Here’s an open invitation to all – the next time you hear me talking about taking an extended road trip with the kid, feel free to come to my house and punch me in the head. While there are benefits to taking a 1600+ mile trip from San Diego to Omaha for the holidays (some lovely scenery, Stuckey’s), the stress and hazards outweigh them (by about 16 tons, metaphorically speaking).

The trip there was nice, for the first two days. Stops in stunningly beautiful Sedona, AZ, and less stunningly beautiful Santa FE, NM were nice. We ate great food, saw some spectacular rock formations and some lovely art, and got a taste of how the southern section of mountain country does the holidays.

Then trouble found us. A major snowstorm loomed in our path (through the Rockies, stopping in Denver for the third night), forcing us to reroute. We swung south and east, stopping in Wichita, KS for night #3. Wichita, as it turned out, was lovely – a quint little city with a revitalized downtown featuring some excellent restaurants (we ate at a German cafe, and there’s nothing like sauerbraten and weinerschnitzel and dark beer when you’ve got road fatigue). But that detour added miles to our drive, sending us through the blight of the Oklahoma panhandle – a dreary, depressed area of the country, nuclear winter if imagined by Steinbeck, a flat gray landscape dottled with decaying cars and decaying towns. That was a 12 hour day, and by the time we hit Wichita we were gibbering and surly.

The return leg wasn’t much of an improvement. Our first day brought us throguh Kansas and back into Oklahoma, this time through the central section of the state. Mainland Oklahoma was a refreshing change from the wasteland of the panhandle, green rolling hills that I remembered from the time I spent there as a kid. Oklahoma City was clean and modern; we spent the following morning at the OKC Memorial, a solemn, haunted place. Then we were on the road, back through Texas and Nex Mexico, spending the night in Albuquerque. That town had been buried under 15 inches of snow the week before; they were still digging out, and the people we met seemed shellshocked (the average annual snowfall there – 5 inches; they got three times that amount in a day). Worse, another storm was moving into the area. Thus we had cause to worry – we needed to get on Interstate 40 before more snow dumped onto the city, possibly trapping us there.

So it was up at 6:00 a.m. We headed into northern Arizona, our next planned stop the Lake Havasu area. The snow began in the high desert, and followed us as we made out way towards Flagstaff. There, a decision was made – we’d head south to Phoenix, then west to San Diego, avoiding the mountain snows, but adding 6 hours to our drive. We’d grown weary of it all, and just wanted to get home, so we’d deal with the added drive time. The road through Flagstaff and down the mountains was treacherous – heavy snow and low visibility, but I’d learned to drive in Alaska, and I confidently brought us down into the desert.

Past Phoenix, the winds picked up, and as we traveled towards Yuma began to howl, blowing sand and debris until we were in an honest-to-God sandstorm. I’ve never been in anything quite like it – at one point, we couldn’t see more than five feet past the hood of the Xterra. Beth and I were nervous, thinking that someone was going to be in a hurry and ram into us blindly. Lucas, meanwhile, was fast asleep. (Watching Monsters, Inc. five times in a row is apparently very tiring.)

Night fell, and finally – 16 hours after we set out that morning – we pulled into the driveway, exhausted, hungry, and reeeeeeeeeally hoping that we had a bottle or two of red wine available. Lucas remembered that he had a bunch of new toys to play with. His enthusiasm lasted all of five minutes, then the trip caught up with him and he asked – demanded, actually – to go to bed. We happily obliged, and after a couple of glasses of wine, did the same ourselves. Seven days total spent on the road. I’d do it again – just need to check my calendar for the right time. When is the next cold day in Hell, anyway?