Arizona: A Wild Road Trip Through the Southwest
Day 1: On the Road to Mesa, Arizona
Our 1,570-mile journey began with an SUV packed to the brim: suitcases, a stroller, cameras, and a mini mart variety of snacks. Along for the ride were my husband, Shaun; my mom, Marion; my dad, Jose; and our seven-month-old son, Dominic. We were setting out on an adventure to see many of the sites that Arizona has to offer. I know, I know; you’re probably thinking we are crazy for taking an infant on such a long trip. But, crazy or not, we embarked on our journey, excited to expose our son to new experiences, even at such a young age.
With all of the inevitable stops along the way to refuel, change diapers, and stretch our legs, the planned 11-hour drive turned into 14-hours. In the end, I think the adults cried more than the baby did.
Our first destination was Mesa, Arizona. Everyone was tired and dreading the task of unloading the SUV after such a long drive. But, it ended up being a comical game of reverse Tetris.
Day 2: Goldfield Mining Town
The Goldfield Mining Town is nestled in the hills of the Apache Junction Trail, just north of Mesa. As you walk into this old mining town, you are transported back to a time when everything was simple; the only structures that remain are a country store, church, saloon, and the mine. Goldfield was a booming settlement, up until a flood came through in the late 1800s, which completely shut down the town.
During our tour, we took an old, hand-levered elevator down into the mine. The guide said the mine goes approximately 200 feet below ground, but he took us about 20 feet down. Dominic was wide-eyed with a look of amazement on his face the whole time.
After Goldfield, we visited the Natural History Museum of Mesa, which has one of the largest dinosaur exhibits in the United States. My dad, Jose, was in just as much amazement as Dominic was. There were several dinosaur replicas, but also quite a few real exhibits. Dominic’s favorite was the 20-foot waterfall.
Day 3: Tombstone
Day three was bittersweet. My grandpa, who passed away about a year ago, always dreamed of visiting Tombstone. He had a love for old west movies, so he would have enjoyed watching the dust roll through the wood planked walkways. To honor his memory, Dominic and I placed a picture with a note in the old straw and mud walls of the O.K. Corral, which was one of his favorite places in all the movies. The note reads: “Papa, we finally made it to Tombstone. You are with us in spirit. We didn’t make it before you passed, but I know you are with us here today. We wore blue for you.”
Strolling along the wooden walkways of this old west town, you can feel the history and can imagine all the people who walked these streets 150 years ago. When talking with the locals, it seemed every building we visited was haunted in some way. The Bird Cage Theatre is probably the most haunted and is one of the last original buildings left standing. Opening in 1881, it has survived two large fires that wiped out many businesses and ultimately led to the town’s demise. Throughout its early years, The Bird Cage Theatre served the town as a theater, saloon, gambling parlor, and brothel. Today, the building has 15 bullet holes inside and is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the United States.
When we watched the gun fight reenactment in the O.K. Corral, we were impressed with how well Dominic did with the “gun fire” shots. The “good guys” and “bad guys” were interactive with their audience, and even took turns holding Dominic for pictures.
While we sat along the dirt road that runs through the center of Tombstone, we watched a beautiful horse-drawn carriage go by as the American flag flapped in the wind; every so often, the wind would pick up in the street and swirl around the dust, just like it does in the movies. My grandpa would have loved it.
Day 4: Dolly Steamboat and Wupatki National Monument
On day four, we decided to take a cruise on the Dolly Steamboat, which seemed like something out of a movie. As we boarded, the captain of the boat greeted us. Of course, we were the only family with a baby, so fellow passengers couldn’t help but chuckle at our seven-month-old in a life jacket. The captain actually made a space just for us next to him in the front of the boat so that Dominic wouldn’t have to wear the life vest the entire 1.5-hour boat ride.
As we floated along the Canyon Lake, we were lucky enough to see two baby bald eagles. They were in a nest perched up high on a slender rock formation. Around the corner was a ram, standing on the very edge of a 1,200-foot cliff.
After the cruise, we ventured out to the Sunset Crater and the Wupatki National Monument. The Sunset Crater has two large lava flows that were created by the eruption. The Bonito lava flow covered an area measuring 1.8 square miles and the Kana-A lava flow migrated nearly six miles down into a valley. Driving the windy, 35 mile stretch of road, it was apparent that this eruption was massive as dark, black lava rock seems to be the ground cover for as far as the eye can see.
The Wupatki National Monument tells the story of the Sinagua Indians who built the small pueblo villages in Wupatki, which were occupied by about 1,200 natives. It was amazing to see the ruins of these ancient people. One of the site’s attractions is called “The Blowhole,” where visitors can stand over the Indians’ underground water source, which creates a blast of cool air.
With the Apache Trail and a few one-lane bridges in our rear view mirror, we headed to Williams, AZ. Along the three-hour drive, the temperature went from 88 degrees to 58 degrees within a matter of minutes. A cactus-covered desert landscape soon changed into mountains filled with small pine trees.
Once in Williams, AZ, we walked right out onto the iconic Route 66 from our hotel room, and it was like stepping into a bygone era. Soda fountains, diners, quirky hotels, classic automobiles, and unique shops lined “The Mother Road,” just as it was back in its prime. With its preservation of an authentic, small town atmosphere and history, Williams is the perfect place to “get your kicks on Route 66.”
Day 5: The Grand Canyon
It was finally Grand Canyon day! Boarding the Grand Canyon Railway with a stroller, backpacks, snacks, and a baby was comical, but once on board, the entertainment and passengers were taken by Dominic’s laughter. I think he was the entertainment at times.
The 2.5-hour train ride was a great way to see the countryside. Once we arrived at the Grand Canyon, our breath was taken away by this massive “hole in the ground.” It is truly an unbelievable feeling that can’t be expressed with words. The view of the “disordered” canyon strikes the human perception and the mind gets lost in the rich colors and mosaic view of the majestic Grand Canyon. I can’t wait to visit again when Dominic is older.
Day 6-7: Meteor Crater and Las Vegas
Rounding out our road trip was a quick walk around the Meteor Crater. It is nearly one-mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep. Standing on the rim, the wind blows strong enough to knock you off balance. The crater is more than 50,000 years old, yet is the best preserved in the U.S.
Our last stop was Las Vegas. We walked the strip, grabbed some food, and watched my parents jump off the top of the Stratosphere on the SkyJump “ride.” My mom was so excited, but my dad, not so much. It was a scary 855 feet! After they landed their death jump, the grandparents watched Dominic so Shaun and I could have a night out. We were so tired that we walked the strip and called it a night by 1:30 a.m. That’s an early night in Vegas!
Finally, home sweet home. While we enjoyed every minute of our trip, being away, for even just a week, truly makes you appreciate what you have at home.