road trip

The Last Leg

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Don’t worry, I didn’t stop for too long in Wyoming. Might’ve offed myself if I had – there’s literally nothing out there on the state routes. It’s like in the movie Cars, where you drive on Route 66 until you come to a random little town where the speed limit drops, there’s one bar, a run-down gas station, and some random little shops just begging you to stop in. At first, they made me a bit sad, but after a few of them, you start to notice that it’s peaceful, and you see that these people truly love the town they’re in, the land they live on, and the visitors driving through.

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When I crossed into Montana, another place I’d not been, I ended up in Billings. It’s your very normal Big Sky “city,” which is to say it’s a very, very big Suburbia. That’s the other thing about the states out there – they are very, very big. It took several hours to drive across to Bozeman, and then to Missoula (even on the Interstate 90), and it blew my mind that you could own 10,000 acres of land and still have such a small portion of the state. The air is clearer, the sunsets are more spectacular, and the people live a little slower, and enjoy a little more.

I got excited when I got to Idaho, which was short lived. Not because of anything bad happening, it’s because I spent barely an hour driving through the very skinny tip.

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It was also the crossing into the Pacific Time Zone, which made it a bit more real that I was heading towards my immediate future, that was farther away from home than I’d ever imagined it would be.

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Close Encounters

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Oh, Wyoming.  Probably one of the most desolate states I’ve ever driven though.  There’s not much there, and despite some of the prettiest sunsets and mountains I’ve ever seen, it’s still pretty barren.

That being said, I had the opportunity to visit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and when I told people that I was going to be passing through, they got all excited and said it was in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I still have not seen this movie, but I now understand why Steven Spielberg thought it would be a great addition to a freaky film:  This monument definitely looks like it could have been created by aliens.

41jNr2olTPLThe drive there was long, and my never-ending patience began to wonder if it would even be worth it. From South Dakota into Wyoming on a state route was pretty empty, and did I really need to see yet another underwhelming (sorry Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse) national monument?  I mean, I haven’t been to Yellowstone, but I’ve been to Jackson and the Grand Tetons twice, so how much can Wyoming really have to offer?

When I arrived there, it was a pretty awesome site.  Really awesome.  If you look closely in the photo, you can see the holes from where people have scaled the tower.

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IMG_20161109_110839389No one really knows how it formed, but there are theories (even though they left out the alien formation one).  It has mystical and spiritual significance to the Native American tribes in the area, and there are pretty walking paths and benches around the monument to sit and enjoy the majestic structure.

After walking the 1.5 mile path around the base of the site, and realizing my choice of footwear was less than appropriate (what do you mean, I can’t climb rocks in riding boots!?) I bade farewell to the monument and Wyoming.  Up close, it was one of the most interesting looking things I’ve seen in a long time, and it never would have been on my list, but I’m glad I saw it.

But I still haven’t seen Close Encounters.

IT’S SO FLUFFY I’M GONNA DIE!

The last time I had any experience with wanting something so fluffy I was going to die, I got it.  I mean, not exactly, but sort of…Maybe it’s not a live panda, but it’s something!

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But Jenna, didn’t you take a trip and see a bunch of critters in 2015?  Why yes, yes I did, but believe you me, I did not want to go up and hug that moose.

As this wasn’t going to be a road trip where I was expecting to see any sort of wildlife, I had resigned myself to relaxing, and looking out for sunsets instead of appreciating the animals of an area I’d never seen before.  Luckily, I am fairly adept at camera phones, and was able to catch some of them in their natural habitat.

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First, the rams!  Go Rhody! Look at those horns!  Ahhh, the college memories.  All they need is a blue and white URI shirt.  These were spotted in Badlands National Park, and while I wanted to go pet one, I figured they’d head butt me, and therefore refrained.  Next time though.

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Ahhh, buffalo.  Or bison.  I’m not actually sure what the difference is, but either way, it’s delicious.  These are a pretty common sight while traveling across the country, but I’ve never seen one so close.  They’re BIG.  Like, really big.  I could eat for months.

img_3964IT’S SO FLUFFY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’M GONNA DIEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay maybe not die, but this was the best thing ever!  It’s a mountain goat, and he was just hanging out on the path around Mt. Rushmore.  I approached cautiously, but it was just sort of staring at me with this bored look, and as I walked by, he didn’t even move.  He was this giant fuzzy animal and those horns looked pretty sharp, but I was about 6′ from this giant ball of fur.  I think I deserve an award for not cuddling it (though he was so calm, he might’ve let me).

Mr. Goat won’t ever replace Big Panda, but he’s a close second.  Very close.

Mount Rushmore

Because it was November 8, and this was by far the most absurd election year ever (listen to the deconstruction here), I spent the night after Badlands National Park glued to the TV in a crappy hotel in Rapid City, SD.  Around 10pm, when it was announced our new president was a billionaire businessman from New York, I shut off the TV and stared at a black screen.

Fitting, it was, that the next day brought my trip to see Mount Rushmore.  Four of the greatest presidents our nation has ever had.  Something that not many people from either coast ever get to see in person, and plus I was a 20 minute drive from it, and when would I ever be in South Dakota again?  Off I went.

