Happily, I managed to marry someone with a bit more exposure to all things outdoors! She grew up going to the Adirondack Mountains, camping, boating, living in the woods....all that cool stuff. I also happen to have the good fortune of having a wonderful Aunt, who is now in her 90's, living in Bozeman, Montana-about two hours from the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone. My wife and I decided to go and visit when our older daughter was about a year and a half old, and my wife was pregnant with our still-to-come daughter #2! And of course, when you decide to visit Bozeman, there really is no choice. You have to go to Yellowstone. And so we did. Camping. In a tent. My very first time ever. And that was it. To say that I had found something that I loved would be an incredible understatement.
It was this trip, and subsequent ones back to Yellowstone, and then nearly a dozen up to the Adirondacks that have solidified our families interest in seeing all that North America has to offer. We're interested in seeing the rest of the world too, but Europe and the rest can wait a while so that we have time to discover what our own home has to offer. It's with this background that we decided, about a year ago, that we really needed to see more of the American West while our girls were still young enough to be wide-eyed and full of wonder when they were presented with landscapes that are stunning and wildlife that they couldn't imagine without bars around it (or at least while not on the inside of a very safe Disney-owned vehicle)!
Did I mention the girls yet? Oh yeah, it might be nice to give you an idea of who, exactly, is going on this little excursion.
First, my name's Dan, and I'm the boring one. 41 years old, self-employed educational and behavioral consultant, generally into sports of all sorts and a travel planaholic. If I don't have a vacation of some sorts in the works, then all is not right with the world.
Then there's my wife, Liz. She's about to turn 40 this November, but looks like she's about 27 or 28. She an incessant musician who can't seem to stop finding some way to "melodize-" not even for a minute. Whistling, singing, whatever, she never stops. She likes to travel too, but is waaaaayyyyyy less detail oriented than I am. It's a good thing she has me, 'cuz she'd be totally lost without my savvy planning skills. But she really got on board for this trip with a few weeks to go before departure!
Sydney's our older daughter. She's 10 and is an incredible joy. She's our straight-A student who also sings, plays soccer, swims and generally does all things well! As we plan this trip, she's getting ready to head into the fifth grade at the elementary school a couple blocks from our home.
Anna's our younger daughter who's 8. This young lady has more personality than should be allowed for anyone not permanently on stage in some sort of theatrical production. She's the funniest 8 year old I've ever been around. Timing. The kid has incredible timing! She's headed into the third grade this Fall, and is generally uninterested in most things school-related. Also my kinda kid!
So it was with this cast of characters in mind that the planning commenced!
We went through many different itinerary possibilities, and finally decided that in order to maximize our time out West, we'd fly into Vegas, rent a car there, and make two separate loops. The first would include the Grand Canyon North Rim, Zion, and Bryce National Parks. The second would include the California Coast, Yosemite, and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. Originally, we had booked a non-stop red-eye out of Rochester, NY to Vegas, with a pretty horrible, middle of the night arrival time. But it was the least expensive flight at only $250/RT, so we went ahead and booked it. About two weeks after we booked our flights, I decided to start thinking about where we'd stay in Vegas for the first night. In the process, I decided to confirm my reservations with Airtran, and much to my surprise, found out that the non-stop service out of Rochester had been canceled without any notice. Good thing we still had about four months to go! I wonder if they would ever have notified us!! Anyway, this worked out to our great advantage, because they said that we could book ourselves on any flights from Rochester to Vegas (and back) that we wanted, regardless of the published airfare! YES!!! So we decided to take full advantage and travel at prime times, and even extended our stay by an additional four days, giving us a full 19 days to tour!
The planning and packing for this trip was a major undertaking. I tend to be a little overzealous when it comes to packing anyway (OK, I'm really really anal and I start about a month in advance), and that was a really good thing for this trip. Flying and camping is a really difficult chore given the relatively new luggage restrictions that the airlines have instituted. After an initial attempt at packing and meeting those restrictions, I realized that we (a.) Had too much stuff and (b.) The stuff we had was too heavy!
So it was off on a hunt for a new tent, which ultimately led us to a great buy: a new Kelty Mantra 7 (yes, a 7-person tent for a family of 4)! It was the perfect tent. Lots of ventilation, and it met my #1 requirement-a full rain fly that goes all the way to the ground. I wanted a virtual guarantee that we'd stay dry!
Then we added a couple new sleeping bags for the girls (North Face Allegheny's), two Coleman microlanterns (the AA kind, not the lousy NiMH's), and a few other odds and ends. Eventually, we were able to get everything, including all of our clothes, into 5 large rolling duffles. Airtran charged us an extra $10 for the fifth bag, but that was cool considering all the "stuff" we managed to pack into things. I was really concerned that they were going to be.....ahem....."sticklers" about the sizes because all of the bags measured 65" exactly, and I didn't want to get hit with an extra $29 each for "oversized" charges. But apparently we did a great job, because we breezed through without any problems on both ends of the trip!
Of course, the Saturday before we left, which should have been filled with last-minute packing craziness, list-checking and the sort, we had a day long family wedding to attend. And then on Sunday afternoon, which was the day we were leaving, we had another family function! To be honest, that worked for me, because it meant that we had to be ultra-prepared a few days in advance. Somehow, some way, we managed to get all of our packing done by Friday evening. Went to the wedding on Saturday, finished a few last minute details Saturday night, said goodbye to the dogs (Hired a house/dog sitter for this trip-best $300 we've ever spent!! No worries at all about the pups! They were happier with the sitter than they are with us!) and then hit the birthday party on Sunday with the cars packed to the gills with our luggage.
Once the party started to slow down, we checked our watches, looked at the girls, and said "Hey, you guys feel like takin' a little trip? Say to California or someplace like that? Maybe see the Grand Canyon?" They just sort of casually said "Sure, why not?" We said our goodbyes to the family, and off to Rochester for the night for a luxurious evening at the Quality Inn prior to our 6:10 AM departure!
And so it........finally.........began!