Petrified Forest National Park + A Horrific Night in Holbrook

The day after Christmas, we embarked on a road trip that would take us to Petrified Forest National Park, Santa Fe, and Sedona.  It was a lot of driving, but we thought we were up for the challenge.  I had a little scare when I checked the weather forecast one week before and there was a snow storm expected in New Mexico.  Luckily, the forecast cleared up and we were good to go in our Mazda3 Hatch.


During most of the first leg of our drive we were on Highway 40.  The creation of this highway made Route 66 obsolete in many places, as documented in the movie Cars.  However, a lot of Route 66 nostalgia lives on in the small towns and stores that have managed to survive.  We stopped at this Route 66 General Store to get gas.


For some reason, D felt the need to buy Elk Jerky.  Don’t ask.


We drove about twenty five miles past Holbrook, Arizona to reach Petrified Forest National Park.  This was exciting because it is the twentieth National Park that the kids have visited.  In retrospect, I should have had them each hold up ten fingers to commemorate the number.  Oh well.


Our plan was to enter the park through the northern station and explore the Painted Desert area.  We would save the southern section for the next morning.


D has not switched to dabbing yet!


We hiked the Painted Desert Rim Trail, which is one mile round trip.


We made it to the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark just before it closed at 4 p.m.


What a view!


The back side.



A raven, I think.


A mini rainbow.



The road less traveled.



The kids received fitness monitoring watches for Christmas.  After sitting in the car all day, they were anxious to get their steps in by moving their arms.


When a friendly woman offered to take our family’s picture, she had to tell n, “Honey, you have to stop moving your arms!”


The Painted Desert is certainly an apt name for this area.


The clouds were crazy on our way back to Holbrook.  We had a reservation at Days Inn.


I thought the room was ok, especially given the cheap rate.  The pillow formation cracked me up, though.  D was not impressed.


We ate dinner at a restaurant in town that seemed to be frequented by locals.

Despite the positive Yelp reviews, the wait was excruciating and they ran out of some key ingredients, such as chicken and shredded beef.  D and I ordered a couple of dishes with green chile, since that is the popular dish around that area.  (The kids stuck to the Navajo taco).  We thought the food was pretty good and also had a sopapilla for dessert.

Well…fast forward to about midnight and D was not feeling well.  He managed to go back to sleep, but by 2:30 a.m. he was throwing up.  I followed suit about a half hour later and continued about four times after that, into the morning.  (Sorry if that is TMI).  That was the worst night I have ever had while on vacation!  Was it food poisoning? Altitude sickness?  I am just grateful that the kids were not affected!



Continue Reading

Great Basin National Park


The road to Great Basin National Park is a lonely one.  The good thing is that the speed limit is 80 mph and there is hardly anyone else (or anything) around.  However, this would be a really bad place for your car to break down, especially with the hot weather!

The plan was to camp for our first night.  I was somewhat apprehensive since Great Basin does not take reservations for its sites—first come; first served.  I tried to reassure myself with the statistics that this is one of the least visited national parks.  I should have known better when I called to make reservations for the Lehman Caves tour the day before we left and it was sold out!


We arrived at the visitor center and watched the overview movie.  Then we headed straight to the Lower Lehman to look for a campsite.  No luck.  Next we went to Upper Lehman…all taken.  I was getting nervous now, since the only other campsite I saw on the map was at Wheeler Peak, which is close to 10,000 feet above sea level!  We went back to the Visitor Center and asked the ranger about other options.  He told us that he was pretty sure Wheeler Peak would be full (which we did not want to do anyway), but advised us about the Grey Cliffs Group Camping sites.  On the map it is labeled as group camping only, reservations required.  The secret is that in Loop A, there are sites that are designated as “overflow camping”, no reservations required.  We said some prayers, and found one of the last two spots available.  I think that by this time it was still before 3 p.m.!  So, if you are visiting on a summer weekend, be prepared to arrive early to secure a spot.  Arriving on a Saturday was also more difficult since many people arrived on Friday and stayed for two nights. 

The one upside was that the site only cost $6!  The downside was that there were only vault toilets, no running water, and TONS of flies.  We had to eat our cup o’noodles in the car, which was hot, because swarms of flies would follow us wherever we went outside.  However, the fact that we were even able to secure a campsite made me appreciate what we had. 


Before our dinner in the car, we returned to the visitor center yet again to go to the small café to try their “famous” ice cream sandwiches.  Another letdown…they ran out!  So, we settled for two scoops of ice cream and a root beer float.


This is what happens when you can’t decide between a cup and a cone.


The amount of root beer was small, but they offered us a free refill on the root beer.


Afterward, we took a short .3 mile Mountain View Nature Trail hike in the back of the Visitor Center.  Yes, we were ill-prepared with the kids still in their flip-flops, but we were too lazy/hot to go back to the car again!




Next, we drove up Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to Wheeler Peak and walked through a .4 mile trail.


Thankfully, it was much cooler at the top of the mountain.


These rubber mats were nice for walking on the trail.



Coming back down the mountain to our campsite.


Continue Reading

Pinnacles National Park

During spring break, we were able to check another national park off of our to-see list: Pinnacles. This is the newest park to achieve national park status. There are two entrances, and there is no road connecting the two. We used the west entrance, accessible from Soledad off the 101 highway. The road is one lane for the majority of the time, but luckily, it was not too busy.
We stopped by the visitor center and watched the short movie. This was the smallest “theater” we have seen in a national park.
We ate lunch near the trailhead and saw a snake at one of the other picnic benches. (No picture).
Next, we embarked on the Balconies Cliffs Cave Loop, which is 2.4 miles round trip. When I asked the park ranger whether it was suitable for kids, he assured me that “kids love it”.
Dry river bed–how sad.
This is where things started to get hairy. P1010934P1010935P1010937
Although we had flashlights and head lamps, as modeled by D, the cave was quite dark, narrow and steep. I do not even have pictures of the scariest parts because I had to put away my camera for safety. D had to carry n for some parts because the rocks were too large to scale. It was also difficult to see how much further we had to go, so I asked D if he thought we should turn back. Usually when I do this, D insists we forge on, but this time he agreed with me! So, we did not do the loop, but traced our way back to the beginning. I’m not sure why the ranger would recommend this trail for kids our age. I also would not recommend it for older people who are unsteady on their feet or larger people (as there are some places where you really have to squeeze to get through). P1010938P1010939P1010942P1010944
The rest of the trail was quite pretty, so I did not mind hiking it twice. This may upset some people, but I am not quite sure that Pinnacles “deserves” to be a national park. To me, national parks need to be spectacular, and this one did not quite meet the mark (although we did not see all of it, of course, so maybe I should reserve my judgment).

Continue Reading

Sequoia National Park: Moro Rock

On Friday morning we drove to the Lodgepole Visitors Center and k and n met with a park ranger to earn their junior ranger badges.

She was very thorough—I think because no one else was waiting in line.  Smile  k and n have now been to eight national parks.

Next, we bought tickets to the Wolverton Barbecue for later that night at the Lodgepole Market.

We ordered breakfast at the adjacent Lodgepole Café: eggs with potato and sausage and a breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, potatoes and bacon.  The food prices were quite reasonable, especially for a remote location such as this.  Each of these items was $4.  I also bought a yogurt from the market for $1.

After breakfast we rode the shuttle to Moro Rock.

Riding the optional shuttle does involve some added waiting time.  However, not having to worry about directions/parking/driving on winding roads makes it worthwhile, in my opinion.


There is also the added benefit of being able to nap!

Hiking to Moro Rock involves climbing more than 350 steps. 

We saw some lizards on the way up.

There was a family just ahead of us where the mom stayed behind because she was afraid of heights.  I think we were at about this point when the dad and the two kids (older than k and n) turned around and started walking back down because the dad said it was starting to look “sketchy”.  I think this motivated us even more to keep going so we could make it to the top!

We made it!

Taking a beef jerky break.

Continue Reading

Kings Canyon National Park—General Grant

We just returned from a whirlwind trip through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  We left early Thursday morning and arrived at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center after 10 a.m. 

Having been to several national parks with the kids now, we have established a “routine”.  We pick up the junior ranger booklets first thing, and then watch the visitor center’s movie.  This gives us a good overview of what to expect.  I also make sure to stamp my National Park passport.

We also take a picture with the entrance sign.  Unfortunately, we were unable to take one with the Sequoia sign.

Our first hike was the General Grant Tree Trail.

One of the first of many “big tree” sightings.

Fallen Monarch

I think walking through the trunk gave the kids some perspective as to how large these trees are.

The log had a “window”.

Gamlin Cabin—VERY dusty!

And the star of the show…the General Grant Tree, aka America’s Christmas Tree

You have to stand far back in order to take a picture of the entire tree!


More sequoia tree families.

Continue Reading

Grand Canyon—Mather Point, Yavapai Museum and Trail of Time

In our quest to visit as many national parks as we can, we decided to go to the Grand Canyon during k’s spring break.  My parents (aka Baba and Zaza) also went, as they had never been before.  (D went when he was a kid with his parents).


We left early, just after 5 a.m. and drove about seven hours.  I had promised the kids that they could watch Frozen on our portable DVD player, but the cord broke!  They kept themselves busy by looking for car makes and state license plates.


As expected, there was a line at the gate.  Actually, there were multiple lines.  It felt like Disneyland!


After finding a parking spot (no easy feat!), we met my parents at the Visitors Center.  Unfortunately, the Visitors Center’s movie was broken, so we were not able to watch it.  Instead, we walked to nearby Mather Point to get our first glimpse of the canyon.


I felt dizzy just looking down, which is a distance of about one mile.


It was very crowded, as you can see.



Then, we followed the trail to Yavapai Geology Museum.


I thought this would be a nice place to hang out, but it was crowded and stuffy. 


It was nice to have more family shots since we had built in photographers.  Smile


The park does not sell water bottles, but has various filling stations to encourage you to use your own reusable bottles. 


Enjoying the view.


Next, we walked part of the Trail of Time, which is adjacent to the museum. 



Afterward, we sat in on a Ranger Program about geology in order to fulfill the kids’ junior ranger requirement. 

Continue Reading