I’m a little overloaded this month with work, so I’m going to share an old series of Way Back Wednesday posts that I created at the end of summer. These posts celebrate the four big road trips that cemented my love for the adventure and seeing as much as I can on an adventure. There are four posts linked on the page below, choose your own adventure! I’m hoping to get back to regularly scheduled programming in a couple of weeks, once my big project wraps up. Until then, please enjoy some of my favorite memories in this crazy life!
I know, I know… What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Pfffft… unless it’s funny. In May of 2013, my dear friend Ashley and I set out to meet in Vegas. I had moved to Texas in 2011, and she was still up in Michigan, so this was a fun way to hang out somewhere new! So, we planned it out - the hotels, the activities, and the adventures. My best bud Kevin was coming as a surprise, and surprising Ashley is nearly impossible. Seriously, this girl can figure anything out! Anyway, Kevin and I boarded our Southwest flights from Dallas Love Field and were headed to Las Vegas. We landed and headed to baggage. Ashley had landed before us and told me to meet her there. I gave it away in a text, but she was surprised nonetheless. Mission accomplished. Story over! JUST KIDDING. Enjoy some photos! These events are not in any order, so don’t try to piece it together. Also, this is probably one of my all-time-favorite trips simply because of how ridiculous things got - with the surprise, the drunken nights by the fountains, and our adventurous hotels. I know Vegas isn’t for everyone, but I sure do enjoy the flashy absurdity every now and then.
We had street beers…
We did a lot of random shit the first day, which made us “sleepy”
We “fell asleep” instead of going to see Mystere, oops… I think Ashley went and actually fell asleep at the show, but I can’t be 100% sure because I was passed out on the far bed in this photo.
Kevin flew home, after changing his flight to a day later so we could have more day drinks…
Ashley and I drove to the Hoover Dam, then on to the Grand Canyon. NEAT. (may have also stopped at Lake Mead)
We did Vegas things at night…
We watched the Bellagio fountains A LOT… Usually with some alcohol. We sang along, we laughed, we made fun of people, we had so much fun.
We went up in the fake Eiffel Tower and saw the fountains at the Bellagio again.
The best part was how many times we heard “My Heart Will Go On” at the fountains - including when we were up in the fake Eiffel Tower.
We stayed at Circus Circus, after two fabulous nights at Treasure Island. This was Circus Circus pre-renovation, so it was SHITTY.
We stayed at Golden Nugget, also, and went down the water slide in the shark tank! We did the Fremont Street stuff too, and enjoyed more drinks of course.
We had all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch AND got to-go mimosas for our adventures.
We saw other, prettier things in Vegas, and had drinks.
I am quite lucky to know people with amazing places to go when I want to escape the real world for a little bit. Through my best friend, I have access to an off-the-grid cabin in Northern Minnesota near the Boundary Waters. I may have already gone on and on about how amazing this place is, so I’ll just say it is probably my favorite place to go ever. I met Kevin in the dorms back in 2003. We became good friends and he invited me up to the cabin in the summer of 2004. Since college was done for the summer, he was back in metro Detroit and I was in my hometown on Lake Huron in Northern Michigan. The plan was that he’d swing through my town and pick me up one night and we’d drive through the night to arrive in Duluth at dawn. Unknowingly, this trip set up a lifetime of loving the night drive and road trips. Kevin picked me up, we made one stop to buy a new digital camera in the neighboring town’s Walmart, and we were off. I remember getting to Duluth, being tired from the drive, but excited to see Minnesota. After a nap, I met his aunt who owned the cabin and her friend Marie. We had a nice day exploring Canal Park and had bonfire on the beach that night. I want to say that we slept on the beach that night, but my mind is a little foggy on details. The trip was off to a great start. When we did finally head up to the cabin, we strapped the canoe on the minivan and headed up the North Shore. We stopped very little on the way up, saving some scenic spots for our return trip. Kevin had made this drive and been up here annually, so this wasn’t all new to him like it was to me. Looking through the photos, I’m shocked there weren’t more. Back in 2004 we had cell phones, but not nearly the connected lives we have now so I’d be willing to say I appreciate what the cabin is so much more now. I’m so excited to be heading up there tomorrow, escaping the emails and text messages. Enjoy some photos from that virgin voyage in 2004. Here’s to hoping there are many, many more.
This is a place we frequently visit when at the cabin - it has a nice clearing and is great for pondering the mysteries of life, grilling, camping, or just enjoying a trail beer.
