Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Western Road Trip: The Award Show Version

We're just back from our summer vacation, which means it is time for my traditional vacation awards show post. (If you want to see earlier editions of this post, start with last year's and click your way back to the first one.)

This year's summer vacation was a road trip. We visited sites in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California. This meant covering more distance than we usually do: we put almost 3000 miles on our car! We still managed to avoid any super long days driving, but it did mean more car time than we'd tried before. It worked out fairly well. I am not sure it would have gone so well when the kids were younger, but they are old enough now that we could buy them off with gas station treats (what my kids will put up with for Starburst and Gatorade...) and promises of swims in the hotel pool.

Anyhow, it was a fun trip. The kids spent the week before the trip with my parents in Arizona. We picked them up and drove to the Grand Canyon. Then we headed to Monument Valley, followed by Moab (Arches National Park). From Moab, we drove to Salt Lake City. After a couple of days there, we drove across northern Nevada, spending one night in Elko (but sadly, arriving just a couple of hours after this year's Basque Festival wrapped up) and a couple of nights in Carson City (with a side trip to Virginia City for July 4th). We dipped our toes in Lake Tahoe (I want to go back and explore it properly!) then headed down the eastern side of the Sierras, spending three nights in Lee Vining. From there, we explored Yosemite, saw Mono Lake, and visited Bodie State Park. Our final night of the trip was in Ridgecrest, picked mainly for the timing of the drive, but also because I wanted to stop in to see Manzanar and so didn't want to try to push too much further that day.

If you're noticing a lot of National Parks, that was by design: Pumpkin just finished her 4th grade year, so she got us in for free! I'll write up trip story posts about the trip and will try to remember to come back and link them here. But now, without further ado, the awards:

Best Hotel: This was a split decision. The grown ups chose The View, the Navajo-run hotel that is actually in the Monument Valley Tribal Park. It lives up to its name. Here was the view from our balcony (and from every room's balcony):

The View.
The restaurant also had excellent fry bread.

Pumpkin chose River Canyon Lodge, in Moab, because she liked the room (it was nice: a two bedroom suite with a balcony) and the pool. It was also really close to a park with a nice playground, and a short walk to restaurants. Petunia chose the Canyon Plaza Resort, in Tusayan (near the Grand Canyon). I am not 100% sure why, but I think it was because she liked the pancakes at the breakfast buffet and also there was an indoor hot tub with a fountain.

Best Restaurant: Another split decision. Pumpkin and I picked Epic Cafe in Lee Vining. Pumpkin liked their pasta and the grassy lawn where the tables were set up. I liked the food, and the chilled out atmosphere. We ate there on our first night in town, and then went back for the last night, when Mr. Snarky and I split a bottle of wine and enjoyed some chill out time and the peak view of Mono Lake while the kids played on the grass.

Mr. Snarky really liked  Epic Cafe, too, but picks The Martin Hotel, a Basque restaurant in Winnemucca, NV, as his top meal of the trip. I agree that the garlic soup was very good, and it did seem that he was having something of a religious experience eating his lamb shank. Petunia's choice is the Brio Tuscan Grill, in the City Creek shopping center in Salt Lake City, where she had "the best spaghetti ever." (Their food was good, and I think the pasta was fresh, which is probably why Petunia liked it so much.)

Best Tourist Activity/Experience: There was no agreement on this one. I picked the 2 hour jeep tour we did of Monument Valley with Dineh BeKeyah Tours. Our guide was wonderful, the views were wonderful, the hogan visit was wonderful, it was just all around wonderful. Mr. Snarky picked Arches National Park, which surprised me because that was probably our most uncomfortably hot stop, and he's not a fan of the heat. But he likes red rocks, I guess. (Arches is spectacular!) Pumpkin picked Yosemite, for the views and the fact that we got to play in the snow up near Tuolumne Meadows. Petunia also loved the snow play, but chose the carnival/fun fair we visited in Carson City as her favorite thing. She begged us to go, and had a blast on the rides while there.

Best Playground: Hands down, Swanny City Park in Moab, near our hotel. We all agreed, possibly because it was the one playground we visited in the evening, when it wasn't hot. (Note: this may be one of the last years this category appears. Pumpkin is already feeling too old for most playgrounds, and I suspect Petunia will join her in that opinion soon.)

