Day 11 of our cross-country road trip took us from Richfield, Utah to Las Vegas, Nevada. Several years had passed since the last time we enjoyed a Vegas buffet, and Adventure 2012 seemed like a good opportunity to do it again. We woke up to a snowy morning, our car covered in snow.
As usual, JC went and prepared a nice breakfast plate for me. Not long after, we finished packing our things and checked out. Before we went on our way, we took in the experience of sitting inside a car covered in snow, something new to us. It got warm and toasty inside while it was still freezing cold outside. Slowly, the windows defrosted and we began the day’s drive to Vegas.
An embarrassing memory I have is that I took the wrong entrance onto Interstate 70. At the time, there was construction going on and the freeway entrances were not clearly marked. For some reason, I wasn’t sure which one to take and ended up heading east. Due to our being in a relatively rural area, it was a while before we were able to exit and head back west. Looking at the photo timestamps now, we wasted about 20 minutes. 🙁
The highlight of this day (other than the buffet) was the dramatic change in climate, from the blizzard conditions in Utah to the arid deserts of Arizona and Nevada. It was kind of cool that we passed through Arizona, a state we had never been in before. We were pretty close to the Grand Canyon, and the geology reflected it. We figured it was the closest thing to the national treasure without actually going there.
As we neared Las Vegas, we encountered a curious sight: vertical vapor trails. Rockets? Spacecraft? We figured we were probably near Area 51, but as we got closer to Las Vegas we saw the source of the vapor trails: fighter jets! They must have been from Nellis Air Force Base. The military might of our country never ceases to amaze me.
We checked into the hotel and were amazed at the size of the place. There was a full kitchen, a separate bedroom, and a huge living room, completely different from our previous stays in Vegas. There was even a washer and dryer in the suite. If we were so inclined, we could have gone to the grocery store to buy our own food to cook in the suite. It’s something that we would definitely consider doing now, but at the time our goal was the Bellagio buffet. We headed out for the resort and found the buffet. I made sure I enjoyed it and even ordered a Glenfiddich as an accompaniment. That night, I slept very well.
At the end of our Glenfiddich Distillery tour we were treated to tastings of the 12, 15, and 18 year old expressions. It was quite a sight to see all the Glencairn glasses sitting on these mats. Each person got one, and there were at least a dozen people, so you can imagine how many glasses there were.
I’ve posted one side of the tasting mat before, but this is the full museum post. Enjoy!
The tenth day of our cross-country road trip saw us depart Rock Springs, Wyoming and deviate southward. We still had 4 days until the rental car was due, and heading straight west would have taken us home before that time. We’ve always enjoyed Southern California, so a plan was made to go there by way of Las Vegas. But first, we would spend a night in Richfield, Utah, roughly a five-hour drive away.
The night before we had seen some rain clouds approaching, and by morning there was a pretty steady rain going. I remember feeling the cold and rain hit me while I stood outside refueling the car. We only needed about half a tank so I wasn’t out in the elements too long, and soon we were on our way.
Turned out that the highlight of this day was the weather. As we headed out of Rock Springs it changed from light to heavy rain, then snowfall, and then, if I’m not mistaken, even a blizzard (I realize that what I consider a blizzard might actually not be one). We were lucky to have avoided snow back in South Dakota when we went through the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, and Independence Rock in Wyoming, and now we continued to be lucky since we didn’t have any scheduled sights to see on this leg of the journey, with the snow itself becoming the attraction, adding to the variety of things we saw on the road trip.
Continuing west on Interstate 80, our first rest stop was the Lyman Rest Area about an hour out of Rock Springs. We took some photos to commemorate our first Adventure 2012 snow encounter. I enjoyed crunching the snow with each step. JC liked the snow-covered plant-life. I also got a kick out of our car’s frozen license plate, something I rarely see.
