Headed Home: Final Thoughts on a 6,611 Mile Road Trip

HRT StatesA year ago today we arrived home from our 6,611 mile honeymoon road trip… it feels like a lifetime ago.

To Yellowstone

A number of people told us our trip was too ambitious – that we were trying to fit too much in in a short amount of time, and even joked that we should draw up divorce papers (being “stuck” together in a car for that long). I will say that while there were a couple meltdowns, it was by far the best experience of my life. I got to travel the country with my best friend (who also happens to be my husband), see parts of the country I’d never even thought about before, and experience a story that will last the rest of our lifetimes.

To Home

There were some amazing highlights and some things we’d do differently. We both agreed that the best part of the trip was Yellowstone. We had talked about going for years, so finally being able to do so made it even more special. The wildlife and sheer beauty of the area were astounding. It makes you realize how small you are in the world – surrounded by geologic features millions of years in the making, in an area where wolves have made a comeback to keep the ecological beauty of the area intact. That’s one of many reason why the recent news stories of a man putting a bison calf in his car, and adventure bloggers stepping onto the Grand Prismatic Spring hurt so much. Nature isn’t there for our benefit and we cannot do what we want with it. Yellowstone is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, and it is a reminder that setting aside areas to remain wild is what makes a country great.

Another regret – not getting every state welcome sign!

Some of my favorite memories from our trip were Hasha being chased by an amorous sage grouse, the coffee from St. Louis, MO (hello 7-hour straight drive), driving the Iron Mountain Road,  the 1st time seeing snow in the Badlands – and then Really seeing snow in Yellowstone, leaving a medicine bag for our weddings in the Black Hills, almost dying on our 10-year anniversary on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, Hasha being yelled at by an angry logger… all these memories just add to the greatness of the adventure.

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The Last Few States Were a Blur… New Mexico to New Orleans

In all honestly, the last week of our almost 7,000 mile road trip was a blur, but with some really amazing stops along the way.

After leaving Moab, we headed towards New Mexico with the goal of spending the night in Santa Fe. We decided to drive toward the  4 Corners, so we could be sneaky and say we hit 2 more states than we really did (AZ and CO). After crossing numerous state lines we arrived at the 4 Corner’s Monument, only to find out that it cost money to get in (it honestly had never occurred to me that we’d have to pay…).  So instead, we settled for a photo of the sign and headed into New Mexico.

NM to NOLA HRT--7We had planned on staying the night in Santa Fe – known for it’s beauty, and amazing artists markets. Unfortunately, we completely underestimated the drive time and knew there was no way we could make it to Santa Fe  that evening… so, we settled for Albuquerque. I honestly do not remember anything about it, other than the gigantic bed that we promptly collapsed into (I don’t think we even had dinner…).  The next morning we awoke slightly disappointed that we hadn’t met our drive goal for the 1st time on the trip. So we sat looking at the map for what we could do to make up for it, because the prospect of driving straight to Lubbock, TX that day was not the most exiting – so we chose to make our 1st diversion from the planned trip and head to Roswell, NM.

Roswell… of Area 51 and alien conspiracy fame, was always one of those places whose legends had intrigued both Hasha and I, but much more so for Hasha. Both being big SciFi nerds we agreed it was worth another long day to get to say we went to this iconic American town…. and to go to the International UFO museum.

NM to NOLA HRT--8Pulling into Roswell was, well, interesting – a very small town with random alien-themed decor everywhere! From the painted alien eyes on every streetlight to the random alien murals (really… do we really need an alien matador?!), it was like a 1995 Spencer’s Gifts exploded on Main Street. But Hasha was a happy man….  after multiple portraits of him next to every damn alien homage, we walked into the International UFO Museum. And, well, interesting again…. Covered in newspaper clippings from the 1947 supposed UFO crash (not joking, framed newspapers everywhere!), random objects associated with alien abduction, and fan art with crudely depicted “greys” to intricate, delicate works of art. There was also the weirdest display of aliens and a ship that would make crazy sounds, light up, and shoot smoke out every 10 minutes or so. Hasha wanted to try and find the actual “crash site” but I warned him that he’d probably be shot…. So we said good bye to the aliens and headed to Texas.

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Into the Desert: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Canyonland HRT--2On May 17, we left Salt Lake City and headed for the desert. Where we had started out in Yellowstone the day before, in my 1st snow storm ever, we ended the next day in tank tops and flip flops surrounded by the most stunning vistas I’ve seen in the US.  As we drove through Utah, the red rocks and expanses of desert became more prominent.

