I was driving something the width of our home back in England, in six- lane traffic, on the “wrong” side of the ring road round Phoenix, Arizona, at “floor to capacity” speed, and I was terrified.
When we picked up the Recreational Vehicle from the Cruise America offices in Mesa, I hadn’t dared admit that I didn’t think, honestly, that I was up to the task.
Now I was behind the wheel of this full-scale, fibreglass house-on-wheels, which had the wind resistance of a billboard, that only corners in it’s own good time and, like a freight tanker, needs three nautical miles to stop, I wish I had said something.
But it was too late; there are no U-turns on the interstate highways. I had no choice but to smile bravely at the kids and take them on this five-day, family-bonding trip to the Grand Canyon.
And to be honest the boys, Ben, aged 11, and Harry, aged 7, were ‘loving it’. They had thrown their sleeping bags into the “cab-over” bed above the front seats, packed the fridge full of their favourite meals, and were happily sitting at the table playing and chatting about being able to do the washing-up, of all things.
For the full four and a half hours it took us to get to Seligman, in Yavapai Indian country, they could not have been more relaxed. They have never, ever, been this pleasant in a car.
By the time we had parked up and the boys had leapt out enthusiastically to fix us up to the water and electric supply, and we had steaks cooking on a barbeque, I was getting a taste for this lifestyle.
In the morning we headed off into Seligman, a town that wholeheartedly embraced Route 66 in the late 1920s, and has little else left to offer today. It’s a forgotten tourist quirk in the desert, at the side of the Chicago to California railroad. A one-horse town dressed like a film set, with old Cadillacs, novelty signs and mannequins on the balconies.
It was perfect for getting into the rhythm of a nomadic life. We picked “Dead Chicken” from the Road Kill café menu and watched an all-American small-town parade, where the boys were showered with handfuls of sweets and shot at by water canons in turn. Then we were persuaded to enter a hot dog eating competition.
We choked, felt sick and displayed horrible table manners, we made fools of ourselves, but we didn’t come last.
Now we were ready to get serious and tackle the big one.
Our first sight of the Grand Canyon was from the Desert View point. This entrance, off the i64, is east of the village on the south rim, and is well worth the extra hour travel. We had been told to keep our eyes down and not look up until we reached the edge (don’t worry, there is a rail to stop you falling over), and we were so glad we had saved the moment.
It is everything that has ever, or will ever, be said about it. We peered down the Grand Canyon, past 288 million years of the naked planet, and genuinely thought if we died today we would do it happy. Even the DS lite generation boys were impressed, and could not wait to go clambering down into the belly of the earth.
We spent over an hour happily climbing all over the rocks of one of the world’s great wonders. Then we took the Desert View Drive, where every turn in the road makes you gasp in awe, to a sticky ribs dinner in the Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon Village, at sunset.
We took to life on the move, going where we wanted when we wanted. The campsites have swimming pools, showers and Jacuzzis, we cooked Jiffy Pop, a stove-top popcorn, and doing the laundry in coin-op machines was actually fun.
Making our way down Arizona, we pulled into Sedona, “Red Rock Country”, where the vast natural architecture juts out of the ground, making the RV feel almost normal in size. In Black County City we met Tarantulas, King Snakes and a Bearded Dragon called Mr Lizard.
On our last day, we headed for the foothills of Superstitious Mountain in Mesa, where the Apache believe that a hole leads down into the lower world and causes the desert winds.
Now confident at the helm of the RV, I drove up a trail that passes through terrain so rugged, NASA used to train astronauts here in the early days of space travel. Halfway to Tortilla Flat, the last surviving stagecoach stop on the Apache trail, with a population of six, we stopped at a canyon lake to swim.
The water is fresh, but so brown you can’t see the fish that nip at your ankles if you stand still, and the lakebed is all sharp pebbles.
However, swimming in a huge natural pool at the end of a day in heat that can hit three figures, surrounded by 400-year-old monolithic Saguaro cacti, is worth a few nibbles and having to wear shoes in the water.
As we drove back we passed three rainbows and, when we looked back, we saw a naturally formed heart shape in the canyon wall.
For our last meal we had directions to an eat-all-you-like buffet restaurant, the Golden Corral, on North Power Road. Before we could make it, an Arizona Waterspout opened up above us. An upside-down tornado, 16 blocks wide, with winds up to 150 mph.
Pylons were falling in the road, tree branches flew past the windscreen and people floated past us, stranded in their ordinary cars as the sudden flood waters were sucked into their air filters.
In our big bus, with an unloaded vehicle rate of 335lbs per foot, we parted the waters like a prophet, and arrived safely at the diner, just as a power-out took hold. The wonderful staff fed us anyway, and we ate buffalo wings, salad and potatoes, followed by ice-cream, in soaking wet, swim wear - in the dark.
Over 5 million visitors every year to the Grand Canyon think it’s worth it, and an RV is, probably, the best way to see America. The tourism research firm, PKF Consulting, studied nine different kinds of holidays to popular family travel destinations in the US, and found RV trips are the least expensive way to travel.
For us, it turned out, for the price of losing my fear and getting behind the wheel of the RV, we got a well bonded family in five days and a lifetime of memories, all without having to lug any suitcases around.