Saturday, August 17, 2013

There and Back Again: A Trip to Utah that Included Driving Pretty Much Across the United States Twice

So Kelly and I pretty much drove across the entire country this summer.  Twice.  Since we both had the summer off, we decided to not only attend my sister's wedding in Utah, but to drive to it from Baltimore.  And then of course we had to drive back home.  I thought I'd just document our little adventure since I am terrible at writing in my journal now, and share some pictures with whoever cares enough to read my blog.  Get ready, just like the trip this post is really long.  Here we go!

So we planned to leave on June 28, but then we just randomly decided to leave a day early, around 5AM.  So the night before we got things ready, and as nights before always go, we ended up staying up quite late.  We tried to go to bed around 1:30 or so, but the list of last things to do before shoving off in the morning kept running through my head and finally I asked Kelly if he was asleep.  He wasn't, and was just as restless at I was, so we just got up, did the last few things and hit the highway around 2:30 AM...with no sleep.  I kept thinking of the episode of The IT Crowd when Moss and Roy play hooky.  "We're bunking off!"  To see what I'm talking about go to 1:13 on the video below and watch for a couple seconds.

Anyway, we're crazy.  We drove all the way to St. Louis on no sleep.  We have driven from Utah to Baltimore before, when we moved here in June 2009, two days after our wedding, and we took I-80 that time, so to mix things up we took I-70 going out this time.  Basically we just drove straight through the first day, and spent the night just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, in Collinsville, Illinois.  The next morning we woke up early and went to the Cahokia Mounds, the largest ancient Native American site in the country.  They have a museum and archeological digs, and huge mounds built by the native people who lived there.  It was pretty interesting.

Monks Mound.  It's bigger than it looks.  See the tiny tiny person at the top of the stairs?

I walked up and back down Monks Mound.  And this is just the first half of the stairs.
St. Louis as seen from the top of Monks Mound

Then we crossed the Mississippi River into St. Louis and parked our car on the banks of the river.
Cheapest parking lot in town, I'm sure.

and we wandered around the Gateway Arch.  We chose not to go inside because the line was crazy-long, but we got some good pictures from the outside.
I was leaning up against our car when I took this picture.  See how risking our car getting flooded by the Mississippi River was worth it for parking so close and so cheap?
Ooh so artsy.
Wow! Kelly and the whole Gateway Arch!
Yes, this is my picture with the Gateway Arch.  Can we just say that Kelly is nowhere near as good of a photographer as I am? 
Okay, now I'm just showing off my artistic angles that Kelly can't even dream of capturing with his seriously-lacking photography skills.

After that we went to Park Avenue Coffee for gooey butter cake, apparently it's a thing in St. Louis, and Kelly, being the foodie that he is, tends to know what the local food is for any given place, and has to try whatever it is when we're in town.  Gooey butter cake is amazing.  I got the triple chocolate, and Kelly got the white chocolate raspberry.  And you can order it online from the place we got it (here, if you care to).  Hang on, I have to go remind Kelly my birthday is coming up so I can get some....

Okay, I'm back!  Sorry no pictures, but I don't do food pics very well.  I just eat.

We got a 2-hour metro pass and rode the subway to the Union Station and wandered around there and basically had a nice day of it.  We left St. Louis around 2PM and kept driving west.  In Kansas City we stopped for barbeque and I guess we went to the wrong place because it was disappointing.  We drove until pretty late and slept in the car at a rest stop about an hour outside of Denver and then did the last leg to Ogden, UT the next morning, but instead of saying on 70, we cut up to Cheyenne, WY and took 80 into Utah to save some time.

In Utah we had a really fun time being with our families for a month and just hanging out and enjoying our time off for the summer.
Ahern Family Portrait July 2013

Revisiting "Our Bridge" where Kelly proposed to me (and where we made out a lot while we were dating).

Cami and Robbie's wedding was beautiful, and Kel and I are super excited to have Robbie in the family. They got married in the Brigham City temple, and the luncheon was at Maddox and it was so nice as well as tasty.  The reception was at the Hilton Garden Inn in Ogden and turned out very pretty, and Cami was a gorgeous bride.
All wedding photos taken by Urban Roots Photography

My family's portrait July 2013.  (Don't mind my bad hair day.  Kelly and my grandma are lying about the fit I threw that morning while trying to wrangle it.  Shrieking profanities at my reflection?  Me?  Never!)


Hangin' out at the reception (I had gotten my hair a little more under control by that point.)

It was fun to see a lot of people that I haven't seen since my own wedding, and then I only spent about 10 seconds per person, so this time it was really great to have real conversations with aunts, uncles, and cousins like Kevin and Tanja, Jody, Julie and David and Amanda, and friends like the Marsdens, the Fennemores, the Barlows, and lots more.  I think I was asked about a kajillion times if I was still living in Baltimore and if we were ever going to move home.  I told everyone we'd love to move home, but you know, we sorta have jobs in B-more and no jobs in Utah at the moment.  So if anyone hears of good jobs in Utah or surrounding states for two history majors, let us know!

