July 14-19 2016
We have driven between Portland and Chicago many times via many routes: Wyoming and Nebraska, Minnesota through South Dakota and Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota, well you get the picture – we’ve seen plenty of the northern Great Plains. We wanted to try something different this time, even if it added some miles to the trip; after a little investigating we decided to head south then through Kansas and Colorado.
We wanted to maximize our time with the kids so we spent most of the day with them before leaving; that meant our first night wouldn’t be too far way. We chose Springfield, Illinois; three or four hours south of Chicago. Carla loves Springfield because it was the home of President Abraham Lincoln. If we have time we walk through the old part of town which includes the Lincoln house. We walked around downtown in the evening and found a nice restaurant where we had a small dinner featuring heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella cheese and olive oil. While out on our walk we passed the site of the the local farmers’ market – too bad it was closed.
The next morning we turned west onto US Highway 36 through northern Missouri and into Kansas. This is a great highway; because it isn’t part of the interstate system we didn’t have to contend with a lot of semi-trucks; nevertheless, it was a great divided highway. Our stop for the night was Salina, Kansas which is above Wichita, just about in the center of the state. It was windy – when we pulled into town to get gas we could barely open our car doors against the wind! At the hotel we asked if there was a risk of tornados; there wasn’t a risk as the tornado season passed. The desk clerk did hand us a map of Kansas with the counties on the front and a list of radio stations on the back. She showed us which county we were in (Saline) and told us what to pay attention to if there was a weather warning. Like the desert I grew up in, the wind died down as the sun went down. We went into town for a movie (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates – funny) and dinner. The movie was pretty funny – but not as funny as Ghost Busters which we saw earlier. We got back to our hotel around sunset and I grabbed a few photos from the parking lot.
On the other side of the parking lot was I70 which we would join in the morning.
Although it was hard to discern, we gained a little elevation driving west – Salina is about 1,200 feet about sea level (gaining 600 feet from Illinois) – but it still looked like the plains. I want to stick up for driving through the plains – which many people assume is extremely boring. Some folks think they hit Kansas or Nebraska and see nothing but corn on both sides of a flat road from border to border. While there is plenty of corn – there is so much more. There are plenty of little cuts and valleys with little hills; pasture land and great wide open spaces to take in. If you haven’t done it, I highly recommend it; if you have done it, you know what I’m saying!
We looked forward to seeing the Rocky Mountains the next day – a sure sign we were in the west, closer to home. We steadily gained elevation all day on our drive into Colorado. As we got close to Denver we were a mile high (as the city’s nickname would suggest) but didn’t really see any mountains. Uh, until we got just outside of Denver – then we saw the MOUNTAINS – I think it is the Front Range. And they got bigger, and bigger, and bigger as we headed west. And we went up, and up, and up. We finally crested at 11,170 feet inside the Eisenhower Tunnel. The traffic was terrible – it being a Saturday – we just crawled up the mountain in bumper to bumper traffic for a couple of hours. Nevertheless, the views were awesome. (Sorry, I didn’t get pictures of the awesomeness!)
After cresting the mountain range we headed down a long steep valley through Vail (winter home to the rich and famous) and into the little town of Eagle. With the slow travel we got in pretty late and were very hungry, so we checked into our hotel and immediately headed to Moe’s Original Barbecue for dinner. The dinner was delicious; I had the best collard greens I have ever tasted. Then we walked around town for a bit – all the businesses were closed but we wanted to stretch our legs.
Eagle is a little town of roundabouts. I wasn’t paying attention on the way back to the hotel and accidentally took the wrong turn on one of back-to-back roundabouts; I ended up on the on-ramp to the freeway and headed back east – the way we came. This is sparsely populated part of the state and we had to drive 15 miles to the next exit, then another 15 miles back to Eagle. I was not a happy camper.
Before leaving the next morning we grabbed a picture of the river flowing at the bottom of the valley – you can get an idea of the size of the mountains here.
We were happy with the trade off of miles for the chance to drive through two new road-trip states. Soon we were back in familiar country as we headed past Grand Junction and into Utah – and desert – lots of desert. Eventually we came to a rest stop out in the boonies. We stretched our legs climbing up a small mound.
We got a great view of the mesa across the valley from our vantage point.
Wait! Is that a railroad track out there? Yes! I wonder if a train might maybe come by. Yes!
We watched it travel north then turn the bend, winding its way through the mountains toward its destination
We spent the night in Ogden enjoying burgers and fries at In ‘n Out for dinner then a movie at the theater we visit on almost every trip through. The next day we drove through Idaho and back home into Oregon, spending the night in La Grande. We’ve stopped for lunch or gas in La Grande many times but never spent the night. It’s a beautiful little town, home of Eastern Oregon University. We went to another movie, getting in just as a thunderstorm dumped hail amidst a flurry of lightening and thunder. When we came out of the theater we saw evidence of what we had missed; it cleared the air beautifully. We walked around town a bit and had dinner at a little taqueria near the theater. I wish I remember the name of it to give it a shout out; I had the best refried beans ever. Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been tweaking my bean recipe for years; so, I asked the cook how he made them: lots of love and a little lard.
The next morning we were up early knowing we would be home soon. We headed down the Blue Mountains and up the Columbia Gorge to home. We’ve driven this route dozens of times over the years, but I still love it when we come home from far way. It just feels like home to me.
We got home a month after leaving – June 19 to July 19. Pulling into the driveway at home I checked the odometer: 7,157.5 miles from coast to coast! What a drive. I think our road-trip bug itch has been scratched for a while. We had a great trip! I hope I’ve inspired you to go out and see the sightes.