Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Great Western Adventure: Days 18-24

Interested in what we did before we got to the Grand Canyon?
Days 1-4: Chicago, The Corn Palace, The Badlands, and Wall Drug
Day 5: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Devils Tower 
Day 6: First Day in Yellowstone 
Day 7: First Camping/Kayaking Day in the Grand Tetons 
Day 8: Second Camping/Kayaking Day in the Grand Tetons 
Day 9: Back to Yellowstone and Visiting Old Faithful 
Day 10: The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lamar Valley
Day 11: Kayaking on Lake Yellowstone
Day 12: The Roosevelt Arch and the Old Faithful Inn
Days 13-14: Driving to the Grand Canyon, Parts I & II
Day 15: Fossil Walk, Condor Talk, and Lightning!!
Days 16-17: Hike into the Canyon, Pictographs, and Four Corners

Day 18: Pike's Peak and Denver

We took a short drive over to Manitou Springs to take a cog train up to the top of Pike's Peak. The train was a really neat way to see the scenery of the mountain and the area below the mountain.


I couldn't believe that it was about 30 degrees cooler on top of the mountain than it was below. Thankfully I had my fleece!


We had a short break on the peak to take a look around and get a snack.


On the way up the guides were raving about the popcorn at the snack bar, so of course we had to try some. It was decent popcorn, but nothing you can't get anywhere else.


We saw more people doing stupid things on the side of the mountain, which sadly was par for the course for our trip across America.


Unfortunately the train ride down wasn't as enjoyable as the ride up. Shortly after getting on the train, I fell asleep, which isn't abnormal as I can fall asleep pretty much anywhere. I was jolted awake and then proceeded to feel lightheaded and started sweating profusely. After a struggle, Nick was able to take all of my things off of my lap so I could put my head between my knees. Needless to say, the people that were sitting across from us were a bit worried but thankfully didn't make a huge deal out of it and instead kindly opened the window so I could get some air. The biggest lesson we learned on this trip is that my body is overly sensitive to elevation, especially elevation changes.

Once we got off the train we were on the hunt for a good lunch spot. Manitou Springs is a small hippy town, much like New Hope if you're familiar with Bucks County, but more quaint. We found an organic cafe of sorts called Naturally's and I scarfed down the most delicious lunch. It was called a Black Diamond Burrito and had quinoa, millet, rice, beans, cheese, greens, cilantro pesto and a side of fruit. It was just what I needed after the cog train episode.

After lunch we drove to Denver for an oil change and then after freshening up at the hotel, took a cab into town for dinner at Table Six, which turned out to be one of our favorite meals on our trip. Everyone there was so genuinely nice and were super excited about our roadtrip. And the food was delicious. I got the best fried chicken I have ever had in my life! They tipped us off to a trail along a canal, so we headed there for a nice after-dinner walk before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Day 19: Driving from Denver to Broken Arrow, OK

Now we start the boring days of non-stop driving with the reward of delicious meals at the end of each leg to keep us going. To keep us interested throughout the drive, I downloaded Roadside America, an app that alerted us to quirky roadside attractions. Right outside of Denver, we came across the World's Wonder View Tower, which claimed that you could see 6 states from the top of the 65 foot tower.


This place is like the set of a horror film.


There are manikins in the windows of the tower and a bunch of crap on tables outside of the front entrance.


Despite the fact that the door said that they opened at 9:00am, it wasn't open when we arrived there at 9:30, and I quickly ran back to the car to get out of there.

Once we got into Kansas it started to get seriously hot. The temperature gauge read about 110 degrees and I was very thankful that our car was barreling through like a champ. We stopped in Oakley, KS, for lunch at Don's Drive-In Cafe, where apparently only Don was working as it took over a half hour to get our order of a grilled cheese, cheeseburger, fries, and their specialty, fried pickles.

By the time we got to our hotel in Broken Arrow that night, it was still in the 90s. Yuck.

