On the Road Again . . .
Three years ago yesterday, we left Connecticut and headed to San Diego to see what California had to offer. After three years, countless internships, innumerable job applications, a law degree, two bar exams, and one new teaching position, we’re back on the road!
As some of you may recall, in 2011, we spent 12 days going the “southern” route across the country.
This summer, we’re going to take 16 days and head the “northern” route. We plan to leave Sunday, August 3rd, and hope to arrive at Narragansett, RI, by midnight on Tuesday, August 19th.
As you can see, there are a bunch of National Parks in our future. However, untamed wilderness and rustic backcountry aren’t exactly teeming with WiFi connectivity, so we’ll post as frequently as we can—ideally, once a day. But, don’t be surprised if you get a couple of posts all at once.
Of note, Patrick’s Dad (“Papa Pete”) and Nephew, Caleb, also flew out to help move our stuff back! After we load up the U-Haul, the two of them will be wandering across the country, apart from us, hoping to find their way back to Connecticut. Be sure to follow their adventures at calebandpapapete.tumblr.com!
– Ally & Patrick
Day 1 – These Trees Would Be Perfect For Totem Poles
Our day started off with a 2:00 AM alarm so that we could say goodbye to Papa Pete as he headed to Phoenix to start his adventure. While one of us was easily able to fall back asleep, the other was a little too excited to get on the road. By 2:45, Patrick decided sleep wasn’t going to happen, so he started to pack up the truck. We were officially on our way out of San Diego around 5:45 and headed north to Sequoia National Park.
With only one quick stop for coffee and muffins around 9:00, we made some great time (even in the rain). After 6 hours of driving we entered the park and drove the winding Generals Highway. We immediately realized that we had left cell service back with civilization, so it was time to go off-the-grid. (We didn’t end up getting any service till 8:00 the next morning when we left the park!) Starting at about 4,000 feet of elevation, we started to see the giant sequoia trees. Let me tell you, the pictures don’t do them justice!
We followed the meandering road for about another hour, until we found the first “first-come, first-served” campground. Fortunately, we were able to find some available sites at Dorst Creek Campground and set up shop at 7,000 feet. After we pitched our tent and had some lunch (the first of many PB&J sandwiches), we then headed out on our first hike of the trip!
We hiked through the raindrops down to see the famous General Sherman. This tree is the “Largest Tree in The World”–even though it’s not the tallest or widest–because it has the highest volume of wood.
After returning back to camp, we decided to make it an earlier night. Blame it on the early morning, or maybe the altitude, but either way our bodies pretty much made that decision for us. Ally cooked up a delicious dinner of BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches, with a side of pasta salad, and then we finished off the night with some wine by a campfire. Before bed, we loaded up the Bear Box with our food and gear (anything with odor because, apparently, black bears aren’t people-friendly), and were easily the first ones asleep at the campground.
Early morning tomorrow, off to Yosemite we go!
– Ally and Patrick
San Diego to Sequoia National Park – 359 miles
Day 2 – What Happened to the Other Half?
Today started with an early morning alarm and a quick warm breakfast. We wanted to make sure we got to Yosemite early so that we would be sure to get a campsite! Before we left, however, we decided to do a bit of rearranging. If you guys know anything about us (well, mostly Patrick), it’s that we’re a bit OCD when it comes to organization, and being in a truck full of stuff for two and a half weeks, we want it to be just right. After a quick shuffle, we had our bags in the backseat and the camping/cooking equipment ready to go in the bed of the truck.
As soon as we left the park, we finally got cell service and made some calls back home to give the moms an update. We then made our way towards Yosemite, but not before stopping in Fresno for some essentials. After the first day’s rain drizzle, Patrick realized that he neglected to pack his raincoat. (Apparently, that sort of thing isn’t necessary in San Diego, so he kind of forgot that he owned one and sent it along in the U-Haul.) While at Sport’s Authority, we both caught eyes with an EZ-Up (pop-up tailgating-type tent thing) that was on sale. We knew we probably didn’t have room, but we couldn’t pass up the bargain. Alas, the tent lived a short life of freedom, as we returned it about ten minutes later once we confirmed it didn’t fit.
After a short period of driving, we opted to stop at a Starbucks right outside of Yosemite and borrow some WiFi. Patrick went inside to scope it out, and when he didn’t return right away, Ally went in to investigate. We spent about twenty minutes there uploading our first post. (Hope you all enjoyed it!)
Soon, we were at the park entrance. Yosemite Valley (where all the main attractions are) is about an hour and half further inside the park, however, and this was time we hadn’t really factored in. It was now 3 PM, and we knew campsites would be tough to find. Nevertheless, we stopped at the first “first-come, first-served” campground we passed and were fortunate enough to see availability!
We picked our spot and went to pay the camp hosts. After talking with them a bit, we got the lowdown on the fire situation. Apparently the fire crews had been using this campground as their staging area and left town just this morning. We were glad to hear the fire was essentially completely contained and posed no threat to us, or to the rest of the park—and were particularly grateful that they left so we could have a spot!
After setting up, we decided to finish our trek down to the Valley to see what all the fuss was about. Nearly immediately, we realized. The pictures don’t do it justice, but holy moly that’s a HUGE dome! Despite the haze, Half Dome was an imposing figure in the Valley landscape; El Capitan (“El Cap”) on the north side of the valley (left side of the picture) isn’t too shabby either.
After snapping some photos, we headed down to the main visitor’s center and scoped out some hikes for the next day. On our way back to camp, we stopped at a picnic area to make some meatball grinders. El Cap and the Three Brothers were watching over us. What an incredible dinnertime view!
Once back at camp, it was quick to bed. We had picked a “very strenuous” hike (as rated by the Park Rangers) for the next day and wanted to get an early start. It should be a doozy with over 2,700 feet elevation gain in only 3.2 miles.
