Living in a van with no AC while driving through places named ‘Death Valley’ is no joke. We stopped at outlet malls and McDonalds to take advantage of their AC and sweet, cold, plastic benches. The struggle is real, people. When everything inside of you screams to roll down the windows but the air outside scorches your delicate PNW skin you know there is hellfire on earth.
With temperatures hovering unmercifully around 115, it was the hottest I’d been in my entire life.I never thought I would wear a bathing suit into a Wal Mart but I regret nothing. The majority of our time driving south through Montana, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California was spent looking for swimming holes and rivers that had long since dried up. We got lost in the desert, let our imaginations get the better of us in Nevada, and marvelled at an entire population’s ability to shuffle from one air conditioned haven to the next, seemingly without setting foot outside. Their loss.
There is nothing like untamed ‘murica, and the wilds and forestry roads of Montana, Idaho, Utah and Nevada didn’t disappoint. Big Sky, Big Wilds.
When we found water, we stayed in water.When there was no water to be found, we staged covert operations involving dollar store squirt bottles; and, when we couldn’t remember the last time we’d bathed our child, we set up a spa on the side of the road and gave her the full treatment. Also, sometimes we just played in culverts.
Utah was a real winner. What a showboat. But, I can’t be the only one that didn’t know Salt Lake City was an actual. salt. lake?
As we made our way south we had some difficult decisions to make. We’d come face to face with the certainty that we were running out of time and money. My fomo screaming to the high heavens we concluded that some things were going to have to wait for another trip. It is difficult to be six hours away from the Grand Canyon and not make the trip. It is difficult to start saying no to things, drive by things, and save things for ‘the next time we drive to Utah’. Our rebound was Zion National Park. Grand Canyon, who?
We spent two days wild camping in the red rocks, absolutely blown away by the beauty and size of the canyons. Sometimes the harder we look for spots to wild camp the harder it gets. In Utah, though, we found spot after spot after spot with minimal effort.
You have to get over the colour green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawn; you have to get used to an inhuman scale; you have to understand geological time.
-Wallace Stegner, ‘Thoughts in a Dry Land’
We spent two days in Zion National Park: hiking, exploring, avoiding snakes, and just being champions at really casual outdoor recreating. Their Junior Ranger program is award-winning (no such award exists, but it should) and because of it, Henley has a new adornment to the ubiquitous ‘fishing hat’.
We managed to sneak onto Route 66 for a (far too short) section of the drive. Tank full of gas. Thirsty for nostalgia. Appetite for the endangered American experience.
So much character on a highway that used to be the main street of america. It is the only way to drive through the States. Get your kicks.
Have I mentioned that it was hot.
We made it. Making Disney happen was a stretch for us on the tail end of our trip. After le wild and le culture and le nature of the last nine months I was prepared to be cynical about le full-blown commercialism of the self-appointed ‘happiest place on earth.’ Instead, I was transported to a land of wonder and imagination and I remain floating on a cloud of pixie dust and happiness. I will never forget those two days of laughter and magic with my little girl.
I cried twice of sheer happiness. Also very probably from heat stroke and exhaustion, because those two days at Disney were 13-hour days. Henley told Snow White she lived in a van. She told her with such pride and the confidence of a 5-year-old so sure of her place in life. Princess Stick -In-The-Mud recoiled (‘oh bless’) but Henley’s shoulders were drawn back and she was wearing her Adventure Hat and I was just about as proud as I could be in life or in any other.