Day 20: Driving to Jackson, MS

The drive from Broken Arrow to Jackson was pretty uneventful, except for our lunch stop in Little Rock at a restaurant entirely patronized by "ladies who lunch."

We stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn in Jackson, which I highly recommend if you happen to find yourself going there, as it has a locked parking garage. Jackson, or at least the part of Jackson that we saw, was pretty rough. The store space in the entire block across from the hotel was for rent. We got super lucky though as our hotel ended up being one block away from the restaurant that we had found for dinner.

Amen for Parlor Market, the saving grace of Jackson. We had the most delicious meal, complete with pre-prohibition cocktails (I had the Hemingway Daquari) and southern style. Everything we had was amazing: trout salad, strip steak, and rabbit, and then we got to the dessert. Oh wow, the dessert. We ordered the "Walk Down Memory Lane," which came in an old metal lunchbox and included assorted homemade childhood treats like an ice cream sandwich, pop rocks, a key lime push up pop, a brown butter Rice Krispie treat, and a chocolate mousse Snack Pack. If you are anywhere near Jackson, brave the frightening landscape and go to Parlor Market. You won't be disappointed.

Days 21-22: St. Simon's Island, GA

We had another day of driving ahead of us, but at least we would be arriving at a fun destination at the end of it: St. Simon's Island, Georgia, for a friend's wedding. We stopped in Montgomery, Alabama, for lunch at a farmer's market cafe. Montgomery was much cuter and nicer than Jackson and, from what we saw of it from the car, is what I imagine when I think of a southern town.

Along our drive, we saw this amazing sign.


Somewhere between Montgomery and St. Simons we encountered a bird dog statue marking the town as the Field Trail Capital of the World.


There were actual signs on the road pointing people to this statue.

We finally arrived at St. Simon's Island, where the groom grew up. It was such a cute, small beach town where everyone seemed to know each other. We cleaned up quickly at the hotel and then walked across the street to the lighthouse, where friends of the bride and groom gave speeches and told stories about the pair. It was a great time. Afterwards, Nick and I took a walk and ate a slice of pizza outside. It was the perfect summer night.

The next day, Nick and I walked over to a flea market, had some lunch in town, and then walked down the island to find a beach for a quick dip. The beaches are all eroded, so you had to walk up a set of stairs that led to a landing and then down another set of stairs that went directly into the water. It was so much different than any beach I have ever been to! The water was so warm and refreshing after our long walk. After a bit, we packed up and walked back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding.

The bride and groom are both ministers (the groom actually married me and Nick), so they pretty much did their own ceremony. It was so thoughtful and so them. The reception was held at an outdoor public park a short walk from the church. After feasting on a wide variety of ethnic foods, we danced like idiots for the rest of the night. It was a great night.

Days 23-24: Driving to Raleigh, NC and then Home!
After saying goodbye to St. Simon's, we were back on the road, only this time heading north! We stopped in Savannah, Georgia, for lunch, but being a Sunday, we had the worst trouble finding somewhere to eat that didn't have a crazy long wait.

We were originally bummed that we'd be in Raleigh over Labor Day weekend and wouldn't be able to go to our favorite restaurant there, Big Ed's. We happened upon Big Ed's the first time we visited our friend Steve in Raleigh and every time afterward we have made sure to go. You get a ton of delicious southern food for like $7. Thankfully Steve made it up to us by taking us to The Pit, an authentic Carolina barbecue place. It was seriously amazing. And I tried moonshine while we were there, which was surprisingly not strong at all. We are definitely going back there the next time we visit Steve. Along with Big Ed's, of course.

The next day was our last day of driving! We left Raleigh early not knowing what kind of traffic we would run into around Washington, DC. Strangely enough we ran into almost no traffic, so we decided to swing into DC for some quick sightseeing. We attempted to see the Lincoln memorial, but the traffic patterns there are so labyrinth-like that we ended up circling around 5 times and then gave up since there was no parking anyway.

