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Day One: Rhode Island - Pittsburgh

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So day one. We leave Rhode Island around 11am and drive west passing through Connecticut & New York quickly. Shortly after entering Pennsylvania, we are in Scranton. We stop at a quick overlook to see the beautiful town (not that interesting), and carry on our way to Pittsburgh. Wow, I never really realized how long Pennsylvania was.

 

We stopped for lunch at a rest stop in Mifflin and I took a complimentary map to see what's around western Pennsylvania -- I've been to Pennsylvania a few times, but I'd never been past the Lancaster / Harrisburg area. It seems like there's actually quite a bit to do in western / northern PA. Who knew? 

We keep driving (fig. 1a) and eventually we are driving right into a gorgeous sunset, and we hit Pittsburgh at dusk (fig. 1b). We arrive at our hotel which is right across from the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball field (PNC Park), and there's a game going on! Now, this is 2020, so it doesn't *really* matter if there's a game going on or not, because no one can go into the park and everything is closed. But it was still cool to hear the announcers, and in some places around the park you could even see the players. So that was pretty neat. 

After taking a stroll around the park (1c), we headed up to our room and fell right asleep, preparing for the long drive ahead of us to St. Louis.

Daily State Tally: 4

 

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Fig. 1a

Fig. 1b

Fig. 1c

Day 2: Pittsburgh - St. Louis

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Fig. 2a

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Fig. 2b

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Fig. 2c

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Fig. 2d

We wake up in Pittsburgh bright and early (well, gloomy & early, as it's raining) to head off on the 10 hour drive to St. Louis. We took a quick drive through downtown Pittsburgh, just to see what it looked like, and drove by the Andy Warhol Museum. When indoor things become ubiquitously safe again (the museum was open to the public, but I still don't love the idea of being in enclosed spaces with a lot of people) I think it would definitely be worth it to make the trek out to Pittsburgh, stopping along the way in Pennsylvania's historic towns and National Forests.

As we head west on I-70, we quickly enter West Virginia, and just as quickly enter Ohio. And then more of Ohio. And more Ohio. We drove through the capitol, Columbus, and continued onto Cincinnati (fig. 2a). Here we actually stopped & parked to check out the Cincinnati Reds ballpark (The Great American Ballpark), which was beautiful (fig. 2d). I love how all ballparks kind of follow the same theme, but they all have their own personalities. The only downside was that it was still RAINING. All day. 

And since Cincinnati is on a river that borders with Kentucky (The Ohio River), we crossed a bridge into Newport, KY, which was gorgeous. Maybe that Pennsylvania road trip I mentioned could head a bit more west to stop here. It was really beautiful and picturesque -- it almost reminded me of Philadelphia. 

Back in the car we go, and continue west toward Indianapolis. As we get off the exit, we are greeted by the huge Lucas Oil football stadium, where the Colts play (fig. 2e). I've never seen a sports arena like that before. We quickly jumped out of the car to take some photos of the stadium and of the city, because downtown is cool! It gave me European vibes (fig. 2b). I'm not sure if I'd make a separate trip out to Indianapolis, but if I were in the area, I'd definitely stay for an afternoon. 

Back in the car again, and westward we go. It's already 6pm and we aren't even in Illinois yet. Yeesh, who planned this road trip again? (It was me. I did)

Illinois! Finally! And that means cornfields for miles (fig. 2c). I think 99% of Illinois is cornfields (the remaining 1% is Chicago). Man, this drive is  E N D L E S S. 

Corn field. Corn field. Corn field. Oh look, cows! Corn field. Corn field. Corn field. Hay, some horses! Corn field. Corn field. Corn field. Man, I'm so ready to be out of this car. 

It gradually gets darker, because with all these rainclouds, there is no sunset. What a gloomy drive. Then suddenly we are greeted by a metropolitan area. A bridge. The Mississippi River. A huge arch! Welcome to Missouri! Woohoo, finally! It's 9pm and we have just arrived in St. Louis. that means 13 hours of driving (because we crossed a time zone when we entered Illinois). We finally arrive at our KOA campground, right near the Mark Twain National Forest, and right off of historic Route 66. We set up camp in record time, and fall asleep to the sound of rainfall. It'll be good to sleep in tomorrow. 

Daily State Tally: 7

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Fig. 2e

Day 3: St. Louis

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Well, so much for sleeping in. I didn't sleep at all, and by 6am I was ready to get up. We made breakfast and coffee by the campfire, and set out to explore St. Louis.

 

Our fist stop, of course, was Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals (fig. 3a). Wow, this ballpark is amazing. Definitely gives me Fenway vibes. "Ballpark Village" surrounds the park to the north, and it's filled with sports bars & fan stores -- all of which are closed now. But it's really cool to see this park, because you can look right in and see home plate! If there were a game this afternoon, that would be prime viewing. 

Next, we're off to The Gateway Arch & the Mississippi River boat tour. Let me tell you, this arch is BIG. I know you've probably seen photos, but this thing is so massive in real life. We saw lots of tourists trying to take selfies with it from the base of the legs.....yeah, it wasn't a success. It's too bad you can't go in the arch right now, because I'm sure the view of the city is incredible from up there. 

After enjoying The Arch up-close & personally, we head onto the boat to embark on our hour-long riverboat tour. Some may say it's lame, but I honestly enjoyed hearing about the history of St. Louis, and seeing the city from a different perspective. Plus, it was a pretty good angle for photographing The Arch (fig 3b & 3c). Also, they served hotdogs & local beer, so what more can you really ask for?

After departing the boat and walking through The Arch, we arrive in downtown and pick up a couple of Bird scooters for a more scenic tour of the city. This was a lot of fun because it was raining (oh, did I mention that it was STILL raining?) and we got pretty soaked. We stopped at the Citygarden Sculpture Park which had some neat & thought-provoking public art. Since we were getting pretty wet, we scooted back to our car and got a chance to dry off while we drove to the Anheuser Busch Brewery (Budweiser Brewery). Even though it was closed to the public, it was worth it to drive into the parking lot and see just how massive this building is. It would've been nice to have a beer while we were there, but hey, it's 2020, what can ya do. 

