An Unforgettable Road Trip Out West

Article by Andrea Larson

Photography by Andrea Larson

We busted out of Kansas the day after Christmas and embarked on a 10-day road trip out west. Thank you to all who followed along on Instagram! The original catalyst that even got us talking about this trip was that our football team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, would be playing in the Rose Bowl game. This game would take place on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, California. Steve and I met at Iowa and are huge Iowa fans. After many debates on whether or not to go, lots of planning and organizing logistics, we decided to go for it! My parents also joined us on this adventure (also huge Hawkeyes), which made it that much more special. I wanted to share our experience, not only to push some of you to consider a road trip (yes, even with kids!), but I also want to have this journal of our adventures!

We rented an Expedition and planned out our routes before leaving. The original plan was to stay on a southern track because we were worried about the weather. However, the south randomly had a blizzard the day we were supposed to leave, so we altered and went straight west, through Denver, on to Vegas, and ultimately, to Santa Monica, California. The first day we drove from Kansas City to Denver, about a nine-hour drive. Kansas is a brutally boring state to drive across, but we were on a first-day high, so it went by fast. We found a cool brewery/restaurant to stop at in Hays, Kansas that I would highly recommend if you are ever in the middle of Kansas!

We realized once we got to the hotel in Denver that we forgot to pack Drew's luggage. Total parent fail! Drew was calm about it, I admittedly was not and I'll leave it at that. :) We went to a few stores (they were open late because it was the day after Christmas), but most places were totally picked over. The solution to this problem below...

The next morning, we drove across Colorado and Utah. This was my favorite driving day of all the days.

Utah is amazingly beautiful, and it had recently snowed in Colorado so the tips of the trees in the Rockies were topped with snow. It was 11 hours worth of beauty and I will never forget it. It was on this gorgeous drive that it occurred to Steve to have friends go to our house and send us some of Drew's clothes. That is exactly what we did, and it worked out perfectly. The clothes arrived that next day in California and we are ever grateful to our friends for doing this for us!

We arrived in Las Vegas late. I have never been to Vegas, my kids have never been, and my parents hadn't been there in more than 30 years (Steve goes every year)! We stayed right on the strip and decided because we were there that we had to stay out late and walk and see the lights/water show. Kate loved the lights and energy. Drew has requested to never go back. :) I can honestly say that I don't need to go back either. Though, I'm happy for the experience!

After Vegas, we had a short day of driving (about five hours) to get to our final destination of Santa Monica, California. We stayed right on the beach, just steps from the Santa Monica Pier. It was wonderful. It was late December in California, so the temps were in the 60s. Our kids had a ball on the beach. It was so wonderful to watch them be so carefree. I will never forget that. We spent time at the beach, the Pier, walking around the town, eating, drinking. These midwestern kids were so happy to be at the beach!

After two days/nights in Santa Monica, it was time to move to Costa Mesa, California. On the way there, we drove through Beverly Hills, stopped on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and saw the Hollywood sign. One of the first stars we saw was John Stamos. This Full House lover was in heaven!

Iowa was hosting a "Hawkeye Huddle" that afternoon in downtown LA. The reason we made this trek was for our Hawkeyes, so we had to go!

The next day, New Year's Eve, we went to Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach, California. It is a hidden gem of a beach, with tide pools and large rocks, and large waves. We strolled the beach for a few miles and it was very relaxing. This day was definitely a highlight of the trip!

Finally, it was game day in Pasadena! We all had tickets to the game. The energy at the game was incredible, and boy, do Hawkeye fans travel well! It was a sea of black/gold. Despite the terrible outcome (we lost bad), we are so happy for the experience and wouldn't trade going for anything. Who knows if/when we will ever go back to the Rose Bowl, so it was definitely a bucket list moment (especially for my dad and Steve).

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The day after the Rose Bowl, it was time to start the journey home. We did plan to stay south this time so we could experience a few different things. On the first day, we drove from Costa Mesa, California to Flagstaff, Arizona. On the way, we stopped off at the Grand Canyon. I had been there with my family when I was about my kid's age, so it was awesome to go with my own kids. It was frigid and we arrived just before sunset, but it was worth the drive and something you can't ever forget. The beauty and magnitude were just unbelievable.

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The next day was Flagstaff, Arizona to Amarillo, Texas. We spray painted cars at Cadillac Ranch (Google this and go if you are ever near Amarillo)! Cadillac Ranch was like nothing we have ever experienced before and another highlight!

We ate dinner at The Big Texan in Amarillo. Just total Texas and so much fun for the kids. Kate was serenaded with "You Are My Sunshine" by this crew! We have lived in Texas twice in our marriage, including once with kids (Dallas and San Antonio), so we consider ourselves honorary Texans! :)

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The last day, we finally made it home. We surprisingly were not that exhausted. We took our time, stopped when we needed to, and all slept well, despite the many different hotels we stayed in. We were all grateful for the experience and couldn't believe how everything fell into place (despite the forgotten luggage). Many people questioned us and were surprised that we would take a 7- and 8-year-old with us on this long trip. We simply say, why not?! Kids are amazingly resilient. They crave experience. Travel is educational. Family time together in this capacity is unmatched. I think kids surprise us in ways when we push them. Sometimes you just have to do things and make your kids do things, and when it is over, you ever wondered why you questioned it.

Photo: Society 6

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I hope our kids will always remember this experience. I want them to have a deep appreciation for travel and new experiences. I know it makes them want to travel more. It makes us all want to travel more and see more of the country. Drew now wants to move to California! Road trips force you to appreciate the beauty in the small things, it allows you to bond in a deeper way, it frees up time to stop and do things along the way. And as Steve kept saying before we even left, "You just have to do things like this, even if they seem hard or exhausting." He is right. And my parents were, and still are lifelong road trippers, so it's sort of been instilled in me from a young age. I'm just so thankful for the experience.

Our kids were traveling rock stars. Traveling by car is such a different experience, and thank goodness for movies and iPads (and great views). We have moved a lot and traveled to many new states, and taken our kids many places. We now know they can do anything with us. They are at a magical age of goodness and wonder. I love the collected experience with family. It just brings you closer. Lifetime memories are priceless and worth the effort and cost of travel every. single. time.

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Steve was the trip MVP. He drove every hour (except about four that I drove), he booked all of our hotel rooms, he secured our Rose Bowl tickets, he schlepped luggage in and out of every hotel. He was a travel agent in a former life, I'm convinced of it! My parents are still young, and fun, and easy, and retired! We are so lucky to have them so close, and they are always up for an adventure. I'm so grateful for this time spent together. Here is the trip in numbers, and because we had some time on our hands, we totaled up our state counts too!

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Total hours in car: 62
Miles Driven: 3,653
Hotels stayed in: 6
States traveled in: 9
Kids total state count: 26
Steve total state count: 36
Andrea total state count: 33
Memories made: Too many to count :)

Follow Andrea Larson at @lifelovelarson

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