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Random blog-like rambling from Rachel's brain. A mixed up mess of usability posts, fiction, and travel.

On Roadtrips and Blogging

Poor Usability Shark, you have languished untouched for so long. I have many excuses, all of which are certainly lame, so I won't bore my readers with them. It's rather nice they've managed to find this place after all this time afterall.

So, good readers, you'll probably notice at some point that I am not saying much about usability, design or anything of the previous focus of my writing in this post. That's because I have decided that forcing myself to use this space for a single topic is one of the reasons I'm not using it very well. Maybe I'll write a post on that in general someday, but for now, I am going to regale you with an image heavy story of my trip through the American West that I took last summer with my fine friend Shane. 

Day 1: Seattle and the Overnight Train to Glacier Park

This posting is pretty delayed frankly, the trip began on a distant day, back around the Memorial Day holiday in 2011. I vaguely recall my flight to Seattle from Dallas being delayed and getting to the city of grunge way later than I would have liked, but at least I got there before we were due to get cracking on the major part of the trip. 

We didn't get much time to pal about Seattle, spending that morning collecting last minute road trip supplies. We did manage to grab a beer and some Gyros before getting a bus down to the train station. Yes, we start a road trip with a train trip because, my friends, trains are awesome.

Our Train

I've taken Amtrak plenty of times back when I was in college in Baltimore. It was for a year or two my primary means of getting home for holidays. The overnight train though? It is so much nicer. I'd go so far as to say luxurious. There was a very nice porter who gave us champagne and treats, plus the ticket price covers meals in the dining car. All of this was fantastic, but paled in comparison to how wonderful the scenery was, particularly the closer we got to Glacier Park.

View of Montana

So there were rivers and mountains, and a bottle of Santorini wine. Even the rocking motion of the train served to lull me into a really nice slumber. Fantastic first day.

Day 2: Glacier Park

We arrived in Glacier East around 9:30 am and one step off the train pretty much confirms that this place is astonishingly beautiful.  Also, there's still some snow on the ground. 

Glacier Park

When we picked up our rental car, the woman manning the counter suggested we purchase a can of Bear Mace. Just in case. At $50 we decide to risk the bears.  Notably, we never saw any. $50 saved!

In our newly acquired car, we meandered around the edge of Glacier Park most of the morning encountering some snowy scenery along the way. Mostly we learned that snow has the unfortunate habit of getting under the cuffs of your jeans and making your socks very cold and wet.

Glacier Park

Once inside the park proper, the first thing we saw was a gorgeous view of Lake McDonald. Not to oversell, but even several months later I think it's one of the most beautiful views in a trip filled with beautiful views. The lake is just crystal clear, reflecting the mountains in the background. Utterly peaceful and breathtaking.

Glacier Park

After finally checking in at our lodge for the evening we did a little hiking on the "Trail of the Cedars" where we saw some wonderful forest scenery and a fantastic waterfall. On the way back to our car we even spotted some Mountain Goats up high on the cliffs, a bit too far off for proper photography without a better zoom sadly. 

Glacier Park

The tail end of the day featured a boat trip around the lake. It was getting pretty crisp, but still very beautiful. Also, Shane made friends with a sock puppet that was hiding in his jacket.

Glacier Park

Post boat-ride was dinner at the McDonald Lodge which I'm told is historic. It's also quite lovely in general. I tend to run a trip around a combo of scenery and food, so I'm here to tell you that the sausage platter was awesome. Later on we tried some Huckleberry Beer that was not that awesome. 

Day 3 - A Long, Lovely Drive to Yellowstone

The length of this day's drive is a testament to our fanastic planning skills. We originally thought we'd get to Yellowstone early in the day but due to a combination of factors (it's not that close to Glacier, we kind of tend to stop every 5 minutes, we saw horses!) it took most of the day just driving down. 

Along the way we saw Salmon Lake and made friends with a Montana Horse wearing a cowbell.

Scenic Montana
Scenic Montana

By the time we actually made it to Yellowstone it was nearly 11, but at least we got to see some Elk chilling at a Catholic Church on the drive in.

Day 4 - Yellowstone, In Daylight

I had planned to go running in the morning at Yellowstone, but the unexpected freezing rain kept me from donning my sneakers. Instead, we got breakfast and bundled up for more sight seeing. 

