— Intro —
July 10th, 2018 – This trip was originally conceived of several months ago, but it was only really planned out a couple weeks prior to the start. The trip was a graduation gift from my parents, but it has always been an intention of mine to visit more of the United States. Whenever I flew between coasts, it felt like a large part of the United States was missing. In high school I ended up visiting several midwest states, but I always heard people talking about Utah and Colorado. So, I decided during my senior year of high school that I wanted to “fill out” my mental image of the United States by seeing different regions, while understanding the transitions between each part by making it a road trip. It was going to be three legs, with adults switching out between each one. We would take turns driving so no one would get overly tired of driving. Unfortunately, it turned out that I wasn’t old enough to drive the rental, so I ended up being the passenger for the whole thing. That meant taking pictures along the way, especially in the Southwest where it was very scenic. Because we didn’t want Mom driving for too long at a time, we ended up cutting out her leg of the trip (New Orleans to home). Unkie (Mike) drove us from Philadelphia to Lincoln, Dad flew in, Unkie flew out, and Dad drove us from Lincoln to Las Vegas. In hindsight, it might have been cool to go to Los Angeles because I had been there before, but the trip was great enough as it was.
When I left that Friday morning, I was a bit nervous. This is close to (if not the) longest trip I have been to away from home, and because it was entirely on the road, I was never going to be in any one place for too long. Dad’s weekend conference in Denver served as a nice midway break, but I knew it would still be exhausting. Anyway, Unkie and I left early in the morning that Friday and went to see Fallingwater. I was not very familiar with his architecture, and I wasn’t even aware that it was that famous. It just served as a nice place to stop on the way. I ended up loving it. Even if I didn’t see anything else quite as nice as that before hitting the Southwest, it would have been worth it.
— Summary of Trip —
Hopefully you’ve seen the blog, but I want to give you my own thoughts on all of the stops. After Fallingwater, we went to Cleveland due to weather at Put-In-Bay. After skipping out on a sunny day on a beach, I was pleasantly surprised with what a nice time we had! We ended up seeing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Botanical Gardens. I enjoyed the Hall of Fame fairly well, but I don’t think I know enough about rock history to have gotten out of the experience as much as some people would have. I really loved the botanical gardens though. It was cool to see animals and plants from different parts of the world with their various quirks. I especially liked the butterfly gardens. Many pictures were taken.
In Indianapolis, I was once again surprised at how well I liked it. We started off at the speedway. The race history museum was mildly interesting, but I more enjoyed just staring at all of the cool cars. The actual track was cool, although like the Hall of Fame, it would have been even better if I watched any sort of car racing regularly. Overall, the speedway was not too crowded though, which made it a more pleasant experience than the Hall of Fame. After that, we headed into the actual city. I wasn’t expecting anything different from the sort of small, boring city of Cleveland, but once again I was surprised. We ate lunch in the center of town beside the historic statue. All the roads around that area were brick, and because it was a Sunday, it wasn’t too crowded. Afterwards, we walked around in a gorgeous park for a couple hours. Once again, it was a really pleasant, easygoing experience.
Later that day, we made it to the lovely Chicago suburb of Oak Park. A Sunday evening gathering was going on at the park next to our hotel when we came in, and it gave the wonderful first impression of the thriving neighborhood it was. After a nice breakfast the following morning, we headed out to Chicago. We went to the planetarium, which although it was a nice experience, ended up being disappointing. I already knew most of the material. The presentation on planet nine was interesting, but that was pretty much it. The boat ride we did later on in the day gave an unforgettable view of the Chicago skyline. I ended up getting sunburnt from it, but it was worth it. We spent the next several hours walking around and seeing various parks. I enjoyed seeing “The Bean”, and the surrounding gardens were very pleasant. After dinner, I attended my very first comedy show I have ever been to. It wasn’t hilarious, but it was still pretty funny. It was a great experience, and maybe I’ll see a similar show some time in the future. We started the next day having breakfast with Sue and meeting her family. It was cool to see relatives in the middle of our travels — something I have definitely noted for any future road trips. We then browsed through various Frank Lloyd Wright houses on a self-guided audio tour. It was nice, but nothing like the tour of Fallingwater.
