Before I ever visited Palm Springs, California I had envisioned it to be stuck in the 1960’s. I had thoughts of old cars with “fins” riding up and down the palm tree-lined streets. I assumed that every home was painted pink or neon green (or both). And, that the sounds of Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin were heard on stereos everywhere you turned.
You know what? I wasn’t that far off with my “visions”. You see Palm Springs is a quirky city. Parts of it are hipster 2022 while much of it seems stuck in the decade of Marilyn Monroe. In fact, the streets are often named after presidents who lived or vacationed in the area or mega-watt celebrities of past eras. And… I love it!
If you decide to visit Palm Springs (or are returning) – here are some tips on how to maximize the fun factor.
We stayed at the Shadow Ridge Resort in the Palm Desert/ Rancho Mirage area, a Marriott property. This is a timeshare resort that offers apartments, when available. You can always trust that a Marriott will be top-notch with quality amenities – like golf, pool, spa, and more. For more information go here.
(Plus, many more suggestions below)
This place is actually 45 minutes or so outside of Palm Springs. Known for being an old movie set converted to part artist colony and part honky tonk village – Pioneertown is sure to please most people. Please note that there is a lot of sand in Pioneertown. This will make mobility carts/ wheelchairs tough to get around. But, you can access the fun and delicious Pappy and Harriet’s restaurant without any problem. This place is reason alone to go to the high desert. Plus, you are very close to Joshua Tree – so consider that a bonus to your visit!
Scenes from Pioneertown
#2 The PALM SPRINGS TRAMWAY!
I absolutely love this tramway! The people are exceptionally nice and knowledgable. (A Shout-Out to a staff member – Gil!) The ten-minute tramway ride takes you to over 8 thousand feet above sea level. There are two restaurants at the top building. Plus, you can see miles and miles from the balconies and the building. The gift shop is really chocked full of fun and interesting items for all ages. And, the tramway is accessible for people who need mobility equipment. On the way down to the base building, our tramway conductor put on music, and collectively the riders sang to Neil Diamond’s, Sweet Caroline!
The Living Desert combines a wonderful eco-friendly zoo with lovely botanical gardens. It is small enough to visit in just a few hours or discover in small bites. We went with friends when it opened because the Palm Springs afternoons can be brutally hot. Easy access and multi-lingual information is available. Great for couples, families, or solo travelers! Visit their website here.
Looking for a get-away vacation? Perhaps a place to rest your weary head when traveling along the coastal highways of California? Look no further than the quaint, culturally rich, proud Danish town of Solvang.
The first time I visited Solvang, a hamlet about 40 miles north of Santa Barbara nestled in the San Inez area of California, was before my college years. The second time I was pushing a baby buggy. So, obviously, it has been a long while and I was overdue. The Solvang I remembered has grown, but still kept the charm I recalled. Ready to be enticed to visit with a Top 5 list of things to do when visiting Solvang? I hope so!
Here are my TOP 5 things to do while visiting Solvang.
Located on a side street, but close to town, is the charming Elverhoj Museum. Partly a historical homage to the city of Solvang and part art gallery, this museum was once was the home of Viggo Brandt-Erichsen and his wife, Martha Mott. Both Viggo and Martha were renowned artisans. Together they built a sensational home/art gallery packed full of photos and art but nailing together boards the “old fashioned way” – one peg at a time. The building is a testimony to the heritage of Danish culture and the history of Solvang. Well worth your time and guess what – it is FREE (but donations are welcome!)
Discovering and Creating Solvang …
When you enter the Elverhoj museum take time to chat with the uber knowledgeable docents, Linda and Kirsten. They relay and weave many that may you feel as if you are being transported in time. After you have completed touring the rooms – be sure to stop in the art gallery. Currently, they have an exhibit titled Fables, Foibles, and Fairy Tales by Susan Read Cronin. These whimsical sculptures just add to the charm of this lovely experience!
The Old Mission of Santa Ynes is a lovely place to go and visit a true California relic. However, due to Covid 19, it would seem that the mission has restricted tour hours. But, the grounds are open and they welcome guests walking about.
The Solvang Visitor Center offers a variety of tours throughout the year. The walking tours are under two hours and stop at a variety of “hot” spots (Most stops are yummy bakeries and candy shops – my kind of tour!).
Along the way, you can spot the Hans Christian Anderson bookstore, see the horse-drawn trolleys, and visit the Water Tower. (Langauge aficionados will want to try to read the various inscriptions on the side of the tower – representing a variety of cultures). Oh, guess what?! Kirsten (from the Elverhoj) and her dad, Dean, were our tour guides!
Wineries and taverns with tastings are throughout this area. From small bistros downtown to the large vineyards that adorn the perimeter of the towns – you will find a wine for nearly every palate. Many establishments serve small bites – while others are minimalistic. Prices vary. Ask around. The local folks have their favorites!
Solvang is known for being a town with top-notch restaurants- including the First and Oak – a restaurant with a Michelin star. And you can’t miss the smell of sweet delights that waft the streets from morning through the day due to the local bakeshops. Yes, the bakeries are filled with creamy this and bready that… all delicious. (Rumor has it that the Danish elves remove all the calories!?!)
Despite the Danish bakeries and great local fare restaurants, our favorite place to eat was Ramen Kotori a noodle shop nestled on a side street. This place knows how to “heat things up” – so be sure to order the Thai Tea, too!
