Hi, everyone! I'm so happy to report that we made it to North Carolina, safe and sound: two weeks, nine states, 3,652.7 miles. We’ve seen so much and learned so much in the last few weeks, it's a little overwhelming. We’re still processing it all, and probably will be for a long time. But I can say, it's already been an incredible experience, and one I'm so glad to share with my family. A cross-country trip is a once in a lifetime event, and it's pretty great to be smack dab in the middle of it all, with the people (and pup!) I love the most.
Now, I do have a confession to make. I had planned to write a post every day or two, to keep you all with us every step of the way and to share my musings, my fears, my excitements in the moment. But the truth of the matter is, at the end of each day, I barely had the energy to jot down a few notes before I fell fast asleep. In fact, there were many days where I was catching up in my journal while my husband, Harry, was driving us to our next stop. So much for me “live blogging” our trip! Ha!
The upside? I wasn’t writing long posts because I was too busy living it all, and yes, being in the moment, my own self. There was some drama to be sure, and a few truly frightening moments, but the vast majority of the trip was great: happy family, happy dog, happy adventures, and I'm so glad I was truly present for it all.
So, here's my new plan. In this and the next few posts, I’ll catch you up, leg by leg. I'll share our adventures, large and small. I'll share the details of where we stayed, what we ate and things we did, but I'll also share the details of our emotional journey, as best I can - a kind of mashup of travel guide and memoir. And at the end of each post, I'll provide links to all the places I mention, just in case you get inspired to check any of them out.
We have a long way to go on this journey, but, in the words of Maria von Trapp, "Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start..."
Day One: San Francisco, CA to Palm Springs, CA
On Sunday morning, June 19, Father’s Day, we hit the road. As I mentioned in my last post, we planned to take the southern route on the way out, with the sound thinking that it would be cooler in June than in August. Well, a few days before our departure, we heard that a “heat dome” was predicted for all of southern California and Arizona, starting the first day of our trip and lasting through day four. For the uninitiated, a heat dome is a system of extreme heat, caused by high pressure systems forming in the upper atmosphere, that pushes warm air toward the earth and basically traps it there. Good times. After some discussion about changing the route, we ultimately decided to press on with our original plan, and head straight into the dome, armed with as much water and ice as we could carry.
Day One was our longest drive of the trip – an estimated 9 hours, according to the GPS. We watched the temperature climb as we drove south, but it was still in the manageable 90s. We took the cutoff to Palm Springs just north of LA, and headed toward the desert.
As we got closer to Palm Springs, we started taking pictures of the outside temp reading on the dashboard. 108! 111! 113! Wowza! The reading was 118 degrees when we pulled into our Palm Springs hotel. At 7 pm in the evening. Holy schlamoley. We decided the best plan was to go to our room, order room service, and wait for the temperature to drop. After a couple of hours of air conditioned cool, we put our pup, Obi, in his crate and headed for the pool. It was only 111 degrees at this point (!!!!), but man, what a glorious night. It was the night before the solstice, the moon was one day shy of full, and the pool was almost deserted. The water was ice cold, and we swam and played for hours. It was heaven. All of us laughing, splashing, and rinsing away the first and longest leg of our journey. Harry remarked how easily Obi had already acclimated to life on the road – how quickly he settled into his crate, how well he was eating and drinking, and how reliably he let us know when he had to take a pause for the cause. “This is gonna be easy,” we laughed. Oh, how cute and naïve we were one day one!
When the temp finally cooled down to a brisk 96 degrees, I took Obi out for a late night walk, all over the hotel property, under the almost-full moon. It was glorious, and such a great start to our journey.
Day Two: Palm Springs, CA to Scottsdale, AZ
We knew this day would be the hottest of the heat dome, with a predicted 122 degrees in Palm Springs, but it was also our only chance to see Joshua Tree National Park. It’s typically about 15 degrees cooler there than in Palm Springs, but still, that would put the high at around 107 degrees, not exactly the way you want to experience the desert with your children and pup. To be on the safe side, we headed to Joshua Tree around 7 am, hoping to experience some of the park before it got too dangerous.
When we entered the West Gate, it was already 96 degrees. Not exactly cool, but not yet lethal. Armed with our map and about 1,000 gallons of water and ice, we drove in. I had never been to Joshua Tree before, but so many people close to me love it, and speak about it so reverently. Now I understand why. The first thing that we saw was a family of quail, trotting across the street, I took that as a good omen: Joshua tree is CLEARLY good for families, even in the dreaded dome of heat. Then, the rock formations came into view. Oh my gosh, the rocks. I’ve never seen anything like them. It looked like a giant child had just stacked up rocks haphazardly all over everywhere. Some even looked like the dribble castles we make at the beach. They took my breath away. We were about 3 minutes into the park when the boys saw a particularly enticing pile of boulders. “Can we climb those,” they cried? Why, yes, yes we can!
We pulled over and up they went. They saw a jackrabbit on the way up, and thankfully no rattlesnakes on the way down. Watching them interact with nature they’ve never seen before was amazing, and reminded me why were on this journey in the first place. They climbed up and up and up, until they got so high, I begged them to come down. They worked together to find the best paths up and down and over, and had a blast. And no one complained about the heat. Not even once.
Our next stop was one of the few maintained gravel roads where pups are allowed to get their walk on. It was creeping up toward 100 degrees by this point, so we just walked about 10 minutes out and about 10 minutes back, but Obi was in heaven. Our eldest took the leash and sprinted (SPRINTED!!!!) in the desert heat, while Obi jumped and ran. We got up close and personal with the eponymous Joshua trees, and experienced the park’s rolling hills, scrubby vegetation, and big, beautiful sky. All the while, we were feeling the heat, feeling it in our bones, and gaining a true respect for its power. We walked back to the car, where Obi thankfully drank his body weight in water, and then we were back into the air conditioning for a drive through the park and back to the 10 Freeway.
