Estes Park —> Cincinnati and back

Since I was too lazy to type my own text, I copied the one Dennis posted at his journal. Of course I asked for permission! 🙂
Anyway, I wrote a different beginning, since obviously my part of the trip started somewhere else.

Road Trip – Part 1:

July 14:
I got up pretty early since I had a long trip ahead of me, and on my first day I wanted to get as far as possible on my way to Cincinnati. I had mixed feelings, because I was really looking forward to travelling with Dennis, but I also knew that I would really miss all those great people I worked with at the Elkhorn Lodge. Of course I’d see them again after the trip, but knew that it’d be just for a few days.
I didn’t know how far I would drive exactly that day, I just wanted to drive as far as I could without finally falling asleep. Of course I got lost very soon. Around Denver I missed the exit from I-25 that would get me on I-70. I lost about half an hour, but safely made it without having to stop and check out my map. *proud* As soon as I got out of the Denver area there was nothing, absolutely nothing. Just the boring plains. Considering that it was a very hot day I was glad that my rental-car had air-conditioning. I didn’t mind that this would use up more gas, as long as I wouldn’t melt.
Carol had told me, when they drive east they usually stop in Salina, KS for the night, so I thought that it might be a good idea to do the same. But when I arrived in Salina I wasn’t tired at all and went on till Junction City, which is about 50 miles along the road. In Junction City I checked into a Motel, fell on my bed and watched TV for a while, until I fell asleep.

July 15:
Again i got up early, hoping that somewhere along the way I would find a place to have breakfast. I don’t remember really, but I don’t think I had it after all. Wasn’t too bad though, as you can see I survived. 🙂
This day was just as boring as the day before. But coming closer to Missouri the landscape started to change. Suddenly you could see green fields and trees. It just looked like home, but it was nice, since I hadn’t seen that in a long time. When I drove through St. Louis I was amazed. Driving on the highway I could catch a glimpse of the Arch, and it wasn’t as big as I imagined it to be. Actually it seemed to drown inbetween the skyscrapers. I guess I can be glad that I actually did see it!
Anyway, so I drove on till I got to Dale, IN and checked into another motel.

July 16:
Today Dennis was supposed to arrive at the Cincinnati airport at around 1pm. I didn’t know how long exactly it would take me to get there, so I left at around 8:30 I think. Of course it was a short trip, I should’ve known. I arrived at the airport at around 11am, and the wait was awful. I was waiting at the arrival terminal, and there was nothing!! Only one tiny shop, where I finally bought two magazines to read. And the seats were uncomfortable, no back rests. *sigh*
I kept checking the arrivals board, cause it had me a little confused, two flights from Paris were listed, but they had different arrival times. But pretty soon it was obvious that Dennis’ flight would be about an hour late. Great! 4 hours at this boring airport. Time dragged on and when it was announced that his flight had arrived I got up and went over to the escalators where the arriving passengers would come in. Guess what, I had to wait another hour, since the immigration was taking a long time. But at least now I was standing there waiting with other people, talking to them. Depressing though, when they left and I had to wait and wait and wait. I kept trying to listen to the people coming up the escalators, to find out if they were speaking French. 🙂 At around 3pm finally I saw Dennis coming out of the doors, what a relief!
I figured that he’d be tired after his flight so I had booked a motel in Cincinnati the night before and that is where we went right away. When we arrived they didn’t have our reservation, but luckily they still had vacant rooms. So much for making online reservations, huh? After a little bit of relaxing we went out to find a place to eat, and found a “Subways” close by. When we came back we spent most of the evening figuring out where we would go on our trip. Since it was originally planned that we would go to West Virgina to visit Charity, Dawn and Karen, but they had a family emergency on short notice, we didn’t have time to plan anything else yet.

