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Coast-to-Coast (almost) Road Trip - July-August 2009


Aug 16th, 2009, 04:49 PM
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Coast-to-Coast (almost) Road Trip - July-August 2009

Hi - just returned last week from a 3+ week long road trip with my sis and niece...an all-girls trip this time! It was great because we had time to meander and visit roadside attractions that our husbands probably would have blown right by.

Our trip began in Boise, Idaho (where I flew from my home in Seattle) and our farthest point east was New York City. Along the way we visited Yellowstone, Devil's Tower, Mount Rushmore, Chicago, Pennsylvania Amish country, Niagara Falls and Mackinac Island. And those were just the major stops! I have pictures already posted at http://picasaweb.google.com/azzureterri/2009RoadTrip#

Altogether we traveled about 6000 miles in one (and later two) subcompact cars. So many places were amazing to see...except for Manhattan, much of what we saw was new to me. And of course, a few places were disappointing.

HOTELS: We only had advance reservations in West Yellowstone, Chicago, and NYC. We had a laptop with us, and each evening we would research the next overnight destination on TripAdvisor, then call ahead from the road the next day. This worked well. We also used the laptop to access Google Maps, as occasionally we diverged from our planned itinerary. Our hotels tended to be in the Comfort Suites/Hampton Inn/Holiday Inn Express category, and seemed to average roughly $100 per night..

FOOD: We are not "foodies", so only occasionally indulged in a memorable restaurant meal. I will write about those as I come to them. Each and every hotel along our route provided some form of "continental breakfast", and though this got pretty boring after awhile, there is no doubt that it was a big money-saver. Just had to be careful not to load up on starches: I could only stomach a few mornings of those make-it-yourself waffles. Really appreciated the places that had fruit and yogurt, and especially those that had eggs and bacon!

We tended to only eat two meals a day...usually with a coffee stop to perk us up in the late morning. Dinners on the road often came from Subway or the supermarket deli...generally we were too tired to fuss.

First installment - Boise to Cody, Wyoming - coming soon!
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Aug 16th, 2009, 06:06 PM
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Yikes, this sounds ambitious! I can't wait to read more!
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Aug 16th, 2009, 06:42 PM
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Looking forward to more
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Aug 16th, 2009, 09:56 PM
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PART ONE - Boise, Idaho to Cody, Wyoming

July 19th - A "jumping-off" day. Managed to start off on time at 8 am through flat and featureless southern Idaho. The countryside grew greener and prettier as we headed east. After lunch in quiet, clean little Rexburg, we arrived in West Yellowstone to a terrific thunder and lightning storm. Checked in at a Best Western and waited it out. Our evening consisted of a tour of beautiful downtown West Yellowstone, with its typical "National Park Gateway" collection of motels, restaurants, souvenir stands and realty offices. At the IMAX theatre at the edge of town, we watched a film about Yellowstone to prepare us for tomorrow.

July 20th - Today the vacation really got rolling. On our way by 7:30; we purchased a National Park annual pass for $80 on our way into the Park. This really was a good investment as we used it many more times during the trip, and I can continue to use it for a year for the several national parks near my home in Western Washington. Almost immediately upon entering the park, we encountered a large buffalo (OK, I know it's a bison), then some mama and baby bisons, and then were off to see paint pots, fumaroles, and Old Faithful, which obliged us by spouting off just after our arrival. Enjoyed touring the Old Faithful Inn, where I had reservations to stay in 1988 which were canceled when almost the entire park caught fire. More spectacular mountain scenery on our way out the East entrance, headed for Cody.

My first impression of Cody, Wyoming was that it's probably best not to go there when the Sturgis SD Harley rally is starting up; the town was full of snarling hogs. However, Cody redeemed itself with the excellent Buffalo Bill Historical Center; five museums under one roof. We particularly enjoyed the Plains Indian exhibits and the area devoted to Buffalo Bill and his traveling show. But best of all was the Western art museum, with paintings and bronzes by Bierstadt, Remington and Russell, and the huge Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone painting by Thomas Moran that was on special exhibit.

But was our day over yet? No, sir, and yee-haw...we were off to the Cody Night Rodeo! This amateur rodeo is held every single summer evening in a large stadium west of town, and it was a lot of fun in its uber-patriotic, over the top sort of way. Loved to see all the little girls in love with their horses barrel racing and parading around with great big American flags. It was really down-home, goofy fun.

