This phase of our trip fulfills my husband Pierre’s dream. While getting rid of 90% of our possessions before leaving the U.S., Pierre figured why not hold onto our SUV, bikes, and camping gear so we could do a big camping trip before going to Asia? Yes, why not? As long as we throw in some motel rooms along the way, I’m in!
Between May 26 and Sept. 18, 2015, we visit the following places in the following order:
- San Francisco, CA
- Chico, CA (to visit Grandma)
- Death Valley, CA
- Williams, AZ
- Sedona, AZ
- Grand Canyon NP (National Park)
- Flagstaff, AZ
- Canyonlands NP
- Moab, UT and Arches NP
- Broomfield, CO
- Jackson, WY
- Grand Teton NP
- Yellowstone NP
- Helena, MT
- Glacier NP
- Kamloops, BC, Canada
- Vancouver, BC, Canada
- Whidbey Island, WA
- Olympic NP
- Portland, OR
- Crater Lake NP, OR
- Redwoods NP, CA
- Chico, CA (back to Grandma’s)
- San Francisco, CA
May 8 to May 25, 2015
Silicon Valley, CA, USA
I joke that you can leave Silicon Valley, but Silicon Valley can’t leave you, because I tightly schedule activities for this time like an ambitious, overworked product manager. For two insane weeks, we stay at the homes of various friends and drive all over the Bay Area to doctor appointments; to visit the kids’ classmates; for hair appointments, lunches, dinners, and play dates; for my interview with the Swiss embassy; to retrieve items from our tiny storage; to purchase a small trailer; to visit the auto dealer and DMV; and more. In the end, we are exhausted, but ready! Thank you, friends!
Julien’s best friend Liam is joining us for the first month, so we have three kids on board!
Day 1: May 26, 2015
San Francisco to Hollister (to pick up our trailer) to Chico (to visit Grandma)
Route: 152 from Hollister to the 5 N
We have dinner at Chili’s with Grandma, who lives in Chico, and spend a night at Motel 6. Visiting Grandma is the only reason we go north on our way to the Grand Canyon.
Day 2: May 27, 2015
Chico to Panamint Springs, CA
Route: We pass by Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, June Lake, Mammoth Lakes, and small towns like Bridgeport, Bishop, Independence, Lone Pine, and into the desert.
Our 8-hour drive turns into a grueling 13-hour one with all our stops, but finally we arrive at the beautiful, isolated, barren Panamint Springs Resort (PSR) on the edge of Death Valley, where we stay for the night in one of their big, white tents. Nothing there but the campsites, motel rooms, a gas station, and a restaurant with an expansive deck and a gorgeous view of the desert at sunset. Pierre wisely sends me straight to the restaurant for a glass of wine and alone time.
Day 3: May 28, 2015
Panamint Springs, CA to Kingman, AZ, stopping in Death Valley.
Highlights include stopping at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes to jump off of them in our socks and visiting Furnace Creek Visitor’s center, with its great exhibits. We skip crowds at Furnace Creek Ranch, with its fun restaurants and bars, in favor of getting excellent, cheap tacos at Tacos El Chero in the tiny Nevada town of Pahrump. Low point: finding a dead cockroach in the bathroom at the Roadside Inn in Kingman, AZ. Yuck!
Days 4 to 6: May 29 to 31, 2015
KOA Grand Canyon in Williams, AZ, with a day trip to Sedona, AZ
Route: from Kingman, AZ, …
After a morning catching up with emails, we drive to Williams, AZ to set up camp at the KAO Campground, where we stay a few days. Highlights include dinner in the historic tourist town of Williams, AZ, which celebrates Route 66 with flashing neon lights, cowboys, Elvis, classic cars, and the 50s. Another highlight: taking in the stunning scenery along route 89A to Sedona, AZ. We skip Slide Rock State Park, but stop along Oak Creek for a dip and picnic. Sedona blows my mind: it has transformed from a small New Age town to a mini-Palm Springs, replete with spray mist to combat the desert heat.
Days 7 to 13: June 1 to 7, 2015
Grand Canyon National Park
Route: from Williams, AZ, take 64 and 180 to the South Rim, then 64 east to Desert View
We wake at 5:30 a.m. to do the impossible: get a campsite in Grand Canyon. We succeed with a spot at Desert View! The Grand Canyon in all its radiant magnificence is our backyard. For a week, we do it all: take the kids hiking on the Bright Angel Trail, finishing just as a hail storm starts; ride the shuttle to the top of Hermit’s Point, which Pierre later does alone on his bike; listen to a fascinating talk on bats at sunset, after which the kids earn their first junior ranger badges; and I do the grueling hike that almost killed me, the one to the river and back.
