So we decided to take the trip of a lifetime (a lifetime of a middle class family with not a whole lot of money to blow). Shane and I planned a 2 week trip ‘out West’. At the time our kids were ages 11,13,15. (adventurous aren’t we?)
First off let it be said you cannot get through this trip in 2 weeks unless you are flying and maybe a little nuts.) We were driving the whole way. We left Ohio in our rental SUV that we named Ginny because the license plates were from Virginia. (Cheesy but it was a ‘fun family vacation’)
We carefully studied our route on our AAA maps and printed pages from Expedia.com. Being the anal planner that I am, I wanted to make sure we had a plan and stuck to it.
Our plan was to go through Ohio to Indiana to Illinois on I90. We carefully planned around the Chicago area not wanting to get caught in rush hour or ‘the big city’. So we went around the South side. Let me just say that coming from Ohio, the state with 4 seasons….Winter, Spring, Fall and Orange Barrel….this was the WORST construction I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
It literally took us 2 hrs to get through that little stretch of highway in Chicago. Also, bring lots of change for the tolls. I bet with all the tolls they collect, every few miles I may add, they could feed a nation.
We then finally got off the highway to get gas. Plus we all needed to get the heck out of the car, especially Shane who is so not a traffic person or a crowd person. Let’s just say that at venues with lots of people, we tend to leave him at home.
We regrouped knowing that the rest of the trip would be an absolute breeze! **Isn’t it funny how we used to think $2.79/gallon for gas was insane?**
MC had the ‘way back’ seat, Kaylee and Alan had the row behind Shane and I. Even though she was packed in with luggage, coolers and snacks MC was quite happy back there listening to her music in her own space. The plan was of course, to let everyone have a chance at the ‘way back’ so they could each have their times of solice.
Bouncing along the highways of Wisconsin in heavy traffice, Shane was about to burst a blood vessel with all those ‘morons’ on the road. (No one in the universe drives to his liking) We decided NOT to drive straight through to the Badland (our first SCHEDULED stop. As it turns out, even when you factor in time zones and miles and map after map….when you are driving out in the Mid-West in the middle of absolutely nowhere….it takes much longer to get from Point A to Point B. Maybe it’s the rolling hills I don’t know. But if your map says 300 miles to go….it’s NOT going to take the normal 5 hrs, it’s gonna take you 8.
We spent the night at a Best Western somewhere in Wisconsin. We left the hotel and headed West. We saw signs for the Mississippi River coming up. Neither Shane nor I had ever been past there so this was exciting. (you know you’re getting old when this excites you)
Ao we were coming to the river, we pulled off the highway and we all got the cameras out! We were finally here at the Mississippi River! We pulled into a little town and gained access to the river bank from a little park area.
Camera’s in hand, we walked down to the bank. HOW COOL! We marveled at the floating houses and watched the pleasure boats.
We called my parents back home to express our joy! We wrote in the sand and collected rocks and sand from our milestone! It was extremely exciting! We took TONS of pics!
Happily we got back on the highway. A few minutes later we saw a big sign stating we were approaching the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River? How can this be? We were just there! We even walked on the riverbank!
Well, as it turns out, we were actually at the BLACK River. LOL. Tourists! So we once again exited the highway to visit the REAL Mississippi.
On the road again, we stopped at what is billed as a huge tourist attraction in South Dakota. The ‘CORN PALACE’. A really cool little town, I wish we would have listened to the literature and stayed there our first day. The ‘Palace’ itself is really just a huge gift shop complete with everything imaginable made from corn. I could have spent a couple hours just looking around. Corn on the cob microwave popcorn, corn jelly, corn everything you could possibly imagine.
TRIP TIP? If you are traveling through the Mid-West or anywhere in the West make sure you take sandwiches. The stops for food are few and very far between! It was 11:30 am in S. Dakata and I asked if anyone was hungry. “No”, everyone including me said, “We can wait a while to eat!”
Well, that ‘while’ turned into 5 HOURS. We ended up stopping at a gas station that had a little diner on the side (Thank GOD). They sold buffalo burgers, regular burgers and fries. We loaded up, gorging ourselves and filled up on big giant pops for the next 5 hours of our trip. (Oh, and that would be 5 hrs with no visable towns, exits or rest areas)
We had to pass the Badlands or risk getting in too late to our hotel in Custer. We ended up getting in late anyway because the stinkin’ AAA as well as the Expedia directions….told us to take a left turn instead of a right turn…in the Black Hills…..in the dead dark of night…on the winding roads…with Shane driving. Enough said. I swear to God it’s very frightening in them thar hills in the dark going 75mph on hairpin turns.
