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This is an account of a family vacation we took to our friends wedding in Twin Lakes Colorado. A Baker Family Vacation. You’ve seen the movie Vacation, right? Well, A Baker Family Vacation can be something like a Griswold family vacation.
You might wonder how this fits into this blog. Well, there is food in it. But mostly, it’s a remembrance. And since this is my blog, I can put my remembrance in it, and you dear reader, can come along for the ride. If you so choose.
The year is 1998. July 6th to July 17th. Brian was working for the San Francisco Visitor and Convention Bureau as the VP of Marketing. Trevor was a feisty six year old. I was an at home mom. Never heard of a blog. The internet was still in its infancy. There was no Yelp, no Trip Advisor, no Social Media. Cell-phones were not common. We did get one prior to this trip because we figured we would have long stretches of road without pay phones. GPS was still in our future. We worked from paper maps that were impossible to fold and our AAA Trip-Tix and guide book. All your cell phone did was make a call. How antiquated is that?
It’s a beautiful sunny Pacifica morning and we bid the kitties good-bye. Tessa, our golden, is already in the van and Trevor has settled into his back seat fort. Our rented (Avis) Plymouth Voyager is primed, gassed and ready to go…so are we. It’s 10:00 in the a.m. Carson City here we come!
On the road we decide to eat our picnic lunch just outside of Sacramento. I start to survey the Trip-Tix for suitable sites. “This one looks good” I say to Brian, referring to a place about 30 miles away with a big park. Cameron Park. Since we had already made a few side-trips though various cities in search of a park without any luck, we decide that this Cameron Park might be just the place to go.
Making the exit, we turn left towards Cameron Park. “Are you sure this isn’t just the name of the city?” Brian asks. “No” I answer. It says Cameron Park on the map and I am convinced that it is th name of a rather large park. Much to my chagrin, Brian is right. Back on the road to a new lunch location.
Just before Placerville (also known as Hangtown) we find a wonderful site in the Marshall Gold District. It is a historical museum all about the California Gold Rush. We venture through a winding road that appears to just be taking us into a residential area, about to turn around chalking it up to another misadventure, when, low and behold, we find THE PARK. It’s a nice place to have our lunch of salami, baguette, grapes and strawberries. Trevor busies himself throwing rocks into the small pond while Brian and I plan the next leg of the journey, load up the van and we are off.
It’s my turn to drive when we get back onto the highway. The scenery is pretty, lots of summits, then down into valleys. It looks like there is nothing out there, and then Carson City. We start down into the city. Brian is navigating, looking at the map, and then the AAA book. “I don’t think we should be going this far” he says “It’s only 3 miles from Highway 50. Look, the numbers are getting smaller, they should be getting bigger”. Oh well” I answer, “once they get too small, they should start getting bigger again, right?” We decide to continue and finally see our motel, the Best Western, Trailside.
Trevor is excited. “Can we go swimming? Please please please please?” says he.
Once settled in the room and after a quick dip in the pool, Brian looks in the phone books to see where to eat and finds that the Golden Nugget Casino not only has a steakhouse, but also a supervised play area for kids so the parents are free to gamble. We know where to go for dinner!
Dinner for Trevor is short and sweet. He is much more interested in getting down to the kids play place where there are so many exciting games to play. We sign him in, give him his $10.00 in quarters and tell him to “make them last cause that’s all there is”. We too are excited to get to our “play place” with all the exciting games. We take out $20.00 each, in quarters, and off we go. A short hour later we have fed all our money to the machines and go to pick up Trevor, who, by some miracle is the only one with play money left. He did good.
Back to the room and nighty nite. See you in the morning.
It’s an early morning. Brian tries to help pack up the room, but we just end up getting in each others way. Trevor sleeps on. Tessa the dog is watching our every move. Once we pick up her blanket and food dish, she is off and running to the car making sure SHE is not left behind. The little boy, not so much. Brian picks Trevor up and places him on his seat, buckles him in, and off we go.
It’s 8:00 a.m. Highway 50’s turnoff is just outside our door, we got off a little early yesterday, so we head east towards Baker. We need gas and stop at an Arco. While I go in to get some iced teas and chocolate milk, Brian fills the tank and washes the windows. All of a sudden, there is a bunch of commotion outside, the gas shutoff to the pump does not work and gas is pouring out of our tank. The attendant dashes in to get kitty litter to soak up the overflow while I stand diligently by to make sure no one lights up a cigarette. Fearing a spark, Brian and I finally decide to push the van forward away from the spill so we can safely get on the road. On the road again, next stop Austin.
Austin NV is not much more than a widening of the road. The Triple A guidebook talks of Stokes Tower, a deserted 3 story Roman style tower with giant granite slabs that can be seen for miles. We don’t see them. Plans to stop for lunch are put on hold, because there is no cafe in town. Oh well, next stop, Eureka.
