Travel 2019-2020

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Arrived. Anchor Down.

Yes, you read the title correctly. Arrived.

While we got to Las Vegas on May 28th, we haven’t been able to move into an apartment until today, June 20th.

That’s three weeks split between a tiny Air B&B, my daughter’s house, and a hotel.

Living out of suitcases for an entire month is more awkward than living on a boat. There are two primary issues.

  • The boat has drawers and cupboards. Things are available. Not at the bottom of the other suitcase which is still in the car. Living out of the car involves weird small problems with stowage that a boat doesn’t have.
  • The boat has a galley. And CA likes to cook.

Restaurant food has its place as an extravagant treat.

As every-day fare, it’s too salty, too rich, and often the vegetarian choice is something like french fried potatoes. 

While I’m still working remotely, we’ve taking the weekends to explore Mount Charleston. Much to see. Many places to hike.

Catching our Breath

Not really. We covered about 3100 miles in about 7 days. Distance is about 440 miles per day. Our top speed was about 75 MPH; the 80 MPH speed limit seemed a bit much for a heavily-laden Corolla. This meant we drove six to seven hours a day. 

Previous vacation driving was always deadline-driven — “Get There Before Dinner!” Most of these have been DC to Schenectady (and back). Nominally 7 hrs, but. The trip threads through the Eastern US megalopolis: four huge cities right in a row. There’s no option for “let’s call it a day around Poughkeepsie."

From our two years sailing on Red Ranger, we learned the joy of not having to travel to a fixed schedule. We made this entire trip with no advanced hotel reservations. Because it wasn’t peak season, we didn’t have to make any reservations, and found a room each place we stopped.

Today our reservation at the Air B&B starts. This will last until the apartment is ready.

The boxes we shipped are here. The car is here. Now we’re waiting for a few days.

After seeing Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, we’ll be going back there to get some pictures. Stay tuned.

For example, Utah and Idaho have volcanoes. It’s a ten hour drive to Hell’s Half-Acre. Allow two days up, a few days for hiking, and two days back, that’s a week-long vacation. The trick is to find a place to stay in the greater SLC area or Wells, Nevada.

D+7: Orem, UT, to Las Vegas, NV

Bam! Done!

Today’s drive through Utah’s central basin was perhaps more breathtaking as any of the last three days.

The northern part of Utah (and western Montana) had snow-capped mountains and pine trees and the kinds of things I grew up with in the Adirondacks of New York.

As we moved south, looking at volcano cones and lava intrusions, we were regularly amazed at what we saw. 

The drive from Orem to the border is a gradual change from relatively lush fields to sagebrush to — eventually — desert.

Then.

The Virgin River Gorge. The section if I-15 in Arizona has it’s own wikipedia page, it’s so amazing.

At some places, 500 foot cliffs tower over the road. We didn’t try to take pictures, we were at the base, speeding along, unable to even see all the way to the tops.

Jaw-dropping. Insanity. Crammed into 10 miles of pavement.

Then — wham! — you’re out into the Arizona desert, looking over your shoulder at a line of mountains with a river to your east. The river eventually becomes Lake Mead.

The last 80 miles involves a lot of desert as wending down through Nevada. There are some vistas of vast basins surrounded by mountains. But the city of Las Vegas appears suddenly around a bend in I-15.

Dinner at the Draft House. A long way from where we’ll be living. We may not go back. Except for one thing. Walleye. We had Walleye in Wisconsin, and that’s worth a drive across town.

D+6: West Yellowstone, MT, to Orem, UT

Winding down the mountains and through the pine trees of Yellowstone was an amazing end to yesterday and start to today.

Emerging from the Targhee pass into Idaho, the land transforms back to the plains. It looks a lot like Montana looked. Big farms. Cows. More Farms.

The difference between Idaho and Montana are the omnipresent mountains looming over each side of the road. 

Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there.


 

Just about the time we’re figuring this out, we come to lava.

Lava. 

Instead of farmlands, there are rocks covered in sagebrush.