Taking the advice from our St Louis local, James, and my mom (who's been to St Louis once), we took a scenic drive through Forest Park & Washington University, and ended up in The Loop -- which for you Rhode Islanders is like Thayer Street; and for you Utahns is like Park City. Lots of little boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, and public art. Super cute. Since it was dinnertime, we ordered takeout from Salt & Smoke, which is a pretty awesome BBQ place. We also stopped at the market, and picked up some more of the aforementioned local beer, and headed over to Route 66 State Park to enjoy our dinner. 

 

Now, Route 66 State Park is a little weird; there aren't as many historical markers or information posts as one might think. However, there were picnic tables under a pavilion roof which was a great place for us to enjoy our dinner while it was still raining, and we got to see lots and lots of wild deer roaming around. While we were having dinner, we watched a YouTube video on the history of Route 66, which gave us the perspective we needed while there. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xhm2_4orcM)

 

We also got to see a small stretch of road that used to be Route 66, which is a little spooky, because it's right off the highway (fig 3d), while also being in the middle of the park (fig 3e). 

After exploring the park, we were pretty exhausted, so we went back to our campsite and had an early night, ready for another drive the next day.

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Fig. 3a

Fig. 3b

Fig. 3c

Fig. 3e

Fig. 3d

Day 4: St. Louis - Kansas City

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Fig. 4a

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Fig. 4b

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Fig. 4c

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Fig. 4d

We slept much better last night. Because it was pouring rain, the white noise drowned everything out, and made sleeping so easy. I woke up feeling completely refreshed & relieved. We enjoyed another campfire breakfast (incorporating our leftover pulled pork baked beans into our scrambled eggs), and headed to another more historic part of Route 66 State Park. Here you could see the skeleton of a bridge with no pavement (fig. 4a), and an old neon cafe sign. It's too bad the little museum wasn't open, but it was still cool to see this other area of Route 66.

 

Heading back to St Louis, we joined James (our St Louis local) at Mokabe's for coffee. It's nice to catch up with people you haven't seen in a while, especially when they're in a similar situation (he moved from RI to MO a year ago for school, and is considering moving back to RI now). It was a really nice time -- and he gave us homemade croissants that his girlfriend the pastry chef made! Score!

Then to St Charles to start a scenic drive along route 94 through Missouri's wine country. This was a beautiful drive, and I can only imagine how stunning it is in the fall. It made it even better that it finally started to clear up while we were on the road. Throughout the journey, we could see glimpses of the Missouri River (fig. 4b), and we kept seeing signs about Lewis & Clark. Everyone's heard of Lewis & Clark, but I feel like most people can't really go into in detail about what they did or who they are. At least we couldn't. So we found this podcast called The Explorer's Podcast and we listened to the 5-part series on Lewis & Clark. It was super detailed and really informative. Highly recommend. 

(https://explorerspodcast.com/lewis-and-clark/)

We stopped at one of the last wineries on rt 94, called Lost Creek Winery. It was lovely, but mask usage was really low. The bartender wasn't wearing one, which really made us uneasy. But, it seems like if you're not in a metropolitan area, people don't wear masks. 

After having our wine, we continued on our journey that followed along with Lewis & Clark. Then, like Oz through the poppy fields, we see Jefferson City through the corn fields. That's a weird place for a city. Of course, we drove through it to stop by the Capitol Building, and it's a ghost town. Honestly, weirdest capitol city ever. Totally abandoned. Most homes & businesses are boarded up, all of the stoplights are flashing yellow, and the biggest attraction is the Penitentiary. Yeah, I don't think I'll be stopping in Jefferson City any time again. 

We continue west on I-70 (fig. 4c) until we get to the Kansas City Royals & Kansas City Chiefs sports complex (fig. 4d). This is unique, because most ballparks are in the middle of the city, or right in the outskirts, and they hardly ever share a sports complex with the football team. We tried driving around the area to get photos of each of the stadiums, but the best viewpoint was from the freeway. Very strange. Not sure if I'd want to attend a game here. Seems like more trouble than it's worth. 

As the sun was setting, we drove through Kansas City, MO, and then onward to Kansas City, KS as dusk hit. A historic spot in Kansas City, KS called Kaw Point was mentioned in our Lewis & Clark podcast, so we stopped there to enjoy some more history, and a gorgeous view of the city (fig. 4e). This is where the Missouri River and Kansas River converge, and where Lewis, Clark, & the Corps of Exploration stopped and camped for a few nights. (http://www.lewisandclarkwyco.org/)

 

After we watched a group of cars doing doughnuts in the parking lot, we headed to our hotel in Kansas City, KS, where we were able to relax in a lush king sized bed, recharge our devices, and get a good night's sleep.

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Fig. 4e

Day 5: Kansas City - Denver (aka a drive through Kansas)

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In the morning, we gathered our things and headed down to the lobby for some complimentary on-the-go breakfast. Little did we know, this would be the best complimentary breakfast on the entire trip (which, I think is a good time to mention that this hotel was Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kansas City KU Medical Center. Kansas City might be kinda gross, but this hotel was not). You walk up to the counter, and they serve you fresh eggs, meat, bread, and coffee, all in a ToGo box. Then, if you'd like, you can grab fruit, cereal, and muffins. And the food itself was pretty impressive for continental hotel breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised. 

After enjoying our eggs & sausage, we drove to the WWI memorial, and then drove through downtown Kansas City, MO, just to see what it was all about. It seems like a cute city, and if you had to be in that part of the world, it would be worth it to check out. 

We also made a quick stop in Topeka, the capitol of Kansas, which was surprisingly cute! Very clean town, and nice capitol building (fig. 5a). Topeka is also where the Monroe elementary school is, which is where the the Brown v Board of Education trials stemmed from.

Then back onto I-70 west for the rest of the day. The drive through Kansas wasn't bad at all. It was honestly cool to drive through the Great Plains, and see all the gorgeous rolling hills of the dead center of the country. What I found most beautiful were all the wind turbines; I've never seen that many. Once they started, they continued on for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. It was truly incredible. We did pull off in one area to get some backroad photos of the farms and turbines (fig. 5b), but for the most part we were on I-70 the whole day. 

