A Mother & Son's Bucket List

Angel Falls in early spring, Yosemite National Park in California's Sierra Nevada mountains

When my son got his new duty station assignment to Whidbey Island, WA, we were sad and excited at the same time. He and his wife are both active-duty Navy, but she had to leave Jacksonville about 6 weeks ahead of him.

That opened an opportunity for me to join my son and make the journey at the end of March. I didn’t have as much time as he did so we decided I would fly to Albuquerque and from there we would drive to Seattle. We wanted to hit as many sites as we could, and he did most of the planning. It was a lot of driving, but we broke it up and still made some great memories. Once I landed, we enjoyed dinner with my cousin’s family in New Mexico which kicked off our adventure.

Day 1 we headed to Vegas, but stopped for lunch in Flagstaff, AZ. There was still snow in the mountain areas, and views everywhere you looked. We had a nice dinner in Las Vegas and did some gambling. I ended the night with more than I started!

Day 2 we headed to Death Valley National Park. Mostly driving through the desert, passing an
occasional town. Since time was limited, we focused on the main sites, and took the “3-hour tour”. You can spend days here if you want to see it all. Our highlights were Zabriskie Point with its beautiful views, Artist’s Palette with its colorful mineral deposits, and the Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level. It is the lowest elevation in North America, and the salt flats cover nearly 200 square miles. It was a very windy day, with dust blowing up along the road. We drove directly through the mountains and made our way further north. We arrived in Oakhurst, CA, stayed for the night and grabbed some Tex-Mex for dinner.

Day 3 we awoke to beautiful falling snow (fulfilling my fix!) and checked on the road situation to get into Yosemite National Park. Many of the roads and trails were closed due to all the snow they had been getting. We were lucky to be able to get into the park and did not have to put chains on the tires. We enjoyed looking at the beautiful snow-covered evergreens and sequoias through the mist. Our first stop was Tunnel View. It’s a spectacular view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls. Absolutely breathtaking, and a view that American photographer, Ansel Adams, made famous. We chose a 2.2-mile (R/T), moderate hike. Having lived in flat Savannah for years, it was challenging for me. It had very steep switchbacks on rocky, slushy ground. I was tired, but we made it! The photo does not do justice to how high up we were. Another stunning sight! After coming back down, we headed out, stopping at more sights along the way. We stayed at a motel/lodge just outside the park. It was an older property, but the room had a fireplace and a balcony overlooking the rushing river. We loved it!

Day 4 we headed to Chico, CA. The roads were clear and we winded our way through more mountains and into farmland. You could tell spring was just beginning as the mountains were green and wildflowers were sprouting. Many of the apple orchards were also blooming, and there were lots of eucalyptus trees along certain stretches. We stopped for lunch, and I had my first What-A-Burger! Meh. We did enjoy a nice dinner with some of my daughter-in-law’s family and enjoyed seeing the town.

Day 5 we headed north into Oregon. It was raining off and on, and a mountainous, winding drive. Not relaxing! By now, we are both getting tired of driving, but looking at the changing scenery always made up for it. Our views are now getting very green with lots of beautiful trees everywhere. My son introduced me to some podcasts he likes, and I learned about the Oomi pizza oven story. Now I may have to try one out! We rolled into Eugene in the afternoon. We had wanted to visit Crater Lake, but it was totally snowed in, so we had to amend our plan. Eugene is a college town, but they were on Spring Break, so it was more like a ghost town. I am sure my impression would have been better if the students had been there, but it was a little bleak. We tried to see some of the town, but the rain made it difficult, so, we ate dinner in a Japanese restaurant, and relaxed back in our room.
Day 6 was our last day of driving! As we drove through Oregon, and up into Washington, I couldn’t believe there were so many types of evergreen trees. It was once again, quintessential northwest weather – raining. Lucky for us, just as we were arriving in Seattle, the clouds parted, and the sun came out! My daughter-in-law drove down from Whidbey, and we met her at Pike Place Market. It’s a huge farmers' market with all kinds of vendors selling seafood, flowers, art, and just about everything you could want. We had a delicious lunch of different chowders and Dungeness crab rolls. Amazing!! We walked through and looked at the beautiful flowers, seafood, vegetables, artwork, and all kinds of locally sourced items. It was chilly, so after a while, we went into a restaurant to grab a cup of coffee and visit before they had to leave for the base. There we said our goodbyes. This would be the last time I would see them for the next 6-7 months, so it was a melancholy moment. I spent the last evening of the trip enjoying what I could of Seattle, before flying back to Savannah the next morning.

All things considered, it was a great opportunity to spend time with my son and see parts of the country I can now mark off my bucket list. I’d do it all again for sure!
Tips for Planning: Although it was a lot of driving, most days we broke it into 5–6-hour increments, which allowed for time to look around and get some enjoyment out of each place. Going in early spring is less crowded. We had no lines, and the rivers and falls were raging. Hotel prices were reasonable and had plenty of availability. The downside was the weather limited our activities and sites we could visit. Wildlife was also scarce.