Our Cross Country Adventure

We did a thing over the holidays that we’ve talked about as a couple for years. We took a cross-country road trip with our family.

I know what you’re thinking. Are you people crazy? And the answer is yes, a little.

I can remember the look on some of our friend’s faces when we told them about our plans.

And I know the questions you have because we had them too. What about the long hours in a car? What about the crying baby in the backseat? What about the “are we there yets?” What about blow outs and laundry? What about bad weather? What about urgent pee stops and closed rest areas? What about highwaymen? (Ok, so that last one might be a stretch but if you don’t think I was concerned even for a short moment about carjackers, you don’t know me at all.)

We really wrestled with the questions and weighed them against the positives of teaching our kids that the world is open to them and that adventure can’t come without a price. In the end, the call of the open road won my husband over and my rare streak of spontaneity couldn’t say no to him. (Plus, my hubby is a great driver and highwaymen are a dying breed.)

And I’m happy to say that I’m so glad we did it!

Yes, it was hard and there were times I wanted to scream (and I did scream into my pillow a few times). Yes, there were moments of uncertainty and even real fear (I’ll tell you about the Ice Road Truckers night on our way to Albuquerque sometime). All things considered though, the joy of being with my family and experiencing so many firsts together was priceless. I would do it again in a heart beat.

Interstate 40 runs through Knoxville and it continues across the U.S. until Barstow, CA. Our plan was to hop on I-40 and follow it to the end (with a few extra stops in California to see our family). After my husband spent weeks reviewing the travel itinerary, it became obvious that the first (and last) leg of the trip would be the worst for the kids (think really long stretches of nothing). So we called an audible the week before our trip began and decided the kids and I would fly to Albuquerque and meet my husband who would drive our car from Knoxville to Albuquerque.

So here are just a few of the highlights from our trip (I’ll share lessons learned in another post so stay tuned):

Petrified Forest National Park -There is so much beauty in the open road. Specifically, this open road through Petrified National Forest. Can you imagine the events that created this place? Elliott loved it but it was mostly driving for us which mean taking the kids in and out of car seats over and over (and over) again to see the different views.

Grand Canyon National Park – It took a lot of rushing to make this happen but seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time with my family at first light was well worth it. It was a frigid 19 degrees that morning and with the government shutdown, there weren’t many bathrooms available in the park. Thankfully, no accidents and the El Tovar Hotel was open with public restrooms.

What did Elliott think of the Grand Canyon? Mom! It’s the biggest one I ever seen! I laughed and just told him me too, buddy. What did Abby think of the Grand Canyon? Well, did I mention it was 19 degrees?? She was snugly bundled in her stroller and slept for most of it.

The Living Desert, Palm Desert, CA – One place we’ve always wanted to visit as a family is The Living Desert. Elliott is a huge fan of trains, especially model trains. He’s a fan of the I Love Toy Trains show and especially the Ticket to Ride episode in which they visit this amazing place!

We surprised Elliott with this stop. We rode into Palm Desert really late and he was already asleep in the car. The next morning, breezing to Starbucks before we headed to The Living Desert, Elliott noticed the palm trees and here was our exchange:

Elliott: Mom, look it’s like Palm Desert California!

Me: Yes, buddy, that’s because this is Palm Desert, California.

Elliott (excitedly): Palm Desert?! Like The Living Desert Palm Desert California (repeating the exact line from the show)

Me: That’s where we’re going – the Living Desert to see the trains.

(commence over-the-top excitement and enthusiasm)

Seriously, this kid was more excited about this place than he was about Disneyland. If you have a little that loves trains, it’s a must-see, but it also has some pretty amazing animals and plant exhibits as a zoo and garden.

Yosemite National Park – Seriously, folks, this place is gorgeous and so accessible. If you’re ever nearby (and by nearby, I mean on the Western side of the country), you should visit. There was a little bit of snow and ice while we were there. There’s an ice skating rink in the park but be careful, if they have too many people on the ice, they won’t sell more tickets. We found out that the hard way after promising some kiddos that they could skate. Eesh.

Sedona, AZ – We traveled through a lot of amazing cities including Albuquerque, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Winslow, etc but Sedona gets a shout out for being so beautiful and remote. We woke up to these views. The roads into Sedona, including the interstate, were pretty nasty but this was worth the sweat and anxiety.

Knoxville, TN – The views were amazing, the parks were inspiring, and the way was adventurous, but there is simply nothing better than the sight of home after being gone a long time. Turbulence and exhaustion only enhanced my joy and relief at breaking through the clouds and seeing this first glimpse of Knoxville on our flight home.

So if you were wondering how Abby was doing during all of this. She did great. She slept here:

And here:

And here:


And here:


I told my son that he had traveled more in the first years of his life than I had in the first 18 years of my life and it’s true. I’m so thankful that we’ve been able to give him and Abby these experiences and I hope we can continue to do so. Sure we want to go to the beach and visit Disney World but we believe traveling to places they’ve only read about opens the world in a way that books and YouTube will never be able to.

If you’re interested in a trip like this, let me know and I’d be happy to tell you more about our travel plans and itinerary. Let me know in the comments!





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