Somewhere along that stretch of road, we saw this awesome sight. Yes, that is a dog on a motorcycle with doggles on. This was the most interesting thing we saw during that drive.


Thankfully we had dinner reservations at one of our favorites, Woodberry Kitchen, in Baltimore. We like Woodberry so much that we once drove there for dinner on a Saturday night without staying in Baltimore. Yes, we drove two hours there and two hours home just to eat their delicious, delicious food.

And they didn't disappoint this time. After being forced to eat so much fried crap in middle America (it was seriously all there was a lot of the places we went, especially for lunch), we were thrilled to eat fresh food. We ordered an appetizer that consisted only of slices of tomatoes and a few greens. The meal was almost like a cleanse. You may have heard of Woodberry if you watch the Food Network Show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate. For their dessert episode, Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes and Ace of Cakes talked about Woodberry's CMP.

The CMP is a delicious small glass layered with malt ice cream, chocolate sauce, marshmallow fluff, and wet peanuts, topped with a disc of sugar like the top of a creme brulee. We get it every time we go!

Back on the very familiar 95, we made the last two-hour drive in the rain, and then arrived home tired and happy with the thought of sleeping in our own bed. Flick was so excited that we were home that he drooled all over me (he does that from time to time) and didn't leave our sides for a second. All told we traveled 7,447 miles, which Nick was very happy about as it is a palindrome.


We had such a great time and created so many fun memories that we still bring up every now and then almost a year later. I'm so glad that we were able to see so much of the country by driving. We saw so much awesome stuff! We're in the process of brainstorming our next big trip for next summer. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Great Western Adventure: Days 16 and 17

Interested in what we did before we got to the Grand Canyon?
Days 1-4: Chicago, The Corn Palace, The Badlands, and Wall Drug Day 5: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Devils Tower  Day 6: First Day in Yellowstone 
Day 7: First Camping/Kayaking Day in the Grand Tetons 
Day 8: Second Camping/Kayaking Day in the Grand Tetons 
Day 9: Back to Yellowstone and Visiting Old Faithful 
Day 10: The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lamar Valley
Day 11: Kayaking on Lake Yellowstone
Day 12: The Roosevelt Arch and the Old Faithful Inn
Days 13-14: Driving to the Grand Canyon, Parts I & II
Day 15: Fossil Walk, Condor Talk, and Lightning!!

Day 16: Hike into the Canyon and Pictographs

We woke up super early this morning in order to take a bus to the Kaibab Trailhead for a 7:00 am hike into the canyon with Ranger Eric, who happened to originally be from Lancaster, PA! Ranger Eric stopped us every so often along the trail to point out nice views, or what he called "ooo-ahhh" points, and to tell us some information about the different rock layers. He liked to say that we were going back in time on the hike, because we entered a different era of rock each time we descended lower into the canyon. The different colored bands of rock are each from a different era.


At about 1.5 miles down, we got to Cedar Ridge.


What an awesome view! We are all nerded out with our gear, which I was very thankful to have. After a bathroom and snack break, we started back up so we could get back up to the top before the shade went away. The last part of the trail was composed of a bunch of switchbacks. Can you see the tiny people on the trail?


Here I am battling the switchbacks.


By that time it was near 11:00 am and the sun was hot. Thankfully we got back up to the top without too much trouble.


After checking with our families, we found out that little Flick was just fine and that no one had any damage to their houses. We then felt relaxed enough to spend the afternoon napping and reading. It was a nice change of pace from the constant fast pace that we had kept up until this point on the trip. 

A little while later we took a short walk down the Bright Angel trail to find the pictographs on the canyon wall. They have blurred over time.


At the start of the trail we saw some more great warning signs.



We took a walk around the rim over to the artist studio that sits on the edge.


After a relaxing dinner and some more lounging, we turned in early to prepare for another early start the next morning.

Day 17: Driving to Colorado Springs

After a quick breakfast at the Bright Angel, we were back on the road at 7:00am heading north to Colorado Springs.


