Seattle to New England road trip
And the Yellowstone incident
One of my Favorite Movies ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, I Could not Help but Look Forward to the Seattle Road Trip, with or without the inlaws?
Louisiana? What Happened to Seattle?
Whilst living in Louisiana my in-laws would include a road trip when they came to visit. They would fly in from the UK to somewhere a good distance away and drive the rest. And we are not talking the next county or even the next state. One of the earlier drives was from Vancouver, another time from Washington DC. And it was no different once we’d moved to New England. They were going to drive from Seattle to Connecticut, these excursions of theirs sounded very interesting, and deciding to get in on the action we joined them in Seattle. We flew into SeaTac, and they were driving in from Vancouver where they were spending a few days with relatives.
Seattle at Last
We had booked a travel lodge in Seattle. Always comforting to know you have a bed for the first few nights. But didn’t book any other accommodation for the trip. We didn’t really plan anything too much we knew we wanted to see Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Little Big horn, Devils tower, Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Chicago, and a final stop with friends in Chagrin Falls Ohio. As it was they were lovely surprises in store.
Its so unlike the UK and Europe where you have to book accommodation if you’re traveling. Here apart from the most popular places you can turn up in town and get somewhere very easily. We’ve done this several times and either just pulled in at the first travel lodge we see. Or alternatively about 20 miles out gone on Hotwire and booked a hotel room.
Why doesn’t the M25 Move?
This easy access to accommodation being the main reason why road trips in America are very popular, unlike the UK when it can take you several hours just to get to the next town 10 miles away. To clarify how crowded England is, it’s roughly the same size as Louisiana. Whereas Louisiana has 4 million people, England has well over 60 million. As a result the number of cars on the road outstrip any figure thrown out by the department of transport.
To give you some idea of their ineptitude. Many years ago they decided to build a motorway around London. The good old M25 more commonly known as the Car Park. Its 117 miles long, 40-mile diameter and hits Heathrow on the west side. At great expense the London Council consulted a transport boffin who informed them, it would need to be five lanes wide and developed not unlike the Pike system in America where there are very few entry ways and exits. The intension being it would be used for longer distance driving and not for local traffic.
After careful consideration, or not. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here. They completely ignored his recommendations, built it three lanes wide with regular on and off ramps and in less than six months it became a car park because it handled twice the amount of traffic that it was meant for.
Good old ‘Sally Traffic’ our national BBC radio traffic reporter. Rumor has it she’s been removed from the studio in a straitjacket more than once after reading of the gridlock around the M25. It read like Dante’s Inferno, and equally as grim. Her sobs could be heard, as she was lead away
But we had no such qualms traveling across the northern states of America.
Unfortunately without the aid of a crystal ball we couldn’t foresee the problem that we would encounter at Yellowstone. Where we gained 2 ½ days driving and probably would have spent longer in Seattle had we known?
Obviously our first port of call in Seattle is Pike Place market. Overlooking Elliott bay its one of the oldest markets in the country, and lends its name to its neighborhood. Its Public market center is on the U.S. National register of historic places. And due to being built on a hill it has stalls on several levels.
The sensory overload of sights, sounds and cooking smells from this down town hub made me want to go and live there immediately. Several very pleasant hours were spent in and around the market, watching the traditional fish throwing and being entertained by the street performers. There then followed a gentle stroll to the waterfront park. We even found ourselves on a boat on a quick trip around the bay, where we spent an idyllic hour or so watching the Seattle skyline change as the boat bobbed around the harbor, as well as watching seals basking on aBuoy, and it didn’t rain!
Having been on some really successful wale watching tours out of Boston we gave that a miss. But if you haven’t been as lucky as us, I suggest you book yourself on a trip.
We did however catch the City Monorail to the space Needle and the park, where we did the prosaic touristy stuff like going up the needle and spending time just standing outside the EMP museum marveling at the ever changing colors of its architecture. I popped into see the Chihuly garden and glass, a permanent exhibit of work from the famous locally born artist, I was in artists’ heaven
But I am afraid that was all we did.
