Adventures Arizona Missouri St Louis

KDC and A’s Trek to the Midwest: The Gateway Arch

Trek to the Midwest: Gateway Arch

It was hard to drive away from the Grand Canyon, but we needed to get back on the road. We got back on the 40 and headed east. I made the family stop in Albuquerque, NM because I just couldn’t drive through NM without getting some sopapillas. I had lived in Santa Fe for a summer and was addicted to them. They are impossible to find outside of New Mexico. It was late, so we needed to find something quick. A Google Maps search helped us find a place. It also put us on route 66 again. We had managed to get back on the mother road.

My sopapilla fix destination, Mac’s La Sierra, turnout out to be a small corner diner with a delightful vintage neon sign and a fiberglass cow, doesn’t get much better than that. It turns out Mac’s has been around since 1952 and is famous for it’s “Steak in the Rough” dish that consists of strips of beef that are breaded and fried. I didn’t order the specialty of the house; I ordered half dozen of sopapillas to go. Back at the car, we enjoyed those warm pockets drizzled with the honey they supplied in little packets. On our way out we got a good look at the neon route 66 sign before getting back on the highway. We drove until the Texan panhandle when it was far too late to go any further. We stayed overnight there then drove through Oklahoma to Missouri.

Mac's La Sierra - Gateway Arch
Sopapillas at sunset from Mac’s La Sierra.

We got to St. Louis after nightfall and decided on a hotel on the north side of town. The next morning we headed to the Gateway to the West. After a bit of confusion that resulted in an unexpected round trip journey across the nearby bridge, we found the parking garage. The whole property and related buildings are known as the Jefferson National Expansion Monument. A walk through the park led us to the concrete base with the Mighty Mississippi to our left. A quick trip through a metal detector and we were inside looking for the counter to get our tickets.

We got our tickets for the trip up, and while we waited for our time slot we checked out the museum. The Museum of Westward Expansion was an informative journey through the history, starting at the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to the end of expansion in 1890. The displays were amazing; they even had a covered wagon and full-sized tipi. I thought we would only be checking out the view but there is a surprising amount of history to be learned here too. There are also two theaters, the Tucker Theater on the north side of the base and the Odyssey Theater on the south side.

The walk to the tram took us through the history of the arch’s creation. From the early planning and announcement of the architectural contest to pick a design for the monument, all the way through Eero Saarinen’s winning design and construction. The Tram itself was much smaller than I expected. It looked like it the EVA pod from 2001 to me. I would later find there was a reason for this as the film took inspiration from Saarinen’s work. Each of the eight pods has five seats. Once the door shut, we were able to watch our ascent within the arch’s leg. The tram moves in a curve as it goes up and it rocks like being on a Ferris wheel. We got a great view of the emergency steps, but that was about it. We arrived at the top fairly quickly.

Tram - Gateway Arch
Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

Once inside the observatory deck, it reminded me of the Statue of Liberty’s tiny high set windows. Windows are on both sides so you could see out over the Mississippi River into Illinois on one side and the Old Courthouse along with downtown St. Louis on the other. The views are spectacular. It’s also worth mentioning is that the deck is curved since you are at the top of the arch, 630 feet at its apex. After taking our photos and enjoying the view, we headed down the tram on the other leg.

Gateway Arch
View from the top – The Old Courthouse

We decided to make a pit stop before returning to the car since we would be driving to Chicago after this. On the way to the restroom, I noticed a display of the pod with a sign showing an illustrated example of the tram in use and an explanation of its history.

Gateway Arch
Thanks for the tram info, 80’s family.

We made our way back to the parking structure and headed back on the road. We wanted to get to the new house by dinner, and we had miles of southern Illinois farmland to drive through. Not much happened on the last leg of our drive other than trying to figure out how to say Kankakee (turns out it’s KANkakee and not KanKAkee), looking at barns and silos, and corn… lots of corn.

I did some research while writing this post to make sure I was using the correct name of the arch’s museum. I found out that the museum is going away, along with the Odyssey Theater. They’re building a new entrance so you can enter on the west side of the base and the Theater will become a brand new store. There will be another museum space elsewhere since the new entrance will be where the museum once stood. Seems the kids and I got to see a piece of history that will no longer exist. Considering the arch was opened in 1963 it makes sense to change with the times. We plan to return to check out the new entrance. A great excuse to go back and spend more time in St. Louis.

