On Saturday, October 14th, 2006 my folks and I kicked off our 4500 mile roadtrip through the western plains, deserts, and mountains. Here we will explore more in detail from what I touched on during last year's crazy 48-state roadtrip. The original planning thread can be found here, and a detailed map of the paths and destinations can be found on Google Maps.
Here is our itinerary:
Day 1 (Oct 14) - depart San Juan Capistrano, CA - Sun City West, AZ - stay in Tusayan, AZ
Day 2 (Oct 15) - visit and stay in Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Day 3 (Oct 16) - Monument Valley - Four Corners - stay in Cortez, CO
Day 4 (Oct 17) - Mesa Verde National Park, CO - stay in Colorado Springs, CO
Day 5 (Oct 18) - visit Colorado Springs, CO
Day 6 (Oct 19) - Denver, CO - stay in Hill City, SD
Day 7 (Oct 20) - Mt Rushmore National Memorial, SD - Crazy Horse, SD - stay in Buffalo, WY
Day 8 (Oct 21) - Yellowstone National Park, WY - stay by Old Faithful
Day 9 (Oct 22) - Grand Teton National Park, WY - stay in Bozeman, MT
Day 10 (Oct 23) - stay in Couer d'Alene, ID (me) and Spokane, WA (folks) (2 nights)
Day 11 (Oct 24) - visit Sandpoint, ID (me), visit Spokane, WA (folks)
Day 12 (Oct 25) - drive Columbia River, OR/WA - stay in Roseburg, OR
Day 13 (Oct 26) - stay in San Leandro, CA
Day 14 (Oct 27) - Jelly Belly Factory - stay in Fairfield, CA
Day 15 (Oct 28) - Napa, CA - return to San Juan Capistrano, CA
NOTE: The entire roadtrip is contained in this post. Future road trips will be separated out into one post per day.
Day 1 - Kickoff to the Canyon
Saturday, October 14, 2006 - 9:29pm MST
We debut our first family roadtrip by heading out at 5:10am PDT from our San Juan Capistrano, CA residence and maneuvered through the network of metro freeways, finally sprinting east on I-10.
I haven't been on this freeway past Banning, CA before, so I knew nothing of the thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape, overlooking the Interstate as we drove past. The sunrise made it a perfect setting for our first set of pictures.
- As we begin east on I-10 at dawn, we
pass scores of wind farms surrounding the freeway.
Shortly after 9:00am PDT/MST we crossed over the Colorado River into our first state Arizona, stopping short of Phoenix, AZ and instead steering north to Sun West City, AZ. Here we visited one of mom's friends that she met on her 2001 trip to Italy. We were invited to lunch and mom had brought her photo album so they could relive their Italy adventures once again. I liked the fact there was a 15-foot Saguaro cactus growing right in the front yard.
Sun City West, AZ
We left there a little after 1:30pm MST and continued north on I-17 to our first landmark, Montezuma's Castle National Monument. Nestled in the red rock cliffs were multi-story Indian dwellings, strategically carved into the mountainside to help protect from the elements. Not far away was also Montezuma Well, a natural spring that over the centuries was set up for water supplies and irrigation, among other uses. We followed the irrigation canal up to the well for more touristy fun.
Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ
- The natives knew
how to create shelter with what was available. Pretty ingenious...
Montezuma's Well, AZ
We're back on the road for another run, through Flagstaff, AZ and catching US 180 to Hwy 64, making a beeline towards Grand Canyon National Park. We won't be staying in the actual park tonight though, opting to bunk in Tusayan, AZ instead, just 3 miles from the South Rim, and right outside the park gates. We arrived at 7:00pm MST and logged over 600 miles today.
Day 2 - The 8th Wonder of the World
Sunday, October 15, 2006 - 7:30pm MST
Before passing through the park borders, we opt to check out the 35-minute Grand Canyon IMAX feature located in Tusayan, AZ, a stone's throw from our hotel. It's a decent preview of what tourist folk will come to expect when standing at the edge of the deep.
