Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip, Part 6: Disneyland

This is Part 6 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, Part 2, on Las Vegas,here, Part 3, on Flagstaff, here, Part 4, on the Grand Canyon, here, and Part 5, on Phoenix, here.

We wouldn’t be us if we didn’t include some kind of Disney destination in our planning. Our Southwest Road Trip led us all the way from home to our home away from home.

One very nice thing about Emily growing up in Orange County is that she still has friends and family there: Grandma and Aunt Bonnie always join us at Disneyland, and Steven (Pop Culture Maven on the Internet) usually comes along too. This meant that as soon as we rolled into Disneyland, we had not one, not two, but three babysitters just waiting to take the kids for a while.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIPE #16: Always bring Grandma. Or Aunt Bonnie. Or Uncle Steven. When you are away from home for any length of time, your patience with the kids will grow thin. Take any opportunity you have to let other loving friends or family members spend some time with the kids, even just an hour, while you take a break. It isn’t always feasible, but try to make it happen. And always be the friend who can give other parents a break. You want that to come back around.

Emily and I relaxed for a bit.

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And a bit more.

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And a bit more.

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The timing of our trip nearly coincided with Erin’s birthday, so we treated it a bit like a birthday trip. We were also joined by two other families from back home: all the adults are friends, and all the kids are friends, so we were a giant pack of pals roaming around Disneyland for a few days.

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We spent a lot of time in the Radiator Springs area of California Adventure.

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We rode every ride there: Luigi’s tire thing, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and of course the Radiator Springs Racers.

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We did Turtle Talk, Disney Jr. Live on Stage, The Little Mermaid, Soarin’ Over California, all of the Bug’s Land rides, and Toy Story Midway Mania.

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The kids strolled around the pier, declining to go on the Ferris Wheel.

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I don’t blame them. I kind of hate Ferris Wheels.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #17: Glowsticks. You can buy tubes of  them at your friendly neighbourhood whatever (rhymes with Schmarget) for a dollar each. No kid can turn down glowsticks. They’re decoration, which the kids like, and they make the kids easier to keep track of at night. Everybody wins.

But they do like the carousel.

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Since we were there, putatively, for Erin’s birthday, we had lunch with the princesses one day. All of the pictures from that lunch have the other families’ kids in them, so here is one of Adrian with Ariel just before lunch. The rest of lunch was just as glittery.

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Over the next few days we played at both parks, and in the hotel pool (monorail water slide FTW, btw). And we got both kids to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. Erin has refused to go near that ride for years.

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And we rode the Spin n’ Barf…er…Teacups. Here’s Uncle Steven photobombing, well, himself really. I was trying to take his picture too.

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And I made Emily take a picture with me in the spot where I proposed in 1998. (Hi, have we met? I’m a cheeseball.)

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In the end, we hated to leave, just like we always do.

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But everybody has to go home some time, and this was our time. So we packed up the car, waved goodbye to Disneyland, and, after a quick carwash, headed home.

TRAVELING WITH THE KIDS TIP #18: The carwash is your friend. Take a few minutes after getting gas somewhere with a carwash to actually drive through it. It can be in the middle of your trip, or toward the end. It doesn’t matter. It’s not just a good idea to get all the road crap off the car once in a while, it’s another cheap, low-pressure entertainment that the kids can enjoy and you don’t have to unbuckle them for.

Our grand Southwest Road Trip was over.

Until next time, Road.

Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip Part 5: Phoenix

This is Part 5 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, Part 2, on Las Vegas, here, Part 3, on Flagstaff, here, and Part 4, on the Grand Canyon, here.

We drove down from the mountains as the sun was setting, and made it to Phoenix before bedtime. Having been on the road for a few days, and with Phoenix being the midpoint of our trip (and a respite with family after much touristing), we took the opportunity to stock up on road trip/hotel supplies.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #13: Don’t overbuy. Unless you are going out into the desert for a week, there is probably going to be a Target somewhere on your route. Plan a mid-trip resupply instead of stuffing the car full of things you don’t need to be carting around with you. Also, a trip to the store in the middle of a road trip gives the kids a little anchor to the world. If your kids aren’t comfortable being away from home, then, as much as I hate to admit it, a place like Target is a little touch of familiar for them. It adds to the normal.

We dashed through a Target in Chandler (our “Phoenix” stop was really a “Chandler” stop, which probably means something to people in Arizona, but for convenience I’ve just been calling this part “Phoenix”. Sorry, Chandler.”)

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After crashing hard at our hotel (another corporate-y place with full breakfast; this one also had a little kitchen in the room, which we would make use of over the next few days), we awoke and went to do what the locals in Chandler do at 9am: We went to a make-your-own pizza party at Peter Piper’s Pizza.

