June 21, 2024

Western U.S.A (01-30 Sep 2017)

We’ve been traveling the world for the last several years (England, Singapore, Argentina, Chile, Australia, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Denmark, Germany and France), so it was time to see more of the U.S.A. and some National Parks. Pat’s cousin Susan lives in La Conner, WA (an hour north of Seattle), we set out for there on the first day of September; but first a long, Labor Day weekend in Franklin, TN, visiting friends we had met in Singapore.

When we moved to Singapore in 2014, Susan and Woody took us under their wings to introduce us to life out of the U.S. The way this all happened is a wonderful example of “connections”: the mother of a friend of Jenny’s in Charlotte told her friends Susan and Woody who spend part of the year in Singapore.

The visit to Franklin, southwest of Nashville, was a great way to start a vacation. Always good to see friends, whether in Singapore or the U.S.. During our time with Susan and Woody, we enjoyed a couple of evenings of dinner and country music (much to Pat’s dismay, although the second night’s music was surprisingly enjoyable), visit to a farmers’ market, drives through the countryside, visit to the H Clark Distillery (everyone but me, enjoyed the gin and bourbon), family cookouts, and a brew pub (Tennessee Brew Works).

The day after Labor Day, it was off West. We were heading towards the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas. The preserve was created on November 12, 1996. “Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. Within a generation the vast majority was developed and plowed under. Today less than 4% remains, mostly here in the Kansas Flint Hills. The preserve protects a nationally significant remnant of the once vast tallgrass prairie and its cultural resources. Here the tallgrass prairie takes its last stand.” Pat and I took a hike toward the area where a herd of Bison were roaming – unfortunately, they were roaming several miles farther across the fields so we decided it would be too far to hike and still have any of the day left for moving on. We hoped that more bison sightings would be in our future.

On our way to Mount Rushmore, we had one more stop on our list: Toadstool Geologic Park, in the northwest corner of Nebraska, just below Mount Rushmore. What an interesting place to visit, although the bumpy, 12-mile, dirt road was not pleasant. Certainly glad Pat had picked this as one of our destinations.

On to Rapid City, SD, where we checked in at The Rushmore Hotel. After dropping our luggage and having lunch at the Firehouse Brewing Company, it was off to see Mount Rushmore National Memorial and our former Presidents.

After a short visit at the Visitors Center, we were off to drive the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway in the Black Hills area around Mount Rushmore.

Next on the agenda was the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, but on the way through Wyoming, we happened upon a sign that said “Hell’s Half Acre”; so we turned around and went back. It was worth the stop.

Driving through the West, we often saw where the “…antelope roam”.

P9080985 - Antelop roaming
Antelop roaming

It seemed to be everywhere.As we got closer to the Tetons, I looked for a place to stay (which, by the way, is the way we like to travel – no reservations until the last minute), but all the hotels near Jackson and Jackson Hole were expensive (in the $200-$400 range) except for the one we stayed in – Teton Teepee Lodge. To get to the Lodge, we had to leave Wyoming, enter Idaho, then back into Alta, Wyoming. There is no direct route over the mountains, back into WY. The hotel was built like a teepee and had 8 rooms around a center area. The owners were very friendly and helpful, recommending places to stay the next night and telling us the Beartooth Highway should not be missed (they were correct).


We took an unpaved road into the Grand Tetons National Park. Access to the National Parks is free to those of us of a certain age, who qualify for the Senior Pass. The mountains were beautiful (better today without the haze that was present yesterday as we drove by).

Continuing out of Grand Tetons National Park, there is a short distance before the gate to Yellowstone National Park, where you once again have to produce your Senior Pass. Pat had noticed on the map we received at the gate, the Lone Star Geyser on the road to Old Faithful. We decided to stop and visit it. There is a 2.5 mile hike back to the geyser, on a reasonably smooth trail. Once we got to the geyser, we were 2 of only and handful of people. The log book at the site, indicated we would have to wait almost 2 hours before the next full eruption, but all the people we met along the way told us it was well worth the wait – it was! The geyser continually spits and sputters, then it throws water over the edge for several minutes, then it will erupt for 10 minutes, throwing water up to 20 feet. There is then a period of calm (maybe, 1/2 hour), at which time it starts to spit and sputter all over again. After another 20 minutes, the activity grows, until it erupts with a 40 foot fountain for 20 minutes. Well worth the hike and the time spent sitting around.

Most of the day had passed by by the time we got back to the car, so we headed toward the east entrance and on toward Cody, WY, where we intended to spend the night. Traveling through Yellowstone is an adventure, as we were often stopped by herds of bison crossing the road. We didn’t find a place to stay until well after dark, because of one particular bison herd, with a calf the refused to leave the center of the road, even when a ranger tried to scare it off the road – the ranger finally gave up after 1/2 an hour, and the calf moved off after another 20 minutes.

