MMK Cross Country Tour

#WayBackWednesday - Part 4 of 4: The Four Trips that Started it All

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QUICK FACTS

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What: Desert Tour 2010
When: 3/4/2010 - 3/13/2010
Where: 6 states, drove in 5
Who: Mike (me), Kevin (friend, roommate), and two other friends
Vehicle: 2010 Toyota Camry (gold)

FIRSTS

  • Virgin River Gorge
  • Bryce Canyon
  • Zion
  • Desert snow storms
  • Hotwire hotel

STATES

  1. Michigan
  2. Colorado
  3. Nevada
  4. California
  5. Utah
  6. Arizona
 
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INTRODUCTION

Vegas or bust! The Desert Tour was simply four friends flying to Vegas with a little road trip for good measure. I’m just going to say this about Vegas: it was a blur. We drank, we walked a lot, and we did the Vegas thing. We were fortunate to have a great hotel thanks to Ryan’s mom and we were thrifty with food and drinks making it an affordable, yet fun trip. Day trips from Vegas were more interesting to me and we visited the Hoover Dam and Death Valley National Park on separate occasions between the pool drinking and the strip walking. The Hoover Dam was interesting, as always, and the work on the bypass bridge was a bit further than two years prior, but it still wasn’t complete. Our road trip into Death Valley took a whole day and included a hike at Sidewinder Canyon, a stop at Badwater Basin, and amazing sights from Dante’s View. Jenn says views at Death Valley were like looking through a filter, and she’s right on the money with that statement.  Back in Vegas, Jenn and Ryan both departed on different days back to Michigan while Kevin and I headed out in the gold Camry.

VEGAS TO ARCHES

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We left early from Vegas and headed up towards Arches via I-15. On this journey, we saw the Virgin River Gorge for the first time and it was most impressive. It had been pretty mundane and brown driving north and then all of the sudden, we’re in a canyon with tall walls and some color. We made a stop after that in St. George, Utah for Starbucks and to check on the weather for the road ahead. It was snowing and the snowstorms all the way to I-70, but we went ahead anyway. We stopped for gas, after an adventurous journey, in the Green River area and then proceeded down 191 to Arches. We were famliar with the park from last year so this year our visit was focused on hiking to Delicate Arch. The weather was mixed with clouds, rain, and enough sun to encourage us to go forth and hike up to the iconic arch.

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I recently (August 2018) did this hike and looking back to 2010, I don’t remember much of it at all and without pictures I really only remember being up at the arch itself. To get up to Delicate Arch one starts out on a well definied trail which transitions to a rock face until a rock ledge is reached that leads to the area where the arch is located. Once up there, it’s a bowl of red rock and Delicate Arch is on the edge. The views out are spectacular and the arch itself is much bigger in person than the perception from lower viewing areas. I do remember we were two of maybe four or five people total up at there, as it was March and the weather was less than perfect. When we looked out from the arch, we saw mountains in the distance and snow covered red rock just below. The contrast of white on red was a brilliant contrast when the sun peaked out from behind the clouds and made for some great photos that day. We hiked back down to the car and proceeded south to Monticello, Utah where we’d stay that night.

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The hotel in Monticello was less than amazing, but it was comical and made us laugh and question our choices all at once. We were spoiled in Vegas, our friend hooked us up with an apartment style hotel room with mountain views and now we had light fixtures falling down and a strong Pine-Sol odor. We hit up one of the only restaurants we saw open and had dinner as it started to snow.  We came out from dinner to almost a foot of snow and were just a little shocked, as we had a Toyota Camry rental car and big travel plans for the next day. A little snow never stopped us before, and this trip was no different.

ARCHES TO BRYCE CANYON

We woke up to even more snow than the night before, but a little sunshine too. As far as I the eye could see was covered in a thick white blanket of fresh powder and we had to try and get to the Grand Canyon today. The more we drove and checked around, the more it felt unlikely we would be visiting the Grand Canyon this trip due to weather and distance. Alternate plans were made to go through Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon and back to Vegas via Zion. It was one hell of an alternate plan but the sights and parks along the way are a large part of why I'm in love with public lands today. No regrets, even if it was a little nuts with the snow.

The roads on our journey between Monticello and Bryce Canyon were less than ideal, but it made for one of the most memorable road trip adventures of my life. We started on US-191 south out of Monticello and were going to take Utah 95 over from Blanding, but it did not appear plowed or even having tracks, and so we decided to through Arizona over through the Glen Canyon area. Being in the area last year, we were somewhat familiar, but still were just flying by the seat of our pants. From US-191 in Bluff, we headed west on US-163 towards Mexican Hat. We found Utah 261 north, through what is now Bears Ears, and took the narrow, winding road and It was a wild ride of slushy mud and proved to be pretty intense with no guardrails or plowing. Why we decided to go down and then up, I have no idea, but we did and it's what happened. I feel, ultimately, we were indecisive and didn't know what we wanted to do, but I can't be sure. We made it through, to the top of the plateau, and plowed snow with the Camry until we found Utah 95 after all. We took Utah 95 up to Utah 24 through Capitol Reef and on along the Utah 12 Scenic Byway. Highway 12 went all the way to Bryce Canyon. I’ll include a map and some photos of the journey to bring it all together.