Sound like enough for one day? Well, it was for us too. Off to bed, hoping the Harleys don't keep us up too late.
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Aug 17th, 2009, 08:16 AM
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I'm excited to read your report because DD and I will be leaving on a road trip in 11 days. We'll be traveling west from Michigan to California. Your photos are fabulous!
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Aug 17th, 2009, 02:24 PM
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PART TWO - Cody, Wyoming to Davenport, Iowa

July 21st - Took a look at the dining room at the old Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill and named for his daughter. Looked like a very atmospheric place...doubtless it had to be lots more atmospheric than the Econolodge where we stayed (rated #18 of #18 hotels in Cody, and deservedly so)...we didn't know that advance reservations were required to obtain decent lodging in Cody in the summertime.

Left Cody headed east, and past Ten Sleep the sagebrush and rolling hills gave way to spectacular red rock and mountain vistas. Everything was much more green and fertile than I expected it to be. Highway delays and slow, winding mountain roads slowed us down, but at 2:30 we reached Devil's Tower. Though it required a short loop trip off the Interstate, it was totally worth it...can see why Spielberg used it for the centerpiece of "Close Encounters".

After this we headed to Deadwood, as I was enamored of the HBO series and wanted to look up Al Swearengen. He was not there, and very little of authentic Deadwood is there either...this was one of the disappointments; that this historic Western town is overrun by gambling interests and very little historical accuracy remains. We saw Seth Bullock's hotel and the Number 10 Saloon where Wild Bill met his maker, but even the Mt. Moriah Cemetery has been gussied up from its Boot Hill beginnings.

Next stop: Rapid City, where we checked into the decent Dakota Pines Motor Lodge before heading to Mount Rushmore. We intentionally planned our visit to the 4 Giant Heads at dusk; even dined at the cafeteria there (not the same one, unfortunately, that Cary Grant visited in "North by Northwest".) The road leading to the park boundary was chock-a-block with tawdry tourist traps, "Reptile World", water parks and "country-western chuck wagon buffets"...and even the National Monument itself was a bit disappointing to me, as it was jammed with people and the gigantic sculptures are, in fact, quite far away from the viewing platforms and thus seem smaller and not as impressive as expected. But we enjoyed the light-and-sound show that played on the monuments as it grew dark.

Back to Rapid City for a good night's sleep.

July 22nd - Quote for the day: "Is that a prairie dog?" "No, that's an antelope." (My sister is a bit nearsighted).

First stop of the day was at Wall Drug, the huge ex-drug store turned souvenir emporium that is advertised all over the West. It was interesting; my sister got some nice (probably overpriced) moccasins for her daughter, and I got my picture taken with a jackalope!

Next was the Badlands. These geological wonders were readily viewable from another loop road off the interstate. Great photo opportunities, and then we were off on our eastward trek.

We loved the motel sign in Chamberlain, on the banks of the Missouri River, that said "Imaginary friends stay free." Don't we all have friends with imaginary friends?

Next stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. This is a huge auditorium completely covered and decorated with corn stalks. The docents there are very proud of their landmark and we had a very nice tour, with a stop at the "Corn-Cessions Booth".

Finally stopped for the night in Vermillion, home of the University of South Dakota. Very impressed with the diversity and interesting areas of South Dakota.

July 23rd - Crossed into Iowa; which was greener, prettier and more rolling than I had imagined. We were trying to make miles today but nevertheless found time for a couple of off-road attractions...first Winterset, Iowa, John Wayne's birthplace and the setting for "The Bridges of Madison County"...a perfect, quiet, clean, manicured little "River City". I expected Harold Hill to come leading a band down the main street at any moment.

Next stop was the Amana Colonies...yes, that is where the refrigerators come from, but it is also the home of a 19th century religious commune, and the villages were very picturesque and historic.

Finally got to Davenport, on the Mississippi River, at about 6:30. Both of us were inexplicably hungry for Olive Garden raviolis, so that is where we went. Glasses of wine were in order too, to celebrate our first 400-mile plus day.
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Aug 18th, 2009, 05:23 PM
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July 24th - Leaving Davenport wasn't easy with the I80 bridge closed, but we eventually wended our way onto the I88 headed for Chicago. I had never been there and was looking forward to a whirlwind tour. We found our hotel, the new downtown LaQuinta near the Sears (Willis) Tower, with no problem, and solved the costly parking issue by using a public structure a couple of blocks away. We got a great rate at this hotel through Travelzoo, and I highly recommend it...exceptional staff, nice rooms, great wi-fi, good location.

