Saturday, July 16, 2011

all these things that i've done

The Final Tally:

17 states
6,500 miles (2 oil changes)
25 National Parks/Monuments/Historic Sites

The last 2 weeks don't make sense.  It's bizarre to me that we were at the Grand Canyon just a week ago and the only reason we were there is because we drove 14 hours out of our way.  And the 14 hours we drove out of our way didn't even seem abnormal, it was the norm for this trip.  Days, dates and states all run together like a dream.  It feels like a month since we've been home and at the same time, like it was just yesterday.  I'm glad Sarah kept a detailed journal & photographic record of what we did because without it, I'm not sure I'd be able to remember it all.  About 15 minutes away from home, Sarah turned the iPod to "Sweet Home Alabama."  I've seen some unbelievable things and had a great time along the way, but it's always good to be home.

Thanks to all who read and followed along on our "expedition."  Every kid at some point is asked what they want to be when they grow up, and it's always some extraordinary job that few ever get to live out.   I always wanted to be an explorer, and for the last 2 weeks I was allowed to live that out.  And I got to live it out with my best friend.  That's pretty hard to beat.   We're already looking forward to our next adventure which we are tentatively calling The "Maine" Tour.  If everything works out right, it will be next summer.  Here's a couple more pictures from the trip.  I'm sure Sarah will be adding a few thousand to facebook soon.

"Is this the end or did we ever really start,
It’s not the wheels, but the road that makes us who we are," 

Wandering Ways - Adam Hambrick

Friday, July 15, 2011

wandering ways

Sorry, no update last night.  We did arrive in Conway, AR around 6:30 yesterday evening.   We drove from Kansas City, MO. where we stayed night before last, and drove to Conway.  We made a little detour  to see the final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder in Mansfield, MO.  I have to admit, as a child, I loved watching the Little House on the Prairie TV series.  Seeing that her house where she wrote the books was so near our route, I had to stop. 

After seeing the house, we drove to the Hambricks’ house, and went to Little Rock to eat at a place called Gauchos.  We probably all gained about five pounds, due to the fact that they brought you unlimited varieties of meat and sides.  It’s a Brazilian buffet brought to your table.   

After driving all day, being extremely full, and having watched an hour of TV with Adam and Merritt, Beau and I were beyond tired.  Hence, no blog last night.  After about 10 hours of sleep last night, we are ready to spend the day doing something fun in Arkansas.   Adam has mentioned a stop at the best fried chicken restaurant ever.   Sounds good to me.    

Sorry there aren't many pictures from yesterday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

chasing cars

We woke up this morning with not much of a plan and decided to head east to Minnesota.  Once we arrived, we decided we might as well keep going and see Minneapolis and St. Paul too.  Once we got to the Twin Cities, we decided that since we we're so close, we might as well press on and head into Wisconsin and check another state off the list.

Side note:  Beau and I are cooperatively and competitively trying to go to all 50 states.  So far I’m winning the competition 37 states to Beau’s 30.  On the cooperative side of it, on this trip alone, we will have seen at least 17 states.  (Some we’ve both already seen before, but 17 in one trip is a big accomplishment.)

Anyway, back to today.  We stopped first at Pipestone National Monument.  I never realized pipes were such an integral part of our nation’s history, but apparently both Minnesota and our US government think so.  Here we saw that the Indians began making pipes years before anyone else had ever heard of them.  Soon after, settlers and traders began using, making, and trading them, and thus became quite the unhealthy and yet historical American tradition.

Next was the drive through Minnesota to get to Minneapolis.  I have to be honest, we’ve started running out of things to do/read/listen to in the car to keep us entertained.  Therefore, we decided to have some fun by throwing bagels out the window today.  Did I really say bagels?  Yes.  You see, two weeks ago we packed down our car with enough provisions to last throughout the trip.  Of course we overestimated how much food we would need.  This morning I discovered that the 4 bagels had left were stale.   Nobody likes a stale bagel, so let the fun begin.   After a couple of distance and accuracy tries each, we were quickly out of bagels.  While it was short lived, it was a fun activity for the Coopers and a yummy snack for some lucky animals.  Quite the win-win. 

