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Coast 2 Coast Couple

Day 11-12 – Escaping Sensory Overload

The drive from Zion wasn’t terribly long. It afforded us the chance to get a good breakfast and even hike a bit before leaving the park.  

    
   
We took the Emerald Pool trail, a 2.5 mile point to point trail gaining just over 300ft in elevation and climaxing with a couple small “waterfalls”, one of which filled a small pool atop this hike. 

We made it up and down in just over an hour including a brief stop at the top to take pictures.  

 Afterwards we made our way towards Vegas. It was a brief 2 and a half hours to the city, but driving on the strip, getting checked in, and parking were quite challenging to someone who had never visited the city before. Even Nicky who has been a few times had to check us in to our room while I tried to park. 

We stayed at the Luxor Hotel and Casino on the 19th floor. Luckily we were inside the pyramid itself because it afforded is an interesting look into the architecture of the hotel itself.  

 We got luggage into the room from parking, and I even had to make another trip down for things that had been forgotten. Anyone who tells you that Vegas is a dry heat is telling the truth, however that doesn’t make 102 degree temperature any more bearable. 

That night we did a little Gambling, winning most all of what we had lost back thanks to Nicky, got dinner in the hotel, and generally walked around the strip. Marveling at everything there was to see and do, I found the whole thing just a bit overwhelming.  

 Nicky and I have discussed this actually, the sensory overload piece. After more than 10 days on the road and seeing as much as we have, Vegas was just the jewel atop an already optically opulent trip. We didn’t linger to long in the Nevada heat before heading back and calling it a night. My first night in Vegas had come to a close. I didn’t do anything I regretted, I didn’t lose more money than I could afford, and no one left with any stories to be taken to their grave. I wonder, Las Vegas, did we do it wrong?

Day 10 – Every Red Rock

Starting in Canyonlands this morning, the sun seemed to creep up faster than it did in Badlands. Instead of a slow and gentle rise, lulling ones eyelids to part, this morning was a louder luminous alarm for which there was no snooze. 
We decided a later start was deserved since our average drive time was much shorter than in days previous. We checked out, went to the ranger station for a commemorative pin (of which I’ve gotten quite the collection), and scooted out towards Moab by 8am local time. 

We enjoyed breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe in central Moab for one of the first “real” meals of the past couple days. 
It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that anyone that travels by car in the U.S. will have a difficult time maintaining a healthy balance of foods. All the prime real estate lying just off convenient rest stops and exits has been purchased by the big players. McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Subway to name a few. While providing a meal for two at usually less than $15, its left us craving thinks like, you know, lettuce. Or, ANYTHING green for that matter. It’s the reason why I devoured a chicken Caesar salad in the Badlands like a complete animal. But I digress…
Suffice it to say that chorizo Benedict for myself and a chorizo scramble for Nicky was a welcome oasis before we made our way to Arches National Park.  
 It seems as though this park gets more love than Canyonlands. Though I preferred Canyonlands’ serene tranquility and haunting obelisks those of Arches. The park itself houses some 2000 stone arches shaped by a millennia of weathering and chemical tarnishing due to the climate. The result is a spectacular array of arching gateways in all areas of the park. 
The most notable and photographed of these is delicate arch, about 12 miles in from the park’s main entrance. One can hike about a mile across the rocky sandstone mounds and get an incredible, up close view of this massive arch. Unfortunately, our time constraints and preparedness regarding water prevented us from making such a hike. We settled for the lower overlook, where you can still see delicate arch, but a smaller one from this vantage point.  
 Zion was about 5 hours from Arches so we made tracks in that direction by about 11:30am. Along the way, I sort of got sick of red rocks. The truth is they’re everywhere out here. Don’t get me wrong, some of the views are beyond incredible. For instance “hog backs” the name given for a certain rock formation, looks much like what might happen if you left your grilled cheese resting at the edge of your soup bowl and it fell in.  
 But by the time we arrived at Zion, my awe for these massive structures was rekindled. Our campsite left little to be desired. Much like many of our recent sites, the view combined with great weather allowed for us to keep the fly off our tent and sit inside as the stars crept in.  

