In Memory of my Aunt JoAnn – thank you for housing me at the beginning of this trek around the US and for being a great travel buddy and friend!
The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a road trip in the USA with two of my college girlfriends. During freshman year of undergraduate school in Wisconsin, I became good friends with two girls, one of which was leaving Wisconsin to spend summer break at home in California. My other friend and I had an idea to come and join her in California, and then we would take turns driving back to Wisconsin for the fall term. That idea led to one month of exploring the USA (all places I had never seen before) in the summer of 2000. Here is our crazy and adventurous itinerary (with some old scanned pictures from my film camera):
My Wisconsin friend and I flew from Midway in Chicago (sketchiest airport area – don’t get lost) to Phoenix, Arizona to spend time with family members that we had there. I got to spend a week with my Aunt JoAnn. It was the first time I really got to hang out with her just the two of us, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Even though she was working at the time, she did take me around Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. We also took a day trip to Sedona and Jerome. It was in the 100s, but we didn’t mind walking around a bit. There is something to be said about dry heat.
After a week’s time, I met back up with my girlfriend and her dad offered to drive us to our friend’s house in California – with a few stops along the way. Our first night, we went camping at the Grand Canyon. I was 18 and had never been camping before. It was dark when we got our campsite set up – I was no help as I had no idea what I was doing. My friend’s dad decided that we should go on a little walk (in the middle of the night) to find the canyon. It was so dark and foggy, that I couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of me. Eventually I realized that there was no ground a few feet ahead and that we were actually at the canyon’s edge. I freaked as I am really scared of heights – mostly the falling part, so I didn’t hang out on the edge long before returning to the campsite. I didn’t sleep well that first night. I’ve always been a city girl, so the noises of the wild – coyotes and such – kept me awake for hours. It took me almost 20 years, but I’m a much better camper now. The next morning we drove around the canyon, took lots of pictures, and even walked down a bit before I freaked again (it was terrifying!), and we walked back up. It’s not like we were going to walk the many hours down the whole canyon anyway.
We hit the road again and stopped to explore Hoover Dam on the border of Arizona and Nevada, which is a very impressive dam that was built on the Colorado River in the early 1900s to minimize flooding and generate power. We then cooled off in the nearby Lake Mead.
In the evening, we arrived in Las Vegas. I know Paris is the city of lights, but I have to say that sometimes I believe that it should be Vegas, since Vegas is surrounded by nothing but darkness, and then you have this town full of flashing lights from hotels, restaurants and clubs. It is quite a sight to see. We went to the Stratosphere, where there is shopping, food and casinos. Everything is in the Stratosphere. We also had a quick stop to see The Mirage at the Bellagio Hotel before continuing on to California.
My friend’s dad was a trooper and drove through the night, while we slept in the car. He woke us up to see the morning clouds of fog over the Pacific Ocean near Big Sur. I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before. We spent the next few days with some of my friend’s family near San Francisco. We got some sun while lounging at the delta and even took a day trip to see the California Redwoods. Then we met up with our other friend just outside of San Francisco in Davis, California. We spent a few days there, went shopping in Sacramento and spent a whole day wandering around San Francisco. Finally, it was time to pack up my friend’s van and start heading back to school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. However, we did make some stops along the way.
The first stop on the road was Donner Lake, which if you don’t know the story of the Donner party and Donner pass, it is a very pretty place to stop.
While we did stop in Reno, Nevada, as we drove through Nevada, it was not a very impressive town, so I didn’t really even take pictures. I did the drive through the rest of Nevada into Idaho, toward Idaho Falls. Idaho is much more scenic than Nevada with greenery, rivers and beautiful bridges.
Our second day on the road, brought us into Wyoming for our next stop. We would spend multiple days camping at Yellowstone National Park. There are so many great sights to see and great hiking trails. Some of the highlights were: Old Faithful and many other smaller geysers, Mammoth Hot Springs, Morning Glory and swimming in the rapids. We spent a good amount of time searching for interesting animals. I personally wanted to see a bear (from a distance of course), but we had no luck, though we thought we came close with a black cow lol.
After a few days we headed toward my friend’s family in South Dakota. If you aren’t a Close Encounters of the Third Kind fan, making a stop at Devil’s Tower before leaving Wyoming may not be for you, but it was amazing!
Once arriving in Rapid City, South Dakota, my friend’s aunt took us around the Black Hills, and then we got to see Mount Rushmore. It is just as impressive as it is in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The skies were an interesting color too, which you can’t really see well in my old pictures, but there was a forest fire nearby that added a reddish tint to the skies over Mount Rushmore.
After our stay in South Dakota, we headed all the way up to visit my friend’s grandmother in Beaver Bay, Minnesota. We decided to camp one more night in a campground in Minnesota before heading toward Lake Superior. That was the oddest camping experience I’ve ever experience (I’ve now had a few outside of this trip), as the campground was completely deserted. There were no rangers to take our money and I don’t remember seeing any other campers either. To date this trip a bit, I had just seen The Blair Witch Project, and that is what this experience felt like, that we were all alone in the woods and would wake up to little rocks stacked outside our tent. We made the most of this odd situation though and built a huge fire and just behaved like the crazy teenagers we were.
Once we got to Beaver Bay, Minnesota, we ventured around the area. We went to Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse, which were all along the coast of Lake Superior.
Then it was time to say goodbye to our adventurous summer of exploring the US and head back for the start of fall term at school in Wisconsin. It was an amazing summer. I am very grateful I had that time with my friends and with all our family members that took us in along the way.