This lasts a few miles and we’re back to farmlands.

Then lava. Then farmlands.  

Google “Hell’s Half-Acre”.

This is alarming: Hell’s Half-Acre Volcano.

Then Utah. This is a giant city from Ogden to Salt Lake City to Orem and Provo. Ogden seems to pop up out of the fields kind of suddenly. 

While burgers and elk and what-not are okay once in a while, we can’t take a steady diet of red meat. Montana is all about the red meat. The Shoga Sushi in Orem was a delight, in spite of being a long way from the ocean.

It looks like tomorrow (D+7) will be the last day on the road. CA predicts an arrival in North Las Vegas. We’ll be staying at an Air B&B until the apartment is ready for us.

D+5: Miles City, MT, to West Yellowstone, MT

Yesterday, I thought the Badlands were amazing. I’m not changing my position, but when you emerge on the west side of Billings and see the actual mountains, it transcends the mere amazement at the badlands.

It was almost "pull over to the side of the road and catch your breath” amazing. CA took pictures while I drove. 

Seeing the mountains for the first time means the plains have ended. This is where the trip changes complexion dramatically.

We’re no longer going to be flying down long, straight roads at 80 MPH. (Yes, that’s the Montana speed limit.)

We’re going to be winding up and down through a series of passes and valleys until we get through the Targhee pass and back to the high plains in southern Idaho.

Here’s the view from Big Timber.

Yes. It’s a street with storefronts, cars, and no traffic lights facing the mountains. 

Great lunch at the Grand Hotel.

Glad we got gas in the AM before leaving Miles City and again at lunch time in Big Timber. 

We’ve finally started to figure out the signage.

  • No Services — don’t waste time getting off here: I-94 will get you to services sooner.
  • Ranch Access or Local Access — don’t get off here, there isn’t even a road. 

And yes, it was perhaps 12 hours of looking at signs before we pieced the rules together.

If you look back at “The Route,” we’re about a day ahead of the original plan. Some of that may be driving at 75 MPH instead of 60 MPH. 

We’ve covered a lot of ground, Each dot in this image is a noon or night “anchorage.” Places where we pushed the button on our Spot locator. 

There’s a noon spot missing in the DC to Lima, OH, leg where we hadn’t put the batteries into the locator, yet.

Dinner at the Slippery Otter. The place was packed. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and the town was jumping.

D+4: Jamestown, ND, to Miles City, MT

Sh*t just got real.

For me, the center of this journey  for me was crossing the Missouri in Bismarck, ND. That seems to be the entrance to the west.

The drive from Jamestown to Bismarck is — well — a lot of telephone poles. The exits have numbers and warning signs, “No Services.” There aren’t even token place names. It’s empty. Check the level of gas: don’t start west from Jamestown with a quarter tank hoping to fill up at the first truck stop. The first truck stop is Bismarck.

A few miles outside Bismarck, things picked up. Signs. Town names. Services. The long, slow descent to the Missouri River. 

Climbing the far side, the land never returned to the look it had in eastern North Dakota. It never flattened back out. It was wrinkled and got more and more relief as we continued west. Rocks began to appear. Then hills. Ridges. Tors. 

We passed a massive wind farm. A mile or more of turbines.

We encountered oil wells — and saw some of the mile-long (and lethally explosive) oil trains.

We thought that was some amazing sights. 

We were wrong about what seemed amazing.

The Badlands took our breath away.



The park has bison wandering around loose.

Like the own the place.

The badlands continue well past the park boundaries.

And.

The badlands burn.

Read this: https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/ndnotes/ndn13_h.htm

We’re going to figure out how to rent and RV and come back here. This. Is. Amazing.

Dinner at the Iron Skillet in Miles River. Very nice place.

D+3: Eau Claire, WI, to Jamestown, ND

Yes, we crossed Minnesota in a day. 

The shift in terrain is dramatic. To me, anyway.

