Last week was the first road trip of the rest of our lives, I'm telling you. The first trip we've taken as a family where the journey was as important as the destination (you can't really find that on a plane, unless you're upgraded to first class in which case the journey may be better than the destination depending on where you're going, but I digress).
Here are some glimpses from the road:
Day One: We leave the Bay Area mid-afternoon and head for San Luis Obispo, where we stay at the world-famous Madonna Inn. When we stayed there a few years ago, I was struck by how the entire hotel and the restaurants are decorated exactly as I would have done them, had someone asked me to decorate a hotel and a couple of restaurants when I was seven years old. No detail is overlooked--every surface that can be painted gold, covered in satin/flocked/metallic wallpaper, hung with a mirror, scattered with roses, or ornamented with a cherub, is. It is completely tacky, beyond over the top, and one of my favorite places on earth.
Day Two: After an okay night's sleep (given that our children generally don't sleep if they're not in their own beds, so ask me again why we persist in traveling so often?), and a good breakfast, we work our way down to Pismo Beach to visit the little eucalyptus grove where all the monarch butterflies west of the Rockies like to come spend their winters. This may have been one of the most amazing things I've ever seen: you look up and see a few scattered orange wings flapping around, nice but no big deal, and then the realization dawns on you that the thousands, tens of thousands of little brown leaves you think you're seeing on those branches are actually resting monarchs, wings closed. Breathtaking.
And then we head east, kicking it old school with a cooler full of picnic snacks, planning to stay wherever we were when we felt like stopping. And where that was, was Joshua Tree. We stay at the Joshua Tree Inn (and thus I checked another "to do" off my lifetime list--it's famous in part for being where Gram Parsons was staying when he died in 1973), soaked in the incredible hippie-mystic vibes, and reveled in our good fortune and timing. We later discover we missed by half an hour a college buddy of Dug's, Chris, who spends every weekend rock climbing in the national park.
Day Three: Morning in Joshua Tree is more beautiful than I know how to describe--perfect sky, perfect sun, perfect calm. We make plans to come back through on our way home and visit with Dug's friend before visiting the park itself for a quickish hike in and out of the Hidden Valley. Then, a long and winding drive through the park itself, which may be the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life.
We arrive at Grammy's in time for dinner, which, I don't even remember what we had or what we talked about, just that two little girls were as happy to see her as she was to see them.
Day Four: We go on a new-shoes quest. The sneakers I packed for Maggie, she'd outgrown in the week since she'd last worn them. And the other shoes I brought for the girls, well, they chose this trip to start stinking like dead fish. . Two pairs of little Crocs later, no more stinky little feet.
That night Dug and I go out to see a few bands and learn a valuable lesson: the new days are better than the old days. At least for us, I guess. So that was good to know. The evening is saved from being completely depressing by running into a few people who are happy, well-adjusted, and looked terrific (thank goodness for them).
Day Five/Turkey Day: We eat, we race over to my aunt and uncle's for some cameraderie and the obligatory "Come into our garage and take whatever you want, we are forever trying to get rid of crap so we can go buy more crap" (which I love), and Maggie's first experience with a dune buggy. Then, Dug and I bail on the kids and escape for our first trip together alone since Molly was born.
Driving up to the Greer Lodge is maybe the longest drive of my life, and boring because it's dark, and terrifying because we have to twist and turn through a canyon to get there. But when we get there, it was warm and cute and there was a jacuzzi tub. So, okay then.
Day Six: Was just fine, thanks.
Day Seven: We drive back down (again with the canyon! Although this time I discover that the rest stop on one end of the canyon bridge not only has composting toilets, hurray for them, but also jewelry vendors, hurray for me!) to gather up the kids and head back to Joshua Tree, a long but not too bad drive. We dine exquisitely at the Crossroads Cafe with Chris and his climbing partner, and we sleep hard at the Joshua Tree Inn.
The inn puts out a really great breakfast spread--healthy cereals, yogurt, breads and muffins, various spreads, coffee and juice. We eat outside in the beautiful, beautiful desert morning.
Then we drive home, taking a detour down Route 66 here and a cruise through the hills there, stopping for dinner in Paso Robles before shooting up 101 north to home.