mom and grandma were looking on a map and they saw we were close to the Grand Canyon. “Hey, does anyone want to stop at the Grand Canyon? It will be four hours out of our way,” mom said. My cousins and I looked at each other and had the same idea. “Yes! But does it have to be so far away?” we said. We were all so excited to get there and we were all impatient. When we arrived I wondered how big it would be. I learned a little bit at school about how big it was but never saw it in person. We were almost there. Just a few more steps. As I stared I was in awe about how amazing the sight in front of me was. I was so glad I got to see this new place.

Of course, the extra hours that were on our trip made us tired but the trip there was worth it. As I stood in front of the Grand Canyon, I felt happy that we had made the stop. At first, I wanted to say no but then I realized you should take the opportunities while you can. You don’t know when you are going to do something like this again. It might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Choosing to stop at the Grand Canyon made me realize that I should take chances while I can.

My favorite part of the trip was hanging with my cousins, learning about the Saguaro cacti, and seeing things that I’ve not seen before. The Grand Canyon was way bigger than I thought it would be. We had a great time, not to mention, saw some amazing things. I am so glad my family stopped at the Grand Canyon or we would have missed something amazing. Next time you go on a road trip take the opportunities.

Two Hours in Grand Canyon National Park

Two hours at the Grand Canyon? That seems a bit ridiculous for a national park that is 215 miles and takes five hours to drive between the North and South Rims.

But what do you do when you have a massive road trip planned out perfectly and on the morning of day 3, you realize that the Grand Canyon is only two hours out of your way?

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You reroute the GPS of course!

We had a tight itinerary that was more driving than sightseeing. On day one, we drove from Denver, Colorado to Tucson, Arizona. We spent the next day visiting family and then it was time to continue on. The original plan was to leave Tucson and drive to Mesa Verde National Park, while stopping at the Four Corners. While looking at a map, it was obvious that the Grand Canyon was only a couple of hours away so we did some quick research.

We rerouted the GPS to take us from Tucson, Arizona to the South Rim Entrance.

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Our drive through the Grand Canyon was quite literally that: a drive through the Grand Canyon. We didn’t have time for leisurely hikes or picnics. We were there to gape at the giant hole in the ground, snap some pictures and continue through the park to an east exit near Cameron.

So how did we fare?

We were glad that we added the Grand Canyon to our itinerary at the last minute. How could we be so close and not stop? After we left the Grand Canyon and continued driving, all of the older kids on our trip (we had a 13 year old, 2 ten year olds, an 8 year old and a 3 year old) proclaimed the Grand Canyon to be the best stop on our road trip. That made it worth it.

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Here are a few tips that we learned along the way if you only have a couple of hours in the Grand Canyon:

Fill up your car with gas before driving into the park entrance. This gave us a peace of mind because we had no idea what was on the other side!

Stop and take pictures when you want to stop and take pictures. You only have an hour or two and you are not going to want to turn around.

Stop at the visitor center but plan to spend some time. We decided to stop at the visitor center to pick up Junior Ranger books, use the restroom and stretch our legs. Parking at the visitor center is a premium and you might have to drive around for a little while. It can also be quite a walk to the center depending on where you have to park. While at the visitor center, we spoke to a ranger and found out how to exit the park so we were headed in the right direction. We also explored the exhibits. There is a water bottle filling station as well as plenty of restrooms and a shop. You can walk around the visitor center to Mather Point where you will get your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. This is also one of the most crowded spots. We snapped a few pictures and headed down the road.

From the South Rim to the Cameron exit, there were plenty of places to stop and take pictures. Before we went, a friend told us to skip all the touristy places and just make the drive if we didn’t have the time. She was right. We could have stopped at the visitor center, used the restroom, and hit the road. We would have still seen the majestic views that the Grand Canyon has to offer.

If you are making the trip from Tucson to Mesa Verde National Park, be aware that adding the Grand Canyon on to your itinerary will make you arrive in Mesa Verde long after dark. With two hours at the Grand Canyon and minimal stops along the way we arrived after 10:00 at night. Because of this, Four Corners was closed when we arrived. The next day we had to tack two more hours on to our itinerary to make the drive to Four Corners and back.

Three Days in Tucson, Arizona

When I told people that I was heading to Tucson, Arizona, I got many a blank stare.  It was often followed up with a comment about how I should go to Phoenix or Scottsdale instead.  The main reason we were headed to Tucson over spring break was to visit with my grandparents.  Living in Denver has put us a little bit closer to them (though it is still a 12 hours drive) and a visit was overdue.

We spent much of our time with my grandparents but we were able to do some exploring.  This three day itinerary is a laid back version of what we would have done had the main reason for the visit not been about family.  At the end, I am going to include some more attraction ideas to get you started on your own itinerary.  We are looking forward to returning to Tucson to do some more exploring.

