Tag Archives: roadtrip

FST : Day 8 – Shamrock TX to Home (640 mi)

After yet another night of illness for me last night, we decided to point the Big Green Box for home. In truth, we were dancing on the fence about possibly heading to Suck Creek Mountain as late as going through Oklahoma City, but we decided to just push for home, and get me back into some familiar territory. It’s always nicer to recover in your own bed.

Today’s was a long leg of driving. It’d be long when feeling the best you could, but with a none-too-well-functioning body, it seemed interminable. We crossed from Texas to Oklahoma, and then to Missouri, and the end of the line for this trip could be seen. We arrived home, Beck went to pick up the dogs, and all seemed right with the world.

You can’t control illness, and I’ve been very fortunate to have been lucky enough to not fall significantly ill during our travels. This year, though, the odds caught up with me, and our vacation planning was cratered. We’ve decided to call this a “scouting trip” for travel in the future. We’ve also agreed that next time, we’ll do Monument Valley first, which forces us on a southern route to travel west. We’d then travel up to Moab, and return again through a southern route. Those steps will keep us out of the really high mountains in Colorado, and perhaps spare us some of the struggle we had along the way.

We definitely want to stay at The View at Monument Valley, and see the dark skies and rock formations. I don’t know that we have to time that visit around a meteor shower (although that’d be cool), so we may end up splitting up as two trips the voyage to Monument Valley and Moab. Regardless of the pairing or splitting of those trips, they will definitely be made in spring, autumn or winter — no more treks into the desert in summer for us!

FST : Day 5 – Moab UT to Santa Fe NM (407 mi)

By comparison to yesterday’s infirmity, today I felt dramatically better — albeit still not quite normal. To get a sense of the temperatures we’ve been dealing with, you only have to look at this morning’s weather. When we got up (right around sunrise), the temperature was about 66°. Two hours later when we left the motel, it was almost 90°. It gets hot out here, and quickly.

And once we’d gained 1000′ of elevation above Moab, we got a little rain. Maybe enough to get the windshield wet, and then it was gone. Just a reminder of the water-hungry nature of this environment.

Shortly after we left Moab, we ran across Wilson Arch, which is outside the park, and right on the side of the road. Again, I was tempted to hike up to it — I hadn’t been inside any of the arches we’d encountered yet — but I still wasn’t quite up to the task. Kinda unfortunate, as this one would’ve been easy.

The rest of our trek southeast was largely uneventful, and an exercise of watching the outside temperature to confirm that we’d made a good decision to move in this direction. Through most of the afternoon, our trek across SE Utah and SW Colorado let us stay in reasonably constant temperatures in the 80s. This was a nice change. However, as we moved toward NW New Mexico, our temperatures rose as continued toward Bernilillo NM, where we found temperatures in high 90s. Between the higher-than-expected temperatures and hitting I-25 at rush hour, my spirits sank. However, the closer we got to Santa Fe, the more the traffic thinned, and the lower the temperatures sank. By the time we arrived at the hotel in Santa Fe, our temperatures were in the low 80s, and dropped quickly into the 70s as sunset approached. What a welcome change!

So why’d we pick Santa Fe for recharging our batteries? Well, we’d been through Santa Fe a few years ago, and didn’t get to spend much time looking around. We’ve heard so many good things about the city — especially the downtown area — that we thought it deserved another shake.

Our hotel was a bit of oddity. Apparently, the two-story hotels in Santa Fe don’t have elevators, which left us lugging our impressive pile o’ stuff up two stories. Not the most fun I’ve had. Add to that the room. Our room had a king bed, but had obviously had been designed with two queen beds in mind. You’d think that the hotel would fill some of that dead space with furniture — a table and chair, perhaps. Nope. We had the biggest deadspace I’ve ever seen in a hotel room. There could’ve had a massive game of Twister had on all that carpet.

Tomorrow — wandering the streets of Santa Fe.

FST : Day 4 – Arches NP

Last night, both Beck and I were a little ill — not from the food, I’m sure. The more likely culprit was the heat and the mountain crossing through Colorado. Whatever the cause, the effect was some gastrointestinal distress and my waking up during the night with a massive, raging headache. By breakfast, I was just well enough to get out of bed, and grab breakfast at the motel’s restaurant. However, I was beginning to feel better, especially after eating, and Arches NP was just around the corner, so we gathered up our gear and supplies and headed north to Arches.

Arches was breathtaking. We only went about halfway up the main road through the park, electing to call it a day after three hours in the 100°+ heat. We did a little hiking around Balanced Rock, and it was after that hike that we decided the heat was too much. We drove to The Windows, and I really thought about hiking out to them, but I began feeling a little unwell, and that’s when we decided to head to our rented room.

The rest of the afternoon and night was horrible. My headache returned, and I could barely think straight. Becky took the opportunity to do the laundry, and brought me back a club sandwich from a local joint called Hogi Yogi, which was just what I needed. I was teetering on the edge of asking Beck to take me to a doctor to see what was going on. I knew this wasn’t normal, and I knew if it continued for long, I’d be in trouble. With a lot of fluid, my little sandwich, and lots of cold towels, I’ve come back to normal.

