Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Going to California

It had been a long time since I had taken a road trip that far, and thankfully now after the fact I regret how long it had been and not how far this trip was. The trip was a great success. Below I'll share some of the reasons. First, a brief synopsis:

We left OKC and took I-40 west almost as far as it goes. The destination was Disneyland and Newport Beach, but as always the journey was at least part of the destination. The Grand Canyon was the highlight on the return. In between we took in many of the classic Route 66 diversions. My thoughts:

  • You cannot appreciate the vastness of this country and especially the western portion without driving it. We clocked 2,980 miles round trip.
  • Before we left, we each guessed how many moving trains we would see. The high guess was 40. We surpassed that number before hitting LA. The final total was 77, which was suppressed somewhat since some of the return drive was after dark.
  • Not once did I hear, "Are we there yet?" Grandparents being along made it much better--specifically by having a second minivan and generally by just being there. If nothing else, it meant we outnumbered the kids four to three. DVD movies, iPads, and car swapping helped, but the kids were great in their own right. They never resisted when I wanted them to look out to see something. Chalk this up as a virtue of the dreaded screen time--they were never so bored with looking out the window as to not appreciate when something was worth looking at out the window.
  • On the way out we hit the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, Central Ave (old Route 66) in Albuquerque, Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque, noticed the lava flows in Grants, NM and the continental divide just outside of Gallup (for some reason this concept was hard for me to grasp as a kid), the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, a small bit of the Petrified Forest, and a great dinner for two in Flagstaff on the patio at Brix. I was very surprised by how fun and charming downtown Flagstaff is. 
  • The Mouse knows what he is doing. The parks are orchestrated masterpieces. Nothing is left to chance or half effort. The staff ("cast members") make one feel as if he is Truman Burbank from "The Truman Show" where it is all meant for him. 
  • California Adventure is underrated. We had apprehension of spending our second Disney day there (we had one-park-only passes). Fortunately we risked it. There was as much or more to do for each kid (2, 4, & 9) as there was in Disneyland. The crowd was not as intense; hence, the lines were shorter. Presentation-wise it is laid out better. In aggregate the rides were better. The 13-hours in this park did not seem as exhausting even though it came two-days after Disneyland (welcomed exhaustion due to thorough fun, but exhaustion nonetheless).
  • Newport Beach, Balboa Island, Corona Del Mar, these places are of another realm. Truly amazing places. Disappointed to find Bluth's Banana Stand in Newport is fiction, but the ones on Balboa Island did not disappoint. 
  • On the way back we skimmed the edge of Joshua Tree N.P. moving on to the surprisingly cool highway 62 from Twentynine Palms until Parker, AZ (the road reminded me of the uber-popular California Adventure ride Radiator Springs; there were stretches for miles where people had arranged rocks to form messages on the parallel-running railroad tracks), London Bridge and Lake Havasu, a really big (some might say Grand) Canyon, the rejuvenating scenery of Sedona, and another dinner for two in Flagstaff this time at Cottage Place
  • Especially in California you can see lots of evidence of social desirability bias and poor economics (and congruently poor environmentalism) in the name of good intentions. Some apparently see it as a virtue.
  • My formula for successful, stress-free travel is having a well-researched but flexible agenda, taking a go-with-the-flow attitude to both the desires of others as well as the reality on the ground, accepting that it is largely about exploration not efficient logistics (you are a wanderer not a deliveryman), and knowing when to call it a day (take breaks, rest; travel is supposed to be refreshing). Admittedly, I am not perfect at practicing this. 
Some pictures: