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Ode to the Great American Road Trip

Car packed for a road trip in California #minivanlife

With life returning to a new normal as Covid19 becomes more endemic and regional restrictions ease up, more folks are heading out on vacations. Some families are taking vacations that had been postponed as a result of the pandemic, while others are embracing a slower pace of life. Regardless, it is estimated that travel will be up this summer, with many Americans hitting the road as the preferred mode of travel. This is even as gas prices are on the rise; indeed, here in Southern California fuel is up over $6 per gallon. It costs me over $100 to fill up my minivan, and still the girls and I have logged over 1500 miles visiting national parks in the past two months. I feel it is worth it to be able to explore the parks together and create memories that will hopefully last our lifetimes. At time of publishing, we are en route to the southern Utah national parks via Arizona to celebrate the end of another school year and get some much-needed vacation time, and there’s no better way to get there than enjoying time in the car with family.

There is something ingrained in the American culture when it comes to hitting the open road. While the automobile was not first invented in the U.S., mass production and affordability were the results of Henry Ford’s designs. Road travel exploded following World War II, and what emerged in the 1940s and 1950s as a result of the building of interstates and other infrastructure along with more families being able to purchase cars, was the road-tripping culture often romanticized in movies and other media. Even as air travel became more inexpensive and reliable (most of the time anyway), families still opt to travel by automobile, and after a decline in the 1990s and early 2000s, more people are opting to get back on the road, with the pandemic and social media driving the increase. But before it was cool again, my parents were among those who embraced the family road trip- #sedanlife.

My dad especially enjoyed getting in the car and exploring. Whether it was an impromptu adventure to find tide pools along the Southern California shore or criss-crossing the country in the Buick, Dad loved to drive. Many of the vacations we took when I was a small child living in the South and Midwest were road trips. From where we lived in Georgia through the Southern states up to Tennessee, we visited various landmarks and tourist traps along the way, including Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate. We would also make the trek between Augusta and the Chicago suburbs to visit family, traversing the states in between.

Me and Pop- after he kept me from falling off the Grand Canyon

We took our fateful trip to California after moving to Indiana. We went from Indianapolis to Illinois and eventually made our way through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona- spending more time at the Grand Canyon than planned because of how grand it truly is. We stopped in Las Vegas, among other places, and ended up in California to visit Disneyland and San Diego, as listed on many top ten visitor lists. By the time I entered kindergarten, I had been to 25 states and Mexico. Some of these trips I was too young to remember; the proof is now in photos and the stories my mom tells now with fondness. But some live on not just in the VHS my dad made of the trip, but in my memory, a beautiful collection of random moments- playing on a playground in the middle of nowhere in the Southwestern U.S., watching the scenery change as we crossed into different states, meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time, and being mad at my mom for not allowing me to play in the touch pools at Sea World back in the day. And as I got older, I learned to appreciate those moments, and the time spent with my family. Even as a high school senior, I loved when we drove up to Northern California and back to check out U.C. Santa Cruz and turn in my admissions paperwork. It was a wonderful time spent with my dad, sister, and bestie, and I’ll always remember seeing the redwoods for the first time on the UCSC campus, getting stuck on Highway 1 just south of Big Sur because of a landslide, and singing along to Dad’s hootenanny cassette tape playing on the rental car’s stereo. Even more so, I’ll remember Dad talking me through those important decisions regarding college and life.

I hoped to pass this love of adventure to my own family after becoming a parent, and dreamed of the adventures that I could share with my future children, maybe even imparting some parental wisdom while in the car. While not all of our trips have been smooth, and sometimes car conversations turned into passionate debates or serious heart-to-heart talks, I have been wonderfully blessed to be able to take the kids on various road trips throughout their growing-up years, even bringing my parents and youngest sister on a trek to Canada in 2004 when Jacob and Emily were still tiny- making the drive through the gorgeous scenery of Shasta, stopping for Denny’s just outside Seattle, and getting stopped at the Canadian border- adventures shared with family which turned into funny stories years later. Cherished times that remain with us, even after our loved one has passed on.

Perhaps one of my favorite vacations as a young family of 6 was back in 2012, a holiday that took us through the southwestern states as we headed up to southern Colorado for a 10-day vacation. We made a stop in Flagstaff, Arizona on the way to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. After spending the night in Flagstaff, we headed east on U.S. 160, stopping in the literal middle of nowhere outside of Tuba City to check out the Moenave Dinosaur Tracks, after seeing a makeshift sign on the road. Curiosity lead us to these well-preserved, ancient trace fossils, artifacts that have been verified by scientists from Northern Arizona University. The tracks are located on Navajo land, and while we were not obligated to pay for a tour, we did, as it is a source of income for those working there. It was a really cool experience walking in the tracks of animals who had lived so many years before us. After touring the tracks, we continued east on Highway 160 to Four Corners.

The point where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet was a bit disappointing, especially since we had to pay to park and there isn’t much around to justify a trip on its own. That said, it was fun to be able to get a photo of our four children each in four different states- though I did have to hold Sami to keep her in New Mexico. And while in Pagosa Springs, we were able to drive up Wolf Creek Pass on the Great Divide, inspired by an old country trucking song by W.C. McCall. It was so random, I know, but I had listened to that song with my dad while in the car on day trips. These side excursions would not have been possible had we not been in a vehicle making the trip. While there are trips that should be taken by air either because of time constraints or literal barriers to road travel, such as oceans, we’ve had so many vacations where we have been able to explore more because we were in a car with the freedom and flexibility to stop and enjoy a new place.

Girl’s trip to Yosemite with Owen

I’ve loved the adventures we’ve taken so far as a family- both in my family of origin and the family I have now, including and especially the recent treks with Owen. I hope that the kids will have many fun memories of our journeys together. We learn so much- about nature, about ourselves, and about life- while on the road and spending time together, conversing together, doing life together- and I hope that they will carry these memories with them as they grow. Because the road is long, literally and figuratively, but time goes by so quickly, and love is an adventure meant to be shared.

I’ll be sharing more of our trek through Arizona and Utah as we go. Here’s to a wonderful and relaxing summer 2022. Happy trails!

Next stop, Sedona!

Sami and Owen on a day trip in Joshua Tree, California

For more information, check out:
Four Corners, Utah

Source material:
Ellen Edmonds Manager, Edmonds, E., Manager, & 407-444-8011. (2022, May 16). The heat is on: Memorial day forecast points to Sizzlin’ Summer Travel. AAA Newsroom. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from

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