American Cross-Country Road Trip
This past summer, before taking the one-way flight to Paris, Steve and I left California in one car stuffed with our remaining belongings.
Our move to Paris came with a long lead time - eight months, so we didn’t feel rushed with all that we had to do. Our to-do list was long - getting married, applying for visas, moving in together, finding a new home for Bam Bam (Steve’s cat), and getting to the east coast. Luckily, with all of this time, we realized that a cross-country trip was a no-brainer, as long as we did it the right way. No rushing.
To plan for this journey east, we created a Google doc with all of the places we wanted to see; my wish list included Portland, Chicago and the Grand Canyon, and Steve wanted to head to Door County, Wisconsin and Yellowstone, but those locations didn’t work so well for a singular trip. After we discussed time, money and, of course, an optimal route, we made a final itinerary.
Our starting point was Santa Barbara and we traveled north for a weekend-stay in Portland. We then headed west to Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Jackson for a week of camping, followed by one night in South Dakota. Our journey moved south to Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail and a stay with my grandparents in Tennessee. We also hit up Blacksburg, VA (go Hokies!) to visit our old stomping grounds. We were able to reunite with Bam Bam and my sister in Richmond and good friends in Lancaster, PA. At the end of our trip, we stayed with each of our families for a week before setting off to Paris.
It was a very full, very fun trip. We got to see many sights, people we love, and the changing scenery as we drove from west to east. Here are some of the highlights from our top destinations:
We were in Portland during the hottest weekend of the year. We drank lots iced coffee and cold beer and stayed in the shade during our Forest Park walk. We also took a trip to Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge. Early Sunday morning, Steve’s aunt sent us on our way with homemade raspberry-apricot jam and fresh cherries. I should add that I was born in Portland, and this is the first I’d been back since I was three.
Other places we visited: Clyde Commons for cocktails, Tasty & Alder for dinner. Blue Star for donuts. Deschutes Brewery for lunch and beers.
Henry’s Lake, Idaho
We left Portland with a long drive ahead of us, and opted to stay just outside of Yellowstone Park so we could arrive early the next day. We pulled up with enough time to set up camp and start cooking dinner before the sun went down.
We drove into Indian Creek campsite just before 9am; the campsites fill up fast and we snagged the fourth to last one available. Because it’s so hard to get a campsite, we opted to stay put for the three nights we were there. We drove a ridiculous amount at Yellowstone; the park is HUGE and it takes almost an hour (if not more) to get to the sites beyond your immediate area. And unfortunately, we had a lot of rain, but managed to stay mostly dry while camping. The scenery is beautiful; the amount of diversity in this one park is unbelievable. There are so many good spots for fishing, picnicking, hiking and animal watching, and they are all so different.. I’ll be going into much more detail about what to see and do Yellowstone in a later post, so stay tuned.
Places we visited: The Boiling River, Norris Geyser Area, Tower Falls, Mammoth Springs, Old Faithful, Lower Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Lamar Valley, Grand Canyon, and Moose Falls.
The Grand Tetons are located just south of Yellowstone, so it’s not too much of a trek, unless you are stuck in traffic. Which we were. We were afraid that the campsite (no reservations) wouldn’t have room for us. Luckily, we secured a spot, but without a bear box. The next day, we kayaked in String Lake and Leigh Lake and caught sight of a bald eagle perched overhead. While on the lake, we had some of the most spectacular views of our entire trip. But alas, no phones or cameras came with us on the water, so we didn’t get any pictures.
Places we visited: Chuckwagon for breakfast, Menor’s Ferry & Homestead, Chapel of Transfiguration, Signal Mt. Summit, Blue Heron for a cocktail.
On our way, we stopped at the Gros Ventre Slide, the place “where the mountain fell over.” After a few more fishing tangents, we made it to our hotel in Jackson with our first real bed in almost a week. Here, we ate well, biked around town, visited a museum and went to the very top of Snow King mountain via chairlift.
Places we visited: Snake River Brewing Company, Museum of Wildlife Art, Alpine Lodge
Black Hills, South Dakota
After setting up camp here, we left to see Mount Rushmore. It was pretty impressive to see, especially with clear, blue skies. We also got an ice cream cone that was apparently made from Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe.
Bourbon Trail, Kentucky
We had a long drive and paired with a confusing time change, we almost missed the last tour of the day at Woodford Distillery. Thankfully, we made it and also caught a ghost tour at Buffalo Trace. Each place gave a tasting - Woodford’s was a bit more refined, while Buffalo Trace gave you a little more to taste. The smell of bourbon in the air at both distilleries is magical - they call it the “angel’s share”.
This is where all Hokies hope to return to someday. And it’s where Steve and I had first spotted each other when we were just 19 years old - club volleyball, War Memorial gym. We visited all of our past drinking spots, walked around campus and had a good time remembering college days.
Places we visited: Sharkey’s, El Rodeo, Rivermill, Big Al’s, The Inn at Virginia Tech
Richmond, Virginia & Lancaster, Pennsylvania
In these two places, we relaxed and caught up with some of our favorite people, including our feline friend, Bam Bam. We also had a special excursion - Amish Country.
In Steve’s hometown, we got to do some sightseeing and have family time. We saw a Pirates game, took a ride on the incline and had a sandwich at a Pittsburgh institution, Primanti’s.
In my hometown, we did a lot of packing and prepping for the big move. We were at least able to escape for a Nationals game. And my dad made his often-requested, seldom-made taquitos for a family feast. This is also where we said goodbye to everyone, one last time.
And there you have it; this was our entire month of August. The road trip gave us the opportunity that to see a lot of things that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I think my favorite part of the trip was Wyoming - Yellowstone, Grand Tetons & Jackson. That state is so much more beautiful than what I thought.
I’m currently pulling together an album of our summer adventure; some of the pictures are just too pretty to stay pixels.
What are your favorite destinations for a quintessential American road trip?
Vocab for today:
- la voiture - car
- la route - road
- la montagne - mountain
- la rivière - river
- la forêt - forest