I realized that a lot of this blog is a travel blog, but I wanted to take advantage of the platform in include some additional details about my travel outside of french fry and soda exploration. This series of posts will document my family’s recent road trip from Seattle to the Grand Canyon (and beyond) and some of the adventures along the way.

Here’s the background context that you’ll need. I hadn’t taken any material time off since the pandemic began, and reached a point where I needed to force myself away from the computer for a bit. On relatively short notice I scheduled a week of PTO and thought that I’d just hang around the house for a week and catch up on some projects. 6 days before my PTO began my wife and I were talking about some National Parks that we wanted to visit in the future, which sparked the curiosity enough that we pulled up Google Maps and estimated what a road trip to the Grand Canyon might look like. From there, we made a couple of reservations, marked out the stops we wanted to incorporate, and the trip began.

Our family consists of me, my wife, and two kids (10 and 7). We have a Subaru Outback and Yakima roof carrier. Here’s the rough outline of the trip (roughly outlined in Google maps here):

  • Day 1 – Drive from Seattle to Boise, ID (500 miles)
  • Day 2 – Drive from Boise, ID to Las Vegas, NV (630 miles)
  • Day 3 – Drive from Las Vegas, NV to Grand Canyon (280 miles)
  • Day 4 – Grand Canyon Stuff
  • Day 5 – Grand Canyon Stuff
  • Day 6 – Drive from Grand Canyon to Zion National Park (326 miles)
  • Day 7 – Drive from Zion National Park to Springville, UT (262 miles)
  • Day 8 – Drive from Springville, UT to Boise, ID w/ stop at Golden Spike monument (416 miles)
  • Day 9 – Drive from Boise, ID to Seattle (500 miles)

With the rest of our exploring around these locations we put 3,000 miles on the car over the 9 days. That means we used about 120 gallons of gasoline, which cost us about $360. We spent about $800 on food, and another $1,400 on hotels. I’d guess we spent another $300 on souvenirs and entertainment. So, all in the trip cost about $3,000.

The first two days were relatively uneventful, but I’ll be sharing two blog posts about food that we ate on that drive. Then I’ll write a post dedicated to the Grand Canyon leg of the trip, and one more dedicated to the return trip (with a quick stop in Zion National Park). Here’s a short paragraph on Days 1 and 2:

Day 1

We loaded up the car early in the morning and were on the road by about 7:30am. This was a Friday, but traffic wasn’t terrible as we passed through Bellevue on the 405. We had absolutely no trouble going through Snoqualmie pass. I don’t remember why it was necessary, but we made a stop at a Fred Meyer in Ellensburg to pick up a couple of things, had everyone use the bathroom, and then pushed forward to Umatilla for lunch at a taco shop called Doñitas Tacos. We had been looking for a reasonable spot to spot around lunchtime with something that our kids would eat. Doñitas Tacos had quesadillas for them, and birria tacos for me, so it seemed like a great fit.

Funny story of the day, I ordered food for everyone and discovered that my Spanish might need a bit of work. I’m a big fan of birria tacos, especially quesabirria tacos (layer of cheese inside the tortilla along with the braised meat), but they’re traditionally made with goat. I had been ordering in Spanish, but when I asked the employee whether the birria tacos were made of beef (de res) or goat (de chivo), I accidentally asked if they were made from chavo. The words are close, but when you ask someone if their food is made from beef or little boy they’re going to be concerned. She immediately stopped speaking in Spanish, but I didn’t realize what I had done until about 10 minutes later while waiting for the food to come out.

The tacos were great. I ordered way too much because after asking for the tacos I saw an advertisement at the counter for some sort of birria ramen (which apparently came with another two tacos). The birria ramen was hilarious. It’s a cup of instant ramen from Tapatio (which I didn’t know existed), but instead of water they add birria broth/consome with chunks of braised meat, onion, and cilantro. It was ridiculously savory, and the tacos paired extremely well. Obviously. This isn’t a light meal, so the stack of tacos I had already ordered were overkill. If you’re ever passing through Umatilla this place is worth a stop.

From here we pushed forward to Boise, checked into the La Quinta in Meridian, and then had burgers and fries with my wife’s brother and his wife who live in the area. Here’s the blog post for that meal (5 different kinds of fries). The La Quinta in Meridian was fine, but they put some late check-ins in the room above us at about 2:30am who were either classically trained clog dancers or super anxious peg-legged pirates pacing the floor. Thump thump thump. We ended up calling the night manager and the noise calmed down for a bit, but then kicked back up again. Most of us were awake for a couple hours due to that, so we bailed from the hotel early the next morning and set off towards Vegas.

Day 2

This was a long stretch of driving and we knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of stops along the way. We had enough gas to get us to the Nevada border, so we made Jackpot, NV our first stop. It’s not a big town, but there are a few casinos. The gas station bathrooms were all closed because it was too early in the day, so we hauled the kids into Cactus Pete’s casino to use their restrooms. From there we drove another several hours down to Ely, NV to have lunch at Rolberto’s Mexican Food. Blog post for that meal is included here. Another funny story, I was interviewed over Zoom in the parking lot of that restaurant by a Seattle news station about a serial crow killer in my neighborhood. Strange times.

This was a long and boring drive. We could have deviated from the course a bit and checked out a ghost town or two, but after a rough night in the hotel we really wanted to get to Vegas and settle in. Everything is basically flat, but you see some low mountains in the distance. They stay in the distance for a long time. I made sure to download music and podcasts before we left which turned out to be a wise move. Cell phone reception is extremely spotty in these parts.

We eventually made it Las Vegas and checked into the Sonesta Suites. This hotel is in the Extended Stay format, so there was a bedroom, a microwave, and even some dishes available. In hindsight, I wish that I had stayed closer to the strip. We thought it would be easier to get in and out if we were a block or two away from it, and also wanted it to be less crowded. My mistake was that I forgot how large the blocks are in Las Vegas. The “small” walk from our hotel to the Bellagio fountain was actually well over 3 miles roundtrip. It felt good to stretch our legs, but the reward that I had planned for the kids at the end fell through. The gelato shop was keeping very strange hours and wasn’t open at 6pm on a Saturday. So, the kids were hungry, tired, and still had to walk about 20 minutes back to the hotel.

The Strip was interesting. It was crowded, but it was the least crowded I’ve ever seen it. The rate of mask-wearing outside was somewhere around 50%, but the rate of mask-wearing indoors was close to 100%. The casinos seem to be doing a good job of enforcing their mask mandates, so had we taken advantage of some of the discounted rates on the strip we likely would have been fine. On the other hand, our hotel was a 5 minute walk from Lotus of Siam, one of my favorite restaurants in Vegas. I ordered some fancy curry duck thing. It was great. The past times I’ve been to Lotus of Siam I’ve had other people order for the table and we shared dishes. I enjoyed everything, but when I was on my own I didn’t know what to focus in on. In hindsight I might have been happier with someone closer to a traditional noodle dish, but I was still pretty happy.

Everyone slept well, and we got ready to head out to the Grand Canyon (south rim) the next morning.

This is Part 1 in a three part series.

To read Part 2, click here.

To read Part 3, click here.