Archive for the ‘Chicago Trip’ Category

Day Eight Continued… (Roadtrip Adventures)

We had hopes that today would be a nice easy, even BORING, travel day through some picturesque countryside.  Oh boy, were we ever wrong about that notion.  It turned into a very interesting travel day full of changing weather, dramatic vistas and unexpected plot complications.

We woke up to find our cars covered in snow and the snow still falling.  Thankfully the snow wasn’t lasting long on the ground, and the sun soon came out and melted the snow on our cars.  It seemed like a good omen that our journey today started out with cold, but sunny weather when we got on the road.  A few clouds here and there and some strong winds seemed to be all we were going to have to contend with.  Then we hit the hills…

Along the way we kept seeing signs that warned the road ahead would be closed if the lights on the sign were flashing.  Luckily we didn’t see any flashing lights, but we did start seeing cars coming in the other direction with snow on them.  This gave us both some pause, and was particularly scary to Peter as his car’s “gecko feet” don’t seem to stick so well when the road gets icy.  At first when we were climbing into the hills, the road just wound through some steeply walled canyons, but before long we started noticing snow at the higher elevations.  We stopped to take a few photos and check out some of the point of interest markers but we hadn’t encountered snow on the road yet.

As we kept climbing the snow kept getting closer to the road until finally we found ourselves driving through a winter wonderland.  Snow covered everything on both sides of the road.  At first we were just driving through areas the snow had already covered from a previous fall then the weather shifted and we were driving through snow flurries that kept getting thicker and thicker.  The outside temperature dropped to about 23 degrees Fahrenheit, the clouds got very dark, and the snow kept falling.  We wondered if we were going to eventually get to a place where the road was closed and have to turn around, but then we saw a tour bus heading in the other direction.  This made us feel much better about continuing on.  Eventually we passed out the back end of the snow cloud we were in, and started down the far side of the hills we’d climbed.  We thought the worst of the snow was behind us.  Again, we were wrong.

Once we got down out of the hills we were making good time on the highway.  Then we noticed a sign that invited us to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument.  Peter’s philosophy is that we should take opportunities to see the things we want while we can.  After all, we’re on vacation so why not?  Well, there were two things that gave me pause.  The first was that we were under a bit of a time crunch to get to our destination before it got dark.  (Traveling after dark through places you don’t know sucks!)  The second was this big dark looming cloud on the horizon in the direction we’d need to go to get to Devil’s Tower.  In the end, our sense of adventure and desire to visit an attraction we both wanted to see while we had the opportunity won out.  After all, when might we be back this way again?

We entered a waypoint for Devil’s Tower into our GPS’s and off we went.  At first it looked like we’d skirt the edge of the very dark cloud between us and our objective, but that wasn’t going to happen.  We ended up driving through some very dense snow that was more like hail than the flaky white fluff we’d driven through earlier.  For a little bit, I was worried it was actually starting to build up on the road but then the weather shifted, and we found ourselves once again driving under blue skies.  Peter and I have been remarkably lucky this trip in that we’ve had good clear weather when we’ve really needed it.  Fortune smiled upon us many times today, but we were most lucky when we got to Devil’s Tower.  The weather was clear enough to get some really nice shots of the tower and surrounding countryside.  Not only that, but today was the last day of National Parks Week and we got in to the monument for free!  Bonus!

While at the tower we got the opportunity to also get some photos of the local residents.  The prairie dogs were all over the place and were easy enough to photograph but we also got fortunate enough to run across some wild turkeys that were busy courting.  The display by the tom for his hens was particularly spectacular.

We couldn’t afford to spend much time at the tower, and had to leave not long after arriving there.  There’s not really much to do at the tower anyway, so we got a few pictures and hit the road again before the snow moved back in on us.  We had another minor plot complication to contend with as well.  My car was low on gas and we needed to find some fuel before we could push on to Custer, South Dakota.  Then the next plot complication hit.  The weather took another dramatic turn and we found ourselves driving through another heavy snow storm.  Let me tell you, there aren’t many road trip situations more uncomfortable than the prospect of finding yourself running out of fuel somewhere away from the main highway in the middle of a snow storm.  Thankfully good fortune smiled on us once again and we made it to the gas station with time to spare.

