Not familiar with the area had me checking counties to see where the storm was headed and if I would be affected. Snow amounts were ranging from dusting to measurable amounts. There was always the chance it would miss us and everything would be fine. I went with that thought as I settled into bed, only to be proven wrong the next morning.
I woke up to a gray sky and what appeared to be snow in the far distance. Aria and I got up and headed outside for a walk. I looked back to the mountains that were behind us and they were gone as well as part of Bozeman in the distance. The clouds had dropped and looked like they weren't going to be lifting anytime soon. After breakfast, the phone continued to buzz and beep as updated weather alerts continued to pour in. Now they included passes that were closed or would be closing soon.
Even though the clouds were low it wasn't snowing hard in Bozeman so, being the adamant photographer that I am, I decided to head out and see if maybe the further West I went the better it would be. Not only was I wrong, I was almost dead wrong. The roads became slushy and sleek only a few miles West of Bozeman and clouds dropped so low that visibility was limited and the snow began to fall harder. Trying to find a place to turn around wasn't easy as turn-offs became far and few.
Finally, I was able to find a ramp that allowed for a turnaround and headed back towards the hotel. As I turned around and headed up the ramp I couldn't help but pull over and snap a few shots of the snow and the storm. The drive back was even worse, the slush had built up and the trucks were running fast and heavy. Images of mountain driving came screaming back only this time the slush was thick and tried to pull my car over to the shoulder. More than once I almost lost control and one time was next to a dump truck.
Thankfully, I was able to regain control before the total loss occurred and made it safely back to the hotel. Aria was only too thankful to be back to the hotel room where she curled up quickly and laid low for the remainder of the day. Bummer. I did some blogging and website work but needed to do something else while I was here besides hanging out in a hotel room. A quick view of the town revealed a local town museum that wasn't too far away.
I also needed an oil change and there was a Jiffy Lube near the museum that I could use. Leaving the hotel revealed a slight lull in the storm which allowed me to find the Jiffy Lube that had two garages and two cars in line for each garage. I decided to come back and went over to the museum but parking was on the main street with the closest spot being several blocks away. I passed on the museum and turned back towards Jiffy Lube only to discover the lull was over and the storm was back, blowing and snowing harder than before.
This lead to whiteout conditions and unable to see where it was located. What should have only taken five minutes to find ended up being fifteen and by then the line was now four cars deep. Stay or go. Once again I was asking this question, and once again I decided to stay. It needed to get done and what else did I have to do today. Almost two hours later the car was done and I was able to watch the snow go from heavy to nothing, slow to nothing and then when leaving it kicked back up to heavy.
I knew when I got back to the hotel I would not leave it again until I was ready to head back towards South Dakota which would be the next day. I went back to the hotel and found Aria curled up in her carrier enjoying the sound of the TV in the background. We went for another walk and settled in for the afternoon which was spent watching movies, updating social media and my website while I watched the snow continue to fall outside. As the night closed in, the storm began to move out and the alerts began to expire. A review of the map, weather, and route told me I was going to have to deal with some of it tomorrow.
There were several hours of driving ahead of us and the sun was pushing the clouds away and the humidity was creeping in. Towns were scarce between the museum and Rapid City which would be the next major town I would come to, however, there were plenty of signs and billboards for the town of Wall which sounded more like a carnival than a town.
Just before Rapid City, a collection of mountains could be seen in the distance and not long afterward was a sign that pointed in that direction and said "scenic bypass". I was always up for a scenic bypass. The route took me about five to ten miles away from the interstate and just before it started there were stations ahead with a cost to enter, I was now at the Badlands. Beautiful from afar, I could only imagine what it would be like to drive through it but not knowing how long it was or where it came out I made note of the area and decided I would come back to it on my return.
A few shots were taken at a pull over before the entrance and Aria was able to get out as well. I made a u-turn and headed back to the interstate. This new route I was taking would have me spend a few miles in Wyoming before entering into Montana and continuing on to Bozeman. Things were going along fine on I90 and soon we were passing through Rapid City. The weather was being cooperative and the roads weren't seeing much in the way of traffic or construction. After leaving South Dakota I stepped into Wyoming and that was when my GPS called out a turn that I was leaving the comforts of I90 to go on a local highway.
I normally don't question the GPS in an area I was not familiar with but this turn off didn't look like any highway I was used to seeing. The road was in rough shape and the buildings were sketchy, the clouds had also returned giving the area a depressing feeling and in the background, my radio decided to play the song "Madness" by Muse. It was during this time he sang out, "or is this just maaaadness..." Sign or sarcasm as I glanced down at the radio.
I only live once so why the heck not. I followed the GPS and continued on towards, what I hoped to be, Bozeman. The route was two lane most of the way, going through small towns with twists and turns along the way. An occasional truck or logger would be seen which gave me a little comfort to know that my GPS wasn't taking me out to the middle of nowhere. It also offered some great abandoned places which had me pulling over to take photos.
Then came the section where there was no one and nothing around me. I was completely alone, queue my radio's timing to put on the radio story "On A Country Road" with Carey Grant. This radio story was from the Suspense collection, and it was about a couple out at night on a drive, a storm rolls in, and there was a report of a crazy woman with a cleaver who had escaped from a mental institute. To save time they decide to take a back road and ran out of gas. Que more sarcasm as even darker clouds rolled in and I was the only one on this road. A quick glance down at the instruments told me I had plenty of gas and everything was running smooth.
For the moment the anxiety passed and soon cars started to reappear along with more small towns. This, of course, didn't happen until the story was completely done. Eventually, I hooked back up with I90 just before Billings but before doing so I encountered some high hills and sharp turns that brought me into a town called Crow Agency. As I descended into the town off to my left was an area full of white headstones and a flow of cars pulling into the area.
As I passed, I glanced over to see a sign that said Little Big Horn National Monument. This was something I had to check out. I remembered hearing about this site but was unable to place it at the moment but it finally came back to me as this was the last stand by the Native Americans and Colonel Custer's 7th Cavalry.
It was lined with white headstones to remember all those who had fallen both the soldiers and the Native Americans. The largest cemetery was located shortly after I entered the monument, I continued the drive in and there were white headstones throughout the field marking where the person had fallen and died. There were also pull-offs and placards to tell a little more about the area.