 This was only after a thorough stream side shower and a delicious dinner at a nearby brew pub we could literally walk to from our tent.  

 The sun sets, we brush our teeth, we settle in. It’s strange to think this trip is coming to a close. As one wants nothing more than to have these experiences go on forever, our new lives are waiting on the nearby coast. There’s still a little time left to party though, because tomorrow…ITS VEGAS BABY!

Canyonlands

Getting our typical early start, we packed up and said our goodbyes to the campsite by 7:15am local time. 

Immediately after leaving we passed a visitor center which had coffee (very good coffee mind you, best of the trip) and pastries which we made our breakfast. We ran into a family cycling from Idaho through to Denver and remarked at how impressed we were. 

After leaving the visitor center we made one last stop to the Tetons. This remains one of my favorite views of the trip so far.  

 What followed was a fairly long drive through to Canyonlands, but an incredibly beautiful one. I’d say that the drive from Badlands in South Dakota, through the Black Hills near Mt Rushmore, through Yellowstone and on to Idaho was my favorite drive this far. That was until we hit the state of Utah.  

    
 The entire state is just one ancient looking western backdrop perpetually ornamented with these massive, geological specimens. 

Nothing though could really compare to our campsite. We were lucky enough to snag one of the last sites available at Elephant Campground overlooking much of the canyon.  

 The park itself is your typical massive national park in terms of size. For instance the access road before reaching a welcome sign is nearly 30 miles long. That served to provide an amazing backdrop for the sunset.

We climbed a short sandstone formation that butts up with the rear of our campsite and took in the amazing sunset that panned out before us.  

 Also remember, that we get to kick our feet out to the exact same sights the following morning. 

Once again, we leave you with the sunset.  

 

Yellowstone

How can one really sum up an entire day in one of America’s most famous and visited national parks? Aside from recommending that one book reservations ahead of time, you will spend from dawn to dusk, as we did, driving the park’s inner loop. Even with stops at points of interest like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Springs, and numerous others, it took all day and we loved it. 

The inner loop truly shows how massive this place is. To give you a sense of scope, driving the inner loop comes in at just over 200 miles. That is not a typo. 

We started by securing a campsite at Lewis Lake Campground, near the southern entrance to the park. That was no small feat since we were hoping to nab a first-come, first-served site, and even by 7am many of the other campgrounds had already filled to capacity. 

Once that was done, we had both decided that the only way to spend a day here, seeing everything possible, would be to drive the inner loop. Our first stop was at Old faithful.  

 The Rangers had predicted its next eruption at 12:29pm local time, plus or minus 10mins. Sure enough, at 12:37pm the geyser erupted for nearly 3 continuous minutes, spraying thousands of gallons into the air some 100 plus feet. 

Soon after we took a brief walk through Old Faithful Lodge. We wanted to see the architecture from the building constructed around 1910. It blends well with the rest of the countryside and sort of looks like it “grew” from the ground instead of being constructed. 

  Soon thereafter we drove to Midway Geyser Basin. It sits back from the road approximately a 10 minute walk from the parking area. All along the way one can see numerous thermal pools, some bubbling, others feeding a nearby crystal clear spring, but leaving an amber tinge along their path.  

    
 We asked an oncoming hiker how much further up Grand Prismatic Spring was. In her eastern Slavic accent she informed us it was about 10 minutes up but the best view is from a hill just to the left of the spring, away from where everyone else was. We happened across the hill shortly thereafter, climbed up its steep embankment, and were immediately glad we did.     

Making our way back, the next stop was Norris Geyser Basin and Steamboat Geyser.   

This acidic, olfactory assault is mainly a large boardwalk around numerous thermal areas; vents, small geysers, hot springs.      

Then we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs, and Petrified Tree, stopping at the lodge in Hot Springs for lunch. If I were to make a suggestion to any visitors, it would be bring your own lunches and food for the day. Don’t get me wrong, food is ok. But what you get for what you pay just really isn’t worth it. 
So much of this part of the trip in Yellowstone is made of moments like “whoah, look at that thing!” So, I’ll include several pictures for you to get a sense of that.                 

