Monday, December 10, 2007

Honeymoon - Day 13 (the end)

Day 13 12-09-2007

We finally rolled out of the tent around 7:45am. What a beautiful morning! The wind had calmed, the sun was shining (sort of), and there was a light dusting of snow. I couldn’t grab my camera fast enough to take pictures before the early morning light faded. Since we got up later than we wanted, we skipped breakfast and quickly broke camp. After a quick stop to buy postcards at the visitor’s center, we were on the road again by 10:20am.

To save time we hopped on I-70 and stayed on it until we reached Highway 89 – a beautiful stretch of road. There was lots of snow left by the storm that had moved through the night before, but the roads were clear and the sun was shining. We made good time to Bryce Canyon National Park, but unfortunately the park rangers (or whoever) chose not to plow the roads leading through the park. Over ¾ of the park was closed so we couldn’t get a real sense of the park’s beauty, but the ranger was more than happy to take our money before he’d let us enter – we were still using our parks pass, so the $25 entrance fee was waived.

Is it me or does anyone else find that rather greedy? Only one viewpoint was open, yet they charge the full price to enter. We had the parks pass, but what about those people who didn’t? $25 is a lot of money to experience only a fraction of the park, maybe 3-miles to one viewpoint in this case. The same thing happened at Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde should have been closed altogether. Visibility was severely limited and the road extremely dangerous, but the ranger was more than willing to let us in as long as we paid. I know the money goes towards a good cause, but when over half the park is closed or you can’t even see the park because of snow, maybe a discounted entrance fee during the winter season should be instituted….

What we did get to see once we got to the viewpoint was very beautiful and on our way out of the park we saw several deer. Since most of the park was closed we didn’t dally. By now it was getting late and we wanted to reach Zion National Park before dark. Near Zion we saw a bison herd lounging behind the Buffalo Grill restaurant, which was part of the Zion Mountain Resort. Robert commented they were tomorrow’s special. It was quite funny at the time.

Zion National Park was open, but it was late and the light was quickly fading. The entrance booth was closed, so we didn’t have to flash our parks pass. Highway 9 runs all the way through the park and I don’t think thru-traffic has to pay to enter. We stayed on the main road all the way and the drive was beautiful. We saw plenty of deer and drove through a long tunnel in a huge rock. So long that it took us about 3-minutes to get through it. The rock itself was pretty spectacular.

We were cruising along on Highway 9 through Hurricane (north of St. George) minding our own business when all of a sudden blue and red flashing lights fill our rearview mirror! “You’re shittin’ me!” I exclaimed, but all I could do was laugh. The young officer explained that Robert was driving 53 in a 40 mph zone and asked the obligatory questions of where were we coming from and where were we headed. Robert identified himself as a Deputy and told him we were on our honeymoon. The officer congratulated us and kindly let us go without a ticket. He was rather nice and said he stopped us because he was bored and just looking for something to do. Another highlight of our trip.

It was dinner at Denny’s in Las Vegas and a quick zip down I-15 toward home. We’d been on the road almost two-weeks and I was missing my little Poka and Cierra kitties. I’ve never been apart from them for that long and I couldn’t get home fast enough. At 12:45am we were pulling up to the house. We had a fantastic time with lots of pictures and great experiences, but it's good to be home. It may be the end of our trip, but it's just the beginning of our new life together.

Total mileage for the entire trip: 2,542
Total driving time: 168:26 hours
Average speed: 37 mph
Pictures taken: 1,145

States visited (not counting CA): 7
National Parks/Monuments/Historic Areas visited: 11

Wild animals seen: red fox, pronghorn deer, mule deer, coyotes, pheasant, Canadian geese, wild turkey, free-range cattle, horses, burros, buffalo, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, sheep, rabbits, various birds (including hawks and vultures).

Honeymoon - Day 12

Day 12 12-08-2007

Good morning glorious snow! We got on the road about 8:15am (32-degrees). Only 36-miles to Mesa Verde National Park and we were both looking forward to it. As I said before, one of the disadvantages of traveling during off-season is that a lot is closed. Although Mesa Verde was open it should have been closed. Only one area of the park was open with guided tours at 10am and 1pm.