I did not know much about Capitol Reef before this trip, but once we started driving through the area it was apparent why it was designated and preserved. I’ve never seen anything like that area, the landscape was as if I were on a different planet.  When we were up a little higher in elevation, we could see for miles and miles and it was rocks in varying shades of rusty red as far as the eye could see.

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Arriving at dark wasn’t the most ideal time, but it worked out because Kevin had plans for us to go look at the expansive sky since Bryce Canyon was a dark sky park. We checked in to the Best Western just outside the park and managed to score a great off peak price and room. We entered the park, and sat in a dark parking lot for about twenty minutes before venturing out to an area out from under the trees. The night sky there was unlike any other night sky I had ever seen. We saw billions of stars and the Milky Way with ease. We spent some time there, taking it all in, before heading back to the hotel to take advantage of the heated outdoor pool and hot tub. The temperature was 20 degrees, but fell to zero with the windchill, and there were piles of snow surround the hot tub but it was by far the coolest hot tub experience I’ve had to date. Morning came without fanfare or sunshine, but we went back into the park to explore the areas that were open for the winter season. We were able to see Inspiration Point and Bryce Point and trek through snow to get good views of the rim. There was four feet of snow covering many parts, but the viewpoints were cleared so we could enjoy the snow covered hoodoos. White and rusty orange for as far as the eye could see. If you haven't visited in the winter, or at all, please add it to your list - you'll be amazed.

ZION BACK TO VEGAS

It was a short drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park and it went well with more sun as we pushed west and south. We left Bryce Canyon pretty early so we could maximize our day at Zion and maximize we did. Our grand plan was to do Angel’s Landing, and part of me wishes we would have, but we didn’t and it I'm okay with that. Knowing what I know now about that hike, we were smart not to do it in the little daylight we had and the previous weather. We settled on the Emerald Pools hikes instead and I have zero regrets. The views from spots along the trail were encapsulated the variety and beauty of the park. Honestly, I'm not sure I was physically ready to hike Angel's Landing, plus there were warning about icy spots where the sun hadn't hit.

Zion was another surprise, as I hadn't researched the park before going. We had great weather and managed to see quite a few of the hot spots in the short time we had there. Along with the Emerald Pool trails, we visited the lodge and had lunch, hiked back to the beginning of the narrows and enjoyed the scenic drive through the park. Never in my life have I seen such red rock and trees sprouted from them.

After a full day at Zion, we made the trek back to Vegas for one more night so we could catch our flights home in the morning. We used Hotwire.com to book our final hotel because it sounded like a fun way to get 5-star accommodations with a little surprise. The surprise paid off, as much as I hate to admit, because the hotel was immaculate. We rolled up in our rental Camry to a valet only parking situation, with trash from a few days all over the car and mud up to our knees from hiking all day. The lobby had polished marble floors and fancy chandeliers and we felt very out of place but the room was nice and had a Jacuzzi. The pool area looked over the strip and had views of the Wynn and Encore. At the time, the brand didn't have such a negative connotation, but now I'm afraid to even list it in here. I'll see if you can guess where it was from the pictures (Hint: it looks like a golden french fry on the north end of the strip). I spent the final night in Vegas relaxing before heading out to the strip, while Kevin went gambling for a while beforehand. It was a great way to wrap this trip.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Not all trips go according to plan, but they can usually be salvaged or offer a good story for years to come. I’m not saying this trip was the best, but it did have some highlights and good times all around. We learned to adapt quickly to changing weather patterns, which is common for most travels but not something we had extensive experience with. I learned about these beautiful public lands and fell in love with these national parks. To this day, I long to be back at Bryce Canyon or Arches on a monthly basis. We can say we did the Vegas thing, and it wouldn't be the last time we'd whoop it up there and probably not the last. It's a great hub for adventure, with cheap flights and cheap lodging. Flying into Vegas, renting a car, and traveling to Utah, California, or Arizona is so easy with an abundance of gorgeous public lands within hours from the airport.

This trip sealed the deal for me that road trips to and through public lands are my preferred mode of vacation. This was the last big trip I took before moving to Texas, and with the previous three set the state and expectations for all future trips. I found my spirit on these trips and I have never felt so alive. Enjoy the views, the scenic byways, and roadside attractions along the way!

