Road Trip

What’s the best thing about cars? Road trips. The long hours with the countryside sliding by. Feeling the immensity of the United States. Appreciating just how much agriculture there is. Being awed by huge tracts of empty land. Finding local diners. Seeing things up close. Travel as much as possible on the US and state highways, keeping off the interstate. That’s going in style.

For the first time in many years, we took a long family road trip this summer. While there was a lot of driving (2,300 miles of it), it was a great time. Our overall trip took us from Anacortes, across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, through the corner of Wyoming, down through Utah to Arizona before heading home to California. We saw the Columbia River, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, Fossil Butte in Wyoming, Dinosaur and Arches in Utah, and Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. And everything along the way. The details and some pictures from the trip are below. Where are you going to go on your road trip?

Day 1 Anacortes to Ontario, 536 miles

Leaving early on a Monday, we headed south from Anacortes, taking US 2 to avoid the interstate and visit scenic Leavenworth. Leavenworth is like Solvang but it’s German instead of Danish Swedish. (correction) We had nice sausages for lunch. Onward down to and along the Columbia river. Amazing basalt along the river. As we headed toward Pasco, there were range fires north of us. We finished the long driving day with a nice dinner in Ontario, Oregon. More or less the Oregon trail. No pictures as I just drove.

Day 2 Ontario to Kemmerer, 496 miles

Headed out toward Boise which thankfully doesn’t have a rush hour. Idaho’s 80 miles per hour speed limit took us to US 20, driving through magnificent empty and agricultural lands. We had our first national monument of the trip, Craters of the Moon. Created by a huge volcanic eruption about 2,000 years ago, you get to see what you would see in Hawaii but in Idaho. Here is a picture of some trails in the park.

Lava and paths at Craters of the Moon National Monument

We finished the day in Kemmerer, Wyoming, the home of JC Penney.

Day 3 Kemmerer to Moab, 406 miles

First stop today, Fossil Butte National Monument. I didn’t even now it existed until Mrs. C noted it on the map. Pretty area, few visitors, and a great visitors center. As you drive to the visitors’ center, they lay out history in distance, so you start from the formation of the Earth a mile out and end up at the visitors’ center at today. Along the way they lay out the geographic and biological history of the Earth. Excellent content. We plan to return here someday. This is Fossil Butte:

A panorama of Fossil Butte

On south, across an empty plain until we crossed I-90, then south through great agricultural land. Mostly grass and grazing. We drove past Flaming Gorge Reservoir, south through Vernal, to Dinosaur National Monument. This fossil site has been under development since the early 20th century, there is a great wall of fossils you can see after a short ride from the main visitors’ center. People are working on the fossils to this day.

Hard at work at the Dinosar Quarry

Heading south from Jensen, Utah, through Dinosaur, we headed south over the beautiful but challenging pass on Colorado Highway 139 that got us down to I-70. After dodging a range fire, we made the best decision of the trip. As we were running late, I started looking for a restaurant in Moab, our destination. Google served up a place along the back road to Moab, Utah 128 instead of US 191. That sent us through Castle Valley. If you ever go to Moab, you must drive through Castle Valley.

Butte and Moon in Castle Valley

Day 4 Moab to Williams, 390 miles

If you are in Moab, you must visit Arches National Park. Heck, that’s the main reason for going there. Get to the park early as the lines at the entrance get long by mid-morning. We’d like to return here too, as it is an amazing place. Throughout the prior day and through the end of the trip, there were many thunderstorms so the sky was fantastic.

Pothole Arch at Arches National Monument

We had a nice drive through the sparsely populated southeastern portion of Utah. Going through Mexican Hat, we headed toward John Ford’s favorite filming location, Monument Valley.

Monument Valley

Our time at Arches put us behind schedule. We had planned to visit Meteor Crater, but there was no time. Instead, we pressed forward to Williams. We passed through a major downpour on our way into Flagstaff. I-70 was in terrible shape in Flagstaff, but under repair to the west. I hope the repair is moving east. We finished the day at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams.

Day 5 Williams to Grand Canyon, 0 miles

If you ever plan on going to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I highly recommend taking the Grand Canyon Railroad. It’s a nice two and a half hour train ride. There is food available on the train. And they provide entertainment. On the way up, it was a singing cowboy. Who was French. I kid you not.

The singing French cowboy

The greatest benefit of the train is that once you get to Grand Canyon Village, you don’t have a car. There is ample local transportation with the shuttles and a great part of the park is available within an hour walk. We took a sunset tour going west to Hermit’s Rest but returning to Pima Point where I took this picture. The rain falling as we watched the Sun set was great.

Sunset from Pima Point at the Grand Canyon

Day 6 Grand Canyon, Williams to Kingman, 114 miles

Having stayed overnight at the Grand Canyon, we spent the day touring. Yes, it is a tourist destination, but it is the Grand Canyon, so no matter how many people there are with their awful selfie sticks it is still a beautiful place. The train took us back and we headed west toward home. We found dinner at a wonderful place in Seligman called Westside Lilo’s Café. At the server’s suggestion, I had sausages and sauerkraut. The sauerkraut was freshly made and the whole dish was great. The place was packed so those on the road and those local know where you find great food.

Westside Lilo’s Cafe in Seligman, Arizona

Day 7 Kingman to Los Angeles, 361 miles

Early out and across the desert, we went south to avoid the Las Vegas traffic, but nonetheless had traffic jams. All that time out on the open road makes me want to get out of Los Angeles.

I think we will do this kind of trip more often.