We never got to see the city view from Kerry Park and Chinatown. I’d like to have gone and seen Mt St Helens and maybe a trip into one of the many nearby National Parks, but we needed to set off across country. But maybe because I’ve never done the Oregon coast and Portland maybe these can be included in that trip.
I apologize for repeating the story here but this is the correct blog it appertains to.
As I mentioned in the Yellowstone blog, we were very excited to arrive at the North entrance of Yellowstone in mid to late afternoon and decided it would be nice to go into the park for a few hours as a taster for the following two days. We spent a delightful three hours in the North section of the park, seeing herds of Buffalo and a black bear with her two cubs in tow. Leaving each of us very excited for the days to follow.
It was a long-standing dream of mine ever since pouring over the pictures of Yellowstone in my grandmothers National Geographic. Being three, I learnt very quickly how not to rip the pages, especially as she was not very maternal and had no toys for me to play with. I would lose myself in the pages of these magazines, the pile was almost as tall as I was.
Unfortunately Yellowstone is on a plateau at the end of the Snake River basin. Which in turn eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean. This geographical anomaly causes weird weather patterns up and around Yellowstone. As a consequence the next day we woke up to 6 inches of bloody snow. It was the last week in May; who knew. Apparently this is quite normal.
Should have packed the snow chains
Although we would be seeing lots of interesting things on our tour across America, It was Yellowstone that would be the highlight of my trip. I firmly put the blame on National Geographic. And 6 inches of snow would not in any stretch of my imagination stop me from going into the park to see Yogis’ domain. Unfortunately my fellow travelers had other ideas. (note to self: add snow chains to packing list for next trip).
To say I sulked for the next several hours is an understatement. It started at Breakfast, the poor waitress could have dished up a gourmet feast fit for a king and I would have turned my nose up, which I did.
My mother in law promptly took me to task. I wouldn’t mind but adding insult to injury, roughly a mile or so outside of the park, there was no sign of snow. Another part of this weird weather anomaly. No shit.
Do They Still Have the Death Penalty in WY?
At this point I am trying to gauge what state we were in. and if I could use diminished responsibility or severe provocation in my defense in the killing of my in-laws, and wondering whether they still had the death penalty in the state.
I’m happy to say I didn’t kill them, much to the delight of my poor husband because we love them really, and I stopped sulking sometime between the Black hills of Dakota and aptly named Devils tower.
So buyers beware, although they say Yellowstone’s best month to visit is May, there is a possibility of snow.
Little Big Horn
Unlike my fellow travelers who were really looking forward to Little Bighorn or as its sometimes known as the battle of the Greasy Grass. Can’t figure that one out however hard I try. I’m still smarting from my Yellowstone fiasco. A battleground was not on my list of things to see. I’d rather be pulling teeth.
How Much Land do we Really Need?
However all was not lost because it did make me reflect on the Native American. Who too many decades later, have their own memorial at Bighorn. Having just driven 900 miles through mostly empty countryside, I can only wonder what on earth they were thinking back then when they evicted the Native American from their land. All that land! You can’t even drive for 900 miles in the UK without dropping off the edge. I just can’t get my head round it, all that bloody land and we couldn’t share it. If I dwell too much on this I shall get depressed and this blog is about funny. My travel companions really enjoyed LBH very much.
Every time my husband mentions going to the Virginian battlefields I try and change the subject, and we all know what I’d rather be doing. But inevitably I am going to have to suck it up.
And so we settle down in good companionship driving mile upon mile enjoying big sky country.
Driving through very pleasant undulating hills of farmland we arrive at Devils Tower, you can see it from miles away is it very impressive 867′ impressive to be exact. The boffins have decided it must be an eroded remnant of a Laccolith, a large mass of igneous rock. However they cannot agree whether it intruded through the surface. Or is all that is left of an explosive volcano. For anyone watching Close Encounters all those years ago it’s a must see. And you can climb it should you so wish. STEVE, CHARLOTTE!!!!!