That night after cleaning up, we washed Robbie's car because his uncles and who-knows-who-all trashed it.  Turns out my parents, Bryan, Kelly, and I are excellent car washers at 2AM.  I'm sure there's some sort of niche business we could start with those skills.

We did some other fun things, too.  We went to the Fourth of July Parade in Huntsville, and had a barbeque with Kelly's family.  Then we had a second barbeque with my family.  I went on my first-ever motorcycle ride.  My brother Bryan, bought one last spring and took me on a short ride.  I thought it was really fun and realized my brother is even cooler than I thought.

My mom took Kelly, Bryan, my Aunt Jody, and me to the Utah Olympic Park where we went on the bobsled, zipline, and alpine slide.
Just about to go bobsledding!  And if you go, don't try to readjust on a short straightaway, because you will hit another corner faster than you think and the Gs will force your head back and you will not be able to get it up again.  Constant vigilance!  Also, my bad hair day had disappeared by this point.  Or did it?  I wore a helmet just to shroud that in mystery.  Kelly wore one because he's smart.
Kelly, me, Jody, and Bryan just about to go on the alpine slide.
We also went canoeing up Causey Reservoir with Kelly's parents, and after we went as far as we could we had a picnic and then rowed back.  It was nice to be outside and Kelly's mom pointed out a lot of cool birds along the way.  I also saw some hummingbirds and other pretty birds on the feeders at their house.

I was going to go canyoneering with my dad and Bryan, but I chickened out after doing the 9th Street cliffs in Ogden.  Which is weird, since I've been before.

(Wow, it seems like I should have pictures of more of these things.  Apparently I'm not a photographer, after all.)

We also had dessert at Kevin and Lindsey's new house (my brother and sister-in-law) and got the tour.  It's very nice and I'm jealous ha ha.  And we were invited to lunch at Kelly's brother's house and had fun with Eric and Keri and our two adorable nephews.  And Kelly's oldest brother Ben and his wife Holly took us to Taggart's Grill and it was delicious and we had a really fun afternoon with them.  And of course we spent most of our time between my parents' house and Kelly's parents' house.  Everyone was so great about letting us hang around and mooch food and beds and everything.  Thank you families!  We seriously have the best family ever.  Thank you everyone who fed us, housed us, lent us cars, and gave up your time to be with us.

Sooner than we could believe our month was up and it was time to drive across the country again.  Since we had done I-70 and I-80 by this point, we decided to take I-90 back to Maryland.  So we took I-15 up through Idaho, hooked onto 20 and went through Yellowstone, which was really cool.  Kel and I had both been there before, but I was not quite 6 and Kelly was about the same age, so it was fun to go as adults.

We accidentally timed Old Faithful perfectly.  We don't have smart phones so we couldn't use the app to see when the next eruption was scheduled, but we wandered up, found a seat, took a picture with it's tiny-baby steam in the background

turned around, and it erupted!

Cool, right?
We took the southern part of the loop and saw the Paint Pots and the Great Fountain Geyser,

then jumped ahead to Old Faithful (which I already wrote about in case you zoned out for a sec) and then backtracked to see the Black Sands Basin,

and also the Midway Geyser Basin where the Grand Prismatic Spring is, among other things,

and then we went up to Yellowstone Canyon to see the park's namesake and the falls.  We hiked around in there and that was fun.

We saw lots of deer and bison,

a woodpecker,

and missed wolves by a couple minutes.  Kelly was bummed.

We spent that night in Cody, Wyoming at a dumpy motel that was priced like a 5-star hotel suite and the next morning we went to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
We even got Buffalo Bill himself to pose with us

It was pretty big, which was surprising for pretty much being in the middle of nowhere.  Some of the exhibits were Smithsonian-quality, and some were not-so-cool, but we really enjoyed the Yellowstone Natural History part, and the Native American exhibit.  We ate lunch at a local cafe and then headed east until we hooked up with a scenic byway through the Bighorn Mountains.  They were so pretty and had a lot of cool overlooks and stuff.

So flat...

Does anyone know why the road is paved red through big chunks of Wyoming and South Dakota?

Then we were able to hook onto I-90 and drove all the way to Rapid City, South Dakota where we spent the night.  The end of that day's drive was through the Black Hills and it really is amazing how all the trees really do make them look black.

Black Hills
The next morning we drove to see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.  We literally just drove by Mount Rushmore and snapped pictures out the car window, but we stopped at the museum by Crazy Horse and donate money so they can keep building it.  I didn't know before the fact that the government has no part in carving that, it's all still run by the family of the guy who initially started it and the money to do so all comes from museum fees and donations.
Pic from the car.  Pretty good, eh?
I didn't know there was a profile view.  I thought it was pretty cool.
You can't tell, but the Crazy Horse Memorial is right behind us.

