Mothers & Daughters Road Trip:

Two Weeks in the American Southwest

Interview by Hailey Hirst

Contentment feels like a moving target and life means ever adapting to change. Although we hate the thought of shifting circumstances limiting our time outdoors, we know the reality. Jobs hold us down. Children reshape the way we spend our days. We love stories of women who continue to pursue their adventurous life even with full-time careers and children in tow. We met two mothers recently who embody that spirit whole-heartedly.

Erin Rodman and Lucero Silva met on a geology field course in July 2015, and hiked the John Muir Trail together in 2016. They both travel solo regularly. This year, however, they took their daughters with them when they set off on a two-week road trip of the Southwestern U.S.

We interviewed both of them about their trip, and love their contrasting answers to the same questions. Meet Erin and Lucero. Interview below!

What’s your background in the outdoors? (Did you grow up hiking? How did you get into this kind of adventuring?)

Erin: As far as camping goes, I can only remember a couple trips as a kid.  I practically lived and breathed soccer from age 4-14, and for the most part never really thought about the outdoors. Sometime in 2012, I noticed a friend’s Facebook profile picture. He stood in the foreground, but was still dwarfed by the nearly 300 foot waterfall behind him. It turned out to be Mooney Falls on the Havasupai Native American reservation in the Grand Canyon, and a few months later I took my first backpacking trip. Armed with my dad’s 70’s external frame backpack, canned soup, a tent rented from REI (and a hammer for the stakes), I ventured down into the canyon. Despite all the mishaps that accompany a first backpacking trip, I fell in love – with the challenge, the beauty, with the thrill that accompanies exploring places I’ve never experienced. I haven’t stopped backpacking since.

Lucero: My parents migrated from Mexico during the early 1990’s so my exposure to family vacation, trips, or the doors wasn’t the usual tradition. My mother and father spent much of their time sustaining a finical foundation for their children. Although our family had limited resources to vacation, as a child we spent many summers at the beach. I was first introduced the outdoor world during my early years of college with my nature enthusiastic friends. I started car camping in the forest of San Bernardino than got involved with day-hiking in local mountains and ultimately venturing on long distance backpacking. Since then, I continue to seek all kinds of outdoors sports that lead me into nature.  

Audrey and Summer at Zion – Photo by Lucero Silva

You’re both single mothers, students, and incredibly motivated (busy) women. It’s not easy to leave your ‘life’ behind to travel. What motivates you to put in extra effort to be an adventurous mom?

Erin: I think my motivation comes from the rewards that I’ve found come with the effort.  There are so, so many. The example I get to set for Summer (my daughter) is one of them. I love that she is able to see me be brave and self sufficient; she’s begun to feed the campfire herself and insists I spot her from a distance when she scrambles. I love being wild with her; on our first camping trip we swam with tadpoles in our underwear when we stumbled upon a lake by surprise. And although being outdoorsy is not where my identity lies, I love that Summer knows she is a part of my favorite thing. Every drawing that comes home from school is of me, her, a tent, and a campfire.

Erin and Summer apply sunscreen in the desert

Lucero: The same reason that drives me to perform my best as mother, student, and woman is same motivation that excels be to be an adventurous mom. In any case of adventure I always seek to learn, explore and share my experiences. It is incredibly difficult for me and my daughter to be away when I venture out but I always gain a positive experience of which I share with my daughter and family. My experiences are share and that motivates them to pursue their own adventures.

Additionally, I’m motivated to make an extra effort to be an adventure mom because it positively contributes to my physical and mental well-being. Since my teenage years, I have suffered from depression and anxiety. Being connected to nature and seeking personal growth within my adventures has largely contributed to my healing. My family recognizes this and they support me and my daughter when I decide to venture out.

Lucero and Audrey at Bryce Canyon

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Erin: Slowing the heck down is really hard for me. If I’m traveling own my own, I chase the summit sunrises, the trails labeled “very difficult” and then some! I eat on the move, spend each moment of sunlight chasing something new, and prefer to hang by the fire until I nod off, wake up shivering, and stumble into my tent. Once I started taking my daughter camping, though, I realized pretty quickly that this would no longer be my schedule. I didn’t quite accept it initially, but after many failed attempts at dragging kids on at least two hikes a day, I waved the white flag. I decided, “when I take kids camping, it’s their trip.” They wanna hang around camp all day? So be it. Summer wants me to lay beside her in the tent rather than fall asleep in my lap by the fire? Sure. I get to camp a lot on my own, and while handing this over hasn’t been easy, it’s made the trips much happier for everyone.  