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It was like a Chuck E. Cheese’s, with games and mouse warrens running along the walls. Our cousin, whom we were in town to visit, invited us along to her daughter’s daycare party. I don’t think kids are usually just allowed in the kitchen.

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And that’s how we found ourselves baking and eating pizza in the morning, in between air hockey games.

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In the afternoon we joined our cousin (Emily’s cousin) and her kids (Erin and Adrian’s second cousins, for those keeping score) back at their house. We wandered over to a playground in the development, which has a duck pond just off to the side. After getting bored with the playground, the kids explored the duck pond. We watched as Erin, ever the daredevil, got closer and closer to the edge of the grass. We told her if she got too close, she would fall in.

And then, because I’m like this, I kind of hoped she would fall in. She’s a good swimmer, and it was warm, and the water wasn’t deep or dangerous. So I felt like if anything was going to impart a little caution to her it would be to suffer the consequences of her own daring.

My wish was granted. I’m probably a bad father for enjoying it so much.

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Erin fell in the water, spun around, and clambered out again. She wasn’t upset, really. Shocked, yes. Very soaked. But she was very matter-of-fact about her escapade.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #14: Have a day bag handy with changes of clothes for the kids. You might think to yourself: “Of course they have a change of clothes! I brought a whole suitcase, didn’t I?” But those clothes don’t do any good back at the hotel, and you might be in unfamiliar territory when you need them.

We went back to our cousin’s house and Erin got cleaned up and changed. Adrian entertained himself by being a suburban scooter kid.

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We spent the next day at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. The first thing we did was sit around while Adrian made a little friend, and they bonded over said friend’s Octonaut toys.

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Then we explored the museum. Adrian did some painting with his cousin.

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And he did some crafting with his mom.

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And he rode a tricylce around and through a tunnel set up like a carwash.

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The kids ran through foam jungles and played in sized-down supermarkets and played with sand on light tables and slot cars and all manner else of children’s things.

And Erin tried to grow up. No motorcycles for you yet, kid.

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Later that night, not really knowing what else to do for dinner, we went back to Peter Piper’s Pizza. Not the same one. Apparently, it’s a chain.

We headed west on the 10 out of Phoenix the next morning, and almost immediately hit traffic. Was it all the hipsters driving to Coachella?

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No. About forty miles outside of Phoenix, a Fed Ex truck full of Zappos shoe boxes had been opened like a can of sardines by another truck. It was a sight. More impressive than the Grand Canyon, in some respects.

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We burned a lot of time sitting in that traffic, but we didn’t really have a place to be. We could take advantage of the little stops along the way. For instance, once we hit California after lunch, we stopped at Cabazon to see the dinosaurs.

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It’s the weirdest sort of road side attraction, and exactly what you need on a road trip: Dinosaurs, for no reason.

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TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #15: Be cheesy. If you are bored and annoyed at little delights, your kids will be also. If you are enthusiastic about them, your kids will be also. Kids can have as much fun sitting in front of a fake dinosaur in the middle of nowhere as they do riding roller coasters. Kids enjoy everything, as long as you let them.

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We were finally back in California, but our trip was not over. Next up, the icing on the cake: Disneyland.

Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip (Part 3): Flagstaff

This is Part 2 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, and Part 2, on Las Vegas, here.

We left the Las Vegas Strip just after lunch, and started making our way out of town. Before we had hit the city limit, though, Erin asked us to stop for an emergency bathroom break. We took an exit, drove into a gas station next to an In n’ Out, and I ran into the convenience store with Erin in tow only to be faced with an “Out of Order” sign on the bathroom.

“Khaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!”

We ran out of the store, and high-tailed it across the parking lot to the In n’ Out. And there, just to highlight the difference between California and Nevada for me, a man stood at the counter, ordering his Double-Double, with his pistol worn openly on his belt. That’s just a thing that’s going to happen, apparently.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #7: When you are on an interstate road trip, you will have lots of opportunities to not only talk about the things the kids see, but what makes the state you’re in different from, or similar to, your own state. When you are brushing up on the places you want to see on your trip, don’t forget to learn something about the more general history, geography, or culture of the state so you have something to share even when you aren’t looking straight at a landmark.

We finished our business at the In n’ Out, and returned to the gas station where Emily and Adrian had remained behind with the car. We saddled up, and took off on the 93 out of Nevada.

Our route took us past Hoover Dam, but for some reason we didn’t take a look as we were driving by. We kept on going, out of Boulder City, and into the Lake Mead Recreation Area on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. Suddenly, we were in a desert.

As we drove on and on, toward Kingman, we noticed something: we were low on gas. We were very low on gas. Somehow we had forgotten to fill up in Vegas before leaving the city, and we hadn’t even checked on the whole drive out of the state. Maybe it was the emergency stop at the gas station/In n’ Out that made us feel like we had filled up. Whatever the reason, we had no gas. The gas light was on.