Traveling through Sundance on the way to the Black Hills we were pleasantly surprised to learn that this is the only place Harry Longabaugh did prison-time earning his nickname ‘the Sundance kid’. Along with his best friend Butch Cassidy and the rest of the Hole in the Wall Gang (one of the largest and longest lasting gang of outlaws in the wild west). They caused havoc in the late 1800s early 1900s. The movie being the biggest box office hits in 1969. One of Butch Cassidy’s cabins was moved to Cody WY where it is still on display.
From here we made way down to Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills really do look black from a distance and are a pleasure to drive through. If you’re lucky you will find a creek or small river sharing the valley with you, one of those bubbling ones full of boulders and rocks that the water has to swerve around. Stop at the next grassy knoll and you’ve got the perfect picnic stop, and maybe some creek hopping.
Deerfield & Sylvan Lakes
We stopped to stretch our legs with a very enjoyable walk around a section of Deerfield Lake to work up an appetite for lunch in Hill City, which as it turned out a very fortuitous stop. And one which provided us with the best surprise of the trip. Upon leaving the cafe and returning to the car I remembered I had meant to pick up a local tourist map i’d seen and ran back to grab one, a passing customer asked where I was going, upon telling him Mount Rushmore he told me not to go the way were planning to go (which was the Northern route ) but to take the route 87 instead. Never actually telling us why, so we dutifully dropped south on the 385 until we turned left onto the 87
The Needles Highway
We soon found ourselves reluctantly handing over $20 to enter Custer state park. At 37 miles long we thought we would be done in 30 minutes, how we laughed later.
The first surprise was Sylvan Lake. Signage for places like this should have a star system like hotel stars, this one is a 5. The best part about this drive was having no idea what to expect, the chap in the café never gave us a clue. It turned out to be one of those things that you cant believe what you are seeing.
Here the Needles highway (the name should have given us a clue) winds through towers of granite, it’s all twisty with very narrow roads and impossible hairpin bends. How they built and blasted through solid granite surrounded on all sides by pine and spruce forest is an achievement in itself. These clusters of eroded granite pillars look as if some giant randomly placed them. And another budding geologists dream.
Allow a good hour or so to drive this section as the speed limit is 25 miles an hour and there’s lots of stops and viewpoints. Around each corner a vista of breathtaking savage beauty takes your breath away.
The tunnels literally dug out of the rock are so tiny and narrow you couldn’t… put it this way you wouldn’t get me driving a coach through there for all the tea China. It would go tits up very quickly.
There are a few trail heads along the route with Cathedral spires being the best; the walk is a moderate 1.6 mile trail of stunning scenery.
Upon reflection we decided that $20 is one of the best bargains around.
The road is closed in winter and opens early April to mid Oct.
The journey continues down the 87 and turns left onto the 753. Then suddenly one break in the trees allows an uninterrupted view to the far distant mountain where four heads appear taking you by surprise. Definitely a wow moment.
We passed Custer State Park Centre Lake campground, oh how I wish we had a tent. A bivouac would have sufficed. I have never seen a more charming campground. I usually go camping every seven years or so and when I do go I remember why it’s been 7 years. That must be how long it must take me to forget the sheer purgatory of sleeping under canvas.
What can I say about Mount Rushmore I think we’ve all got that t-shirt? And so I shall mimic what Rushmore says about itself. “Majestic figures of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln surrounded by the stunning beauty of The Black Hills of Dakota”. There is a very large visitors center with Films and exhibits. We all found the information about how, when, why, and who by, absolutely riveting. There’s also an interesting anecdote about how they managed to portray Roosevelt wearing his spectacles.
A 30 minute drive away is a large rock sculpture of Crazy Horse, whereas the mount Rushmore faces are 60’ high, his is 87’ and its still under construction.
On a Final Note
It’s $10 to park your car regardless of the number of people might be worth considering if you’re in a 3-4 vehicle group. And that’s it, there’s no charge to get in. Remember as it’s inside a National Park, so there’s no accommodation, but plenty in the locale. Camping is allowed in the park, but not in the area of Rushmore itself.
They illuminate Mount Rushmore at night that is a sight I would like to have seen.
Next stop the Badlands.