The driving route ended high on a hill and looked over the Crow Agency, the vast fields where the battle had occurred and down on the entrance. I stepped out for a better view and as a light breeze blew passed me I couldn't help but feel sadness at the loss that had occurred here on both sides. All this bloodshed and death, a small prayer was said to all those who had fallen here before I returned to the car and headed back down.
A few miles later I passed through Billings which was a large and booming industrial city with a few mountains off in the distance. Traffic was thick when I went through but was easily manageable. Clouds were scattered since I had left Little Big Horn but the closer I got to Bozeman the thicker, fluffier and darker they became. Another storm was starting to brew and road construction had also begun which slowed down the drive.
Even though it was only my second time back to Bozeman, the location of the hotel, as well as the area, came rushing back to me as if I had lived here my whole life. The GPS was quickly turned off as I guided myself the rest of the way. I pulled into the hotel parking lot and when I stepped out it was like being hugged by an old friend. Aria and I went for our walk before settling in for the night.
I would be here for two nights and tomorrow was going to be spent taking a route that would lead me through old mining towns and abandoned places as well as get another view of the back roads of Montana. I was looking forward to it and re-checked the location when my phone started to buzz and beep. I pulled it out and saw several alerts for the area that included a snowstorm warning and a snowstorm watch. Apparently, Montana had a different plan for me.
I was woken up in the middle of the night by a loud sound and when I rolled over was blinded by the light that flashed in. The storm had arrived. I got up to use the restroom and to peek out the window, sheets of rain were pouring down in a diagonal direction. The wind was fierce blowing loose branches, twigs and leaves across the parking lot. It began to sound like hail as the rain continued to fall harder and was pushed up against the windows. A return from the bathroom had me realize that I didn't see Aria anywhere in the path to the bathroom, nor had she been in there. She never enjoyed storms and being in a small hotel room where the noise pounded and echoed about I knew she wasn't having a good night.
I curled up in bed, called her a couple of times with no response. Wherever she had chosen to hold up for the night she wasn't going to leave it. I laid back down in bed and listened to the storm continue, it wasn't long before I was back to sleep. It seemed like only minutes had passed when I felt a cold, wet nose nudge up against my face. A peeked eye had me looking into Aria's face which was quickly followed by a few licks. I rolled over towards the window and the beginning of daylight began to show through.
As I got up, I took a look outside to see that my car was still in one piece but the parking lot was littered with tree debris. I quickly got dressed and Aria and I got ready for our morning walk and to start the day. We merged from the room only to see more twigs, branches, and leaves scattered about the hotel lot and the walking grounds. A look up at the sky revealed more bad weather was on the way as the clouds grew darker the further West I looked.
Today's agenda involved visiting the 1880 Town Museum located about 30 minutes from here. According to the website, and from an email, the museum would open at 9a which allowed for me to visit, take photos and come back for Aria before check-out time. Temperatures were going to be warm that day and after the storm passed humidity was also going to be a factor.
Today the car was packed up again, this time, with fewer items. It was time for a short trip out to Montana and view a few places along the way. Aria knew what this meant and wasn't too eager to jump in but when given the option to stay back, she quickly jumped into the car and settled in for another adventure across the states.
This time as I headed out West I would be taking a different route that would take me through Southern Minnesota, South Dakota, and finally ending in Bozeman, Montana. I would be staying a couple of days out there and had plans to tour the back roads and historical sites along the way.
The new route would involve I90W for a large portion of the drive but first, I had to get there. The day had overcast skies with a chance of rain and cool temps which made driving ideal. I headed out of Wisconsin towards the Twin Cities and was barely through it when the GPS and I started to have a disagreement about which way to go. It would prefer I took I35 but I wanted to take another route in order to avoid I35's construction and traffic.
This debate continued for several minutes, with a constant "recalculating, recalculating," ringing through the car. No matter what, it refused to recalculate me to continue on my current route and wanted me to do an immediate turnaround and take I35. The GPS was turned off and I continued on the current route.
A few minutes later, the Twin Cities disappeared from my rear view mirror, as well as the traffic and large buildings. A few towns later and they too disappeared and opened up to the countryside that made up a large portion of Southern Minnesota that included dairy farms, crops, and rolling fields. A few hours later and ahead was the sign for I90W, I decided to give the GPS another try and turned it back on.
Normally this was a quick startup but apparently, he was pouting and took longer than usual to start up. Eventually he "found a signal" and was able to re-calculate my destination to now include the route I was on. I turned on I90W and it wasn't long until I was crossing the border and into South Dakota.
I discovered on my return trip that I90 offered a lot more to the eye than I94 and was happy to be back on this route. Old and abandoned buildings lined up along the Interstate, some closer than others as well as old barns. Unable to stop due to the traffic, speed and not seeing them in time, I was able to get a few shots from time to time on an exit.
Eventually, even those buildings started to disappear and all that surrounded me was open fields and rolling hills, cars were also becoming fewer which had me sit back and enjoy the ride while getting lost in the radio story that was playing.
Not aware of the time and getting involved with the radio story that was playing I soon began to feel a dull ache in my left arm. I was brought out of my thoughts and looked down to realize my arm was locked and holding the steering wheel in a slight turn even though I was going straight. As I began to look at the dashboard for any indicators of trouble my eyes were caught by the thermometer which now read an almost 20-degree drop. I looked up and realized the clouds had gone from a gray to an almost dark black and the wind had picked up. A quick calculation had me realize that the temperature had dropped 20 degrees in about an hour which meant I could be in a prime spot to see a tornado.
My mind was awake and my body on alert, I continued forward and kept an eye on the sky. I still had a few hours to go before I would be at Murdo and was hoping that whatever weather was brewing would at least wait until I got into a sheltered community. As if Mother Nature heard me the clouds began to spread out, the wind began to ease and the temperature slowly began to rise. I was moving away from the storm and even though the color had turned back to gray I knew tonight was going to still bring us some weather.
Between the towns of Mitchell and Murdo, there were only a few stopping areas, but more than North Dakota offered. Even the town of Murdo was nothing to brag about. It contained two hotels, two gas stations, one fast food and that was it. It did make getting around easy as well as finding the hotel because there were only two main streets and the two hotels were right next door to each other.