Best Frozen Treat: I say it was at Steve's Homemade Ice Cream, in Fernley, NV (we stopped on the way into Carson City). Mr. Snarky agrees this ice cream was good and thinks this is a silly category, so says "sure, that was the best." The kids understand the importance of this category, and choose Bahama Buck's, which we stopped at in Provo.

Best Unplanned Roadside Stop: The Bonneville Salt Flats! How did I not find out about these when I was researching this trip? Walking out on that much salt is a weird and fun experience. The kids also enjoyed making "ice balls." We chose not to drive out onto the salt in our loaded down Mazda 5, but lots of other people were doing so.

All that white stuff is salt.

The runner up in this category was Walker Burger, a delightful little burger/ice cream stand we stopped at on the way to Lee Vining. It wasn't completely unplanned, in that I'd looked for a place to get ice cream for an afternoon snack. But the nice shady patio was a complete surprise!

This picture does not do the Walker's patio justice.

Best Museum: The grown ups both pick Manzanar, which is technically a National Historic Site, but has an excellent museum. Both kids had trouble choosing: Pumpkin says it was either the This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City or the Salt Lake City Planetarium, while Petunia says it was either This Is The Place or the "Dinosaur museum" (the Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum, which had some really interested archaeological exhibits as well as cool dinos).

Best Hike: For me, it was the Soda Springs trail in the Tuolumne Meadows section of Yosemite, hands down. The scenery was beautiful, the trail wasn't crowded, the springs were cool, and we saw lots of deer, including four bucks that ran past within about six feet of me and Petunia. Mr. Snarky says it was the hike to see Landscape Arch in Arches, which only he completed because it was hot and the kids refused to leave the final patch of shade. I stayed with them because I'd been on the trail before, and saw Landscape Arch then. Petunia says it was the portion of the Rim Trail we walked at the Grand Canyon. Pumpkin refuses to choose, but says "anything but Arches." (She is clearly forgetting how cool she thought Balancing Rock was, and also the nice hike/scramble she and Petunia had in the shade provided by The Organ at the Courthouse Towers viewpoint.)

Worst Thing: I say it was the mosquitoes that bit me at least 8 times while we were taking a hike we didn't need to take outside of Moab. We were looking for some rock art that turned out to be on the other side of the parking area. Mr. Snarky says it was hot playgrounds. (Note to playground designers in places that get hot: put in shade. For the kids AND the grown ups watching them!) Pumpkin says it was the long car rides. Petunia agrees the long car rides weren't the best, but says the way we kept messing with her dinner and bedtime schedule was worse.

Biggest Regret: For me, it was not having the kids just wear their swimsuits on the day we drove to Lake Tahoe. We went to Sand Harbor, which was gorgeous, but the kids didn't appreciate it because what they really wanted to do was go for a swim. This was predictable, and we could have let them. Mr. Snarky regrets not figuring out the July 4th schedule for Red's Old 395 Grill in Carson City. We pulled up as they closed. On the bright side, we went to the Fox Brewpub instead, and it was excellent with a very pleasant patio. Pumpkin regrets packing her portable piano (a rollout thing, about the size of a high school dictionary), since she didn't touch it once. Petunia didn't really understand this concept, and said she regretted not convincing me to buy her the fringed leather water bottle holder she liked at the Grand Canyon.

And that's it for the award show wrap up. I'll start in on the proper posts soon!


  1. Mr. Sandwich and I spent a week snowshoeing at Lake Tahoe in 2005--it was spectacular, and I'd love to go back (a) for more snowshoeing and (b) at another time of year to see it be beautiful in a completely different way.

  2. EarthSciProf7:30 PM

    Sounds like a great trip!! Thanks for the fun recap.

  3. Carmalia2:01 AM

    Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! My family roadtripped in these areas (we came over from the UK and in the days when you could have two bags per person we even managed to bring all our camping gear) when I was a teenager, and my sister and I still whinged about the long car rides! My husband and I managed a few similar trips before expanding our family but I think we're on a break from that now, but I can't wait until my son is old enough to take out to Moab and head up that steep hill to the Delicate Arch!

  4. I love your trip awards posts, especially that you include the rest of your family's thoughts.

    1. Thanks! We always talk about our "bests" at the end of the trip. It passes the time in the airport or on that last leg of the drive home.


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