Bear Country USA
Just as we were leaving the Black Hills, driving through Rapid City we happened upon Bear Country USA. It’s a Safari Park for bears Black, Brown and Grizzly. Seems familiar. There are also Arctic wolves, Mountain lions, Buffalo, and Elk to name a few, On 250 acres it is the largest private collection of Black bears in the world.
I’ve got my own bear thank you very much!
I have a sodding bear of my own I wouldn’t mind passing on. If I can prize him out of his pit from under our deck I shall give it serious consideration. And I thought teenagers were bad. He has been around for a few months or so. The first time I saw him I was on the deck reading, he just ambled around the corner, only about 12′ away. Not sure who was more scared. I shot up out of my chair screamed like a Banshee and hightailed it into the kitchen, turning to see his backside disappearing around the corner.
The second time he was ambling along sniffing around the edge of the deck, he made to come onto the deck until he saw me then wandered off. Of course this time I am nowhere near as frightened. I am 2′ from the back door even he can’t get me from that distance.
We deduced our garden was a go through from his bed to his food supply. I would sit there imaging him snoozing in the woods at the far side of our neighbor’s garden. Bollocks to that, there’s no using us as a walk through, we’re home base.
How not to provide a bear with bed and Breakfast
He’s got a lovely bed under the deck, he had broken through the wood lattice and made himself at home. You can see an indentation where he sleeps. We never noticed him as one of the garden sofas blocks the view. it’s obviously very cozy (the deck is only about 3’6″high) and with all the rain we have had this year, very dry. And now we are including Breakfast as the apples are now falling from the tree. Whats not to like?
A Bear Side Bar
As I write this I can hear him under my feet now, yawning, well I think that’s what he is doing. I did ring up the bear people up, when we first found him under the deck they told me to bang 2 pans together and shout. This I tried a few weeks later when he was robbing our trash. see image below.
He looked up from what can only be described as a makeshift nosebag, looked me in the eye as if to say ‘errrrr whats with the pans?”
At last the badlands
After leaving the bears and lots of cubs behind, we arrive in the Badlands, so named by the Lakota people, ‘mako sica’ literally land bad. It is what it says on the tin. Just by looking at this harsh terrain, you knowing nothing could live or grow there. But apparently it has the largest undisturbed mixed grass area in the US and supports many animals including Coyote, Bison Prairie dogs and snakes. Who knew?
You can’t help but wonder how the Bloody hell it got there, it’s certainly an anomaly. It’s this raised area of around 242,000 acres of land, an elevation of around a thousand feet higher than the surrounding area. As a result likened to a movie set that would not embarrass the Star Wars franchise.
What can I say, it’s a bizarre parched arid landscape. Interspersed by jagged rocks and gorges, and pinnacles ravaged by wind, water and time. Furthermore its soft, eroded undulating layers of a seabed. Smooth dunes of sedimentary layers of colored time, like walking through a sand picture of volcanic ash, shale, oxides, sand and gravel.
Just hanging out like a Dinosaur
Apparently dinosaurs loved hanging out in this area along with Saber toothed tigers and other equally primeval animals. I quote, (because I have no idea what this is) this area has ‘The richest Oligocene epoch fossil bed in the world”. No idea what I was doing in geology class when that was discussed.
They are still excavating today, and a word of warning, any members of the general public found excavating will soon find themselves in the nearest cellblock and quite rightly so.
It’s a lovely drive, the main route takes you right through the park, with plenty of viewpoints and overlooks. Being spellbound we went on a circular tour and spent many hours in the park. It could also have possibly been our subconscious delaying the next section of the trip.
Next up Chicago.
We have over a 12-hour drive to Chicago, exactly the same distance as driving in the UK. from Lands end to John O’Groats. And just in case any American fancies doing this drive with the family DON’T DO IT. It’ll take you several months by which time your nerves will be in tatters. You’ll be well on your way to divorce, your nails will be bitten to the quick, you will have taken up drinking and smoking again and finally your kids will never speak to you again or if they do it will be in that voice they save the special occasions when they want to let you know you’ve failed as a parent.
On a positive note; you will learn how many people work in the roadside RAC offices at the M5 in Birmingham and possibly see a shift change, and most certainly be able to carry out a visible inspection of bolts on the Thelwall viaduct.
