This past year was the most road-trip-filled year we’ve ever had. I’ll leave some of the smaller ones for another day, and share the highlights of the two biggest ones we attempted.
Starting at our home base in Raleigh, North Carolina, the kids and I decided to drive up the east coast to Union, Maine to visit my parents at their new home there. On the way, we stopped first at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Although we spent the entire day at this wonderful place and did everything from musket training to an archaeological dig, there was so much more we didn’t get to see or do. We will definitely be back here again, and will try to spend more time visiting the Jamestown settlement as well. Colonial Williamsburg truly makes history come to life for children and adults.
We had planned to stop by Assateague beach and see the wild horses, but the holiday traffic was horrible and so we opted to drive straight through to Manhattan for the 4th of July. Using hotel points, we snagged a hotel room a block from Times Square, and as soon as we dropped our bags in the room, it was time to explore. Times Square seems like a completely different place than it was the first time I visited New York in 2001. Back then it was still insanely packed with people, but the vendors were more on the seedy side…selling things like borderline obscene t-shirts, photocopied packets of”100 sex positions for 99 cents!” and questionable medicinal substances. It has a theme park feel to it now, with every cartoon character and super hero under the sun walking around looking for kids and families to pose for pictures with, for a small fee of course. Since it was the 4th of July, we gave in and posed with a sassy statue of liberty, and then avoided eye contact with all of the other characters until we escaped the main area.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the city for hours. The kids were very enthusiastic about taking a real subway ride for the first time, so we made sure to fit that in as well. Purely by accident as we were walking around looking for a place to stop for lunch, we stumbled upon the World Trade Center Memorial. The last time I was here was 1.5 weeks after the towers fell…smoke and rubble everywhere, a stench in the dust clogged air, and the skeleton of a building towering over the street. Very powerful to be back here 14 years later.
The final stop on our whirlwind two days in Manhattan was at FAO Schwarz, the iconic toy store. Skye, Claire and Flynn found renewed energy as soon as we passed through the doors and had a blast singing karaoke, learning magic tricks, and dancing on the floor piano. That’s in addition to the massive selection of toys to admire and a separate area filled with every kind of candy imaginable.
We finished off our stop with some Japanese ramen and ice cream, and then back in the van for the final push up to Maine! It was wonderful visiting my parents and seeing their new home, and the kids enjoyed riding in the tractor and learning to sew with their grandparents. We also got to go to the Lobster Pound to pick out some tasty local lobsters for a feast.
A few weeks after we returned home (in a crazy marathon 15 hours of driving!) it was time to finish packing up our house and move out to California. Jason’s job had relocated to a town in the middle of the Mojave desert in Southern California, and the kids and I decided to turn the move out into a fun cross-country road trip.
The van was packed up and loaded with car activities, movies, and books, and we said goodbye to our home in North Carolina and headed south to Destin, Florida. Destin is another former home of ours, and Jason’s parents, sister, and niece and nephew live there still. We spent the first few days of our trip hanging out on the crystal white sand beaches the town is known for and on the last day decided to attempt paddle boarding. It was hilarious fun watching the kids try to stay up on their boards by the shore. We paddled out to Crab Island, and after Jason’s sister was stung by a jellyfish we attempted to paddle back. Unfortunately, the current picked up and we couldn’t seem to make progress towards the shore…I had Flynn and Claire on my board, and was basically towing Skye and her cousin on another. No matter how hard I paddled, I wasn’t getting any closer. Thankfully, a pontoon boat full of summer partiers spotted us in our comical situation and picked us up. They brought us all the way back to the beach and we were very thankful!
Next up was a two day stop in New Orleans. It was SO difficult to choose which activities to do while we were there, but we decided to visit Mardi Gras World and take a cemetery tour. Mardi Gras World was a feast for the eyes…a huge warehouse stuffed with colorful floats and sculptures, and an informative tour about the parade, its traditions, and details about how the floats are crafted. A piece of King Cake is included in the admission price!
The next day, we booked a tour at St. Louis Cemetery. On the phone, the operator claimed the tour was kid-friendly, but that was not the case. A slow, soft spoken discussion of the history and architecture by the guide and stops every few feet were not particularly engaging for the little ones. The highlight though, was a stop at Marie Laveau’s tomb. The stories of the “Voodoo Queen” were very interesting, and tied in with a stop we made later at the voodoo shop on Bourbon St. We ended up ducking out of the tour early, and it was a fortunate choice, as the low dark clouds in the sky opened up on the way home, drenching the city just as we got to our room.
A long haul drive from New Orleans brought us to Glen Rose, TX. There we entered Dinosaur Valley State Park, and had an amazing day. A short hike down to the river revealed dinosaur tracks preserved in the stone. Big round apatosaur-like prints and three toed carnivore tracks. It was so neat…I think I was more excited than the kids! Right down the road from the tracks, we stopped at Dinosaur World, where we played “Herbivore or Carnivore” and dug for fossils.
At this point, we were over halfway there and packing more miles into each day. Next on the list was White Sands National Monument, a beautiful park in New Mexico filled with miles of white gypsum sand dunes, the perfect place to go sand sledding!
One last stop before the last stretch through the mountains to California was the enormous meteor crater near Flagstaff Arizona. A breathtaking site, the crater rises out of the ground in the middle of the flat desert. There is a small museum there with great history and interactive presentations. But the best part was just stepping out on the bowl of the crater and imagining the power and destruction that blasted this quiet region so many years ago.
We made it safely to our new house in Palmdale, and are looking forward to these few years in California and all of the exploring we’ll get to do on the west coast. For now, until we move again, we will enjoy the joshua trees in our new desert home.