Before we pulled out of the parking lot, we made sure to fill up all of our Nalgenes with water from this free (FREE!) natural spring tap. It was delicious water.


On the way, we stopped at the Four Corners Monument, which is the intersection of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. The other people that were there were simply standing on the intersection, but not us! We had a limb in each state!


Supposedly this isn't even in the correct spot, but let's just pretend that it is.

We saw some neat scenery on this drive, but not much else happened! We had a lot of trouble finding a place to eat dinner, so beware if you're ever making this trek. We ended up scarfing down some pizza at a restaurant next to our hotel in Colorado Springs and then crashing in bed, per usual.

Next Up: I almost pass out on Pike's Peak!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Great Western Adventure: Day 15

Interested in what we did before we got to the Grand Canyon?

Day 15: Fossil Walk, Condor Talk, and Lightning!!

We woke up early and went on a Fossil Walk led by Ranger Robb. While we waited for everyone to gather for the walk, Ranger Robb told us about his personal attempt to haze the squirrels at the Grand Canyon with a water gun. People have been feeding the squirrels so they get really close to people and sometimes bite people, which is a problem because they still carry the plague, as in the black plague that killed half Europe's population in the 1300s. So if you're visiting the Grand Canyon, don't forget to chase the squirrels away!

Ranger Robb showed us the fossil beds on the Rim Trail that are evidence that the land around the canyon was once under water.


After lunch, Nick and I took a bus to the Yavapai Geology museum, about 20 minutes away from our cabin, where we saw illustrations of how the canyon was formed over millions of years. It's pretty complex and after so much time I don't remember the exact details, but it involved an inland sea, the Colorado River, and erosion. From the museum we were able to see the bridge at the bottom of the canyon that allows hikers to cross over the Colorado to get to Phantom Ranch, the only lodge on the canyon floor.


In the afternoon we attended a Condor Talk by one of the other rangers, who explained how condors were reintroduced at the Grand Canyon after being almost extinct. There are now just fewer than 500 condors in the world, many of which live at the Grand Canyon. The most fascinating thing that she shared with us was that they discovered that some of the condors were nesting in the same place as condors did 10,000 years ago. I believe they knew this because of fossils or bones, but I can't be sure. Sadly we didn't get to see a condor, which has a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet! We did see this pretty little guy.


After the talk we got some ice cream to tide us over until dinner. While we were sitting by the canyon enjoying our snack, we saw a squirrel come up right next to a woman who was also sitting and eating a snack. She then asked her husband if she should pet it, and he said yes! As I saw her reach out her hand about to touch it, I involuntarily yelled, "NO!" and she looked startled. I explained that the squirrels can carry the plague, and she replied, "I know." WHAT?! People amaze me.


After picking up the Grand Canyon version of the "how people died here" book and a book about the Fred Harvey Company, which was partly responsible for the Grand Canyon becoming a tourist spot, we spent the afternoon relaxing in the cabin. Just as we were getting ready to head to dinner at El Tovar, a crazy lightning storm blew in. Ranger Robb had warned us that lightning is pretty deadly around the rim, so we opted to drive over to the hotel instead of taking the short walk.

We were seated in a room that had an entire wall of glass facing the canyon and we were able to watch the crazy storm throughout our meal. It would have been awesome if I hadn't been so worried about what was happening back at home as the hurricane barreled through our area, along with the tornado warnings that had popped up on top of everything else.

We retired early for the night in preparation for an early morning hike into the canyon!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Great Western Adventure: Days 13 and 14

Having crammed as much of Yellowstone as we could into 5 days, we left and drove to the Grand Canyon!

Interested in what we did before we left Yellowstone?

Day 13: Driving to the Grand Canyon, Part I

Before we left Yellowstone, we took a tour of the historic Old Faithful Inn. On our way from our cabin to the Inn, we saw this little guy posing on the boardwalk.

2011-8-25 660

It was August 25th and we just happened to be there for their Christmas in August celebrations.