As soon as we got situated we walked down to Millennium Park and amused ourselves with the giant silver jelly bean known as Cloud Gate. Chicago has AMAZING public art. We also took a look at the giant Frank-Gehry designed heap of metal that functions as an outdoor concert venue; I'm not a fan of Gehry architecture but this one seemed very functional. (I still resent the Experience Music Project mess at the base of the Space Needle.)

From there is was an easy walk to the Chicago Art Institute, where we lost ourselves for the rest of the day. The Impressionist collection there is more impressive than anything I've seen outside of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris; really enjoyed seeing Seurat's Grand Jette as well as the many Renoirs, Degas, Monets and Manets. Grant Wood's American Gothic is there as well, as is Edward Hopper's famous NightHawks.

In the Institute's cafeteria, the server kept asking me what kind of meat I wanted on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Some kind of language barrier there!

After the Museum, we strolled down to Lakeshore Drive, and then past the wonderful downtown fountains with the giant digitally-projected faces on them. Very, very impressed with Chicago so far!

July 25th - We had called ahead and secured tickets for the Chicago Architectural Foundation's river cruise...we were actually able to bypass the Ticketmaster venue (I hate Ticketmaster) by purchasing a CAF membership...that earned us one free cruise and actually saved a few dollars over the fees imposed by Ticketmaster. We purchased a one day Fun Pass for unlimited rides on the buses and elevated trains, and took the El over to the Michigan Avenue Bridge to board the boat. The river cruise was very interesting, and the weather was perfect...about 75 degrees and sunny; which I understand is pretty unusual in Chicago in July.

Then we walked up the Magnificent Mile to the water tower that survived the 1871 fire. Across from the water tower we caught a bus out to Navy Pier, which is extremely touristy but worth seeing if only for the fabulous views of Chicago which can be had looking back from the Pier. Other than that, we found nothing to attract us, and soon bussed back to the Water Tower. We had been clued in by our friendly waited at Cosi's the previous night that the best deep dish pizza in Chicago was at Giordano's, so we went to the store on Rush Street. Although we were too late for lunch and too early for dinner, the crowd was huge and we had to wait an hour for a table. However, Giordano's has a good system whereby one orders a pizza when you arrive, and then when your table is ready your pizza is too. Worked for us, and the pizza was indeed delectable.

From there we took the bus down to the Museum Campus hoping to see the Shedd Aquarium, but we were skunked there as they were closing the aquarium early for a special event. We sneaked into the Fild Museum long enough to take a peek of Sue the T-Rex, but then went back to our hotel.

The night wasn't over yet, as we still had the energy to see a movie at the 21-Theatre Multiplex (with Bowling Alley), a short cab ride away. Then home and gratefully to bed. Loved our short tour of Chicago and can't wait to go back!
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Aug 18th, 2009, 05:45 PM
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Great reporting. We are headed in the opposite direction next week. Atlanta to Vancouver, BC. We are visiting most of the National Parks along the way and of course, Las Vegas.
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Aug 19th, 2009, 06:44 PM
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PART FOUR: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania

July 26th: Goodbye Chicago! We were able to find our car easily in the multi-level parking structure because each floor played a different country's national anthem (ours played the Marsellaise). We are in turnpike country now...pretty costly traveling. Gas prices may be lower in the East, but the constant flow of dollars into the toll plazas more than makes up for it.

Stopped at Notre Dame and walked barefoot across the beautiful campus to the Gold Dome. Had to buy a "Go Irish" T-shirt (My sis, who graduated from USC, looked on in disdain.)

Drove and drove, with occasional stops for snacks and Starbucks. We ended up going 491 miles before stopping at a strange Comfort Inn in Monroeville, east of Pittsburgh. This place rated a separate TripAdvisor review from me; to be concise: don't stay there.

July 27th - I am surprised at how rural this area of the country remains...eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania, especially, are rolling and woods-covered. You pass very close to major cities on the turnpike, like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but see no trace of either.

After more rolling country and many long tunnels, we rolled into Lancaster, PA at about 1 PM. What a surprise! I had last been here as a kid, and was expecting rural America...instead I got retail outlets and strip malls. Our hotel was across from Target and next to Restoration Hardware.

