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KidzAustin.com's Road Trip from Austin, TX to Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The KidzAustin.com clan with Grandma in tow had a WONDERFUL week-long Spring Break vacation that took us through West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona with our final destination being the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon National Park.
Here are the notable stops/visits along the way (providing links below to websites where you can find more info):
Our first day was spent mostly driving from Austin to our first big destination, Carlsbad, NM. Since I’ve heard about Carlsbad Caverns since I was a girl, I expected the town with it’s name to be a large one. Wow! Was I surprised. It was actually a very small town with lots of the restaurants closed on the weekend (not sure what’s up with that). We got a meal at the “World Famous Gomez Mexican Restaurant.” Call me an Austin snob, but while the service was wonderful (everyone we’ve met in New Mexico have been beyond friendly), the Mexican food left MUCH to be desired.
The next morning we shoved off to check out the Caverns. The drive out provided a scarce view to look at, but once you got there, NICE. Driving up to the top was an adventure of it’s own – especially with me (scared to death of heights) my family had a nice chuckle as then darted close to the edge on occasions. The Caverns were everything they described. We did the self guided tours. We also paid the $3 for the audio tour which you will quickly realize is just an audio version of the written explanations provided along the way. NOTE: The tour that includes the walk down to the cavern floor can be strenuous for anyone with weak knees or a little out of shape (sorry Mom!). My 77-year-old mother went for it, but it wasn’t easy and ended up missing all the stuff at the bottom b/c she was too pooped (I believe she described her legs as jell-0) to walk anymore. Let the kids take photos on the way down. We came up away with some nice jewels. Would also like to say that ALL of the park rangers were extremely helpful.
Do note though that the way BACK from the bottom is generally via elevator. And, on our trip the main elevators were under repair so we spent over an hour in the line to get back to the top. So, you may want to make sure pack a snack.
They also had a really great gift shop – lots of cool stuff. Even if you don’t buy anything, you should stop in and give it a look. They had lots of other tours available. You can get all the details on this wonderful National Park at the Carlsbad Caverns website.
After our Carlsbad Cavern adventure, we made another move in our journey to Roswell, NM -- famous for alien sightings and such. We spent the night there at a local Best Western and were completely exhausted from the previous activity of our day. So, we slept in and went to the Roswell museum the next morning where we found lots of fun aliens to look at. Just like Austin, this town has embraced their ‘weirdness.’ Driving down the main road you can’t miss the old fashioned lamp lights that well, are just a little 'different,' -- alien eyes on each one. The local Arby’s announces that "Aliens are welcome" and there's lots more. You'll just have to go and see. The museum itself wasn’t real large, but pretty interesting. And, the kids loved all the fun alien oddities to look at and/or buy. My son picked up a few alien head lollipops to bring back for his friends. Next time we drop through though they will most likely be in their new digs which looked much more futuristic. You can check out all the details on the UFO Museum or the overall tourist scene in Roswell at http://www.roswellnm.org/.
Flagstaff, AZ and Surrounding Area
We stayed in Flagstaff, AZ for two days. While there we viewed the giant Meteor Crater. In addition, we checked out the Sunset Crater, a local “young” volcano, and toured Wupatki Pueblo ruins. All were awesome to see, but warning -- that first trail to see the Lennox near the volcano is a STEEP one! Also, be sure to check out the interactive exhibits on your way into the Sunset Crater/Wupatki park all at a price of only $15 for our entire visit to both. Before we headed out off to our next major destination, we also squeezed in a Chuckwagon Dinner at the Blazin M’ Ranch in Cottonwood, AZ. This was a really fun, family friendly activity that everyone enjoyed, from my 8-year old daughter to her 77-year old Grandma. It included pre-dinner/show activities (shooting gallery, feeding animals, rock mining and more), a delicious bbq dinner (they also provided a vegetarian option for those who request it like Grandma in our situation -- just let them know ahead of time) and a very entertaining cowboy singing/comedy show.
Grand Canyon National Park
The show ended at 8:30 and from there we headed for the final destination of this eclectic journey – the Grand Canyon National Park! We stayed in the National Park lodging (run by Xanterra). We had one room in Yavapai lodge and the other in Maswik. Maswik lodge was closer to all the action in the village, but Yavapai’s rooms were a bit larger/nicer and a touch more expensive. Now having seen the park, I would completely suggest staying in the Bright Angel lodge (of course, I never got a look at those rooms/cabins). The prices were affordable and it was completely in the middle of EVERYTHING. In addition, if you are interested in Mule Rides this is where it’s done. We DID do the Mule rides (and you can reserve them ahead of time with a phone call from home). My kids were a great size/age for this adventure. The requirement is that they are at least 4’ 7”.
The Grand Canyon was amazing in all -- so many views and such fantastic scenery. In addition, the park offers lots of free ranger seminars and tours throughout the day that can educate the kids on pretty much anything wildlife related. Be warned, food here is pricey! However, I would encourage you to splurge one night to experience El Tovar. It’s the oldest or one of the oldest buildings and reservations are required. However, if you decide you don’t want to buy a full dinner, desserts here are fantastic as well including a chocolate taco. For us, it was another type of adventure taking the kids out for a “fancy” dinner as my son described it. The kids shared a ribeye with fig puree and even tried some of our salmon and goat cheese crostini as well as some delicious asparagus soup.
The Long Road Home
After all this, we had an 18 hour trip ahead of us to get back -- all to be traversed in a matter of two days. First stop Clovis, NM. We picked a hotel featuring an indoor pool (Holiday Inn Express) so that once we did again put our feet on firm ground, the kids can free that pent up energy with something that they were actually looking forward to. This city was much larger than I anticipated and a great place for a well-needed rest before the final leg of our journey.
After the trip was over, we asked, “Favorite thing of the trip?” The resounding answer, the mule rides, of course! Favorite food of the trip was won by the great folks at Blazin M Ranch in Cottonwood, AZ. While the food was great, I think the Ghost Rider may have had something to do with that too . . . . .
And Thanks to . . . . .
Finally, a big thanks to the truck drivers along the way that were sweet enough to honk their big 'ol truck horns as my son pulled the imaginary string in the van. And, another thanks to Dad for at least 40 hours of driving! Of course, last but not least, a big appreciation for all the people we came into contact along the way, from waitstaff to park rangers -- everyone was amazing!
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Pack your 5-day cooler with drinks, lunch meat, cheese and condiments and bring along bread and snacks. This a great way to be able to have lunch on the spur of the moment (the kids loved our picnics) that won't break your budget.
Pay attention, stay informed of area gas prices. We saved by doing this and found that using our Sam's and Costco membership was a good way to get better gas pricing. Or, use an app like this one that finds low gas prices.
Once you've decided were you're going, see if that city/town has Groupons or something similar (for more info on savings with Group Coupons, read our blog). You can sign up for deals to come to your e-mail and save on local attractions and dining.