Next, was our stop at the Twin Cities.  We saw the Metrodome (The Vikings Field), the Twins new baseball stadium, as well as many of the downtown areas.  We then took a short detour into Wisconsin.  While in Wisconsin, we decided we had to have some form of dairy product.  I had some Coldstone ice cream and Beau had a Frappuccino from Starbucks.  We can confirm that they have correctly nicknamed their state “America’s Dairyland”.  It was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. 

The next definite stop is Conway, Arkansas to visit the Hambricks’ for a couple of days.  On the way there, who knows?

Since we didn't have too many things to take pictures of today, I'll throw in a couple of randoms, including the worlds largest prarie dog statue.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

when the day met the night

What a fun day we had today!  We left Black Hawk this morning and went to Mount Rushmore.  We were even able to see Gutzon Borglum’s (the creator of the memorial) sculptor’s studio.  In the studio,  there was a 1:12 scale model of the memorial and we were able to learn a little more about the history of it. 
After Mt. Rushmore, we drove to the Badlands.  It is a beautiful National Park that some people compare to the surface of the moon because it is the only other place where formations like those occur.  We entered the Park through the south entrance that belonged to the Lakota Indian Tribe, and drove north into the US National Park area.  We learned that the Badlands get its name from French trappers traveling through the area in the 1700’s.  They had such a hard time making their way through the land because of the strange rock that crumbled very easily and was difficult to travel on.  They were so frustrated with the area, that they named it Badlands. 

While going through the Badlands we saw wildlife, beautiful and very different scenery, and even walked around and climbed on some of the formations.  It was almost like climbing around on giant sandcastles. 
After leaving the Badlands, we went to eat lunch at Wall Drugstore in Wall, SD…”The Friendly Town.”  Beau and I decided to stick with the regional cuisine and have buffalo burgers.  We’d also heard great things about their doughnuts, so why not?  Two homemade, deep fried, chocolate covered doughnuts please!  And boy, were they good.

We then made a short stop at the Delta 09 Minuteman Missile Site.  This site was one of many that the US used to house nuclear warheads during the Cold War.  The site dispelled many myths about the minuteman missile project such as:  none of the sights were top secret and it took four people to turn the keys to launch the missile.  With Beau and I both having degrees related to history, we really enjoyed this stop.
Finally, we decided we would stop at an old 1880’s Western town.  We found out that the town was put together in 1989.  However, all the buildings in the town came from other towns, and each building was an actually dated anywhere from the 1880’s to early 1900’s.  It was put together as an homage to the old west, and is a way for tourists to experience what an actual 1880’s town used to be like.   It was so much fun!  We were able to go inside the buildings, sit on the wagons and stagecoaches, and in the town hotel you could even see spur marks from cowboy boots on the stairs.  The town saloon functioned as a concession stand, but used to be an actual working saloon in the early 1900’s.  There was a church, a doctor/dentist’s office above the mercantile, a school house, and so much more. 

Another neat thing about this particular town, was that it had many of the actual props from the movie Dances with Wolves.  For example:  a teepee from the Indian tribe, the wagon train, the log cabin he lived in, various costumes and weaponry, and even the original movie script and behind the scenes pictures.  Kevin Costner’s horse in the movie (Cisco) was even buried nearby. 

As mentioned earlier in the blog, it was quite a fun day; probably one of our favorites of the entire trip.  We discovered some more of America’s history and got to step back into time and feel like we were a part of it.  Tonight, we will drive as far as we can and see where we end up.  Agenda for tomorrow?  We have none.

Monday, July 11, 2011

i will follow you into the dark

 4,400 miles down, who knows how many to go.

After leaving Yellowstone, we thought we'd have a boring drive to our next destination.  Wrong.  We went through Bighorn National Forest.  The mountains were beautiful, there were rivers and lakes, amazing canyon walls, about 1,000 deer, and MOOSE! I don't really know why, but we've really wanted to see another moose ever since we saw one in Jackson Hole.  Well, throughout the forest we saw 5 more.  It was a beautiful and entertaining drive.