Our final spot was Yellowstone Falls. I had heard of this spot and thought it to be an incredible place to finish our loop. It worked out that way logistically as well. The view is often called the “Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone” because it truly looks like it! It’s a massive plummet of more than a few thousand feet where the Yellowstone River rages through. 
The location from which these were taken is called “Inspiration Point”   

    
 We made it almost all the way back to the southeastern portion of the park and it was twilight 6:30pm local time. We pulled into a roadside pull off to investigate what had another visitor, with his camera out, so intrigued. It was a bison, grazing only 40 or so paces from the car.  

 
We remained in the idling car as the massive animal sauntered, slowly, purposefully, almost as if it’s steps needed more than just time to leave footprints. Check out the video to see the encounter, but it was incredible. 

We stopped at another nearby geyser boardwalk and grabbed a selfie with one! 

 At that same location there was an incredible spring that roared from its deepest point giving it the name Dragon’s Mouth Spring 
 
Afterwards we made it straight back to the campsite for a beer and an early bedtime before the long drive to Canyonlands the next day. 

Watch the next post for details on that trip and more from the road!

Day 7 – The Long One

Day 7 Began from Badlands by waking up to the sunrise through the mesh of our tent. I still can’t get over the amazing view just the normal tent sites provided. Little protection from the sun, save a covering of a picnic table, but luckily temperature was much more palatable.   The drive was to be long and difficult with possibilities for many things to see along the way. All tolled, we stopped by Mt Rushmore National Memorial, Devil’s Tower National Monument and ended our long day at Grand Tetons National Park.  
    
   
This was my first time seeing the Rocky Mountains and it really took my breath away.  
    
 We actually couldn’t secure a site within Yellowstone but noticed the people checking into the Tetons, just South of Yellowstone, also shared our New York license plate. A bit shamefully we pulled up at a scenic overlook to take pictures, find out their story…and ask if we could crash with them.  
 Thankfully they said yes and ended up being great campsite companions! Friends Sarah and Beth, Sarah was taking 5 weeks vacation between assignments with her job at the department of the interior, and Beth was lucky enough to tag along for the ride. 
We taught them a thing or two about making fires, avoiding bugs, and general camping etiquette since neither of them had camped before. We unfortunately had to both leave early the next morning and at separate times so our goodbyes were said beneath the stars that blanketed the cloud free sky. With a careful eye, one could even catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. 

And Then It Fell Flat

Day 6 began from a warm bed and a warm shower. It’s so incredible for us to have family strewn across the lower 48 in such a way where every few days we get a bed and a shower. The next few days however, will not be that luxurious in their accommodations. 

Joe and his wife Kate (Nicky’s Cousin) put us up for the night in their wonderful home on base at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. We stayed up a little later enjoying ice cream cake and helping them name their soon to be born son or daughter. I’m partial to Bentley given Joe’s automotive inspired ideas while also avoiding names that map his/her future to be one of ill repute. 

This morning we were dropped off at our car, which we left parked outside Leavenworth, and hit the road. You would have never known we passed through 4 states today; Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota. I say so because they were all overwhelmingly flat and featureless, a very different precursor to what we are about to see this next week. 

With the exception of weird stuff like this, South Dakota is pretty boring.  
We also passed into a new time zone, so until further notice we’re on Mountain time! 

All the driving through flat prairies made for a startling sight when as we hid the edge of the badlands, a sight to my left nearly took the car off the road.  

 The badlands come completely out of nowhere and all the sudden you’re on a landscape I can only presume bears a striking resemblance to Mars. The topography is stunning. Spires weathered by wind and rain jut from the grassy plains that lay beside it. Some peaks look like roughly hewn teeth from a bread knife, others roll and flow like waves. All of them share a unique red, tan, white, and sometimes purplish tinge to their numerous layers formed from countless years of erosion and time.  

 We pitched the tent and then immediately took the main road up through the center of the park. Every mile or so there was another scenic overlook, each equally unique in what it showed from the park.   

  It began to get late, and thankfully this park has a dedicated restaurant on the park grounds. It wasn’t too bad actually. Decent wine, and Nicky got to have some green things she and I had been craving these past few days.   

  Afterwards the sun was just about ready to set, and we climbed a short hill, maybe 150ft up, to watch the sunset.   

