My first real trip

One day in Madison, Wisconsin I decided it was now or never.

I knew if I didn’t leave now I would find a reason to stay and eventually be stuck.  In a matter of a month I sold everything I owned, spent as much time with my friends and family as I could and then packed up my Isuzu Rodeo with the things I was going to keep and started my journey.

Naturally my first stop had to be to spend time with my Amazing Grampa

It didn’t take much to decide that my first stop had to be to spend time with my Grampa.  It was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to do it whenever I wanted anymore and I needed to make the most of my time with him.  My grampa and I are very close so this was a no brainer.  We spent time doing our favorites.  Watching old westerns, drinking coffee listening to AM radio in the morning and fishing.  My Grampa was a truck driver so he went through my giant atlas with me and helped me pick a way to go to see all the places I wanted to go.

Not much to see here, not much to report

The first stop was Des Moines, and not because there was anything I wanted to do there, it was simply a spot to stop for rest.  The drive here was long and unfortunately very boring.  After getting out of Minnesota it was pretty much a blank canvas.  Land for as far as the eye could see.  It was actually very peaceful.  This is the point where my mom started freaking out that I was gone and was calling me every couple hours.

New sights I had never seen before-wind turbines

The drive here was also very blank until I came across the wind turbines.  They were everywhere.  I was so intrigued by them as I had never actually seen them before.  At this point the fields were also starting to have some color so it started to become very pretty.

NO service, mean people and nowhere to stay?!?!?!

I rolled in to Oklahoma City around 8pm that night.  I am normally a pretty prepared, analytical, well thought out person but I could have never guessed what I was getting myself in to this time.  Coming in to Oklahoma I had NO service.  I couldn’t find out where I was going, call for help, get directions or find a hotel.  I stopped into 4-5 separate hotels to see if they had some availability.  Only 1 did and it was a smoking room.  That wasn’t going to work for me.  Finally about 10pm I found one that had an open room.  FINALLY!  Unfortunately check out was at 11am and there was no way I was going to stay in Oklahoma any longer than I needed to.  I sat by the pool a little in the morning, got my mind right again and took off.

Maybe this is the place.

I remember rolling in and thinking this place is truly beautiful.  The people are nice, the mountains, hills, valley, and flora were truly breathtaking.  At this point I started to think….”Maybe this is the place”.  Although I was intrigued by the beauty of the city I knew I had to continue on with my journey but I would keep this place in the back of my mind.

Almost the final destination.

This beautiful city wasn’t even on my radar or on my list to stop at, however, I couldn’t resist.  I rolled in to Albuquerque and was immediately intrigued.  There was so much art, color and architecture going on that I couldn’t just pass through.  I decided to get off the interstate and explore.  I rolled up to the first hotel I found and went inside to see if they had any vacancies.  To my delight they did.  After checking in I decided to explore and eat at a local place.  The people were super nice, the views were priceless and the culture drew me in.  I could totally settle here and be happy.  I struggled with this concept for 2 whole days when I decided, no, this couldn’t be the end, I had too many places I wanted to go.

Such beauty & MOUNTAINS

Now, I had been to Arizona a couple times but I had always flown in.  I was always fascinated with the mountains and loved the dry heat.  I had only been in the Phoenix Metro area, never that far north.  Driving down through the mountains was an experience I will never forget.  Not only was I wide-eyed by all of the trees and mountains but I was driving a fully loaded SUV that was heavy and breaking was difficult.  I spent several minutes trying to drive, take video and pictures (I know this is frowned upon) until I realized that this was way too dangerous and it wasn’t worth the risk.  From that point on I just drove safely and soaked up the views.  Flagstaff wasn’t an official stop but was definitely worth mentioning.

The unexpected final destination

When I got to Phoenix, I did not plan to stay here.  I had some friends here and planned on staying a few days and then heading off to California.  It was 4th of July weekend and I didn’t want to deal with the traffic anyways.  We were out to dinner and my phone kept ringing.  I felt rude answering it so I kept ignoring it.  It was my friend from back home.  After the 5th call in a row I decided I better answer it.  This friend was watching my two beloved cats while I was traveling and deciding where my final destination would be.  To my dismay the voice on the other end was frantic and screaming words I could not even understand.  After I was able to get him to calm down I was able to find out that one of my cats had decided he was going to be an acrobat and jumped off a shelf and ripped one of his toes off.  I immediately told him to go to the emergency vet and call me when he was there so I could pay the bill.  Keep in mind, this was the 4th of July, it was an emergency and it was going to be an emergency vet bill.  After getting the bill I quickly decided that my stay in Arizona was going to have to last longer than I had anticipated.  It was time to find a place to stay and get a job.  And that’s where my life in Phoenix started.  Thank you “Amos” (my cat).

My 2nd trip

How could we possibly say no?!?!?

This was another one of those unplanned visits but more than worth it.  How do you drive by signs that say Bear Country USA and not stop?  The answer is you don’t, and for good reason.