Soon after, around 10:00am MST, we cross into the national park and begin our gawking of the famous miles-wide gorge. The first view is of course where everyone starts: Yavapai Point. Compared to last year's view (only 2 hours and full of hazy smoke), this round it was as clear could be, and we have up to 8 hours to burn.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
- The low-hanging clouds were
well placed today. It's like they knew we were coming. How sweet of them.
After this obligatory viewpoint, we took a shuttle west to Hermit's Peak for more unique views (since no public vehicles can drive out this way). Later on we rebounded the other direction for a few more viewpoints to the east before boomeranging back to check in at our next overnight, the Yavapai Lodge. We have our own rustic cabin, complete with no cable TV. (How will mom survive??). It was still early so we rest up before going back out to catch the sunset over at Hopi Point. Maybe they called it that because we were "hoping" for super red canyon walls from the fading sunlight, but I guess the atmosphere wasn't playing nice this time.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
- Even without
an SLR camera, I was into the framing thing.
And the worst part of the day? No thunderstorms at all. Booooooo. We'll try our luck again tomorrow morning.
Day 3 - Connect Four
Monday, October 16, 2006 - 8:45pm MDT
We checked out of Yavapai Lodge super early (6:30am MST) in another attempt to catch the shadows and burning-red canyon walls during sunrise. It seems everyone else had the same idea, and we were all deemed crazy standing out there in the high-30°Fs (we know not of this phenomenon in SoCal). None of us could stand the cold for too long. The sun appeared over the horizon but once again all hope of those lovely colors were dashed once again.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
We continued east on Hwy 64, out of the park, and used US 89 and 160 to Kayenta, AZ. I knew an hour would be lost somewhere around here, as the Navajo Reservation observes DST while the rest of AZ does not. But somebody (re: yours truly) just had to briefly stop at the Elephants Feet landmark near Tonalea, AZ. That little delay caused my memory to slip on McDonalds' 10:30am breakfast cut-off, which we missed by 20 minutes. (Grrr!) We suffered an early lunch instead.
Elephant's Feet, AZ
From here we rode Hwy 163 north to our next landmark Monument Valley, straddling the Utah/Arizona border. We arrived around 12:00pm MDT. This is all trademark stuff you'll find in any of the obligatory spaghetti Western movies, but it's still something to experience up close. Some people go for the guided tours, but we're thrifty and make for the 17-mile loop ourselves, a 2-hour excursion. The folks were VERY impressed, as was I. Local Indian vendors were camped out selling their jewelry at various points throughout the loop (of course mom has to buy her share of turquoise).
Monument Valley, AZ/UT
- Even beyond the borders of the
park trail, there's great stuff that spread out for miles.
Instead of backtracking back to Arizona, we decide to stick with Utah a little longer on US 163 east, passing a few minor monuments (including the Mexican Hat) before breaching US 191 to return to US 160. It's not long after that we reach the famous Four Corners at 4:00pm MDT.
This was a repeat visit from my first roadtrip, but it never gets old for this geography nerd. Not as many visitors at this hour, but more vendors occupied the booths, re-arranged from last year, selling wares and edibles. After participating in the usual stepping-in-4-states-at-once business, we found a booth making a mean authentic Frybread. Dad said he'd buy a second one if it was good, to which the vendor replied "You'll be back." He was right, we marched right back for another helping. When done right, that stuff is tasty!
Four Corners, AZ/NM/UT/CO
- One happy four corner family.
We departed the four states and continued further into Colorado, much along the same path as I took the year prior. Some friends were letting us use their summer home in Mancos, CO. Unfortunately they provided us a bum key, it would only turn left to lock instead of right to unlock. After trying fruitlessly for an hour, we gave up and backtracked to Cortez, CO, where we found a really nice suite hotel. Yeah, I think we'll be OK with the alternative tonight.
The short-term forecast for tomorrow's destination is snow, and we don't have snow tires or chains. Won't that be fun?
Day 4 - Snow Day!
Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 10:00pm MDT
Cortez, CO was behind us at 8:30am MDT, and our first destination of the day wasn't far. We pulled up to Mesa Verde National Park for another look at indigenous native cliff dwellings. Due to the trailing edge of the season, only one dwelling was open for self-tours. It was just as well with the long drive ahead. Unlike Montezuma's Castle, you can actually walk around the ruins, and descend via ladder into one of the underground storage wells. Kinda cool.