Every trip has that moment, the one where you get a little homesick.  It happened last night somewhere between Interstate 90 and Main St. in Sheridan, WY.  Probably because we seriously considered sleeping in our car.  After driving around Sheridan for a while, we realized that the town must think very highly of itself.  Although it is basically in the middle of nowhere, they somehow believe that they are a metropolis that should charge ridiculous prices for a hotel.  At around midnight, we finally bit the bullet and payed the discounted price of $80 for a Quality Inn.  I guess that's better than the $100 for the Super 8.  Oh well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

The morning brought with it the results of a good night's sleep and therefore a better outlook.  It also helped take care of that homesickness.  After we got our money's worth at the hotel's breakfast, we set out for western South Dakota.  On the way to SD, we stopped at Devil's Tower National Monument in WY.  If you're not familiar with Devil's Tower, it is basically the inside of an old volcano (that's what Beau told me anyway) there is a picture at the bottom of this post, and if you're still curious I should reference the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

South Dakota, although very pretty and containing a lot of attractions, was not quite as exciting due to some rain.  We planned to visit Jewel Cave and Wind Caves, as well as Mount Rushmore, but the only one we successfully saw today was Jewel.  We do plan to see the other two, as well as the Badlands, tomorrow.

Although the rain did put a little bit of a damper on things today, we were still able to stop off at the Cosmos Mystery Area in Keystone, SD.  It was a mystery because the building on the land had a "special force" that made everything appear to be slanted in a different direction, or taller when it was really shorter.  Beau did point out that it was an optical illusion.  Although he is, of course, correct, I enjoyed believing that is was some crazy place that has some cosmic energy that makes only that one spot on earth behave that way.  Much more fun.  (There is a picture after the post of our guide for the Cosmos area and another lady from our group)

Thanks to a gift card from Mom and Dad for Beau's birthday, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Outback before getting settled into Black Hawk, SD for the night.  Tomorrow:  Discover South Dakota.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

eight days a week

No blog yesterday because we have been in Yellowstone the past two days.  I’m pretty sure there was no internet access anywhere in the park…and that is a big park!  So, to catch up from yesterday, I will start with Saturday morning.  We finally slept in until about 7:00 and got some much needed rest. Yes, 7:00 is sleeping in for this trip.  The drive wasn’t long to Yellowstone, so we got there by late morning.  Before we could even set up our campsite, we saw some elk and buffalo.  The buffalo were on the side of the road, so they were very close to the cars.  We even saw a Black Bear!  He was less than 100 feet away, and I thought Beau wanted to jump out of the car and run over to him, he was so excited.  If he had, I would’ve been right behind him with the pepper spray.  I’m pretty sure we were able to see every wild animal Yellowstone had to offer, minus the wolves.  It was amazing! 

On Saturday, we drove the north loop of the park and saw Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth Springs.  As soon as we stepped out of the car, the smell of sulpher let us know we were in the right place.  There were some really cool geysers on the 1 ½ mile walk through Norris; all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors.  After our day discovering the north loop, we headed back to our campsite in the middle of Yellowstone, and, of course, had some smores!  Beau had something he likes to call Rees'mores.  Instead of Hershey chocolate, he uses Reese's cups.  He's working on a patent as I type this.  

One thing we hadn’t really taken note of was how much cooler the temperature had gotten as the day went on.  As we got settled in our tent for what felt like a cool, crisp autumn evening, the night quickly became what felt like a cold winter’s night.  I soon came to realize that my sleeping bag was not nearly warm enough for the 30 degree temperature.  I vividly remember waking up at one point and telling Beau that I was pretty sure I had hypothermia….but I wasn’t kidding at the time.  When we woke up and realized the mountain peaks had fresh snow on them, the realization began to set in that the strange sounding rain I thought I heard the night before was actually sleet.  Hmmm…maybe I was right about the hypothermia, and I just recovered really quickly. 

