Chris and I in Yosemite
Recently I was laid off from my job of almost 12 years. I was a little dismayed and decided I should take some time to spend with my son Christian. When I was 13 my Dad and I traveled to the west coast and visited National Parks, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco; a trip I will never forget. The plan was to visit National Parks on our way to Santa Cruz to visit Grandpa Brown and Grandma Rachelle. In all we drove 6,800 miles, went to 10 National Parks and drove through countless scenic routes along with State and National Forests in 13 days. Following is a recap of our trip. I hope all fathers get to spend a trip like this with their sons and daughters.
Day 1: We rented a nice little car from Budget; a Chevy Cobalt with a sunroof, satellite radio and very comfortable leather seats. I recommend using carrentals.com; they have some awesome deals and we got ours for $320 for 13 days with unlimited mileage. We set off at around 11:00 AM from Cincinnati driving through some horrendous storms in Illinois and Missouri. It turns out that we would not see rain again for 12 days.
One of my goals was to explore and eat some great food along the way. The first stop for food on our trip was the legendary Arthur Bryant’s BBQ in Kansas City MO. Arthur Bryant’s was very good, however, my all time favorite BBQ is still ,the now out of business, Farmer Brown’s from Chicago. Just before we reached KC I received a call from a friend that I haven’t seen since 1990 when he left for Iraq. Chuck Barges was a good friend and invited us to stop by his new Chicago fast food restaurant after we had Arthur Bryant’s. I wanted to get a lot more miles in today but I could not refuse Chucky B. Chris and I rested by Chuck for 1 ½ hours before driving on to Topeka KS, for the night. I found a great APP for my Droid phone called, Hotels by Me. It’s a great APP for finding and booking hotels. After arriving at our motel in Topeka my decision to bring and carry my pistol on the trip was confirmed as a good idea. Our first motel was not in the best area and we were very tired.
Day 2: I woke up quite early, around 5:00 AM. The showers were ice cold; no hot water at all. Chris decided wisely to skip a shower today so we were on the road by 5:45 AM. This would turn out to be the day with the most miles driven at over 1,000 miles and would take us all the way to Moab UT. As we were driving, Chris started looking through my old CDs and found TOO Short’s first album. We were driving through Kansas over beautiful country with the sun rising behind us listening to Too Short, priceless!
I had done some research for our trip considering the open carry of a firearm since I didn’t have a CCW permit. It turns out many states out west allow the open carry of a firearm either in your vehicle or on your person. Despite the politics and drawbacks of my decision to open carry I weighed the pros and cons and decided to open carry in states that would allow it. I just did not want to break down somewhere along our 6,800 mile journey without a little discouragement for some human garbage that might cause us harm. That said, once we hit Colorado I strapped on my pistol.
The very first time I stopped for gas in Colorado a fellow from PA, comments on my pistol and asked if I was expecting trouble. My reply was, “No sir, just silly comments”. I explained to him we were traveling and it was perfectly legal to open carry in Colorado; he was amazed and unaware of the legality. This was the only time someone (not local) commented on my firearm.
Once we hit the Rocky Mountains Chris perked up and started having a real good time. I got him involved by asking him to pick us a route around Denver through the mountains. Chris did a great job navigating; however neither of us figured that one of the roads down a mountain was unpaved with a 9% grade. Oops, always read the legend of your Atlas! Chris’s route added about 2 hours to our drive but took us through some beautiful mountains; we even saw some wild elk and other wildlife. As we continued through Colorado the winds as well as temperature rose exponentially. The smell of pine in the Rockies was awesome and Chris kept commenting about it. One of the highlights of the trip was when we entered the Colorado River Canyons on I70 as we were getting close to Utah. Chris had this constant look of amazement and awe; I was torn between watching him and taking in the view myself. I think the breathtaking views and changing landscape today made it possible for me to drive so many miles. After dinner in Grand Junction Colorado I decided to continue on to Moab. About 25 miles into Utah we picked up US 128 that took us south and east of Arches National Park along the Colorado River. This route took us longer but was absolutely breathtaking at sunset. At some point along that route, Chris said “hey dad, I took 488 pictures already”. We made it to Moab just before dark to find out there were only a few places left with rooms. We should have just stayed in Grand Junction where rooms were $50 opposed to the $120 we paid. The last part of our drive the wind took a lot out of me. Winds were around 25-30 with 50 MPH gusts. Chris went down to the pool around dark only to return saying it was too cold. “Too cold!?” I said. “it’s over 100 degrees” The winds were so high that it was creating a cold wind chill because he was wet.