Mesa Verde National Park, CO
- Always gotta pose in front of history.
It was hardly 90 minutes later when we left and decided to refill the gas tank outside the park entrance. And here's where the craziness gets going. The rain starts pounding away at a good clip, making the refuel not so pleasant. Back on Hwy 160 we go, heading east, precipitation lasting all the way through.
The most exciting thing was topping Wolf Creek Pass, where the rain quickly turned into a blazing snowstorm! Of course, Mom is freaking out a bit, recalling her snow-driving experiences from many years ago, but I am loving it. Luckily, the truck in front of us unknowingly assisted by carving out tracks in the road. Sticking to that course of action, we braved on through, survived the ordeal and eventually made it to Pueblo, CO.
Wolf Creek Pass, CO
- Why hello winter
blizzard. Where did you come from?
The rain entered a brief haitus as Interstate 25 became our new friend, offering access to Colorado Springs. It was my turn to drive at this point, so here we go. It wasn't long before we veered right back into the same storm, with the rain making a reappearance. Approaching Colorado Springs city limits, the rain once again turned to snow. This was my first time ever driving in such conditions, so obviously I'm crawling along like a total granny (to the likely dismay of local Coloradians). I found it amusing to see active road construction, in the dark, during the snowstorm. They must be tough, they seemed not to care.
I put my full trust in our new GPS, which thankfully worked in this storm and successfully led us to our destination. The parents are staying with one of Mom's high school friends who live in the Springs, so around 8:00pm MDT I drop them and their belongings off (their steep driveway was an added challenge in the snow). Afterwards I'm forced to brave the snow-laden streets of the city on my own (still like a granny, although snow plows are out at this point) to stay with friends of my own who just moved here. Between the folks and I, we'll be split off for the next day each doing our own thing.
Day 5 - Cruising Around the Springs
Wednesday, October 18, 2006 - 7:00pm MDT
"Welcome to Colorado!" my friend Geoff announced to me when arriving at their doorstop. The total snowfall overnight was 7", more than a healthy amount for late October.
Colorado Springs, CO
- When we arrived in Colorado Springs
the night before, it was right in the middle of the first winter storm.
They got 7" overnight, and it was my first time driving in snow. Baller.
Otherwise, not much else to report in the respect of roadtripping events, mostly just dedicated to visiting time with friends. They took me around town a bit and showed me their workplaces.
Meanwhile on the other side of town, the parents were given a deluxe tour by their hosts, visiting Garden of the Gods and the Air Force Academy, both features enhanced by the snowfall.
All in all, a good day for everybody.
Day 6 - Northward Bound
Thursday, October 19, 2006 - 6:15pm MDT
After a final breakfast with my friends, I broke off at 9:00am MDT to collect the parents from across town. From there we left the Springs behind and persisted I-25 to Denver, CO. Here we met with some of Dad's horse-racing buddies he talks with online. They were super nice and treated us to lunch, a good bunch of guys.
- Interesting sculptures as we
pass through the heart of the capital.
Soon we kept trotting farther north, into the state of Wyoming, although nothing special was on deck for this state yet. It was some hours later we curved a little further east, transitioning to SR 18/85 and 16 over the next few hours, across the South Dakota border a little after 5:00pm MDT, and finally dumped off in Custer, SD. It's dark by now so our hotel in Hill City, SD is the only destination, where we must await tomorrow's Black Hills attractions.
If it doesn't rain. It's supposed to rain. And snow. Blah.
Day 7 - Black Hills to Buffaloes
Friday, October 20, 2006 - 9:00pm MDT
Using the advantage of an early start, we headed first to Mount Rushmore National Memorial before 8:00am MDT. I swung by here last year, so it wasn't necessary for many pictures this round. I knew the folks would dig it though, being their first time. A few hours later we moseyed over to Crazy Horse Memorial, another one of my previous excursions. Unfortunately the actual carving was shrouded in low-hanging clouds so that part was a bust. It just meant that much more time walking the visitor center and shops, way more time spent than even my previous visit. It's all good, we definitely got our fill of Native American culture.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- My 2nd visit here, with a
stark contrast in crowds from before. Hardly anybody around. Woot!
