That time we tried to call a move a vacation because we visited places like White Sands, VLA, and more. (Haven’t read part one? Start HERE)
We rarely have time off. We rarely have time off when we are all together. And when this does happen, we are either neck deep in remodeling, or, moving. So we make the best of it. I’ll tell you what, if you plug Pflugerville, Texas to Berkeley, California there is not much along the way. It’s not even a really scenic drive. And, it can easily be done in 3 days. 2, if you like pain and you don’t budget any wiggle room in your road trip. *coughMICHAELcough*
So after doing a little research and Michael’s work giving him one week to do the drive we made a plan.
Stop One was supposed to be Indian Lodge, but they were closed for the week. So we just settled on El Paso, and had our sites on Cattleman’s, a restaurant we discovered when Michael had done the drive a few months prior. He was looking for a place to eat in or near El Paso so I took to google to find him something special. He likes steak and it got great reviews, but I really had no idea what it was. It’s a place to eat steak. But it is on a huge plot of land, raises tons of cattle, shoots tons of movies, and has a mini zoo. Hello, this is freaking amazing. Pippen got fussy during supper so we took a stroll through the animal park, many of animals in which you can actually feed. The highlight here was probably the little area where they had the rattlesnakes. We told the kids to go down and look and then tried to scare them. They weren’t too amused.
On to Stop Two: White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.
It. was. incredible. We bought sleds. And wax to make the sleds go faster. We drove around and selected our spot most carefully. We had the spot all to ourselves. And for hours we rid ourselves of so much doom and gloom from the packing, and the puking, and the goodbyes.
The weather was mild and perfect. The kids smiled and laughed, and were more carefree than we had seen them in a really long time.
We bought three sleds and a bucket of beach tools. We spent hours out there. The kids went nuts. Pippen ate sand. Nash ate sand.
And I got to meet a park ranger who came across our car with the door wide open (thank you children) so he parked us and car sat for us. I thanked him and had a nice chat about where he had been stationed and how he liked being a park ranger.
Also, if you’re visiting, bring water. Lots and lots of water. Doesn’t matter what time of year, getting up those dunes is a total body workout.
As we pulled out of the parking lot to leave Michael hinted that he wanted to visit the Trinity Site. He didn’t really push it, but he rarely interjects with suggestions. I threw it into maps and it was only a two hour detour and would leave us north of the route instead of having to backtrack where we’d already been. Sweet!
Except. A little visit to google would have told us it’s not open to the public. It’s not open at all really except one day a year. So we drove and drove and that two hour detour ended up being a little more. And then we had to make a choice, double back, or spend more time heading around to the North. I always have a hard time with backtracking so we headed north.
And then we realized we’d be passing the Very Large Array after hours. We needed to stop and stay the night in Socorro, NM and we’d hit the VLA in the morning when it first opened and we’d make it a super quick stop. Except, we’re Rust’s. We never do anything when it first opens in the morning. And we never do anything fast.
Stop Three: Very Large Array (VLA). We got up with our leisurely pace. We grabbed breakfast. And we hit the VLA. and we watched the movies. We read the billboards. We took the tour. We bought a VLA Christmas ornament. And other nerdy goodies. And we hit the road. And then I realized Michael had let Colton buy a Newton’s cradle which he started playing with in the car. Thanks honey. Don’t worry, like all shit we buy the kids it ended up broken before the day was through.
New Mexico is both somewhere I could really want to live and somewhere I wouldn’t want to live. I know myself enough to know that when it’s 65-75 degrees I can be happy just about anywhere. But the scorched earth everywhere would leave me to believe that 9 months a year, I would really really hate it. lol. But Michael and I held hands. We talked. We dreamed. We knew what housing prices were in California and we looked around and played the guessing game of how much it would cost to live in a place like Socorro. And what a nice slow life would look like driving to the VLA to do research. Although they really don’t do much on site, but that’s not the point.
Stop Four: Surprise Stop. The Grand Canyon. We had wanted to do it all along, but it was extra time off the trip. By this point we were further north than the original plan, and not that far off the path. Let’s do it.
Except the daylight was fading. Quickly. Michael sped. A lot. What good was going to the Grand flipping Canyon if it’s too dark to see it!
We made it by the skin of our teeth. The sun had already set. The light was blue and fading fast. We threw the trunk open, grabbed jackets for only those who couldn’t suck it up and did a mad dash. And by dash I mean, we were running from the car, down the trail, people were staring. I was in sandals and a dress. I tucked Pippen in my sweater, she wanted to nurse anyways. So I ran in my dress and sandals, milk truck and all just to make it before the light disappeared completely. My ISO was at 4000. In all honesty, we should have stayed the night. We should have slowed down. And if I were living that same life right this second I would have. California can wait. Buying a house can wait. But at the time we had a deadline. Michael had to get back so he could go to work. We snapped some photos.
