Tag Archives: travel with kids

Solo Road Trip: Part One

Of course, I wasn’t technically alone; Lily and Emmy were in the back seat. But I was driving 300 miles without my road trip partner-in-crime. Ed had to teach his class that weekend, so I was “on my own.” The girls and I left after school to go to a family reunion in Midland, Michigan. It was Friday, and also unfortunately was rush hour. It took us a while to get out of the Chicago area. Then it was smooth sailing through Indiana, where we found a Culver’s to eat dinner. Usually we get our food delivered to our table right away, but this time, it took 20 minutes for our food to come.

That was okay, I thought, because then we had time to call Ed and say good night. It was only around 7:00, but he was going to bed early because his class started early the next day.

Road Trip with Kids

After dinner, we had a nice drive through Michigan. It was getting late, and Emmy and Lily fell asleep. Everything was going well until we got to Grand Rapids. All of a sudden traffic ground to a halt. It took me half an hour to get through Grand Rapids because of a car that had obviously been on fire, and then a bunch of fender benders from the people who had been gawking at the accident. The lights from all the traffic and the city woke up Lily. It is also potentially my swearing that woke her as well.

Finally Grand Rapids was fading in the distance, and we were on our way again. The country roads were dark, and as it became later, there was less traffic. I’m usually not a GPS girl and rely on maps, but this time, the GPS on my phone was very useful. Suddenly, however, we lost an hour. I had been predicting that we would arrive in Midland at around 11:30 p.m., and then the GPS spoke up and said we would be at our destination at 12:39 p.m. Lily was very unhappy with this announcement; she wanted a warm bed to lie down in! After I explained that there was a time change, she felt a little better. She was still tired!

I began to worry a little bit. I’d never been to this hotel before; what if I was supposed to call for a late arrival? What if there was a mix-up with our room? Surely I didn’t need to worry about these things, so I pushed those thoughts out of my head.

As I drove into town, I had a new worry. Where the heck was I going to park? The hotel was right on the street in the downtown area, and I didn’t see a parking lot!

I passed the hotel and turned right. Ta-Da! There was a parking garage clearly marked for the hotel. I got my tired girls out of the car and headed for the door, wondering if I would find the lobby. Ta-Da! I saw three people as soon as I walked into the hotel. “You must be Mrs. Grabske!” a woman said. I was a little surprised, but not really. She explained that my dad had been telling her about me and that I would be coming soon with my two little girls. Before I knew it, we were checked in and I was tucking my two tuckered girls into bed.

My aunt said the next day that I had a God moment, finding the parking garage and checking in so easily. I thought it was just good luck, but as I thought about it, yes, I believe God really was taking care of me. Once again, I could see God’s fingerprints in my life. I don’t always notice them, or take them for granted, but He is always with me, protecting me. God moments, indeed.

Read on!  Part Two and Part Three





Yosemite, Day Three and Four

Every day before we set out, I would look at our Visitor Guide. By looking at the map and hiking information, I could plan our day to get the most out of our time spent in the park. On our last full day in Yosemite, we drove to Glacier Point. All the glaciers are long gone, but Yosemite Valley was carved out by slow moving glaciers. Glacier Point is up high, and gave us a gorgeous view of the Valley.

Half Dome

Despite the altitude, it was very warm. We wandered around and ate our picnic on a big slab of black-and-white speckled granite. We were in one of those places where there isn’t much to do except gaze around in wonder. Oh, yes, and there was much climbing and walking on rocks, which is always fun. It was hard to pull ourselves away from Glacier Point.

walking on rocks

Our second stop was Mariposa Grove, which is known for its giant Sequoia trees. Since it was later in the day, parking was a problem. We parked in a far away lot, and then took the shuttle bus up to the grove, which worked well.

Roots from the Fallen Monarch Sequoia, which has been preserved for centuries by the natural tannic acid Sequoias have in their wood.
Roots from the Fallen Monarch Sequoia, which has been preserved for centuries by the natural tannic acid Sequoias have in their wood.
Mariposa Grove, Yosemite
California Tunnel Tree
Mariposa Grove, Yosemite
The Grizzly Giant

While we were busy looking up at these magnificent trees, it’s hard to remember to look down. When I did, I saw this cute squirrel grabbing a pine cone lunch. That little pine cone is a Sequoia pine cone, which is about the size of a chicken egg. Isn’t it amazing to think that such huge trees come from such little seeds?

squirrel among horsetail plants
squirrel among horsetail plants

On our fourth day in Yosemite, we were only passing through. We drove over the Sierra Nevada mountains on one of the only passes, Tioga Road. Of course, we couldn’t just drive through, although we didn’t have time to explore as much as we wanted to. Tioga Road’s elevation goes up to 10,000 feet.

Tioga Road

Yosemite view from Tioga Road

We stopped for lunch at Tuolumne Meadows, where we saw some backpackers who were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It goes right through Yosemite, and is the same trail Cheryl Strayed hiked and then wrote about in her book Wild. I loved that book, and so I wanted to put my feet on the PCT just to say that I did. But the trail I actually followed for a few minutes with Lily and Emmy was just a trail from the restaurant/post office to the campground. As we were pulling out to continue our drive across the mountains, I saw the sign for the PCT, but we needed to get on our way. Next stop: a ghost town at Bodie State Historical Park!