A quick refuel and we were back on the road.  We had to drive through more snow but it wasn’t very long before we finally reached Custer, SD.  We had one more plot twist in store for us though.  We’d planned on staying at the Best Western as we’d stayed at a bunch of them on this trip and have always found them to be clean and comfortable.  However the Best Western in Custer isn’t open until May 1st and today is April 25th…  We continued to drive a little farther down the main street in Custer and noticed several of the hotels and businesses were dark…  Uh Oh….!  Holiday Inn Express to the rescue!  Even though they seemed dark when we first looked, they’re actually open!  Yay!  The real funny thing was that soon after we showed up, and parked our cars out front, several other people arrived as well.  I like to think they saw us there and decided the hotel wasn’t closed after all!

Day Nine: Cody, WY to Custer, SD (praying for no snow)

It snowed on us overnight and we woke up to our cars lightly covered in albino brain chiggers.  The kind that stick in your hair and freeze your brain senseless.  Thankfully the sun came out and melted most of them away so that by the time we hit the road, I doubt we’ll have much to worry about.

Day Eight: Yellowstone (Gardiner, MT) to Cody, WY

Not much to report today.  We drove from Yellowstone to Cody, Wyoming.  Originally we’d planned to drive through Yellowstone and out a different entrance but we were thwarted in this since much of the park is still closed due to Winter conditions.  Consequently we had to go back out the way we came in and drive around the park.  Lots of beautiful country, and we again lucked out today with equally beautiful weather.   Mostly sunny with big white fluffy clouds.

Along the way we passed a place called Prairie Dog Town State Park.  I started looking for Prairie Dogs off the side of the roadway and it wasn’t long before I saw them popping up, as Prairie Dogs will do.  When I tried to draw Peter’s attention to them, he basically accused me of seeing imaginary animals again.  Oh well, such is the curse of the observant.

Tomorrow we head on to Custer South Dakota where we’ll stay before we see Mt. Rushmore.

Yellowstone – Photos by Tim

We spent the day in Yellowstone National Park.   Here’s a few photos I took along the way.

Yellowstone – Pictures by Peter

Day Six: Missoula to Yellowstone

Since Tim and I both had ideas for the blog today, we’re each doing our own.

So let’s start with the most important meal of the day, breakfast! I’ve been through Missoula Montana a few times, and in my travels I discovered a place called Paul’s Pancake Parlor.

Now you might ask, what’s so special about a pancake house that rates driving several hundred miles for breakfast? In this case, it’s the sourdough pancakes. You see, the owner makes them with a sourdough starter that his grandma made 95 years ago!

These aren’t for the faint of heart. But if you love sourdough and don’t mind your breakfast food a bit sour, it’s really yummy!

After breakfast it was time to hit the road again. But before we could leave town, I needed two things, money and coffee.

Thanks to the miracle that is GPS, we found a Wells Fargo a couple of blocks away. However, their parking lot was designed by someone who makes hedge mazes, because each part of their lot was physically separated from the others. For instance, the lot by the front door was not at all connected to the lot where the ATM was, or the drive up windows.

Speaking of which, when is the last time you saw a bank that actively used pneumatic tubes in their drive through? I felt like I was six again.

After driving into one lot, out to the street, into another lot, onto the street, and finally to the ATM lot, I found a drive up ATM that was clearly designed for people in very tall trucks.  Once I was flush with cash, we were on our way to Starbucks.

Tim and I are firm believers that all coffee shops should have drive-thrus, so we try and support them whenever possible. Apparently the citizens of Missoula Montana agree, since every coffee shop here has a drive through. Including the one next to the Fudrucker’s Casino and Lounge!

Finally, we were properly caffeinated and on the road.

It looked like it was going to be another beautiful drive day. Rolling hills, snow covered mountains, and not a lot of rain. Well, not a lot of rain until we started to climb over the mountain.

Now I’ve talked a lot about how my MINI has little Gecko-feet. It seems that no matter how fast I go, or how sharply I turn, she just won’t let go of the road! Unfortunately, it’s got me in the very bad habit of expecting my car to stick to the road like glue.

As we went through the mountains, the rain started coming down in sheets. Then on a patch that must have been black ice, my MINI lost traction for about three seconds.

Needless to say, I was a bit scared. So despite the 70 MPH signs, I dropped to 23 and slowly made it off the mountain.

Back down to earth, we stopped at a rest stop. If this is what Montanans consider a rest stop, then California has a few lessons to learn. Ten individual bathrooms, an atrium, benches and magazines. It was a rest stop, so we rested.