-Ally and Patrick
Sequoia National Park to Yosemite National Park – 162 miles
Day 3 – Is It Still A Waterfall, If There’s No Water Falling?
Early to bed, early to rise; I think there’s a pattern starting to form here. Waking with the rising sun, we packed our bags and ate a quick breakfast before heading down to the Valley to catch the trailhead. We had to park at the “day use” area and take a shuttle to the trails because there’s only two roads (each with one-way traffic), so traffic is a nightmare.
We hopped off the bus, headed over to the find the trail. Looking at the sign, we decide that we’ll hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls and then continue on to Yosemite Point.
Nearly immediately, Patrick realized that it had been a while since “physical exertion” was in his vocabulary. Over the first 1/3 of the hike (the first mile), we encountered 80 switchbacks as we ascended about 1,200 feet. Although that brought us to a pretty cool overlook, that start was definitely a shock to the system!
The next mile was a nice reprieve as it brought some generally flat terrain and ended with an amazing view of Upper Yosemite Falls.
Alas, there was no gushing stream flowing over the top, but instead a mere trickle down the side of the granite cliff. Either way, it was still an impressive site.
The final 1/3 of the hike was again steep and filled with switchbacks. As we started nearing the top, some dark clouds rolled in and seemed to threaten a thunderstorm. (As this point, Patrick was definitely beginning to be thankful that Ally “strongly encouraged” we stop and get him a rain coat the day before.) Fortunately, we only got hit with a few drops and actually enjoyed the break from the sun. Once at the top, we ventured down some treacherous steps to get a rather underwhelming overlook of the Falls, but did spot some cool pools we decided to go check out.
After a quick lunch, we continued to Yosemite Point, and were rewarded with absolutely incredible views of Half Dome.
On our way back, we stopped at the waterfall’s feeder “stream” and hung out for a bit. We washed our feet, splashed with some fishes, and just took a relaxing break. (Patrick may have even snuck in a nap.)
Rejuvenated for the hike down, we made great time. After about four hours of going up, it took only 3 hours to make it back down to the valley.
Once back to the car, we drove to the “Housekeeping Camp” to enjoy our first shower of the trip. After a glorious rinse, we picked up a fresh bag of ice and headed back to camp.
Hot dogs, pasta salad, and grilled zucchini for dinner before early to bed! Tomorrow we’re headed back to the coast to see Big Sur and Monterey Bay.
– Ally and Patrick
Day 4 – “Sorry, Campground Is Full.”
We opted out of setting an alarm, convinced Ally would wake up early with the sun, however, the bright morning was no competition to our post-hike exhaustion. With a later start to the morning than we anticipated, we had a quick tea and English muffin breakfast, packed up camp and headed west toward the shore.
It’s incredible to see the different terrains of California, as well as the plummeting and rising thermostat. A brisk 50 degree morning at 7,000 feet quickly became a 93 degree sunny drive through the central valley and beyond. One stop to replenish some groceries and fill the gas tank was our only driving interruption … until the farm stands grabbed Ally’s attention! She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stock up on some fresh produce—after all, we had been driving through farmland for hours, trying to identify the different crops. (We’ve decided that farmers should add some signage to their fields to assist drivers in crop identification. Not all fields have a distinguished aroma as the garlic fields do. Hmm, can we have garlic bread with dinner?)
As we approached the coast, we could see the all-too-familiar marine layer. Patrick directed us to a park in Monterey where we made sandwiches and ate on the beach. We took a walk to explore the wharf area, filled with restaurants, whale watch/bay excursions and souvenir shops.
The highlight of the day was seeing a little sea otter friend floating in the harbor munching on a clam. Day. MADE.
After Monterey Bay we drove down Route 1 to Big Sur, taking in the majestic views along the way.
Unfortunately for us, the campsites were filled at the state parks as well as the private campgrounds in and around Big Sur. We were directed to a state park back up in Monterey, but upon arrival we decided to keep driving north to get us closer to tomorrow’s destination: Mount Rainier National Park! Initially we were going to be spending a night at Crater Lake, however due to an itinerary mix-up, we were a day behind. (Even with color-coded Excel spreadsheets, mistakes can happen. Guess Patrick had his mind on something else in July…)
Despite a super generous offer from friends to crash in Palo Alto (Thanks Laura!), we picked a destination about 4 hours north—officially abandoning the idea to drive through the night and arrive at Mt. Rainier mid-morning. After checking out some helpful online reviews, we found a great motel in Williams, CA.
Tomorrow, it’s 10 hours to Mount Rainier, with a pit stop for lunch in Portland!
-Ally and Patrick
Yosemite National Park to Williams, CA – 501 miles
Day 5 – OregON or OregIN? Either Way, We’re In Washington.
We had another early morning today, and were on the road by 6:00 AM. We grabbed a couple of muffins from the inn at check out, and stopped for some very large coffees (and a lackluster McGriddle to split) from McDonald’s before getting back on “The 5.” Lots of driving today, and not too many exciting events. Although, we did add two new states to our list!
Once of the few bright spots in today’s drive was our stop in Portland, OR for lunch. Thanks to the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives website we found a great sandwich shop, Bunk Bar, conveniently located next-door to Hair of the Dog Brewery.
Patrick went with Guy Fieri’s pick, a pork belly reuben (so delicious!) and Ally chose a tasty horseradish roast beef sandwich that was a mix between the Jaws II from Box Lunch up at the Cape, and a sandwich straight from Meme’s kitchen. No complaints here!
We then split a flight of tasters at the brewery and got back on the road to Mt. Rainier.
Soon after entering Washington, we saw some imposing landscapes. Both Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainier were impressive!
When we arrived at the campground in the National Park, we realized we didn’t which site was ours—although we had reservations, we didn’t think to save that information from our email before cell service disappeared. Luckily, we found a helpful ranger who directed us to the “reserved” loops where we would find our site labeled with our name.
