Posts tagged ‘driving’

Home!

This morning I woke up at around 3:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep so I decided to go ahead and start driving toward home.

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The night’s sleep in the Walmart parking lot was uneventful, though Jessie said she heard a horn honk shortly before we left.  Maybe the horn contributed to my waking, probably more I was just excited to get home.

The sun rose as we were in eastern Washington, west of Spokane.  The Palouse is so beautiful, especially when bathed in the light of dawn.

But later we drove through an area where a massive wildfire that has been burning for the last few days.  A thousand fire fighters are fighting the blaze that has so far consumed more than 19,000 acres.  The smell of smoke still hangs in the air and it looks like another planet, so desolate is the landscape.

At Coulee City Jessie got behind the wheel and I slept until Leavenworth.  Then we gassed up for the final push over Stevens Pass and home.

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So here we are, home a day earlier than planned, but glad to be back to our familiar surroundings.  The trip was wonderful and we certainly have many great memories.

Tractors on parade

Leaving the KOA we were stopped by a long line of tractors traveling on the highway.

The woman who stopped us at the intersection told me they were from Iowa and were going to visit Hill City then were going to Mt. Rushmore.  There were 42 tractors, all driven by smiling waving grandpas, they were so cute!

Custer State Park to Mt. Rushmore

Today we drove into Custer State Park to look for animals and see the sights.

We drove along the Wildfife Loop which goes down and around the southern end of the park.  For a while we didn’t see anything but the first animal we enjoyed was a white tailed deer.  He was curious for the length of his tail.

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We were bummed we hadn’t seen any buffalo since last night we saw two of them beside the road, but then we noticed several cars stopped up ahead.  They were stopped to see a herd of buffalo grazing right next to the roadway.  A couple buffalo wandered into the street and walked right past us, which freaked out Sarah Michael, but they weren’t interested in us at all and didn’t bother us.

There were some young ones in the herd and they were very cute.

We continued on and enjoyed the scenery and more animals.  We saw lots more deer and also more donkeys.

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Then we followed the same path out of the park that I’d driven the night before with the RV.  It was great to see the route in the daytime.  We also learned the tight winding bridges are called the Pigtail Bridges and it was cool to actually see them, since last night I had no visual context.

We were also able to see Mt. Rushmore from the mountain road, another thing I couldn’t know at night.

So we made our way down the mountain and onto proper-size roads and then made our way to Mt. Rushmore.

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Mt. Rushmore is quite a sight.  It is exactly what I thought it would be, but it was still neat to see it in person.  We didn’t stay long at the monument, we took a few pictures and visited the gift shop.  In the gift shop I spoke to a woman who was sitting at a table signing books.  She was coauthor of a book about the mountain’s history, so I asked her a few questions then had her sign a copy for us.  I look forward to reading up.  For example did you know that there were nine major design changes to the mountain during construction?  Neither did I, but I don’t know the details yet.  I have to read the book.

South Dakota RV park finding

Our dilly dallying around in 19th century history in Wyoming meant a late arrival into South Dakota.  We had made arrangements to stay in Custer State Park and called ahead to let them know we may arrive a day early and we finally got to the campground around 1am.

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But not before seeing wildlife.  As we drove through the park towards the campground we saw some deer near the road but even better we saw two buffalo.  The first one we saw freaked us out, it was walking just next to a curve in the road and we both only realized what it was just after we’d passed its dark shape.  Jessie was thrilled, she may just get to see some wildlife on this trip.

Shortly before we got to the park Jessie realized that we had not booked a campsite with full hookups, instead it was electricity only.  That’s just not the way we roll.  So we pulled up an email from my friend Mike that recommend a good KOA resort near Mt. Rushmore.  I ran around and confirmed that the entire campground was in fact only had electric hookups, but we had to decide, should we stay here tonight and move in the morning?  I was still plenty awake from all the energy drinks I’d consumed during the drive so I decided to drive to the KOA and figured we could park in their lot until they opened in the morning.

The road suggested by the GPS navigation device took us out of the park to the north, not the way we had just come in.  As we turned out of the park a sign warned that the road ahead was narrow and steep and came with one-lane bridges and tunnels, the shortest clearance only 12 foot 4 inches.  I asked Jessie, “How tall is this RV, didn’t the guy tell us it was 12 foot-something?”  She pulled out the RV information sheet from the rental place and it said “Most of our RVs are 12 feet high…”  Uh oh.

We pressed on.  I figured I’d stop at the tunnel entrance when we found it and climb the ladder to the roof to see if we’d make it in.  I was definitely nervous.