Maybe it was the overcast skies, the muddy roads and worn down buildings that had me think this was a bad place to spend the night. I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into and questioned whether I should stay the night or not.
The hotel was a privately owned Best Western with garden level rooms all around and parking was available close to the room. It also had a grassy area for dog walking. I pulled up to the main door and got out to check in, the staff was friendly and the lobby was quaint but clean. I was wrong, this place wouldn't be bad for the one night. After check-in, I went to the room and Aria and I got settled in for the night.
There was a downside to the location of our room and the walking area. It was located behind the hotel and there was no easy way to get there except to hike all the way around the building. The area was secluded and not well-lit, however, they did have doggy bags and trash bins close by. Walks would only be taken during the light of day. As we finished our last walk of the night, the dark clouds continued to roll by, the wind had picked up again and a few drops were starting to fall.
We headed back in for the night and as the door was locked a low rumble could be heard in the distance. A storm was coming but I didn't know it was going to be so violent.
The last day began like most with a cool morning and overcast skies. The weather was calling for rain all the way to Wisconsin. If I was lucky, I would get a few moments of relief along the way but that was only if I left sooner than later. We enjoyed the breakfast and our morning walk. The hotel was quiet and clean with a ground level room near the walking grounds and location was near the major highway. Despite all the construction, I enjoyed the little time we spent in Rapid City. A quick look at the map showed how close I was to local attractions, such as Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands National Park.
I finally packed up the car and was about to head out when the low tire indicator came on. Thankfully there was a gas station right next door with a free air pump and in a matter of a minute all tires were good to go and the indicator was off. I pulled out onto the highway and made my way towards I90 East towards Minnesota.
It wasn't long after my departure that the rain began to fall and the grey clouds surrounded me. This lead to a very slow and dull drive through most of South Dakota. Through the heavy drops, abandoned and run-downed buildings and barns could be seen but were unable to be captured because of the rain. Hydroplaning became a concern as I drove through some of the low lying areas. At one point the rain did stop long enough for me to get a glance at an old church with a windmill in the distance. Clearly old and abandoned I was instantly drawn to it, as I passed it I glanced back in my rear-view mirror to see that it wasn't just a church but a whole collection of old buildings.
What in the world was that? Also, where the heck was I in this state? A sign ahead revealed that I was close to the time change line and would be entering Central time. Thank you, South Dakota, that was helpful. I turned off on the next exit and made my way back to the structures only to encounter another sign that said I was leaving the central time zone and entering the mountain. Sure you can tell me the time zone but you can't give me one little hint of the town I was in.
After a few miles, the old town came into view with an exit alongside it. I pulled down into it with signs for a campground and a gas station but gates to the structures were closed. I had come across the 1880 Town Museum located outside of Murdo, South Dakota. From the road, I was able to snap a few shots of the buildings and made a note to come back again when it was open and see inside these buildings. Like I said earlier, I love historical places and museums.
Another turn around had me back on I90 and headed towards Minnesota. Even though the stop was worth the shots it had delayed me long enough for the weather to catch up and once through Murdo the rain began again and continued the rest of the way to the border. A stop in Mitchell, South Dakota had me filling up the car, grabbing a snack and enduring the cold wind and rain. There was no way I was going to get a break from this weather.
More rain with slower driving added more time on the road and at this point, I was ready to be done with the trip and settled for the night but still had over four hours to go. Once in Minnesota, I got off of the Interstate and onto a local highway which did not make the GPS happy at all. Instead of re-configuring to direct us on the new route it kept telling me to turn around, once again, I probably should have listened to the GPS but I always think I know better than it and continued North towards the cities.
When the route changed, the GPS reconfigured the route and the time to the final destination. Well, my GPS was so hell-bent on going the original route that every time it reconfigured it was not just adding a few minutes it was adding hours. At one point it told me if I didn't turn around now it would be 10 hours before I got to my destination. With an attitude like that it was only right to turn it off.
I had my dad's directions as a backup and I knew the names and locations of the towns on the signs, so it wouldn't take much to figure my way back to the cities. But the rain remained unforgiving and the roads became slick with hydroplaning once again coming into the mix. I was finally outside of the city and a glance at the clock told me that I would be entering the beginning of rush hour. I turned on the highway through the city and came to a dead stop.
Minnesota was yelling, "welcome home!" to me as I dealt with brake riders and tail kissers throughout the entire drive. A crash here and near-crashes there had me delayed another hour. At this point, it could very well be close to 10p before I would be home. Eventually, I made it through unscathed and stressed out. I was never so happy to see the sign for the suburbs I used to live in. A few quick turns had me off the interstate and onto a side road where traffic was less and driving was easier.
Another quick stop to fill up and grab supper had me back on the road again. A few more slow areas along the way and I was finally in Wisconsin where traffic spread out and opened up. The rain was with us the entire way but at times turned to a light drizzle that made the drive a little easier.
By 7p that night I was pulling into the driveway and Aria knew exactly where we were. She jumped up on the back seat, with a whimper and a yelp as if to say, "we're home!" Exhausted from the last several days on the road it was good to be back. Aria was quick to jump out of the car and take off running through the yard.
There was no place like home. With a sigh of relief, came a gentle breeze that blew my hair off of my shoulders. As I looked into the wind a song began to play in my head "Wind of Change" by the Scorpions. "The future's in the air, I can feel it everywhere, blowing in the wind of change...The wind of change blows straight into the face of time, like a storm-wind that will ring the freedom bell for peace of mind..." The word's echoed in my head as I looked into the wind towards the open field ahead of me.
After being on the road for almost two weeks exploring the West Coast it was nice to be waking up in my own room, own bed and back to a routine that didn't include getting into the car. As I reviewed the photos and edited the articles I started to miss the road and was eager to head back out again. However, the budget was tight and I needed to stay put for a while. I discovered that most travel writers would write about places near them and began to get creative. I looked at what was around me and what I could write about locally.
My sister-in-law had started working at a nearby town museum, Barron County Historical Town Musem, and it sparked my historical interest immediately. After a few conversations, I went over there to write my first article about a museum and photograph the collection of historic buildings before the season had officially started. This would be my first step towards museum writing and it would also let me know if I would enjoy it and would be good at it. It became one of my most popular blogs as well as the photos being published online at travelwisconsin.com.