To get back to where we wanted to be we had to drive past Mount Rushmore again, so we actually got out of the car and took some pictures from the side of the road.  I had always heard how disappointing Mount Rushmore is (same story as the Statue of Liberty), because they make it look so huge in movies, but in real life it's tiny and far away, so I was actually impressed by how big it was because I was expecting it to be dinky.  Hooray for underestimating things so they seem cool when they top your tiny expectations!
Me and Mt Rushmore
Kelly and Mt Rushmore

After that we headed east again and took a detour through the Badlands National Park which was very pretty.  I figured that if I was living back in the day I would build my house somewhere in there because if you did it right it would be pretty easy to defend.  How's that for random?

Badlands self portrait

First attempt at panoramic photo

Our plan was to drive until we got tired and spend a couple hours sleeping in a rest stop probably somewhere in Iowa, but that was before I drove over something and mostly pulled off the wheel well liner on our front passenger side.  Ironically, I think that what I ran over was actually another car's wheel well liner.  It was dark, what I ran over was black, and it blew in front of me when I was passing a semi, so I couldn't swerve.  I slammed on my brakes, but still hit it.  We patched it up as best we could on the side of the freeway, getting a kazillion mosquito bites in the process, and then stopped at the next exit which happened to be Mitchell, SD, and looked at it in the parking lot of a gas station.  It had come loose again and rubbed on the tire, which ripped the liner to shreds.  We were tired and ornery and decided to wait until it was light outside to try to fix it, so we got a room in Mitchell for the night.  The next morning we bought some zip ties and duct tape and Red-Green-showed that baby up.  Since we were stopped in Mitchell, we decided to drive by the Corn Palace since I made a shoe-box-sized parade float of the Corn Palace in fifth grade as part of my state report on SoDak.  Awesome!
Sorry for the bad phone pic
Then we drove and drove and drove and drove.  On our way to Baltimore in 2009 we stopped in Elk Horn, Iowa which is a Danish town which had a windmill that was taken down and numbered piece by piece in Denmark and then rebuilt in Elk Horn, and a really delicious Danish restaurant (also, the only place to eat in town, a detail that will be important in a minute) and we thought that was pretty cool at the time so we decided to jump from I-90 back onto I-80 so we could hit up Elk Horn again.  We took I-29 down the west side of Iowa to get onto I-80 and then got to Elk Horn just when we were getting hungry for lunch.  Unfortunately, the restaurant closed 2 minutes before we got there.  So we bought some postcards to mail to our parents (we sent postcards from Yellowstone, Cody, and Mount Rushmore the other days) and a magnet (we decided a while ago that instead of getting crap that takes up a lot of space or postcards that get stuck somewhere you never see, the only souveniers we buy are fridge magnets.  And sometimes books, but more because finding books about the Crow Indians is easier at a museum in Wyoming than Barnes and Noble at home.   But magnets are good.  They're small, they're useful, they don't require shelf/wall/drawer space, and since they go on the refrigerator, we can actually see them) (sorry for the extended tangent in parentheses; to remind you we stopped in Elk Horn, restaurant was closed, so we bought postcards and a magnet) and hit the road again.
Elk Horn Windmill. And two tired people.

We ended up driving to Toledo, Ohio before we couldn't take it anymore and slept at a rest stop for a couple hours.  Just so you appreciate how far we went that day, get a map out and notice that we drove through half of South Dakota, all of Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and a chunk of Ohio that day.  It was interminable.  Fortunately, we had a Dave Barry audiobook to listen to or we would have gone crazy.  The next day we just plowed on until home.  We were getting as tired of being on this road trip as you are getting of reading about it. 
Kelly's tired of driving face

Apparently this is what my tired face looks like after spending two straight days in the car.

It was a relief to come home and to find everything fine with our apartment and our cat still living, though a few pound heavier.  Seriously, she's enormous.  We're so grateful for Anna and Andrea for watching our cat!  And I feel terrible that the last week we were away Libby apparently was so lonely that she decided that if she pooped on the bathroom floor a few times we would have to come back to punish her.  Thank you Andrea for cleaning up after our nasty cat, and sorry Libby for leaving you so long!  We won't do that again.  We were afraid Libby would hate us for leaving her, but luckily, she's been really lovey since we got back.  We can tell she missed us.
Home at last.  All three of us are so relieved.

So there's our Utah trip and the there and back again.  We ended up driving over 5,100 miles, and added eight magnets to our souvenir collection.  And we got our wheel well liner replaced, and yes, that is actually what it is called.  I looked it up.  Anyway, I think it'll have to be another four years before we forget enough to want to drive across the country again.  Unless we're moving home permanently.  In that case, I would pack up a U-Haul and start driving tonight.