  We sat there pretty quiet, just enjoying the view and snapping a few photos as the sun dipped behind the craggy pillars of roughly shaped clay and sandstone. I’ll leave you with how we ended our evening and let you miss on what it may have been like to see it first hand.  

    
   
The next blog post will emcompass 2 days since our Friday was long and somewhat uneventful, and Yellowstone is going to take up some space. 

Day 5 – The Tasty One

Today began early. Very early. Like 6:15 early. But don’t worry, the temperature hadn’t abated from its balmy, sticky, raunchy, gouge your eyes out with bicycle spokes awfulness. 

Daisy state park was actually a very nice park and it’s a shame we couldn’t spend more time there. It certainly won for best view for any campsite so far.  

 Getting on the road by 7:30AM local time put us at Mt Ida Cafe about an hour later. This marked the first occasion for us to eat a meal that wasn’t fast food in 4 days. I can’t really count Waffle House as a departure from that category. We’re pretty sure it also got robbed while we were there and none of the staff even noticed. 

That said, southern biscuits are good. REALLY good. I mean I wouldn’t mind sleeping on a bed of these things with a blanket of delicious sausage gravy too… Let me continue with the rest of the day. 

Spending days on end in the car with anyone is difficult. Today was a day that tried our patience with one another. Certainly the 7 times I woke up last night and the fact we both slept poorly last night had something to do with it. 

Did I mention Missouri is weird? Here, see for yourself- 

 Thats a town in Missouri, and their roads aren’t named. They’re lettered. Isn’t that…PECULIAR?! That’s about the most entertaining bit of our entire drive in the square state, and the drive overall…minus the fact we got pulled over by an Arkansas State Trooper for speeding. Luckily he was more interested in our trip than giving us a ticket. He just wrote us a warning. WHEW!

Then came time for the barbecue at Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue. Now when I say this is good barbecue, I’m not kidding. Anthony Bourdain puts it on his list of 13 places to eat before you die. Now like any good barbecue establishment, they have your typical fare: pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and a myriad of sides. But we weren’t here for just any barbecue. Well, Geoff wasn’t that is. He was here for burnt ends; the charred and barky remnants from carving brisket. They are saved and chopped up only to be served twice weekly because of their scarcity and the amount of brisket required to make just one portion. 

  
It was a near religious experience swirling the gelatinous and smoky gobs of smoked meat around inside ones mouth. Never before had we truly been able to say that barbecue melted in our mouths. Don’t forget those sides! Geoff places a pretty high standard on cole slaw and the two styles served here, normal and spicy, passed muster easily along with creamy potatoe salad and barbecue beans. 

This evening, we have the luxury to write from the comfort of our cousins’ (on Nicky’s side) wonderful home on Fort Levenworth in Kansas.  Another shower and the knowledge we will get a comfortable bed and climate controlled room have us thinking of turning in early. A big day awaits tomorrow (or today as you read this) where we hit the road early and make our way to the Badlands. Wish us luck!

My God, the Heat

Today was the first longer day of the trip. In fact, there’s a few of those lined up over the next couple days. But more on that later…

First, a disclaimer: I apologize in advance if this reads like the ramblings of a madman. I’m writing this from our tent, rain fly off of course, and it’s currently 87 degrees. 87 DEGREES AND ITS ALMOST 10 AT NIGHT!

Alright, now that’s out of the way. 

We left Uncle Gary and Aunt Michelle’s house this morning just before 9. Our goal was Crater of Diamonds State Park by dinner time.  Before that could be realized, a major milestone of the trip occurred: we crossed the Mississippi River. I had never done so by car so it was kind of a big deal. For Nicky, she had done so before so I’m grateful for the fact I was driving. 

We made it with good time to spare, rented our panning equipment and headed to the mine. 

Take a look at the video on our YouTube channel, because I neglected to take a photo. It is clearly not a mine in the sense one usually thinks of mines. It’s more like a scene from roots, but with more white people in the fields.

…like I said earlier, ramblings of a mad man. 

Anyways, we dug shovel fills of dirt and dumped them into a bucket which we then carried to sluice trough for sifting. 

