I’ve had many people ask me of all the places I visited what is my most favorite. That’s a difficult question to answer. There are so many wonderful, interesting, beautiful places I got to see and explore. Admiring the scenery as I drove was extraordinary.
In the narrative below, I will make active links to the stories I mention, you can see more pictures of those locations in the photo gallery albums. If you want to read historical information on these places, you can search the Internet for the home pages. If you start reading my posts at the beginning in 2011, you can imagine you are on the trip with me. Everywhere I went to in 2011 was my favorite place. It was the absolutely best time of my trip.
Since Internet connections were few and far between during my 2011 trip, I usually had to stop at wifi spots or libraries to write my stories and upload pictures. Often, I camped without electric hookups too. So, I would write notes of my journey at the end of every day, so that when I was able to stop and spend hours writing stories I would remember what I saw and wanted to write about for that location or experience. On the average, it takes me 3 to 5 hours to write a story, upload a photo album, and insert pictures into the story. You may notice that many of the early stories don’t have very many pictures in the story, it takes a bit of time to insert and arrange them in the story. However, the photo album of that location usually has lots of pictures. At that time, I didn’t know how to link an album to the story, so you may read… go to the album to see the pictures.
When I got back from my trip Pam showed me how to make active links, so you will notice that I use that feature in most of my 2013 and 2014 stories. In earlier stories you will have to go to the albums to see the pictures. Since I was seeing so many new places, sometimes several in a day, it sometimes seemed like a job to write notes and then the stories… I enjoyed it thoroughly, and as I wrote I got to feel the experience all over again, just like I do now reading them when I refer to them in a new story. Although, sometimes as I drove in 2011, and saw a wifi spot, I would say to myself… Do I really want to stop now and spend several hours writing? Not always… so I would keep driving. Sometimes it would be a week before I could post new stories. When I created stories and posted them, I always used the date of when I visited a place, not when I was able to put them online.
If I have to pick just one favorite place, I would say Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado, is at the top of the list. The cliff dwellings where Native people lived in about the 1100’s was incredible. To walk through the cliff houses where they lived so many years ago was inspiring, and beyond my imagination. I tried to visualize their life, how they built these structures with no modern tools. The size and weight of the rocks they had to cut, carry, move, and lift into position to build houses, rooms, kivas, etc. was beyond what I could comprehend. Yet, they did it. Now many centuries later, parts of their dwellings still stand.
Ladders were built to get to the higher rooms and ledges where they kept their food supply, or to climb onto to the top of the cliff where perhaps they grew their food. Being in the cliff dwellings gave them protection from the weather to some extent, also let them see if any enemies were approaching. The openings that looked like windows are really their doors. The rooms were all very small. Not much room to move around in. There were over 100 families living in the cliff dwelling. Imagine all of the smoke from cooking, noises from that many families living close together. How about when the temperatures were extremely hot or cold? How about getting water when the only source in the cliff dwelling might have been a trickle of water running down the rocks. Did they have to make vessels to carry water up from a river or stream? What did they do with their waste and garbage? What did they have to do to make the plant material or animal hides into fabric of some sort to make into clothing? How long did it take to chip out parts of the mountain to make handholds to climb up into the dwelling? I bet there were not good trails, created by a National Park Service, that are there now for us to walk on. Click here to read more about my experience at Mesa Verde National Park.
Like I said above, almost everywhere I went during my 2011 trip is among my favorites places. That’s when I got to drive through the western and northwestern states, and I got to explore so many places. I didn’t particularly like the boat ride when I went whale watching on the Oregon coast. It was the wrong time of the year for whales to be in the waters. I thought it would be nice to take a boat ride, wrong!!! Water was really quite a bit choppy and I got a bit queasy. The good thing that came out of it is seeing a dog in a Kodiak raft enjoying the ride. These are two of my favorite photos.
Another favorite photo was taken as I was leaving an Idaho state park. I noticed hot air balloons in the distance, so I stopped and got my camera. As I was snapping the photo a hummingbird flew towards my window, looked in and quickly flew away. I wondered if the hummingbird was in the picture and sure enough it was. I could not have planned this picture. The hummingbird was only there for a flash of time. I didn’t see it when I started to snap the picture, only as I pressed the button.
The Redwood forest was also pretty awesome. I got to stand next to trees that were 1,500 and 2,000 years old. That really puts my age, size, and life into perspective.
Going to Golden Spike National Monument was an unexpected detour. When I stopped at a small rural mechanics shop to ask directions and the couple told me about Golden Spike. I didn’t think I would like it because trains don’t really interest me. I am so glad I made the detour. It was one of the most interesting places where I got to experience history up close and personal. Golden Spike is where the east and west coast railroads met in Promontory, Utah. Notice the difference in the type of railroad ties, mill cut vs. hand cut.
If you want to experience my trip, start with June 2011 and then read forward and look at the photo albums. I took lots of pictures. You may wonder why I took so many pictures of scenery as I was driving. Usually, I had a purpose. Beside being beautiful and interesting, I wanted to share my experience with people that were following my trip on my website. This way you could see the types of roads I drove on, and see the same scenery as I did. Many times the roads were steep. Sometimes, very winding, or perhaps steep and winding. Other times, I thought it interesting that one side of the road would be desert and the other side lush with trees and bushes. Or one side of the road was a mountain and the other side flat. It really amazed me how quickly the terrain could change. Like after driving flat land for hours how a mountain could all of a sudden appear, or in reverse driving through mountains, all of a sudden the land would be flat. Or I would be driving and all of a sudden see a canyon in front of me as I drove around a curve.
