Oohs, ahhhs, and amazed gapes

true fir cones

Some things we saw from the Bald Mountain Summit trail in the Uintas Mountains of Utah

Vacations for me usually include at least two of the items below:

  • An escape from the frigid Minnesota winter
  • An escape from a frigid Minnesota winter to someplace even more snowy because winter + mountains = better and usually not as cold plus great skiing
  • Discovery of someplace new and likely far away, to open our eyes to new cultures, ideas and foods
  • A reunion with family, usually at familiar, loved places
  • A visit to a national park or something similar, because we heard about it from friends or read about it in a magazine. It’s usually rather high in elevation or remarkably low in elevation because it’s near to (or surrounded by) a very, very large body of water. Much oohs and aaahs are uttered and at the former, I always get a bloody nose
  • An epic cultural event that simply should not be missed if one has the opportunity. Examples include the Kentucky Derby, the American Birkebeiner (well, at least the first trip could be categorized this way), the 2002 winter Olympics in Utah and also our visit to the temples in/near Siem Reap, Cambodia (Angkor Wat, et cetera)
  • A testing of mettle: an endurance run or ski event, a relay race, cragging, hiking and/or camping trip

Snow Lily china pattern

Lenox china pattern “Snow Lily”

This summer, Steve and I opted for a road trip mainly because we got a new car. New automobiles are better than old automobiles for trips, at least from a potential for problems standpoint, right? This turned out to be true.

And then, when we decided how far we planned to drive, it also became a trip to see Mom and retrieve the set of china that she had set aside for me, which she would not trust to any shipper because a) it’s beautiful and b) I helped choose the pattern way, way back when I was wee and wasn’t as well equipped to prepare food to put onto the plates.

I’m pleased to observe that at that tender age, I already had good taste: I still love the pattern and a few friends who have seen the shot (shown here) agree that it’s a nice one. I guess we’d better find room to store it and, more importantly, throw an event in which to use the china and the crystal punch bowl that also made the trip back to Minnesota!

The things in between Minnesota and Oregon, any way you drive it, were bound to be interesting, so about a month ahead of the trip, I stopped by the local AAA travel office and got a great route planned for us by the friendly consultant there.  In retrospect, I’ll offer this note of advice: if you want up-to-date road closure info, get your TripTik within just a few weeks of your trip. Apparently, summer is not just construction season in Minnesota, it’s also especially true in North Dakota and in a few other spots out in the American West. Fortunately, we were never in a time crunch and we had plenty of entertainment and foodstuffs.

road trip map

Oh, the places you’ll go

What I told her: we have two weeks. We need to get to the Oregon coast by July 4. We’d like to hit Custer, South Dakota and Park City, Utah to visit relatives. We want to visit Great Basin National Park, because Backpacker magazine did a great write-up on it (which included the fact that it didn’t get a lot of traffic: a plus in our book) and plus it’s Mom’s favorite national park. We have friends in Portland and Fargo. We plan to camp for some of this trip, where there is enjoyable camping. We’d love to visit more than one national park or monument. Some hiking would be great.

Here’s a great interactive map, to give you an idea of the itinerary that resulted. We strayed just a tiny bit from the TripTik, mostly at the end, with a visit to Itasca State Park, because we had time, we had camp food, and I’ve always wanted to visit that park.

The maps should give you a feel for the sequence of things (we started off on the southern route), so I’ll arrange this recap as a list of highlights, instead.

  • We still love camping. Despite needing 2 sleeping pads each, plus full-size pillows, and despite campgrounds that don’t allow us a full night’s sleep due to people (and dog) noise and early summer sun, it’s still a wonderful thing. We love to cook and eat dinner outside, to giggle in a tent, to unzip it and peek at the sunrise and to discover over and over again how much better coffee -even instant- tastes when your nose is also taking in sage and/or pine scents and you might need to put on a warm cap while warming your hands around the cup.
  • Yes, it was a lot of driving. But the Mini is super fun to drive and also fairly comfortable, even with a set of china in the car
  • Road tripping in a Mini, even with camping gear is doable, but it helps to be people whose camping gear is somewhat minimalist due to past trips and fondness for cool technology. Small tent, superfast and small stove, no pots or camp chairs: they fit. Even when we took 4 sleeping pads and two large pillows.
  • Next time we camp where there are not fire restrictions, we plan to do campfires and also bring camp chairs because: how did I forget – or not know – that campfire smoke is a functional – and less sticky and gross than Ultrathon – mosquito repellant? Also: I missed s’mores: I made two on the kitchen stove, the day we came home.
  • mushpot cave

    Mushpot Cave at LBNM: no headlamp needed but maybe the room needed more disco lighting

    Steve’s favorite discovery of the trip was Lava Beds National Monument. As we entered California, we realized that 2015 didn’t have a caldera visit in it yet, and it was easier to swing by this place than to veer way off the plan to hit Lassen Park. Caves in 95+ degree weather are a great way to beat the heat and they are pretty cool, geologically speaking as well. Molten lava made these caves! And this park sits on a volcano larger (wider) than any other Cascade range volcanos.
  • Steve’s favorite part of the trip was Great Basin National Park. As promised, it was not crowded for a National Park in July – mere days before July 4 – and the extremely helpful and sympathetic ranger advised us tenters to head for the campground with exceptionally high elevation. It was 20 degrees cooler up there and also cooler (in a different way) as the road was bendy enough to forbid RVs. While it was kind of fun to see so many happy RV people on the western roads during out trip, we found that fewer of them in campgrounds usually meant a more enjoyable camping stay for us, mostly due to generator noise and congestion on smaller highways. This was in contrast to a trip we made years ago to more secluded Forest Service campgrounds in bear country, where a noisy engine seemed to deter ursine visits. One interesting item, here: there’s no entrance fee at this park, maybe as it’s so remote.
  • I think my favorite discovery on the trip was those lovely fireflies that came out as we sat down in the dark to have our very first meal of the trip, the very day we left the Twin Cities. We had camped at Blue Mounds State (MN) Park before but later in the year and rain had driven us out the following morning. This time there was some light rain as we arrived, so we put off setting up a tent and dinner and went for a hike. It was pretty dark when we came back (the rain had abated) so we lapped up our first meal made with the JetBoil – a delicious Mountain Home Beef Stroganoff – with some gentle but lively illumination by fireflies in the grasses surrounding our campsite.
  • firehold canyon, WY

    Awakened by the sun… glad I didn’t miss the view.