In closing, Solvang is a great place to relax, eat delicious food, and learn about Danish culture. But, most of all – it is about the people. And for that reason alone- we will be back!
Hubby and I recently took a road trip from Los Angeles to New Mexico. We ended 2021 in the very fun Nevada border town of Laughlin.
I had heard about Laughlin via their very robust travel representatives that I met when I visited the LA Adventure and Travel Show in 2019. I was all set to visit and tour the Laughlin area and then… well you know… the Covid 19 pandemic hit!
Fast forward…secure with two vaccines, a booster, and lots of masks – we ventured to Laughlin en route home to LA. We opted to stay at theLaughlin River Lodge located on the banks of the Colorado River. The hotel was well equipped with dining options nearby, several casinos, and an outdoor heated pool with a spa.
PLUS… the lodge is loaded with family fun activities including a bowling alley, kid specific activites, and kid-friendly electronic games (Similar to what we played many times at amusement centers on the New Jersey Shore boardwalk.)
The rooms at the Laughlin River Lodge are quite nice and reasonably priced. Thanks to my TripAdvisor’s TRIP PLUS membership, we paid under $60 per night for a quiet and clean room.
Some may say Laughlin is a “mini Vegas”, but we found it to be unique and prettier than over-stimulating Las Vegas. First and foremost, you can enjoy water sports thanks to the flowing Colorado River that separates Arizona (Bullhead City) from Nevada (Laughlin). Staying at the Laughlin River Lodge afforded us access to the beach alongside the river and an opportunity to snap photos. Plus, there are many places to shop, eat, have kids play, and enjoy a walk while being surrounded by beautiful mountains that illuminate the awesome sunsets.
We had read up on TripAdvisor reviews about where to eat in Laughlin. The Minato Japanese and Korean restaurants frequently received consistently excellent reviews and the menu piqued our interest!
OMG – this restaurant was AWESOME. Yes… there is EXCELLENT SUSHI in the DESERT!
Minato’s was located within easy walking distance from our hotel in a little shopping center. An elevator for easy accessibility is available to bring you to this ultra-yummy establishment. We started our meal with a LAUGHLIN ROLL. This was a tempura-sushi hybrid made with various veggies and seafood. I could have ordered a second but we opted for an udon noodle soup instead. Hubby likes to compare restaurant spring rolls, so we ordered some. They were some of the best we ever have eaten!
Lastly, the udon soup was stocked full of meat and veggies plus a healthy dose of chili! Luckily, I had ordered a Thai ice tea that helped to soothe the slight burning in my mouth from this spicy dish! I would easily give the food and service a 9/10 rating.
Bonus Fun – Classic Cars!!
As previously mentioned, there is much to do in Laughlin. We opted to visit an exhibit of old classic cars and gaming machines at the aptly named Laughlin Classic Car Collection. Pricing varies here from free to $3 per person. (Waived if you are a casino “member”.) I would recommend this place as it provided great family fun and there were no visible issues for people using mobility equipment to have full access.
LAUGHLIN – thanks for the fun! We will be back!
(Note, I have been a frequent contributor to TripAdvisor and a beta user of this new plan – but my opinions are not being compensated for on this blog.)
New Mexico has always fascinated me. Maybe because the culture is so different than the way I grew up in New York. Since it is within a “reasonable” driving distance from Los Angeles (14 hours), hubby and I decided it would make a perfect holiday vacation destination. So with a packed car for all kinds of weather, from snow to “sweater weather”, we ventured out through the Mojave region of California, into Northern Arizona, and eventually reached Alburquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Along the route, we stopped at a few fun locales off “Old Routte 66”. From quirky dinners to a place that touts itself as a “ghost town” – OATMAN, ARIZONA. (I will go more in-depth about this region in the mountains another time.)
Back to New Mexico…
The west part of New Mexico is FLAT… and WINDY! And despite the speed limit often being 75 MPH, you will find yourself cruising much faster because there is not much visually interesting to stop you. The ride is a long and quasi-straight highway/freeway with an occasional tumbleweed flying by you. Once you find yourself on the cusp of Alburquerque (ABQ), you will notice more mountains among the vastness.
Hubby and I mapped out a few places that we wanted to see in ABQ during our stay. Friends had suggested we check out the petroglyphs that are in several parks on the perimeter of the city. We started at the visitor center mid-afternoon, only to find out the park closed by 4:30. That left us a measly hour to explore. Note: this park is not handicap accessible for those who wish to see the petroglyphs up close but use a walker or wheelchair. The terrain is rocky and there are many uneven steps that need to be taken to see the ancient artwork.
Day 2 – Museums of Alburquerque
First, we went to theNational Museum of Nuclear Science and History. Hubby was a former nuclear engineer and he was hoping that the museum would dedicate a good bit of its real estate to exhibits about the benefits of nuclear power. On the contrary, we found much of the museum dedicated to informative and interesting displays of nuclear energy for war efforts, such as during WW II. While this is an excellent history lesson and one that should be reiterated for the ages, it was a bit of a disappointment that only a small sliver of the museum spotlighted the positive use of nuclear energy/ power.
Of all the exhibits that piqued my interest, there was one that chronicled the post-effects of “the bomb” on the children of Hiroshima. There was a small display dedicated to the “Crane project”. I snapped a photo of the explanation of this mission below. In essence, there was a young girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was suffering from leukemia or “Atom Bomb disease”. She believed that anyone who created a thousand cranes would be granted a wish. Despite her efforts, she did die, but her friends and classmates published a book in her memory and the story of her crane project lives on decades later.
