The Professor Goes West//Day 19//How the Professor Plans Trips

Day 19—Thursday, June 7, 2018

We woke early to break camp and get the professor and the girls ready for their cave tour of Lehman’s cave. The all enjoyed the ancient caverns with all of its stalactites and shields and cave popcorn and bacon. T and I went through the gift shop, played house in the old guest cottage, hiked a lower montane desert nature trail, and had coffee and ice cream in a café.

We then drove 13 miles up Wheeler Peak to the trail to the Bristlecone Pine Grove. The trail was nearly 2 miles up hill with rocky pathways and snow along the sides. We threw snowballs at each other the whole way up. At the top we met the Bristlecone pines—trees thousands of years old. I loved their grotesque beauty as they twisted around for millennia holding on to the rocky mountainside. Living parts coexisted with dead parts and it was hard to fathom that these trees lived before Christ became incarnate and still live now.

At the grove we met a young couple who had just become engaged and claimed that they wanted 6-7 children. I will pray for them and their future marriage. We said goodbye to the trees and then hiked back down mindful of our steps and careful of the steep drops down the hillside.

Back at the car I made lunch and we began our three-hour drive to a hotel in Richfield, Utah. The road went through a bleak, dreadful desert past the dried Sevier Salt Lake. We were on the loneliest road in America, US-50, where the professor walked on Crossroads back in college.

At length, we came to Richfield where we shopped for groceries, took showers after five days without and did all of our laundry. The kids watched Mulan as we ate chicken salad for dinner.

I asked the professor to guest post today about how he went about planning our road trip. Cue “the professor”:

In order to start planning the itinerary of a camping road trip, I need two things: a main destination (or set of destinations) and a time frame. For this trip, we began with a desire to make a pilgrimage to the Franciscan missions in California—that was the initial main destination of the trip. We’ve found from previous experience that three weeks is about our psychological limit for time spent away from home. So, I began planning this trip with that time frame in mind, though the trip ended up being a little over three weeks.

I then fill in the details of the trip. This involves considering what we want to see between home and the main destination. There are lots of places out west I’ve always wanted to see, so I examined, on Google Maps, various routes that could be taken to reach the main destination and saw which of these places would be reasonable to visit en route to that main destination.

I plan trips using a Google Spreadsheet. I put various itineraries on the spreadsheet, seeing how long the drives are between potential stops, and in this way, I narrow down the list of possible stops until I arrive at the final list of places to which we will go on our road trip. Basically, I try to maximize the number of places we can visit within the give time frame, while abiding by a few criteria. The number of days spent driving more than ten hours should be minimized. At least two nights should be spent at most stops, so as to maximize the amount of time spent at each location.

On a long-term camping trip like this one, we try to spend at least every fourth night in a motel or at a friend’s house. Contacting friends and asking to stay with them and finding cities with motels that had rooms or suites large enough to accommodate our family further determined the route that this trip would take. For example, early itineraries this trip had us travel from Grand Canyon to Los Angeles, spending time in the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park along the way. But then friends in San Diego invited us to visit them; this allowed us to see more of the Franciscan missions (our main destination) than we had originally planned, which we wanted to do, but it meant cutting those stops, and taking a new route from Grand Canyon to San Diego. Getting lodging with friends in various places allowed us to discover new places to visit that we had not previously planned to see, like Muir Woods near San Francisco.

Once all these stops were determined, I began making camping reservations. For this trip, I did this mostly on the National Park Service’s website, though we also camped in state parks in South Dakota and California, so I used those state park service websites to do this. This was my family’s first major camping trip, so I tried to find campgrounds that had running water as much as possible. Once my family is more used to camping, we will probably camp more in National Forests, which are preferable to Parks because they are cheaper, have fewer people, and often have preserved the natural setting of campgrounds better than in Parks, but also often have more primitive facilities.

Some Parks require that you make reservations far in advance. For example, to reserve a campsite in Yosemite for June, I had to be on the website at a certain time on January 15. Even though I was on the site only a few seconds after that time, most sites were already booked! If you intend to camp at such parks, make sure you read the website and find out the reservation process well in advance. Other Parks, like Great Basin, are so little visited that they do allow reservations; campsites are first come, first served.

After reserving all of our lodging, I completed planning the trip by spending time on each Park’s website, looking at various activities and things to see. We didn’t make the final decisions as to what we would do at each Park until we were there, but this way we had a good idea of what to do well before we arrived. This helped us not waste time figuring things out while at each Park, and it also helped heighten our excitement to go to each place! But it’s certainly necessary to be flexible when on a trip like this and be willing to stop at things you see along the way if they seem to be worthwhile.