Are you tagging along on our California trip? Here’s more posts:

Meeting Gretchen from Second Blooming in Los Angeles
Hiking the Lemon Grove Loop Trail in San Luis Obispo
Yosemite, Day One
Yosemite, Day Two
Suddenly in Death Valley


Suddenly in Death Valley… {Spin Cycle}

Our stay at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley did not start off well. Our hotel room was in a separate building from the office, quite a long walk away. The key was not opening the door, even though the light was flashing green. It was 124 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was no cell phone service. I flagged down a golf cart that an employee was driving and asked for help. The girl opened the door by pulling the door handle UP instead of down. That door gave us trouble for the rest of our stay!

Death Valley Natl Park
Do you really need proof that it was stinkin’ hot in Death Valley?

Our room was nice and cool, but the phone didn’t work. There was no way to contact the front desk when we needed more towels. (Hotels always put only three towels in the room. We are a family of four. Why do they do that?)

Another strange thing about that room was that the water coming out of the faucet was always warm. We brushed our teeth with warm water and filled up water bottles with warm water. At a place called Furnace Creek, I guess that was to be expected. Fortunately, the little refrigerator in the room worked very well, and the ice machine in the next building did made ice.

We ate a decent dinner, although it was overpriced, at the Forty-Niner Cafe. There weren’t many dining choices, and I imagine food is expensive to transport into the valley. The server was extremely nice and accommodating; I asked him if soft drinks were included in the kids’ meals. He didn’t know, so he threw them in for free.

Dinner had been early, so we decided to drive down to Badwater Basin. Badwater is the lowest elevation in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. It was hot.

Badwater Basin

By now, you are probably wondering why we went to Death Valley. Everyone knows it’s hot; why in world were we in Death Valley on a summer vacation to California, when we could visit the beach or the mountains or wine country?

Simply put, Death Valley is amazing. Death Valley’s heat is incredible. We carried a water bottle every time we left the car. We didn’t go on hikes. We couldn’t. But the places we explored were beautiful, amazing, awesome places…awesome in the true sense of the word.

I wanted to take the Artist’s Drive on the way back to the hotel. It is a 9 mile twisting road that goes back among the foothills, and it is most beautiful at sunset.

Death Valley

We thought that the range ahead of us shone brilliantly. The rocks were gleaming in the last rays of the sun shining into the valley. We thought we were already seeing the beauty of Death Valley.

Suddenly, we drove around the curve and an explosion of color was before us. It. was. awesome.

These colorful hills were already in the shadows by the time we arrived, so my pictures just don’t do it justice. This turn in the road is called Artist’s Palette, and it was easy to see why.

Death Valley National Park

The temperature, the hot wind pummeling us, and the gorgeous view all combined to make us literally breathless.

Artist's Drive

We arrived at our hotel room in a much better mood. The best part of the day was yet to come, according to Lily and Emmy. While the night air cooled down to 110 degrees, we swam in the huge, warm spring-fed pool, surrounded by palm trees. It was the place to be, and even with all the other tourists swimming with us, there was plenty of room to swim.

I took this picture of the pool the next morning from our hotel room porch.
I took this picture of the pool the next morning from our hotel room porch.

SUDDENLY! Link up your Spin Cycle posts here, and be sure to visit my Spin Cycle partner, Gretchen!

Copy and paste the code in the box to add some Spin Cycle bling to your post! (On some blogs, you will need to delete the quote marks and replace them with regular quote marks.)

More posts about our California trip:

Meeting Gretchen from Second Blooming in Los Angeles
Hiking the Lemon Grove Loop Trail in San Luis Obispo
Yosemite, Day One
Yosemite, Day Two


Yosemite, Day Two

I was the first to wake up in our beautiful rental house, and the first thing I did was open the front door. We had arrived in the dark the night before, so I hadn’t been able to see our surroundings. The house looked out on a field with grazing cattle and a forest beyond. The air was cool and inviting, so the first thing I did when I went back into the house was open the kitchen window as I began to prepare our picnic lunch for that day. That’s one of the great things about renting houses or cabins on vacation; we make our own breakfast and lunches, and also have the option to eat dinner “at home.”

We wanted to get an early start to the day, because it was going to take up to two hours to get to Yosemite due to the fire and road closings. Normally, the house was only half-an-hour from Yosemite. We hadn’t brought coffee with us, so we stopped at the grocery store/gas station down the street to get our caffeine start to the day.

Jackie, the awesome cashier working that morning, told us that the store closed at 6:55 that evening. She said she had a heck of a time getting the locals to understand when the store closed, and they were always rushing in that the last minutes to buy groceries! I wanted to stop back on the way home to buy something for us to grill for dinner.

