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Yeah, there’s a lot going on there, right? Looking at a title like this, you might feel convinced that our summer road trip has been a bust.
I can’t argue with that line of thinking. There’s not one thing on this list that sounds positive at all.
So you might be surprised to know that the first two weeks of our summer road trip have actually been a ton of fun. And two of Mother Nature’s natural disasters made us realize just how lucky we’ve been!
This trip has been keeping us so busy (in a good way) so I haven’t had much time to write about it along the way.
But I wanted to put together a post to fill you in on how the first part of our summer road trip has been going – where we went, what we’ve been doing, and what the heck all this weird stuff in the title is all about!
- Pushing off our summer road trip by heading west!
- Mount Rushmore, gold mining, and… a snowman?
- Yellowstone and the first big change of plans
- Bryce Canyon, one heckuva windy night and cold morning… with a thrown-out back
- Zion and another change of plans because of fire!
- Where does our summer road trip go from here?
Pushing off our summer road trip by heading west!
You might have already read about the changes we made on this year’s road trip based on what we learned from our big trip in 2020. One of the biggest of those changes is that we’re now pulling a small enclosed cargo trailer. This turned out to be a great decision and has made our lives on this summer road trip tremendously easier.
We’ve been able to easily sleep several nights in the car at Cracker Barrel, Walmart, and some dispersed camping areas. As you can imagine, it’s not as comfortable as a nice night’s sleep at a hotel, but we get enough hours to make it through the next day.
I’m currently typing this while we’re in Las Vegas. After we leave here, we start our trip back east. Here’s an updated map of where we’ve been and some stops we’re considering in the second half as well…
Most of what we wanted to see and do were during the first half of the trip. Some of the stops we have marked on the way back could very well change, too.
Here are some of the places we stopped and things we did along the way to Las Vegas.
Michael Jackson’s childhood home
On our first day, we headed out to South Bend. It allowed us to see a little bit of Notre Dame and a couple of other sites that I wanted to see for personal reasons.
We slept in a Cracker Barrel parking lot that night and it went well. We had done some grocery shopping previously so we made some sandwiches and got some appetizers from the restaurant. Getting the car set up as our bed worked well and we had a pretty good night’s sleep!
The next morning, we stopped to see the home where Michael Jackson grew up. I just happened to see this on Google Maps right near us so I thought it would be worth checking out. Our daughter Faith is a big fan of Michael’s music (as am I!) so, why not?
Staying with friends in Woodstock where Groundhog Day was filmed
Our next big stop on our summer road trip was to visit good friends of ours in Woodstock, IL. We stayed with them for a couple of nights and it was a great opportunity to catch up. We went to dinner one night and went out on the lake in my buddy’s boat for an afternoon.
What I didn’t know is that Woodstock, IL is also where they filmed most of the movie Groundhog Day. The recurring scene in the town square where the festivities take place and they see if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow… all filmed in Woodstock. So that was kind of neat to be able to see that.
The SPAM museum?
After our friend’s house, we spent a night in a Walmart parking lot in Austin, Minnesota. Just like our stay at Cracker Barrel a few days earlier, it went without a hitch. We bought a few things at Walmart, ate in the car, watched a movie, and called it a night.
The next day, we found another interesting stop to check out… the SPAM museum. No, I’m not talking about email spam – this is all about the SPAM, the food! As silly as it might sound, this museum was pretty fascinating and I’m glad we stopped there! You can check out some of the photos by flipping through them below…
The World’s Only Corn Palace?
After our SPAM museum visit, we wanted to do some tent camping but it was expected to rain quite a bit. It’s no fun camping in the rain let alone packing up a wet tent!
So we drove for a while and decided to stay for a couple of nights at a cabin. It was just a tiny place with a few beds and a desk in it. We had to use the public bathrooms and shower house but this worked well for what we wanted… just a couple of nights to relax a little.
As we pushed west from the cabin, we “had to” make another stop. There were signs all over the place for “The World’s Only Corn Palace” in Mitchell, South Dakota. Now, I don’t know about you, but there was something about the weirdness of this that we needed to check out.
It was ok. This wasn’t a place we’d ever go to again but it was still a little different so worth a quick stop.
Everyone and their brother kept telling us, “You gotta stop at Wall Drug along the way.” For some reason though, we never got more information on what it was.
Well, you’re definitely not going to miss finding this place. There’s one sign after another over and over again.
But we went and checked it out. It was a pharmacy at one point that’s grown exponentially over the years and now has become a tourist haven with a ton of souvenir stores all over the place.
