Happy new year! The exclamation point feels a little forced this morning as I saddle up to my computer with a mix of dread and anticipation. Something tells me I’m not the only one. For 10 days, the whole country has been in the space between: real life, suspended. No school, work, deadlines, meetings, professional obligations. My husband, two daughters, and I spent Christmas in Connecticut with my parents and siblings and their eight kids. I left my computer in Santa Fe and, with all the free time I wasn’t wasting on Facebook, we walked to the beach with the kids, set up my niece and nephew’s new slackline, played paddle tennis, and shucked and ate eight dozen Bluepoint oysters. I even managed to read a whole book.
I craved the uninterrupted family time, but by the end, I was antsy. I missed my writing, our family’s normal routine. Structure. This is the conundrum of 21st-century family life, played out on a national level during the holidays: How to strike the balance between too much to do and too little? Me-time and we-time? If you don’t plan, things don’t happen, but if you plan too much, you run yourselves ragged. We wrestle with this all the time in our house, but it’s especially pronounced this week as I look back on all the fun we had in the last 12 months—river running, camping, a month in bare feet, Thanksgiving in the canyons, etc.—and start scheming a new year of adventure resolutions. Here's our bucket list. What's on yours?
When my colleague and
friend, Outside’s executive editor Sam Moulton, emailed this photo to me, I
was pretty sure I was looking at the birth of a new adventure sport:
sidecountry stroller camping! Like backpacking with kids—only less lugging, more rolling. Sam and two pals—Outside editor Chris Keyes and architectural designer Jonah Stanford—wheeled off with six kids, a pile of gear, and two strollers into
the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Santa Fe. Here’s the story, in his words:
It was early September,
and we wanted to take the kids camping. Our initial idea was car camping, but
Jonah’s kids are older [eight and five] and they have their own packs. My son,
Beck, was 14 months at the time and Lily was 3 1/2, so I wasn’t sure how far I’d get carrying
them and all our gear. That's when we started talking—what if we loaded up the strollers
and went somewhere flat and pioneered a kind of sidecountry stroller camping?
Sunset/moonrise over Canyon de Chelly. Photo: Katie Arnold
[This is the third in a series about roadtripping around the Southwest. Read parts I and II here.]
On our first morning in Chinle, I woke full of hope for Canyon de Chelly. We’d slept deeply in the Thunderbird Lodge, and it was one of those glittery late fall days in the high desert, when the air is so clear and dry it makes everything look sharper, more angular. Out in the parking lot, the Airstream gleamed with frosty promise. We unlatched the door and looked inside: The fridge had slid out of its plywood cabinet, but the table was still bolted to the wall; the closet door was on the floor, but all windows were intact. A few stove knobs lay scattered at our feet, but at least the heater hadn't fallen off. This was cause for minor celebration, so we sizzled up eggs and bacon in our frigid little kitchen, and then carried our plates into our hotel room to eat next to the heater—one last little luxury before camping again.
Located entirely within the Navajo land, Canyon de Chelly National Monument is managed by the National Park Service but it’s under the jurisdiction of the Navajo tribal government. It’s a complicated arrangement, but for the typical visitor it boils down to this: You can’t enter the canyon without an authorized Navajo guide. Because it was low season and we hadn’t bothered to hire one in advance, so we unhitched the Airstream at Cottonwood Campground and drove the quarter mile to the visitor center, where a ranger gave me a list of outfitters. On my second call, I found Adam at Antelope House Tours, who agreed to take us into the canyon in our truck for $30 an hour.
In the rough: Road 7950 out of Chaco Canyon. Photo: Katie Arnold.
There’s no direct route
from Chaco Canyon, in northern New Mexico, to Canyon de Chelly, across the
border in Arizona. Rugged badlands, sandy washes, and vast tracts of arid, roadless
country get in the way. Centuries ago, Native Americans traveled back and forth
on foot or horseback, but today, in a truck towing a vintage 20-foot Airstream,
there are only two ways out of Chaco Canyon: the northern road, or the
southern road. And it’s a toss-up which is worse.
Both roads are notorious
for roughly 20 miles of washboardy dirt moguls that look benign but are big
enough to swallow an Airstream whole, then spit it out in pieces. In our Airstream road trip the day before, we'd lost an entire window coming in from the north, and were so scarred by the experience that for a second it seemed almost preferable to abandon the
trailer forever in Chaco than to face that road with it hitched on behind us.
The next best thing would be to try our luck on the southbound route. We actually
thought, How could it be any rougher?
Airstream in repose, Gallo Campground, Chaco Canyon (note trash bag window). Photo: Katie Arnold
This year we decided to do something different for Thanksgiving. Instead of traveling to be with extended family or entertaining them here, we opted to stay put in Santa Fe and keep it simple. But when we fished around for an invitation to a proper Thanksgiving dinner and came up empty, staying home no longer seemed so festive. What would be more exciting than turkey for four around our dining room table? An Airstream road trip!
All fall, we’d been wanting to go to Chaco Canyon, a rugged valley in northwestern New Mexico that, a thousand years ago, was a major trading center for Native Americans. Today it’s a wild, desolate landscape dotted with crumbling ruins, a campground and visitor center, and not a single tree. From there, we’d head to Canyon de Chelly, a 30-mile-long chasm on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Both are World Heritage Sites and have major historical significance to the native peoples of the Southwest. It seemed a perfect, semi-spontaneous way to celebrate Thanksgiving—deep in the heart of Indian country, immersed in a culture that preceded our own by centuries.