Here’s the map if you’re following along.
Leaving Las Vegas. We said our goodbyes after breakfast and then piled into the car. We did this road trip because we didn’t feel safe flying during the pandemic with an unvaccinated Li’l K. Now that she’s started her course of vaccinations, road trips seem doable to me, but my sister and brother-in-law have flatly said no; next time, we’ll be flying. For the record, I enjoy the quality time.
We learned lessons on the ride out. Stop at playgrounds for Li’l K every 90 minutes if possible. Mexican food fits all of our dietary restrictions, sensitivities, and preferences; I, for one, don’t get tired of it. We can’t eat fried American food (anything served with fries on the side) for more than two meals in a row.
We made three changes to our plan for the return trip. The first change was to pack lunches for the first day, to avoid eating fried American food for two meals in a row; I made smoked salmon onigiri. The second change was to add about 30 minutes to our driving time by taking a route through the Sierras in eastern California. The route is more scenic and has more playgrounds, and there was all kinds of construction between Las Vegas and Nevada that we didn’t want to get caught in. The third change was to get a hotel in Carson City, rather than Reno. The Peppermill in Reno was convenient in terms of food (there are restaurants in the casino) but we needed something less casino.
There was some roadwork on US-95 that caused about a 20 minute delay. I was driving.
Beatty, Nevada was our first stop. We ate onigiris at Cottonwood Park, and Li’l K ran across the field a couple of times. We didn’t stop for gas or food, even though someone recommended that we buy jerky. I’m a pescatarian.
My sister took wheel for the next leg of the trip, which took us farther up US-95 before turning onto Nevada State Route 266 in rural Esmeralda County, the back way into California, through the High Sierra. I had taken this (beautifully scenic) route once before, in 2010, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever go that way again. I recognized some of the valleys, the curves, and the mountain views; however the blue spruce and the Ponderosa pines didn’t seem as striking this time.
Big Pine, California was our next stop. The Ticos played at Mendenhall Park while my sister and I fueled up at Chevron and got drinks. I discovered that blue zero-sugar Gatorade is what I wish swimming pools were filled with. For some reason we didn’t stop to eat at Big Pine; we kept driving and once we went through Bishop, California, I realized that’s where our time might have been spent; it’s a much bigger town.
Lee Vining, California wasn’t a planned stop, but we were admiring Mono Lake and we needed a little break. We stopped at a gas station, and watched Big K walk into the women’s room. We all shrugged, but Big K was a little chagrinned when he walked out and realized. At that point, the men’s room was filled with three generations of a Chinese American family (also on a road trip, probably to Yosemite), so I used the women’s room as well.
Bridgeport, California seemed like a quiet town. We took Li’l K to play at the Bridgeport Children’s Park, and noticed there was some kind of fair going on. A barefoot blond boy was pretty excited about climbing with Li’l K on the playground toys, and later I saw him sitting by himself. The town history museum was nearby, and there was an outdoor history board that explained that Bridgeport became the county seat after the surveyors came and determined that the county seat in Aurora was actually in Nevada.
Carson City, Nevada is only a 90 minute drive from Bridgeport. We checked in at the Staybridge Suites and ordered the last pupusas of the night from La Santaneca, and ate them in our room. The next morning, the breakfast buffet was good; they had the good kind of breakfast sausage , and Li’l K enjoyed the bacon and the yogurt with blueberries. Both Big K and my sister wanted to sleep in, but there was a fire alarm that got us all out in to the parking lot. Li’l K buried her head into my shoulder as I ran her outside. We went back inside a few minutes later and the sleepyheads went back to sleep. Li’l K and I played for a few minutes, and then I decided to take her outside to water the plants with her baby watering can, and water from my water bottle. Once we were out of water, and it was time to go back inside, I realized I hadn’t brought the room key. Back in the room, mamá was asleep and papá was in the bathroom, so Li’l K and I had to wait a little bit to get back in. We spent some time at the picnic table near the dog park, and later in the hotel courtyard. At one point Li’l K got thirsty and I felt really bad for forgetting the key. Luckily we found our way in and Big K opened the door for us.
This second day of driving back was a shorter total drive; only five hours. However, the stretches were longer. Susanville, California is nearly two hours from Carson City, but we made it because Li’l K was asleep. We took her to play at Riverside Park while I went to look for food. Starbucks was out of breakfast sandwiches, and Taco Bell was out of Mexican Pizzas, and we learned that Li’l K does not like KFC; not the chicken, not the potatoes. She ended up eating the last of the onigiris, while the rest of us choked down fast food back at the park. We fueled up and continued through Lassen National Forest.