Road trips have been a favorite thing since way back when. In college, my buddy and I would just get in the car and drive until we had to be back for something important. There were nights we’d end up hours from Grand Rapids, MI in Indiana or Northern Michigan. One of these nights, we had the brilliant(ly stupid) idea of driving around Lake Michigan. It was a random March night and we though it would be fun to see if we could make it around the lake in one shot. By this point in time, we had already had many nights of driving to the Mackinac Bridge and back, down every road in our county and surrounding ones, so we were well adjusted to staying up all night blowing money on gas for no reason. We were fueled by coffee, stupidity, and a lack of direction. These trips, these night drives, would eventually lead to our our spring break road trips, and many other adventures along the way.
Here are a few shots of us breezing through Chicago. Notice the excellent photography skills and attention to photo framing; obviously documenting the trip was less important to me back then.
We started before midnight, and pushed through to the next day. We were getting pretty tired by Northern Wisconsin, and I think we stopped for Hardee’s somewhere before entering back into Michigan. We were good at fighting the exhaustion, it was almost a game, and we’d get second and third winds which led to louder music and rolling the windows down allowing the icy air to blast through the car. This was freedom.
Temperatures were around zero and the morning sun was beginning to show. You know that feeling of false warmth you get from the sun on a cold day, we didn’t feel that because that’s how cold it was. We had a stockpile of caffeinated products and the need to get back home so the sunrise was just further encouragement.
We stopped several times to take photos of the sun over Lake Michigan as well as at a little rest stop where a thermometer nailed to a tree read just above zero, which we believed was a lie. I might mention, at this point, that we were doing all of this in a 1991 Dodge Caravan that my buddy inherited from his mom when she got a cooler car back in the early 2000s. This van was a beast, all wheel drive, and made it through an unplowed turnout, with a little help from one of us pushing.
We made it back to our respective dwellings safely and probably passed out, I cant’ be sure because we could have also went to class. This may have been the first time we drove around Lake Michigan, but there were more brilliant(ly stupid) adventures to come.
In 2017 I had planned to take a solo trip to Utah with two main stops: Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument. The trip went from a solo adventure to a BFF adventure and the points of interest on the “must see” list expanded just a little. I was excited, because why not share all of the beauty Utah has to offer with someone who gets me and who I hadn’t seen in months or more? We had an excellent trip and saw plenty of beauty, but the one place that stands out in my mind is Cedar Breaks National Monument. The vistas, the hike around the rim, and the drive to and from the monument are all burned into my memory. I still think of the views, over a year later. I must get back!
I arrived in SLC on Friday, as did my BFF Molly, and we spent the night in a southern suburb. Saturday came, and was spent driving and exploring the route from SLC to Bryce Canyon. We caught a sunset at BC and headed to Cedar City for the night. The original plan was to catch the sunrise at Cedar Breaks, but we got there a little after. The sun was up and the place was illuminated. We started at Point Supreme Overlook and were amazed. We hiked the trail along the rim out to Spectra Point. Standing out on Spectra Point is a moment in my brain that I’ll never forget and would never want to forget. After taking it all in, looking over the edge, and smiling a ton, we made it back to the information center.
I have never felt a rush quite like the one I felt hiking out to Spectra Point. It was exhilarating, breathtaking, and liberating all at once. I have not felt a rush like that of walking along the rim since then. Enjoy a few photos from the trip and feel free to comment/connect with questions or your stories regarding Cedar Breaks!
I’m not sure if I have discussed this adventure in another post or not, but here we go (I have, it was the very first #WayBackWednesday)… It was seven (7) years ago, my best friend Kevin moved to Houston for a job. I had moved to Texas the year before, near Fort Worth. It was a pretty cool feeling to have someone who is chosen family in the same state. On January 15, 2012 I was in Houston, hanging out with Kevin before he had to work off-shore for a while. This is the guy you may remember from the four big trips that really got me into road trips. We decided we needed some spontaneity in our lives and that we were going to do something wild and crazy because growing up was really taking a toll on us with schedules, bills, and other responsibilities. Neither of us had been to Saguaro National Park, and it was really only a 15 hour drive; ONLY!? we used to do that all the time back in college. We set off without a real plan, just driving west on I-10 with “fuck it” attitudes and the only caveat being I had to work in a couple of days. It was on.
We left at night, which was another thing we liked to do, because to hell with Houston traffic and any other people in our way. I don’t remember much from the drive to Arizona, but I do remember these things:
Seeing the sign for Kerrville, TX and thinking Kern River or thinking that Tim Allen said this on some episode of Home Improvement. Don’t ask, because that is all I remember.