We didn’t really know what to expect when we pulled up other than bears.  To our surprise we were to drive through the park and were not allowed to have windows or our sunroof open.  Now, at first this seemed strange.  As we drove through it looked like everything was in it’s separate caged off areas.  We were also surprised to find out that this place had more than just bears.  It was like a zoo you had never experienced before.

As we kept driving through we came to a stop and had no idea why everyone was stopping.  We wanted to keep going and see more.  About 10 minutes of being in one place we were getting antsy and a little annoyed.  Those feelings quickly faded when we saw bears.  Yes, I know you are thinking, “Well duh, you went to Bear Country to see bears” but this isn’t what you would expect.  You are literally driving through their home and habitat.  They are wandering around the area and around your vehicles and across the path you are supposed to drive.  Bears everywhere you looked and they could care less what was on your schedule,  you were in their home and you would wait for them.  It was AMAZING.  After we had taken probably over 100 photos and countless videos we decided to move on.

At the end there was a spot that you could walk around, kind of like a regular zoo, and see more animals and baby animals.  The little bears were having a blast picking on each other and climbing on limbs and rocks.  We spent quite a bit of time there watching them play around.  The gift shop was incredible too.  There was so much to look at and countless souvenirs.  I found a little badger that I just had to have.  I’m from Wisconsin and I am a Wisconsin Badger, so it seemed to be fate.

Did we just go back in time?

Pulling in to Deadwood we were concerned about finding a place to set up camp and fast.  You guessed it, another storm rolling in.  This storm was brutal.  High winds, lots of rain, lightening and thunder.  We set up camp at the first place we could find, got a shower and took off for the strip to explore.

There were 2 main strips that were just filled with history.  To be honest, I really didn’t respect the history of the place because I wasn’t educated on the whole story.  I thought it was neat and enjoyed my time but did not get the full experience.
Of course before we left we had to go to the cemetery.  I didn’t understand the importance of this as I didn’t know the history of it.  I actually thought it was a little morbid to be going to a graveyard as a tourist attraction.  The views were beautiful and the cemetery was very well maintained.  There were a few graves that Jason needed to see before we left and we were determined to do so.  We soon discovered that one that he really wanted to see (Seth Bullock) was at the top of the hill.  We thought, no big deal, it can’t be that far up.  Well, 20 minutes later and drenched in sweat we made it.  Yes, it was actually warm for once.  Once we got up there I saw the look on his face and knew it was worth it.
It’s now 2 years later and as I reflect back and think about this I would go back in a heartbeat.  I now have an understanding and appreciation for Deadwood and what went on there and the people involved.  I want to actually return and see how much more I can get out of this beautiful little town jam packed with history.

They taught us how the water is recycled.

This was another one of those side of the road signs drawing us in stops.  This was a stop well worth the time.  There were several water falls and paths that led to a closer view.  The views were great and the peace that the sounds of all the waterfalls brought was soothing.

And then it started raining…..again.  Time to get back in the Tahoe and get to our next destination.

It’s impossible to see it all, but we sure tried.

This was the only destination that we had reservations for.  It takes months to to get in to this place during on peak season so most of the beginning of our trip and hurrying had to deal with getting to Yellowstone for our reservation.

Like I stated from leaving Shell Falls, it started raining, and it didn’t stop.  Coming in to Yellowstone the winds were intense and the whitecaps on the lakes were a little disheartening.  After all, most of our trip we had been dealing with the cold and the rain.  This was no different.  We pulled in to our campground and found out they couldn’t find our reservation.  We are standing in the cold and rain with several other people just trying to get to our site before dark and set up camp.  Finally about 20 minutes later they were able to find our reservation.  They had spelt my name completely wrong on the reservation.

The rain gods must have been looking out for us because the rain finally let up just enough for us to set up camp.  It was still very cold so we just quickly made a sandwich and crawled in to the tent under the covers.  The next morning the sun was shining and it was beautiful.  We took full advantage of this beautiful morning and jumped in the car and off to Roosevelt Drive.

The remainder of the trip went in the following order:

  • Lehardy’s Rapids-there were supposed to be jumping cut throat trout.  We left disappointed.
  • Mud Volcano-bring a clothes pin for your nose.  This place reeked of sulfur.  The stream was clear and the views were very pretty though.
  • Sulpher Caldron-You guessed it, even stinkier.
  • Lower Falls-Breathtaking views from the top of the falls.  We opted to do Uncle Tom’s Trail.  382 stairs straight down.  If you are fit enough or determined enough to see views unlike any you have ever seen before this is highly recommended.  I will not candy coat this hike for you though.  I am fit and hike regularly and I was struggling.  It was worth every second of it though.
  • Artist Point-Great view of the canyon and the waterfalls
  • Upper Falls-Really gives a perspective of how low you go with Tom’s Trail.  This was also our first Bison sighting.
  • Grandview-Here you were able to get a great view of the canyons formed and we saw 4 elk.  We were really starting to like the wildlife
  • Tower Fall-Nice little trail down to the beach.  The water here also smelled of sulfur but it was pure and beautiful.
  • Petrified Tree-I still really have no idea what this was.  It looked like a dead stump.  Nothing to stop for or take pictures of in my opinion.
  • Mammoth Hot Springs-The area was very pretty but unfortunately nothing was really active so there wasn’t much to see.  However, take the time to go in to the town.  Guaranteed you will not be disappointed.  The town houses tons of elk.  They just sit out in the lawns and relax and let you take pictures of them without a care in the world.  It really is a sight and worth the time.
  • Virginia Cascade-1 way road with steep driving conditions.  Several cliffs that lead to breathtaking views of the cascades.
  • Canyon Village-Do this drive towards the end of the day when the sun is getting ready to set.  Not only is the landscape gorgeous but that’s when the animals come out.  We saw deer, elk, grizzly bears and bison.  They just hang out on the side of the road without a care in the world.  The signs will tell you not to get out of your car but many people do, and I didn’t witness any injuries or casualties 😉
  • West Thumb Geyser-These geysers were very active that day.  We were told by someone there that they aren’t usually that active so we got to see a lot of activity and took a lot of pictures.
  • Old Faithful-This is the tourist attraction of tourist attractions.  Finding parking was near impossible, there were people everywhere and it was hard to find a place to view the activity.  When she blew, it was quite the spectacle though.  It’s worth the frustration of the parking and people to see this.  Plus their small ice cream cone is ENORMOUS.
  • Black Sand Basin-A lot of active geysers again so we got lucky with our viewings here as well.
  • Midway Geyser Basin-Very similar to Black Sand Basin but the geysers were not really active or doing anything.
  • Fountain Flat Drive-Here there is a short hike back to Fairy Falls that we started and turned around because, you guessed it, it started to downpour again.  There was a little girl with her dad coming back from the hike talking about the lightening striking the tree and it coming down in the middle of the trail.
  • Firehole Canyon Drive-Beautiful 1 way scenic drive that showed Firehole Falls.  This is 1 of only 2 places in Yellowstone where people are allowed to swim.  And yep, it was way too cold for us to even consider taking our sweatshirts off and enjoy it.
  • Lower Geyser Basin-Beautiful geysers that probably didn’t go as appreciated as the others since we had seen so many of them in our stay

Yellowstone National Park is a place I would visit again in a heartbeat.  The only thing I would change that I have control over is more time. We were only there 3 days and it definitely wasn’t enough time.  We were exhausted by the end of it and didn’t fully get to enjoy the true nature and beauty this place has to offer.

I am beyond entertained.

After going through the Wind Caves I was beyond excited to get to this destination.  If this was even half as cool as the Wind Caves I was going to be a happy camper.  Let’s start off with saying I was more than a happy camper.  We pulled in to this park and it was still daylight out.  This didn’t happen often so that was a breath of fresh air.  We picked our spot and set up camp for the night.

While we had a fire and ate our dinner in the peace of the night we were greeted with strange flashing lights in the air.  No, they were not UFO’s, they were way cooler.  There was a family a couple sites over from us that had these neat toys their kids were playing with that soared through the air lit up.  Well, if you know anything about me, I love colors, shiny things and flashing lights.  I was completely entertained until the kids were told it was time to wrap it up for the night.

The next morning we woke early to make it to the Lewis & Clark Caverns.  Here we all sat auditorium style and listened to our guide give us a lesson on what we would see in there and the rules to abide by and then we were off to see the wonders in the cave.  The Wind Caves were nothing compared to this place.  Naturally it was chilly in there but the views were so amazing that you didn’t even remember how chilly it was in there.  I wish I could explain what you see in there but there really aren’t words or explanations for the true beauty that nature creates and how blessed we are to be able to enjoy it.  The formations and history in these caves is something you can’t miss or deny.  If you are ever in this area I would strongly suggest going here and even spending a night or 2 in the park.  It was a great experience.

Over and Over Again!!!

This place wasn’t even on our radar but turned out to be one of our favorite places and most sought out place to visit again.  This is one of the places that the friendly people in Wyoming told us was a must see, and they weren’t lying.

We rolled in to Glacier National Park looking for our campground on Bowman Lake.  Yes, we booked ahead of time, by like a few hours.  You have to love having the internet at your fingertips.  After driving down a dirt road that didn’t even look like it was supposed to be a road for what seemed like miles we had finally arrived at our campgrounds.  I can’t count how many times we almost turned around thinking that we weren’t on the right track but if you decide to go here, rest assured, you are probably on the right path.

Our campground was tucked way back in the middle of nowhere surrounding one of the most beautiful lakes we had ever seen.  It did not take us long to fall in love with the views and area.  We met this really nice family right next to us that offered their kayak to us the following day since they were going on a hike.  Of course we accepted.  The next morning we got ready for our water excursion and took off.  Now, here I will be completely honest even though it’s embarrassing, I sucked at this.  More often than not I had us going in to a circle, frustrating Jason to a point that he wouldn’t let me row any longer.  More time for me to take in the views, take pictures and videos and truly enjoy the beauty.  After what seemed like hours we made it to the other side of the lake.  We pulled up and had our lunch and relaxed a little.  Wouldn’t you know it, shortly after we could see another storm rolling in.  No surprise there, it was the story of our trip.  Well, it was time to get back in and try to get back to our campground before we got caught in the middle of it.  Now, I know I said it seemed like it took us hours to get to that spot, that was an understatement as to how long it seemed to get back.  I was not rowing since I was only making it worse, Jason was exhausted, the wind was picking up and we were trying to beat the storm.  Not a great combination.  You will be happy to know that we did make it and just in time!

The next day we took the Sun Road Drive.  If Bowman Lake didn’t have us hooked, this drive certainly was the icing on the cake.  To be able to see in person what you thought was amazing in photos is something that can’t even be described.  The views, the glaciers, the mountains, the water falls, the valleys, the foliage, the park in general were all things that made us decide to do the drive again.  You would think with the day we had previously and all the traveling, adventures and rain we had endured we would have been tired but no.  It was impossible to be tired when you were in this environment and situation.  When we finished the drive, we turned around and did it again…..until it started raining again and became dangerous.  Then we decided it was time to head back to Bowman Lake.

The next day we stayed at camp and relaxed and tried to re-energize for our next destination.  Shortly after leaving Bowman Lake the following day we came across the Glacier Distilling Company.  If you like whiskey you need to stop here.  The whiskey was great, the environment was relaxing and intimate and the service was great.  We highly recommend this little place.

Space Needle?  Chihuly Garden!

Rolling in to Seattle we were not surprised to see the overcast and gloomy skies.  Not because we knew Seattle was known for that weather but because we were used to it at this point.

Our first stop was REI.  Our generator was a dud.  We had tried charging this thing both by plugging it in and with our solar panels for days and could never get past the first battery tick.  If you are a traveler  you need to have a relationship with REI.  They are fantastic and beyond accommodating to our types.  Unfortunately they did not have our generator but they had a different solution for us, and they had gloves.  At this point I was so sick of freezing every morning and night that I wasn’t leaving without something warm.

After our REI trip we were off to the Space Needle.  I was incredibly excited for this, regardless for my strange fear of heights.  We opted for valet parking to avoid the chaos and well, to just make life a little easier.  The Space Needle was surprisingly disappointing.  There was a lot of hype and waiting for a pretty good view.  I don’t know if it was because the views were nothing compared to what we had been seeing or it just really wasn’t that great but we were both disappointed by the experience.

Luckily, our experience didn’t end there.  After getting down from the Space Needle we went next door to the Chihuly Glass Garden.  Now, I had seen some of Chihuly’s work and was excited to see more of it but I had no idea what was in store.  I believe we must have spent about 2 hours in there looking at all of the amazing pieces of work created.  The colors, the detail, the lights, the variation, everything was amazing.  Before this exhibit I would have suggested that you see his work in it is ever in your area, now, there is no way I would miss an opportunity to experience his work again.


OK, I admit it, my favorite part of this was the fact that it was where Twilight was based.  I know, that seems kind of cheesy and lame but it’s the truth.  Rolling in to Olympic all I could think about was Forks, vampires and werewolves.  Wondering which one I would rather run in to…..truth is, I still do not know.

Truth is, regardless of the reason I was excited to come here in the first place it was also one of my favorite places.  This place was gorgeous and unlike anything I had ever seen.  The first place we stayed was in Sol Duc Falls.  The area was gorgeous, the trees were endless and there was a feeling of mystery in the air that you just couldn’t explain.  It might have been the fog, it might have been that everything was covered in moss, it might have been the fact that the trees were so tall you couldn’t find the sky, I’m not really sure but it was invigorating.

Hoh Rainforest is also a must see.  I grew up in Wisconsin and we had woods all over the state but there was nothing like this rainforest.  It was beautiful.  I could have went deep into the forest with a book, got lost and not had a care in the world or even worried about finding my way back any time soon.  There was a sense of peace and tranquility here I had never felt or experienced before, not even on the mountains which is my usual go to.  Don’t miss this area.

Next up was Forks.  Honestly, there wasn’t really anything here to report except the sign and recognition from Twilight.  Of course I was a fan and a tourist mixed in one person and had to visit La Push.  This area was even more beautiful than it was in the movies.  The water was so clear and calming that it was easy to get lost in time watching the waves roll in and out.  The sand was smooth and cool and seeped in between your toes effortlessly and sucked you in to the nature around you.  Even with all the people at the beach, it was still incredibly peaceful and calming.  It was almost as if we were the only ones on the beach, even though that is far from the truth.

Whether you watched Twilight and loved it or not, this National Park has something that can’t be explained and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Getting stir crazy

So, we had been talking for a few months about going camping, getting away, and traveling.  We had decided that our retirement goal was to buy an RV and just travel the country.  With running an online business we thought this was the perfect time to get away and go camping.  I decided at this point we should go big.  I started planning and doing research on doing a long camping trip.  I made lists, went shopping for supplies and things we needed and started to map out a plan of where we would go.

Too many stars to count

Our first destination on this trip was Monument Valley.  We took off after work and finally arrived at Gouldings Campground at 10:30pm.  Now, as you can imagine, it was incredibly dark and much to my surprise, I soon learned that my boyfriend had never even put up a tent before let alone our brand new one.  No worries, it wasn’t as big of a disaster as it could have been.  We got it up in no time, after finally finding a spot in the dark.

After setting up it was time to relax and take in the views.  I know you are  thinking, it’s pitch black, but that’s exactly it.  In Phoenix the sky is always lit up and you can see few stars.  The sky was clear and you could see stars for miles.  Such an amazing view and incredibly relaxing.

The next morning we explored the Monument Valley drive.  Breathtaking views as far as the eye can see.  Much to our surprise the views at our campground were amazing as well.  We explored the small mountains there until it started raining.  You will find that this is the trip of the rain……lots and lots of rain.

The next morning we packed up and were going to head out to Arches National Park on our way to Denver.  Here was obstacle #2, the battery was dead.  Ok, I guess we will just wait around for the Park rangers to come jump us.  After about 45 minutes of waiting, we are finally back on track.

Monument Valley was nothing compared to this

I admit, I was amazed and in awe with Monument Valley, that was of course until we went to Arches National Park.  The drive through the area was beautiful and there were many places to stop, take pictures and be a tourist.  Unfortunately we were not able to take advantage of this to it’s full extent because we were due in Denver that afternoon but we certainly took advantage of every second we could.

As we drove through we took advantage of every opportunity we could to pull over, take pictures, and well, just be awe inspired tourists.  We also took the trail up to the Delicate Arch.  If you are physically able to do this short hike I strongly suggest it.  Pictures and descriptions do not do it justice at all.  How in the world did something this beautiful happen?  You will see a lot of people, probably most with the same look on their face as you….Awestruck.  Take the small hike, you won’t regret it.

Some day I will be returning here and making a day of the park instead of a couple hours.  It is definitely worth the trip back and the time.

The sky was very angry

This was probably one of the most nerve wracking drives we did through this whole trip.  The sky seriously looked like it had the worst day of it’s life and it poured down rain like you wouldn’t believe to show us it’s displeasure with the day.  There was option for rushing any longer.  This was going to be a very long drive if the rain did not let up.

Coming in to Denver we had a little break in the rain and the sun started to shine, but not for long.  Here is where we had our bad luck streak #3.  Cherries and blueberries in the rear.  Yep, you guessed it.  Three days in to our trip and we were already getting pulled over.  The context of this conversation went a little something like this:

“I pulled you over because you were doing 92 in a 75.” “I thought I was going 80.” “Regardless, isn’t that speeding?”  Now, at this point most people would be like, yep, getting a ticket here, foot in mouth.  We continued to speak with the officer and asked questions and were able to get off with a warning.  Boy did we luck out here.

We finally got to a friend’s house that evening to charge up, clean up, have some drinks and a good night’s sleep.  This was also the place that our solar panels were supposed to be delivered to.  The ones we bought for the road didn’t work or charge up our generator at all.  They were not there and we were unable to get a hold of anyone to tell us where they were or when they would be delivered.  Finally we were able to get some answers and they would be delivered around 12 the following day.

Well, it was actually around 2 that our panels arrived, but none the less, we got our panels and we were back on the road.

The nicest people, a true turning point of our trip

Because we owned our own business we were able to go on this amazing adventure and work from home.  With this opportunity we were actually able to travel to Wyoming and meet one of our clients.  With running an online business, you seldom actually get to physically meet your clients which can be a bummer sometimes.  Well, we decided that we were going to pay a visit to Celtic Willow in Wheatland, Wyoming.

Here we met some of the nicest people.  They were flocking to us when they heard what we were doing with suggestions on where to go, what to check out and routes to take.  Without these great folks we would have missed some of our favorite places.  We are truly indebted to these fine people.

It’s getting late and we need a place to sleep

You will find throughout our trip that we really didn’t plan anything other than Yellowstone National Park.  We just rolled with it.  A lot of the times we were driving at 10pm or later and trying to find a campground some place to sleep for the night.  Well, this is how we came across Wind Cave National Park.  We pulled up to the campground in the dark and clueless as to what to do next.  Fortunately they had a box and envelope at the front to drop your fee for the night and let them know what site you were staying at.  This was my first time seeing something like this and such trust that people would do the right thing.  Throughout our camping experience we found this to be true.  Most people were just like us, out there to have a good time, do the right thing and to not rip people off.

So, we drove around the campground and found a site that a deer seemed to have favored.  OK, this is where we will set up camp and get some rest.  Believe it or not, it’s the middle of July and it was so cold I would have considered myself freezing.  You will see that this is a theme that happened on this trip along with rain.