Here is CT’s take on his visit to the Gateway Arch:

The St. Louis Arch is a really really really tall arch in Missouri that you can go in. When you go inside it, there is some history about it and a video about when the

last piece was going in, which was a big deal because it took forever to build. Then there is an elevator that takes a long time to get to the top. At the top of the arch it wobbles and rocks side to side, and it’s really high. There are windows so if you are afraid of heights do NOT go up there.

(DJ: It only takes 4 minutes to get to the top. Also, the arch does not sway. It is designed to withstand an earthquake and high winds but takes a 50 mph wind to move it an inch and a half.

Adventures Arizona

KDC and A’s Trek to the Midwest: The Grand Canyon

Trek to the Midwest: Grand Canyon

The kids were excited to see the Grand Canyon. A and I had a special reason for our excitement. When choosing stopping points along our drive, we remember our first trip together to the Grand Canyon. Back when A first moved out to California (he moved to LA the year before me), we drove across the country to get the last of his stuff to his new LA digs. We were both broke college students, so we had to really pinch our pennies on this trip. We ate cheap fast food, stayed in inexpensive motels, and fueled the car (and sometimes ourselves) with A’s Texaco credit card. We stopped at the Texaco station to fuel up then realized we were out of cash. With no ATM in sight, we decided to get cash after we left the Grand Canyon. Bad idea. It cost money, cold hard cash back in the early 90’s, to enter the national park and we had none. They couldn’t take checks or credit cards, so we dejectedly turned around and headed back.

We never got to see the Grand Canyon together, so we were so excited to do this with the kids. This time we had cash in hand, but since it’s been decades since we were turned away, they now take checks and credit cards. We made our way up to the South Rim, through the village, and even got to see some Elk crossing along the way. It was also helpful that park allows pets so our dog could join us on this site seeing trip. The view of the canyon is stunning. My kids got to talk more about sedimentary layers (something that came up often on our drive here) as we walked from the visitor’s center along the rim to the west for a bit. The views from Mather Point were spectacular. In fact, all the views are spectacular no matter where you go on the south rim. I love the photos we took while we explored the south rim, so much so I used one of them as our header image.

We could only be here a half day, so we didn’t stay there long. Also, it was also the first day of July, so it was scorching hot. We got back in the car and drove along the Desert View Drive to the east. We stopped a few times to admire the view from various locations until we got to Desert View near the east entrance to the park. We decided to go check out the Desert View Watchtower that we could see in the distance. As we walked, we realized the dog was having trouble with the hot ground. The path we were walking on was so hot it burning her paws. We caught it quickly, and A swept her up to carry her back to the car.

Trek to the Midwest: The Grand Canyon

The kids and I checked out the Watchtower and more stunning views, especially of the Colorado River below. The Watchtower is a recreation by Mary Jane Colter of a Native American tower often seen in the Southwest. The Kiva room on the bottom floor housed the gift shop. We went up a narrow set of stone steps to the observation deck above. We stopped at the Trading Post and General Store on the way back to get a snack and something cold to drink before heading out. We needed to get as far along as we could before it got too late. We left through the east entrance so we could rejoin Route 40 just south of us. This would take us through New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle then eventually to our next overnight stop, Oklahoma.

KJ’s take on the trip:

My family went on a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona while on a road trip from California to Illinois. When we got there, it was scorching hot and really dry, which we weren’t used to, but the walk to the closest viewing deck wasn’t that far. Once we got to the edge, we got to see a small section of the Grand Canyon. Unlike some of those clip art or cartoon images you see of it, the real thing is one of the most awe-inspiring things in the USA! The small section we saw was massive and deep, with over thirteen different shades of red, orange, and clay tones in each of the layers, as well as veins of multiple metals and minerals. One cool thing about the Grand Canyon is that it is so massive and wide our brains can’t process it all, so the image you see looks like a painting and a bit two-dimensional!

After looking out on that deck for a while, we took a small hike down to an old tower, which had a special mirror near one of the windows that enhanced the colors of the canyon. Unfortunately, on our way to the tower our dog Tegan got her right front paw burned, so my dad had to carry her back to the car and stay with her until we got back. Despite that, we got a good look out that window and made our way back to the car soon after, dehydrated and ready to get back in the air-conditioned car. After getting in the car, we drove around to see different angles of other parts of the canyon, then finally left to get back on the road. That was an amazing experience I hope I get to experience again and hope you enjoy if you ever get the chance!


