I’ve never felt like time is so precious with the girls as I do right now. Our eldest Madeline will be off to college this coming September and there will be much fewer opportunities for family adventures so I decided that we should make the most of the recent two-week break from school. I wanted the girls to see more of the USA and after some thought came up with a road trip focused on the desert and the stars. I highly recommend this curated Hartshorn adventure!
We spent Christmas in San Diego with Mac’s family enjoying the gorgeous local beach before headed closer to LA for a couple of days where we visited the Griffith Observatory to brush up our knowledge about the stars.
Then the road trip began! Palm Springs was our first destination and we made a detour to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The first of many incredible sights. The rock formations and Joshua trees as far as the eye could see- they only grow a couple of inches per year! We drove around the park and 15 minutes before sunset came upon a great expanse of cacti backlit by the setting sun. The timing was perfect and the view was mesmerizing. We headed to Palm Springs and the following day toured the area. Highlights included a date shake at Shields Date Farm and a drive up route 74 into the mountains to enjoy a view of the valley. As we headed higher into the mountains it began to snow and the temperate dropped around 30 degrees. The cacti here were dusted with snow – It just made no sense.
The next day our road trip got serious as we drove almost 6 hours to the Grand Canyon. The drive was just beautiful although we did arrive to a temperature of about 10 degrees. The following morning Mac and I dragged the girls out of bed to watch the sun rise over the canyon. A beautiful sight to behold. We spent the rest of the day exploring and took a plane ride which was a treat though a little disappointing as you only fly around the edges of the Canyon.
On day four to break up the drive to Monument Valley and Native America country we stopped at Upper Antelope Canyon for a tour. It was mystical and stunning and in the past had been a place only visited by Navajo medicine men. The natural beauty brought tears to my eyes. Although this canyon was open to the public there are still canyons only visited by those wise medicine men and it was wonderful to hear about the ceremony involved. Note that Horseshoe Bend is another stop along that route that you should consider. This is a natural bend in the Colorado River but there is a short hike from the road to see this wonder. Madeline had badly twisted her ankle just before we left so hiking was out of the question for the Hartshorns.
We continued on our journey taking a detour to drive Route 66 and stopping in an old gold rush town called Oatman. Burros (wild donkeys) roamed the streets. They were brought here during the mining rush in the 1800s and set loose when the mines ran dry. We stopped at the Oatman Hotel which was built in 1902 and could not believe what we saw with our eyes. Dollar bills pinned to every flat surface! Locals reckon that there is about $250,000 in dollar bills pinned up on the walls of this hotel. Can I just talk about the vistas we saw as we drove? One was more beautiful than the next!
We had definitely hit a cold spell on this trip with daytime temperatures around 18 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 10 degrees or less. We arrived in Monument Valley taking in the incredible views just before sundown and saw that famous stretch of the road where Forrest Gump just stopped running. Here we watched the sunset over our Hogan. “What’s a Hogan?” you may ask. In my eagerness to expose the girls to the Native American way of life I had rented a traditional mud hut called a Hogan. I was regretting my enthusiasm as we entered the structure – juniper beams and red mud held this hut together! There was a small stove in the center and it was COLD. Mac had to set his alarm so he could feed the fire every other hour through the night to keep us warm. But the stars… we could see the entire Milky Way. What an incredible sight. Team Hartshorn were good sports and this part of the trip was apparently their highlight. We had a local Navajo Indian take us on a tour the next day. Sharing the history of the area and his tribe, stories of his upbringing and singing us a song at one point as we looked up from under a cave-like sandstone formation at the blue sky. It certainly felt like we were on blessed land.
The last day of our trip was spent driving to Phoenix airport enjoying more of the incredible vistas along the way. This trip was a reminder of what a beautiful country we have. Let’s take care of it!