The following day, we headed towards Nebraska. As we passed into Iowa, I noticed the scenery changing for the first time. The hills were becoming less extreme, and trees started to become less common. It wasn’t flat by any means, but I confirm that everything was corn. We visited Charlie at Grinnell on the way. We had dinner together at a small restaurant, and it was pretty enjoyable overall. It felt very personal, and it was once again nice to see a relative while on the road. We stopped in the Northwest corner of Missouri that night in preparation for a State park the following morning. I’ll never forget the flies from the Missouri river hitting the windshield that night. It was like rain.
Once we exited our horrible hotel (worst one of the trip), we headed into Nebraska. On the way, we stopped by a small-town supermarket where we picked up lunch, snacks, and sunscreen. Indian Cave state park was a really nice change of pace. It was completely away from the city, and it was almost completely empty. We did a couple of trails, saw some old farming equipment on display in a historic village we visited, and had a really nice time overall. We found some great views of the lush forest, and by the end of the day, we were both exhausted. We headed into Lincoln to pick dad up.
In Lincoln the next day, the three of us first visited the Strategic Air Command museum. It was nice just to look at all the planes, but I loved the tour we got about the design choices on each one even more. We then had lunch at an extremely slow and fancy french restaurant. We probably should have chosen something different, as the food quality didn’t justify the price or wait. Then we dropped Unkie off at the airport.
As dad and I drove across Nebraska, it started getting drier and drier. Corn started to be replaced by small bushes and dirt. Somewhere in far western Nebraska, I remarked about how hot it was outside (104 degrees). We got outside and took some pictures. That was really our first set of pictures we shot of each other that trip. It wasn’t a remarkable view compared to what we would see in Utah and Colorado, but at the time the dry plains seemed pretty unique. This was also the first time on the trip that we noticed how much of a difference the humidity makes to how hot it feels. Although I’m sure we would have gotten dehydrated rather quickly, 104 degrees was not even that uncomfortable.
We headed into Denver that Friday night. The mountains looked amazing, especially with the haze on them that accentuated the layered appearance of the range. That weekend in Denver was mostly unremarkable for me, and I enjoyed the quiet time in the room. On Saturday, I went ziplining. I Ubered about 30 minutes west into the mountains. After barely managing to get on my gear correctly, I headed out in a bus with the other 8 people in my group to the set of ziplines a couple of miles away. We hiked about 10 minutes up the mountain to the first zipline. This was my first time hiking in Colorado, and I immediately noticed the lack of air as well as undergrowth. There were still fairly good-sized trees, but everything was very dry compared to East coast forest (and less buggy!). The ziplining itself was pretty fun, although I think my decreased fear of heights since the last time I did it made it less intense. It was more just a nice view of the mountains. About 1 and half hours later, I barely managed to find an Uber back to the hotel. We actually had a pretty good conversation. Because I recognized her ringtone as a song from Legend of Zelda (a video game series), we talked a bit about that, which was really cool.
On Sunday, dad and I headed out to Estes Park in Colorado. We got our first really magnificent view of the mountains from up close (better than I had had the previous day while ziplining). We stayed in a nice motel/resort type thing. After a sunset walk and watching some of the Fifth Element (chosen from the motel’s complementary dvd selection), we went stargazing. I pointed out 4 things which I thought were planets instead of stars. After opening a stargazing app, I was right. They turned out to be Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus. I had learned one thing from the planetarium in Chicago. Planets don’t twinkle.