Mike’s Highlights:

  • Delicate Arch
  • Bryce Canyon in the winter (snow covered hoodoos)
  • Zion National Park - simply the drive through but also Emerald Pools because the trail is closed and I can't make a revisit
  • Las Vegas with my friends, even if it didn't go quite as planned - a story for another time
  • Dante's View at Death Valley

#WayBackWednesday - Part 3 of 4: The Four Trips that Started it All

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QUICK FACTS

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What: MMK XC Tour Part Trois
When: 2/26/2009 - 3/9/2009
Where: across 15 states
Who: Mike (me), Kevin (friend & roommate), and Molly (BFF)
Vehicle: 2009 Chevy HHR LT

FIRSTS

  • Camping in a National Park
  • Arches
  • Portland, OR
  • Olympic National Park

STATES

  1. Michigan
  2. Indiana
  3. Illinois
  4. Kansas
  5. Colorado
  6. Utah
  7. Nevada
  8. California
  9. Oregon
  10. Washington
  11. Idaho
  12. Montana
  13. South Dakota
  14. Minnesota
  15. Wisconsin
 
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INTRODUCTION

Road trip styles evolve as you take more of them and this year was no exception. The initial cross country tour offered inspiration for the second, which was more scenic and covered more ground. These two trips combined influenced our desire to be more adventurous on the third trip and it is clear as I look back through notes and photos.  Matt, who had graduated and found work, was unable to go along with us this year so we recruited another “M” named Molly. I met Molly through people I befriended from class and she had grown to be one of my very best friends and a good friend of Kevin as well.  She loved road trips, adventure, and wanted to see the country with us. She had obligations for the first half of the trip, so she was going to fly one-way to Sacramento and we’d pick her up on our way to the Pacific Northwest.  This was one of the most dynamic trips involving camping, long days of driving, unexpected changes in plans, and varied weather patterns.  We learned a lot about adaptation and saw the sights with a renewed sense of exploration.  Here we go!

GRAND RAPIDS (home) to ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Kevin and I had reserved a car with Budget Rent-A-Car in Grand Rapids for pickup in the morning on February 26, 2009.  The car was supposed to be a Chevy Impala, large enough for our gear but also fuel efficient.  This year we were adding camping to the first half of the trip, so having enough room for gear was important for the first time on one of our large scale trips. The man at Budget pulls up the reservation and goes through the fine print and gives us a total of over $600.  When we reserved it, it was going to be around $300 so that came as quite a shock. We had misunderstood one of the most obvious rules when it comes to car rentals - the 25 and under age penalty.  We had entered our ages when we made the reservation so we figured it was okay or wasn't going to apply. Our ignorance and naivete was going to cost us.  So, not really wanting to blow our entire lodging, gas, food, and car budget on just the car, we opted to shop around.  We went up the street to Hertz.  It was the same story there, but the guy was so cool and “mistakenly” entered my birth date as someone 25 years old and gave us a sweet discount. The car cost less than originally planned, but we ended up with a slightly smaller car. The Chevy HHR was going to have to work and was overall okay because it had some storage, a moonroof, and heated seats. I realize now that this mistake could have really screwed some people over, but in the moment it was a win and we were taking it.  We were on our way!

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With a late start, we loaded the supplies and gear in the car and finally took off from Michigan. Were going down through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri,  and onward through Kansas to avoid a snowstorm in Iowa and Nebraska.  We left about 11:30 AM and the rain started around noon. Rain in the Midwest brings out the worst in drivers, especially in February and March.  Indiana and Illinois are boring, flat, and the rain was getting worse with lightning as we moved southwest.  Eventually we made it to St. Louis and the weather improved to a sunny 70 degrees, but that wouldn't last.  The rain picked back up to downpour status in central Missouri and we eventually made it into Kansas with a much needed rest stop around 11 PM. I mention the rest stop because this is where we brewed coffee for the next leg along I-70 into Colorado. We had been on the road for 12 hours and needed a pick me up. We had an old coffee pot that we decided to bring, plug in, and brew coffee in the rest stop bathroom.  There was no one else at the rest stop, so it wasn’t that weird for us. Starbucks locations were expensive and closed while gas station coffee wasn’t always a winner, so this was our brilliant idea. The coffee brewing in a rest stop concept received mixed reviews; people are either all for it or think it was a disgusting idea.  We filled our travel mugs and hit the road with zero regrets.  Further down the road, at a fuel stop in Kansas, we witnessed what we thought was a drug deal but it turned out to be a newspaper delivery person collecting papers for the day.  We laughed, filled up with gas, and carried on our way laughing hysterically because it was the middle of the night and we were exhausted.  It was that time in the road trip when we were getting a little heavy headed, so we opened the windows and moonroof to the 20 degree weather and blasted some rock music as made our way through Kansas. We entered Colorado around 3:30 AM local time and proceeded to take a nap at the Colorado Welcome Center. As the sun was rising, we were leaving to head west into Denver.

Denver looked good in the 7 AM sunshine and I loved walking around exploring it while everyone was asleep.  We explored the capitol area on foot for about an hour and then took off west toward the Rockies.  After a fuel stop just outside of Denver, we made our way to Georgetown and found the road conditions ahead ominous at best.  We started the climb towards the Vail Pass and it was mountain blizzard conditions with cars in the ditch and zero visibility.  It was a white knuckle drive all the way through the higher elevations until the western slope.  After breaking to catch our breath and relax our tense bodies, we carried on towards Utah.  We stopped at our favorite rest stop, as seen in part one, and carried on down to Arches.  Site number 18 is where we setup and endured the 11 degree (with windchill) evening of camping.  No regrets.