While Eureka looks good driving in, I think the sign “Welcome to the loneliest city on the loneliest highway in America” should have given us a clue. What if you had a town and it never opened? That’s Eureka. Only one cafe was open, the Owl Cafe. And as we were informed by our waitress (who was a dead ringer for my SIL Dana), it’s usually the only thing that’s open. After all, it is Tuesday. We ordered our hamburgers, and in about an hour, they are ready. We eat quickly and head back to the van noting the sign on one of the shops – ” We sell Alien Storage Boxes”. Yeah, OK…cute town.
In Ely we changed drivers and get gas. Brian had been taking a nap in the back, Trevor was riding shotgun, and I was driving. Brian asked the nice lady at the gas station where we could get some ice and she directs us to a local store on the east side of town. Brian takes over the driver’s seat and we head east, looking hard for the landmarks that she gave us to insure we wouldn’t miss the store. Store found. We get our ice and hit the road. 30 miles later we see a sign for Highway 93. Wait a minute, what happened to Highway 50? Must be a 50/93 parallel. Wait another minute. Looking at the map we ask ourselves, why did we go through McGill? That’s going the wrong way, on the wrong Highway. Oops. After turning around and heading back to Ely, and once again through the scary little town of McGill, we see where we made our error. While looking so hard for the store, we missed the junction to Highway 50. Oh well no harm, no foul, what’s an extra hour detour when you are driving 300 miles anyway?
Back on the right road, headed in the right direction, we see the first of our many orange signs…”flagman ahead”. Why do they gravel roads in the summer? Another half-hour delay, just sitting. We make it to our campground just before 5:00. It is so worth it, Upper Lehman Creek Campground is just beautiful.
Photo Credit Trevor Baker, age 6
“Can I have s’mores?” asks Trevor “please please please please.”
After a camp dinner of Teriyaki chicken, stove top stuffing and green beans, we head of for the Ranger’s Campfire talk. It’s about the Great Basin National Park and very interesting. To everyone but Trevor. He still wants his s’mores. Campfire and 5 s’mores later, we are ready for bed. Trevor wants to go to the pit toilets to brush his teeth, he claims there are sinks in there. We don’t believe him, we’ve been to pit toilets before, this is not our first rodeo. I show him how to camp brush his test and put him to bed, him still insisting there are sinks. Within two minutes, he’s asleep. Brian and I sit and enjoy the fire and quiet for a few minutes then admit, we too are tired and tromp off to bed. I fall asleep fast and then find myself rolling into Brian. The tent is on a slope and we spend the night sleeping and rolling.
It’s morning and too difficult to pee in the bushes so I head off to the dreaded “pit”. When I come back I tell Brian that we owe Trevor and apology…there are indeed sinks in there. Brian goes to use the facilities. “We only owe him half an apology” he says “the water doesn’t work”. We give Trevor half an apology.
It’s 6:30 in the morning and we can’t wait to get on the road to Moab and our great campground at Slickrock. We pack up and are on the road by 7:30.
A fairly uneventful day on our journey to Moab. Lunch on the road was some fast food; we make excellent time and are looking forward to pulling into our campsite at Slickrock early, around 1:00. The Triple A book says the campsites are shaded by trees, there is a camp store, showers and a swimming pool. It sounds so great, we book it for 2 days. It’s close to the Colorado River…has a house nearby that was hand chiseled out of the side of a mountain, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made their mark around there, ought to be interesting.
After another slight mis-navigation (wrong campground) we finally see Slickrock. First clue, the sign does not say Slickrock Campground, it says Slickrock RV Park and Campground. Second clue, the check in counter looks more like one found in a motel. Third clue, there is a shitload of RV’s. Fourth clue, our site has been assigned and it’s number 117. Already feeling the dread we drive into the campground. But really, we reason, how bad can it be?
“Can I go swimming?” asks Trevor, “please please please please.”
Campsite 117 is about as big as a large RV. There is a table set under a wooden shelter, a small BBQ grill and a place for a small tent. Your nearest neighbor is, well, very near. Your car is your view as it has to be parked directly in front of your table. It is tent condos and hotter then hell.
Brian and I agree. This will never do. Off we set to make the best of a bad situation. We’ll just find another site that works. WE can MAKE this work. After much looking around and negation with the desk clerks (they don’t like changes), we find campsite 189. First plus, no one else was camping in that part of the campground. Second plus, it has an actual tree. Third plus, it has a fire ring. Fourth plus, it has a very nice flat sandy area to pitch the tent. Ok, says I, go ahead and make the change. Brian heads out. Trevor and I sit at the table and I am just about ready to start unpacking when, first minus, I notice the road right behind us is the access road to another RV park. Second minus, I notice Highway 50 is not but 50 yards beyond that. Third minus, I notice the barbed wire fence next to us about the same time the junk-yard dog notices Tessa is on the other side of that fence. Brian knows there is trouble when he sees Trevor, Tessa and me walking towards him as he is returning from the office.
