Cross-Country Trip V: The triumphant return to California

Here’s the summary of our 16-day road trip as we relocated from Champaign, IL to San Francisco, CA.

  • Day 1: Indianapolis, Indiana [blog]
  • Day 2: Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
  • Day 3: Kentucky to Tennessee [blog]
  • Day 4: Memphis, Tennessee [photos]
    • National Civil Rights Museum [blog]
    • Gibson Guitar Factory [blog]
    • Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken [blog]
    • Graceland [blog] [photos]
    • Charles Vergos’’ Rendezvous [blog]
    • Beale Street [blog]
  • Day 5: Memphis TN to Dallas TX via Arkansas [blog]
  • Day 6: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas [photos]
    • Bureau of Engraving & Printing [blog]
    • JFK Assassination site [blog]
    • The Ballpark at Arlington [blog]
  • Day 7: Oklahoma City National Memorial, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma [blog] [photos]
  • Day 8: Oklahoma City to New Mexico via Amarillo, Texas
  • Day 9: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado [blog] [photos]
  • Day 10: Colorado
    • Scenic drives (Salida, Turquoise Lake, and Independence Pass) [blog] [photos]
    • Aspen [blog]
    • Glenwood Canyon Resort & Campground [blog]
  • Day 11: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
    • Whitewater rafting on the Colorado River [blog] [photos]
    • Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company [blog] [photos]
  • Day 12: Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
    • Scenic drive through Colorado [blog]
    • Dinosaur National Monument [blog] [photos]
  • Day 13: Park City, Utah
  • Day 14: Utah to Tahoe via Nevada [blog]
  • Day 15: Lake Tahoe [blog] [photos]
  • Day 16: Arrival in San Francisco! [blog]

Cross-Country Trip V, Day 16: Arrival in San Francisco!

Monday, August 15: The date of our triumphant arrival at our new apartment in San Francisco!

We could have easily left Tahoe at 9 am and been home by lunchtime, but we had a bunch of errands to attend to, which were easier to do before getting to the city.

After checking out of the motel (where we boycotted the complimentary continental breakfast because I was grouchy about their lack of customer service regarding the bad internet connection), we headed to Starbucks and spent a couple of hours there. The most important thing to accomplish was to sign up for our apartment’s internet service. Dave got an appointment for Comcast to come on Thursday, which seemed like a pretty good turnaround.

Then we drove through the lovely Sierras, where US 50 follows the South Fork of the American River out of the hills and down into the San Joaquin Valley. It is always a little unfortunate to look down into the haze that is the Valley air, and realize that this is what you’ll be breathing once you descend into it. But we had little choice.

We stopped in Sacramento for lunch (In-N-Out!) and some errands. We had a bunch of household stuff to buy for our new apartment, and we ended up spending a lot more time at Fry’s, Best Buy, and Target than we expected. But we got what we needed, and finally headed west to our final destination.

It only took us about an hour and a half, even in East Bay rush hour traffic, to get to our apartment. We were very excited as we crossed the Bay Bridge and dodged the buses in the city to get to our new neighborhood.

We were happy to find that our 1.5 bedroom flat is more spacious than we expected! All of our stuff had already been moved in (thanks to my sister Renae’s willingness to open it up for the movers), so we jumped right in to making it liveable. It was a fun road trip, but it’s great to be home! Looking forward to the new adventures of living in San Francisco.

Cross-Country Trip V, Day 15: Lake Tahoe

View of Lake Tahoe from the CampsiteWe started the day by wrapping up things at the campsite in Emerald Bay. We all took our time leaving, especially since there was a triathlon down the road scheduled to tie up the roads. Dave and I played board games with my sister and her boyfriend for a while before leaving the campground.

Check out Dave’s panoramic photo of Lake Tahoe, as seen from our campground.

The four of us went to lunch at a local sub shop in South Lake Tahoe called Yellow Submarine. It was very tasty. The subs were enormous. Dave ordered a 12″ sub that turned out to be at least 16″ long and a good 4″ in diameter. It was really too much for one person to eat at a sitting, so Dave had to donate it to Renae’s boyfriend to take home with him (as we didn’t have any way of storing it).

