Ethan and Hannah take a break from the minivan to view some of the spectacular scenery on the way to the Grand Canyon

DAY ONE (Tuesday, March 31, 2009) — The Purple People Eater; Qutie (well it’s a four year old’s turn); Rhinoceros; Tickle Monster… by the time we get to Umbrella the kids’ interest in that old “I pack my grandmother’s trunk” road game is flagging.

They quickly lost interest in Eye Spy and in counting trucks on the Arizona highway. Where is the entertainment system? Their parents left it home. The kids are thrilled with the rental minivan. They’ve staked out the “way back” for themselves on our Arizona road and train trip to the Grand Canyon and back to Scottsdale for some fun in the sun.

I’m traveling with my cousins Mike and Jayme Sitzman and their kids Ethan, 6, and Hannah, 4. But no worries when the “When are we going to be there” chorus gets asked every few miles. Mike and Jay have a secret weapon that didn’t exist when my kids were this age — an IPhone and another up to the minute cell phone with enough games (downloadable free) to keep the kids amused until we stop in Sedona to check out the gorgeous red rocks. That was after one emergency potty stop along the side of the road, of course.

The kids are as impressed by the vistas as we are. “So red!” they declare. “They scoop up spoonfuls of the red dirt. Watching them, I think it just takes a little enthusiasm from the adults for the kids to be excited about what they’re seeing and doing. You don’t always need a gigantic waterslide or roller coaster, though those certainly are fun too.

We stop in the middle of Sedona at the Oaxaca Restaurant ( for some first rate Mexican food and to buy a couple of postcards. We’re not going to mail them, though. The cards are the first of what will become the kids’ own travel diaries. They write something on the back and the date and hopefully, at the end of the trip, they’ll have one for each day.

This trip, we decide is about collections. They’re also collecting buttons from each place that they can put on their favorite stuffed animal. “I’m going to do that every trip,” Ethan declares, though he worries if Teddy won’t be as cuddly with a bunch of buttons. We figure a sash will do the trick.

We arrive at the Grand Canyon Depot Hotel in the tiny town of Williams, AZ right on Route 66 in the early evening. We’re staying here tonight before boarding the historic train — it dates back to the turn of the 20th Century for the Grand Canyon tomorrow. (

The kids, of course, are starving, though we just ate a couple of hours before. No worries. They happily chow down on a cheese pizza in the kid-friendly hotel lounge while the grownups drink a bottle of wine. Did I mention the kids watch a Mickey Mouse movie on mom’s laptop? They are perfectly happy. So are the grownups.

How did we manage to travel with the kids before laptops, cell phone games and car entertainment systems? When my kids were this age I remember lots of fighting about who would sit where and melted crayons that always seemed to get lost in the seat cracks along with chewed gum and cracker crumbs.

Those were the days!