The rain started picking up by noon, which nudged us to revert to a westbound route and head out west through north Wyoming on the I-90 and knock miles out for the next day, driving as far as we could stand. Our minivan managed to extend all the way to Buffalo, WY before calling it a night.
Day 8 - I Remain Faithful
Saturday, October 21, 2006 - 8:45pm MDT
We woke up to a bit of light snow flurries in Buffalo, WY. The Rodeway Inn we stayed at wasn't exactly a 4-star (or even 2-star) hotel, heavily influencing a 7:00am MDT departure. All the better since we had the Big Horn range to cross on SR 16, achieved without a hitch. We used that same highway through Cody, WY and the ascent up into Yellowstone National Park. It was still snowing on and off and the roads were caked with ice. Lucky for everyone I already completed my crash-course snow driving lesson back in Colorado Springs, so while all the other vehicles were slippin' and slidin' I was cruising up the mountains (granny mode) without a hitch.
Near Buffalo, WY
- Gotta make our way past
some icy conditions after leaving Buffalo, WY
It was nice to drive this again, in the daytime even! Instead of cruising around in the dark like last year, we had time to stop around various points, checking out steam columns by the lake, wildlife sightings, mudpits and other PoIs to make the scenery worthwhile. We reached the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in mid-afternoon and settled in. This was their final weekend in operation, so the timing was right. Our last little event was watching the Old Faithful geyser blow its top close to 5:30pm MDT.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
- This whole place could blow. Isn't that exciting?
More fun to come!
Day 9 - Get Your Tetons!
Sunday, October 22, 2006 - 10:30pm MDT
It was 6°F outside this morning.
Let me repeat that: 6 DEGREES (°F)
Now for some of you that may be an average winter day in your region. But where I live it rarely sinks below 35°F even in the coldest of winter nights, so the only description I have for you right now is... HOW YOU DO THIS? I CAN'T FEEL MY FACE.
Our lodge was beginning their shutdown for the season so we checked out and headed over to the gift shop, still rockin' their custom make-your-own-stuffed-wild-animal machine. That's just too adorable. How can you not make one? Well I guess if you don't have $12.95... (we did)
It had snowed 1" during the night, covering our minivan in ice and white powder. I'm standing there thinking how we're going to dig out of this mess when mom busts out her ice squeegee. Huh? When did she bring that??? Hah, well I can't ever say she's not prepared for anything. I take one more picture of Old Faithful which just happened to be billowing steam at that moment, then we all bounced.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
- We stayed the night about
1,000 feet from the most articulate column of steam.
And it was 7°F when I took this shot. Brrrrr...
Before heading north, a decision was made to head south via US 191 into the Great Teton National Park for a look-see. My folks were here over 30 years ago, which must have been nice for them to see again, as well as my first time gazing at those jagged snow-capped mountains. We bottomed out at the Moose Visitor Center (the only one still open for the season) and did the souvenir/tourist thing for a bit. The ranger let us in on the secret where buffalo were grazing, which made it a short but easy hunt to find the herd, and with a perfect backdrop of the Tetons. Cameras were busy in those moments. Our final jaunt was to the Jackson Lake Dam. My parents did some fishing around here in the 1970s, so it was a nice little throwback.
Grand Teton National Park, WY
- One of my best shots.
The right angle, the right sunlight, the right pack of snow.
After the last set of pictures, it was time to head up and out. US 191 led us back through Yellowstone, all the while discovering more waterfalls, antelope, geysers, etc. We found the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, but when you've just seen the REAL Grand Canyon all in the same trip, this one just doesn't have the same pizazz. I also made a point to see the Upper/Lower Falls, but the hike to get to them about killed me. The folks knew better and stayed behind while I sacrificed my own breathing. Kinda forgetting how high up in elevation we are so it's not exactly a walk in the park (haha) to reach some of these places if you're not acclimated. Going on 6:00pm MDT, daylight was already starting to fade. Once again, not enough time to see everything I wanted to. (I'll have to make visit #3 later). We exited the park through the north entrance and cruised up highway 89, returning to I-90 and headed west to Bozeman, MT.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
- It's quite a hike to take the
switchbacks all the way down to this viewpoint of the Upper Falls,
but it's pretty massive. The worst part is going back up to get out.
