Yellowstone, Day 1: Southern Loop

The Western road trip continues! We were really lucky in that Yellowstone was fully opened by the time our travels came around. A large portion of park roads had been closed due to massive flooding in the late Spring. Then, there was a partial re-opening that had alternating day entry based on whether your car’s license plate began with an even or an odd number. I was ready to roll with the punches since we wouldn’t know our rental car plate until the trip started. But then, full entry was restored so it wasn’t even an issue!

We drove up the John D. Rockefeller parkway, which was scenic and brought us right into the park through the South Entrance. Our destinations for the day were along the west half of the lower loop. I used Eternal Arrival’s posts to help plan the trip and I would recommend them as a resource!

Our first stop was at Old Faithful. We thought about taking the short hike to Observation Point, but we decided we’d rather be closer to the eruption. We spent two eruption cycles at the Old Faithful/Upper Geyser basin because we were terrible at timing our location with eruptions. We just missed several of the less regular geysers in the Upper Basin and then, as a result, we missed the first Old Faithful eruption. And yes, there are geyser predictors but everything was going off a few minutes early. No big deal. It was still super impressive and we enjoyed hiking around. It was in full sun and it was pretty hot, but we had water and took our time.

We decided to grab lunch and wait for the next eruption. We ordered some (pretty terrible) chili and sat down on the porch. The porch would have been a good spot, but I wanted to get closer and broil in the sun. SMS is such a good sport that he came along, even though the porch was quite nice.

We hopped back into the car and headed to the Grand Prismatic Spring (GPS). There, we took in the views from the GPS lookout point, about half a mile along Fairy Falls Trail. It was a great viewpoint. I think it’s a better way to take it all in than the boardwalk adjacent to the GPS, but I don’t know this firsthand since we skipped it. We had seen a lot of the smaller pools at the Upper Geyser loop and admired the color gradients there.

After our short hike, we went to our next stop: Fountain Paint Pots. The geothermal springs and variety of activity were so cool! I love the burping mud! It’s hard to pick a favorite site among the Yellowstone sights we saw today, but I would pick Yellowstone as my favorite park of the trip.

After our stops, we headed towards West Yellowstone and our glamping accommodations for the next two nights. We stayed at Undercanvas Yellowstone, where we had a really nice yurt-tent with a bed. There were shared bathrooms and showers, but plenty of them so there wasn’t a wait. The main lobby tent had coffee in the morning and s’mores at night. There were a fair number of activities so it felt a little Summer Camp-y, but we skipped the yoga in favor of more time in Yellowstone.

There was also a small river that I went swimming in, which was pretty cool. Literally and figuratively. Between the bugs and the temperature, SMS passed which meant I was swimming by myself. I don’t love swimming by myself because there are no other people for the sharks to attack. So I didn’t stay in the water too long, but it was fun. We also tried to take a fly-fishing casting class but the instructor was a no-show.

Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Sunrise

Our next outdoor adventure laid in Grand Teton National Park. Again, the weather was hotter than we anticipated but we couldn’t wait to see the mountains. I had been to Grand Teton as a child, but was excited to refresh my memory since all I really remember is missing the boat for a trout cruise. Is this even a real memory or childhood distortion? Probably the latter.

We arrived in Jackson Hole around dinner time after a great road trip featuring stops at Craters of the Moon and ERB-1. Jackson Hole was a town that, while nice, was hard for me to wrap my mind around. I don’t quite understand the “posh cowboy” lifestyle brand but trust me, Jackson Hole has it in spades. The main town square has four arches made of elk horns, apparently gathered from horns shed by the elk on the nearby preserve. I don’t know if I quite believe that, but since what I know about elk preserves could fit on the head of a pin, I’ll go with it!

We had a really delicious trout dinner at Local Restaurant & Bar, which I’m sure was a lot more than what my parents paid in the ’80s. Then, we went to Moo’s Ice Cream for dessert which had such ridiculous prices, we almost left. But I caved and had huckleberry ice cream. It was tasty, but really, the whole trip highlighted that inflation was real. Less kindly, I wonder how much price gouging was going on but it’s hard to tell in places that rely a lot on tourist business compressed into the fraction of the year that has nice weather. IDK.

After dinner, we headed into the national park. We were staying towards the North End of the park in Coulter Bay Village. I had booked most of the trip in May, two months prior to our trip. Since a lot of guides recommend booking 9-12 months in advance, I felt pretty lucky to have gotten a spot at all! Coulter Bay was nice and we settled in for the night.