Canyonland HRT-4768We stayed in Moab, UT for 2 nights to celebrate our Ojibwe wedding anniversary (if you can’t tell, we have about 10 anniversaries…) and my birthday. We had heard that the area was touristy due to it being the only “town” in close proximity to Arches National Park, and that Arches was notoriously clogged with people. Having come from a mix of cabin isolation and crazy tourist vying for wildlife photos, we were a little apprehensive. While Moab is nothing to write home about – other than its ridiculously over-priced hotels and that everything closes at 8:30pm sharp – the surrounding lands were breath-taking.

I actually had issues processing my photos from this area as I loved too many of them – the colours and landscapes were just so different from what I see on an every-day basis. Granted, I live where people vacation, but I miss mountains… tremendously. Seeing deserts and mountains to me must be what people seeing the ocean for the first time feel. I always feel small… that the great expanse of the earth is put into perspective and while it may make some feel insignificant, I always feel more grounded and connected to the rest of the world in those moments.

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Dead Horse Point State Park

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Out of the Wilderness: Yellowstone to SLC

IMG_8450 (1)The line into Yellowstone on the Saturday we left was horrendous – we sat for 45 minutes just trying to get through the gate, and again, this wasn’t even season yet! We expected an uptick in traffic from the weekdays to the weekend, but we by no means expected what we saw, in part because the weather wasn’t that great. Actually, the weather completely caught us off guard! IMG_8462 (1)The storm we had survived driving through the previous night had turned into a snowstorm, and everything was blanketed in at least a foot of snow. Having only seen little flurries, this was amazing! As scary as it was to drive on icy and snow covered roads, the blanketed trees and quietness of the forests was something I’ll never forget. Frozen lakes, 34-degrees, snow falling from trees – it was stunning, especially for a Florida girl!

IMG_8457 (1)We wound our way south through Yellowstone, skirting the lake once again, but now in a totally new experience. With such peaceful surroundings, it felt even more isolated than the other excursions into the park.

Raven friend in Grand Teton
Raven friend in Grand Teton

As we drove out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park, I had been writing on my laptop while Hasha drove so I could stay on top of everything we were experiencing along our route, knowing that trying to remember all the events at a later date would be difficult. So as I we started climbing into the Teton Mountains, I closed my entry on Yellowstone and promptly put my head between my legs. The grade we were driving on had become the steepest we’d experienced yet at 13%… with snow flurries. The night before, while harrowing and terrifying, was manageable mainly because I was the one driving my own car. Concentrating so hard on not going off the road didn’t allow for any other thoughts or emotions. But as a passenger, I had all the time in the world to be a back-seat harpy to my poor husband. Between our ears popping like crazy, snow everywhere, and all the cars tail-gaiting and slamming on breaks, I had to put my head on the dashboard and pray we didn’t hit anything or go off the road.

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“’Now Entering Montana’… Where the hell are we?!”: Yellowstone, Part 2

Yellowstone 1-11On May 15th, our 10-year anniversary, we decided to head north and east, with our goal being the Lamar Valley, where wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, and Tower Falls. The northern part of the park seemed less touristy with more scenic valleys and overlooks. We stopped first at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. After a little hike down, we saw the most impressive waterfall we’d seen in the whole park. The colours of the rock striations were gorgeous, and with the cascading water lulling us into a peaceful stupor, it was a beautiful start to the day.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We drove to Mammoth Hot Springs and had a picnic lunch watching a prairie dog shove his face with dandelions – a good lunch for all. Mammoth is by far the nicest place, human habitation-wise, that we found in the park. Lots of old buildings and cabins from the early 1900’s and a great visitors center. There was also a lodge and little restaurant, all very quaint and picturesque; we decided that when we come back, we will definitely be staying in Mammoth if we stay in the park.

Cinnamon and black bear cubs
Cinnamon and black bear cubs

On our way to Tower Falls, we came across a huge gaggle of people lining the roads and knew a bear was around. We parked a little ways away and walked back up, and sure enough a momma black bear with two cubs were sleeping in the trees about 30 yards from the road. They were lolling together having an afternoon snooze, but the really cool thing about them was that one of the cubs was a cinnamon bear. Cinnamon bears are just a different colour phase from black bears, but it was really neat to see a black momma with one black cub and on cinnamon cub.

