Highs and Lows

The trip got off to a pretty rough start between crushing my phone, not leaving on time, a migraine, and a storm in west Texas, but things were looking way up after magical Santa Fe, visiting friends in Colorado and having the time of our lives in Utah.  Then there was Arizona. And thus the trend of Ups and Downs continued.

There’s a lot of beauty in Arizona if you know where to look, but if you want to see the best of it, you’re going to be hiking pretty intense hikes to these remote spots. It’s too much in the August heat with such young ones, so all we planned to see in Arizona was the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I didn’t even want to spend the night there since we’d been spending extra nights here and there. I wanted to see the north rim and then drive through the night to California.

Probably the most stressful aspect of the trip was the mental burden of being constantly aware of the physical and emotional wellbeing of so many pets and children. We wanted to go as far and see as much as we could in order to make all the time, effort, and money worthwhile. I also wanted to push them to certain limits of discomfort, boredom, and exhaustion because there is no other way to instill fortitude in a person than to expose them to difficult conditions and support them in powering through. This is one reason we didn’t bring any tablets on the trip. On the other hand, children are not made to sit still for six hours a day. They do need restorative sleep. And they were already under a fair amount of emotional stress with their dad being deployed. The trip was more for me than them, but I had no doubt that they would benefit from it. There’s a lot of re evaluation and self doubt as a parent when you’re asking yourself “am I presenting them with age appropriate challenges, or am I pushing them too far because I want to do this?”

So the kids and pets were still doing great this far, a week into our adventure. But the further we got from home I began to anticipate that we’d hit a wall and burn out sooner rather than later, and my concern was the misery that would be getting home from so far away, through a route we’d already taken, let down and disappointed. This is where I found the balance between “wow this is such a great place, lets stay here another day or two” and “I’m antsy, lets get back on the road.” I think for the most part it helped us spend the appropriate amount of time in each place, but in Arizona, I was particularly antsy to get a move on.
But Arizona didn’t let go so easily.

One minute, we were driving through a vast, remote, completely uninhabited part of the painted desert, full of hope and excitement for the Grand Canyon, and the next minute Brooke is saying the trailer is pulling funny. We started to look for a shoulder to pull off the road, but before we found one Brooke’s kid was yelling from the back “there goes a wheel!” and sure enough, one of the trailer wheels was bouncing across the highway, over a barbed wire fence, and presumably squarely into a rattlesnake nest. I felt a little panicky but Brooke is a rancher with lots of experience changing tires on various farm equipment. To make me feel useful she had me help her change the tire, but we were unable to get it on correctly. It was bent and wouldn’t tighten all the way. I’m not sure what the technical terms are but our ish was ALL jacked up. We had no cell service and had no choice but to limp to a tire shop two hours away.


We finally made it to the nearest town, then it was another 15 minutes beyond the town to a lone tire shop in the desert which could only be distinguished from a junkyard because there as a large tire attached to the sign. Nobody had answered the phone so we just drove in hoping for the best and were greeted by a junkyard dog. We both got out of the car and I calmed the dog down while Brooke looked around for a some help. (Brooke isn’t big on scary dogs, so being a dog whisperer was my one great contribution to the trip) Finally a young man came out and we told him our dilemma. He told us to back it up and he’d take a look. He told us it was his father-in-law’s place, and he couldn’t give us a quote til he spoke with him, but since we were stuck there waiting he asked us to pop up the camper because he felt like he could fix where one of the arms was loose. So we popped it up, and really had no choice but to just leave it there. He assured us he’d call us when he knew something.


Pretty defeated, we went back to the little town of Kayenta to get a hotel. There’s nothing in Kayenta. Walmart, McDonald’s, a park, two gas stations, and three hotels. That’s the whole town. It’s hours away from the Grand Canyon and not even all that close to Monument Valley. There’s just no reason anyone on earth would be in this dusty little town on purpose so we did not anticipate struggling to find a hotel room. But struggle we did. We went to the first crappy looking hotel and it was $200 a night, per room, and we’d need two rooms. Yeah, that wasn’t happening. We went to the second crappy hotel. No vacancy. Third crappy hotel, also no vacancy. Turns out, option number one was happening.

I found out that the reason the hotel prices were jacked up so high was because in August, every European in Europe takes a holiday, and the Great American West is a very popular tourist destination. In my experience, europeans have a fascination with the cowboys and Indians/Old West stereotypes and they wind up in random places in Arizona where they rent RVs they have NO business driving. Despite my teasing I do love europeans, even the French. Perhaps especially the French.  And I’d live in Europe again in a heartbeat. Anyway.

We tried to make the best of our time there. Brooke and the kids swam (where, as Brooke says, they encountered ALL THE EUROPEANS in their speedos) and we did laundry, played cards, and watched movies. Unfortunately the air conditioner in my room didn’t work, and we’d taken the last two rooms. The front desk sent maintenance to help me out, but he just knocked on the door and said I was out of luck. I mentioned it at checkout, because honestly $200 is a lot of money in a place that gets up to 115 degrees, and we slept miserably.  I was given the “uh huh. Likely story. Funny you didn’t mention it yesterday if there was a problem” treatment, to which I responded that I did in fact mention it. She made three phone calls to verify my story, absolutelly certain I was lying. Then with a heavy, annoyed sigh, she knocked $150 off the bill.