Not all was gloom and doom here. There was a section that brought out the movie geek in me. I really liked the exhibit that highlighted movies with “nuclear” themes. Notable mentions were “FAIL SAFE” and “WAR GAMES”.
Museum #2 included a trip to the ANDERSON ABRUZZO INTERNATIONAL BALLOON MUSEUM. This museum is dedicated to balloon flight and mainly the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Sadly, the internationally renowned Balloon Fiesta is in October and not December, when we were in the region. But, someday I hope to venture back to ABQ to see thousands of balloons lift off in succession for one of the world’s greatest exhibits of ballons in flight!
Included in this museum are several interactive lessons and much to keep the whole family occupied. There is one room dedicated to artwork, called MAGIC, that takes up a whole wall and is stunning. The artist is Jane Maclean and her 6 x 20-foot montage of balloon scenes is frankly… magical!
See a video about the Balloon Fiesta here. If you plan on visiting the museum – be sure to plan ahead. Tickets to the museum tend to sell out fast!
Note: Both museums demonstrated good accessibility practices from what I was able to see and learn.
More about Alburquerque…
This lovely city has very little in the way of nightlife. In fact, it is safe to say that it pretty much closes down by 5 pm. Old Town ABQ is very nice, but again – the local shops, museums, and other points of interest are closed before sunset. Dining also is a bit tricky. And for any kind of after-dark entertainment, many travel to the area casinos. We spent some time in the Isleta casino. It was nice and we had a good time, however, it is a wee bit of a hike from the center of the city.
Next stop… Santa Fe… but first the Turquoise Trail.
We had heard about the infamous “Turquoise Trail”. This is a stretch of road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe that supposedly offered many shops and quirky “sites” to visit. Sadly, we were not too impressed. Much was closed and frankly, many of the area’s “hot spots” were run down. We did go to the Henderson Store in Golden, New Mexico. There we met a lovely couple (and bought some items). We enjoyed our time there and that stop alone made the trip worthwhile. I have a funny feeling that the Turquoise Trail is much better to see during the warmer months when more stores are open and artists are “in residence”.
About an hour north of ABQ is the small city of Santa Fe. Technically, it is a large city and the state capitol. Adobe buildings adorn the city center square with museums, galleries, and fine dining all throughout the city streets.
We started our day by touring the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. This is a compact museum that takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours to cover. It was just perfect to start there for our touring of Santa Fe. If you visit, here is a tip… Don’t leave here without checking out the museum shop on the bottom floor. It has a lovely book selection – including for children.
Downtown Santa Fe is charming, but was very crowded the day we arrived. Seating at restaurants was at a premium. We ended up getting take-out at Tomasita’s the evening we arrived. It was delicious but eating in our hotel room was less than desirable.
Here are some “tips” for Santa Fe, too:
While Santa Fe has lots to offer by day, again, the nightlife is limited.
Tickets are encouraged for the more well-known museums – such as the Georgia OKeeffe. We opted not to go there due to the limited number of tix and also having only two days in the area to explore.
There are many wonderful parks and outdoor attractions in the Alburquerque and Santa Fe areas. Go visit them!
Be prepared for weather that ranges in a single day from sunny and 60 to freezing and snow!
New Mexico is a slow paced state. Don’t expect a frenetic party environment – unless you know people in the area. This is one “chill” state – relaxation is like the state motto!
If you have the time – keep traveling – as there is much to see! Taos is the north of Santa Fe and worth a visit.
This state has mask mandates – everywhere. We were thrilled to see Covid 19 safety protocols in effect throughout the state!
Kauai is one of my “happy places”! Unique topography juxtaposed with a “tropical attitude” makes this Hawaiian island a true treasure. I have traveled to Hawaii several times and prefer Kauai to the other islands because of the “old world” feel it exudes. However, traveling during the Covid pandemic made this trip much more challenging than any of the previous. Because many are finding Hawaii, including Kauai, a preferred destination for their own vacations, I have decided to share a few travel tips here. Need some enticement to visit Kauai? I added photos, just in case!
TIP 1: If you are traveling from the United States be sure to consult this page at least one week prior to leaving on your trip: TRAVEL HAWAII . Also, check with your airline carrier.
International travelers should consult this website: https://travel.hawaii.gov/ – for pertinent information well before they plan on arriving in Hawaii.
TIP 2 – Make Reservations Well in Advance of Traveling
From cars to restaurants – be sure to make reservations well in advance to ensure that you have transportation (if needed) and also a place to dine. Popular restaurants, such as the Beach House in Poipu, are booking far in advance! Rental cars are a premium on the island and many are resorting to TURO to get around the island. For your personal safety please be sure to rent from only reputable companies. Note: a car is needed to visit many of the island’s favorite spots- such as Waimea Canyons.
TIP 3- Stay at a place that adheres to Covid 19 safety/ cleaning regulations.
TripAdvisor is very good at giving salient information regarding the reputation of hotels and vacation rentals in regards to their following Covid 19 sanitization protocols. Keep in mind, however, that this information is provided from the hotel or rental company and not vetted by TripAdvisor. A sample of what you can look for in the hotel description is below.
TIP 4 – Look for activities outdoors – without crowds!