The next morning we woke ready for our adventure through the Wind Cave.  This was my first time actually in a cave.  I was beyond awestruck and for the most part speechless.  Such beauty that is seldom explored or appreciated.  Our guide was a little cheesy but that made the whole experience fun.  After a tour like this I was hooked, we definitely needed to do something like this again.

This thing is MASSIVE

If I live another 50 years I might go check the progress of this.  Honestly I was expecting more and was a little disappointed.  All of the pictures you see of this make it seem like it is done and gorgeous and the reality of it is that it’s hard to even really see the image of what it was going to be.

The nice part about this is there is an auditorium that goes through the story of Crazy Horse and the memorial being built.  This may be where the most disappointment set in.  I was expecting some sort of extravagant native story and heritage.  This is not the case.  This whole project is being completed by a Polish family.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am Polish and I am Native American but the assumption would be that something of this magnitude would be a project of their ancestry.

A couple interesting facts that we learned were:

  • The build is all privately funded (probably why it is taking so long)
  • Mount Rushmore can fit in the head of Crazy Horse (How’s that for MASSIVE?!?!?)

Another one of those unplanned camping spots

We decided it was time to find a place to set up camp for the night and hopefully before it got dark.  We drove around a little bit and saw this beautiful lake and thought “We need to stay by that”.  We pulled in to the first camping place we found and were pleasantly surprised to find out that they had some campsites still available.  SOLD!

We met the nicest couple there who were the campground hosts.  Gloria & Larry lived there during the tourist months and had a winter home in Arizona.  They were truly inspiring and at that point it was the first time we had talked about how we would love that kind of lifestyle.  Just post up someplace and stay for the summer and then pickup and go again.  They were very pleasant to speak with and gave us multiple options of must sees before we left.

At this point we were getting used to it being cold but the water looked so nice so Jason jumped in.  Yep, it was cold and he did not stay in there long.  Because of the beauty and the generosity of the hosts we actually stayed for a couple days here and relaxed, took in the views and enjoyed life a little.

A sense of American pride like no other

This is a place I had always dreamed of going.  As an American and most of my family having served I felt that this was an essential for my bucket list.  Well, needless to say, this is now crossed off of my bucket list.

This piece of the trip is hard to put in to words.  You can’t describe the feeling you get when you are coming around the corner and see the monument right there.  You can see this monument from multiple areas along the roads and it just helps to build that height of anticipation.

Upon walking in to the memorial you are greeted with all of the states flags soaring high and proud.  You walk through these to get in to the main area where you are struck with the beautiful view of Mount Rushmore.  Breathtaking and awe-inspiring to say the least.  This place had a huge amphitheater and showed an educational video of the history and the making of the memorial.  It was as expected, made by Americans for Americans.

Now, what kind of tourists would we be if we didn’t take the 250 step adventure to get a little closer.  Yes, you read that correctly, 250 stairs.  Don’t worry, it’s worth it, just don’t look down 🙂  If you are physically able I strongly suggest doing this little hike up to get a closer view.  If you thought you felt a sense of pride when you entered you will shortly realize it’s nothing compared to how you feel when you get that closer look.

This is a place that I would go back to over and over again.  The feelings are indescribable and impossible to not want to feel again.

You HAVE to stop here

Well, we knew nothing about this place and it definitely wasn’t on our radar but the huge billboards just drew us in for some reason.  It was almost like there was a gravitational pull, which is weird considering what this place actually signified.

This place literally defied gravity.  I know you are skeptical, I was too.  As a matter of fact, I will return at some point just to test it out again.  You get to go in to this place and see all these different tricks that will make you feel woozy, confused, intrigued and left guessing and wanting more.

Have you ever thought about defying gravity or standing parallel with the floor?  This is the place to go, you won’t be disappointed.

Hidden Gem

We had been driving for 2+ hours at this point and were ready for a break when we saw this sign and thought, “This is the place we need to take a break at.”  When we walked in to the small little shop we were surprised at what we saw.  It was just this small little shop and didn’t seem to be anything too amazing.

That is where we were wrong.  This nice lady came up front from the back and greeted us with more pride than you can explain.  We told her we saw her sign and thought, we needed to stop in and see what she had to offer.  She went on to tell us all about the company, the history and the awards.  There wasn’t a question this lady didn’t know the answer to and she was more than willing to share.  She gave us a little tour of the place and then it was time for some samples.  This wine was GOOD.  She even convinced us to try some Rhubarb Wine.  Now, if you are anything like me you are holding your nose up right now and saying gross.  My gramma used to cook rhubarb pies and bread and whatever else she could think of and I hated it all.  It was all terrible even though my gramma was an amazing cook.  I just didn’t like rhubarb but this little lady was telling us to try it and I wasn’t about to disrespect her and say no.  Much to my surprise, I LOVED it.  In fact we left with a bottle of that and another bottle.  We drank the rhubarb wine that night.  It didn’t last long.