However, this ordeal was a hint and a half — I’m just not rigged for running in this kind of climate. It’s time to cry “uncle” and look for cooler climes. We’ve decided to forego the desert stay at this time, and journey toward Santa Fe where the weather is almost 20° cooler than Moab and the Four Corners region.

Rediscovering my intolerance of this kind of heat is heart-wrenching, as it means the end of our pursuit of the desert in this trip. Moab and Monument Valley will have to wait for another season, when the weather is cooler. Tomorrow, we’re off to Santa Fe, for a couple of days of recovery in the cooler weather.

FST : Day 1 – St. Louis MO to Hays KS (500 mi)

The first day of our roadtrips are inevitably long and uneventful. It’s the first day out, and there’s always excitement in the promise of seeing new things… but that comes later. First comes the first day’s drive, and that usually means a long haul. For this trip, it’s a 500-mi jaunt into the middle of Kansas.

I don’t mind the drive much. In this leg, the landscape just starts to hint about changes from farming to ranching. The terrain gets a little flatter, and the hints of prairie begin. It’s a good leg, with a promise of what’s to come.

We saw a huge wind tower farm today. I just don’t get why this country can’t figure out that dual-purposing this wind-swept land is a terrific use of resources. Farming and wind power can definitely co-exist, and this part of the country sure gets plenty of wind to feed power back to the grid. And it’s plenty renewable.

BTW, I’m surprised at how much Hays reminds me of Kearney NE (last year’s opening leg). It was almost like we’d slept and gone to Nebraska! 🙂

Tomorrow — the mountains!

Roadtrip: Falling Star Trek (FST)

After several months of planning, we have decided on our summer vacation destination and route. We are going to go watch the Perseid meteor shower under very, very dark skies. And in keeping with our recent roadtrips, we’ve named this one: Falling Star Trek. After all, we’re trekking out to see falling stars. 🙂

Having the dogs’ lodging arranged, the grass mowing scheduled, and the neighbors lined up to take care of the house, we will set out this weekend. Right now, our plan is to take three days to get to Moab, Utah, where we’ll spend five nights playing in the desert. From there, it’s two nights in Bluff, Utah, again to play in the desert.

And then it’s showtime.

From Bluff, we head to Monument Valley for three nights of astronomy and viewing of the Perseid meteor shower in some of the darkest skies you can find in the US. Don’t take my word for it, check out the Dark Sky Finder for the area! I can just remember seeing really dark skies from my grandparents place in Bokeelia, and I can’t wait to see those skies again.

Watch this space for more as we trek across the southern US in search of flaming rocks in the sky!

GAR: Day Twenty – Council Bluffs IA to Home (430mi)

This morning, we arose knowing that this was our last day on the road — the 20th day of our twice half-cross-country Great American Roadtrip — and that we when we slept next, it’d be in our own beds. We headed out early this morning, figuring that an early start would get us home mid-afternoon.

Truthfully, the drive was uneventful. We pushed as fast as we legally could, and made good time back to The Lou. I’d had no idea that Omaha was less than seven hours away, and I expect I’ll go back to visit again in the near future, spending a little time in my old haunts.

It was a great trip, crossing twelve states and covering 6275 miles in all, with most of that driving coming in the fourteen days of the first and third weeks. It’s funny that the driving was never exhausting, never boring, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I thoroughly enjoyed learning the idiosyncrasies of my new Jeep, and starting to figure out what functional additions I need to make to it.

However, the big thing that happened on the trip was that the three of us figured out a way of all living in the same hotel room every day for twenty days, and living in the same Jeep for twenty days, all without killing each other. That’s pretty cool.

For years, I’ve been talking about how I’d love to move to Idaho or Montana. For me, this trip was an opportunity to check out some of that territory — spending a week there between Glacier NP and Yellowstone NP — and see if Montana lived up to the images in my head. In a couple of words, it did, and probably has turned up the temperature on my desire to get up there just a little bit.

Another great realization is that Yellowstone NP is only three (kinda long) days or so away from here by driving. That accessibility means I will likely be making plans to revisit Yellowstone over the upcoming years.

Yep, it was a great trip…. sleeping in my bed tonight will be great too!

GAR: Day Nineteen – Rapid City SD to Council Bluffs IA (530mi)

Once again, thunderstorms struck overnight. Nothing as big as the storms in Gillette, but still enough to wake me up.

Today was a driving day, along with two stops planned. Our first was Wall Drug in Wall SD. I lived in Nebraska for over seven years, and after seeing the many signs for Wall Drug, I never made it up there. I intended to change that on this trip.

How do you describe Wall Drug? Well, it’s the size of a full city block in a town with a population of just under 1000, and houses just about anything the weary traveler could possibly want. You can get film, coffee mugs, postcards, jewelry, free ice water, coffee for a nickel…. well, you get the idea. This place is a smörgÃ¥sbord of kitschy stuff, and well worth the stop. We spent almost two hours between breakfast, browsing and panning for gems. Yep, you can do just about anything at Wall Drug.