I’ve also fallen prey to the fear of judgement. I’ll be honest, I’ve combed out Summer’s braids and redone them while camping only because I feared what others would think about seeing them get frizzier and frizzier throughout my Instagram posts. Sad, I know! Being an #adventuremom doesn’t exactly fit in with all the other mom expectations, and I’ve definitely felt that. It’s a challenge I’m still working through.

Lucero: My biggest challenge is finding the time and logistics to venture. I’m a full-time graduate student, mom of an eight-year-old child, full-time research assistant and business owner; it becomes a challenge to find the time to take days off. I try to overcome this challenge by planning my trips months in advance during vacation sessions. I tend to take trips during my summer or winter vacations from school. I also organize trips with friends to reduce the challenge of planning and coordinating.

Summer at the Grand Canyon – Photo by Erin Rodman

Why did you want to plan this big trip together? What drew you personally to this route/region?

One of the dogs on the Navajo reservation – Photo by Erin Rodman

Erin: I tend to have ridiculously grand visions, and although they don’t always come to fruition, usually what comes of those farfetched ideas ends up being pretty rad. I’d envisioned an entire month on the road. Starting by going up the coast to Canada, down through Idaho, Montana, Wisconsin, and Utah before heading home. Our own little #vanlife experience I thought. That didn’t end up working out when it came to co-parenting, and a loop in Utah stuck because, well, honestly, it required the least amount of driving time, overall and between each stop. I invited Lucero because I knew the four of us would be a good crew together. Our girls get along wonderfully, and Lucero and I had spent 20 days together the year prior on the John Muir Trail. There’s really no one else I would want to invite; I knew for one that Lucero would be up for it, no question, but also that she appreciates natural beauty and understands what a blessing it is to experience such places. To share that view brings more depth to a trip such as this.

Lucero: My great friend Erin introduced the idea of going on a road trip with our daughters (Audrey and Summer) a few months prior. At first, I was uncertain if Audrey and I could take an extensive amount of time off. I was still enrolled in my graduate program and working in a new position. The idea of going on an adventure with my daughter and great friends was reason enough to encourage me to go on the trip. Audrey and I had only visited local National Parks within California so the opportunity to visit an out of state region fascinated me. Erin also explained that majority of our driving would be shorter (2 to 3 hours) between each stop so this made it reasonable with children in the car. I had seen and heard about the outdoors of Utah but never really imaged I would be venturing with my daughter. This was a golden opportunity that I had to take advantage. Personally, the idea of traveling with the girls and sharing these experiences together ultimately drew me into planning this big trip. Since Erin and I had previously share awesome adventures together, I wanted to create these precious memories with our daughters.

What do you like about traveling with another adult, compared to traveling by yourself, or with your child?

Erin: If I narrowed it down, it’s the laughs, the push, and the calling. The laughs – I love traveling with my friends purely for how ridiculously fun it is. Social norms don’t apply on the road or the trail, and we tend to revert to cruder and sillier versions of ourselves, and I enjoy the hell out of it. The push – solo travel stretches you. Everything is magnified. The canyons are darker but I’ll be damned if the moon isn’t twice as large when I’m out there on my own. Each time I return from a solo trip I look forward to the challenge of growing into however that one stretched me. The calling – kids need the wild. My daughter is in the 2nd grade and takes her spelling test on a laptop with headphones! Summer needs these trips. Needs ‘em! From my perspective, it’s my honor and my responsibility to give her the chance to experience wind that whips sand so hard it hurts, pants with the butt worn clean off, elk outside her window, moonlit hikes, coyotes yipping in the night – there is endless beauty in this world and I want to show her all that I can.

Lucero: Erin is great at navigation and planning trip itineraries. This makes traveling with her great because we have an established plan of action without getting lost. Traveling is best enjoyed to its fullest when a structured plan and routes are established. Our itinerary was flexible enough to allow us to adjust such as car issues but was structed and organized. Given my limited time to plan trips or make reservations, Erin was fantastic enough to plan these plan these critical aspects of our trip. I incorporate some of my personal assets into planning as well like budgeting, planning, and cooking our meals on the tip. Living on the road for fourteen some days with two girls took a lot more physical labor than I initially planned. It was lifesaving to another adult by my side to help with all the camp sets and planning. Sharing personal skill and collaborating to enhance traveling experiences is what I like about traveling with another adult the most.

The whole gang at Monument Valley

Travel with a partner (significant other, sibling, friend) often breaks down pretty easily into a venn diagram. What was your role in the road trip? Where did you overlap and where did you differ? Where did your daughters fit in?