Days 14 to 16: June 8 to 10, 2015
Route: from Grand Canyon, take …
Our car—the precious vessel of our road trip—is making noises and we think we better hit a city to get it fixed, so off we drive to Flagstaff, another stop along Route 66. I admit, it also feels great to sleep in a bed, take showers, and do laundry! Flagstaff is a good, outdoorsy place to stop awhile. They have a beautiful historic downtown with breweries, cafes, bars, restaurants, boutiques, and more outdoor recreation stores in one location than I’ve ever seen. My favorite of these, hands-down, is Peace Surplus. For more fabulous Flagstaff finds, see my blog post.
Day 17: June 11, 2015
Mexican Hat, UT (on our way to Canyonlands National Park)
Route: from Flagstaff, take 66 to 160 to 163, passing Navaho National Monument and Monument Valley
Highlights include the stunning landscape off the 160 and 163. Those amazing rock formations! That moody sky (rain, lightening, sunshine)! As the sun begins to set, we stop at the first place we see, which turns out to be the San Juan Inn. This beautiful motel is built into the red rocks and overlooks the San Juan River. They also have a wonderful Navaho-themed restaurant that serves Pierre Polygamy beer. Welcome to Utah!
Days 18 to 21: June 12 to 15, 2015
Canyonlands National Park, UT
Route: from Mexican Hat, UT, take 163 to 191 to 211 into the park
We find a spot in Squaw Flats. More stunning desert landscape with huge rock formations. Hiking here means walking (or climbing or scrambling) along, atop, and over rocks. Cairins (stacks of small rocks) mark the trails. My big hike here: the 11-mile one to Druid Arch. The kids enjoy their freedom, riding bikes around the loop, climbing nearby rocks. At one point the combination of penetrating heat, buzzing gnats, and no shower get to me, but I recover.
Days 22 to 24: June 16 to 18, 2015
Moab, UT and Arches National Park
It’s been my dream to come to this adventure-sport mecca to mountain bike. We have a blast, in spite of our gorgeous, riverside campsite being infested with newly hatched mosquitos. We take the kids river rafting, mountain bike the trails at Moab Brands, eat and drink repeatedly at the Moab Brewing Company, ride the waterslides and take showers at the Moab Aquatic Center, and hike to more stunning rock formations at Arches National Park. We also meet our special, adventure-seeking, cross-country motorcycling friends, Dionne and Mike, here.
Days 25 to 26: June 19 to 23, 2015
Broomfield, CO (Denver)
Route: from Moab, UT, take 191 N to 70 E
Driving from Moab to Broomfield to visit friends, we watch the landscape transform from red rocks and canyons to velvet green carpeting to thickening pine trees in the Rockies. We pass Glenwood Springs, Vail, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Beaver Creek, and other popular ski resorts. We hang out with our friends who have two musically talented teenage boys. With the electric guitar, bass, huge amps, piano, and harmonica, our days are filled with jam sessions. We also fly Julien’s friend Liam home to his parents in San Francisco.
Day 30: June 24, 2015
Rock Springs, WY (on our way to Grand Teton National Park)
Route: from Broomfield, CO, take 25 N to 80 W
Road tripping to Grand Teton NP. On the first day we stop for lunch in Rawlins, WY at a hunting-themed bar and grill called Bucks. Men are in cowboy hats. I am told the only wine they have is white zinfendel from a box. I pass. Beer, they have though. After a Motel 6 night in Rock Springs we head to Jackson Hole, WY.
Day 31: June 25, 2015
Jackson,WY and Tetonia, WY (on our way to Grand Teton National Park)
Route: 80 W to 191 N
As we drive, hills begin to grow from the flat, green Wyoming landscape. Then, pine trees appear, as well as fields of yellow wildflowers. Soon, a couple of cabins come into view, a few teepees, the forest grows thicker, a gushing river slithers beside us, and the hills come closer and grows taller into mountains.
We then arrive in Jackson, WY, a popular ski town in winter and all-around outdoor adventure place. It has modern boutique shops and restaurants, and the traffic is horrific. We escape downtown to have lunch at Sidewinders, buy a few grocery supplies and a Harry Potter book for Julien, then head to Tetonia to stay the night at a lodge. We booked the place without looking carefully at the map; otherwise, we would have realized that although Tetonia is close to the park, it’s not actually on the way to the park. We have to drive 38 miles out of our way to get there. Oh, well!
Days 32 to 35: June 26 to 29, 2015
Grand Teton National Park
Views entering Grand Teton are spectacular, amazing. We get a spot at Signal Mountain Campground, next to Jackson Lake, which inspires us to return to Jackson later to buy a paddle board and small blow up boat for water play. Over the days, I jog on trails alone, but do so with mild terror because of all the strict warnings about bears. I feel better after plunking $50 down for bear spray. We see plenty of elk, deer, and bison, and on our last morning, a “teenager” black bear pops into our campsite, sees us, then leaves. The most gorgeous, but also most popular, hike we do with the kids is the one to Hidden Falls by Jenny Lake. Another highlight: riding the bike from Moose Junction to Signal Mountain.