40 minutes later, we crossed the state line into Utah. The snow came down harder, and visibility decreased. Got a little hungry and stopped at the next available rest area, Echo Canyon. It happened to also be a Welcome Center so we were treated to a museum-like interior, with exhibits on various Utah attractions. A receptionist was present to answer questions. After taking a look around, I bought a Slim Jim and a Dr. Pepper, both of which I had not had in a very long time, which became a topic of conversation between JC and I. ? It was really pleasant sitting in the warm confines of the car, eating my snack, and watching the snow fall. Sometimes, it’s just about the simple things in life, isn’t it?
Up until this point we’d been taking some regularly-timed breaks so after Echo Canyon I wanted to drive a little longer and make some time. We continued on Interstate 80 and then US-189 through the mountains. As we descended into Orem and Provo, the snowfall intensified. It was the first time in my life seeing snow “falling” sideways, and the first time I’d seen it so heavy. While I was excited, I was pretty glad that we were out of the mountains as it was some intense driving with me not being used to the conditions.
Now, we were in Provo. We saw a sign that read “Welcome to Cougar Town” which I thought was pretty funny (due to this definition of cougar) before realizing that Provo is where Brigham Young University is located. Being from the Bay Area, my only knowledge of BYU is that it’s the school Steve Young went to. At that time, the only cities I could name in Utah were Salt Lake City and maybe Ogden. I never actually thought about it but I probably assumed that BYU was in Salt Lake City. I hadn’t even heard of Provo until Adventure 2012.
Anyhow, the snow died down a little while we were passing through the city. As it’d been a couple of hours since Echo Canyon, it was time for a stop. We saw a McDonald’s and went there, a great choice because I still remember how good the meal was: Southern Style Chicken sandwich and medium iced coffee while watching the snow fall outside. The hot, freshly fried chicken contrasted perfectly with the iced coffee and snow, a really memorable experience for someone who has never spent extended time in a snowy climate.
From Provo, it was smooth sailing via Interstate 15, US-50, and finally Interstate 70. The snowing had mostly stopped, but we were still treated to a white-blanketed landscape until we were close to Richfield. Once we passed the snow, there was an ominous-looking fog phenomenon that crept alongside us on the highway. Very strange indeed.
Once we arrived in Richfield, we decided to get gas immediately instead of the next morning. It had been one of the longer journeys of the road trip, starting around 11:00 AM and ending near 6:00 PM, and we wanted to save some time for the next leg to Vegas. After settling in to the hotel, we had one of my least memorable meals of the trip, from Arby’s. Richfield definitely seemed more remote than any of the other cities we had been to, and prospects for anything else weren’t great (no other major fast food chains nearby). Maybe it was because the Arby’s wasn’t quite a burger, and wasn’t quite a sandwich. I just remember being disappointed, especially after the long drive, especially after the mostly decent selections we’d had up until that point. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our cozy room and slept well that night after a long and snowy drive.
First thing after our now-normal routine of getting free hotel breakfast and checking out was getting gas at the Common Cents market:
For the next half-hour or so we drove out of Casper on Wyoming 220, passing through the outskirts of town. We drove over the North Platte River. We passed by a drive-in which is something we personally don’t see every day. As I often do when I pass by these residential areas, I try to imagine what life is like for the inhabitants. I wonder economically what it is out here that supports all these people. What is the daily routine? Do you see the same people around town all the time? Checking the population information in the Wikipedia link above, it looks like it would be possible to squeeze the entire town into a football stadium. Wow.
Not long afterwards, we reached a turnout area with a sign that read Lake Ridge Estates and another sign that read Alcova Reservoir. Apparently there is land for sale here, with great views of the reservoir and surrounding geological features. Two houses had already been built, but otherwise it was completely empty for miles around. If you look at the satellite view on Google Maps, you’ll see a tiny patch of green around one of the houses. It reminds me of that Star Trek episode where an entire colony is obliterated, save for one house. Once again, I imagined what it might be like living here in relative isolation. I’d need electricity, water, internet, and storage for food, and each morning I’d wake up with the view of the reservoir. When I needed supplies, I’d drive back to Casper and stock up. I might try growing some of my own food. I’d probably need a firearm to protect myself and JC.
Continuing on, the next point of interest and highlight of this day was the rest area at Independence Rock, another geological feature.
