Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Road Trips (page 1 of 2)

The Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

**Trying to play catch-up on these final posts from last year before launching into more recent adventures!**

After saying au revior to Las Vegas, honestly hoping it is the last time I ever visit that enigmatic city, the kids and I drove the half hour to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

The kids complained nearly the entire time we were in the park. I wish I could say otherwise. It was “too hot” at about 82 degrees. And totally dry. I barely felt it, and I’m a wimp when it comes to the heat. Yes, these are the same kids that come from Costa Rica where the temperature routinely got this high.

Oh, the pain of the blazing desert sun! Next time we’ll visit in July so that they know what *real* heat is. They may hate me for these photos later, but I find them too funny. Their faces at Death Valley were also priceless (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert).

I have been giving more thought to what I post about my kids, either on various blogs or on social media, something that is definitely important to think about in this day and age. Check out this post from The Deal Mommy about respecting kids opinions about their online presence and persona (since you, as their parent, are creating and/or influencing it). Ours are not yet online, but they will be eventually.

Main points of interest at Red Rock Canyon NCA

Our first stop was at Calico Hills, a popular spot for photos and hiking. Or I should say “hiking”. It was little more than a short walk down the hill and then back up, but the kids acted like it would be the death of them.

Luckily, I knew better. Our short walk turned out to be enjoyable enough, as we saw some cool desert flora and a lizard. The red rocks themselves are stunning as well. Which is why everyone visits this spot.

Our next stop was at the vista point for the view. It is at nearly the highest point along the road and provides a view of Calico rocks, the surrounding hills, and the Las Vegas basin way off in the distance.

The Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The final point of interest was Lost Creek Canyon Trail. We had a brief break, though, for lunch, which consisted of sandwiches, hastily made in the car. Then we all set out across the dry creek beds to see what was in store for this short hike. The trail starts out clearly marked, bordered by rocks.

Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

I knew that the trail isn’t long. But it didn’t matter how long we would be hiking. The kids wanted none of it. I might as well have offered them the Bataan Death March. The promise of a waterfall was the only tool I had to spur them on. How I hoped it wouldn’t be lame.

The first “fall” (what I thought was a fall) we came to was pretty lame. But I could hear more water falling up the creek, so I was hopeful. The path became less distinct but still fairly easy to follow.

The whining began again, and rather than deal with it, I just kept walking and let the kids catch up. Hope returned after we passed another group who said the real waterfall wasn’t too far ahead.

We’d barely been walking 15 minutes, which does make this an extremely short hike and probably the easiest hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Everything is worth it at the end

Finally, we were greeted by a ribbon of water falling forty feet into a lovely pool below. The kids complaining turned to laughter as they ran to the edge. The pool and surrounding rocks were even in the shade, so we could enjoy the vista without the desert sun beating down on us.

Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The kids and I made our way around edge, clambering over the rocks to get closer to the waterfall. Soon they were throwing rocks into the water, hiding from each other, and doing all the sorts of kid things they are supposed to in a fun outdoor place like this.

I just sat down and enjoyed being there. It had been an easy hike, but one that is well worth the minimal time it takes to get to this lovely spot. When I finally informed the kids it was time to keep moving, they protested. How quickly their perspective changes! We settled on staying another half hour, which meant we would get into Pahrump later than I wanted, but everything would still work out fine.

The last twenty minutes consisted of my daughter chasing her brother with a bottle of water trying to get him wet. Always the instigator, he had tried to push her into the pool below the waterfall and it was payback time.

Conclusion

The hike out was just as pleasant. I highly recommend Lost Creek Canyon / Children’s Discovery Trail as one of the best and easiest hikes in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for families. It’s an easy 1.2 to 1.5-mile round-trip, depending on how you do your out and back, as you can make a sort of loop that still includes the waterfall. We’ll be back again if we pass through the area. It sure beats visiting Vegas!

Visiting the Grand Canyon in May – What’s with the Snow?

Back last spring (I know…just getting around to writing some of these posts!) the older two kids and I had an adventure across the desert southwest of the United States. Some of our stops included Saguaro National Park and a nice resort hotel in Phoenix, as well as an afternoon of hiking in Sedona. It wasn’t the sort of road trip where you get to linger. We had to press onward each day.

The day finally came where we would be visiting the Grand Canyon. But it didn’t go at all how I imagined.

Snow? In Arizona?? In May?!?

It was quite blustery during our afternoon of hiking in Sedona [SEE: Easiest Sedona hike (with a view)]. The rain started just as we were on the final stretch back the car and it continued as we wound our way northward and upward to Flagstaff. Funny thing about Flagstaff: it’s at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. And while it had been a perfect 70 degrees in Sedona, it was now snowing. Snowing! Nothing was sticking, but it was still snow. In Arizona. In May.