This was definitely our favorite site so far. It was awesome because of how different it was from the many others we’ve had, complete with a private terrace for our tent!
We quickly gathered some kindling before the sun went down, then set up camp and cooked dinner. (Pasta and meatballs tonight!) Unlike previous nights, we were probably the last ones to retire to our tent—too much planning to do for tomorrow!
We set an alarm for 4:45 AM, in hopes to see the sunrise from the trail.
– Ally and Patrick
Williams, CA to Mt. Rainier National Park – 686 miles
Day 6 – “O, Canada . . .”
Around 5:00 AM, we crawled out of the tent and drove to the trailhead! Without our normal breakfast, or our morning tea, we made sure to pack some snacks and water because we didn’t really know how long we were going to be out for. (At the parking lot, the weather was less than favorable. Because it was super foggy, we weren’t sure how productive or long the hike would be.)
Despite the fog, the hike began with some incredible views. The meadows and flowers were quite a sight, and the occasional mini-glacier with babbling stream added to the generally awesome scenery.
As we kept hiking, the fog started to lift.
We were so happy that we didn’t bail on account of the fog because the views that we ended up seeing were incredible! At first, the summit of Mt. Rainier was barely noticeable, but then it quickly came into clear view.
By the time we got to this clearing, the sun was just starting to rise over the mountains. We took some photos before continuing up the trail to see what there was to find. Wouldn’t you know, soon the trail ended up disappearing because it was covered by a glacier!
The two of us ventured out onto the snowpack and hiked up to “Glacier Vista.” From here, we had a perfect view of the horizon, over the receding fog.
Before heading back, Ally decided to go sledding on the glacier—unfortunately, without the sled.
(Cool Side Note: On our way back down, we saw a man hiking up the trail with skis strapped to his backpack. He said he was going to hike up the glacier and then ski back down! That sounds like it’d be an awesome way to end a long hike up a mountain.)
Once back down into the fog, we went back to camp, made breakfast and broke down our tent. Thanks to our early start, we were on the road for Seattle by 9 AM. The drive there was generally uneventful, save for some fun geography lessons. (We stopped and got gas in a town called “Puyallup.” We had a bit of fun imagining different ways to pronounce this interesting combination of letters, but ultimately consulted Patrick’s friend from school and learned its a rather boring “Pu-All-Up.”)
Once in Seattle, we headed for the first parking garage we could find. Unfortunately, it was one that was straight out of a Matchbox Car set—complete with car elevators. The signs said “Leave Keys In Car” and we quickly found ourselves in a one-way-only line of cars. (ABORT! ABORT!) Fortunately, Patrick was able to back the truck out of this contraption—see the upcoming time lapse to see this ridiculousness unfold.
Our first stop was, of course, Pike’s Place Market.
We strolled around, checked out all different shops, and even saw some fish being thrown at the famous Fish Market. (Shout-out to UConn Orientation and props to these guys living the “FISH! Philosophy.”)
We then headed to Pike’s Brewing Company, but not before stopping at the Chocolate Factory and snagging some pre-lunch dessert. (Special shout-out to Aaron Duffy for providing the sweet Pike’s Brew Co. recommendation! The Bacon Burger was delicious.)
After the requisite stop at a Seattle Starbucks, we were back on the road and headed for the border! Traffic was a bit heavy leaving the city, but fortunately the border crossing was painless—Ally even got the Passport Stamp she wanted.
We arrived in Vancouver around 6:00 PM and were pleased to be greeted by a super friendly hotel employee—and free cookies! We brought our bags up to the room, and took our time before we headed out to the Gastown neighborhood for food. We finally found a restaurant that interested us around 10:00 PM and enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner. After sharing some raw oysters, we each got a delicious local beer. Ally enjoyed garlic shrimp while Patrick devoured his halibut.
By the time we returned to the hotel, it was past midnight. We both passed out before we could even plan the next day’s trek to Lake Louise and Banff National Park in Alberta!
On that note, we’ll be in the Canadian Rockies for a few days, very likely without internet. After that, we drive down to Glacier National Park in Montana, so we might not have updates for a few days. Be on the look out for a message saying we’ve got some new posts for you to enjoy!
– Patrick and Ally
Mt. Rainier National Park to Vancouver, BC – 243 miles
Day 7 – “Uhh, Do We Have Money For The Toll?”
What a glorious night’s sleep in a real bed! We had a slow start to our day following our late night on the town. Even though we left Vancouver much later than we had hoped and had a long drive ahead, we weren’t too worried, knowing we had reservations for a site at Lake Louise Campground in Banff National Park. Our first stop after departing the hotel was a Tim Horton’s by Ally’s request for coffee and Timbits (too bad they don’t make the mini donuts like they used to!). Patrick is a convert—Tim Horton’s makes awesome coffee. Not far along in our drive we started seeing signs for a toll bridge. We decided to take the last exit before the toll, knowing we didn’t have any cash (Canadian or otherwise) and explored the backcountry of Canada for a bit. Eventually we made our way back to “The 1” (Trans-Canada Highway). The scenery was wonderful, and some areas are so remote—the main highway is only one lane each direction!
We stopped in Kamloops for groceries to sustain us through our 3 nights in the Rockies, as well as a new hatchet for Patrick. (His response: “It’s like Christmas!”)
At some point on our (very) long drive we realized we would be crossing a time zone. Fortunately, the sun stays up super late. We arrived to the park at 9pm, which was actually 10pm local time, and the sun was still hanging on the horizon.
It was after standard check-in time when we pulled in, but the ranger was super friendly and helpful—she gave us a map, showed us our site, and provided us with the 411 about the electric fences surrounding the campground (helps to keep the grizzly bears out).
We located our site, quickly set up camp, and then made dinner. It was then off to bed under the bright glow of a “supermoon.” Lots to explore the next few days, but in the mean time, it’ll be nice to slow down and sleep in!