Park Avenue Arches National Park
Day 3: What a great day we were about to have in Utah. In my opinion, of the 40 plus states that I have visited, Utah is the most beautiful. Chris and I started the day at Arches continuing on to Canyonlands, Capital Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. My personal favorite was Capital Reef. Moab is a great start for a trip with breakfast at the Moab Diner. I highly recommend the Green Chile Breakfast Burrito. National Parks charge fees ranging from $10-$40 for entrance. If you plan on visiting several parks, they offer an annual pass for $80. In previous days the temperatures in Moab were around 100 degrees; we were very lucky this day with a high of 78 degrees without a cloud in the sky. We left Bryce Canyon for Las Vegas at around sunset arriving at 10:00 PM. Chris was excited to see Vegas for the first time; I was excited to eat at La Florida Café inside the Howard Johnson just down the street from Stratosphere. After making a trip down the strip for Chris we headed for the Howard Johnson and a fabulous late Cuban dinner. Immediately after arriving I asked about the restaurant. “What do mean they’re closed?!” Epic Fail! We missed them by 10 minutes. Chris and I were very tired so it was tacos and then a double Bourbon. I would like to stress, if ever in Utah, a drive down US 24 through Capital Reef is a must.
Courthouse Towers Arches National Park
Balanced Rock Arches National Park
Chris slept in today and I wrote some postcards by the pool while smoking a Casa Torano Maduro Lancero with coffee. Chris was very happy to get some sleep. We talked the night before and decided to skip the Grand Canyon and head straight to Death Valley National Park. We drove the same route my dad and I took 27 years ago; I was very excited. It was so hot and dry we had to stop for some visine and more ice for our cooler. As we entered Death Valley the temperature quickly rose to 105 degrees; it was just 10:30 AM. I told Chris that when grandpa and I came through it was close to 130 degrees. Death Valley is my favorite National Park; not the most beautiful but there is something about the unforgiving landscape that draws me to Death Valley.
We stopped at Zabriskie Point for our first breathtaking view of Death Valley and the salt flats below us. Chris mentioned how hot it was yet we weren’t sweating. I explained we were sweating and that it was evaporating. We drank 12 Gatorades and 10 waters from Las Vegas to Fresno with only several bathroom breaks. Badwater Basin in Death Valley is the hottest and lowest place in North America. The highest recorded temperature was 134 degrees. We did not stay long in Death Valley; we continued over the mountains headed toward Owens Dry Lake in California near the China Lake Naval testing range. As we looked down from the mountains of Death Valley we were given one of the most spectacular views of the trip; a desert valley with the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains just beyond. WOW! As we drove past Owens Dry Lake the winds picked up; all of a sudden we were in a dust storm, 95 degrees with 25-30 MPH winds. Chris and I continued on through the Sequoia National Forest past Lake Isabella on our way to Casa de Bishop in Fresno. Chris was happy to finally arrive at my friend Matt’s house and get out of the car for a while.
Badwater Basin Death Valley
We started the day with a great breakfast at one of Matt’s favorite places. Chris and I got to go for a plane ride in a California Highway Patrol Cessna thanks to Matt; Chris was the co-pilot. I am not a fan of flying at all and I hate turbulence; well our little plane was tossed around up there like a paper airplane. I almost lost my breakfast several times. I only went up for Chris; this picture of Chris speaks a thousand words. The CHP pilot’s landing and approach was not something I ever want to experience again but chris loved it. Thank god we’re on the ground again! We headed back to Matt’s to smoke cigars with Bill Berris who drove down from Modesto. Bill broke out a Partagas Cuban Culebra for the three of us to smoke; simply wonderful! Matt’s lovely wife April cooked us a feast on the grill with her and Chris launching water balloons at us. Chris loved the pool and stayed there most of the day. I retired early after drinking Bourbon all afternoon and eating all of that great food. All that driving was finally catching up to me. It was great to finally meet my great friends Matt, Bill and April. I will not forget the good times and hospitality they showed us.