When reserving hotels in advance, I had found this Super 8 for $39.99 in east Bozeman and thought that was a steal! Um, yeah, I found out it was that cheap for a reason. Our rooms weren't clean (they moved us to another room which wasn't much better). Even more interesting, I could smell pot lingering in the stairway, with a few shady characters hanging about. We didn't want to stick around here so cruised over to one of those McDonalds-within-Walmart places for a quick bite, but it was more fun with the awkward people-watching. We must have been on the wrong side of town (or the right side depending on your desire for interesting stories. This IS rural Montana, folks). When we got back, Mom piled all our suitcases in front of the door. (You think I'm kidding...)
I'll let you know if we make it through the night.
Day 10 - A Run for Pacific Time
Monday, October 23, 2006 - 6:30pm PDT
We live! Let's get the hell out of here.
The only nice memory of Bozeman, MT was a red sunrise behind the mountain ridge overlooking the hotel. Other than that, this Super 8 will go down in roadtrip history as being the most ghetto. We might do well to pass on budget hotels from now on.
We left predictably early and continued west on I-90, through the towns of Butte and Missoula, MT, over the mountain pass into Idaho (gaining our lost hour back to Pacific Time), through Coeur d'Alene, ID, one more state crossing into Washington, and FINALLY reaching my mom's cousin in Spokane, WA, arriving about 2:30pm PDT.
Lolo National Forest, MT
- Yellow and green
Ponderosa Pines dot the Montana landscape.
Once again we're splitting up. After dropping them off and visiting with the cousin, I used some back roads to loop down and under to Lake Coeur d'Alene, repeating a stay with Andrew and Lorna (from last year's roadtrip). I'll be here for 2 nights. Fun times ahead.
Day 11 - Fringes of the North
Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 5:30pm PDT
We all really needed a break from driving today, and our wish was granted!
It was a laid back day visiting with friends. I was treated to a small daytrip even further up north in Idaho. Taking US 95, our destination became Sandpoint, ID, about 60 miles south of the Canadian border. Lake Pend Oreille was the most prominent feature, quite impressive with the bridge spanning the water. Unfortunately the haze kept me from getting any outstanding pictures. Even not driving, I was pretty wiped out, and napped the whole way back.
Lake Pend Oreille, ID
- Close to the Canadian border
in Sandpoint, ID, the sun rays do their magic thing.
Spent the rest of the day talking it up with Andrew and his fascinating gizmos (he is an engineer after all) and I can definitely geek to that!
One state over, the parents meanwhile are given a tour of downtown Spokane, WA by cousin Rachel, stopping in at the famous and elegant Davenport Hotel, amongst other city landmarks.
We join together once more tomorrow and get these last few days under our belts!
Day 12 - Along the Columbia We Ride
Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 8:50pm PDT
Time to say goodbye to Andrew & Lorna, Lake Coeur d'Alene, and all of Idaho. Shortly after 9:00am PDT I headed west on the I-90 and stopped in to pick up the folks from Spokane, WA. After cousin farewells, we fared southwest from I-90 to SR 395, and waited for I-84, which parallels the Columbia River, as well as the borders of Oregon and Washington.
John Day, OR
- Yikes, this Columbia River is awesome! We follow
it west all the way to (near) the end. Had no idea that this river straddled
the state border, with freight trains running on both sides. Hearts!
We used the Oregon (south) side and followed this river for about 150 miles until Portland, OR, and let me tell you it became an instant favorite to travel. There are railways on both sides of the river, with Union Pacific freights flying through all the while. Several dams also stood tall for our viewing pleasure, and to top it off, various waterfalls on the Oregon side (even though we didn't stop for these). Definitely have to take this route again sometime in the future.