While we traveled on a semi-crowded plane to get arrive in Hawaii – we didn’t feel the need to continue to be with “others” during our stay. Therefore, we opted for outdoor activities that were sans crowds or in some cases, even anyone else! When going to the pool we picked times that were not popular and if a group of people decided to join us in the hot tub we smiled and exited.
Most of our dining was outdoors at tables spaced fairly far away from other patrons. We stuck together on tours and didn’t do anything that entailed being with another group (such as any boat tours). While big group activities can be fun and a great way to meet people from all over the globe – we decided that now was not the time to be making friends! And, masks were mandated everywhere we went!
Below I listed some activities that you may want to consider if visiting Kauai:
Go when not busy to the Kauai Coffee Estate. Lovely to walk the farm area and free samples! Plus a super yummy gift shop!
Visit and if inclined, hike, Waimea Canyon State Park. Also, there is a delightful gift shop and restaurant within the park. Check it out for great coffees and perhaps you will have the pleasure of meeting David Parsons III as he sings a few groovy tunes!
I. Love. To. Travel. And, as you probably know from reading this blog – I enjoy sharing my travel experiences. I often say, “Travel is simply taking educational opportunities – on the road”.
However, travel can be much more difficult if you have barriers – such as those experienced by individuals with physical, mental, and/ or sensory challenges. I have noticed establishments that simply do not provide accessible or inclusive environment. While many places are demonstrating a better understanding of how to make their venues more welcoming – there is a lot of room for improvement.
I would like to showcase the organizations that get it RIGHT. So, I wrote a letter to all with links and lists for helping you plan a great vacation.
I am excited for you or your family to be venturing away from your home to discover various parts of the United States. There is so much to experience and learn from travel. I personally find the value of travel to be an extension of what happens within the classroom. It is my hope that my information below will help you to plan for a safe and fun trip. Please note that I am one of many who travel and blog – so be sure to check out other articles on this topic.
Why am I writing this letter to you? I am a frequent traveler, school psychologist, and a parent. I seem to be hyper vigilant for looking at situations through multiple lenses. Does this hotel have good accessibility for people with mobility issues? Can a person safely cross this street if blind? Does the venue offer interpreters for the Deaf or sensory accommodations for a person on the autism spectrum? And, so on.
It is because I have the utmost admiration for families who love to travel together that I want ALL to have a great experience, including equal access and inclusion.
PLAN!!! While a quick spontaneous trip can be fun, don’t underestimate the value of good preparation. Here are some tips that may be helpful –
There is very little consistency among hotel chains, restaurants, or theme park attractions when it comes to accessibility and being inclusive to all. So don’t forget to pack a hefty dose of patience along with your toothbrush!
Hint 1: Travel to family friendly places, especially if this is your first trip.If you are a solo traveler consider group travel to places that cater to large and diverse crowds.
Many people cite the Disney theme park properties as the most “special needs” friendly in the United States. And, I have witnessed that around the globe, too, Disney gets it right – most of the time. As does Disney Tokyo, Disney Paris, etc. They are a big corporation with much money and resources at their disposal. They also are dedicated to educating their staff about inclusion. So, I tip my proverbial hat off at Disney and their employees.
Here is the downside. Disney theme parks are super expensive for most families. Often people save years to enjoy a week with “the mouse”. Look for bargains when you decide to visit Disney properties. See if any organizations you belong to (or the grandparents) offer discounted tickets or places to stay.
Discount tickets for Disney parks have been available at these places (and hope they are still there!)
Once you have planned your trip, consider connecting with Disney representatives to learn about accommodations in the park. Here are two Disney guides for families who have family members with autism and or cognitive disabilities.
Also, there are additional parks and attractions that offer access and disability information. Their links can be found on the list below. Note that these places try to make the information easy to read – but sometimes these guides can be daunting. So, be sure to read ahead of time during your “planning” the trip phase.
Roadtrippers magazine also listed some of the most accessible parks in the United States. Here is their excellent article.
For your consideration: I am a big fan of using a reputable (in person) travel agency for planning vacations that are more than just an overnight and involve a lot of people and “moving parts”.
Next… packing for your trip. It is impossible to bring all the contents of your home with you – but in the case of a child or adult with special challenges you have to be extra careful to remember key items. Not only should you bring all the items for daily living needs (plus extras). But be sure to add to your suitcase medications for the time you will be gone – and additional in case of an unexpected extended stay. You list also should include some comfort items are those that can make a difference with your stay. Such as a night light, a small fan to block out noise from other rooms, and personal soaps or shampoos for those with sensitive skin or adverse reactions to smells. Noise cancelling headphones, an iPad or laptop, and favorite pillow or blanket(s) can make all the difference in the world. (Especially if someone uses a weighted blanket for comfort.) Also, bring snacks and drinks that are “must haves” for your family members.
Tip: Call ahead when making your hotel reservation. Depending on your family’s needs – ask for a room that makes your life easier. Need to be closer to the elevator – just ask. Need a handicap accessible room? Request it. Need a key with braille? Ask them for that, too. Ask if they have a room with special lights and adaptive equipment if you are traveling with someone who is Deaf. And, if you have a child or adult who is vocal – ask for a room that is more secluded from other guests so you don’t feel that you may be disturbing them.
Also, consider bringing a door alarm if you have concerns of elopement (fleeing). I travel with the STEP OFF alarm for personal security. Yet, it also is great to keep those who wander (including people with Alzheimer’s) safe.