The next day, we drove to Salt Lake City. We started off on Trail Ridge Road. After each stop, I thought that that was the highest we would get. Things started to look more and more alpine-like, and about an hour of driving on this road, we reached what turned out to be the actual highest point. We hiked about half a mile to the very top of the mountain at about 13,000 ft. The air felt extremely thin (by my calculations, it was about 38% less dense than at sea level in a standard atmosphere), so it was quite exhausting. The view was amazing, and once again the haze made it even more beautiful yet hard to capture in pictures. After the scenic part of the road was done, we decided we wouldn’t do the planned hike due to time constraints. Instead, we headed straight towards Salt Lake City. It turned out the best way was to head north into Wyoming before going south again, so I got to go to Wyoming! The road switched from being sandwiched by mountains to being in the middle of a large plain closely surrounded by mountains. It was a stunning view, and something unlike anything I never even knew existed.
Salt Lake City itself was overall unremarkable, but it was really fun to visit the Mormon Temple Square. I got to see some cool statues and learn about the history of the Mormon church. Dad was understandably nervous about being accosted by some Mormon missionary, but I didn’t think they would be that forward. I understood how luring the panoramic video of Joseph Smith’s first vision was supposed to be, and how the magnificence yet exclusivity of the temple was meant to attract members. Next, we went to the Great Salt Lake. After much waiting at the gift shop, we managed to get in and get some sunscreen. We then marched out onto the rough, dried sand beach. There were flies everywhere in the parking lot, although less so further towards the water. Still, there was brown sand consisting of fly corpses and clouds of flies getting blown around like sand near the water’s edge. The view was pretty nice, especially of the mountains in the distance. Dad floated, the tide came up more than expected, most of dad’s clothes got wet, and after some cleaning we were back on the road. Different from what might have been expected at Put-In-Bay back in Ohio, but nevertheless an experience to be remembered. We finally made it to Pando around 6. Sunset was at 8:30, so we had plenty of time. Dad aptly explained the whole fiasco on the blog, so I won’t retell all of it. All I’ll say is that we should have moved the car, but I was being pointlessly eager to get to Pando. Once we finally made it to Pando an hour and a half later, the sky was beginning to turn orange. The sun’s light hitting the aspens was something that you had to be there for, but I’ll give you an all-exclusive, never seen before picture from my phone to try to give you a taste:
It was a dream of mine to visit this forest ever since I had seen it placed by wikipedia as the world’s largest organism several months prior. I did it. We had a nice dinner later in Escalante with a local who knew about the clone tree colony. She said it was pronounced (pahn-dough) not (pan-dough). Now I know. I still like my way better.
The next day, we saw the Petrified Forest in Escalante and Bryce Canyon. The forest was pretty cool, as some of the wood was claimed to be 150 million years old. It was multicolored, and very pretty. While in the forest, we saw a small canyon, which in retrospect was one of the smallest we would see on the trip. At the time though, it was really cool. Next we saw Bryce Canyon. Dad said this was one of his favorite parts, and I could definitely tell. About every 30 seconds on the trail he would stop to take pictures from an angle a couple degrees different than the last place he had stopped. The hike was long because we took it pretty slow, but it contained a great variety of scenery. The great heights of the trail leading down into the canyon were really exciting. Then, there was a whole ecosystem at the bottom of sparse trees and red rock. Then, at the end of the hike, we passed through that narrow canyon nicknamed “Wall Street”. The chipmunks in the canyon really had their “feed me” routine down.