We started out at Mammoth Hotsprings. The drizzle was seriously cold, but you could feel the heat coming off the springs which keep a continual cloud of steam floating through the whole area. The rock formations are a pretty unsual, but lovely, mix of colors.

Yellowstone
Yellowstone

After finishing up at the springs, we grabbed a quick lunch to take on the road and got started driving towards Old Faithful. Along the way, we made several stops  to see some waterfalls and walked around another hotsprings area while fighting the freezing rain. As a reward, we got to see a gray wolf pretty close and as a bonus, saw him hunting and killing what I think was a marmot. Maybe. Other wildlife spotted: Bison, Baby Bison, Elk, Ravens.

Yellowstone
Yellowstone

We did successfully make it to Old Faithful where we checked in to the "Old Faithful Inn", another historic lodge, that has a great view of the famous Gyser. Sightseeing for the day was concluded when the Gyser, 10 minutes late, finally put on it's impressive show. 

Yellowstone

Back at the lodge, we wandered a bit and grabbed some wine for the next hour's showing of the Gyser. It's actually more fun to watch from the balcony while keeping warm with a glass of red. Later, dinner at the lodge restaurant included Bison Ravioli, which was delicious. 

Day 5 - A Troublesome Drive to Salt Lake City

Our plan for Day 5 was to leave Yellowstone and make it to SLC in time to catch that evening Bee's game (local minor league baseball team) wich started at 7:30. We're lucky at first that the south exit which had been closed the day before due to the heavy snows turns out to be open. On our way out we got to see some seriously fantastic snowy landscapes, and also a tiny snowman.

Yellowstone

However, all this greatness hit a snag when we realized we had neglected to check out of the Inn. Both Shane and myself still had our keys in our pockets. No time to go back, we forged ahead figuring we could call and apologize and pay for new keys sometime later. We later did learn we could just mail them back. They didn't even charge us!

Once out of the park, we drove alongside the Grand Tetons for awhile and couldn't help ourselves from stopping more than a few times. I mean, how could you not?

Grand Tetons

Time was a little short, but we weren't worried until we reached a road sign loudly proclaiming: "Road Closed Due to Mudslide". Time for a detour.

 Despite the odds, we did manage to hit SLC and only miss the first 30 minutes of the game. After grabbing some ballpark hotdogs and SLC Bees T-Shirts so we could support our team, we settled in to enjoy the game. The Bees took it 10-0 in a pretty exciting match-up.

SLC Bees

Day 6 - Driving to the Grand Canyon

The plan for Day 6 was the head directly to the Grand Canyon, but as we drove down we were lured over to Bryce Canyon for an unplanned detour. This one was very well worth it. On the way in, the Red Canyon put on a great show, set against a perfect blue sky.

Road and Canyon

At Bryce itself we took a good hike along the rim, and the canyon is nothing short of gorgeous. The colors are a mix of reds, greens and browns and with a flawless sky above. The view is pretty much perfect. 

Bryce Canyon

Bryce was followed by no shortage of additional scenery as we continued to make our way to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at several scenic overlooks and took in a number of beautiful sights. We dawdled so much that by the time we hit the park entrance it was too late to see much save the very starry sky above and the occassional gray fox hunting mice by the side of the road. We made it to our hotel and crashed out immediately, for the next day was about proper hiking.

Shane with some Rocks

Day 7 - Grand Canyon

After a quick breakfast and some time gathering internet info we finally got our first proper look at the aptly named Grand Canyon. The name is seriously no joke, it is nearly impossible to take the whole thing in. Each turn in the trail makes you want to take another photograph.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

We walked about a mile before catching a shuttle to take us up to Hermit's Rest, the farthest stop west along the south rim of the canyon. Here we saw more ravens, which is something this spot is apparently famous for, but more entertaining was this squirrel.

Grand Canyon

After taking a quick lunch we started the hike back east. Each outlook really does seem more impressive than the last. Later when I started to look through all these photographs it was literally hundred of shots of the same scene and I still could not decide which ones to share. However, the shots with the Colorado River visible below are some of my favorites.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

Also, it's a requirement at the Grand Canyon that you take pictures of yourself looking like a dork. I think they kick you out if you don't.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

Mission Accomplished.

