By the numbersΒ 

33 days after our “we’re leaving picture” we are home! Today was a long day in the car, not necessarily in miles but allowing anxiety over transition back to “normal” life to creep in and make us all uneasy.  We started planning schedules, calls by for dentist appointments, thinking about mail to go through, yard work to be done and people to connect with.  Does anyone else have Post-vacation letdown or post-vacation depression?  Well I assume it is magnified in our case because ours was so long – we were kind of a mess!

Brenna had fallen asleep in the car for the last hour!

We don’t mess around when we get home from vacation.  It is all hands on deck emptying the car of absolutely everything – including seats.  Then things get separated into rooms and then put away.  Laundry gets done, travel stuff gets stored and now we are headed to bed with a clean house, a clean car and nothing to do tomorrow besides go to the lake!

The kids got to catch fireflies tonight!!  Maybe they exist out west – we saw none -but I think they are a short term Midwest thing and I am glad we didn’t miss them this summer!

So, here are some numbers that should sum up our month long adventure:

7,000 — number of miles we put on our van!

1,063 — number of visitors to our blog.  Now I don’t know if that is multiple visits by just my mom or if that is unique individuals, but I hope you enjoyed the trip through our writing and pictures!  I am so so so glad I was actually disciplined to write everyday because now we have such a great way for the kids to remember the trip!

119 — the hottest temperature I saw on my Car’s thermostat when we were in Phoenix

19 — number of National Parks, National Historic Sites, National Monuments that we explored

18 — number of hotels we stayed at.

17 — number of Junior Rangers Badges we collected.  One park was waaaaaaay to ambitious with their program and we didn’t have the time or energy to finish it. (See blog post – when the sink drops out)

10 — number of States we travelled through.   4 of these were completely new states for us.

9 — number of bags (plus coolers) we usually brought into the hotel at night.

8 — number of times we went grocery shopping. Let me tell you, Walmart customers are the same everywhere you go.

7 — number of Major Leauge games attended by our family (just Steve and Aiden for one game).

6 — number of days spent in an amusement park or zoo.

5 — number of weeks we were away from home.  

4 — number of times we swam in our Phoenix pool in the 2 days we were there!

3 — number of California beaches we enjoyed

2 — number of teeth lost by Orth kids on vacation

1 — number of oil changes and tire rotations we had to get.

0 — number of times we had to go to the hospital or doctor — praise the Lord!

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One last stop…

So there is not much to see between Lincoln, NE and Chicago.  The corn is looking pretty “knee high by the 4th of July” I do know that! 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽

Right in the middle of Iowa, not even a mile off the road was the Herbert Hoover National Historic site. His birthplace, important building and the presidential Library.  We had said if we were ever near or driving by a site, we would go, and this was a perfect opportunity for a stop.


This was a really interesting and fun place as you walk from his birth house, to a blacksmith shop, to a school, to a church, to their grave site, you learn all about the life that made him the man he became as a politician and president.  My kids loved in and we loved it!  It was a pleasant surprise!

Cora thought it felt strange to smile at the gravesite, so she decided acting sad made more sense.

This makes 17 junior ranger badges on this trip.  We weren’t planning on enjoying this so much, but it turned into one of the best parts of our trip and we can’t wait to go do more.  The program caused us to see things we would have never seen and my kids learned so much about history and America!

Did I mention that the road trip today was a slow boring one…so boring I began lettering on bananas and Brenna voluntarily took a nap.


And then we made it to Jon and Taylor’s house!!!  We like to invade their young married life with our crew every once and a while to Overwhelm them 😜. My kids love hanging out with them and We’re so excited to stop!



Thankful to catch up with good friends who don’t mind our crazy for a bit!

Today we head home, we will sleep in Our beds tonight.  I have all sorts of reflections and memories to sort out, as well as laundry.  

The long drive home…

This is the first day in a really long time that we didn’t do any kind of sightseeing/touristy thing!  Today was a driving day, we had to make ground back east.  We started in snow covered Mountains – at 11,000 feet and we ended at 2,200 feet in Nebraska, which could easily pass for Indiana.

We blackmailed the kids with no screen time until they came up with a specific list of 5 things they loved about our trip — quality parenting, I know.  I especially love how each of their personalities came out in their lists.

Cora:

Aiden: 



Brenna:


I haven’t sat down with Kellen yet, his list will be fun.

One thing I am going to miss is speed limits of 75 and 80. We made great time today until a bad accident shut down our side of the highway for an hour.