Joshua Tree National Park is the coming together of two deserts – the Mojave to the West and the Colorado to the East. As the two deserts met, we passed through the incredible Cholla Cactus Garden – acres and acres of the most gorgeous cacti I have ever seen - and then descended into vast spread of the lower section of the park. We experienced firsthand how these two types of deserts are actually vastly different, as the Joshua Trees and giant rock formations gave way to a scrubbier, flatter, yet somehow greener, desert. Every turn unveiled new wonders, and with every too-hot-to-get-out mile we drove, I listened to my heart beating, “You must come back. You must come back. You must come back.” Every campsite we passed, I saw us there, with our tents, with our sleeping bags, and I saw it all so clearly, I’m certain it was a vision of a certain future. We’ll be back. I know it.
Once we were back on the 10, we started taking pictures of the outside temp again. 119, 120, 121, and finally, the peak temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikers. We hit a rest stop just over the Arizona state line, where we all got to experience 122 degrees in the flesh. Now, so many people had said, “Yes, it will be hot in Arizona, but it’s a dry heat,” and that is indeed true, it is a dry heat. So dry, in fact, I could literally feel my skin age every time I stepped outside. But just because it was a dry heat doesn’t mean that it wasn’t hot. Is was DAMN HOT, y’all. Like scary hot. At that rest stop, we all got back into the car, as fast as possible. But as I took the wheel for the next few hours, I had one thought, and one thought alone: the only thing between us and certain death was some pretty thin metal and a few sheets of glass. I white-knuckled it as I drove, and tried to do nice, slow yoga breaths as I passengered. I don’t usually love an urban sprawl, but I definitely relaxed when we hit the suburban outskirts of Phoenix, and when we arrived at our hotel in Scottsdale, I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had made it safely across the desert, in the middle of the hottest weather event on record. We immediately took Obi on a walk around the hotel property, then, once he was good and worn out, we hit the pool. Once again, night swimming in the heat dome did not disappoint. And that night was even more spectacular than the one before: the full moon, the summer solstice, and a gorgeous sunset that I won’t forget anytime soon.
Day Three: Scottsdale, AZ and Phoenix, AZ
I set my alarm for 7:00 am, hoping to take Obi for a hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I looked at my phone, checked the temperature, and thought, “Oh, good! It’s only 93 degrees. If I get up now, I can get to the trail before it gets hot.” Everything is relative, people, even in the heat dome. Obi and I got to the park, and we were drawn to a cool, modern, steel shade structure. There were some women there who had just finished their run, and they guided me to the trail head for the Gateway Loop. Well, the first 30-40 feet was a metal, open grate bridge, and Obi was having NONE of it. He sprawled his legs almost all the way out and just froze. I pulled, I prodded, I pleaded, but to no avail. Finally, I dropped his leash and ran to the other side of the bridge, hoping he would follow. I was encouraged when he sort of stood up, but then he just slowly backed his way off the bridge and sat, staring at me from the other side. Fortunately, the ladies were still there and they showed me the end of the trail, so instead of doing the loop, we did a little out and back, past tall Saguaro cacti, vibrant Prickly Pears and more of my beloved Chollas. I’ve always been a green forest kind of girl, but the desert was definitely working its way into my heart.
I got back to the hotel and the rest of my boys were still sleepy and moving slowly. We eventually got it together and headed to Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix to get a taste of the world famous pizza at Pizzeria Bianco. Sooooo delicious. I started with their seasonal Farmer’s Market Salad – cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, onions, and a balsamic vinaigrette – and it was the most refreshing, delicious, flavorful salad I’ve ever tasted. As a family, we ordered three amazing pies, one Margherita (classic tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil), one Wiseguy (sausage and onion), and one Biancoverde (white pizza with a variety of cheeses and arugula). We polished them off in a flash. The crust was thin and light, and the toppings seasonal, fresh, and simple, but ridiculously tasty. Really and truly, the perfect, perfect pizza.
We went outside to stroll around the square and past the gorgeous, historic Rosson House, but the temperature was a scorching 118 degrees. We took one loop around, and then went back to the car to head to our next stop, the Musical Instrument Museum. This museum houses a huge collection of instruments and features dozens of artists from around the world. We started with the Artist Gallery, a showcase of different performers from different genres and eras. Afterwards, we went through the Mechanical Music Gallery, and were lucky to see a live demonstration of the Apollonia, a giant, self-playing organ/accordion/saxophone/xylophone/drum. It was absolutely spectacular and a total hoot. After a good, long time in the Experience Gallery, playing all manner of gongs, banjos, drums and glockenspiels, we made our way upstairs to the Geographic Gallery, with a walk through the North American room, and a long perch in front of the Steinway exhibit. As we left, Ford and I tried our hands on the gorgeous Steinway in the lobby for one last hurrah. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we needed to get back to our pup, our sweet, patient pup.
Once back at the hotel, we rested, walked and fed Obi, and then went back to the pool for more heavenly night swimming. As much of a stinker as the heat dome was during the day, in the evenings, it was downright lovely. I love living in California, but I do miss warm nights. Maybe not enough to deal with 118 degree days on the regular, but, hey, I’m a glass half-full kind of girl.
So that’s the first report, done and done. Next up? Leaving Scottsdale and working our way to Carlsbad, New Mexico and the unbelievable Carlsbad Caverns.
See you soon!
Where We Stayed:
Palm Springs: The Ace Hotel
What We Ate:
Phoenix: Pizzeria Bianco, Downtown Phoenix
Things We Did:
Palm Springs: Joshua Tree National Park
Scottsdale: McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Phoenix: Heritage Square
Phoenix: MIM, Musical Instrument Museum