Posts Tagged ‘Nebraska’
Like most vacations, I can now look back on the road trip Viet and I embarked on in July and remember it as a whole thing. But while it was taking place, each event felt episodic, inspired by the events that preceded it but still able to exist on its own. This is how I’ve chosen to recollect the things we witnessed in the Summer of 2014.
For the most part, we experienced sunny, often hot weather. 99ºF in Montana one day, 45ºF mornings in Yellowstone the next. Occasional light rain during our full day in Yellowstone. I dressed appropriately — light jacket, soccer shorts, hiking boots, with my iPhone for taking pictures and a bag of snacks and Gatorade in the back seat of the LaCrosse.
We drove over 3,300 miles and spent around $430 on gas. Spent only two nights on hotels, one in Salt Lake City (was not impressed with either the hotel nor Salt Lake City) and one in Denver (our first night on town; spent the next two as guests at the Girard residence). Camped two nights at Yellowstone, a place of such beauty and natural serenity I now believe everyone who is able bodied should make a point of visiting at least once in their lifetime, to spend at least one full day with nature. Camping, not RV-ing or staying at one of the lodges, is preferred.
That having been said…
SAC CITY: Start of our journey. Spent the night sleeping on two couches pushed together in my sister’s basement. Woke up with the sun and filled the gas tank with non-ethanol from 1 of the town’s 2 gas stations.
IA-20: Mostly a 2-lane highway west of Sac City. Gentle hills and decent NPR reception on a Saturday morning.
I-29 (SD): A rather bland 75 mph roadway heading straight north. Passed by Vermillion, no reason to stop there.
I-90 (SD): About a thousand bug splats on the windshield, matched by a thousand billboards hawking the wonders of Wall.
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK: Brief excursion along Highway 240. Takes about an hour to drive through and stop at a few choice turnouts.
WALL: The very definition of ‘tourist trap’. The Jackalope gag is cute but we didn’t see the huge fiberglass dinosaur. Can get a free “Where in the heck is Wall Drug” bumper sticker at one of the many gift tchotchke shops. Had a delicious buffalo burger at the Cactus Café, despite our waiter botching both of our orders.
RAPID CITY: Stopped only long enough to purchase bug bite relief cream at the enormous Cabela’s off the highway (my first time inside one).
KEYSTONE: Tiny little town at the bottom of a windy highway that attracts tourists like a light attracts bugs. Overpriced motel rooms, crawling speed limits and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Avoid if possible.
MOUNT RUSHMORE: To be honest, I was not as impressed as I thought I would be. If the Crazy Horse monument was finished, I would have gone there instead. If you want decent pictures, come during the morning or early afternoon.
CROOKED CREEK: Several miles west of Mount Rushmore. $32 will get you a campsite and access to bathrooms and showers . An extra $3 will get you an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Pay both with cash, if possible.
SD-385: we drove the 45 northernmost miles of this 1,206-mile highway that begins at Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas and ends in Deadwood SD. One of the coolest stretches of American highway I’ve ever had the privilege to navigate. Up, down and around the Black Hills in an endless mix of inclines, declines and sharp curves. Highlight was descending along the east side of Pactola Reservoir.
I-90 (WY): white knuckle driving at 80 mph. Occasional road construction. More bug splats on the windshield.
WY-14: Winding high plains road with many hilly fields and little civilization past Sundance.
DEVILS TOWER: Impressive rock formation hidden behind dozens of miles of beautiful Wyoming hillsides. Should be included in any Great Plains road trip itinerary.
SHERIDAN WY: Meh. Ate a late lunch at a Burger King, decided on a whim to escape Wyoming and drive up and through Montana instead.
I-90 (MT): Same 80 mph speed limit, but more maneuverable roadways. Trucks forced to drive slower in the right lane, which makes for easier passing. Beautiful view of the Crazy Mountains west of Billings. Exit at Livingston.
MT-89: beautiful valley route that ends in resort town of Gardiner.
YELLOWSTONE – NORTH ENTRANCE: Be sure to take a picture of the giant stone Roosevelt Arch leading into the park (as there isn’t a similar archway at the southern entrance).
MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS: Like a town within the park. Wild animals lounge in the grass along the roadway. Check out the multicolored terraces from both the upper and lower observation walkways.
MADISON CAMPGROUND: 6,806 ft. elevation. Less than $25 per night. Bathrooms but no showers; bear-proof dumpsters, and a fire ring for each campsite. Good luck finding ground that isn’t hard-as-rock dirt to pitch a tent atop of. Park rangers give a nightly presentation at the nearby outdoor amphitheater.
GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE: My favorite feature of the park. The view of the lower falls and the canyon is best seen from the upper deck at Grand View, but we also stopped at Lookout Point. Didn’t make time for Artist Point or Inspiration Point.
YELLOWSTONE LAKE: With over 100 miles of coastline, it’s the largest high-altitude lake in North America. Deepest point is over 400 feet, and the undercurrent is cold enough (even in summer) to cause hypothermia in mere minutes. Next time I go to Yellowstone I will try to camp at Bay Bridge, on the western side of the lake.
OLD FAITHFUL: A necessity for any visitor of Yellowstone, though it’s not as impressive as other features at the park. A magnet for annoying tourists. I would have been satisfied watching the geyser erupt from inside the dining area of the nearby lodge.
