Wild West Road Trip {Days 1-3}

After two and a half years of planning and saving, we finally took our big Wild West Road Trip in July! We drove 8,775 miles over 35 days, spent 203 hours in the van, stayed in 26 different hotels/cabins/Airbnbs, and visited 12 national parks, 1 national historic site, 4 national monuments, 2 tribal parks, and 16 states! It was a crazy awesome trip - of course there were a few rough patches here and there, but overall it was amazing to spend so much uninterrupted time with my favorite people and having such gorgeous views made it even better!

I'll eventually get through blogging the whole trip, because so many people have asked for details, but it's going to take a while to get through it all because I still have thousands of photos to get through! By the way, some of these photos I'm posting were taken by my husband - he has a great eye and he took a TON of photos!

Day 1

We got up around 6, which was pretty much our plan for the whole trip. Spoiler alert: that didn't really work out! Turns out, it's pretty hard getting kids up early on vacation! But this first day, we actually got up early, did some last minute stuff, and we were pulling out of the driveway at 8. Not too bad!

After breakfast in Terre Haute, our first stop was a day in St. Louis. First up was the Chain of Rocks bridge. It's a pretty cool bridge - it's a about a mile long and has a 30 degree bend in the middle! It used to be part of Route 66, but now it's a pedestrian bridge with some cool Route 66 memorabilia in the middle. We spent way more time here than we thought we would, but being our first stop we were all pretty ok with that. Except Joey - he thought we spent too much time everywhere we stopped for the whole trip.

Our next stop was the Gateway Arch, which has been upgraded to a national park since the last time we were there! We got our first stamps in our National Park Passports here! I'm kicking myself now that I didn't think to take any photos of the kids stamping their passports anywhere. Oops!

Thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program, we got a free national park pass and we picked it up here. It was pretty cool - Jack had to sign it and at every park we went to, the ranger at the entrance station would insist on talking to Jack.

I expected to use a selfie stick or tripod a lot on this trip, but one good thing about going to all the touristy places with way too many people is that there is always someone around to take a quick family photo for you!

We've been to the top of the arch a couple times already, but Jonah was young enough the last time that he didn't remember, and we've only done it at night. So, we did it again. It's hot, the little elevator things you ride in are tiny, and it is so crowded at the top - but the views are pretty great and now that Jonah has done it again I don't think we need to ever do this again!

Check out the photo on the left - I don't think I ever realized how much my boys look alike until I saw that one!

I had planned to have a picnic lunch on the arch lawn, but we ended up having to park a few blocks away because it was really hard finding a parking garage we could fit in - turns out, a minivan with a luggage box on top is ridiculously hard to find parking for! We struggled with that for the whole month! So anyway, it was hot and we didn't feel like lugging our food all the way to the arch, so we ended up having sandwiches and cookies in the parking garage. We made up for that with a yummy supper at Fitz's. The food was good, but their cream soda is the best!

Our last stop on our first day was City Museum. We took Joey, Abbie, and Jack here back in 2010, but this was Jonah's first time there and they all loved it! Jack is already asking to go back again. If you've never been here you should go! The whole place is full of slides and tunnels and things to climb on and swing on. It's a really cool place for everyone, not just kids.

Our hotel room was supposed to have a view of the arch, but see that photo on the left? That was our view. The photos on the right are the view from the hotel pool that we didn't have time to use. It was a nice hotel with a good breakfast though!

Day 2

This day was just a driving day, but we made a few Route 66 stops and we also had lunch with one of my cousins and his family on our way through Missouri. I don't see them very often, so that was fun!

Our first stop this day was the Uranus Fudge Factory. It was a fun stop with a lot of punny stuff and some cute photo ops. This stop was probably a mistake though - Jack and Jonah were still joking about anuses through the whole trip. It was funny for a day or two, but after that it was pretty annoying.

We made a quick stop in Joplin just to get photos at this mural.

There are only a few miles of Route 66 in Kansas, and the cute little town of Galena is on the route. Tow Tater was the inspiration for Mater from the Cars movies so of course we had to stop for a few photos there!

The Blue Whale of Catoosa is a pretty iconic Route 66 stop and I was excited to see it. I guess this used to be a popular swimming hole, then it was closed, and now the whale is open but swimming isn't allowed anymore. Anyway, we stopped for a little bit, took some photos, had a snack, and went on our way.

