Road Trip 2015: Chapter 9 ~ The Final Chapter

Day 19

My dad has travelled to several places throughout the world and he’s always said that of all the places he’s been Lake Tahoe is one of the most spectacular, so it’s been on my bucket list for years. Although it meant a significant detour, I really wanted to visit Tahoe. We arrived there in the early afternoon and were blown away by the amazing views. It is truly a magnificent place, but we only had the opportunity to explore a very small portion. The lake is quite large and the water is the most amazing colour. It’s nestled in the mountains, so the atmosphere is serene and relaxing. The plan was to spend a few hours on the beach and then begin our trek back to the coastal highway. We had only been there a short time, when it was unanimously decided that we would all happily abort our original plan to drive the rest of the Pacific Coast Highway, see the Redwood Forest and visit Fort Bragg, in exchange for more time in the beautiful Lake Tahoe. We were lucky enough to find a great campsite and ended up staying the night and most of the following day enjoying the lake. It is the most beautiful, clear, clean lake I’ve ever been to. We will definitely be back to Lake Tahoe. We stayed at D.L. Bliss State Park. The campsites were large and had flush toilets and showers (although not usable because of the drought conditions.) One thing that was different was the “bear locker” in each site. You were required by law to remove all scented items (food, lotions, soaps, chapsticks, sunscreen, etc.) from your tent and vehicle and place them inside your campsite’s bear locker. This was a bit of work, but well worth the effort.

We entered the Lake Tahoe area from the south and then headed up the west side towards Tahoe City. The campground was located just a bit north of the spectacular Emerald Bay. We were close enough to hike to Emerald Bay and did do a portion of it, but didn’t have the time to do the whole 4.5 mile hike each way. Instead, we spent the time relaxing on the campground beach and playing in the water. The water was cold, but nice once you got in and super refreshing. We all loved Lake Tahoe!


Days 20 to 22

The last 3 days were mostly spent on the road. We planned to drive about 8 hours per day and really only stopped for food and gas. We took I84 East to Pocatella, Idaho and then took I90 across to Billings, Montana. Just after Billings, we continued our journey east on I94 to Fargo and then straight up I29 to Winnipeg. We stayed in Twin Falls, Idaho at a really nice Best Western and then camped the following night in Billings at Yellowstone RV Park. It was a little more expensive at $36 (similar to a KOA), but had flush toilets, showers, pool, hot tub, laundry and of course, the crown jewel…..wifi! We had planned to stop for our last night just west of Fargo and then do a bit of shopping before completing the short drive home on the last day. By the time we reached our planned destination, it was still early and we were all feeling excited to get home. We weren’t expecting the shopping to be that great and all agreed it would be worth it to push through and drive the rest of the way home, so we ended up arriving home at 1:30 a.m. on the 22nd day. We had just driven through the “time change” in the last day, so we were still on California time and to us it seemed more like 11:30. 

The trip was fabulous, but we were all glad to be home. We were so fortunate to have had such great weather, no sickness or injuries, safe travels and a life time of great memories. We are so blessed!

Road Trip 2015: Chapter 3

Day 7: Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas

The seventh day of our trip was action packed and long. We planned to make quick stops at both the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam en route to Las Vegas. We started the day by making the short 10 mile drive to the Grand Canyon Village which is located along the south rim. We all agreed that we just wanted to have a quick look and move on. We parked the van and hiked from the Visitor’s Center to Mather Point. Although we had to pay the park entry fee the night before ($30 per vehicle), you do not have to pay to do the self-guided tour of the rim. There is a walk way around the rim and the 30 minutes we spent on the short hike was more than enough considering the temperatures were over 42 degrees (108). The view was incredible and the size of the canyon literally too big to comprehend.

Hoover Dam is located just outside of Vegas (45 minutes from Planet Hollywood where we were staying.) Again, we had no desire to do the full tour of the dam, but did want to stop and show it to the kids. Tim and I had visited the dam years ago and it really is something to see. This attraction costs nothing if you avoid the paid parking lots and skip the tours. We first entered from the Nevada side and stopped in a free parking lot off to the right just after the check stop. You can then climb the stairs (or ramp) up to the bypass bridge. The bridge has a walkway and offers a perfect vantage point to view the dam. We then got back in our van and drove over the dam. It’s pretty hard to see from a vehicle, so we parked and walked back to get a view looking down from the dam itself. Again, the size is quite incredible. There is paid parking right after you cross the dam, but just beyond are several free lots. The walk from the parking lots wasn’t that far (about 5 minutes) and was down hill/stairs, but in the heat it really seemed like the walk that would never end. By the time we reached the dam, the kids and I were completely done. The heat was unbelievable. Tim overheard someone say the temperature was 118 degrees (48 celsius) on the dam. Tim does much better in that kind of heat and seemed relatively unbothered. He kindly offered to make the hike back up to the van and then drive back down and pick us up from the dam.

