WHAT A WILD WEEK.
I am currently sitting at the airport in Minneapolis, waiting for my flight home. My anxiety is high because of the meetings I have tomorrow–yeah, I have meetings! Can’t really tell ya anymore about that, but I’m pretty stoked about it. But after five days in the car, seeing both the most boring and most beautiful sights across the western half of the United States, I’m ready for anything.
Let me walk you through–or should I say drive you through–my week…
Amy, my favorite adventuring buddy, moved out of her apartment in SLO (forever!!) and drove down to Burbank to meet me. We went to Universal Studios for a very successful half day of movie magic excursions. Really all we wanted to see was Harry Potter World and the studio tour, but we walked around a lot and did a few other things. Overall, it was fun, and a great start to our road trip.
At a reasonable morning hour, Amy and I set out for Utah. It was going to be a fairly long drive, but I was ready for it. It was crazy that the only traffic we hit was in Las Vegas, when usually, I feel like I’m always in traffic in LA. But this drive was no LA, just lots and lots of land.
We didn’t stop in Vegas because of the traffic (and a dust storm we saw on the other side of the freeway), so we powered through to a bit outside the city, where we stopped for lunch. With one more stop a bit closer to our destination for food and gas, we finally made it our first stop: Zion National Park!
I’d never been to Utah before, so I was excited to check another state off my list. Plus, I got to see some amazing views while I was there. We didn’t do much that first evening except check out the gift shop and get dinner, but I could already tell what a beautiful morning we were going to have the next day. The view from our room alone was pretty great.
Even though it was a million and ten degrees and not much cooler at night, it was a nice evening. We drank a bit of wine and watched the stars. You could see so many out there! Which wasn’t surprising, but still awesome. There were so many deer out on the lawn too. There was also the bit of adrenaline that comes with starting a new adventure in my bones.
We had an early start so we could hike a bit and then get on the road at a reasonable hour. The Emerald Pools hike was recommended to us by Amy’s mom, by the guidebook, and by my friend Lauren who also happened to be in Zion at the same time as us, so we decided that was our best bet.
Luckily, it was more of a walk to the lower and middle pools, which was great. It was going to be a hundred degree day, so a minimal effort trail was perfect. We also got splashed a bit from the waterfall, and that made all the difference.
The upper pool was pretty close, but it was a bit more uphill. We had time, though, so we thought, “Why not?” Well, let me tell you, it was not what I was expecting. It was rocky with a decently steep incline. And it was hot. Unlike the leisurely walk we had just done, this was like hiking Bishop Peak in SLO–essentially large rocky stairs. But it was only .3 miles according to the sign, we told ourselves. I am panting just thinking about how long it actually seemed. I thought we would never make it, but alas, there it was! It was pretty crowded, though, so we hung back in the shade, where we could sit on the rocks and just relax for a bit.
The view on the way there and back though? Now that was awesome. It looked like a painting. I couldn’t believe that a river formed those red rock mountains. So vast and beautiful. Just…wow. I definitely want to go back and check out more trails–but I will go more prepared next time. And maybe not during the summer.
We were on the road by one and off to the next place: Grand Junction, CO. We made it in time to have a late dinner at a cute diner, where we got free pie! And there was a pool and hot tub, which was the most needed thing after our hike. What. A. Day.
This day was mostly a driving day. Our destination was Cheyenne, WY, which, as cute as it was, was just…not a destination. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
We left pretty early, and soon we were in the Rocky Mountains, something I’ve definitely always wanted to see up close. Let me tell you, it was pretty wild! They were gorgeous, and I couldn’t believe how green they were. Anything green outside of the months of March through early May seems fake to me, a Southern California native. But wow.
We stopped in Vail, CO, and I could tell immediately when getting out of the car how dehydrated I was. I didn’t drink too much water so that we wouldn’t have to stop too many times, but it really hit me when we got to a town where the elevation was over 8,000 feet. I was winded going up one flight of stairs in the parking lot! But the village was so cute and I loved seeing it. All the shops were so Northern European, and it reminded me a bit of Solvang (tiny village near SLO). We hit a few gift shops and sat by the river, but ultimately it was just a pit stop on the way. Worth it, though.