If you are a solo traveler consider using a reputable travel agency that has knowledge about opportunities for travel that accommodates people with unique challenges. Deaf travel agencies are also available.
I did a little research on this subject and found these links to help (However, use your due diligence, as well.)
If you have been reading my first three blog posts about driving from California to New York and back again – then you are “up to speed”. As for those readers who are stumbling upon this article before reading the others – you may want to circle back and start with Part 1,Part 2, and Part 3 to help give you context.
The final stretch and then back home we go!
Hubby met me in Chicago where we made our way to New York and later New Jersey. I loved visiting family and friends who live thousands of miles from our home in California. Catching up after being in quarantine for a year was amazing. We laughed. We ate a ton of calories (I am a sucker for black and white cookies – a New York speciality!) We looked at old photos and even had three generations working online to fill in gaps for our family tree via Ancestry.com.
After a week of east coast driving it was time to hit the interstates and backroads from New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and finally Illinois to reconnect with driving partner and friend, Marj. We both had sons in Chicago and I jumped at the chance to see my second born and his “gal” twice on this trip and have more time in this beautiful city. Lucky for us it was DINE BROADWAY. An event where restaurants along Broadway Avenue in the Lakeview district set up on the streets and offer the best from their menus. Trust me – I have a new found love for cheese curds and grilled Caesar salad. If you haven’t tried either you are truly missing out. Thanks to one of my new Chicago favorites – WILDE for not one, but two great dining experiences during this trip! I’ll entice you to visit with the photos below.
Hint: Do your due diligence on the return trip!
Before starting out we gave “Phoebe”, my car, a “once over”. We checked the tires, added coolant before we hit the highways, and refilled the invaluable windshield wiper fluid. Unlike our trip from west to east, this time we would cross the country along the northern plains and some southwest states. Through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, a few miles in Arizona, and Nevada we would drive before arriving in California. I was excited to step foot in Iowa and Nebraska – two states I have never visited.
Illinois has endless tolls.
I love Chicago. And, parts of Illinois are truly charming. But, the toll roads were too much! Like Indiana, Illinois was filled with tolls and more tolls. Plus, there is signage that confused us! How many college degrees do you need to know where to drive in Illinois? Sadly, our collective number wasn’t enough as we ended up driving much longer in Illinois than we had anticipated. Enough said.
Iowa – flat but fluffy!
Finally, for what seemed like an eternity – we left Illinois and arrived in Des Moines. I am pretty sure we stopped at a Cracker Barrel. But, honestly after the 6th one or so, you stop counting.
Iowa is flat, but the low clouds on the horizon gave it a sense of “fluffiness” that day. Marj and I decided to keep the “pedal to the metal” and make it to Nebraska before dusk. And, we did. I don’t have much to say about Iowa except that I get to check it off my “50 states visited” list. Oh – also we crossed the Mississippi River!
The weather turned on us once we hit Nebraska. Fluffy clouds became rain clouds and the pretty vistas were – bleh. We stopped along the way to eat in Lincoln, Nebraska. I learned to play Keno in a honky tonk bar that was open for an early dinner. We finally quit driving after nearly 9 or more hours to sleep at a hotel located on the state border of Nebraska and Colorado. I was very disappointed that the Nebraska Souvenir Shop was closed before we could get there and opened after we left. I would have liked to see what was considered “local to Nebraska”.
Colorado started off as a fun state. We visited the Overland Trail Museum for a while. That was an interesting place and I loved the doll collection they housed. They had a fair amount of quilts, vintage clothing, and relics from old ranches and farms. School children were visiting and that was lovely to see. Kind of made me think Covid was soon to be in the “rear view mirror”. Let’s just say this early morning stop was the best part of the day.
I will take a moment to digress. There are very few times in my life where I truly have been a nervous wreck driving. I have hit major fog in Salt Lake City trying to get to an airport and snow that was coming down in buckets on back roads of Pennsylvania. I have driven the Redwood Forest area of Northern California where I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the trucks carrying huge loads of trees being brought to sawmills. They traveled on roads that seemed way too narrow for one, let alone two, vehicles – but the weather was clear and the skies were blue – so I learned to “share the road”. Note: All of these experiences TOGETHER do not add up to the what we would encounter in Colorado on Interstate 70.
First, let’s talk altitude. Keep in mind I live at SEA LEVEL. So, my idea of “altitude” is a few thousand feet, not 10 thousand feet and higher. When you are afraid your snack bags and soda cans will burst – you know it is HIGH!
Driving through this part of the country is like playing weather roulette. One minute it is 62 degrees and light rain, the next torrential rain, then the temperature falls 25 degrees in five minutes and the roads nearly become a skating rink. Compound all this “fun” with changes in barometric pressure coupled with altitude adjustments and you have one throbbing headache. Both Marj and I felt the need to stop before Vail, Colorado to get our bearings. Good move as we had no other viable rest stop for quite some time. Bad move because we both really felt the altitude change – and not in a good way. In fact, many of the people who were at this rest stop looked a bit weary and ill. After downing a ton of water we got back on the road and ended up in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Other people stopped here too due to a truck that flipped and closed both sides of the highway.