We arrived at the Best Western Custer around 11pm. It was dark, we were exhausted. Shane was wired. When we woke up in the morning it was like a dream. The hotel (which we couldn’t see in the darkness) was nestled in the valley of the Black Hills near Custer State Park. The day was crisp and cool. We all got our free continental breakfast (love those!) and packed the car for our next leg. We were off to Custer State Park to see all the wonderful wildlife we had read so much about. Wildlife abounding….dancing in the hills…eagles in the sky!
Far from it. Although the drive through the park was very serene and relaxing we didn’t see any wildlife except a few buffalo, deer, a vulture, a heron and a hawk. All of which we can see at home except the buffalo. LOL.
OH, and there were a couple of mules at the ranger station that were cool.
We got directions from the ranger to get to Mount Rushmore. On our map he showed us the ‘scenic way’ which we elected to take. It was roughly 15 miles or so I believe. It ended up taking us over 45 minutes to actually get there. As it turns out, the ‘scenic’ way (although beautiful) is 3x as long as just hoping on the highway. LOL. So after a beautiful drive along some roads that turned into one lane (shared with both directions of traffic), we finally got to Mount Rushmore!
I’ve got to say it’s WAY smaller than what it looks like on t.v.! But it’s still very neat! It astounds me that they carved that moutain like that without breaking off a nose or an ear or something. If I was carving that I’d be like…oops, can I get another mountain?
So it was a good day in S. Dakota but time to leave (the schedule! the schedule!) On the way out we saw a ‘ghost town’ which was just a bunch of old buildings from different places moved to that area. They gave tours but we didn’t take one because we figured it was never like a real town or anything. Instead we toured this really cool underground gem cave place. We had to take an elevator down a couple hundred feet and it was really cold down there.
We then headed off to our next stop, Cody, Wyoming. Now let me tell you, Wyoming doesn’t have very many people. I’ve since come to learn that it’s like the least populated state. Beautiful scenery but OMG very very empty and ‘dead’. We drove through the Little Big Horn Mountains which were pretty high in elevation. Very cold up there. Had to whip out the sweatshirts. About 50 degrees compared to 72 at the bottom. Nowhere to eat for MILES again, just like South Dakota.
I was driving this time. The kids were arguing and everyone was hungry. Everyone wanted to switch seats but MC wasn’t budging. She had claimed her throne. Finally we hit a rest stop! Ahhhhhhh. But unfortunately there were only toilets and no food. You know how some of the rest stops have like restaurants or at least vending machines? Yeah….this wasn’t one of them.
So we drove a couple more hours and came across a little bitty town and in it had a….SUBWAY! None of my kids liked subs much, but too damn bad. If they were hungry they were having subs.
Back on the highway. It was weird because you’re driving along going 75-80 mph out in the middle of nothingness and then all of a sudden a little town pops up right along the side of the highway (like the road literally runs through the town) The kids are all complaining and Shane and I just really want to get out of the car. It was one of those ‘rip your hair out’ situations.
Still flying along the highway, suddenly there’s a little sign “reduce speed ahead”. We must be coming to another little town. And in like 2 minutes, I’m not kidding, not even enough time to reduce the speed….here’s a town. And a cop. And the flashing lights. I was about to tell him to just arrest me. Just take me in. Just give me the damned ticket. But he was nice and let me go! People are nice in Wyoming. (My darling Middle Child was kind enough to snap this pic)
You know when you’re driving and it’s so hot that the road ahead looks steamy? Well that’s how it looked for miles and miles with the mountains in the background. We could see a city in the distance but like a mirage it never seemed to get any closer. It seemed like we drove forever.
We finally pulled into Cody, it was beautiful! It reminded me of books I’ve read as a kid…like an old western town only it wasn’t like all dusty and yucky. It was clean and lots and lots of shops.
Our hotel was the Best Western Cody (Sunset?) From the outside it didn’t look like anything special but it was a great setup inside! There was a master with a bath. On the other side of that bath was a second bath & on the other side of that a big bedroom for the kids with 2 doubles. Very spacious and clean!