Then Dave and I ended up at a little city park in South Lake Tahoe called Regan Beach. We took out our camp chairs and sat on the grass near the lake and read for a while. It was nice just to chill and not feel like we had to do anything. It became annoying, though, when a family sat directly behind us and their three children felt comfortable learning to do knee kicks with their soccer balls two feet from us. (I am not exaggerating.)

It was becoming relatively late in the afternoon, so we checked into our motel. The motel had passes to nearby Lakeside Beach, along with coupons for kayak rentals. By this point in the afternoon, the wind was really picking up and the water was very choppy. We inquired into a kayak rental, but the guy wasn’t even renting out boats (not even 18′ motorboats). So instead we laid on the beach for a while. Since it was so windy, it never really got warm, so we weren’t really tempted to go swimming, even though this particular beach had a quite nice swimming area marked off.

We were very disappointed with our motel, the Best Tahoe West Inn. The shower didn’t have great pressure. More importantly, the WiFi never worked. We tried multiple times to connect, and talked to the front desk a couple of times about it, but we were never able to connect. (And it was apparent that we weren’t the only guests having the same problem.) They weren’t very helpful about it. I was pretty unhappy, because one of the main reasons I picked this place was the free internet.

My cousin happened to be in Lake Tahoe this weekend, so we met up with her for dinner. We drove up to Tahoe City and had dinner at a place called Evergreen. It turned out to be a very pleasant dining experience. It was hard to decide what to get, because the menu was full of yummy-sounding things. My cousin shared her melon gazpacho with us, which was creamy and cool. I had the pork loin, Dave had steak, and my cousin had salmon. They were all very tasty. We ate on the patio, which was comfortable due to the heat lamps, where we got some glimpses of the lake. We were glad we got there on the early side (around 6:30 pm) because the place had filled up by the time we left. Definitely a good choice!

Cross-Country Trip V, Day 14: Driving ~ On to Tahoe

Today was a very long driving day. We left Park City around 9 am (after making our requisite contribution to the local Starbucks) and just started heading west – destination Lake Tahoe.

We drove down the mountain into Salt Lake City, drove across the salt flats (on Interstate 70… no crazy off-road racing in our packed Ford Escape Hybrid), and made a quick gas stop on the border of Utah and Nevada.

No matter where you cross into Nevada, it is immediately obvious – suddenly casinos spring out of the desert, ready and waiting to take your money.

We hauled across Nevada, stopping only a couple of times – for lunch in Elko, plus a couple of gas or rest stops. The drive was mostly boring, until we got near Reno. At that point, the road follows the lovely Truckee River. Reno itself wasn’t fun to drive through, especially since the interstate was all under construction, but once out of the city, the river reappears and the road becomes more woodsy.

Welcome to CaliforniaThen we crossed over into California, were asked by the inspection guards if we had any produce or animals, and headed toward Lake Tahoe.

We stopped in Truckee for some beverages, then drove down the west side of the lake toward our campsite.

Our campsite at Eagle Point CampgroundMy sister Renae had been camping for a week with her boyfriend’s family at Eagle Point Campground in Emerald Bay State Park. Fortunately we were able to join them for their last night of camping.

The campground was lovely. They had a couple of beautiful campsites overlooking the lake that had spectacular views and were also remarkably spacious. For the first time in our trip, we had a campfire. It was so relaxing.

Cross-Country Trip V, Day 13: Utah ~ Park City ~ High West Distillery

For dinner in Park City, we took the free bus from our hotel to the “historic Main Street” area and ate at a place called High West Distillery.

There was a long-ish wait for a table, but there was an immediate opening in the bar area, where we were happy to dine. It had a fun ambiance – a contemporized historic barn look. The bartenders took turns waiting tables, and were very friendly and helpful.

High West Distillery makes their own whiskey and vodka, so of course we had to try some of it. I had the Silver Western Oat whiskey, which was very smooth, and later had the Rendezvous Rye, which had a lot more kick to it. Both were quite tasty. Dave had one of their special whiskey cocktails and stuck with that.

We’ve been trying to do our “fine dining” experiences at local places that make an effort to source their food locally, and this one fit the bill.