Bill, Matt and Me with our Culebras
Day 6: Father’s Day
We hit the road today to make the final trek over to Santa Cruz. One the best Father’s Days ever; we drove over to Cambria and took Pacific Coast Highway north towards Monterey and Santa Cruz. We welcomed the cool and sunny weather after the heat of the desert and California Valleys. Chris and I had lunch in Monterey at Abolanetti on Fisherman’s Wharf. I had Ciopinno and Chris had a spectacular Calamari Salad. Just outside our window seals played in water and were scattered all over the shore. With our bellies full we drove the final leg to Santa Cruz and have our Father’s Day dinner with Grandma and Grandpa.
Pacific Coast Highway
Today we went to the Monterrey Aquarium with Grandma and Grandpa. The exhibits at the aquarium were very nice, however, not as many as I would have thought. On our way back we dined at the famous Phil’s Fish Market in Moss landing. Very nice and famous for their cioppino but it seems their dishes are hit or miss. I had perfectly cooked fried oysters and Chris had Calamari that was overcooked and plain. However, all the fish was fresh and my dad tells me it’s one of the most reliable Fish Markets on the coast.
Golden Gate Bridge
Today started off great as we headed north to San Francisco for the day we stopped in Pescadero at the famous Duarte’s Tavern for breakfast. As I looked at the menu, I noted how uninteresting it was. I settled for a green chili omelet with a bowl of green chili & artichoke soup. My omelet was just okay but the soup and amazing French Sourdough was awesome. My dad took a chance and asked if the cook could make him a special request, a Hangtown Fry. A Hangtown Fry is scrambled eggs and oyster, with bacon. The waitress asked the cook and he said no problem. Lorenzo, the cook, knocked the ball out of the park; simply one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I asked for a manager and told her they must add this to the menu. I also told her their breakfast menu was pretty lame considering the phenomenal talent they had in the kitchen. The manager said they would only make the dish as a special request. It will be my mission in life to get that dish on their menu AND get back to Pescadero for Duarte’s Tavern.
We spent the remainder of the day driving up past San Francisco on PCH and then walking through Chinatown exploring the interesting markets. To end our day we went to the fabulous Seakor European Deli, 5957 Geary Blvd. San Francisco, CA 94121. Seakor Specializes in sausage and deli meats. I bought some dry sausages for Chris and I to eat on the remainder of our trip.
Chris and said our goodbyes to Grandma and Grandpa then quickly headed to Yosemite. We arrived in Yosemite at mid morning. To our dismay, there was quite a bit of road construction in the park costing us about 2 hours of time just waiting for them to open the roads. Yosemite is beautiful but the valley floor should be avoided if you don’t want to be surrounded by thousands of people. Glacier Point and the higher elevations of the Tioga Pass were the highlights of Yosemite. Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias was cool but it took us almost 45 minutes to find parking. We got to see Matt’s CHP rescue helicopter working with park rangers; Matt had told us the CHP worked with Yosemite and other parks for rescue operations.
Half Dome from Glacier Point
We’ll leave the light on for ya!
Leaving Yosemite we headed east avoiding I80 taking US 95 through Schurz Nevada and the Walker Indian Reservation. Chris and I found that there were some Basque Dining restaurants in the area; when we arrived in Fallon we decided on Brenda’s Basque Dining for dinner. Basque Dining is served family style and I counted seven courses. One has to be famished to attempt Basque Dining; more food than I could eat. The French fries were reminiscent of my favorites at Gene & Jude’s in Chicago.
