Prairie Haven: South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin

Today, May 3rd, is the one-year anniversary of our departure from New York on our great adventure! It is hard to believe it was one year ago today that we set out with the trip before us, but it is still amazing to us to think back on everything we saw and did…

Speaking of what we saw and did…let’s pick up from where we last left off…

On Thursday, September 1st we headed east, out of Wyoming, into South Dakota, and towards Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse as it stood last September

We first drove to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  The memorial was started in 1948 when a Lakota elder commissioned scupltor Korczak Ziółkowski to build a tribute to Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior.  Korczak spent the remainder of his life working on the sculpture and although he is now deceased, his family (he and his wife had ten children) has continued his work to this day through private funding.  However, despite it now being over 50 years since it was started, the scuplture is far from completion (look up pictures online of what the final product should be and then compare those to what is finished today). Nonetheless, the design is massive — like whole mountain massive. To give you a comparison, the heads of the Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high, whereas the head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high.

After visiting Crazy Horse and the accompanying museum, we drove the short distance to Mount Rushmore.  Coincidentally, Korczak worked at Mount Rushmore before being “let go” because of creative differences with Mount Rushmore’s lead sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.  Construction began in 1927 and ended in 1941. The initial plan called for each President to be depicted from head to waist, but lack of funding forced the project to end in 1941.

Us and the guys!

The most interesting part of Mount Rushmore for Mike was the Hall of Records, a “secret” chamber behind Mount Rushmore that Borglum designed to house objects significant to American history, including documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The chamber was never completed due to the lack of funds (there were rumors that Congress found out about the room and shut down Borglum’s attempts to continue building the room) — only the entry way was completed.  However, in 1998, Borglum’s family, with help from the National Park Service, installed a titanium vault in the granite floor of the entrance to the chamber. The vault contains 16 porcelain panels inscribed with the words of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, a history of how and why Mount Rushmore was carved, a history of the four U.S. Presidents with quotes from each, a biography on Gutzon Borglum, and a history of the United States. The capsule was sealed with granite.  Did anyone else know about this?!?  Blew Mike’s mind!  It’s like National Treasure!

The famous Wall Drug

After Mount Rushmore, we continued east through South Dakota.  While driving, we saw signs everywhere for Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota.  As the story goes, the Husteads opened a small pharmacy in Wall, SD in 1931, but weren’t getting the sales they had hoped for in the small town.  Mrs. Hustead had the idea of advertising free ice water to tourists at the newly opened Mount Rushmore and business has boomed ever since! Their billboards all around the area tell you how many miles from Wall Drug you are…signs which have been erected all around the world by faithful visitors! Today, Wall Drug is a massive, cowboy-themed complex in Wall, SD and they still give out free ice water!

From Wall, SD, we drove through Badlands National Park at sunset.  Due to time constraints, we didn’t get to explore as much as we had hoped, so we’re definitely planning on returning because this park is b-e-a-utiful!  Gorgeous rolling hills and multi-colored gradients everywhere!  We took Badlands Loop Road, which dips just off Route 90 and back onto 90 at the end.  We even drove past a Minuteman Silo that’s open to the public now (it was closed when we drove past, but we’re also going to visit this when we come back).

On the road again!

From the Badlands, we drove (well, Mike drove) east much of the night (in a severe thunderstorm) to a town called Mitchell, SD where we stayed in a Walmart parking lot. The next morning, we continued to drive to Madison, Wisconsin and arrived late Friday afternoon.  We heard Madison was a great little city and boy were they right!  The city holds a farmers’ market every Saturday (year-round) that is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country (“all items are produced locally by the vendor behind the table”).  Unfortunately, it was still raining on that Saturday, but we were able to enjoy the sights and sounds (and smells!) of the market. We then enjoyed some pizza from a town favorite (Ian’s Pizza on State) and then a beer at a local brewery in town. Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so there were lots of college students everywhere who were just settling back into school!

Madison is the state capital of Wisconsin. The Farmers' Market sits around the beautiful Capitol building.

Another shot of the farmers' market from the steps of the Capitol building.

From Madison we drove to Chicago where we’ll pick up our next post!


Posted in Canada to Maine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wait…did we forget to finish telling you our story?

Holy moly!  In case you’ve been watching our Twitter feeds or noticing the lack of updates to our blog recently…and by recently, we mean the last four months…you may have realized that we returned home from our five and a half-month sojourn across the country.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been home since mid-October, but we still talk about our trip with each other almost daily and we want to make sure to fill you in on the final month or so that was never covered on our blog.  Therefore, keep your eyes peeled for some upcoming posts and we’ll finally finish the story!

