Trying to get away from it all is just about impossible these days with all the technology that travels with you, but it is even more difficult with kids who are addicted to cartoons despite your best intentions.
So when my 6-year-old son, Nick, told me he wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, I thought, "Wow! This will be great. We'll hike, explore nature and it'll be a great learning experience for both of us."
I had never been, so I was very excited. My goal was to never hear the words, "I'm bored."
Because I was taking eight days to travel, I decided we should explore more of what nature had to offer. I let my son decide where we would go to get him excited about the trip.
Our plan was to fly to Las Vegas, camp the first night at Lake Mead, spend two nights at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, four nights in Hurricane, Utah, because it is central to St. George, Zion and Bryce, then go down to Valley of Fire for a night before heading back to Vegas for our flight home.
After landing in Vegas, we got our rental car and headed for Lake Mead. We got to Boulder Beach, found a really nice site and set up camp. It was still daylight, so we explored the area. We walked down to the beach, watched the birds and went down to the marina where we saw giant carp and fed them for a long while.
It was getting darker and I had no firewood to cook with. We decided to go to Pizza Hut in Boulder City for dinner. I found it was very convenient to be near civilization during the whole trip.
The next day we checked out Hoover Dam. We both did our best to try to peek over the edge, but chickened out. After lunch, we headed for the Grand Canyon.
After about 41Ú2 hours we arrived at Grand Canyon, found our campsite and unloaded. At the entrance to the campground, we were told of the Junior Ranger program. The workbook kept Nick busy for a long time while I set up camp. It was after 5 p.m., so going to explore the canyon would have to wait until the next day. However, I did need to get logs for a fire and other supplies. We went to the general store nearby and found not only wood, but everything needed to survive (and more). We could have walked in with a tent and the clothes on our backs and would have been fine.
The next day we woke up with the birds. We watched the ravens stalk us while we ate and then I got out the map of the canyon to let Nick decide where to go. We packed lots of snacks and drinks in Nick's backpack and headed out to catch the shuttle bus to Bright Angel Lodge.
Knowing that you are going to see one of the seven natural wonders of the earth doesn't prepare you for what you see. All the pictures, movies and everything else covering it doesn't prepare you.
We got off the bus and saw a massive crowd of tourists. I saw a space along the edge of the canyon where we could walk up and look over, so we headed for it.
We walked up and WOW.
It took our breaths away. We sat down and stared. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. The crowds, shops and noise behind us faded away. It was beautiful. Even my son was in awe. "It's not just a big hole in the ground," I think I said to him. We sat there a long while just admiring the wide-open space, the colors and its immensity.
Finally we started hearing the crowds again and decided to find our way to the trail. We only walked a little way down the trail before Nick was ready to go back. But that was OK by me. I didn't want to push him. We went back up and looked through the museums and stores. We got an ice-cream cone and headed for the shuttle bus back to camp. I never once heard, "I'm bored."
The next day we explored another part of the canyon where we were supposed to be able to see the Colorado River, explored some museums and then took off for Utah.
Every time we saw an open space among the trees and could look out over the canyon as we drove, we said, "Bye, Grand Canyon. We love you."
There were lots of little roadside shops along the way and one in particular caught my eye because it said "scenic view." We stopped and walked past the shop. We saw cacti, caterpillars, beautiful wildflowers and some really nice scenery. Then we came to a sign that said, "800 foot drop: Keep children and pets in check." We immediately had to go check out the 800-foot drop. It was the first time we actually saw the Colorado River (and knew about it). Then a guy came up and started yelling to check for an echo, so we did too. It was a great break after an hour of driving.
The scenery going around the Grand Canyon up to Utah was amazing. We were constantly ooohing and ahhhing. We made occasional stops on the way up and Nick played with his hand-held games and watched his Video Now. We tried to see what images we saw on the rocks (the same way you would with clouds). I never once heard, "I'm bored."
After about five hours we arrived in Hurricane. We found our lodging and unpacked. The first night was spent cleaning up, vegin' out and planning the next four days. At the office of the lodge I took lots of brochures to help with this task.
Because it rained almost every day we were going to be in Utah, those brochures came in handy. We found in nearby towns a swim center with a giant swirling slide, a wild animal museum, a dinosaur tracks museum and a giant play structure designed by children. I watched the Weather Channel to learn which day we could go to Zion. We didn't get to go to Bryce.
Driving up to Zion National Park was quite a bit different than driving up to the Grand Canyon. We didn't actually see the Grand Canyon when we drove up. All we could see were trees. However, because you are at the bottom of the canyon at Zion, the rock walls are all around you and, well, it's a good thing the speed limit was only 25 because Nick and I were both staring straight up about 3,000 feet.