Days 36 to 47: June 30 to July 11, 2015
Yellowstone National Park
In our lengthy stay at Yellowstone, we see a lot of the park. We first camp at Lewis Lake, and later move to Norris. We visit or eat at every village center in the park (except Tower-Roosevelt)–from Grant Village, where we take our showers and do laundry, to Canyon Village, where we have the fortune to run into some good friends, purely by accident. We do some great hikes with the kids, including the De Lacy Creek trail to Shoshone Lake (8 miles RT), the hikes to Upper and Lower Falls, and the North Rim trail to Inspiration Point. We ride the bike on the dirt trail between Midway Geyser Basin and Fountain Flat Drive, as well as on the road from Norris to Canyon Village, and other areas. I jog on popular trails, such as the one to Lone Star Geyser and the one to Golden Gate near Mammoth Hot Springs, clutching my bear spray and singing songs the whole way.
We see the geysers and hot springs at Old Faithful, the Artist’s Paint Pots, Norris, West Thumb, and the impressive Mammoth Hot Springs. We spot loads of bison, elk, and deer, and even more tourists stop in the middle of the road to take pictures of them, not caring much about the 20 to 30 cars stuck behind them or the fact that bisons suddenly charge and gorge people.
We suffer cold and rain on and off for our last week. Digging the lake out from under our tent at Lewis Lake is an adventure, but after sitting under our tarp at Norris, feeling cold and unfriendly, I have had enough.
Days 48 to 52: July 12 to 16, 2015
Route: After 287N to 359N to the 69 N, the 15 N right into Helena.
So happy to be going to a hotel for the next few days: a bed, tv, wifi, electricity, stores, yippee! On our drive we see gorgeous, wide rivers and a number of fly fishermen, looking like ads from Outside magazine. At an outdoor store in Ennis, MT, I am shocked to see over 100 rifles for sale, and have to remind myself that Montana is mostly about hunting, fishing, and ranching.
We have a good stay in Helena. Highlights include walking around Last Chance Gulch, stopping at Blackfoot Brewery, and taking the kids on the Last Chance Tour “train.” Our best day by far comes when we visit Daisy’s family to see their horses, cows, and pigs. Lily and Julien ride horses for the first time and have a blast!
Days 53 to 59: July 17 to 23, 2015
Glacier National Park
This may be our favorite park, with stunning (my favorite word, I know) mountain scenery. From our campsite in Apcar, we are close to MacDonald Lake where we make good use of our paddle board and the kids’ blow up boat. Also close by is a village. Highlights include my long, solo hikes to Granite Park Chalet (doing it “backwards” up the Loop Trail and down the Highline trail) and to Sperry Chalet. We do a gorgeous hike with the kids from Logan Pass to Hidden Lake Overlook, watching a family of mountain goats tease us along the way. Sadly, during our stay the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed before Logan Pass because of a wildfire.
Days 60 to 64: July 25 to 28, 2015
Rossland, Princeton, and Kamloops, BC, Canada
Route: from Glacier NP, …
We skip Banff in favor of someplace new: Kamloops, staying overnight in two small towns along the way. First, we stayed at the cute, clean Rossland Motel, near the cute, clean town of Rossland, which has a ski resort and mountain bike trails. Pierre loves that he can buy elk steaks at the local store and BBQ them on the grill outside our room.
We then hit Princeton, where we enjoy a pool before making our way to Kamloops. On this day it’s rainy and cold, even hailing at one point, and we witness five accidents within a short distance. First, there is the motorcyclist who hit a deer, but is OK. Then comes an overturned car with a cooler and other gear scattered across the divider like a yard sale. Within a few miles, a second overturned car, but this one with the cab smashed in. This makes me ball. Relieved to have arrived in Kamloops safely, we go straight for the Noble Pig Brewery with its amazing food. At Kamloops, we enjoy the Riverside Park, biking along the river, and free live music. Lily celebrates her 4th birthday here.
Days 65 to 66: July 29 to 30, 2015
Vancouver, BC, Canada
We drive to Langley, BC, Canada, just outside Vancouver, staying at the most luxurious Best Western I’d ever been in, with pool and kitchen! Thanks, Hotels.com. The next bright, sunny morning, we take the SkyTrain into Vancouver to spend a day, walking along the Waterfront toward Stanley Park, going on a wonderful Harbor Cruise, and taking a bus to Granville Island, where we sit outside and enjoy awesome seafood. We take the Aquabus to the Science Center to take our SkyTrain home.
Day 67: July 31, 2015
Our plans to rent a house for a month in Canada fall through so we push on to Washington, starting our way back to California. We remember that some friends we met in Moab, UT live in Washington and give them a call to see if they are around and want to get together. Mike and Dionne invite us to Mike’s place on Whidbey Island, so we stay only one night in Everett.
