When you close your eyes and imagine yourself on the most amazing vacation, what do you see? Where would you go if time and money were no object and there were no other barriers to prevent you from your most perfect escape? Would you sail around the world or backpack through Europe? Maybe you’d venture to the Himalayas and climb Mount Everest or travel to the African savannas for a safari. For me, the ideal holiday doesn’t mean leaving the continent or even necessarily getting on a plane. For years, my ultimate vacation goal has been to take a road trip across the western United States and explore the natural beauty along the scenic roads and highways and tour the numerous national parks. This is the my Trip of a Lifetime.
The first notion of a Trip of a Lifetime began one night, many years ago, when a group of friends and I were sitting around and describing what our ultimate road trip would look like. We decided that it would best be completed in a motor home and would take at least six months of continuous traveling. As several destination suggestions were made, it became clear that the majority of what we all wanted to see was in the western part of the states. Whether it was driving Route 66 in a convertible or seeing the towering shaggy sequoias in California, we seemed to have this shared perception of a wild, uncharted land, filled with unique and obscure attractions. We wanted to see Mount Rushmore, hike the Grand Canyon and watch the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns. We wanted to drive up the 101 coastal highway, swim in the ocean and see the Golden Gate Bridge. Something called to us, and it was more than just the fantasy of running off and living like a nomad. It was the promise of vast open skies, landscapes so dramatically different than ours in southern Ontario and escaping the urban sprawl that was our day to day lives.
Even before that late night conversation, as a child growing up in the mid-west, I had always imagined myself heading out west. I wanted to experience first hand the mountains, natural wonders, wildlife, and all the national parks that I had only read about in books and magazines or seen on TV. I had long dreamed of the massive stalactites in enormous underground caves, of riding a mule into the Grand Canyon, planting my feet in more than one state at the Four Corners and driving through the incredible rock formations of Monument Valley.
After years of musing, in 2010, I had the unexpected and fortunate pleasure of having three months off during the summer. While I had begun to make plans to travel solo, a blossoming relationship with a co-worker who was also going to be out of work, created a willing and able travel partner. We spent three glorious weeks on the road taking in Badlands National Park, Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, as well as Devil’s Tower National Monument and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks in Wyoming. We learned that cars pulled over on the side of the road meant a chance encounter to spot bear or coyote and delighted in the opportunity to see elk and bison roaming the parks and landscape. We marveled at the ragged granite peaks of the Grand Teton range, rising majestically from sparkling blue Jackson Lake and almost became immune to sulfurous stink of the bubbling geysers and hot springs at Yellowstone. It was everything I had imagined and more. I was smitten. Those three weeks became the catalyst of my desire to head west again and see more of that unspoiled and seemingly limitless, wide-open part of the United States. That magical trip became Trip of a Lifetime – Part I.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”John Muir
Two years later, and hungry to continue with our journeys westward, we started planning what would become Part II of the Trip of a Lifetime. My previous travel partner was now my boyfriend, and against my better judgement I agreed that his two youngest children, both teenagers at the time, could join us. We came up with a jam-packed schedule, eager to cram in as many sites as we could in a two week period. Knowing our time was more restricted than on the first trip, we decided to fly to Phoenix, Arizona, rent a car and tour through Arizona and California, flying home from Sacramento. I was really excited knowing that I was going to make a big dent in my bucket list and cross off more of the places my friends and I had only dreamed about seeing. My wishes were coming true and while it wasn’t exactly the way I had imagined it, I was thrilled to once again head west.
The trip in 2012 saw the four of us experience many an adventure and perhaps a few too many arguments along the way, but looking back now, we all agree that it was a trip that we will never forget. In those two weeks, with long hours of driving every day, we crossed off many bucket list items. We visited the Petrified Forest National Park, and stopped at the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark on the way. We drove across the barren landscape of northeastern Arizona to the Four Corners Monument, and followed along the San Juan River, through Mexican Hat to hit Monument Valley. A childhood dream for me, when those towering sandstone buttes came into focus on the horizon, I was captivated.
Next, we spent a day at the north rim of the Grand Canyon and rode mules along the edge and into the canyon. We toured through Zion National Park, the Hoover Dam and spent a night in Las Vegas. We tested out the cooling system of the rental car, and our own bodies, in 118 F temps while driving through Death Valley National Park.
Surviving that first week, mostly unscathed, we started to make our way into California and fell in love with the shaggy and unbelievably colossal sequoias at the Trail of Giants and in Sequoia National Park. We spent two amazing days exploring, hiking, swimming and rock climbing in Yosemite National Park and we learned that any activity performed at 10,000 feet is exhausting, but sometimes being breathless leads to the most stunning waterfalls and vistas.
We ended our amazing trip on the shores of California where we rode an ancient, thundering wooden roller coaster on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, drove along the coast-hugging 101 highway and spent a day and a half exploring the beautiful San Francisco Bay area.
With so much more of the country to explore, the Trip of a Lifetime series is just beginning. There are fifty nine national parks in the United States and to date, I’ve only seen seventeen. My dreams are still filled with road trips to the west and I can’t wait to share all my experiences along the way.
What’s your trip of a lifetime? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a reply below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org