Disaster looms? It's time for a road trip!

When the recent turmoil in the Middle East ignited, causing gas prices to soar higher than Charlie Sheen's ego, there was only one sensible thing to do for the wellbeing of my family: rent a petroleum-swilling RV and hit the road.

Nothing makes sense of a senseless world better than a good, long road trip.

With the brain trust at Burbank Unified scheduling Spring Break an inexplicable five weeks before Easter — while still winter, in fact — the wife and I decided to pack up the kids and take the quintessential family road trip to the Grand Canyon.

You look for positive omens on Day One of a road trip, signs that indicate traffic-free highways, a strong head wind, picturesque sunrises and perfect sunsets. Ours were auspicious, to be sure. Initial reports of the Japan earthquake and tsunami warnings for SoCal were just trickling in.

Thing 2 awoke at 3:30 a.m. with a nose bleed, then used the RV commode to unleash what she'd held in for two days awaiting its arrival. Thing 1 wasn't far behind, and neither considered my plan that they sleep for the first half of the day's journey.

We hit the road at 4:00 a.m., heading east toward a rising sun, picturing a wall of water chasing us from San Bernardino to Barstow to Kingman. A song started to play in my mind.

First stop? Gas, of course. Somewhere unrecognizable near the Arizona border, where there's always a line for the public restroom, and abandoned meth labs dot an otherwise barren landscape. We discovered the maximum allowable amount at the automatic gas pump. Twice in one fill-up.

Next, Oatman, Ariz., a supposed “ghost town” whose T-shirt merchants evidenced plenty of life. Famous for burros wandering its streets and for being the honeymoon spot of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Oatman resembles a movie set for a dusty old western town. But it is the real thing. Sadly, we didn't get a glimpse of the celebrity ghosts said to haunt the hotel, and the only specters of burros we saw were steaming piles to be avoided along the main street.

After starting our vacation diets with bacon-cheeseburgers and malts in Kingman, and short detours through some of the original stretches of Route 66 to get our kicks — frozen in time with Elvis and Marilyn — we made our way through the high-desert chaparral and arrived at the Grand Canyon just before sunset.

With a 12-hour day behind us and one of the seven natural wonders of the world before us, my paternal pride was hard to describe. But what can be described is a child's priority in that moment of seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

“Can we go to the gift shop now?”

On Day Two we decided the best way to truly experience the Big Hole was to go inside it. Thanks to IMAX, that's possible while sitting in a comfortable seat with a bucket of popcorn. And another gift shop. Who knew the Native American tribes of the region were so gifted at crafting snow globes, shot glasses and mugs?

After losing three hours of our lives to AAA because Daddy left the lights on, and a night spent trying to figure out why the carbon monoxide detector kept going off, day three started with a drive through the western side of the largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest in the continental U.S.

Pastures of snow and the San Francisco Peaks made the route into Flagstaff perhaps the most scenic of the whole trip. Though the switchback road into Sedona, with its red rock cliffs ribboned in radiant copper and gold, was a close second.

Had we wanted our chakras aligned and auras painted, Sedona was the place to be. But we settled for great blue herons nesting in the trees over our campsite and Oak Creek running behind it.

Few things offer a child the chance to explore and grow more than the banks of a mountain creek. It was the one natural wonder that got them out of an RV that had become their mobile playground.

While Thing 1 tossed sticks and watched them transform into kayaks navigating the rapids, Thing 2 set out to find a new route to India — or at least to the other side of the freezing creek. Confident and courageous, she would not be denied. Until she fell in.

Worse than being cold in her soaked clothes was her embarrassment.

“I want to go home,” she said shivering.

“Only the brave and adventurous,” I told her, “fall into creeks far from home.”

If you've never fallen into a stream or a lake, never lost your footing while crossing a gorge that seemed to go on forever, you've never lived. Only existed. I doubt she understood this in that moment. We rarely do. But she helped me to.

Next week: Jeeps and Dodgers and mice! Oh, my!

PATRICK CANEDAY can be reached at patrickcaneday@gmail.com. See pictures of his road trip on Facebook and at www.patrickcaneday.com.

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