Unfortunately we arrived at 9:30 and it would have taken us nearly an hour to drive the 20-miles. The snow was thick and the road hadn’t been plowed. We couldn’t even see the forest on the sides of the roads. After about 2-miles we decided to turn around and continue on to Arches National Park, where (hopefully) there would be no snow. I’d been to Arches about 6-7 years ago, but Robert had never been, so I was excited for him to see it.

After Mesa Verde we headed north into Utah on Highway 491. We stopped for lunch at Denny’s in Moab then entered Arches about noon. It was beautiful! And no snow! After some debate we decided to spend our last night camping, which had been our intent for the entire trip. We set up camp at Arches only campground, Devil’s Garden Campground. The campground had a total of 53 sites, but half of them were closed for the season. When we decided to camp the sky was mostly clear, but while we ate our chili dinner, a cold wind kicked up and dark clouds blotted out the sun. We didn’t have any wood and weren’t allowed to gather wood in the park, so we hurriedly washed our dishes and jumped into our sleeping bags. It was cold, windy, and only 6pm, but absolutely perfect.

Honeymoon - Day 11

Day 11 12-07-07

I almost died today. Well, not quite, but the possibility that it could have happened was extremely great, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I want to first tell you about two little cuties I met at Todd and Carol’s house. They’re brother and sister, about two-years old, and the brattiest little things I have ever met! Within minutes of meeting Maynard and Marla we were best of friends! I was tempted to kidnap them and take them home with me! Maynard is a little orange tabby and Marla is a fat little calico.

I say they’re brats in a good way. Last night after Robert and I crawled into bed, this fuzzy orange kitty wiggles under the covers and starts tickling our legs. Shortly after Maynard crawls out, Marla gets under the covers. Next thing we know Maynard is attacking Marla through the bed covers! Robert finally had to kick them out of the room and shut the door so we could sleep. This morning while getting ready to leave, I heard the door creak. I look up and two little kitties run into the room. The door wasn’t closed all the way and somehow they opened it. After Robert took his shower, Marla got into the bathtub and just sat there. I had to lift her out of the tub so I could take my shower. While I’m showering, Marla is sticking her head in the water and Maynard is playing between the shower curtains. As soon as I shut the water off, they both jump into the tub. Silly cats!

Okay, back to my near-death experience. From Parker we drove south on I-25. It sucked being on the main freeways, so we were looking forward to getting back on the state routes. At Walsenburg we headed west on Highway 160. As we neared South Fork in the San Juan Mountains the weather turned ugly and next thing we know, we’re driving in near whiteout conditions!

The weather was so bad that most of the semi-trucks had pulled over to wait out the storm or put chains on and risk it. The snow banks were over 5-feet high, which hid the cliffs on the other side. I made the comment that the snow would at least keep us from plunging to our death if we spun out. Robert quickly informed me that most likely we’d plow through it! And just when I thought I couldn’t get any more scared, Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses” song comes on the radio!

Our elevation peaked at 10,890-feet near Wolf Creek Ski Resort, where we saw skiers having a gay old time while we were inching along at about 20-25mph towards possible death. Finally we pulled into Durango about 4:10pm. As we checked in at the Econo-Lodge, the clerk told us about 4-6 inches of snow was predicted by morning. Lovely.

Total mileage for the day: 406.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Honeymoon - Day 10

Day 10 12-06-2007

Today was a lazy day. We slept in late and didn’t leave Carrie and Jeremy’s house until almost noon. We didn’t have any plans for the day, so we decided to visit the Denver Zoo. I always like visiting other zoos and seeing how they compare to the San Diego Zoo. Although some of the exhibits were rather small and not as environmentally realistic as San Diego’s I was still impressed. I especially liked the indoor exhibits for the gorillas and some other animals because of how cold it gets in Denver. Plus, I felt I was much closer to the animals than at the San Diego Zoo.

We wandered around for a few hours then decided to go to Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World. I liked is so much better than Cabela’s. For one, it was two-story and double the size of Cabela’s. Like Cabela’s, they had stuffed dead animals displayed everywhere. We would have stayed longer, but we had a dinner date at Casa Bonita with Todd & Carol (Robert’s uncle & aunt), their kids Brad and Laura, Carrie and Jacob.