The road itself came through on the narrow and steep promise.  I traveled slowly up the mountain road and was thankful it was middle of the night and no other cars were there to compete for passage.  We saw scores more deer and even encountered two donkeys on the road at one point.  Jessie was tired and decided to go to sleep, and I assured her I’d wake her up if I needed her help to turn around should this gamble go the wrong way.

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After what seemed like forever I finally found the first tunnel.  This was the shortest, the 12 foot 4 inch one.  I maneuvered to get a straight shot into the hole and stopped just as the nose was about to enter.  I climbed the ladder and peered over the air conditioning unit, trying to gauge its relative height and see if I could safely proceed.  Even though I felt like I didn’t have any definitive evidence of any kind, I decided to chance it and go on.

Very slowly I drove into the tunnel and I listened for the possibility of anything on the roof hitting rock.  No sound.  I continued.  No sound.  Then I was safely out.

I continued, confident that I’d passed through the lowest of the tunnels and that I’d be fine the rest of the way.  The road got even windier, the switchback turns very tight indeed, but eventually I stopped climbing and began to descend on the other side of whatever mountain this was.  I had to remain alert, though, because the going down was just as steep as the going up and I didn’t want to lose my brakes.  I got through it and just before 2am I was on real highways again, just miles from our new KOA destination.

One feature of this night was the moon was quite full and bright.  This provided me a nice reward for the last hour’s scary trip, because I actually drove past Mt. Rushmore on the way to the resort.  In the moonlight the faces of the presidents were visible and it was a pretty sight.  A nice way to see the monument for the first time.

I pulled into KOA at 2:00 and parked.  As expected the office was closed so I locked up and laid down and slept.  In the morning I’ll register and get us our site.

Driving to Colorado

North of Moab we got onto eastbound I-70.  This is really one of the first times on the trip we’ve spent a lot of time on an actual interstate freeway.  The speed limit is 75, but we can’t go that fast.

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I-70 is impressive, as it moves into the mountains the east and west-bound lanes are for long stretches elevated on bridges, allowing them to be wider than they could be if the road had been build on the actual ground.  It looks cool, too.  Well done highway designers.

We made our way along, and it was fun to see the landscape change.  The rocky cliffs remained for a while, but green trees started to appear and the hillsides grew greener and greener.

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We got hungry and asked the Garmin which restaurants were nearby, and lucky for Sarah Michael her favorite kind of food was just few miles ahead.  Sato Sushi was the place in Edwards, CO.  The food was good and town is cute.  It should be, it is quite near Vail and affluence clearly infects this place too.  If I could afford it it seemed like a nice place to live.

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As we climbed the mountain pass higher, it began to rain.  This was a nice change.  We haven’t seen proper rain for quite a while and I missed it!  Then we climbed even higher and the rain started to change to snow!  The highest we got was just over 11,000 feet, there was more mountain still ahead of us but thankfully we were spared more climbing, the long Eisenhower-Johnson tunnel allowed us to start going back down.  This was good, the RV was really laboring to pull itself and the jeep up the steep grade and we were not able to maintain any speed at all.  By the time we reached the entrance to the tunnel we were down to 25 miles an hour.

As we neared the bottom of the mountain near Denver, we saw a couple of great freeway signs.  They came and went too quickly for us to get pictures, but RockyMountainRoads has pictures here and here.

We finally arrived our destination, St. Vrain State Park, after 10pm, though we would have been there sooner had the Garmin actually known where the place was.  I had preloaded the GPS system with our destinations based on addresses or other info we got when booking our stays, and we were sent about three miles off course.  Not a great distance, but when you’re driving a vehicle with a 100-yard turning radius that can’t back up because of its towed vehicle it makes correcting navagational mistakes more of a challenge.

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Good night!

Jessie saw a deer!

Here we are driving on I-70 through eastern Utah on the way to Colorado.  Jessie is at the wheel and she just saw a deer!  She’s been feeling left out and gets frustrated by the road signs warning of animal possibility.

So a big Hooray!  Jessie saw a deer!

Utah!

Have you ever noticed that Utah license plates don’t say “Utah”, instead they say “Utah!”?  I’m starting to see why, there is some amazing stuff to see here and we haven’t even gone off the highway yet.

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After going through Mexican Hat, UT which is named for a rock formation that looks sombrero-ish, the red rock whose dust we’ve been breathing for the last few hours is gone and the geology has been replaced by something entirely different.

Then you’ll go up a canyon and then down into another that looks different again.  The topology, geology, geography or whatever is constantly changing and is good fun to look at.  The rocks some in some pretty neat shapes too, and right next to the highway!

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We passed a lot we wished we could have seen, Needles, Natural Bridges, Valley of the Gods.  Plus I see all kinds of roads with Jeeping potential.  We are definitely coming back.