– Ally and Patrick
Vancouver, BC to Lake Louise, AB – 521 miles
Day 8 – Tea House in the Sky
Entering our second week, it was nice to be in one spot for a couple of days—no early morning tent breakdown, nice leisurely breakfasts, and, simply, an opportunity to slow down and relax. We started our day with no alarm, but instead were awoken by a combination of some incredibly annoying crows and a surprisingly hot sun.
Before Ally made a delightful pancake breakfast, we headed over to formally check in. We found out that they charge $8.00 per night as a “campfire permit fee”—if you choose to have a fire—but, they provide unlimited firewood! (This excitement was tempered, however, knowing the tiny size of the fire pit.)
After washing up, we went and explored the Visitor’s Center and decided on today’s activity. Looking at the map, we thought heading to Lake Louise proper would be fun, but quickly realized the parking situation up there was a zoo! While fighting to find parking, we almost decided to abandon our plan and go chill back at the campground. However, a spot opened up. We decided to have lunch and then go for a hike.
We finished our sandwiches and began walking over to the Lake. Rounding the corner from the sidewalk, the Lake hits you with both its size and vibrant color. It’s incredible! (Although there were tons of people milling about, taking photos and such, it was still a pretty serene sight. After all, the canoes cruising around looked quite peaceful.)
Around the Lake Louise area, there are Tea Houses available in the mountains that can serve as destinations for day hikes. Of the two on our radar, we choose to do a gentle 3-mile hike to Lake Agnes Tea House, rather than the more intense 7-mile trek.
About halfway up the trail, we got some pretty incredible views down at Lake Louise! (We later found out the reason for the cool water color. Despite our hopes that this area was secretly a Gatorade bottling facility, the real explanation is “glacial till.” The glaciers grind the rocks into a fine powder, and then this powder is suspended in the water, giving it the impressive blue-green hue.)
A short hike more and we were at the tea house. The little cabin in the woods—set atop a waterfall and at the end of smaller Lake Agnes—was so picturesque. Although we came up in late afternoon, one can only imagine how awesome it must be to get up here early in the morning and actually use the tea to warm you up. Despite the exertion, the hot tea was delicious!
Back at camp, we began to make plans for the next day. One idea we had been throwing around, since seeing it on a billboard driving in, was taking a helicopter tour ride. At only $49.00, they seemed like quite the bargain! However, another billboard that caught our eye—and seemed much less sketchy—was whitewater rafting! We used the Visitor Center’s courtesy phone to scope out some operations before picking one and making afternoon reservations. (We figure, if the water is as cold as we expect, at least the sun and air will be warmer in mid-afternoon than it might be if we went splashing at 9 in the morning.)
Dinner was a delicious combination of grilled potatoes, green beans, and burgers, using our new cast iron skillet. We enjoyed a relaxing fire till the sun finally set around 10 PM. (Happy 30th Birthday to our friend Mike Mosher!)
P.S. Quick shout-out to both Patrick’s boss, Jon, and classmate, Brittany, who both combined to make this part of the trip possible! Jon put the Canadian Rockies on our radar and Brittany was quite insistent that any trip to the area must include time at Lake Louise. After the impressive drive in and today’s adventure, it’s easy to say the stop was definitely worth its spot on our itinerary!
-Ally and Patrick
Day 9 – “Water Temperature? About 35 Degrees.”
Today we were able to enjoy another slow morning. The alarm clock-less wake ups have been glorious because we definitely have some sleep to catch up on! English Muffins with eggs and OJ was our delicious breakfast, before planning out the day’s plan of attack.
Although rafting reservations were made, that wasn’t until 2 PM, so we decided to do another hike. We choose a much shorter one (about 1 mile) and went nearby to Moraine Lake. In this area, some of the trails have “Bear Restrictions,” requiring that people hike in groups of 4 or more, and with bear spray, so we stayed close to shore and did an easy lake-side walk.
We looped back to the truck and enjoyed yummy PB & J sandwiches. (Don’t worry, we made it a complete meal by adding cookies andpotato chips.)
After filling the bellies, we ventured down to the Kicking Horse River to go rafting! We arrived at Wild Water Adventures in Golden and were greeted by staff and visitors from around the world—we were definitely not the farthest from home! We were introduced to some of the guides who seemed pretty chill, from places like Costa Rica, Scotland, Australia, and obviously Canada. They gave an overview of our day ahead, including some details like “the water is glacially cold, just about 35 degrees … it melted off a glacier about 13 minutes ago …” (Thank goodness it was 90 degrees out today!) We put on our gear, which consisted of wetsuits, booties, splash jackets, life vests and helmets, and headed to the bus for a quick drive to the river. On the bus, a guide from Scotland gave a little pep talk, including an overview of the class I-IV rapids. He also included some humor that could be found on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disney. Naturally, we thought he was hysterical.
Once at the river, Patrick was tabbed as “safety auditor” (how nerdy can he get?) during another “introduction” speech, and then we were separated into boats. With us was a man and woman combo from London (we’re not sure if they were married or what their deal was, he was all about the rafting, she seemed a bit dainty for the whole thing); and a mom and dad with two sons from Philly (this was their 5th rafting experience, with others being in New Zealand and Costa Rica). Our guide, Carlos from Costa Rica, kept us on our toes the whole ride. Overall, the Kicking Horse River was awesome. The water wasn’t TOO cold (just imagine a January swim at the cape), the scenery was phenomenal, and the rapids were fun! We were floating through the mountains, under some bridges and past some impressive rockslides.
About halfway through, following a 1 km stretch of rapids called “The Shotgun,” we swapped places on the raft; Ally was now paddling, while Patrick was along for the ride. Carlos had some fun with Ally and encouraged her to “ride the front of the boat like a horse.” While she knew he was up to something, an unexpected (albeit gentle) shove from Patrick got her in the water. There’s her ice bucket challenge, Joanne, a full plunge into the glacial melt! It was actually very enjoyable, even if a bit shocking. Invigorating may be the best word to describe not only the plunge itself, but floating down the rapids with the raft close behind.