How do I describe Casa Bonita? It has the atmosphere of Disneyland, but none of the rides. It was decorated for Christmas so there were lights, garland and lots of shiny stuff all over. There was also a gorilla running around in swim trunks, a guy diving off of some fake rocks into a pool, an arcade, and a roving mariachi band. It was kind of cheesy, but really cool at the same time and the food was good.

After dinner Robert and I crashed at Todd & Carols pad in Parker, which is about 25-30 miles south of Denver. We were told we would be sleeping in the basement. My idea of a basement is a dark, dank place used for storing dead bodies (I saw that in a movie once). However, their idea of a basement is basically another level to the house. In San Diego it would have been considered a two-story home instead of a single level with a basement. It was really nice and we were quite comfortable. Now I know where we'll be staying the next time we're in Colorado.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Honeymoon - Day 9

Day 9 – December 5, 2007

Didn’t get the early start as we hoped, but it stays dark until late so really there was no point in getting up too early. We wouldn’t have been able to see anything while on the road. As it was we, okay me – Robert was already up, rolled out of bed about 6:30am. It was a chilly 16-degree in Wall with a light dusting of snow. We skipped breakfast and were on the road by 7:15am heading south on State Route 240 towards Badlands National Park. The $15 entrance fee was waived because we used our America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass. We knew we would be visiting quite a few National Parks so we bought the pass when we visited Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. For only $80 the pass gets us in free to a number of parks and monuments and is good for a year. By the time our trip is over I think we’ll have got our monies worth and then some.

Badlands National Park was beautiful. The lighting wasn’t too good for photography, the sky was rather gray because there were some low-lying clouds, but nevertheless I took quite a few pictures. As soon as we entered the park we saw a Bighorn Sheep walking across a field. A paved road looped through the park, but we saw plenty of mule deer from the comfort of our car. The grass was so long that when the deer laid down all we could see were their big ears sticking up. By December the deer usually lose their antlers, but there were a few still sporting huge racks. While we watched two deer started butting their heads together and hearing their antlers strike against each other was a cool sound.

We spent about almost two-hours cruising the Badlands then it was back on the State Route 44 towards Rapid City. We drove through Buffalo Gap National Grassland. I thought this was rather funny, because the national grassland area is the same type of grassland we’d seen while driving throughout the entire state! Somewhere along SR-44 we saw a huge dinosaur (a fake one of course) in a field. There was nothing around it, except a few grazing horses. Another oddity we’ve come across during our travels.

We reached Rapid City (24-degrees) around 11:15am. A disgusting lunch of overcooked chicken at Wendy’s then onward to Mt. Rushmore. I am so glad we have a GPS. Robert bought it specifically for our trip. I can never tell which direction we’re headed. I think we’re heading north, but the map reads west. I’m a mess without a big ocean to use as a reference point! Plus, it’s nice to find gas stations and hotels miles down the road so we can plan our stops. We call our GPS Maggie and she’s become a really good friend, although I have to compete with her sometimes for Robert’s attention.

One word to describe Mt. Rushmore – AWESOME! It was so awe-inspiring that I started to cry. I was so amazed by its beauty and history. This is definitely on my Top 5 list of must-sees in America! Traveling off-season does have its advantages. Although some attractions have been closed, the ones that are open have absolutely no people. At Mt. Rushmore we saw maybe 20-25 other people and I was able to get some really good pictures without any people getting in the way. I could have sat there all afternoon just watching the sun move across the stone faces; an incredible experience for me.

Just after arriving at Mt. Rushmore we saw a mountain goat walking through the parking lot. As we were leaving Robert spotted about 6-8 more grazing alongside the road. We stopped and were able to get unbelievably close. They looked at us at first, but kept grazing once realizing we weren’t a threat. As they grazed, one moved closer and closer until he/she was about 10-feet away.

We have seen so much wildlife during our trip, but the one thing I haven’t seen that I am very disappointed about is bison. No other state has as many public herds as South Dakota, but the only one we saw was on the Idaho/Wyoming border in Yellowstone National Park. However, we saw (or think we saw) a small herd hanging out in a field next to someone’s barn just off Highway 385 near Custer. Custer, along with the Badlands, is one of the areas where bison are found. Because of the bison’s close proximity to buildings, I wasn’t sure if they were penned in or not. We passed by so quickly that we were only able to catch a glimpse.

