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  • Writer's pictureErica

Western WOW trip (because... the scenery = "wow"), 20 days, Feb 2023

Updated: Apr 25

Route: Madison, WI ⇨ Kansas City, MODodge City, KS Santa Fe, NM and White Sands National ParkTucson, AZTHE GRAND CANYONUtah National Parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches ⇨ Breckenridge, CO ⇨ home = Madison, WI

Our immediate reaction to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time

Highlights: driving through six state capitols in ten states, crossing the 100th meridian, having our visual minds blown by the Utah parks, and enjoying one day of western skiing.

Subaru with a view.

Method of Travel: 4889 miles in our trusty Subaru Outback, with snow tires and a Thule on top for skis and stickers.

Soundtrack: Sirius’ Grateful Dead Channel, on Audible “Daughters Of Yalta” and Nick Offerman’s “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play”, a few Spotify playlists, Burt Bachrach (RIP), and a lot of Don Henley and the Eagles, which is explained in the Moab, Utah, entry.

Other geeky details: Average temp = always colder than we wanted. Lowest altitude = 400 feet above sea level near the Mississippi, and highest almost 12,000 at Breckenridge ski resort, though we did not get to the highest peak! (We're not that good.)

Crossing the Mississippi, hoping to leave winter behind...

The WOW trip: We left Madison early, on an 18-degree February day, seeking warmer temps, which we only found in Kansas, and new landscapes which we found everywhere after Kansas. First we had to make our way across the Mississippi River and then across Iowa. This is the start of most midwestern travel plans.

We stopped in Des Moines for a historic and traditional lunch of a Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich (invented in 1926 in Muscatine, Iowa), curiously located in a “Dead Mall” called Valley West. A Dead Mall is pretty much what it sounds like, still open but missing a lot of stores. In this one, there was the functioning Maid-Rite and lots of seniors walking the perimeter for exercise, which is what people do in cold climates.

It's the sandwich you can eat with a spoon! (I made that up)

Mall architecture memories...

We drove almost 500 miles that day to Kansas City, MO - People told us we’d love Kansas City, so we planned a two-night stay in order to explore. Note that Kansas City is in Missouri (KCMO), but there’s also Kansas City, Kansas (KCK), and I’m not sure when we were in which one, it didn’t really matter. KC is called the Fountain City, and may have more fountains than Rome, but they were all turned off in February. It also has more barbeque restaurants per capita than any other US city, is the home of Russel Stover chocolates, it’s where Jazz legend Charlie Parker had his first gig, and where Ernest Hemingway said he learned to write, while working at the The Kansas City Star. Here’s what we did and saw and ate.

Our well-appointed and comfortable stay was at The Truitt Hotel on the south side of town, and we found it easy to get everywhere by car. The decor was seriously splendid.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was within walking distance, but was closed when we were there, so we enjoyed the sculpture garden and the 2007 addition designed by architect Steven Holl, consisting of five translucent glass blocks. We also got a kick out of Oldenberg's oversized shuttlecocks (the museum is the net!).

The Nelson-Atkins with Shuttlecock (1994) by Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen.

The Holl addition

The National WWI Museum and Memorial, located in Liberty Memorial Tower (that's me in front of the Tower) was a mindblowing collection of all things World War I, well presented. It's a great museum regardless of your level of interest, and ours is high because many of my Wisconsin relatives served in WWI in various capacities and left their mementos behind.

Just down the hill, Union Station, from 1914, is a great example of architectural reuse with restaurants and exhibits, including a very intense model railroad display, plus, nearby, real trains! In February 2023, it was also the home of Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl excitement.

The shadow of Liberty Memorial Tower with Union Station.

It was a fun time to be in KCMO, right before the Chiefs won!

Downtown we also enjoyed the stylish art deco skyscraper city hall, the restored Power & Light District, several excellent hotel lobbies (go see the City of Fountains art installation at the Hotel Phillips), and the main library's rooftop exhibit that identifies nearby buildings and architectural terms.

Within the Spanish Revival Country Club Plaza, a shopping destination, we found a great collection of KC-themed gifts and food and t-shirts and stickers at the Made in Kansas City Marketplace. Also, it had a bar, but we had breakfast instead.

Speaking of MEALS AND DRINKS...