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Day One – Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Mineral Collecting

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is more zoo and botanical garden than it is museum.  You could easily spend all day wandering around the museum.  We spent a few hours before we were run off by the lightening and threatening skies.  Our favorite spot here was the Earth Sciences Center with the minerals gallery.  We also really enjoyed the Hummingbird Aviary.

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After the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum, be sure to stop at the Tucson Mineral and Gem World.  It is a small building that doesn’t look like much from the front but it is packed to the brim with all kinds of gems and minerals from the local area and across the oceans.  We had a lot of fun looking at the turquoise, different types of quartz and more.  My son spent much of his vacation money here.

Day Two – Saguaro National Park

On our second day, we visited Saguaro National Park.  This is another spot that you can spend all day in but you can also make a quick trip if necessary.  We entered the East section of the park, also known as the Rincon Mountain District.

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The Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a perfect way to see this part of the park.  There are pull-offs for your car and short hiking trails throughout.  It was amazing to see the gigantic Saguaro cacti popping up from the land.

Day Three – Day Trip South

While a drive into Mexico wasn’t on the agenda (though I wish it had been!), my grandparents took us on a little day trip south to show us a few of the small towns and sites near Tucson.  Our first stop was at San Xavier del Bac Mission, also known as the White Dove of the Desert.  Construction of the church was finished in 1797.  We wandered through the small museum and spoke to the gal working the counter.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t view the inside of the building because there was a service in session.

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From there, we headed to Tubac, Arizona, where we wandered in and out of the little shops.  We saw beautiful pottery, jewelry, clothing and more.  After that, we headed even farther south to Tumacacori, Arizona where we stopped at this little spice shop and picked up tasty spices and salsas.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do half of what we had researched for this trip so we are just going to have to make a trip back.  Some of the activities still on our list include the Pima Air and Space Museum and the plane boneyard, Bookman’s (a huge used bookstore), the Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tombstone, and more.

What is your favorite activity in Tucson, Arizona?

A Southwestern Road Trip through New Mexico and Arizona

Spring break is upon us and I am ready to get the heck out of dodge.

We were just going to stick close to home but my husband is stuck at work and my kids have a two week spring break so I started planning a trip immediately.  I wanted somewhere warmer than Colorado (though that is all subjective now that we are in the month of March) and I wanted to go somewhere that I could drive.

Our trip will begin with a 6 hour drive south across the New Mexico border. I have driven through New Mexico before but my children have never been. They are thrilled to be able to check (two!) more states off of their list. Once we cross the border we will head to Albuquerque, were Visit Albuquerque is graciously hosting us for a few days.

From Albuquerque, we are heading even further south to Tucson, Arizona. We have family in Tucson, so part of the trip will be spent visiting with them and then we are also going to do some exploring.

These are two cities in which we haven’t spent much time at all. I am excited to explore with the kids and step out of our comfort zones a little bit. I have stacks of travel guides from the library and we have been researching the web for ideas. Feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I turned to my favorite group of travel writers and bloggers for their advice. I can tell already that we won’t even cover half of what we want to see during the trip!

Tucson, Arizona

When we tell somebody that we are headed to Tucson, they inevitably say that we must see the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. Karen Heffren from Desert Chica Ramblings suggests that we pick up a stamp book for $1 at the entrance so that the kids can collect stamps along the way.

Jodi Grundig, Family Travel Magazine, recommends visiting Trail Dust Town.  I think my kids might dig the stunt show.

The only thing that we really have on our list so far is to visit Saguaro National Park while we are in Tucson.  My kids are always on the lookout for cacti and I know they will flip out when they see the size of the saguaro cactus!  Mary, from The World is a Book, shares tips for a quick visit to the national park if you are short on time.

Stephanie, from TucsonTopia, shares tons of activities in Tucson but what caught my eye were the tips on what to do if you see a rattlesnake. I will definitely keep this post handy for our trip and our outings around Denver.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

While in Albuquerque, we are undecided about taking the drive up to Taos but Lance’s review of his visit on Trips by Lance might just convince us to go.  I really enjoyed his reflections on his trip where he visited Albuquerque, Taos, and Santa Fe.

Jessica shares a fun stop (and a great photo essay) at Tinkertown on Suitcases and Sippycups. This place looks like a fabulous place for a scavenger hunt checklist.

While in Albuquerque, Jessie with Wandering Educators suggests that we visit the Pueblo Cultural Center to learn about the culture, architecture and more.

Sheri, from Kidsumers, shared her pictures from their ABQ trip and the colors…oh, the brilliant colors we are going to see in the art and textiles. It looks like she had an incredible trip!

Vero, from All Over the Map, offers five things to do in Albuquerque and I was glad to see Petroglyph National Monument listed. This is something that we would like to see. There are also some restaurant recommendations.

What else do you think we should see or do while on our road trip?