Merry helping out her mama.
This blog has been a long time coming. Sometimes, I'm the worst. Other times, I provide you all with tips and tricks and you should forgive me! ;)
Back in July, before I started my new job, I had a little bit of time where we were able to escape and take the trip we had been planning (or just thinking of taking)! A little background (in case you never read my previous blog... Shame on you!!). Jason will be turning the dirty thirty this coming July!! On his bucket list before he turns 30, is to visit all 50 states. He had been to close to all but I think it was 5-6 states. Amazing, right?? But... I am biased.
In the process of completing this fun task and from the start of our relationship, I had started a map of the places we have been together. I featured the map in the last blog where it was before we went on this trip. I'll refresh your memory and also include the one that has been filled in even further!!!
'Beginning' map before our journey west.
After our road trip!
Quite the adventure, right?!
In my previous blog, I talked a lot around what we took to cut down on food costs, how we rented a car, etc. Take a look there on tips, tricks, and shoot me a comment or message with anything you're curious about or want to share with me! Below, I will share where we stopped and suggestions of what we may have done differently, if anything!
Illinois - Iowa - Minnesota - South Dakota - Wyoming - South Dakota - North Dakota - Montana - Wyoming - Idaho - Utah - Arizona - Nevada - California - Nevada - Arizona - New Mexico - Colorado - New Mexico - Texas - Oklahoma - Kansas - Missouri - Nebraska - Iowa - Illinois
First scenic stop: Badlands.
We had not planned on stopping at the Badlands! Our original first stop had been for Mount Rushmore. And even at that we hadn't planned on stopping in the monument. By making this stop, it allowed us to pick up the National Parks Annual Pass! An incredibly smart purchase for the places we ended up visiting over the course of our trip and how many we visited!! We will get great use of it through the rest of this year as well (hopefully), if not, the cost of it alone compared to each individual park we went to was payed back by far with the amount of places we went on this trip!
Is a caption really needed here?..
Next stop, we took a detour over the state line of Wyoming to visit Devil's Tower National Monument. In the picture above, you can see it towering above the land.
Jason and I walked around the base of the tower - a little over a mile. You can see just how huge the monument is! Jason is over 6 feet in comparison.
From Devil's Tower we swung through North Dakota where we didn't do much at all other than take a photo at the state line around midnight. It was actually pretty creepy looking back on it.. It also was the worst drive I think we have ever done. The amount of deer we saw combined with having to drop our speed down (because, well naturally we didn't want to hit any of them) and combine that with NO TRAFFIC WHATSOEVER and NO TOWNS FOR HUNDREDS OF MILES. It was definitely interesting and we were glad to finally get right across the border to the first city we had seen in hours.
**side note: if you do this, make sure you fill up every chance you get, because you don't want this to happen and there is absolutely nothing around for 200-300 miles! We knew better so never had this problem.*
Once through North Dakota, we made our second stop a few hours into Montana. We slept a few hours and headed back on the road towards Glacier!! Looking back, I wish we would have spent more time at Glacier National Park. We had not originally planned to make such awesome timing on our road trip that a lot of the states we went such as Nevada and California were simply us winging it! Basically, we would look at the map for any green (indicating National Parks) and see how far. That was honestly the method to our madness after Idaho. And nothing was set in stone other than Mount Rushmore, North Dakota, Glacier, Old Faithful, Salt Lake City, and the Grand Canyon.
Jason works in the horticulture industry. I always say he is my flower boy. Glacier was heaven to him. Naming flowers, trees, shrubs...you name it!!
We were so anxious to get out of the car to explore! Checked in and mapped out what trail we wanted to do that evening before dinner and heading to bed for an early morning..
We did end up splurging a bit on the hotel we stayed at this night. Quite frankly, there was not much available on short notice (hours before arrival) to book! It is their 'busy' season, so many towns were booked. I think this hotel cost somewhere between $200-$230 a night. Yikes! We didn't have any alternatives though and had been making up for it by staying in cheap rooms other nights to even it out. My change here? I would have tried to book this earlier than we had. In our situation, that had not been possible. But moving forward, I would recommend! We did get the front desk help to give us a westward facing room that gave us view of the mountains. It was INCREDIBLY gorgeous!! I also would give the hotel 5 stars based upon the modern amenities, breakfast, and our hotel room was spacious! We ended up getting dinner to go from the casino that was connected to it and brought back to our room to relax, pig out, and pass out. :)
My flower boy pointing out all the wild life as I snap pictures to keepsake. :)
As we were driving towards Montana, my job as co-pilot was to 1) find us place to stay for the night and 2) decide what we were going to do the next day: what hike, where, and why. I narrowed my choices down to 2 things and we decided because of proximity to where we were staying to go with a hike up to Grinnell Glacier. See link for details regarding Grinnell!
Tips: we went to the hotel as mentioned to get the ferry pass. It was booked until later that afternoon I believe around 1 or 3. We were there at 8am. 😳 that being said. The entire hike is not as bad as they claim it to be. We saw the people get off the boat and feel that they had to do just as much work, if not more so because of the elevation that we were already at comparatively. But I cannot speak for that route from experience. If you have kids or aren't up for the hike, the ferry might be a better route or maybe just a different trail in general.
About 1/4 mile in, we saw a bear! I was incredibly scared, J...not so much.
Tip: you will want to buy bear spray before going hiking. We had 1 bottle and probably should have had 2. We hiked up most of the way with a former marine and his family, they had 3 on them so we felt pretty safe. Ha!
Hiking up to Grinnel - probably about 1-1.5 miles in.
That's the glacier behind me!
GORGEOUS views...worth the hike!
Jason thought he was going to lose me.
After hiking, we decided to move on and cross the border to Canada since we were so close! We almost always carry our passports for this reason.
Getting across the border was pretty easy, coming back we had a wait to get back into the states. The border officer we had was pretty annoyed with us that we crossed the border and came right back.. 😳
From there, we stayed the night close to Yellowstone and got up early that morning to head in and explore!
I was pretty excited to be able to show Jason Yellowstone. He had never been. So I made him do all the typical touristy stuff and snapped his picture every chance I could get. :)
We saw lots of different animals while cruising through the park. We had a an awesome morning to explore with it being chilly as well. My cousin, a non-game biologist out in Wyoming planned on meeting us somewhere or us staying with him while we were out there. Side note: absolutely no reception. It was pretty hard to get in touch with each other! Leaving Old Faithful we had service so got in touch with him and decided to meet him and his girlfriend for a hike in near Jackson. So, that was going to knock off seeing the Grand Tetons for J! I absolutely love the Grand Tetons. So onward we went.
Once we met up with them, we took a quick 1-2 mile hike (Jason and I were extremely sore from hiking to Grinnell the previous day..I was waddling like a penguin I feel). We then decided to do dinner and go see the visitor's center!
At the visitor's center
Jason had never seen a moose before and ironically enough, every person we had spoken with from Glacier down had said they had seen some! He was starting to get pissed ha! We had tried a spot my cousin, Brian, said that moose frequent often right before dinner. We hadn't seen any, so we decided to try after dinner. Sure enough! We saw 3. One being pretty close to us and the other 2 down in the valley! Happy camper.
After dinner, Brian and Madelyn had invited us to camp with them. We declined and continued onward to Idaho! (They both don't get very many weekends off and wanted them to enjoy their little getaway.)
There was not a whole lot we wanted to do in Idaho other than say we had been. So here we are. We stayed the night somewhere between Idaho and Utah, I cannot remember off the top of my head. We were headed to Salt Lake City next!
While looking for the best place to stop, Jason came across Antelope Island, a state park! This island consisted of antelope and buffalo and some truly mesmerizing views. Us being beach people, we had to go dip our toes in.
This is basically where our trip had been 'planned' to end. We were going to hit 4 corners and then head home. Nope! We had made amazing time and still had about a week that we could be out and about! I originally wanted to do Arches National Park next. With the way our schedule had turned for the better and the other states we decided to go to, we turned to Zion National Park instead due to location.
Now, I completely understand that we went to the desert in July..but I cannot say ever want to go back. I don't mean that in a terrible-I-wish-we-never-went kind of statement, but just that this trip was enough for the both of us in the Southwest! We definitely would go back to Glacier and Yellowstone, but not sure how people get enjoyment out of being in a desert park where they are camping in terrible temperatures! I stared at them all camping in Zion like they were nuts (which they are)!! Just not my kind of fun. That aside, the views are stunning and like no other. It also is very insightful to how diverse our land is here in the US of A!! 🇺🇸
From Utah, we headed to stay the night in Vegas. Neither of us are much gamblers. We chose Vegas purely for cheap hotels! Weird I know. Vegas and other casino based locations will give you cheap rates on hotels because they bank on you spending lots of money on alcohol and gambling in their casinos. Smart, right? We price lined for the best deal and ended up a block or two off the strip. Very nice hotel! We ended up eating dinner next door to it at a place called Beer and Tacos. It was delicious!
Ready to chow down! Most of his tacos has mashed potatoes on them.
The next morning, we headed out to California to the Mojave desert after breakfast. This was alllllll Jason's idea.
Sand dunes at Mojave National Park.
Hoover Dam view from the recently built walking bridge.
Our next destination was to head back east from Cali to go to Hoover Dam. Jason had never been; I had gone there with my family back when I was 11 or 12. We naturally did the tour as well when we were there. When in Rome!
During the tour, in one of the underground tunnels.
Next, we headed to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Another place I had been to, but Jason had yet to see!
This is probably my favorite picture from our trip. The scenery is absolutely beautiful. It looked even more beautiful when we loaded it on a bigger screen than our camera or phones.
We continued our journey to Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park. These are cliff dwellings from ancient peoples. Truly in awe of the kind of work that went into these amazing structures.
Unfortunately, all the tours had been booked for that day so we could not get down to the buildings like you can see some of the other people did. We were disappointed, but I feel this is a spot we will end up going back to visit!
Tip: from the way it sounded, these tours book quickly. You cannot book online, as we tried. If you are wanting to do this tour, stay in that area a day or two ahead of time and go get your tickets. I know we were there midweek and it was booked already! The next available was the next day, but we were not sticking around. Also note, we went in July - the traveling month for families and vacations.
In New Mexico trying to survive the heat.
From Colorado, we headed to New Mexico, somewhere neither of us had been. With our National Parks Annual Pass, we were looking into places that we could go to for free and ran into this gem. Their visitor center was probably the best one we had been to in terms of knowledge and willingness to share from their rangers! We had a great time chatting.
Unlike other National Parks, this one was split up among the city and had markers as to where to go, thus chatting up the Rangers had been beneficial in mapping out where to go and customizing to the amount of time you had, what wanted to see, etc!
From New Mexico, we headed through Texas. Naturally, we had to stop for some Tex-Mex! We are huuuuuuge Mexican foodies. Delish! We had planned on stopping at the Cadillac Ranch, but somehow...between the two of us, we BOTH missed it. We are still puzzled how that one happened.
Our next destination was Oklahoma City. My aunt and uncle live there and we planned on stopping to say hello! We ended up staying the night about 1-2 hours outside of OKC. We were so tired and the food definitely didn't help our cause. We then headed to their house the next morning and spent some time with my aunt and the pups! My uncle, unfortunately, was at work and we missed him.
For our map, we stopped in front of the huge "Route 66" sign in Oklahoma. Our camera is being wacky and won't load pictures so I had to struggle through with my tablet and it has been a nightmare....so google it. You will find it pretty easily (though I know you want to see another one of our selfies!).
The rest of trip was more about relaxation than the massive travelling that we had been doing. We spent the next 2 nights at my aunt and uncle's house in Kansas. It was their anniversary on the 22nd, as well as ours - great day, huh?! We got to enjoy a Friday night at the ballpark watching the Royals (win) and staying up chatting all night. It was very enjoyable!
One last destination we had in mind before heading home was Omaha, Nebraska. We had examined the map at one point and were going over what other trips we will take, where we will go, and what we would be able to 'hit' by travelling, say, to Florida. That is why Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi are all left in that gap on the map. Minnesota and Wisconsin are very easy weekend trips for us at some point and then a week trip out to the east coast will be easy to knock out (Jason had done this with one of his friends the first fall that we were dating) due to the small sizes of the states on the east coast. Plus, I have never been to Washington D.C. and we decided (more like Jason) that that alone would be a few days in itself to be able to really see everything I should.
So sidetracked...*SQUIRREL!*. :)
Where I was going with all of that...we decided to knock out Nebraska as one of those states we will never come back to. So we headed from Kansas through Missouri (barely) to Omaha. We went to downtown Omaha and strolled around their plaza and visited their visitor center which was right downtown. They had a lovely park/plaza with amazing landscaping and artistic fountains to showcase. However, there was not much there that interest us for the afternoon. So onward we went to find a Sonic and get me that corndog I had been craving!
Now that was our trip....all 6,000 some miles in 11-12 days - 2 being spent at my aunt and uncles so really 9-10 days of travel?? Not too shabby and we have so many laughs and memories. This was a trip worth taking and we reference it quite often!
My question for you: what would you want to see on a road trip? Are you a planner or like to go with the flow? What would you have done different? Share your thoughts with me! I'd love to know about your travels and recommendations for any place that I have yet to go!! Comment below.
An adventurous soul, a kind heart, and a sarcastic mouth. You never know which you will get.