GRAND PRISMATIC LAKE: Steaming beauty. I felt a small sense of reverence walking silently around the site, witnessing a geological formation that by and large has no equal anywhere else on Earth. An absolute must-see for any visitor, far more so than Old Faithful.
GRAND TETONS: Directly south of Yellowstone along the Rockefeller Parkway; check out the entire range from the first lake overlook. Don’t be tempted to stop at the Jackson Lake Dam to take pictures; keep going until you reach the Potholes Turnout or Mount Moran Turnout, or go all the way to the parking lot at Jenny Lake Overlook for superior views. Also, don’t let temporary gates along the walking trails deter you; just sidewind your way down the hillside right to the shoreline, and enjoy the view.
JACKSON HOLE (WY): First city after leaving Yellowstone/Grand Tetons; everything is crazy expensive, especially the gas. Just keep on driving…
CARIBOU NATIONAL FOREST: tied with SD-385 through the Black Hills as the most beautiful route of the trip. 15 to 20 miles through the park and I don’t think there was a combined 1,000 feet of straight road. The pace was leisurely and I didn’t see another car the entire time.
SODA SPRINGS: Plenty of smooth asphalt roads and elongated street lights in the small Idaho town.
I-15 (ID): The geography changes from mountain greenery to southwestern sagebrush. Hot, hot, hot.
NORTHEAST UTAH: An endless sea of cities, concrete and billboards, much like I-5 from San Diego to Los Angeles. 12 lanes of Hondas and Mazdas leapfrogging one another. Set your cruise control to 5 over, stick to the middle lane and plow ahead.
SALT LAKE CITY: Stayed at a Super 8 and dined at an In-N-Out Burger in Midvale. Didn’t have time to take in the Great Salt Lake. Temple Square was locked down for the night but could still see the big white temple from behind the perimeter wall.
UT-6: Some pretty tight canyon driving, though it doesn’t last for long. Local drivers continue to speed by like maniacs on a mission.
UT-191: Desert driving. Long stretches of straight roadway flanked on the east by seemingly never-ending cliffs of eroded rock.
I-70 (CO): A picturesque stretch of up & down roads that largely follows the Colorado and Eagle rivers. Lots of fun curves and tunnels along a 65-mile stretch between Gypsum and Silverthorne.
GRAND JUNCTION: The most disgusting truck stop I have ever set foot inside of. Nearly lost my faith in humanity. Avoid at all costs.
LOVELAND PASS: Take the 216 exit and weave your way up the mountain range to 10,990 feet. Foot paths lead higher up, though I settled for walking over to a nearby snowbank and scooping up a clump of hard snow in my hand… in July.
DENVER: Largest ‘midwest’ city that doesn’t feel too expensive. I don’t think I drove more than 2-3 miles in any direction without encountering some manner of road construction.
PHO 96: $9 bought a bowl of ‘special rare flame mignon’ pho larger than my head. So incredibly %#?@*&ing tasty!
QUALITY INN CENTRAL: The first room didn’t have working A/C. The second room reeked of nicotine despite being labeled a non-smoking room. Slept great in the king-size bed. The front desk was woefully understaffed, the continental breakfast was subpar, and the neighborhood was sketchy. Would not stay here again.
16TH STREET MALL: Free MallRide buses continuously run up and down the pedestrian mall. Illegal Pete’s offers tasty and affordable burritos, with a full-service bar to the side. Browse the stores at the 3-story outdoor shopping mall or take a tour of the Denver branch of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. At the bottom of the hill is the awesome Tattered Cover Bookstore (cartography buffs like myself will enjoy the sampling of maps kept in the side reading room); at the top of the hill is the Colorado state capitol building.
BROADWAY: A variety of stores, restaurants, cafes and bars. Several cluttered used book stores (one of them also a coffee shop – great idea!). One of the highlights of our entire trip was seeing “Boyhood” at the Mayan Theater. The décor inside the main theater is amazing.
BROTHERS: Just like the Iowa City one – packed with twentysomethings. The only saving grace were the $1 well drinks.
THE RETRO ROOM: offers more than a dozen delicious vodka infusion shots in flavors such as pickle, pepperchino and bacon. Go here instead of Brothers.
LOWRY BEER GARDEN: hip bar/restaurant at the former Lowry Air Force Base. Three sides of retractable walls. Outdoor and indoor seating. Cedar Falls needs a venue like this ASAP.
TRACKS: $12 cover gets you an evening of deafening club music and black light drag performances. If you ask for water, you will hand over $3 for a 10-ounce bottle. Take it… you don’t want to be rufied here. On a positive note, the bathroom was clean.
I-80 (NE): Tied with I-90 through South Dakota as the most boring stretch of highway driving of the trip. The only attraction of interest was the highway-spanning Archway near Kearney, which we didn’t stop at. Maybe next time.
OMAHA: Nearly 11 years ago I lived here while student teaching, and remember my time there with some fondness. Had I not been tired and hungry from driving all day, I may have turned off the interstate and driven through a few neighborhoods.
I-80 (IA): Some familiar sights driving through Council Bluffs. I don’t remember southwestern Iowa being as hilly as it is.