Saturday, July 17, 2021

National Parks Road Trip 2021

 Good Friday All!

Oh gosh you guys...Just got in last night around midnight from the most wonderful road trip.  We so needed this.  Just to get up and get out and see the country.  The last two trips over the last two years have been cancelled due to Covid.  So we were ready!

Please note this blog is long.  You may want to skip around to the sections of interest or just sit down and read through all of it.  Up to you...Just hope it may be of some help.

Today, I'm missing the cooler weather as I mow, weed whack and get the house back in order.  So Hot! 

 It seems like there was a lot of interest on our road trip to see as many National Parks as we could.  So I'm sitting down adding some things to My Maps to update it as we did make a few changes along the way.  Our goal was simply to get out of the house and head toward Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. That's where I started.  Then I found out about My Maps.  My Maps is Google Maps but just  individualized into where you want to go.  I had to Youtube it about ten times before I finally how to add things to the itinerary.  BUT WOW!  it so helped as I was trying to see what the driving time would be between each stop so I could then plug in places to stop along the way.  It's a cool app and it's free.  Just need to have a Google account.  

In the map with the pin drops is where we drove to.  Under each state I places the following: The "bed" icon shows the hotels.  The "Binoculars" are sightseeing, The "hiking" icons is again hiking/sightseeing.

If this works right, I believe you can click on the various things mentioned above.

Just a note about hotels...We tried to do this inexpensively.  I really tried to keep in mind that we are only in the hotel for a short while and it didn't matter how the room looked as long as it was clean and tidy. Rooms during the summer and ski season are EXPENSIVE!  I tried to set my budget daily for around 175.00/night.  Well...Sometimes that worked but most times it didn't.   The one true disappointment was the Super 8 in Driggs, Id...What a dump and it was the most expensive out of all the hotels.  The second was surely not as bad as the Super 8 but it really needs better management and some love poured back into it...Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs.  It could be something or shall I say was something one day and again it could be such a special hotel.  I will say, the restaurant there...Rustler's Steakhouse...OMG!!!  The most amazing things came out of that kitchen not only for dinner but what a wonderful breakfast.  Meals are non inclusive.  I found the Hyatt and Marriott hotel chains had really good deals, wonderful breakfast, clean, neat and organized.

Gas prices climbed the higher we went up into the nation.  Sure as spit, they came down as we drove to more southern destinations toward home.  The highest we paid I believe was $4.15/gallon. But we saw it as high as $4.58/gallon.  So be aware of that.  OH, and also be aware that a lot of these places on the map have gas stations far and few between.  So when you see a station fill up!  At least that what we did.

Back to My Maps...or the itinerary...Let me see if I can pull up a link...OK, here it is below:

So, a run down of the places that may be of interest that we visited.

Our National Parks Road Trip 2021

First allow me to start with the America the Beautiful National Park Annual Pass.  It's $80.00 for the year.  Y'all this saved us so much cashola!  We went to what over 9 National Parks and with out the pass, it's $30.00 to $35.00 per carload at each and every park.  So it really is soooo worth the 80 Bucks!  PLEASE sign the back of the card as soon as you get it.  I found it was a BIG deal at each and every gate.  So just sign it so you wont have any hassle. 

 Please Note: There is no charge to enter Mount Rushmore.  However, there is a $10.00 Parking fee that can be paid by machine either int he parking garage or just as you enter the monument.  Also, if you decide to visit Crazy Horse, which is a short drive from Mount Rushmore, there is a charge.

Here's a link to purchase the America The Beautiful Pass:

Our first day was a direct drive from Granger, Texas to Carlsbad, NM to go to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  We arrived late afternoon.  We checked into the hotel and then drove out to Carlsbad, Caverns to check out where we needed to go the next day for our appointed 9:30 tour.  We were surprised by how many people were there after the Visitors Center closed that night.  It was the Bat Flight.  Well worth seeing.  Please note you need reservations to view the cavern.  Wear some good traction footwear and my cell phone flashlight I found handy when in the cave.

Then it was on to BEAUTIFUL Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico...We had a blast here...So much to see and do.  I found Albuquerque to be an exciting city contrasting with Santa Fe which is sooo laid back.  Both are beautiful.   Be sure to wake up early and look out the windows at the hot air balloons! 

 I highly recommend the Sandia Peak Tram in Albuquerque and the Petroglyphs National Monument.

The Chaco Hotel's Roof Top Bar and Restaurant for dinner and drinks (AMAZING) and for a gastronomical treat as well as visually stimulating experience...Sawmill Market again, AMAZING!!  

In Santa Fe we enjoyed a visit to the beautiful Loretto Chapel to view the Miraculous Staircase, viewed the wonderful native American jewelry in front of the Palace of the Governors, Grabbed a fabulous cup of coffee from the Pastry Shop at La Fonda (Remind me to stay here next time we visit.  What a COOL hotel! WOW!!!)

 And of course a visit to Meow Wolf before we headed back to Albuquerque for the night.  OH GOSH!  Have breakfast at The Range at least once in Albuquerque.  SO INCREDIBLE!  I'd split it!  The portions are HUGE!


