Meet me in St. Louis!

It’s 5 a.m. and Jess’ alarm blares into the silence of the morning. We wake up, crusty-eyed, and groggy. We both sigh, longing to remain asleep, but hop out of bed knowing that we have a long day of travel ahead of us. On the agenda: a 13 hour car ride from Dillon, Colorado to Olivette, Missouri. Another one of Jess’ cousins kindly offered to put us up for a night, as we journeyed farther East to Louisville, Kentucky. Having packed the car the night before, we readied ourselves and Lennon for the road. As the sun began to rise, we pulled out of the driveway and waved goodbye to our Colorado ‘home’. As we drove East, our July 30th began with the beaming orange sun rising over the quiet Colorado suburbs. Its striking rays shone over the windshield and was a bright beacon of the travel East.

Wind Turbines, Kansas

Our drive would take us through Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. As Jess drove, Lennon and I took a nap. I needed to rest up for when it would be my turn to drive in a few hours. Having snoozed for a bit, I woke up as we were nearing the state border of Colorado. I readied the camera. Jess and I had sort of a ‘crossing border lines’ ritual by this point in our trip. Whomever was not driving would be in charge of snapping a photo, or video of the “Welcome” sign of each state. You can learn a lot about a state just by glancing at its sign. Whether it be the shape of the state, or include the state flower, or animal, each sign was different and unique. Some states were better than others, of course, and we were eager to see what Kansas had to offer. My recollection is a bit foggy, as I am writing this post on the last day of October 2018, but if I remember correctly, I completely missed the photo-op with the sign. Maybe I was too eager, too ready; I captured a snapshot of some fields and a blurred out shape that one could maybe see was a sign. From the drivers seat, Jess’ disbelief and disappointment in my skills were impossible to ignore. We laughed it off, as what could be so exciting about Kansas anyway. Now, I don’t want to offend anyone, but coming from New York I had honestly been dreading this part of the drive. Never having been to Kansas, I assumed there would be never ending, flat fields that would bring boredom and dullness. To my surprise, Kansas wasn’t so bad!
The bright blue skies met with rolling green and yellow fields scattered with farms. Large wind turbines lined the horizon throughout our drive. There is something majestic about those massive, white structures. Their constant, even, swirling look so delicate yet they are humungous masses of innovation. I gazed upon them with wonder as we drove and discussed life, men, work, and other mundane twenty-something chatter.

Lennon

This drive was going by quickly and I realized I was dreading Kansas for no reason at all. Approaching the Eastern side of the state, the weather began to change, and so did our nonchalant discussions. We both had immediate flashbacks to “Twister”, a movie where Hellen Hunt chases twisters (go figure!), and we began to panic. None of us, including Lennon, wanted to witness a cow flying by our car or a giant swirling wind cyclone in the distance. Ahead of us were dark clouds and as we continued our drive intermittent bouts of rain would pound against our windshield. By this point Jess was at the wheel again so I was on duty to research tornadoes. Fun fact: if caught in a car during a tornado and there are no structures around you, you do not stay in the car, you do not shelter in or beneath a bridge and you find a low lying ditch for safety. Yes, a low lying ditch is your shelter. As I read the ‘tornado plan’ to Jess, both of us agreed that laying in a low lying ditch for safety was bullshit and hoped we wouldn’t have to partake in this escape plan. As we continued our drive, watching the ominous, dark clouds above us, we sharpened our meteorologist skills and hoped for the best. Quickening our pace, we whizzed through the inclement weather and as we approached Kansas City, the skies were clear.

I was at the wheel for this city excursion. Kansas City brought lots of traffic and lots of crazy drivers. Shortly after entering the city roadways, I was honked at, cut off and flipped the bird. Naturally my defensive driving skills came to the foreground and I artistically bypassed my new roadway friend, held up my middle finger in his direction and outran his chase. It suddenly became very apparent to me how different roadways and driving are between the West and the East. Our Western travels brought long, empty stretches of roads with the sporadic car here and there. The left lane is actually used as a passing lane only. I don’t think I had heard a car horn since Milwaukee. Jess and I agreed that heading back East was depressing and seriously considered just turning around and heading back to Bozeman or Jackson to live our lives in the calm, quiet mountains of the West. With this Western dream-life still buzzing in our minds we continued towards Olivette where Jess’ cousin and his adorable family were waiting for us. Arriving as dusk covered the Missouri suburb we congratulated ourselves on mastering the 13 hour drive we set out on that morning. We retrieved our essentials out of the car and were warmly welcomed by our hosts. Once settled, we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal of marinated grilled chicken and corn on the cob. After dinner was finished and their adorable toddler was put to bed, us adults drank some wine, ate gooey brownies and played some rambunctious rounds of Spoons (a card game). To our delight the home was equipped with a record player and Jess and I sprinted to the car to retrieve our thrift store records from Colorado. As we enjoyed the music and the company, we told tales of our travels and agreed that this trip was one for the books, a trip that we were not ready to end.

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO

The next day we awoke to a rainy morning. Perfect for logging in some work before we hit the road again. Enjoying some delicious lemon poppyseed bread that was freshly baked for our arrival (yum!), we sat at the dining table with our laptops and typed away. Eventually we readied our suitcases and the three of us piled into the car and hit the road. The days destination: Louisville, Kentucky. Before heading there though, we needed to visit The Gateway Arch. From the start of mapping out our trip, I had insisted on visiting this landmark. An amazing architectural feat, I was excited to take in the scale of the structure in person. Let me tell ya, it did not disappoint. Larger than I could have ever imagined, The Gateway Arch is awe-inspiring. Constructed directly on the Mississippi River, it is truly the gateway to the West. Standing beneath its rounded underbelly, I gazed West and nostalgic memories of where we had just come from and the adventures we had sought out filled my heart with joy and appreciation. Glancing East, I looked towards our destination, the direction of my home and the direction back towards reality. As the rain droplets pattered on my raincoat, a raincoat that was gifted to me by my cousin Lauren, I outstretched my arms into the sky and treasured the journey that got me to this point. A journey that had filled me with life, adventure, and some amazing memories. Symbolically and geographically, The Gateway Arch was the crossing point of our journey. After leaving St. Louis, we would officially be back East.