When we woke up the next morning, it was still cold and lightly snowing, but there still wasn’t really any accumulated on the ground.

However, as we continued toward the Grand Canyon, we *did* start to drive through real snow. Eventually, the kids couldn’t take it any more and we had to pull over. This was their first time really experiencing the snow. It was not at all part of the plan.

The Grand letdown

I became a bit concerned about our visit to the Grand Canyon. What if it was cloudy and snowy and we couldn’t get a view of the canyon? Does this happen from time to time? I imagine it does. Here we were, in the middle of a trip that would stretch over 1,000 miles of driving, and we may miss our one chance to see the Grand Canyon!

My fears were realized when we parked at the Canyon Rim lot. It was difficult enough to see anything that far from us, as it was quickly obscured by the fog/clouds.  We stopped by the visitor center first, and I hoped that conditions might improve and we’d get a view of the canyon.

But no such luck. Once we were done in the visitor center and wandered over to the lookout point, all we could see was cloud.

I was bummed. This is not how I expected our first visit to the Grand Canyon to go. Who knew that May would be such a poor time to visit?

The kids wasted no time in making lemonade from the lemon of a day we were given. They were enjoying a delightful romp in the snow.

A brief breakthrough

We slowly walked west toward the geology museum at Yavapai Point. The location is normally another picturesque viewpoint from the South Rim, but…there was nothing but cloud to see. However, after spending about 15 minutes in the museum where we got to see a cool model of the canyon, the clouds all of a sudden broke for just a few moments and we had a glimpse of the canyon below! Everyone inside rushed to the window.

It wasn’t a full panoramic view, but it was our first real taste of the Grand Canyon. The viewing window in the museum is great, as it provides a great vantage point while simultaneously letting you stay warm.

We spent a little while longer at the museum and were able to see a bit of the canyon on a couple more instances. Eventually I decided that things probably weren’t going to get much better and we might as well keep moving along on our trip. The breaks were very brief.

Chasing the sky

However, when we arrived back at the car, I could tell that the clouds around us were breaking up a bit. We hadn’t had a good view of the canyon except for those brief moments at Yavapai. But the sky looked slightly better toward the east, and the ranger had told us that there was supposed to be a slight lull before things worsened later in the afternoon. My gut told me that we would be able to have a better chance at a view at one of the viewpoints to the east.

So I started chasing that small patch of blue sky moving slowly eastward. We were eventually able to park at a crowded viewpoint. The gambit paid off. We were treated to this:

Things got even better when we made our way to the next vantage point, which is aptly named Grandview Point. The view was pretty grand, and we finally were able to wonder at this natural marvel.

We took a brief walk down the trail from Grandview, enjoying a couple different vsantage points of the canyon. If not for the clouds looming to the west, you might think there was nothing wrong with our day at the Grand Canyon.

I’m *so* glad we didn’t give up completely. Even though we were only able to enjoy this view for about 20 minutes, I was glad to have seen the Grand Canyon. We’ll be back again, I’m sure. At least the first time wasn’t a complete failure.

Conclusion

It was then time to move on. We had a dinner date in Kingman with friends, and with a few hours of driving to go, I hoped to make it there in time. The poor weather dissipated as we got further from the Grand Canyon, and eventually we were back to the sunny skies and pleasant temperatures that were much more familiar to an Arizona spring.

Are one night trips with kids worth it?

Single-night getaways might not seem worth the trouble to many people. While I do much prefer a stay of about three nights, such as the New Year’s getaway I spent with our older kids in Napa (SEE: Vino Bello Resort Napa Review), we have also taken a few single-night trips. This started with last year’s New Year’s night away in Calistoga (SEE: Celebrating New Year’s 2018). A second was our night in the Bay Area, where we used up my final Fairmont free night certificate last February.

Work kept interfering with my plans, and I had to bump our stay at the Claremont Hotel and Spa back twice. I began to think that we were going to run out of time and the free night certificate was going to expire on me.

Eventually, I nailed down a weekend that would work and confirmed that work would not be sending me anywhere (although this wasn’t ever a 100% guarantee…one trip had me booking a flight less than 24 hours from departure). We would make the trek to the Bay to enjoy the Claremont for one night (SEE: Claremont Hotel Berkeley Review).

Is it worth driving to the Bay for one night with two kids?

If you’re not familiar with where we live, the San Francisco Bay Area is a solid 5 hours from home. It is a drive I have made routinely, generally for work, although I have opted for Sacramento more often these days (SEE: 5 Reasons Why Sacramento is my Favorite Northern California Airport). According to Google Maps, the drive is technically 4.5 hours, but traffic can easily turn it into 6 if you plan it during the wrong time of day.