The next morning I stepped out of my hotel room with Aria, the sun was shining on the door but the air was crisp and cool with a hint of breath in front of me. For the first time in days, I had to put on the heat in the middle of the night. Temperatures dropped another 20 degrees as day turned to night and were slow to climb the next morning. As we began our walk we were cooled further by the wet grass between our feet. As we started back in a breeze blew by us and through our hair making it feel like Fall instead of early Spring. As I looked into the wind I couldn't help but think that less than 24 hours ago, I was in shorts, tank top, running the a/c, sweating and in 75 degree weather. Today I was wearing a sweater, jeans, coat and ran the heat for most of the night. Hello, Wyoming. The car was packed and I continued East towards South Dakota.
It wasn't long after our departure that we encountered our first area of road construction and I couldn't help but wonder if they were the same workers who had stayed at my hotel. Our route today took me from Interstate to Highway, back to Interstate and ended the rest of the route on Highway. Speeds ranged from 55 mph to 80 mph and the Highways were marked just as high as the interstate. The route began cutting through the mountains near Rock Springs, Wyoming and took us towards Casper. They twisted and turned until the scenery around us became high, rolling hills and finally opened up into fields. It wasn't too long later that I began to see the open fields have more hills which become higher and eventually welcomed back the mountains.
The beginning had a lot of turns offs, pullovers and parks to stop at if I had more time I would have pulled over to enjoy them. Some of the views were amazing and there were also historic markers as well. But just like any other place I had been on during this trip, there was road construction and a lot of it. If I wasn't being stopped by construction, I would be slowing down for the rough road ahead. I reached Casper and there was not much to talk about when it came to this town. It was a bunch of small buildings next to snow-covered peaks, however, nestled next to it was a town called Evansville which had a lot more life and spark to it.
This route must see a lot of road closures as there were signs every few miles that had flashers to indicate when the road ahead had been closed and directions on where to go when it was. Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with any side routes or closures. After all, I was no longer in California, Wyoming was hardier and more accommodating. It wasn't long after Casper that the mountains moved back and allowed the open fields and rolling hills to take over the view. This would make the drive seem even longer but thanks to the occasional abandoned, run-downed home, a moving train, running streams it wasn't too terribly bad.
Just before I crossed over into South Dakota I was greeted by large hills that welcomed you to the Black Hills area. It was hard to believe that the National Forest lied just behind it. What I did see of the hills on this route were worth noting and eventually saw the signs that lead to Mount Rushmore.
As the sun began to peek in I rolled over and turned on the TV. It was on a local Las Vegas station which announced that today would be their 12th warmest day of the season in a row. I rolled back over with a groan, do I have the timing or what? It's either fighting curves through rain, sleet, and snow or I get slammed with record temperatures in Nevada. No wonder Aria was lying lower than usual today. I began the day by checking the weather in Wyoming where, in a few hours, I would be in temperatures that were 25 degrees cooler than Nevada was right now. That would be a nice shock to the system; be careful what you wish for.
I packed up and as we got out to the car a warm breeze blew past us which was enough to revive Aria to take a small walk before we headed out. I took one last look around before getting in and as the breeze blew once again a feeling overwhelmed me; it was the feeling of change. I smiled to myself and got into the car where the temperature on the dashboard was reading 75 degrees and we were a few minutes before 8a. A quick stop at the front desk to check out and grab breakfast, upon return, the car started to feel like an oven. It was time to go!
The drive took me to I-15 Northbound and I went around the city of Las Vegas one last time before leaving it in the rear-view mirror. Road construction continued to pop up and as I left the city I took a few of their crazy drivers with me. Everyone just needed to pick a speed and stay with it. This continued for several miles and backing off on my speed only had everyone around me doing the same and the frustration continued. Finally, they sped up or got off altogether and the courteous drivers were all that remained for the rest of the journey.
I have to admit I-15 turned out to be a very photographic journey. Most of it was spent going through the mountains or near them and the further North I went the more white tips began to peak through. Shortly after leaving Nevada I entered into Arizona for a few miles and went into Virgin River Canyon.
The cuts, twists, and turns through the valley were jaw-dropping and the road was easy to maneuver. Massive walls of rocks that surrounded me made me feel like I was going to be swallowed up and disappear. The different colors of brown with a sprinkle of red caught my attention and I couldn't help but glance over. Another turn took me up and I was looking down into rivers that cut through the mountains. The road continued to climb out and I began to see blue sky ahead only to drop down again and lose sight of it. I wish there had been non-emergency places to pull over it would have been fun to photograph, but I had to work with my dash cam which didn't do the experience justice.
The mountains and beautiful scenery pulled back after I left the canyon and continued North towards Utah. I remembered visiting Salt Lake City as a child but didn't remember the details, I was glad to experience it again and see the snow-capped mountains around the bend. If there was any question about being in Utah, just look up and see the white tips and lush green. I was out of the desert mountains and into the seasonal ones.
Another place that took me by surprise was Provo, Utah. Clearly a University town but was still a cute and quaint town that was nestled next to several mountain peaks. When entering the city there were two ways to get through it, the University Express or University Ave; the express required a $.25 toll. Since I requested a no-toll route from my GPS, which had already proven to be worth every penny, we went down University Ave and I was glad I did. The views were better and the mountains were gorgeous. Since I had to stop and wait for light changes I took this moment to snap a few photos.
As I continued through and out of Provo the views only get better. Thankfully, there were now plenty of parks and pull-offs for me to view and take photos of the mountains and Provo Lake. I almost forget to look back in the rearview mirror, the sight behind me offered more breathtaking views but only dared to take a glance as the road was full of twists, turns, and hills with speeds changing quickly.
My last pullover was at Fort Bridger, Wyoming at a Travel Centers of America truck stop and as far as truck stops go, I've seen a few over the years, this one was pretty nice and extremely clean. I opened the door to gas the car, and was only wearing a short sleeve shirt, and quickly closed the door as the chilling wind that blew through shocked me back to the present. I was definitely out of Nevada and a coat would be needed from this point on. I reached back and even with the coat on, the cold wind had a bite to it and it was officially 20 degrees cooler than this morning. Factor in the wind it was probably closer to 25.