Jenny Lake, Inspiration Point viewpoint

The next day, we headed South towards Jenny Lake. We took the boat across and then hiked to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. We hiked a bit beyond Inspiration Point, then hooked a right to take a (horse?) trail back down to the lake. It was nice to go on that trail because there were far fewer hikers. Jenny Lake is quite popular so it’s nice to get away from the crowds for a small portion of the hike. Initially, I had wanted to hike up Valhallo Canyon but it was too hot. I mean, we would have been ok but it would have been more of a slog than a fun hike and who wants that?!

Inspiration Point

Both “Hidden” Falls and Inspiration Point were really beautiful. Relatively speaking, there were a lot of people but honestly, it’s great to see that many people out enjoying a national park. It really wasn’t that bad.

We had a snack up on Inspiration Point and our cute lil’ BFF joined us. Look at the picture above on the right- you can see our new friend by SMS’ left hand! Don’t worry, we didn’t feed it!

After our snack, we headed down the horse trail and then started along the shore trail of Jenny Lake. We actually saw a young-ish Grizzly along the way totally noshing out on the underbrush. So many people walked by like absolute morons (ourselves included) but the bear paid us no attention (thank god). A little further down the trail, we came upon the Moose Lake overlook where we saw mooses (meese? hahah, no). We saw two adults and one young one. So cool!

After our hike, we went to Jackson Bay Lodge for lunch. It was a little late and Jenny Lake really doesn’t have any casual options. Apparently, Jenny Lake has a super fancy dining option for dinner but we were a little early for that (and also, not really interested). Jackson Bay had a nice bar where we could grab a beer and burger in a casual place for a reasonable-ish price. Perfect.

Grand Teton. The Grandest!

The next day, I woke up early to see the sunrise over the Tetons. SMS slept in. Haha, we are pretty opposite on the morning person/night owl spectrum. But we both get to do what we want on vacation so it works out! I drove South to get some nice sunrise views. Then I drove back, picked up some oatmeal, and we ate prior to heading up John D. Rockefeller Parkway to Yellowstone! Hooray!

Craters of the Moon and the EBR-1 Atomic Museum, ID

Road trip! We had a pretty major driving day ahead of us as we made our way from Stanley, ID to Grand Teton National Park. Decisions had to be made. While I really wanted to see Shoshone Falls and take a dip in a few hot springs, we only had so much time and, honestly, inclination towards driving additional distance. I did, however, really want to see the Craters of the Moon so that was the planned route. We found another roadside attraction between CoM and Yellowstone, which was serendipitous and very cool (or hot…keep reading!).

Our first stop was at the Ranger Station where we could get screened for going into the lava tubes. A straightforward screening became convoluted when SMS decided to think really hard about if he had been in caves and, if he had, would he really remember what he had worn? I should have given him a heads up that the screening existed, but it was a moment of tension when I thought the ranger would ban us from the lava tubes. Never fear, we ended up in the clear!

Walking on lava!

Then, we proceeded along the driving loop on Loop Road (creative!) around the park. It was another 90+ degree day, but we still decided to climb to the top of Inferno Cone. It provided a great viewpoint and the wind made the heat more bearable. We saw the spatter cones from a distance and other lava formations that I don’t remember the exact names.

Then we went to the lava tubes! Two were closed, but Indian Tunnel was pretty neat to walk through. There are lots of natural “skylights,” which is a nice way of saying “partial tunnel collapse.” The rangers said everything has been stable for decades, which I think was meant to be reassuring. I felt better when I realized that most tunnel collapse occurs in the Spring with water freezing/refreezing/moving, which causes the active destabilization.

After about an hour, we felt we had seen a good portion of the park and it was time to continue on. We were driving through some pretty flat parts of Idaho when SMS started seeing signs for EBR-1. We looked it up and thought, “Yes, let’s stop at Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EBR) Atomic Museum!

EBR-1 was an interesting place. Picture a lot of young single males in the middle of nowhere trying to harness the power of nuclear energy, aka, blow shit up but not too much. “Operation Weiner Roast,” anyone?

The decommissioned reactor was very interesting and we were able to understand the timeline of experiments and factory layout pretty well. It was a little more SMS’ interest than mine, but it was such a cool, unplanned find. I love when that happens!

After our self-guided tour, we got back in the car and drove on towards Jackson Hole/Grand Teton. Blog post coming soon!

Stanley, ID: Sawtooth Mountains, Hatchery, and Redfish Lake

Salmon River and the back of the cabin area

I got home from Europe and had two days to get ready for our “real” vacation. This was the vacation that was a little more planned for the two of us, rather than a quick, last-minute solo trip. Although don’t get me wrong, I love both types of trips!

Originally, we were going to take a road trip up the CA and into Oregon. During the planning process, this morphed to an Idaho/Wyoming/Montana trip that included the Sawtooth Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks. I didn’t really communicate this well to SMS so while he was excited for the trip, he was also a little disappointed that the Oregon idea had vanished. So, I need to do better next time. The good news is now that we live together again, I can tell him all of my ideas in real time!

Sawtooth Mountains, Galena Summit Overlook

We stayed in an AirBnB that was no-frills meets “Is this a slasher cabin in the woods that he inherited from his Grandma?” As some of the lodging later in the trip was expensive, I tried to go cheap in Stanley. While we got what we paid for, it was totally fine and the point is to be outside so NBD.

Although we had planned to be outside, it was hot while we were there which curtailed our hiking plans. Our first day, I had bought tickets for two events at the Sun Valley Writer’s festival. The first artist group was Freestyle Love Supreme, an improvisational comedy freestyle hip-hop group. They were amazing. My favorite part was there they picked an audience member’s story featuring a past regret. Then, they told the story as it happened and as it would have happened if a re-do was allowed via the Freestyle Love time machine. Well, the woman regretted eating the baby Jesus from a manger crèche, but her main regret was that it wasn’t even very tasty. Well, this morphed into a story that involved little baby Jesus that if I told it here, would not really work well so I’m going to skip it but it.was.amazing. The funniest thing is that the keyboardist was dying at how ridiculously awesome her castmates were.

I would strongly recommend seeing FLS if you get a chance. It looks like they are having a Vegas residency this Winter so… They are also famous for having Lin-Manuel Miranda involved in the group, but at this point, I think he does drop-ins only on occasion. The reason I bring him up is that there are clearly themes and aspects rehearsed beforehand that mirror themes of “In the Heights,” but everything is really well done and of course, even improv needs to be somewhat rehearsed and planned for a strong foundation.

We also saw Arthur Brooks, who wrote “From Strength to Strength.” I really enjoyed the book and thought it was a good read as I enter what is (hopefully) the second half of my life. I didn’t love him as a speaker that much, mostly because it felt super-slick and TED-talky and I thought his book was a little deeper than that. But it was a good distillation of the book for people who hadn’t read it. SMS liked it, but I think I somewhat spoiled it by making fun of the author for saying that credentials don’t matter but then name-dropping the fact that he teaches at Harvard Business School about six times (conservative estimate). But at the same time, if he didn’t have those credentials, would anyone listen? Deep thoughts. Maybe I should sit by the Salmon River and think about it!

The next day, we went to the Sawtooth Hatchery. This had been recommend by the rental car counter guy and, since long hikes were out due to the heat, we went there. It was pretty cool! We learned about conservation measures to counteract the effects of different dams along the river system. Interestingly, the fish (salmon and trout) aren’t protected species despite all the work that goes into upping the numbers. So people can still fish. Some have markings that they request get reported in for tracking purposes, but that is a voluntary system.

We also went to Redfish Lake, where we rented a double kayak. This was not the smoothest couple activity we have ever done, mostly because we disagreed on how to sync/not sync our paddling. Spoiler alert: the engineer knew better than the Navy doctor how to make a boat go forward. I guess being a sailor doesn’t translate very well into self-propelled watercraft. But it was still fun, especially swimming in a gorgeous lake.

We also went to the Stanley Museum. While it may sound like we were really trying to find things to do, it was pretty cool. We learned about what it was like to be a ranger in such a large area that, in the Winter, is very harsh. I enjoyed seeing the medical supplies as well.

On the day we left, we grabbed coffee at Peaks & Perks, which was a small stand with nearby tables and benches. We had a really nice time and I think it would have been a beautiful place to hike in non-90 degree weather. So, I recommend! It was fun to hang out in Idaho, a State I had never been to before.

Day 4: Zion, Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Home!

On the agenda for Day 4? A long drive home! But I had a few stops planned along the way. I didn’t wake up at dawn, but pretty close. Oh well, it was good for getting an early start on the day. Breakfast was included in my Zion Ponderosa room rate. It was fine, but not great. Still, it was paid for and so I ate up.

I wanted to go to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park but the access road was under significant construction. Kind of a bummer, but I hadn’t gone too far out of the way. So, I headed West on Hwy 9, which took me through Zion National Park.

The ride was pretty cool! I stopped at the viewpoint for Checkerboard Mesa. The red rocks bordering the road were super cool. My eyes were peeled for Big Horn goats but alas, I didn’t see any.

The drive took me through the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel, which was very impressive. It is 1.1 miles and built through the sandstone. There was a lot of blasting involved with completion in 1930.

I stopped at the Zion Visitor Center, parking in a 15 minutes only spot. I was hoping to go on the shuttle to a trailhead, but the main parking lot (which is quite large) was completely full at 9 am. There were a lot of people. The number of people, coupled with the old-fashioned, rounded shuttles, made it feel very Disney theme park like and not in a good way.

So, that idea was a bust but no problem! It was a short time/long driving distances trip and I had certainly seen a lot of the park from an Observation Point distance the day before.

Next up was Valley of Fire State Park. What an awesome place! I was going to say cool, but it was anything but! I met a nice couple at the entrance pay station and we talked about electric cars. They were actually from Kingman, AZ where I had been three days earlier.

I stopped by the visitor center and then headed to the end of Mouse Tank Rd to hike the White Domes trail. It was 1.25 miles, 95 degrees but don’t worry, it was a dry heat! I was pretty well-hydrated and felt cool at the start, so I was pretty confident I’d be ok for the short hike. I took water with me, which was a good idea.

The hike was great. There was a small slot canyon. I found an arch rock that provided some nice shade and a cool vantage point to look out over the valley. I enjoyed the hike mainly because it was my one experience being close to the rock formations on this drive-by trip of the park.

On the way out, I stopped at Atlatl Rock to look at the petroglyphs. They were very easy to access. It’s sort of unbelievable that some assholes carved their names over them in the past, but they’re pretty well-protected now.

After the Valley of Fire, it was time to focus on the drive ahead. I did stop at the Hoover Dam just to enjoy one last experience of low-grade terror at being really high up and far away from the ground.

Technically, I looked at the dam from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge pedestrian walkway. Both structures are impressive. And honestly, the railing on the bridge seems like it would be really easy to jump over. But I refrained from Googling how many people had since I was worried it would trigger some crazy surveillance rescue drone that would think I was in trouble. And in case you think I’m a total weirdo, I think living in Coronado and the suicides on that bridge have made me a little morbid in regards to bridges. [Whoa, this entry took a dark turn. Although thinking more on it, I bet it would be a really tempting place for a BASE jumper to launch who, technically, are not suicidal.]

After that, I stopped to charge the Tesla. A French woman scared me out of my wits by tapping on my window to ask a charging question in regards to her Tesla S rental. While I’m quite sure she’s normally very chic and harmless, she was skinny with kind of stringy blond hair and given the hot, blindingly white desert surroundings, I thought she was a member of the Walking Dead. [Ok, it’s official. This post is off the rails.]

I bought a cup of coffee and Dairy Queen Blizzard that was a disappointment since I wanted Choco Brownie Chunk and I instead got lots o’candy Vanilla but hey, win some, lose some. The last charging stop of the trip was in Riverside, where I went to a cool food court. I did not get tacos, but I did get a teriyaki bowl which led to a small lesson that it is easier to use a fork, rather than chopsticks, while driving.

And after two more hours, I was back in San Diego! That meant I had two more days ahead of me to complete clinic, OR, and administrative tasks before my time in the Navy was complete!

Day 3: Bryce Sunrise, Red Canyon, Zion Observation Point

Holding onto the branch like it would save me…

I decided to wake up for another sunrise. It was cold but worth it! After doing some pre-reading, I decided to check out Inspiration Point rather than Sunrise Point. The reason is that Sunrise Point is right next to the campground, so likely more crowded. In addition, Inspiration Point has a broader view over the entire Hoodoo Canyon.

It was chilly though! The temperature was in the 30s and there was a good breeze blowing. There were a lot of people wrapped up in blankets who looked really cold. They booked it as soon as the sun came up. I thought the canyon became more and more beautiful as the sun rose, so I’m glad I had my hoodie jacket even though admittedly, I could have used slightly better layers!

Yes, as the light increased, different areas became illuminated at different times. I think the most beautiful effect was when the lighter colored tops of certain hoodoo clusters lit up. Due to the color gradient, it looked like the rock was transilluminated which I’m pretty sure is an optical trick but still, very beautiful!

I had thought about doing Fairytale Loop but honestly, even though the hoodoos are beautiful, I thought it might feel a little more of the same. I know, so spoiled and sassy! But I had been hiking a lot, still had more to go, and I didn’t want to completely destroy myself given that a lot was going on that week.