ARCHES TO EUREKA, CALIFORNIA

After a very cold night of camping, we packed up the gear and headed to the Devil’s Garden to start our day of exploring.  We hiked to Landscape Arch with side hikes to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches.  From there, we made our way down to Skyline Arch and then to Sand Dune Arch.  We visited the Windows Arches and Turret Arch and decided to leave and head south toward Monument Valley to get there before dark.  We entered the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park about 3 PM and made our way through via the bumpy, red dirt road.  It was a spectacular drive with iconic views, unspoiled by development.  Monument Valley was just as it appears on postcards - a treasure in the west.  From the park we were headed to Nevada and decided that we needed dinner but were in the middle of nowhere so we made rice and beans at a rest stop and it was pretty much the best meal ever.  Our goal was to get as close to the Loneliest Road in American as we could, so we opted for a cheap hotel in Cedar City, Utah for the night.  Only one of use went in to get the room because the rate specified single person occupancy, so we were sneaky.  Shady, but efficient.

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After a good night of sleep and a shower, we sneaked out of the hotel and headed to a quick stop at an old BLM quarry dump to check out some rocks for Kevin who majored in geology. We found muscovite, quartz, azurite, and malachite. I like rocks too, just not as much as Kevin, but the stop was pretty interesting overall. The whole vibe of the area was creepy, and it did not get much better as we entered Nevada.  There were birds of prey gliding through the air and crows all over the road as we approached what appeared to be lifeless town after lifeless town under a gray sky.  The cows in Nevada were not very happy, which was fitting for the mood, and it made us feel bad for them because last year we saw how happy cows can be out in California. We were looking for a place to set up camp for the evening and eventually found camping at Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area - a BLM campground about 15 miles east of Austin, Nevada. The place was empty so we had our choice of sites and chose one on a slight incline to set up camp.  Snow blanketed parts of the campground, mostly around the bushes (trees) which was almost everywhere, so we were a little concerned with snow melt or rain as we hadn’t checked the weather in a little while.  The tent was set up, snacks were had, and we decided to explore this little park.  We found the petroglyphs, hiked around, and climbed some rocks to get a better view of the Loneliest Road.  We watched one car come from miles away and it turned out to be an emergency vehicle which eventually approached and sped by.  Not a person in sight for miles, in all directions, meant this was true to the name of Loneliest Road in America.  It was a weird feeling being the only two people in an area that you can actually verify by sight from up on a rock ridge.  We built a fire, enjoyed a few beers, and watched the stars come out since the sky partially cleared.  It got cold and stayed quiet all night, which was perfect sleeping weather.

It was finally the day we have to trek to Sacramento to scoop up Molly on our way to Eureka, California. Camp was packed up and we were on the road around 8 AM, headed west.  The sky had become dark gray and was spilling moisture.  The rain got heavier the further west we got, and by Reno it had been steady.  As we drove through Reno and up into the mountains it switched from rain to snow and was becoming a Colorado situation all over again. These mountains had bigger trees, but were equally slick with slush and snow. We saw people putting chains on their car, but we definitely didn't have those.  Eventually, with white knuckles and Michigan winter driving skills, we made it through the mountain pass and carried on towards Sacramento.  Once at the airport, a little early I might add, we learned Molly’s plane was delayed over an hour. It was decided we’d just sit in the parking lot and chill until she landed.  I remember Kevin messing around with the HHR, doing things like burning and trying to do donuts on the wet pavement.  We were bored and not really wanting to venture into Sacramento so we made our own fun.  We were keeping busy and trying to remain positive about the west coast weather, which looked rainy and uncooperative at this point.

Molly arrived around 5pm and we hit I-5 north shortly after.  Our destination had been the Best Western in Eureka, the same one from part two last year, so we could swim in that cool pool that was half inside/half outside again.  We took I-5 north to Redding and then west on CA-299.  It was a wild drive on 299, winding and dark through the mountain rain.  We got to the Best Western around midnight and they were full so we had to settle for a Motel 6.  As you know, from part one, we were not against Motel 6 hotels, but this one was particularly gross and stinky.  We may have indulged in some drinking games and just passed out to avoid feeling anything more about the whole situation.  I will say, the Motel 6 really ruined cheap hotels for the rest of the trip, which was okay.

THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

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After a stinky night at the Motel 6, we set out in the rainy weather to find the Lost Coast of California.  CA-211 took us to the Lost Coast via a winding mountain road beginning in the cute little town of Ferndale. It was an intense drive, through tree-lined winding roads and some snow and slick roads as the elevation increased. The Lost Coast had happy cows and felt very rugged and unspoiled. It almost reminded of how the coast would look in a movie set in the United Kingdom somewhere.  It was gloomy and beautiful all at once.  From the Lost Coast we continued on CA-211 through the windy mountain road and ended up at the Avenue of the Giants on US-101.  It was a great place to end up, and we explored the Redwoods at Humboldt Redwoods State Park before making our way up towards Crescent City.  Before going to see Big Tree and Prairie Creek, we stopped at the beach in Orick.  It was at this beach that one of my favorite photos of Molly and I was taken as well as where Molly was caught in a rogue wave. We laughed a lot about that moment and it made for a good spirit booster.  We were getting mixed weather - some sun, some rain, and always cool.  We had enough dry moments to visit places within the Redwoods, but never for very long.  Oregon was on the horizon so we made a quick stop at All Star Liquors, the one we found last year.  As we were checking out, the lady said this was the "adult's candy store" and we couldn't disagree.