I had arrived safely and soundly to our location and Aria had a light hop, skip and a jump to her stride. She welcomed the cooler temperature and let the wind blow through her hair as we walked one last time before we rested for the night. Even in the hotel room, she was jumping around like a puppy and we played a little tug of war with her lamb chop. I think she sensed we would be back home soon and was anxious to have a break from the road.
Tomorrow I would be heading further North to South Dakota, another state I hadn't seen in a long time. This road trip had reminded me of the past in so many ways but I enjoyed seeing it in the present. It seemed fitting especially for this period of time in my life. If this road trip was any indication of what the future held then I was ready for all the bumps, bruises, twist and turns that would come along the way because I know up ahead lied cooler temps and smoother roads with spectacular views.
Today would be another non-travel day. A day to sit back, put the feet up, sleep in, and take a few naps. Oh wait, that was Aria's day. Mine was spent planning the trip back to the Midwest as well as seeing a few things around the area. I was definitely not a desert person, it was crazy how quickly the temperature rose once the sun began to wake up, not that it got very cool last night but I was hoping the heat would have held off just a little bit longer. Upon my return from breakfast, I was in time to hear the local news announce that the area was experiencing it's hottest temperatures for this time of the year. Of course, they were, why would I get here when they were experiencing "below normal" temps. Mother Nature was just plain evil at this point.
The day was, without a doubt, slower to start than the others but there were still errands that needed to be run. First on the list was a stop at the local Jiffy Lube to have the car serviced, this station wasn't quick about anything and an hour later I was finally checking out only to have my bank card declined. Thankfully, my credit card was stilling working. The local Wal-Mart was next to pick up the GPS I had ordered online, the phone was officially done misdirecting me to my locations. Upon leaving the store I also picked up some sunscreen and a few other items only to see, once again, that my bank card was denied. A swipe of the credit card had me on my way and calling the bank. After being on hold for several minutes even the representative couldn't figure out why my card had been locked as there were no unusual purchases. The only thing he could conclude was the Wal-Mart I was at had a high rate of fraud; great. My card was now unlocked and I was on my way back to the hotel to pick up Aria.
I returned only to find her enjoying the air-conditioned hotel with not a care in the world. A few minutes later she was leashed up and we were off to explore a local trail. One step out into the rising heat had Aria looking back towards the hotel room as if to say, "I'd rather go back". But she didn't fight it and into the already warm car, we went.
We headed out towards Lake Mead to check out the Lake Mead Historic Railroad Trail which was a mile away from my hotel. There had been a nice, gentle breeze that had been blowing through the city but once we hit the trail the wind disappeared and the heat became unbearable. With a water bottle in hand and camera around the neck, we continued on. Considering we were both not use to this kind of heat we took it slow and was only able to see about 1/3 of the hike which took us close to thirty minutes. Even with the several water stops, we made during that time, Aria's tongue was still dragging and my breathing was becoming short and shallow. We turned back and returned to the car, neither of us needed to have a heat stroke while visiting.
The Lake Mead Historic Railroad Trail was all that remained of the tracks that brought supplies in to build the Hoover Dam. The original track was build in 1931 and had trains running 24 hours a day that would haul gravel, supplies, and machinery to the construction site. Its last year of use was in 1961, dismantled in 1962 and became a National Historic site in 2015. The trail was 3.7 miles long, hugged the large hills, had several tunnels along the route and would end near the Hoover Dam Visitor Center. The trails were well-groomed and easy to follow with placards throughout to further explain the history of the tracks. There was no fee to park near the Alan Bible Visitor Center off of Lakeshore Road.
Pets were welcomed on the trail as long as they were on a leash. There were no watering stations and very little shade until the tunnels, glad I came prepared. They even had warning signs that highly recommended no hiking the trail from June-September because of the extreme heat during that time period. There were beautiful panoramic views of Lake Mead along the trail.
We arrived back at the car where another bottle of water was waiting for us. Both of us took healthy drinks from it while the car tried to cool down. A few minutes later we crawled in and the cool a/c from the car began to revive us both. Afterward, we drove into Las Vegas and down Las Vegas Boulevard. Once again, I was visiting a town I hadn't been to in a really long time. As I drove down the road and looked at the buildings, I couldn't help but chuckle that every block had a wedding chapel and a pawn shop. Some of the chapels were busy and the pawn shops had people waiting in long lines outside the building.
I couldn't leave Las Vegas without checking out one more thing, The Haunted Museum. Yes, I'm a Ghost Adventures fan but not a fanatic, I watch the show when I can and there are things done that I disagree with but was still intrigued when Zak Bagans announced a museum full of haunted objects he had collected over the years. Actually, it was the history of the building that caught my attention more so than the objects. I love historical buildings, photographing them and love visiting museums.
The never-ending promise that it would be "opening soon" had me wondering if the place truly existed, it did and I could see why he was drawn to it. It was simple but tasteful and smaller than I pictured, from the angles of the filming he had done I expected it to be bigger. The energy that surrounded it gave me comfort and peace. Despite what he and his visitors say, now that it is officially open, I found it to be very relaxing and hope to tour it one day.
Although I would prefer a private tour to get a true feeling of the place. A few photos and a drive around had me back on the main road.
After two hours in the sun and heat, Aria and I headed back to the hotel and it wasn't long after that we crashed for an afternoon nap. Que weird, dark and crazy dreams; maybe the museum impacted me more than I thought.
It was hard getting up after that but eventually did to do more cataloging of photos and journaling of the trip. The sun had started to set and there was a slight decrease in the temperature. Aria and I headed out for a walk and then went to find supper, upon return I noticed that my phone was beeping and buzzing every few seconds. Thinking it was an emergency I reached for it and unlocked it.
To my great surprise, Zak Bagans had responded to a tweet I had sent about visiting the Haunted Museum and his fans had also responded. That was cool and I smiled at the response and hoped that one day we would meet face to face and he would offer a private tour of his museum. Until then, I silenced the phone, did a little more work and then Aria and I called it a night. The next day would be a long one up to Wyoming as we made our way back to Wisconsin.
The day began with a whisper of coolness in the air and a much too exhausted puppy lying next to the bed. A quick look at the weather showed the day was going to be a good one, however, it was going to be warm and Nevada would be downright hot. This meant the hike I had planned for us in Nevada was going to have to be short and sweet as temperatures were going to rise quickly as the morning went on. But for here in Monterey, California the warm temps and a cool breeze off the ocean were going to make for a fantastic day.