Getting there at 8am is certainly the way to go.  No crowds, barely any people, and the light was pretty amazing.

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There might even be enough room for President Trump on the right…though maybe not enough to fit his hair.

There isn’t really too much to take a look at, but there is a short walk around the whole mountain.  It allows you to view the monument from several different angles, and also to take in the foliage.  I will say, East Coast, you win hands down in the Sunrise category.

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When South Dakota says “Big faces,” they really do mean big.  BIG faces.  Though I half expected Team America to come flying out of the rocks.  I might have been humming the song the entire walk.

There’s a lot to take in, but you don’t need more than an hour, even if you stop to think about all the work that went into the carving, and all the great things those presidents did during their time in office.  When you do contemplate, just be sure there isn’t some mischievous imp behind you taking pictures.15036162_10103703040798441_5531909470782049711_n

 

Badlands National Park

Ahhhh, South Dakota.  Great faces, great places.  There are four (and a half, but more on that later) BIG faces, but there is definitely at least one truly great place:  Badlands National Park.

On day 2 of driving, I made it to South Dakota and had two stops in mind:  Mount Rushmore, and Badlands National Park.  I’d not known about the latter until I did a bit of research, and it seemed like I’d be racing against the clock to get there, but I was determined to try.

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I rushed to get to the park before the sun set, and I made it at 5:05 pm…just barely enough light to drive through.  It was definitely a blessing in disguise because a) there was no one there to charge me the entry fee, and b) you seriously cannot beat the sunsets in the west.  Luckily, it’s more of a driving excursion than a hiking one, and with about an hour before it was totally dark, I put my Michael Schumacher skills to the test.

The rock formations are not as crazy as some of the other parks (I’m looking at you, Bryce Canyon), but they were just as majestic.  And with that pink/yellow/blue background slowly changing to vibrant oranges and red, you really couldn’t beat it.

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I’d been hoping to get out and walk around a bit, but unfortunately, my choices were “see the whole park” or “drive through a deserted area with no lights and who knows what kinds of critters.”  I chose to drive through, and am actually pretty damn pleased with it. Where else could I get the requisite shot of a road, heading off into the sunset?

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Eventually, I made it to the end of the Grand Tour, and was able to follow the magnificent sunset all the way out.  It’s not every day you see things like this – I was irritated I had to rush and to change my hiking plans, but this made it all worth it.

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The Route Less Taken

My move from TX to WA could have taken one of several routes.  After figuring that driving through Denver proper with nothing but booze, guns, and underwear might not be the best idea, the weather looked to be good enough to drive straight north from Dallas into South Dakota.  I promise there’s a method to the madness:  when would I ever be in a position to go to South Dakota, and able to see Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and then maybe hit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming on the way out?

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Intimidating, right?  I mean, 41 hours in a car on mostly state routes is pretty ambitious, if you ask me.  There was a lot of nothing for a while, though the sunsets got progressively prettier (and harder to drive in).

And yes, it does say 41 hours, which is a really long effing time, but I was able to be a little productive in the form of knitting a sweater for my cousin’s baby.

Otherwise, it was a big flock of nothing.  Except for major concentration, because of course, no adventure would be complete without some inclement weather.  It rained so hard on the first three hours of the drive that I thought I was going to be swept away in a flood.  The only bonus was the double rainbow when I finally got into Oklahoma.

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South Dakota was calling me, so I didn’t have much time to check out Kansas and Nebraska, but it’s ok.  It mainly looked like this in the morning, which wasn’t too shabby, but at the same time it was EARLY.  Like 5:30 am early.

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I know I complain about the drive, and the empty road, and the terrible hours in the car with fast food and nothing great. However, the open road is magical, and while my bitching about the lack of scenery was frequent, I did take a break once in a while to admire the future in front of me.

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One Way Ticket on a West-Bound Train

Sometimes, you just have to YOLO and figure you aren’t getting any younger, so you might as well just buy the shoes!  Take the trip!  Kiss the guy in the bar that bought you a drink!  Move across the country….again!

Back in June, I got a new job in a new location, and therefore bought new shoes.

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No….wait, that’s not the point (though they’re pretty, and I’ve actually worn them!).  The point is that I quit my job at Yale, packed up everything I owned into two small shipping boxes, and flew to my new home: Dallas, Texas.

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Dallas was….fine.  Not bad, excruciatingly hot in summer, and traffic was awful.  Not the best place, not the worst.  So when the opportunity to move to the PacNW came up, I thought, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to live there, it will be wet and raining, but it will be lush and green.  Let’s go!”  Of course, it wouldn’t be Seattle (damn), but it would be halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, which is almost as good.

Of course, I got all excited and forgot about the actual moving part.  This means lots of packing and shipping (again), but it also meant a road trip for the things they wouldn’t ship, like firearms, booze, and liquids.  (Also, for things that I refuse to ship, like some of my pandas).  I took some time off of work, rented a car, and mapped out a route for the 2400 miles between my old home in Texas, and my new home in Washington.

After some whirlwind packing, tearful goodbyes, and one last burger from my favorite Dallas burger place, I set off on my one-way road trip, leaving Dallas in my rearview.

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