McCloud, California is two hours and twenty minutes; the longest non-stop stretch we had. As before, we stopped to play at Hoo Hoo Park, where Li’l K met a friend named Quinnen from Sonoma County who was in McCloud visiting family for the Fourth of July holiday. We discovered that the park is in the shadow of the looming Mt. Shasta, a fact that we somehow managed to miss on the way down. Also, it turns out that Li’l K really likes the playground toy that’s a vehicle on springs, that she can mount like a horse and rock back and forth. She had recently discovered that airplanes, like animals, have tails, and was excited to ride on the airplane. I couldn’t bear to tell her it was actually a missile (with a saddle and handlebars).
Once back on the road, we blew through Weed and Yreka, over the passes and finally made it to Ashland, Oregon. We got our room at the Comfort Inn (it was fine but it had a 1970s Rocky Mountain High, Mork and Mindy vibe). We went to Agave for dinner. There were 60 year olds making out in the parking lot (and not giving up their parking spaces) and I should have ordered more food because both Big K and I left hungry. We ended up taking a stroller walk through Lithia Park and happened upon some kind of hippy festival (it’s the Shakespeare Festival but hippies dance in the park for some reason. Li’l K was impressed by the dudes who made huge soap bubbles out of two sticks and a piece of rope. My sister was especially glad to see that slice of life in Ashland. The next morning we ate some hotel breakfast buffet (wasn’t as good as in Carson City) and got breakfast sandwiches at Starbucks before hitting the road again. Last day of driving!
I had planned stops in Roseburg and Salem; that is to say, I researched playgrounds and Mexican restaurants with outdoor patios so that we could stop, play, and eat food. We didn’t stop in Roseburg, as Li’l K was taking a morning nap. Must be nice! After nearly three hours, we finally stopped in Springfield, Oregon, to slide down the slides at Meadow Park. We had lunch in nearby Eugene, Oregon at Chapala Mexican Restaurant, a sprawling, high-ceilinged family restaurant with sunshine yellow walls, high ceilings, and an outdoor mall courtyard patio, where you could eat your lunch not around cars. Li’l K decided she enjoyed chips and salsa, and I ordered some shrimp enchiladas that had TOO MUCH CREAM. Holy smokes, too much. Big K bought us all chocolates from the chocolatier. Li’l K took me on a walk around the plaza, climbing up three flights of stairs to get to a statue of a duck as tall as me. Later she took that same walk with her papá.
Big K drove the next leg of the journey, and Li’l K needed a diaper change right as we arrived in Salem. For some reason, we ended up on Commercial Street, where Google Maps took us to three different Starbucks; one in a Fred Meyer (pass!), one in a Safeway (pass!) and finally a free-standing café with an outdoor patio. I ordered what I always order at Starbucks, which is some pink sugar free tea that is supposedly passion fruit, which is not pink. Li’l K got a diaper change in the open air on the patio, where we could hear the drive-thru customers ordering their fluffy, barely coffee drinks. We got back in the car and for several minutes we continued to pretend to order ridiculous fluffy drinks, and another customer named Erin (but my sister called “Karen”) who called her order in ahead and was mad that they didn’t have it ready.
My sister drove the next leg, and I slept in the passenger seat. When I woke up, we were just crossing the Columbia River into Washington. We stopped for gas at a Chevron in Vancouver, which was worthless because we couldn’t use the bathroom. We ended up getting back in the car and driving to the next rest stop so that we could have a proper stretch break.
After that, it was back in the car. I think I drove the last stretch. We blew through Longview, Kelso, Centralia, Chehalis, Tumwater, Olympia, Lacey, Nisqually, JBLM, Tacoma, Fife, Federal Way, and finally home to Rainier Beach. We unloaded and rescued my car from the neighbors, meanwhile Li’l K went upstairs and rediscovered all the toys she hadn’t seen in two weeks.
I had a great time on this road trip. I enjoyed the drive down, the family time, and the drive back up. I didn’t find it hard to travel with Li’l K, not even during a pandemic, though it might have been nice to eat indoors. We are still looking forward to that. The pandemic also limited what we could do in Las Vegas; Li’l K saw the inside of a doctor’s office for her vaccine, and then a series of pools and spray parks. She is probably to young to remember any of this, but I will very much cherish these memories.