We have been holding onto an Applebee’s gift card and tonight paired it with 1/2 price appetizers, $.50 wings and a free kids meal for quite the dinner. As an added bonus, Brenna pulled out a tooth!! 

 

Tonight is our last night in a hotel. 33 nights, 19 different hotels.  Tomorrow night we stay with friends and Saturday we are home.  I love hotels, maybe because my bed always gets made for me, or the smell of freshly bleached sheets.  We ended with a great one – a Holiday Inn Express that just opened. The room was HUGE, everything was new and it was just a good finish to the hotel experience of this trip.

I fell asleep to a torrential rain storm, the first real rain we have seen in over a month.  Welcome back to the Midwest!

Arches…

We had some distance to cover today in our ultimate goal to get back home. Not that I really am ready for this to be done, but I guess we need to re-enter real life. But we also had some pretty cool sights to squeeze in, so in order for the kids to not feel like they were in The car all day, we left Flagstaff at 3 am with the goal of being at Monument Valley around sunrise.  


You know monument valley from the dozens of movies it is featured in. Forrest Gump, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Easy rider, Back to the future part 3, and countless westerns. It is gorgeous red towers rising from the Colorado Plateau. This is a Navajo monument on Navajo land and they charge $10 per person (not kids) to come view this beauty.  

I was ok paying this money, especially after all my Native American feelings the day before! With our admission there was a visitor center and you could drive through the valley getting an amazing view of all the rock formations. 

  We got some perfect pics from the visitor center and began the trek down to the valley. IT WAS A RED ROCKY, MONSTER POTHOLEY, HAIRPIN TURNY, UNPAVED ROAD! It was the worst downhill road I have ever seen. Not a gravel road, an unpaved mess! We got to the bottom – about 1/3 of a mile that took us about 5 minutes – and realized there was no way we were going to that for 1-2 hours, no matter what the view!! 



After getting a few more pictures, we carefully picked our way back up to the entrance. You can drive through the area on a highway, not pay and still get extraordinary views – I highly suggest it if you are in the area!!

I kept hearing about Arches National Park as we were planning our trip but it never made our agenda. When we finally sat down and decided our route back home a few days ago we decided to go north through Colorado and Nebraska rather than south through New Mexico and Oklahoma. The route took us right through Moab and so to Arches we went.


THIS PLACE IS SO FABULOUS! For our 15th and (probably) final junior ranger badge of this trip, it was perfect. From learning about the formation of the over 2000 arches in the park to seeing these massive red sandstone structures up close and personal, it was a hit!  


The thing I disliked about parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon is how inaccessible they were to kids, average non- professional hikers. All you could do was gaze at amazing sights. At Arches on the other hand, it was totally hands on, and close and personal and you connected with the experience so much more because of this. Even today in 96 degrees when we drank over 3 Gallons of water as a family in 4 hours it was hot, but not unbearable because the hikes to the formations were short and the. There was shade when you got there.

It cracks me up that our very last National Park – one we hadn’t even planned on going to – was our favorite of the whole trip!

The first hike was through a valley called “Park Avenue”. The girls and I made this 1 mile walk while steve and the boys went to the end of the valley to wait to pick us up so we didn’t have to double back. It was hot, but so so beautiful. I was especially proud of Brenna, she pushed through!


We found some shade for lunch.


We drove to a set of Arches called “the Windows” and Steve and Cora made the very short walk while the rest of us enjoyed it from afar in air conditioning.


The next stop was what I was looking forward to, “the double arch.” Aiden was kind enough to hike with me and it was so so amazing!

Do you see the baby elephant in this rock?☝🏼☝🏼☝🏼all day we would see objects in the rocks, just like clouds. 


We had only planned on staying in the park for a few hours, but we just couldn’t pull ourselves away!! Our final stop was our favorite — it may be my favorite thing of the whole trip! It was called “Sand Dune Arch” and it was a 1 minute walk into a shaded copse of sandstone rocks filled with the smoothest red sand. 


 The way the light filtered, the coolness of the space, the little caves to explore, the quiet – it was just the perfect place. Go when the sun isn’t high in the sky and you get almost complete shade!


So east we head. We are now into mountain time, which means I can call my best friend without her being in bed. Wednesday night we stayed near Brekenridge, CO – over 10,000 ft elevation and 52 degrees- talk about extremes on the trip! 

