Part 2
All By Myself



My 1994 Trip Around the US

Part 1
My Daughter and I

It's the first week of June 1994, and my daughter, Lisa, and I headed north on AZ-77, out of Tucson, up and around the Catalina mountains and through Catalina, Oracle and Mammoth. Along the San Pedro to Winkleman and on the Globe. From Globe we headed up the Mogollon Rim, the uplift that cuts Arizona diagonally from south east to north west. What a change. You go from desert to pines in one mighty push.

From Show Low, the town that got it's name from a card game, we headed north to Holbrook and I-40 and then east to the Petrified Forest National Park. We stopped there for a couple hours to check out the museum and the scenery. After lunch, we headed east on I-40 to US 191 and then went north through the Navajo reservation and into Utah. This corner of Utah, actually the whole south end of Utah, is a magnificent place of high desert and gorgeous rocks.

We spent the night at Moab KOA Campground since the campgrounds at Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park were full by the time we got there.

The next morning we toured both Arches and Canyonlands and did the usual oohing and aahing that is the natural reaction. There are a large variety of colors and textures of the rocks and they are piled up and eroded in so many ways that it is truly overwhelming. It's difficult to drive through as you are constantly trying to see another great view and another beautiful rock or arch. We did a short hike to get a better view of Delicate Arch and we could see people near it that had hiked the long hike to get there and were amazed at how little they were compared to the arch.

To get to Canyonlands we drove about several miles through flat grasslands and wondered what the big deal was. Then we reached the museum and looked down from one of the lookouts and saw the ground just dropped away to canyons. This is a relatively undeveloped park and to see most of it you have to do some major and rugged driving. n but well worth the trouble as the scenery and contrast from the grasslands is great. We came down the other side using a lot of brake and then through a canyon with cliffs on either side, that was lined with ranches. We saw very few vehicles in this entire stretch .

From there we went northeast UT-128 to I-70 and headed east to Loma, CO. CO-139 looked like a fairly good road, so we headed north on it. We drove through rolling grasslands for a while then started climbing till we reached the pass at over 8000 feet. This is a winding and steep road that you have to really slow down on but well worth the trouble as the scenery and contrast from the grasslands is great. We came down the other side using a lot of brake and then through a canyon lined with ranches. This whole time we saw very few vehicles.

This part of the country is a very arid and high area. There are trees on the higher mountains that catch what little moisture does come across, but the vast plains and canyons are either sparse grasslands or bare rocks and dirt. It can get hot in the summer, but is usually not bad, but most of the year it is cold and miserable. The scenery is beautiful but an awesome beauty, not the lush beauty of areas with more rainfall. Farming is difficult and ranching rapidly destroys what little vegetation there is. Truly a wonderful area, but one that is hard to make a living in as is seen by the sparse population.

At Rangley, CO we got on CO-64 and headed west to US-40. A little ways west on 40 we reached the campgrounds for Dinosaur National Park where we spent the night. Dinosaur has some very nice campgrounds next to the Verde River and the campsites are well separated.

The next morning we went to the museum at Dinosaur National Park. This is one of the great ideas in museums. The museum is built right against a rock with lots of dinosaur bones. They have partially excavated the bones so that you can see them in place in the rock. They also have dinosaur skeletons set up so that you can see how the bones fit together. This is a must see more than once place.

We then went west on US 40 to Vernal where we headed north on US 191. This led us through Ashley National Forest to the Flaming Gorge Dam. This is marked as a scenic drive on the map and lived up to this designation. It was a high road and alternated between alpine meadows and pine forests. The drive was very relaxing and beautiful.

We stopped at the dam and took a tour of it. Now, I enjoy the outdoors and scenery and all of that, but there is something awe inspiring about seeing the works of mankind on such a huge scale as at a dam. The generator alone was awesome and dwarfed us puny humans. Knowing the tons of water backed up above me made we aware in a way that I rarely am.

We then kept going north on US 191 through high grasslands. We wound up and down mountains with few trees to block the view. In places there was still snow. At one point we drove for quite a while along a high ridge with a steep drop to the west. We could see a fire burning far below but couldn't tell how large it was as everything there was so big that the fire was dwarfed. There was a very occasional ranch and little traffic. Absolutely no stores, gas stations, etc. It was very exposed, windy and cold but interesting as you could see so far and even though the countryside was not forgiving, it was also very rolling and soft.