For dinner, Dave had the High West Burger, which was a “secret blend” of beef and bison meat, while I had pan seared Utah trout. It was a yummy meal. Dave couldn’t resist dessert – fried Krispy Kreme donuts with whiskey vanilla ice cream. I went ahead and got the fruit cobbler, which was warm and delicious.

If I find myself back in Park City, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to High West Distillery.

Cross-Country Trip V, Day 13: Utah ~ Park City ~ Utah Olympic Park

Park City Olympic ParkIn 2002, the Winter Olympics were hosted in Utah. While they were officially the “Salt Lake City” Olympics, quite a few of the events actually took place in a ski resort town about 30 miles east called Park City.

We headed to Park City at a leisurely pace, and got there around lunchtime. We had lunch at a deli in the “Historic Main Street” area (which is, amazingly, pretty much confined to the one main street), which took way longer than it should have. (Note to self: Don’t get Philly cheesesteaks west of the Mississippi.)

We then made our way over to the Utah Olympic Park. We bought tickets for the 3 pm tour, and had about 45 minutes to kill. We poked around in the 2002 Winter Olympics & Ski Museum. The first floor features mildly informative exhibits (which make a pathetic attempt at being interactive) regarding snow, skiing, famous groundbreaking skiers and snowboarders, etc. The second floor is a tribute to the 2002 games, from the design themes to the athletes and everything in between.

Ski jump into a poolAt 3 pm we gathered with our tour group to meet our guide Chris. Imagine a combination of John Malkovich and Ron Howard, and you will have a sense of what he was like. He had a lot of personality and some great stories. He had been in the bobsled track control booth during the 2002 Games, so he had a lot of firsthand experience to share.

The first thing we saw was the pool. Yes, there’s a pool at a ski training center. (BTW, the center is still an active ski school and training center for Olympic athletes from around the world.) The purpose of the pool is to train for the ski jump – skiers actually ski down jumps and do flips into the pool. That might be the only way you could get me on skis…

Atop the 120K Ski JumpWe then got to see the ski jumps from the actual Olympics – first from the bottom, and later from the top. We hopped on a shuttle bus, which took the road around the bobsled track (which is remarkably long) up to the top of it. We got to see where the luge, skeleton, and bobsled men’s competitions begin their races. We actually got to see a bobsled push off – full of paying tourists rather than training athletes, but still cool.

After the tour, Dave and I decided to do the alpine slide. We took a chair lift up to the top of the mountain, and then waited in line for about 45 minutes to get onto our toboggans. The ride lasted 5 minutes at most. It was pretty fun, but it would have been more fun if there weren’t so much “traffic”. Just before the second-to-last curve – just as we were getting the hang of it – we had to stop because there was a slow person stopped a few toboggans ahead. Oh, well.

Cross-Country Trip V, Day 12: Utah ~ Dinosaur National Monument

Jenn with dinosaurThe main feature of Dinosaur National Monument is a large quarry that has been excavated by archaeologists and now displays an impressive find of intact dinosaur skeletons found there.

Unfortunately, we were not able to see them.

The visitor center and the overlook to the dinosaur exhibit have been closed for renovation for months, and are scheduled to open in October. In the meantime, visitors aren’t able to see the dinosaur skeletons, and there is a temporary visitor center at the entrance to the park.

The ranger and the volunteers at the visitor center were very helpful, at least. They gave us great information about our campground, other activities to do in the park, and the ranger talk that currently substitutes for the usual fossil viewing.

A shuttle bus takes visitors to the trailhead for the “Discovery Trail“, which is a quick half-mile trail up to a rock face in which several dinosaur fossils are visible. During the renovation, a ranger gives a talk and a mini-tour of the fossils approximately every half hour. They only do this in the morning, though, until 1:15 pm. In the visitor center, they explained that the rangers giving the talk would complain of cruel and unusual punishment if they were required to be out in the desert heat through the afternoon. We were sympathetic to that.

FossilWe joined the ranger talk about 5-10 minutes into the “tour”, just as the ranger was pointing out some of the larger fossils embedded in the rock. We were able to see a femur, humerus, and some other pieces from what may have been one dinosaur. We also saw smaller pieces of various other dinosaurs. It was fairly interesting.

