Editor’s note: Herald reporter Jen Cowart is traveling across the country with her family over the next several weeks. This is the fourth installment in a series documenting the journey.
Our arrival in Benson, Ariz., coincided with the start of our third week of our cross-country adventure. We arrived on Saturday evening, July 11, just in time for a swim in the huge pool at the Cochise Terrace RV Resort in Benson.
It was very hot in Arizona, and although we didn’t realize it then, we were actually in one of the cooler parts of the state, where it was only in the low to mid-90s during the day and mid-80s at night. We would be staying at Cochise Saturday night, Sunday and checking out on Monday.
The resort was beautifully located up high, with gorgeous views of the mountains, sunrises and sunsets. It was very well kept and had a lot to offer, with top-notch facilities. Apparently, because of the intense heat, the slow season in Arizona is during the summer, and there was plenty of space available at the resort, which made the pool and spa area relatively empty – very nice for us!
WiFi was par for the course, as we were finding. Not bad for reading email, but tough for working, and I’ve determined that working from the road like this requires a great deal of patience and strategizing in order to make sure all my work gets done and in on time, even earlier than on time, in order to be efficient.
At some point after our arrival, we realized that it was actually earlier in the day than we initially thought, because Arizona doesn’t change times, and their time was actually three hours different than Rhode Island time, not two hours as it was where we’d just been in Van Horn, Texas. Suddenly it was only 4:30 p.m., not 5:30 as we’d thought, and back at home it was 7:30.
We were a little hungry and a little confused, and we started in on dinner as we got settled. We’d eat and swim again before we went to bed that evening.
On Sunday morning, we debated how to spend our day. On the one hand, we wanted to hang out, do laundry and swim after having had a busy few driving and sightseeing days prior, but on the other hand, we knew there were some unique attractions right in the immediate area that would be easy to get to, not too expensive, and would allow us to swim later in the day as well.
We didn’t want to miss out on taking advantage of something we’d never get to see again, so to that end, we decided to head on over to Tombstone, Ariz., and visit the OK Corral – an old-time Wild West town, complete with re-enactments of famous wild west gunfights, namely a 30-second gunfight between outlaw cowboys Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp, the McLaurys and Clantons in 1881.
We walked the sidewalks, looking at the old western storefronts and startling as the occasional (staged) gunfights would erupt in the middle of the street beside us. We went to see a historically correct re-enactment of the famous gunfight, and later saw a dramatic reproduction of it middle of the street as well, which was more like the Hollywood version we were slightly familiar with.
We stopped at a sarsaparilla stand for drinks and decided to take an old-time picture of our family all dressed in funny Wild West outfits, complete with guns for each of us, and posing in our meanest faces. It was something different we’d never done before that we could take home with us to remember the trip.
We experienced some rain, thunder and lightning Sunday evening, but it didn’t stop us from hitting the pool later that night before it closed. Monday morning we checked out and headed towards Scottsdale, Ariz., where we’d be having lunch with my friend Kim and her family, and later that night we’d be heading to Chandler, Ariz., for dinner with Don’s friend Jon and his family. We’d be spending the night at their house in Chandler before pulling out the next day to continue on toward our final Arizona destination – the Grand Canyon.
It was in Scottsdale and Chandler where we got to experience the intense Arizona heat that we had not yet seen in Benson. Temperatures hit well above 100 degrees as we drove, and our two friends and their families recounted stories of their backyard swimming pools hitting 100 degrees at times, the water being too hot to swim in during the summer days, or too hot to be refreshing. With our own pool at home situated in the flattest, shady corner of our yard and struggling to reach 80 degrees most days, this was mind-boggling to us. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with our friends that day and night, eating, talking, swimming as the sun went down, and catching up before it was time to leave.
Our drive through to Williams was uphill much of the way, and when we left the temperature was 111, but we watched it drop by nearly 30 degrees as we made our way up through the mountains. The desert-like landscaping changed to something more reminiscent of what we see in New Hampshire, with tall pines to the left and right. The hills were steep and the elevation increased quickly from 3,000 feet to 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, and as high as 7,335 feet before settling in at 6,900 feet where we were staying in Williams.