Descending the steps, Jess and I got back into the car, in search of lunch before our drive to Louisville. Lennon, Jess, and I found a great pub for lunch. The Morgan Street Brewery had a very friendly staff, Lennon was a big hit. The food was fresh and the beer was delightful. We sat at a high top table, as Lennon got comfortable on the floor below us. We chatted with our server and after a relaxing lunch we got back into the car and headed towards Louisville, Kentucky.

Colorado

Waking up in Moab the next morning, we readied the car and ourselves. We were heading East to Dillon, Colorado, to stay with Jess’ cousin, Topher, who was nice enough to open his home to us. Saying goodbye to our KOA cabin, we exited the campground and stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and to load up on some car snacks. By now, Jess, Lennon and I had gotten into our travel groove. Splitting time driving, Jess and I jammed out to music, worked a bit and chatted about life. Every now and then Lennon would pop up to say hello, and we would smother him with gushy salutations, as one does to dogs. The drive from Moab to Dillon, Colorado was one of our shorter drives, only about 4 hours. Heading East, we wound through the green mountains, came across some wild fires (that nobody on the road seemed alarmed by) and eventually arrived in Dillon.
Settling in, we changed out of our driving clothes, hopped into Topher’s car and drove to Breckenridge for lunch. Driving through the mountains, Topher shared fun stories of life in Dillon and pointed out all of our surroundings. Arriving in Breckenridge, we were greeted by an adorable ski town with cute chalet style shops on either side of Main street. The town was bustling; sidewalks were crowded with tourists and locals alike. After parking, we strolled down Main street and ended up at our lunch destination, Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant & Cantina. Boy, oh boy, do they have delicious salsa! I scooped myself through at least two bowls and asked for another side order to enjoy with my tacos. Mi Casa is a large restaurant, but feels intimate. We sat at a table overlooking the Breckenridge Yacht Club. As we finished lunch, Topher suggested we drive around a bit more, to explore the area.
We headed back into the car and made our way through the town of Frisco. I thought to myself, if I were to move to Colorado, this may be where I would want to settle. It had a similar chalet feel to Breckenridge, but the streets were quaint and quiet. Not as much foot traffic as Breck. Moving along, we drove through Keystone and eventually entered into Montezuma. Montezuma is a desolate town just East of Keystone. With a population less than 100 people, this mountain town had unpaved roads, and (I believe) one stop sign. As we drove slowly over the dirt road, we were greeted with a friendly wave from a resident, a man with dreads and tie-dye sweatshirt. I thought how remote it must be to live there. Coming from Manhattan, there is always someone nearby and action around the corner. Montezuma, it seemed, was a place for quiet, with little or no cell phone service. With the sun beginning to set, we concluded our tour of the area, we headed back home. As we drove back to Dillon, we passed over the Dillon Reservoir. As the sun set over the mountains I peered over my shoulder back over the Reservoir and couldn’t help feeling grateful for this journey, and the beauty of this country. I quickly snapped a photo, as to not forget this gratitude and warmth I felt from this scenery.

The Dillon Resevoir

The next morning, we headed to Denver! On our way, we made a pit stop at Red Rocks Park Amphitheater. Wow, was this a site to see. The architecture of the stadium is very interesting, but also the amount of people that were there working out was astonishing. Groups of people were running the bleachers, or scaling the stairs. A local fireman, in full gear, was challenging his way up the steps. After taking in the scenery in the amphitheater, we headed down to the Visitor’s Center and learned a bit of history and looked over the famous musicians that had played there over the years. After a quick pop into the gift shop, we continued on our way to the city of Denver.
I was excited to visit this city, as I have always heard so much about it and wanted to experience it firsthand. Denver seems like many other cities, tall buildings and large expanses of highways. Our first stop of the day was at an ARC Thrift Store.

Thrift Shopping

A local chain of Denver, we decided a morning of thrift shopping would be fun! Jess and I quickly discovered milk crates filled with records and started picking out our favorites. Our arms filled with records, we both decided that the next step would be to purchase a record player, as neither of us owned one. Unfortunately, ARC did not have any among their numerous aisles of treasures. Continuing on, we passed aisles of clothes, furniture, nicknacks, and books. With a twinge of nostalgia, I picked up a high school Biology book and placed it in our cart. This book now lives on my bedroom bookshelf. If you are ever in need to a Biology textbook from the early aughts, let me know! Finishing up at the Thrift Store, we headed to get lunch at The Park Tavern & Restaurant, located in Capitol Hill. Newly renovated, the restaurant was clean and spacious. We sat on the roof, wanting to enjoy the sunny, summer day and ordered our lunches. Having enjoyed my BLT (obviously) we headed out for a stroll around the area. Popping in and out of shops, we explored Denver by foot. As the afternoon rolled on, we said goodbye to Denver and started our drive back to Dillon.

Our last night in Colorado, Jess and I prepared dinner for our host. Standing on Topher’s second story deck, we grilled kale, zucchini, and cheeseburgers while overlooking the sunset and enjoying some of Colorado’s finest cannabis. It was definitely an excellent ending to our tour of Colorado. The next morning we would have an early start to our day, with a wake up call at 5 a.m. for our 13 hour drive to St. Louis.