As a quick update on our lives since the end of the trip, we’ve spent the time seeing family and friends, working temporary jobs and enjoying the chance to sleep in a bed each night – the novelty still hasn’t worn off!  Kait has made the decision to pursue her masters in Washington D.C. , so we have also been busy making plans for the move, applying to jobs, searching for an apartment, etc.

Keep an eye peeled for some some upcoming posts, and…

…travel on.

Posted in Maine to New York | 1 Comment

Rodeos and volcanoes and a lost van belt…oh my

Let’s use our time travel machine once again and set the dial for Saturday, August 27th. We woke up in Lolo National Forest and headed east through Montana, stopping in Butte for lunch. Butte is not quite bustling like other towns we’ve seen on our travels – the center of town was pretty quiet for a Saturday afternoon – but the people we met there were very nice and from what we’ve read, Butte has a rich history in mining, in which its residents take great pride.

Main Street in Butte, Montana

From there, we drove to Bozeman, which has more of a revitalized main street with restaurants and shops, perhaps because of its proximity to Big Sky, the popular ski town. It is also the town where Greg Mortenson lives, the author of Three Cups of Tea (who faced some controversy this past spring). We stopped there for Mike to change the oil and then we drove to Big Sky, which proved to be one of our favorite ski mountain areas of the trip. We arrived in the late afternoon, a very peaceful time of day, when you feel the sun getting ready to set behind the peaks. The resort area and base has a more laid-back atmosphere than Vail, for example, and for skiiers, they have more acreage to ski than any other mountain in the country. Last but not least, we had the best wrap either of us has ever had in a little place called the Wrap Shack. It’s a must-try if you’re in the area!

Enjoying some bean bag toss at the base of Big Sky...the one free activity available

Big Sky

From Big Sky, we continued on and drove south through some of Yellowstone National Park (Yellowstone is located primarily in Wyoming, but also extends into Montana and Idaho), which was one of the most beautiful drives of the trip. As the sun set and the air filled with the scent of evergreens, conjuring thoughts of Christmas, we stared out at the creeks and rivers, which made their way gracefully through the green landscape, sometimes reflecting the image of the mountains behind them. Other cars and humans were few and far between on this drive, but fly fishermen appeared once in a while, reminding us of man’s presence in this rugged terrain. It was truly special.

That night, we stopped at a local rodeo, which was close to Yellowstone, and it was awesome! It was the last rodeo of the summer season (they take place every Saturday night), so after each event, they announced the winner of the season. There was bull riding and barrel racing and tie-down roping. The members of this very rural community come together every Saturday night for the rodeo tradition and it felt special to be able to step into their world in a small way.

Little cowboys! The man in the picture is the "rodeo clown" or rodeo protection athlete whose main job (other than pretend-riding horses with children) is to protect a fallen rider from the bull.

A bull rider

The champion bull rider of the 2011 summer season taking his victory lap

After the rodeo, we stopped at a nearby National Forest, where we camped for the night. On Saturday morning, we drove into Wyoming to Jackson, a beautiful (albeit a bit touristy) town surrounded by the mountains, with lots of apparent pride in its western, cowboy tradition.

The entrance to the little park in the middle of Jackson - those are antlers!

A row of shops in Jackson with the mountains keeping watch

We then drove to Jackson Hole, the ski mountain, which is just a few miles away. Jackson Hole, like Big Sky, offers some of the best and most challenging skiing in the country, so needless to say, Mike would like to return in the winter! It was storming when we were there, but we wandered around the base where there are shops and a weekend art festival was taking place.

Driving to Jackson Hole from the town of Jackson

In front of the gondola at Jackson Hole - it wasn't running because of lightning strikes

And from Jackson Hole, we entered Grand Teton National Park! It was unforrtunately pouring rain as we drove past the beautiful scenery of the mountains, but about an hour later, the rain stopped and then even later, the clouds cleared for a breathtaking sunset. We ate dinner at one of the lodges (it was our anniversary #1 that day) and then registered at one of the campgrounds within the park.

This is what we were first able to see when we entered Grand Teton National Park

Cloudy and rainy, but still beautiful...