By the time we reached our hotel in Vegas, we were all ready for a dip in the pool. The kids were blown away by Vegas, and Tim and I were both amazed by how much it had changed since we were there several years ago. It is like sensory overload. After a swim, we had a much welcomed shower and headed out for dinner. It was Tim’s birthday, so we splurged on a nice dinner even though we were travelling on a limited budget. After a lovely dinner, we walked the strip for a couple of hours and turned in around 11. I was down for the count before my head even hit the pillow. Tim tried his luck at the casino, but failed in his quest to hit the big one on his birthday. After a good nights rest, we all woke up feeling very appreciative of common amenities like beds and water, after spending a week tenting.

Why A Road Trip?

station wagonA road trip? Oh yeah! I’m sure many of you have fond memories of those family road trips from when you were a kid. If you are as old as I am, you might even remember choosing the shelf below the back window as your resting place for the long drive.  My favourite memories are of the trips in our old paneled station wagon in the 70’s. We would fold the seat down and strategically place the luggage in the back, open up our sleeping bags to pad the “floor” and settle in for a comfy drive. We always brought our pillows so that we could nap, but had ample space to move around and would often play card games to pass the time. Of course, there were no seatbelt laws, so this was a way of life for families back then. It always annoyed me when my dad would pull over to pick-up a hitch hiker, as we’d have to fold the back seat up and this would mess with my “ride”. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how children even survived the 70’s!

It seems like now-a-days, everyone is in a big hurry and all about luxury and convenience. We have not travelled extensively, but enough to know there are pros and cons to every type of holiday. We love the all-inclusive resorts (who wouldn’t) and flying south to escape our frigid winters, but there is nothing like a great road trip.

Why a Road Trip?

1. Unplug ~ leave the devices at home and completely unplug at least while on the road. If you need to check email (or write a blog post) at your stop, so be it, but it truly is a chance to unwind from the vices of devices.

2. Bonding ~ there is no better way to connect than within the confines of car. Kids realize pretty quickly that there is no escaping each other and that they might as well make the best of it. There are no toys to fight over or computer times to negotiate. It is good old-fashioned quality time. Time to talk, laugh, explore and have fun together as a family unit.

3. Learning Experience ~ A road trip can be such a great learning experience. From the topography to culture, there is so much to see and explore. There are ample teachable moments along the way.

4. Freedom ~ Road trips give you the freedom to make pit stops, take detours and avoid planning your entire vacation around the traditional tourist traps. The greatest memories are often created while on the road or off the beaten path and away from the big city lights. Don’t get me wrong, we love amusement parks, zoos and other touristy things, but we have found that it’s in our interactions with the locals in the quaint little restaurants we find or towns we visit that the greatest memories are often made. A great example would be our 2011 road trip ~ although we visited Disney and Universal, the kids will often bring up the small incidentals like playing in the fountains in Savannah, Georgia or the lady we met at one of the Bed and Breakfasts.

5. Flexibility ~ You’re off the clock! Although you may have accommodations pre-booked along the way, for the most part you are free to stop whenever and wherever you wish. You have the flexibility to spend more time in the places that strike a chord with you and less in those that don’t impress you as much. You can make last-minute decisions when you see a billboard advertising a place that catches your eye or over hear a conversation that peaks your interest in a Tourist Information center. It truly is an adventure!

6. Avoid the Airports ~ Have you ever had a flight delayed and ended up missing part of your vacation because you were stuck in an airport? We have. There is nothing worse than paying the big bucks for a family vacation and then spending 2 days stuck in airports with crying kids. Try adding a sudden bout of the flu to that. We’ve lived that nightmare and it wasn’t fun. Oh, did I mention that on the same trip our luggage was lost and we were randomly selected for a full security check? I can tell you we weren’t really in the vacation mood when arrived 2 1/2 days late with lost luggage and a wicked stomach flu. With a road trip, the vacation starts the moment you pull out of your driveway. Instant gratification without the hassles.