Enjoyed excellent BBQ at Q39 in an unassuming building in Midtown. We ate at the bar and are happy we did because the bartender tipped us off on the not-on-the-menu Burnt Ends. Fun cocktails too.

More excellent BBQ at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que which is still in the gas station it started in. We tried the popular Z-Man, which is a brisket sandwich with cheese and onion rings on it. Naturally.

Nice atmosphere at Corvino

Our most unique dinner was at Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room, which is a James Beard award winner with a cool atmosphere and attentive servers, in a former button factory. And, not a supper club, in Wisconsin terms. We ate many things that didn’t photograph well, but of note were the Seaweed Donuts with trout roe & cream, yum.

We also enjoyed classic cocktails at the very vintage bar at the 21c Museum Hotel, called The Savoy. We were not able to sit in Harry Truman’s favorite booth (reminder, he is a Missourian), but we did ok.

The beautiful decor of the Savoy, and a penguin, often seen at 21C hotels.

Back at the beautiful Truitt, researching.

Goodnight, Kansas City! Thanks!

More Kansas education with quick stops in Topeka and Wichita: A little over an hour from KC is Topeka, where we visited the State Capitol, and it was BUSY with high-schoolers and legislators. It's a highly decorated, well-maintained building with great exhibits, accessible legislation (we watched a session about Prairie Chickens), and a nice gift shop.

The restored 1904 Statehouse

John Brown - hero or a terrorist? We were asked this by a passerby.

We wanted to see the famous mural of abolitionist John Brown called Tragic Prelude painted by Kansan John Steuart Curry, who also spent time at University of Wisconsin-Madison (where we live). The book "The Good Lord Bird" by James McBride, and the Netflix series of the same name, with Ethan Hawke, are interesting and intense portrayals of John Brown and his followers.

President Eisenhower was from Kansas.

Kansas notes: Driving through a state gives one a good reason to revisit some of the things one may or may not have learned in school. For instance, the actual name of the case that decided the unconstitutionality of racial segregation in public schools was called Brown v Board of Education of Topeka (1954). 100 years earlier, when Kansas became a territory, it was represented by distinct political groups who were either pro-slavery, or abolitionist (see John Brown). Kansas also birthed the aviation hero Amelia Earhart and the temperance activist Carrie Nation, to drop a few famous names.

Reflect for a moment on the state motto Ad astra per aspera, which means "to the stars through difficulties" - a recommendation for reading about those difficulties is Sarah Smarsh’s "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth" which I listened to on Audible. Smarsh's personal story includes an astute take on the politics of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s that have helped keep our fellow Americans in poverty to this day.

The Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park.

In Wichita we visited the Corbin Education Center, a pretty cool Frank Lloyd Wright designed building at Wichita State University (built 1964, even though Wright died in 1959). There is also a Wright-designed house from 1915 in Wichita that's open for tours.

This is the pose a friend and I always strike in front of FLW buildings. Can't remember why.

We celebrated crossing the 100th meridian, which separates the humid Eastern states from the arid Western plains, by listening to the song of that name by the Canadian band The Tragically Hip.

And finally, Dodge City, KS, which is famous for its western-y atmosphere, and the TV show Gunsmoke, which, to my surprise ran from 1955-1975. It's also the home of Dennis Hopper. There were plenty of hotels and motels to choose from, but I chose the one with the excellent sign. We paid cash, which felt weird, but it did give me pause about why I have to provide so much information to every other hotel? The room was updated, and fine. And, as the sign says, color TV!

Welcome to Oklahoma!

Do you know the way to Santa Fe? You have to cross the snowy, blowy Oklahoma panhandle. This was by far the worst weather we hit even though our whole trip seemed to parallel winter weather alerts. The wind would hit in between grain elevators, and drifted snow surprised even these experienced winter drivers. Again, trusty Subaru with snow tires!

A welcome stop in Boise City, OK, at the Blue Bonnet Cafe gave me one of my best meals of the trip, a chicken-fried steak with cheese and green chile sauce, served with mashed potatoes (served with a different gravy!). Still thinking about it.

And there were more green chiles in our future.

Holding a tumbleweed that we traveled with for a few miles.

New Mexico was a welcome sight after the Plains, when we started to see the foothills of the Rockies in the distance. We often comment, while on a road trip, about the "oh shit" moments the American settlers must have had when they saw things like mountains and gorges and canyons and such. For us, seeing signage that reads "Beware of dust storms" gives us pause, as all local natural disaster warnings do. Looking at you, Tsunami Evacuation Route signs in Seattle!

Santa Fe, NM - We stayed at La Fonda on the Plaza, as everyone told us we must. We love a centrally located historic hotel! Santa Fe itself is very walkable, even in winter. The low, earth-colored adobe buildings of the southwest are such a change in scale and color from the brick and terra cotta and glass cities in which we spend most of our time.

Me with a Route 66 sign - that's a whole different trip!
Santa Fe's lovely Plaza
Being judgemental about grammar, because there was actually more than one martyr.

We drove to the Cross of the Martyrs, to drink our coffee on a hill with a view, and then to the Museum of International Folk Art. The Museum is one of several on the site, but our goal was to see the Girard Wing, which was the private collection of a renowned designer who worked for Herman Miller. It’s a curious collection displayed just as Girard wished, a hodgepodge of dioramas, and things hanging from the ceiling. We also learned about Mexican paper mache, traditional Norwegian costumes, and Japanese goblins. So, something for everyone.

Next up, the very cool New Mexico state capitol, the Roundhouse. One of our country’s newer capitol buildings, New Mexico’s is the only round one! And it is absolutely filled with art. It was also filled with legislators and constituents, so very buzzy. Since we did not “do the art galleries” as one does in Santa Fe, the Capitol made up for our regional art immersion.

The seal of NM is the sun symbol of the Zia people, who are indigenous to New Mexico.

Zia sun symbols everywhere, this is wallpaper at the Plaza Cafe.

We stopped in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, where there is a surprising - for America - collection of relics, being bones and teeth and other bits of saints and martyrs. The Cathedral was rebuilt several times, and kept its oldest part, a chapel from the 1600s. Worth a look.

Nearby is the country’s oldest house, which claims the title by having been built on a foundation of the rubble of a native structure abandoned in 1435. It seems the claim for that title is an ongoing battle, and take that, East Coast! The house was on the oldest street and in the oldest neighborhood in Santa Fe.

Okay, now for the food and drinks. We ate so many green chiles, on hamburgers, on eggs, were they in our drinks? Instead of pics of delicious food, I present the margarita menu at The Shed, a perfect place at which to have a margarita. And food. We ate such a big lunch there that all we could do in the evening was return for margaritas and chips at the friendly and busy bar. We also had a great breakfast at the classic Plaza Cafe, and a delicious meal of tapas and Spanish vermouth at La Boca. Here's the recipe for the eggplant with saffron honey that I want to eat forever. Now that I've made the saffron honey, maybe I will.

Cheers indeed!

On the way to White Sands National Park we made a quick stop at Smokey Bear Historical Park which was about 20 miles off Hwy 54, between Santa Fe and Alamogordo, NM. Smokey Bear was my first love, I carried a stuffed version of him around with me everywhere as a tot. It's a quick park to see, unless you want to do a deep dive into the history of firefighting, but we just visited Smokey's grave and were back on the road. We didn't have time to stop at the surprising number of wine stores on the way to Alamogordo, or the pistachio farms, because we had cousins from Albuquerque to meet at White Sands National Park.

Park? Monument? I'll let you look that up.

First we drove in on the 16 mile roundtrip Dunes Drive, just to see what it was all about, then we couldn’t help but get out and play in the sand! We brought sale-priced sleds from Wisconsin that didn’t work in the sand, maybe saucers work better? Our plan was to see the sunset there, but instead we joined a park ranger’s tour which turned out to be a great idea. The sunset got lost in the clouds, but the views were great nonetheless.

There are plenty of restaurants and hotels in Alamogordo, so it's a good base for White Sands. We happened to stay at the Home2 Suites By Hilton and wow, are those rooms huge!

Following the park ranger's rules, single file.
Marching up a dune with my little sled that failed.
Sierra Bianca Peak was unusually snowy and lovely.

Next stop Tucson, Arizona! It’s over 5 hours to get from Alamogordo/White Sands to Tucson, on highway 10, and be aware that you may be rerouted to Hatch if it’s too windy. Probably not the worst thing if you want chiles! We stopped at one of the tchotchke shops on 10, which are advertised with endless billboards for miles, and were inexplicably given free cookies, which was nice.

And then we were in Arizona - the amazing rock formations at the first rest stop were just previews of the "wow" to come.