After driving that torturous mountain road again, we finally arrived back in Yosemite Valley. What I didn’t expect was how crowded it was. When I think of National Parks, I think of wide-open spaces, wilderness, and quiet. But this was summer, peak tourist time. So we found a parking spot and took advantage of the National Park’s shuttle service.

One advantage of being in the middle of throngs of tourists is that there is always someone who will offer to take a picture of your whole group if you return the favor. I took a lot of photos with other people’s cameras! I hope they all turned out as good as this one did:

Yosemite Falls

Due to the three year drought, Yosemite Falls was a little on the thin side, but still beautiful. A nice man with a British accent took this photo.

The girls were working on their Junior Ranger books, so we went in search of a Ranger Walk. We found one at Happy Isles! It was hot that day and so our hike was not very long, with frequent stops. The ranger talked with the girls about the importance of water, and we went into The Fen, where it was cooler. Water came bubbling up from several springs, and it was green, lush and full of life in the Fen. And we were the only ones there. Even in such a busy place, Yosemite is so huge that there are quiet places if you know where to look. We didn’t know, but the ranger did.

At the end of our adventure, Lily and Emmy received their Junior Ranger badges.

Yosemite Jr RangersWe knew the day would be a hot one, and we also knew that there were a couple of beaches on the Merced River. Ed and I had planned ahead of time to bring swim suits and towels so that we could take the girls swimming after our hike.

Remember how I wrote yesterday that entering Yosemite Valley is surreal?

Swimming in a river surrounded by such beauty is surreal. I only wish my pictures were clearer, but smoke still filled the air that day.

swimming in Merced RiverAfter splashing in the river for far less time than we wanted to, we needed to head back to the house. The grocery store closed at 6:55, and I didn’t want Ed driving on 49 to Coulterville in the dark! We made it to the Greeley Hill Market just in time to buy some steak and salad for dinner. Perfect!

More posts about our California trip:

Meeting Gretchen from Second Blooming in Los Angeles
Hiking the Lemon Grove Loop Trail in San Luis Obispo
Yosemite, Day One





Yosemite, Day One

Our family had a amazing two weeks in California; we covered so much ground–literally–that it’s going to take me a few posts to tell you all about it! From the time we picked up our rental car in Los Angeles to the morning we turned it back in, we drove about 2,500 miles. We knew that we were going to have to drive a lot, but we also had a couple of setbacks.

Our plan was to drive from San Luis Obispo to the south entrance of Yosemite, drive north through the park, and take Hwy 120 to our rental house. As we were driving to Yosemite, Ed noticed some interesting cloud formations. “What’s that?” he said, pointing. I, of course, said it was nothing.

We arrived at the Ranger’s station about an hour later. Ed asked the ranger how it was going. “Okay, except for the fire that started two days ago. The road to Hwy 120 is closed.”

It was early enough in the day that we had plenty of time to see some of Yosemite before we heading to our lodging for the night. Ed looked at a map, and we would have to backtrack out of the park and go north on a different road. It might take us a little longer, but it didn’t seem like it would ruin our trip.

We didn’t have to drive far into Yosemite to see the fire. As we stood at a viewpoint, about seven green firetrucks drove by us, the firemen waving at the girls as they passed by. Many of the fires that start in Yosemite are named. This was the El Portal fire.

Yosemite fire

It’s hard to describe driving into Yosemite Valley. As we drove, we were surrounded by these breathtaking walls of granite that reached up into the sky, almost higher than you could image. If anything makes you feel small, it’s entering that majestic valley where the Merced River flows. The smoke made everything hazy and a little surreal.

Yosemite Valley

Ed, Lily and Emmy were thrilled because there were rocks to climb on. Climbing rocks makes them happy. I may have also climbed on a few rocks.

Merced River

And then my sister and I took a selfie. Which Ed and Lily tried to photobomb.

Merced River selfie

After exploring the Valley for a little while, we decided we’d better get back on the road. It’s a good thing we did. The section of 49 from Mariposa to Coulterville is one of  the scariest roads I’ve ever been on.  It twisted and turned along the sides of the mountains, and as soon as I said, “Now that’s a hairpin turn if I ever saw one,” there was an even tighter hairpin turn! Ed couldn’t drive more that 15 miles an hour, and when the section of road is 13 miles long…it takes an hour to drive it.

When we finally arrived in Coulterville, we breathed a communal sigh of relief! We ate dinner at Hotel Jeffery. The service was slow because the men were all out fighting the fire, but once we got our food, it was very good. Hotel Jeffery is a historic building, and it still has hotel rooms you can stay in. We were staying six miles up the road. As we found out later, finding places to eat was a challenge in some areas on this trip.

Hotel Jeffery

In the next few posts, I’m going to include some links about where we stayed and ate. Maybe this will help you if you plan on traveling to Yosemite!

Where we ate: The Historic Hotel Jeffery in Coulterville

Where we stayed: When we travel, Ed loves using VRBO (Vacation Rent By Owner). This time, we rented a beautiful house about six miles north of Coulterville.

More posts about our California trip:

Meeting Gretchen from Second Blooming in Los Angeles
Hiking the Lemon Grove Loop Trail in San Luis Obispo





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