Teens and nature with wires

Purple chia flowers on the road’s edge. Fields of rare Panamint daisies open in the sun.

My kids and I almost missed Death Valley’s spring bloom. We woke up tired in Pahrump and considered heading back to Reno. We’d be catching the tail end of the flower fest. We feared there’d be not much to see.

But when I asked for directions, a Pahrumpite seemed enthusiastic.

“You’ll love the flowers,” she said, smiling.

Two weeks ago, I took the last of my high-schoolers—I’ve raised six—on a road trip. Washoe County schools seldom hold spring break the same week as the University of Nevada, Reno. May not get this chance again.

I remember thinking, a decade ago, that my Mom Job would never end. Now I worry I missed my kids’ bloom—didn’t enjoy them enough. Empty nest looms.

We plan to catch Death Valley on the way to Las Vegas, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Steph, 16, Jesse, 14, and I load my car with essentials: string cheese, Cheetos and CDs, from NOFX to Ani DiFranco.

It’s raining in Beatty. We skip Death Valley, save it for the trip home.

Vegas highlights: The Bellagio’s Monet exhibit and electronic insects dangling over an indoor garden. New York New York’s overpriced roller coaster. The faux Champs Elysees at Paris where we reach down to see if the “cobblestone” is cold.

It’s not.

The next day, as we wait in traffic to go over Hoover Dam, my son shoots camcorder footage.

“Nature,” he narrates, aiming at unobstructed rockscape. He moves the camera an inch to capture steel towers carrying power from the dam. “Nature with wires.”

It’s warm at the state line.

Flagstaff is freezing. Our motel room’s heater barely works and, at 4 a.m., begins to squeal like a hungry infant. I turn it off before it explodes.

It’s chilly when I wake the kids up by shamelessly lying about the time.

“It’s 9 o’clock,” I say around 7. “Time for breakfast.”

The motel’s free breakfast features toasty things like iron- em-yourself waffles.

On our way to the grand chasm carved into the Colorado Plateau, I note a Flintstone’s RV park, IMAX theater and Viacom billboards advertising “Grand Canyon McDonald’s 48 miles.”

God bless America.

We’re early, so it’s only a short wait to pay $20 to enter the park.

We head for the Bright Angel Trail to trek a short distance down. A warning sign recommends crampons for the icy trails. Though we’re wearing decent hiking boots, we’ve no spiked metal footwear.

We descend for about five minutes, stepping over frozen mule poo, then go back up to the Rim Trail. Where my babies are safe. Steph jokes about jumping—to get to the bottom quickly.

We spot the brown trickling Colorado River from a busy ledge where five languages are being spoken. Each time I aim my Nikon, a dozen other visitors walk into the shot.

Then we’re off, cruising past the five-mile line of vehicles waiting to get in.

We drive to Pahrump, book the last room in town, order pizza and watch Jim Carrey lose his memory in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I fall asleep and can’t remember how it ends.

The next day, we drive slowly through Death Valley, windows open, to observe the phenomenon of flourishing foliage near the Devil’s Golf Course.

We spot the bright crimson flower of the beavertail cactus and hike into the desert to appreciate its splendor. Daisies fill the air with a warm sweetness.

The kids call this the best part of the trip. This and the roller coaster.

True, I paid $3.13 a gallon for gas in Furnace Creek. I won’t regret a dime when I putter around a quiet, teen-free house in a couple of years.