Due to the lack of sleep, we decided we may as well go ahead and head out into the park and see what the early morning had to offer.  Good decision!  Almost as soon as we set out on the south loop of the park, we came across two huge buffalo walking in the road.  As soon as we saw each other, we stopped the car, and the buffalo paused.  The first buffalo kept walking directly at our car, almost as if to say (in a very Clint Eastwood voice, I imagine) “Get off my road.”  However, he and his counterpart eventually conceded defeat.  The lead buffalo went so close to the driver side of the car, that Beau could’ve easily reached out to touch him, but I begged him to roll the window back up so he wouldn’t get gored.  The other walked a couple feet away from the car on my side.  It was definitely worth waking up early!

The Southern Loop, in the Coopers’ opinion, was much prettier than the Northern Loop.  On this loop, we saw the beautiful Yellowstone Lake, quite a few more geysers, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Old Faithful.  As we all know, Old Faithful has its name for a reason, which explains why so many people flock to it.  However, if you get there after it as erupted, you have to wait a good hour to an hour and a half until it erupts again.  Beau & I drove circles around the parking lot looking for a place to pull in, but had no luck.  Finally, after a few minutes, we parked on a curb, and began racing to where we saw everyone standing.  As soon as we rounded the corner, it began smoking and then erupting!  We could not have had better timing.  After lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge, and walking around the historic Old Faithful Inn, we began making our way out of Yellowstone.  We had originally planned four days in the park, however, we didn’t realize we could see everything in two full days.  Plus, it will be nice not to get hypothermia again tonight. 

Tomorrow, we really don’t have an agenda.  I guess we’ll pull our best Lewis & Clark impersonation and see what else we can discover.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

running on empty

Friday:  Woke up at 4:30, got ready and left Logan.  We arrived in Jackson Hole around 9:30.  During the drive, we realized that Idaho looked like pictures we’d seen of Ireland with the rolling green hills.  It is much more beautiful than we’d imagined.   Of course, we haven’t come across any blue football fields, so if we do, that may change our mind.

The drive was interesting with lakes, green fields, mountains surrounding us, and cattle crossing the roads.  Apparently it’s common out here to not have fences for livestock, because we saw at least four cows standing in the road as we drove through.  They were not too eager to move either, I might add.
When we got to Jackson Hole, WY. we stopped at the visitor center, gathered some information, then walked around town for a little while.  We bought some chocolate for $8.00 (“worth it?” you ask…..definitely). 

Next was our visit to Grand Teton National Park.  It was gorgeous.  Snow covered mountains surrounded us.  Beautiful lakes reflected perfectly the peaks that stood in front of us.  The amazing and different thing about the Tetons is how the mountains rise directly out of the earth with no foothills or even a hint that they are going to be there.  Although they are not as tall as some we saw in Colorado, they are just as majestic, if not more so. 

Ever since Beau lived in Colorado in 2007, he has wanted to see a moose.  I guess you could say it has been on his bucket list.  Well, he can officially check that one off.  As we were about to drive over the Teton Pass, just west of Jackson Hole and into Idaho, traffic literally came to a stop.  There was a moose drinking out of a pond on the left side of the road, and an eagle’s nest on the right.  Quite a sight to see. 

We decided to stay in a cabin in Victor, ID for the night.  Victor:  A town that may only be known for being next to Driggs, ID.  I also believe Driggs may only be known for being the home to the largest man-made potato. What does that say about Victor?  I’ll let you decide.

Tomorrow,  we head to Yellowstone to camp for a few days and do lots of hiking.  We can’t wait to see more of God’s beautiful creation!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

against the wind

Still in Utah.  

Lots of dry wind, salt, beautiful scenery, and of course . . . Mormons.  We made our way to Salt Lake City this morning.  We took our time driving around the city and seeing the sights.  We first went to the Gilgal Gardens.  The Gardens contained many hand carved stone sculptures.  They were very impressive! However, as you will see in one of the following pictures, if someone has carved a giant head out of stone, well....some pictures are just necessary.  

After the Gardens, we drove past the state capitol, the University of Utah, and the Utah Jazz basketball arena.  Before leaving the city, we drove out to the Great Salt Lake.  I have been to the Dead Sea in Israel and in my opinion, the Great Salt Lake appeared even more "dead" than the Dead Sea.  It's not more dead in the scientific sense, i.e. relation to sea level or salt content; the Dead Sea definitely has it beat on those factors.  When I say "dead", I mean there were literally dead sea gulls, trash and gnats everywhere! Pretty gross for a major attraction.  

The Saltaire is a building that stands near the GSL.  It is currently used for concerts and events, but the one standing now is the third one.  The very first one was built as a western version of Coney Island in 1893.  If you're curious about the history (which is pretty cool) and seeing a picture of the very first one that stood over the water (which is also cool)  head on over to it's wikipedia page. 

After our picnic of ham and cheese sandwiches, we drove to Logan, Utah where we are currently staying at the nicest Holiday Inn Express I have ever seen.  I've decided I want to take it with us on the rest of our trip.  

Tomorrow, Jackson Hole, WY. and the Grand Tetons.  We're about to enter into some much cooler weather and a lot more animals.  Don't worry, Moms; we bought our bear spray today!  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

i am the highway

2,900 miles. 9 States.  12 National Parks/Monuments.

We still have 10 days until we plan on being home and it already feels like we've done more on this trip than we've done on all of our other trips combined.

Last night was an adventure.  Since we left Moab early, we needed a place to stay.  Everywhere we called was out of our price range.  Finally, as we were about to give up and consider sleeping in the car, we found a place in Kanab, UT that only cost $40 tax and all.  The owner looked like Randy "Macho Man" Savage's hippie twin, and he was just as lively and outgoing as the former wrestler.   The continental breakfast consisted of stale bread & motor oil that he tried to pass off as coffee, but the experience of staying there and being able to brag that we survived it was well worth the price.

We later learned that the town of Kanab is also known as "Little Hollywood."  Several famous movies & tv shows were filmed there including The Outlaw Josie Wales, Planet of the Apes, The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon's North Rim around 9 AM and hiked out to Bright Angel Point where we had a nearly 360 degree view of the canyon.  The view was incredible.  The North Rim is less touristy and much more secluded than the more famous South Rim, but to me, that made it an even better experience.  The weird thing about the Grand Canyon is that it's so big, you really can't grasp it's size just by looking at it.   Pictures simply don't do it justice.  I know that's an oft used phrase, but I feel it applies here more than anywhere else.  I hesitate to even add any because unless you've seen it with your own eyes, they just look like pictures of rocks that are far away.

After a few hours we headed out of the Grand Canyon, and decided we had enough time to make a detour through Zion Canyon on the way to Interstate 15 which would take us to Salt Lake City.   It was well worth the 1 1/2 hours it added to our day's trip.  If they ever make Jurassic Park 4, it needs to be filmed in Zion Canyon.  I expected a T-Rex to come charging out of the brush at any moment or to see a Pterodactyl soaring high above the canyon walls.  Sadly neither of those happened.

One thing about the state of Utah.  It's always seemed like a misfit among the states, but from what I've seen, it's easily the most stunning area of our country.

We're staying just south of Salt Lake City tonight.  Tomorrow is a rest day and it's a much needed one.  Overall, we were in the car for nearly 10 hours today.  We'll take it easy, sleep in, see Timpanogos Cave National Monument, and continuously bring up how big of a choke artist Karl Malone was to anyone wearing a Utah Jazz shirt.   We'll spend the night in Logan, UT, which is only about 2 hours north of where we are now before we head to Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Friday.

It's 11:00 here and the alarm is set for 6:30, time to sleep!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

big rock candy mountain

This update wont be too long, it's 10:00 here and we've been up since 5:00 AM.  I couldn't sleep because we camped in 100 degree heat.  It did cool off over night, but not enough to make sleep comfortable.  We had 3 nights planned in Moab, but we decided if we cut our trip short, we'd be able to see the Grand Canyon while also avoiding having to camp in miserable conditions for more than one night.

The heat made us leave Moab, but not before we saw Canyonlands & Dead Horse Point.  We met and talked to the former sheriff in charge of the rescue of  Aron Ralston, the central figure in the movie 127 hours.   Pretty friendly guy, and full of info about the town of Moab.  For instance, the town was named after Lott's son and when translated, it means "Sin."

Anyway, we hit the road and set out across the deserts of Utah.  At one point, we traveled over 100 miles without seeing a gas station or lodging.  Southeastern Utah is as barren as anywhere on earth.  If you've never traveled through the region, you really need to make a point to do so.   It's eerie and a little depressing, but it needs to be seen to understand it.

We made it to Bryce Canyon around 6:30 PM.  In my opinion, it's one of the most underrated National Parks out there.   Glad we made the detour to see it.  We're now in Kanab, UT, a small town on the state line of Utah and Arizona which is only about 45 minutes from the Grand Canyon.  We'll see it in the morning, and stay for a while before heading north to Salt Lake City.  SLC is 7 hours or more away, so we've got another long day of travel ahead of us.

I guess I need to explain the blog entry's name.  On the way to Bryce Canyon, we actually passed a mountain named "Big Rock Candy Mountain."  Not sure if it's the one the song was written about, but it was still pretty neat to pass it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

into the great wide open

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!  We left Breckenridge this morning, and as we began descending the mountains we were glad to be getting rid of our high altitude headaches, but sad to leave the mountains.  We didn't actually have to leave them, though. Pretty much the rest of our drive from Breck to Moab, Utah has had some sort of mountain range.  Gorgeous drive!  We were able to stop at Colorado National Monument in Fruita, CO. on the way to Moab.  It was amazing! Beautiful scenery, Bighorn Sheep, and free ice-cream at the visitor center because of July 4th! Jackpot!

Next, we entered into the state of Utah.  To say it was desolate and barren would be a disservice to it's definition in the dictionary.  We saw no signs of life for 60 miles.  We passed several "towns" that had signs that said No Service.  When we Googled the towns such as "Cisco, UT" we learned that no one actually lived there and that it had been a ghost town for nearly 100 years.

We kept driving.  The temperature reached 104 on the interstate.  We could only imagine what it would have been like had we broken down somewhere in the middle of that drive.  Luckily, we made it to Moab & Arches N.P. around 2:30pm.  We drove around a bit & decided it would be best to do our hiking in the morning when temperatures are around 70 degrees.  Speaking of temperature, it was 50 degrees in Breckenridge this morning, meaning we experienced a 54 degree change throughout the day.  It's still 98 degrees as I sit in this McDonald's parking lot.  We wont have internet access for a few days because we're camping in the desert, so we're not sure how regular our updates will be.  We are currently using McDonald's wifi to write this.

On a funny note, we had the iPod on shuffle as we were driving through the desert of Utah, when "Holiday Road" from Family Vacation with Chevy Chase came on.  It seemed quite fitting, especially being in the desert at the time.

Anyway, we hope you've enjoyed your 4th of July as much as we've enjoyed ours!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

the long and winding road

Rocky Mountain National Park.

That's probably all I could say about today, and it would suffice.  However, I will share a little more than that.

Most of our day consisted of driving through RMNP, and it was BEAUTIFUL!!! We drove up to the top of a peak to the Alpine Visitor's Center (11,796 ft).  It was one of the most beautiful drives I've ever been on! There was still plenty of snow, as well as mountain goats, elk, amazing look-outs, and a very helpful park ranger named Joan who gladly took our picture at Rainbow Point.  We are now in Breckenridge, CO.  A place that is special to Beau because he spent a summer here a few years ago.

So, here's a question:  What do you do when you arrive at the lodge for which you've had reservations for 6 months, and it's closed? Yes, closed...out of business, locked doors, no lights on, hardly anything in the rooms.  Well, I'll tell you.  First, you worry for a few minutes thinking "we have no place to stay, and they have our money already?" Then you realize, "wait, that can't really happen." You then call some local magic number and the man on the other end says "yeah, that place closed, but we've upgraded you with no extra charge."  No complaints here.  I should also mention that Mexican restaurants out here are not the same as the ones in the south.  For example, we ate at "Mi Casa" tonight and I had a chicken quesadilla. (yes normal, I know.  But wait for it...) Beau had Elk enchiladas. Interestingly enough, they were pretty good! Breckenridge is beautiful, and-be jealous- 65 degrees.  However, tomorrow we head to Moab and I'm pretty sure the forecast is over 100.  Hmmm...we'll see.