Stuffed, Chris and I got back on the road until we reached Winnemucca, NV; Ahhh time for some sleep. I poured myself a Bourbon and quickly fell asleep. At around 2:30 AM Chris woke me up with a terrified look on his face telling me something bad was happening in the parking lot of the Motel 6. Jumping out of bed and out the door I see a Lexus driven into someone’s room. That’s not the worst of it; four cars had been hit and the car had driven through the wall of the room just adjacent to us as well. The cars final resting place had pinned some poor bastard naked in his shower. Thankfully, everyone was okay but my idea of getting some sleep was not going to happen.
Logan Canyon Utah horseback riding.
Never really falling back to sleep, Chris and I headed out early through the salt flats of western Utah towards Salt Lake City. We arrived in Salt Lake around lunch. Although I have seen Salt Lake featured for food on television; I just don’t think there is much to eat here. McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers for lunch hit the spot.
Chris had been bugging me about horseback riding the entire trip but our money situation was starting to become an issue. I did not plan for the extreme room rates of the motels. As we headed north towards Yellowstone I stopped in Logan Canyon Utah to inquire about horseback riding. The young lady at the visitor center told me about the Beaver Creek Lodge; this was it. I quickly called and asked for directions and times. The guy on the phone told me he had a 1 ½ hour ride going out in half an hour; I was still 27 miles from them. I did some of my best driving through Logan Canyon to get us there with time to spare.
Chris with his aviator glasses.
Our horseback ride through the mountains of northeastern Utah was simply awesome and I was quite proud of Chris who handled his horse masterfully. After about 45 minutes it became exponentially more uncomfortable for me to remain on the horse. I would feel the effects of our horseback experience for 3 days, OUCH!
The guides at The Beaver Creek Lodge told us we should get the raspberry shakes at Bear Lake on our way to Montpelier, ID were we would spend the night. The shakes were awesome; Chris and I devoured them quickly and made the drive to our hotel.
Chris and I had dinner at a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant in Montpelier, ID that night and I found a some Elijah Craig 12 year at the only liquor store in town. I really needed it after our horseback ride. I will never ever get on a horse again for any reason!
Look at all the sage!
We woke up early to find the continental breakfast at the Super 8 motel was much more. A local woman came in everyday to cook homemade biscuits and gravy and other yummy breakfast Items. We met some older Korean gentlemen that were school buddies traveling across the United States together. They explained how they made trips like this to places all over the world every year since college. Chris and I made our way north towards Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Grand Teton was majestic and very beautiful in the morning. I hadn’t been here for 32 years; I’m glad I got to see it again. Yellowstone and Grand Teton are so close they might as well be the same park. Chris and I walked about 5 miles today and saw most of the main geysers and attractions. I think Yellowstone is spoiled by the number of tourists and bratty kids. We left Yellowstone and headed northeast to Sheridan Wyoming through Big Horn and over Bald Mountain. As we made our way up Bald Mountain we stopped and looked back over Big Horn towards Yellowstone and Grand Teton; one of the best views of the entire trip. The sun was low in the west over the Grand Tetons. We saw some Elk and a giant moose near Medicine Wheel at about 10,000 feet elevation. My body was very sore from the horseback riding and driving all day. We stayed in Sheridan Wyoming that night, apparently the mosquito capital of the world.
Badlands National Park
We left Sheridan and headed east toward South Dakota through the Black Hills. Our final National Park was Badlands; Badlands was very small with not much to do other than check out the scenic points. Badlands is a fragile place; visitors are not really allowed to venture very far from the scenic areas to protect the park. Chris and I were very tired and decided to make our way home as quickly as possible. I90 east through South Dakota has very little to offer after Badlands. Food was very hard to find and we were racing tornadoes heading our way. We abandoned our plans to stop in Chicago due to the storms in Minnesota. We detoured South on I29 towards Iowa where we spent the Night.
Back in the Midwest! There was nothing interesting to report on our last day except we had lunch at Culver’s in Central Illinois. We arrived home before dark.
In 13 days we visited 13 states, 10 National Parks and drove 6,800 miles. I’m so glad I got to do this with my son and hope he does the same with his kids someday. I love to drive through the desert windows open with 100 plus degree temperature; very peaceful.