We followed SR-89 and Highway 18 into Wyoming. About 3:10pm we crossed into Wyoming. The grasslands are so flat that we could see for miles. The golden grass against a darkening purplish-blue sky was so pretty, plus there were numerous herds of pronghorn grazing alongside the road. It was one of those sights where words can’t adequately describe its beauty. We made good time crossing into Colorado on I-25 at about 7pm.

Our first thoughts about Colorado – stinky! It was dark so we couldn’t see the surrounding countryside, but man, did it smell like cow crap, literally. At first I blamed Robert, but as we drove it kept getting worse. I can only assume there were cow farms, thus the heavy poop smell, somewhere out in the darkness. Another observation about Colorado is the highways suck. We were on a major interstate coming through Fort Collins and it was thump thump thump all the way. I suppose the harsh winters take a toll on the roads, but it was so irritating. I couldn’t even rest my head on the seat, because the constant bouncing gave me a headache.

Finally, Denver! and Carrie and Jacob (Jeremy was at work) standing on the front porch in their jammies waiting for us! Talk about a welcoming site. A warm dinner of lasagna, some good conversation, and off to bed. Of course I waited until Jacob, who’s 6, to go to bed first. Total travel miles for today: 524.

Honeymoon - Day 8

Day 8 – December 4, 2007

Breakfast at Alice’s, a final goodbye to Richard, then on the road again by 9:30am. The sun was shining again and the further west we drove the warmer it became. At one point I even had my jacket open and no gloves! A lot of driving today, but we did make a few stops. Our first was to Cabela’s Outfitters in Mitchell, about 3-hours from Stockholm off I-90. This time Robert was in heaven, but even I got a bit excited at all the camouflage We ate elk sandwiches at the little cafĂ© they had inside and I bought several bags of buffalo jerky. Robert also bought a nice hat. Neither of us had ever eaten elk. I think I like it better than buffalo.

About an hour and a half later we were on the road again, but didn’t get very far. Just down the road is the world’s only Corn Palace…a very corny place! (Sorry, couldn’t resist). The outside of the building is made entirely of corn, but the inside is actually a sporting arena. Apparently the Corn Palace has quite the history. It was established in 1892 and the exterior decorations are stripped down and new murals are created every year.

We stayed on I-90 all the way to Wall. Most of the snow was melted and the road was clear. We pulled into Motel 6 in Wall about 6pm or so, but with the time change I think it was closer to 5pm. It was a long travel day with a total of 444 miles. We were in bed fairly early in hopes of getting an early start tomorrow. We are hoping to see the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, since it was snowing so badly the first time we drove through. If all goes well will be in Denver by tomorrow night.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Honeymoon - Day 7

Day 7 – Monday, December 3, 2007

I wasn’t feeling very well again this morning – it was the lutefisk! Ha Ha but I slept in until way late; although the snow plow going up and down the street kept waking me up. We didn’t get to Alice’s until almost 12:30pm. The lunch of pork chops was delicious. Today was another highlight for me. After lunch we helped Richard make some pies for tomorrow. I never knew Robert was quite the little baker! He seemed like he really knew what he was doing in the kitchen. We made an apple pie with apples from Richard’s brother’s farm, a pecan pie, a pumpkin, and lemon meringue. We also helped wash the dishes. It was great!

We visited with Richard and his brother Jim until almost 4:30pm before heading back to Milbank. We stopped by the Pizza Ranch to get a pepperoni to go. It seems to be quite the social hot spot and everyone seemed to know everyone, except for us of course! Milbank is a nice town. I guess we are getting somewhat used to the cold. It was 10-degrees, but felt warmer. The sun was out again today, but it gets dark incredibly early. After getting pizza we spent an exciting night watching TV and doing a couple loads of laundry.

It’ll probably be an early night for us. Tomorrow we’re heading back to Alice’s for breakfast then onward to Denver to see Carrie, Jeremy, and their new house.