Pointing the Jeep eastward, we headed to our next corny destination — the Corn Palace in Mitchell SD. Another place I’d heard about when I lived in the upper midwest, it was another classic destination I’d never visited. Basically, the exterior of this concert hall/basketball stadium is reworked every year using thousands of bushels of corn and grains. Impressive work! Inside was a cornucopia of Corn Palace related items for sale on the basketball floor. After picking up a few souvenirs and taking some photos, we got the Jeep pointed toward Sioux Falls SD.

We’d planned to only go as far as Sioux Falls, but I still had some steam in the engine, so we pushed on to Sioux City IA. And once we got there, I figured out that we could make an easier push to St. Louis tomorrow if we pushed on to Council Bluffs IA or Omaha NE. What we forgot about was that the College World Series was just wrapping up tonight, and that there were Olympic trials in Omaha. The nearest hotel we could find easily was well over 25 miles west of downtown Omaha, which wasn’t what we wanted to find! Somehow, Becky found a place in Council Bluffs, and was the only room they had — that seems to be a theme with us! We pulled in, checked in, and slept a sound sleep.

GAR: Day Eighteen – Gillette WY to Rapid City SD (256mi)

Last night’s rains broke, and revealed a wonderful blue sky this morning. That was good news, as we had three stops on the docket for today.

This morning, we left Gillette, heading for Devils Tower National Monument. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to see this monument… and way before Close Encounters of the Third Kind featured it as a landing strip! I can remember seeing a US stamp from the 1930’s with the Tower on it, and I was smitten.

We drove off the interstate, headed toward the Tower, topped a hill, and there it was! Out of this rolling farmland was this towering form, reaching skyward. It was a really cool moment for me. We drove on to the monument grounds, flashed our park pass, and headed to the welcome center.

As we learned, there are many Native American legends about the Tower, and the mythology associated with it. I also learned that this is a very sacred place to the tribes in the area, who see this as a holy site. I have a lot of respect for that. In fact, when we drove around to the other side of the Tower to get a better view, there was a sign warning us not to disturb prayer bundles left by the local tribes. Very cool, and very serene.

We also tried to fly a kite while we were on the backside of the monument — wide open spaces and some wind — but there just wasn’t enough wind to keep the big kite aloft. Sio had a tiny little fairy kite, and it flew like crazy. Go figure. 🙂

We left Devils Tower, and eventually crossed into South Dakota, heading toward our second stop of the day, Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. I don’t think I’ve been to a national park or monument that was so built up. I guess I figured it was like many others — you just drive up, take a walk, see the monument, and then leave. Not here. Rushmore has a vendor-run parking complex, an enormous front arch, and a sidewalk shaded with flags from the 50 states plus US possessions. Once you pass all that, there are several rows of bench seating for pondering the monument… and an entire open-air auditorium below for watching the nightly lighting ceremony. It looks like hundreds of folks could experience that from the valley floor. Unfortunately, our schedule wouldn’t accommodate hanging around for the lighting very well. Maybe next time.

The thing that struck me most was the size of the monument. It’s big, but I really expected it to be bigger. Don’t get me wrong — the heads are massive in size — but I was expecting heads on a gargantuan scale. Not a disappointment, but like most of the rest of Mt. Rushmore, it was part of learning about what must certainly be one of the most visited national monuments.

A short distance away from Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Aside from being a cool work-in-progress, it’s a great example of one man’s dream being borne out, one chip or blast at a time. I wasn’t aware of the scale and scope of this monument. This thing will be huge when it’s finished, somewhere near six times the size of Mt. Rushmore. That’s amazing. What’s more amazing is that this family operation has been carrying on for over fifty years. Just about ten years ago, the head of Crazy Horse was finished and unveiled, and it is amazing to see it across a huge valley and realize the enormity the sculpture will have.

The plans for this site don’t end with the monument either. There are big plans for a Native American university with a huge campus full of buildings. This is one impressive dream. I don’t know if I’ll live to see it completed, but it will be a very cool site/facility when they’re done.

GAR: Day Seventeen – West Yellowstone MT to Gillette WY (462mi)

With Sio feeling better, we headed for eastern Wyoming today, leaving Yellowstone behind us. This was a glorious place, and I will definitely be coming back.

Once again, we were treated to a change in landscape today. The high peaks around Yellowstone gave way to the rolling hills of eastern Wyoming as we made our way east. I really hated to see the mountains dwindle in my rear view mirror — I really love being in and around them! — but I know I’ll be back in the mountains again.

When we got to Gillette, we realized we got in just ahead of a huge thunderstorm complex. That means lightning, and that means I’m out shooting. The hotel had a concrete canopy (an old drive through) that I used as a shelter, and shot some amazing lightning images. This is the first chance I’ve had to use the Lightning Trigger since the trip began, and it was great to be out there in the lightning again!