We loaded the gear and took the bus back. After a quick change out of the wetsuits (some were more wet than others, cough cough) and into dry clothes we were able to enjoy some hot tea and, to Patrick’s pleasure, cookies! (NOTE: Check back soon for video highlights of our rafting trip! As with the driving videos, it takes a long time to upload and process—and YouTube hasn’t been cooperating recently.)
We headed back to camp, got a fire going and fired up the grill. Burgers and roasted veggies for dinner again (this time, red potato wedges and grilled zucchini—delicious!)
Early to bed, and hopefully early to rise. We have a long trip to Glacier National Park in Montana tomorrow, so we have the alarm set for 4. Some suggested we see the Perseid Meteor Shower, but if that doesn’t work out, then we’ll be up and out anyway!
– Ally and Patrick
Day 10 – Glacier National Park. Wow.
Our day began with the ding of a 4 AM alarm. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see any meteors, so we packed up, took our showers, and were on the road by 6! Because of the early morning cold, we decided not to have breakfast at camp, and stopped for some Tim Horton’s fuel around 7:30. (Mmhmm, that coffee and those donut holes are delicious!)
The long drive back to America was made bearable by some pretty cool Canadian scenery. Well, that’s not entirely true—it just went from the majestic Rockies to pretty standard farms nearly immediately. We did, however, see the Team Canada Olympic Training Facility. (Think ski jumping looks crazy on TV? Well, the jumps look absolutely insane in person.) Thankfully, the border crossing was uneventful, and we were greeted with a pleasant “Welcome Home.”
Glacier was surprisingly quick after the border! We stopped right before its entrance to refill with gas, and then entered the National Park.
Nearly immediately we could tell that it was a place of incredible terrain. We could see meadows and lakes, with tall, jagged mountains rising above. Despite potential popular belief, the park is named “Glacier National Park” because the terrain was created by glaciers, not the fact that there are some glaciers in the park.
Shortly after we entered the park, there was a bear siting! Unfortunately, only Ally was able to see the cub because Patrick was driving and there wasn’t enough time to grab the camera.
Aside from the terrain (and the associated hiking!), the main attraction at the park is the solitary road that cuts across the mountains from east to west—“The Going-to-the-Sun Road.”
This road is impressive in itself as it clings to the edge of the mountains and winds its way up to Logan Pass (and the Continental Divide), and then down to the valley below.
It’s only a two-lane road, so the driving can be a bit stressful, but the views you get are incredible.
Thankfully, they provide plenty of “turnouts” to stop and take pictures and soak it all in.
Repeating a theme from earlier in the trip, we didn’t have any camping reservations for tonight. So, we drove from campground to campground, being rejected time and again. (The sites at this park are almost all “first-come, first-served” so we thought our early arrival would help us secure a spot. Apparently not the case.) Finally, after we reached the far-western portion of the park without success, we spoke to a volunteer ranger and were directed to “overflow” space in the group campsites. (At our site, we ended up being paired up with some guys from NH who were on their yearly outing and had just returned from a week in the backcountry.)
After setting up Turtle (our tent), we decided to hit the road and take our time heading back up to Logan Pass to explore. Up at the visitor’s center, we saw some folks pointing at the far mountains—with Ally’s camera we were able to see the big horn sheep! (More on these creatures later …)
We looked at the trail guides and decided to go for a short hike to “Hidden Lake.” Before we even reached the trailhead, we found more wildlife!
Our hike meandered through some alpine meadows, where we were able to see more wildlife right next to us, before it reached some lightly wooded areas.
At the end of the trail, we found a beautiful overlook—providing incredible views of the mountains and sunset in the distance, along with a glacier-fed lake below.
On our way back, we ran into this YouTube star. (See video below …)
Back at the visitor’s center, we saw the same Big Horn sheep, but now much further down the mountain. We decided to take the trail over, and found the herd grazing. (We even saw a few stay true to name and ram their heads into each other!)
They were incredibly impressive but definitely intimidating.
It was awesome to see them come so close, but Ally was certainly a bit uneasy.
By this time, it was nearly 8:00 PM so we got in the car and headed back down “The Going-to-the-Sun Road.” We watched the sunset from different turnouts, and saw some more awesome views.
As we were making our way down to the valley—and scoping out an overlook to make/eat dinner—we saw more wildlife. This time, a BEAR!
Eventually, we selected a spot by a babbling brook to make tuna sandwiches for dinner. After the second bear siting, we were half-way expecting some wildlife to emerge from the woods and come after the fish. Fortunately (or, unfortunately?), that didn’t happen.
With our stomachs full, we headed back to camp and went right to bed. Tomorrow’s another early morning with a full-day trek to Yellowstone in store!
– Ally and Patrick
Lake Louise, BC to Glacier National Park, MT – 351 miles
Day 11 – Did You Know? The Scientific Name for Buffalo is “Bison Bison.”
We must have been excited to get to Yellowstone because we actually got up at the first alarm, and were on the road by 4:45 AM! About an hour in, we stopped for coffee; we then enjoyed a breakfast of GoGurt and bananas a bit later. (Those tubes of yogurt are extremely convenient!)
The early mornings were catching up to us, but today we did good switching the drivers. Each of us was able to catch a snooze while the other made great progress to Wyoming and the first National Park in the world!
After Patrick’s nap, he called Yellowstone’s same-day reservation hotline and scored a site. Despite a twenty–minute wait on the phone (and countless repetitions of their “on-hold” recording), we could now take our time and relax knowing there was a campsite waiting for us for all three nights.
We stopped in Bozeman for groceries and then decided to grab lunch, too. After a delicious meal at Clark’s Fork, we were back on the road and entered Yellowstone around 2:30 PM via the North Entrance.
