If you know me, you know how much I love the southwest. I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and I won’t pretend to be one of those people who loves this state. Frankly, I can’t think of much I love about it. I hate the Winter. Hate the Winter. Being trapped inside a house with two small children for basically 6 months out of the year will cause a person to lose her shit from time to time. It’s dark out by 4 o’clock. Something else I could do without. And I’ve found I thrive on sunshine. My brain operates more clearly. I’m more organized. More creative. I like people when it’s sunny outside. Another trait aside from a cynical sense of humor that I’ve inherited from my father. Sunshine equals happiness.
My parents made summer vacations a priority for my siblings and I when we were young. And while many times, our highlight reel looked similar to that of National Lampoon’s Vacation, they were always memorable. Looking back, I don’t think us kids realized how lucky we were to see so much at such young ages. We frequented South Dakota, but we also spent time in Wyoming and Colorado. My dad hated Nebraska. That was always a long torturous drive for our entire family and ruined the simple, calming beauty of cornfields for all of us. I think it was in Nebraska where he let my mom drive – the roads were straight and there was no chance of her driving us off a cliff – but she dumped her coffee; words were had, and they switched seats again. Surprisingly, we still went to the Mitchell Corn Palace, and he still loves to talk shit about that place to this day. He isn’t a tourist person, but he’ll make the sacrifice from time to time. We often stayed in camp grounds that were barely occupied. My favorite was a small campsite on the Shoshone River in Wyoming where a man we met the first day greeted us with an intoxicating story about a Moose he caught drinking his beer and eating his watermelon. I was maybe 14. His story was so vivid that I have to wonder if I also saw this happen. We explored the Badlands, the Black Hills, Pike’s Peak, Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Needle’s Point, Custer State Park, and of course another tourist trap – Mount Rushmore… We fed wild donkeys, and listened to park rangers give lectures in the outdoor amphitheaters at night. We woke up to bears breaking into dumpsters, while we scurried into our mini-van too scared to fall back asleep. My dad waived us off and slept in the tent anyway. We carried his pick axe with us to chip off pieces of mica from the hilltops we were left to explore. We ran in fields with butterfly nets and filled our jars with a ridiculous amount of bugs. We always woke up to breakfast cooked over our little Coleman grill made with love by my sweet mom. We listened to my dad complain about how my mom over-packed every time he would open the trunk and something would fall out. They instilled in us a love for travel at a young age which I’m more than grateful for.
Yet when they told us they were moving to Arizona four years ago, I freaked out. I had never been down there, and didn’t realize how much that state had to offer in terms of beauty – and sunshine. But more so, I consider them to be my best friends and was slightly mortified about what life would be like without having access to them 24/7. But hey, I’m a grown adult. And after shedding many tears in the shower, I told myself phone calls would have to suffice. After my first visit to their new home, I realized why they had moved. There are few places in life you visit where you instantly feel at home. This little town filled with a spectacular view of the Superstition Mountains that melted into a sea of saguaro cacti instantly held my heart. There is so much adventure to be had right outside your door, and my oldest is now at the age where he wants to be outdoors lifting rocks he shouldn’t be, finding species of controversial animals, getting into mischief. He loves it. And shit, he’s seen the Grand Canyon twice already. That only took me thirty years to see.
So I was going to write about how stupid it is to travel with kids this small, but now I know it’s worth the hassle. That’s why they have bars at airports, right?
Some images from Boyce Thompson Arboretum and Silly Mountain (right behind my parent’s home).
I’ll leave you with this image. My mom asked for a “nice” picture of the boys together. I told her that was impossible, but she insisted.