Usually we plan our road trips a bit more in advance, but when opportunities present themselves, sometimes you just have to take them.
This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.
We already had a trip to Las Vegas planned, because my work had a big summit there. But about halfway through getting ready to catch our flights, we realized we had a chance to turn it into a road trip. So at about 10am on a Friday we canceled our flights, rearranged our day, and got started.
Day 1: Vancouver, WA to Prineville, OR (155 miles)
I fought rush hour traffic to get the kids and dogs dropped off, then went back home and got started packing. We didn’t even begin the real trip until about 5pm.
We found a nice little gem for dinner: the Skyway Bar & Grill in Zigzag (try the truffled cheese grit cake, you’ll be transformed). Then we tried to get through as much road as possible before stopping. We made it to Prineville just after dark, and booked the very last room at the Rustlers Inn, which is super kitschy, charming, clean, and comfortable.
Day 2: Prineville, OR to Ely, NV (620 miles)
This was going to be a long day, so we got started early. We munched our leftover dinner for a quick breakfast, and made some coffee using the Blue Bottle/Timbuk2 travel hipster-pourover kit that Gridium had given me for Christmas the year before. Pretty sure it was the best cup of coffee in Prineville that day. Thanks, Gridium!
One of the things that flavors the memory of this trip was the audio book we listened to on the way. Probably most people reading this have heard of the movie The Martian, where NASA spends untold billions of dollars rescuing Matt Damon. Well, that story was a book first, and the reading done by R. C. Bray is just perfect, and a great way to keep your mind occupied on a long drive.
This was also when we fell in love with our Jeep all over again. We got the one with the diesel engine, which means it has a huge tank, and gets 25-30 miles to the gallon. We put about $50 into the tank on this day, and it was over 600 miles. The audio system is great, the cruise control can adjust speed to avoid crashing into other cars, and it’s just really comfortable.
We picked up a convenience-store lunch and ate on the road. We passed the Mailheur wildlife reserve (which had lately been in the news), and saw some fields that had been deliberately flooded to make a habitat for migrating sandhill cranes. We snapped an Instagram at the Nevada border, and instantly got a ❤️ from the casino 100 yards down the road.
We did a bit of research when we had network service, and discovered that there’s a motel in the town of Ely that is made up like a jail house. In fact, that’s its name: the Jailhouse Casino/Motel, and the rooms are cells, and the restaurant inside has booths that are behind actual bars. Not something we can really pass up. We got there around 6, and sat down for classic steakhouse fare. We went for a walk around town afterwards, and got stopped on the street by two guys with a microphone asking questions. So now our voices are on an episode of the Van Sounds podcast.
We went to bed around 9. Don’t worry, Ely is on Pacific time.
Day 3: Ely, NV to Page, AZ (360 miles)
We got up early due to noisy neighbors, and roused ourselves for the “continental” breakfast. It was pretty sad, we were the only people there under the age of 60, and it might have been called the “continence” breakfast for the other patrons’ conversational topics. At least we had good coffee.
It got cold enough overnight that the car was frosted. We went for a cold daylight walk around town, and discovered lots of murals, but also some confirmation of our impression the night before: this town is 10% sparkle, and 50% run-down and closed. We grabbed gas and some better breakfast on our way out of town.
Halfway across the state, we made one of the best stops we’ve ever made: Cathedral Gorge State Park.
We crossed into Utah, and over the Black Mountains, but didn’t have time to stop at Zion or Bryce Canyon. It was Easter weekend anyways, so those places were going to be mobbed. But someday we’ll be back, and we’ll bring the kids. Our scenery was great anyways, though.
We made it to Page around 5, stopping on our way into town to gape at the huge Glen Canyon Dam holding back Lake Powell, then found our unique lodgings (post forthcoming!) after some Mexican food and giant margaritas. We crossed time zone boundaries something like 6 times, because while Nevada is on the same time as Portland, Utah is on Mountain time, and while most of Nevada observes daylight-savings time, the Navajo reservation (where we stayed that night) doesn’t. So we never knew what time it was.
Day 4: Page, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ (210 miles)
After breakfast, we packed up and drove a bit out of the way to find this place that had been completely covered with people when we drove past it the night before: Horseshoe Bend. When you get to the cliff, there’s no guardrail, so I got sweaty watching Becky sit two feet from a thousand-foot sheer drop to the river below.
We also stopped at Waterhole Canyon, a little-known slot canyon just south of Horseshoe Bend. We had hoped for a bit of light hiking, but it was too steep for Becky to get into with her hip injury, so we settled for a couple of photos from the top and carried on.
Now that we had a bit more time, we decided to detour and see the Grand Canyon! We went straight there, stopped for a picnic lunch, saw the lookout tower, and then balked when we saw the crowds at the visitor center. We’ll bring the kids back in the off-season.
From there we headed south, out of the park, to our planned lodging for the night in Flagstaff. This was a light driving day, so we had a chance to really explore the northern, non-college, historic part of town, which was pretty nice. At this point we had finished the audiobook version of The Martian, and watched the movie in our room. It was pretty good, but the book was way better.
To be continued…