We stopped at Jenny Lake and took a walk once the rain and lightning died down

Mike at Jenny Lake

Two rocks fell out of this wall and now it looks like someone's butt mark...this is a huge attraction at the park

Grand Teton National Park at sunset

Another shot at sunset

We stood there for a long time (facing the water, not the camera) until it got dark

One final sunset shot

Our campsite in Grand Teton National Park - you can see the water through the trees

On Sunday morning, we drove into Yellowstone National Park! Our first stop was at the first visitor center we hit (Grant Village Visitor Center) to pick up a map and their newsletter guide, which tells you what activities and ranger-led programs are taking place while you’re there. We recommend picking up these materials and talking to a park ranger in the visitor center when planning what to do and see in any national park. Right away in the visitor center parking lot, we were introduced to the plethora of wildlife which makes Yellowstone such a special place. Right there on the pavement were a couple of elk who were making their way to the next grassy knoll.

From Grant Village, we drove to Old Faithful because we knew it would be erupting soon. Before we talk about Old Faithful, here is some background on Yellowstone. It was the first national park in the world, and in addition to the extensive wildlife, it is also known for its geothermal features. The park spans an area of over 3,000 square miles and sits on the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent – and yes, it is active (and no, we’re not kidding). In fact, half of the world’s geothermal features are actually found in Yellowstone, due to the ongoing volcanism. There are so many interesting things to learn about this park – we encourage you to read more!

Welcome to Yellowstone!

Back to Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in Yellowstone. We arrived there with a little time to spare (they can tell you, plus or minus ten minutes, when it will go off, which is about every 90 minutes), so we grabbed a quick lunch and then made our way over to watch the eruption. It was really interesting to watch – it starts off slow and the height of the boiling water increases quickly, but it all happens without much sound. We toured the visitor center after watching and then took a tour with a park ranger of the area. Old Faithful is just one of hundreds of geysers in Yellowstone, and there are many surrounding it, so the tour taught us a lot more about the geothermal features and the park itself.

Old Faithful!

The Blue Star Spring near Old Faithful Geyser - that water is a lot hotter than it looks!

Throughout the geyser basins in the park, you are required to walk on boardwalks, which weave around the geysers.

Inside the lobby (looking up) of the Old Faithful Inn

In the late afternoon, we hopped in the car to go check out some of the hot springs nearby, which are beautiful (but dangerous)!

Look at the beautiful colors!

A view of the park from the hot springs

At the Excelsior Geyser Crater (Hot Spring), which discharges 4,000 to 4,500 gallons of 199 degree F water per minute

After driving through more beautiful scenery in the park, we registered at our campsite near Canyon Village and then set out again to Hayden Valley because it was dusk and that is the best time to spot wildlife in the park.

Grazing bison!

The bison don't care much if they stop traffic (there's one in the middle of those two lines of cars)...they just idle along on the road, making your time in Yellowstone feel a bit Jurrasic-Park like

Yellowstone at sunset

Grazing elk (in the distance)

On Monday morning, we attended a walk with a ranger at Canyon Falls, which was fascinating and beautiful! It was an early morning hike and the air was clean and fresh – it felt great! We didn’t see any bears on our walk, which apparently is unusual on this ranger’s route, but they had two humans killed by bears in Yellowstone this summer, so it might have been for the best.

Canyon Falls

More from our walk near Canyon Falls

From there, we drove to the Lamar Valley, where our good friend Jimmy had told us we could find herds of bison…and he was right! We saw hundreds of bison grazing there in the valley – it was amazing! And the drive to get there was beautiful as well!

Bison butt!

From our drive to the Lamar Valley...

More from our drive...

Bison galore!

A pronghorn antelope!

It was time to move on in the afternoon, so we set out on another beautiful drive to exit the park in the northeast corner. Cody, Wyoming was our next stop, where we caught up on our computers in a local coffee shop and then had dinner on Main Street. We slept in a state park near Cody that night.

We passed Yellowstone Lake on our way out of the park

Leaving Yellowstone

View from our campsite near Cody

Watching the sun rise at our campsite

On Wednesday morning, we left Cody and headed east. Unfortunately, near Sheridan, Wyoming, a belt on the van popped off going over a pass. Fortunately, Mike saved the day and was able to fix the problem, but it took most of the afternoon and evening. So we settled into a motel for the night and then hit the road the next day (Thursday, September 1st), excited to see Mount Rushmore! We’ll pick up from South Dakota in our next post, which we promise will take us pretty far east, because we drove and drove for the next few days. To give you an idea, we were in Chicago by September 4th. More to come soon!

