Summer Trip Plans!!!
I always get very excited about summer vacation plans. I simply love the planning, the anticipating, the deciding… My husband, not so much. He’s a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of guy, or at a minimum, make plans a few weeks ahead of time. However, this absolutely doesn’t work for a family of six, especially one that has only one income and needs to be frugal. And, when, honestly, I’m the one that does most of the prep-work for the trip, I need more than three weeks’ notice.
Our frugality is different from each other’s, too. Martin would pretty much rather spend absolutely no money year-round, and then splurge on special occasions, which makes them shorter and more infrequent. (Like, don’t buy any clothes, live in the same stuff you’ve been wearing for 10+ years, then buy me a $80 shirt.) I would rather spend virtually no money year-round, and still be frugal on special occasions, which make them able to be more frequent, and longer. (Like, buy clothes infrequently, and when I do, get them from the clearance racks, spending $4 or $5 for a shirt.) But, we’ve pulled out a compromise with which we’re both happy for this year’s trip.
I started crafting some tentative ideas TWO summers ago, actually, when I was planning our trip to Colorado to visit Martin’s parents (who have since moved back to Arizona), and I stumbled upon National Forest Service cabins. I was in awe. “A cabin for $25??? I don’t care that it has no amenities. I’m in.” Actually, I’m partial to tent camping, both because it’s cheap, the kids adore it, and we’re out in the midst of nature. But Martin, who bears the brunt of the work whilst on the trip, has had enough of setting up, tearing down, packing and re-packing the back of the Suburban. He wants to actually relax. And, we’ve tried camping with friends a couple of times, and that does lighten the load, but then you have the mixed blessing of sharing your time with another family or two, and trying to coordinate everyone’s plans, meals, expectations, needs, kids, etc., which really doesn’t make for much of a relaxing, “getting away from it all” kind of time. So, I’ll have to put off my dream of camping Limekiln State Park in California for yet another year. Or two. Or whenever he feels like camping again.
So, tent-camping-preferences aside, the various National Forest Service cabins are really a great idea. Many of them are former Ranger cabins, built in the early 1900s, when transportation and communication were much less reliable, and the far-flung ranger stations weren’t enough to effectively administrate all that needed to happen within a National Forest. Most of them are in the absolute middle of nowhere, which suits our whole family just fine. Most are not slick accomodations; they’re camping cabins. What I mean by “camping cabins” is that they’re rustic, usually without electricity and running water. For posh folk, that might sound a bit scary, but when you’ve tent-camped for years and years, any kind of stable shelter is a luxury. And, the vast majority of them are under $50/night. Given that many tent sites are now $20+, spending $30 for an actual cabin doesn’t seem like that much of a leap.
When I started planning this summer’s trip in earnest, back in January, I was hoping to get up to Yellowstone National Park. ~sigh~ That’s a no-go. Dear Hubby doesn’t want to drive that far. So, a great compromise is that we’re going to stay close to Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. I went there twice as a kid, and have great memories of its otherworldly landscape. It’s also above 8,000′ in elevation, making for a nice, cool trip. It also has a great selection of easy and moderate hikes, which are good for the kids. AND, I found a NFS cabin, at only $30/night, only about 15 miles away from the park. The cabin itself isn’t a thing of beauty, but its location is ideal. The East Fork of the Sevier River (which, to my understanding, is a glorified stream, but that’s OK) flows right through the property, and out-of-state fishing licenses in Utah are really reasonable ($32 for 7 days, only needed if you’re age 14+). And, it’s a very easy drive to Bryce Canyon NP. Excellent!
Inspired by the trip I took last May to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with my mom, aunt, uncle, and four kids, Martin also wants to see the Grand Canyon. He’s 41, and though he’s a native of Arizona, he’s only been to the Canyon once, and that was when he was a teen. He’s never been to the North Rim. So, going there again is fine with me! You could go every year to the Grand Canyon, and it wouldn’t be too often. However, I knew that the North Rim cabins up there book very quickly, and are typically booked 6+ months in advance. (That’s another reason I started planning in January.) However, I didn’t have the needed release of funds to book in January. So, when I called about a reservation early this morning, I was told that there were only single-nights spotted here and there throughout the summer, with no 2+ consecutive nights available until the end of August! That was very disappointing. We wanted to go sooner, and I’d really rather not have our vacation while I’m 7 months pregnant. So, I talked it over with Martin, and while not ideal, we decided to go ahead and book a single night, hoping for a date in early-mid July. I called again, and as I was talking to the lady on the phone, two nights, mid-week, towards the end of July popped up available on her screen! I said, “I’ll take them!” The reservation is for the nice Western Cabins that are made out of real limestone and full timber, each with their own porch with two bent-wood rocking chairs, all just steps away from the Rim. I actually was hoping for a Pioneer Cabin, which, while not quite as attractive, nor as close to the Rim, have more beds. I felt badly, because on the phone (the new management company has no internet reservations), I had to reserve it as 2 adults and 3 kids. Kids are free, but as there are only 2 queen beds in the cabin, they management company has a policy of a max of five people in each. However, when we stayed in May, we reserved the TEENSY Frontier Cabin, which has one single and one double bed, and the lady at the reservation desk when we reserved in person, said we could squeeze in as many people as we could! I hate feeling even a tad dishonest. If it weren’t for my experiences up there last May, I don’t think I would have reserved our family of six as a family of five.
I posted this backwards; we’re going to start our trip at the Grand Canyon, then go up to Bryce Canyon (which is only about a 3 hour drive). On our way back, since Bryce-to-Phoenix would be a reeeeeeealllly long day, we’re going to stop in Flagstaff. I found… wait for it… another National Forest Service Cabin about halfway between Flagstaff and Williams. It’s pricier, at $100/night, and we’re only going to stay one night. But, it has electricity, and plumbing, including hot water and showers. It also has space for 8 people, and a horse corral, so we’re hoping that Martin’s dad & stepmom (and their horses) can join us. After we overnight, we’re hoping to take the Grand Canyon Railway train up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, mostly for the fun of riding on a train. Tickets for our whole family would be a whopping $270 for coach, but Martin’s aunt works for the railway, so we’re pretty certain we can get some sort of discount, hopefully even travel for free. The train is a turnaround day trip, travelling 65 miles up to the Canyon in 2 hrs and 15 minutes, then having about a 2 1/2 hr layover at the Canyon, and travelling back.
In all, it’ll be 7 nights, 8 days. Woo-hoo!
(If anyone wants help finding your own NFS cabin in your neck of the woods — or close to it — let me know. I still have the itch to plan, and I’d love to help you plan your own trip!! Also, they can be rather difficult to find, but I know the way!)