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Window Trail, Arches National Park

Listening to: Courtney Barnett, Live at Newport Folk Festival

As this adventure took shape and became a reality, there was one place that Jess definitely wanted to go to: Moab, Utah. I had never heard of Moab but I was obviously along for the ride. Driving from the Southwest corner of Utah, to the Eastern border of the state was a stunner in and of itself. The twists and turns of large highways are nestled in between large red-faced mountains and canyon drop offs. With multiple vista viewpoints along the road, we got to stop along the way a few times to stretch our legs and take in the land we were driving through. The approach to Moab is flat and straight with mountains in the distance, reminiscent of the drive into the Badlands, your excitement sort of bubbles up in anticipation. Following a bend in the road, suddenly you are staring at large red cliffs of natural sandstone. Passing by the entrance to the park we continued on the road, passed through the downtown of Moab, and arrived at our next home base, Moab KOA.

Up until this point, I had never stayed at a KOA. In actuality, I had barely even camped in my lifetime. I grew up spending summers in Southold, New York. A beach bum, my summers were filled with sand, salt and sunsets. Our family vacations were spent in hotel rooms. I did have a quick jaunt at sleep-away camp in New Hampshire, but I don’t think that can really count as camping. That is how I feel about our stay at the Moab KOA. Knowing the days are long and hot, we booked ourselves a camping cabin. A quaint sleeping cabin with one queen bed, a bunk bed, a front porch complete with porch swing, charcoal grill and fire pit. With electricity and AC our little camping cabin was just perfect. Camping without the tent. Divine. For those of you have never heard of or stayed at KOA, I suggest finding one the next time you want a little camping experience when you travel.

Arriving in the late afternoon, we settled in, did some work and then headed into town for dinner. The main strip of Moab is maybe a mile long and is lined with hotels, restaurants and tourist shops. Randomly, a friend of mine happened to be driving through Moab at the same time as Jess and I, so we met up for dinner at Zax Restaurant. Zax has a pub-like feel with dark wooden floors and serves extra large beers for your drinking pleasure. Jess and I both ordered the BLT and were very delighted. One of the best BLTs I have had in a while. As a side bar, BLTs were sort of the meal of our trip; I think we may have ordered one in almost every place we stayed in. A classic, a BLT is always a good idea. Zax was a great place to eat in Moab. A great time had catching up, we headed back to our KOA and got some rest; we would go to Arches National Park the next morning.

Waking up the next morning, we snoozed a bit longer than we should have. Getting ready for our Arches adventure, we were undecided on what trail would be the best to hike. Also, as the sun gained height and heat, we were hesitant to do too much strenuous activity. Mindful of the heat wave going on in Utah, we didn’t want to be hiking in direct sun. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to venture to the Windows Trail in Arches. Saying goodbye to Lennon (dogs are not welcome in National Parks), we hopped in the car and after a short ride, we were entering Arches National Park. The entrance sits at the bottom of large sandstone cliffs. As you drive into the park, you follow a winding road and after a turn, you are gazing upon some of the most remarkable rock formations. Carved over millions of years, massive red rocks stand paramount. Each unique, it is like witnessing Mother Earth’s curated rock collection. Awe-inspiring, the colorful, curved, arched formations welcome you as you drive through. Heading North to our destination, I sat shotgun and snapped photos, hoping they would do this beautiful landscape justice. Arriving to the Windows Trail, we saw in the distance two magnificent arches standing adjacent to one another. We quickly realized this “trail” was more of a guided pathway. With our hiking boots laced up and our packs filled with sustenance, we felt a bit overdressed for our ‘hike’. Although this trail wasn’t going to be like that of Zion National Park, the views were spectacular and we got to enjoy the arches up close. We climbed all over them! Thankful to have my boots on, Jess and I went ‘off-roading’ and scaled sections beyond the “THIS IS NOT A TRAIL” sign that was submerged in the rocks. We came upon large boulders, which we climbed with concentration and grace. Finding a nice perch, we sat ourselves in divots in the red rock. High above the crowds, we sat and took in the scenery. Checking our emails, we agreed that this ‘office’ wasn’t too shabby. We enjoyed some trail mix, some good conversation and then decided we should see what else this section of the park had to offer.

Heading across the way, we came upon another large arch, which we also climbed! More crowded than our previous spot, we found a section that was less populated and had another sit session. Suddenly a girl, wearing a sundress with bicycle shorts (so on trend) came barreling up the rock-face. Shuffling right by us, this girl was wearing no shoes and we were quite alarmed by her daring nature, but mostly were concerned for her safety. Prompting us to say, “We don’t think you should go any further up there”, pointing up beyond us. With a jolt of her head, she whipped around and proclaimed, “My mom said I could!” and continued, catlike, up the rock. Stunned, we kept an eye on her and were comforted when she decided to sit about 5 feet away from us. I guess she wanted to win this little climbing game everyone was playing on the rocks. As the girl headed back down the rock, Jess and I decided to descent with her. Our adventure had, and hungry for (yet another) BLT, we got back into the car and headed to town for lunch.

We stopped into a café. Jess ordering a lemonade, and me, an iced tea, we unwound from our morning and readied for our Bacon, Lettuce, and Avocados. A lovely swap out for the “T” an avocado gives your sandwich a nice creaminess. After lunch, we headed back to the KOA to do some laundry and take a dip in the pool while we waited (yes they have a laundry room and pool – delightful). After the pool, we decided to do a bit of grocery shopping and grill out by our cabin for dinner. Chicken and veggies on the menu, we sparked up our charcoal grill with ease and set our picnic table for a great dinner under the pink dusk sky. I can’t say enough pleasantries about our Moab KOA. Our night under the Utah night sky was perfect; card games, a few beers, and a makeshift lantern that I made with a clear solo cup, a mound of paper towels and a flashlight. Innovation at its finest! As the night continued on, we readied for bed and looked forward for our next stop: Dillon, Colorado.