7. Good tunes! ~ There is nothing like cranking up the tunes with a selection of your favourite music. It is a great time to dig up the old hits and teach your kids about some of the greats from your own childhood.

For many, the thought of packing your clan into a vehicle and spending endless hours on the road can be less than appealing and in some regards almost frightening. You might be thinking that a road trip would in fact be a source of human torture. Like most moms, I can become exasperated by the constant battles in the back seat. If we can’t make it to piano lessons with out the kids fighting, how on earth could we spend hours on end crossing a country? I can’t explain it, but can say that there is something magical that happens when you embark on a well planned road trip. When the kids are part of the planning and have something to look forward to, it is amazing how the fighting is virtually non-existent (at least in our family). I too was pretty nervous about the long days in the car. I remember worrying about having to listen to arguing and fighting for hours on end as well as the constant nagging …. Are we almost there? How much longer? For us, it just didn’t happen. Our huge trip in 2011, was by far our best vacation ever. The kids have been begging us for another road trip and we are currently trying to make some plans for the coming summer.

If you are thinking of planning a road trip this summer, be on the look out for my new post with tips on planning a road trip.

Zip, Sliding, Away! ~ Wisconsin Dells Road Trip

We just got back from a week of holidays and I must say, I am glad to be back.  Our week away was jam-packed with shopping, adventure and lots of fun …. with a touch of relaxation.  It was a great holiday and we’ll be sure to go back, but hopefully I won’t be side swiped with a second bout of Strep Throat on our next trip.  Ugh!  I only missed one day of fun, but must admit I was struggling for at least 2.

DESTINATION:  Wisconsin Dells

I love road trips.  I love being internet free and having quality time to connect as a family. In Roy terms, this was a very short trip ~ only about 10 1/2 hours from our house to the Dells.  Of course, that would only be the case if we did not stop to go shopping for an entire day en route!  (Great deals and back to school shopping is officially done!)

The Dells is a very touristy town and that is not always my cup of tea.  Boutiques and quaint little shops will not be found on their strip.  Instead, the main drag is lined with tacky souvenir shops, homemade fudge shops and other cash grabs.  The town itself has about 2700 people, but it flows right into another town called Lake Delton which has a population of around 2900, so combined there are under 6000 permanent residents that live there.  Although I was unable to verify this statement, someone who we met said that the population grows to approximately 2,000,000 people during the summer.  I am not sure, but I am guessing he meant that they have around 2 million tourists visit each summer.  Despite the towns being relatively small, there are accommodations every where you look.  There is temporary housing for the students that flood in from all over the world for summer employment, exotic resorts, water parks, cottages and ample opportunities for camping.  There are literally dozens of things to do in the area and to be honest it is a little over whelming. Because we had never been there before, we decided to stay away from the resorts and try a variety of things.

Aside from all of the commercial tourist trap type stuff, the area is beautiful.  We have driven through Wisconsin several times in the past and it really is a beautiful state.  Lake Delton is a man-made lake with an interesting story.  The lake was originally made by Chicago construction company owner William J. Newman in 1926.  In 1940, Newman lost his shares due to financial difficulties.  By the 1980’s, the Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton had become a major tourist destination and home to several water parks and other attractions.  In 2008, a portion of the dike eroded under the pressure of flood waters due to high levels of precipitation.  The dike failed and the lake emptied and sat as an empty basin for most of the year.  Repairs were done and the lake was refilled and became usable again in 2009.

Lake Delton

Where Did We Stay?

For starters, we chose to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the main drags.  We rented an adorable little cottage from Kathy’s Kozy Kottages.  Kathy and Joe were wonderful hosts and our cottage was a quaint little gem.  They have many return customers and book very early, so we were lucky to get the one bedroom.  It was very small, but perfect for our needs as we were out and about every day.  The cottages were equipped with everything you need except for towels and BBQ tools (both of which are mentioned in the info).  The beds were comfortable and the cottage was very clean and well-kept.  Kathy and Joe were there every day to do general maintenance and up keep for their three cottages.  The beach front is shared by all three cottages, but it was perfect as the kids made friends and had a blast.  There is a BBQ (charcoal), fire pit, two docks, pedal boats and sand toys for smaller kids.  There is also a floating platform for the kids to play on.  Shay met a new friend and had a great time learning to fish.  We couldn’t believe their luck, they must have caught about 15 fish within just a few hours.