So…ten hours on the road for one night. Is that even worth it? I can see the skepticism in your eyebrows.

In our case, we really enjoyed the Claremont, even though they didn’t end up applying the room upgrade and putting us in a queen-queen room. Sharing a double bed with a restless seven-year-old boy is a recipe for a sleepless night. It is a beautiful hotel, and we stayed nearly free (dratted resort fees!) at a place that typically costs $100s. The kids had an amazing time in the pool and we enjoyed dinner out at an Indian restaurant in Berkeley.

It was a nice, quick getaway. I think they enjoyed themselves, even though they aren’t fans on being in the car for hours on end. A couple movies make a world of difference.

Are one night trips with kids worth it?

It really all depends on your perspective and attitude. In our case, the one night was a fun trip. I didn’t find it stressful at all, as we left early in the day and had plenty of time to enjoy the hotel and its facilities, returning middle of the next day after a morning swim.

I’m sure for many, a one night trip with kids could be super stressful. In our case, the two of our three that I took were 7 and nearly 11 at the time. This made things a whole lot easier than traveling with a little one, even though the kids tended to get carsick a lot (they have been getting better, presumably from spending more time in the car).

The purpose of the trip is important as well. For one-night trips, it is best for them to be getaways where you’re simply trying to enjoy a hotel and maybe see one sight. Nothing extensive, nothing jam-packed. In the case of the New Year’s getaway in 2018, the kids just swam in the evening, we watched a movie (it happened to be Sully), and then swam some more in the morning after a late breakfast at the Best Western. Very enjoyable for all of us. The Claremont getaway was similar, as we were there to simply enjoy the hotel.

There are instances where a one-night trip would not be worth it, if you simply go somewhere and barely have any time before you sleep and then head home. Not fun at all. I guess the minimum recipe for success is to truly make it a one-night, but two-day trip.

Will we do a one-night trip again?

We ended up doing two more one-night trips after this, but out of necessity, as it they were both for doctor or other medical visits. This is entirely different, as trips like this are unavoidable and both were far more stressful.

I’m sure we’ll end up doing a quick one-night getaway now and then, although I do prefer 2-3 nights for quick trips with the kids. For us they can be worth it, depending on the distance and circumstances.

What do you think of one-night trips with kids? Have you ever tried a staycation?

Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop Hike in Saguaro National Park

On a beautiful Arizona morning in late April we headed out from the Hampton Inn in Tucson to Saguaro National Park, to the west of the city. The plan? Complete the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop hike, a distance of about 2.1 miles, as an introduction for the kids to the desert.

Although we didn’t make it out of the hotel especially early to beat the heat, it was shaping up to only be in the 80s. I’m not sure we would have attempted this during the heat of midsummer!

Pit stop at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Before we started the hike, we made a quick stop at the desert museum, just to use the restroom.  Even though our time here was super brief, we encountered a rattlesnake. I hadn’t seen one in years. It was right in the parking lot!

Park staff promptly snagged him. With lots of people around, he definitely needed to be re-homed.

I used the encounter to help illustrate the need for immediate obedience from the kids. The last rattlesnake story I recall involved my dad calling my two sisters away from a picnic table at Mount Diablo. A diamondback had started to coil up underneath. Thankfully, they immediately got up and left. Dad then spent the next minute chucking rocks at the reptile until it struck.

With that story fresh in their heads, we headed a bit further down the road to the Kings Canyon trailhead.

Kings Canyon Trailhead

The Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop hike starts just a short distance down the road from the museum. The trailhead is at a small parking lot off the right side of the road. The Kings Canyon trail starts as a gentle ascent along a dry creekbed.

Although the views from the parking lot are decent, you quickly rise even more and are offered a lovely view of the desert stretching out beyond the way you came.

Unsurprisingly, the mighty saguaro are plentiful. The giant cacti are endemic to Arizona and the state of Sonora, Mexico. This multi-armed monster has to be well over 100 years old.

We stopped frequently, mainly to take in the beautiful desert around us. But also because the kids were already hot and tired.

It’s soooooo hot!

I lost count how many times I heard this during our hike. Even though our kids are native to a fairly warm climate, they have already adopted the utterly Humboldtian disposition of melting when it gets above 85°F. Except if there is a pool around. Then they’re fine. But hiking in the desert? Not a fun proposition (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert).

I got at least some smiles out of them. They reminisced about the hike we took with their cousins in the Redwoods. Bit different out here, isn’t it?