The history behind Independence Rock fascinates me to no end. For the early American settlers moving westward, it was a marker in two senses of the word. First, it let them know whether they were on schedule: if it was by Independence Day on July 4th, then most likely they would make it to the west coast before snowfall (which in those days of covered wagons was probably pretty dangerous). Second, it served (and still serves) as a historical record of the people who passed through because people would carve their names on it. As we walked around, we made out some carvings dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. There was one abbreviated date written as “’87”. We wondered whether it was 1887 or 1987.
I am always excited when I get a chance to experience something from the past, to walk the same path as someone who did so decades or centuries ago, to touch something that he had also touched (like these). The person is now long dead, and yet there is something of his that has survived. How did he live? How did he view the world? What was going through his mind as he carved his name into the rock?
As we circled around the rock, we approached an area that looked climbable. I knew I had to climb up to the top despite JC’s concerns. As I stepped up each increasingly higher stone, I realized that it looked easier to climb from afar, when the distances between stones looked smaller. Up close, some of them were quite far apart, and the crevices between them looked nontrivial. With JC’s objections in my mind at the same time, I started feeling a little nervous and my heart started beating faster. I wasn’t in the best of shape, and with the camera strap around my neck and my clothes and shoes not exactly suitable for what I was doing, I realized I was in a clumsy position. I tried to keep going and pushed those thoughts to the side.
Once I made it up, it was a mix of relief and exhilaration. Wow! I made it! I could see the beauty of Wyoming in 360 degrees, being able to see for miles around. I could see our upcoming route (in photo above). I saw something white and reflective (photo below) and thought it was a salt field (looking at a map now, I’m guessing it was probably the Sweetwater River). After snapping a few more photos, I headed back, making sure to step on the rocks I used earlier to minimize the chance of accidentally stepping on a loose one. It was probably more difficult going down than it was going up, since I was mostly squatting in order to reach the next lower rock, and trying to balance myself with my hands. I met up with JC, who gave me an earful. It really could have been bad if something had happened. 😕
We continued on our way, hitting 287 South, the city of Rawlins, and then, lo and behold, our old friend Interstate 80. As I am prone to do, I couldn’t resist cracking a joke and asking where the Bay Bridge was. We stopped at one more rest area (Bitter Creek) before arriving in Rock Springs less than three hours after leaving Independence Rock.
The day ended with laundry, Chinese delivery, and TVB dramas. Not sure whether it’s funny or sad how I still enjoyed TVB dramas back then, before we moved to HK. Also, the Chinese food was pretty good, so have to give a shout out to my fellow Chinese diaspora at Wonderful House. Another great day!
When we visited London back in 2012, there was a laundromat and a mom-and-pop supermarket across the street from it very close to the hotel. JC bought laundry detergent and these dryer sheets (note how they’re called “tumble dry sheets”) at that market. I had no idea that we had brought them back even after I used them for laundry the other day. Thanks to JC for reminding me and bringing back our laundry memories from Adventure 2012. We really did do our own laundry a lot at many of the places we visited that year.
From the hotel, it took less than 30 minutes to go from developed city to rural area, and soon we reached the entrance to the Black Hills National Forest. After having my preconceived notions of national parks delightfully squashed by Badlands National Park the day before, I looked forward to going to Mount Rushmore (although one should note the differences between the national park Mount Rushmore versus the national forest Black Hills).
After another short drive (less than 15 minutes), we reached Keystone, South Dakota. Again, because it was out of season, the town was pretty much deserted. I imagine it must be pretty bustling during high season.
The entrance to Mount Rushmore National Memorial is pretty much right next to Keystone. Once you see the sign, your alertness goes up; how much longer until the actual Mount Rushmore? When will we see our first glimpse of it?
The answer: only two minutes later, just around the bend.
Even from this distance it was amazing to see it in person, to see those faces actually carved into the rock (well, mostly George Washington’s profile). We all know that it’s a carving, but there’s something about seeing it in person for the first time. It seems plenty real reading about it in a book or seeing it on TV, but after that first “wow” moment you realize that this is real, and what you thought was real before was just an impostor. There really is nothing like experience.