The carrot cake
It’s easier to avoid the large restaurant chains in the Midwest. We would always search out at the more frequent mom-and-pop establishments. Usually we’d have a good breakfast that would keep us going until maybe 3 o’clock, when we would have a good dinner, and then we only needed a snack at suppertime. Even if it was splitting a small sandwich to take back to the hotel.
As most people know, restaurant meals in America are a tad on the big size, and as a Brit we aren’t used to leaving a restaurant with the remainder of the meal in a to go box. So for all the Brits out there. It’s acceptable in the US to take the remainder of your meal home for consumption the next day. Most places the waitress will ask you if you want the remainder of your meal boxed. My husband and I learnt a long time ago to order one meal and split it. (saving us money and calories)
3 years and 50lbs in an RV
We knew an English couple that were RVing around the US for five years. They ran out of money after year 3 in part because they didn’t split their meals, they also put on 50lbs. People in the UK over 50, whose parents lived through rationing, had it instilled in them from an early age to not waste food. As a consequence upon arriving in America the Brits always try and finish the enormous portions. I remember reading somewhere that the average Brit puts on 20 lbs. within a year of moving to the US. Yikes.
I digress again sorry. Whilst driving through a small town, we found a diner, one of those silver ones that look like a railway carriage. We always stop at these places, Its like sitting in a ‘Happy Days’ film set. I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad meal in one.
The Mouse and the Carrot Cake
I can’t remember if it was Phil or his dad that decided a piece of carrot cake may not go amiss. I’m not sure how to describe this carrot cake, the taste was never in question it was the size that was under debate. We all tucked in. The remainder was then duly boxed and taken back to the hotel room. It kept Phil and his dad going for 4 days along with the whisky. I think Evelyn and I stopped partaking after day 3, it would spend each day in the back of the car in the cool box .
I think it was day 5, the cake is still as fresh as a daisy. When I saw a mouse armed with rope and dragnet making a getaway with the remnants. I couldn’t help but wonder if I took the same chemicals would I look as fresh?
In the US most eating establishments have a collection of different magazines just in side the door, some are real estate but others show the hotels in the vicinity and any discounts on offer. That’s how we tended to pick out hotels in upcoming towns. This we did upon leaving the Badlands for the next 2 nights.
We were due to arrive in Chicago later that third day so hopped onto Hotwire to pick a hotel in down town. It was a long drive very flat and a bit boring, not flat enough to see your dog run away to 12 miles, so that was something.
We were to spend a couple of days in Chicago, personally I think it’s a cross between New York and Boston. We began as usual by taking the trusty open top bus. Alighted at Willis Tower (formerly Sears) and made our way up to the observation deck where we played ‘dare who’s got the balls to step onto the sky deck ledge’. Not a cat in hells chance. I’ve seen every disaster movie going. Great view though. I like being high enough to see the curvature of the earth.
Then it’s back on the bus to see the rest of the city.
The Park and the Pier
The following day we went for a stroll along the very busy and stimulating Navy Pier followed by several hours in Grant and Millennial Park. I’m not sure where one starts on the other finishes. But the city utilizes most of its 300 acres for showcasing an amazing collection of art, sculptures and installations. I found Crown Fountain riveting I seem to remember my travel companions dragging me away I’d been there that long. There’s also a giant shiny coffee bean……
The following day we were leaving town but first we decided to go see Genghis Khan (b AD 1160-1227) at The Field Museum. All absorbing stuff. And concentrated more on his achievements (which were numerous) as opposed to him running amok. And they were;
- He practiced meritocracy
- Freedom of Religion
- Established regular system of taxation
- Banned torture
- Outlawed slavery
- Established universal law
- Universal writing system
- Set up a regular census
- Granted diplomatic immunity
- Forbade the selling and kidnapping of women
- Established Passports
- Introduced the first Postal Service
- Introduced paper money
- He brought the Silk Road under one governing umbrella
The figures regarding his DNA are staggering, his Y-chromosomes are present in 8% of Asian men and 0.5% of the world population. In short 16 million individuals alive today are his direct descendants.