Bird-In-Hand, Intercourse and the other smaller villages came closer to my expectations about "Amish Country". Took a country drive and took a lot of pictures of cows and picturesque farmhouses with laundry on lines. Had dinner at Plain and Fancy Farms, where we had dined with our parents as children. Dinners are served "family style", although my sis and I wound up with a long table all to ourselves. Enjoyed the down-home feast (followed by two kinds of pie), then waddled next door to take an informative tour of an Amish home.

Finally, stopped at Target for a few necessities to get organized for tomorrow...headed for Manhattan!
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Aug 21st, 2009, 05:06 PM
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PART FIVE: New York City (long)

July 28th: After another great, starchy breakfast, we set out through eastern PA and into New Jersey. We stopped at a "rest stop" to change drivers and answer nature's call and found that the "rest stop" was just that: a place to rest, apparently, but no facilities whatsoever. Interesting. Took care of business at a gas station down the road, then back on to the Turnpike. I navigated and sis drove, and we both were thankful for Google's great and precise directions, as the NJ Turnpike leading toward the city is a bit intimidating; even for practiced LA drivers (as we both once were). We were afraid we were going to accidentally end up in the Lincoln Tunnel.

But we did successfully end up where we intended, at the Port Imperial Ferry terminal in Weehawken, NJ. I can't recommend this option more for folks who don't wish to take their car into Manhattan...the lot is safe and secure, and the total toll was $50 for the 4+ days we parked there. The ferry runs every half-hour or so, and transports one across the Hudson to a pier around 39th Street, from where free buses take you where you need to go...in our case, this was a short ride as we were staying at the Hampton Inn on 35th Street, near Herald Square.

This is another hotel that deserves special kudos; we were very satisfied with the location and amenities and kind staff here. Wi-fi was terrific, and the breakfasts were unexpectedly complete too, with eggs, bacon, yogurt and fresh fruit available as well as the usual starch.

We set up camp and then proceeded diagonally on Broadway to the Port Authority terminal on 42nd Street. There we collected the third member of our party, who would be finishing up the trip with us: my niece, who had just graduated from Ithaca College and arrived by bus from there.
After dumping her stuff at the hotel, we began to wander...to the NY Public Library, where we viewed an original copy of the Declaration of Independence hand-written by Thomas Jefferson, and to Bryant Park, where some sort of ping-pong tournament was going on.

Walked back up through Times Square to scope out shows that we might want to see...fascinating to see lawn chairs on Broadway! Then we went to Rockefeller Center and took the NBC studio tour, which was fun and moderately interesting but probably not worth the price of admission ($16). Lots of Saturday Night Live insider talk, though, and it was something I'd never done in New York.

Dinner at a Chipotle on 9th Avenue, which has a truly diverse collection of eateries, followed by ice cream from Coldstone on 42nd Street. Then back to the hotel to plan tomorrow's activities!

July 29th: A humid, rainy day. After breakfast we took the subway to Rockefeller Center, then walked over to 45th Street and scored SRO tickets to "Hair" for $25 each. We'd planned to spend the day at the Met, but stopped by Radio City Music Hall and learned that a tour was leaving in 10 minutes -- another thing I'd never done in New York. So we took the tour, and it was very much worth it...the docents are folks who clearly love this enormous, elaborate Art Deco building, and it was very interesting to see the interiors and backstage areas of that beautiful and historic theater. We even met a Rockette!

From there we subwayed to Columbus Circle, checked out the great shopping mall there and lunched at Whole Foods. We then walked into the park and played lookey-loos at Tavern on the Green, and visited Strawberry Fields and the "Imagine" monument. Came out of the park at 72 Street and took the subway all the way back to Herald Square. (Metro card needed topping off by this time!) Then shopped at Macy's and got a cute blouse on sale to dress up a little for tonight's show.

Had dinner at a burger place near Times Square that was so forgettable that I've forgotten the name. Then we made our way to the Al Hirschfeld Theater and took our standing room places at the rear of the theater for "Hair". Fortune smiled upon us, because as soon as the show started, we were ushered to empty seats in the orchestra section that were pretty darn good, especially for $25! Enjoyed the musical and (despite having listened to the Original Cast album hundreds of times when I was a teenager) discovered that the play actually ends differently than the movie did (no spoilers here, though.) The much-vaunted nudity occurs at the very end of the first act and is backlit and not offensive (at least to me). The big surprise is at the end of the show when the entire audience is invited to join the cast on stage to sing and dance to "Aquarius". Really a fun evening.