From Cody we headed off in the morning to Yellowstone National Park. It was a fairly short drive. We stopped along the way to enjoy some nature and in many of those areas there were signs warning of bears. We were hoping to see one, yet not hoping to see one. We knew though that we’d see one in Yellowstone because that place is packed with wild animals! Roaming freely, just like on the National Geographic Channel. Bears all over, buffalo, birds we only read about in books, bald eagles, elk, moose, wolves…gosh the list is endless. We were all psyched and ready for Yellowstone!
We came through the gates and it was under construction. The elevation was like 10,000 feet (no guard rails of course). There were huge RV’s and buses coming the opposite way. I figured we’d probably die in Yellowstone. The first family to like ever fall off the edge. And then we wouldn’t see any of those animals we came to see either! We finally got into the park. We were there, oh, maybe 10 minutes, leisurely driving behind who Shane termed the slowest person in the world, when a bird flew right in front of our car and smashed into the grill. It flopped off to the side of the road. We were heartbroken. Especially Shane who is a birder in his spare time.
Yellowstone is a very beautiful and serene place. The scenery is stunning. We stopped to see Old Faithful, who was over 20 minutes late. Everyone oo’d and awed over it though. I kept thinking it would be just our luck that that one volcano that hadn’t erupted in like 5 million years would blow while we were there.
We still hadn’t seen any stinkin’ wildlife like we had hoped. Lots of crows but we can see those at home. We pulled off to see a waterfall and a couple on a Harley said there were a couple buffalo in the road up ahead. So we jumped on that and started to drive. We were extremely excited to finally see a wild animal even if it was just a buffalo.
Sure enough there was a big one and it’s baby in the road just walking like they didn’t have a care in the world. It was so cool to be right next to those beasts. I got out and snapped a couple pics and it started to rain. Before you know it, there’s 8-10 buffalo walking down the center of the street. Now that was sweet…or so we thought. They ended up stopping traffic for 2 1/2 hrs. Again we found ourselves hungry and in dire need of a restroom. Going nowhere extremely fast. By the time we got out of that mess and the kids had been at each other, complaining and fighting endlessly….I was in tears. (This was not the ‘Cleaver family’ vacation I planned! LOL)
We decided to go out the Northern Entrance rather than the Western one because turning back would take 3 more hours. I didn’t have 3 hours of sanity left that day. So we headed north and into Montana. (off the scheduled itinerary! Oh My! LOL) But it was great. Quiet, spectacular and amazingly beautiful. I think they call it ‘God’s Country’ up there and they are right….if He lived on Earth, it would be in Montana.
Nevada was scorching hot and a smooth ride on the highway (until we saw a trooper coming head on at us. Apparently it was his way of warning of something ahead. Scared the crap out of us). Then a storm came from nowhere…tumbleweeds flying all over…very ‘Wizard of Oz’ like. Very freaky.
Soon we came to California! Like Lewis and Clark we were almost on the shores of the Pacific! It was hard enough doing this in an SUV…I couldn’t imagine a canoe and hiking. Yikes!
Driving in California was a nightmare. Steep elevations, everyone going 90 mph up winding highways in the mountains and no guard rails. Insanity at it’s finest. Shane was driving and my foot was pretty much indenting the dashboard hitting ‘the invisable brakes’. Silently freaking out looking at the steep drops. Shane says, “Ahhh just close your eyes and go to sleep”. That only made things worse because like most people my hope is that when I die, it’s in my sleep.
The traffic was insane all the way to San Francisco. We got in at night about 8:30pm. We stayed in Pacifica just a few miles from San Fran. It was hard to see our exit through the thick fog. Pacifica was a sweet little town right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the hotel, the Holiday Inn Pacifica was right on the beach. The hotel room itself was not that wonderful. Fine but nothing special. All the vending machines were broken so we had to run across the street for snacks. The service was horrible and the key cards didn’t work. But, we could wake up and watch the surfers from our window and the had fresh baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies every day! And there’s nothing like walking on the beach on a cool day with a hot cup of French Vanilla Coffee. We all got to unwind and the kids got to play in the ocean. It was freezing but good. We stayed two nights.
We went to San Francisco by TAXI the next day. ($200 round trip but well worth it to my sanity)
San Fran is a cool place! The water, the wharf, the museums and shops, the trolley, everything was great! We took a double decker bus tour. Well worth the expense! We could have stayed a couple days there. Maybe next time. Chinatown was neat but filthy. Someone was living in the womens restroom downtown in a park and pretty much marked her territory with feces. It was so nasty we almost puked.