Just for informational purposes here is what I found about this little “scenic” drive that we survived:
Connecting Grand Junction to Denver is Interstate 70 that passes over the continental divide via Loveland Pass at an altitude of 11,990 ft. This is the highest point anywhere in the U.S. interstate highway system. The route is known for stretches of steep grades, twisting turns and treacherous winter conditions. The specter of altitude sickness going over the numerous passes poses a hazard as well. Add in heavy traffic laden with out-of-state drivers all headed to the ski resorts and it’s easy to see why car accidents are common. As the main access from Denver to the famed resorts like Vail and Aspen, this route is notorious for large-scale congestion during the ski season. A route that is 90 minutes in summer can turn into a frustrating 3-4 hours snarled in bumper to bumper traffic. In 2008 alone over 1,900 accidents were reported in the corridor. It has gotten so bad the locals have a saying, “Friends don’t let friends drive I-70.”
Source: The Five Most Dangerous Roads in Colorado
I believe if the circumstances were different this would have been a fun stop with a chance to sight-see. The town seemed enchanting and a bit quirky. There are hot springs and also a cable car ride to the mountain top. But, once in the hotel I wasn’t going anywhere until the next day or when the weather cleared. What a shame as I love quirky.
I HEART Utah.Bryce Canyon – Zion Canyon
Of all the states we visited, I was most excited to spend time in Utah. So was Marj. So we set out early and drove and drove and drove until we finally reached Salina, Utah for lunch. Here we dined at Mom’s Diner. Thanks to the “cowboy” who sat next to us and gave us great advice, we made our way to Bryce Canyon. A “short 110 miles” he told us. Yep – it was a 110 miles, short it was not. But, the ride to the canyon was worth it to see the Natural Bridge and the amazing circle of rocks at the last stop. Marj had read up on hints about visiting Bryce. So, we decided it was best to start at the back of the canyon and work to the front. We also hit the park later in the day when many were leaving and it was less crowded. That was quite helpful on many accounts. First, there was construction to get in and out of the park. Later in the day resulted in less waiting. Secondly, there was something magical about late afternoon sunshine bouncing off the rocks.
Our trip from Bryce through Zion was the highlight of our trip. Sure, we had seen beautiful landscapes across the country – but NOTHING compared to these two national parks and the gateway between them. We made it to Zion National Park after eating a lovely dinner a bit outside their northeast gate. It was on some kind of a farm to table family “resort”. At first we thought that driving through the park would be a “bummer” as it had a hefty price tag at $35 per car. But, as our luck would have it – we drove in to the park just as the sun was about to set and the guard let us in for FREE.
This drive can’t be accurately described. There are simply not enough adjectives. Yet, I will try. Through the narrow and windy switchback roads we drove from the top to the bottom of Zion. Almost a full hour from end to end and worth every second. Through tunnels that were pitch black except for the lights from vehicles and across narrow bridges that seemed to hug the rock walls. Each twist and turn unfolded an amazing array of colors and rock formations. As the sun became further down the horizon the rocks changed color and the park took on so many different hues – it was stunning. Sadly, both my iPhone and Marj’s were dead and for some reason we couldn’t get them to charge quick enough to take photos. I guess that means we will need to return and do it again. Gladly.
Nevada – Mesquite
We spent our last night in a so-so hotel in Mesquite, Nevada. We would have gone to Primm or Las Vegas but the day was long and we were tired. Frankly to do it again, I would have taken a quick nap, drank a large coffee, and pressed on. This was the low point of our trip and I barely slept due to the room being less than stellar and more likely the cause of my humongous allergy attack.
There is no place like home.
After almost a month on the road, countless tanks of gas, and a slew of adventures to chat about for years – we were home. I am grateful for the experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat – but slower. I would plan more stops and really get to know each area. Marj and I both agreed that this was a very special trip – worth repeating.
I encourage you to dare to venture beyond your town, your state, your region, and explore the United State to really appreciate how vast and amazing it is.
Final Tips for Driving Across the United States
Keep a journal with notes about what you saw and where you stopped. Add some stories from the local people you met. Add some anecdotes that you would like to share, too.
Take a lot of photos.
Write a blog to share with others using your journal notes and photos. 🙂
As a fully Covid vaccinated traveler I was more than ready to hit they highways this Spring. I had reached my maximum limit of days staying at home. I had cleaned all my closets and repainted most of my walls. I was done being a homebody. It was time to venture past these walls.
Keep in mind that six months ago I was pretty much too scared to leave home. I would have minor panic attacks walking into a grocery store for a single item. I was the queen of online ordering and started cooking nearly every meal at home. I was a Covid agoraphobic. It was right after one of my panic attacks that I decided I needed a plan to get past this “crisis”. So step by step I put together a trip (with the help of co-driver, Marj) from LA to New York with a few days “layover” in Chicago to visit my son and for Marj to visit hers. We knew we wouldn’t leave until at least 50% of the adults in this country were vaccinated. So, we prepped and waited.
By the end of April it became clear that we could travel without much issues if we did so “Covid wisely”. That meant we needed to wear a mask when outside of the car. Have a ton of antiseptic wipes for various cleaning purposes. We wore gloves when pumping gas and opening up doors. I changed my clothes frequently and made sure I was doused in hand sanitizer several times a day and after each and every “pit stop”. Marj also had a hefty supply, too. By the end of our initial five days of travel our hands were chapped. We didn’t care. Personally, I was finally breathing air beyond the borders of my home and my spirits were lifting. This was a victory.
Here are a few tips for those who plan on taking a driving trip.
Get vaccinated. It reduces the risk for you and your loved ones. But, understand there will be a number of people who will NOT be vaccinated and do not believe in the Covid19 vaccination.