Refreshed, we got back on the road. I had been listening to the Prime Minister’s debate on the BBC when my Sirius Satellite Radio died. You know, I love this product, but this is the second time a satellite radio has died on a road trip across the country. How fragile are these things?

Fortunately, I still have my iPod, and switched to my favorite tunes as we entered Yellowstone. We checked in, and went to the Yellowstone Mine restaurant. Here we met the love child between Guinness Stout and a nut brown beer. Ooooh, so very nice.

In what I’m sure is a related event, Tim once again started seeing imaginary animals. In this case, he saw a deer outside the window of the restaurant. I of course went to the window and saw no such thing. I really liked the beer, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t cause hallucinations.

So that was our exciting day. Missoula to Yellowstone, with a few misadventures along the way. Tomorrow we spend in Yellowstone. Stay tuned!

Arrived in Gardiner, MT (despite the rain)

Yes it finally rained on us. Sometimes pretty heavily but most of the drive today was dry even though the clouds were ever present in one form or another.

We arrived at our hotel in Gardiner while it was raining. I get the impression the inclement weather isn’t that uncommon. Our hotel room has an two doors. One that leads to the parking lot and the other is an interior door that leads to a hallway off the hotel lobby.

We’re waiting on dinner at the moment. I’m drinking an excellent dark beer called Moose Drool Ale, the creamy mushroom soup had large chunks of prime rib in it and all the waitresses are attractive. (and that isn’t just the beer talking) Life is good.

Almost there…

Making good time on the road today. The countryside we are traveling through still has its winter colors but is starkly beautiful all the same.

The weather is a bit dodgy today but it hasn’t actually rained on us. Feels like we’re riding the edge between two storms because there’s been blue sky over us but dark skies to the east and west of us.

We’re about to hook up with I-15 here soon. Funny that we’ll be on a far northern segment of the same highway we travel so often in San Diego.

On to Yellowstone!

We have stopped for breakfast at the legendary (at least to Peter) Paul’s Pancake Palace. It looks like a really great little hole in the wall place that people come back to for years after their first visit. I approve!
So… A quick bite to eat then on the road again! Today we head to Yellowstone. I’m really looking forward to this part of the trip!

Day Five: Walla Walla, WA to Missoula, Montana (Lotsa clouds, but no rain thanks)

Oh how the mighty have fallen.  I thought we were on the path to earlier starts every monring and then today we slipped back an hour…  At least we checked out of our hotel before 11AM.

The roads leading east out of Walla Walla are nicely maintained for the most part and driving full speed among the rolling hills of this farm country is an exceedingly pleasant endeavor.  If you’ve ever seen the opening credits of the movie Toys with Robin Williams, you’ll know what much of our journey this morning was like.  At one point I described driving these roads as surreal and dreamlike.

Along the way I kept trying to point out things to Peter.  I don’t know where he was looking or what he was doing, but he kept missing the stuff I was pointing out.  I saw at least two Pheasants and a couple of Ravens as well.  These are LARGE birds, and they kind of stand out.  I saw the ravens from a mile down the road and knew they weren’t just crows because they were so big, but when I directed Peter’s attention to them, he never even saw them.  <shakes head>

(Editor’s Note: Tim shouldn’t get high on drugs and not share. That’s all I’m saying. I think I would have seen the bird with the purple head and gold if it REALLY existed. Perhaps we’re driving too long without taking a break…)

Most of the roads we traveled on early today were of the two lane “country road” variety.  This means we had to contend with other motorists who were slower than us along the way.  However rather than being moments of frustration, these were opportunities to let slip the reins on our cars to pass slower travelers with alacrity.  Few things can compare with the exhilaration of acceleration.

Rolling green, brown, and sometimes red hills eventually gave way to pine forested mountains that started around Spokane, Washington.  It’s surprising how quickly things transitioned and before long we passed into Idaho.  One highway led to another, and that one to the next and so on.  We drove through Cour d’Alene, Idaho and on up into the mountains and across the pan handle of Idaho.  We started seeing snow on the peaks and it was cold and cloudy at this point.  We had a minor worry that we might even get snowed on at some point.

Not long after we started seeing snow along the highway, Peter got a pretty big surprise as he rounded a corner while going up a hill.  Just outside the entrance to the Cour d’Alene National Forrest, a big rig was stopped in the middle of the road.  Peter had to drop anchor to keep from running into the ass end of the truck and was even more surprised when he realized the guy wasn’t just going very slow but wasn’t moving at all.  As I went around the disabled truck I noticed in my rearview that the driver was trying to get it started again, but wasn’t having any success.