2011-8-25 1760 

Apparently on August 25th in the early 1900s, Yellowstone had an unseasonable blizzard, snowing in the guests at the Old Faithful Inn. Ever since then, the park has celebrated Christmas on August 25th, having all of the staff dress up in reindeer antlers and Santa hats, and the stores play Christmas music and sell Christmas-related goods. It was pretty fun to happen upon such a celebration.

The Old Faithful Inn is like a giant treehouse, complete with a mini treehouse near the roof inside!

2011-8-25 1715 

You can see the treehouse in the upper right-hand corner.

2011-8-25 1724 

2011-8-25 1690 

Our tour guide told us a whole bunch of fun facts about the history of the Inn. The weirdly shaped pieces of wood that make up the railings are all limbs from diseased trees. The architect drew a picture of the shape of limbs that he wanted for the railings on the back of a shingle and sent the workers out into the woods to gather similarly shaped limbs. It was the first rustic style lodge built in a National Park. The famous El Tovar and Bright Angel at the Grand Canyon, which we later visited, were inspired by its design. I highly recommend taking a tour if you ever go to the park.

2011-8-25 650

From there we started our two-day drive to the Grand Canyon. On the way out of the Old Faithful area, we dropped our postcards in their tiny post office, complete with this hilarious sign.

2011-8-25 1800 

As we drove through Jackson, Wyoming, we saw this arch made of shed elk antlers.

2011-8-25 1853 

There is an elk refuge there that has a great advertisement on an AM radio station. You MUST listen to it if you're driving through.

We also started to see a change in the landscape as we got more into Utah.

2011-8-25 1899 

At some point during the drive, we came across this sign, which was super helpful because we thought we were on 89. It turned out that to stay on 89, you had to take a left at a stoplight less than a mile before this sign is posted. We had missed it because we were trying to find somewhere to eat!


After a long day of driving and dinner in Salt Lake City, we crashed at a hotel for the night.

Day 14: Driving to the Grand Canyon Part II

After a quick continental breakfast (isn't it the best), we got back on the road to finish our drive to the Grand Canyon. On the way we had to dodge cell phone dead zones and make arrangements with my parents at home who were preparing for a hurricane. First an earthquake and now a hurricane! They got some seriously strange weather while we were away. When we stopped for lunch we heard on the news that they were evacuating NYC and shutting down public transportation. I started to get a bad feeling about being away while poor little Flick was home alone!

On our drive through Utah and into Arizona we passed by the Red Hills, Bryce Canyon, and Navajo Nation, although we didn't stop because we wanted to get to the Grand Canyon before dark.


We arrived at our cabin just before dusk and were able to take in our first views of the Grand Canyon (although the picture below was taken the next day).


If you've ever been there, you'll know what I mean when I say it is indescribably big, which is an obvious statement, but an accurate one. We spent the last few minutes of daylight taking in the canyon while we waited to be seated at dinner.

Up Next: A Fossil Walk and a huge lightning storm

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Great Western Adventure: Day 12

Since we're within the one year anniversary of our trip, I need to get a move on with these recap posts. Things should move a little quicker now since there wasn't too much to take pictures of after we left the Grand Canyon. But first, our last full day in Yellowstone!

Interested in what we did before our last day in Yellowstone?
Days 1-4: Chicago, The Corn Palace, The Badlands, and Wall Drug
Day 5: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Devils Tower 
Day 6: First Day in Yellowstone 
Day 7: First Camping/Kayaking Day in the Grand Tetons 
Day 8: Second Camping/Kayaking Day in the Grand Tetons 
Day 9: Back to Yellowstone and Visiting Old Faithful 
Day 10: The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lamar Valley
Day 11: Kayaking on Lake Yellowstone

Day 12: The Roosevelt Arch and the Old Faithful Inn

Nick and I woke up super early to drive from the Lake Yellowstone Hotel to a few areas near the north entrance. We stopped at a general store near Tower Fall looking for breakfast but didn’t find anything edible. What we did find was a fence made out of branches that had awesome designs on them from pine bark beetles! This is one of my favorite photos from the trip.

