My best friend Liz and I are so very different in so many ways yet oddly connected and alike in others. I lived with Liz for six months between travels, and we’d randomly have the same thoughts about everything from strategic dishwasher-loading plans to alcoholic-beverage consumption. It’s not that surprising that on the same day in March, we each came to the independent decision that she should accompany me on my journey west to start this year’s trip—and Lliz and Llisa’s Lengthy Lope to the Llamas was born.
Over this 10-day trip, we drove 2,669 miles through 11 states, snacked more than should’ve been allowed, visited friends, sampled local beers, camped, cooked like pioneer women, played road-trip bingo and the license-plate game, visited national parks and state parks, ate local frozen treats, and generally carried on with what has become our normal, day-to-day goofiness. This trip was a long one to document—so here’s my best whack at a Reader’s Digest version:
Day 1: Lexington to St. Louis
Late-night stop-over and neighborhood-bar visit with friends. Liz got what must have been third-degree burns inside her mouth from a street-vended hot dog. Fourth-meal fail.
Day 2: St. Louis to Lincoln, Neb.
Liz and I visited and stayed with some of my favorite people on the planet: the might-as-well-be-famous LC.
Day 3: Lincoln to the Badlands, S.D.
Who thought so much nothing could be so cool to see? Well, I did (but Liz sure didn’t!). I visited the Badlands once before during a 3,600-mile, six-day college road trip. I knew it was worth seeing again, and this time, we got to see it in a completely different light.
Day 4: Badlands to Black Hills, S.D.
After an early morning rise following our first sucessful night of tent camping, we were back to the Badlands for some hiking, including climbing the scariest ladder I’ve ever encountered on a trail (Notch Trail), and then a drive through the wildlife area of the Badlands, where we saw bison and the prarie dogs danced and sang for us. We made some new friends from New York and finished our day with the best campfire mac n’cheese we’ve ever had (which we ate on our rummage-sale dinosaur and snowmen plates)!
Day 5: Black Hills to Cody, Wyo.
Our day started off at Mount Rushmore (because it’s something you have to do) where I tried to get us lost on what I was sure was the Nature Trail (but wasn’t a trail at all, apparently—at least we didn’t get poison ivy). The rest of the day featured lots of driving and road-trip-bingo playing, in which we marked off our first sightings of both a tumbleweed and a tricked-out Honda Civic. We were also happy to not get beat up in the small Wyoming town where we had lunch when the wind pulled the car door from Liz’s hand and dented a nice old lady’s car. Let’s also not forget that we passed our slow-driving New York friends on the ride!
We were super excited for today because we were going to a rodeo and going out in Cody! But the massive wind and dust storm that came through had other ideas. (The afternoon wind had nothing on this storm!) We cut the rodeo short, disassembled our tent, which was miraculously still standing at the campground, and headed for a hotel. The hot shower and comfy bed was nice, but we’d have prefered our cute campsite by the creek!
Day 6: Cody to Yellowstone, Wyo.
Today’s short drive to Yellowstone gave us the whole day to see the park, and we used every second of daylight. Sure, we walked around the geyser and hot springs areas, saw Old Faithful and Anemone Geyser erupt, and drove the southern loop of the park, but the part of the day we’ll forever talk about was our up-close-and-personal bison encounter. Sunbathing on the trail on our hike back to the car from Fairy Falls was a rather large bison bull. “Bison are the most dangerous animal in the park,” we were told repeatedly. Having worked with bison from horseback, I get that. So we trekked through the woods and a swamp to give the sleeping giant his space. (“Who’s ready for a drink?” was my first question when we got back to the car.)
You’d hope that was the worst part of our day, but it wasn’t. The worst part was not even when Liz twisted her ankle on the hiking trail. Rather, the worst part was discovering how ill equipped we were to weather the 27-degree night in a tent! No sleep for either one of us, and I actually wondered at one point how long it takes for frostbite to set in, convinced I was going to lose my toes to the cold.
Day 7: Yellowstone
When people say you can spend a week in Yellowstone, they mean it. Holy cow, did we see a lot today. We did a ranger tour and hiked along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, including Uncle Tom’s Trail—300-plus steps from the canyon rim to the river below; saw the Mammoth Hot Springs travertine terraces; drove the northern loop and saw bears from the safety of the car; saw Tower Falls; made early dinner over the campfire; and went back out at dusk to see the wildlife along Hayden Valley and again at dark for a bit of stargazing.
Day 8: Yellowstone to Park City, Utah
Our morning started with leftovers and s’mores for breakfast. We’re adults, and after surviving another cold night (only 40 degrees as opposed to 27, though), we earned the s’mores.
This was the goofiest day of all, largely due to me getting pulled over in Rexford, Idaho, for going 8 miles over the speed limit. This happened at around 2,180 miles into our trip. If you’ve ever spent time in the car with either me or Liz, I know you’re impressed that it took this long for us to get pulled over. As it turns out, I didn’t have current proof of insurance, which I was sure I had put in my car, but my typically spacey neglegence worked in our favor this time. With ticket for no proof of insurance in hand, we pulled off the next exit, went to a hotel, used the computer and printer in the lobby (like we owned the place) to print my proof of insurance, and took it to the courthouse just 2 miles away to have the ticket voided. I feel like I should have gotten a prize at the courthouse for taking care of my citation within 20 minutes of issuance, but they gave us good recommendations for lunch (sandwiches—where Liz spilled a large soda all over the place) and dessert (water ice, almost like Rita’s!), so I forgive them.
Next stop: The Oregon Trail! I’m thankful that we didn’t break a wagon wheel, get robbed by Indians, get bit by a rattlesnake or contract disentary (like we used to when we played the Oregon Trail computer game in elementary school). We did nearly get lost, though, when our GPS, Richard, sent us down some dirt path instead of to Massacre Rocks State Park like we’d asked him to—sometimes, we really wondered what he was thinking.
By the time we got to Park City to the very cush hotel that we Pricelined, we were exhausted and barely had enough energy to try some local beers at the hotel bar. Lucky for everyone, the bar was conveniently located at the end of our hallway.
Day 9: Park City
Early in the trip, we had high hopes of sightseeing and maybe even some more hiking for this last day. When it came right down to it, you could not have paid us to get back in that car. We hung out the whole day downtown, barhopping, making friends and browsing shops. It was glorious nothingness after a mad-busy road trip.
Day 10: Park City to Salt Lake City International Airport
This morning was bittersweet, for sure! I hated dropping off Liz at the airport. Who knew I could live with someone for six months and be put in a car/tent/hotel room with her for 10 days and still like her at the end?!
This day officially kicks off my travel for the year, and really, it’s about time.
But hey, Liz, what do you think about tackling that India trip in the fall?