Honeymoon - Day 6

Day 6 – Sunday, December 2, 2007

I awoke to Robert’s watch alarm beeping in my ear. While he showered I got another ½ hour of much needed sleep. When it’s this cold, I don’t know why we bother, but we like to find out just how cold it is so the first thing we do in the morning is turn on the local news. This morning in Pierre it was a sweltering 7-degrees, but the wind chill made it minus 10-degrees! But at least it wasn’t snowing! The sun was such a welcome sight, but it made driving difficult for Robert. The glare off the snow was blinding.

Another observation I’ve made during our travels is that the people in these small towns are so nice. As we pulled into a gas station in Pierre a woman came out and started talking to Robert. Living in a big city has made me so untrusting. My first instinct was to lock the car doors so she wouldn’t carjack us. When she didn’t seem interested in stealing the car I thought maybe she was trying to bum some money or a cigarette off of Robert. The lady actually came out to pump our gas and scrap the snow off our car! You would never find that kind of hospitality in San Diego and I felt ashamed for even thinking she was going to do something besides help us.

The drive on Highway 14 was uneventful, at least for me because I slept part of the time. In Faulkton we made a bathroom break, but it was too cold and I opted to stay in the car. Robert said there were four old men sitting inside the gas station shooting dice and the alcohol section was closed. “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s Sunday!” More small town living!

We reached a chilly 11-degree Stockholm at about 11:20am just in time for the lukefisk feed! I was excited to be meeting Robert’s uncle Richard, who was cooking for everyone at the community center. Robert took me on a tour of the quaint little town. I was born and raised in San Diego and never lived anywhere else. Everything was a new experience for me – the snow, the people, the attitudes, everything! My arm was tired from answering the waves from complete strangers, even some kids waved at us. I loved it! Although I’m still wondering why there was a deer hanging from a tree in someone’s front yard….

At 1pm we returned to the community center for our lunch of lutefisk, leftsa, potato sausage, ham, peas, and mashed potatoes. I enjoyed everything, but the lutefisk – it’s an acquired taste, but I’m glad I tried it (and didn’t vomit). Once people found out we were from California we become somewhat of an attraction. And when they found out Robert was Richard’s nephew and Loretta’s grandson, we were even more welcomed. There was a real sense of community. Everyone knew everyone. I’ve lived in my house for over four years and I still don’t know who my neighbors are. Here, you meet someone once and they remember you forever.

Richard gave us a tour of his restaurant, Alice’s Restaurant, and then we were on the road again. Robert did a quick drive through of Strandburg before heading to Milbank to crash at Grandma Loretta’s pad. When we walked into Loretta’s apartment complex we met a group of woman sitting around talking. They all stopped when they saw us and it was rather awkward, but when I pointed at Robert and said he was Loretta’s grandson, they were suddenly all smiles and welcomes. One of them reminded us to keep the noise down while we were there – I can just imagine their opinion of those ‘California’ types – but when I replied, “hope you guys like rap music” they started clapping and laughing. Crazy women!

Honeymoon - Day 5

Day 5 – Saturday, December 1, 2007

Oh, it was so nice to sleep in and I love Robert for letting me. I finally rolled out of bed about 9:30am; a lot later than I wanted, but the extra sleep was wonderful. The cold and constant traveling is starting to wear me out. When I finally awoke, I woke to snow. Go figure. And it’s only going to get worse. The wonderful newscaster says a storm front is moving across South Dakota. Robert mentioned he wants to make it as far as Chicago, but driving on the icy roads scare me and I want to go home. Plus, I’m missing the cats!

My spirits lifted once we were on the road. Going to Deadwood today! Another must see, at least for me. I am a HUGE Kevin Costner fan and he owns a casino there. It continued snowing and snowing and snowing as we drove through Sturgis to Deadwood. It did warm up a bit, though, hitting a high of 20-degrees in Deadwood. We bundled up in our winter clothes and walked the streets absorbing the history. We took pictures of the saloon where Wild Bill Hitchcock was shot and then there it was… The Midnight Star. Walking inside was like walking into a Kevin Costner shrine. Literally. Movie posters, pictures, and his outfits from just about every one of his movies hung on the wall. FYI my favorite Costner movie is A Perfect World followed closely by his latest, Mr. Brooks. Oh, I was in Heaven.