After camping in the wilderness during an intense electrical storm, encountering bears in Colorado, changing a tire in the desert, this is the thing that made Brooke exclaim in delight that “We’re like Girl Scouts!” Ramen in a hotel coffee maker. Yes. This is the impressive feat that makes us innovative and adaptable. Not the other things.

The next morning we were contacted by the tire shop. They needed some items from the auto parts store in town, so Brooke dropped me off at the park with the kids and pets and took the parts out to the shop. She came back to get us and we ate lunch at the McDonalds where, as Brooke put it, we encountered any Europeans we may have missed at the pool, and then we went to sit in the heat at the junkyard/tire shop hoping that our anxious stares would hurry them along. The man who was doing most of the work was the son-in-law of the shop owner. The owner was a stern, elderly man who only spoke Navajo and it was quite evident his son-in-law was terrified of him. He seemed to be struggling to learn the family business, which we later found out was because he’s a freaking graphic designer. In the end, it was all taking so long that Brooke said “ok, listen, just give me the tools I’ll put the tire back on myself we don’t have time for this.” and thats exactly what she did. He wasn’t able to completely repair the loose arms on the camper, but he did give us some bailing wire which helped us keep things secure and he did tighten up some things for us. We were probably overcharged, but we didn’t have any options, and we were just glad to be out of there. All in all, between hotels, food, parts, gas and service we probably spent $500 and an entire 24 hours in a town we had zero desire to be in. Sort of took the wind out of my sails.

Brooke does the dang thing
Maggie Mayhem in her baby bonnet, waiting at the tire shop. Just because.

Finally, FINALLY we were on the road to the Grand Canyon. We were still a few hours out and we were really going to be racing daylight. If we didn’t make it in time, we’d have to spend another night in Arizona, and I was just really done with the state. So even though we usually took our time, we were booking it. We passed some really beautiful scenery, starting in the flat desert, gradually large rock formations and canyons, and then a startling shift into a forest of tall trees.

As we neared the Grand Canyon, it was almost sunset. We checked to find out what time the sun would set and we basically had 45 minutes of daylight left once we were 30 minutes away. We had to stop for gas at the entrance of the road that leads to the north rim.  As soon as we were back on the road I realized I had dropped my credit card somewhere in the gas station parking lot.  I chose not to turn around for it.

Margaret, the one year old, became very fussy at this point. Normally, she could be entertained by whichever child was sitting next to her. They’d sing her songs and feed her freeze dried strawberries. Then she’d nap for an hour, then we’d get out and take a break before starting all over. I was never willing to leave her strapped in once she became very agitated. It’s a lot of driving for a baby. But just this once…we were so close. And none of us wanted to stay the night there. We wanted to use that night for driving. So she cried. Hard. For about thirty minutes. Inconsolable. I’m very much an attentive, attachment parent type so not stopping to comfort her was against all of my instincts and the entire ordeal was probably way more scarring for me than for her. When we were almost there I spotted a wild bison which was actually really magical despite the heartwrenching situation. I’ve seen bison farms a hundred times but there’s something about seeing one of your favorite animals in the wild.

I know it doesn’t look like a bison. But it is. So.

We got to the rim and parked. I got poor, distraught Margaret out of the car and found that her diaper had leaked, and she’d been sitting in it, so uncomfortable and I lost it. I just started crying. In hindsight, it seems crazy to react that way. Baby is sad for thirty minutes, goes a few minutes without a fresh diaper. Worse thing have happened. I know. But I was exhausted, and stressed, and we weren’t having fun in our dash to have fun. I started asking myself “why the hell did I drag my kids out here? What am I doing? Is this worth it? Is Maggie paying the price? Is it too much? Am I being a selfish crazy person?” Brooke knows me well so she decided to give me a minute to get my ish together. She took her daughter, and my other three, carrying my four year old on her shoulders to go enjoy the scenery while I pulled myself together. And I did. And then we got to watch the sun set on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We were in awe and without words. It was so beautiful and Maggie was happy as a lark in her fresh clothes, toddling around the path. After it got dark we stayed quite a while because the opposite rim of the canyon was all engulfed in a wildfire and it was sort of a surreal thing to watch. We wanted to walk to dogs and cat for a long time, and make sure they were fed and watered and happy. I nursed Margaret for a long time, we all had a snack, and then we were ready to go. And we got back in the car and she slept peacefully as we headed west. In the dark, we pulled back into the now-closed gas station and, for the second time in Arizona, I had to distract and calm an enormous snarling dog. This one was cornering a group of terrified europeans as they tried to walk to their hotel from their car. While I was rescuing the Germans, Brooke found my credit card on the ground. Every now and then, I catch a break.

I decided that I still felt like we were doing the right thing, but resolved to be more intentional about taking it literally one day at a time, and not worry about burn out til it happened. I resolved to never ignore my maternal instincts for the duration of the trip, because nothing was worth the stress on me, or the baby. But the kids were renewed, and high on the beauty of the Grand Canyon, and there was no question that we were all ready for the next adventure: California.


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