I am just in such denial this is coming to an end. I was recounting the trip to Cora and the kids as she was trying to remember her favorite things and I loved the memories, funny stories, and events they recalled. It so good.

A really big hole…

DISCLAIMER: his post has a lot of pictures, because, well, it is the Grand Canyon and it was just too amazing to limit my pictures!!

There are a few places that are license plate gold.  Disney World is one, and we learned today that the Grand Canyon is another!  With just a few trips around the canyon’s parking lots we are down to only 7 states to go.  We even found this beauty πŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸΌ

So we went to the Grand Canyon.  It is just one of those places you have seen on screen and in photos so much that you wonder why you are driving 2 hours at 6 in the morning to see it. 

But then you get to the edge…

And it is pretty fantastic. It makes you feel very small as a human; both in size and in regards to your place in history.  The Colorado river has been inching its way down the Canyon for something like 7-17 million years and the rock was formed millions of years before that.  WOAH 😳

Cora likes to get very close to edges. 

Kellen and I found several “love locks” on the safety fences

There are so many places that have no fence or wall. Watch your step!

See, close to edges 

Like mother like daughter 😜😜

Now that is a family picture!

Junior Ranger program

Not a bad picnic spot for lunch 

As you drive east towards the desert view gate of the park, there is this really cool watchtower on the edge of the canyon.

So this place is cool.  Obviously it wasn’t accessible beyond the rim for our family in the short time we were there, but cool nonetheless!  America is pretty spectacular–just ask all the foreign tourists there!

There were 3 other Flagstsff area National Monuments we wanted to see since we were right there, so we made a marathon push and got to them all!

First was Wupatki National Monument.  This is a pueblo ruin and after spending time in the visitors center reading the exhibits, it really just made me sad and a bit sick to my stomach.  This is Navajo land and the Native Americans were given the right to stay on the land, but there have been disagreement between the park Service and the tribe and although they weren’t forced off, they were “forced off”. This is their ruin, their Pueblo, their history, and white people claim it.  Ugh.  American history is messy.



Next stop was Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This is the youngest volcano in the region – it last erupted 900 years ago. The mountains/hills around here are all black and there are lava fields that look like black freshly tilled earth, but really are hardened lava.  So strange.  


And our final stop – we were pushing it here, the park closed at 5 and we got there at 4:45 – was Walnut Canyon National Monument.  This is a canyon where the native Americans who lived by the volcano fled to when it erupted.  They made homes in the cliffs that are still there today.  The rangers were kind enough to let us speed through the junior ranger booklet – bless them!


What a whirlwind day!  My kids were champs and we only had slight bickering.  I think they were thoroughly impressed I’m with the Grand Canyon and learned a lot at the other stops as well!

Beautiful sights, whiny kids…

You know what is sad but also really cool?  When you have good friends whose life/schedule just never matches up with yours so you never see them in Fort Wayne, but when you are both on vacation in Phoenix, you get together!  My friend Meredith and her family are resorting it in the desert and on our way out of the heat bubble we stopped to say hey!  Good people right here!


We had a short 2 1/2 hour drive to our hotel in Flagstaff and had three planned stops that we wanted to do.  These included national monuments that were on our route and also beautiful Sedona.  

So my kids love collecting the junior ranger badges – they have 10 right now – and honestly they are learning a ton, but when it comes to getting the workbook and sitting down to complete the (very easy) activities you would think I was asking them to take the SAT’s at the age of 12.  Serious drama.  I tell them every time – “you know, you don’t have to do this, it isnt required” and every time they say they want to do it and every time they complain and I just want to leave them with a ranger for the rest of their lives. 

So our first stop was an ancient Native American dwelling that is a National Monument called Montezuma Castle.

These are ancient pueblos built right into the side of the cliffs and they are fascinating.  The Native American culture and technology that was in place during this time was just amazing. Super cool place!

Our next stop was  Tuzigoot, a ruin from the same time as the castle.  This was an entire Pueblo on a hill that had collapsed on itself and wasn’t discovered and excavated until the 1930’s.  The artifacts they pulled from this place tell a story about a whole people group.  They have reconstructed many of the ruins enough that you can climb in and around it.

From Tuzigoot we took a scenic back road toward Sedona.  I was in Sedona 15 years ago and kept telling Steve how amazing it was, but as we got closer I was second guessing myself. “Well maybe I am remembering something that wasn’t so cool.” Then we rounded a bend and WOW, it was definitely as amazing as I remembered it to be.  


