Sight-Missing in Albuquerque

Because of our visit to the Petrified Forest in Arizona, we didn’t reach Albuquerque, New Mexico until late evening. We were well past our goal of being off the road every day by 4pm and even needed to pick up dinner along the road. Our kids are great in the car, but everyone has limits, and none of us are at our best when we’re tired and hungry.

So we may have been a bit ragged when we arrived at the home of our old friends who so kindly hosted us while we were in Albuquerque. By “old friends” I mean the kind of friends who we haven’t seen in at least 20 years (I was in middle school or perhaps even younger – none of us could remember exactly when it was) but who still opened their home to us when we were in the area. Bob was my dad’s best friend in high school and they went on to serve in the Air Force together. Though they kept in touch over the years, living on opposite sides of the country made it difficult for them and their families to get together very often. As it turned out, Bob was out of town the week that we came to town, but his wife El received us very graciously. We worked out all the details over Facebook with Bob’s oldest daughter Melinda. Once again, Facebook to the rescue!

We camped in their driveway, which was probably a little too steeply sloped for Home Sweet Pop-up, but with the help of all the extra boards we had with us, plus a few from their garage, it worked. Late October in Albuquerque was much colder than it had been in Arizona, and we considered moving inside since it was available. But the space heater kept it comfortable enough, and we decided it was better to avoid interrupting the kids’ sleep routines too much.

IMG_2822It doesn’t look too bad from a distance…

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But this set up made me a little nervous.

There are probably a lot of very interesting things to see and do in and around the Albuquerque area. We didn’t do any of them. After a couple of weeks of pretty intense sight-seeing, we found ourselves saturated. After browsing a number of sight-seeing options, we opted for a day of “sight-missing”. What we found was a Fall Festival for kids – with free entry no less! – and decided to go there first. It turned out to be so great that we stayed the whole day.

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This was perhaps the best thing ever. Like a cross between a ball pit and a sandbox, filled entirely with corn. I can’t even estimate how much corn was in there. It was huge. The kids loved it!

IMG_2770I’m still not sure how we ever got them out of there.  IMG_2768Who knew you could have so much fun with a muffin tin? Will have to remember this for the sandbox!

IMG_2791Then they had a hay bale maze…

IMG_2788And a giant tube slide…

IMG_2811And whatever these would be called…? They’re super fun anyway.

IMG_2816But quite a workout as it turns out. 

IMG_2813Poor Peter was too young for a lot of things, but he thought it was fun to watch his big sister

IMG_2818Bean bag toss is always good…

IMG_2820And a plastic bowling set. Nice follow through!

IMG_2795And these seem to be obligatory everywhere.
Emelie says, “Do I really look like a cow?” 

IMG_2796Finally something Peter can do too (with a little help)

On the way home, we stopped at one of those frozen yogurt bars that I’d been dying to try. We had the place to ourselves and the friendly older gentleman working there gave us great a yogurt bar tutorial. It’s my new favorite thing! I wish they had those in Sweden, but it’s probably better for our waistlines and bank accounts that they don’t.

So we opted to skip all the tourist sites of Albuquerque and enjoyed a fun, relaxed and free (except the yogurt) day playing in the sun together. It was refreshing, and it was absolutely the right decision. After an evening of visiting and a second night in our somewhat precariously balanced camper, we were on the road again and heading south.

IMG_3159Pajama party and hair brushing with El

IMG_3166“Hanging” with Melinda’s son

IMG_3160Just give me some blocks and I’m a happy boy!

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Petrified Forest National Park and the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Petrified Forest National Park was another of those stops that was never on our original itinerary. Our next planned stop was Albuquerque, but the drive there was longer than we wanted to do in a single day. As I sat in the little room at the Grand Canyon Community Library and searched the web for a good place to stop between Grand Canyon and Albuquerque, I stumbled upon Petrified Forest National Park. Only about 20 miles off of I-40 and almost exactly the midpoint of our journey, this was the obvious choice. And as an added bonus, it was one more national park to stamp in the kids’ passports and add to our tally.

We’d passed several other opportunities to see petrified forests along our route, but always chose to prioritize other things to see and do in those areas. It’s not that we weren’t interested, just that you can’t do everything. In this part of Arizona, there weren’t too many other options, so it was time to satisfy our curiosity about petrified wood.

I’m sure there was much more available to do at the park than we had time to do. We took the walking tour of the main area, checked out the visitor center and the gift shop, then it was time to get back on the road. It’s fascinating how minerals replaced the biological material in these old logs such that they are perfectly preserved and look just like logs despite being stone. At the same time, for me it was a “seen one, seen ’em all” kind of experience. “Oh look, there’s a big one.” “Oh look, an even bigger one.” The variation in size and color wasn’t enough to excite me so much. Alas, a geologist I am not.

IMG_2740Overview of the main field that the self-guided tour loops around

IMG_2741This is one of the smaller specimen (can you call them that?) but this is a pretty good representation of how they look… Like a log, but also like a rock.