My first time to Monterey was several years ago for work, I was in the airlines at the time, and came out to help start up a new station when the company decided to go out on their own. From touchdown to takeoff I was in love with the city, the location of the airport as well as the views that surrounded this town. Since then, it grew up a bit and almost all of the area was under construction. For once, California gave me a break and allowed me to see and go wherever I wanted to without a detour.
I packed up the car and headed back to the room for Aria and the last of our things. She laid in the corner with no anticipation or excitement to leave. In fact, I had to sweet talk her into letting me put on her harness and the look I was given was equivalent to an eye roll. I sat down next to her and began to pet and talk to her, I knew she was tired and not pleased with the "walking" accommodations of the hotel. I had never, in my life, had a dog be so picky about where they had to do their business but she was and the more I tried to coax her to pop a squat the more she refused. I was able to convince her we would find someplace but we needed to leave the room in order to do so. She wagged her tail, gave a lick and we were off to the car; only to turn back to the room because I had forgotten the car keys.
First stop was Fisherman's Wharf which was jammed pack, everyone was out and about enjoying the weather and the beach. I looped around and went down to Canary Street which was full of shops, cafes, and restaurants, also, a good place to get out and walk. I turned off and headed towards Ocean Boulevard which was a nice, leisure drive around the coastline with plenty of places to park and go down to the beach or stay up top and enjoy the view. I let Aria out and we began walking around and taking in the sites. The waves crashed against the rocks and I was able to take several photos. Aria took in the sights and was more interested in the birds than the ocean. While she made sure they kept their distance, I continued to take photos and enjoyed the blue skies and turquoise waters with a hint of deep blue.
A few minutes later we continued on Ocean Boulevard, made a few stops for more photos before heading over to 17 Mile Road. I would also like to point out there were still no "suitable" spots for Aria. Her mood hadn't improved and she became more and more reluctant about our stops.
17 Mile Road was a must-see coastal drive, but there was a fee to take this drive. At the gate, I received a brochure about the different stopping points and was told to follow the red line which would put me on 17 Mile Road. Once on the road, there were plenty of signs to guide me throughout the area.
There were two entrances/exits to 17 Mile Road, one is off of Ocean Boulevard near Monterey and the other was over by Carmel-By-The-Sea. That side came into a wooded and residential area and it took a few loops before water and pull-offs would be seen. From Ocean Boulevard, where I entered, was a residential area but once I turned on 17 Mile Road, a short distance from the gate, the ocean was right in front of me, as well as the first beach parking lot.
This area was very dog-friendly and welcomed them down to the beach as well as doggy bags and trash cans next to the parking lot. I pulled over to the first available parking area, opened the door for Aria who completely ignored me and the surroundings and was in a run toward a field...of grass!! Real, green grass and not some prickly thing that only looked like grass from a distance. Her feet barely touched the cool, soft grass before her face was overcome with relief and happiness. She ran back to me with a jump, lick and a bark, now we could hike. A quick stop at the garbage can and we were on our way towards the trail.
We began the walk with several stops for my photos and once on the trail, it became busy with people. Once again, Aria proved she could listen and remain by my side while people walked by. The other thing I liked about this area was how friendly people were and respectful of your dog. They didn't do anything to excite her, just smiled and kept walking.
One time, when a couple walked passed I heard them say, “I think that was a sheltie???” I turned and confirmed that she was, and Aria began barking as if to say, “Yeah that's who I am!” and the couple laughed and continued walking. She was also able to make friends with a golden retriever. Truth be told, Aria just wanted to take his toy away from him. We walked a little further with the sound of crashing waves against the rocks echoing around us. The salty breeze that blew through our hair was peaceful and comforting. The sky was blue and the temperatures were perfect. We finally had the perfect day. It made it difficult to head back to the car but we had to continue our drive and still had the Nevada drive ahead of us.
A few other things I saw on this drive included: Shepherd's Knoll, The Restless Sea, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, The Lone Cypress and The Ghost Tree just to name a few. There were times of the year, like now, when the Lone Cypress and The Ghost Tree couldn't be seen because of the large fence that had been put up. Seals are very common in this area and this specific location is where they go to breed and have their pups. Out of respect for them and the work of the conservation to protect and build the population the fences go up and nothing could be seen, however, I could hear them.
No trip to Monterey would be complete without visiting Carmel-By-The-Sea. It was a cute, cozy and busy little town with a bunch of shops and outdoor seating. I jumped onto the Scenic Drive, which was free of charge, and saw more of the Pacific Ocean. Once again this did cut through residential living but most of them were on the backside of the drive and didn't obstruct the view. There were plenty of parking areas at the beginning of the drive as well as access to the beach, this was also a one-way only route so I didn't have to worry about oncoming traffic. However, the last half of the drive, which was where some really good shots were, didn't allow parking or stopping.
After the drive was completed I headed out to California 1 and began heading East towards Nevada. I can now safely say that California let me leave in peace, or maybe it didn't want to delay my departure. It wasn't without a little teasing though. I would begin to relax and see ahead of me that I was heading towards the mountains and the road was cutting right between them with a steep incline ahead. I prepared myself for the challenge and then once we got to the top, nothing. Three times she did this to me. Sarcasm at its finest.
I digressed and sat back for the very long journey to the Las Vegas, Nevada area. This route wasn't without a few surprises. The first one being the haze in the distance that made seeing the mountains difficult. It was so thick at times I thought I was going to see a fire or maybe even a sandstorm but no, it was just a thick, brown haze that was covering the land as far as the eye could see. It was easy to get lost in my thoughts as there was nothing to look at, which then brought me to my phone which I used as a GPS. It decided to stop working, again, because it was "too hot" and then when it went so long without being able to give directions it would shut down. Aw, the joys of technology. It was in one of these re-set the GPS moments that I looked up and couldn't believe what I was seeing. A field full of oil dikes! Way too many for me to count and most of them were operating!
Welcome to Lost Hills, California. It was the 18th largest oil field in California in size, it had been increasing in productivity and had become California's second fastest-growing oil field.