One interesting thing about the memorial is the number of out-of-state cars in the parking lot. It’s as if Mount Rushmore is a pilgrimage site for people from all over the country (and Canada, too):
Alaska – the Last Frontier
Idaho – Famous Potatoes
Illinois – Land of Lincoln
Mississippi – Birthplace of America’s Music
Missouri – Show Me State
New Jersey – Garden State
North Dakota – Discover the Spirit – Peace Garden State
Ohio – Beautiful Birthplace of Aviation
South Dakota – Great Faces. Great Places.
Wisconsin – America’s Dairyland
Saskatchewan – Land of Living Skies
There is definitely something to be said about American ideals that all these people want to come here and view this monument to some of the men who built this country. I was feeling particularly patriotic myself when viewing the memorial and the accompanying exhibits and storyboards in the museum. The story of how this country came to be is almost legendary, and these men are almost revered as gods, which while good for national pride and identity is also something we have to be careful of. One must not forget why this country was founded in the first place, and also remember all the ugly things that occurred along the way. As they say, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
There is also something to be said for the permanence of the memorial. It is conceivable that all the history, knowledge and accomplishments mankind has collected on the internet (or books) could some day be wiped out by a natural, planetary disaster (it’s difficult now even to access data from a floppy disk). Physical, tangible monuments like Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, on the other hand, will probably still be around in a thousand years, not unlike some other wonders of the world that have been left to us by previous generations. This to me is one of the most noteworthy aspects of these monuments.
Speaking of wiped out, we ate buffalo for the first time at the cafe to get some food before the long drive to Wyoming. JC had a buffalo hot dog while I had buffalo stew. Not unexpectedly, we couldn’t really tell the difference between buffalo and beef.
We headed back to Highway 16 via 244 and drove towards Wyoming. I remember JC falling asleep and me driving by myself for a while, just the two of us in our little rental car on an open road with the sun blaring above. That’s a nice memory.
Not long after that, we made it to Wyoming 450 for the long trek through the Wyoming plains. As this was just a regular state highway (as opposed to the interstate), there were no rest areas or service stations or anything. There was a place to stop 23 miles into the road at the Texas Trail Historic Marker. I used the opportunity to water the grass a little bit. 😛
As we continued on, other than passing through the town of Wright and using the rest area there, it was just us, the road, and the setting sun. I don’t remember passing any cars at all. Again, it was as if we had that little slice of Wyoming all to ourselves. It’s hard to describe the feeling: maybe a mix of being at peace, contemplative, and feeling lucky to be alive. I would live in that moment if I could.
Probably because we stopped to see Mount Rushmore, we did a lot of night driving that night. It was on a couple more state roads (Wyoming Highway 387 and Wyoming Highway 259), and then Interstate 25 into Casper. It was really dark on the state roads. Once we got to Casper we somehow found a Thai restaurant nearby and ordered takeout. I never imagined that I would be eating Thai food and drinking Thai iced tea in Casper, Wyoming, but that’s what we did, and it was pretty good, too! A great ending to another great day.
I’ve had my desktop slideshow set to Tokyo 2012 for a while now, but still haven’t gotten sick of it. Maybe I’m feeling the urge to travel again because someone I know is visiting Tokyo soon. Anyhow, this one is from when we went to Sunshine Aquarium in Ikebukuro.
On this 7th day of our cross-country road trip, we traversed the state of South Dakota, again traveling mostly on I-90. We determined the night before that 4 hours of driving was just about right in terms of balancing between completely exhausting ourselves and making good time, so when JC mentioned taking a detour through a national park, I balked a little bit.
Even as we listened to election news on the radio, driving through South Dakota, my mind leaned towards staying on I-90 and traveling straight on to Rapid City. It was mostly uneventful and similar to the day before, pushing westward through the Great Plains. We didn’t know it at the time but we passed over another iconic river, the Missouri. As we closed on milepost 131 and the exit to the national park, we made stops at the Presho Rest Area (MP 221), 1880 Town (MP 170), the Belvidere Rest Area (MP 166), and a scenic overlook (MP 140). 1880 Town was closed for the season, a preview of things to come.