I say it all the time that the pictures do it no justice, and it is so the case here.  The clouds in the sky cast shadows that take away from the brilliant red that these rock formations are.  They are stunning.  Steve kept asking “well why isn’t this a national park” because it so so so should be!!

We continued on the scenic road toward our hotel and it turned into this beautiful canyon road that followed a river.  The temps had dropped to a cool 95 degrees and we stopped at a pull off to introduce the kids to one of my favorite things – playing in a shallow river.  

Me: “come on guys lets get out”

Kellen: “not another national park”

Brenna: “I wanna stay in the car”

Me: “it isn’t a national park, just get your flip flops on and follow me I know you will love it”

45 minutes later….

“Me: “alright guys let’s head back to the van!”

Kids: “noooooooooooo!! We want to stay!!!”

πŸ™„ I can’t win.  Kids.


They loved it.  Aiden built dams with the rocks, Brenna explored, I taught Cora to pee in the woods, Kellen and Cora got soaked slipping on rocks, it was perfect.




Today was a transitional day into a week of a lot of driving with some scenic sights. Even though we try to make it exciting a new for them with special treats and experiences, sometimes the in and out of the car becomes too much.  I am ok with a hard days because it allows me and steve to ask for forgiveness for raised tempers, it allows them to realize their selfishness and learn how to get past it, and it allows us to always remember that we have to be flexible because the world is not always going to bend to your wants and wishes.

By the way, is it a full moon? Because bedtime was also crazy! 95% of the time over the last 4 weeks they go to bed perfect, not a peep, but tonight, whew! Right now I am in bed with a sleeping Aiden, Brenna is in Kellen’s bed, Cora and Kellen are in my bed and poor steve is in the camping cot.  Not sure how this happened, but tomorrow is a new day and the Grand Canyon awaits!

Yes Kellen, ANOTHER national park 😜

And that makes ballpark 23…

I had the best breakfast today.  I completely stuffed myself on eggs, potatoes, French toast and fruit.  It was awesome.  It is the little things when you have been away from a normal kitchen for a month. 

Even more swimming happened this morning. I don’t think we have ever swam at a hotel pool this much. 

The Diamondbacks game was a day game, which worked out well because really, what else is there to do in the middle of the day when it is 115 degrees outside?!


We’ve been to 6 games this month; we got a little slap happy!


Thank goodness for domed stadiums!

I love domes, and this was a classic dome.  It is a lot like Miller Field in Milwaukee.  It had a fun kids area and $2 hot dogs, corn dogs and popcorn!  

This kid! He kept score the whole game, into extra innings. It has been fun to see him take on the challenge over the last 6 games – baseball score keeping is not easy and is a dying art!

The kids got the chance to run the bases again! That means they were able to be on 3 of the 6 fields we visited!  Pretty good odds.

So we have only 7 parks left.  It was a random conversation that led us here – “why don’t we just do all 6 west coast stadiums in one trip.” And now we are done! I look at how much Aiden has grown up this trip; he began a conversation with some Steelers fans in line at an amusement park, he started a bath for the kiddos -his own idea- after going back to the room early from swimming, and he has continually asked random adults for things we need. He has been a great help, we actually call him the third adult on this trip.  All that to reflect on how quickly he will be grown and if we hadn’t taken the time to do this trip there was no way we would have gotten close to finishing. Now we can see the finish line!

We had a great night having one last swim. This weather is pretty great for swimming! Especially for me – I don’t like to be cold when I swim so this place is the perfect way to get me in the water and the kids sure do abuse me! πŸ˜‚

VIDEO- Kellen and Alison in water
VIDEO: Brenna and Alison in water
VIDEO: Cora and Alison in water

But it’s a dry heat…

Heading back east means one thing for sure – time to restart our license plate game!  We had pretty good luck on the way out – only couldn’t find 7 – stay tuned for our success on the way back!


We left early in order to help our 5 hour trip to Phoenix feel quicker. We originally planned on going to Joshua Tree NP, but the heat in the desert right now is just relentless and it was about an hour out of the way, so it unfortunately got nixed.  Instead we took I-8 right into the desert and our most interesting view and conversation revolved around how close we were to Mexico! 

That grey line is Mexico!

The border fence

My happy travelers :). Right now they are working their way through random Disney movies they haven’t seen in years – The Emperor’s New Groove, Brave, and Cinderella. 

 If I haven’t mentioned our roof cargo net before, it has been a great addition to our packing! I saw the idea on Pinterest and  got mine at our local motorcycle shop for $10.  It is connected to the garment hangers in the van (I started out using zip ties to help it reach, but as it stretched out, I didn’t need them). It has been the perfect place to stash hats, pillows and blankets not in use and other random things that stay in the van. 

When we left San Diego at 6:30 am it was 64 degrees and as we traveled east into mountains, valleys and deserts the temps just kept rising. By noon as we pulled into our hotel it was 113 degrees!


People always say “but it’s a dry heat” to explain away how hot is gets here, and I get it. This isn’t sweltering, heavy, sticky southern US heat.  It is like walking into a room that has the heater on 113 degrees. Add in a hot breeze that evaporates all of your sweat and it is just the strangest thing.  It is hard to adjust to though and especially going from air conditioning to that heat can be exhausting!

It is a good thing we woke up early to get to Phoenix fast, because all my kiddos wanted to do was swim and luckily our hotel delivered with a great pool area!  


We originally talked about seeing the new Cars movie at a drive in, but that heat turned us to a dark matinee instead!

It was SO SO SO good!  We all loved it!

After another swim – 106 at 8 pm – we enjoyed a lazy night.  I am not sure how much of the amazing Phoenix area we will see, the combination of heat and sight-seeing weariness from my kids may just drive us to the pool! 

So tired of the churro…

California is churro crazy. Every amusement park, zoo and baseball gam they are selling it, an the fans are eating it up – litteraly! My kids are calling it the national desert of California!

Our last day in California started with sleeping in and then heading to a park to enjoy some beautiful California weather.  

This is how Aiden likes to enjoy playgrounds!

Cora needed to do some gymnastics training and so really enjoyed finding a bar and some open green space to tumble

We set a record in the afternoon at the hotel when all for kids sat for an hour and read, played and did activity books while I read. It was heaven!

We had put off buying Padre’s tickets until now because we just couldn’t find them for a low enough price.  But we had to bite the bullet today 

There is a grassy area and a small wiffleball field in the outfield area and Aiden and Cora hit some balls.   

VIDEO: AJ and Cora play ball at Petco


Petco park is a newer stadium with lots of food choices and fancy boxes, group areas and giveaways. It was in the middle of the pack for us, nothing really stood out except their in-game entertainment.  The Jumbotron type things that keep fans engaged. They had some very unique and entertaining features!

There was an older gentleman with his daughter behind us at the game who were tigers fans from Lansing. We had a great time talking with them, but he was especially impressed that Aiden was keeping score of the game and that Steve taught him how!



A big, big zoo…

Our last City Pass admission was to the San Diego Zoo on Thursday. It was a foggy, chilly 68 degrees – perfect weather for a zoo!

You know a zoo is big when it has a double decker tour bus and a sky ride as ways to get you around the zoo!

We were there right when the zoo opened, and Aiden had a special opportunity to help with the opening!

VIDEO: Aiden opening the zoo!
Our first stop was that double decker bus and it was awesome because we got to see a lot of animals out and about in the cool morning that we would have never been able to walk to.  It was about 40 minutes and maybe the best way to see a zoo this big.

After the tour we headed to see the main attraction – the Pandas! 🐼 There were two on exhibit and we learned a lot about their behaviors and history.

It was a beautifully laid out (but a bit confusing) zoo filled with lots of trees and shade and lots of information about conservation throughout. 

My favorites were the hippos, they are just so cool!


It was nice to be back at the hotel in the afternoon and play.  My kids really are homebodies and going all day like we have been gets hard for them.  They need time to play and not be on the go.

Being in such amazing food cities like San Francisco, LA and San Diego can be kind of frustrating when you are traveling for a month, with four kids. First of all, my kids wouldn’t appreciate the food and secondly we just don’t have the budget for a foodie vacation.  So we usually don’t get to check out the famous restaurants or signature food in a city.  Instead, we have picnicked at every amusement park, national park and zoo and splurged on Mexican and In and Out Burger a few times but that is about all that we are able to do and not come rolling back to Indiana in a few weeks with an empty bank account!  Tonight was a win at Costco for dinner though.  For $19.50 we got a whole pizza. 2 hot dogs, 2 drinks, a big Caesar salad and ice cream. Boom. Everyone is full, happy, we have leftover pizza for lunch, and Steve filled the car up with gas for cheap!

Tomorrow is our last day in California before we begin a slow journey back east.  I can’t believe this is wrapping up!