We decided to bail on Four Corners, we’ll save that for a future visit when we can see southwest Colorado and a time when Sarah Michael finds all this stuff more interesting.

We were about to drop down a steep grade on the highway when we were stopped by the Highway Patrol.  They were closing north-bound traffic while they let south-bound traffic use our lane on the grade to get past a slow-moving wide load.  We only had to wait about ten minutes but we were sure curious what the fuss was about.  I don’t know what that truck was hauling, but it was enormous.

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About 30 minutes south of Moab we drove up on Wilson Arch and stopped to have a closer look.  How can stuff this amazing be so accessible?

You can climb right up into the hole in the rock, which we did. It is so beautiful!

We finally arrived into Moab at 7:30 and got into our RV park.  This is a beauitful area, I’m sad we can’t spend more time here this trip, but knowing we’ll come back and we have so much to look forward to is quite a comfort.

Monument Valley

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The plan today was to drive to Four Corners, then go north to Moab, UT where we’re going to stay the night.  As we headed east we entered the town of Kayenta, AZ to gas up and from there saw this huge dark monolith in the distance.

We checked the map and saw that north of Kayenta was Monument Valley, a name that think I’ve heard before.  Monument Valley is actually several miles north, but the rocks we could see from Kayenta told us we needed to detour north and check out this action.

Monument Valley is amazing.  I loved it.  To visit costs a whopping $5 per adult (hear that Skywalk people?).  Then you can park and go to the Visitor Center (they’re in the middle of building a new one) or travel the 17-mile dirt road loop through the valley.  Oh yes, that’s what the Jeep is for.

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Everywhere you look there are incredible rock formations.  A bummer is that you’re quite limited in where you can go, secondary roads that might lead from the main loop are forbidden, but that’s ok, the views from the main road are great.

Many of the formations have names.  There’s the Elephant, the Camel, Three Sisters, Totem Poles and lots more.  There are huge boulders that have fallen off the cliffs, and some of them sit atop much smaller rocks, making for fun and precarious photo opportunites.

I took a lot of pictures, way more than are necessary to make the point, but it is hard not to.  Everywhere you look you’re like, “Whoa!” and “Check that out!” and on and on.

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Monument Valley is a must-do.  I recommend it highly.  It is cheap and you don’t actually need a 4×4 vehicle to make the loop.  Most people were driving their rental minivans and sedans and they all did fine.  We did see three rented RVs on the loop, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

Dinosaur Tracks

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Today we left Arizona, the Grand Canyon is now just a memory.

One thing that really struck me about the area surrounding the Grand Canyon was how green it was.  The area is hot but it must get a lot of precipitation because the hills and valleys are just covered with greenery.  There are some times when driving on the park roads where if I didn’t know I was at the Grand Canyon I could easily believe I was somewhere along the Oregon Coast.

The night we arrived into the park we did see lightning as we drove in, and yesterday we saw clouds dropping rain somewhere, but we never got wet ourselves.

We left early-ish, at 7:20 and started making our way towards a one-night stay in Moab, Utah on our way eventually to Mt. Rushmore.

Much of the drive once we left the National Park was through the Navajo Indian Reservation, and there were some interesting geological features that we didn’t think to photograph. There are these huge mounds, for example, that look like gravel piles, but there’s nothing to suggest they are actually piles of gravel moved from somewhere else. They stand in stark contrast to the pervasive red rock that is just about everywhere else.

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Just before Tuba City, AZ we came across signs advertising Dinosaur Tracks. We couldn’t pass it by without stopping.

We were guided by a local Navajo girl who explained the tracks were made by Raptors, Allosaurus, Pteradactyls and a fourth one I can’t remember.

There were also fossilized bones, a claw and lots of dino droppings.

In addition to offering tours of the footprints there were also women selling locally-made jewelry and other trinkets.  The place had the kind of grim sadness of a lot of the roadside Indian merchants.  The stands are rickety and quite spare, you can sense the desperation of the people.  We gave the tourguide a “donation” and also bought some bracelets.

It was a worthwhile stop, very fun to see dinosaur artifacts out in the wild.

Watch for animals next 10 miles

BAHHHHH…….The only wild animals I have seen since the Elk in Oregon are what we now joking refer to as “wild cows” free range and and I saw a dead jack rabbit on the side of the road and some REALLY big birds.

I plead with the people who put up the signs that say, watch for deer/Elk, watch for mt. goats or the signs that were all through Yosemite ” speeding kills bears”.  Today we saw a sign we had never seen before, cougar next ten miles.  Do we ever see any of these animals…NO….so please take these signs down.  The are only teasing us and making people like me sad that there are never any animals to see.  And who’s to say that they will be in those specified miles?  They might actually be roaming outside their boundaries.  They are after all wild animals.