The backstory is pretty cool, too. The couple who bought the place in 1931 struggled to get any foot traffic until the wife came up with a marketing idea. They had discovered a well and started offering free ice water and 5-cent coffee to anyone stopping. They put up billboards along the freeway on the way to the newly-opened Mount Rushmore at the time.
That was all they needed. The traffic started flowing in and over the years, it’s become quite the roadside attraction.
The whole area is one big novelty but it was a fun place to stop off for a little bit.
The first night of boondocking on this summer road trip
After Wall Drug, we needed a place to crash for the night. We decided to do some dry camping (no toilets, water, electricity, etc.) on public land. This is sometimes called boondocking and we like the price of $0 that we were paying for it!
Since we’re stopping off at hotels or campgrounds to shower here and there on this summer road trip, a night without water isn’t that big of a deal. We have plenty of water to drink, power banks for our phones, and even a portable toilet in the back of our trailer for, well, you know!
Mount Rushmore, gold mining, and… a snowman?
Mount Rushmore and some gold mining!
Next up, we made our way to Mount Rushmore. We stayed for a couple of nights at a cheap Super 8 hotel there that turned out to be a lot nicer than we expected.
More importantly, we got to take in the marvel called the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This was something that we’d never seen before and it’s truly amazing. The history of how the monument was built is super interesting, too.
If you scroll through the photos above, you’ll also see that we spent half a day doing some gold mining. This was at the Big Thunder Gold Mine with a discount we got through Groupon. This wasn’t some easy chore either. We had to take shovels, dig up dirt, load it into buckets, wheel it down to the river in a wheelbarrow, sift it, and then use a sluice box in the river to see what was left.
It was so much harder and more involved than we had anticipated so it felt really good to actually see some results… as tiny as those results might be. But in the end, we had a few flakes of real gold that we pulled out of the ground ourselves. How crazy is that?!
Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, and, more importantly… a snowman!
After we left, we stopped off briefly at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. I don’t really have too much to say about these places just because we didn’t stay too long at either one.
It was time to push toward Yellowstone. On our drive, we ended up in the mountains where there was still snow on the ground. We had to pull over.
It seemed a little surreal to be in short sleeves with the air conditioning blasting in the car on a summer road trip and then stepping outside to build a snowman. But that’s exactly what happened. Our hands were freezing as we made this beautiful creation that Faith decided to name “Sebastian the Snowman”…
Yellowstone and the first big change of plans
Yellowstone was really cool!
Initially, we planned to spend a fair amount of time in Yellowstone National Park. We were hoping to camp there in a tent for at least a few nights and maybe longer. But due to the high likelihood of storms and the expected overnight temps to be in the lower 40s, we finally decided not to do that. That was a hard decision for us to make a big letdown when we did.
So this summer road trip was only going to involve a day trip through Yellowstone. We’ll tent camp for a bunch of nights in Utah instead.
To our surprise, our Yellowstone day trip worked out well. Shortly after we arrived at the east entrance, we stopped at the Visitor Center and spoke with someone at the park. We had plans to head straight to Old Faithful and then do this and that after but she advised us otherwise.
Her suggestion on how to dodge the crowds involved doing the lower loop counter-clockwise and hitting Old Faithful later in the day. She also pointed out so many stops that we might have missed otherwise. Always hit the visitor center first, folks!
We followed her advice and it worked out great. We stopped at a bunch of great places in Yellowstone:
- Yellowstone Lake
- Yellowstone River
- Mud Volcano
- Dragon’s Mouth Spring
- Hayden Valley
- Canyon Village
- Norris Geyser Basin
- Old Faithful
- Grand Prismatic Spring
Then we backtracked on the loop and headed out the west entrance. Even though we were there for just a full day, I felt like we saw so many great sites there… nature is so amazing!
The decision not to camp in Yellowstone turned out to be a good one… insane flooding!
First, let me start by saying that this disaster affected a lot of folks. Our hearts go out to those whose lives have been turned upside down because of these events.
So for us, these events were just a blip on the radar for our summer road trip – so this is not a “woe is me” section. Regardless, here’s what happened.
The day after we left Yellowstone, the big flooding happened that’s been all over the news and shut down Yellowstone. We were extremely fortunate not to be there.
If we had sucked it up and tent-camped in that park, that could have been bad. The flooding that took place was horrific and it could cost billions and take years to rebuild from the damage.
Not only is that a crushing blow to the national park, but the nearby businesses that rely solely on tourism are going to have an extremely difficult road ahead.