There was also a little side trail, which we walked up after the tour was over. There were some pretty cool quartz rocks on the side of the trail. While looking at some of the fossils and other features along this side trail, we made friends with a family who was also there. We ended up leap-frogging them down the trail, which was actually great, because the dad repeatedly asked the little girl to show us some of the things she had found.

Campground at Green RiverWe took the shuttle bus back to the temporary visitor center, got into our car, and drove to the campground. We found a nice shady spot not too far from the banks of the Green River, and had some lunch. We were visited by a very inquisitive chipmunk (which I couldn’t resist calling Alvin), but we chased him off before he grabbed our food.

There is a driving tour in this section of Dinosaur National Monument called “The Tour of the Tilted Rocks“. At the urging of the volunteer in the visitor center, we bought at 50-cent trail guide, which offered explanations for 15 marked spots around the park. We spent about an hour and a half driving around and looking at these various spots.

Petroglyphs in Dinosaur National MonumentSome were more interesting than others. Two spots featured petroglyphs from 1,000 years ago, carved into the “desert varnish” on some of the rock walls. They were quite good, especially a very large, well-defined lizard that could be seen from 100 yards away.

Josie Bassett Morris cabinPerhaps the coolest spot on the tour is the last “stop”. It is the homestead of Josie Morris, a woman who chose to build herself a ranch here in 1914, following her divorce. (Obviously this was before the land became part of the National Park Service.) The lived here until 1964, just before she died at age 90. She was a pretty amazing woman, living a 19th century lifestyle – by herself – so late into the 20th century. The cabin was fairly well intact (though empty), as was her lovely backyard.

After the driving tour, we returned to our campsite and chilled for a while until it got closer to sunset and the temperature started to cool down. We spent a little bit of time in the river, which was cold and swiftly flowing, but a refreshing contrast to the dry hot air.

We decided to hike the “Desert Voices” trail, the trailhead for which was at the boat ramp into the Green River. The guide billed the hike as a 2-mile hike, while the trailhead sign claimed that the hike was 1.5 miles. We later determined that the hike was probably 2.5 miles (which is a significant difference, when you’re ending the hike after sunset).

Deer skullWe had a little misadventure right at the beginning, though, which also added to our mile total. At the beginning of the trailhead, there are a few different little trails going in various direction. We got to a fork, which I thought might be the beginning of the loop. I said, “Left or right?” and Dave said, “Right.” So we headed up the trail to the right, which very quickly turned into a little rock climbing adventure. We got some beautiful views of Split Mountain and the Green River. We also saw a well-preserved deer carcass, complete with (separated) head. About 100 feet up, though, we started to doubt that this was the trail. The trail ahead was starting to look like switchbacks to nowhere. We decided we had better climb back down and return to where we had made the fateful “left or right” decision. Fortunately we were only off-track for about 15 minutes.

Once we took the left fork, we found the first interpretive signs for the trail, and learned that the loop didn’t fork until about a quarter mile into the hike. Hmm. Signs are helpful.

Setting Sun Shining Through the GrassThe hike was quite nice. The interpretive signs – some of which were specifically designed for children – were highly philosophical, featuring thought-provoking quotes by Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau. It invited thoughts about the importance of the desert, the value of silence, the relative value to society of preserving wilderness. They were pretty interesting.

The hike itself was lovely as well. It went along a wash at the bottom of a canyon for a while, then climbed along the side of some hills for a while, before turning back along the top of the butte and then back down.

Yampa Plateau at sunsetIn the meantime, the sun was setting and the sky was beautiful. About two-thirds of the way into the hike, the sun was basically gone, but the moon was big and bright and beautiful. There was just enough light to keep following the trail, and read those last few interpretive signs, as we finished and got back to our car.

Between our recent hike at Great Sand Dunes and this one, we decided that night hikes are pretty cool.

We went back to the campground and make burritos for dinner. The campground had filled up with campers, but they were reasonably quiet. We were particularly impressed by a large group across the way. When we saw that there were 10-12 tents set up, we lamented that it would probably be a long rowdy night. Instead, they were probably the quietest neighbors we’d had in several nights.

We watched the stars for a little while, noting a few shooting stars, and then headed into the tent for bed.