The drive from Salt Lake City to Reno is fairly easy. It’s all on Interstate 80 and the speed limit basically ranges from 75 to 80 MPH. It should be simple for two cars to make their way together across the Great Basin and into the Biggest Little City. Such was not the case.
I lost Travis and Lorena almost immediately as I followed a truck onto the onramp not realizing the light was red. Too bad. So sad. Off I went along I-80, the GPS finally off, the music blasting, my bed waiting for me when I got home. Between Salt Lake City and Wendover there is a long section where you drive through the salt flats. It’s desolate and beautiful.
Along these flats there is an art installation that is for back of a better description balls on a stick. Yes, balls on a stick. It’s real title is the Tree of Utah. It is approximately 90 feet high, with an inscription with the lyrics from Ode to Joy. The State of Utah owns these joyous balls that resemble tennis balls with some shattered on the desert around it. Remember how I was amazed at how poorly the three of us handled our logistics on this last day? Remember the balls are in the middle of nowhere and 90 feet in the air.
My traveling companions missed it. They completely blew past it. They saw my car, parked alongside the road, thought I was a cop and so slowed down to make sure they weren’t pulled over and totally missed the balls in the air. Then they stopped at a rest stop and just short of Wendover, I thought, my lord Wendover is just a few miles up, I can use the bathroom there. I went to the wrong gas station because I went to one in Utah and not Nevada and someone in the group was having a protest against Utah. We finally met up again in Elko. There temporary Michiganders were craving some home style Port of Subs subs and so we ate there.
Our stomach’s filled with Nevada sub goodness we hit the road again. Away we went across Nevada on 80. The towns became specs in the rear view mirror as quickly as they’d come into view…Battle Mountain, Winnemucca, Lovelock, Fernley. A final winding road along the Truckee River and bam…home was there. I stopped by Super Burrito for a welcome home dinner and promptly found my couch, the controller for the TV and called it a trip.
We left our friend in Colorado after one of our most comfortable nights on the road. Back up north to Wyoming and then across westward was our goal. We traveled again over snowy flats and the days’ drive was fairly uneventful. We ate lunch before crossing the Utah border at a BBQ chain that wasn’t half bad. Into Utah we went. With the exception of Colorado, Utah would be the only State I went into twice. The winding highway down the mountains past Park City with its Olympic shine fairly dull and dusty in the summer. We found Salt Lake City, the big temple and downtown. Our hotel was right in the heart of it (maybe like in an artery as opposed to the heart).
By the time we checked in it was time to head toward the baseball stadium. My cousin Tyler goes to BYU and his dad was in town visiting so we ended up making an event of my one night in Salt Lake. We ate a great little burger place just a block or so away from the stadium and then made our way to the gates just before the start of the game. The stadium itself is for the Bees.
We wouldn’t be watching Beeball though, it was the Deseret (my Nevada Bar President would be so proud – vomit) Duel between BYU and the University of Utah. It was great to be back in a baseball stadium. The year I did a bunch of traveling for the Boy Scouts, I visited so many baseball stadiums to watch games that travel and baseball for me go hand in hand. It was quite the game too. BYU maintained a lead throughout and then in the final inning they kind of fell apart and the Utes powered through to win the game in the bottom of the ninth (or maybe the eighth and the Cougars blew the top of the 9th).
Following the end of the game, we meandered back to our hotel. We may gotten a little lost but at least we were all in the same car at that point. We worked to polish off the last of the road trip liquor and we got pretty close. Tomorrow meant home and we were all ready for that.
After leaving the hotel, the three of us had another miscommunication which resulted in basically solo driving for the first several hours of the day. Shortly after meeting back up there was another discrepancy in our GPS systems which led to confusion. We struggled that day to stay together. The snow had not stuck in South Dakota but by the time we got to Wyoming, much of the terrain had a recent dusting of white. It was cold and breezy and there were lots of reminders to not use cruise control on wet roads. White for miles.
Most of our travel that day would be south to Colorado to stay with our friend Mara. She was generous enough to put us up for the night and it had been far too long since I’d seen my campaign 2006 wife.
When we crossed into Colorado we couldn’t help but have the itch to check out the State’s new budding industry. We stopped by a dispensary. It was in a somewhat shady part of town but upon entering the lobby, it was clear this was a professional operation. One door was marked “Medical” and the other door was marked “Recreational”. We checked in at the recreational window and they checked our IDs. In we went. The smell of law school was rampant and the set up was amazing retail. Big candy bars, small candy bars, jars and jars with creative names and a staff knowledgeable about which varieties might provide what type of high. One interesting product was essentially an e-joint. A plastic tube that looks just like an e-cigarette preloaded with a hundred or so hits. The clientele was as diverse as the varieties of marijuana. Old, young, professional, blue collar, men, women, everyone was there and everyone was in high spirits. And the money was flowing. I could definitely see how the state has brought in so much in tax revenue since giving the thumbs up to recreational pot.
