Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Greetings from the Day family from Franklin, TN: Roger -- a children's musician; Jodie -- a preschool special education speech teacher; Thomas -- a 15 year old; Marjory -- a 13 year old and Jacob -- a 9 year old. We're very excited to share our once-in-a-lifetime, 5300 mile, 17 state, 3 state trooper family trip with you. We've included plenty of pictures and where possible links to relevant web sites. If you ever have any questions about planning a similar trip, feel free to contact us.

PURPOSE: We've always had a big trip out west on our family "to do" list. With one in high school and two more not far behind -- not to mention an ever busier slate of activities -- we knew if we didn't block out the time NOW, we would never do it. So in August of 2007, we marked off 4 weeks on the summer 2008 calendar with the vague idea that we would "go west". Our goal was to create a memorable family trip with a focus on National Parks, hiking and camping. So we traded in our minivan for a 15 passenger Chevy van -- aka The Taj Mah Van -- packed our boots and our tents and took off. Take a look at our blog and see for yourselves how we did!

FAVORITE PART: The first question we inevitably get is "What was your favorite part?" The answer from the kids unequivocally is Soaring Tree Top Adventures in Durango, CO. It's an amazing zip line course the flies through old growth ponderosa pines and across the Animas River. Second favorite was the Narrows hike through the Virgin River in Zion National Park. Third favorite depends on you ask. The Bright Angel Trail down into the Grand Canyon was the most physically demanding thing we did; white water rafting down the Snake River in Jackson Hole the most adrenaline pumping; Mount Rushmore at night the most moving; seeing a bear run through our campsite at Colter Bay in Grand Teton the most frightening -- but who can beat sitting on a giant Jackalope at Wall Drug in South Dakota? That's truly not something you can do everyday!

Feel free to leave us your comments. We'd love to get your reactions!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

June 16 - Franklin, TN to Edmond, OK plus GRACELAND

The Plan: Thomas and Roger would drive to Albuquerque, NM and meet Jodie, Marjory and Jacob who would be flying out two days later. So with the Taj Mah Van packed and an iPod full of Elvis songs, Thomas and I left Franklin, TN early on Monday, June 16. First stop: Memphis, TN home of the one and only GRACELAND! Delightfully tacky -- and reminding me maybe a little too much of the 1970's wood paneling I grew up with -- our favorite two rooms were the Jungle Room and the Gold Record Room. I drew the line at visiting Elvis' grave though. Just a little too creepy.

We crossed the Mississippi River, drove through Arkansas and headed for our final destination: Oklahoma City to stay with Tom and Ashley Schurr and their incredible kids, Astrid, Leah and Liam in Edmond. I lived across the hall from Tom during our freshman year at Washington & Lee University. We've been friends ever since. The visit was made even better when another of our freshman hall friends -- Jeff Dixon -- made the drive over from Tulsa.

Monday, July 28, 2008

June 17 - Route 66 - Cadillac Ranch - Albuquerque

The plan comes together! Thomas and I left the Schurrs and took off across the plains of Oklahoma and Texas heading towards Albuquerque, NM. Though everyone says "it's flat as a pancake" we discovered according to our new best friend "Gabe" the Garmin GPS that we actually gained nearly 3,000 feet in elevation as we crossed the state.

We weren't all business though. We stopped at the famed "Cadillac Ranch"  -- which inspired the great Bruce Springsteen song -- just off I-40 outside of Amarillo and the NATIONAL Route 66 musueum in Elk City, OK. (We could have stopped at the STATE Route 66 museum -- but no! -- we decided to go NATIONAL.) After driving about 15 miles out of our way, we learned the true meaning of tourist trap. Check out the big Route 66 picture!

After a meeting a friendly Texas State Trooper, we drove on to the Albuquerque Airport where we met up with Jodie, Marjory and Jacob. The plan worked!! We still had to drive an hour to Sante Fe though, excited to be back together again.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

June 18 - Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico

We spent the morning in Santa Fe, charmed by the beautiful turquoise jewelry, the colorful crafts and the traditional pottery. We saw San Miguel Mission Church, the oldest church in America and the Miracle Staircase of Loretto Chapel. We also saw what is said to be the oldest house in America.

We spent the afternoon a few miles north in Taos, mainly at the beautiful Taos Pueblo. We ate some delicious Fry Bread with honey and met Grammy-winning Native American musician Robert Mirabel. We learned to appreciate the wisdom of building with adobe. Though close to 100 degrees outside, it was a cool 70 degrees inside.