I wanted one photo. I wasn’t aiming for perfect. But I wanted that shot. A shot. A snapshot. A framed shot. I wanted that moment remembered forever. But Michael doesn’t do good with heights. And he was a wreck with the toddlers near the canyon. And we were just going 100 mph. Aubrey snapped the photo not making sure it was in focus. Not that it would have mattered, Michael was walking through it. I wanted a family photo in front of the canyon and I was disappointed. I was so disappointed I almost wanted to stay a night and come back.
But you know what? I still have that family photo. It’s not perfect. It might not get put in a frame and put on display. But it’s exactly what I had asked for. Something to remember that exact moment with. And oh, I got it. lol. I will forever remember the details of that one.
Stop Five: Vegas *eyeroll*
Michael wanted to stop in Vegas. He had never been. Call me no fun, but I hate Vegas, I have family there, I’ve been dozens of times. But, if we drove all night and had to be somewhere at 2am, Vegas is a place that stays open all day or night. So we arrived and settled in to our urine smelling room. To be honest, we had a lot of urine smelling rooms on this trip. When you travel with a pet, you get a pet room. And trust when I say Vegas had the worst pet rooms ever. It was so bad I had to call the front desk. If not just for the urine, then for our neighbors.
“there are two dogs that have been left unattended next door. They are scratching through the walls and doors. We can see chunks coming off the carpet is flying into the hall. They sound pretty savage. I’m actually quite concerned we will die in our sleep”.
It wasn’t a joke either. I’m sure the dogs were just like Nash and how he behaves with mail people. But the dogs were seriously eating through the door. And they did not sound happy. Or small.
So, off to the casino for a quick stroll. We set a limit that we didn’t mind blowing, but something has changed in the years since I went to Vegas. Everything is more expensive and pays far less. It just wasn’t fun. The money just zapped away so quickly. So we called it good at 20$ and spent an arm and a leg on hotel food instead then went back to the kids for a movie.
Stop Six: Tahoe, CA (almost)
We head north to Reno. Much better than driving through LA. The roads were clear, I loved the small towns. We found an outdoor store and stocked up on boots and jackets for everyone in hopes for some romps in the snow in Tahoe. We pulled into Truckee for some lunch. I jumped out to pick up the food. A few moments later Michael comes to get me. Our tire is leaking air. And by leaking, I mean hemorrhaging. The truckers who don’t give a shit about other people just cut their chains and leave them on the sides of the road to embed in other people’s tires, and a giant chain was in ours. It’s a weekend. In a resort town. With fresh snow. It’s packed.
We make it to a tire shop. Barely. And we got lucky with google. It was the only one open, and it was only open for 30 minutes. But there was a line ahead of us with people getting snow tires on. A couple gave us their spot and offered to let us hang out at their cabin. And gave me her number so she could come visit after we got settled. And of course, I have yet to find my jacket and find it. I kick myself. Nicest people ever. I’m such an asshole.
But after getting a giant chunk of someone else’s snow chains in our tire and the stress that came with it, and the crowds that were every stop we tried to find, we just decided to chuck it and head on in. We were losing steam.
We made it to Vacaville. It was uneventful. I won’t even highlight it as a stop.
Stop Seven: San Francisco (kind of). This stop might be akin to not counting a visit to a state if you’ve only been to the airport. We had to pick up Michael’s truck from long term parking. So I saw the bay bridge on the way over, a tiny peek at the Golden Gate, and the airport. That’s about it.
Hotels were ridiculously expensive in Berkeley. There was still jack diddly available for homes we could buy. It was getting more stressful by the second. We ventured around. We checked out all the spots that Michael had been discovering for the last few months. We drove down some historic sites in Berkeley. We ate crepes. We visited parks. We did laundry in hotels. And Michael had to go back to work. I wasn’t going to survive like this for long with six kids in a hotel. I lasted one day with Michael at work. Keeping the kids out of the hotel all day was exhausting and expensive. Keeping them in was exhausting and stressful. Broderick James is not meant to be cooped up in a hotel. He is incapable of being quiet. And he can’t keep himself from jumping off the furniture or walls. Or other children.
My parents said to come on up. So. We booked tickets to Alaska for the eight of us, seven people and one very large dog.
Now the ultimate car packing tetris challenge. How do we get all eight of us, the dog, our luggage, AND a dog kennel in our car. Oh man, but we did it. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it.
Goodbyes are hard. Even if they are for a short time. But this was open ended. We hadn’t made an offer on a house so I knew this was going to be at least 30 days. But I knew it could be longer. So we hugged. And kissed. and I tried not to cry. We were going to be apart. Again.
Cattleman’s ranch has to be on the top 5 restaurant experiences I’ve had. I would have loved to be there before the sun went down. But at least we pulled up in time to see this sunset and the teepees.
Here is Part One if you’re interested.