July 30th: Waited in line for rush tickets to "Next to Normal", but we were too late. We then walked to Grand Central Terminal and took the subway up to 86th St. for the Metropolitan Museum. I had been there previously but my sister never had, so I enjoyed showing her some of the highlights, especially the Temple of Dendur. We also enjoyed the new section that displays American home interiors dating back to the 17th Century, and working up to a mid-20th Century Frank Lloyd Wright design.

Another hot and humid day, so we walked through the park trying to stay in the shade, and got sprayed a bit by Bethesda Fountain. Back at the hotel, we found that my niece had made arrangements for us to see "Altar Boyz" off-Broadway this evening -- my niece just graduated college with a BFA in acting and a good friend of hers is in the show, so he was able to get us good seats at a good price.

Heading for the theater, we stopped on a whim at a Japanese-Italian (!) fusion place called Natsumi. My dinner there was great: teriyaki chicken with yams, rice and broccoli, green tea ice cream and a nice glass of Merlot.

On to Altar Boyz, which is a very fun show...the five young men who are the entire cast are all very talented. After the show we had a late night snack with Travis (who plays Mark in the show) at a cute place on 9th Avenue called VYNL.

July 31: Our last day in the city. Took the subway to the Lower East Side this morning and visited the Tenement Museum. We took the tour based on the Moore family's experiences in 1869, and were really impressed both by the tour and by the breadth of our guide's knowledge. Made me want to go rent "Gangs of New York". The gift and book shop attached to the Tenement Museum was very good, too. I would gladly go back here and take another tour; they all looked to be very interesting.

From there we went to the Village, my niece knows the neighborhood well as she spent a summer there doing a musical theater program at NYU. Took pictures at Washington Square, where folks were getting respite from the heat in the grandly-restored fountain. Then hoofed it up toward Union Square, for lunch in a good and popular sandwich shop called the Gray Dog Cafe. Also had a good long chat with some nice Village residents in a Starbucks...I love talking with Manhattanites.

Tonight we wound up back in Times Square again; this time to see a movie (500 Days of Summer) at the 25-plex on 42nd Street. On leaving the theater we found ourselves following a tattooed bald man with a rat on his head...I'm thinking we've seen enough of Times Square.

NYC WRAP-UP: Much as I love the city, I don't think I'll visit again in the middle of the summer. To a cool-summer area dweller like me, the heat and humidity are almost unbearable. Crowds are inevitable in Manhattan, but the weather in combination with masses of people give the city sort of a pressure-cooker feeling at times.

Still, there's no place on earth like it.
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Aug 21st, 2009, 05:26 PM
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You saw a LOT of New York in four days! Wow! Great reporting, it shows you all are very versatile, and willing to try a lot of different things.
I love New York, and go there a lot, but I couldn't do what you all did with all the heat and humidity!
Many thanks for reporting.
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Aug 22nd, 2009, 05:41 PM
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PART SIX: Upstate NY, Niagara Falls, and London (Ontario)

August 1st - Left NYC on the Weehawken ferry, and then found our way through Pennsylvania (Hello, Scranton -- home of Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company!) and back into NY. Our destination was Ithaca, home of Cornell University and my niece's alma mater, Ithaca U. Ithaca surprised me as I was expecting a bucolic setting, but the town (apart from the lovely campuses) has an urban feel and is quite busy. The region, on Lake Cayuga, is beautiful, and the t-shirts and bumper stickers that say "Ithaca is gorges" are quite truthful...we visited a couple of Ithaca's famous gorges and spectacular waterfalls.

Had great vegetarian lasagna at Moosewood, and visited the fabled Wegman's...wish we had a market like that around here. Really a wonderful selection of delectables; most of it organic. Then began moving my niece out of her college apartment; in a lovely location on Ithaca's downtown mall, just above the bong shop.

August 2 - More packing and moving in the morning. In the afternoon we did a little wine tasting at some of the wineries along the lake, and took a look at Buttermilk and Taughanock Falls. Finished the day with a great tapas meal at a downtown eatery called "Just a Taste". Also sampled some Purity ice cream; allegedly some of the nation's finest.