Jacob used his own money to buy a bow and arrow made by Vernon Brown (that's his picture.) Vernon taught Jacob the proper way to use a bow and how to make arrows out of turkey feathers.
We left Taos and drove on Highway 64 across the Rio Grand Gorge Bridge, the third highest bridge in the U.S. over the San Juan Mountains to Durango. We stopped at the pass and had a summer snowball fight at over 10,000 feet. Wow!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

June 19 - Soaring Treetop Adventures Durango, CO

Wow - what a day!  Thomas, Marjory and Jacob's favorite of the entire trip! We rode the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway along the Animas River past the spot where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid jump off the cliff. (If you watch the YouTube clip, be warned the language is PG-13) Our destination: the Tall Timbers Resort and their one-of-a-kind Soaring Tree Top Adventures zip line tour. We started the day wondering if we could really zipline at all and ended the day begging to try the newest line - 1400 feet across the river at 40 mph (twice as fast as the train by the way).  This was quite a day, just look at the video we took!

Friday, July 25, 2008

June 20 Mesa Verde/Four Corners/Bluff, UT

Today, we left Durango early and made the short drive to  Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. It is an amazing structure built directly in the cliffs. (We are so proud of Roger.  He climbed every ladder, even the 100 foot one at Cliff Palace. He is overcoming his fear of heights!) We toured Cliff Palace and Balcony  House. It's fascinating to realize these structures and artifacts are the only clues left to understand this culture. It's like a guessing game with many pieces. Why did the leave? And where did they go? 

We left Mesa Verde and headed to Four Corners with a view of Shiprock Mountain about 50 miles away. What a fun place. We bought some turquoise jewelry from the Navajos there. Of course, we took pictures of all of us standing on all four states. Thomas drove through all four states within a minute - wow, he's really good!

We finished the day driving on the Trail of the Ancients Highway 162 to Bluff, Utah, the most populated town in southeastern Utah at a lovely, family-owned motel, the Recapture Lodge. We ate dinner at the Cottonwood Steakhouse and discovered after years of living in Cottonwood in Tennessee what a REAL Cottonwood tree looks like.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

June 21 - Monument Valley

We left Bluff, UT and drove through Monument Valley past Tuba City, AZ and on to the Grand Canyon. The rock formations in Monument Valley are simply amazing. We are learning to be photographers. Thomas took the pictures of the rocks (yes he is standing in the middle of the road) - he's really getting good. We stopped by Gouldings Lodge. We are glad that we have watched so many westerns because many of those were filmed here like John Wayne's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon". Jacob and Roger even had their picture taken with the Duke!
We ended the day at the Grand Canyon and set up camp in the Mather Campground.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

June 22 - Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon. Truly a place you have to see to believe! We woke up at 5 a.m., grabbed Pop-tarts and headed out towards the Bright Angel Trail - voted one of America's 10 Most Dangerous Hikes in the Sept. 2008 issue of Backpacker Magazine. It was cool, so we are thinking that we are really smart. We hiked down to the first water stop - 1 1/2 miles. We still feel good, so let's keep going. We make it to the second water stop - 3 miles down. (This is where the point sticks out in the picture.) We take some pictures - see how far we've come and yet we are not even close to the plateau or river! We decide to go back. Some of the mule trains pass by - leaving 'markings' or 'dust suppression spots' to guide our way back up. We love the squirrels, chipmunks, and lizards. Marjory and Jacob named them on the way down, so they are trying to remember the names on the way back. It is much easier going down than going up!!!!!!! We make it back up to the first water stop feeling success and adventure. By the time, we make it up to the top, we are dusty, hot, tired, and hungry, but we did it!!! The temperature has risen significantly - 100 degrees. The views are beautiful. We return to the campground and veg for a while and see a huge mule deer right next to our campsite. Then return to the edge for sunset photos of the canyon. It is breathtaking to realize how big it truly is.

June 23 - Grand Canyon to Zion

We left the Grand Canyon and drove on Highway 89 past Echo Cliffs- bright red, marble wall of cliffs. We met another nice State Trooper -- this time from Arizona -- and got another friendly reminder of how much more fun you can have if you slow down and enjoy the scenery. Thanks Mr. State Trooper!