Finally, Robert ushered me gently to the door or else I would still there camping out in the lobby. We ate lunch at the Mineral Palace – another historic building. Robert had a buffalo burger and I had a French Dip with sliced buffalo. If you’ve never eaten buffalo, then you’re missing out. It is so much tastier than hamburger. Oh, did I mention it was still snowing?

After Deadwood we headed east on I-90 to Wall Drug Store. I’ve heard about Wall Drug Store from Robert’s mom, Lois, so I was very interested in seeing it. We got there just before closing and bought a few souvenirs. We also got our picture taken in one of those silly booths and took pictures of the deer heads on the wall.
We continued east on Highway 14 towards Pierre. The roads were pretty icy and I was scared. At one point I closed my eyes in an unsuccessful attempt at sleep. When I opened them there were several deer standing in the roadway. All I could do was gasp. Robert hit the brakes, but not hard enough to send us into a tailspin, and honked the horn. Just when I thought we were going to hit the last one running across the road it leaped out of the way only moments before impact. Damn deer! Almost gave me a heart attack!

Of course I couldn’t sleep after that. With each bounce of the tire I expected disaster. About 8pm we rolled into Pierre, the state capitol of South Dakota. We passed into another time-zone as we crossed over the Missouri River, which put the time at 9pm. We only traveled 322 miles, but it was a good, if not exhausting, day.

Honeymoon - Day 4

Day 4 – Friday, November 30, 2007

Today Robert and I are heading to Yellowstone National Park. This was one of only a few destinations we deemed a must-see. Robert has never been and I have only been once. I couldn’t wait to see buffalo, elk, and maybe a wolf, a moose, or a rogue bear that hadn’t gone into hibernation yet.

Rexburg is about 90-miles south of West Yellowstone. We awoke at 6am and enjoyed a quick complimentary breakfast at the Super 8 Motel and were on the road by 7:30am. A little after 9am and in 14-degree weather we were in West Yellowstone parked just outside the entrance to the park. Unfortunately we are going to have to wait a bit longer to see Yellowstone. Because of the heavy snow, the West Yellowstone entrance was closed as were most of the roads in the park. Only the very northern section of the park was open, but it would have been out of our way to get there and we wouldn’t have been able to see much. Talk about disappointment!

But we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. We headed north on Highway 191 towards Bozeman instead. Highway 191 is on the western edge of Yellowstone and according to our map is actually part of the park. We got to see some wildlife after all! A lone buffalo was grazing in someone’s front yard, a coyote was curled up in the snow not far from the side of the road, another coyote ran across the road, and a bunch of Bighorn Sheep were licking up the salt alongside the highway. Very cool.

We cruised into Bozeman (or Boozeman as Robert likes to say) around 11:30am (temp. 14-degrees). It was rather funny, but while driving through Bozeman another driver cut us off. Guess where the other driver was from? California! We’d driven hundreds of miles only to be cut off by another Californian and it wasn’t just us he cut off, but quite a few people as he zipped through traffic. Jerk.

It was in Bozeman that I realized two things. The first being that UPS is everywhere! In almost every tiny town we traveled we saw a UPS truck. Just when we thought we’d found a town where UPS didn’t deliver, out popped that familiar brown truck from some side road. The other realization I made was I hadn’t seen a black person since leaving Las Vegas. San Diego is such a diverse city that seeing someone of another race or religion is common, but other than Native Americans or Hispanics, the predominant race we encountered was white.

To save time and because of heavy snow, we left the backcountry roads and headed east on I-90 towards Billings and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. We arrived at Little Bighorn with a little over an hour before closing time. We took a quick tour then took Highway 212 towards South Dakota. We made it as far as Belle Fourche (temp. 20-degrees) before calling it a night. Total mileage for the day: 578miles. Not too bad.

Honeymoon - Day 3

Day 3 – Thursday, November 29, 2007

Another early wake-up call – up at 5am and out the door of Motel 6 by 6am. From Boise we headed into the snow-packed Sawtooth Range on State Route 21. For a time we thought we had missed a time change, because it stayed dark, and I mean pitch-black dark, until almost 8am.

