US Road Trip Week 8: Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce & Zion

I began my final week of the road trip feeling especially soothed and transcendent thanks to all of last week’s spiritual beauty. So imagine the jarring experience of then driving into Salt Lake City and encountering a massive collection of intensely Mormonistic sculpture art.  At least that’s what Atlas Obscura recommended. Obscura indeed. IMG_20190603_161542322_HDR.jpgDefinitely not as transcendent, or at least not in the same way. Though you could argue perhaps still spiritual.IMG_20190603_162206881_HDR.jpg

I’d planned to stay in Salt Lake City overnight, but the sight of all the heavy handed Latter-Day Saints influence made it hard to get excited about seeing the rest of the city. But I decided this was my trip and I could do what I liked with it. So I just hopped back on the highway and continued down to Moab one night early.IMG_20190604_201204992_HDR.jpg

Plus it was quite nice to wake an easy two miles from the Arches park entrance the next day. Such a magnificent national park full of stunning contradictions. A motionless monotonous Park Avenue in the desert. IMG_20190604_110521645_HDR.jpgBalanced Rock somehow resting just off-center. IMG_20190604_112739363_HDRAll the pane-free Window Arches looking into each other.IMG_20190604_115131224_HDR.jpg(Though I did have fun climbing on their sills.) IMG_20190604_120150949_HDR.jpgThat hike up to Delicate Arch that was anything but delicate. IMG_20190604_133244173_HDR.jpgIMG_20190604_135359911_HDR.jpgThe Garden of Eden which actually looked quite barren and menacing. IMG_20190604_113250775.jpgAnd the Devils Garden which was rather more verdant and heavenly.IMG_20190604_154117912_HDR.jpg

The next day’s plan was Canyonlands, the land of canyons. I only visited the biggest one, the Island in the Sky, but it was a beaut (or should I say, butte?). Drove down every scenic route to get the full spectrum of beautiful views: Mesa Arch, IMG_20190605_102716864_HDR.jpgCandlestick Tower, IMG_20190605_104843516_HDR-1Orange Cliffs, IMG_20190605_105926982.jpgUpheaval Dome, IMG_20190605_121031690.jpgGreen River, IMG_20190605_113730734and (last but not least) the Grand View Point. And ain’t it just grand?IMG_20190606_220552_605

Even then, I finished Canyonlands faster than expected and still had half the day left. So I decided to be ambitious and try to squeeze in Bryce that same day. It was tight but I did it. Managed to drive up and down the whole Rainbow Point drive and all its breathtaking lookouts, IMG_20190605_192805677_HDR.jpgthen take in the iconic views at Bryce Point, IMG_20190605_195134832_HDR.jpgthe inspiration at the aptly named Inspiration Point, IMG_20190605_200409296_HDR.jpgand reach the final Sunset Point in time to witness its stunning view of the sunset at the end the day. (All while eating my Mountain House meal for dinner straight out of the bag. Multitasking.) IMG_20190605_204326843_HDR.jpgI did actually skip one, Sunrise Point. But at that point in the day, what would have been the point?

And last but certainly not least, I’d saved perhaps the very best for the very end of the whole cross-country road trip: Zion! IMG_20190606_154408872.jpgBut unfortunately the visit did not do it sufficient justice. I crammed in as many small hikes as I could do: The Grotto, IMG_20190606_142706863_HDR.jpgWeeping Rock, IMG_20190606_142549690_HDR.jpgand Riverside Walk.IMG_20190606_133011738_HDR.jpgBut sadly The Narrows were too flooded to see (I waded in as far as I could go), IMG_20190606_135116409_HDRand I didn’t have the time or means to hike Angels Landing.IMG_20190606_141639054_HDR.jpg

Must be better prepared next time. And there will be a next time, coz it looks awesome!

But for now, it’s time to bring this epic road trip to an exhausting but successful end. I’m completely wiped out, mentally and physically drained, decently sleep deprived, and just generally spent. It’s gonna take another decompression vacation to fully recover from this one. So I’m likely gonna need to pause on the blogging for a bit to focus on that, and will resume when I’ve reached a solid enough state of mind and comprehension to write about all of this in more depth and deliberation.

