tax season, and our inevitable one-income-to-cover-the-cost-of-living-for-three-people return, is a highlight each year in our home. unfortunately, we tend to blow through the return crazy quick. and by tend to, i mean we always do. each year, without fail, in only a matter of months, every last penny of that wonderful little check has been spent on furniture, on books, on records — on anything that catches our eye, really. but this time around, i wanted desperately to do it differently. spend it all, sure — we’re certainly not going to turn into new, financially responsible people overnight, are we? — but spend it all on an experience-having, memory-making, family road trip.
and with liam’s half-a-decade, fifth (!) birthday fast approaching, what better way to celebrate it? the initial plan was to spend a weekend in eureka springs, a charming little town nestled in arkansas’ ozark mountains, only four hours away — until i looked around at every last hotel, cabin, and bed and breakfast, and found nothing but couples rooms. no tiny humans allowed. so if you were thinking about taking the whole family down for a visit, don’t. it’s for lovers only. damn ozark childists.
plan b was five days out west in colourful colorado — a state i had yet to see outside of bitter winter. i found a 5 star rated airbnb with a twinkle light-lit dining table, waterfall-having koi pond, and wes anderson-esque stationary camper in the backyard available over liam’s birthday week for only $73/night — more than half off the lodging prices in child-hating eureka springs. and better still, it was within walking distance of downtown colorado springs. naturally, i jumped on it right away.
wanting not to put everyone through a repeat of last summer when i over-scheduled the hell out of our trip north to chicago, i let the nature-loving birthday boy handle (most of) the planning. his ideal itinerary was as follows: red rocks, sand, and mountains. and in that exact order, too, please, if you don’t mind.
now, i’m far from being able to list every state in the u.s. as “visited,” and i’ve driven all the way across even fewer, but i’d be willing to bet some serious money on it — crossing kansas on i-70 is the worst drive. ever. there is absolutely nothing to look at, and the flatness is endless. and maddening. so my desire to cram as many western kansas landmarks as possible on the drive through should come as no surprise. a sort of one-and-done trip, y’know?
turns out, earlier that very same week, western kansas had been slammed with so much blizzard-like snow, a big chunk of i-70 was closed. and somehow the idea that the snow would still be on the ground, and prevent us from reaching monument rocks, the first landmark chosen by the u.s. department of the interior as a national natural landmark, still never occurred to me.
…until we were only a mile from the rocks, and stuck in a deceptively deep patch of it. on an unpaved road. in the middle of nowhere. for four hours. desperately hoping the tow truck we called would find us before dark.
colorado, on the other hand, was snow-free. well, unless you count pikes peak. but with a summit 14,115 feet above sea level, i think i can forgive it. thanks to my dreadful idea for a detour, we didn’t arrive until well after dark. but rising with the sun the following morning, stepping onto our airbnb’s front patio, and seeing the centennial state without tinted ski goggles for the first time in my life, was unreal. the unending, clear blue skies. the awe-inspiring rocky mountains towering above. it was heaven.
we had omelettes every morning for breakfast. drank as many black coffees as we could stomach. had a spiritual experience in garden of the gods. collected rocks. waited out many a sudden spring storm in the car. played board games in the backyard camper. won a few hundred tickets at the penny arcade in downtown manitou springs, and left with liam’s pick of two felt horses and two plastic carrots. shared three colorado blueberry streusel pancakes (with lemon honey butter, blueberry infused maple syrup, and probably a little bit of magic) with the birthday boy at our new favourite — over easy, a daytime eatery. drove 6 hours round trip to visit our first ever national park on the big, our-little-boy-turns-five day itself, only to have to literally run (down the dunes and across the creek) for our lives to take shelter from a truly terrifying storm 1 hour in. stood in a field at the bottom of the sangre de cristo mountains, played talking heads’ “this must be the place” on spotify, and thought to myself, we really could be happy here. collected more rocks. picked up some father-and-son-made fudge and a “i want to believe” dish towel. had thai takeout. decided my new dream job was being the pikes peak cog railway guide. stood in the snow at 14,115 feet. drove a few miles up pikes peak highway. collected even more rocks. nature journaled at the reservoir. walked the streets of downtown colorado springs in the rain. ordered liam his first ever (strawberry) ice cream cone. paid garden of the gods one final visit, but this time on my own. climbed up the paint mines. was told by two passive-aggressive, middle-aged women that that was not allowed. hopped off the paint mines. took in the colorado views one last time. considered crying. headed home.