Days 68 to 105: Aug. 1 to Sept. 7, 2015
Whidbey Island, WA
We thoroughly enjoy the company of our hosts, Mike and Dionne, who are themselves travel adventurists, motor-cycling the country and world for weeks and months at a time. Mike rents out half of his property, but on the other half, he lives near his motorcycle workshop, which he built, has an outdoor kitchen, and an Airstream camper where we stay as his guests. Read the story on how they have structured their lives to travel here.
We decide to stay here a while so that we can plan the rest of our trip, take care of business, catch up on calls, emails, and the many blogs I still need to write. While here, we attend the Whidbey Island Fair, paddle board on the Double Bluff Beach, raid the thrift shops (good stuff here), pick blackberries, jog and bike on dirt trails at South Whidbey Recreation area, eat mussels in Langley, and rest.
While here, we also experience a windy, rainy storm that forces the electricity (and thereby the water) to shut down (for that whole part of the island), knock three trees down on the property, and rip our 10-man tent to shreds. We laugh at it all. The winds die down the next day, and the electricity returns, but the rains keep coming.
Days 72 & 78: Aug. 5 & Aug. 11, 2015
We go into Seattle twice. Once to visit Dionne’s beautiful art studio, BallardWorks, which she owns with two partners and take her to lunch at Sam’s Sushi. The second trip is to visit my dear friend from college, having lunch at Revel, and then seeing the Burke Museum, followed by us buying items you can’t get on Whidbey Island.
Days 80 to 81: Aug. 13 to 14, 2015
Olympic National Park
We take a break from Whidbey to visit this beautiful park, leaving our trailer behind. We stay at Sol Duc campground, taking advantage of the 104 F hot spring baths at the resort there. We hike to Sol Duc Falls one day and to Mink Lake (5.2 miles RT) the next. Really impressed with how well both kids can hike now.
Days 89 to 90: Aug. 22 to 23, 2015
We take another break from Whidbey Island to visit friends in Portland. We go to Jamison Square, where the kids cool off in the fountain; eat awesome pizza at Hot Lips nearby; and wander through the Nob Hill area of Portland, stopping to eat good Mexican food at Pepino’s. We also enjoyed the Saturday market. Best part, though, was just hanging with our friends.
Day 106: Sept. 8, 2015
Whidbey Island to Bend, OR
Leaving at 5 a.m., with our hosts rising to see us off, we left beautiful Whidbey Island to make our way to Bend, OR, on our way to Crater Lake. We get delayed by two and a half hours as the tire of our little trailer blows out in the middle of no cell service, with the incorrect tools to fix it ourselves. We also hist a construction zone for another 45 minute delay, but eventually arrive in Bend, safe and sound. We head straight to Deschutes Brewery for a late lunch, then walk through the cute streets of this fresh, clean, outdoorsy town. We end the day with a quick jump in the Days Inn pool.
Days 107 to 110: Sept. 9 to 12, 2015
Crater Lake National Park, OR
We get a great campsite at Mazama Campground and enjoy the beautiful sunny weather. The kids ride their bikes back and forth, and Pierre and I take turns hiking the Rim trail. We have a small issue when I am supposed to pick Pierre up elsewhere on the trail with the kids and realize my set of keys are in the car. Luckily, a Park Ranger is driving by and hears my shouts from the trail. He gets me in.
Together, while there, we hike down the Cleetwood Cove trail to the lake, although I had to carry Lily the 2.2 miles back up. Pierre and I also took turns riding the mountain bike: Pierre up the steep, challenging dirt trail from Lost Creek to Vidae Falls, and I on the road from the Pinnacles up to the Plaikni Falls trailhead, 7 miles of steepness!
Days 111 to 113, Sept. 13 to 15, 2015
Redwoods National Park, CA
We arrive around 1 p.m. and find a spot at Prairie Creek campground (no problem in this post-holiday, post-summer period). We spend our time here biking on a nice dirt trail loop to the ocean past Fern Creek. I also go on some great, long runs on trails through the forests of these amazing, huge redwood trees. Our last morning is miserable with the nonstop rain. We pack up a wet, muddy campsite, the last one of our 16-week camping trip.
Days 116 to 147, Sept. 18 to Oct. 20, 2015
San Francisco, CA, and the Bay Area
We arrive at our friend’s house in the gorgeous city of San Francisco, where our son was born. It’s a hot 92 F and the air is clear, making the city come alive in stunning color and sharp contrasts. The kids are excited to see their close friends and forget we exist. We sleep, celebrate, and begin the long series of errands we need to complete before entering Phase 3 of our travels: to Southeast Asia. We visit with as many of our good friends and old co-workers as we can before we leave. We will miss them. But also, we are ready!
From here, you can return to our general Itinerary page.