Our cottage’s bedroom.

The cottage was only $80 per night and allowed us to eat as many meals as we wanted “at home”. If we go back, we will definitely stay there again!

What Did We Do?

Haunted Mansion on Main Street – this was just a little time filler and a huge waste of money.  My husband and kids agreed it was lame (at best).

Bigfoot Zipline Tours – an expensive adventure, but very fun and worth the money.  It is a 2 1/2 hour guided “tour” in which you get to zip down 6 different lines ranging from 462 feet to 1397 feet. You are taught the basics as well as some tricks.  I am not very good with heights, but even I let go and sailed down the line upside down.  It was great!  It was $89 per person and basically suitable for anyone from 4 to 94 years old.  We were advised to buy the package deal from a friend that had previously gone to the Dells.  We paid $100 per person (ouch!!) and for that price we got the Bigfoot Zipline Tour as well as the Dells Army Ducks and the Wild Thing Jet Boat Ride.  This was a great deal and we purchased our package right at Bigfoot.  (I also heard from others that the Bigfoot Zipline is much better than the other one in the area).

Dells Army Ducks – this is basically a tour of both land and water on the army duck boats.  We did this on the first day and it was great to get some history and knowledge of the area before beginning our holiday.  We all really enjoyed the humour of the driver and the one hour tour.

Wild Thing – a fun and wild ride on a jet boat.  Be prepared to get wet.  It is a bit of a tour, but mostly lots of fun. The best part of both of the boat rides is that you get to travel up/down the Wisconsin River which has unbelievable rock formations along the banks. It is very picturesque and well worth the money.

Noah’s Ark – This water park boasts being the largest in the world and I can see why.  It basically has everything imaginable in terms of water fun.  From the amusement park type “log ride” to tube roller coasters, it has it all.  The kids had lots of fun at the wave pool and testing their fate on the “Point of No Return”.  There were many rides and the park seemed endless.  Unfortunately for me, I was fighting a fever and headache and not my usual dare-devil self.  Too bad.  The admission to this park was $39 plus tax, but we bought our tickets from a Kwik Trip outlet and got them for $29 each.  Something to note:  you can purchase a second day pass when leaving the park for only $10.  You can also pre-purchase your tickets on-line at good rates, but we weren’t entirely sure what we were going to do prior to leaving

Kalahari Resort offers lodging and both indoor and outdoor water/amusement parks.  This park was more expensive than Noah’s Ark by about $10 per person.  I was too sick to go to the park that day, so I opted to stay at the cottage in bed.  Luckily I was feeling slightly better by late afternoon and was able to sit on the beach and read (not so bad). The kids said it was fun, but another time, we would probably do Noah’s Ark two days in a row and get the second day rate.

Beach– one of our favourite days was spent hanging out at the little beach in front of our cottage.  The docks provided great fishing for the kids and kept them entertained for hours.  The lake temperature was incredibly warm and the sandy bottom and clean water made it an excellent place to swim.  The lake was calm and we were in a “no wake” zone, so the kids were pretty safe to swim out quite a distant or take the pedal boats out on their own.  It was relaxing, quiet and offered a good dose of nature at its best.  Loved it!

Dinner Out

We ate out a few times, but only one restaurant is really worth mentioning ~  the High Rock Cafe.  The food was fabulous and service was good.  We did have to wait to get in as this is a very popular restaurant.  We had planned on having dessert with dinner as it was Tim’s birthday, but the dessert menu really wasn’t that appealing.  However, after having our meals, we decided that really had to give the desserts a try as well.  We ordered a S’more Dessert and the Half-Baked Cupcake.  Illness was on my side this time and no one wanted to share my dessert for fear of falling sick! Yay!  I had the half-baked cupcake and it was incredible.  It was a vanilla cupcake stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough and a cookies n’ cream frosting.  (I am actually having trouble writing about it without salivating.)  We would highly recommend this restaurant for a nice evening out.  The menu is on-line and it includes pricing, so you can check it out before going.  Mmmm good!

Vacation Summary

This was a great trip and lots of fun for the kids. Next time, I plan to be healthy (which I am sure will enhance the overall experience), and we all agree that we’d love to have more time at the cottage enjoying the lake and fishing.  Over all a great family vacation!