The Walls of Zion!

Location: Colorado
Listening to: Blow – Beyoncé
Time: 12:06 pm

I am currently sitting in the car, listening to Beyoncé gazing upon red earthed, tree lined mountains of Colorado. We just left Moab, Utah, but here I will write about Zion! Just FYI the title to this post is a nod to my high school chorus class (hey Mr. Mayo) in which we sang a song called “The Walls of Zion”. I am almost 100% positive that this song was not referring to Zion National Park, but the large rocky mountains of Zion National Park are like great jagged walls surrounding the winding park roads so I thought it was fitting.

Leaving Wyoming, we drove 8 hours south, ending in La Verkin, Utah. This trip took us through Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. Arriving hungry, we found the River Rock Roasting Company through a quick Foursquare search and stopped in for dinner. Lennon, Jess and I hopped out of our car, stretched our limbs and walked toward the restaurant and realized there was a back patio with stunning sunset views. Perched up on a cliff overlooking the setting sun, we sat down and enjoyed paninis. A clouded, pink and orange sky provided our entertainment for the evening. Watching the sun disappear behind the grand mountains in the distance we smiled as Utah welcomed us to enjoy it’s serene beauty. With the sun set, and our plates cleared, we climbed back into the car, anxious to get to our Airbnb and get some sleep.

Lennon enjoying the view

My eyes, crusty from slumber, peaked open as the sound of the 5:30 am alarm rang out. Today we were heading to Zion National Park to beat the heat for a hike. To be honest, I had woken up with an unenthusiastic attitude toward the day’s hike. Just a little emotionally detached from this hiking idea I joked that we could perhaps do something else. Receiving a glare of disdain from Jess, I knew that I better lace up my boots and change my attitude. After all, we were in Utah, at the gates of Zion National Park. Of course we would be hiking! Our sights were set on Angel’s Landing, a trail that was recommended to us by a handful of people along our way to Utah. Actually, a man we met in Dubois, Wyoming (at my new fav. restaurant Nostalgia Cafe) sang praises about Angel’s Landing and proclaimed that it could not be missed.

Arriving in Zion National Park for our hike, we were eventually notified that Angel’s Landing was closed due to falling rocks. Slowly we began to realize that quite a few “moderate” trails were closed due to similar situations. One trail was open though, Observation Point. An 8 mile out and back trail that gains 2,300 feet over 4 miles filled with steep switchbacks and drop-off cliffs. Still feeling apprehensive about our hike, I was a little curious about the severity of this hike and if I could make it to the top. Taking it one step at a time, we gained elevation and sight. Climbing up the trail revealed deep valleys flanked by ginormous red cliffs. Walking through valleys where smooth rock twists and turns we gazed upon the natural curves and colors of this place. Switchback after switchback, incline after incline, I began to question my strength and tenacity. High above the park, with no end in sight, I hit a (proverbial) wall. I stood, hunched over, my face against some shaded rock walls, admitting defeat. The coolness of the rock juxtaposed my fiery, red face. My hiking master, Jess, said that if I needed to turn back she would go on without me. With this offer from Jess, I trudged on. This mountain would not defeat me. They say that hiking has a lot to do with “mind over matter” and I completely agree. Once the offer of quitting was on the table, I knew I had to continue on and reach the top of the summit. Beginning to walk again, I slowly continued on our trail. Being greeted with a jolly ‘hello’ by a passing hiker headed back down the mountain, I retorted with an Eeyore-esque ‘helloooo’. Hearing my pain, this kind man stopped and informed us that the end was near and to not give up as we were so close – phew! Pointing in the distance, he showed us where trail ended. I was so thankful for this news, I thought about giving him a hug or taking his mailing address to send him a present, but instead I offered a smile and a very happy ‘Thank You! You are the best!’. With the end in view, we were eager to arrive for a celebratory photo and a nice moment of relaxation. Trekking about 1 mile more, we reached the top!

To be abrupt, this trail was hard as fuck. As Jess put it, “breathtaking; both visually and physically”. But, the juice was worth the squeeze. Observation Point did not disappoint. The incredible views were paralleled by the accomplishment I felt. Something inside my soul lit up at the top of that mountain.

Summit of Observation Point Trail, Zion National Park

There was (and still is) a great warmth that I feel inside my soul when I think back to that moment, sitting at the peak of the mountain, looking out into Zion National Park. I can’t really describe it, but I can feel it with my whole heart.  We sat high above Zion National Park, gazing down on the dark red and green mountains. We settled into our success and snacked, hydrated, and regained our breath. Eating Honey Nut Cheerios by the handful, I relished in our journey; taking a quiet moment to appreciate the simple fact of physically being there, in Utah, on a road trip with a truly remarkable friend, sitting atop a massive cliff, I counted my blessings.

As the morning faded into the afternoon, we readied for our descent. We glanced back for one final look and headed back down the mountain. This time it was us delivering news of hope to weary hikers. Joyously we voiced encouragement and positivity to our short-of-breath friends. “You’re almost there, keep going!”, sang out of us. We were met with gratitude and looks of hope from our fellow hikers. I even pointed out the end point to a couple of hikers, just as the nice man had done to me. Paying it Forward feels fantastic! With a four mile descent ahead of us, I was glad to start this hike down with good vibes and positivity. With little shade on the trail now, I was very happy to have gotten an early start. Definitely easier on our lungs the way down was grueling on our legs, knees, shins and toes. Sweaty and flushed, we finally reached the parking lot and rejoiced our achievement! With a high-five we celebrated and agreed it was time for a beer. Getting back into our car, the temperature reading 109 degrees, we raced towards town to find some grub. After filling ourselves on chips and tacos, we headed back to La Verkin for some rest.

