I wrote last week about the Spring Break vacation that we planned. I meant to write the next day about how it all actually unfolded. But, like anything during this time of coronavirus, plans are not to be followed. You just do your best, homeschool your kids, and work and cook (boy do you cook…).
We had a plan ready to depart for Phoenix on Saturday morning, March 14th. But things were evolving so quickly with the spread of the virus. Those folks that had Spring Break a week before us had an easier decision. Ours was hard.
So Bray and I sat in his office, on Friday the 13th, and went back and forth on whether to leave. Whether to catch our flight. Cancel the vacation. Drive. We were all over the map.
We decided to go. Aside from the plane, this was a very socially distant sort of a vacation. We had a VRBO rental house. We were going to visit national parks and wide open spaces.
I remain grateful we made that decision, even though vacation didn’t exactly follow the plan.
The flight, while full, was uneventful. We’d rented a mini van, which the kids heckled me about but it sure came in handy, and arrived at the house without a hiccup. It was fabulous.
A chalet with bits of snow flecks around it when we arrived and lots of snow around it when we left. A ping pong table and pool table which we put to good use, every day. A wooden deck overlooking tall trees with a hot tub and grill, all of which the Vincent family uses daily.
The vacation began as planned.
Sunday we spent a wonderful day in Sedona. We ate at Sedona Pizza after a trolley ride (we did not like the trolley ride all that much, and it was crowded which we were trying to avoid, but it was our best bet to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross which is a must see in Sedona). We hiked down through the creek/river to walk off our pizza and then stopped at the Black Cow from some ice cream.
We went on an amazing Broken Arrow Pink Jeep tour with a fabulous guide. He had us in stitches the whole time. It was just us and a family of three from Ohio so we enjoyed the privacy of the tour. The kids still say it was the best part of vacation. And you cannot beat the views. We got to get out and hike in parts of the red rocks you couldn’t access any other way.
We returned home to steaks and chicken and ping pong tournaments and hot tubbing. It was perfect.
But the news was darkening. And it looked like the National Parks might close at some point. So we bumped our Tuesday trip to Grand Canyon to Monday. This was an easy switch because we didn’t have any tours booked.
We drove up to the Grand Canyon’s south rim and spent the day there. We packed a picnic and ate lunch with a view. We visited the cool historic hotel and hiked around with ice cream cones. All of the museums and tour information areas closed that day so we spent the day outside but the weather was absolutely spectacular so it played in our favor. Parking was a nightmare but we’d planned to walk all day so walk we did.
We had downloaded the free fourth grade National Parks pass and really enjoyed getting to zip through the quick line with our free pass.
Since we’d swapped the Grand Canyon for Monday, on Tuesday we enjoyed the Out of Africa Wildlife Park just outside of Sedona in Camp Verde. It’s in the middle of nowhere and it wasn’t crowded but it gave the kids a chance to see a lot of amazing wild animals up close. The owners give animal talks, the Park also serves as an animal rescue for all sorts of animals, so we saw some interesting animals and learned new facts while getting to walk A LOT around the park on yet another gorgeous day. On our way home, we stopped and ate the West version of Mexican food (a hole in the wall on Route 66 – such fun), never realizing that would be our last time inside of a restaurant for who knows how long.
By the time we got home, the President was announcing orders to keep gatherings under 10 people and the health alerts were more ominous. This time, we decided we would have to change our plans.
We told the kids that we would head back, in the rental van, to Houston after our float trip on Wednesday. As you can imagine, there was a lot of protests and sadness. But the next leg of the trip would have taken us to a hotel in Utah, for our slot canyon and Zion National Park tour. We’d decided not to fly out of Las Vegas, so going even further from home wasn’t a good solution. Plus, it would put us in a hotel with other folks from around the country.
We considered driving to Albuquerque and flying from there, but ultimately chose to avoid the airports altogether.
On the upside, Wednesday was supposed to be a terrible weather day. Rain and potential sleet was forecasted for Lake Powell where our trip was scheduled to be. And yet. We had one more spectacular day.
We picked up our float trip in Page, Arizona. The large boats typically take 32 people out for a float through Glen Canyon but our boat had 11 people so we sat nowhere near the other two families. It was breathtaking. We started at the Glen Canyon dam and then spent the next three plus hours floating through gorgeous rocks and canyons on calm waters. We stopped and checked out ancient petroglyphs and the kids got to write their name in the sand.
By the time we returned, via bus, to our departure location, we had to hit the road. We’d packed lots of snacks and sandwiches for the 21 hour journey home (stocking up at the Flagstaff Wal Mart the night before).
We drove from Page, Arizona, to the four corners so the eldest could stand on four states at once (his treat for having to cut vacation short). HOWEVER, note for you travelers, Four Corners is actually a monument BEHIND a fence that closes at 5 pm and there is absolutely nothing around it. Not even a gas station. So by the time we got there around 7 pm, we could only gaze at the four corners spot behind the fence. He did get to step on two states, but alas, that did not cheer him.
We got as far as Famington, New Mexico Wednesday night before having to stop and spend the night at a little Hampton Inn. We woke up early Thursday and powered through our longest day. Poor Bray. He was driving in snow and sleet that morning but by the time we got to Albuquerque the weather had cleared.
We made it to Abilene and a Hilton Garden Inn. They had room service so we got to just crash. The kids played ball in the parking lot and we had some wine as our reward.
Friday, we were up again, and unfortunately some pretty bleak weather hit for most of the trip to the Houston airport. Bray drove this leg entirely by himself (I’d split up the trip the day before), and we were home, after picking up our car at the airport, by 2 pm.
The kids were amazing on the road trip. We’d stopped at a Barnes and Noble and they read so many books and they learned the fun of Mad Libs and they did iPad coloring pages and it was truly spectacular. Our airfare is held as a credit so we are still planning to hit Utah just as soon as we’re allowed to travel again. The only money we lost was one night stay in the hotel.
And the trip was a gift. We laughed. We connected. We saw some really spectacular country. We prayed. We ate and cooked and slept and hiked. They saw their parents work through some really hard decisions and they learned to adapt. Plus, now that we are on lockdown for an undefined period of time, it was an extraordinary gift to get to be out of our house just before being shut in.
I highly recommend the national park trip. Now, between Yosemite and Grand Canyon, these family vacations have been our favorites!