Now where to camp

So we are at our dilemma again, it’s starting to get dark, I’m getting tired and hangry and we can’t find a place to camp.  We pulled in to this camp ground that was called Lewis & Clark Campground & RV Park.  We thought this is perfect.  We loved Lewis & Clark National Park we would love it here too.  That was our first mistake.  This place was nothing like our previous experience with the name of Lewis & Clark.  This place was dirty, sketchy and scary.  We quickly found the exit and got out of there.  It didn’t matter if we needed to sleep in the Tahoe that night, we were not going to stay there.

We drove around a little and then ended up at a campground in Beacon Rock State Park.  It was a nice place to set up camp for the night, get some food and a little rest.  The next morning we figured out why this place was called Beacon Rock State Park.  It was nearly impossible to miss the huge rock protruding out of the ground straight up next to the water.  It was quite a view and really didn’t look like it belonged there at all.  It was here that we stayed another day and decided to catch up on some work at a local pizza place that had free wifi.

Pacific Coast Trail

Don’t get me wrong, the bridge was pretty neat and the history behind it was interesting, not to mention that it was the only way to get to the other side but I was more interested in the sign before the bridge that said “Pacific Coast Trail”.  See, a few months prior to this trip I had watched the movie “Wild” and read the book.  This was the start of my itch to travel again.  Ever since then I have been intrigued by the PCT and have it on my bucket list.  It took me off in to la la land imagining the freedom, the smells, the adventure and the experience of a lifetime.

What do you know…..another winery???

Who are we to judge?  We are driving along the water watching people parasailing and there is a sine for a wine tasting room.  Seems perfectly sane to think that it was meant to be, so we pulled in.  This was another little winery run by another sweet lady who wasn’t shy to tell the story and talk about the vineyards.  Shortly in to talking she served us cheese, crackers and several samples of the wines they offer.  Each one served with a story of the wine and a loving smile.  Now, I will be honest, the wine was great but the cheese was fantastic.  I still to this day wish I would have asked what kind of cheese it was.  It could have just been great at that point because I was hungry but I think it was amazing cheese.  If you ever stop here, ask what the cheese is and let me know, I will be forever grateful!

No disappointment here

This place came highly suggested by a friend of mine and with good reason.  This is another one of those places that the pictures you can find are beautiful and you are left feeling like you need to go there.  The places do not do this place justice at all.

Although the place is tourist ridden and packed it is worth the scrambling around people up the 13-ish switchbacks to get to the landing and having the mist in your face and the feeling of conquering the climb wash over you.

I think this is one of the few times we actually welcomed the rain and cold.  The hike up was a pretty difficult hike with all of the switchbacks and people so the cool and rain was refreshing.  There were times when we wondered if it was worth it but we were determined to make it to the top and to get past most of the people in front of us.  That is another thing we realized on this adventure…..we are pretty competitive.  Every hike or adventure we went on we were constantly getting ahead of everyone and getting to checkpoints first.  It’s in our nature and proved to be good workouts for us as we spent a lot of time in the vehicle driving from place to place.

If you are ever in the area, this isn’t a place you want to miss.  You would surely regret it.

And here we are again……

Well, it’s dark again and we can’t find a single campground or hotel available.  This was the story of our trip as mentioned before.  We finally roll up on Blue Bay Campground with a small sense of hope but mostly feeling tired, hungry and defeated.  There was a guard at the campground closing it up that we caught just in time.  He let us know that he couldn’t let us in because they were already closed and that is where we laid on the guilt trip and the promises.  We promised to be quiet and that no one would even know we were there and promised to be out right away in the morning.  We even said we wouldn’t even put up the tent and sleep in the Tahoe if that would get us in.

You could see the guy had a big heart and wanted to help out and after much convincing, he opened the gate back up and told us to get some rest.  We rolled in as quiet as we could, found an empty site, set up our tent by flashlight and fell fast asleep.  The next morning when we woke we discovered that this campground was beautiful.  It was around the water, plush with greenery and the showers were free.  We really lucked out on this one but kept to our promise.  We packed up camp right away, showered and got out of there.


There aren’t words that can describe this phenomenon.  The history and story behind the creation of this park is already intriguing but once you see it you are left speechless.  The color of the water can’t be depicted in pictures.  The air is so fresh it almost burns your nostrils from the purity.  The drive around this lake boasts amazing and breathtaking views from all around this beautiful, sunken volcano formation.

If it isn’t for the history of this place you need to see it just for the beauty it possesses.

It’s time for California

So, once again it’s dark out and we are tired, hungry and homeless.  We pull in to Cresent City and decide it’s time to sleep in an actual bed with an actual shower.  We pull up to the first hotel we see and pray for vacancies and we are in luck!  I don’t think I have ever been so happy for a clean, hot shower, heat, and to be able to stretch out on a bed that I didn’t have to blow up.