    My second favorite discovery was the exhilarating feeling of scoring a campsite when we elected not to reserve one (or any, for that matter) ahead of time. Even at Itasca State Park! On a July Friday! We experienced this five times on our trip. For two people who have had more than a few .. highly … planned, too-busy trips in the last few years, this element of spontaneity was rewarding, even if not in the sleep department.
  • My favorite part of the trip, which may be due to the item above, was our camping night in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, at Firehole Canyon Campground. The turnoff for it from I-90 didn’t betray the jewel that was hidden about 40 minutes away. The color and visual depth of the scenery was stunning: not so surprising for this part of the country. Maybe it had just been too long since I’d gotten to a place like this by car, rather than by airplane? This was our third night out of MN and what we were taking in had a slower reveal and thus perhaps allowed for a deeper recognition of the expanse and visual variety to be absorbed. In a surprising way, it was like discovering Paris on foot, 4 years after discovering it by metro: lots of interesting pieces but once you see the seams – or seamlessness of gradual change – its so much bigger and more complex.
  • So many gatherings –and selfies– with extraordinary people we don’t see as often as we’d like!

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  • Just to prove that we didn’t do that much driving: we sampled and enjoyed plenty of good beer, along the way. We made two stops in Wyoming (Freedom’s Edge and Coal Creek) and three in Montana (Lolo Peak406 and Überbrew), Great Basin Brewing in Nevada, Fargo Brewing and the usual, vital visit to Rogue in Newport, Oregon. We also paid a visit to our friend Lisa’s terrific Belmont Station bottle shop in Portland! Every single sip was delicious, and that’s including the ciders with which the bartender at Rogue plied us, right as we entered the Bayfront shop. We had him refill the fancy metal growler we’d bought in Nevada and emptied … somewhere shortly thereafter. I think that “6-hop” that we got there was my favorite of the trip.
  • Minnesota may have weird beer purchasing laws (no retail sales on Sundays), but Montana’s are weirder (you can only have 3 pints per day from tap rooms and the establishments (or maybe just the government) “help” you keep track of those three with a slip of paper). We had to keep on driving, so didn’t get much past one anyway… but we kept the artifact!
    beer at 406

    In Montana, a tap room can only sell you three.

  • I cannot believe how stunning (here’s a shot by someone one Flickr), and how hot (I stopped looking after 105˚F), the Columbia River Gorge was, that week, which apparently was normal for that area, even if Portland was experiencing a somewhat rare heat wave. Many of our holiday trips growing up were to a place in Washington very near the gorge but I don’t think we ever approached it from the south, so the sights further east than Multnomah Falls were new to me. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t stop to camp somewhere or the night to at least take photos and view the sights more slowly than from a speeding Mini. However, as someone who has camped before in temperatures above 100, we made the right choice by continuing on to a hotel further up the road. We did stop in The Dalles to check out the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, which was full of great information about the area’s cultures and history.
  • July 4 in Yachats, Oregon was wonderful, as usual. We ate our fill of great seafood and had a great time hanging out with Betty! We visited the site where we’d gotten married, just over nine years ago and enjoyed several beach walks. Most of Oregon seemed to be there at the same time, having escaped the inferno (just a heat wave, not forest fires) on the other side of the coast mountain range.
  • sand shrimp


    A special treat during our three days there was to join Betty and her friend Sally on their monthly CoastWatch beach walk: volunteers up and down the entire coast report monthly on things they observe on their designated one-mile stretch of beach. What goes into the report: things appearing on the beach that are not sand, other unusual things, how many people (adults, kids, dogs) are there during the walk, what they are doing (i.e. clamming, walking, shooting pictures, running) and so forth. Notable on this day were jellyfish, sand shrimp, the typical debris from personal fireworks, about 14 people and a few dogs, all out for walks.
  • I really liked some art that we got to check out in Bozeman, up on the walls in the 406 Tap room. Mimi Matsuda‘s paintings were a good portion of the show. I’m usually drawn to fish paintings of almost any kind, so there’s no surprise there with several of the works on display. But I also loved the playful scenes with bears & other wildlife – one of which we’d already seen near a gas station, nearby in an electrical station wrap.
  • Funniest moment: we saw no notable birds in Great Basin National Park aside from several ravens. However, late in the day that we left that park, right from the bed in our casino hotel room in Sparks, Nevada, we spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron. Barfing and peeing on the pavement, right outside our window. It’s one of my favorite birds because it looks like an Edward Gorey cartoon character. It seemed so perfect that what he threw up was large, dark and slimy! We only got a good, identifying look at him after he took care of that business and walked out from beneath a pickup truck; until then all we saw was his huge beak and huge feet. Here are three I saw in May 2014 in Southeast Oregon.

That’s about it, for my trip story. I hope you enjoyed the reading and pictures! More photos can be viewed here on a SmugMug gallery.