This is where Dennis’ descriptions starts:
July 17:
We finally decided to head for Chicago. After a good night’s rest we headed off. Around noon we got to Indianapolis – or as we know call it “The Rainy City”. There was a lot of water coming down while we went through the city. And it stopped as soon as we had left it behind us.
A few hours later we came to Chicago. We had picked out a camp site (KOA) on the internet and that, of course, was on the other end of town. So we had to go all the way through it. It took us 2 hours to get there and after some cruising (because a detour messed up our route) we found the campground.
It looked pretty nice and since we wanted to see a bit of the area we decided to stay for three nights. After buying some food we got the campfire started (which turned out to be easier than I thought) and cooked our food (I forgot what it was). Night came and since it was still fairly warm I decided I wanted to sleep outside the tent – next to the fire and under the stars. It was really cool – I had never done that before. And even though I woke up several times during the night I was well rested the next morning. It was around 6 AM when my eyes caught a light reflecting in the car. I crawled out of my sleeping bag to find out what it was: the sun had just started to rise above the horizon. I stood there for like ten minutes and watched.
We hadn’t decided what to do with our time here so we took out a map of the city and started scanning for things we could do. After a while and lots of “You decide!” we decided we would go to Six Flags the first day and to Downtown Chicago the next.
Six Flags turned out great. I hadn’t been to a theme park for years and we tried out almost all of the roller coasters until our stomachs hinted it might be enough g’s for one day.
The next day was pretty cool, too. After the struggle of finding a place to leave the car (we finally decided to park on the museum campus – even though it was expensive) we walked down along the lake and down Navy Pier. From there we took one of the free trolleys to downtown. We wanted to go up the Sears Tower but when we were there they told us that visibility was zero. Paying almost ten bucks to go up there and then only see a grey wall of fog didn’t sound very appealing, so we opted out. Once outside at taking a look at the blue sky we really wondered what that was about. The sky was blue – only few clouds were there. But we didn’t go back and went back to the car instead and headed back to the campground (oh, and of course we spent another hour or two in the traffic).

Road Trip – Part 2 – Heading West

July 20:
We spent most of the day on the road heading for Yellowstone. We headed west on US-20 and soon crossed the Mississippi, entering Iowa. There was a small road on the map that went along the river for a few miles and was marked “scenic” and we took it. It was indeed pretty scenic (even though views over the river were rather scarce). Unfortunately the detour ended in a little frustration because we got stuck behind two trailers. The rest of Iowa was just what you would expect: lots of green fields, a house and some barns here and there and nothing else. We took a north-west course and a few hours later found ourselves in Minnesota. We had planned to stay the night on a campground in Jackson, a small town close to I-90 and in lack of a better route we chose to take the interstate for the remaining 100 miles.
This KOA was by far not as nice as the one we stayed the nights before: there were hardly any trees that would spend some shadow on the camp sites and it was pretty hot that day. The grass was totally dry, there was a parking lot right outside the property (which was brightly lit through the night) and there was a car race somewhere nearby that caused a lot of noise until well after 10 PM. I was glad we only stayed one night…

July 21:
An uneventful day, mostly… We spent most of it heading west on I-90. By the afternoon we had made it through South Dakota. We left the interstate at Rapid City and drove into the Black Hills. Dark clouds had started to form above us and it started to rain pretty heavily. We found our campground, registered and waited in the car for the rain to stop. Fortunately that happened soon enough. It actually cleared up so we could dare to make a trip to Mount Rushmore without risking pneumonia. Despite the bad weather there were quite a lot of people there. We made the short hike along the foot of the mountain and closely inspected the stone sculptures. I actually expected them to be bigger. I don’t know why. Even though I’ve never been there, I’ve seen enough pictures that let you estimate the actual size of the heads. Oh well… We also drove past the Crazy Horse Memorial, but it’s a fee- area and we didn’t want to spend all our money in the first few days of our trip. So we just stopped at a parking lot and had a glance and took some pictures from a distance.

