It is almost eleven years later, but (thanks to my wife's organizational and planning skills) I have now kept my promise...
So - Saturday, we got up at 5 AM, piled into the car by 6, and drove straight down the large intestine of California all the way to Hollywood, which we reached by 1 PM. This detour was for Kate to visit the Holocaust Museum, since it's twenty extra credit points to visit "something associated with one of the topics in her History class", and she desperately needs the extra credit. The Museum is impressive, if small, and uses technology nicely (even if we kept wearing out the batteries on the iPhones they gave each of us to narrate the exhibits). And of course the subject matter is - well, indescribable. All three kids were, in different ways, quite moved. As were we.
After the Museum, we started driving east. I'd temporarily forgotten that "rush hour" in Los Angeles is, pretty much, defined as the period between 1952 and the invention of the hovercar. Fought traffic and rain for about two hours, then finally squirted out the San Fernando end of the basin, and in the dark drove over some completely invisible terrain for about three hours, ending in Needles, CA, where the five of us arrived at our hotel room and, after an excellent meal at the diner next door, rolled over and played dead.
Sunday morning, we got up at 6:30, had a free breakfast at the same next-door diner (more about this diner later), then launched into Forbidden Country. We'd resolved that we weren't spending a dime more than absolutely necessary in Arizona; if they want our money, they can make their state feel more welcome to people who aren't white. So - a few hours blasting down I-40 at a high rate of speed, admiring the scenery (the Mojave is *gorgeous* when you can actually see it), we got through Flagstaff and reached our destination: the second biggest hole in Arizona.
The Crater is visible from ten miles away, if you didn't know. It also has its own radio station. We got to the Crater, paid admission, and learned to our mild dismay that the hourly guided tour (a half mile walk along the rim) was cancelled due to high winds. But - we cornered the tour guide and had him give us most of the spiel, we spent a good hour going through the science exhibit (the kids were all fascinated, and there was a fair amount for me to learn, too - like the only human being to date whose remains are on the Moon). Then we walked out to the observation decks and spent a while admiring the big damn hole in the ground.
We limited ourselves to a few postcards and souvenir smunched pennies at the gift shop (see earlier Arizona comment). When done, we piled back in Rommie and headed for home... and if you know what the weather was like in Flagstaff yesterday, you know we had a bit of a surprise. We went from "hey, is that snow?" to "Josh! Wake up! The trees are covered in snow!" to "No, we cannot pull off and admire it, because in about twenty minutes they're going to start requiring chains, and we need to be at a lower elevation by then." Snow. En route to the desert - which we reached and admired some more - crossing the border with an almost completely empty gas tank, by design.
If you're ever in Needles, CA, eat at Juicy's, and order the deep-fried fettucine alfredo appetizer. Great food - more than worth my bout of indigestion later yesterday evening - much more than you'd expect from a diner. I got a little bit of the story of how they'd come to have such an awesome set of cooks, but rather than spoil the story for you, go there and ask the server yourself. It's worth the trip. So - we had a second night in Needles (which, by the way, is where Snoopy's brother Spike lives), and apart from a minor plumbing failure, not much happened till the morning.
Today we drove home - from Needles across the Mojave - holy crap that's gorgeous desolation - to Barstow, then past Edwards AFB (which caused my old GPS to temporarily lose its mind) and to Bakersfield, where we drove up California's small intestine and back home. Total distance: 1750 miles, 29 hours of driving. Not a single argument or expression of boredom - lots of good conversation, lots of good music, the kids watched a bunch of DVDs and played on their Nintendos and did homework... a wonderful Lincoln's three-day weekend. And I kept my promise to my son, finally.