Portland, OR came around too soon. Here our native Interstate 5 came into view and ran south (stopping in Salem, OR for a quick shot of the capital) on to Roseburg, OR, for our overnight. It's all down from here!
Day 13 - Our Home State Cometh
Thursday, October 26, 2006 - 6:15pm PDT
We chose Roseburg, OR as a stopping point specifically so Dad could visit with a cousin he hasn't seen in 60 years. We spent the morning there, and then continued south, back into California on Interstate 5. This part of the state is new for me, passing Mt. Shasta as it headlined the rest of the mountainous territory up here.
Mt. Shasta, CA
- Taking the quick way back down through
California, I see Mt. Shasta for the first time. Not much snow yet.
The rest of the route remained uneventful. Our overnight is San Leandro, CA, located just south of Oakland, CA. We're staying with another one of mom's italian cousins, taking in some rather juicy stories about our italian family history! Always a treat to bring something like that home. :)
Day 14 - Get That Jelly in my Belly!
Friday, October 27, 2006 - 5:15pm PDT
We spent a little more time telling stories and taking pictures with mom's cousin before hightailing it in the early afternoon, backtracking a bit up to Fairfield, CA. Here we are set up to visit one of mom's childhood friends in Napa, CA the next day.
After checking into the hotel super early, Mom and I try and find somewhere to go for kicks, when what should catch my eye and make my sweet tooth sing? We jump in the van and ride a few miles up the road to the Jelly Belly factory, by some miracle of timing catching the last tour of the candy-making machines. The aroma was enough to make anyone's mouth water. Overall it was pretty, uh, sweet! I bought $16 worth of candy, including a 4" jawbreaker, the largest ever made. It'll take me years to lick it away, if I don't keep it as a permanent trophy.
- While in the Bay Area, we decided our
final offbeat destination would be the Jelly Belly factory.
How could I treat my sweet tooth so cruel?
Tomorrow we shoot for home. I doubt we'll be stopping anywhere. After 2 weeks, we're all pretty anxious to get back to our daily grind.
Day 15 - The Home Stretch
Saturday, October 28, 2006 - 11:00pm PDT
Our final early start leads over to Napa, CA where mom visited Richard, a friend from her earliest of childhoods. Along with his wife and son, they all had a spot in the winery business (if the name of the town didn't already give it away). They took us to their mini warehouse where juice was busy fermenting, a helpful summary of how this whole process works. Then they take us out and we're treated to the big players, briefly visiting established wineries like Fransiscan and Beringer. We could have hit wineries all day, but we're not that big on fancy wines and didn't spend much time there. (I know, we just insulted all the wine snobs.) Richard gave us a small bottle of their own wine before we took pics and called it a day.
Before we got too far downstream, I just had to stop again at the Jelly Belly factory to buy some boxes for my colleagues, as well as more treats for myself. (This is my weakness, people.) Hwy 12 was our outlet to connect to I-5, and the last 350 miles home. From here it was nothing new to us, driving through central California, dealing with garbage traffic of Los Angeles and playing through the familiar commute of Orange County, arriving home at 10:00pm PDT.
That's it! Results and stats to come.
Compared to last year's whirlwind 48-state trip, I enjoyed this one more, being able to start early every morning and extend on the points missed from the previous run. It really pays to travel with those who share the same waking hours as you! While all families are different when it comes to dealing with each other for 2 straight weeks, my folks and I really didn't get on our nerves too badly (save a moment here or there). Every trip group wouldn't be complete without something crazy!
All goals were successfully accomplished.
Total miles: 4,884
Total stops: 32
Elapsed time: 14 days, 16 hours, 50 minutes
Total states: 11 (CA, AZ, NM, UT, CO, WY, SD, MT, ID, WA, OR)
Total National Parks: 4 (Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons)
Total National Monuments: 1 (Montezuma)
Gallons of fuel: 223.65 (21.84 MPG average)
My own cost: $1,031.16 (share of lodging, food, gas, souvenirs and minivan rental)
I ended up keeping 300+ photos of many taken, but narrowed it down to 70 for the album. Choose your method of viewing:
1) The RTA PhotoShare Galleries
2) Google Photos (better for slideshows)