Main Street, USA

After a rainy night at Devils Tower and a pitstop at Rushmore Honda in Rapid City, we headed to what should probably be called Monument Land, South Dakota. Families in minivans, families on motorcycles – they all had the exact same plans as we did. My only suggestion is to find your inner zen and eat lots of ice cream.

Clockwise from top left: Crazy Horse Memorial, Simon in the Badlands, street fashion at Mt. Rushmore, badder lands, boxwork, picture for Mom in front of Mt. Rushmore, junior ranger picture for my own amusement, tent life, Wind Cave National Park.

We drove to the Badlands under the darkest, rainiest cloud. Even from far away, we were struck by the beauty of the rock formations in the distance.

It was wonderful to have a full day to hike and drive around the Badlands. The temperature was unforgivingly hot, but Wall Drugs (aka the Disneyland of the South Dakota highway) provided a great midday oasis. We saw way more wildlife on the main park road than expected. I have a new found appreciation for prairie dog colonies at the foot of dusk-colored rock towers.

For the next two days, Simon and I drove to Chicago. I’m so thankful for my third travel buddy for keeping me company, enduring multiple sibling selfies, and fishing ABBA’s greatest hits out of the discount bin at Walmart.

Clockwise from top left: Favorite colors of the Badlands, posing with Eli at Wall Drugs, a Blue Unicorn Tang in Sioux Falls, Big Horn Sheep, Simon driving the Civic, more beautiful rocks, Wall Drugs ladies, hiking, me on a jackalope (obviously), Omaha.


Like No Place on Earth

I picked up trusted co-pilot 3, the one and only littlest brother Simon, in Helena, Montana. Thanks to Natalie’s recommendation, we started our journey with a beautiful two-hour boat ride through the Gates of the Mountains. Incredibly, the tour featured bald eagles, pictographs, rock faces, and a non-stop history lesson from our driver. We continued on to a brief flirtation with Idaho to see our cousins Steven, Jen, and Harper. What a blast! We can say with absolutely no bias that Harper is the best baby in the world.

Clockwise from top left: Gates of the Mountains north of Helena, proud potato pizza maker, cousins, Tetons, newest and best cousin Harper, the gates themselves.

The next morning we were off to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Yellowstone was an experience of contrasts. Both the Disney-like crowd watching of Old Faithful and the solitude of the park’s beautiful lakes left us speechless. My favorite moment was watching bison emerge from the bushes on a narrow hiking path. And then we were off to Cody, Wyoming for the longest running nightly rodeo. Horrifying commentary aside, it was fun cheering on people getting their start in the sport.

Simon and I both enjoyed the drive over Powder River Pass to Devils Tower. We loved, loved, loved the tower itself. The KOA right outside the park gates has a spectacular view and great amenities. Sadly, we were rained out of their nightly showing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Clockwise from top left: Old Faithful and her fans, sibling photo op, thermal activity, let’s pretend we were the only people at Old Faithful, view from the Devils Tower KOA, Powder River Pass, Yellowstone Lake, horses at the rodeo, Cody nightlife, Devils Tower.

Let’s Go to Canada

Continuing the theme of lakes and wonderful national parks, we drove north to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. Waterton and Glacier are best friends. Officially, they make up Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. If you have a passport, it’s an easy trip from the Many Glacier area. The town of Waterton is incredibly cute and has lots of camping, motel, and hotel options. We enjoyed the Bear Mountain Motel.

Clockwise from the top left: Waiting for teatime, Red Rock Canyon, Blakiston Falls, A BABY BEAR, Prince of Wales Hotel, delicious deserts at the Prince of Wales Tea.

Waterton was the perfect, quirky place to end the second leg of this road trip. From gourmet hot dogs at Wieners of Waterton, to a delightful community theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, to BEAR sightings, it really has it all. Big thanks to Natalie for being a great co-captain and taking pictures of wildlife and roadside oddities throughout the trip.

Clockwise from top left: Wieners (yes, I have the t-shirt), Teenie Weenie Theater Company, Sorry No Vacancy, a dinosaur in Choteau, Joseph, rough roads, and buffalo.

Big Sky Country

Montana entranced us from our very first stop. St. Regis does have a “Free Montana Trout Aquarium” as advertised. It also has huckleberry shakes and approximately one million souvenirs. What could be better? Answer: everything we saw in the next few days. Some highlights outside of the national park include our campground in Bigfork on Flathead Lake, every single beer and menu description at The Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish, and the relaxing atmosphere at Lake Five Resort.

I’ve been delaying this blog post because I don’t know how to capture “that” feeling, the one I’m sheepishly having over and over again. You enter a national park, it looks cool and different than the last one. Fine so far. But then you turn a corner or, I don’t know, start twisting  up a mountain road in dense fog in your 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, and a 400-foot waterfall comes into view. And then you’re hiking on a snow field, just hours after relaxing by a clear lake in your bikini. I guess I’ll have to settle for being the biggest national park fangirl ever and say,”Please visit Glacier National Park!” Just do it.

Beyond the Sound

The national parks party continues! Claire and I were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainier (top right corner) after waking up at Cougar Rock Campground. We also enjoyed the early wildflowers, old school lodge, flowing waterfalls, and bickering marmots. Enough with adjectives – check out some pictures:

Sadly, after venturing up to Seattle and hanging out with great friends (Hi, Meg!), it was time to say goodbye to Claire.  Thanks for being the leg 1 co-pilot!

Luckily, co-pilot 2 arrived the next day. Natalie and I headed east to Spokane. The landscape changed dramatically as we moved through the Cascades. Our first stop was Snoqualmie Falls, a great detour off of I-90. Then we continued on to Lake Chelan. Thanks to Tom’s recommendation, we enjoyed wonderful wines and a spectacular view at Siren Song.

The highlight of our stop in Spokane was the riverfront park. It was fun to walk the grounds of the 1974 World’s Fair. We took a gondola out over the falls. And, best of all, we observed a toddler bike race with a very enthusiastic announcer. On to Montana!

The Deepest Blue

Claire and I will both readily admit that we were not prepared for Crater Lake. I had booked a boat cruise and found directions on my phone, but that’s about it. After driving winding, forested roads, we arrived at the first viewpoint along the rim of the lake.

Woah. No words. Crater Lake is blue, blue, blue, and huge. At the risk of sounding like a national park fangirl, Crater Lake is the best!!! You must visit if you’re within a few hours. There’s no excuse.

There are two options for the boat tour. The longer tour drops you off on Wizard Island where you can climb a volcano within a volcano. We took the shorter, two hour tour because of time. First, we hiked down to the surface of the lake. The ranger on our boat shared great facts about the history and geology of the deepest lake in the US. There was also plenty of time to take pictures and stare into the blue. Finally, after viewing mezmorizing water falls and lava formations, we climbed the 700 feet up to the rim.

I want to give a special shoutout to Oakley (bottom right corner)! Claire and I had a wonderful time staying with Sharon, Sam, and Oakley in Eugene, Oregon. We were completely spoiled by the relaxing setting and delicious food. Thanks for having us!

Redwoods and Shakespeare

Day 3 brought more redwoods and no one was mad about it. We drove north to Redwood National and State Parks. After a foggy walk on the beach, we hiked the Trillium Falls Trail. It was perfect – old growth forest, lush ferns, and limited foot traffic. We ended the day poking around the tide pools near our campground at Patrick’s Point State Park.

Left to right: Elk on the side of 101, the verdant Trillium Falls Trail, more redwoods, and the beach outside Kuchel Visitor Center.

In the morning, we pushed on to Ashland. Our last miles on 101 introduced us to delicious salmon jerky and berry jam at Paul’s Famous Smoked Salmon Jerky. Then we headed east for our forested route into Oregon.

Ashland was so fun! We had a great time visiting with my co-teacher Brooklyn and her family. Highlights included eating pizza and relaxing at a free outdoor concert, seeing a 1930s Hollywood take on Twelfth Night, and generally soaking up all the good vibes Ashland has to offer. Thank you, Steve, for your hospitality!