Exhausted from our day, we napped and found dinner close by at the Stage Coach Grille. Friendly service and a cowboy feel, Stage Coach Grille offered home cooking with a smile. I ordered a Pork Chop with a baked potato (smothered in A1). A great meal to end our stay in La Verkin, we returned home and readied ourselves, and our luggage, for Moab, Utah.

Rewind: Jackson, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park

Location: Moab KOA, Moab, Utah
Listening to: Most of All – Brandi Carlile
Time: 6:17 pm

Lets go back to Jackson. This statement is meant to start a flashback of my experience there and also signifies a promise to myself – you must go back to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Grand Tetons are one of the most magical places I have ever been (no offense Disney World). Their natural beauty is transcendental. Massive mountains are the backdrop to this stunning National Park. Their smoky grey/blue appearance as you drive by stands paramount against the flat landscape around them. One thing to note: we almost didn’t get to experience these majestic beauties fully. Leaving Montana, we were heading to Dubois (pronounced Dew-Boyz), Wyoming. “The perfect location for your discovery of The Grand Tetons” is what our Lodge and RV camp promised. What we were given? A two hour drive East of Jackson and The Grand Tetons. Arriving late in the afternoon to Dubois, we were a bit put off by our out of the way lodging. Only having two whole days in the area, time was precious. Wanting to lodge closer to Grand Tetons, we marched into the check-in clerk at our Lodge and informed him of our room cancellation due to the far location to the Grand Tetons. The clerk, agreed (Jess and I think this happens a lot) and offered a full refund with a cost of one night’s fees. Obviously exhausted and hungry from our travels, we would stay the night and leave early the next morning for our newly booked home at The Inn at Jackson Hole in Teton Village. As a side bar, the Longhorn Ranch Lodge & RV Park in Dubois was very cute and was right on the Wind River. If you ever find yourself in the area, this is the place to stay. The place to eat: Nostalgia Bistro in town. The Nostalgia Bistro is a family restaurant in the heart of town (which looks just like a movie set from the old west) with home cooking and friendly service. Jess and I opted to sit at the bar and had great conversation with the manager/bartender, Ashley. We tried some local beers on tap, and had HANDS DOWN my favorite meal of our trip. Discovering my new favorite restaurant was great! Inconvenient; but glad to add Dubois, Wyoming to my ‘must return’ list.

The next morning we were up early to enjoy our free breakfast and to hit the road. We drove back West through rolling mountains and blue skies. As we passed through Grand Tetons we came upon a Moose! Excited to Instagram Live the run-in, we popped out of the car to get a closer look. Mr. Moose got his time in the spotlight, got camera shy, and ran away. Stoked off our wildlife spotting, we continued to Teton Village. Located at the bottom of a mountain, Teton Village is a charming little area with plenty of restaurants and shops. Settled in, we grabbed some lunch (BLTs) and decided to go kayaking on Jenny Lake. Located in Grand Teton National Park, Jenny Lake is situated South of Jackson Lake and is the first area in Grand Teton National Park that was developed for recreational use. This serene lake lays at the foot of peaked mountains that create a peaceful environment for any sort of boating activities. With a friendly send off from the kayak dock, we paddled out of the inlet in our two person kayak to explore Jenny Lake.

Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park

We set off for the mountains in the distance. The shore would be our destination. Synchronizing our paddles, we made our way across the dark waters watching the water rush along with our strokes. Resting our arms, we floated in the middle of the lake and all the tension seemed to ooze out of my body. Jess and I giggled with delight from our serenity and unconditional love for Jenny Lake. Our eyes shutting, we relished in the quiet lapping of the water against our kayak. The clouds seemed to dance around the sun and pockets of shade were welcomed on a hot summer afternoon. Determined to reach the foot of the mountains, we began to paddle again. Coming ashore against some rocks, Jess hopped out of the kayak and tethered our kayak to a fallen tree. I, too relaxed to move, remained in the kayak and rocked slowly with the small waves hitting against the rock-lined shore while Jess remained on land, perched on a log. With a backdrop of trees ascending up the mountain we rested once again, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful park. As the wind picked up and the afternoon pressed on, we reluctantly paddled back to the dock.

Jess, Grand Teton National Park

Not ready to say goodbye to Jenny Lake just yet, we found a path and ventured down towards the lake’s edge. Finding a large rock wading near the shore, I decided this would be my post. Sitting legs crossed I took a mental picture of Jenny Lake and made sure to appreciate the tranquility that I felt. Eventually, the rumbles of hunger from our stomachs prompted our return to Teton Village. For dinner we popped into Old Yellowstone Garage in Teton Village. OYG is well designed with a nice upscale atmosphere. Wanting something hardy, we both ordered a rabbit pasta dish. It was delicious and exactly what we wanted. We ended the night with some beers and great conversations with some locals.