We visited the John Wesley Powell museum, crossed the Glen Canyon Dam, saw Lake Powell in Page Arizona and marveled at the beauty of the Vermillion Cliffs. Again the scenery is amazing, so different than anything familiar to us. Highway 89 follows a route in southern Utah just above the Arizona border and crosses the southern portion of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

We wanted to see the old Paria, UT ghost town, set for lots of westerns including "The Outlaw Josey Wales" but we missed it. Disappointed, we later found out that it burned down in 2006. In Kanab, UT -- aka "Little Hollywood" because so many westerns including Gunsmoke were filmed there -- we found a a place called Frontier Movie Town which has sets from several movies that were shot in the area. Mostly it's a gift shop though. (We regret that we past up on our chance to buy a roll of John Wayne toilet paper. "It is tough and doesn't take crap off of anyone.")

By this point, we were pretty behind schedule. We finally drove into Zion National Park, yet another amazing site. Mainly though we were hungry. Roger reached a new low when he suggested that to save time we eat dinner at the Shell station. Yes. Really. When he realized the only choices were some very dicey looking frozen tacos, he came to his senses and went to a local deli. We checked into the Zion Lodge, ready to rest up for our next adventure.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

June 24 - The Narrows Hike in Zion

This was our second favorite event of the trip: The Narrows hike through the Virgin River at Zion National Park. We woke up to chillier than expected weather - mid 50s - so we put off our hike a little. We ate breakfast at the lodge -- not a great idea by the way, expensive and not very good -- and put on our special neoprene socks and canyoneering shoes and grabbed our walking sticks -- we rented all from Zion Adventure Company -- and took off for the Virgin river. The river was about 55 degrees which felt good considering by the time we got on the trail around noon the air temp was over 100 degrees. We hiked back and forth through the canyon, crossing the river in multiple places. We even went so deep that it went up to our waists (or Jacob’s chest)! We floated down the river in one area of rapids and found out that the river’s floor is very bumpy with rocks… and they hurt too! When we got back to the lodge, we ate dinner outside while the wild turkeys, deer, and prairie dogs wandered around us, oblivious to us being humans. Our “short” after-dinner hike turned out to be a long hour long hike on the Emerald Pools Trail up and down the side of the mountains around the lodge. Zion is beautiful; the entire day we were surrounded by tall red and white sandstone mountains that were liable to fall on top of us at any second.

Monday, July 21, 2008

June 25 - Canyoneering with Zion Adventure Co.

Today we discovered a new sport: canyoneering. (Check out the video further down the page!) It's a unique combination of rappelling and rock climbing into and out of slot canyons. We made a short drive into Springdale, UT to the Zion Adventure Co. which offers canyoneering courses designed just for families. Our guides were Dave (a past middle/high school band director) and Calvin (a Washington State University intern). We drove to some BLM land just outside Zion national park where there are several slot canyons perfect for beginners. We started the day by climbing up the mountain using a combination of hiking and rock climbing. Then we learned to rappel. The rappels continued to get more difficult and challenging. To get through one place we could only fit through the rocks by turning sideways! By the end of the day each of us was able to tie our own knots at the top, rappel down, then act as the "belay" for the next person. Zion Adventure Company does a great job of not only teaching you how to rappel, but encouraging you to do it on your own. Jacob’s favorite rappel of the day was through "Buttcrack canyon" so called, because, well, you get the picture. Thomas tied the knots on and led the way. Marjory as usual was fearless. After we got back from canyoneering, we drove back to Springdale and demolished two pizzas at Zion Pizza and Noodle. After eating, we headed back to the Zion National Park where we moved into the cabins -- definitely the place to stay if you can get reservations -- and hung out there for the rest of the night.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

June 26 - Zion to Bryce to Torrey to Park City

How do you turn a 5 hour drive into a 14 hour drive? Let Roger take the scenic route while everyone is sleeping! Highway 12 from Bryce Canyon to Torrey, UT through the northern part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is stunning. If you have the time -- and it's arguable that we did! -- take this trip. Check out our pictures from our short visit to Bryce Canyon where we hiked the Navajo Loop Trail and saw the famous Thor's Hammer. The other pictures are from Highway 12 and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Watch your speed through Escalante, UT by the way. They aren't as fond of warnings as the State Troopers in Arizona and Texas!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

June 27 Park City Utah

We are now in Park City, Utah and it is beautiful here. Gincy, Mike, Will, Bella, James, and Gaby Plummer are our wonderful hosts. We are minutes from the slopes. Jacob is having a great time with Will and Marjory and Bella are listening to her iTouch and hanging out. James just entertains us with one word statements! Everyone went up to the slopes and rode on the Alpine Slide and Alpine Twister. It was great. That night Gincy planned a house concert for Roger. She had lots of friends over and they picnicked in the front yard while Roger entertained. It was fabulous. Great fajitas Gincy! What a great place.