Road Trip Recap – Red Rocks

Folks, this is going to be a longer post. Grab yourself a cup of coffee of Zen Green tea (my personal favorite) and pull up a chair. I posted some very short daily recaps from the road but didn’t want to be one of those people that posts something every 5 minutes, here’s another town we’re in, we’re having lunch, now we’re in another town. I’m not one of “those” people, you know who you are. 🙂

I’m not even sure how the idea came about really. We (my sister-in-law and bestie) wanted to see Brandi Carlile this summer and she had a show planned at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. After vacillating between flying and driving for weeks and weeks and weeks, we finally decided to make it a road trip. We’d drive to Colorado, take a few days on the way there, see some fun stuff, hit the concert and then drive back to Seattle. We did all of this in 6 days! 3,003.5 miles in 6 days. If you haven’t driven that far in that short of a period of time, I’ll tell you that it’s a LONG way. It’s exhausting. By the end of the 5th day, I’m pretty sure we were hallucinating. And on the morning of day 6, we maybe were going to strangle each other for a few hours. All in all it was an incredible trip. Just us two girls, traipsing across our beautiful country, searching for wildlife, singing our hearts out and laughing until our stomachs hurt. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you are interested in seeing award-winning photography of this trip, I wouldn’t hold your breath while you wait for them. 🙂 Most of the photos and video I took were on my iPhone and, to be fair to the iPhone, that’s all I’m posting. And to be fair to me, keep in mind that MOST of these photos were taken while in motion. I’m not going to say we were speeding, but let’s just say we were making space tracks most of the time. I took the “real” camera with me but it was fun to leave that behind most of the time, to only have a phone and see what I could get. I’m particularly happy with the little video I put together which totally captures the whole trip in 1.5 minutes-all taken on my cute little phone.

Our Route. It was a total of 3,003.5 miles from the point where I picked up Jaime in Lake Stevens until I returned to my home in Lynnwood 6 days later. For the 5 days we drove, I’d make a guess that we averaged about 9 or 10 hours driving. Luckily (for me) Jaime likes to drive and drove all but the very first 2 hours and the very last half hour of the trip. Our route took us east across Washington on Highway 2 and we took a short detour up to the Grand Coulee Dam, then we cut east through Idaho and halfway across Montana. Then south into Wyoming and through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (unbelievable), east across most of Wyoming, then south into Colorado. On our way home, we wanted to see something different so we traveled west over Colorado, part of Utah, then north through Utah, Idaho and over the northeast part of Oregon and through eastern Washington back to Seattle.


Mile ZERO. 58 degrees in Lake Stevens Washington. The hottest temperature we saw was 97 in southern Utah which felt unbearable for the 3 minutes we were outside in it between the car and the mini mart bathrooms. There was a short stop in Leavenworth for Starbucks and seeing the fun Bavarian architecture. Unfortunately we were too early to visit my favorite sandwich shop with the best potato salad just around the corner from where we parked.


Fresh pedicure and a cloudless sky through the sunroof. Looking for lunch in Eastern Washington isn’t easy. After rolling into Electric City just near the Grand Coulee Dam, we found a little “bistro” on the main drag. We walked into this tiny little place that reminded me of a concession stand and since we were the only people in there and the 3 employees were staring at us, we couldn’t leave. Surprise twist: Some of the best sandwiches we have ever had and bonus, you got popcorn with your sandwich instead of chips. Sounds strange but it was delightful. And double bonus, they had a cup full of Dum-Dums on the table for dessert.


Very quick stop at the Grand Coulee Dam where I learned that the GCD is the 2nd largest concrete dam in the entire world. I enjoy learning new things and spent quite a bit of time on this trip reading from papers, pamphlets and the internet to Jaime (much to her dismay) about anything and everything I could – when I had cell service.


As we barreled east across Montana (never saw a single police car) there was an insane sunset. Insane. Big Sky Country people! Sunsets are one of those things that, in my opinion, cannot be replicated with a photograph so I’m not going to try. I had literally never seen anything like it in my life. The ginormous sky, beautiful mountains and rays of sunlight beaming into the heavens. It was unbelievable.


The amount of bugs on my car the next day was also unbelievable. At one point in the late evening of Montana, what looked like rain was actually just a constant barrage of small bugs getting smashed on the windshield. It was actually quite disgusting.


Have you been to Yellowstone? If you haven’t, I implore you to go. First of all, you get to see the coolest landscapes, crazy hot springs and wildlife . . . and if you’re lucky, stand next to a giant teddy bear Teddy Roosevelt in a gift shop.


Elk were roaming around all over the place in the northern part of the park. They’re like just hanging out by the gift shop. So cool.


Stinky hot springs? Yes please!


Old Faithful? We saw that too! Real talk though, I have to tell you that it wasn’t as cool as I wanted it to be. I knew I would be disappointed to NOT see it, but I also didn’t want to wait 30-50 minutes to see it and that’s what they estimated for the next eruption or explosion or whatever they call it (geologists, help me out here). In the end, we waited about 45 minutes but it was somewhat disappointing. Maybe we got a bad one. Maybe it was tired that day. I’m glad I saw it. I can check it off the list of things I saw in my lifetime but I don’t think I would wait to see it again. Sorry Old Faithful. I feel like I need one of those “Not Impressed” memes here.


