As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, my kids and I traveled to Utah early in September, and we had a fabulous time. The trip reminded me for the second time this year (the first was our visit to Joshua Tree National Park this past spring) how much I love the western United States and how much I love the desert especially. Next time I travel west, I hope to visit some or all of the five National Parks in Utah. I’ve been to Arches, but it bears a return trip, especially now that I’ve read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey.
But even staying in and near Salt Lake City, we had a blast. Some photos from our adventures, curated to remove anything unpleasant—like my son’s epic nosebleed and almost-very-bad head wound—because that’s what blogs are for:
Tracy Aviary, Salt Lake City:
Feeding sun conures.
Pretending I’m a tree for a toucan (thanks to my friend Elise for this photo).
Earlier this month, I went to Utah with my kids. It was our first trip back to Utah since we moved away more than six years ago, and it was my first trip by airplane on my own with my kids. Without my spouse to lug things, I decided it was time to practice minimalist packing.
Here’s what I packed (including what I wore on the airplane):
Not pictured: undergarments, socks, one set of pajamas, footwear (one pair walking shoes, one pair sandals), and one swimsuit.
Also not pictured: the shorts I forgot to pack.
I realized I’d left the shorts in Massachusetts almost as soon as we stepped through the door of our rental apartment at crazy o’clock PM after enduring a lightning strike to our airplane and a ridiculously long wait at the rental car counter with my daughter at my elbow saying, “Mommy, I think I might throw up.” There was only one couple in front of us at the counter, but they appeared to have never rented a car before. (“Should we get the extra insurance coverage, Bill?” “I don’t know, Edna. What do you think?” “Well, I’m not sure. We should have him explain the options again.” Me: “NO, you don’t want the extra coverage! It’s a racket! Just take the keys and get out so I can get my car and get outside before my kid tosses her cookies!”)
At any rate, I was in a bit of a state by the time I realized that I had no shorts. I texted my spouse in a panic, and he reminded me that if I really needed a pair, I could probably find a store in Salt Lake City that sells shorts.
But it turned out I didn’t need the shorts. Nor did I need the dress, the swimsuit, or the sandals. I walked all over Salt Lake City and even hiked in Little Cottonwood Canyon in my skirt, which was a first for me and something I would never, ever do in New England because ticks. But in Utah, it was fabulous! Highly recommended.
We did laundry once in the middle of our week-long trip, which, with the 97-degree heat, probably made it less unpleasant for our friends to hug us during the second half of the trip. Without a washer in our rental, things might have been a little more complicated, but as it was my exercise in minimalist packing was a complete success.
Maybe next time I can even get by without checking a bag.
For those unfamiliar with Greenfield Village, it’s the location to which Henry Ford had bunches of historic locations trucked in, from the Wright Brothers’ home and bicycle shop originally in Dayton, Ohio, to Thomas Edison’s labs and offices at Menlo Park, New Jersey. The exhibits and interpreters avoided all mention of the controversies surrounding many of the achievements of these great people in favor of hero worship and a rather rosy view of bygone days (stretching from the 1600’s to the 1920’s), but we were able to set these shortcomings aside and enjoy ourselves. I mean, they’ve got a carousel and a steam engine and Model T’s driving around cobbled streets. How can that be anything but awesome?
I’m a little concerned that now my children are going to think that all of these innovations happened in Detroit, but I’m sure I can set them straight in the future.
We visit our families in Ohio and Michigan most years, and each time we visit, my father-in-law suggests two or three venues or events that we just can’t miss. With younger kids, we often missed most of these, but now that the kids are both a little older, we’re able to pack a little more into our schedule with minimal negative repercussions (ie, our kids don’t whine or throw tantrums as much as they did a couple of years ago).
This year, one of the two main attractions of our visit to Michigan (besides being spoiled by Grandma and Grandpa) was the Michigan Challenge Balloon Fest in Howell, Michigan.
We got there early and staked out a good spot under a hill on a tree. We supplemented the treats we’d brought in the cooler with elephant ears and fresh lemonade and other classic fair food. We saw skydivers dive from the sky, watched jugglers juggle, sat in a small airplane, and visited with a groundhog and a great horned owl while waiting for the main event.
The wind grounded many of the balloons; of the ~40 scheduled to take off that evening, we got to see 10 go up. But we didn’t mind. For my family, ten hot air balloons was all of the excitement we needed.
It’s eight hours from our house to Niagara Falls. Because my kids are champion road-trippers, this wasn’t actually as hellish as many people might expect. We listened to several of Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” books and began Black Beauty, which we all loved. My daughter loved that it was told from the horse’s perspective and my husband and I loved the not-so-subtle messages of temperance from the 19th-century Quaker author.
On this trip, we discovered that my daughter can’t stomach hip/retro decor. She literally felt ill at the cafe in Utica where this delightfully kitschy owl perched on one of the thrift-store formica tables that populated the dining room:
The rest of this leg of the journey was more pleasant, with two exceptions: The guard at the border didn’t make a big enough deal about it being the very first time my children or I had used our passports (I wouldn’t have wanted her to search the car or anything, but a little, “Woo-hoo!” might have been nice), and my son refused to wear his poncho on the Maid of the Mist boat tour. Poor guy wailed the whole time but no amount of dousing by the falling waters of the Niagara River could convince him to put on his poncho. My husband, daughter, and I stood around him like blue Dementors trying to shield him from the mist but he just cried on. (I probably should have given him chocolate when we returned to shore.)
The highlight of the trip (besides the falls themselves) was discovering a little wooded walking trail behind the police station and next to the public rose garden that allowed us to take a less touristy path back to our hotel from the falls.
This road trip, I was prepared. I bought some nifty little travel bag thingies (on sale), rolled our clothes into little tubes, and packed the suitcase in what was actually a somewhat organized fashion. I fit all of the clothes and toiletries for myself and the two kids into one suitcase, and still had room for my daughter’s flute and her music and about 20 more disposable pull-ups than we needed.
On Sunday, after 4.5 hours on the road, the kids and I dropped my husband off in New Jersey.
We settled Daddy into his dorm room (which involved climbing into the empty wardrobes and then jumping out and scaring each other, getting free cookies from the registration staff, chasing the birds and squirrels on the otherwise quiet campus, and taking a couple of potty breaks) and then we traveled down the road a bit to a hotel outside of Philadelphia.
This stop was a little gratuitous, but I’d never taken a road trip of any significant duration on my own with the kids. An overnight stop would break up the remaining 4.5 hours of the drive and give the kids a chance to swim in the hotel pool and sleep in hotel beds. You’d think our six weeks living in a hotel last summer would have dampened their enthusiasm for hotel stays, but if anything it seems to have done the opposite. They seem to have the sense that a hotel is just a variation on the idea of “home.”