The final stage of our Grand Canyon trip…

So in full disclosure, we had a Google doc. In fact, we had a Google sheet that MY HUSBAND started (not me) and managed through the entire planning phase. To be perfectly clear, let’s just say it was “high level”. Unlike my docs that include daily schedules with 30-minute increments from 7 am to 11 pm, Bart’s doc had our hotel info, broad buckets for how long the drives were between destinations, his parents’ flight information (on a separate tab) and confirmation numbers for our train ride. I had created one tab with “possible activities” that had been ignored.

He DID have dates on his schedule tab, but still. A few days before we were to head out, I realized there was (as they say in billiards) “a lot of green” in that schedule, meaning we had full days of togetherness without a plan. No meals, no entertainment (though we had talked about a few things) – in other words, a lot of decisions that were going to have to be made on the fly with a very disparate group, and possibly with one of them (me) as a hangry traveler.

And so, with permission, I began my mission to flesh out that agenda with key details, a few days at a time. I got buy-in from Bart on timing and venue, and I’m going to take credit for possibly avoiding several “tired and hungry” moments for our travel party.

All went well until the final driving leg. I realized around 5 am on the day we were to drive our longest leg (from Vegas to Palm Springs) for our last adventure that we hadn’t looked into a route – or even what’s between those two cities as options for a stop. Helpful Google maps said the trip would between 3 hours and 40 minutes and 4 hours and 30 minutes, depending on route and traffic and timing.

I got to work.

For the record, there’s not a lot of awesomeness for stops with kids as options. However, I found this really cool looking spot called Kelso Depot in the Mojave National Preserve, a former train depot in the desert complete with a museum which Professor Google said was around 1.5 hours from Vegas. Perfect. In fact, I found a second stop just 1.5 hours from there in Twentynine Palms at the Oasis Visitor Center, with a labeled desert garden, gift shop and a clean restroom. Palm Springs would be just about an hour from there on this route. Perfection.

By the time Bart woke up, I had our trip completely planned. I was so confident in my plan that I didn’t even show him the route (yes, you should start being concerned now). I was so ridiculously confident (I am a capable adult!) that I had booked dinner reservations at one of our favorite spots in Palm Springs at 6:30 pm, with some time to spare in advance to drop off our stuff. Brilliant.

We kicked off the day with time at the pool for the kids and me, a calm kid-free breakfast for Bart and his parents, a seamless packing time for all, and a stop at In and Out on the way to the airport around lunchtime. His parents got to their gate, and we headed out on our LA Johnson family road trip to Palm Springs.

What I didn’t mention in my last Grand Canyon post was that I almost didn’t get invited on that trip (oh, and my sister kindly let me know that apparently SHE was the one who got us to the Grand Canyon in the dark – oops? love you, sis!). But what I DO remember clearly is my sister explaining why she didn’t think she should invite me on her cross-country driving trip: she was sure I’d sing in the car the whole way there.

I had to promise NOT to do that and even wear headphones and bring my portable CD player (yes, they had those, kids). What I WAS allowed to do was play “Leaving Las Vegas” by Sheryl Crow as we were “leaving Las Vegas”. Turns out we got stuck in traffic on our way out, and I got to listen to that song OUT LOUD IN THE CAR (SINGING ALONG!) 3 times before we officially “left” Las Vegas. Heaven.

And so, here we were over 2 decades later leaving Las Vegas, so I cheerfully loaded up Sheryl Crow (no, not on my portable CD player, thanks, Steve Jobs) and got to listen to that song (and several others from her Best of album). We had entered the address for “Kelso Depot” in the nav and were adventure bound.

About 30 minutes in, I happened to notice that the nav said we had two more hours before we got to Kelso Depot… After a little research we realized that the address in the nav was for a Kelso Depot museum in Barstow, which was NOT our plan (and not the actual depot). Thankfully we were just about to pass the exit we were SUPPOSED to take to get to the depot, which we then passed as we “discussed” where we were actually going and I “gently” requested that we please please please please pull over.

We pulled off on the next exit and consulted a map. This was the first time Bart had ever seen our route… Turns out while the route I selected DID get us to our destination AND look like the most direct route, it was hard to tell what it passed through on the way (other than Kelso Depot). And maybe “Mojave” should have been a clue for what was to come…

We agreed to stay on the path, since Barstow (though clearly a freeway route) looked way out of the way. You may be guessing at what’s next.

Let’s just say when we first turned onto the road to Kelso Depot, it was GORGEOUS. Great views of mountain features on both sides and optical illusion views of miles of desert, spotted with vegetation and nothing else. Yes, MILES of desert. In fact there were 50 (FIVE-OH) miles of desert in total on this portion of our trip (Google didn’t mention that), with NO OBVIOUS spots to get gas or buy water (nor that) and [GULP] within maybe 2 miles of driving on this road we LOST CELL RECEPTION.

On the side of the road, there were signs posted as we entered the “Preserve” to remind you to make sure you had plenty of water. I chuckled and thought about the poor (not me) hikers who surely should heed those signs. As we realized that NO cell reception was not a “moment in time” but a new reality, I began to mentally review how much water WE had. I mean, what if our car broke down?? We’d be one of those poor (ME?!) hikers, with no cell reception to get help.

We passed maybe 10 cars in our entire time on these back roads. And as you’d guess, we made it to Kelso Depot. It was a delightful (air conditioned) little museum, complete with a 15 minute movie all about the area. The girls loved it, and the park ranger on duty gave them each Junior Ranger materials as we headed out – plus, they road a “horse”.



And then, as we hopped into the car, it dawned on us that WE STILL HAD NO CELL RECEPTION. Guess what that means for Professor Smarty Pants Google Maps? Useless. Guess who didn’t have a map that was NOT digital? No need to guess. We debated going back in to buy a map, but I was (again) confident that (since honestly there was ONE real road and visibility in every direction) we’d find our way using road signs. And I’m proud to say that we did.

Yes, it was still terrifying that we had no cell reception, no idea where gas would be available next and were surrounded by a desert in a minivan with two kids. Also, my time estimates were WAY off, given the road conditions and the fact my husband drives more “conservatively” than I do in general… and so, 5.5 hours later (after changing our dinner reservations to 7:30 and with ME driving the last section from the depot), we arrived at our restaurant, with 4 minutes to spare.

A little Bart perspective on the situation (upon reading this, he added):

It brought back exactly how I felt in that car. I also wondered how much daylight there was left and remember feeling comforted that there were railroad tracks on the side of the road that we could follow. And thinking, I can’t believe I trusted my wife’s navigational skills.

That last part was uttered kindly (and is well-founded), and for the record, there was NO TRAIN, but still, I guess railroad tracks go somewhere, no?

I’m pretty sure I’ll still be allowed to make Google sheets for our travel, but I’m also sure that I will not be planning any driving routes alone.

We had a blast in Palm Springs, staying at our friends’ place “Braunsprings” with plenty of pool time, and we even went to see The Lion King movie! And so, I’m going to call our entire trip a success – even the part that I planned “all by myself”.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure Zoe drives more like her mom than her dad – you decide:


SPOILER ALERT: I like to think I would have placed 1st, but then, if you know me at all, you already know that. I’m just hopeful she’s on a good path.

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