I must take a moment here to add a side note. I am not a snow person. The inch or two of snow I’ve experienced in the mountains of San Diego pales drastically in comparison to the several feet of snow we’ve encountered on our trip. I am not afraid to admit that I was scared. That white-knuckle-death-grip-on-the-door-handle and the ache-deep-in-the-belly kind of scared. Heavy snow and pitch black conditions do not make for a fun time. With every curve and even on the straight-a-ways, I thought we were going to die. My fear finally abated when it grew light enough that I could see the surrounding forest. It was absolutely beautiful.

However, my fear returned when we drove through a section marked “avalanche area”. I would have preferred not to have seen the snow covered hills towering over the road. Every couple of minutes I cautioned Robert to slow down, but if he were to slow down any further we would have come to a stop.

We stopped briefly in Stanley – elevation 6319-feet, population 100 – for beef jerky and soda. Side note: Since Ely I have been addicted to beef jerky. My favorite is buffalo jerky and with every stop I pick up a bag or two. It’s gotten quite expensive at anywhere from $5 to $7 a bag. Anyway, my fear of dying a snowy death had now dissipated enough for me to enjoy the passing scenery, but somewhere north of Ketchum on Highway 75 it returned.

I didn’t even know what was happening. I simply heard Robert say, “Hang on” and I did. The next thing I know we were fish-tailing around a curve and slip-sliding across the icy road. Thankfully there was no on-coming traffic and Robert was able to aim the car towards some granite rocks. The alternative was to hit the guard rail and hope it kept us from plummeting down a cliff. About five-feet from the boulders we hit a snow bank. It wasn’t a gentle stop, but it was better than actually hitting the rocks.

The car wasn’t damaged, but stuck pretty good. We had no shovel, except for a little U-Dig-It tool we use for digging scat holes when camping. Luckily for Robert a man stopped to help, otherwise we would probably still be there trying to dig out the car. The man, who worked at the Redfish Lodge in Stanely, had some tow straps and was able to pull us in a matter of minutes.

Back on the road again our adrenaline was pumping! At least mine was. And it started pumping even more when I saw the most beautiful red fox running alongside the road. I think I leaped from the car before it came to a complete stop and started running up the road with my camera over my shoulder. By now the fox had crossed the road and was heading away from us. Robert flipped a quick, but legal, u-turn, picked me up, and drove down a snow covered side road. The fox was aware of us and kept it’s distant, but didn’t run away. I took a couple dozen photos, before it finally wandered too far away for my big zoom lens. However, after looking at my shots I was even more excited. I got a picture of the fox leaping into the air pouncing on whatever it was hunting. For me seeing the fox was one of the biggest highlights of our trip.

Finally we left the Sawtooth Range and headed east on Highway 20 towards Idaho Falls. We stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument visitor’s center, but the road through the park was closed. Unfortunately we would come across a lot of closures during our trip. After traveling a day’s total of 350 miles we stopped for the night in Rexburg, about 30-miles north of Idaho Falls. Tomorrow we’re heading to Yellowstone!

Honeymoon - Day 2

Day 2 – Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Talk about cold! I mean painfully cold. We awoke in beautiful Ely about 6am and were on the road by 7:30am, but the shock of stepping outside almost sent me scrambling back to bed. The clerk at the gas station said the temperature was 7-degrees. Not 70 or even 17, but single digit 7! At that moment I wished we had taken a cruise to the Caribbean instead. Our car started, but did so in protest. The windshield was iced over and so was the window washing fluid. As it thawed we could hear chunks of ice swishing around. We stopped to take a few pictures on our way out of town, but my camera’s memory card malfunctioned and the few pictures I had taken were un-retrievable. I blamed the frigid weather.

We headed towards Elko via “The Loneliest Road in America”, Hwy 50. Indeed it was lonely, but I think it was because of the snowy conditions and the smart people were staying home. We saw a couple of coyotes that at first we thought (mostly hoped) were wolves, because of how healthy they looked. They weren’t the scrawny little ones we see in San Diego.

We continued north on State Route 278 and reached Elko in good time. We stayed long enough to grab a couple of burgers at McDonald’s (big mistake!) and gas up the Element then we were northbound again on State Route 225. The drive was rather uneventful until we entered another pocket of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. As before it was beautiful and packed full of snow, but the road had been plowed so we had no problems maintaining a good speed. As we drove through the North Wild Horse State Recreation Area I hoped to see some wild horses, but the only horses we saw were a few undernourished pintos on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee. We also saw another coyote trotting across a frozen river and a half-dozen or so free-range cattle. We saw the cattle only because they were standing in the middle of the road. We either had to stop or hit them risking totaling the car. We decided to stop.