The next day we drove to Meir Woods to see the Redwoods. It was drizzling and MC ‘didn’t know’ she had to bring her hiking shoes. I guess she wasn’t listening when it was announced ‘we’re going hiking by the big redwoods tomorrow’! Then again, what kid actually does listen when we talk? I think we sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher most of the time like “wa, wa, wa, wa,wa.”
After getting to the pacific coast it was bittersweet to have to leave but we had to press one! Our next stop? The Best Western Mojave! Whooo Hooo!
It was cool to travel on or alongside Route 66. A lot of our route from here on would be that way. The Mojave hotel was beautiful. So clean and spacious. The suite was really nice and the coutertops in it’s kitchen were more expensive than mine!
After eating mainly at fast food places like A&W (can someone PLEASE tell me why they don’t have those in Ohio? They need them in Ohio!) and Subway, KFC etc, we finally came upon an actual restaurant. We finally had a decent solid meal!
The next morning, we got up and studied our map. We needed to get to the Hoover Dam which was about 2 hrs away. Actually factoring in the fact that we took the wrong direction and landed up in San Bernadino (my fault even though we both read the same map), it ended up being about a 4 hr drive.
Hoover Dam was neat. I figured it would be boring but it wasn’t. We hung out there in the sweltering heat and welcomed the A/C in the dining area. We got a huge hot dog called the “Dam Dog” that came with a sticker so that everyone would know we ate one.
Our next stop was my favorite, Sedona, AZ. We arrived at the Sedona-Real Inn and settled in for a few days. Rest, relaxation, peace, quiet, no eyeball rolling and no bickering! And Shane could golf! I’ll check out the various vortex areas of spiritual energy, we’ll relax in the hot tub and swim in the pool. We’ll dine and the Red Planet Restaurant (more real food!) and shop! We’ll also take a jeep tour (highly recommended!) to Montezuma’s Well to see the ancient ruins and the lands upon which the Apache were so painfully driven from so many years ago.
Sedona is a slice of heaven. It was a very familiar place to me. So much so that I’m pretty sure that I may have lived there in a former life or something. We also visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross which is a stunning chapel built into one of the Red Rock mountains.
During one of the days in AZ we ventured to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which was great since the North Rim was on fire and closed. We spent a couple hours there which in my opinion is all you need unless you are going to hike down. We took a lot of pics. It was scary to hear about all the ‘accidents’ people have there (falling over the edge). So of course that little tidbit somehow encouraged the rest of my family to stand as close as they could to the edge for photos.
On the way back we stopped at several Native American stands selling gifts. Beautifully crafted items! We wanted to buy directly from them and not from a store that sells the items and keeps a portion of the profits. We’ve done enough to these people, let’s let them make what they deserve for God’s sake.
Reluctantly we had to leave for home. By this time we just wanted to ‘get the hell home’. If Shane had his way we would have driven straight through but I thought….”Since we’re here…why not visit the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert?”
Actually both were very pretty. Although I had pictured the Petrified Forest a little different in my minds’ eye. All it was is a bunch of trees fallen from God knows when, that petrified where they fell. You can’t take samples from the ground, but you can buy them for a hefty price at the gift shop.
The Painted Desert was so cool. Very pink! It amazes me how beautiful America really is!
When we hit Texas all we smelled was manure. Maybe it was cattle ranches I don’t know but it was a horrible smell. We decided to stop for the night in a town called Shamrock. The Best Western was booked and we had to stay in a crappy motel. I left most of my body clothed all night for fear of any critters. Couldn’t wait to get out of there!
We then blew through Oklahoma and stopped at a huge McDonalds that looked so cool from the outside. The restaurant actually spanned over the roadway! Good food but really nasty bathrooms! I could hardly believe that a huge chain like that wouldn’t have a nicer bathroom.
Shane let me hang around long enough to buy a mug real quick. I collected mugs from all our stops.
Through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, almost home! We took a vote that evening in the car and decided to go ahead and spend the night in Indianapolis. And after the kids pried my foot from the dash again we all got to relax.
We left in the morning and were home 4 1/2 hrs later.
I’ll add one more thing….well maybe two. First I found it odd that no one driving in other states gave a nod or wave when they were let into traffic. There is no courtesy at all. Except in Ohio for some reason.
And also Ohio has the best highway rest areas of any state by far!