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“Your Bison’s Escaped”: Yellowstone National Park, Part 1

Cabin in Wapiti Valley
Cabin in Wapiti Valley

Yellowstone was the goal for our whole honeymoon road trip. Before we planned anything, all we wanted was for the first National Park to be the objective destination for us to hit. We arrived on the evening of May 13th to our little cabin on five acres in the Wapiti Valley. I found the cabin on HomeAway.com and Sandi, who helped us book it was amazing. Positioned right in between Cody, WY and the East Entrance to Yellowstone, it was a perfect hold up for a few days.

On our drive through US-16, we drove through Greybull, WY. I include this as a cautionary tale… the cops lurk there in hidden holes. I saw the sign ahead that said 45mph, so I sped up to that speed…. Mr. Handle-bar-mustache-my-brother’s- the-town-judge informed me otherwise and gave me a hefty ticket. We have towns in FL where the local cops make all their revenue off of speed traps – I should’ve known better.

Yellowstone 1-10Once we got to our cabin in Wapiti Valley, we immediately pulled everything out of the car, which admittedly had begun to smell like an old shoe after 2,700 miles and 45 hours of driving (FYI, stock up on air fresheners if undertaking such a trip), and headed for the park. As we were driving through the Shoshone National Forest, we saw our first buffalo. They are the most majestic, peaceful beings I’ve ever seen – they are enormous, can outrun and kill you if you mess with them, but they are just adorable. We jokingly said, “Looks like someone let a bison out of the park,” and had a good laugh. When we got to the entrance to pay our fee ($25 for a week, which is ridiculously cheap for all that you can see), the ranger told us how tourists have let them know that “[their] bison had escaped,” along with, “the animals in the park are all tame right?”

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The insanity of wildlife viewing in Yellowston
The insanity of wildlife viewing in Yellowstone

These comments, along with the human interaction with wilderness we’ve seen in the park, have sparked a long discussion between Hasha and myself. Numerous signs tell visitors not to approach wildlife – to stay at least 25 yards from buffalo, and 100 yards from predators such as bears. You know that there is a bear off the road by the massive amount of cars and people crowding the narrow 2-lane roads. The first bear we saw was a momma grizzly and her cub. It was absolute chaos on the road – cars pulled over, and sticking into the road, people all over the side of the highway, people down in the valley trying to get closer to the bear. Not until a ranger came to get the people to move their cars out of the road, and say, “God, summer’s going to be insane,” did it start to break up. It almost feels like an intrusion into a sacred moment of a mother grizzly teaching her cub how to forage – she became a roadside attraction to be gawked at and photographed. And we were a part of it; we are just as much to blame. It’s a fine balance between experience and respect for wild beings, and something that we’re both still trying to understand. Education and immersion are some of the most powerful tools to cultivate conservation in a person’s soul. Getting people into the wild can instill a lifelong love of wild places and conservation, but if they’re there to just take a photo and check off a box, how can we make it more meaningful? Continue reading

Into the Wilderness: Black Hills to Bighorn 

The Black Hills National Forest was a place we were both really looking forward to seeing. It is one of the most sacred sites for numerous tribes, and the birthplace of the Lakota. It is also the location of Mount Rushmore – depending on how you view it, a monument to American’s presidents and “ingenuity,” or a desecration of the natural environment and tribal land.

After leaving Deadwood, we headed into the Black Hills. While Deadwood sat in a little circle of development, as soon as we left the area, the trees and snow lined the roads we traveled. We came across a little town called Keystone just to the south, that we both would have rather stayed in. Nothing much to write home about but much quainter than Deadwood, and we came across a Florida license plate, which I was extremely excited about (though I never had the chance to accost the owners). Again, gambling was still present, but on a much lesser scale than in Deadwood.

Pilot car
Pilot car

We chose to drive the Iron Mountain Road, a road that boasts the most switchbacks, pigtails, and tunnels in the US. It was spectacular! After leaving Keystone, we only had to drive a few miles before we saw a small sign indicating that we were about to hit Iron Mountain. Before we could get it on it though, we were first stopped at the beginning by a hilarious, weather-beaten old woman who told us we had to wait for the pilot car to return in order for us to proceed. A pilot car, which we had never encountered before, is a vehicle that guides your car around the washed out bits, holes, and other nefarious dangers that could destroy your car. While we waited, we were regaled with stories of how her and her husband used to run a camp ground outside of Sturgis, and all the insanity that came with massive amounts of motorcycle gangs who would stay over. She was charming, and I wish we could have spent more time chatting with her… but the pilot car awaited.