A couple minutes later we drove through the high mountain pass we’d been climbing toward and headed down the other side.  Not five minutes had gone by when Peter was again surprised by a car on the road doing something one wouldn’t expect.  A tractor was driving down the side of the highway in the tall grass being followed by a car with its hazard lights on.  The car wasn’t driving on the shoulder, but was instead in the slower of the two east bound lanes.  Peter once again had to drop anchor or risk rear ending someone else.  Why this joker wasn’t on the shoulder instead of in the lane I don’t know.  I do remember seeing a sign at some point today instructing drivers not to drive on the shoulder, but I thought that was only for one small section of the road and not a general rule in Idaho.  If someone knows different please correct me.

For the longest time after we came over the pass, it felt like we were going downhill.  Then I pointed out to Peter that it looked like the river we were driving next to was flowing up hill.  It took a bit of perspective shifting to understand that even though we’d come over a fairly high mountain pass, we were in fact still going UPHILL even though from my perspective in the driver’s seat, it seemed like we were going down.

The pan handle of Idaho isn’t that wide this far north, and before long we’d crossed the border into Montana and the speed limit increased to 75 MPH in most places.  Problem is, they were doing road work on several parts of the highway and kept bringing us back down to 45 MPH for long stretches.   They have these interesting “x” shaped crossings in the median of the highway where they move traffic from the east bound lanes over to the west bound lanes that have been narrowed down to one lane from two.  They use these to bypass areas where road work is happening, then move everyone back to the correct side once you’ve traveled beyond the construction zone.  It’s quite clever, but still annoying to have to drop your speed so much.

View Larger Map

No matter the low speeds on some places, 75 MPH the rest of the way got us to Missoula well before sunset.  Surprisingly when we started to come down from the mountains, the temperature started to climb rather dramatically and by the time we reached Missoula it was almost 80F where it had been in the upper 40’s to low 50’s most of the day.  More surprising given that it looked like a pretty large thunderstorm was moving in over Missoula.   We got checked in to our hotel and headed to dinner at MacKenzie River Pizza Company.  Interesting menu, and some good food, but I’ll let Peter blog about that.

Peter’s Happy Food Corner: MacKenzie River Pizza Company

When we finally arrived in Missoula, MT, the nice man at the counter at our Best Western recommended a delicious, yuppie pizza place next door. Having driving all day, a short walk and something not too compllicated suited us just fine.

Upon arriving, we’re met with the “Try our new pulled pork nachos!” sign. Since we tend to believe and obey signs (Just like all the speed limit signs between here and California) we quickly decided that this was a good move. Upon arrival, we immediately asked for nachos.

Now for those of  you who followed our New Zealand blog, you already know. Tim Jones is a International Expert on delicious Nachos, so we were suitably intrigued by the idea.

And we were not disaapointed. Although not California style nachos, these were unique and very tasty. They “crisp” the cheese onto every chip (The chips must be super-absorbant, because they weren’t at all greasy) and the pulled pork was really well prepared.

So after these wonderful nachos, we were really looking forward to our pizzas. Tim had ordered the “Hot Hawaiian”, with chicken, bbq sauce, jalapenos, pineapple and bacon. I had ordered “The Stockman”, which is the meaty, meat pizza. Strips of steak, sliced sausage, pepperoni and bacon, under cheddar cheese.

Sadly, the pizza wasn’t as good as the nachos. Think of it like really good frozen pizza. Nothing to write home about (although obviously I am…) but inoffensive.

We were 1 for 2. Would the dessert break the culinary tie?

After the pizza, I hedged my bet and went for the apple cobbler with ice cream. Tim, forever the optimist, took a risk on the mud pie. This being a risk because Tim is also a connoisseur of mud pie/kona pie.

Neither of us was disappointed. My apple cobbler was good, but the Columbia Valley Farms vanilla bean ice cream was amazing! And much to my shock, Tim rated his mud pie the second greatest he’s had.

So 2 for 3, we headed back to our food comas, ready to rest our weary bones and sleep in our mega comfy beds. Note: The morning after I must declare the beds at the Best Western Grant Creek to be the most comfy beds, ever! I want to load it up in the back of my MINI and take it with me. 🙂

Okay, off to Gardiner, MT, and Yellowstone park…