At this point you might be wondering why I haven’t referred to Badlands National Park by name. Well, back then I really had no idea what it was or what was there. I don’t think I even knew its name. In my mind, a national park was just a bunch of trees and nature (like Yosemite), nothing special and nothing we couldn’t go see once we were back in California. I couldn’t have been more wrong, though. After stopping at the super windy* scenic outlook and taking some photos, we soon approached MP 131. I don’t remember my thought process or if I even had one, but at the last second I decided to take the exit and head south towards the park. It ended up being the best (or luckiest!) decision I made all day.
*It’s the Great Plains after all, open space and nothing to stop the moving air
The road was pretty empty, and as we headed south on SD 240 (aka the Badlands Loop) we approached a gas station that also appeared to be empty. It would seem that the entire area was closed for the season. Luckily for us, the pumps here were still active (unlike the Shell station back at 1880 Town). We took the opportunity to fill up.
Next up, we passed by an attraction called the Ranch Store with a sign that read “Stop and feed the prairie dogs” and a big statue of a prairie dog. It was here that I finally made the connection between Great Plains and prairie dogs, remembering learning about the Great Plains in U.S. History class. Like some other things we experienced during Adventure 2012, it was pretty exciting to finally encounter something in person that we had previously only read about in a book.
Alas, the Ranch Store, too, was closed so there was nothing we could do but keep going. But, not too far down the road, there was another attraction, the Prairie Homestead Historic Site. Although this place was closed as well, the parking area was not fenced off so we stopped to take a look. We saw something moving on the ground, and lo and behold, it was a prairie dog! Soon, a whole bunch of them came out to greet us, one of them even coming up to our car and looking like it wanted to jump in. Unlike what we expected, these prairie dogs were white and not brown. They looked more like rodents than dogs to me. We spent some time taking photos and videos with them before continuing on our way.
Continuing on, we soon reached the Northeast Entrance of the park. Again, it was closed for the season and there were no people in sight, though there was a sign indicating that the visitor center was still open. We entered the park, and soon they appeared on our left side: mounds of eroded and exposed rock, dressed in horizontal bands of different shades of brown, stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was easy to see that these geologic formations used to be the ocean floor. With no cars around, we slowed to a snail’s pace to marvel. It was as if we had the entire park to ourselves.
When we parked and turned off the car engine, the silence hit us in the face. There were no people, no cars, not even birds, no ambient sounds at all. An occasional gust of wind broke the silence with the gentle sound of moving air. I don’t think we’ve ever been to a quieter place. I broke the silence with a loud “hellllllllo out there” towards the rocks. So this was what it was like for those early pioneers who came out here, seeing these wonders of nature for the first time. Pretty amazing.
Looking down at the peaks and valleys from our vantage point, I wanted to climb down and explore. They didn’t look that steep or tall. I realized there were probably rules that prohibited people from stepping on the formations, so I thought better of it. Still, the curves and pathways looked so fascinatingly intricate, like a little city or a model in some kid’s room, that it was difficult to resist the urge to explore. I made do with taking loads of pictures…
Continuing on the Badlands Loop, we stopped at various other sights along the way…
As we left the park, we finally reached the town of Wall. For miles and miles before we reached the Badlands, we had seen signs for 5-cent coffee at Wall Drug and wondered what it was. We didn’t stop to find out, but at least we learned where it was.
As we drove the last hour to Rapid City with the last of the sunset in the background, we talked about how lucky we were to have gone to Badlands National Park when we did. Because it was the off-season, the park was mostly empty, and even though it was almost winter, the weather was still clear and not too cold (and actually the temperature would drop significantly just a few days later). If it had been the summer, there would have been so many more people and so much more noise and disturbance that it would not have been the same. It was unbelievable that for one afternoon we got this natural and national treasure all to ourselves. I didn’t mind JC rubbing it in a little about my not wanting to go in the first place.
We stopped at one more rest area (Wasta, MP 98) before reaching our hotel in Rapid City. Our good luck streak still intact, there was a steakhouse right next door so we finished off this great day with a couple of nice steaks before retiring for the night.