The next morning we slept in, enjoyed some continental breakfast, packed up and decided to go explore.  Wouldn’t you know it, right next door is Ocean World.  It was fate.  If you know anything about me I am a sucker for this type of stuff.  Jason on the other hand rolled his eyes and asked if I was serious.  After he saw the smile and excitement on my face he knew there was no going past this place.  If you like marine life you will love this place.  It doesn’t look like it is much from the outside but don’t let that fool you.

We got to see plenty of fish, pet sharks, yes, I said we pet sharks :), and we got to see a show put on by sea lions.  It’s amazing how smart these sea lions really are.  I could have watched for hours but it was time to move on.

The Tahoe drove through a tree

There aren’t words to truly describe how massive these trees really are.  I thought the trees in the Hoh Rainforest were huge but it would have taken about 10 of them put together to equal the size of one of the average sized Red Wood trees.  You truly can’t understand how large they are unless you are there in person.  I stood next to a tree with my arms spread wide and still could not cover even half of the tree.  Even now when I look at the picture I could still not fathom how large they truly are without actually having seen one.

To let this set in for people, they actually hollowed out a tree that you can drive through.  We had to see this for ourselves.  There was no way that the Tahoe was going to fit through a tree.  Well, we were wrong.  It was a tight fit, but we got through it.  Quite the tourist attraction if you ask me but a must do if you are driving through the redwoods.


Believe it or not it’s early afternoon and we are in search of our next home.  Now, we had seen signs for KOA’s everywhere and they always showed up on our searches but we thought they were kind of expensive and didn’t really seem like camping so we never went to one.  Well, this time was different.  We were getting sick of the cold, the rain, the roughing it life and wanted something different and there was a KOA that was close to where we were so we decided we were going to give it a try.  This was our second favorite place we stayed.  In fact, we stayed there for 3 days.  I know that doesn’t seem like a lot but in order to travel 13 states and several destinations in 30 days there was less than a handful of places we stayed for more than 2 days.

The staff at this place were incredibly welcoming, they had fun events for families, ice cream socials and a store right on site.  It wasn’t anything like we were used to and we enjoyed it.  Not to mention a small hike away was the beach.  We spent quite a bit of time at the beach.  It was even nice enough on occasion that we could get some sun comfortably.  It’s towards the end of July at this point and it was still cold and the water was still too cold to go in.  Quite the trip we experienced weather wise.

After getting our bearings back and getting some much needed R&R it was time to get back on the road.

It’s time for Napa!

It had been about a week now that I was getting antsy for the Napa time and it was finally here.  We had 3 highly recommended wineries set up for the day and we were ecstatic about it.  Our first was Clos du Val.  This place was beautiful.  Vineyards for miles, gorgeous architecture and incredibly knowledgeable and friendly staff.

We did some wine sampling and then went out to the courtyard to enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the vineyards before picking out a couple favorites and heading to the next vineyard.

Indescribable views for miles

This winery is breathtaking the second you pull in to the parking lot.  The architecture, the landscaping, and the location were all perfect.  When you think of a winery this is what you have in mind and here we were.

We had signed up for a tasting on the terrace and were greeted with rolling vineyards as far as the eyes can see and a view that is impossible to describe.  Between the views and the wine we were truly relaxed and at peace.  It’s easy to imagine how someone could sit here for hours and just sip wine and enjoy life.

Favorite wine, hands down!

We didn’t realize we were saving the best for last but it worked out that way.  This place didn’t quite have the breathtaking views of Joseph Phelps but it made up for it in wine and ambiance.  From the moment we walked in to the place we felt welcomed and comfortable.  The server was friendly and made us feel like a priority and knew exactly which wines to suggest.  Once we had settled on a wine we sat down next to the fire and reminisced about our trip and our experience in Napa.  We were then told that we could go up to the rooftop to watch the sunset.  Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t some of the views we had seen at the other vineyards but it was gorgeous and romantic which ended up winning us over as our favorite.  It was here that I discovered my favorite wine and would be a forever customer of the Pinot Grigio Reserve.

Winding down…..

And now we are in San Francisco area and although we were looking forward to it and being in civilization again, we were spent.  Again, it was cold and misting and at this point I think we decided we were done with this trip.  We were done being cold and wet and decided after exploring the pier that we were just going to head home.

The pier was filled full of fun little shops, kiosks and things to do but of all of these places my absolute favorite was the Bubba Gump Restaurant near the water.  The energy there was intense and it was impossible to not be happy and intrigued by what was going on.  We sat down and settled in for a few drinks and dinner.  I highly suggest the Market Fresh.  It was fantastic and I still crave it to this day.  I will make a trip there again just for that!

It’s time to go home.

After filling our faces at Bubba Gump’s we decided it was time to go home.  We knew it was going to be a really long drive but we didn’t care; we were done with the trip and we were ready to be home and comfortable.  We arrived home at like 3am in the morning and it was warmer at 3 am than it was any single day of our entire trip.  It’s not often people are excited to be in Phoenix the end of July but that day we were beyond happy to be home