It was also known for its natural gas reserve, which in 1998, had a blowout that produced a pillar of fire that lasted for 14 days and could be seen more than 40 miles away. It was a nice little break through the haze of both my mind and the scenery. As I continued, the traffic heading West was thick and heavy all the way to Nevada. I never saw any accidents and could only assume this was weekend traffic returning to California and I was glad I was headed East.
The last surprise came without even looking for it. I happened to glance off to my right and saw a field full of airplanes, not just any airplanes, but commercial airplanes. Even from the highway I could recognize the paint colors and knew the airlines these planes belonged to. I was taken aback, there was a tower but no active aircraft were coming or going. They were just sitting there. I pulled off on the next ramp to take a few shots. Questions flowed through my mind; is this where planes went to die when the airline was done with them? A maintenance hangar? Planes getting ready to begin service and this was where they go to be customized?
Those were the easy questions I could come up with at the moment. Then my mind went into conspiracy theories, X-Files, and other sci-fi movies I had watched over time. I was, after all, near Nevada and if not mistaken Area 51 was somewhere nearby. I do believe the movie Independence Day also had a scene about an unmarked air base, conveniently enough, also in the desert. But still; what could it be?
I discovered later it was the Mojave Air & Space Port located in Mojave, California. It was the leading aerospace test center for commercial operations in North America. There were over 60 companies that assisted in flight development, aerospace design, flight test, research and even manufacturing. It was also the first facility to be licensed in the United States for horizontal launches. Maybe that would be another explanation for weird lights in the sky over the desert; another X-files moment.
The rest of the trip continued on pretty smoothly until I was in the final stretch of the journey. Here, on I-15N, people became crazy and somewhat dangerous drivers. The speed limit was said to be a maximum of 70 MPH. I'm not even going to pretend I do that myself, however, I refused to push it to be between 20-25 MPH over the speed limit. The left lane was an accident waiting to happen as everyone played dodge around the car at high speeds, only to slam on the brakes because someone in front of them wasn't going that fast. I finally had to back way down on my speed and let them all pass which took several miles to do. Once I did that, I was able to enjoy the rest of the drive.
Now, if I was ever in doubt on whether or not I had entered Nevada from this route, I didn't have to, there was a town, just beyond the border that was 75% casinos and 10% hotels with a huge electronic billboard sign advertising silver and their local attraction which were the cars from the Fast and The Furious movies.
Plus my GPS decided to wake up and said, “Welcome to Nevada!” A bit of a startle seeing as how it had been giving me grief for the last several hours, dropped off when I needed to know which exit to take but would be there to welcome me to the new state...interesting. The next few towns that I passed were all full of casinos and hotels, the road curved again and there was Las Vegas.
I am glad I don't live here, even though I had given it some serious thought for a long time. When I entered, this incredible urge to hit the casinos came on and it took all of my strength to keep the car going and to not stop. I have a very addictive personality and now my mind wanted me to hit a casino?!? I'd be broke in about thirty minutes if I was lucky. I kept moving AWAY from the casinos. I expected my hotel to have a slot machine in the lobby, but thankfully, it did not.
Entering Boulder City was like being in a whole different county. It was hard to believe Las Vegas was a short distance away as there were no big casinos or flashing lights in this town. The only major attraction was, of course, Hoover Dam and my hotel was within view of it and Lake Mead. Aside from that, there were a lot of campgrounds, a few hotels, and fast food restaurants. People came here to get away from the casinos and enjoy the outdoors.
I pulled into the hotel and the room was on the second floor with a balcony. The sun was setting on arrival and the cool night felt good for a leisurely walk. This time of the year, the hotel was quiet with few cars and I was the only one in my section of the hotel; very nice. I was finally in for the night and felt good about the day. Tomorrow would bring a time for relaxation and some light exploring of the area. Before calling it a night both Aria and I stepped out on the patio, which offered seating and gazed at the view around and above us. It was a clear night filled with twinkling stars. I look up to the moon and gave thanks for the easy travel day, my safety through California and for a peaceful hotel. We headed back in and settled in for the night.
I would like to say that I didn't wake up until the sun got up but that would be a lie. Somewhere in the bay was a horn that went off every several seconds, this continued on throughout the entire night. The only way to drown it out was to have the heat going, which was ok, to begin with until I got too hot then I had to find other ways to drown out the noise and get some sleep.
The hardwood floors made getting a grip for Aria difficult and woke up to her crashing on the floor because she had fallen off while trying to get on the bed. A quick check proved she was all right and I helped her up. Even she was restless, the next morning we were up with the sun, still exhausted, and got ready to take on another day of driving. We took a walk, had breakfast, packed up the car, found the original key cards, and took a tour of Bodega Bay before I headed South on Highway 1.
Bodega Bay was a quaint and peaceful town and I would have enjoyed more time to view it but a review of the map showed another long day of travel. I did a quick drive around the town, which had no mention of Alfred Hitchcock's movie “The Birds”, and followed the route to the ocean's view.
An overlook of the town and the beach below offered amazing photos and one last chance to walk around with Aria before we continued on. A deep breath, a gentle breeze and the salt water smell in the air had me enjoying the moment and glad to be here. We got back in the car and headed South towards San Francisco taking California 1 part of the way. I was on it for a short while when I entered a town that was having a parade of some sort which had the main street shut down. I had to maneuver around the city and with every turn, another road was blocked. Once again I had to ask someone in a vest for directions, thankfully, these were right and I headed out of the town and back towards California 1.
The backroads of California offered some great views of rolling hills filled with livestock. This area, specifically, was now farm country and the hills were full of cattle with a horse ranch sprinkled in as well. I eventually arrived at Port Reyes and was mislead by the signs that said only 10 miles to the Port Reyes Lighthouse. Liars! It was a good 20-30 miles to the location and the road was rough, crowded and parking was limited.
There were some great views of the hills and coastline as I go closer to the lighthouse but the lighthouse itself couldn't be seen from the road. I would have to park the car either in the limited parking lot area or on the side of the road. Then had to hike up the steep hill and around a bluff to see the lighthouse. I had hoped it would have been a little closer but since I had Aria I didn't go up to the lighthouse. There were way too many people around and pets weren't allowed. I did get out long enough to take a few shots of the coastline before I headed back down.