The next day was reserved for driving the Beartooth Highway, but to get to it, we had to reenter Yellowstone at the east entrance, and head to the northeast entrance. Exiting Yellowstone is on US 212, which once it passes Cooke City, Montana, becomes the Beartooth Highway, until it reaches Red Lodge, MT. This highway is closed between mid-October and May, so we were lucky to be there in September. We stopped at the Tourist Information office in Cooke City to get a map and brochure on Red Lodge. Pat drove the entire way to Red Lodge, where we checked into The Pollard, an historic hotel.

Red Lodge also gave us an opportunity to get a geocache, one of the activities we like to do when it doesn’t interfere too much with other plans. During this vacation we picked up a cache in every state we visited (KS,NE, SD, WY, MT, ID, OR, WA, CA, UT, AZ, NM and OK).

The next morning, we crossed back over the Beartooth Highway, re-entered Yellowstone, got delayed by bison herds yet again, and entered Idaho. We spent the night in Twin Falls, ID. Leaving Twin Falls, you cross the Perrine Bridge, high over the Snake River at the bottom of a deep canyon. We stopped at a viewing area on the north side of the bridge where we watched a couple of base jumpers launch themselves off the bridge we had just crossed. As they floated to a landing area below, a boat pulled up nearby to pick up the jumpers.

Our next stop was the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon. This is another site Pat had selected before we left Charlotte. Another good choice. We visited 2 of the 3 sites that are spread out over many miles in north-central Oregon. You can see the differences in the photos below.

We spent the night in Prineville, OR, before driving into Washington and on to La Conner. Driving up I5 from Seattle north was slow because of the traffic and not at all fun after all the miles we drove on two lane roads. We learned that this traffic in not unusual and continues to get worse as more people move to the Seattle area.

We arrived at Pat’s cousin’s home outside La Conner on the Swinomish Channel. What a beautiful place. One of the fun things we did was go crabbing on their boat. One morning we trapped 9 Dungeness crabs which we boiled and ate along with oysters, they had raised in the channel, and corn roasted on the grill. What a meal!

One day Pat and I drove to Vancouver, BC, about 1.5 hours north. There we visited Stanley Park and Granville Island Market and even grabbed a geocache, and drove back to La Conner.

I remembered one of my teammates, Meg Griffin, from a VA project had moved from Florida to San Juan Island, a short drive and ferry ride from La Conner. I contacted another VA friend in Minneapolis who got me the contact information for Meg. I was able to arrange a meeting with her later that day, our last planned day in La Conner. We took the ferry from Anacortes and Meg picked us up at the ferry terminal, Friday Harbor. She gave us a tour of the island and her home. We treated her to lunch at the Lime Kiln and Cafe at Roche Harbor. It’s a good thing I remembered she was in the area, as I hadn’t seen her for at least 6 years. And thanks to my Minneapolis friend Sharon.

All too soon our visit to La Conner came to an end and we headed south toward California. But first a stop in Des Moines, WA, to see other friends from Singapore, Laura and Geoff. We had last seen them at their going-away party in Singapore in May. At lunch, they asked us about our plans and offered their cabin on the Oregon coast for 2 nights. We readily accepted and after lunch, said goodbye to them.

RLW-20170920132112895 - Laura and Geoff
Laura and Geoff

Laura and Geoff’s cabin, The Pelican at Happy Camp Hideaway near Netarts, OR, was great. We had a wonderful time wandering the beach, driving in the surrounding area, stopping at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for ice cream, eating at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, and checking out a knitting shop. This is an area that would be fun to have a family reunion.

Without our two night stop at The Pelican, we likely would have missed much of the Oregon coast, as our destination had been Glass Beach at Fort Bragg, CA. The original plan was to drive half way through Oregon on Interstates, then head over to US 101 and the coast and into California. The stop at The Pelican changed our plans and we drove all the way to Fort Bragg on US 101. Being flexible always seems to pay off for us.

US 101 goes through many beautiful coastal areas. Along the way, we stopped at Yaquina Head Lighthouse, watched Grey Whales at Depoe Bay (which we originally stopped to see the “smallest natural navigable harbor in the world consisting of six square acres”), and had lunch at Yachats Brewing in Yachats, OR.

Spent the night in Crescent City, CA. First was a stop at the Redwoods National and State Parks, where we hiked at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

Then it was off to the Glass Beach at Fort Bragg. Pat had wanted to go to this beach since she read an article about on the Atlas Obscura site. She wasn’t disappointed and wants to go back to experience it a full low tide.