July 22:
Our course was still straight west. Yellowstone was within a day’s trip. But we had planned another stop in between. Most of the park’s camp sites were given out on a first-come-first-served base, so arriving in the early evening wouldn’t have done us any good. So for today our destination was Cody, WY, about an hour east of Yellowstone. We left the Black Hills and went back onto I- 90 for about half the distance. For the remaining trip we chose another scenic route through the Bighorn National Forest. The whole day dark clouds were chasing each other; fortunately it didn’t rain too much – just a few showers every now and then. Still they kind of overshadowed our Yellowstone trip and I was starting to worry that this might become a rather wet experience.
Side note: There was something I noticed on the trip to Chicago already: On the interstates there are a lot of tire pieces. There’s hardly a minute going by when you don’t see the remainings of a blasted tire somewhere. Once off the interstates you find something else: dead animals! Racoons mainly I think. Both the tires and the bodies made me wonder a little bit. I don’t think we have that many on German roads (or they’re just being cleaned up better…)

Road Trip – Part 3 – Yellowstone National Park:

Even before entering The Park we were presented an amazing landscape. West of Cody (WY) you can see two single mountains. Between and behind them the Shoshone River winds its way down the Rocky Mountains and the street into the Yellowstone Park follows it far up to Yellowstone Lake (the river, of course, is flowing downhill: out of the lake heading east…).
At around 11 AM we arrived in Canyon, one of the “settlements” of the park. But we were too late – all the camp sites here had been given out by now. The lady at the counter gave us some hints about where we might still find a site and so we left again. We checked Norris campground next and were more lucky this time. We found a pretty nice and calm spot there and built up our tent. Our plan for the day was to visit the northern area of the park: Mammoth Hot Springs. As the name says hot water springs from the mountains here. While flowing down the hills it cools off and leaves minerals, primarily limestone, behind. These minerals form terraces on the slopes, mostly white (due to the limestone), but with colorful traces of the other minerals inside. It looks awesome. Unfortunately, the photos I took there didn’t turn out very well.
Realizing that we hadn’t anything to eat for the night, we walked into a grocery (and souvenir) shop. Their choices were very limited, though, and the prices rather high. Just a few miles away, outside the park, was Gardiner, MT – we thought it might be worth trying to find a store there. And indeed there was a supermarket with better choices and more reasonable prices there.
On our way back we made stops at the Petrified Tree and Tower Falls. On first glance that tree looks pretty much like any other tree stem, just a little larger. It takes a second and third, closer, look to see that it’s made of stone.
Tower Falls is a (compared to the Upper and Lower Falls, more about those below) rather tiny waterfall. Nevertheless it’s quite fascinating to watch the water drop. I think it must be some kind of hypnotic effect – I could have stared at the falls for hours… There was a trail going down to the foot of the fall. I wanted to see what was down there, so I went down (alone – Anna didn’t want to…). Down there you can get really close to it and I made some nice pictures.
Once back at the campground I started to get the campfire going – not very successfully though. Used to KOA wood, that was dry and caught fire very easily, I had some trouble. Luckily we had nice neighbors, who came over and showed us how to trick the wood into burning and we didn’t have to eat our hot dogs (or whatever we had that night) cold.
Addition from Anna: That night, also the other nights, you could hear the wolves living in the area howl. Especially since I love wolves so much, this was an absolutely amazing experience, that sent shivers down my spine.

The next day:
We headed south today. We got pretty close to the western entrance of the park, so we decided to make a short detour and pick up some more food before going on.
A few hours later we pulled onto the parking lot of Old Faithful. While most of the other places we visited looked rather natural, this place did not. A interstate-like exit lead from the road to the parking lot, which was huge. There were buildings all over the place (mostly souvenir shops of course) and there were people everywhere.
We took a seat on some fallen trees a few hundred feet away from Old Faithful. We didn’t bother to check for the time of the next eruption at the visitor center; there was quite a crowd around the geyser, so it would probably happen anytime soon. And sure enough, we didn’t have to wait too long until the water started bubbling out. Everybody started cheering, but it wouldn’t really get going. It took another 10 minutes or so until the actual eruption started. It looks nice, but it clearly wasn’t my favorite of the sights.
Once it was over everybody walked off. We went over to the visitor center to check eruption times for the other geysers in that area. Unfortunately, the next one wouldn’t be until a few hours later. We didn’t want to stay that long, so we went into one of the souvenir shops, bought some postcards and continued our trip around the Southern Loop.
We stopped at West Thumb, on the west shore of Yellowstone Lake to take a look at the Hot Pools before heading back to the camp ground.