We turned left (west) when we reached I-80 and head toward US-89 which would take us north to Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP. We stopped at Little America, though I must say it was a bit of a disappointment. It was just a large truck stop and not one of the better ones. Just past Little America we left I-80 and headed west on US-30 till we hit WY-89 which cut north to US-89 which took us to Yellowstone National Park.

This is a very beautiful alpine drive. It gets a little kitschy at times but overall it's nice. On our right were the mountains and we drove though meadows with ski lodges and cows. Jackson is a cute little ski town. A little too self conscious, but then most ski towns seem to be to me.

We spent the night at a national forest campground in the Bridger Teton Natl Forest. There were only a few people there and we enjoyed walking through the pines and relaxing. It was so pleasant to be cool after coming from Arizona.

The next day we headed north and through Grand Teton National Park. It seems so vast as you can see quite far over the grasslands from the road. To our left the Tetons rose up, covered with snow. We stopped to just look at the view a couple of times, but hurried on as we were anxious to get to Yellowstone as we had never been there before.

Still on US-89 we headed into Yellowstone. We saw some signs of the fire a few years before but the scars were already getting covered up. What a beautiful piece of nature this whole area is. We kept saying "look at that, look at this, wow". I do believe we crossed the Continental Divide a couple of times. We drove through to Madison Junction campground and set up our tent so that we could get into the sightseeing stuff. Since it was still morning we made nearly a full day of it.

Of course we saw Old Faithful and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, as well as the Paint Pots. The geology is fascinating and the nature bit is pretty good too. There were a herd of bison grazing near the campgrounds. The calves were still small and I couldn't believe the idiots who got between the calf and other bison to take pictures. Hey, mama bison aren't too happy about having a strange animal between them and their calves.

The warnings that you get when signing in at the campgrounds and the grizzlies are rather scary also. We decided that we would sleep in the back of the pickup (I had an aluminum shell on it) rather than in the tent. We figured that way the grizzlies might look for easier pickings.

We woke up the next morning to two inches of snow. Brrrrr! We loaded everything in the back of the truck, including a wet tent, and went to Old Faithful Lodge for breakfast and a hot shower. After checking out everything gushing and geysering and spouting and oozing again and enjoying them against a backdrop of snow, we headed west on US-14/ 16/ 20. This was a winding drive down a two lane highway, in the snow, with a bunch of people who really weren't expecting this on their summer vacation. Lovely drive, but I was too busy worrying about staying on the road, or someone else running into me.

You come down from the rockies into the high plains where it is cold and open. Driving across Wyoming we also got hail. My daughter, who had learned to drive in Tucson Arizona, was driving at the time and was very unhappy about all this. US-14 left us at Greybull and WY-789 joined us as we turned right and went south to Worland and then east again on just US-16, across the Bighorn Mountains to Buffalo where we got on I-90.

We stayed on I-90 to Moorcroft where we stayed at the Cozy Motel since our tent and tarps were still wet. We draped them over the pickup to dry them out before we went to bed.

The next morning we took US-14 up to Devils Tower NM. What a shiver of delight to stand before the icon of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". It really is impressive. We took a volkswalk from the little store below up and around the monument. There were quite a few people climbing it. In the headquarters there were quite a few notices that the park service is not reponsible for what might happen while someone is climbing the rock.

After a walking for a few hours and checking out the headquarters, we headed back to Moorcroft and then south on US-16, across the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. I enjoy grasslands and praries, but the problem with trying to preserve them is that they aren't super spectacular, but we still need to protect what little original praries and grassland that are left. I love the sky on the grasslands. It's so high and open. It feels like I'm on the ocean with the waves blowing across the grass when I drive across grasslands. How can people call them boring? The colors change constantly and the shadows chase each other across the waves the wind makes. I have heard that we like grass because our remote ancestors evolved into what we are on grasslands. This, supposedly, is why some people get their jollies from having the perfect lawn. I prefer unmanicured praries and grasslands.

Leaving the grasslands, the land became rougher and we drove into the Black Hills. We entered South Dakota, still on US-16, just before Jewel Cave National Monument where we stopped and toured. Evidently there are quite a few caves throughout the Black Hills and they've been explored and used by both animals and humans since before Columbus. I enjoy touring caves as long as I don't have to do more than bend my head a little and no squeezing through little entrances, thank you. I have just a touch of claustrophobia and the thought of crawling on my stomach through a little cave is enough to give me nightmares.

Jewel Cave is the third largest cave in the world with over 100 miles already known and more to come. We didn't walk anywhere near 100 miles, just the scenic tour to see all the pretties, but I'd like to go back and go on the historic tour. The surface above the cave has ponderosa pines, canyons and meadows.

We spend the night at a campground at Custer State Park. Our campsite is on a strip of grass between the road that circles through the campground, there is a bathroom with hot showers. One nice thing about most state campgrounds, as opposed to National Park or Forest camgrounds, is that the state campgrounds usually have showers.

That evening we drive over to see the show at Mt Rushmore. To be precise, my daughter drove over on US-alt16, also called Iron Mountain Road, a very narrow, winding road in the gathering dusk, while I clutched the seat hoping we wouldn't meet any oncoming traffic. Truly a scary drive...but Mt Rushmore made it worthwhile. Mt Rushmore is one of those over touristy places that everyone looks down on, that is truly awesome when you actually see it. I enjoyed the show and the exhibits. Afterwards, I drove back on a more round about route, SD-244 and US-16 back to US-alt16, but much less scary.

The next day we drove to Rapid City on SD-36 and SD-79 and ate breakfast at a nice cafe, then went on a volkswalk through the town. It was nice to walk up and down the hills and stretch out after all that driving we had been doing. When we finished we headed east, again on I-90. This is a long, flat stretch, part of the high plains. It's still arid and is ideal for grasslands.

Not too long into the day, I was just relaxed as I watched the road roll by as my daughter was driving. I jumped as I heard a loud "bang" and I looked over at my daughter and she's saying "The tire came off! The tire came off! I saw it rolling down the road!". There was something wrong with the tire, but I could tell we still had a tire of some kind. My daughter was so upset I had to tell her to pull over to get her to stop and my heart was beating a bit hard. We got out and saw that the tread of the tire had come completely off. We changed the tire and went on several miles (everything is "several miles" around there) till we came to a garage where we could get a new tire.

When we looked at the other rear tire, it was starting to crack, also. The tires weren't too old but this is always a problem when driving in Arizona due to the heat. We ended up getting two tires, but the garage was "good guys" and didn't try to gouge us. By the time this was all done, we were well into the afternoon. I saw that there was a KOA campground not too far ahead, so we decided to just stop at the Belvidere KOA, on SD-63, south of Midland SD, for the night.

This is such a different campground than the others we had stopped at as it was flat and totally open. I felt somewhat exposed, at first, but soon got used to it and enjoyed the vastness of our surroundings. I've heard people complain bitterly about KOAs but I was always treated well and usually enjoyed staying at them. The only overall complaint I have about, not only KOAs but all large commercial campgrounds, is that the spaces closest to the office (and bathrooms) seem to be reserved for motorhomes and trailers. Hey, they have bathrooms. Us campers are the ones who have to try to find our way across a dark campground in the middle of the night when nature calls.

The next day we continued east on I-90 into Minnesota. We noticed that there was more humidity and the grass was greener. We left the plains and headed closer to the Great Lakes. This evening we took a short jog south on I-35, east on Freeborn Cty-46 and south on Freeborn Cty-38 and stopped at Myra-Big Island State Park. This is on Lake Albert Lea and we stretched our legs on the trails. The trail went through the woods and along the lakeside. It was a bit brushy and muddy but smelled so good with that summer essence. We noticed that along with the green grass came mosquitos. We were glad to have the screening on the tent.

The next day we headed out on our last day before reaching Chicago. We continued along I-90 through Minnesota and into Wisconsin, crossing the state line at La Crosse. Again everything was green (and buggy) but so refreshing for us westerners. I-94, coming in from Minneapolis, joined us for a while before heading east to Milwaukee.

We followed I-90 into Illinois and the hubbub of Chicago. It was quite a change from the bucolic countryside that we'd been driving through for so long. That afternoon we arrived at my son's apartment in Evanston, IL. It was so nice to see him, even if a little sad as my oldest child was graduating from school. Well, he was graduating from being an undergraduate, but there were a few years of graduate school to go.

We spent the next week meeting Mike's friends and going to the various functions and receptions for graduation at Northwestern University. I went to the Museum of Art and the Field Museum of Natural History. Such a overload of museums in Chicago! I often wish I could live in Chicago so I would have time to see all they have, but there are so many places that would be wonderful to live in.

Part 2 - All By Myself

©Rachel Aschmann 1998.
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