Erin: Navigation is my jam, and I quickly took that on. Given the car troubles we were having (and it was my car we were driving) I felt it best that I drive as well. We overlapped with the general set-up and breakdown of camp, with the girls setting up all our sleeping bags, sleeping pads and pillows. Lucero kept us well very well fed. Seriously, I’m all ramen and bars when I’m on my own, but we had quite the gourmet menu on this trip all thanks to her. Where we differed, I definitely noticed a divide in our tidiness, or should I say my lack of! While I had to adjust to how orderly Lucero preferred to keep things, I’m sure she had to just as much adjusting to my lax way of “organizing.” Despite the differences, I’d say by four or five days in we were a well oiled machine.

Lucero: My essential role on this trip was the precautious mom that mostly focused on the cooking, cleaning, and safety of everyone. Erin was more of the spontaneous mom that jumped into the rivers and rock climbed with the girls. I made sure we had our snacks, lunches, and water ready while the girls were swimming or running around. Erin supervised and participated in their activities.

Essentially, both Erin and I were always those protective mama bears and approached any high-risk activity with precaution. In some instances, the girls would want to climb the rock a little higher or further to a point that it would make Erin and I nervous. We allowed the girls the space to evaluate their own risk but ensuring they were still in a safe zone. Audrey was the child that took a little more precaution because this was a new skill for her. I never really allowed her to take risk during outdoor sports because it was never challenged until this trip. She always asked for permission to do anything that was out of my sight. Audrey was the silly one that always made everyone laugh with her jokes and silly faces. Summer and Audrey both shared their own little uplifting personalities that contributed to our countless memoires of laughter.

Sometimes a roadside diner, or a stretch of trail, feels more compelling than a famous viewpoint depending on people we’re with and the mental space we inhabit while we’re there. What was the most memorable place for you?Why?

Lucero: On our way to Bryce Canyon National Park, we had stopped for a stretch and viewpoint break. It was my first introduction to the treasures of Bryce Canyon. We hiked on a small trail that elevated us quickly on top of a ridge that gave us a panoramic view of the highway we were driving on and landscape that was to come. We spent a good amount of time enjoying the scenery together. This offered both Erin and I a moment of silence and rest. The trail was narrow and steep so it made the climb and descent challenging.

This moment was significant for me because of the enduring challenge of the trail condition and the moment of peace we could share together as a group. This essentially outlined our trip. We had moments of unexpected challenges and enjoyment but we accomplished all these experiences together with the support of each other.

Lucero and Audrey overlook Bryce Canyon’s landscape – Photo by Erin Rodman

Erin: It’s so hard to just choose one place! But one instance does shine brighter in my memory than most others.  It was our first night, as daylight was fading, at Big Bend in Zion National Park. We were wading in the Virgin River, once again in our underwear (I tend to forget my swimsuit), riding the gentle current downstream. Mule deer grazed silently nearby, and wild turkeys with their chicks joined us at the river too. Angel’s Landing towered above us, the air warm and quiet, and in that moment, I found rest. Preparing for this trip was a beast in itself, and I’d been stressed for weeks (I stress pretty easily) organizing all the gear, maintenancing my car, and just preparing to leave my normal life for a couple weeks. This moment was the first of many times I’d experience why I’d gone to all the trouble. I got that feeling of a gentle flow of adrenaline in my chest that I can only describe as literally feeling my heart fill up.

This moment was the first of many times I’d experience why I’d gone to all the trouble. I got that feeling of a gentle flow of adrenaline in my chest that I can only describe as literally feeling my heart fill up.

 

The girls on a Zion lawn – Photo by Erin Rodman
Summer at Mesa Arch – Photo by Erin Rodman

What places did your daughter love?

Erin: Summer’s favorite places had to be Zion and the Navajo reservation we stayed on outside Monument Valley. Sure, the Grand Canyon is a worldwide destination, and for good reason, but eating ice cream cones in the warm rain while thunder rolls overhead and baby turkeys trot by? Exhilarating! That was in Zion.

On the Navajo reservation we had the company of the resident cats and dogs: Tom, Chubby, Pufferson, and Blue. We stayed in a tipi, there was a tire swing, and Summer lost her tooth! It seems to be those moments when the things kids love in their normal lives get to be part of travel, like animals and playgrounds, that makes it super fun and memorable for them.

Lucero: My daughter loved the entire trip and was fascinated by all the sites and encounters we had on our road-trip. Her favorite place on our Utah road-trip was visiting Zion National Park. This was the first site on our trip and her favorite because of all the activities. She got to swim in the cold water when it was incredibility hot. She also enjoyed having lunch and running around the shady tree on that hot day. The girls went swimming in the Virgin river and spent much of our day under the shade of the large tree located in the Zion Lodge.