IMG_2760A more artistic angle on the end of one of the larger “logs”

It wasn’t something that held the kids’ attention for long either. At 3, Emelie is at the age where the world is still new and everything is equally remarkable. A rock that looks like a log? Okay. No big deal. Why wouldn’t there be rocks that look like trees? But the desert provides more than enough sand to keep toddlers happy, and often we were the ones that were ready to move on first. The game that got us around the self-guided tour was “find the next number”. She was then just getting good at recognizing numbers and being able to put them in sequence, so she loved showing us what she knew. “What number are we on here? 5, right. And what comes after 5? Right, can you go find the 6?” And away we go.

IMG_2745Oblivious to the geological phenomenon beside her. It’s all about the sand!

IMG_2748Or we could see what happens if we put sand on the rock log…

IMG_2755Nah, I’ll just sit by this drainage pipe and play in the sand.

IMG_2751She did a great job of following the numbers. And stopped to trace each one along the way. An educational stop, just not in the way you might think.

I’m not sure it would have been worth the trip if it hadn’t been right along our route and a perfect place for an overnight stop. But we got to stretch our legs, see something we’d never seen before, and it inspired a good theological discussion in the car about what we believe about the formation of these and other ancient geological phenomena.

The night before, arriving later in the day from the Grand Canyon, we stayed at the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA. Here’s a little review (sorry, we didn’t take any pictures).

Campground Review: Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Price: $29/night. Very reasonable for a KOA.
Location: Approximately 20 miles west of Petrified Forest National Park, less than 2 miles off of I-40.
Facilities: Clean bathrooms and showers, a good playground, pool (May-September only). Wifi is available for an additional fee, but with limited range. I sat in the game room above the offices to use it.
Site-description: Gravel, some small trees.
Neighborhood: Mostly retired couples in larger RVs. In late October, this wasn’t so surprising.
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/holbrook/
Comments: They also offer “Cowpoke Cookouts” every night for an additional charge. Menus are provided at check-in. We chose to skip it and cook for ourselves, so I can’t comment on the quality.

Get your Kicks…

On…IMG_2728

Just not on the part of it that we saw.

Admittedly, seeing Route 66 wasn’t much of a priority for us. I confess that I don’t understand the draw. It has American cultural significance I suppose, and perhaps I am too young to quite know what that is. It’s one of those things that I’ve heard of (like in the song that inspired the title of this post) but I’m not really sure why. So we weren’t going out of our way to see it. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

But before we reached Petrified Forest National Park (our next mini-destination to break up the drive to Albuquerque) we crossed a section of it. And our geocaching app tipped us that there was a cache to be found in this particular site. We hadn’t found a cache in Arizona yet, and it seemed a shame to criss-cross the United States without seeing any of Rt 66. So it warranted a stop.

A sign talking about Route 66 (which I read, hoping it would make me more excited about seeing it… it didn’t), this rusted out shell of a car, and some telephone poles were all that this particular “monument” had to offer.

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But now we’ve stood on part of the celebrated Rt. 66. Emelie was all too glad to get out and play, since the whole desert is just one big, glorious sandbox for her.

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And after searching entirely too long, we never did find that cache.

Camping in Grand Canyon National Park

There are a number of campgrounds and RV parks along the road as you approach Grand Canyon National Park. I’m sure they all have their advantages, but we loved the idea of being able to just park the car for a few days and get around on foot and using the shuttle bus system. There are several campground options within the national park itself, but only Trailer Village has hook-ups. So we chose Trailer Village and it worked out great!

Campground Review: Trailer Village at Grand Canyon National Park

Price: $35/night
Location: Within GCNP on the South Rim, just outside of the Market Plaza.
Facilities: Full hook-ups, bathrooms and showers. Trailer Village has its own shuttle bus stop along the blue line.
Site-description: Sand/gravel. Paved driveways. Some shade trees scattered throughout.
Neighborhood: An interesting mix of tourists and longer-term residents. It was the only campground on our trip where a school bus pulled in and dropped off a bunch of kids in the afternoons.
Website: http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/trailer-village-705.html
Comments: The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is an easy walk and sometimes a good alternative to taking the shuttle bus. Rather than turning toward the entrance and the shuttle bus stop, there is a paved path in the opposite direction, toward the “back”. You pass some of the longer-term residences on the way. Also, even in this relatively developed part of the park, it’s important to be wary of wildlife. One evening I exited the bathroom to be greeted by a large buck standing uncomfortably close to the bathroom door. I didn’t stop to count the points, but he was impressive. And he wasn’t going anywhere. I slid with my back against the wall down to a corner and went the long way around the building back to our campsite. A heart-thumping close encounter right there in the middle of “civilization”

IMG_2703We forgot to get pictures before the camper was packed up again but here’s a couple of different angles on the campsite.

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Additional Note: Free wifi at Grand Canyon National Park

This information is usually available in the park newspaper that you receive at the entrance stations, but it’s worth noting. While we didn’t mind being disconnected for a few days at Trailer Village, we also didn’t have our next destination quite figured out so we wanted to get online and do a little homework. The Park Office and Community Library offer unsecured wifi. They also have computers available to borrow if you don’t have your own. For whatever reason, the wifi signal wasn’t strong enough in the park office that day so they sent me through a courtyard to the library. In this tiny, tiny library, a very helpful librarian unlocked a private room where I could sit down (no room for chairs in the main library!) at a table and research undisturbed. I didn’t see any tourists in this area at all, and all the staff were extremely friendly and helpful.