 
Shaking the screen to and fro, we sifted out the larger rocks from the smaller ones and used my pocket knife to pickier small, clear baubles we believed to be diamonds.   

The heat got to me and I was no longer a pleasant diamond miner. So, we turned in our equipment and had our hopeful jewels appraised. Unfortunately, we walked away poorer than when we had arrived. No diamonds for us. But we certainly wanted to pitch our tent as the sun was slowly setting. 

  Daisy State Park is situated about 25mins from crater of diamonds. The brief trip brought us to a lakeside campsite and just enough time to pitch our tent and enjoy the sunset. This would be my favorite view on the trip so far, at least from a camp site that is.   

Remember how I mentioned earlier that it’s hot as hell? Well let me make that more clear: it’s hot as Arkansas in July. There. Now you get the heat here. 

We fortunately had the luxury of showers on the campsite so we took a nice cold one to cool off. Nicky gave me the advice of not moving around like a northerner and just move slower, like people in the south. Funny thing is it worked. I didn’t want to die nearly as badly. 

The temperature is due to cool off as time goes on but not dip much below high 70s. On that note, all of you people with AC right now can go pound salt.

Domes & Dripstones

At one point today we managed to travel over 50 miles in less than a minute!. I’ll explain that later.

We started our morning from the Cosby Campsite at Smoky Mountain National Park around 7AM local time. This allowed for us to hit the road by 8AM after a short breakfast and the necessary “camp chores” involved with getting our tent and other amenities back into the car. It’s becoming somewhat routine now that Nicky and I have had to deal with the prospect of impending thunderstorms these past two nights. I hope this bodes well for our future marriage. God knows I’d be fine living from a backpack. Nicky on the other hand…

She exclaimed many times how wonderful this park was and even compared its beauty to that of the Adirondacks in our home state. I’m inclined to agree that it was certainly a wonderful park, but the ADKs certainly hold a close place in my heart.

 

Our next destination, with a brief stop at a Waffle House which neither of us had been to before, was Mammoth Caves National Park. Home to the longest cave in the WORLD, we almost thought attending a tour would be impossible. During the aforementioned drive, we tried to secure our reservations for a tour. After browsing the available ones for today online, it seemed as though all were booked up. Thankfully, a call to their office left us feeling confident that space would still be available for a 2pm timeslot.

I hung up the phone and realized we were a 2-hour drive away and approaching 12 noon with questionable traffic ahead; how would we make it in time?!  

 Luckily, just then, we crossed our first time zone of the trip and watched our clocks fall back 1 hour. Whew! We would arrive in Mammoth by 1pm with time to spare, only to stop for a brief photo in front of the sign at the visitors’ center. 

  

The place was packed. Why? Outside it was 90 degrees, 80% humidity, and otherwise a normal day in mid-July in central Kentucky. Underground it averaged a temperate 54. You do the math. 

The tour was incredible. Even Nicky thought so, and she had been here just a month prior. We took a slightly different tour than she did; we took the domes and dripstones tour that leads through living, dead, and dormant caves. The deepest we were was 254 feet below ground and although the lighting was dim, we managed to snap a few pictures while still appreciating what it must have been like to discover this immense wonder.

     

    

 Part of what made the tour so great (in my opinion) was the back story and history provided before even entering the cave. Our guide’s family has been guiding tours of this cave for 5 generations. His great, great, great grandfather came to America a slave and was leased to the family that originally owned the cave. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that anyone with that depth of connection to a place can provide context and a level of appreciation one never thought possible.

On a lighter note, today is a big day. Today we get to sleep in a bed for the first time in over a month. 

It’s been more than 4 weeks since packing up our mattresses and sending them off to California, but tonight we are staying at the house of our uncle and aunt (on Nicky’s side). We also have free run of the kitchen, with wine, and a shower. A SHOWER! But the best of all is a bed. Glorious full size bed with clean linens and zero smell of camp smoke. 

We arrived at about 6pm (local time) and were promptly greeted by Sassy, an adorable but very old tabby cat. Her eyes sure tell the story of 19 long years.

  

The plan for the night is pretty loose; get some laundry done, hang out in air-conditioning, maybe grab a bite and find the leaking point in our inflatable mattress. Tomorrow, we hunt for diamonds!

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