We made it about 3 or 4 miles before deciding we best catch a shuttle if we wanted to see the sunset at Yavapai Point. Now, I have seen a lot of pretty fantastic sunsets. The best were probably in Santorini in Greece, but there is something really distinct about sunset at the Grand Canyon. The light playing off the rocks brings out the truly exceptional colors. I'm not sure I could capture the depth and dimension in any of the vast number of photographs I took, but I surely did try.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

With the canyon now dark, we headed to the Arizona Room for dinner and drinks before collapsing back at the hotel. It was a lot of walking after all.

Day 8 - Route 66 to Vegas

Leaving the Grand Canyon, we made our 1st unanticipated stop at a place called "Bedrock City" just outside the park. This weird little establishment lets you explore an (probably unlicensed) version of the Flintstones hometown. I took a trip down a Dino Slide and had a great time. Also there were demon goats. High on Americana we decide to go the long way around and head for Route 66.

Bedrock City
Bedrock City

We made a stop in a town called Seligman which claims to be the birthplace of Route 66. If the number of souvenir shops is anything to judge by, then this is a legitmate claim. The best part of this particular stop is lunch at the Snow Cap Diner, which is basically all you need for a proper American Road Trip.

Route 66 Stuff
Route 66 Stuff

The last major stop on our way to Glittery Vegas was, naturally, the Hoover Dam. Famous for being big, and indeed, it does not dissapoint. 

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam

We reached Vegas relatively early in the evening and check in at the Encore. Most Vegas casinos have themes. The theme at the Encore is: luxury. Our view from the 34th floor out to the strip was amazing and I have never in my life been in a nicer bathroom. These are the things I care about. 

Vegas

After marveling at how nice the room was, we ventured out to take in some sights on the strip and to get dinner. It was wildly busy, being a holiday weekend and a bit overwhelming. The people making up the swarm are only so diverse, falling into a few major categories: young drunk club goers, gambling addicts, families on vacation, or retired couples. I think we looked odd in this particular mix. 

Still, the lights and energy is all pretty fascinating. It's a place you should definitely see at least once in your life.

Vegas

Day 9 - Las Vegas: Daytime

Our last full day of our adventure was devoted to experiencing Las Vegas, and in daylight the view from our hotel remains pretty fantastic.

Vegas

After grabbing some breakfast in the hotel we tackled the strip to go pick up our tickets for "O", a Cirque de Soliel show we'll be seeing later that evening. The walk was fun, with lots of great sights and sounds. The tickets were waiting at the Bellagio and once acquired we made a plan to bus it back to the hotel, grab some fancier cameras and head to Fremont to check out the old Neon signs.

Vegas

On Fremont, people were ziplining down the main street. It was sort of crazy. There were also, as promised, a good number of neon signs. 

Vegas
Vegas

Post Fremont, we made our way over to the Pinball Hall of Fame, a veritable warehouse of Pinball run by a solitary and distant man who, notably, has no particular love for Doctor Who (the pinball game anyway). There were still a lot of fun games around though, and the place with all the noisy, clanging machines and blinking lights, is pretty fun.

Vegas
Vegas

After all this madness, it's back to the strip for a marathon race to our dinner reservation at Craft Steak. Despite the terrible traffic and a very slow moving bus, we made it on time. The dinner is pretty easily the fanciest I've ever had (and the most expensive), but it's very good and the atmosphere is lovely. Maybe not quite worth the cost, but hey, it's Vegas right?

Dinner is followed by a monorail (monorail!) ride over to the Bellagio where we're going to see "O". These are, of course, famously amazing performances, and it surely did not dissappoint. It truly is something else seeing it in person. The water theme and the intricate staging uped the amazement quite a bit. 

Post-show, we hung around outside the Bellagio to see several iterations of the fountain show. It's awesome, and very difficult to capture with a point & shoot camera. 

Vegas

We wrapped things up with some final wandering about the various Casinos as we headed back to Encore with a few stops along the way to play slots so we could claim to have gambled. Then, it's one last, luxurious sleep before the end of this truly Epic Road Trip.

Final Thoughts

I love Road Trips by nature I think, and this it the most ambitious and best that I've ever been on. The joy of it is always in the unexpected. We may have planned large parts, but the small surprises are what I love the most. The random horses we met at a rest stop, a tiny snow man on a big Yellowstone drift, an abandoned Bedrock City: these are the things of legend! 

If you're thinking of ever doing something similar, well, I can't recommend that enough. Get in your car, see America. It's a pretty amazing place, over all.