Wildflower Trail, Teton Village

Waking up the next day (July 23rd), we logged some work and then suited up for a hike. Having a number of trails in Teton Village, we set off for the Wildflower Trail, a trek that would take us up to 9,000 ft and where we would catch a ride from the Teton Village gondola back down. The trail was green and as you may have guessed, populated with wildflowers of different colors and species. Steep at times, we relished in the shaded areas where winding switchbacks continued our incline. Our legs burning, chests rising and falling in staggered breath, we were steadfast in our journey. Passing a young family my new hiking motto was attained; The young son held his walking stick up in determination and reminded us that “each step is one step closer to the top”. Thank you kind child! This saying along with “just keep hiking” (in the tune of Dori from “Finding Nemo”) were powerful fuel to finish our hike. 2-1/2 hours later we reached the summit – rejoice! High-fives all around! Resting our legs, we found a shaded spot to sit on the ground and enjoyed a victory sandwich. Sitting at the top of the mountain, the feeling of accomplishment radiated from us. Cooled down, we boarded our gondola and sped down the mountain peering out onto the very paths we traversed.

Having showered and rested, we set off for dinner at Il Vilaggio Osteria, an Italian restaurant in Teton Village with outdoor seating. Ravenous from the days activities, we ordered a burrata to start and for our entrees, we split a personal pizza of cheese, figs & pancetta and a sage butter sauce pasta with shrimp and guanciale. Of course, we paired these delicious dishes with a bottle (or two) of red wine. Heaven. If you haven’t noticed yet, I am a foodie and LOVE a good bottle of wine with a carbo-loaded meal. Simple pleasures. The perfect ending to a perfect day. We clinked our glasses and toasted to Jackson and our next stop, La Verkin, Utah and Zion National Park.

Bozeman, Montana

Location: Bozeman, Montana
Listening to: Dogs panting and birds chirping
Time: 8:44 am

Today, we leave Bozeman. Having only arrived Thursday afternoon, I don’t want to leave just yet. We are staying in a guest cabin off I-90 West, exit 319, with a lovely couple, Steve and Kathy, from AirBnB.

Nea and Moose

Up in the mountains, 6,000 feet above sea level, I am at total peace. The mornings are crisp and quiet aside from the constant chatter of birds. The afternoons have been clear sunny skies, a bright blue that rivals that of South Dakota. The evenings bring chilled air and tranquility. Last night we sat perched around a bon fire, playing ball with Moose and Nea (formally known as Chocolate Moose and Neapolitan) our hosts Border Collies. Enjoying a solo cup of red wine, tilting my head back to witness the twinkling stars I decided that I could spend a lifetime here. For the longest time I have yearned to visit Montana. I think that my gut has always known I would like it here.

The town of Bozeman is quaint, but lively. Their main street is sprinkled with antique stores and restaurants with chic interiors and friendly staff. Thursday night we enjoyed Italian food at Blackbird. The interiors are industrial with large Edison bulbs hanging sporadically from the ceiling. The restaurant centers around an open kitchen with a wood burning oven, where line chefs can be seen creating pizzas with numerous toppings and flavors. We began our meal with a cheese board accompanied by the most delicious honey I have ever had. For my meal, I decided for the burrata pizza. A simple tomato based pie with big chunks of burrata and basil plopped throughout. It was divine. Jess ordered the bolognese, which was okay, but if you ever go to Blackbird, get the pizza.

We finished our night with a night cap of Guinness(es) at a local Irish Pub. Before heading home we stopped at a food truck and ordered some mouthwatering chicken wings which were smothered in bbq sauce. Yum.
Friday, we logged some hours of work in the morning and headed into town for a late Breakfast at the Western Cafe. The slogan, “The last best cafe” explains it all. The walls are covered in western paraphernalia, old cowboy photos, moose antlers, and vintage fliers to name a few. The bar is lined with stationary swivel stools from the fifties and the place smells of greasy, homemade breakfast. We were told there are home-made cinnamon rolls daily, but we were too late to snag any, as they were all gone. After our (very filling) breakfast/lunch, we strolled the downtown area. We discovered the Montana Honey Bee Company and were psyched to find out this shop was responsible for our honey from Thursday night’s cheese board. With our newly purchased honey in tow, we continued our downtown walking tour. Popping into a grocery store, we decided that tonight we would cook dinner in our outdoor kitchen high up in the mountains. Returning to our Bozeman home, we cooked some pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil. The mountain ranges off in the distance soaked in sunlight, we sat peacefully at the picnic table, enjoying our pasta. As evening faded into night we threw on some sweats and ventured up to the fire pit.
As we ready the car for our drive South to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I am reluctant to leave but ready to explore another new place. I am quite sure that Jackson will hold its own wonders and I will fall in love with it too.

South Dakota stole my heart

 

Location: Montana
Listening to: Birds chirping
Time: 10:55 am

Alright, everyone needs to go to South Dakota at least once in their life. Rapid City itself is a little run down, but the surrounding area is so stunning, you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, July 17th, we got a late start to our day as we both had some work to do in the morning. After shutting our laptops, we readied for a visit to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and a hike through Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

I was curious about Mt. Rushmore being, as they say, a tourist trap. Arriving a little after noon, we joined our fellow tourists to gaze upon the legendary mountain. Crowded, but not overrun the memorial is located high up in the mountains. Upon arrival you are met with a flag lined promenade with inscriptions on each pillar detailed with every state and the year they entered the Union. Past that, the promenade opens up into a vista where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln greet you with stoic faces. The mountain is quite incredible. Started in 1927, it is a masterpiece of steadfast dedication, immense talent and grandeur. The blue skies created the perfect backdrop to the stone sculptures. After a quick visit to the gift shop (Obviously I needed a Christmas Ornament) we got back into the car and headed South.

Next on our list, Crazy Horse. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Crazy Horse is incomplete. Currently, just a head is sculpted into a large red rock, facing out, staring into the Black Hills. Started in 1948, this sculpture is far from completion. Privately funded, this memorial will probably take many more years to complete. The memorial will depict an Oglala Lakota warrior heading into battle on his horse. A member of the Great Sioux Nation and a native to the lands of South Dakota it is a shame that this memorial is so cumbersome. As an ode to the truly native people of this state, it seems to me that Crazy Horse Memorial should be a proud symbol of South Dakota heritage, not a stagnant worksite. I hope I am still around when this memorial completes. I would love to return to see this majestic warrior riding into the Black Hills.