Posted in Canada to Maine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beauty of British Columbia and then…easterly bound

During the rainy afternoon of Monday, August 22nd, we drove to the border control station, ready and excited to spend a couple of days in British Columbia. Our excitement was dampened a bit when the agent at the booth started asking more questions than we expected. Apparently, being unemployed and just driving aimlessly in a van raises some suspicion (who would have thought?), but we made it through and started to drive north!

Welcome to British Columbia!

Our plan was to head in the direction of Whistler first and then come back south to Vancouver the next day. So, we stopped at Alice Lake Provincial Park to camp for the night. It was a beautiful campground with huge sites…and the nicest picnic tables we’ve seen so far (picture below)!

Check out that solid table!

It continued to rain through the night, but the sun peeked through in the morning, just in time for us to make the rest of the drive up to the beautiful mountains of Blackcomb and Whistler, the setting for the 2010 Winter Olympics. We wandered around the villages at the base of each mountain, grabbed some breakfast and then drove south a bit to where some of the events took place in 2010, such as the ski jumping and cross country skiing. It was interesting to think of what it must have been like to be there at the time of the olympics with the crowds and the snow. We hope to return one day to ski in the area!

Walking between the villages for Blackcomb and Whistler mountains

The logo of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver 

We started south again and stopped at a Starbucks for a little while to get some work done (and that’s where we found out about the earthquake on the east coast!).

A little while later, we hit the road again for Vancouver and on the way, experienced the amazing views of the ocean and mountains from the Sea to Sky Highway. On our way up, there had been too much rain and fog to see past the edge of the road, but we lucked out with sun and clear skies on our way down and thank goodness!

A view from our drive to Vancouver (from up north)


On Tuesday evening, we checked into our hotel, which was in an area of Vancouver with a large Asian presence. Consequently, we ate an awesome dinner of Chinese food – delicious!!

On Wednesday, we set out to explore Vancouver and get a one-day introduction (as with most places we’ve visited, you can only scratch the surface with a one or two day visit. That’s why we have so many places to return to!). We started at the Granville Island Market, a must-see on the list of Vancouver’s sights. Its many stalls of local produce, homemade products and delicious food can keep you wandering for hours. We had lunch (and dessert) there! While we were outside taking pictures, we also had our second (and final) celebrity sighting (we think) of the trip…Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame. He walked right past us, but only Kaitlin saw him. Sooo, if you’re keeping track, we have seen the side of Mena Suvari’s face and Sam Neill. Epic.

The inside of Granville Island Public Market

John Layton (or Jack, as he was known) was a popular and very well-known Canadian politician (leader of the official Opposition) who died a couple of days before we arrived in Vancouver. His passing and preparation for his state funeral was the center of most news while we were in the country.


A view of the market from upstairs

After leaving the market, we drove to Stanley Park, the Central Park of Vancouver, which is a beautiful and peaceful haven within the city. It includes walking and biking trails through trees and past lakes and amazing flower gardens to wander through. Within the park, we came across a collection of totem poles. Totem poles are tall sculptures carved from trees that tell a story of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The ones displayed in Stanley Park were created by a number of different artists over the years, some replicas of previously created structures and some original.

Four of the totem poles in Stanley Park...typically, each color used holds a certain meaning

A view of Vancouver behind us from Stanley Park

Another view without us in the way!

From Stanley Park, we got biodiesel and then drove up to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The admission fee was a little out of our budget (it’s on our return list and is another must-see in the area), but we walked the ground exhibits, saw a bit of the campus and took in the views of the water below. It was time to head back to the U.S. then, so we got on the road and crossed the border into Washington in the early evening.

Back to America!

We stayed at Birch Bay State Park that night and woke up on Thursday morning ready to head east for the first time in four months…until we realized that Kaitlin had left a folder of important documents in the Starbucks we had visited two days prior…in Canada. We needed the paperwork and the Starbucks was about two hours away over the border, so we decided to go and get the folder instead of have them send it to us (we called and they told us they had it locked in their safe!  Wow!). So, it was back to Canada! We arrived there in the late morning and then started back and crossed the border again into the U.S. in the early afternoon. We won’t bore you with pictures of our second border crossing, but they were very similar to the first, just a day later.

We then drove south through Washington to hook up with the major highway which would take us east. We stayed in Lake Easton State Park that night.

The next day (Friday, August 26th) consisted of lots of driving through the rest of Washington (which became very desert-like), then beautiful Idaho and finally into scenic Montana, where we stayed in Lolo National Forest. We’ll pick up from here in our next post, where we’ll talk about Yellowstone National Park (did you know that it sits on top of one of the world’s largest active volcanoes?) and Mount Rushmore (did you know that it was carved specifically to increase tourism in the area? And, it has a little-known “secret” behind the mountain.)!

Eastern Washington is much more like a desert than the western part of the state

Welcome to Idaho!

A view from our drive to Montana

Another view from the car...

It was beautiful scenery...

There were always a lot of animals grazing...especially horses and cows, sometimes miles from the nearest farm

Posted in Canada to Maine, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wooed by Washington

Back to our journey through the Pacific Northwest! On Friday, August 19th, we started from our campsite at Lake Sylvia State Park and drove up the beautiful coast to Westport, where Mike jumped in the water for a surf. From there, we headed to Olympic National Park. We entered from the southwest side and drove north, stopping in a small town called Forks to grab food. We then continued to make our way around the top to the north central portion, where we set up camp. On Saturday morning, we drove through Port Angeles to the park’s visitor center and then started the famous Hurricane Ridge drive. It is the most easily accessed mountain area within the national park and offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and even the ocean, from some viewpoints! While at the top, we listened to a park ranger program and took some short walks on the trails provided. It is beautiful there!

At the top of Hurricane Ridge - the deer are a bit jaded by the human presence

Check out the Hurricane Ridge visitor center in the distance

From the top!

Checking out the view of the ocean from the other side of the mountain...the white stuff on the ground is snow!

This is what Mike would look like if he had an antler on one side of his head...good to know

From Olympic National Park, we drove to Bainbridge Island, where we took a ferry to Seattle.

Enjoying the ferry ride to Seattle...there were lots of sailboats out that day

That's Seattle behind Kaitlin

We first checked into the hotel we were staying at that night and then drove into the city to meet up with one of Kaitlin’s brother’s friends, Linc, and his girlfriend, Kirsten. We had dinner at a great beer garden in the Fremont neighborhood and then they took us to Gas Works Park, which offers an incredible skyline view of the city (especially at night with everything lit up). We took in the beautiful view (you could even see the house on the water used in Sleepless in Seattle!) and drank wine and talked – it was awesome!

On Sunday, we set out to explore Seattle, starting first at Pike Place Market. We walked through the stalls, checked out the original Starbucks, watched a cooking demonstration, ate one of the famous piroshkys from the Piroshky Bakery and then got some incredible clam chowder for lunch from Pike Place Chowder!

Pike Place Market!

The famous sign for the market

Can't you just smell the fresh fish?!

The original Starbucks!

Then there was this guy performing...

We then walked along the water and up a big hill to the Seattle Center, where the Space Needle is located. We did not go to the top of the famous landmark because of the price and the lines, but we wandered around the campus, which features different museums, a concert venue and restaurants.

Mike in front of the Space Needle

From there, we got our car and drove to the Ballard neighborhood, which we had been told was a fun and interesting part of the city. We walked down the main street past many shops and restaurants and got ourselves a frozen coffee drink because we couldn’t leave Seattle without having some coffee! We then drove down toward the Seattle Center again to check out the exterior of the new, LEED certified campus of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The cost of building the new campus was roughly $500 million, $350 million of which came from Bill and Melinda Gates. It is very impressive and someone we know who works there says it’s just as impressive inside. Kaitlin would like to work there!


From there, we drove into the Queen Anne section of town, a more residential neighborhood with beautiful homes, a fun main street and great views of the city (you drive up big hills to get there), where Kaitlin would like to live if we ever move to Seattle! We then got biodiesel and headed out of the city to a campsite for the night.

We woke up to rain on Monday morning (August 22nd) and after running some errands, drove out in the direction of Mount Baker. Why, you ask? Well, we mentioned earlier in this blog that Mike’s brother, Brian and our friend Anthony, took a cross-country trip of their own (from New York to Baja, Mexico) in the summer of 2007. For their journey, they chose a short school bus, which inspired the name for their trip – After their trip was over, they sold the bus and recently we found out that it’s being used by a company that transports people on rafting and snowboarding trips. We went to check out her new home and say hello to the new owners and take photos for Brian and Anthony!

From there, we drove north and drum roll…crossed the border! We will share our adventures from British Columbia in our next post!

Posted in California to Canada | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More of Oregon Please!

On Monday, August 15th, we drove into Oregon, after shedding a tear over our departure from California. It didn’t take much time for us to fall in love with Oregon though, as we took in the breathtaking views of the coastline. We ended up in Bandon for lunch, where we had some delicious clam chowder and fish and chips.

