Family road trip: El Malpais, white-knuckling through a storm, and old Route 66(Read article summary)
The Toupin family's RV has now rambled from the southern Midwest into the fiery red deserts of the American west.
Melanie Stetston Freeman/Staff
[Editor's note: Laurie Toupin and her family are road tripping acrossÂ AmericaÂ and sharing their experiences in a series of blogs. See the related links menu to the left for past installments.]
Here, the black skeletons of extinct volcanoes proudly stare down at theÂ lavaÂ scarred landscape â€“ huge black mesas, cinder cones, plateaus, trenches, cavesÂ andÂ other eerie formations.
I had never heard of this place until we passed through it on Route 40 to our RV campsite in Grants, N.M. But it was breathtaking. Even the kids were impressed â€¦ which is more than I can say about the Painted Dessert or Petrified Forest National Park, both in Arizona, or any other (to me) amazing geological feature of the West.
At Lavaland Campground in Grants, Jacob, 5, found his first tumbleweed. Now he insists that his carefully collected collection of these spiky weeds sit in the RV's shower so he can take them home. Weâ€™ll have to talk about this laterâ€¦
There is nothing here â€“ no playground, no pool, not even a picnic table. Yet we all had a blast biking around the area. The vistas are incredible. It is cooler here than expected, about 73 degrees.Â Both MariaÂ andÂ Colie, age 11 and 9, commented that the air smells freshÂ andÂ clean.
The kids dug moats in the soft, red dirt around the few trees in the campground to help them catch the rain from the storm we saw was coming.
The view of the sky is so unobstructed here from buildings or trees that one can see for miles. We felt like we were in a fish bowl surrounded byÂ massive cloud banks. We could hear the thunder andÂ seeÂ the peals of lightningÂ and the streams of rain in the mountainsÂ andÂ mesas 360 degrees around us.
There is sand in those mountains
We had already passed through this storm when we traveled through Colorado and visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park. After about a quarter-mile walk, you reach 30 square miles of sand dunes that climb 750 feet in the air. People were scaling the tallest peak. I was happy to coerce Colie, 9, to make it to the first hill!
The sand is so softÂ andÂ fine. We rolled down the hill, ran up, andÂ rolled down again. We dug in the soft sandÂ andÂ buried each otherâ€™s feet. We watched other people slide down the dunes on wake boards. Someone tried a regular sled. But unfortunately, it didnâ€™t work.
JacobÂ andÂ Maria loved this place.Â AndÂ so did I. But the wind was strongÂ andÂ it kept blowing sand, which stung, so we didnâ€™t stay long. The sand can reach 150 degrees in the afternoon sun.Â AndÂ because it is easier to walk in bare feet, we wanted to leave before the sand got too hot. As it was, the return trip hurt our feet so much that we had to put our shoes back on â€“ this was only 11 in morning.
As we left, I could see the storm miles away. We were heading right into it. When the deluge hit us, the storm's wind accompaniment shook our RV so much that I started white-knuckling the steering wheel. The kids were so quiet.
I was reminded of the story in the Bible when Elisha goes out of the caveâ€™s mouth to seek the Lord. The Lord was not in the earthquake or wind, but rather in a still, small voice. While I clung to that thought, I felt something compelling me to turn veer from my course and take a highway that lead into New Mexico.Â
As I turned parallel to the storm, the windâ€™s impact lessenedÂ andÂ I was able to relax. The rain continued for a while longer, but it didnâ€™t matter. We were safe.
The people who suggested Colorado over my original route from Kansas into eastern New Mexico were right from an adultâ€™s point of view.
There isnâ€™t much to do in eastern New Mexico except to enjoy the beautiful expanse of dessert scenery. I loved it. But after a while, my children wanted to retreat to a movie in the back of the RV. They stayed there until I called them back out as we entered the El Memphas region.Â
An unexpected stop
In Albuquerque, N.M., we picked up I-40 â€“ the interstate that replaced the majority of Route 66 in the western United States.Â
But Historical Route 66 is aliveÂ andÂ well thanks to the efforts of one man â€“ Angel Delgadillo. Mr. Delgadillo was a barber in Seligman, Ariz., when the Interstate bypassed his townÂ andÂ caused its tourism dollars to dry up in the 1980s.
He started a campaign to preserve the original Route 66 and founded the Route 66 Association of Arizona in 1987. For 10 years he talked to anyone who would listen.
Eventually, Route 66's gradual dismantling ruffled the feathers of enough people that states began protecting the sections within their borders. Then in the late 1990s, former President Bill Clinton secured $10 million in federal matching grants to help states restore and preserve the road. Â
Delgadillo turned his barber shop into a gift shop, museum,Â andÂ visitor center along the â€śnewâ€ť Historical Route 66. Now, many shopsÂ andÂ restaurants carry Route 66 paraphernaliaÂ andÂ mementos. Weâ€™ve stopped at quite a few along the way!
The producer of Cars based his movie on this small revival town, saying that Seligman was as close to Radiator Springs as one could get. The kids were thrilled to find out that this was the home of one of their favorite movies.
I love finding these little gems. But most of all, I am treasuring this time that we are spending together as a family, having adventuresÂ andÂ working through whatever experiences the journey hands us.Â
So far, our trip can be summed up by the words on a magnet we picked up at Delgadilloâ€™s Route 66 gift shop: Yay! Roadtrips!