The Great Divide: Some tips for driving the back roads with your kids
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The Great Divide: Some tips for driving the back roads with your kids

I so love driving the back roads, and I discovered in the past several weeks that I can’t get enough of it. For the last two and a half weeks I’ve been driving the SAG (support and gear) vehicle for my husband and younger son who are riding the Great Divide from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, NM, on their motorcycles. It has given me a brand new appreciation for the back roads, which I’m traveling in a loose parallel to the narrow, rutted trails and the fire and range roads the guys are on. If you missed my post last week, you can catch up on it hereWhen I last wrote, I tried to describe the trip in bullet points.

What foolishness. The longer this trip goes, the more I know a bullet point and even a photo can never capture it. Yet here are a few more thoughts. I hope they inspire you to take out your own map and find a back road to travel this weekend.

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The only thing missing from this photo is the incredibly blue sky. I love, love, love the Abiquiu Inn in Abiquiu, NM. It’s Georgia O’Keefe country. Need I say more?

Avoid the cookie cutter places. It will build unforgettable memories for your kids. And while they may love playing on the slide at one of those fast food places with an indoor playground, they won’t remember it if that’s standard fare for them. Instead, try a bed & breakfast place, a mom and pop motel, or local cafe. Among my highlights: I perused Cajun Self-Taught over lunch at The Shak in Whitefish, MT; tapped into my writing muse on my colorful yet tranquil patio at the Abiquiu Inn while I cooked up a mystery at an Austrian Christmas market; and watched not much of the world go by from the comfy front porch of the Inn on Broadway in Silver City, NM. Along the way, I ate the BEST Mexican food north of the Rio Grand at least three or four times—all in different locations, of course.

Know your map even if you use a GPS. And then hand the map to your kids. It builds interest and skills that a GPS will never do. In my own case, the GPS and I had a very rocky start, mostly because I hadn’t studied my map sufficiently. And I didn’t stop to ask someone when I questioned the route. (See last week’s post for the scary story.) After that first day, I changed the voice to the British guy so I could confidently talk back. Mostly, I said, “How could you possibly know Alberta? You’re from London. I’m going the way I want to go.”  By day 3, the GPS and I reconciled, mostly because my British friend redeemed himself and took me on magnificent empty roads, past rushing rivers and glorious lakes, wheat fields waiting to be harvested, and walls of pines that separated me from the mountains beyond. My heart soared. I maybe developed a small crush on the GPS guy, too. I don’t know. I did, however, insist on driving only asphalt roads–which I had studied in advance.

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An old abandoned school on a back trail in New Mexico. Photo by Dusty Diller

Relish the beauty. I discovered that Wyoming is treeless. My husband had warned me, and I’d seen plenty of it myself, but somehow it had never registered. I drove almost 200 miles one day, and for about 180 of those miles I saw a total of twelve (12) trees. As you can imagine, the vistas were grand and empty since there was nothing to block the view. I saw more fly fisherman on the Hoback River alone than the number of trees on those following miles.

Slow down. Interstate driving lets you zone out, live in a mindset that speed is more important than experiences, and forget that real people exist beyond 100 yards from the asphalt. Start by going into the towns you pass instead of grabbing a hamburger from another fast food place at the exit. Yes, it’ll take longer. And yes, it’ll give you memories to talk about for years with your kids. My own experience: My husband and I have stopped for gas dozens of times in Las Vegas, NM. On our last trip past, we Googled for a good lunch spot that was so memorable we wanted to eat there again on this trip. And we tried—we just couldn’t find it. We meandered through town, past street after street of beautifully preserved historic buildings and a cool green plaza. We finally ended up at Maryann’s Famous Burritos. It wasn’t the place we were looking for, but myohmyohmyohmy. We’ll be back. This time we saved the location in our GPS. Even better? My perception of Las Vegas changed dramatically because I finally actually saw it.

Every state has gems on its back roads. Stunning though they are, you don’t have to travel through the Rockies to bring back an appreciation for the beauty close to you. Draw a 100-mile circle around your dot on the map. Use Yelp or TripAdvisor to find a cozy B&B or an untried café with prize-winning pies or a scenic byway that just begs to be driven. You’ll be surprised at how little it costs you and how much it restores your soul.

~Janelle