 Our last stop this day was Pops. This is a fairly new addition to Route 66, and the kids were pretty excited about this. It's just a gas station with a restaurant, but the cool part (other than the giant pop bottle sculpture outside) is that they sell hundreds of types of pop. Normal stuff plus super weird flavors like sweet corn, ranch, and buffalo sauce. I chose Berry Melon Rebellion (which is funny if you know my whole "leader of rebellion" story) and it was delicious!

Day 3

After a reasonably good night of sleep in Oklahoma City, Jack and Jonah really wanted to swim in the hotel pool. Turns out, when you swim at 7am you're prety much guaranteed to have the pool to yourself! This was actually the one and only time we took the time to swim in a hotel pool for the whole trip! It was nice and quiet and the boys had a great time - plus it was a great way to get them out of bed early! Maybe I should have tried that more often!

At home, we go to church three times a week, but on vacation we usually skip it. Since we would be missing 5 Sundays on this trip, we decided we should go at least on Sunday mornings. This first Sunday, we visited a tiny little Baptist church in rural Oklahoma. It was recommended by a friend and we really liked it! Everyone was super friendly, we liked the sermon, and we knew all the songs. The pastor's wife even made sure to write our names down so they'd remember to pray for our safety as we traveled. I thought that was really sweet.

Daniel and I drove through Oklahoma once before a long time ago and we remembered it as being super flat, super ugly, and super boring. Turns out, we were wrong. Oklahoma was really pretty! Sure, there were no mountains or oceans or anything really amazing, but it was still pretty and it was a nice drive!

We loved driving Route 66! We didn't follow it the whole way - we did hop on I-40 to save some time - but we got off for the important stops and drove some of it just for fun, and made sure to listen to appropriate music! We were originally planning to drive through Colorado instead, but we ended up going there two years ago so we could drive through Oklahoma and Texas on this trip. That was a great decision! It also gave us more time on this trip to see some things in California.

Groom, Texas is known for two things - the leaning water tower and the giant cross. There's actually an even bigger cross off I-70 in Effingham, IL, and we see that every time we go to St. Louis but for some reason we've never stopped at that one.

The Roadside America website says the cross "rises 19 stories up from the Texas Panhandle, a landscape as flat as unleavened bread and as empty as Jesus's Tomb," and that's pretty much a perfect description! There's a gift shop and visitor center but we didn't check that out. The stations of the cross circle around the big cross, and there's also a last supper and an empty tomb (although I don't remember seeing that).

Shamrock, Texas is home to the U-Drop Inn, which if you've seen Cars, you'll recognize as Ramone's shop. We took tons of photos here, but I don't think the kids minded this stop too much (they got pretty annoyed with us at some places!). This was pretty cool. I think part of it is used as a museum and part of it is a visitor center now, but they were both closed when we were there.

Just east of Amarillo we stopped at Slug Bug Ranch, which is not as well known at Cadillac Ranch but I think it was just as cool.

Jonah was punching Jack in the photo on the right - slug bug rainbow, no tag backs!

After some rather disappointing BBQ in Amarillo, it was time for our most anticipated stop for this day - Cadillac Ranch. We got there about an hour before dark and it was just enough time to check it out and add some paint to these iconic cars. I was a little disappointed because there were so many more people than I expected there to be and it was really hard to get good pictures without a bunch of strangers in them. But it was still really cool and I'm definitely glad we stopped!

We had planned to stop at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas, at least for some photos (it's literally the midpoint of Route 66 and there's a pretty cool sign) but it was closed and it was already dark by the time we made it there. We did stop for some photos in Tucumcari, New Mexico, and the kids were pretty annoyed with us by then, but it was getting late and we still had to make it to Santa Fe. Have I mentioned that we're really slow travelers? We decided to grab some milkshakes to make it up to them but that ended up taking longer than expected too. We finally got to Santa Fe at 2:00 am, which was 4:00 Indiana time! We actually did pretty good adjusting to the different time zones, but it was pretty funny to think about sometimes - like when we were eating supper at IHOP in LA at midnight, which would have been 3:00 am at home.

Well, that's 3 days down, 32 to go! If you have any questions about anything, leave it in the comments! Next up is Santa Fe, NM! Click here to check it out!