2. Bring lots of sanitizing spray, like Lysol, to doubly clean your hotel room.
3. Consider bringing your own pillows and blankets. Or spray the ones at the hotel with sanitizer.
4. If using the remote, phone, or any furniture in your hotel room – spray them first or clean with sanitizing wipes. I brought six packages of wipes, two sprays, and a ton of different. hand sanitizers. No joke. I returned home with half a spray and half a container of wipes.
5. Wear your mask, even when others are not. Bring disposable masks for really “yucky” areas – like bathrooms.
6. When using a public bathroom be extra vigilant. Use a towel to open and close doors or wear gloves. Sanitize a zillion times. Heading out to a national park? Know that many of these parks are sans water – just very crude toilet set-ups. So, be sure to have lots of bathroom supplies handy.
7. Use “to go cups” when possible vs. reusable. Although not environmentally friendly, they at least reduce the risk of germ spread from possible poor washing at a restaurant.
8. If using a public pool or spa – be sure to wipe down locker handles, tables, chairs, etc. These are places sometimes overlooked by staff.
9. When booking a hotel room look for those who post their Covid 19 policies. ( For example, they don’t book back to back but allow for at least 24 hours to clean between guest stays, have sanitizers in the room, have plastic over the door to ensure you know it has been cleaned, etc.) The Chicago Hotel Versey (A Wyndham) was super strict with their Covid 19 policies – much appreciated. As were the Hampton Inns we stayed in. Most of the Holiday Inns also adhered to excellent precautions. The one that did not (and will not be specified here) – warranted a message to their corporate office.
10. If you are unhappy with the Covid 19 protocols at hotels (or restaurants, venues, etc.) – let people know. Write reviews. Knowledge is power and also keeps others’ healthy.
11. Let the corporate offices know of any establishments that were not clean. Hotel chains can’t police each establishment daily, but they need to know when there is a lack of safety measures being used.
12. Bring medications and items such as a thermometer just in case you feel ill on your trip. Try to locate the nearest clinics for testing or assistance with your condition.
13. Be smart. If a place is too crowded or you feel uncomfortable – don’t go.
If you have suggestions on how to safely travel during Covid – please comment below. Respectful comments always welcome.
You are insane- why don’t you just FLY?!” asked many well – meaning friends and family. My response – NOPE!! I have been looking at the same walls for months and now that I am vaccinated I am going to pack my Mazda3 and drive from one end of this country to another. And I did. With the help of my friend, Marj, we criss – crossed the United States learning more than any book could teach about this vast country. This is the second of my blog series about this experience spotlighting the trip from LA to Chicago!
Time to roll: Day 1
After much preparation – Marj and I were ready to roll! With a car packed from top to bottom – my little Mazda 3 was decked out to the hilt. My co-driver had stashed a lot of yummy snacks and drinks in the cooler and we had enough electronic and print maps to hopefully guide us through any navigation situation. Read about how we prepared here.
Never under estimate stopping at a Cracker Barrel
I must admit that I had not considered the perennial favorite – Cracker Barrel – as a place that would become very important to us during this trip. Not only does this restaurant/ store have a huge array of candy that evokes emotional responses from my youth, but the ladies clothing line and game selection were amazing! Marj and I stopped at no less than 8 Cracker Barrels during this trip. I managed to buy everything from candy sticks to a baby present. The menu selection is best categorized as “comfort food”. But, most notably – this establishment has CLEAN bathrooms. Seriously, as the trip continued the importance of having a clean and safe bathroom was tantamount! I for one am a new and forever fan of “the barrel”! To see the list of Cracker Barrels around the United States – click here.
Crossing the Mojave to Arizona– full tank of gas is a must!
Route 15 and 40 across the Mojave desert are two long roads that converge and cross and area of California noted for being a bizzilion degrees hot in the warmer months and windy as hell on most any day. It also has very little service areas so if you are crossing this part of California (home to the nearby and infamous Death Valley) – go to the “potty”, gas up and check your car before venturing out. Our route had us going through the Cajon Pass to the bottom part of the Mojave on Route 40. (This also is the part of the highway that is shared with Route 66). After about 7 hours (with stops)- we found ourselves in Williams, Arizona. Here we stayed for the night and headed out to get dessert at a local establishment known for their various pie recipes. Sadly, our choices of pie were unsatisfactory – so I will leave off the name of this place and hope that they were just having a bad day.
Highly recommend purchasing and using THE NEXT EXIT 2021 edition. This little gem of a book tells you which towns are on your route, what service areas are at each exit and much more. Found on Amazon and worth the $18 price. Check here for details.
Day 2- Let is snow!
We left the last week of April only to find ourselves riding through several inches of snow the morning of our second day. Breakfast was in Flagstaff, about an hour east of Williams, and an excellent little diner – Brandy’s Restaurant and Bakery. The waitstaff was super friendly and very knowledgable about the area and supplied us with updated weather reports. Based on what I was seeing outside our diner window I was very happy that I remembered to pack snow boots.
When Covid Rules
Due to Covid 19 restrictions many places had limited availability to tour. Some closed early. Other places simply were CLOSED. We thought of visiting the Petrified Forest but changed our minds once we discovered it would add at least two hours to an already long driving day. The petroglyphs have been there for eons, and we will just have to put this national park on our “next time” list. Instead, we opted for the overpriced “unofficial” Petrified Forest store off Route 40.