After Crazy Horse, we continued onto Custer State Park. Custer State Park is located just 20 minutes south of Rapid City and holds incredible landscapes with green rolling hills and high peaked mountains. After our history lessons in the early afternoon we were anxious to get outdoors and hike! We planned to head to Cathedral Spires, a trail located near Sylvan Lake in CSP. With Lennon in tow, we followed the twist and turns of the road up the mountain heading to our trail. As we gained more altitude, dark ominous clouds appeared overhead. As we continued to climb, the temperature dropped 15 degrees and the winds began to bang against our car. We approached a vista point in the park and decided to pull over and get out to soak in the scenery and assess the dark clouds surrounding us. We were nearly blown down by the heavy wind gusts and light misty rain began to kiss our cheeks. It was time to start our descent, a hike was not going to happen today. As we headed back towards where we came, we were met with a hail storm that stands to be the craziest storm I have ever witnessed. Quarter sized hail beat against our windshield creating such a loud noise that I had to cover up my ears to drown out the striking thumps of ice. Within minutes the roads were covered with hail. Cars began driving with hazards and some were forced to pull off the road to wait out the storm. Our main goal, head south and out of the mountains to escape the cannonade of hail. Twenty minutes later we were met with crystal clear blue skies, sunshine and bright green hills.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

The pavement steaming up in the aftermath of the storm, we entered into the Wildlife Loop located in the Southern section of CSP. We were on the hunt to see some Bison. As we drove along the loop we couldn’t help but gawk at the tremendous beauty of the rolling hills. Rounding a corner, Jess and I both burst out laughing as the landscape was just too much to take in, how could something so beautiful exist? How were we so lucky to be existing in the same space as this landscape? Overjoyed with nature, we pulled over, hopped out of the car and took in our surroundings. Pictures do not do it justice. Even now, thinking back on it, I am smiling. Nature is truly one of the most majestic things we can encounter. If we choose, we can surround ourselves in natural landscapes and put down our phones, take a deep breath, and thank the Earth for such a precious gift. As the sun began to set into the West, we headed back home in preparation for the following days activities: The Badlands.

Badlands National Park is located about 1-1/2 hours East of Rapid City, SD. We began our trip East around 10 am, arriving in this desert landscape a little before noon. Layers of colored earth peak up out of the desert plains. Unearthly, the Badlands are definitely a unique landscape that must not be missed. As Jess and I found parking, we readied ourselves for the Castle Trail.

Castle Trail, Badlands National Park

This 10 mile loop trail is mainly flat, but has little (no) shade. We started our trek at the hottest part of the day, poor planning on our part. Even though the sun was hot, we were stunned by the landscape, pointing to different rock formations and keeping our eyes peeled for bighorn sheep. About 3 miles in we were sweaty and guzzling water, this being my first hike ever, I was following Jess as she led the way. We decided to venture onto an adjoining trail, the Medicine Root Trail, which took us through grasslands. A large sign, “beware of rattlesnakes” sent us on our way along this new trail. Quite the juxtaposition of the rocky, cracked earth we were just crossing this trail was filled with flowers, tall grasses, small toads, and sunshine (still no shade). We continued on the Medicine Root Trail, avoiding run-ins with rattle snakes, and eventually met back up with the Castle Trail. Feeling a bit faint and rouged (my face was the color of a tomato) we decided to head back and started to trudge along the Castle Trail, retracing our steps, excited to get into the shade of our car. Do you ever notice that a return back home seems shorter than the journey there? This was not one of those times. Struggling with the heat, I was thankful for my light button down I brought to cover my shoulders, my (not so fashionable) wide brim fishing hat, and the insulated water bottle I stored in my pack for the return back. As we hit our final mile, the clouds rolled in. I was thankful for the shade and wished for some light rain to cool us off. Rain did not come, but what did come? Bighorn sheep. Walking along, rejoicing the shade and discussing how thankful I am for AC, we turned a corner and stopped dead in our tracks. Three large fellas perched on a mountainside about 100 meters off from our next trail marker. The sheep (these things were huge!) stood, staring, heads up and hooves raised, assessing us. We, after all, were on their turf. The trail marker would lead us only closer to them so we opted to walk in the other direction to find passage. We sat down on our butts, and slid down a small mountainside. The dust rising as we slid, our yoga pants covered in soot. Standing a safe distance from our new friends, we said our goodbyes and finished out our 6.8 mile hike just before the rain started to sprinkle on the Badlands.

South Dakota truly stole my heart. The landscape is one to be witnessed in person. The air is fresh, the weather is unpredictable and the area is rustic, quiet, and beautiful. I hold my memories of this place in writing and photos, but also in my heart. I am excited to return to the Black Hills one day and see what other adventures await me.
Next stop: Bozeman, Montana.