Following our sightseeing we headed to my friend’s house. She and her husband provided an incredible meal with wonderful wine. So much catching up was had (crazy campaigns, wedding vomit, college parties, etc) aided by the good food and wine and West Wing drinking games and pie…oh was there pie. We all went to bed well rested from our shorter travel day and the warmth within the walls of Mara’s home.
Our agenda was pretty packed. We needed to cross the state of South Dakota with enough time to hit Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse before day’s end. It was still dark in Canton when we packed the car. I walked to the gas station and filled up my coffee, we turned on our headlights and made our way north, then west. After an hour or so we gassed up, I refilled my trust Lottery coffee mug, purchased a lottery ticket (to no luck) and west we went again. We pulled up to Wall Drug and it was kind of blustery. It did not look like May in the sky. Wintery was the season that dominated the day. Most of the drive was wet.
We grabbed brunch at the famous Wall Drug and yes we got the free ice water and the nickel coffee as well. It’s Wall Drug…in South Dakota…of course I got the rancher breakfast with a big old slab of steak and home fries and eggs and black black black coffee. We also came to the realization that we hit a time zone in the good way. This was not my first Wall Drug experience but it seemed so much smaller than when I’d been there more than ten years prior on a NOAC road trip. It was still worth the stop just to see the nostalgia in Travis’s eyes.
We decided to stay in Keystone right there at Mt. Rushmore and we checked into our hotel first, downsized to one car, and then up the hill to the presidents. If you go to Mr. Rushmore don’t just look at it from afar. Take the little walk to get up close and personal Not only do you get unique views of the mountain but on your way back to the main visitors’ center you can look at the sculptors studio where they have the original. I wrote earlier that winter was the dominating season that day; it began to snow at Rushmore. We left the main park and stopped briefly at a scenic view on the side of the road where you get a profile shot of just George Washington. Someone who shall remain nameless may have taken an irreverent gay themed Snapchat of America’s first president.
Crazy Horse was next. The entry fee was crazy and the blizzard was so intense at that point the actual monument was difficult to see. The visitor center there was quite impressive as I had remembered. I hadn’t remembered that so much emphasis was placed on the sculptor. It almost overshadows Crazy Horse himself; I know the family is passionate but the focus on the warrior is lost among reminders at every turn about the sculptor.
We ran through the wind and snow back to the car and returned to the hotel room where we picked a spot for dinner. It was a little bit sketchy at first but the food ended up being damn good and we retreated to the bar below after for copious amounts of spirits, some billiards and total control of the jukebox. It drizzled on the way back to the hotel and throughout the night. It was the first night I think we all felt pretty close to home. In just a few short days we’d be back in the Silver State, likely away from the snow and gray. We slept well.
As the sun hit Canton, South Dakota we slept in a bit and then rose to some coffee and donuts. Once everyone was fully awake and fed we hopped in two cars and made our way to the city of Sioux Falls. We try to go the falls but the park was a big old cluster so we just went downtown. As we walked along the little strip of downtown there were statues everywhere. Apparently each summer the city invites artists to submit sculptures and the citizens vote for their favorites. The city then purchases the top one or two vote-getters whose pieces then become public art in parks and other city properties. Here are some of my favorites:
We stopped at a diner that had some really good looking homestyle food. I was trying to be a bit good since I knew pizza was the plan for dinner so I ordered a salad which was good but not nearly as satisfying as some of the other dishes. Art and lunch completed, we turned back toward Canton.
We dropped off the grandparents at their home and then plugged the newly opened winery into our GPS. Off we went to wine taste in what actually ended up being just over the border into Iowa. The sweeter wines at Calico Skies were pretty tasty while the wines that were supposed to be a bit more robust were pretty middle of the road. They had a blueberry wine that was surprisingly tasty.
We each purchased some bottle, I mean how could not take some wine from Iowa? I also was able to add a state to my wine tasting list which now is at California, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, and Iowa. Only 45 more state to go! A little mellow we explored the nearby state park which had a nature trail…a drivable nature trail. Talk about your high risk nature experience. There was a cool spot with a high lookout tower where you could look over the rolling hills. On our way back to Canton we stopped by a lake and an almost completely abandoned town.
We rolled back in Canton and some pizzas were ordered from the local gas station. It was on par with a Little Caesars or Dominoes. We met Travis’s uncle one of the two local watering holes, the Wheel. I imagined quite the dive but was pleasantly surprised. They were hosting a party for the golf tournament that happened that day and had good beer choices, decent music and at least one cute barback. After a few rounds, we walked the few blocks more and ran into one of Travis’s family friends. We chatted for a good while and then quietly entered the grandparents’ house and crashed. My alarm was set for 4:45AM, it was going to be an early morning.