August 3 - Left Ithaca in two packed cars; the rest of our trip would feature a round-robin effort of driving two vehicles with three drivers. Our first stop was the lovely village of Scaneateles, on its own named Finger Lake. Just a beautiful little town, very tidy and scenic. I could picture myself living here in the summer...or fall or spring...but not in the winter!

From there we convoyed west on the NY Thruway, crossing over into Canada at Niagara Falls to view the falls from the Canadian side. I had last been to Niagara Falls as a child, and was completely unprepared for the chaotic commercialism that infects the area. I can only speculate that much of the area was in private ownership before Parks Canada existed, because the scene was certainly different from what I have experienced in other spectacular natural areas in Canada. My goodness, how many casinos and wax museums does one town need? Anyway, the falls themselves were beautiful, and Mother Nature cooperated by providing lovely rainbows among the cataracts, but nothing else made us want to spend much time there so we were soon on our way west again.

Ended up this evening in London, Ontario. I did not know what to expect from this part of Canada, but Ontario, or at least the section where the highway took us, is fairly flat and featureless, with many large farms.

Tomorrow -- off to the fudge capital of the US, Mackinac Island, Michigan!
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Aug 28th, 2009, 06:32 PM
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I've been tuning in to your great report, waiting for Mackinac. What did you think?!?
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Aug 28th, 2009, 10:03 PM
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Will return to this soon, I promise...life keeps getting in the way
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Aug 29th, 2009, 06:59 AM
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Oh darn life. I know how that goes!
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Aug 29th, 2009, 05:02 PM
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PART SEVEN: Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island

Alrighty then, back to writing.

August 4 - Left London (Ontario) at about 9 am, and soon re-entered the US at Port Huron. No problems at the entry stations in either direction (thankfully we had all remembered to bring our passports.) Our only problem at Port Huron was the huge, high bridge that spans the Lake Huron inlet; my sister is sort of...OK, really acrophobic and she had to keep her eyes closed. Fortunately I was driving.

I75 was our route north through Michigan. The northern part of Michigan along this route is very pretty; forested with evergreens and hardwoods, and some aspens. We finally reached Mackinaw City at about 4 PM. Checked into our adequate motel (Super 8) and took a walk around this decidedly touristy but clean and pretty town, stopping at the "Dixie Saloon" for dinner and then for some gelato down the street. In the bandstand in the park, a brass band was playing John Philip Sousa marches...altogether a very atmospheric, "Americana" sort of scene.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I saw my favorite T-shirt slogan ever in one of the many souvenir shops here: it said "Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos".

August 5 - Caught Shepler's 9:30 ferry to the island. It is a gorgeous place; I can hardly wait to watch "Somewhere in Time" again to see which filming locations I will recognize. Our first adventure was to rent bicycles and ride them to Arch Rock -- unfortunately we took an unfortunate turn and wound up on some very hilly terrain, so that we ended up pushing the bikes uphill as much as we rode them. Next we visited the Grand Hotel, and sat on the magnificent covered porch imagining that we were guests there. The Grand Hotel is so huge (and white) that it can be seen from Mackinaw City! The gardens are beautiful as well.

Finally we trudged up the hill to visit Fort Mackinac; they do a very nice job there with interactive exhibits and historical re-enactments. Then down to the serious business of shopping...we sampled lots of fudge, and caramel corn in exotic flavors. My sister bought some pickle-flavored caramel corn for her grandson who loves pickles -- don't ask me what it was like because I couldn't be induced to taste it.

We returned to Mackinaw City on the 6 pm ferry. My overall impressions were, of course, very positive...Mackinac Island is a very special place, loaded with history and spectacular scenery. My only wish is that some day I could visit in the off-season, because at the height of summer the island seems to take on a Times Square type of feeling...so choked with tourists that it is difficult to find a comfortable place to eat, shop, or use a bathroom!

Tomorrow -- "Blue Highways" west.
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Sep 2nd, 2009, 08:20 PM
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PART EIGHT: "Blue Highways"

August 6 - Left Mackinaw City early this morning via the huge and impressive Mackinac Bridge, then along the shores of Lake Michigan on Route 8. No interstates at all today; it was a nice break to actually cruise through all the cute little villages on the U.P. On into Wisconsin, all woodsy and rural, and finally to Minnesota. Our Country Inn near Minneapolis had a nice pool, and we finally went swimming...I knew I had brought my bathing suit for some reason.

