Day 19 The final ride home

We headed east one last time on I-90 out of Cleveland. At Buffalo, we picked up the NYS Thruway and for the first time, we were backtracking our original route.

Finally home in Albany, we had travelled 5,300 miles, 15 states, 4 National Parks, 3 National Monuments, and 1 State Park. We saw water falls, geysers, hot springs and mud pots. We took bike rides, boat rides, train rides, horse rides and photo safaris. We saw grizzly bears, bison, pronghorn, mule deer, elk, moose, bald eagles, and more. We went to museums, walked gardens and enjoyed Wrigley Field. We saw rocket ships, rock legends and Minions. We spent time with cousins and grandparents and literally took thousands of photographs.

It was a once in a lifetime Great American Road Trip.

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Day 18 The Rock & Roll HOF

We drove all day for Cleveland, stopping near Indianapolis for our first experience with Steak ‘n Shake, which the kids seemed to like. We had another Holiday Inn Express booked for our final night on the road, but first we drove directly to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Hall is open one evening a week and we lucked out that this was the night. We spent a few hours exploring, which was just enough. The whole family really enjoyed it – each member finding a favorite section or artist. Definitely recommended for music lovers and pop history buffs.

Once done at the HOF, we checked into our nearby hotel and then walked to a Vietnamese restaurant Kim found on trip advisor. She liked it a lot. We felt safe walking in the downtown area, but partially because there were so many officers on foot patrol nearby.

Our final night on the road was an early one. We all looked forward to home, the dog and our pool.

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Day 17 The Arch, St. Louis, MO

We headed east again to Kansas City where we stopped for some authentic barbeque at Gates Bar-B-Q. We were nervous, as we had read online that you had better be prepared to order as you walk in, or the staff would be all over you. We had no problems though, and the ribs were great.

We pushed on along I-70 to our hotel, the Drury Inn at the Arch in St. Louis. We picked it because we could walk over to the Arch after dinner. The hotel is unique in that it offers a free “lite” dinner in the evening. After the big BBQ lunch, this was perfect. Four of us then walked over to check out the Arch and its view. Emily stayed in the room as she had seen it before with her grandparents. David earned his last Junior Ranger pin to complete his vest.

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Days 15 & 16 Hutchinson, KS

We set out early for Kansas along I-70 and arrived in the late afternoon at my Uncle Tom’s home in Hutchinson. This was the first really hot weather we experienced on the road trip – it was 97 degrees when we arrived! My parents had flown in from Salt Lake City earlier in the day. We had a relaxing evening with our first home cooked meal in two weeks thanks to Tom and his wife Kyle.

The following day, Kyle had arranged a fantastic day at the local Cosmosphere – a unique and awesome space museum. We had a guided tour of the museum, including a close up look at the space capsule Liberty Bell 7, which famously sank when Gus Grissom’s hatch opened too early after landing on the ocean surface. It was retrieved almost 40 years later from the ocean floor and restored at the museum. We also got a behind the scenes look at the museum’s collection of authentic space suits, and a met with Jared of SpaceWorks, who showed us the company’s collection of Apollo rocket engines that had been recovered from the ocean floor. Jared works to clean and restore them.

After the museum we took a quick tour of the small town, dodging heavy thunderstorms that rolled through. Apparently, a tornado had passed through one week earlier.   Back at the house, Uncle Tom gave rides on his golf cart to the kids and we enjoyed another home cook meal.

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Day 14 Rocky Mountain NP

We drove east on Rt. 40 and followed a bike race for miles. There were hundreds of them and we never did figure out who was in first place.   We climbed into the Rocky Mountain NP along Rt. 34 and immediately stopped at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center near Grand Lake. The next stop was the interesting Holzwarth Historic Site where we took a short hike, explored the dude ranch and saw another Moose and her baby up close – this time just a hundred feet or so away. We also met some great National Park volunteers who told us the history of the site.

We then drove up to the Alpine Visitor Center for lunch, and climbed up to the nearby summit at 12,005 feet. A very cold summer storm chased us off the top.

David earned his next Junior Ranger badge before we continued on. Just as we exited the park into Estes Park, we spotted a huge elk hanging out in someone’s backyard along the roadway.

We headed to our Holiday Inn Express in Fort Collins and then decided to grab dinner at Mimi’s (a family favorite) and catch the just released Minions at the local theater. Sometimes you have to let the kids have their day.

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Day 13 Grand Tetons, Steamboat Springs

We had another great experience with a pre-booked boat trip to Elk Island on Jackson Lake for a catered breakfast. We drove a short distance to Colter Bay Marina and departed at 7:15 am. It was again a gorgeous summer morning and after a 30 minute narrated ride, over to the island, we were greeted with a wonderful hot breakfast that included pancakes, salmon, bacon and eggs, fruit and muffins. It was delicious. We had time to make a short climb up a nearby hill for some great views and then headed back on the boat. The whole trip was about two hours and well worth the (expensive) price paid.

This brought an end to our time in the Tetons and with my brother and his family. We returned to the room and packed up and said our goodbyes. We would see my parents again a few days later when we visited family in Kansas.

We headed south through Jackson Hole and down Rt. 191, stopping for lunch at a China Gourmet in Pinedale, WY. Along the road, we caught the final license plate in our quest to see all 50 in our travels. The Chinese food came in handy that evening, after we arrived for the night in Steam Boat Springs. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and got the kids settled down, letting them eat leftover Chinese using the room’s microwave.   We also convinced our oldest to use the hotel’s laundry room to do a few loads.   Kim and I took advantage of this and set out for a nice dinner without the kids (for the first time on the entire trip.) We found a nice small Mexican place called the Cantina on the main strip in town -a welcome break from the trip.