West Texas was just as wide open at night, we were speeding for sure.
The border check point lights were the brightest lights ever (we didn’t cross into Mexico, but there are many checkpoints as you get closer)
This was the closest to Mexico I had ever been and that was weird, despite going to Canada while living in Michigan my whole life
We may have stopped at a hotel near San Antonio, but it could have also been on the way home or not at all. Who knows!?
We arrived to Saguaro National Park at some point in the late morning. It was a rainy, gray day but the park was still cool. We didn’t get to hike through anything because of the rain, but we did drive through the park and enjoy the views and moments when the rain let up. We decided to stay in Tucson that night, and got a room at the Hampton Inn. We promptly filled the sink with ice, got a case of beer, and proceeded to enjoy ourselves. I don’t have notes on this trip in the travel journal, but I do remember the ride home being long. We saw immigration bust a u-turn in the middle of I-10 to assist in a pull-over and I think got Taco Bell and/or Starbucks in El Paso. Again, it’s a very fuzzy trip to me.
A conversation with Jen, check out her page, really inspired me to write about this. I saw the “on this day” post in Google Photos, talked with her, and really wanted to keep it real and feed the nostalgic side of adventure. I haven’t been as spontaneous or adventurous as I was in the past, and it has to change. I have shied away from things I’m “afraid” of such as challenging trails or access points, various trips, or local opportunities. It’s time to take back REAL LIFE and make some real adventurous choices. As I work on that, enjoy some more photos from that hazy trip Saguaro seven Januaries ago.
Visiting Bryce Canyon during the summer was a dream come true. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I did get to go and I got to spend the weekend with my BFF. We drove into Bryce Canyon and went directly to Rainbow Point at the end of the scenic drive. We did a little hike around there and hopped back in and stopped at every scenic turnout back to the entrance. We ended the quick day trip at Sunset Point before leaving the park. The day was a whirlwind, as we drove from Salt Lake City that morning. I had only been to Bryce Canyon in the winter, so seeing it thawed and glowing of pink and orange was something special. Enjoy these photos - I hope they transport you to Utah and you find some inspiration for your next trip!
Click here to learn about the people who lived on the lands known as Bryce Canyon National Park before any white settlers even found it… Always remember to respect the land and the history associated with the land. If you visit Bryce Canyon, remember to leave no trace. Click here for more info on how to visit a place and leave no trace.
I’m looking back to July of 2016 and a spontaneous trip up to Michigan. This was during a transitional period for me when I was working a contract position that was seven days on and seven off - which was great for road trips! Part of me misses that schedule but I don’t miss that job nor do I miss the hours, but I do miss seven days off in a row. That summer we went to Michigan a few times, went to the Redwoods, and plenty of local excursions. Enjoy some photos from the family cottage in rural Northern Michigan and think back to a good time!
Last year we made the trek to Michigan to spend Christmas with my family. This year, we’ll be heading up to Alaska to see my other half’s family. Next year, I swear I’m staying in Texas. Here’s a look back at a few highlights from that trip last year. Whatever you celebrate, or don’t, I hope you have a great couple of weeks ahead.
I didn’t get to stop and see everyone on this trip, but I did get to see a lot of people. So thankful to have the problem of too many people and not enough time.
And, of course, the family time was nice. It was the last Christmas with our grandfather, so I guess it was meant to be that I finally got up there for a holiday. The kids were fun and everyone was happy to see us out-of-towners.
I’ll miss everyone this year, but we’ll get to see more family so it’ll be alright! Happy Holidays!
It was ArtPrize 2010, a city wide art festival, and my dear friend Ashley and I had made the rounds. These are some photos from the afternoon/evening in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I lived in Grand Rapids from 2003 to 2011 and I genuinely miss the city. These photos take me back and make me think of all of the good times, as well as all of the learning experiences, I had while moving from adolescence to adulthood. Do you have a city or hometown you miss? Would you ever move back? I’d move back to Grand Rapids in a heartbeat, if the situation was right. If you ever get a chance to go to Michigan, I highly suggest hitting up the great food and brews/wines in Grand Rapids.
It was the winter of 2015 and I had some time on my hands. We had already visited Alaska for Thanksgiving and though why not run through Michigan and Minnesota around Christmas. We visited my family in Rogers City and then up through the Upper Peninsula. One of the best places we stopped was Tahquamenon Falls on the east end of the peninsula. The path was snowy and icicles were prominent, making it all even more beautiful. Enjoy a few photos and escape into the winter wonderland that is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Three years ago, for Thanksgiving, I went to Alaska to celebrate turkey day with my other half’s family. I was recently laid off from my job, had no prospects, and thought it was a good time to make a trip. I had never been that far from “home” and I was completely excited. I had no expectations for the trip - but was hoping for snow. We arrived to a cold, wintry scene in Anchorage and it only got prettier each day.