Immediately we went to Mammoth Hot Springs. Although most of them were “dry” right now, the features were still incredible to see. (Even though they were some bizzare sights, the hot springs, geysers, and steam vents we would see all smelled terribly. One of the main ingredients/byproducts of all the geothermal features in Yellowstone is some nasty sulfuric gas—the smell of rotten eggs.)
While checking out the area, we got caught in a rain storm. This was the result of a double-fail by Patrick, who read both the trail map wrong (taking us the wrong way) and the weather map wrong (inducing us to leave our rain jackets in the truck). Fortunately, we made it back to Bullseye right before it really started to pour.
Consulting the park map, and seeing where our camp was in relation to everything, we decided to drive the east portion of the park today. We saw a waterfall, along with incredible rolling hills.
We passed the Canyon area, knowing we’d head that way tomorrow, and continued south to our campground at Grant’s Village. This portion of the park is renowned for its wildlife sitings, and nearly immediately we saw some bison!
These guys create a lot of traffic jams because of their incredible size and tendency to roam.
Also, everyone and their mother stops to take photos (us included). These guys are HUGE—and a bit silly looking.
Shortly down the road, we got to diversify our wildlife exposure and saw an elk having some dinner, too!
Once at the campground, Patrick checked us in while Ally started some long overdue laundry. After the laundry was washed, folded, and put away, we set up camp and made a late night dinner of Ramen noodles.
Tomorrow is a full day of exploration and adventure!
– Ally and Patrick
Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park – 530 miles
Day 12 – “Hey, UConn!”
Our early morning was delayed a bit due to some rain, but we welcomed the extra snooze time while we waited for the storm to pass. We made breakfast at the site and packed up our soggy tent (we’re staying in a nearby site for the next two nights). We took advantage of the hot showers, and were able to check in to our next site before leaving the campground. Taking a few extra minutes, we set up our tent to let it dry before we headed out on the day’s adventure.
We began our journey by heading to the Canyon area, but pulled off the road on the way to photograph a herd of bison in the distance. The group followed one buffalo, who decided to cross the river a bit upstream from us.
While the two-dozen or so animals were making their way across, we couldn’t help but noticed the current of the river drifting them downstream and soon realized their landing point would be exactly between our current location and our truck.
With no time to retreat, we stood back and watched the massive animals climb ashore with hopes of crossing the road.
With them a mere 20 yards away, we made our way toward the truck, using the occasional tree as safety barriers. With us just about at the truck, something spooked the group and they stampeded in our general direction.
Ally was able to make it into the safety of Bullseye, but Patrick was on his own. (“Mufasa, quick! Stampede, in the gorge … Simba’s down there!”)
After that awesome experience, we had our bison fill—we continued our drive toward the Canyon area.
We parked at the trailhead, made another lunch on the tailgate (this time with chicken wraps—we’re taking a break from PB & Js for a while), and headed to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from “Artist’s Point.”
After that, we drove a ways, and saw Upper Falls from a lookout.
While it wasn’t an extremely tall waterfall, the sheer quantity of water gushing over was impressive. (An estimated 36,000 gallons PER SECOND as we’re coming to the end of the summer. During the melting spring, over 60,000 gallons flow per second!) We then made our way down the 328 steel steps of “Uncle Tom’s Trail” to check out Lower Falls, which is about 308 feet tall.
During all our driving, we also stopped at random turnouts to see some sporadic hot springs. These guys looked incredible churning and bubbling with a combination of boiling water and escaping gas.
Of note, Patrick wore his UConn shirt today and got a ton of “UConn!” or “Hey, Connecticut!” comments as we walked around. We wonder how many Nutmeggers we’ve seen around, but just never realized the connections. (Also, tons of people have been walking by and commenting on the “BUBBA” license plate. Kids love the CT plate, too, because they get more points for their different license plate games. Glad we could help!)
After powering back up all those steps, we hopped in the car and drove to Norris Geyser Basin. Here we found incredibly cool thermal features: hot springs, mud pots and steam vents (no geyser activity though).
The colors were simply amazing, ranging from bright turquoise to rusty orange.
What you might not realize is that the National Parks are all HUGE. Despite Yellowstone being one park, everything is so far away from each other. It can take over an hour to drive the 15 to 20 miles from one point of interest to the next. Speed limits, camper traffic, and animal encounters all mean the treks take a long time. As you can imagine, driving and tenting is exhausting—especially nearly two weeks in. Patrick took advantage of some quality passenger time and snuck in a nap on our way down to Old Faithful. As soon as we pulled into a lot there, Ally grabbed a pillow from the backseat and fell right asleep—we obviously needed a catnap (or, maybe a tiger snooze).
We checked out the visitor’s center with hopes to see next eruption, and saw the estimated time to be around 5:45 PM.
Bingo! Right on schedule Old Faithful spewed its steam and boiling water into the air (our estimate is around 35 feet).
When we finally got back to the campground, we had some time to relax! Ally had had enough “camp food,” so she made a chicken, pasta and broccoli dish—as best she could using the camp stove. (Tin foil pouch chicken with garlic and red pepper flakes is delicious, and so easy to clean up!) We were happy to enjoy dinner in the daylight, with no rushing to clean up and get to bed. We made a fire and relaxed with some wine. As the sun was setting, we kept looking up at the sky. Every time we looked, the stars were brighter and more numerous—definitely the best night sky viewing of the trip so far!
Soon it was off to bed; tomorrow is Grand Teton National Park. Even though it’s next door (only 27 miles away), it’s likely to be a long drive.
– Ally and Patrick
Day 13 – The Moose Is On The Loose!
We woke up around 7 and got moving. Out of habit, Ally was an eager beaver and started packing up before Patrick was even awake! (Fortunately, however, we don’t need to pack up because we get to stay at our site for another night.) We whipped up some hot oatmeal and warm tea before we hit the road and headed to Grand Teton National Park.