Eventually, we made it to Cheyenne, which is the largest city in Wyoming. I use the term “city” lightly because it was really more of a town. It had a cute downtown and a depot by the train station, but nearly everything was closed by 6–a bummer considering we got there at 6:30. But still, Amy and I managed to have a really good time, thanks to our slightly obnoxious, dry humor. In good heart, we did make fun of it a little, but truly it was a cute place. Not a destination (unless you went for Frontier Days, a huge rodeo/state faire-esque event), but it was for sure a very cute stop. Top of the list of places I didn’t think I would like at all but actually really enjoyed. I just have to go a but earlier in the day, ya know? So I can catch all the antique stores before they close.
And it was off to South Dakota! We left pretty early for the drive to the Black Hills, and by early afternoon, we were looking at the stone faces of four of our great presidents. I’ve always wanted to see Mount Rushmore–especially because the National Treasure movies are some of my biggest guilty pleasures.
We arrived under slightly-overcast skies and had no problems finding a front of the crowd spot at the viewpoint. Dang, it was pretty cool. We walked around what was open of the President’s Trail, which got us right up to the bottom of the mountain. I could see right up Washington’s nose! I love history, so it was pretty awesome to see such a big piece of it–and to make many National Treasure jokes, of course.
We ate a nice lunch on site and hit the gift shop. Then we drove the few miles into Keystone to check into our hotel and figure out our next move. We stopped at a row of stores to check out the goofy tourist gear they had there, and that was pretty fun. We also went mini golfing, which I love! It was a pretty small course, and we were doing a good-ish job……..and then it rained. At first, it was okay, we could manage, but after about ten minutes, it became a downpour, and neither of us had hoods or umbrellas. We didn’t finish the course, but we could through three-quarters of it, which I would say was a success enough.
The hot tub called to us then, so we indulged. Since it was indoor, the room was incredibly humid, and we certainly didn’t last very long. The heat calmed our cramped muscles but didn’t do much for our dehydrated bodies and increasing hunger. So we headed out for dinner and found a cute, trendy-looking former-diner called the Front Porch. Unlike the Cal Poly coffee place of the same name, this place did not give out free coffee. It did, however, have cheap glasses of wine and heaping plates of pasta. Amy and I should have split it, since we got the exact same thing, but we didn’t realize just how much we’d be getting. As soon as the waitress set our plates down, Amy said, “Oh yeah, I forgot we’re in the Midwest now.” Since we had a fridge and a microwave in our room, we saved what we couldn’t eat, but per the usual, it was thrown away in the end.
The best part about our fun outing was the double rainbow that came out toward the end of the meal. One of the waitresses ran outside and ran back in to announce it–there were only a couple other parties in the restaurant at the time, so we all just walked out to the little boardwalk to see it. It was the brightest I’ve ever encountered! Usually, they’re faded and the colors blur together, but this one was clear and beautiful. I was in awe. It was the perfect end to a pretty good day.
This was the day we woke up and left the earliest. It was the longest and last day of driving. We had two semi-planned stops along the way, but we knew they would be short ones, and any other stops would be for food only. It was time for the home stretch.
We made a stop at the famous Wall Drug store in South Dakota, which they start advertising before you even reach the state line. It was a huge store with a cafe, a restaurant, and about four or five different gift shops. It was very western themed. A bathroom break, a quick soda purchase, and a lap through the store was really all we did. The daunting drive ahead made us not want to be anywhere long. Also, the store was…a lot. If you ever find yourself driving through South Dakota, though, and you need a pit stop? This one is pretty good.
Our second non-food stop was at the “World’s Only Corn Palace,” also in South Dakota. It’s a big building made of corn–sort of. The outside is lined with corn kernels and husks and whatnot. The inside is a museum/arena kind of place. They do concerts there. We only went inside to use the bathroom again–I did a lot of that. But it was a nice stop to stretch our legs a bit.
After one more gas/bathroom break, we were finally in Minneapolis! And when we parked at Amy’s house, I was ready to never get in a car again. We ordered pizza and watched National Treasure because that was the mood for the evening. Calm and easy with no impending long drives in sight.
That’s all I have to say about that.
Wait, wait, Kacey Musgraves was fabulous, too. I love her.
Just a trip to one of the 10,000 (or closer to 15,000 as Amy has told me) and a walk around the Mall of America. Nothing too exciting, but the lake sure was pretty.
Having a low key day was the perfect ending to a long trip. I had such an amazing time. I got to visit a whopping five states I’d never been to before, experience a couple of fantastic landmarks, and see one of my favorite musicians at the end of it. It may not have been a crazy post-grad trip to Europe like quite a few people I know, but it was perfect for me.
Onto the next thing!