At around 5:45pm we enter Colorado! Which means only 2 more hours until Denver, and we cross another time zone (so it's 4:45). Finally, we are in Mountain Time, baby! 

If you didn't know, everything east of Denver is still the Great Plains, so this part of Colorado doesn't look any different from Kansas. Until you get within an hour of Denver, there are no mountains in sight. Then slowly but surely, those mile-high Rocky Mountains come into view (fig. 5c), and they just get larger and larger until you're right on top of them in Denver. 

Once again, we arrive in our destination city right around sunset, so we stopped at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy the gorgeous sunset. Let me tell you, John Denver was right about those sunsets. They are truly stunning (fig. 5d). 

After the sunset, and after saying goodbye to all the local prairie dogs, we checked into our hotel near the Denver International Airport, enjoyed a pizza from a local pizza place, and fell asleep. 

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Fig. 5a

Fig. 5b

Fig. 5c

Fig. 5d

Day 6: Denver

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Alright, Denver! We are very excited to see what Denver has to offer after hearing rave reviews from my best friend Leah, who has visited once. We head down to the hotel lobby to pick up our grab-and-go breakfast, which consists of a lite & fit yogurt and a muffin made entirely of sugar. Well, we wanted to check out some local coffee shops anyway, and this is as good an excuse as any. We head to Kochi Cafe, where they have exquisite coffee, pastries, and customer service. What a treat. 

We embarked on a little scenic drive through Denver to see the Capitol Building, etc. only to find it all boarded up and vandalized -- must've been from the BLM riots. Bad vibes there (fig. 6a). Ok, onward to Coors Field, where the Rockies play (honestly, is everything in Denver either Coors or Rockies themed?). Man, there are a LOT of homeless people living in tents over here. Hm, kinda sketchy. Didn't expect this from Denver.

 

Ok, we arrive at Coors Field (fig. 6b). Questionable area, but a cute ballpark. The Rockies have never won a World Series, and I feel like their fanbase is small, so this area isn't nearly as poppin as the Cardinals', but it's still a nice park.

 

We hop on the freeway and head over to Empower Field, where the Broncos play (finally, something that's neither Coors or Rockies themed!). Now this, is a cool stadium. Even though it's technically closed, you can drive right in, park, and walk right up to it. There's a bronze statue of broncos stampeding the stadium, which was lovely. The gift shop near the main entrance was open, so Emilio bought a Broncos hat. So far, this was the most interesting football field we've visited. 

Donning his new Broncos hat, Emilio & I head over to the Coors Brewery in Golden, CO. Compared to the Budweiser Brewery in St Louis, this brewery is massive and industrial AF. It's freakin huge. I think the whole facility is at least a mile long. Of course, the brewery itself wasn't open, but we got to drive alongside the building, and we bought some Coors at the liquor store right across the street (fig. 6c). Close enough, right?

 

We drove through the historic town of Golden to get to Red Rock Amphitheater, which is totally a bucket list item for me. My dad has shown me a video of Sarah McLachlan performing Building a Mystery with the Colorado Symphony more times than I can count, and it really does make you want to go there an experience this beautiful place for yourself. 

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11UJLrTZl1Q)

The drive into Red Rock is absolutely stunning (we drove in via Red Rocks Park rd / Red Rocks Trail rd). These big hogbacks and desert rocks are right at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It's a very cool juxtaposition, and it reminds me of the drive into Bryce Canyon. When we got to the amphitheater, there was a private event going on that would end in 2 hours, so we weren't allowed in until then. That's fine, we can check out the area for a couple hours. Totally worth it. We went to a couple of viewpoints in Red Rock, and then went to explore Dinosaur Ridge.

Promptly 2 hours later, we head back to the Amphitheater and wow, this is cool. We drove in a different way (via Ship Rock rd), passing through Morrison, which provided a totally different perspective on the park. We arrive, park, and walk into the amphitheater. It really is amazing. From the top, you look down onto all the rows of seats. Past the rock-nestled stage, you can see the beautiful landscape of Dinosaur ridge where you can just see Denver peeking out around (fig. 6e). It's really magnificent. We walked down the stairs to get to the stage (fig. 6f), and there are ambitious athletes running up and down the aisles, doing inverted pushups, and all sorts of other crazy workouts. I definitely did not expect that. Damn, westerners are athletic. 

After exploring the gorgeous stage and amphitheater, we headed to the Red Rocks Trading Post & Colorado Music Hall of Fame. It's a really neat museum that gives the history of the construction of the amphitheater, as well as the history of the musicians who've performed there. Did you know that this is where John Denver debuted Rocky Mountain High?

We then headed to the Morrison Inn for some tacos and award-winning margaritas. Honestly, they didn't disappoint (although Emilio might disagree with me here). 

Then, once again, it was almost time for sunset, so Emilio took us up Flagstaff Road to Artist Point (near Boulder) for another stunning Rocky Mountain sunset (fig 6d). 

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Fig, 6a

Fig. 6b

Fig. 6c

Fig. 6d

Fig, 6e

Fig. 6f

Day 7: Through the Rockies

Another morning in the hotel with lame breakfast, so we head back to the Kochi Cafe for another delicious breakfast & coffee. Honestly, if you're in Denver, check this place out.

 

We once again head west on I-70 through the mountains, and take route 40 after Lawson, and cross the Continental Divide at the Berthoud Pass. (The Continental Divide is a geographical marker where all rivers west of the divide flow west toward the Pacific, and all rivers east of the divide flow east, toward the Atlantic. This info was also obtained through the Explorers Podcast, as well as the information at the rest stops). 

This is a good time to add that we don't really know where we're going at this point. The hotel in Denver was the last place we had reserved, so everything now is day by day. I had done a little research on campgrounds near Rocky Mountain National Park, but we didn't have anything reserved, and had many campground options. We had set the GPS for the one nearest the park, and we would figure it out from there. 

The rest of the drive toward Rocky Mountain was really lovely -- lots of mountains and little mountain towns (fig. 7a). If we weren't tying to get to a campground ASAP to lock in a first-come-first-served spot, we probably would have stopped to check them out. 

The first campground on our list was all booked up. Bummer. What if they're all like this? Well, it's too early to get discouraged. On to the next one. Stillwater Campground. Wow, this one looks promising. Omg, a campsite right at the front! Let's snag it. Oh, you can see the lake from here. Wow, this is absolutely stunning. Look at us go. Serendipity. 

This wasn't the best campsite in the whole campground, as it was right near the entrance & public boat ramp, but man, it was gorgeous. Even if you have no reason to be over here, this is a great place to visit. It's right on a lake, so there's ample (freezing) swimming, or boating, and you're within 10 minutes of Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapaho National Recreation Area, so there are a ton of hiking trails and other naturey things to do. Even just camping here for 1 night to enjoy the scenery would be worth it.

After setting up camp, we went to the nearby beach (which, as I mentioned before was absolutely freezing, but, ya gotta do it), (fig. 7b) and then went for a very quick hike to Adams Falls. After the short but rewarding hike, we headed back to our campsite to enjoy a fantastic campfire meal accompanied by a stunning sunset (fig. 7c) and a starry sky (fig. 7d). So far, this is the best place on the trip. 

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Fig. 7a

Fig. 7b

Fig. 7d

Fig. 7c

Day 8: Exploring the Rockies

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Fig. 8a

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Fig. 8b

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Fig. 8c

Day 9: Granby - Cody

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Fig. 9b

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Fig. 9a

We wake up to the sun peaking through the mountains over Lake Granby. Wow, this is perfect. And, cold. Last night was really cold. Well, that's mountains for you I guess. 

We enjoy a campfire breakfast and gear up for our big hike today! So, since it's 2020, Rocky Mountain National Park is open to people who have made reservations months in advance. Everyone has to select a 2-hour window for when they can arrive in the park, and that's when they can go. Since our plans were uncertain, I did not make a reservation, with the hopes that I could claim a last-minute "not yet released" ticket (that are released 2 days prior, and they sell out within 5 minutes). I did not make the cut, so we didn't plan on going to Rocky Mountain NP. However, there are many trails near Granby that don't begin in the National Park, but enter it at some point on the trail. Usually, you don't have to pay the park fee to access these types of trails. Much to our dismay, there are many signs at the parking lots / trail heads that say something along the lines of "you MUST have a reserved ticket to park here & access this trail!". Because of this, the trail we really wanted to do wasn't an option, so instead we parked in an Arapaho National Recreation Area parking lot and walked to the Shadow Mountain trailhead. 

This was a really lovely hike -- it started off right along the lake and we enjoyed watching all the boaters and fishers on the water. As we ascended, we saw a few wild deer, which was pretty neat. As we neared the top (about 1.5 miles to the summit) we noticed some pretty dark clouds, strong gusts of wind, and the temperature was dropping fairly quickly. The last thing we want is to get stuck on top of a mountain in a thunderstorm. Begrudgingly, we made the decision to turn around and leave this hike unfinished. Luckily, there was a viewpoint right near where we made this decision, so we still had a nice view (fig. 8a). 

After this fairly exhausting hike, we were excited to jump in the freezing cold lake again. Then, back to the campsite for another delicious campfire dinner & sunset (fig. 8b & 8d), and off to bed for an early night. Oh, and did I mention that whenever we're at our campsite, we are accompanied by some very friendly prairie dogs? (fig. 8c)

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Fig. 8d

Another gorgeous (cold) morning at Lake Granby. We pack up our gear, say goodbye to the prairie dogs, and head to a local coffee shop before embarking on our journey toward Yellowstone, WY (after making a reservation at the Cody Holiday Lodge for 2 nights). We grabbed espresso drinks at Rocky Mountain Coffee Roasters (highly recommend), and food from Java Lava Cafe (questionable), and hopped on rt 125 toward Wyoming. This was certainly a scenic drive. Gone are the cornfields of Illinois and Kansas, here are all the ranches you could imagine! Very cool change of scenery. Most of this drive was mountains, ranches, and some small towns scattered about (fig. 9a, 9b, 9c). Definitely got the western feel. This is also where we began to go for long stretches without cell service. 

When we arrived in Cody, we were greeted with many signs advertising the local Rodeo that was being held tonight. Which, lucky for us, our hotel was right across the street from (did you know Cody is the rodeo capitol of the world?)! We ordered a pizza from a local place and sat outside to enjoy the sunset and hear the sounds of the rodeo (no we didn't attend, are you crazy? No on in Wyoming wears a mask, so can you imagine how unsanitary a rodeo is??).

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Fig. 9c

Day 10: Yellowstone

Little did we know, the Yellowstone entrance is a full hour from Cody, and the attractions are another hour into the park. This is unavoidable, because Yellowstone is highly protected, but it definitely makes for a long commute. Before heading off to the 1st ever National Park, we grabbed coffee and muffins from a little coffee shop (Rocky Mountain Mud Hut), and continued to our destination. It was a long drive, but it was (obviously) beautiful, because Yellowstone NP is surrounded by the Buffalo Bill State Park, which is also protected land. 

Once we were close to Yellowstone Lake, we were greeted by dozens of cars parked along both sides of the road. We asked a pedestrian what was going on, and she said that there was a grizzly bear sighting earlier that day! Her confidence about seeing again was low, and since we had places to go and things to see, we carried on. 

Our first stop (after stopping at a couple of scenic overlooks near Yellowstone Lake & Yellowstone River, fig. 10a & 10b) was the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This was the first time we had seen (and smelled) hot springs, and man, were they smelly. If you haven't had the pleasure to visit one, be prepared for a smell that is comparable to a metric ton of rotting hard-boiled eggs. I was thankful to have a mask on during this walk. Honestly, I should've double-masked it. That being said, they were super cool to look at. The colors are spectacular, and in some of them you can see quite a bit of depth (fig. 10c). In most of them you can also see the steam coming off of them, and some even have bubbles, like a soft boil. A disturbing part was that the hot springs flowed out into Yellowstone Lake. So note to self: don't go in the lake. Yuck. More disturbing than that, though, was the lack of face masks and social distancing. Seriously, back off people. Cover your damn nose. You really wanna smell these hot springs? C'mon.