The border crossing into Idaho wasn’t much of a crossing, only a sign welcoming us into the "Gem State." I’m so used to being stopped by the Border Patrol and having the car checked for illegals that it was rather nice to enter into another state without scrutiny. Even though we didn’t have to, I made Robert stop so I could get his picture next to the welcome sign.

We reached Boise at about 4:30pm, but we didn’t account for the one-hour time difference so it was actually 5:30pm. Total mileage for Day 2 was 437 miles. Another good travel day and another great day spent with Robert.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Honeymoon - Day 1 (the beginning)

Day 1 – November 27, 2007

3am comes incredibly early, but when you’re excited as I am then it couldn’t have come quick enough. Today is the day my new husband, Robert, and I set off on our honeymoon. Months ago we had decided we would simply throw our camping equipment in the back of our Honda Element and see where the road would lead us. There were a couple must-see places, but mostly we’d just follow the little back country roads that crissed-crossed America.

By 4am we were on the road in hopes of missing LA traffic and within a ½ hour I was asleep. I awoke just before Barstow and remained awake for the long drive into Las Vegas. I always hate the drive to Vegas. It is incredibly boring and I think the town itself is rather ugly in daylight, but I haven’t been to Sin City in a few years so maybe things had changed. Nope. Still ugly. We cruised into Vegas about 9:30am. Thick, brown smog hung over the city. Robert was trying to stick to a 70mph speed limit to reserve fuel, but I think he was doing 85 through Vegas. The only excitement for us came at the very end of town. A Sheriff’s helicopter was hovering over the freeway and several patrol cars were parked along the shoulder. Deputies were running all over obviously searching for someone.

We were glad to leave Interstate 15 and head north on Hwy 93. The highway ran parallel to the Desert National Wildlife Range. Didn’t see much wildlife, except for a few birds, but it was a nice change from the barren yuckiness surrounding Vegas. From the 93 we took State Route 375, or the Extraterrestrial Highway. I was quite excited, because I believe in alien life forms and if I was ever to see one, this would be the time. Elevation peaked at about 5960-feet and the land was an open-range grazing area. We saw quite a few cows, but not much traffic and to my disappointment no aliens except for the ones painted on the sides of buildings that we passed.

On the 375, about 14-miles south of US-6, we came across a lake, a FROZEN lake (elevation 5095’)! This was our first taste of the weather we would encounter for the rest of our trip. I don’t know why, but were really excited about this. We jumped out of the car giggling and acting like little kids, but I returned very quickly to get my jacket. It was freezing! We threw a bunch of rocks and sticks onto the lake while Robert filmed it and I took still-pictures. Robert then began skating on the lake in his tennis shoes. I expected him to plunge through, but he didn’t. Just before frost bite set in, we got back into the car and cranked up the heater. If only we knew what kind of weather awaited us, we might have returned home or at least taken another route.

We were making good time and about 1:40pm we turned onto US-6 and headed towards Ely. We stopped briefly at the Lunar Crater Volcanic Field National Natural Landmark, but it was too cold and windy. I snapped a few pictures and jumped back in the car. Forty miles south of Ely at the junction of US-6 and Highway 379, we came across several old buildings. There was lots to explore – broken equipment and lots of glass and other junk on the ground – but we didn’t want to spend too much time. About 15 minutes later we were on the road again.

The terrain was absolutely beautiful when we entered the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest. There were several places that looked like great campsites. Our whole trip was about camping (and saving money on hotels), but the weather was so cold and storm clouds hung over the mountains that regretfully we continued into Ely. We didn’t regret our decision for long, though.

About 12-hours after starting our road trip we reached Ely, Nevada. We stayed at the Elk Ridge Motel, a less than stellar form of lodging, but it was only for one night. We had some good burgers at the Nevada Mining Hotel/Casino, which was established in 1829, and did a bit of gambling. Robert won about $10, so we took our winnings and headed back to our motel. When we stepped outside it was SNOWING! All in all we drove for 12-hours totaling 685 miles. Not bad for the first day of our honeymoon.