We made it back last Jan. 29 driving from Mineapolis to LA and back. I'd like to thank this forum for making our trip a success. Midwest Michael's tip to take I80 / I70 to Denver was right on. And glc's tip to stay the night in Denver allowed us to see the most breathtaking scenes I've seen so far as we crossed the continental divide. Our trip had a 2-fold purpose. One was to get away from Minneapolis where we just had 3 1/2 days of sub-zero temperatures. The other was to show my sister-in-law, who was visiting us from Trinidad and Tobago, as much of this great country and meet up with my wife's relatives in LA. Here's a "quick" summary of our trip:
Day#1 Sunday - Woke up at 4 in the morning and got going at 5:30. We took I35 going South to Des Moines, IA. All was smooth in I35 even considering that we had some snow flurries the night before. Things changed for the worse once we crossed the MN/IA border. In IA, between the border with MN until we got to Des Moines, there were at least 50 cars stranded in the snow banks in the median or on the shoulder. Obvious sign of slippery roads during the early hours and the night before. The road was still slippery and I could feel my Sienna van slipping and sliding. This was the most difficult part of the drive and speed was reduced to 40-55mph (although a few brave souls were completely oblivious to the danger and kept driving at much faster speeds). Driving was back to normal pace by the time we got to Des Moines and made the turn to I-70. From I-70, there were no problems whatsoever and driving was good all the way to Denver. We arrived in Denver at around 7:30pm. We got a room at a hotel and stayed there for the night. Except for the "white-knuckle" driving in IA, the day was very uneventful.
Day#2 Monday - The hotel where we stayed offered a hot breakfast and the entire crew was satisfied. We were on the road by 8:00am hitting I-70. We were blessed with excellent weather - 65 degrees (makes me wonder what the heck I'm doing in MN with our lovely sub-zero winters). Weather was on our side as the forecast was for clear skies and no snow. We passed through the winding mountain roads until finally the tunnel (which I think is the highest point in this section of I70). As we exited the tunnel, we were witness to the unbelievable scenery. We passed thru Vail and from the highway you can see some of the ski resorts. Just to see the sights from the freeway makes this trip wothwhile. So Ooohs and Aaahs for the rest of the morning. We had lunch in Glenwood Springs. I was so tempted to visit Doc Holiday's grave but we were reminded of the long raod ahead so I passed. The drive became quite boring as we headed towards Grand Junction. I was hoping to make it to Arches National Park, if only to see the visitors center and get a better idea of the park, but we got there too late. We drove on to Cedar City, UT and stayed there for the night.
Day#3 Tuesday - We woke up to another excellent hot breakfast and the group was ready for something different. Today we visit Zion National Park. We had an early lunch at the lodge and was soon on the trail to Walter's Wiggles. What a great view from the lookout point. At around 2:30pm we started heading towards LA. Really bad timing as we hit the Las Vegas rush hour at around 5:30pm. We arrived in LA that night.
Day#4 to Day#7 - We rested a good part of Day 4. It was nice to see my wife, her sister and my kids enjoy the company of the extended family who we haven't seen in 8 years. We visited Rodeo drive, Malibu Beach, Chinese Theater, Hollywood, Universal Studios, etc. After driving in LA, it was easy to see why I chose to live in Minneapolis. The traffic was bad even on the off-hours and gets terribly horrendous during rush hour. The beat of the city was definitely different from what we were used to and it took me a bit to get adjusted to the pace and get the proper timing for those all-important lane changes and freeway exits. The highlight for me was the trip to the Getty Center where I get to see first hand the classical art works that I only have seen in books (works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, Degas).
Day#8 Sunday - It was time to head back and saying goodbyes took forever. We left late that morning and so the plan was to take I-40 on the way back since the weather forecast indicated snow for the next couple of days for I-15 and I-70 (Utah and CO). We intended to stay in Flagstaff, AZ for the night and visit the Grand Canyon in the morning. In a few hours we were near the AZ border. We just went through a stretch of 27 miles without any services and my tank was down to a fourth. We've arrived in Needles, CA and we were about to get some gas. To our surprise, gas here is at $2.89 a gallon - a dollar higher than anywhere else! What a ripoff! We used the rest-rooms, bought gum and drove on. Around 10 miles later, we got to the 1st town in AZ that had a gas station and gas was at $1.89. The moral of the lesson: never, ever stop in Needles, CA. A few hours later we could feel that we were driving through higher elevations. We started to see the dreadful ice at the shoulders of the freeway. We arrived in Flagstaff, AZ at 5:30pm and stayed for the night and I'm sure glad we did. In a little past the hour after we checked in to our hotel, snow started to come down.
Day#9 Monday - Rodeway Inn breakfasts just aren't the same quality as Comfort Inns or Holiday Inns but it was OK. We left at 7:30am with clear skies and started driving towards the Grand Canyon. An hour into the drive, the snow fall got heavier and heavier and we thought it best not to continue. It was very disappointing. The last time we were here, our youngest wasn't born yet. When he saw our Grand Canyon pictures, he asked why we left him behind. I tried my best to explain to him that he wasn't born yet but he still had that skeptical look on his face. I thought this was my chance to make it up to him. Well, maybe next time. So we drove back to I-40 and half an hour later clear skies once again. We kept driving east and there's really not much to see from the highway. We passed the AZ/NM border and my wife asked why there's so many junkyards. Anyway, we stopped somewhere in NM to have lunch and took pictures. We had one photo where there was a Route 66 sign behind us - neat! We then continued driving and before reaching Albuquerque, we saw signs for the El Malpais National Monument. We went for it and we were treated to a nice picture with the arch in the background. It was also interesting for one of my daughters as they were studying rocks/geology in their science class ( a good part of the park area is covered with lava rocks and the ranger tells us that volcanic activity continues to be monitored in the area). We continued driving eastwards on I40 passing through Albuquerque and we stopped in Amarillo, TX for the night. By the time we got to Amarillo, a good amount of snow has come down and we're reminded once again of the bitter Minnesota winter.
Day#10 Tuesday - We left early enough but the weather just wasn't on our side. We were listening to a local station and it keeps telling us of the ice storm from the previous night and it's heading towards Oklahoma City. We drove on - cautiously. This affected our schedule quite badly. Being from MN we were used to driving in snow. But still, you can't take anything for granted. For the most part, we were stuck to 45mph. The weather finally let-up as we were about an hour south of Wichita. At this point we were already in I35. We took advantage of the better weather. We thought of staying in Kansas City or Des Moines for the night. But we felt homesick and decided to drive on. I thank God that we made it safely back to MN at 4am. I surely wouldn't recommend driving this long. But we felt that we should take advantage of the good weather and avoid having to drive through another snow storm in the morning. So home sweet home.
I would've posted pictures but I don't know how to do that yet. This summer, we're thinking of driving to Montana to see Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. I'm hoping that with the help of this forum, it would be another memorable vacation.