Our plans included “turning left after Glass Beach and heading home.” Thus we drove through Lake Tahoe and into Nevada, spending the night in Ely, NV. When we drove out of Ely, we stopped at Garnet Hill. We had no tools, but decide to hunt for exposed garnets. No such luck. It’s a place we want to go back to, with tools.

From Garnet Hill, we headed to Salt Lake City, Utah. As we left Nevada, we could see the Salt Flats in the distance. Once we got out of Nevada and entered Utah, we saw the signs for the Bonneville Salt Flats of land-speed record fame, including “The Worlds Fastest Indian“. This was an unplanned treat. We didn’t get go into the salt flats but did get a great gook at it from a rest area’s viewing platform.

In Salt Lake City, we stopped at the VA Medical Center and picked up another friend from my days at the VA. Susie had worked with me at the VA in the Cleveland area, before finally ending up in SLC. After dinner at The Garden restaurant at Temple Square, Susie gave us a tour of Temple Square, including the North and South visitors’ center and the assembly hall. Thank you, Susie.

The next day we went to Park City, Utah, as this is one of our son-in-laws favorite places. He has been there several times for the Sundance Film Festival, and Slamdance Film Festival (where one of his documentaries was shown. We had lunch with Ginger, one of his friends, bought a couple of books a Dolly’s Bookstore, and walked around the downtown area. Very nice place.

From Park City, we drove to Moab, Utah, where we stayed for 2 nights, to visit both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Both parks were amazing and we would love to spend more time in the nooks and crannies.

Other than stopping in Albuquerque, NM, and Fort Smith, AR overnight, we headed home to Charlotte. This has been a wonderful month and we have seen some spectacular scenery. We especially liked the Oregon coast and the area around Park City, Utah. There is so much to see between these two places and it needs to be explored much more.The distance we drove for the month was 8,230 miles! Wow!

09/01/17Franklin, TNHunter’sPuckett’s Boat House439
09/02/17Franklin, TNHunter’sH Clark Distillery @ Thompsons Station, TN 
09/03/17Franklin, TNHunter’s  
09/04/17Franklin, TNHunter’sNatchez Trace & Downtown Nashville (Tennessee Brew Works) 
09/05/17Harrisonville, MOComfort Inn & Suites 580
09/06/17Broadwater, NEMeadowlark Inn & RestaurantTallgrass Prairie National Preserve, KS618
09/07/17Rapid City SDThe Rushmore HotelToadstool Geologic Park, Mt Rushmore & Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway264
09/08/17Alta, WYTeton Teepee LodgeHells Half Acre, WY527
09/09/17Cody, WYYellowstone Valley InnGrand Tetons & Yellowstone185
09/10/17Red Lodge, MTThe PollardYellowstone (Lone Star Geyser) & Beartooth Highway & Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company185
09/11/17Twin Fall, IDShilo InnBeartooth Highway & Yellowstone396
09/12/17Prineville, ORStafford InnTwin Falls Gorge & John Day Fossil Beds National Monument389
09/13/17LaConner, WASusan’s & Dave’s 363
09/14/17LaConner, WASusan’s & Dave’s 28
09/15/17LaConner, WASusan’s & Dave’sFidalgo Island & La Conner Brewing Company 
09/16/17LaConner, WASusan’s & Dave’sCrabbing 
09/17/17LaConner, WASusan’s & Dave’sMelvin Brewing Bellingham 
09/18/17LaConner, WASusan’s & Dave’sStanley Park, Vancouver BC (Stanley’s Bar & Grill)190
09/19/17LaConner, WASusan’s & Dave’sSan Juan Island42
09/20/17Netarts, ORThe Pelican @ Happy Camp HidewaySalty’s @ Redondo Beach, Des Moines, WA300
09/21/17Netarts, ORThe Pelican @ Happy Camp HidewayTillamook Cheese Factory & Blue Heron French Cheese Company9
09/22/17Crescent City, CABest Western Plus Northwoods InnYaquina Head Lighthouse & Grey Whales @ Depoe Bay, OR & Yachats Brewing291
09/23/17Clearlake, CABest Western El Grande InnGlass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA277
09/24/17Ely, NVProspector Hotel & Casino 499
09/25/17Salt Lake City, UTSalt Lake Plaza Hotel at Temple SquareGarnet Hill, Bonneville Salt Flats & Temple Square249
09/26/17Moab, UTAarchway InnPark City, UT254
09/27/17Moab, UTAarchway InnCanyonlands NP & Arches NP124
09/28/17Albuquerque, NMHyatt Regency AlbuquerqueRed Door Brewing Company416
09/29/17Fort Smith, ARBaymont Inn & Suites 716
09/30/17Charlotte, NCHome 889

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *