Trip West

trip to grand canyon

My family loves a good road trip. I mean a real road trip, too. Not a trip in the car from point A to point B, and then back again. I’m referring to an epic journey including feet on the dash, very little planning, flying by the seats of our pants, ROADSIDE MOTELS (gasp).

One year, over Spring Break, we set out on one of these voyages. The only plan we had in mind was not to have a plan. We packed our bags with no idea as to where we were going. Once in the car, I wrote NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, and WEST on scraps of paper. I folded each one and placed the paper squares in Bill’s upturned hat, and the kids drew out our direction. Yep. Just like that, our fate was sealed, and WEST became our last minute destination. We pulled out of the driveway and drove towards the setting sun.

headed west
We’re headed West!

Our first stop was The Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, Texas. It was dark by the time we arrived and we were starved. The draw to this place is the 72 oz. steak challenge. I wanted to try it, even though I knew there was no way possible I could eat it all. Once seated though, I realized that all the challenge participants had to sit on an elevated platform in the middle of the restaurant and EAT IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. Nope. That wasn’t going to happen. So, I ordered a normal size steak and ate comfortably with my family. Bill and I tried a couple of the beers that are brewed on site as we listened to music played by the group of men walking around the room with fiddles. After dinner, we wandered the gift shop before getting back on the road. It wasn’t the best steak we’ve ever eaten, but the whole package made it worth the stop.

big texan steakhouse
The Big Texan Steakhouse.

We drove on to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where we found a place to sleep for the night along old Route 66. Tucumcari is an interesting little town right off the interstate, lined with motels and restaurants from decades long past. The next morning, we found an old diner for breakfast called Kix on 66. We sat at the counter, because it felt like that’s where we should sit on ol’ Route 66, and enjoyed really good food before climbing back in the car. We had decided our next stop would be Santa Fe.

Roadside Motel
Roadside Motel
Counter dining at Kix on 66.
route 66
Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

We saw a roadside sign for The Blue Hole sometime later, and decided to check it out. It’s a natural spring in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, that’s 81-feet deep and almost a perfect circle, 60-feet in diameter. Scuba divers go there for lessons and other people go there to jump from the rocks into the 61-degree blue water. It was so cold. We all stayed in for less than a minute.

Information sign at the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico
Information sign at the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.
Our reflections in the blue water at the Blue Hole.
Our reflections in the blue water at the Blue Hole.
The quiet highway to Santa Fe.
The quiet highway to Santa Fe.

We finally arrived in Santa Fe and checked into a remodeled motel called The Old Santa Fe Inn. It had the feeling of a dude ranch with kiva fireplaces in each room. While in Santa Fe, we wandered through local shops, looked at local art, and ate at Casa Chimayo, a restaurant featured on ‘Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives’. I regret not visiting the Georgia O’Keefe museum. We had two small children. They were tired.

A church in Santa Fe at sunset.
A church in Santa Fe at sunset.
The Kiva fireplace in our Santa Fe motel room.
The Kiva fireplace in our Santa Fe motel room.

The next day, we headed south on the Turquoise Trail through Madrid, New Mexico. Madrid was the filming location for the movie ‘Wild Hogs’. The movie was good and the town was a great spot to get out and stretch our legs. The main street is lined with houses that have been converted into shops where local art and clothing is sold. It’s small. Just park along the street and walk around.

Our "Wild Hogs" in Madrid, New Mexico.
Our “Wild Hogs” in Madrid, New Mexico.
Sandia Mountains in the distance as we drove south to Albuquerque.
Sandia Mountains in the distance as we drove south to Albuquerque.

After Madrid, still heading south back to the interstate, we saw a sign for Sandia Crest in the Sandia Mountains, and decided to drive to the top. We turned off the main highway and followed the signs up the side of a mountain. This was mid-March, and the higher we drove, the more snow we encountered. When we had ALMOST reached the top, we got stuck. So close, right? It wasn’t a problem. We weren’t the only people there and we weren’t the only people stuck. Everyone worked together to get free, and then we trudged to the peak to look out over Albuquerque. It was cold, slippery, and worth it. The entire mountain side trip was beautiful.

View from Sandia Crest.
View from Sandia Crest.
They stopped throwing snowballs at each other long enough to take this picture.

We drove straight through Albuquerque. No stopping. Now, I have to be honest. We decided initially that IF we chose “West” out of the hat, we would really like to see The Grand Canyon. We had never been. We had time. So, that’s where we went. We arrived at our hotel in Tusayan, Arizona late that evening. We stayed at The Red Feather Lodge. It was fine. Not luxury, but we just needed a place to lay our heads. The south rim of the Grand Canyon is simply breathtaking. We stayed all day, wandered the trails, marveled at nature’s beauty, and watched the sunset over the Colorado River. Go there. See it for yourself.

Grand Canyon, South Rim.
Grand Canyon, South Rim.
Waiting on the sunset.
Waiting on the sunset.
The Colorado River.
One of the swithback trails down into the canyon.

That evening we had dinner at a local place called We Cook Pizza and Pasta. We ate pizza. We drank beer and wine. It was good. We were exhausted. The next morning, we asked the kids where they wanted to go next. Colton said he wanted to see the HOLLYWOOD sign in California. We all agreed that was a wonderful idea. On our way, we passed a place called Flinstone’s Bedrock City and decided to stop. It’s a recreation of Bedrock. Fred’s house, Barney’s, the jail, everything. It was fun. A little rundown, but fun. The kids ran all through the park. We took a lot of photos. We bought weird souvenirs in the gift shop.

Yabba dabba do!
Yabba dabba do!

I googled directions to the HOLLYWOOD sign as we drove. It’s in the middle of a neighborhood and, of course, we were unfamiliar with the area, but we were determined to get there before sunset. We barely made it. We stopped at a little park where kids were practicing soccer and adults were walking their dogs. I’m sure we fit right in, taking selfies with the sign above our heads. We were in Hollywood!

I’m not even going to try to remember or recommend the hotel we stayed in those next couple nights. It wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t good. We ate Tommy’s Hamburgers that night. We toured Hollywood the next day. We drove to the Hollywood Walk of Fame area and parked in a garage. From there, we did some shopping, saw the Chinese Theater, and bought tour tickets to see more of the city. We purchased passes to a “Hop On, Hop off” bus that took us past a lot of famous spots in Los Angeles and all the way out to Santa Monica.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater
Hop On, Hop Off double-decker city bus tour.
From left to right: The Viper Club, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, The Beverly Hills Hilton, Chateau Marmont, The Comedy Store, Lucile Ball's home until she passed away, Beverly Hill's Witch's House, and the "Wayne Manor" gate from the 'Bstman' movie.
From left to right: The Viper Club, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, The Beverly Hills Hilton, Chateau Marmont, The Comedy Store, Lucile Ball’s home until she passed away, the Beverly Hills Witch’s House, and the “Wayne Manor” gate from the ‘Batman’ movie.
Santa Monica Beach


I know this is a terrible picture, but it’s the only one from our Haunted L.A. tour. The cluster of bright lights on the side of the silhouetted mountain (on the center right side of the photo) is the house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Charles Manson gang.

That evening we had a “Ghost” tour. A convertible bus drove us past all the supposed haunted places in L.A. We went up into the Hollywood Hills and saw the spot of the infamous Charles Manson murders. Of course, the story is awful, but the overall tour was very interesting. After the tour, we went directly to our hotel and passed out. We were going to Universal Studios Hollywood the next day.

Universal Studios, left to right: COTTON CANDY, house from the set of ‘Desperate Housewives’, Bate’s Motel sign, plane crash from ‘War of the Worlds’.
Awww, Scooby.

We purchased “Front of Line” tickets at Universal. It was absolutely worth the extra money. We skipped all the lines, rode every ride, and were walking back out to our car by 4 pm. Universal Studios was awesome. Go there.


Pulling out of the Universal Studios parking garage, we again asked the kids where we should go. Maybe there was somewhere we could stop on the way home? Nope. Breely wanted to go to the ocean. Remember a minute ago, when I typed ‘WE LOVED SANTA MONICA’ in all caps? Well, we loved it. And so, we drove as far east as we could possibly drive, to the end of Route 66 at the Santa Monica pier, and we went to the ocean.

The wall of our bungalow.

We stayed in a fun little bungalow-style cottage right on the beach called Hotel California. We ate on the pier, we rode the ferris wheel, we bought freshly cut fruit from vendors on the beach, and Colton ran into the ocean, fully-clothed, with his phone in his pocket. The beach at Santa Monica was the perfect place to cap off our perfect road trip.

Santa Monica, from the top of the ferris wheel.

They ran straight into the ocean, fully-clothed.
Santa Monica Pier.
Venice Beach, California.

Then, we had to drive back to Texas, and it wasn’t as exciting, but it was beautiful.

Driving through the desert in Arizona.
Staying busy.
Somewhere in New Mexico.

And, there’s no place like home.

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