This is America

Location: Rapid City, South Dakota
Listening to: myself typing
Time: 11:53 pm (MT)

Tonight, we arrived in South Dakota. About 1,700 miles away from home. We feel like we have been traveling for weeks, yet this is officially ‘day three’ of our trip. The last I wrote, we were heading to Pittsburgh, PA, so let me start where I left off…

As we approached the city, Jess and I both realized we had no idea what the skyline of ‘The Burgh’ looked like. This has been a common theme throughout our drive; In fact, I have not yet been to any places on our itinerary, besides DC, which will be the last stop on our trip before NYC. As we rounded the bend into downtown Pittsburgh we witnessed a bright, layered city, with overlapping bridges and long, arched tunnels. It was interesting to see how the legacy of Carnegie still lives throughout the city. Taking in the city lights and witnessing street signs holding the steel tycoon’s name we hurried over bridges and through tunnels eager for a good night sleep. We arrived at a Red Roof Inn at around 1 am and quickly realized the hotel looked much better on a computer screen. The word ‘slumming’ comes to mind. So exhausted from our trip, we reluctantly hopped into bed jokingly saying, “don’t let the bed bugs bite”. Sleep was necessary. We had a long drive ahead.

The next morning, we promptly departed from Pittsburgh and headed to Milwaukee. Friends of mine were kind enough to set us up with a family member attending Marquette University – so we were back in college for the night! We unpacked and headed to the historic Third Ward to grab some food and meet up with Ethan, a close friend of mine. We started off at the Milwaukee Ale House. From there, we were hopping from place to place. Ethan showed us all around town. We sipped cocktails at a speakeasy, enjoyed Bastille Days (a local celebration in Milwaukee celebrating the national day of France complete with its own replica of the Eiffel Tower), and ended the night on the dance floor. Needless to say, the IPAs were flowing and Sunday morning I woke up with a college size hangover, at the ripe age of 29. Crawling out of bed, Jess and I headed to the burbs where Ethan, Candice and their son, Ethan Charlie welcomed us into their home for a delicious and filling brunch. Enjoying the company of close friends so far from home was a special treat and fueled me up for the trek ahead. After brunch, and a stop into EC’s playroom, we repacked the car and hit the road for our 5-hour ride to Minneapolis.

By the time we arrived in Minneapolis, we were all so exhausted (Lennon included) that we ordered Italian food delivered to our hotel room, opened a bottle of ‘Woop Woop’ wine (thanks Julie), and watched the 2015 rendition of Cinderella. It was glorious. This morning, we woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed and ventured off to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

A beautiful morning, the garden was the perfect way to get a taste of Minneapolis. Not being able to spend a lot of time exploring, this city has now been added to my bucket list for future travels. With a 9-hour drive to Rapid City, South Dakota on the agenda, we calculatingly repacked the car and headed West.

And then, South Dakota…

The main reason for our visit to this state was to gaze upon Mt. Rushmore. Having learned about this man-made wonder my whole life, it seemed an obvious choice when staring at a map deciding where to explore. What I was not expecting was the immense beauty that South Dakota possesses. I see why Teddy Roosevelt was so taken with the Dakotas in the late 19th century. The plains at the Eastern end of the state are calming and remind me of the North Fork of Long Island. The endless green fields of farmland are reminiscent of the East End I love so dearly, yet these fields have characteristics all their own. At the Western side of the state, the hills start to appear. Sort of out of nowhere you are met with grassy green hills which are home to cows and small pockets of lakes and ponds. Random spirts of trees unexpectedly sprout out of the land and gaping cliffs and canyons are seen off in the distance. As we headed towards our destination of Rapid City, we were met with a sporadic rainstorm, the heavy rain beating against the windshield. We couldn’t resist keeping the windows open as the scent of summer rain filled the car, the wind whipping our faces. Once the rain passed we were greeted with cotton candy skies as the sun began to set over the Black Hills. I suppose that is why they call them The Black Hills; the sunsetting beyond them creates a blackened shadow of the tree lined hills, allowing the colored skies to beam against a shaded landscape. Meandering up into the mountains where our home is for the next couple of days, we couldn’t resist snapping photos and proclaiming our love for South Dakota. I am looking forward to exploring this area more and look forward to more surprises from this beautiful place.

 

And we’re off!

NY, NY

Location: Quakertown, Pennsylvania
Listening to: “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Time: 8:57 pm

So we made it to Pennsylvania! Tonight we are driving to Pittsburgh for a “pitt” stop. Jess, Lennon and I left NYC ahead of schedule – go us! We started our trip with a special goodbye from my Aunt Dede. For those of you who don’t know Aunt Deed you’re missing out. For those of you who do, know how special of a person she is. You may also know what a big fan of care packages she is. Well, today was no exception! Aunt Deed sent us off on our journey with a care package filled with necessities and goodies. We have already broken into the Club Crackers. Now, driving with the windows down, listening to 90s pop radio while belting out tunes, I am looking towards the road ahead with anticipation, curiousity, and excitement! What lies ahead is unknown. Bring it on.

My bags are packed…sort of

Location: Union Square, New York City
Listening to: The streets of NYC through double pane City Glass windows
Time: 7:50 am EST

I remember there was a moment in 2010, I was standing in my parents Laundry Room, staring down at a blue porcelain bowl that was filled with car keys. At that very moment, I pictured myself grabbing the keys, sprinting to the car, hopping into the drivers seat, and off I would go. With the spark of the engine, I would be off on an adventure West. The locations and details were not important. The journey was what I hungered for. The open road called me and I wanted to answer that call. Obviously, that did not happen. My mom walked into the room, put her arm around me, and reality struck in. I was a twenty year old who was living at home, having taken a 6 month leave from college. Trying to get my life back on track.

Fast forward 8 years; Here I am, sitting in my NYC apartment, at my grandfather’s desk (a beautiful wooden masterpiece that I love) and tomorrow at 8 pm marks the start of a Midwestern road trip that my soul has craved for more than a decade. Though this essentially is just a car trip with my friend Jess and her dog Lennon, this trip is a spiritual and emotional journey that will change my life forever. I am happy you have decided to follow along on my drive West. I hope you can be inspired by these posts and eventually chase your own wild and crazy dreams.

Until next time, xo Erin