Erin mentioned type 2 fun, and learning infinite lessons about road tripping (with kids), weather, generosity, and personal pitfalls. Tell us more about what you learned from this experience.

Erin: 

  • July in Utah is monsoon season!! Read up on lighting safety if you plan to head there during the summer. We had some scary moments but ultimately witnessed the most spectacular thunderstorms I’ve ever seen. And, always put a rain fly on your tent…even if you’re not expecting rain.
  • Don’t forget to hang around camp. You’ll be doing yourself and the kids a favor by enjoying time to just kick back and not be wondering about shuttle schedules or ranger talks.  
  • Stay two nights minimum! And if you’re looking to hit a lot of destinations, make sure you stay three nights some places as well. Take it from me, I learned the hard way that anything less can begin to feel like a camp setup and camp breakdown tour.
  • Definitely take advantage of the Junior Ranger programs. It helps keep the kids engaged wherever you’re at, and they learn a lot too!  
  • Sometimes all the car maintenance in the world can’t save you.  Have a AAA membership that allows you long distance towing; it’ll ease the mind.
  • Road tripping with kids is a skill. Like ice skating, like backpacking, it takes time to get good at it. You’ll fall on your face, you’ll forget something critical, damn it you’ll break down on the highway in the middle of nowhere, and you’ll get through it!  Don’t be discouraged.  

In the end, keep your cool, laugh at the mishaps, and believe in the goodness of others.

I ended this trip snuggled up with Summer in the cab of a Los Angeles couple’s F-series. The four of us, Patti, Jerry, Lucero and I all shared our stories of becoming teen parents as they drove us and our girls the last 200 miles home. On this trip, I may have lost my car (and briefly my mind!), but I learned countless lessons of infinite value.

Lucero: I learned that I need to share more the present moment with my daughter. I’m a very busy mom that unfortunately don’t get to spend much of my desired time with Audrey. My daughter and I critically needed this time to bond together and create memories with our friends. Audrey and I have spent much more time talking and bonding about our daily experiences. Overall, I learn new aspects of being Audrey’s mom and re-define my relationship with my daughter.

Proud Junior Rangers at Canyonlands – Photo by Erin Rodman

What advice do you have for moms or other travelers whose opportunities for adventure aren’t as open/flexible for other reasons? 

Erin: Make a deposit. Way ahead of time. If there’s a three day weekend coming up, or any span of time you’d like to jet out for an adventure, reserve wherever it is you want to go as far ahead of time as possible.  With every day being busy from sunup to sundown, as the time off gets closer planning a trip seems less and less feasible, and it probably just won’t happen. For me, making some of the plans and investments in advance keeps me accountable even if that means packing until two am the night before.

Explore your backyard. Most of my trips with my daughter aren’t week long road trips in neighboring states. They’re a night or two, almost exclusively within two hours of home. Finally, keep it simple. And dear Lord stay off pinterest. If you can manage to pack what you need to stay warm and ample s’mores supplies, it’s likely gonna be an A+ trip in the kids’ books.

Lucero: For other adventure moms, spend more time with your children in the present moment. Enjoy the adventure with them at their viewpoint. We sometimes get distracted by the way our ideal trip should go that we may forget to simply enjoy the current moment. I notice myself doing this during our trip. We planned to take a 2-mile hike but only completed a quarter of the mile. The girls preferred to make several breaks to drink water or check out unique viewpoint. I’m a rigorous hiker that rarely takes breaks on the trail so this was a new experience for me. The girls taught me a new way of experiencing the trail and enjoying their little observations. Instead of over-whelming the schedule of activities, its best to focus on one activity and enjoy it to its entirety.  

Photos courtesy of Erin Rodman and Lucero Silva.

Erin Rodman is a 26-year-old mother of mixed racial background (Dutch immigrant grandparents on her mother’s side and Southern California Native American on her father’s). She had an unplanned pregnancy at 19 which gave her her daughter, Summer. Despite the unexpected leap into motherhood, Erin continued with school and got a BS in Biology. She’s currently testing the waters in outdoor education and entrepreneurship. Find her on Instagram.

Lucero Silva Lucero is 25, the oldest of four and the first generation born in the US to Mexican immigrant parents. She had an unplanned pregnancy and had her daughter Audrey at age 17. However she continued high school, graduated early, and is currently beginning her second year in her Masters program in Public Health. She helps care for her siblings, runs a business with her mom, works, goes to school, and cares for her daughter essentially full time. She loves to dance, and she’s a damn fast hiker.

 

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