I won’t write much about Tucson because there is so much already written, and we were there mainly to see friends and family. We stayed at a very comfortable Airbnb overlooking Sabino Canyon, and showed up with Super Bowl snacks only to find that they had already made the guacamole!

Chips, salsa, tequila...

The view from the Airbnb, a welcome sight!

While in Tucson, we enjoyed hikes in Sabino Canyon and (East) Saguaro National Park, and drove up to the top of Mount Lemmon. Because it was February, the roads were icy and we were met at the entrance by a sheriff making sure we had 4-wheel drive. We do winter driving approximately 5 months out of the year, so we felt pretty good about it.

This drive is so interesting because you go from cactuses to a snowy ski hill within an hour. Though the sign at the bottom says Open Year Round, in fact the Iron Door restaurant and ski hill at the top are closed Tuesday and Wednesday, so we did not get to experience the “world famous chili.” Instead we experienced a roadside taco truck and that was just fine. AND we saw an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile! These silly advertisements on wheels were designed by Wisconsinite Brooks Stevens, and used to live in Madison before the Oscar Mayer Headquarters was shut down .

More cactuses. Cacti?

A view of Saguaro NP. There is always a risk of taking and posting too many cactus photos!

Some of the places we ate and drank:

  • Tito and Pep was hard to get into, but worth it for the creative and shareable tapas-like dishes. We had to take a 5:30 reservation! Really cool decor.

  • We stopped in the historic and charismatic Hotel Congress. We were there on Valentine’s Day, so the various places within the Congress had special events going on that required reservations. But we enjoyed little dive bar off of the lobby.

  • Found the speakeasy in the lower level of Reilly, which a nice couple told us about when we arrived. Go through the restaurant, head outside just past the bar, find the stairs down to the very excellent bar called the Tough Luck Club. We encountered fantastically named and creative drinks, and engaged bartenders.

  • Other than that it was tacos, tacos, tacos.

Sedona from near the airport.

Five hours to the Grand Canyon (via Sedona)! Sedona wasn’t on our planned route, but a friend convinced us to do a drive-by and we’re so glad we did. Will definitely have to come back here. This was our first view of the red rocks that would “wow”us for much of the rest of the trip. We attempted a short hike, up on Airport Road, but ran out of time because we wanted to get to the GC before sunset.

(While driving through Sedona, we listened to a chapter from Nick Offerman’s “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play” titled “Sedona Blows. ” If you know Offerman, he means, of course, it doesn’t blow but please stay away. This book is thoughtful and hilarious.)

If this doesn't scare you, great!

After the brief dip into Sedona we took Hwy 89A north, which was quite a twisty wonderful thing with views that looked more like northern Wisconsin than what we expected of Arizona. Except there were mountains.

OK, Grand Canyon time! The biggest wow of them all. I'm not saying anything new here, if you've been you know and if you haven't, you've heard. It's just so much. Iphone cameras don't do it justice. I laugh to think that if I had gone here as a kid I'd have small, square Instamatic photos of far-away striped rocks. Lots of people probably do.

Coming from the south, there’s a long stretch of not much, and then once inside the park gates there’s a kind of confusing “campus” of hotels and stores that are the Grand Canyon Village. We found our hotel, the historic El Tovar, parked and… “wow!” We ran right over the the edge and took in the golden hour on the sides of the Canyon.

El Tovar's lobby, sitting in front of the well-tended fireplace.

After checking in we had a celebratory drink in the small bar which, surprisingly, only has a nice view from one or two tables.

Note: the El Tovar has 3 floors and no elevators, so anyone with mobility issues should make sure to get a first floor room.

A friendly welcome on the drive in.

The Grand Canyon in February has some limitations. There had been a snowstorm before we arrived, so all the paths down into the Canyon were closed. The entire North Rim is also closed for the winter. We could only visit the South Rim, and walk along the designated sidewalk-like paths, but there were still plenty of thrilling close-to-the-edge views. Many tourists seem to have no fear as they posed for pictures with their backs to the abyss, regardless of slippery conditions. Speaking of other tourists, the upside of a winter visit is that it didn't feel crowded, but there were still plenty of other people around.

Snowy, sometimes icy paths
This day we had a high of 25 degrees!

We enjoyed a nice dinner in the grand dining room of the El Tovar, but the rest of the dining experiences were mediocre. There aren't many lunch choices, and if you're away from the hotels, you're eating Grab 'N Go... outside. Adjust expectations accordingly, you're there to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Martinis and shrimp cocktail in the bar.

The drive to Hermit's Rest on West Rim Drive was absolutely worth it. In winter the tourist buses don't go here, so you can drive yourself. This allows for more elk viewing stops!

The fireplace at Hermit's Rest.

We had a day and a half to explore, and two evenings, and this suited us, given the limited hikes. On our way out of the Grand Canyon, we headed east along Desert View, where there are several more scenic turnouts, and many more tourists.

Just some gorgeousness along the way between the Grand Canyon and Zion!

The Glen Canyon Dam was a worthwhile stop, impressive and well interpreted in the Visitor's Center. This, the second largest dam in the US, made Lake Powell. Ok, now just zoom in on that scenery, it never ends.

And... Utah!! Had I realized at the time we crossed the border that I was entering my last state of the Lower 48, I would have gotten a good photo of the Welcome to Utah sign, but I was focused on other things. Like legally driving 80!!!

Having never been to Utah before, we were not at all prepared for the glorious vistas and excessive amount of land. I encountered a young British couple who were as awed as I, and when they said this changed their view of America, I agreed. And then I went to a bunch of National Parks!

Speaking of, and thanks to other bloggers' recommendations, we had purchased an America the Beautiful Pass, which allows one car's entry into all the National Parks. We visited 8 NPs on this trip, so well worth the $80 we spent at REI.

And welcome to Zion National Park!

I can't recommend enough to stay at Zion Lodge within the park. First, because of the cute cabins! Second, you'll have a head start on the popular hiking paths and their not-big-enough parking areas. Even in February, the parking lot for the Narrows was full by 9:30 am. We did not do the Narrows, which is essentially walking in a river, but plenty of intrepid folks walked by in their heavy duty waders holding their special walking sticks.

We spent two nights in Zion, starting with dinner, then one and a half days of hiking, which was good for the weather and our fortitude. Food at the Lodge was fine, but there are plenty of great-looking places right outside the Park in Springdale.

In addition to not hiking The Narrows, we also did not do Angel's Landing, and these are the two hikes you hear about at Zion. (Most people I've talked to who have done Angel's Landing can't believe that they did, nor that it's allowed!) Instead we did the easier but still gratifying Three Emerald Pools, then drove to the separate area of the Park called Kolob Canyons, about an hour away.

Waterproof boots are a must! A lot of people we passed had on shoes that will forever be a little red.

Mud mud mud snow mud.

Waterfalls that end in snowpiles.

My favorite memory is hurtling down the road from the top of Kolob Canyons listening to Greta Van Fleet's "Heat Above" which was perfect in that moment. There's a more mellow playlist I found on Spotify that's great for a road trip, called Zion National Park, Utah.

The drive between Zion and the next fantastic Utah park, Bryce Canyon, is beautiful! It goes through Dixie National Forest, which gives you a nice preview of the hoodoos to come. (A hoodoo is a column of weathered rock - picture a drip sandcastle on the beach.)

Because it was February and because there had just been a snowstorm, Bryce was 70% closed for us. But we had a great experience anyway. The observation overlooks, like Inspiration Point, were all open, so first we went to check out the views.

The hoodoos look great in the snow! So do we...
Yes, it's real.

Then we put on our ice cleats and grabbed our hiking poles and hiked what we could of the Queen's Garden trail, which on the official Bryce website says is the least difficult. Well, just add ice, and it's something else. It's a narrow, slippery, exhilarating path in the winter, and we loved it. The hardest part was the first 20 feet, and since the round-trip was closed, one had to go both down it and back up. The cleats were indispensable!

We got our cleats, poles, and my favorite fleece-lined leggings at Sierra.

As just about everyone does, we stayed at Ruby's Inn, right outside the park. The rooms are nice and big, and the food is tolerable. The proximity made it easy for us to drive back in for a sunset cocktail with canned Manhattans in plastic hotel cups, and the snacks I bought back in Kansas City.

Cheers and Happy 100th Birthday, Bryce!

The next morning we went back for the sunrise, and many people were there taking pictures. I can't imagine how crowded this would be in the summer!

Next? Another beautiful drive, towards Arches National Park. The best way to get here is on Highway 12, which is a Scenic Byway and an All-American Road, which means go there. The drive skirts Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and goes straight through Canyon Reef National Park (this was a bonus park for us! There's no gate, so no admission). One particular part was scary to drive, the Hogsback section, which features steep drop-offs on either side of the narrow road. Yikes.

Not all rocks are red...
Sazerac with a view of the Colorado River.

If you're keeping track, that was one afternoon, evening, and morning at Bryce, and now we had two nights in Moab, Utah, right outside of Arches National Park. We arrived on the evening of Mardi Gras, and after checking in to the SpringHill Suites we put on our beads and made use of our traveling Sazerac kit!

We went hiking the next day, and it was VERY windy and cold. The park is basically a long drive punctuated by hikes, and February again did us a solid by keeping people away. Note: from April 1 to October 31 you need a timed entry reservation to get into Arches. I'd say this is a park you want to visit in the off-season.

We didn't get very close to the famous arch, Delicate Arch, the one on the license plate, opting instead for its viewpoint trail (pretty far away). At one point we were so cold we were debating the 2-mile roundtrip hike to Landscape Arch, so I googled it to make sure it was worth it. It was.

After exploring the park a little more, we experienced another beautiful drive out of a park, this time listening to Ethel Cain's "American Teenager."

In the evening we went to a restaurant in downtown Moab that we'd noticed the night before, high on a hill, it's the former home of Uranium millionaire Charlie Steen. It's called The Sunset Grill, and yes they played the Don Henley song when we asked. The "fancy" food is great, and there's a shuttle to take you up the scary narrow drive. This is a place I'd like to see in warmer weather, the terrace views look great.

On our way out of Utah, we took small highway 128, which passed more campgrounds than I could count. Must remember this for next time! And then we ran into a flock of sheep. Please forgive the "oh geez" reactions, we are from Wisconsin after all. (No sheep nor sheepdogs were harmed in the making of this video)

Our next destination was Breckenridge, Colorado, but we made a stop in Glenwood Springs on a recommendation by Norwegian friends. Glenwood Springs is known for its hot springs, and one can drop in without a reservation, pay $30, and enjoy them! Had we been more prepared we would have brought towels, a robe, a hat?

We spent about an hour wading back and forth between 90 and 104 degrees. It's more like going to a Y than a spa, but a fun diversion from I-70!

Breckenridge, CO - we did two ski trips here years ago when our kids were young, and we knew it to have friendly runs for people like us who ski a few times a year. That Thule on top of our Subaru? We hauled our skis and equipment all the way for one day of skiing. Priceless. Ok, pricey, but such a great day.

We stayed in a very convenient condo in the Park Meadows lodge. It was small, but efficient, and we could walk to the free bus that took us to Peaks 8 and 7, plus we could ski (almost) back to the condo from the run that goes into town, Four O'Clock.

No hot tub has ever felt better.

We could also walk to pretty downtown Breck for dinner, where we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Aurum. So many delicious things to choose from, and a really engaging staff. We like to sit at the bar when we travel, so we can meet and chat with locals. Though I suspect everyone working in a ski town is there from somewhere else, so they can ski.

Pictured are my Manhattan, made with green chartreuse? And... cookies with a side of cookie dough. Divine.

What more could we do on this trip? We could drive over 1000 miles home. We made one stop outside of Omaha, which, as the birthplace of the reuben deserves a closer look, but these cookies really should get the final "wow" bow. (chef's kiss)

Some further questions and observations:

  • Why are there so few garbage cans at the Grand Canyon? Plenty of recycling, so it's not an issue of space.

  • Why is the Big Dipper upside down in the southwest in the winter? I'm sure there's an answer for this, but sometimes we just like to muse.

  • In the Midwest the roadkill is all deer and raccoons. In the south it's armadillos. In the soutwest, coyotes.

  • Thoughts on park rangers... what cool people. I like that each time we saw a park ranger they didn't advise us NOT to do something, like hike in the blustery snow, or down an icy path, instead they gave helpful advice and let us make our own foolish decisions. They were probably saving their energy for the more extreme adventurers.

  • I spend a good amount of time trip planning, using blogs, articles, and reviews. Blogs are the most fun. I found them especially helpful planning the National Park portion of the trip. "Nomads With a Purpose" do a great job of explaining how to time your visit to these three parks, and "Live a Wilder Life" helped us decide that doing this trip in the winter would be ok.

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