Just what is the “Great American Road Trip”?
Unless you live under a rock, you know there was an eclipse last week. And like about 12 billion other people, we decided that going to an area with totality was going to be a great idea. So the mini version of the “Great American Road Trip” was born, and we made plans to set off on an adventure. In a car. With the dog.
If you know me, you are probably shaking your head already. I don’t much do car trips. Especially not long ones, and more especially, not on purpose. I will fly over and ride with you on a cross country trip where you need an extra UHaul driver; I will absolutely fly to your local airport and hop on a sailboat for a racing adventure almost anywhere in the world as well.
But to willingly get in a vehicle and drive around for days at a time, that’s not my usual MO. I do, however, feel compassion for Budworm (long story, don’t ask) that extends beyond just sticking him in a kennel alone every time we leave town, and I thought it would be a good idea to bring him along. More on that later.
Get the map, Grace.
We had two sound options for seeing the total eclipse, and getting some kind of road trip out of it – Oregon and Idaho. We have friends that live on the Oregon coast, and friends who live in Salt Lake City (not that far south of Idaho Falls, in case you’re geographically challenged), so it was a toss up. Clouds were a much bigger risk in Oregon, coastal proximity and all that, so we opted for SLC.
I was in Portland a couple of weeks ago, and that’s probably enough Oregon to last me for a while; I’ve never actually been to Salt Lake when it wasn’t covered in snow and slush – and I can report that it’s a lovely little city with great Mexican food when it’s not the dead of winter. The Natural History Museum is also amazing, and the pic above is from the dinosaur exhibit there.
We set sail, err, set off driving, on the Friday morning prior to the eclipse, after the commute traffic had died down, and things were good for the first couple of hours. Our plan was to split the SLC drive into two days, so that neither us nor the dog decided to maul anyone else in the vehicle. We got stuck in a 1.5 hour traffic jam due to an accident, and forgot that we’d be losing an hour when we changed time zones. No real biggie.
A monumental stroke of luck.
Originally we hadn’t planned to go the scenic route on the way up, but we did a quick U turn and drove up through Monument Valley — OMG, that is NOT TO BE MISSED! — and I’m so glad that we did. Wow. You see it in the movies all the time but it’s massive and crazy and I am more awestruck than I was with the Grand Canyon, which I finally saw last year on our miniscule version of the Great American Road Trip. It was one of those moments where Mike and I looked at each other and said, OK, 20 extra minutes, let’s just do it.
Sorry the pic is taken through the windshield but after we realized we were way late, and heading to a dubious motel with a limited number of “pet friendly” rooms available, we decided it wasn’t such a good idea to get out and gawk at stuff.
Here’s a little travel tip for your great American road trip – do not plan, ever, to stay in Blanding, Utah. It’s not the end of the earth, but it’s got like 6 restaurants in the entire town, half of which close at 2 pm, and there are more charming places to get a hotel room – Bluff City and Monticello both looked much nicer if you don’t want to make the drive on to Moab.
Road trip drama.
The next morning it was up before dawn, and the marching orders were through Moab and into SLC. All good, we arrived in time for lunch and Budworm and Mollie seemed to be getting on well for a first meeting.
She outweighs him by about 50 pounds, and it turns out they are both ball fetching fanatics. Obsessive about it, one could say. If you’ve said uh-oh, even if it was only muttered under your breath by now, you’d be spot on with where I’m going. But what’s a good road trip without a detour to the emergency vet?
Luckily there were no stitches required, and the price of admission wasn’t completely over the top, but the two of them spent the rest of the trip dancing around one another. Mollie would bring a ball and drop it nearby, and as soon as he would attempt to retrieve it, she would swoop in and snag it before his short legs stood a chance at a set up for another brawl. Have to hand it to the little fella, he wasn’t giving up no matter how loud she snarled at him.
I also want to take a minute and rant about how fabulous it is to have friends who love to cook and do it well. It’s difficult to do bison without overcooking it, since there’s practically no fat on there at all, but Saturday evening’s dinner was spectacular. The flatbreads popped onto the Big Green Egg as an appetizer did not disappoint either. Grand Marnier souffle for dessert and I just know that I should have walked to Idaho after all that!
On to the eclipse, get on with it!
We left SLC at 5 am to head north, and for awhile, we were like, the only people heading north past Ogden. Crazy, eh? We thought so too. We arrived at Idaho Falls super early and had hours to kill, so we drove around and decided where we wanted to see the eclipse. At the appointed time we headed back up the hill and parked in a field with a lot of other people. My eclipse pics don’t look like an eclipse… mostly they just look like some pics of a field, so you can amuse yourself with real eclipse pics instead, just find them on another site.
It was a super neat experience, and absolutely worth the trip. I’m not sure if the shadow coming up from the valley towards us was cooler than the corona during the total eclipse, or if maybe the camaraderie between complete strangers in a field in Idaho was the best part, but either way, it was awesome.
Everyone was cheering and awestruck by the actual eclipse and then of course, as soon as it was done, we were all jumping in our cars and trying to get the heck out of that field before the traffic jammed up. We managed to get back on the highway about 2 miles ahead of the real traffic jam, and stopped at a trucker plaza on the way back to have a picnic lunch. Yes, we brought food, and had a full tank of fuel, but that’s as far as we went with the prep, even though the news was talking like it was the next Y2K… which is how it turned out. We met a lovely couple and their grandchildren, also picnicking at a truck stop, for the same reason that we were. Again, making friends with complete strangers in odd places, that comforts me.
Head ’em up and move ’em out!
Monday was a lot of driving, but we arrived back in SLC several hours before we estimated, mostly because we got ahead of the traffic jam and stayed there. We went out for some sushi, hit the hay early and got up (again) at o-dark-thirty the next morning.
Our plan was to stop in Page AZ, which is basically the town attached to Lake Powell. Since I’ve never been a car trip person, I’d missed all the ‘local’ sites during 15 years of living out west, so this was new to me. And holy moly! Glen Canyon Dam – we did the tour, we were 500 feet down in the dam! Love it!!!
This shot is Horseshoe Bend, which is just below the dam. I think the outcropping on the left looks like a lizard sitting in the river – ok, it’s a very big lizard, yes – and you can see his right eye and his nose and mouth in the left half of this picture. (You don’t have to agree with me, but seriously, if you were standing there, you would know I’m right!)
Just in case you’re wondering, this is not an aerial shot. The overlook at Horseshoe Bend is somewhere in the 500-600 feet tall neighborhood and there’s not a single guardrail, warning sign or anything else telling you not to lurch over that cliff and fall to your death. Crazy, isn’t it? I admit to having a touch of vertigo while taking the photo, but dying on a rocky shore while on the great American road trip was not my plan!
But it’s a dry heat!
Oy, Lake Powell is not quite as hot as Phoenix, and both are cooler than the other Colorado River area in Arizona (Bullhead City/Laughlin if you’re wondering), but it was definitely still hot. We hiked to the overlook and back, and then did the dam tour, and it was time for a nap practically. The food, while not incredible, had more options than Blanding, and we were out to an early dinner and then back to crash. If you happen to be looking for a dog friendly hotel in the area, let me suggest the La Quinta. It’s only 2 years old, and they do a 5 star job at being a 3 star joint! They checked us in hours early for no additional charge, the breakfast the next day was quite elaborate (and tasty), and everything was clean and tidy.
The next morning we got up early (again… and you know I’m not a morning person!) and headed back down the hill to Phoenix. No major traffic jams, no accidents, smooth sailing back into town. We had our first “discussion” just as we were coming back into downtown, which was a great indication that it was time for the Great American Road Trip to end before someone else had to go to the emergency vet!
And that’s the story of our trip, or at least the condensed version. :)