 

Next stop: Old Faithful. We had heard that parking would be atrocious, but we were lucky to find a great spot. We walked toward the famous geyser, only to see a few dozen onlookers, and some steam. Hm, I wonder when it's going to do its big show. Lucky for us, there was information posted about its next eruption, and it was in 45 minutes! We can kill 45 minutes. We walked around Geyser Hill for a bit to observe some more hot springs and geysers, and then the crowds started to gather around Old Faithful -- so we joined them. Once again, the lack of social distancing and mask usage was astounding. But, Emilio & I were wearing masks, so we felt ok. Then, right on schedule, the geyser erupted. A pretty cool experience, especially because it was right on schedule (they don't call it Old Faithful for nothing!). It lasted about a minute, and then the crowds dispersed. We were able to go inside the Old Faithful Lodge and grab lunch, and we were pretty lucky to do that, because the lodge is beautiful. If you can dish out $300+ per room, I'd recommend it. How cool would it be to stay right in the heart of Yellowstone?

After lunch we headed to the next big hit: Grand Prismatic hot spring (or, as Emilio calls it, The Eye). Rather than going to the regular viewing area (via Midway Geyser Basin Trailhead) which was absolutely PACKED, we parked at the Fairy Falls trailhead parking lot and saw the hot spring from the observation deck (fig. 10d), and then we continued on the trail to view Fairy Falls. It was a nice easy walk to a really beautiful waterfall. 

So now it's around 6pm, and we have to get to Hayden Valley for sunset/dusk to see the most active wildlife. Instead of going back the way we came, we continued on the Grand Loop road toward Madison, then on the Norris-Canyon road past Norris & The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Now, this is the more interesting part of Yellowstone in my opinion, because of all the wildlife. Before we even got to Hayden Valley, we saw about a dozen elk (fig. 10e). When we got to the valley, we stumbled upon a beautiful herd of deer and one lone bison hanging out across the river. As we watched, the bison walked toward the water, and then into the water. This was incredible! Wait, wait. What if this bison crosses the river. We gotta back up.

 

See, this seems like the obvious reaction, since there are signs EVERYWHERE saying to keep your distance from wildlife, and if that weren't enough, it's also printed on the map AND the newspaper they give to everyone upon entering the park. However, tourists are dumb (re: lack of mask usage), and they instead, MOVE CLOSER TO THE BISON to get better photos with their phones. Yikes. 

Well, the bison not only swam across the river to our side, but it walked across the field where everyone was standing (well, everyone is an exaggeration, as most of us had retreated to our vehicles to keep our distance), but it crossed the road, and headed to the other side of the valley. Wow, I never thought of bison as swimmers (fig. 10f). 

We continued down the road to see more bison and elk. Couldn't imagine a better way to spend a sunset in Yellowstone (fig. 10g). Speaking of sunset, remember how earlier I said our hotel is about 2 hours away from the heart of Yellowstone? Yeah, now it's past 9pm and we have to drive back to the hotel. Uhg. The long dark trek back. If we weren't so exhausted, it would have been a great time to photograph the Milky Way. While looking out the car window, I'd never seen it so bright. It really was amazing.

 

We finally get back to the hotel between 11pm & midnight, and fall right asleep in preparation for the day tomorrow. 

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Fig. 10a

Fig. 10b

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Fig. 10f

Day 11: Yellowstone - Dubois

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Up again early in the morning for another adventure. It's a Saturday, so all the coffee shops in Cody are packed. That's ok, we'll find something in the park. We again make the drive through Buffalo Bill State Park and stop along the way for some photo ops that we didn't get to do yesterday. It's pretty nice over here (fig. 11a). We planned on stopping at the Shoshone Lodge for their gift shop, and much to our delight, they had a breakfast restaurant too! Two delicious egg sandwiches, coffees, and hash browns later, we were entering Yellowstone NP again, this time heading north at Fishing Bridge (and past the Hayden Valley -- more bison!) to see The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This area was surprisingly different from all the other parts of the park. It really did feel like the Grand Canyon, though much smaller and closer. I was pleasantly surprised by this. What I was not pleasantly surprised by was the, once again, lack of masks and social distancing. Oh well. 

After stopping at Artist Point to see the massive waterfall (fig. 11b), we did a few more scenic drives and walks before heading south toward Grand Teton NP, and Dubois (which, much to my dismay, is pronounced "de-boyz". *shudders in French*). We once again cross the Hayden Valley to enjoy some more bison and elk. I could drive back and fourth on this road all day. 

Right around the West Thumb Junction, we see dozens of cars pulled over. That can only mean one thing -- wildlife. We get out of the car to see a huge elk! Which, yes, I thought was a moose. Look, I'm new here. (fig. 11d)

Southward we go toward the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway, and into Grand Teton National Park (fig. 11c). These mountains are insanely gorgeous. We stop at a few points to photograph them, until we stumble upon another large group of cars parked on the road. We get out and walk to the grassy overlook and in the valley down below we see two moose! Yes, it's really moose this time, not elk (fig. 11f). That's pretty cool. I've always wanted to see a moose, and it's been a very disappointing 24 years of not seeing one until now. We took our photos and left when the crowd started getting too big.

After leaving the park, we drive on 26 East past some mountainous (fig. 11e) and desert-like landscapes, and enter Dubois. Would it help if I spelled it Deboys? (I just learned this: The original residents of Dubois, Wyoming wanted to name the town "Never Sweat." First of all, what? However, the postal service found the name unacceptable (yeah, duh), so it endowed the town with the name Dubois after Fred Dubois, an Idaho senator at the time. In protest, the citizens of Dubois rejected the French pronunciation, instead opting for the absolutely butchered pronunciation of "Deboys". Info from Wikipedia, slightly paraphrased)This is a tiny little town, that apparently is less than 100 years old, and has less than 1000 residents. Great. 

We did a scenic drive around Dubois to see what the food options were (hint: everything was closed besides a cowboy bar, which was a no from us), and to see what the neighborhood was like. At the motel (which doubles as a gun shop), no one at the front desk was wearing a mask (I know I've talked a lotta shit about people not wearing masks, but workers -- especially at hotels -- pretty much always have them). We definitely questioned the cleanliness of the room, but if it were any other time, the rooms were kind of nice. Maybe that's just because we were comparing it to the hotel in Cody, though. We considered this room luxurious because it had a microwave, so we made our own mac & cheese for dinner, and then went to bed.