Word of advice. If there are 198 campsites on 10 acres. You don’t want to be there.
Slickrock Campground “The Grid”
It was decided by all, well except Trevor who still just wanted to go swimming, that a trip into Moab to find a motel would be our best bet, and if all else failed, we did have the campsite for the night. Finding a motel without a reservation, in a small town, with a dog, is a daunting task to begin with. To find a motel without a reservation in a small town with a dog while an antique car club is cruising to Aspen and staying the night in that same small town with you, seemed impossible. But we prevailed, the Bowen Motel had an opening and would take “small” pets. Tessa, our golden retriever could make herself small. It had a pool, we’ll take it.
Tessa can make herself small, she’s practically not there
“Can I go swimming” asks Trevor. YES!
One happy swimmer
While in the pool Trevor met some other kids. “Want to play tag?” he asks. No response. Just a blank stare. Come to find out the family is on vacation from France, we figure this out when they started speaking French. Not one to let a small barrier like that stand in his way of communicating, Trevor roars at them. They roar back. Let the games begin!
Brian and I sit back and discuss our options. We decide (although I don’t think Brian was 100% good with this idea) to go on to Grand Junction CO the next day. Play it by ear, I say, I’m sure we can find something, and if not there, then the next town, or the next, or if need be, we will just drive all the way to Twin Lakes and camp on Bob’s land. Bob was the guy getting married and had like 100 acres, so it could work. We were going to drive all the way from Moab to Twin Lakes anyway, so what did we have to loose? As we had planned to be camping that night, we decide to take our camp dinner to the local park. We find a table, set up our Coleman stove and BBQ and have a wonderful dinner of steaks, Rice a Roni and a Caesar’s salad. It’s delicious and the envy of all the car club people who congregated there. Back to the motel for a little more swimming, then off to bed.
We roll out at 8:30. We are bound and determined to see the house built into the side of the hill, the Hole in the Rock, house. Our guide is a young man who has his narration very well memorized. Should you ask him a question, he would answer it right away, and then again, later in the tour, where it belonged.
Seriously carved out of the side of a hill
While we were inside on our tour, those demons in the orange vests show up. Flagman ahead becomes flagman at our exit. Timing is everything. Brian is in the bathroom and as soon as he begins they started moving the traffic on our side of the road. “Hurry Brian, hurry” I yell. “We’re moving”. Running and buttoning his shorts he jumps into the van and we’re off.
Next stop, Grand Junction.
The drive to Grand Junction is beautiful. The Colorado river is next to us much of the way and we watch all the people riding rafts in the white water. The highway is bi-level, although the roads are next to each other. As we near the tunnel the speed limit keeps dropping as shown on electronic speed control signs, the right lane is closed. Quite a display of traffic control for such a small highway. Brian is taking some pictures of the scenery when out of nowhere a little red car comes blasting by on my right scaring the shit out of me. I didn’t even see it until it was gone. A few miles up the road, we see the little red car again, with the Highway Patrol car, red lights flashing, stopped right behind it. Sometimes there is a cop when you need him.
Arriving in a city early is useful when you have no reservations. We make it to Grand Junction by 11:00 a.m. The Best Western, now one of our favorites on this trip, has a room, ready and just perfect for us. Off to the back with a picnic table on a grassy hill just outside of our room. Trevor and Dad take off for the pool, he hardly has to ask anymore, and I clean up our camping equipment, re-pack suitcases and sort through laundry (wait, this is vacation?). After a while Brian comes back and decides to go to the store to pick up a few things, including our third set of hot-dog buns for our lunch.
Hot dog buns do not transport well.
After finishing my chores, Trevor, Tessa and I go to the playground. But where is Dad? It had been a while since he left, more than half an hour and I’m getting worried. He has the cell phone in the car, but I shut it off to charge the battery. I should try to call him, maybe he turned it back on. We walk back to the room and the red light on the phone is blinking. I check the messages “Brian called” said said the desk clerk . “He’s lost but will find his way back soon”. Shortly after he returns from his adventure. He had found the GREATEST market and was sure he could find his way back again. AND it was close to the Dinosaur Museum we planned to visit anyway.
After many attempts at lighting the BBQ in the wind for our hot dog lunch, we enjoyed a great salad at Applebees. Then off to the Dinosaur museum which was very new and very interesting. A stop at the City Market that dad discovered during his adventure to get some Italian sausage and bread to have with our pasta that we cook up on our picnic table right outside our room; a bit of swimming and then Trevor to bed. Taking our chairs outside, we sit and watch lightning and the pouring rain. So far we are having a great trip and tomorrow we will be in Ledville and Twin Lakes for Bob’s wedding.
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