In several northwestern states where the land was pretty much dirt, there would be towns, and/or patches of land where crops and orchards would be growing. I’m sure the farmers had to do a lot of work to get the land where it would produce crops. I saw so many orchards and vineyards. I got to recognize the various plants that grew feed corn, potatoes, sugar beets, cherry trees, peppers, etc. Sometimes when I drove, if I saw a farmer near the road I would stop and ask him what was growing and always the farmer was kind and told me about the crop, how they irrigate it, and would answer my questions.
I found it interesting also when I drove and saw signs that said the time zone changed, or I was driving and saw signs that said I was driving along side the Oregon Trail or California trail. I could see the wagon trail marks in the mountainside. I thought it was cool when I saw a sign and all it said was 49th Parallel. I remembered that from history class in school. The surprising thing is that I remembered what the 49th Parallel is.
Nature also amazed me so often. I could see storms approaching and they seemed to appear out of nowhere. It might have been sunny a little while earlier, then all of a sudden the sky gets dark. When I was camping on the Washington/Idaho border in Hell’s Canyon it amazed me that there would be little or no breeze all day, then about 5 p.m. strong winds would suddenly happen. Usually I was sitting outside of my camper reading or eating dinner and the wind would kick up so strong that I had to move so the camper blocked the wind, or else I would experience the strong winds and perhaps dirt that was blowing with it. The Snake River was across the road from my camper.
It’s amazing how God could create such an incredible world with mountains, plains, rivers, oceans, and how nature, weather, and landscapes can change so dramatically and quickly. Driving along the ocean on the east coast and west coast of the United States is so different. The Oregon coast is beautiful with the large rock structures. There were times in several states when I would drive for hours and hours and not see any or only a few houses. I can’t imagine having to drive hours and hours to a store. Especially in bad weather.
What an incredible and extraordinary experience I had exploring so much of the western half of the country. I have had so many people telling me that one day they want to do what I did. If at all possible, start doing it now. Don’t keep putting it off. You can start like I did… take a vacation and fly or drive to somewhere you want to go. Then as you can schedule time, do it again. Maybe once a year, twice a year, once every year or two. You don’t have to do it all at once.
In 2005, I started to work on my list. Read the story about Zion, Bryce, and Glacier National Parks. I did a park or two a year for a few years and I’m so glad I did. Sometimes places we want to visit are close together and can be done in the same trip like Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park, or Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, or Crater Lake and Crater of the Moon, or Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It might be better to spend a few days in each park and get to see two parks, rather than a week at each one. I found that generally 2 or 3 days was more than enough to explore the park. Other places only needed a few hours or 1 day to explore it. You will be amazed to see what you can do in a few days or a week.
Prepare the list of the places you would like to visit, and/or things you would like to do. Look at a map, perhaps there are places close together. I took a 10 day trip to Montana in 2009. I flew to Missoula, Montana, rented a car and drove almost 1,000 miles in 6 days and saw most of the state, including staying several days at Glacier National Park. I stopped in several small towns to explore them.
A week to ten days would give you an exceptional experience anywhere you go. Plan a trip, that way whenever you make it fit into your schedule you will have the information. When life happens we adjust our schedules to handle whatever the emergency or situation is… how about realizing that having fun and living a dream is also important. We find ways to pay for emergency repairs, health issues, etc. How about thinking about living dreams and visiting places as an important part of life for yourself… sort of a mental health incentive and activity. Over the years I paid lots of money to doctors and hospitals. I thought if I could pay off medical expenses, I could also put money aside for something fun. I am so glad that I bought my camper van years before I knew I wanted to retire. I paid it off monthly for a few years and enjoyed it every chance I could. Then, before I retired it was paid off so I didn’t have that expense in my retirement costs. Not everyone likes to camp or drive around the country. Find your passion. Plan accordingly… have fun NOW. Or start saving now for something you will make time for in the near future.
UPDATE: FEBRUARY 24, 2014
I have a few other favorite places and experiences that I want to include in this post. Since my stories for these events are rather long and contain numerous photos, please go to these links to read the stories about my wonderful experiences in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in September and October 2011, and October 2012. In 2011, I got to explore Acoma Sky City, the Albuquerque Zoo and Biopark, and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and Balloon Fiesta part 2, and in 2012 I got to experience the Balloon Fiesta again. I had the amazing experience of crewing on a balloon the entire 9 days, going up in a balloon three times, and also volunteering at the event for the entire 9 days both years.
Another extraordinary experience was attending canoe journey in 2011 called Paddle to Swinomish, and in 2012 called Paddle to Squaxin Island. This is an annual event, held at a different tribe every year. Approximately 60 Native American tribes paddle in canoes from Alaska, Canada, Oregon, and Washington. Every year they meet on a tribal ground where they have protocol ceremonies for 6 days, usually there are 8,000 to 10,000 people in attendance. The coastal art and regalia is spectacular and very different than other parts of the country. Coastal art is primarily red, white, and black, and it contains graphics of seals, whales, otters, eagles, and other similar animals. You can see many of these paintings and symbols on the canoes in my photo albums, which are linked in the stories for each year.
Baker City, Oregon, is an interesting city. It was involved in the gold rush and one of the local banks has gold nuggets on display. Baker City also has one of the most interesting Bank of America offices that I have ever seen, it is an old historic house with a tower. I had to go inside to see what it looked like. I was given permission to take pictures in the lobby including the teller windows. Check out the ATM which is also very unique.
As I was going through my 2011 and 2012 stories getting the links for the above referenced locations, I saw so many other stories of places that I also loved. I can’t list them all or this story would be much longer. If you are interested, you can read more stories and perhaps read about places you have been, or want to visit.