Benny the Bear joined our journey in Yellowstone and, when he wasn’t getting out of control, he was allowed to sit on the dashboard. As we rolled out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park, we said to each other “What are the Tetons anyway?” I mean I’d heard of them and thought/knew they were probably some mountains. OMG are they ever some mountains. They were incredible! You can’t describe them. Enormous, beautiful, majestic. If you go to Yellowstone, don’t miss the Grand Tetons. This is one of those places where I should have gotten out of the car, got the “real” camera out and made an effort to take some nice photos. But we were not making good time that day and were starting to get hungry and didn’t know where we were going to stop for the night. That’s right, me, miss planner . . . we went on this trip and didn’t know how far we would get each day or where we would stay each night. We were winging it. And it surprisingly totally worked out.


Our main goal during this trip ended up being a search for wildlife, and license plates. As we were driving in Washington we started creating a list of things we’d like to see along the way. Tumbleweeds, deer, eagle, big horn sheep, bears, moose, etc.  Additionally, we had a list of 50 states we’d try to find license plates for. We found 46 license plates (including Hawaii which we thought would be the toughest one). In the end we did see deer, eagles, a moose, elk, a chipmunk, bison, Old Faithful, Grand Coulee Dam, a BIG waterfall, antelope, people doing water sports, sheep, something with antlers and polygamists and we ate in a diner/truck stop. Of the items on our list, we didn’t see a big horn sheep, bear (only if we were in our car), something from the cat family (again, in car only), a coyote or wolf and raccoon. You can barely see the moose in the photos below because he was so far away. But he was awesome. And here’s a photo of Jaime with some wolf statues in Jackson, WY, because why not.


Wyoming stumped us for hundreds of miles. They have these fences on the side of the roads. They look like fences but some of them are only 30-40 feet long and they are just free standing and don’t hold anything in or anything out. We could NOT figure out what was going on with these things and only had the kind of cell service where you could maybe text someone but definitely not look up fences in Wyoming. Turns out they are snow drift fences that help keep the snow off the highway in the winter when the wind blows.  We saw some of these in Oregon and Washington as well.


If you don’t stop at a truck stop on a road trip, you’re missing out. This one was in Rawlins, Wyoming, had it’s own Professional Truckers Only area, giant Rice Krispies treats and Sugar Daddys and our silverware was provided to us in a small paper bag. Because why not?


Colorado provided us with some pretty gnarly storms while we were there a short 36 hours.  And some pretty delicious Italian food! Giant calzone anyone? Or spaghetti pie?


Finally, our destination. Red Rocks Amphitheater near Morrison, Colorado. This place was so beautiful.





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We did our normal get there early for a general admission show, hang out most (or all) of the day. Read magazines, address wedding invitations, chat with people. The weather was fine most of the day. A couple little patches of sprinkles. No big deal. But then this storm started rolling in and the weather forecast was talking about thunder and lightning. To make a really long, dramatic story sort of short, the rain came, hard. Maybe the hardest rain I’ve ever seen. The silver lining is that it washed most of the bugs off the car. There was tons of thunder and lightning.  We took shelter in our car after we got soaked completely through all of our clothes. But the most dramatic was when the lightning struck the hillside maybe 40-50 yards away and left a patch of smoking grass. Unfortunately, I was outside the car when this happened and I’m not sure I have ever been so scared in my life. Took me a couple hours and a couple glasses of wine (two and a half to be exact) to settle down after that one.


These pictures do not in any way indicate how hard it was raining and how miserable and scared we really were.


Eventually, the thunder and lightning passed, the rain turned into sprinkles and we made it into the amphitheater. The show went on after all. People tried to blame us for the rain because we are from Seattle but we weren’t taking credit for that crazy storm. The Red Rocks people said it was one of the worst they’d seen in 17 years. Turned out to be a great show and I’m glad we stuck out the weather.


All good things must come to an end and in the morning we got up and started our long trek back to Seattle, making a different route this time through northwest Colorado and this astounding canyon. Might be the best thing I saw on the whole trip. This was the morning also that we finally saw some bison (not to be confused with buffalo which I know about because I looked it up and learned about it). We spent a lot of time thinking we saw bison before this but they were always just cows, sometimes really huge cows but still just cows. But this morning we saw a whole herd of bison hanging on the side of the road just 20 minutes into our trip home. Definitely a highlight.


Then we hit southern Utah. I had no idea Utah would be this pretty. The canyons and rock formations were so awesome.


It was like a mini Grand Canyon. Which subsequently led to us declaring we’re going to the Grand Canyon and then a lesson in water erosion and how these canyons are formed which Jaime LOVED.


Our last morning waking up in Idaho and getting an early start on our day. There was a beautiful sunrise after the previous day’s 13 hours of driving and blinding sunset that burned our retinas and caused us to miss our exit for our last hotel of the trip. I include the middle photo in this section to demonstrate how Jaime parks my car, typically 4-6 feet away from the curb. EVERY TIME. It became one of the jokes of the whole trip and I took many, many photos of this and I laughed every single time it happened.


The homeland! Washington. Oh how I love you.


I can’t put into words all of the silliness, jokes, talks, singing, and fun that we had on this road trip. So many jokes that no one would get (polygamist sheep and ducks running across the road like cartoon characters). We said at the end of the trip, we can’t hang out together with other people for maybe a month because we’ll be way too annoying (which is already generally the case anyway). I had a ridiculous amazing wonderful time.

I’m so excited to plan another one and to see more of our National Parks. I’m astounded by the beauty of our vast country and all there is to see. Here is a short video of little clips I took along the way.

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  • Wendy Carter AdamsJuly 19, 2013 - 7:33 pm

    Great recap Cheryl and loved the video! Next time, I’ll be along for the ride.ReplyCancel

  • Donna Vandeboe CrabbJuly 20, 2013 - 6:53 am

    Thank you, that was wonderful.ReplyCancel