Side note: Unfortunately, not all who travel know how to negotiate roads in snowy situations. That includes the trucks that seemed to bounce along the highways carelessly. One after another of these double and triple trucks seemed to have challenges with “holding on to the road”. So, lesson for all – keep your distance. Be attentive to others who share the road with you.
Hello New Mexico we have a change of plan!
WINDY!! That is how I would describe driving through New Mexico on Route 40 before we arrived in Albuquerque. While the snow abated, the wind and dust did not. Poor Phoebe (yes, I named my car) – was so dirty by the time we settled for the night in Santa Fe.
While driving through New Mexico, we took in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and appreciated the small towns, many that were part of the Navajo Nation. New Mexico is beautiful, but the houses and villages seem to all adhere to a muted color palate. Shades of browns, greens, and yellow were most noted. Almost as if the intent was to not detract from the natural scenery, but to blend with it.
The trip through New Mexico took longer than we anticipated. So, we ended up just skirting Albuquerque and arriving in Santa Fe at dinner time. There we had an absolutely delicious dinner at the restaurant inside La Fonda – a big hotel in the town’s center. While most of the area was pretty quiet, we did see some fun street art.
Our original plan was to leave Santa Fe and continue to Tucumcarri – a small town on the Texas/ New Mexico border. But, due to the severe weather anticipated in that area and up through Oklahoma, we changed our path and headed north to Taos and southern Colorado. This was the first of many “adjustments” we made thanks to Mother Nature. So, we stayed the night at a resort north of Santa Fe and had a quiet evening. Little did we know that the next day was to be a marathon driving day.
In the morning we ventured to Taos, New Mexico. Known as a true artist colony, both Marj and I were pretty excited to check it out. Sadly, due to Covid, many of the galleries were closed. What was open was clearly geared for tourists.
There is one recollection of Taos that left me sad. I was a bit surprised about the number of people who were living on the streets or the back alleys). While Taos is beautiful and we simply did not see all the positive it offered, it is the memory of several women waiting to wash in a public bathroom that will stick with me. Their eyes so forlorn. I wondered if they were “broken” physically, mentally, or both.
(Side note: I am fully aware that homelessness is a situation that is complicated and happens in our urban, suburban, and rural areas. I just was surprised at the extent of homelessness in Taos.)
COLORADO – KANSAS – MISSOURI
We didn’t expect to go to Colorado during the West to East portion of our trip. But, since the weather was ominous to our east we thought going north and then east would be “safe”. This meant adding hours to our trip, being stuck in lots of road construction, and driving across endless areas where you passed very few if any other cars. (There was a time I would swear we were driving through private property as we saw NO ONE for miles and miles.)
Second adjustment of the day: Route 50 was closed. This was to be our connector to points north and now we had to decide what to do. To Route 70 we would go! This decision resulted in a much longer driving day than we expected and over 12 hours passed before we stopped for the night in Hays, Kansas.
I had heard from others who drove this route that Kansas was one of the worst states for driving. “Monotonous”, “Flat” “Boring” were all adjectives I have heard from others. I disagree. The roads were well maintained. The rest stops areas were plentiful. And, seeing the fields of golden crops juxtaposed with greenery was amazing. I enjoyed driving through Kansas very much.Plus, a stop in Kansas City at Joe’s “World Famous” Barbecue was a very welcome side-trip! Not to mention that I stocked up on sauces and seasonings for gifts!
We spent our fourth and final night before arriving to Chicago in Hannibal, Missouri. Here is where I encountered some of the most interesting people – in a hot tub. Yes, an oversized indoor hot tub of all places! I learned from this assortment of folks that there is a lot of misinformation about Covid 19. But, I had to come to the reality that their “truth” was not all that uncommon. The lack of facts they spewed to me were often cited on TV. Some of these people were convinced that the covid vaccines were a ploy constructed by the Democratic Party to “brainwash” Republicans. I rarely am at a loss for words – but I wasn’t sure how to answer this claim.
However, when one woman was very vocal about covid being due to “those people from Californi-ee” – I couldn’t keep quiet. Especially since I outed myself as a person from the great state of CaliforniA. As an educator, I tried my best to present facts vs. fiction. I gave up after about 10 minutes and retired for the night feeling that I just met a good sample of people that support some of the initiatives in this country that divide versus unite us. If you agree with my spa buddies that the vaccine is a conspiracy – please feel free to stop reading my blog and skip the comment section.
Marj and I parted ways in Chicago after five fun-filled days together. It is essential to travel with someone who is a good match or compliment to your own travel style.
I must admit that when we crossed the Illinois border we did a bit of “hooting and hollering”. And a few hours later we were finally within site of the Chicago skyline. By mid-afternoon our first big leg of this month l long journey was checked off as complete!
RANDOM TRAVEL TIPS
Buy jars of hatch chilis available in New Mexico. They are AMAZING!
Stop at local owned stores for the best food/ spices and gifts. The prices are much more reasonable and the selection is usually more expansive than the stores located in the tourist areas.
Keep your receipts for future reference.
Lock your car and have a tarp or something to cover any items you need to leave in your back seat.
Write down key “memories” as you will forget names and dates later.
Consider donating to local shelters and food banks to help those in need.
Take lots of photos, videos, and notes.
Travel with someone who compliments you and doesn’t have vastly different goals for your trip.
Remember that you didn’t need to talk the entire time. Quiet travel time can be wonderful.