Welcome to Oregon!

Oregon coastline

Lunchtime in Bandon, OR!

Crossing one of the many bridges found along the Oregon coast

We kept heading north and ended up at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where huge sand dunes border the coastline. We stopped there for Mike to surf and then got back on the road and continued to enjoy the beautiful views of the ocean. We slept at South Beach State Park that night, just south of Newport. Something we hadn’t seen before: they had a tsunami evacuation route mapped out in the brochure they gave us and there were lots of tsunami warning signs as we traveled the coast in Oregon and Washington…kind of scary!

Mike after his surf

People come to the dunes for a host of activities, like four-wheeling

The Heceta Head Lighthouse is behind us in the distance

On Tuesday morning, we continued north and then east to Portland. After registering at our campsite (Champoeg State Heritage Area), we drove into Portland (such an awesome place!).  We went to East Portland first, which is a more residential area that has great restaurants. We went to a food truck called Grilled Cheese Grill and ate some really delicious…grilled cheese sandwiches! We then drove into center city and went to Powell’s Books, which was recommended to us by friends we met at our winery tour in Napa. It is a HUGE store with new and used books in basically any genre you can think of. We could have wandered around there (and gotten lost) for hours!

Grilled Cheese Grill!

East Portland

Just a tiny section of the massive Powell's Books

Portland is known for its many microbreweries, so we knew we had to check out at least one during our time there. McMenamins (also Kaitlin’s grandmother’s maiden name) is a large northwest brewer which has some fun pubs around the city, so we headed to St. John’s Pub which had a beer and movie night on Tuesday evenings. We got their burger and beer deal and watched X-Men: First Class in their small theatre – it was awesome!

Wednesday brought another beautiful day (we had hardly any bad weather in the Pacific northwest) and we drove first to Voodoo Doughnuts, a Portland institution, known for its unique doughnut creations, such as a donut covered in Froot Loops!

Portland takes pride in its quirky personality, which is part of its appeal!

Voodoo Doughnuts!

A picnic table area where we enjoyed our doughnuts

From Voodoo Doughnuts, we drove to the International Rose Test Garden. Portland has some of the most beautiful and plentiful rose gardens outside of Asia. It was a beautiful area to walk around on a sunny day. They have rows and rows of different kinds of roses (some of which are covered by plant patent applications) and benches to sit and enjoy the view of Portland and Mount Hood. Put it on your list for your next visit to Portland!

Mike with Portland behind him at the International Rose Test Garden

View of Portland and Mt. Hood on the right

International Rose Test Garden

Kaitlin and her friends used to take "model shots" of each other smelling flowers when they were younger...some things never change

Enjoying the beautiful day

A taste of Portland's sense of humor...

After visiting the Rose Garden, we drove into town again to check out one of the many farmer’s markets that highlight Portland’s dedication to locally grown produce. We got lunch at the market and ate in the nearby park, trying to decide whether we should just find an apartment there and then. In the end, there was no apartment searching, but needless to say, we loved it there! It is a beautiful, tree-filled, eco-conscious, active city with lots of things to do for its residents and a personality all its own.

Some of the fresh produce at the farmer's market

The park and farmer's market intertwine

Looking the other way from the farmer's market

We knew it was time to move on, so after grabbing biodiesel (another reason Mike loved Portland – they had biodiesel!), we drove back toward the coast and ended up at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where we got free samples of cheese and fudge and bought their fresh ice cream…pretty much some of the most delicious foods all in one place! We also were able to look in at the factory and watch employees packaging the cheese and learn about the process from cow to the consumer’s home. They use fresh milk from local farmers and don’t use any artificial growth hormones.

Outside the factory with our delicious Tillamook ice cream!

On Wednesday night, we slept at a campground located a little farther north. On Thursday morning, we drove to Cannon Beach, where we saw the famous Haystack Rock. Cannon Beach is a picturesque town that is a summer haven for many Portland residents. We wandered into a local surf shop, where they told us about a great spot nearby for waves, so we drove to Ecola State Park, where Mike jumped in the water for a couple of hours.  What a dream location — beautiful sandbar-breaking waves, working both left and right in a little cove.

At a lookout along the coast, headed to Cannon Beach

Tsunami Bar and Grill - thank goodness we didn't experience one of those!

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach

The beach at Ecola State Park

From Cannon Beach, we continued north to Astoria, which sits on the border with Washington. We stopped right outside town at Fort Clatsop, which is where Lewis and Clark stayed during their winter encampment from December 1805 to March 1806 before they started back east. We then drove into Astoria for dinner at the Fort George Brewery & Public House. We had a delicious meal and some of their homemade brewed beer. From dinner, we drove to the local elementary school. Why, you ask? Well, a Caruso family favorite movie is Kindergarten Cop and Astoria, OR is where much of it was filmed, including the elementary school. Mike was VERY excited to check out many of the places where the movie was shot.

Driving up the coast - as in California, the view is beautiful opposite the water as well


As you can see, we lucked out with the weather for the most part

A recreation of Fort Clatsop

A ship near port in Astoria, Oregon

Mike in front of the elementary school in Astoria

After Mike had reminisced a good amount about the movie, we drove across the Columbia River into Washington state. The sun was setting and as we looked back at Astoria (Kaitlin looked back, Mike looked ahead at the road), it was draped in orange and pink and looked like a painting.

Driving across the Astoria-Megler bridge to Washington...the longest continuous truss bridge in North America

The bridge right before we crossed it...

Welcome to Washington!

We stayed at Lake Sylvia State Park that night before heading to Olympic National Park the next day (Friday, August 19th). We’ll continue from there in our next post!

Posted in California to Canada | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final Chapter of our California adventure

On Sunday, August 7th, we drove through Monterey and then up to Santa Cruz, where Mike surfed “Steamer Lane,” a famous spot for surfers. Kaitlin was a bit nervous because it looked like a dangerous spot to be in the water, right along a cliff, but Mike headed in with the other brave guys out there!

Surfers at "Steamer Lane"

Mike in the water, waiting for a wave...

There he goes, paddling away!

Meanwhile, there was a random guy playing bongos on the rocks...

The pier at Santa Cruz

We grabbed dinner at a Santa Cruz diner that night and then went to our campsite at a nearby campground. On Monday morning, we headed toward San Francisco, but made some stops along the way. The first was in Cupertino, where the Apple Inc. headquarters are located (it’s a whole campus). You can only walk into a little area inside the front doors of the main building, unless you have an appointment with someone, (for some reason, they didn’t believe us when we said we had a 10:00 with a Mr. Jobs), so we took a quick look and then went into the gift store, where Mike turned down Kaitlin’s idea of buying an iPad. Her campaign continues…

The main building at Apple's Cupertino campus

We then drove to and around the Stanford campus, which is beautiful! We wanted to enroll in some classes just so we could stay there, but knew we had to move on (also, they probably wouldn’t accept us), so we drove to Pacifica Beach, where Mike was hoping to catch some waves. He did and had a great short session before we drove into San Francisco. Kaitlin’s former boss and friend, Kate, now lives in San Francisco, so we were excited to see her and stay with her for a couple of days! She was still at work when we arrived in her neighborhood, which is the Haight/Ashbury district, so we grabbed a drink on Haight Street while we waited for her and did some people watching, which doesn’t disappoint in that area! After reuniting with Kate, we showed her Bessie and she showed us her apartment and then we headed to dinner! We ate at a delicious German restaurant on Hayes Street and met up with another Fresh Air Fund co-worker – it was a great night!

This is where Haight and Ashbury Streets collide

One of these is the 'Full House' house, but we're not sure which one because it's been repainted. Needless to say, we walked around singing the theme song the whole time we were in San Fran.

Kaitlin and Kate reunited!

On Tuesday morning, we set out to explore San Francisco. We first walked down toward City Hall, then took a bus to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we wandered for some time and ate chowder for lunch. We then walked up to Coit Tower, which offers beautiful views of the city. From there, we took a bus to Union Square, where Kate picked us up in her car and she took us through Golden Gate Park and then we set out for dinner in the Mission district, where we had Indian food (Mike had an allergic reaction to the food, but he was ok!). It was a full and fun day, which certainly only allowed us to skim the surface of everything that San Francisco has to offer. It’s high on the list of places to return!

A view of Alcatraz from Fisherman's Wharf! One of the places Kaitlin wants to tour on a return trip (Mike has been).

Mike in front of one of the famous San Francisco trolley cars

A view of the water from the base of Coit Tower

On Wednesday morning, we dropped off Kate’s keys at her office (thank you again Kate for a wonderful stay!!) and after some errands, headed to Berkeley, where we got biodiesel at the Biofuel Oasis and used one of their Starbucks to get some work done. In the afternoon, we started the drive to Yosemite. The sun started to set as we made the trip, which created beautiful views as we crossed the mountains.