So, I went back to the room, slept for another 90 minutes, got breakfast, and hit the road. But I didn’t go far! Just down the road, I stopped at the Red Canyon Visitor Center and did a short hike. The Red Canyon is pretty magical and slightly smaller in scale, which makes it feel more accessible.

I read a historical marker near the road tunnel which talked about the opening ceremony in the early 1900s where they cut the ribbon and proclaimed they were entering fairyland. People dressed as fairies and waved streamers. Seems a little whacky, but who am I to judge? The tunnel is kind of funny though, because it sort of looks like they could have just built the road around the rock but why do that when you could blast through it?

After a short hike, I continued onto Zion. The drive was beautiful and before long, I made it to Zion Ponderosa, a camping/glamping/hotel resort that provides activities just east of Zion National Park. I parked the car and quickly bought a ticket for the shuttle to the trailhead for Observation Point. Since 2019, Observation Point has only been reachable from this Eastern trailhead as rockfall blocks the trail from the valley. The view is incredible and not terribly crowded, unlike the crowds I saw the next day near the Western entrance!

I really enjoyed the hike. It had been billed as a walk through the trees, which it was but I did think there would be more shade. I was hiking midday but still, not a shady hike. Don’t be fooled! It was mostly flat, with a few gentle up and downs closer to the point.

The view was absolutely spectacular. It kind of reminded me of a smaller Yosemite from Tunnel View, where you see both sides of the spectacular rocks rising away from the valley except it is sandstone and volcanic, not granite.

I hiked back the way I came and caught the shuttle van. The road was dry and I could have made it in the Tesla, but the shuttle was $6.75 roundtrip and gave peace of mind. Worth it!

That evening, I treated myself to a delicious burger. After a carb heavy few days of bars, it felt needed! I stayed in a glamping tent which was super comfortable and makes me look forward to our late July glamping trip in Yellowstone. I settled in for a good night’s sleep with no sunrise hike planned. The next day was going to feature the long road trip home to San Diego.

Day 2: Grand Canyon Sunrise, Bryce Sunset

Ohaio gozaimasu!

Oh my gosh! This trip has been amazing and already I’m a day behind so rather than rhapsodize how I’m typing this in Zion under a twilight sky at 9:20 pm (!) waiting for the strawberry moon, I’ll write about yesterday’s awesome adventures!

Ooh Aah Point

So, I spent the night at Maswik Lodge which was very nice but also very NPS-feeling. If you’ve ever stayed at a NPS site, you’ll know what I mean. Honestly, it’s amazing how nice the places are for the amount of people that travel through them. I realize that’s the nature of all hotels and lodging, but outdoor adventures can result in a particular level of grime and stink so to the NPS I say, A+.

So, my alarm went off at 4:25 am. Yuck. But since I don’t think I’ll necessarily be back at the Grand Canyon, as amazing as it it, I made myself get up and seize the day. I packed, went to the ATM for a housekeeping tip, packed the car, and got to the Visitor’s Center by 4:55. I hoped on the shuttle to South Kaibab trail.

Heading down the stairs of South Kaibab trail on the way to Ooh Ahh Point

So, I walked out to Ooh Ahh point. I hate the name for its overly cutesy-ness but at the same time, it is pretty accurate. I got there right before sunrise and it was a great vantage point. The illumination over time of the various rocks was pretty spectacular. For me, I liked it a lot better than sunset, early wakeup notwithstanding.

Cedar Ridge

At Ooh Aah point, I ran into a foursome (two couples) who had taken my picture the night before at Powell Point. By the way, I was not awake enough to put this together. The woman who took the picture remembered me. Probably because my tee-shirt the night before was uniquely ugly. They headed back up while I proceeded another half mile to Cedar Ridge. That was pretty cool because it was the first layer of intra-canyon mesas, so it was neat to progress to the next “level” of geologic history. If I ever go back, I’d like to make it all the way to the Colorado River but the time to do that is not the Summer!

I hiked back up to the top (less fun!) and hoped on the shuttle back to the Visitor Center where I parked my car. Then, I drove out of the park via the East exit. On the way, I stopped at several scenic overlooks that were really cool because I could see the Colorado River as it entered the canyon. My favorite overlook was Navajo point because it was the best angle for looking up the Colorado river canyon as a smaller part of the Grand Canyon. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but at the Visitors’ Center, you can only see the dark gouge of the canyon level, rather than all the way down to the river. That is also cool but honestly, I think the Navajo point was my favorite of the park!

I had thought of going to Sedona that morning and hiking a vortex but there were several reasons not to: 1. It was hot 2. Pinecone fire shut down the direct route via the 89 and 3. the time I would have spent was freed up to spend on various outlooks. So, another trip will have to be planned. My favorite!

So, I went to Horseshoe Bend, which an article called “a quintessential American roadside attraction that someone decides to profit off of.” Weeeelllllll, since it’s the Navajo nation cashing in on its Instagram popularity, I don’t feel I can begrudge them the chance to profit off the Influencer!

It was pretty cool. I took a lot of pictures. I’m sure you can find better under Google Images. But they’re mine, and I like them! I also climbed the rock to the right of the bend which causes an off-centered horseshoe picture, but was a neat mini-scramble. My fear of heights kind of increases in those situations, but it’s worth the adrenaline surge and scaredy-catness!

After the Horseshoe Bend, I charged in Page and went to the Grand Canyon Brewery. They had pretty mild beers, but maybe San Diego has made me super tough! I only had a few tastes since I was driving, but it was fun to hang out at a local brewery.

Then, it was off to Bryce Canyon! Along the way, I drove through Red Canyon on the 12A which was super-cool. I was focused on Bryce but I made a mental note to stop through the next day on my way to Zion.

Through a window (but not the Wall of Windows) while hiking Peek-a-boo Loop

I checked into the hotel and immediately headed to Sunset Point to do the Navajo Loop-Peek-a-boo Loop hike, which is just under 5 miles. The hoodoos and other natural formations are spectacular and the changing light made it extra amazing. The sun went below the canyon about 45 minutes prior to the actual sunset so even though it was still pretty, photographically the light was “dead” as SMS would say.

For the loop, I went clockwise, which was recommended in a guide. I don’t have the CCW to compare to, but it was a great direction and the benefit (I think) is that you have a great view down the Wall of Windows rather than not appreciating the panorama that would be behind you if you walked up CCW. I don’t think you would be wrong either way, though!

Coming through a small tunnel on Peek-a-boo Loop

Day 1: San Diego to Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon! Sunset, looking East.

This has been such a fun road trip! Since I’m traveling West to East for a mini-vacation rather than a long-distance move, I’ve taken some routes I’ve never been on. Plus, the Tesla forces me to stop in some pretty unique places. [Side note: It’s pretty wild how different the Tesla supercharger stops are. SMS thinks there’s a real opportunity in creating nice rest stops like Spasso in Japan or AutoGrill in Italy. I think he’s right!]

The first stop was in 29 Palms at the Tortoise Rock casino. There are no pictures. I was definitely glad the charger was there, but that was about it. Although Joshua trees are pretty cool, it’s a pretty hardscrabble place.

The next stop was at a historic Rte 66 town: Kingman, AZ! There are several superchargers at the Kingman visitor center in the historic Powerhouse. I used the restroom and then quickly toured the Electric Vehicle museum, which has a pretty amazing collection! There was a Tesla roadster, tripped out golfcarts, a retro-fitted Porsche, and two university designed concept cars. There were several other cars and early prototypes, as well.

But, it was time to move to the main event. So, fueled by a delicious root beer float, I made it the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon. It is an amazing place. It is just so vast, but with so many details in the landscape that it’s impossible to take it all in. It’s a perspective that shifts from the largest scale (millions of years! thousands of feet!) to a very small scale like an eye-catching striation or undulation in one particular rock formation. And even though some 19th century naturalists were a little over-the-top in their descriptions (*cough looking at you John Muir*), it is a spectacular place.

I checked into the Maswik Lodge, then quickly headed to the Rim to catch the red shuttle towards Hermit’s Rest. I had read the best sunset viewing spots were along the Rim at that location. The bus only took us to Mohave Point since there were a limited number running. I walked back towards Hopi Point, where I found the tripod photographers and decided that it was a sign of a good viewing location. It was a good decision! Although I realized at a certain point that what I was mostly doing was staring into the sun, so I knocked that off before I did any damage!

After the sunset, I walked back along the Rim to the Lodge. It was a pretty walk and along the way, I walked out on Powell Point which, honestly, seemed a bit better than Hopi due to a wider vantage point. Another great place (I think) would be on the East Side of the Park, where certain scenic overlooks allow the viewer to look up the canyon. I really liked that perspective. I will tell you my favorite East viewing point tomorrow! In contrast, from the Rim where I was the first night, you can see the gouge of the canyon at the base but the river and sidewalls are hidden from view.

California North Coast Road Trip

For the second half of the trip (2 days/2 nights), we headed out to the North Coast via the Russian River Valley. We wanted a little nature to go with our wine, so I planned the trip as a split between Sonoma County and the North Coast, centered on Point Arena.

I hope you make it out!

But first we drink! We started the day at one last winery. We went to Williams Selym, one of the OG Pinot Noir makes in Sonoma. At least this is what two of my friends say and I am too lazy to fact check this. We had a really nice tasting, but it felt a little Ex Machina with Alicia Vanderker. As in, there was a distinct possibility there were malevolent robots who were waiting to do us harm behind the sleek gleaming interior decor.

Getaway cars at Williams Selym

Fortunately, we made it out and even left with wine, which should increase our quality of life. Phew. We drove along the 101 to the 128, stopping for lunch at Disco Ranch in Boonville. It was a super cool wine and snack-y/tapas cafe. Between the food we bought off-the-shelves and a few tapas made in-house, we had an awesome picnic. We ate on their little patio. It was really a neat place and if you wanted to have the perfect Spanish or Italian snacks to go along with your wine, this is the place to shop!

We went for a short-ish hike through the redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park, where we were able to charge our car for a little bit. Then we headed to the coast. Our hotel was in Point Arena. The Wildflower Boutique hotel is a renovated inn that is absolutely delightful. I highly recommend it. The rooms were stylish, affordable, and clean. Each morning, there was a delivered breakfast from four options that we would choose from the night before. The people who worked there were really nice. Overall, it was a really positive experience.

That evening, we went to The Bird Cafe. It is a cash-only restaurant that at the time, was only open Friday-Saturday. Now, it’s closed while they think about future projects but I highly recommend checking it out on a visit. The food was delicious. The walls are covered in bird art (swoon) by Nicole Ponsler. They serve Pelican Bread, which is made locally by a baker who is very into the process (grinds his own grains). The wines were from Penny Royal Farms Winery. Apparently, it’s hard to get suppliers to deliver out to Point Arena so they’re pretty happy to have their arrangement with a winery they think is delicious. We ended up eating pretty much everything on the menu- to be fair, there’s two choices for apps, entrees, and desserts. I really liked it and would love to go back some day!

The next day, it was up to coast to Mendocino and Ft. Bragg. First, we went to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. It was beautiful! There were gorgeous well-maintained gardens along the entrance lawn/meadow that transitioned to longer trails along the bluffs. I loved it! The dahlias were particularly gorgeous at the time we went.

For lunch, we went to the Lost Coast Brewing Company, which had good food and beer. Then we were off on the Skunk Train for a ride through the redwoods. It is an old logging railroad that is now perfect for tourists who want to see redwoods without hiking! After the train ride, we headed back to Pt Arena. We had dinner reservations for about halfway down the ride, but when we passed the restaurant it was still too early for dinner. Plus, we were all tired from the driving and thought it would be a lot less fun to drive on the foggy, winding roads through the dark. So, we bought picnic provisions from the little store in Pt Arena and at at the large table in the lobby of the hotel. It worked out perfectly.

But yes, one thought for a North Coast trip. The driving distance is a little deceptive relative to how long it will take due to the single lane, many curves, and slightly decreased visibility depending on the fog. While it’s nice to stay in a hotel for multiple nights to avoid packing/repacking, another option would be to drive up the coast and hotel hop more frequently in order to prevent backtracking along the driving routes. Anyway, things to consider in case anyone is reading this blog for travel tips!

Street band in Pt Reyes Station

The next day, we headed back to Menlo Park. Our first stop was an early lunch at Spud Point Crab Co in Bodega Bay. It had been recommended by Mom’s cousin and it was incredible! We ate clam chowder and crab sandwiches, which were epic. Although I had planned for a picnic in Pt Reyes Station, we had spoiled our appetites but we still went for a walk around town.

We drove to Menlo Park and had dinner at The Little Store in Atherton. SMS and I had an awesome lunch there a few weeks prior and we had high hopes for dinner. But it was kind of a bizarre experience. The owner was pretty weird with strange suggestions and strong wine upsell attempts. Fortunately, we all thought it was kind of funny rather than too off-putting, but I’m not as eager to go back as I once was. The food was still excellent and if I’m in the area and have a craving for French Onion Soup, that’s where I’m going!

Mom, Dad, and I left from SFO the next day. We grabbed breakfast in the Centurian Lounge (yay!) before heading off to our respective destinations. It was an awesome trip! Next up, trip recap with SMS’ parents!

Sonoma Road Trip with My Parents!

When SMS and I got married, we had pretty basic vows. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the basic vows are pret-ty serious. Love for a lifetime? Sign me up! But if we had been the type to write our own custom vows, would we have included the vow to take epic road trips with our parents? Hell yeah!

So, the epic road trip with my parents is first up! For those of you wanting SMS’ parents, wait a few weeks. It’s coming!

My parents were in Wyoming for a mini-siblings reunion (Dad’s side). Back in June, I said that since they were 2/3 of the way across the country, why not complete the journey and come to Northern California for a vacation continuation? Who can argue with that logic? No one. So, my parents arrived on Monday for a six day NorCal adventure.

For the first two nights, my parents stayed at the Hotel Lucent in Menlo Park. SMS has a 1B1B apartment and we’re just not air mattress people. Haha, we totally could be but we don’t even own one now. So, my parents stayed at HL, which they recommend for nice rooms at a reasonable (for SV) price.

On Tuesday, we had breakfast at our place. Canned hash and poached eggs for the win! Then we headed out to Filoli, which is really beautiful. Gorgeous gardens that have a timeless feel. The original owner planted them knowing full well the peak would be in 100 years, well beyond his time here on Earth. The combination of impermanence and legacy is a dialectic beyond the scope of this blog but still interesting to reflect on.

That night, we had dinner at our place since the next few days would be pretty restaurant heavy. Wednesday morning, we headed up to Sonoma for our first day of wine-tasting and culinary delights! BTW, planning tip. While I have turned into much more of a planner over the years, it is crucial to pre-plan at the current time. Most places have limited seating and time-slots and you have to plan your trip as soon as you think of it. The further out the better. It’s a little much but since Hot Vax Summer was thwarted by the Delta variant, I think this is going to be the reality at least through 2021.

Our first stop was Medlock Ames. This is the only wine club SMS and I currently belong too. I think the wines are delicious, and I really like their thoughtful approach to farming and wine-making. I am a little less thrilled that they’re turning more to single-varietal ($$$$) and abandoning their blends. Mostly because I really love their estate blends they make each year. Alas, RIP. 2018 is the last year they’re making an estate red. I would say I should stock up but I seem to drink the wine more than collect it so I guess I should embrace the change.

ANY-way, we had a reservation for the “Olive Grove Experience.” This included a white/rose bottle per 2 people and a picnic basic full of delicious provisions such as Mt. Tam cheese, Bouchon bread, olives, MA jam, MA olive oil, and salami. We had a rosé and chardonnay, both of which were delicious. It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful space. It was the perfect start to our vacation and no matter what the occasion, I alway recommend Medlock Ames.

Then we went into town and had a Northern Italian varietal tasting at Idlewild. I love those Northern Italian wines. Strong reds with a hint of dirt. Yum!

Afterwards, we headed to Chalkboard. SMS and I had been several years ago, but I had forgotten. It’s pretty good but the portions are on the small side. Especially when the waitress claimed that they encouraged “family-style” eating. I guess by family-style, they mean that everyone can stick their fork into everyone’s decidedly individually-sized portion. The food is delicious, but the comic relief was when we all ordered the soup and instead of a cup of soup, received teeny-tiny shots of soup. Several pictures were taken to document the size relative to common objects. I realize this paragraph sort of makes me sound like a pig, but this restaurant was a little on the ridiculous side. But still, delicious food!

We headed back to our hotel which, by the way, was a complete delight! The Camellia Inn was reasonably priced and in the heart of downtown Healdsburg. The rooms were great and the breakfasts were quite nice. We also went swimming both afternoons, which was refreshing after some pretty warm temperatures!

Only two of us got the memo that on Thursdays, we wear pink!

The next day, we drove to Sonoma proper to have lunch with my Mom’s cousins at The Girl and the Fig. It was such a lovely afternoon. The cousins are younger than my parents, but older than SMS and I. We had such a nice lunch and it was fun to catch up. We all had to head out after a couple of hours. The cousins went back to work and we went to Silver Oak.

SMS prefers the Sonoma Silver Oak vs Napa. The tasting room was beautiful. We were outside, which was warm but tolerable since we were in the shade. The view was beautiful, the building gorgeous, and the wines delicious. We all really liked the experience.

After heading back into town, we went for a quick swim and then got ready for dinner. Dinner was at Bravas restaurant, where we had Spanish tapas and split a paella that was phenomenal. We sat in the back courtyard and it was such a beautiful, bug-free space.

The Sonoma part of our trip was awesome. A fair bit of pre-planning and reservation-making, but it made for a smooth trip with delicious wine experiences. Next up, our Northern coastal adventures.