Bryce Canyon, one heckuva windy night and cold morning… with a thrown-out back
Almost every hotel we’ve booked on this trip we’ve done through Priceline. The same goes for our last summer road trip. I continue to compare prices to other apps/sites and Priceline wins almost every single time… and usually by a good amount of money.
So I had booked an inexpensive Hampton Inn just north of Idaho Falls, Idaho after Yellowstone. That turned out to be a lucky roll of the dice because our room was huge and super nice!
Anyway, as we’d stop at hotels, I’ve been trying to fit in a workout whenever I can. They had a nice gym there so I did my thing… except I think I pushed it too far. My back didn’t feel so good later that night, but by the time I woke up the next morning, I was useless.
I get back pain pretty routinely but this was the worst I’ve ever hurt. I could barely even move.
So the onus was on Lisa and Faith to load up the car and trailer with everything that morning. Even simply sitting in the car as we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park was unbelievably painful. Ugh!
We got to Bryce though and holy !@#$ – the views here are breathtaking and give the Grand Canyon a run for its money!
That night, we did some more dispersed camping (see the photos in the pics above) and it became so windy that it was hard to even get anything done. Cooking on the propane stove wasn’t going to happen so it just became sandwiches in the car for dinner.
The girls handled most everything on getting the bed set up in the back of the Honda Pilot and everything moved around. I was completely useless because of my back and hated just sitting there while they did everything. But I took an Aleve with dinner and felt slightly better shortly after. It still made for an uncomfortable and painful night trying to sleep in the back of the Honda but it is what it is!
We woke up the next morning to temps that were so cold all I could think about was how I wanted to be back in Panama! It was in the mid-30s and just not fun at all.
But when a herd of cows came over, hung out, and passed by our setup (literally within a few feet), it was hard not to start smiling and laughing. THAT was unexpected!
Zion and another change of plans because of fire!
Our plans of staying for several nights and tent camping in Utah weren’t happening either. The nights were simply too cold for that.
The problem was that we had another week before the 5-night hotel reservations we had scheduled in Las Vegas. And changing these nights was going to be difficult because they were free nights and the date selections to even get these back-to-back were extremely lucky.
So we decided to buy some time and visit our good friends, Steve and Courtney, who were going to be in Flagstaff, Arizona right around this time. Yes, it’s out of the way, but our choices were becoming limited. Besides, it would be great to see them for a few days.
So we first went through Zion National Park since Lisa wanted to check that one out. I hate to say it, but I wasn’t impressed at all. Sure, it’s beautiful in general, but it’s nothing compared to Bryce Canyon.
Then we started heading toward Flagstaff. We were informed by my in-laws though that wildfires were happening there. Another disaster going on? Please don’t follow us anywhere – you’re taking your life into your own hands!
As I said with Yellowstone, our hearts go out to anyone affected by this disaster as well.
I called the hotel we had booked there and they said the fires were north of them and the winds were blowing it northeast so we should be fine.
But our GPS mapping program we use, Waze, had changed our route completely due to closures because of the fires. Essentially, it had us passing directly through Vegas.
We drove toward Vegas but kept talking about it… this was silly. So we would be going to Vegas, driving 3 hours from there to Flagstaff (with the wildfires going on), driving 3 hours back to Vegas after our visit, and then driving right through Flagstaff again as we continued with our road trip? All with insanely high gas prices?
We changed our plans. We stayed overnight in Vegas at an extremely cheap Days Inn hotel (booked again through Priceline). And while we were there, I contacted the MGM Rewards folks and explained our dilemma. The host was fantastic and she was able to make some changes and slide our days over almost perfectly. We had an additional cost of $38 for one of these reserved nights (a Saturday stay) but that was a no-brainer.
And that, folks, has led to us staying in Vegas for a total of 8 nights! It’s been a long time but we’ve had a lot of fun here – I’ll save that for another post soon! Of course, we gotta get out of here soon – a major fire just tore up several buildings near Fremont Steet. What the heck is going on?!
Where does our summer road trip go from here?
That’s simple… we continue with the summer road trip and enjoy it.
I’m typing this from our comped room in Las Vegas right now (I’ll write about that in another post soon as well). It’s hot here, too – it’s been in the 100’s. Don’t tell me it’s a dry heat either… it’s hot! We’ll be leaving here soon and our trip will continue east.
Fingers crossed Mother Nature decides to ease up a little on the way back toward Ohio… and maybe we’ll even get to do some tent camping at some point on the journey!
I’ll keep you posted!
You can read our entire 2022 summer road trip series here:
- Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes
- Our Summer Road Trip So Far… Mother Nature’s Vengeance!
- On the Road: The Wrap-Up and Some Fun Stats!
How’s your summer going so far?
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!