That evening, we arrived in Zion National Park. The feeling of passing through the tunnel and coming into the park is unbelievable. It felt so isolating sitting in the middle of those mountains for the next 24 hours. We had a pretty good, expensive dinner. Outside on the lawn after dinner, we could hear the deer chewing grass. The next morning, we got up bright and early to do some hiking. We did the upper and lower “emerald pools”. The lower one was pretty lame, probably because of the drought. The waterfalls were little more than a trickle. The upper one was a much steeper hike, but it was much more worth it. As a note, there were a weird number of French people at all these Utah and Arizona parks. To end our day at the park, we did the Watchman’s trail. We left a couple people in the dust (suck it 60 something and her daughter) because we were in such a hurry to get to the Grand Canyon. We had plenty of water, but it was still completely exhausting. The view was awesome, and overall, it was my favorite hike in the park. After leaving the park, we saw a group of domesticated adult and young bison. I can’t recall seeing bison before, so it was interesting. I absolutely loved watching the young ones trying to get out of the mud. Probably my favorite wildlife experience of the trip.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon that night. We caught a couple glimpses of the sun’s last minutes above the horizon. Like at Zion, we had dinner at their expensive restaurant in El Tovar lodge. The food was amazing, so it was a well-worthwhile indulgence. We went stargazing that night, which I will honestly say was even better than the view in upstate New York. Maybe it was a combination of elevation and dryness. The Milky Way was fully visible just 30 ft from the hotel. It was pretty cold. The following day, we had difficulties getting around. After seeing the canyon from a couple of different vantage points, we went to the watchtower. The traffic was brutal due to construction on one lane of the main road into the park. About an hour and half later after I had wanted to get started on the hike we were waiting for the bus that was one step in the master plan of eventually getting to the trailhead. It turns out you’re supposed to enter through the front doors of the bus, so we couldn’t get on in time to get a spot. I wasn’t waiting any longer, so we headed off to get an early start on Las Vegas. At the last minute, dad had the excellent idea of doing a different trail that wouldn’t be as nice but was closer. We hiked for about 20 minutes into the canyon and another 20 back up. We saw a mountain goat, which was awesomely unexpected. It was great to get a different view of the canyon.
Las Vegas was absurd. Coming into the city, everything was advertisements (even more than usual!). I had no idea what a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip was like, so it was really amazing to see one for the first time. I found out that I couldn’t gamble (the age is 21 in Las Vegas for casino gambling), but there were other things to do. The next day consisted of visiting the Hoover Dam followed by walking through various hotels. The Hoover Dam was interesting, although compared to all the magnificent nature we had seen on that trip, it was more just fascinating that humans made it. My favorite hotel that day remained our own Paris Hotel. I loved the fake sky it had matched with the Frenglish signs (“les elevators”). We did a Virtual Reality game where we shot robots with several other people. I loved the 3 dimensionality of it and the challenge of aiming in such an environment. We saw a variety show that evening, which although it was cool, was not amazing. The next day, we visited some more hotels, making the Venetian my favorite hotel. They had a canal going right through the mall! We did an Escape the Room with just us two playing. We failed, but it was fun trying. I really quite enjoy the puzzles involved in these things. We then went to a comedy magic show. The magic was cool, but it got boring for me after only a few minutes. As our final stop, we watched a Cirque du Soleil show. The story wasn’t very good, but it was really relaxing and spectacular to watch. A great end to the trip.
— Final Thoughts —
Overall, the trip was a success. The car didn’t break down, most of the intended stops were seen, and nobody got hurt. Now it is time for the superlatives:
Favorite City: Indianapolis. Lots of homeless people where we were, but a beautiful, spacious park and nice brick roads made it a truly enjoyable experience.
Favorite Hike: Pando. It was dry and exhausting, but fulfilling the dream and seeing the amazing forest was worth it.
Favorite Nature: Alpine and Subalpine region of the Rockies on that Trail Ridge Road. It was amazing being at that elevation and we saw those Elk on the way down
Favorite Show: Comedy show in Chicago. I guess I’m a simple guy. I like to laugh at jokes in a small theater at night. The fancy stuff in Las Vegas didn’t do much for me in the variety show and magic show, although I’ve got to say that Cirque du Soleil was a close second.
Favorite Day: Mormon Temple Square, Great Salt Lake, Pando. This day was so long, as we saw three major sites, all quite different. The Temple Square was cool and I learned a lot. The Great Salt Lake was an interesting beach experience. Seeing Pando was a unique opportunity made possible by determination and a true pleasure to experience.
Favorite Song: I put on A Horse With No Name by America on our way to the Hoover Dam. Definitely the right decision.
I want to do something like this again in the future, but I don’t know when that will be. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to experience so much before college.