We reached an intersection that lacked signage, but took the trail that went in the direction I knew we needed to go to connect to the Gould Mine trail. No more than 15 minutes later we found the sign that could take us back around the hill to the parking lot.

kings canyon - gould mine loop hike

The Sonora desert is truly lovely. I’d forgotten how enchanting the U.S. southwest can be.

kings canyon saguaro national park

Even through their complaints, the kids were doing fine. We’d finished up the last of the water, but there was less than half a mile to go.

Our hike lasted maybe an hour and a quarter to complete the 2.1-mile Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop hike in Saguaro National Park.

Ending an enjoyable desert hike

It was an enjoyable hike for me. It was warm, but certainly not hot. We kept an easygoing pace, and there were no strenuous climbs. You couldn’t ask for a better quick hike.

The kids, on the other hand, were less than thrilled. Even after seeing some cool desert flora and fauna, they wanted to get moving on down the road.

Apparently my daughter’s feet had gotten a little hot during our excursion.

Note: normally I would not have let her do this, but there was hardly another car on the road driving through the park.

Bonus: Valley View Overlook

We drove for another 15 minutes or so from the Kings Canyon trailhead until we hit a dirt road within Saguaro National Park. I had one other point I wanted to explore before hitting the freeway: the View Trail.

view trail saguaro national park

There isn’t much to the view trail. It is maybe a quarter mile, and leads you gently from a small parking lot to a vista of the valley west of Saguaro National Park. Our panorama shot hardly does it justice.

Smiles were back at this point. It was a much easier hike.

And there were a lot more towering cacti.

Due to the ease of the hike and the view, the View Trail is a bit more popular. It certainly wasn’t crowded, but we saw maybe a dozen people during the hike (versus only 1 on the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop trail).

Conclusion

Fast pace road trips really don’t let you linger. We enjoyed our brief hikes, first around the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop and then the View Trail in Saguaro National Park. But with the morning spent, it was time to move on. We stopped for a snack in Picture Rocks and then hit the road. Onward to the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort and time in the pool!

Southwest Road Trip 2018: An Overview

After canceling a planned trip to Europe, I decided to still make the best of the vacation time I had allotted for myself. I was already planning on being away, so work was covered (I *did* work one week, still). The question was…what to do with the second one?

Planning a trip in record time

I’ve had many-a-whim of planning a trip. Depending on the given fare sale, wide open award space, or other deal-of-the-day, it’s been hard to restrain myself at times. Especially when it would be super inexpensive and a great use of points. The biggest hindrance is nearly always available time. For this last-minute trip, though, time wasn’t the issue. And I had a particular card up my sleeve I’ve been waiting to play.

For quite a while now, the idea of doing a one-way road trip from Arizona has been brewing in my mind. Late Spring is the perfect time to do this, as the weather is still nice, and you can score some amazing rental car deals. The companies all try to relocate their cars out of Arizona, since who wants to visit Phoenix in July??

Booking cheap flights to Tucson and a cheap rental car

With less than a week until departure, I locked our flights in for a total of $91 and 22,500 Avianca LifeMiles. Never heard of either? Read about using Avianca LifeMiles for United flights and how I scored an awesome last-minute redemption. United award space is generally good very close-in, and we took advantage of this. There was plenty of space to Tucson and Phoenix and other southwest destinations showing at united.com.

Our car rental was locked in for $101 for 8 days. This is pretty much unbeatable. I even made $3.50 cash back by booking through the Ebates cash-back portal (referral link, if you join and spend $25, I get a bonus). I’ve seen good rates on these deals, and this about matches the lowest I’ve ever found. It makes sense, though, as you are actually the one doing the rental car company a favor by moving their car. Otherwise they’d either pay to truck it to a better summer market, or it’d be a stranded asset for several months.

So we would have eight days to make it from Arizona back home. I quickly penciled in a few major destinations, and other ideas quickly filled out our itinerary. Among other places, we would see Saguaro National Park, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Death Valley.

Overview of our travels

I’m trying to get a bit better about organizing trip reports. I know some are a quick rundown of a few sights and maybe a hotel review. For our longer trips, though, having an outline is the better way to go. It keeps me on track as I take a few weeks (or more) to find the time to post. Here is a quick rundown of what I plan to post in covering our Southwest road trip report:

Gutsy, I know, given my typical post rate of 1-2 per week. But having goals helps. I’ll add links to each as I post.

Overall, the trip was great. The kids had a blast. My only miscalculation was planning more driving near the end of the trip rather than pacing things a little more evenly. This meant they were very ready to get home during the last couple days. But…at least I now know the new longest time they can make it in the car?

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