August 7 - Had a tough time getting out of Minnesota this morning, as for the first time on the trip we had pouring rain, and had to wind our way through multiple construction projects in downtown St. Cloud. Finally we reached I-94, which will be our route for the next couple of days. Lunch at a Mom n' Pop in Fargo, then on to Bismarck. The scenery, as I expected, was flat prairie and big farms.

Our nice hotel in Bismarck had a pool with a giant water slide! A lot of fun, even if I am way too old for water slides. In search of something to do in Bismarck ND on a Friday night, we went to a movie: saw and enjoyed "Julie & Julia" at a big, strange Egyptian-themed multiplex.

August 8 - Left Bismarck and promptly gained an hour; that's always nice. Now we were back on Mountain Time. I-94 has very little to slow you down, so we hightailed it west. A few miles out of Billings we decided to take a detour and headed to Little Big Horn National Monument. I am always impressed by the knowledge and showmanship of the ranger-led talks; when we left there I felt we had gained very thorough knowledge of George Armstrong Custer and the bloody events of 1876.

On to Billings under super-theatrical looking skies, black clouds and dry lightning. "Big Sky" weather is not something often experienced at my Puget Sound home; it's exciting and dramatic.

Dinner at DQ! Tomorrow we will "bookend" our trip by heading through Yellowstone once again.
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Sep 3rd, 2009, 05:05 AM
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Great report so far, I'm glad you are going to Yellowstone again and will be interested to hear if it is different after a couple of weeks. Do you notice as many baby bison?

Now do a trip through a more southern route and hit GC,Zion, Bryce, Bandelier,Carlsbad, Big Bend, etc. and all those Civil War Battle fields from AK to VA.
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Sep 11th, 2009, 05:38 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2006
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PART NINE: The last part

August 9 - Left Billings at 8:30 am and took the absolutely spectacular Beartooth Highway into Yellowstone -- everyone, you must take this drive; it is one of the most scenic I have ever encountered. We stopped in Red Lodge, a very cute town but quiet on a Sunday, to get coffee, and then in Cooke City for lunch. We have noticed that many waitresses and serving people are here on study programs from Eastern European countries.

From Cooke City we made our way into Yellowstone; progress was slow due to road construction. Immediately after entering the park two exciting things happened: first, we saw a baby grizzly bear on the roadside (Mom fortunately nowhere in sight), and then, the car that I was driving (niece's overloaded Hyundai) suddenly failed to stop when I applied the brakes...eek. I pumped them and finally got the car to stop, and after we pulled over for awhile and let them cool down they seemed to repair themselves, though they still felt low. (We later found out that a brake repair shop in Ithaca had done a bum job). Anyway, I felt glad to be alive as we stopped at Yellowstone Falls, Paint Pots and too many gift shops. The park was mobbed on this day; very different from our first visit three weeks previous. Perhaps just because it was a weekend. I am not happy in huge crowds, and Yellowstone has become another "off-season" destination for my next visit.

Stopped at a Mexican restaurant in West Yellowstone for dinner, and then began the long, long, increasingly tedious drive down to Rexburg, Idaho, where we spent the night at an AmericInn. We didn't arrive until 9:30, so we were all pretty road-weary by the time we got there.

August 10 - slept in a bit as we were in no rush to get back to Boise. This part of the trip was probably the least exciting for me; the landscape of Southern Idaho does not inspire. We did stop at a roadside rest area called "Garden of Eden" that was interesting in an outlandish American/patriotic/junk food sort of way.

Back to Boise about 3:30, and spent the evening distributing souvenirs to my sister's grandkids. Nobody would eat the pickle-flavored caramel corn!

August 11 - A day to chill and decompress in Boise (not much chilling to be had in the 97 degree heat, however.) We went to the AAA office and got US maps to trace our route on. Except for the couple of hundred miles between West Yellowstone and Boise, our route traced a big, irregular rectangle across the northern third of the US. We saw 15 states (and one province), four Great Lakes, two great cities and lots of smaller ones, and many national parks and monuments. The trip really enlightened me about the regional differences our country encompasses, and the similarities as well. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure made even better by the opportunity to spend time with my dear sis; our busy lives have rarely allowed us to experience one another's companionship.

August 12 - Southwest Airlines took me home to my cool green oasis near Seattle. There's still no place I would rather live than here!
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