Eastern Wisconsin is rolling, with a lot of low, but steep hills. More relief than the northern part of Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio. Nothing like actual mountains of Western Pennsylvania. Enough ups and downs to make it challenging to pass an 18-wheeler.

The land seems lumpy enough to be distinctive.

This transitions — suddenly — to flat-ish. Western Wisconsin and much of Minnesota are mostly flat. Some hills and mounds. Wisconsin has a few out-of-place piles of rock. From this: https://wgnhs.uwex.edu/wisconsin-geology/ice-age/, it looks like glaciers didn’t get down to where I-94 goes.

Avon, Minnesota seems to be the setting for Lake Wobegon. Pictures don’t do it justice. Tiny. On a lake. No traffic control in the city.

Somewhere in western Minnesota it flattens out to extremely, unbelievably flat. Ocean-scale flatness. So far, (82 miles) we’re seeing that same flatness in North Dakota. 

Found one of these in the rest area.

It’s immensely long. 

A bit wider than one lane.

It has pilot trucks fore and aft.

It was scary to pass because, well, there you are driving and driving and driving and you’re still not out in front of it. 

Speed limit is 75. To get past it quickly, you’re going well over 80.

The Rock Tap Room in Jamestown has a great beer selection but mediocre food.

D+2: Hammond, IN, to Eau Claire, WI

Skipped through a little bit of Illinois. This was a cool parallel with D-Day: start in a huge city and work your way further and further out of town. In this case, It was Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison and then off toward St. Paul and eventually Minneapolis.

This a scenic overlook on I-94. The view is toward the Black River.

Reading about the logging here causes one to wonder what it was like before the forests were cut down.

Dinner at the Northern Tap House. The bartender lived in Midlothian, Virginia, and had specific recommendations for places in Fargo.

As we look at the map of the stops so far, it look like we could — barely — make Fargo tomorrow.

It may be a long drive, and we may not make it *all* the way.

The bartender also reminded us not to fall asleep in ND. 

D+1: Lima, OH to Hammond, IN

After the hustle and bustle of getting out of DC, today was a fun drive. It was fun until we needed to find a hotel. Hammond, IN, is in the greater Chicagoland, so, suddenly all roads are jammed with vehicles.

Dropping the hook at 4-ish makes it possible to find a room in a place that seems well-light and secure. There seem to be places to eat within walking distance. 

Tomorrow will take us out of Chicagoland. Stay tuned to see how far we get. Wisconsin? Minnesota? 

Flying along the interstate, we saw some (to us) famous factories. The EZ-Loader trailer factor and a Taylor-Made factory made us wave and point. We joked about circling back to Taylor-Made for some factory seconds of fenders or other useful boaty stuff.

The other thing that was jaw-dropping was a team of six horses pulling a plow. 

The Byway Brewing Company is a short walk from the Holiday Inn Express in Hammond, IN. The food (and beer) were amazing. Really shiny and new.

Departure D-Day

There’s a complex last-minute dance to get everything done in an order than makes sense. It’s as complex as departing a dock in Red Ranger.

1. Pack the car. This is the high-risk activity. If something won’t fit, we’ll make last-minute runs to UPS. 

2. Take out the trash. Some things simply don’t go because the can be replaced. The tape for boxes, for example, is just thrown away. The futon mattress went to the dumpster. 

3. Inspection. This makes sure we get our security deposit back.

4. Move the car. We have to get out of the parking garage, so we can turn in the apartment keys and parking tags. 

5. Get batteries for the Spot Locator. I think this is the link: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0QOe5OFhSQcieHhhOMxt7V6LFuIcqAi3u

Also see this: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0MF0jfo91asYcryXNeajEsTqtZsCK98EQ. I think this is only the last 7 days. 

A general spotwalla link: https://spotwalla.com/publicTrips.php?un=slott56

Point the wheels toward I-70. We ended the day in Lima, OH.

Steamers Stonewall Tavern, Lima, OH. Very nice. Across the street from the Holiday Inn Express.


  © Steven Lott 2019