Necessitated by a longer than anticipated wait to move into an apartment in Los Angeles, we were faced with the dilemma as to what to do with 16 days of homelessness. The rational choice would probably have been to remain in Los Angeles, secure a third AirBNB for the home stretch, and get to finding work.
We did not make that choice.
Instead, we made our way up the Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to Crescent City, stopping in Monterey and Eureka along the harrowing but gorgeous route. We then cut across southern Oregon with the intention of hitting Crater Lake but were foiled by two hours of standstill traffic just before the state border while an accident got cleared.
This delayed our entrance into the National Park system by nearly a week, as the bulk of the next week was spent laying low and trying not to spend money in Portland. After a drive up the Columbia River Gorge and a night in surprisingly charming Boise, we finally hit a park--Craters of the Moon National Monument--and got our annual pass and were on our way.
With Bozeman as our next extended landing spot, we saw thousands (no exaggeration) of genetically pure bison on a drive through Ted Turner's ranch, drove to Bannack State Park where we toured the first territorial capital of Montana, and went to the Museum of the Rockies which was made possible by the inspiration for Sam Neill's character in Jurassic Park, Jack Horner.
Then we went to Yellowstone. It was our first time there. Its majesty is undeniable. Rain and clouds rolled in part way through the morning, which made for a rather cool day--this comes into play later. We went with my friend who just finished a graduate program in history at Montana State and had been to the park four previous times this year. Trusting him as our guide, we motored through the park, hitting the key spots that were relatively reachable from the car. I look forward to a second proper trip through the park where I don't have to bother with Old Faithful and can focus on hikes and other sites. If you are fortunate enough to have been there, you know the park is pretty great, even with the massive congestion. If not, there are pictures on my Facebook page or a more curated and filtered selection on my Instagram page (@oldmanduggan).
Returning to Bozeman from the park, my friend opted to route us through Beartooth Pass rather than return by the same way we came. As mentioned before, rain was rolling through Yellowstone. That isn't a real problem when it is roughly 50 degrees in the park. At just shy of 11,000 feet on the highest state through-road outside of Colorado in the lower 48, that rain is not rain. It's skin-piercing snow in late July.
The other issue is that this climb was done in a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid. It is a manual, so that helped a bit. But to say this vehicle likes hills would be akin to saying Jeff Francoeur has range and plate discipline.
Once we finally descended back into civilization, I discovered that the Royals game was about to end with the first shred of cellular coverage I had all day and set about crapping out a recap based on the box score and game log while The Special Lady Friend took the wheel and navigated the car through a downpour.
The next day, we got up early and left for Grand Teton National Park, which brought us back through Yellowstone. This is suboptimal when you've already been through Yellowstone the day prior, and we sat at a stoplight three blocks from the turn into the park for at least 20 minutes in West Yellowstone as traffic from another highway and possible short-staffing at the gates made for a dismal traffic jam.
We eventually made it through the park's south entrance and hit Grand Teton which was arresting and quick--the best of both worlds.
After a long trek to Provo and a late rise the next morning, we rolled into Arches National Park mid-afternoon and saw what we could in four hours or so. It was wild, though either of the shorter hikes to see Delicate Arch were probably in vain as you're still too far from the arch to have it be anything more than a cute oddity. The Windows, particularly the less crowded South Window, were great as were Double Arch and Turret Arch. I wish we had more time in the park, which is the overarching theme of this trip.
We stayed that night in Moab, which surprised us both as a town we could probably use as a base for a week's worth of activities in the area, before heading out to the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands. It was stunning, as expected though we did not see James Franco's severed limbs anywhere. I think we would both love to see more of the park in the future.
As the other portions of the park are not really friendly to cars like ours, we knocked that out in a couple hours and headed off to Mesa Verde, which looks a lot smaller on the map than it is when winding up mountain roads into the park. When we got to the park, we discovered that there were a handful of key sites for which tickets needed to be purchased, and those tickets were sold out for the day. After a LONG winding drive on Wetherill Mesa, we got to the area where Step House is. It was cool, but probably not worth the long drive over there without also having a ticket for the other ruins there.
Feeling the park to be dud at that point, we headed back to the central corridor through the park. Much of the sites over here are also tickets-only, but what ruins you could see and walk through were worth the two-hour drive from Moab and the price of admission. Spruce Tree House was awesome, and the view from across the canyon of Cliff Palace was amazing. More than any of these parks, I want to go back to Mesa Verda because I feel like there is so much more to see.
Today we head off to the Grand Canyon and then to Vegas before finally moving into our closet in LA tomorrow.
What are your favorite National Park experiences?