The weather was still patchy as we drove up the Oregon Coast, but we made several stops and did as many scenic turnouts as we could along the way.  One stop was at Devil's Churn, one of my favorite spots from the previous year.  Our hotel for the night was in Coos Bay at a very nice Best Western. Waking up in Coos Bay to rain was not the best, but at least we slept well and had free breakfast. As I was checking out, Molly was getting behind the wheel for the start of the day with Kevin riding shotgun. The night before, Kevin and I had Diet Coke bottles in which we mixed our drinks at about 50/50 booze and pop.  Molly, who was just looking for a Diet Coke, took a big swig and had found one of our bottles from last night that was leftover.  What a way to start the day, as the driver nonetheless!

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After getting Molly her regular Diet Coke, we drove north towards Washington with several scenic stops along the way.  We went for a walk near Newport, Oregon on Agate Beach and stopped at Whalen Island to make lunch at a rest stop.  From there we hauled ass towards Port Angeles up the east side of the Olympic Peninsula because somehow we got turned around. We ended the day at the very nice Olympic Lodge and had a lovey dinner at Joshua’s. I remember ordering fish and chips and having an Alaskan Amber and Molly told me this weekend that we also had some random guy buying is jello shots.  After dinner we went back to the hotel and used the amazing pool area in the back with fun evergreens and random old people up way too late!

We woke up on the Olympic Peninsula to sunshine so we got a move on to Lake Crescent to start the day.  We explored the Storm King Ranger Station and decided to move on towards Cape Flattery.  The trail was unlike any trail I’ve ever hiked, at the time, and started on a boardwalk through the forest ending with rocky cliffs and great views.  The water was the most brilliant color mix of blue and green I’ve seen to date and trees were growing out of the rocks, holding on for dear life. It is a fun fact to say you've been to the most northwest point in the lower 48, and I like to bring it up whenever I can. Lake Crescent was the start of everything amazing about the Olympic Peninsula and Cape Flattery kept the momentum going, but it didn’t stop there.  We visited Ruby Beach and caught a moment of sun as we climbed over the driftwood to get to the shore.  Before Ruby Beach, we drove down the Hoh Rain Forest road and back, without spending much time there due to weather. We had lunch in Forks, at Pacific Pizza and the waitress asked us if were there because of Twilight.  Kevin and I had no idea what Twilight was and Molly politely said "no" and explained to us that it was a book and movie that was all the rage, apparently.  We left the peninsula feeling fulfilled by all the natural wonders and in search of lodging to rest up for the beginning of a long drive home the next day.

THE NORTHWEST TO HOME

We stayed at a Best Western in Chehalis, WA and enjoyed an evening of hot tubbing and drinks. Do you see a trend yet? We met some random people in the hot tub from Wisconsin who were into solar energy or something which was neat. It’s always fun to run into people from where you are, or in that general area. The next morning we drove south down I-5 to Portland for a quick visit. This was the first time I’d visited Portland and I was already in love with the surrounding area so why not fall in love with a major city too? We parked in Chinatown and walked all over including to Pioneer Square, which is one of the centers of the downtown area. We walked around for a little while before heading back to the freeway north to Seattle. Once back in Seattle, we visited Pike Place Market again before heading east on I-90. The day was sunny and the trees through the Cascades were dusted with a fresh snow. It was one of the most scenic mountain drives we’d had on the trip, making the Rockies look like a sad cousin. We found food at a town in Eastern Washington and moved on through Idaho and into Montana.  The snowy weather of Idaho turned into clear skies in Montana with temperatures at or below freezing.

Around midnight, while Kevin and I were resting, we ran out of gas. We were just east of Missoula near Drummond, Montana where Kevin and I pushed that little HHR about a mile down a ramp and service drive into a gas station. We were lucky the pumps were on, filled up, and continued on our way towards Wyoming. We stopped at Devil’s Tour to take a gander at it around 10 AM and pushed onward to Mt. Rushmore. We were getting loopy and saying stupid things at this point due to sleep deprivation - it was time to be home. Mt. Rushmore was a bust, and we all concluded it was bigger in the movies so we kept driving. Now, I don’t know if it looks better in a close up fashion, but it really doesn’t interest me to find out. Overall, we were not impressed with South Dakota on this day because of general tiredness and not much to see along the freeway. I’m sure if we had time to explore, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but we were driving fast and avoiding stops to get through. I noted in our travel log that the cows of South Dakota do not appear as happy as the cows in California. We stopped at a Culver’s in Sioux Falls for dinner, though, so that was cool. We crossed the Mississippi River around midnight and made our way home uneventfully from there.  Whenever we return the rental car from one of these trips, the people always ask if one person put on all of these miles and we always lie, smile, and say of course.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Part three included some of my favorite memories from any road trip taken at the time. We went from snowstorms in the Rocky Mountains to freezing in the desert to a gloomy west coast and back. We had moments of sunshine which is a metaphor for the trip. Nothing is perfect and not everyone can hold their most positive attitude, but we pushed through and made the best of everything. We saw some spectacular views and have so many memories that I often think about to this day. I learned a lot of tricks from Molly about clever ways to remember things from the trip like taking photos of campsite posts and signs as well as restaurants and information boards. Part three included less overall photos than 2008, but had more thoughtful photos and painted a better overall picture of the trip. We had a better, more detailed travel log which really helps me remember funny moments or little details a lot easier. This was the last year for being under 25 so we had that to look forward for future car rentals and road trips.  It was amazing to share the road with my best friends and spend quality time exploring the United States. “The United States is big” is one quote from Kevin I have when he was very overtired and as silly as it was, it’s the truth. We drove nearly 7000 miles and only saw bits and pieces. These trips always leave me wanting more, which is why next week I'll highlight the fourth adventure in this series.  After the fourth road trip, things changed and we grew as people and moved on in life.  Come back next week for part four!

