Monday, November 25, 2013

Eastward, sort of

Nicole had never seen the mountains of Colorado, so we decided on leaving Moab that we would head east on I-70 right through the heart of the Rockies.  I-70 is a pretty impressive stretch of highway through western Colorado.  The engineering marvel of an interstate through Glenwood Canyon is worth the drive alone.  From there the road continues to climb until you reach about 10,700 feet just outside of Vail.  It was at Vail that we began to see light snow, which is common through fall, winter and spring, and thankfully that is as bad as our road conditions got.  From Vail Pass the road twists and turns among the mountains eventually climbing again to just over 11,000 feet before disappearing into the Eisenhower Tunnel.  Without the tunnel, you would have to climb an additional 1,000 feet to get over the continental divide, but instead you drive just over a mile and a half through the mountain and come out the other side.  From the tunnel it's a long, brake-burner slope down into Denver.  We chose to get off the interstate before Denver and head north, having arranged with friends Adam and Ellen to visit them at their home in Boulder.
We spent several enjoyable days in Boulder hiking, seeing the sights, and the obligatory visit to the nearby brew-pub.  Adam and Ellen also had a good stock of booze at their house, so we decided it would be good to continue our taste-testing of small batch local gins.  On our intended day of departure high wind warnings were issued for our travel area into Wyoming, so we spent one more day in Boulder and then bid farewell to our good friends.
From Boulder we wandered north to Casper, Wyoming to visit a co-worker of Nicole's from when she worked at the University of Washington.  Michelle and Henry live with their two daughters Zoe and Liz, three dogs, two cats, five horses, and several aquariums of fish.  Needless to say, this was a fun stop for Madeline.  She rekindled her love of horses and dogs while staying in a house stuffed with cool toys and kids books.  She had a lot of fun playing with the other two girls while Nicole and I had a nice visit with Michelle and Henry.  We did a driving tour of town, went for a hike, and generally just kicked back and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.  I don't remember visiting Casper in the past except maybe to drive through, but Nicole and I both felt it was a nice town with a friendly feel.  We started seeing deer and antelope around Casper, both of which have been conspicuously absent in our travels so far.
We left Casper heading towards the Black Hills in South Dakota.  The most direct route takes you across miles of open grassland, as well as past the largest open pit coal mine in the country.  Not exactly a tourist attraction but it is impressive.  We approached the Black Hills just as it was getting dark, and the number of deer we saw along and on the highway made it an easy decision to stop in Custer for the night.  In Custer there was snow on the ground and the temperature was forecast to drop into the teens, so I wanted to get some water in our almost empty tank to keep it from freezing.  This turned out to be hard to do with most of the outside taps in town turned off for the winter, so we settled on staying in a campground in town where we could get water as well as plug the van in to use an electric space heater.
From Custer we took the scenic route through the Black Hills, revisiting many of the spots I used to go to rock climb.  We went by Mount Rushmore just to get a glimpse, but as with progress everywhere it was now ridiculously expensive just to pull into the parking lot, so we did our viewing from the roadside.  From Rushmore we drove through Keystone, but the only thing that looked open in the entire town was one bar, so we didn't even stop.  After a quick stop for fuel outside Rapid City we were off towards the Badlands, our planned stop for the night.
A visit to the Badlands seemed like a good idea.  Free camping, cool scenery, good wildlife viewing, and all from the comfy seat of the van, no trudging through the cold required.  The sign on the outskirts of the park should have been taken more seriously.
We drove in the back way taking Highway 44 out of Rapid City and then turned off on a dirt road to get to the Sage Creek Campground.  As we turned in to the campground we saw our first buffalo.  Don't bother trying to lecture me on the whole bison/buffalo thing, I'm not listening.  To me Pluto is still and always will be a planet, Denali is the highest mountain in North America…..  you get my point.  Anyway, buffalo in the campground, and lots of prairie dogs, an empty camper with it's generator running (thanks for the courtesy), and not much else.  We parked the van far enough away so we couldn't hear the generator and settled in.  We were serenaded to sleep that night by a large group of coyotes.

The next morning, Nicole was not well.  Being violently ill is never fun, but doing it in a cramped van parked in a campground in the middle of nowhere is probably bordering on hell.  After breakfast things were not much better, and we decided to head in to Wall before continuing our tour of the park.  I made some "better than adequate husband" points by suggesting we find a cheap motel room for the night and get out of the van.  Turned out to be a great idea, because by late afternoon I was quickly overtaking Nicole in the "sick as a dog" competition, and having a big comfortable bed with a toilet close by and cable TV made life almost bearable.
The next day there was only one of us well enough to continue driving, but it's a pretty tight fit behind the steering wheel to try to strap in the car seat, and her feet can't reach the pedals so we decided to just stay put.  I pointed out to Nicole that I could probably get the van up to highway speed, hit the cruise control, and then hand the wheel over to Madeline.  It's not like there were any turns or obstacles for the next six hours of drive time across the state, but she thought it best to hold off another day.
The next morning we were all feeling better, and made the long drive to Minnesota.  We stopped for the night right on the border, and by late the next afternoon we were parked in my mom's driveway in Stillwater.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Greg and Nicole and Madeline! It has been ages since I've visited your blog and I was wondering how you all were doing so here I am sending you a long over due note. I hope you are all feeling better by now and I love seeing your little girl's pictures. What a sweetie! Whenever you get back towards Seattle we would love to have you all visit and stay with us to catch up. We could even take our girls out on a hike together or if we are brave we will all go snowshoeing. :) Thinking of you and sending lots of hugs! Have a wonderful time visiting family!