As I did, a road to the right called Chimney Hill route caught my attention for possible photos and I turned on it. The road was made for one car and one car only but was used for cars going in and out of the viewing area. There were limited pull-offs and the dips were deep. At one point, I had to get off of the road to let another go by and the sound of the bottom of the car scraping and hitting the concrete made my heart drop. Thankfully the car was ok but I couldn't help but apologize to her, again, for the conditions I put her through.
This route also put me face to face with the cattle that called these hills home. There was no fence to separate them from the car and the road. Now what I saw in front of me when leaving still makes my blood boil. People were getting out of their cars and walking up to them, trying to feed them, pet them and get a picture of themselves next to a cow. It's a cow! Have you never seen one before?
This is why animals are put down because people think they can do whatever they want, then the animal attacks out of fear or protection and they are the ones who suffer not the people who provoked them. Leave the animals alone! There is a reason there is a zoom on your camera.
Time to continue South towards San Francisco. I had been through this city once before and that was a long time ago. I had always wanted to go back and see the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day. I continued down California 1 and was just about to leave a small town when a sign ahead says, (that's right), road closed. Ugh!
However, this one was well-marked and didn't involve any backpedaling, which was a good thing, because oncoming traffic was extremely long. I took the detour and I was back on the Amalfi Drive. I was beginning to think that California couldn't have any road, unless it was an interstate, without these 90 degree blind turns that had sharp inclines and declines. I groaned and cringed as I realized what I was about to do, yet again, in less than 24 hours. My hands gripped the wheel tightly and I got ready to do it again.
Everything started out going well until on a turn I saw a biker peddling their way up the hill as well. Apparently, there was some kind of biking event going on and they too were on this route. I mean really? A biker?
Yeah, sure, why not. I mean over the last several days while being in and out of the mountains I had to deal with light rain, blinding rain, sleet, snow, slush, ice, semi-tractor trailers baring down on me, loggers on blind curves, construction vehicles, and now bikers. It was a beautiful, warm summer day why would I want this drive to be easy. Screw it, bring on the bikers...and the bikers came. I lost count after 15, all showing up on hills or blind curves and unable to pass them because I couldn't see what was coming towards me.
Finally, I was off of the detour, back on the main road and just outside of San Francisco and The Golden Gate Bridge.
Through a tunnel and around the bend and there she stood peaking over the hill in the near distance. As I headed out to cross her, I stayed in the far right lane and took my time going across. There was a good chance I would not be back here for a long time and I wanted to enjoy every moment. I remembered crossing it as a kid when visiting relatives but at the time it was foggy. Today offered unlimited views and the size of her was unbelievable.
I headed down to The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, even though pets were welcome here, I was hesitant on taking Aria out, the area was packed with people, but seeing as how I got a break and found a spot right in front of the bridge I decided to go ahead. Truth be told I was not sure if it was a legal parking spot but I wasn't going far and could move it if anyone said something.
Locals were use to seeing dogs down there and didn't do anything to excite her but, as always, she did get several comments about how pretty she was; but of course! Even with all the people around Aria stayed close to me and didn't try to jump or sniff anyone; this was huge for her and I've never been more proud.
I hate changing out camera lenses. I try to make it work with one lens, which lately, had been my long range one but not here, not today. It was only good for Alcatraz and Angel Island, and I found myself back in the car changing the lenses several times.
I continued to drive towards the fort to get an even closer look at the bridge, the fort, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and of course, San Francisco in the background. Today's temperatures were climbing quickly which had me rushing to get photos taken before the car became too hot for Aria. Down by the Fort, I grabbed a few more shots of the bridge, Alcatraz, and San Francisco. Even with as busy as it was, it was still a great place to visit, sit down by the water and watch the boats coming in and out of the Bay. There was one last place to visit in San Francisco; Crooked Street; a recommendation from my mom. Had I known the route I would have to take to get there I would have said, "what are you nuts?"
Crooked Street was located near Fisherman's Wharf and was on some pretty steep hills, several times I couldn't see what I was driving into because of how steep the hill was. Thankfully, most of these streets were four-way stops and local drivers knew I was coming to the top blinded. A lot of times, I just coasted through afraid if I stopped I would slide back down. Crooked Street was probably the easiest drive I had been on since I got to California; getting to it, however, was a whole other ball game. This route brought back my white-knuckle driving, only this time it wasn't the mountains or blind corners.
At times I had one foot on the gas peddle and the other on the brake. It was even scarier when there was a line of cars in front of me and I had to stop on the steepest part of the incline. Even Ella let out a few grumbles as I climbed yet another steep city hill.
Once I reached Crooked Street it was all downhill from here and no place to stop to take any good shots. I was glad to have the dash cam to be able to capture the experience. However, once I hit the bottom, I had to watch out for the many pedestrians that were waiting and taking photos of all the cars going down. Clearly this was a popular attraction, however, parking at the bottom to do the same was extremely limited and would have to walk several blocks to get back to it.
This was one thing I wasn't going to do, especially with Aria along. It was a fun drive and one that I can proudly say I did. A few steep hills later, I was now out of downtown San Francisco and back on the Interstate. Even during rush hour traffic, I felt a sense of relief, it was nice to see a straight, smooth road ahead of me and driving faster than 30 mph. If traffic would have allowed, I would have kissed that interstate. Our drive ended in Monterey, which was a town I fell in love with several years ago.
The rest of the day ended without further incident until I reached the hotel in Monterey. The hotel was nice but getting to it was, big surprise, lined with construction and to a newbie wasn't very well marked. I was also at another hotel that didn't have much for walking a dog unless I wanted to go down a few blocks.
Somehow Aria made it work, well sort of, she wasn't crazy about the non-grass areas and was willing to wait for better conditions, when that didn't happen she finally did use it for a quick moment. This had me hoping for no accidents and once again we were on hardwood floors. Although, a little out of the box thinking had me using the towels to help her get a better grip when jumping up on the bed.
It wasn't long after we were settled in for the night that we both crashed. Thankful to be here at a reasonable time and even more thankful that tomorrow we would be leaving California. I hoped for a good driving day but feared I would have a few more obstacles before I got to Nevada.
Driving across country can bring about some interesting situations. Broken down on a day by day basis enjoy my adventures and set backs along the way to some beautiful destinations.