Adventures Arizona California

KDC and A’s Trek to the Midwest – The Journey Begins

Trek to the Midwest: The Journey Begins

The kids and I had traveled quite a bit in state but had never gone on a drive longer than 6 hours. To make the big move from LA to Chicago, we needed to drive my car to our new home. This meant three days on the road. We knew we couldn’t do the drive straight through, not with an eight and eleven-year-old plus a dog. Oh, and a goldfish, a carnival won goldfish that had already surpassed our expectations for its life expectancy.

We planned to do some site seeing while also trying to keep our drive time to a minimum. A decision was made to stop at the Grand Canyon and the St. Louis Arch along the way. It was a shame we didn’t have more time; there was so much in between our old home and our new home to see. Unfortunately, we had to be at the house by the time the moving truck got there. We did the best we could with the time we had.

The first thing to figure out was how to keep the kids entertained and comfortable. We had to troubleshoot ways to keep a tween with ADHD and anxiety calm and occupied for long periods of time. His teen sister wouldn’t be as much of an issue even being on the spectrum, but if her brother got antsy it would raise her anxiety. I made sure to talk it over with them before we left. Both KJ and CT have a thing for order. While they can roll with change better than most non-neurotypical kids, they still like to know how each day is going to progress. Before the trip, we bought books, magazines, activity books and new 3DS games. We also printed out coloring pages, mazes, and find-a-word puzzles. We packed a backpack for each kid with all these things in them in the hopes of a relatively easy drive. And snacks… lots of snacks.

One of the things we learned from several drives to San Francisco from LA, was that it was unrealistic to expect the kids to be electronics free. I had taken several trips where I was adamant that there should be time spent looking out the window. You know, what we of the pre-computer/cell phone generation have been complaining about the younger generations pretty much since the first kid took a Game Boy on a road trip. We keep insisting that they experience what’s going on outside their window, all that stuff that’s whipping by at 80 miles an hour.

I tried to force feed that idea to my children. After trying everything from limiting their electronics time to Auto Bingo, I realized trying to keep two kids that have varying degrees of attention issues made this a futile effort. That and the drive up to San Francisco on the 5 is nothing but empty fields and farmland that can bore even the most enthusiastic of travelers. After about the first 2 hours of, “Look! Cows!” “Look! More cows!”, “Look! Sheep!” their patience on the 6 hours drive wore thin. It’s now become a running joke for us. Instead, it was better to have the books, coloring pages, and mazes as alternatives to electronics and point things out along the way. An occasional look at rock formations in Arizona, a train crossing the plains in Oklahoma, or a cool looking bridge in Missouri was enough since there was going to be miles of rock formations, trains, bridges and more as we traveled.

The first leg of our trip ended just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. (Come on! Sing it with me! Flagstaff, Arizona. Don’t forget Winona… Well, we were going from LA to Chicago, a reverse Route 66) Between Seal Beach and Flagstaff were stretches of beautiful desert as well as amazing cliffs, mesas, and ridges in colors that ranged from beiges and browns to the warm colors of sunset. We even got to see 50 shades of gray as we drove through areas that looked like etched granite. It was fascinating to see how wind and rain have shaped the landscape. Unfortunately, after an entire day of driving through it, the desert got a little monotonous. We looked forward to the forest that cropped up alongside the Interstate as we approached the first night’s destination, a lovely La Quinta just off the highway.

We chose La Quinta because we had our dog with us (yay! Pet-friendly!) and my husband had gotten used to using their app to book rooms while on the road for work. The app was very helpful. We could compare prices at La Quinta’s close to where we wanted to stop and even book the room. This way we didn’t have to worry about taking tired kids, a cramped corgi, and a possibly freaked out goldfish to a hotel that didn’t have any vacancies. We stopped early enough for my husband and the kids to go to the pool for a bit while I stayed in the room with the pets and watched TV. The room was spacious and comfortable. We slept well then were up bright and early for the complimentary breakfast before starting our drive up the two-lane highway that takes you on the southern route to the Grand Canyon.

To be continued…. The Grand Canyon


From Roadtrips to Adventures

I’ve always been a traveler. Whether it’s roaming my local neighborhood, exploring the surrounding towns, cross country drives, or international travel. I sometimes become more versed in a new city’s landmarks than people who have lived there all their lives. I devour travel brochures and have been known to “overprepare” for a trip by reading up on everything I can. Before the ease of the internet, I bought travel books and went to consulate offices to pick up tourism guide books. Now with the internet, I can research not only before I go but while I’m there. I like to eat local cuisine and get to know the local culture through art and dance. And I love to take photos, lots and lots of photos.