Day Three:
In the morning we went towards the North-East Entrance. The road would lead us through Lamar Valley where wolves had been seen regularly. The wolves were rather uncooperative that day, though, and the only animal we saw there was a coyote (plus some birds, chipmunks and squirrels – but they are everywhere, so they don’t count). We left the park to go get some food again. There were two villages a few miles behind the gate: Silver Gate and Cooke City (Montana again…). The first one turned out to be only a few hotels along the highway. We hoped for more luck with the second one: we had it – kind of… We found a small grocery store in Cooke City: it looked a little like it got stuck in the 19th century. But we found what we needed. This town also probably has the highest gas prices in the States: it was even more expensive (considerably!!) than inside the park.
In the afternoon we went taking a look at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We watched the water drop more than a hundred feet at the Lower and Upper Falls for quite a while (it really is hypnotic!), and listened to ranger explaining the “Making-of” this canyon. Apparently it was forged within just a few days – it’s unbelievable how much water must have been flowing down there when it happened. Once the water was gone it left a breathtaking canyon, that looked like it had been painted into the landscape. Near the falls, where the mist lay down on the slopes of the canyon, moss was growing, adding green spots to the otherwise brown and yellow colored walls.
This place has also been giving the park it’s name. Due to rust the walls of the canyon look yellowish… Yellowstone was born.

Road Trip – Part 4 – Bryce Canyon & Southern Utah:

“Before there were any Indians, the Legend People, To-when-an-ung-wa, lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds – birds, animals, lizards, and such things – but they looked like people… For some reason, the Legend People in that place were bad. Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now; all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks…”
And they are still sitting and standing there today, fascinating many people every day – one of them being me. On all our trip Bryce Canyon was on of the most interesting thing to look at. The quote above is the legend of the beginnings of the canyon as told by the Paiute Indians. Bad people turned into stone… and indeed the stone monuments (called hoodoos) do look like people on first glance. When you look closer you of course see that they aren’t, but they lose nothing of their beauty and the scientific explanation of their making is just as fascinating as the story of the Legend People. You can stand on the edge of the rim staring down for a long time without getting bored by the view.
There’s something else about this Park: It’s rather calm up there. It’s by far not as crowded as, for example, Yellowstone is. There’s a place called Paria View – it’s a little off of the main route and not serviced by the Park’s shuttle service. When you’re there alone all you hear is the sound of the breeze in the trees – nothing else. You hardly dare to breathe so you don’t break the silence. Of course every now and then some tourists walk by and disturb the setting. But they’ll leave eventually and it’s just you and the wind again.
Leaving Bryce behind us, we headed north-east and towards Colorado – our destination. Our route got us close to the Grand Staircase Monument, but we couldn’t really see that much of them. But the next breath-taking landscape was only a few miles ahead: Capitol Reef National Park. On both sides vast reddish mountains are towering over the road.
Once through that Park the scenery changes. We’re back in the desert. On 40 miles the road goes pretty much straight on – only a few slight curves, and only little traffic.
We spent the night in Moab, UT, a small town outside Arches National Park (unfortunately we never went into that park) and enjoyed yet another of Utah’s sights: the night sky. I don’t think I have ever in my life seen so many stars. We stood outside near our tent just staring up into the night for probably more than an hour. It was breathtaking. I wish I knew some more about all the signs and constellations, but I was never able to bring up the time and patience to study them in detail.
The next morning we left for what would be our last day on the road. We followed the Colorado River for a while, which was leading us into the Rockies through narrow canyons. We had planned a last stop in Central City, CO, just a few hours south of our final destination. But the camp ground was booked out. It was still pretty early so we decided we could just as well go all the way to Estes Park that day and arrive a day early. It didn’t take long until we saw the familiar shapes of Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains and soon after, the first houses of Estes Park.

Our two week road trip had found its end. Looking back on it, I don’t regret a single day. I had a lot of fun. I had great company. I saw and experienced a lot. (Note from Anna: I agree with everything said here.)