A view from our drive to Yosemite

Look through the light to see the mountains and lake...

On Wednesday night, we slept in a National Forest campground near Yosemite (if we haven’t mentioned National Forest campgrounds as an option before, we highly recommend you keep them on your radar when you’re on your next camping trip. They’re cheap, never full and usually in a beautiful spot!). On Thursday morning, we drove to Yosemite and stayed until it was dark. It is such an amazing place and we…you guessed it, highly recommend a visit! We just wish we could have spent more time there. In our one day, we went to the Visitors Center (always have to stop in the National Park visitor centers to learn about the park and for the introductory videos), checked out Half Dome, walked to Yosemite Falls, took a short hike to Mirror Lake (where we saw two bears!), then we drove to Glacier Point at sunset, which provided one of the most breathtaking views we’ve experienced on this trip. It also provided some drama, as we had to drive through some prescribed burning to get there. So, we literally were driving through smoke and past fires in the woods and firemen walking along the road, which was a little spooky!

The view of Yosemite after emerging from a tunnel near the entrance

The famous El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite

Check out those tall trees!

In front of Yosemite Falls

This is the inside of a giant tree which was cut down inside Yosemite (after it died naturally). The blue markings at certain rings list famous events throughout history (starting thousands of years ago) to show how old it was...very cool way to get across the point of its old age!

On our walk to Mirror Lake

Also on our walk to Mirror Lake

At Mirror Lake


In front of Mirror Lake

Yep, that's a bear...his friend is hiding

Inside the park at sunset

Driving up to Glacier Point...we are about to drive into that smoke

And there's the fire as we make our way up to Glacier Point!

Just a small portion of the panoramic view from Glacier Point

So beautiful!

We stayed up there until it got dark!

After staying at another National Forest that night near Yosemite, we woke up on Friday with the intention of making it back to San Francisco that day. We stopped at a Walmart first to get our oil changed, but were told that they were unable to do it because a part had come off and there was oil spilling out! We were unable to drive Bessie in her condition, so we had to rent a car to drive to a nearby town to buy the part we needed (a grommet), then returned to Walmart where Mike fixed the problem. Walmart still wouldn’t change the oil for us (too long to go into, but Mike was not pleased), so we ended up grabbing dinner and then Mike did it himself. This pretty much took all day, so we ended up staying in a Walmart parking that night.

On Saturday morning, we started toward San Francisco again. We got biofuel at Dogpatch Biofuels (biodiesel everywhere!  Yes!) and then drove into the city for a delicious sushi lunch at a restaurant recommended by Kaitlin’s cousin. We then drove to see the Golden Gate Bridge from below, drove over it and into Marin County Park, where unfortunately the fog hid the bridge from our view and the wind nearly blew us over!

The one and only Golden Gate Bridge!

Another shot of the bridge from right below and the top of Fort Point

The bridge is behind us - we swear!

There's the beginning of the bridge and the water behind us - we were literally being blown away!

We then headed to Napa Valley, where we did a tour and tasting at O’Brien’s Estate Winery. It was a beautiful afternoon and a gorgeous setting – we really enjoyed our time there!

O'Brien's Estate Winery

We sat here for part of our tasting

After a relaxed couple of hours at O’Brien’s, we drove the picturesque route to Healdsburg, where Kaitlin’s cousin, Matt, had just arrived to spend the next several months working at a winery – let’s just say we’re more than a little jealous! We had dinner together in Healdsburg, which is a beautiful town with restaurants, shops and of course, great wine!

Kaitlin and Matt

The drive to Healdsburg

After dinner and checking out the winery at which Matt is working, we took off in search of the campsite we were hoping to stay at that night. Unfortunately, it was full (always a risk on the weekends), so we set off to find another one in the area, which was also full. We drove to a third campground, which was unfortunately closed for the season. It was pretty late at night at that point, so we decided to crash in the parking lot for the night, which was a little spooky (totally spooky), because we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere on the coast. A man arrived at sunrise to go fishing, so we woke up then and got on the road. We were tired, but it was beautiful driving along the coast as the sun rose!

The beautiful sunrise on the coast

We made our way to a town called Hopland for biodiesel at a place called the Solar Living Institute and then spent much of the rest of the day driving up the coast. We settled for the night in a campground in Redwood National Park. Mike slept for more than 12 hours after our previous night of driving and uneasy parking lot camping! We headed into Oregon the next day, on Monday, August 15th, and we’ll pick up from there next time!

Bessie in Redwood National Park

Posted in California to Canada | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment