Four months ago, Chris and I turned over the keys to the new owner of our house, and left on a road trip across the US and Canada. We drove 16,000 miles, and visited 18 states, four Canadian provinces, and 22 national parks. Plus a one week cruise, two flights, and two ferries! We made it to Burning Man festival in Nevada, and we got to stay with several friends along the way (always the best part of travel). We also spent ten days in Texas visiting family and friends, and then returned to Virginia for another ten days to visit family and friends, and pack for our next trip.
In case you missed any of the posts from the past few months, here they are:
Tomorrow we leave for Nepal. There, we plan to go trekking in the Annapurna Mountains, and we hope to do a side trip to visit Bhutan. We’d like to see Bangladesh, Maldives, and then spend the winter in India. If weather and international relations permit, we will try to visit the various ‘Stans in the spring. Click on the “Follow” button below if you want my blog post to come to your email each time I write one (about every 3 weeks).
After a couple of days in Reno getting all the playa dust off of ourselves and our stuff, and generally recovering from Burning Man (does anyone ever really recover from Burning Man?), we headed to Utah. We went to Salt Lake City and their awesome Visitor Center (seriously, they gave us espressos, biscotti, popcorn, and great brochures), visited Temple Square, and also spent some time out at Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, where you can float in the salty water, drive amongst bison and sheep, and hike.
Heading into Idaho, we decided to stop and see Shoshone Falls, and were glad we did. It’s a beautiful park and not to be missed if you have the time for a quick stop.
Driving east, we stopped next at Craters of the Moon National Park. We camped for a night there, and visited each of the stopping points on the seven mile park loop. What a strange and fantastic landscape! The 750,000 acres of volcanic debris are the perfect setting for NASA’s Mars experiments, and gives the visitor a glimpse into what our world looked like in the time of the volcanoes.
And then we were in Yellowstone National Park! We were able to get three nights’ at a campground, and we spent the first day going to see Old Faithful and the lower geyser basin. On our second day, we drove to Lake Yellowstsone (it’s huge!) and also checked out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. On the third day, we went to Mammoth Falls and some of the other mudpots, geysers, and hot springs. And everywhere we went we saw animals, from pronghorn deer, to elk, to bison. Even though it was after Labor Day, the park was still really crowded- and the nights got down to 34 degrees! After three nights I had had enough and was ready to head south.
We drove south through Grand Teton National Park, where we saw a huge grizzly bear! Seriously huge, probably 600 pounds. That, coupled with the extreme beauty of the Tetons, made it an awesome day. A park not to be missed.
We drove through Cheyenne, WY next, and stopped for some excellent barbecue at Tasty Bones, and visited a really great- and free!- museum on Wyoming’s history. Some surprisingly interesting stuff in there!
Instead of taking the boring ol’ highway south, we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. We timed our drive around sunset, and saw tons of elk and deer, as well as some beautiful fall colors. We spent the night in Winter Park, a very cute ski town.
Next we spent a couple of days at Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy. Mike took each of us up flying in a Cessna, so we got to see Colorado Springs from above. We also visited Garden of the Gods and drove to the top of Pike’s Peak.
Leaving Colorado Springs, we headed west a little bit and passed through Great Sand Dunes National Park. Huuuuge sand dunes! There was no way I was making it even to the top of the first one. Check out how tiny the people look in this photo below:
We arrived in Durango and spent two nights with two old friends of mine, Paul and Julie. We got to catch up with everything that’s happening in their lives, and we also got to drive out to see Mesa Verde National Park. These mesa-top alcove pueblos date back to the 13th century and give tons of clues about life in those times, while still leaving us with basic questions about the cliff dwellers.
From Durango we headed to New Mexico, where my friend Karen had invited us for an evening with her family. We spent the day wandering around Manhattan Project National Historic Park, which I really enjoyed. I had no idea there was a boys’ Ranch School on the site previously, and that it was appropriated by the War Department. We got to wander through some homes on Bathtub Row, and then we visited the Bradbury Science Museum– a super hands-on and informative museum about the Los Alamos Research Laboratory.
