My 1994 Trip Around the US
My Daughter and I
It's the first week of June 1994, and my daughter, Lisa, and I headed north
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
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
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
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
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