As we prepare to head back up there in December, I’m hopeful for more snowy adventures. Enjoy some photos form my first time in Alaska.
We’re going back to Caprock Canyons State Park last year at the end of September. This was a quick weekend camping trip that included a hike to Fern Canyon (a must-see if you’re at Caprock) and some other adventures with bison and spiders. Camping varies there, but there I’d recommend anywhere but near the lake as you’ll have more space between spots. Primitive looked best, but we just car camped at one of the tent only areas. Enjoy some photos!
Looking forward to fresh air hikes soon! Here’s a look back (again) at Olympic National Park from the spring.
My process for Way Back Wednesday:
Create a huge list of possible ideas, become determined to pick something
Forget about the list and just scroll through all of my photos until something just speaks to me
I love to plan things out, but I hate sticking to a plan. Whatever. Here are a few shots from Arches National Park this past August that stood out and whispered through the digital waves to share them again. Arches is easily one of my favorite places and I see it differently every time I visit. Enjoy this week of Way Back Wednesday that doesn’t go WAY back at all.
I’m working on being more positive and upbeat so here are some photos from my trip back in March to the beautiful Olympic National Park in Washington State. When I need a moment at work, or anywhere else, I just try to remember my three glorious days in the trees and on the beach in the Olympic Peninsula. What do you do to take mental breaks? Where does your mind wander in a daydream? Feel free to share your magical places. Have a great Wednesday and week ahead. You’ve got this!
This is going to have to be a quick post, but it’s my website so I can do whatever I want. This week has been busy, but let’s throw it back to March of 2015 at the Grand Canyon. My other half and our best friend Nikki set out on a road trip (which will be featured eventually - it’s a work in progress) to see the Grand Canyon, Vegas, and Zion. Here are a few photos from the South Rim on that cool March morning.
It was August of 2013 and my other half had a little time before starting back at college so we took off for the west coast. The drive from Fort Worth to Portland is about 31 hours so we decided to break it up a little with a stop in Arches National Park along the way. We set out in my car on a Tuesday night so we could breeze through Texas and make it to Arches in the daylight. We hit Albuquerque at dawn and enjoyed a quick stop for coffee and food. On the way to Arches, we stopped at Wilson Arch to get our first taste of red rock in Utah.
Arches was amazing, as always, and welcomed us with sunny skies and plenty of wind. We drove to the scenic sights and did the little trail by Balanced Rock. We didn't spend a lot of time at Arches, but the little we did was beautiful. Onward! Our next stop was for dinner and coffee in Salt Lake City. We visited Temple Square before heading out for our last leg to Portland.
Our first time in Portland, back in December of 2012, we stayed a classy downtown hotel and and ate at nice restaurants. This time, we stayed at the Howard Johnson (the Ho-Jo) out towards the airport and ate at medium to low level places. We were trying to keep it cheap and interesting all at once. I purchased a Groupon for a beer tasting at a local pub and we enjoyed dinner there. The Portland Japanese Garden was a gorgeous space to visit and was one of the highlights of the trip.
From Portland, we headed west towards the coast with a stop at the Tillamook State Forest center along Route 6. It was neat to learn about the forest and walk up to a forest tower. Our destination for the night was Coos Bay at a Super 8. We stopped at a few spots on the way to the hotel including Cape Lookout State Park, Devil's Churn, and a few roadside viewpoints. The hike at Cape Lookout was longer than we though, as we didn't really plan well for it, and we managed to get confused going back up from the beach. The weather was misty and gray, but finally cleared a little as we neared Coos Bay. Once at the hotel, we ordered pizza and crashed after the long day.
We woke up and headed back north towards Portland. We were going to explore the city a little and then attend a concert the next day featuring two of our favorite bands together. The concert was a Mississippi Studios and the concert was one of the most memorable of my life. Said the Whale and Kopecky (known then as Kopecky Family Band) were two indie rock bands that played their hearts out ending our days in the northwest. We left after the concert to head back to Texas, with a detour through Colorado just for fun.
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)
- Virgin River Gorge
- Bryce Canyon
- Desert snow storms
- Hotwire hotel
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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
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
- Camping in a National Park
- Portland, OR
- Olympic National Park
- South Dakota
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!
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
- 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