Mike’s Highlights:

  • Camping in Arches
  • Driving through Monument Valley
  • Camping in along the Loneliest Road in America
  • Viewing the Lost Coast of California
  • Hugging a Redwood
  • Hiking Cape Flattery
  • Seeing Portland, OR

#WayBackWednesday - Part 2 of 4: The Four Trips that Started it All

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QUICK FACTS

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What: MMK XC Tour Part Deux
When: 2/28/2008 - 3/9/2008
Where: Across 18 states
Who: Mike (me), Kevin (friend & roommate), and Matt (friend & roommate)
Vehicle: 2007 Mercury Grand Marquis (it was an "upgrade" and a gas guzzler)

FIRSTS

  • Pacific Ocean
  • Redwoods
  • Death Valley
  • Las Vegas

STATES

  1. Michigan
  2. Indiana
  3. Illinois
  4. Iowa
  5. South Dakota
  6. Wyoming
  7. Montana
  8. Idaho
  9. Washington
  10. Oregon
  11. California
  12. Nevada
  13. Arizona
  14. New Mexico
  15. Texas
  16. Arkansas
  17. Oklahoma
  18. Missouri
 
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INTRODUCTION

A lot can be learned in one year and that is certainly true with road trips and other forms of adventure.  We had a great time in 2007, saw plenty of random places, had some first time experiences, but ultimately wanted more for our next trip.  In 2008 we follow through by researching and planning stops at more places, adding destinations along the way, and driving even further than before.  More notes were recorded, more observations made, and more photos were taken to remember the experience a little better that the year before.

Since the last trip, we’d all moved in together and were officially roommates in a house in the suburbs of our college campus.  Living together made planning the trip easier and definitely created a new dynamic.  Before, Kevin and I had only seen Matt occasionally and now we all shared a house together every day.  We had a countdown in our kitchen, had purchased stuff to take with us, and spent evenings reminiscing about 2007 in preparation for the next big adventure.

GRAND RAPIDS (home) to SEATTLE

The first leg of the trip was going to be a long one.  We wanted to get out west as soon as possible and we knew it would require about 32-36 hours in the car.  We left on a Thursday afternoon and arrived in Issaquah, Washington on Friday very late, probably technically Saturday the first of March.  We didn’t have any concerts or stops planned between Michigan and Washington, except to see if Mt. Rushmore would be open whenever we sailed through which happened to be 4am when it was definitely closed.

It was sunny and cold in Michigan, with our giant car packed and the mixed CDs stashed, we were on the road headed south towards Chicago.  We made it through the Greater Chicago area, onward to Iowa in the afternoon.  This year was no different than last year with the winter storms rolling through the plains days before and the roads being residually icy.  We saw more semi trucks and cars still in the ditch this year but made it through unscathed.  Day quickly turned to night and we were rolling with as few stops as possible.

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We entered South Dakota in the early morning which meant no Mt. Rushmore but we did see every star in the sky as we cruised at 84 MPH down I-90.  I made a specific note about the speed we set and about how surprised I was at the night sky throughout South Dakota. One more thing thing to note about the sparseness South Dakota -- we almost ran out of gas and it was hilarious and made our hearts race.  We were driving along, through the darkness and the gas light came on.  We pulled into one place, which appeared to be open or at least have their pumps on, and none of that was true so we had to get back on the highway and keep looking.  We were searching on our Microsoft Streets and Trips the best we could, but not finding much anywhere ahead and so we just set the cruise down to a more conservative speed and kept our eyes open.  The outlook was grim and we had accepted our fate of running out of gas in the middle of nowhere when out of the darkness there was a shining light of angelic proportions (not really, but you get the point) and we exited the freeway to open gas pumps!  It’s funny how things work like this, stay tuned for a less fortunate story from the road trip of 2009.

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We drove through the northeast corner of Wyoming and the pink sunrise hit the snow dusted hills in a magical way.  A breakfast and Walmart stop was made in Gillette, and we marveled at the decoration on the side of the building being a scene with bison.  We thought it classed the place up a bit.  Moving right along, we were in Montana before we knew it.  The beauty of Montana, when we started to see the mountains, was remarkable and the pictures we had did it no justice.  Upward and onwards into the narrow bit of northern Idaho we went and were amazed at the scenic drive through Coeur d’Alene. Spokane, which was noted as one of the cleanest places we stopped, was fun to briefly explore. We had to keep pushing through, as this was the point in the trip when we started to get tired of the car and each other.

Tensions were high, attitudes were flared, but we kept going as it got dark and we hit the Cascade Mountain range.  The extra large, rear wheel drive Mercury Grand Marquis was not handling well when we hit slushy weather at Snoqualmie Pass.  It didn’t get any easier moving forward nor did the weather let up, but Kevin was driving like a champ.  He steered us through it all and landed us down in Issaquah without dying!  We checked into a Motel 6, slept it off, and started March with a better outlook and better attitudes.

SEATTLE TO OREGON

Seattle was a dream and I can remember meandering through the city like it was yesterday.  I can see the buildings, the streets, the marketplace, everything.  The weather was cloudy thus making it the stereotypical day in Seattle for our first visit.  We drove through the tall buildings looking around and trying to find a place to park.  We parked at Pike Place Market and explored that area.  The outside smelled like fish and sea air while the inside was warm and cozy.  We got coffee and a mug from the first Starbucks store and then made our way around walking to the Space Needle and seeing Komo Plaza among other things I can’t remember or name from the photos.  This area of Seattle is full of museums, points of interest, and sights to see.  After making our way back to the car, we drove past Safeco Field and then hit the freeway.

We took I-5 down towards Olympia and picked up US-101 towards the coast.  I noted in our book that gas was expensive on the west coast, and about $3.44/gallon in Olympia.  As we drove through Washington, we got our first glimpse at the sun and also the greenery that is the Pacific Northwest.  Our first major stop after Seattle was a the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s safe to say this was our first National Wildlife Refuge and it was a great way to start off the scenic tour that was the Pacific Coast.  Highway 101 through the wildlife refuge was beautiful and curvy and we stopped so many times to get photos.  Leaving the refuge, the highway went down through a few more towns and a tunnel (exciting) before the Megler-Astoria Bridge into Oregon.  The bridge is a spectacular sight - green and mighty and spanning between the two states.  We were officially in Oregon and I was officially in love with the Pacific Northwest.

THE OREGON COAST

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Starting from Astoria and going down the coast, we were in continuous amazement at every mile.  Our first big stop was at Arcadia Beach.  It was the late afternoon and it was our only Oregon stop for the day, since starting in Seattle.  We spent an hour on the beach taking photos and soaking up the views.  It was a sun drenched afternoon but the temperature was cool and the wind strong, which made the beach even better.  My kind of beach day does not involve baking in the sun or having to take my shirt off, so the Oregon Coast has my vote for beach day any day.

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We drove a bit further down the coast and decided to stay in the Econo Lodge in Newport, Oregon.  It was halfway through the state and a good starting point for the next morning as we headed into California.

I still remember the morning leaving Newport along the coast - dewy, moist, foggy, sunny, and magical.  The smell was fresh and the breeze a bit chilly as we headed south with the windows open.  From this day forward I became OBSESSED with Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific Coast, and everything related to those things.  From Newport, the magic of the Oregon Coast continued with our next stop at Devil’s Churn.  Devil’s Churn has been a highlight of the Oregon Coastline that I tell everyone about.  It’s an inlet, very narrow, into a cliff where the sea crashes in and sprays.  On this trip, it was easily one of the coolest things we saw.  We spent a good chunk of time at Devil’s Churn before continuing south towards California.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA TO LAS VEGAS

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As we crossed the border into California, we saw a liquor store called All Star Liquors.  We were in need of some libations for our hotel later, so we decided to stop in to see what they had.  We were astonished to see the prices the lowest we’d ever seen, and we stocked up.  I only include this tidbit of information as it is important to know we stocked up at later hotel stays when said liquor is consumed. We stopped at a few places, that I can’t quite pinpoint, and then landed at the Redwoods.  This was our first National Park on the trip and we were awestruck.  We went to the Big Tree wayside, walked a little on a hiking trail and drove the Newton B. Drury scenic drive in full.  The size of these trees was beyond comprehension and our necks were sore from constantly looking up.  Spending the day along the coast and in the trees left us ready to relax so we spent the night at a Best Western in Eureka, California.  This hotel was an upgrade for us from our usual Motel 6 or similar style property and we took full advantage of every hotel amenity.  This place had an indoor/outdoor pool, a hot tub, a sauna, the most comfortable beds, and free breakfast.  I remember this hotel specifically for the pool, though, because we thought it was so cool that we could swim outside, under a half wall of glass.  This trip just kept getting better and better and we were on cloud nine by this point.