Between Los Alamos and Santa Fe, we had time to make a very quick stop in at Bandelier National Park- home to multi-storied alcove cliff homes dating back to the 1400s, as well as the remnants of a larger circular village named Tyuonyi, with over 500 rooms.
We walked around historic Santa Fe, including their beautiful church dating back to 1610, and of course ate tons of New Mexican food. On the way out of town, we spent the afternoon at Meow Wolf, a very interesting and strange immersive art experience. At $25, it’s pretty expensive, but it is such a unique experience that I’d recommend checking it out- there’s one coming to Denver and to Las Vegas soon. It’s too hard to describe in words so here’s a few pictures.
We took the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, and then stayed with two of our friends from Burning Man, Alex and Debbie, at their home near Sandia Peak. A rainstorm rolled in and we watched it through the massive windows of their house, overlooking the city. We had a great evening with them as we talked about our Burning Man experiences and thoughts on the festival and travel in general.
In Albuquerque the next day, we strolled through historic old town. Our favorite part was the Albuquerque Museum, which has seven galleries, of which the New Mexico Jewelry exhibit was our favorite. Amazing craftsmanship of both old and new jewelry, ranging from silver and turquoise to feathers and other found materials. Worth going to, and a very inexpensive museum at $6.
That was our furthest point west for this leg of the trip- we turned east and passed into Texas (my home state). We stayed the night in Amarillo, where we visited Carhenge (also known as Cadillac Ranch), a series of 10 Cadillacs that were buried in a farm field back in the 60’s. From there we went through Lubbock, keeping an eye out for fun street murals and Buddy Holly memorabilia (he was from there). And then finally we arrived in Arlington, Texas, my hometown, where some catching up with family and friends will now occur!
We fly to Nepal on October 15, so click the “Follow” button down below to get a post about our trekking there!
Have you been to any of these states? What was your favorite things to see there? What part of vacations do you like best- wild animals, beautiful scenery, or catching up with friends and family?
It’s pretty hard to quantify Burning Man into words, so this one will be a photo essay of this year’s theme, I Robot. Enjoy just a few of the sights- I doubt I saw even half of what was going on there! There’s lots of photos here so they take a minute to load- be patient. Click on any image you want to enlarge.
Playa Art by Day
“I Have Dust in Curious Places”
Rhino Art car
Deah with a friendly robot
Dream Focuser Art Car
“In Case We Miss Each Other”
Converse Art Car
“Do You Trust?”
“A Night at the Climb-In”
“In every lifetime I will find you”
“We are the ones we have been waiting for”
“Taking the Long View”
Playa Art by Night
Deah out for a ride
Two lovely burners
Inside the hexatron forest
Rabid Transport is really fun to watch
A huge church just comes sailing by
Peacock art car
Deah inside the hexatron
“Rabid Transit” art car
Just a giant sailing ship
“Bar I’d Like to Find” – a mobile bar
The Jumbo Jet
Burning The Man and The Temple
The Temple Galaxia
Inside the temple. People leave Rembrandt’s of loved ones lost
The Man has burned
A ranger in front of the burning temple
Fireworks, and the Man burns
For more detailed info on the art, the camps, and the daily events, I suggest looking through the iBurn app or the TimeToBurn app.
Have you been to Burning Man? What was your favorite part? Would you like to go one day? Tell me your thoughts on the festival!
Upon leaving Alaska, we drove some of the same stretch south along the Alaska Highway through Yukon. We stayed at a couple of provincial campgrounds near beautiful lakes and hiked a few hikes. Yukon is a pretty wild province, and there is a ruggedness to it… as well as a propensity towards mosquitos.
Once we got as far south as British Columbia, we decided to take the Stewart – Cassier highway, which is a little less traveled and equally beautiful as the Alaska Highway. In one small village, Kitwanga, we stayed in a free municipal campground. At the end of the Stewart Cassier highway, in Stewart, we found that the road dead ends at a small ghost town called Hyder which is actually in America. We crossed over a nonexistent border between Canada and the United States and spent one night in Hyder. Some locals told us about a gravel road that we could take for about 25 miles up into the hills and at the top we discovered the Salmon Glacier- about 60 miles long and is the worlds largest glacier that is accessible by car. What a really beautiful site!
Heading further south in BC, we stopped for two nights at Whistler, the site of the 2010 winter Olympics. It was BC Day and there was a yoga festival going on in Whistler so it was very crowded and had a fun festival atmosphere. We met two of Chris’s friends from Burning Man for some beers and had a nice chat with them. It was a hot day, so we hiked around a small lake and took a dip in the alpine water. We do a lot of driving, so we try to work in short hikes each day that we’re on the road so we can get our steps in!
Our next stop was the city of Vancouver, where we enjoyed visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Stanley Park, and the UBC Museum of Anthropology. We did a free walking tour of the city and explored downtown and Gastown, visiting several bars along the way home.
We took a ferry over to Vancouver Island, where we spent the next three days camping with some old friends of ours, Tom and Sue, who I taught with in Haiti. We swam, explored the island, and watched the Pleiades meteor shower. It was a lot of fun catching up with my former housemates.
We drove to Victoria and got in line for the ferry and were able to spend a few hours exploring the capital city of BC. We watched Dragonboat racing and caught the tail end of an Indian Mela festival, and did a short self-guided walking tour to see their government buildings and the Empress Hotel.
Arriving back in the United States by ferry at Port Angeles, we explored the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington for the next couple of days. It feels like a lost Jurassic world in there! We saw towering redwoods and old growth cedar trees, as well as dense rain forests, misty coastlines and imposing mountains.
Further south into Washington state we visited Mount Saint Helens and its very informative visitors center. Unfortunately, due to smoke from fires further south and east, visibility was quite low. We had an impromptu lunch with our friend Rob, who used to work with us when we lived in Chad, and then continued south.
Arriving in Vancouver Washington, we spent several days with fellow travel enthusiasts Shyla and Dan. They own a travel business (Wild Spirit Travel) and we had met them last year while we were all visiting El Salvador. What a fun few days we spent with them! For Dan’s birthday we hiked around the Columbia Gorge, seeing the waterfalls and Beacon Rock. They took us to several McMenamin’s pubs and breweries- so wild! We explored some of downtown Portland, sampled food trucks and went to Powell’s Bookstore, and visited drafthouses on Main Street in Vancouver. I discovered I’m a big fan of sour beers (its like a margarita mixed with a beer kind of taste). We all spent the night at historic Fort Vancouver for a stargazing event- we could see four planets and the moon through a dozen high-powered telescopes. On our last day, they took us to visit some friends who live on the Washougal River for a day of floating down the river and travel talk that evening- their friends are outfitting a bus to drive from Alaska to Argentina. What an adventure!
After a night sleeping outside next to the river at Andi and Kevin’s AirBnB, we left Washington and headed south. We stopped for coffee with a friend of mine from junior high, and we visited Bend and Crater Lake. We couldn’t see across the lake because of the smoke from several nearby fires, but we could see down to the crystal clear waters in some parts. Five trillion gallons of water! It’s hard to imagine.
We’ve just passed 10,000 miles on our road trip, and we are heading into Reno, where we will shop and pack for our Burning Man experience. We’ll be back online after September 4th so look for an update then!
Driving the Alaska Highway in from the Yukon, we arrived in Alaska and spent our first night at a campground in Tok. The next day, after a quick stop in North Pole, we arrived in Fairbanks. We celebrated by staying in a nice B&B for the first two nights.
While in Fairbanks, we made use of the excellent Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center, complete with a comprehensive museum and films about the state. Chris took a day tour to the Arctic Circle while I stayed in town and had a pedicure and watched Ocean’s Eight. We went to the Chena River Hot Springs and had a relaxing soak in the mineral waters.
From Fairbanks, we drove to Denali National Park. On the way down we had pretty clear weather and we could see the mountain and the mountain chain. We went on some hikes-amazing views of the green hills, braided rivers, and snow capped mountains in this wild 6 million acre park with only one road- and explored their visitor center, and visited the sled dog kennel. We attended a Ranger talk about how some of the animals are able to adapt to the harsh winter- fascinating stuff! Animals are so versatile. On our third day we took the bus into the interior of the park; sadly on that day it was raining and we did not have a very good view of the mountain at all. However we did get to see lots of animals: a moose and moose cub hung out in our campground, we saw three grizzlies, lots of snowshoe hares, ptarmigans, falcons, eagles, and arctic squirrels. My friend Danielle works at a shop up in Denali and so we got to hang out with her a couple times so that was really fun.
After leaving Denali we drove south, stopping in Talkeetna for an afternoon. My friend Rick worked there last summer for an air taxi company that ferries climbers onto Denali mountain, and he recommended that we stop in this cute town. Around 1100 climbers attempt to summit each year, and only half make it. Even base camp is at 7000 feet, and the summit is just over 20,000 feet. Climbers don’t use oxygen, and with -40 degree weather and winds over 100 mph, it is considered by some to be the most dangerous mountain in the world.
We arrived in Anchorage and spent two days exploring the city. While we were there we tried to arrange passage for us on the Marine Highway (the Alaska ferry) but after having difficulty with their website we jokingly wondered if maybe there was a cruise that we could take. We looked online and happily, there was one leaving in two days so without a lot of preplanning we booked it (more on that later).
In the two intervening days we drove down to the Kenai Peninsula. We drove all the way through the Chugach National Forest and out to Homer, where the western-most Alaskan road ends (there are roads further west in Alaska but you have to either fly or sail in order to get to them). We visited a small Russian town named Ninilchik and the Russian Orthodox Church there, and were wowed by the wildflowers everywhere- Alaska is surprisingly colorful in the summer! We camped along the Russian River for two nights and did a hike each evening. On one of our hikes as we were walking along the river we encountered a small black bear and her two baby cubs. They were there looking for salmon and they were able to find their dinner, and we were able to get a photo.
After the Kenai Peninsula we took a bus to Whittier, where our cruise ship departed from. It was a seven night cruise, heading south to Vancouver. The first two days were at sea, and we sailed by and stopped at the Hubbard Glacier and then Glacier Bay National Park. A park ranger came aboard and we got to learn all about this huge roadless wilderness. I have to say, it was pretty amazing to sit on deck beneath the midnight sun, keeping an eye out for whales, otters, orcas and sea lions.
On the third day we stopped at the small town of Skagway. We went on a city hike, and visited the first Gold Rush cemetery and the beautiful Reid Falls. The next day our port was Juneau, where we hiked all around the city and then up through a rain forest to Mount Roberts, and then took the tramway down- what a beautiful view!
Our last port of call was Ketchikan. This “first city of Alaska” has very temperate weather, seaplanes taking off and landing every few minutes, gold shops, and ice cold beer. We visited a hatchery and watched the salmon on their upstream run back to their spawning grounds.
After a final day at sea, our cruise docked at Vancouver, and we took the light rail to the airport and caught our flight back to Anchorage. The next day we headed north and east, and then south toward Canada, through Glacier View and Wrangell St Elias National Park. We kept stopping along the highway, trying to get in that last breath-taking photo, as if Alaska was trying to stay with us a little longer.
We drove about 1400 miles in Alaska, and cruised 1600 more. Now it’s time to explore the Pacific Northwest! Stay tuned for an update after we drive south through British Columbia, camp with friends on Vancouver Island, and visit with friends in Washington and Oregon.