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US Road Trip Week 7: Standing Rock, Badlands, Wind Cave, Devils Tower, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone & Bozeman

Coming off that extra emotional last week, I was grateful for some more drone-like days of long distance driving. That is, until I hit my 10th hour behind the wheel driving the Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway (say that ten times fast) and realizing I was going to need to cut the drive shorter than originally planned.IMG_20190526_171740841_HDR.jpg

So I sadly did not make it the whole length of the Scenic Byway into North Dakota. I’ll have to save that state for another trip. But I did get to Mobridge, South Dakota to see Sakakawea and Sitting Bull’s monuments, IMG_20190526_171038631_HDR.jpgas well as the Standing Rock reservation itself.IMG_20190526_174306846_HDR

Then I drove back down to the SW foot of South Dakota and crashed so hard in yet another Walmart parking lot. Woke the next day to a fresh energy and tackled the infamous Badlands loop. 31 miles of some of the most amazing buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires my tired little eyes had ever seen. It actually quite reminded me of the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, which now seemed so long ago.IMG_20190527_125732833_HDR.jpg

After the Badlands, I tried to visit Mt. Rushmore nearby. But the weather was still so bleak and rainy, that visibility was near zero and I realized it would be a waste of my time and money. So instead I decided to learn from my recent exhaustion and take it easy the rest of the day. So I went into town, here being Rapid City, and hunkered down in a cafe for some productive work time and general life catch-up. Then I found another great Walmart right in Rapid City and slept like a log that night.

The next day, I again paced myself, only aiming to hit one major attraction – Wind Cave National Park – and then relax once again back in Rapid City. And what an attraction that cave proved to be! The most intricate cave system in the US and the first cave to be named a national park. It was truly an incredible work of natural art. Unlike anything I’d ever seen before, even in other caves. IMG_20190528_112102147.jpgIts signature boxwork was truly out of this world, and especially knowing the story of how it was created in the first place. Such delicate detail, hardened from mineral deposits washed into the cracks of the limestone cave walls. Literally works of art that formed between a rock and a hard place. IMG_20190528_112824050.jpgOne of the most gorgeous things on this trip so far, and that’s saying something. Maybe I missed my calling as a cave explorer. I do like me some tight damp dark spaces. 😉

Bet you were wondering how long it’d take me to write something dirty. And when better than in a cave?

So many dirty jokes at once. You’re welcome.

By now, I’d been in the area for a day longer than planned and spending more time in the city itself than at nearby attractions, given my goal to take things a bit slower. So somehow, I found myself forming a sort of reluctant bond with Rapid City. This wasn’t even a city I’d originally mapped as a must-see on my route. And here I was, settling into the energy of this city more easily than so many others I’d been excited to visit. And finding some hidden pockets of cool shit where I didn’t expect, like a super cool street graffiti Art Alley.IMG_20190528_200623808.jpg

The weather thankfully cleared up the next day, and I was able to give Mt. Rushmore a second attempt. Visibility was indeed excellent, but that’s the only thing about it that was. Mt. Rushmore itself was incredibly underwhelming. I spent all of about an hour walking the whole limited path around the base of the thing, stopping at every viewpoint to take some more nearly-identical photos of this giant rock carving too far away to see any detail anyway.IMG_20190529_114217410_HDR.jpg

Then I decided that was enough to justify the parking fee and headed back via the gift shop. Now gift shops have been a crucial part of my road trip experience thus far. I’ve been collecting stickers and postcards – being the cheapest items on sale that I can still do something creative with later – at every single national park and key city I’ve visited. So underwhelming or not, this one was going to be no exception.

I went into the gift shop, beelined for the stickers and postcards, and chose my selection. Then I saw them. Souvenir knives in rows upon beautiful rows with custom names carved into them. Now I’m not usually one for clearly overpriced trinkets that I can easily get cheaper elsewhere. But a knife with my name carved into it. That was catering right to me.