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Fig. 11a

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Fig. 11c

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Day 12: Dubois - Grand Teton

We wake up nice and early in the beautiful town of Never Sweat, and head out to grab a coffee from the local shop. The coffee & bagels were great, as was the service, but there were about 3 people (out of 2 workers and about 9 guests) wearing masks in that building, two of which were me and Emilio, and the other was an elderly woman. Small town, ya know? Listening to the locals' conversation was fun though. Nice people. Good intentions, probably. 

The drive to Grand Teton from Dubois was lovely, with a beautiful scenic overlook for a full view of the Grand Teton mountain range (fig. 12e). Once we entered the park (where we became the proud owners of an America The Beautiful parks pass), we drove through another valley full of bison. Nice, that's what we like to see (fig. 12a). Then we quickly head toward one of the two campgrounds that still had availability (Colter Bay campground), and we got a spot!! Woohoo! Two more nights secured. We quickly set up camp and headed out to explore the National Park. 

Our first stop was a quick drive up Signal Mountain, which provided some gorgeous views of Jackson Hole and The Grand Tetons. Sick of being in the car, we headed to Jenny Lake (fig. 12c) to do a 5-mile hike to Hidden Falls (fig. 12b). This was a really pleasant hike, but we were tired, so we only went as far as the falls, even though Inspiration Point was another half-mile or so further (with a significant elevation gain). Once we got back to the car, we headed to the campsite, and then we walked to the beach that was accessible from the campground to watch the sunset. 

We walked back to our campsite at dusk, and then enjoyed a nighttime campfire dinner, with a fantastic view of the Milky Way (fig. 12d).

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Fig. 12a

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Fig. 12c

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Fig. 12e

Day 13: Grand Tour of Grand Teton 

We can sleep in today! Also, its f*$#ing FREEZING here at night. I thought Granby was cold. Oh how wrong I was. I was already wearing double layers because the temperature dropped once the sun set, but that was not nearly enough. Tonight, I will have to go for triple. 

We had our usual campfire breakfast of oatmeal and headed off on a photographic tour of Grand Teton (made possible by the Grand Teton App. Highly recommend, as there is very limited service in the park. Speaking of service, this app will actually show you the spots in the park that have service and/or WiFi). 

Following the numbers on the app, we start our journey (fig. 13a). All of the spots were a photographer's dream and provided the best viewpoints (fig. 13b). Unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of other people were doing this same route, but we went off the trails a few times to avoid the crowds. 

One of the best spots we found was Schwabacher Landing (fig. 13c). This area provided astounding views of the mountains, Snake River, and potentially some wildlife. The "main attraction" of this hike is the beaver dam, but before we even got there we were entranced by a family of ducks (fig. 13d). As they swam away, we continued on to the dam. There were a bunch of people gathered there, so we followed the trail a bit further, just to avoid the crowd. There was another group ahead of us (a father, mother, and two young kids) who were stopped and seemed interested in something in the woods. I wonder what it is. As we approached, we saw a bull moose, antlers and all, drinking from the lake. Wow, this is really special. To see a moose in solitude, with only 5 bystanders. This is truly incredible. As soon as it appears that the moose is going to leave, a lady moose walks into the field! Wow, a couple of moose. A moose couple! This is incredible. We watch while they interact and start grazing and drinking together. This is really cool. We're going on 10 minutes and its still just the family, us, and the 2 moose. (fig. 13e)

 

After a few minutes we decide to give them their privacy, and another small group is walking toward us, and we like to maintain crowd control. Back to the dam we go, but damn, no beavers. Oh well, the moose were better than beavers anyway. (fig. 13f)

After this magical stop, we went to Dorran to have lunch & a beer at Dorran's pizza. This proved to be a very nice area (with WiFi!), delicious food & drink, great views, and a gift shop! What could be better?!

Since we had done the remaining photo spots the previous day, we decided to head back to the campground and go to the beach! This water, surprisingly, was not freezing cold like Granby Lake was. It was perfect, clean, and super refreshing. 

After a much deserved beach day (and a nap in the hammock), we grabbed some sandwiches from the Colter Bay General Store and headed down near Jenny Lake to enjoy the sunset, and eventually take Milky Way photos. It really is amazing how dark the skies are out here. Even though theres a city and an airport right at the border of the park, the Milky Way shines brightly through it all (fig. 13g). It probably would've been better in Yellowstone, but it's so much more convenient to do it here. 

After the shoot, we head back to the campsite, we layered TF up (maybe 4 layers?), and went to sleep. Next time we camp, it might be worth it to buy an actual nice sleeping bag, and not the one I used for camping in the backyard. 

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Fig. 13a

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Fig. 13f

Day 14: Jackson - Flaming Gorge

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We wake up, far less cold than we were yesterday morning, pack up camp, and head south toward Utah. Initially we were planning on heading up to Glacier National Park today, but there are a lot of closures in the park, the campsites would be just too cold, the hotels were expensive, and it just didn't seem worth the extra 9 hours of driving. So, to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area instead. 

The drive out of Grand Teton was very nice. Once you leave the park you enter Jackson, which is a great little town (city?), which would be a wonderful place to stay if you're on your way to Grand Teton or Yellowstone, or if you're planning on staying just in the Teton area. I don't know why I was surprised by this, but there are also ski resorts in the Teton range (fig. 14a). That could be a fun trip to make.  

The rest of the drive followed the Green River down to Flaming Gorge (fig. 14b), and provided many views of surrounding mountains, prairies, and ranches. A pleasant drive. 

We arrive in Flaming Gorge, UT, which feels kind of like Lake Powell in Arizona (fig. 14c). We explore the surrounding area, and meet a couple of friendly deer, and many, many friendly cows (fig. 14d & 14e). 

Now that the sun has set, we are very excited to sleep in our warm, cozy beds.

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Fig. 14a

Fig. 14b

Fig. 14c

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Fig. 14e

Day 15: Flaming Gorge - Moab

After waking up feeling refreshed, we decided to grab breakfast at the hotel. We haven't sat down for breakfast on this trip yet, so why not. Well, here's why not: our server wasn't wearing a FREAKING MASK. EW! Uhg. Well, the breakfast was good anyway.

