Our night at the Grand Canyon was one of the splurges of this trip. I wanted to see the sunrise over the canyon and that meant staying at one of the rim hotels. The Kachina Lodge is just steps away from the rim and provided the prime sunrise-watching spot I had hoped for. The unexpected benefit was also never having to move our car again after finally finding that elusive parking space the day before!
Apparently, in late April, mornings at the canyon are cold. Like, really cold. Like, we-totally-didn’t-prepare-for-this cold. Temperatures were below freezing for our sunrise adventure and the warmest clothing we packed were a few long-sleeved tees and lightweight jackets. And this wasn’t the end of the cold weather on this trip. We learned a lesson here! Regardless, we were going to see this sunrise, so we bundled up the boys the best we could, wrapped a blanket around them, and dragged them out to the rim before 6:00 AM to watch the light slowly illuminate each canyon layer. The emphasis there should be on slowly, which was agonizing for the boys and we eventually warmed up inside after feeling that we had seen a good show. It’s hard to believe that less than two months later, the Grand Canyon was under extreme heat warnings with temperatures well into the triple digits beneath the rim!
Better late than never: We snapped a photo at the park sign on the way out the main entrance since was no fancy sign at the Desert View entrance the day before.
Following our breathtaking start, today would be another long driving day into California. By 7:30, the sun had warmed the air to 39 degrees and we were heading south out of the park. The drive through western Arizona was unexpectedly mountainous and we reached the California border in about three hours. The drive would be quite desolate for most of the day and while I had some family-own restaurants noted just over the border in Needles, we bit the bullet and gave into the boys’ lunch wishes – McDonald’s. It was inevitable to stop at Mickey D’s once on such a long roadtrip and today was the day. Lunchtime temperatures were in the 80s, a dramatic change from the start to our day!
California, you really outdid yourself with the interstate-grade welcome sign and lack of a welcome center. That’s alright. We let ourselves in and took a look around anyway!
For most of the all-day drives on this trip, I packed surprises for the boys so they’d have something new and novel to occupy their time. After lunch, they each got a small 3-in-1 Lego Creator set. These are perfect for a long afternoon sitting in a car seat because the sets are small enough to keep all of the pieces in their laps and each is designed to be assembled, taken apart, and reassembled into three different vehicles. If they shared, that meant six Lego sets to build!
As I do all of the interstate driving, passenger Jeff passed the time by writing copious choose-your-own adventure stories in the equivalent of tiny 4-point font on postcards to mail back home. Since we we’d be gone so long, there was actually time for the lucky recipient to text their answer when they received the postcard and he mailed them another story based on their answer!
The drive through eastern California between the Needles and the next town of note, Barstow, was honestly one of the few lackluster stretches of highway on the entire trip. I’m not a huge fan of desert landscapes (probably the whole “hating hot weather” thing I’ve got going on) and the Mojave there is just so lifeless and barren. Somewhere along the way, we also hit the warmest temperatures of the trip out west at 84 degrees.
While the interstate (or should I be calling it the freeway now?) traffic wasn’t as sparse as our surroundings, we drove for nearly two hours before seeing another town. Barstow certainly takes advantage of its desolate location and takes the prize for being easily the most expensive gas of the trip – 60 cents more per gallon than the second-priciest stop. I assumed it was just California prices at the time, but we didn’t spend above $3 per gallon again for the rest of the trip. I’d read many warnings about price gouging along route 58 through the Mojave ahead of us so I assumed that tanking up in Barstow would be the better choice, but we noticed a dramatic drop in prices immediately outside the city.
After treating ourselves to Starbucks pastries, we had one last mission before leaving Barstow. Up to this point, we had been driving on I-40 which begins on the Atlantic coast in North Carolina and terminates in Barstow. For those traveling east from this origin, a sign informs them that there are over 2,554 miles to the end in Wilmington. I remember seeing its companion sign at the terminus in Wilmington years ago, but it no longer exists. So, we quickly turned onto I-40 eastbound for one exit to see the sign and realize that we were VERY far from home!
Off the interstate and beginning our week of traveling through California on state highways, the desert landscape west of Barstow became quite gorgeous, not as barren and with many desert scrubs. These signs of life were a welcomed sight! We passed large wind farms at the edge of the mountains and entered the most unexpectedly beautiful scenery nearing Bakersfield, a spectacular landscape of green treeless hills.
We arrived in Bakersfield around dinnertime and took advantage of the first Target store we’d see for several more days to stock up on supplies and eat our packed sandwich dinner in the car in the parking lot. I had marked several nearby parks with picnic tables but, as usual, we just wanted to eat our food and be on our way. We were all content to just eat in the car instead of taking the time to find a park.
Changing directions from west to north from Bakersfield, we were well into the central valley and unexpectedly traded wind farms for oil and oranges. Just as wind turbines had been a surprise in Texas, we were caught off guard by so many oil fields in California! Jasper, of course, was thrilled to see exponentially more pump jacks than he’d seen in Oklahoma days earlier. And the orange groves … oh, the orange groves. Despite living in Florida for so many years, I’d never seen so many orange trees before!
We reached our motel near the entrance to Sequoia National Park shortly before sunset. We would easily recommend the Buckeye Tree Lodge. It’s such a quaint family-operated motel beside a roaring river which provided the most perfect white noise through our room’s open windows. Sleeping in the foothills of the Sierras, serenaded by water rushing by all night long was a wonderful way to rest up for the next few days in the California mountains.
An actual room key! This was the only one on the entire trip.