Should Have Done our Homework
Had we done our homework, we would have known that we would pass close by enough to visit, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta Ohio.
But we didn’t. So we missed out on a treat. The First-time my parents ever allowed me to stay up and watch television was to watch the moon landing. I seem to remember it was the middle of the night in the UK, which made it seem extra special. So it was with Great disappointment when we realized we passed by something very special.
Intertwined with his own story are a plethora of Armstrong’s artifacts, aircrafts, spacecrafts, spacesuits and moon rock to name a few.
You can practice landing the lunar module or flying the Space shuttle or even docking the Gemini capsule as Armstrong did. Only he did it for real you get the simulator. There’s a documentary of Apollo 11 lunar landing. And ongoing events all geared up to excite the most uninquisitive brains for a bargain price of $8.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
All riveting stuff. The only thing my mother in law objected to was the piece of information telling us that the Beatles grew up in the slums of Liverpool when they didn’t. And she should know she used to see them on a regular basis when they came into the post office where she worked. And knew exactly where they all live Psychedelic guitar at the Rock and Roll hall of flame Next stop down town Cleveland to the Rock and Roll hall of fame, a must for any music aficionado. Which I think includes most of the population doesn’t it? Its $26 for general admission. It’s about anyone and everyone that had remotely anything ever to do with music.
Penultimate stop Chagrin Falls
Just Southeast of Cleveland is Chagrin Falls, we were dropping in to see some close friends of ours who had lived next door to us in England. Chagrin falls is one of those lovely chocolate boxy small town America kind of towns. The type of place you’d want to raise your children. Having been here a few times, we’ve never gotten over the fact that the local hardware store leaves all its wares out overnight. In England it would’ve been in the back of a van halfway up the M6 before the proprietor had got in his car to leave. The town had recently however had a crime wave. People were entering people’s gardens in the night rearranging the garden furniture. I shit you not.
Last but not least we decided to take a detour around New Wilmington PA. Amish country. I am not insulting Americans in explaining the lifestyle of the Amish, it’s for the Brits who will most probably have heard of the Amish but may not be familiar with their religion and beliefs.
These uncomplicated folk, descendants of Swiss German immigrants enjoy a lifestyle some find very hard and difficult to understand. But who amongst us have not envied their simple lifestyle at one time or another compared to our busy technology driven lives. It will be difficult for Brits to wrap their head around the fact that some sections of society can live in the world’s largest economy and can live completely off the grid and keep completely separate from the populace.
They live a very unsophisticated life. They are known for their simple homemade meals using the freshest ingredients they’ve either grown or raised. Uncomplicated homemade clothes, houses furniture and crafts.
What, no Cars!
Because cars are banned within the community their black horse-drawn carriages are very easy to spot. When I enquired how we would know when we were in Amish country. Janine replied “that’s easy, you’ll see lines of washing hanging outside” and I have to admit she was correct. There are quite a few Amish orders in this area of the country each following the general rules that a simple life entails. Depending on which order they belong to depends and whether they use certain technologies or not. They believe in hard work and think technology will make for idle hands. They’ve got that one right.
No telly (TV), does that mean they don’t have a telly stick either?
Nowadays the majority will still have no access to TV, radio or computers. Their thinking that they will erode family life. Although they cannot own a telephone they are allowed to use one and there’s usually a communal one in the village. Some of the most conservative orders use very little technology the more moderate will use farm machinery. With all this at the back of our mind we spent a lovely 2-3 hours gently driving around the back lanes and villages of Amish country.
We didn’t take any photographs as certain orders do not like to be photographed and not wanting to offend, we aired on the side of caution.
Next stop Connecticut
The Web sites below are for the National Park Service. Click here to book accomodation in the Parks
click here to see more of Mount Rushmore
here to see more of Devils tower
click here to see more from Chicago tourism
here to see more of the Badlands
here to see more of the NPS Black Hills of Dakota
click here to see more of Yellowstone
here to see more from Seattle tourism
click here to see more of Battle of Little Big Horn NPS
©Karen Gilston and Funny girl travel blog 2018. Unauthorized use and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Gilston and Funny girl travel blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.