 

And then off to Dinosaur National Monument. Another historic drive, but this one was historic because of all the fossils and bones that were found in this area! There was a lot of geology and color throughout this drive, kind of like through Arizona (fig. 15a & 15b). 

After leaving Dinosaur NM, we drove south on a mountainous rt 139 through Colorado toward Moab (fig. 15c). While descending the mountains, a plume of smoke catches our eye. Damn, that must be a forest fire. Fire danger has been high lately....(fig. 15d)

Once we get to Loma, CO, we hop back on I-70 west toward Green River, UT. Instead of going the normal way, via rt 191, we headed toward Moab via the extremely scenic rt 128. No matter where you're coming from, this is by far the best way to get to Moab, and this is also where all of the campgrounds nearest Arches National Park are (fig. 15e). 

We arrive at our hotel and settle in for our 3-night stay, and order takeout from Moab Brewery (absolutely yum. I came here 2 years ago and was able to sit inside and enjoy the beer and casual food, and it was extremely memorable. Even though we took the food to-go this time, it was just as delicious and memorable. If you're in Moab, it's essential to go here). We took our dinner to Dead Horse State Park and enjoyed a famous sunset (fig. 15f).  

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Fig. 15a

Fig. 15b

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Fig. 15f

Day 16: Arches National Park

6am bright and early! We get up and grab another lameo continental breakfast from the hotel lobby (this time its a lite & fit yogurt, a granola bar, and 2 hard-boiled eggs in a Ziploc bag), so off to a local coffee shop, Moab Coffee Roasters, for some real food. After grabbing more espresso than was probably necessary, we head to Arches for our early morning hike to Delicate Arch (the token arch & symbol of Utah, featured on the majority of the license plates). 

Now, it's important to do hikes like Delicate Arch early in the morning or later in the evening, because Moab is a desert, and there is no shade. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way when Joe (our Utah local) and I traveled down to Arches NP in mid-September 2 years ago. We were NOT prepared for the amount of water/food we would need (not realizing there were virtually no water stations in the park), and we ended up being fairly delirious by the middle of the day. Needless to say, we didn't embark on the Delicate Arch hike, but we did some others, like the Delicate Arch Viewpoint and the Sand Dune Arch - Broken Arch trail. Even just standing outside makes you hot and dehydrated. We eventually made our way up to Devil's Garden, where -- hallelujah -- there was a water station! Like I said, that was mid-September, and the leaves were beginning to change in northern Utah. So this time, in August, I was prepared. 

Anyway, we arrived at the park around 7:45am and got to the Delicate Arch trailhead at about 8:15. Carrying over a gallon of water for this 3 mile hike, we begin. Man, it really is hot. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath (not only is it hot, but the air is dry and thin, and we are making an ascent of almost 500 feet), but we made it to the landmark within an hour (fig. 16a & 16b). It's kind of surreal to see it in person, because it's been featured in so many photographs, posters, advertisements, and of course, license plates. However, that means that this area is quite crowded, and there's even a line to get your photo taken with the arch. Might as well be Disney World. Oh well. We walk around a bit (and god-forbid we step in front of anyones photo!), and eventually get ours taken as well. About an hour later, we head back down to the car. 

We then head up the street to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail, just to get some perspective of the hike we did. Then, we drive through the park to get to Devil's Garden, which is the last stop in the park. We fill our now-empty water bottles, and hike to Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, and Landscape Arch. In case you go to Arches: Pine Tree Arch is one of the better arches because it is ground-level, and people just walk up to it, take their photos, and leave. This is nice because if you want to walk through the arch and sit underneath it, you won't be interrupted by a million people doing the same (fig. 16c). It was also from this arch that we could see that large forest fire over in Colorado that we saw yesterday. Yikes, that really looks bad, but it's kinda neat that you can see it from all the way over here. 

After hiking back to the car (and filling up the water bottles again) we do the park in reverse order, starting with Skyline Arch, and then to Sand Dune Arch & Broken Arch. Broken Arch is similar to Pine Tree Arch, in that you can walk through the arch and hang out, and there won't be too many other people doing the same. Just like with Joe, Emilio and I stayed over here for a while to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, rehydrate, and get some much-needed shade (fig. 16f). 

This is also the hike that Joe & I began to feel delirious on two years prior, and I was happy to not feel that way this time. 

Then to the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, Salt Valley Overlook, Panorama Point (fig. 16d), and then my favorite part, The Windows Section (fig. 16e). We did the small trail through Turret Arch & The Windows, and then to Double Arch. Double Arch is probably my favorite arch, for similar reasons to Hidden & Broken Arch, although a lot of people do climb in this one. Something about it is so peaceful and surreal though, since you're in between 2 arches. I still wasn't able to climb up to the viewpoint inside the second arch, but Emilio did with ease, so at least one of us did. 

After The Windows Section, the only other thing to do really is Balanced Rock, which is a quick 5 minute walk. We drove by the Petrified Dunes, the Courthouse Towers, and Park Avenue, and we were done. We were exhausted and satisfied with our accomplishments of the day, so we headed back to the hotel for another good night's rest before another packed day at Canyonlands tomorrow. 

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Fig. 16a

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Fig. 16b

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Fig. 16f

Day 17: Canyonlands National Park

Another early morning, and we head straight to Moab Coffee Roasters (their coffee & food is great, along with the customer service! If you're in Moab, get your breakfast there) before heading to Canyonlands National Park.

Quickly: Canyonlands has 3 sections

1. Island In The Sky (North, between the Colorado & Green River. Most popular, an hour from Moab & Arches)

2. The Needles (South, west of the Colorado River. Less popular, 1.5 hours from Moab & 2 hours from Island in the Sky)

3. The Maze (East of the Green River. 4-wheel drive vehicles & expert-level hiking skills recommended)

Our plan was to do Island in the Sky, and if we had time, shoot down to Needles.

 

One of the first things we noticed on our way to Canyonlands was the amount of smog in the air that blocked the grand views of the canyons. When we got to the Visitor's Center, we learned that this was because of that big fire in Colorado. Oh, we did a little research on this fire (the Pine Gulch Fire), and learned that it was one of the largest wildfires in Colorado (as it continues growing, it gets nearer to breaking the 2002 record), and it was caused by a lightning strike. Unfortunately, this fire was the fire department's second priority, because it is 7% contained. Another fire, The Grizzly Creek Fire, which is right next to I-70, is 0% contained. When we learned that it dawned on me that I had heard a couple of people talking about how a portion of I-70 in Colorado was being evacuated because of excess amounts of smoke. Damn, these fires really are a big deal. I can't believe we drove right by a near record-breaking one.

(https://www.cpr.org/2020/08/24/colorado-wildfire-updates-2020-evacuations-closures-size-7/)

Anyway, we drove around Canyonlands, stopping first at Mesa Arch ("are you kidding me, another arch?" - Emilio), which was one of the coolest arches we'd seen in the past 24 hours, because it's right at the edge of the canyon and really is like a window to the canyon. Plus, it was an easy walk to the arch, so many bonus points for that (fig. 17a).

We stopped at a couple of other spots (Upheaval Dome, Green River Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, White Rim Overlook, and Grand View Point Overlook) (fig. 17b & 17c), but by 3pm we had done pretty much everything. We were tired from the day before, the smog was really limiting the views, even though they were spectacular, and it was really freaking hot. If these factors weren't at play, maybe we would've gone for a 5 or 6 mile hike down into the canyon, but we weren't feeling up to that at all. So, we decided to go south and check out the Needles portion of the National Park.

As mentioned before, this was a 2-hour drive. After passing through Moab, we drove past a huge arch on the side of the road that people were hiking to & climbing on. This left us flabbergasted because we thought that arches belonged in Arches. Come to find out, there are many arches near Moab that are easily accessible from public trailheads (fig. 17f). Huh, who knew?

We continued on through more desolation on rt 191 until we turn onto rt 211. This would seem like we are near the park. The landscape has changed dramatically from mountains & hills to giant rock formations, but surprisingly, we are still an hour away. What a wild ride. This road reminds me of Capitol Reef NP, but it's all privately owned! This area is so weird....

Eventually we get to the Park gates and drive past the Visitor Center. Our first stop is the Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook (yes, another arch), and then we continue on to a couple other viewpoints. We decided to do the short Pothole Point trail, which provided stunning panoramic views of the park (fig. 17d), and there were a bunch of tiny cactus (or cacti or cactuses, whichever you prefer), which we love (fig. 17e). We continue on toward the end of the park to Big Spring Canyon Overlook. All of the trails over here are closed to preserve Big Horn Sheep habitats, but there were families over there anyway, taking their family photos and selfies. This really bothers us, because it's such a deliberate way to show disrespect to nature and to National Parks, and this is why we can't have nice things. Just, follow the damn rules and be respectful of nature, especially when there are signs telling you to do so. 

Well, that's it for Needles! Back down rt 211 we go, gawking again that this area is privately owned. The drive to Moab is quick, and we arrive back in Arches right in time for sunset (fig. 17h)! At dusk, we walk to The Windows to photograph the Milky Way, and to enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower (fig. 17g). The light pollution is pretty intense from Moab here, but the likelihood of us getting attacked by a wolf or giant lizard or something in this area is low. Yes, I know the likelihood of that happening anywhere in Arches is low, but I get nervous. Anyway, the pollution is intense, but we could still get really clear views of the Milky Way, and saw about a dozen meteors in the 1-2 hours we were there. 

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Fig. 17a

Fig. 17b

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Fig. 17g

Fig. 17h

Day 18: Moab - Salt Lake City

No need to get up early today, as we are heading to our final destination, Salt Lake City! 

Our first stop was supposed to be the upper San Rafael Swell viewpoint (looking south), which is right off of I-70 (I knew about this because I had stopped here on my way from SLC last time I came to Moab). So after stopping for gas in Green River, we continue on I-70 west (instead of getting on rt 191, which is a quicker and more direct route, but it's a boring drive). We approach the first San Rafael Swell View Area pull-off, which is right at the base of it (looking north). We just have to drive quickly through it, and then we will be at the upper viewpoint, which is outrageously stunning. Ok, approaching the next pull-off (Black Dragon Canyon Viewpoint), we get off the highway and enter a rest stop that is....pretty bland. The upper viewpoint is on the other side of the freeway. How do we get there? Oh, WE CAN'T. What the hell? This makes no sense. How can this amazing viewpoint only be accessed from I-70 East, and not I-70 West? Totally not fair and super lame. Well, now we know. So, if you're ever heading east on I-70, I'd recommend pulling off at the San Rafael Swell Top View Area / Spotted Wolf Canyon View Area (you can plug either of these into your GPS and you'll get there). So, that was pretty disappointing, but that just mean's we'll have to stop there next time we visit Moab, or are on I-70 East.

The rest of the drive is still pretty scenic, with many pull-offs with information telling visitors about the history and geology of the area. Driving through the Manti-La Sal National Forest is nice too. Finally, we get off I-70 in Salina, and drive on rt 50 until we get to Scipio, to visit Utah's famous camel! (fig. 18a) Yes, the Flying J gas station in Scipio doubles as a petting zoo (Eagle's Landing Petting Zoo), with llamas, zebra donkeys, peacocks, geese, and, of course, the camel. Strange? Yes. Sad? Also yes. Inhumane? Probably. This is my second time visiting the petting zoo, and the animals (especially the camel) always seem sad, and their cages are wayyy to small for them (the camel's cage is maybe 20 square feet?). So it's sad to see, but if you're in the Scipio area, or traveling on I-15, stop by to see what's going on. 

Soon after leaving the petting zoo, we approach Payson, then Spanish Fork, Provo, Orem, American Fork, Draper, and then, finally Salt Lake City. Woohoo! 

It's been a wild journey, but we are glad to settle in and rest for a bit before finding jobs & an apartment out here.

Before heading to the Air BnB, we stop at Whole Foods in Sugarhouse to pick up some lunch, and relax for a bit in the gorgeous Sugarhouse Park (fig. 18b). Man, it's good to be back.

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Fig. 18a

Fig. 18b

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