(Update, many years later)
There were four Mystery Trips in total. The other three can be found here:
Mystery Trip II Vancouver-Island
Mystery Trip III: Québec
Mystery Trip IV: Colorado
My wife and I recently got back from taking our daughter and two grandsons on a RoadTrip through the Four Corners area, concentrating mainly on northeastern Arizona and southwestern Colorado. Contrary to my usual advice of getting input from all participants on such a trip, we kept the destinations secret from the two younger generations. Partly this was out of necessity. The boys spent most of the summer with their other grandparents and were not available for consultation, and their mom had spent a good portion of the summer doing outreach work in Russia. They all got home just a few days before our departure. But partly this was also to build suspense and anticipation.
In any event we simply packed up on a Sunday morning and followed the GPS. First stop was a picnic lunch at the Salt River Canyon in east central Arizona.
As part of out state legislature's twisted logic, they have de-funded many of the roadside rest areas, including the one in the canyon, making travel more difficult for those who are still financially able to hit the road and not participating in a boycott of the state. But we did manage to find a small area in the adjacent Fort Apache Indian Reservation before continuing on to the first major destination of the trip, the town of Greer. AZ. Greer is at the southern terminus of route AZ-373 which dead ends in town. This is actually a selling point of the town which bills the route as the "Road to Nowhere", and indeed Greer is a tranquil setting in the White Mountains, about as far from the typical image of Arizona as one can imagine.
We spent a couple of days here, often in the rain, fly-fishing (a particular passion of my older grandson), hiking, biking, and generally relaxing. Upon leaving Greer we headed up through the Petrified Forest National Park
for what would prove to be the first of 4 Junior Ranger badges earned by the boys. I've mentioned these previously, but they really are a great incentive to get kids interested in the parks they're visiting, in the history and meaning - not just the pretty vistas. and away from their little digital game devices. This was especially true at the next quick stop, the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. although little known, both the boys and the adults learned quite a lot through the program and had a very interesting visit, including a demonstration of Indian rug weaving, at a place most people would not even get close enough to ignore as they drove by.
In the late afternoon, we pulled up to our next stopping spot, Chinle, AZ at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly National Monument.We stayed at one of the three motels in town, but before bedding down went into the park for a tour of the south rim. The rain continued and during the night I got a call from the front desk that one of three dams above the canyon had collapsed and that if one of the other two breached we'd have about 45 minutes to evacuate to a relief center being set up in town. There being not much else to do I simply let my wife know what was going on and went back to sleep. Fortunately, the two remaining dams held, but we did wake up to a 'new' river beside the motel. We called in to check on a jeep tour that we had arranged into the canyon and found out that all such tours were canceled and would probably not resume for a week or so since the river was now running deep enough to prevent fording, even by high clearance four wheel drive vehicles. So we spent the day driving the rim roads and hiking down when and where we were able.
By way of compensation, we did run into a Navajo artist at one of the viewpoints. He had just hiked out of the canyon where he lived with his grandmother. He got to talking about his life in the canyon which we all found fascinating and we ended up giving him a ride in our overly packed mini van out to the park entrance and bought a small carving as a souvenir for the boys. Over a final meal before leaving we let the kids play 20 questions to try to figure out the next destination, which caused considerable consternation before they finally got it: Durango, CO. On the way up, the plan was to stop at the Four Corners Monument so that the boys could add Utah to their list of states visited. But when we got there, the monument was closed for repairs. There was something quite sad about seeing the half dozen or so RVs pulled up at the locked gate with people posing in front of a sign saying that they couldn't get to the one place where they could be in 4 states at the same time.
Durango would be our final major stop, but not necessarily for any major "must see". We settled in a bit north of town on US-550, the Million Dollar Highway, across from Durango Mountain Resort. This is the former Purgatory Ski Village which now operates as a year round outdoor venue. The boys and their mom spent a day there riding the Alpine Slide, taking mountain bike rides from the tops of chair lifts, doing some bujee-cord trampoline jumping and wall climbing while the grandparents had a well deserved rest. Then the next day we drove to Silverton and beyond on a dirt (rutted rock) road to a former gold and silver mine which had conducted tours through the old workings and even beyond that to the ghost town of Animas Forks.
Although we made it in a standard mini van, the road calls for (and all the other vehicles we saw on it were) high clearance 4WD vehicles or motorcycles.
We had slowly worked our way north over about 6 days, but now we were going to make the run back to home (Tucson) in only two days. On day 1 we had a major stop at Mesa Verde National Park
where the boys earned the last of their Junior Ranger Badges. There are ranger guided tours into a couple of the more remote ruins, but these were already booked up through the morning even though we had arrived at the entrance to the park just a few minutes after scheduled opening. We therefore went on to the southern end of the park and the accessible Spruce Tree site. We were early enough that it was not yet crowded and had ample time to explore and talk to the Rangers on duty. We had a picnic lunch on the way out and then spent the afternoon driving to Pinetop, our last night out of the trip. The following morning, Sunday, we stopped at the Fort Apache Historic Park.
I suspect that this would have been a very worthwhile stop except for two factors. Sunday is the only day of the week the park buildings are closed, and so one can only make a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, and one of our group had a small mishap. After some application of first aid, we packed it in and made the final drive home, arriving in the afternoon with enough time to relax a bit and get unpacked.
All in all, we had a great time. I think the kids learned something about the geology of the region and the history of the Anasazi. And we have another family memory tucked away.