We found our way to the visitors' area, got a map and found out about the Junior Ranger program for Zion. We hopped on the shuttle bus and went to a trail that was labeled easy. On the shuttle bus the driver gave us lots of history and told stories about the area. The walk on the trail was very easy. Along the way, I tried to take pictures of the rock walls rising all around us. I just couldn't fit the image I saw into my camera's lens, even when I lay on the ground.
At the end of the trail was a beautiful waterfall. We sat and admired it a bit and headed back. After we got back we got lunch (Zion is also surrounded by modern conveniences) and got some ice cream. I never once heard, "I'm bored."
After Utah, we headed for the Valley of Fire. Again the scenery alone was enough to keep us both entertained on the long drive. Once we got there, my son was ready to head out and check out the bright red and orange rocks. He renamed one the lizard rock because of its resemblance to a lizard. We watched the clouds get dark and felt the beginnings of a shower and decided not to stay the night there. We found a motel room in North Las Vegas and I spent much of the night packing everything up into our luggage. I had Nick practice his Karate because he had a test the next day. We made microwave s'mores after dinner.
We got up early the next day, had a really good hot breakfast at the motel (which may have been the highlight of the trip for Nick) and headed for the airport. On the plane, Nick said, "I had fun on our vacation."
That was what I wanted to hear.
Getting ready for the big trip
The pre-planning stage
I talked to my well-traveled boss and found out that I should fly to Las Vegas and then drive to the Grand Canyon from there. I hopped on the Internet to find out what kind of drive I'm looking at. I tried many map sites, including the one everyone raves about, Mapquest.com, and had the most difficult time.
On Mapquest you have to know an exact address. Of course it offers help with locating the address, but the address to the Grand Canyon is a P.O. Box, which doesn't help.
I'm yelling at the computer at this point about how it can't find the big whole in the ground that's supposed to be one of the seven natural wonders of the Earth. Then I find MSN maps (mappoint.msn.com) and not only could it find the Grand Canyon, it narrows things down to which area of the canyon you'll be visiting.
Our first plan was to camp the first night at Lake Mead because it's close to Vegas and I didn't want to be driving through the night. Then we would stay at the Grand Canyon for two nights, spend two nights at St. George, Utah (I was told about a fantastic water park there), spend a night each at Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, then go back down to Valley of Fire for a night before heading back to Vegas for our flight home.
I had a lot of concerns with this trip. Weather was going to be an issue since we were camping. Keeping my son entertained during the estimated six-hour trips between natural wonders would also be an issue. Then, of course, would be packing all the camping gear, clothes for both hot days and cold nights, my son's booster seat (because getting one from the rental car company was $5 a day) and plenty of toys.
The serious planning stage
I used the Internet a lot to learn more about each site we were planning to visit and the nearby area. I needed to know if there were any nearby stores to get supplies, plus I wanted to know about showers, laundry facilities, prices, etc.
I checked weather.com daily and realized that I couldn't avoid below-freezing temperatures at Grand Canyon or rain in Utah. So I decided to get a motel for four nights in Hurricane, Utah.
As far as the below-freezing temperatures, I packed thick pajamas, two sweaters and sweatpants each and I made a quilt out of really thick fabric and added a double-layer of batting. I had two fleece blankets (which are thin, but warm) and my son's sleeping bag (again because it was small). I figured even at 20 degrees, with four layers on top of us and three layers of clothing, we'd be OK. My tent (just a cheap $30 one from Wal-mart) defended against some serious wind on the few occasions I used it, so that would block a lot of the cold too.
That meant a lot of extra stuff to pack, though. So, I called the airline to find out exactly what my limitations were. We could each check two bags that were no heavier than 50 pounds and bring one carry-on which had to be relatively small so it could fit in the overhead bins or below the seat in front of me. My purse didn't count as a carry-on. No sharp objects are allowed in the carry-ons and no lighters whatsoever.
For me this meant I could have my son load up his backpack as his carry-on, I could buy a really large purse for the occasion and a small duffel bag as a carry-on. I could only check two of the larger bags because I was going to be the one dragging both of them.
Because there were going to be many days of long drives, I planned for plenty of activities Nick could do in the car. I bought a giant dot-to-dot book because it is his favorite thing to do. I brought lots of colored pencils, coloring books and blank paper for him to draw on. And I broke down and bought two hand-held games (Tetris and Connect Four) and a Video Now with 4 discs to watch. Sure we were trying to get away from it all, but I really wanted to get away from too much whining also. I really didn't want to hear, "I'm bored."