So I go up to the rack and peruse. But something feels off about it. I look and look, turning the rack one side to the next, and I start to realize what it is. There are NO girl’s names carved in any of these knives. None of them. There are only boy’s names here. IMG_20190529_114800232I’m getting angrier and angrier as I spin the rack around and around, studying every row for any sign of a remotely feminine sounding name. I’m sure I looked strange, muttering angrily and slowly spinning this souvenir display. But inside, I was enraged! I mean, how dare they?!

This quiet rage proved just the right fuel for the rest of my day exploring the Black Hills Forest (dotted with some ironic white birch) and then, the highlight of my day, the Devils Tower National Monument.

I felt such a warm fuzzy sensation flush through my whole body upon beholding this towering beast of sacred significance, IMG_20190529_153206095_HDR.jpgnot to mention the biggest boulder pile I’ve ever seen stacked over a hundred feet high all the way around it. I spent nearly half my time there climbing up and down that giant boulder field to my heart’s content. IMG_20190529_151632474_HDR.jpgI could have easily kept bouldering all day long. But the Tower Trail looping around the whole igneous intrusion also must be done so I could see the big beauty up close and from all angles. IMG_20190529_154058012_HDR.jpg

With a skip in my step and a light sweat on my brow, I drove on through the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton National Forests (with an overnight stay somewhere in the middle), building up to the headliner of the next day, the Grand Teton National Park.IMG_20190530_151014766

And look, there was snow! I didn’t think I’d see any on this trip, silly me. But up here at 6,500 feet, there’s enough snow and thin air to make a girl quite faint with excitement (or is that the altitude sickness again?). IMG_20190530_152119056_HDR.jpgI drove the full Teton Park Road from one visitor center to the other, right alongside its gloriously glaciated peaks and shimmering lakes.IMG_20190603_183638_850

After camping in the park, I made the quick 18mi hop skip jump into the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Now we’re over 8,000 feet! IMG_20190531_115636003_HDR.jpg

Once again, I drove the whole loop, stopping often to explore all the amazing wonders at every turn and trailhead. From Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces IMG_20190601_123244830_HDR.jpgto Artists Paint Pots IMG_20190531_155102789.jpgto all the geysers at West Thumb,IMG_20190531_114603691.jpgand at Upper Geyser Basin, IMG_20190531_130329607_HDR.jpgand Midway Geyser Basin, IMG_20190531_144142395_HDR.jpgand Norris Geyser Basin, IMG_20190531_162526508_HDR.jpgand of course the infamous Old Faithful (which was honestly the least impressive). IMG_20190531_140020796_BURST000_COVER.jpgI walked around and admired each one, their “potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence.” And as each geyser’s thermal sulfuric smoke washed over me, I felt a similar warm, spiritual sensation that blessed me anew. Like burning sage, only better.

That night, I decided to treat myself to dinner, complete with amusing local beer, at the Canyon Village diner near my campsite. IMG_20190531_183257174.jpgAnd I made a friend. The guy sitting at the diner bar next to me turned out to be a fellow nomad living out of his truck. We talked for hours, swapping travel stories and tips like his idea to use the space under the front passenger seat as a “wine cellar.” So clever.

I slept like a baby in my campsite that night, and enjoyed a rejuvenating shower the next morning (highly recommend that campground’s showers). Then it was on out the north entrance I went up into Montana to visit my dear friend Danny B and his little sweetie Edie in the wilderness of Hyalite Canyon. IMG_20190602_181631829_HDR.jpgWe spent a beautiful 24 hours together discussing synchronicity and our similar journeys navigating new paths and major life crossroads.

I left feeling freshly motivated in my self-exploration and the approaching end of my road trip. I had intended to have made some major life and career decisions by its conclusion, but realize now that may not be quite possible. And that’s alright. All I need to know, at any point in life, is simply what I want to do next. I don’t need to have all the rest of it figured out.