Then I had kids.

When I only had the one, my daughter DJ, we still tried to travel. I remember taking her as a baby up San Francisco where we learned we could change a diaper on the back deck of our hatchback while stopped on a dirt road in wine country. In her first two years, we made several trips up north to San Mateo, Pacific Grove, Carmel and Monterey Bay. We have a great photo of her asleep in backpack carrier while A and I walked around the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

As a toddler, she flew to Arizona, Las Vegas, and New York City, each time for a wedding, and her second Halloween was spent in the Chicago suburbs not far from where we live now. She would make several trips to Chicago and Orlando to visit family before her brother born when she was three and a half. Traveling with one kid was relatively easy, then CT was born. That was a whole other ball of wax.

CT did get to go on a couple of flights to Chicago and Orlando, but not many. It was more expensive and more exhausting to fly with the two kids. We didn’t get to San Francisco until he was in grade school. Our travel with him was mostly local. Lots of trips to San Diego and day trips to museums and parks. We also didn’t know at the time that he had ADHD and anxiety, we just knew he was much harder to travel with than his sister. As KJ got older, we started to notice things were different about her. She was eventually diagnosed with Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder, something similar to Aspergers. She was easy to travel with but she had a hard time with verbal cues, reading body language, had a stilted way of speaking and could get caught up in routine that when broken might result in a meltdown. I learned to accommodate both of them in travel, but we stuck close to home. But I have a wanderlust that I can’t deny. Despite all that local travel, I longed for more.

Once they were both in elementary school, we figured out how to handle their non-neurotypical idiosyncrasies. We took a family trip to San Francisco where we stayed near Fisherman’s Wharf. The drive was a bit too long for CT but we made it with just a little parental frustration. We stopped at one of our favorite rest stops along the way, Casa De Fruta. It was fun walking along the Wharf and Lombard Street, exploring Pier 39 and Coit Tower, visiting Ghiradelli’s and enjoying some ice creams, and had tons of fun at the California Academy of Sciences, and the Exploratorium.

We returned a year later for KJ’s Girl Scout bridging ceremony. The drive up was managed a little better, although I miscalculated our rest stops on the way back which resulted in a CT meltdown of dramatic proportions. Lesson learned, don’t stop too early in the drive then find yourself without options along the way. At least KJ and I got to walk across the Golden State Bridge together. About a month later we would be on the road longer the 6 hours. We would be relocating to the Chicago suburbs and driving for three days.

The drive across the country and the closer proximity to family reminded me how much I missed traveling. A was also going to be working out of state all the time, hence the move to a central location near family, so we decided to visit him at his work location when the kids were off school. We spent a year finding places to explore in and around our northwest suburbs home and spent lots of time in the city. A year later we took on the biggest trip ever, on the road for 30 days.

Two trips that we planned to take separately got squished together due to CT’s baseball schedule. A was worried about taking them on the road that long. He remembered the San Fran return meltdown and how fidgety they were driving to Chicago but I had learned much on those trips. A charger for their 3DS really saved the day. They had a bin between them with coloring pages, mazes, find-a-word puzzles, new magazines and each had two new books to read. And snacks… lots of snacks.

This time, they were seasoned travelers handling many hours on the road. We drove to Atlanta in 14 hours, a bit longer than expected due to some intense thunderstorms along the way and lots of highway construction. Once we met that amazing milestone with hours of road trip time under our belts, all other trips were easy. We did 6 hours from Atlanta or Orlando, five hours from Atlanta to Winston-Salem, five hours from Winston-Salem to Virginia Beach, a short hop to Washing ton DC then another 11 hours from DC back home.

The last leg we learned not to try and stop outside of Cedar Point to rest for the night during the summer months. Hotels vacancies were hard to find. In the end, I calculated our trip was about 3200 miles in 32 days. We drove through 10 states on our journey. The kids were hooked. We talked about other road trips we could take, even started talking about writing a travel blog. The original plan was to write just about traveling on the road with the first blog names KDC Roadtrips. Then we realized that was too narrow. We wanted planes, trains, AND automobiles. That’s when we decided to start KDC Adventures.

Since then we’ve done that drive, minus VA and DC, again. We’ve been to Wisconsin a few times and Cedar Point in Ohio twice. We bought a house this year, so we had to cut back on our summer travel plans a bit, but we have ideas of new places to go starting after Christmas. I also want to try some train travel next year. We plan to share those stories with you, along with tips and recommendations along the way. We’re aiming for adventure!