After a short drive to the edge of Yellowstone, we passed along the “John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway”—which connects the two parks—and then entered Grand Teton.
Shortly after the official welcome sign, the forests opened up and the road followed the shore of one of the two major lakes in the park. From the lookouts, we could see incredible views of the mountains in the distance. They are just striking, rising abruptly from flat plains, and ending in jagged, but picturesque, peaks.
Here, there are no rolling foothills gradually leading up to the mountains themselves, but instead long, open plains that continue till BOOM—mountain range!
We made our way to Jenny Lake Visitor’s Center and got trail maps to start scoping out a route for the day.
Considering our desire to just get to the park, and not knowing the day’s weather, we waited till now to get dressed. (It was much warmer than we anticipated, so it was nice to shed a few layers and bask in the sun.) Ally prepared lunches, Patrick organized snacks, and then we packed our bags with waters and some extra “just in case” clothes (rain gear and long-sleeved shirts).
We opted to take the water shuttle to the trailhead, instead of hiking the two miles around the lake, to enjoy a nice boat ride out on the lake.
This was a great choice because, even though it was a short ride, the ferry was relaxing and provided some pretty cool views of its own.
After landing on the far shore, we hiked up to Hidden Falls.
Then, after a quick peak at the waterfall tucked in the middle of the forest, we continued up to Inspiration Point for some incredible views to the East.
This trail was advertised as being super popular, and they did not lie! There were so many people around that it made the trails extremely congested and generally just not very nature-y. Fortunately, as we continued to trek into the Canyon, the crowds and pockets of rowdy people disappeared.
All along the canyon trail, there was cool scenery. With a river running through the middle, there were pockets of rapids paired with portions of placid water.
Along one of these calm, stream-like areas, Ally found a good rock for lunch.
We climbed up to it, enjoyed our Gatorade and demolished the wraps. Although the view of the water was nice, the area was a bit too peaceful and we both fell asleep. We woke up after about 20 minutes and munched on some more snacks before deciding to go a bit further and explore around the corner.
Good thing we did, because nearly immediately we saw a moose!
Although he was far away, it was still awesome to see wildlife in such a perfect, scenic setting.
On our way back, we noticed some menacing clouds in the distance. (Well, really, Ally noticed the clouds.)
Ally comments that it’d be raining on us soon, but Patrick (in all his meteorological wisdom) disagreed. Not 10 minutes later, the raindrops start falling. We donned our raincoats, scurried back to the water shuttle, and returned to the parking area. As soon as we got in the car, it starting POURING!
Back at camp, we clean off our tent from an apparent torrential downpour, with mud splatter all under the rain fly, and then decided to check out the water nearby.
On our walk back to the site, and before making dinner, Ally again predicts some rain.
We decide to hang out in the car and, sure enough, the drops start falling. (While we were hanging out, we decide to start keeping track of license plates that we see. Check back at the end of the trip for a full report! We’ve already seen Alaska AND Hawaii, so I think the odds are in our favor.)
A delicious BBQ chicken dinner and small fire round out our night. We burnt the remainder of our wood, and opted not to purchase more, because we only have one more night of camping! Tomorrow is a long drive, with a early morning departure with our sights set on Denver, CO.
– Ally and Patrick
Day 14 – Family Hotels Are The Best Hotels.
Our day started around 5:30 AM. We slowly woke up, then got to packing our bags and sleeping pads. When we emerged from the tent, we were met by cold and brisk air. Although it was actually a bit enjoyable—given that we slept with long pants and long sleeves—the water condensation on the tent’s rain fly was torture. Our fingers felt like icicles as we tried to deal with packing up the tent. As we got in Bullseye to start our drive, we noticed the thermometer read 38 degrees—no wonder the water was so cold!
The drive was extremely long, clocking in at about 10 hours. Fortunately, we saw some pretty interesting geography throughout Wyoming. Once we entered Colorado, we were both surprised at how flat it was, but just had to remember the Rocky Mountains are further west. (Check out the whole drive, condensed to 4 minutes, below!)
Our destination today was Patrick’s cousin Scott’s, and his girlfriend Alyssa’s, apartment in the Denver suburb of Broomfield. During the drive, we searched for an oil change and found a Walmart Auto Center less than a quarter mile from their apartment! We dropped the truck off for his appointment, went shopping to refill the cooler, and then made the short walk to Scott and Alyssa’s.
We were greeted by two welcoming hosts! Scott came down to let us in and Alyssa met us in the kitchen of their immaculate apartment. We checked out their pad, enjoyed a bit of the balcony view, and caught up, until the oil change was done. Once Patrick got the call, we got the truck, and grabbed our clothes. (Taking a real shower, without the need for sandals or dealing with gunky curtains was glorious. Thanks guys!)
After “freshening up,” the four of us headed to Boulder for dinner. Scott and Alyssa brought us to BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery, which is famous for its pizza-cookie dessert—aptly named a “Pizookie.” Although they may have been a bit disappointed we had been to a BJ’s before, we were both very excited because (a) we had never actually eaten a meal there, and (b) it meant we had Pizookie’s in our future!
Once dinner was finished, we went back to the apartment and hung out in the hot tub for a bit. Despite the 95 degree day-time-weather, the warm water was a welcome relaxation after a long day of driving. We soaked and chatted till about 11 PM, when the Paul Blart security guard made his rounds and sent us inside.
It was then quickly to bed as we have another early morning and long trip to Lawrence, KS ahead of us.
– Ally and Patrick
Yellowstone National Park to Broomfield, CO – 551 miles
Day 15 – Rock Chalk. Jayhawk.
We woke up around 7 and were happy to take another clean, non-camp shower. After packing up, the four us headed out to breakfast at a local diner Scott and Alyssa had not yet tried.