I looked on my phone for nearby gas stations, and saw that there was one up ahead, about 40 miles. It was probably too far. I started having very panicked daydreams about running out of gas on the side of the road in the desert, and walking for miles to get to a station. Would I leave Emily and the kids with the car, where there would be shade, or bring them with me? How far could I walk on the water I had with me? Should I go onward, even deeper into Arizona, or turn back to Boulder City?

Thankfully, my daydreaming was interrupted by the appearance of a highway sign, promising gas at the next exit, one of the Lake Mead Recreation Area exits, Willow Beach Road. We took the exit and started driving along, looking for the gas station. We drove, and drove, and drove, deeper and deeper into the canyon the Colorado River cuts into the ground. I was holding out hope that there was a gas station at a ranger station nearby, but as we drove on I was despaired. The gas light wasn’t getting any less on, and the longer we drove down into the canyon, the more gas we wasted, and the more likely it seemed to us that we were going to get stuck. But now, instead of being stuck on the side of a major highway in the desert, we were going to be stuck on the side of a road to nowhere.

Finally, we saw the Willow Beach recreation area.

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We saw the lonely, lone, gas pump off to the side of the road, and pulled around to it, relieved, disaster averted.

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That was about the most adventure I can handle on a vacation. We drove back out of the canyon, up to the 93, and continued on to Kingman.

Things got a little boring. So here’s a picture of Emily eating a cracker.

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And here’s one of Erin passed out in the back seat, holding on to her giant stuffed pig.

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TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #8: Always keep some blankets within easy reach from the front seat. Even if it’s not cold, blankets are still useful for keeping the sun off the kids if you don’t have tinting, or a sunshade. Just remember to drape the kid, not the window. You don’t want to impair visibility while you’re driving.

Kingman, Arizona is where the 93 joins I-40, but it’s also where you switch over to Route 66 if you want to relive a bit of history. Route 66 loops north, through small towns like Peach Springs (one of the inspirations for Radiator Springs in Cars, and the main town on the Hualapai reservation), and eventually rejoins I-40 in Seligman. We weren’t sure how much extra time the loop would take (despite Sally’s lament that Radiator Springs was bypassed to save ten minutes of driving), so we stayed on I-40. But we did stop in Seligman to go to the Historic Route 66 General Store.

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This place was pretty interesting. Apart from all the souvenirs, it also had more general merchandise (hence “general store”), and in the back corner, it had this thing.

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When you got close to the sheriff there, he would launch into some audio-animatronic performance. It was very old-timey. It was also a little racist. During one of his speeches, he mentioned his “friend” in the other corner of the store, who doesn’t say much.

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The sheriff warned us, jovially, to watch out for our scalps. Hilarity.

We bought some souvenirs, and the kids wanted deer jerky so we bought them some deer jerky, then we sat on the wagon wheel benches out front to take some pictures.

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The remainder of our drive into Flagstaff was fairly uneventful. We saw lots of hills, then lots of trees, then a sign saying we were something like 7000 ft above sea level (we hadn’t even noticed the climb), then some signs for a place called “Bearizona”, which I appreciated because puns are always welcome.

When we got to Flagstaff, we checked in to our hotel room, then went looking for some place to eat. We went downtown, then walked around for a while looking at stores and restaurants, pondering our options. Finally, Emily had an epiphany and we went into the Grand Canyon tours office, which was still open, and asked the woman at the desk for a restaurant recommendation. She said that a place called Bigfoot Bar-B-Q was good, and great for kids because you could throw peanut shells on the floor.

It actually took some searching to find Bigfoot Bar-B-Q. It’s in a store, in the basement of a shopping gallery, and there’s no signage that we could see on the outside of the building that would suggest it was there at all. When I say it’s in a store, I mean it. On one side of a fence enclosure are some picnic tables, on the other side are women’s shirts on clothing racks.

They definitely had peanuts, and the kids totally loved throwing peanut shells on the floor.

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They also had giant slabs of ribs. (Not pictured: my salad. I swear to you, I ate a salad.)

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The best part, though, or at least the part the will stick out in our minds forevermore, was the baby cage.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #9: Take advantage of any unstructured time your kids can have without you driving them, moving them, telling them to eat, telling them to smile for the camera, telling them it’s time to go, telling them it’s time to go to sleep, telling them it’s time to wake up and get on the road again. Even a couple of minutes to yourself on a long road trip will recharge your batteries a little, and give you some extra patience for later.

Yes. The baby cage. It was just a play-pen area, with a TV tuned to Disney Jr. and some toys scattered about on a play mat. It was ten minutes of eating alone with Emily.

Thanks, Bigfoot Bar-B-Q.

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We returned to the hotel and passed out, eventually. We had to get to sleep, because the next day we set out for the Grand Canyon.