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Day 12 Grand Tetons

Kim and I rose before dawn and snuck out to the hotel terrace to watch the first light illuminate to the Tetons.   We also spotted a mother and her calf Moose playing in the meadow below us, a few hundred yards out.   After a quick Starbucks breakfast, we all jumped in the rental van for a full day of exploring the park.

We made our way down the Teton Park Road, stopping at many of the turnouts for photos, until we reached Jenny Lake. We devised a plan to hike around the southern shore of the Lake, and then up to Inspiration Point. It was just enough hiking to wear out our young explorers. We splurged and took the boat ride back to our car.

We stopped for some delicious pizza at Dornan’s Spur Bar in the town of Moose where we sat outside on the patio with a view of the Snake River and the Tetons. We drove around the tiny town for a few minutes looking for Moose, without luck.

Headed north again on Rt. 89, we stopped at several more turnouts including one made famous by Ansel Adams for his photograph of the Snake River meandering in front of the Tetons. My favorite stop was an off road excursion to Mormon Row, a small collection of historic barns from the early 20th century. It’s a photographer’s dream.

Back at the Jackson Lodge, we had dinner at a Poolside Barbeque that was a good way to let the young kids run, play and swim while we all ate. The food was good and a live musician entertained with his guitar.   The retired ballplayer Chipper Jones was there with his family. As a Mets fan, I have to respect the guy, even if I spent a lifetime despising him.

After dinner we drove over to Oxbow Bend to look for animals and catch sunset. The sunset was great, but we were not so lucky with the animals.

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Day 11 Photo Safari, Grand Tetons

My brother Eric, my father David, and I all have the shutter bug. Eric and I decided ahead of time to treat our father to an official guided Photo Safari from our hotel early the following morning.   The three of us met our guide Doug Hilborn in the lobby at 5:45 AM, and our group of about 12 set out in an awesome 1930’s Model 706 Tour bus. Doug knew where to go to find the animals and had great tips about how to photograph them. He has been working in the park for many years and had lots of great stories to tell. During the 5-hour tour we saw two bald eagles, elk, bison, grizzly beers and many others. The tour was more than worth our time and money.

The rest of the group slept in, did some laundry and packed up for the next leg. After lunch in the Lake Deli, we set out for The Grand Tetons.   We first drove the to the West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake where we did the short 1 mile Lake Overlook trail to stretch our legs.

We exited Yellowstone to the south and drove directly to our next hotel – the Jackson Lake Lodge Cottages. We checked in, grabbed a casual dinner at the Pioneer Grill inside the lodge and then went out back to admire the views of the Tetons and watch for wildlife.

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Day 10 Old Faithful Geyer Basin

We had a quick breakfast in the Snow Lodge Grill and the hurried over to catch another viewing of Old Faithful, this time under a beautiful blue sky. Again, we were part of a sparse crowd.

We rented bicycles from the bike shop in our hotel and set out to explore the many other spectacular geysers in the immediate region. A bike was the best way to do this as the moderate distances would have worn out the little ones on foot. Everyone rode except cousin Vincent, who got to ride behind his father in a trailer.

Among the many we saw, Morning Glory was everyone’s favorite. But the different exotic landscapes where all amazing.

After about two hours of riding, we turned in the bikes and grabbed lunch in the Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria and then stepped out to watch the famous geyser one last time. This time, a crowd of several thousand had gathered. They had come by the busload. It looked like a major sporting event.

We quickly got back on the Grand Loop Road and headed east towards Yellowstone Lake where we spent the night in cabins at the Lake Lodge. We had another fancy dinner at the Lake Hotel Dining Room. The décor was very nice and the food pretty good but the service was painfully slow.

After dinner, we strolled along the lake to grab ice cream at the General Store and then drove back out to the Lake Butte Overlook to catch sunset. Along the road out, near Fishing Bridge, I took my favorite photograph of the trip – almost by accident. Eric was driving us and as I peered out the tinted windows, I saw this:

Lake Butte is where we had first pulled over after entering the park 4 days earlier.

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Day 9 Mammoth Hot Springs

We tried breakfast at the Lodge Soda Fountain and then checked out of our cabin. Three nights there was the longest stay of anywhere on the trip. The cabin worked well for us. Clean and sparse, with no television – which helped make up for all the movies watched on the long van rides west.

We loaded up both vans and headed along the Grand Loop Road past Roosevelt Lodge again and up to Mammoth Hot Springs. Once there, we toured the boardwalks of the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces on a spectacular blue-sky morning.

We then had another unique experience when we drove a short distance north into Montana and swam in the Boiling River section of the Gardner River. This occurs where underground hot springs emerge and dump into the mountain river, creating a hot tub effect. The kids loved it!

We grabbed lunch in the cafeteria back at Mammoth and then headed south along the Grand Loop Road, headed for Old Faithful. We experienced the famous construction delays on this trip, where we probably lost an hour or so. We stopped at Grand Prismatic Springs for photographs, but determined that we did not have time to do the 5-mile hike to Fairy Falls that reportedly provides a great view from above Prismatic.

We arrived in time to check into our rooms at the Yellowstone Snow Lodge and walk over for our dinner reservations at the Old Faithful Inn. This was one of the spurge meals on the trip and we had a nice time.   The Inn itself is an historic masterpiece.

After dinner we walked out back to catch our first viewing of Old Faithful Geyer itself, which was right on time. A modest crowd gathered but the sun was already setting. We had no idea that we would see a crowd 10 times that size the following morning.

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