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“Get Off My Trail Head”: St. Louis, MO to Deadwood, SD

On May 10th, we stayed at my cousin Gretchen’s house in St. Louis, but missed seeing them by one day, thanks to my eagerness in leaving a day early, which was a bummer. St. Louis was charming – walkable streets, little restaurants in old buildings, community gardens, it was a lovely break from being cooped up in the car. The next morning we knew we were headed into our longest drive yet (10 hours), so we decided to stretch our legs before heading out.

Community garden in St. Louis
Community garden in St. Louis

Seeing some of St. Louis’ historic buildings and gorgeous gardens, I felt nostalgic for living in a big city with hidden gems on short walks. The coffee shop we found provided some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and thanks to the large latte with 4 shots of espresso, I was able to drive for 7 hours straight through the length of Missouri, and winding in and out of Nebraska and Iowa (Hasha swears I didn’t blink through two states thanks to that latte); Hasha took over once we hit South Dakota. We stayed at the AmericInn, which had a glorious hot tub in the room, and the nicest staff who made the tortuous drive seem not so bad. On top of the amazing hotel with pool and hot tub, we were directed to a restaurant within walking distance which made glorious amounts of vodka tonics, with the nicest waitress (Oh Taylor, if Hasha wasn’t already married…).

On May 11th, we met up with Hasha’s grandparents, Cindy and Dennis, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was so amazing to see family, and in true grandparent fashion, we were presented with coveted beef jerky, delicious cookie bars, and a cozy jacket so I wouldn’t get cold. We met at Prairie Star Gallery – one of the biggest Native artists galleries in the Dakota’s. Every Peace Time, Cindy and Dennis give all the kids ornaments and sweet grass from Prairie Star, so being able to actually see the gallery was amazing. This is also the gallery where Hasha and I got our Ojibwe wedding present for each other. Last year we were married under the new moon of May in the traditional style, exchanging beaded moccasins and a star quilt.

Praire Star Gallery
Prairie Star Gallery

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A Honeymoon Adventure (Apologetically Late): Ft. Myers to St. Louis

So excited to spend 2+ weeks in a car
So excited to spend 2+ weeks in a car

After 6,611 miles, and 121 hours of driving through 19 states in 18 days… and dealing with  a broken computer, culling and editing 2,400 photos,and switching jobs, here are our stories… finally!

Cattle egret who wouldn't get off the car in Ft. Myers - a good omen for the trip
Cattle egret who wouldn’t get off the car in Ft. Myers – a good omen for the trip

We left Ft. Myers on May 6th to head to St. Pete. Loading the car called for some next level Tetris abilities, but was accomplished, as long as you didn’t need anything that wasn’t right on top. Seriously, unless you knew exactly where something was, you had to let it go because ripping the car apart wasn’t an option. We smashed as much as we could into the hatchback trunk (albeit the privacy screen popped off its hinges and just sat there atop all of our stuff), and shoved whatever else we could around the dog hammock in the back seat. A note about the dog hammock – it was a lovely idea, and was great for around the block trips, but for a 2 – 3 hour drive, our pup was not happy. She couldn’t get comfortable and wedged herself in between the door and the passenger seat – not an easy feat for a 98lbs lummox. We will not be using the hammock on the way back.

Lunch with dad on the Withlacoochoo River
Lunch with dad on the Withlacoochoo River

We stopped in St. Pete for two nights to see family and relax a little bit before we set out. On May 8th, we started our official mad dash to the North. A quick stop at my dad’s farm in Bushnell, Florida for lunch on the Withlacoochee River and to drop off our dog, Bindi, and we were on the road.

Our drive through the rest of Florida, the whole of Georgia, and into Tennessee was pretty uneventful, other than the hilarious billboards, my particular favorite: “Strippers! Need we say more! As featured on Jerry Springer!” We stayed in Chattanooga, TN our first night, and while the hotel was horrid (do not stay in the Red Roof Inn there), the city was beautiful. We ate dinner at the Terminal Restaurant, across the street from Chattanooga Choo Choo – the old rail station that’s now a hotel. We walked around the street after dinner, and came upon a sign that read, “Trail of Tears – Original Route – Next 3 miles.” It was a surreal and humbling experience to realize we had been walking in the steps of so many people who had died on a forced march by the US government to relocate the Cherokee people away from their ancestral homes. The middle of Main Street was part of the American Genocide against its Native peoples… Continue reading