We departed the next morning with San Francisco as the destination.  We took Highway 101 South and made our way through the Humboldt redwoods and even drove through the Chandelier Tree in Leggett.  Instead of continuing down 101, we opted for California 1 down the coast.  On this route we curved through coastal trees, encountered free range “happy cows” along the road, and experienced the tourism of small coastal towns.  CA-1 was taking forever, due to the little towns, so we took a road through the mountains, through Boonville, and back to 101/I-5. The Golden Gate Bridge Recreation Area was our next stop.  We walked around the fort, took photos of the city and bridge, and just enjoyed the fact that it was a sunny afternoon in the highlands.  From the highlands we descended into the city to explore before having to go find a hotel for the night.  We ended up in the Business District for a couple of hours until making our way back to the car.  San Francisco was a lot like Seattle, large and overwhelming but beautiful and different for us small city people.

We found the freeway out of town, into Silicon Valley, and decided to find somewhere to eat first.  We went to a Chili’s.  Kevin ordered a Labatt Blue (a popular Canadian beer we got in Michigan all the time) and the lady took the order with Matt and I’s and hurried off.  She came back with our beers, and asked Kevin “what’s in a Labatt Blue, our bartender has never heard of it!”  We looked puzzled, laughed, and explained it was a kind of beer.  Apparently, California doesn’t get Labatt Blue, or didn’t at the time of this trip.  It was our first taste of regional differences and it was just notably funny for us.  We ate our food and moved along to King City to spend the night in a Motel 6 and break open that liquor we purchased.  We drank, we were merry, and we played quarter bounce on a nightstand - oh to be young.  I think we went to bed, after wandering to a gas station for snacks, the details of the night are fuzzy at this point.  Death Valley and Vegas were on the agenda as our next big stops, but we had to get there first.

We woke up in King City and headed south a bit more and then east towards Bakersfield.  We were trying to get closer to Death Valley, but didn’t have a real plan for that other than just driving through.  It took all day to get to Bakersfield and through the Kern River Valley to Ridgecrest, so we’d be positioned for a quick morning drive to spend the next day in Death Valley.  The Kern River Valley was a real treat and we got a taste of the Giant Sequoias famous in those parts.  The drive along the Kern River was winding and sunny and was a welcomed surprise after the almond fields and brown landscape around Bakersfield.  Ridgecrest was back to brown, but we spent our time at the bowling alley and in our hotel room enjoying more libations.

We woke up and got to Death Valley National Park in the late morning.  It was cool and breezy, though very sunny.  We entered the park at Panamint Springs and drove to Stovepipe Wells and then down to Badwater Basin.  I’m going to preface this next part by saying that I personally had no idea the desert could be in bloom or that it was an event treasured by many.  Flowers started to appear the closer we got to Badwater Basin and eventually it was a sea of yellow.  The desert was experiencing a major bloom and we just happened upon it at the right time.  We saw the lowest point in North America and then started our journey out of the park and on to Las Vegas.  We exited and drove through a town called Pahrump, NV and had to laugh because we’re children inside.  After a long day of driving, exploring, and desert surprises we checked in to the Mirage in Sin City.

LAS VEGAS TO MICHIGAN

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We decided to stay at the Mirage hotel because of my suggestion.  My grandparents used to stay there for conferences and I’d always get stationary from them so it was a familiar place and the price for a room wasn’t too bad either.  The room had strip views, was on a high floor, and had two beds so we were all set.  Never had we ever been to a party like Las Vegas.  The casinos were one thing, we had casinos in Michigan, but the ability to publicly drink and walk around was mind blowing.  The “literature” and “trading cards” that were being handed out were obscene and amazing and the whole energy was overwhelming in a good way.  We went to Paris and got souvenir Eiffel Towers filled with daiquiri and margarita and wandered up and down the strip.  We swam in the Mirage pool the next morning before departing for the Hoover Dam, and I remember it being brisk and refreshing and cooler than we anticipated.  The Hoover Dam was impressive, and we got to see one of the turbines out for repair which was rare.  At this point in time, they were just starting the new bypass bridge and it was neat to see the construction.  We moved along with Flagstaff as our next stop.

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The sun was setting behind us, the air was growing cooler as we moved forward, and we were almost to Flagstaff when we were pulled over.  Reading back to the previous post, I failed to mention that while in Texas were pulled over for doing 78 in a 70 and were issued a written warning.  It was funny, but we slowed down.  This time, we were going about 72 in a 70 and were pulled over on I-40 just a few exits before Flagstaff - when the elevation really climbed and the trees were plentiful.  We did all the right things: had our hands visible, Matt had his license ready, and we had our rental paperwork.  The officer took Matt’s license and started the routine and asked Matt to step out of the car and answer questions at the patrol vehicle.  The conversation started off normally with the usual “do you know why I pulled you over?” and “where are you headed?” questions.  We were told going 2-3 mph over the speed limit was dangerous, as there were deer in the area.  Then, it got weird.  The officer asked if were on drugs or had any drugs in the car, to which we replied no.  He asked why we had the strong scent of a pine air freshener in the car and we had to explain that three guys on a cross country tour really can stink up the place.  The officer kept pressing about the drugs and if the air freshener was a cover up for the drugs we were smoking.  The only drugs we had were my prescription and some alcohol, which were both in the trunk, so we started to just feel very uncomfortable.  He finally let us go when we didn’t change a word we said.  We were issued a warning for going over the speed limit (by 2 mph) and sent on our way.