2011-8-25 505

We also visited the Petrified Tree before driving to the north entrance where the Roosevelt Arch is located.

2011-8-25 517 

 It reminded me of the people whose faces appear in the stone to report to the Gnome King in Return to Oz. Unfortunately I can't find a picture if you don't know what I'm talking about! I urge you to not show that movie to children though.

2011-8-25 524 

The arch is a pretty classy entrance to the park as the top of it reads “For the Benefits and Enjoyment of the People.” The park rangers like to remind visitors that the park is owned by everyone and that we should all take responsibility in preserving it for future generations. It got a little redundant, but it’s an important message in an age where things are replaced constantly.

2011-8-25 531

We took a quick stroll through Gardiner, Montana, and then headed back into the park to Mammoth Hot Springs, the largest hotel area in the north area of the park. It’s also the fanciest area of the park and the location of the first growing grass that I had seen in about a week. What a strange sight! Yellowstone must have groundskeepers working around the clock to keep these lawns and gardens flourishing, because nothing of this sort grows here in the natural landscape.

Our first stop was the map room in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. How awesome! It was a map of the US and every state was made from wood that came from that state.

2011-8-25 553

The pictures don’t do the map justice—it was hard to capture the different textures. It’s definitely worth seeing if you visit the park. Here's where we were...

2011-8-25 556

...and here's home, very far away! We live about 20 minutes from Trenton, NJ, which is marked on the map.

2011-8-25 564

After a very disgusting lunch (I would have much preferred a pre-packaged 7-11 sandwich, if that tells you anything), we took a walk around the Mammoth Hot Springs, which were apparently no longer active. We had been looking forward to seeing these but they were pretty boring and bland in person (it looks WAY better in our pictures for some reason).

2011-8-25 1470

It was well into the 90s that day. When we got back to the car I was feeling kind of sick due to lunch and the heat, so we decided to skip the short hike we had planned and went straight for a soak in the Boiling River. Sounds refreshing on a hot day, right? It actually was!

A short walk from the parking lot is a spot where a hot spring flows into a cold river. Over time, people piled up rocks along the river’s edge to keep the hot spring water contained, creating a natural hot tub of sorts.

2011-8-25 1525 

I remember seeing Bear do this on an episode of Man Vs. Wild. Thankfully the rocks were already there for us so all we had to do was walk in and sit. It was so refreshing! Look how happy I am now!


We sat a good distance away from the hot spring so the water was a refreshing temperature, but the other people in this picture were sitting with their backs almost touching the hot water (the greenish water in the bottom-center of the picture). I’m surprised they didn’t get burned.

2011-8-25 1510

The trail head to Boiling River includes a few signs that warn against the possibility that organisms that can cause Primary Amoebic Meningoenchephalitis and Legionnaire's Disease are present in the water. The signs instruct you to not submerge your head under the water as the organisms enter through your nasal passages. I can’t tell you how many people I saw dunking their heads! Just another example of how people don’t understand that Yellowstone is a wild place, not a theme park where there are no real dangers.

This beautiful scene was our short walk back to the car.

2011-8-25 1539

We spent the rest of the day driving through the park and stopping at the various sites along the way.

2011-8-25 580

We stopped at the Fountain Paint Pots, which weren’t nearly as good as the Artist Paint Pots, but did include a fun geyser called “Spastic Geyser” that constantly erupts. These neat trees were in the same area. We nicknamed them "The Clydesdales."

2011-8-25 639

For dinner that night we ate at the Old Faithful Inn, which looks like a really big treehouse. I had bison ravioli, which was delicious, with another $6 bottle of champagne! After dinner we wrote out postcards in the lodge and then took in a night viewing of Old Faithful erupting. It was so peaceful without the hundreds of people around. All you could hear was the night bugs and the water falling onto the ground.

Up Next: A tour of the Old Faithful Inn and then driving to the Grand Canyon!