Conveniently named the “Great Scott Diner” (alas, no Back To The Future references inside), all the breakfasts were delicious and quickly devoured. After some digestion, and a few more cups of Patrick’s favorite diner coffee, Scott and Alyssa headed west for a day of hiking, and we headed east to go explore the great state of Kansas.
The drive was uneventful, and very, very straight. The state is not as boring as some might say, but nothing is as notable as a geyser or bison like we’ve seen in recent days. We did, however, pass by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and nerd out at some presidential history.
We got to our destination, Clinton State Park, around 6:30 PM. The campground is located just outside Lawrence, KS–home to the University of Kansas.
When we arrived, the campground was empty. Although there was an attendant at the gate to take our money, there was almost no one at any of the sites.
No complaints, though, because it was very peaceful—and allowed us to see more wildlife, this time deer!
We started dinner and attempted to dry out the tent (and its frigid, dew-covered rainfly) from our hurried packing at Yellowstone. After dinner, we set up Turtle and headed to Lawrence proper to check out the campus and see what the downtown had to offer.
We stopped at “Free State Brewing Company”—the first brewery in KS since prohibition—for some beer. Patrick chose the “Stormchaser IPA and Ally opted for the “Garden Party,” apparently it tasted like drinking a basil pizza. (I guess that sort of thing is yummy…)
Once our glasses were empty, we went back to camp and hit the hay. Tomorrow’s a long haul to Lousiville, KY—and a hotel!
– Ally and Patrick
Broomfield, CO to Lawrence, KS – 591 miles
Day 16 – Bourbon Country.
This morning we woke up to the dull light of the sun not yet over the horizon. As we packed up our tent, we watched as a beautiful sunrise unfolded over the Kansas fields.
We made our last camp breakfast of the trip (we’ll be staying in a hotel tonight, so bagels and coffee are likely tomorrow!), and made it a complete meal with eggs, bacon, and English muffins. We were able to get on out on the road by 7:30 AM.
Today was a drive that brought us through many states. Nearly immediately, we were into Missouri as we passed through Kansas City.
We drove through Ferguson, MO (though we didn’t notice it at the time) on our way into St. Louis—but took part in no the rioting. Before we left the city, we were able to catch a glimpse of the Gateway Arch.
Then, we were into Illinois!
Around this time, we realized it was lunchtime and just how hungry we were. Seeing signs for a “Steak ‘n Shake,” we decided to stop and try it out. (Patrick remembered having delicious milkshakes from here when his dad spent some time working in Rockford, IL.) The milkshake was wonderful and the burgers were dynamite, too!
The drive continued for a long ways before we got to Indiana.
Then, after just a few more hours, we were finally in Kentucky!
Louisville is right on the border so we were able to quickly find our hotel, check in, and then figure out dinner plans. Patrick’s friend from school, April, went to University of Louisville, so she gave some suggestions for the area (sorry April, Huskies > Cardinals!).
We ended up walking to Against the Grain Brewery for some local beer and BBQ. The place is nestled in a corner of Louisville Slugger Park, and although there wasn’t a game going on at the time, it was still a pretty neat atmosphere. The brewery smokes all their food in-house, and prepares their own BBQ sauces, too, so it was nice to get some authentic flavors paired with the tasty beer.
Once we were done enjoying our Pulled Pork sandwich, and finished dipping the scraps in the flight of different BBQ sauces we got, our night shifted to a bourbon bar closer to our hotel, Down One. Ally ordered a Kentucky Mule on the menu while Patrick checked out some new flavors, too. (Ally immediately fell in love with her order, a combination of local whiskey, blackberries, basil, and ginger beer.)
By this point in the night, we were thankful that we only had to walk back across the street to reach our hotel. We enjoyed a comfortable hotel bed before we head out on the longest drive of the trip.
Tomorrow’s our last day, with a final push to Rhode Island. Narragansett or bust!
– Ally and Patrick
Lawrence, KS to Louisville, KY – 569 miles
Day 17 – Narragansett, Here We Come!
Today’s our last day on the road. Although we’ll be meeting up with Ally’s family for a few days at the beach in Rhode Island, there will be no more driving after tonight!
Thanks to a goodnight’s sleep, we were energized for the long, 14-hour trek we had in front of us. We packed up our hotel room and hit the road by 8 AM. Fortunately, traffic leaving the Louisville area wasn’t bad (traffic going into the city, however, was a whole different story!).
Soon, we needed to stop for breakfast because we were both starving. (Those GoGurts are yummy, but don’t exactly provide the most sustinence…) So, we made a quick stop at a Panera (or St. Louis Bread Company as its called only in the St. Louis metro area) and were back on the road. Soon, we made it to West Virginia.
The “mountains” of WV were nothing like the mountains we had been seeing out west. But, the hills were nice and scenic just the same. Before we knew it, we were into the oft forgotten western part of Maryland.
After a quick stop at our first Chick-Fil-A (no political commentary here …), we made our way into the Keystone State.
During the drive, Ally wasn’t a huge fan of Patrick snoozing (after all, the long drive does get lonely—and even more tiring—when the passenger isn’t around to talk to), so we decided to make a little purchase.
This soundtrack would provide us with at least a few hours of new music, and reenergize us both for the second half of the day’s journey.
Patrick took over in Allentown, PA and drove all the way through New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Not wanting to stop, and waste the five minutes it takes to change drivers, he powered through all the way to Narragansett!
We beat our goal of a midnight arrival and pulled into the beach house at 11:35 PM.
Excited to be out of the car, we enjoyed some pasta and homemade meatballs (a signature vacation dinner that, although we had missed, was saved for us!).
After topping off with a delicious Donna Pitney chocolate chip cookie (or two …) for dessert, we were off to bed.
Tomorrow brings a delightful beach day at Narragansett Town Beach, with perfect weather expected for the rest of the week. (Be sure to check back in the coming days for a full trip recap!)
– Ally and Patrick
Louisville, KY to Narragansett, RI – 971 miles