In our car, Alex struggled with the quick change in elevation. We’d been warned by just about everyone about the chances of getting hit with altitude sickness, and I’d previously experienced it myself when traveling to Utah on business in 2004. It’s not a fun feeling at all as your body struggles to reconcile the thinning oxygen levels and steep elevation. You feel panicky, sick to your stomach, headachy and claustrophobic, all at the same time.
We pulled off at the first chance we had and regrouped a bit before getting back on the road again. We were not the only ones pulled off on the shoulder. There were families and truckers alike, taking a quick break as their bodies adjusted. All told, it was not until the day we left Williams before Alex was feeling completely herself again, just in time to head out.
Williams was described as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and it was located off historic Route 66. We arrived at the Canyon Motel and RV Park in the early evening, a cute train-themed RV park. The town was busy and very nostalgic. There were Route 66 signs and shops and memorabilia everywhere. It was fun to drive through and see it all. It again reminded us a bit of driving through Newport, but yet it was so very different. We had dinner at Doc Holliday’s Steakhouse at a Ramada Inn located nearby and went to the grocery store to get a few things.
On Wednesday, we got up and headed for the Grand Canyon. We were about 40 minutes away by car, and we opted to drive almost all the way there and then park in the parking lot of a local Best Western hotel, where we could purchase the National Parks pass and then continue on by shuttle. Arriving at the visitor’s center, we first sat inside the air-conditioned movie theater and watched “Grand Canyon, A Journey of Wonder” to give ourselves a chance to see a little background on the canyon itself and the people who visit it. As we walked through the canyon, I was really glad we had taken the time to do that first, as it gave us all some background information and images we would not have had otherwise.
Walking out of the visitor’s center puts you right out on a trail headed for the Grand Canyon, and suddenly, it’s right there before your eyes. Of the five of us, Don was the only one who had been there before. For the rest of us, it was the very first time we were seeing it, and there truly are no words to describe the first moment you see it, even for a writer. It was stunning. It was just right there, sprawled out in front of us, every single part of it different than the parts around it. The light shone upon it in all different directions, making shadows in some areas and bright sunlight in others. Everywhere you looked there was something different to see. The rocks and sands were all different colors and textures ranging from red clay to white sands. We all took dozens and dozens of photos, and around each turn on our path we’d see more and more photo opportunities.
At some moment or other as we walked that afternoon, I watched our kids posing for photos and taking their own photos, and I was incredibly, incredibly happy. We had come a long way and worked really hard to get them here, and we were finally here after having talked about it for years, then months, then weeks and days.
This stop represented many things for us as a family, and for our trip itself. It was essentially the midpoint for our trip, at 2-1/2 weeks in. We had made it here together, and we were all experiencing it together, and I was awed as I watched my 10-year-old take photos on her device, thinking how lucky our kids were to be able to be here at such young ages. My husband’s first cross-country trip hadn’t been until after his college graduation, my first was here and now in my mid-40s, and yet here they all were at 10, 13 and 15. I was so proud of us all, and so happy. I don’t know if there will ever be another feeling like that moment in the Grand Canyon.
The final few days of Week Three and the start of Week Four would take place in California, and we’d be leaving the very next morning to start our long trek through the rest of Arizona and much of California, before arriving in the Los Angeles area at Balboa RV Park. We’d be staying from Thursday night, July 16, through Monday, July 20, and spending the entire time with my brother and his family. It would be our longest stretch in one place since we saw Don’s family in Virginia that first week of July and we were very excited. It was our visit to them that had sparked the idea for making this cross-country trek, and we were thrilled to finally be reaching this next destination.
As we drove through the desert for hours and hours that Thursday, they kept close tabs on our impending arrival. The weather was over 100 degrees the entire 10-hour ride, and the trip was unexciting as the desert stretched as far as the eye could see, for miles and miles in every direction, with not much else in sight. We hit Los Angeles just in time for rush hour. I was thankful for Don’s ability to navigate the hilly, mountainous roads at the same time as we made our way through the traffic.
We were happy to arrive at the RV park around 7 p.m. that night. Although the kids didn’t know it yet, we had some exciting plans in the works in the Hollywood area thanks to my brother and his wife, who work in the movie and television industry there. It was bound to be a fun few days as we moved into our fourth week.
For more information and updates about our cross-country adventure, visit my blog: www.thewholebagofchips.com