Next up was a drive to Cortez, NM to Mesa Verde National Park. Make sure you make reservations early to have a guided tour.  I waited for the day I could make the reservation in the morning and they were gone an hour later.  I missed out as I didn't think about the time change to mountain time.  UGGH!   So be Johnny on the spot the morning of!  It's like one of those crazy online auctions.  CLICK the button fast and early.  HOWEVER, we had an absolute blast going to Step House...Open without a guided tour.  It's not for the faint hearted walk wise.  But then I'm not in the best shape. Such a cool place.  So much to see.


Off to Moab, Utah!  What an awesome place all of Utah is!  Words just cant describe the beauty and diversity.  


WOWWIE!  Arches is the BEST!  That's all I have to say!  Monumental!


Next, it was a quick drive over to Canyonlands National Park.  If you don't do anything else, go to the visitors center, park your car and go across the street to view the canyon.  It will BLOW your mind.  It's EPIC!!!


The next day was a pretty good drive from Moab, UT to Midway Utah.  Our goal was to get as close to Salt Lake as possible.  However, we chose to stay outside of Salt Lake in the most gorgeous little city called Midway, Utah!  I so highly recommend the hotel/resort we stayed at.  The price was great and the rooms clean and organized.  This is not a modern looking hotel but a Bavarian, romantic, cozy mountain hotel.  It's Zermatt Utah Hotel and Resort.  No free breakfast here, but the restaurants are AMAZING...Traditional finer dining room, a BBQ restaurant and a Bakery that makes FANTASTIC pastry and Starbucks coffee drinks!  We opted for the pulled pork plate and split it...There was enough for four people really.  SO SO good!  The hotel has regular hotel rooms and looks like little Villa's for folks who were staying awhile.  I so wished we were.  Will definitely come back here.


We drove through Provo and up to Salt Lake City to see Temple Square which was mainly under construction and then onwards most of the day through the rolling hills of Idaho.  Then we landed at the Super 8 in Driggs...Ugggh!  This was THE most expensive area.  All around Yellowstone.  Be prepared to pay anywhere between $300.00 to 700.00 per night!  Crazy Expensive!



We woke in the morning had breakfast and got in the car and headed through the wonderful and enchanting city of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and then up into the southern entrance of Grand Teton Nation Park.  I know I've said, glorious, amazing, enchanting, awesome, breathtaking in this post, but this was all of them put together.  What fun we had pulling over at all the...well, pullovers and seeing all the beauty along the route.  We headed straight up as the park road leads right into the southern gate to Yellowstone.  We headed to the west area of the park which believe it or not was in Montana.  There are lots of pull overs to see different geysers including the illustrious Old Faithful.  I've wanted to see this my whole life and I finally had the opportunity!  Yahooo!  We left through the west entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana and drove about and 1-1/2 back down to Driggs, Idaho.  In hindsight, we should have booked a hotel near the west entrance in Montana.  It would have made everything work better.  That way you could do the reverse of what we did and visit Yellowstone then through Grand Tetons to Jackson Hole to get on the highway to Central Wyoming.  

Isn't that a pretty place in our beautiful nation?


 As we were driving to Mount Rushmore as our next big National Park, we decided to take advantage and drive to Devils Tower, Wyoming to see The Devils Tower National Monument.  I'm so glad we did.  What an amazing rock formation.  It literally juts up out of the ground.  So so cool!  Close Encounters of the Third Kind Folks!


We finally made it to Rapid City, South Dakota for a couple of days.  Great Hotel close to everything.  We arrived later that night and enjoyed the hotel grounds which included a waterpark.  It was fun to just relax and watch the kiddos having a great time on the waterslides.  The next morning we were up and out of there to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Mount Rushmore was packed you guys.  So be prepared for "Christmas shopping crowds" but worth the view to see the monument.  Another one of my bucket list items....CHECK

Next, it was over to the Crazy Horse Monument.  I really enjoyed the museum and of course the monument.  This is not covered with your America the Beautiful Annual pass.  $30.00 per car.

Then it was over to Badlands National Park.  Where grassy plains end up to be limestone canyons.  Just something!

Then it was a trip to Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota...You gotta go!  It's the biggest tourist trap in America.  So fun!  It's huge! Fantastic Burger and Shake Evah!  There is something for everyone.  Including that free glass of Ice Cold Water!


By this time we had gone as far north and east as we were going to.  It was time to head back down south.  Rocky Mountains National Park.  You GET TO go through Estes Park to get there.  What a marvelous drive y'all!  I could do it again everyday!  Such a beautiful place.  Again, kind of cozy and romantic seeing all the log cabins, and lodges nested at the bottom of the mountains with a river running in front.  So jealous of these folks!  OK, back to the park...Now folks, they are working on the park road here.  It is not paved and very bumpy!  This is where I wish I had brought my truck.  But...So worth the bumps though!  This park was breathtaking!


We headed down towards Denver, Colorado.  Honestly, we were wanting to spend as much time in Colorado Springs, Colorado so we made a rush trip into downtown Denver to see the Unsinkable Molly Brown House.  Then it was off to Colorado Springs for a couple of days.


We decided to cool our jets for a couple of days and re-explore Colorado Springs, Colorado.  I had taught here a couple of times in the past and had the opportunity to see a few things.  Just a fun little town.  There is a cog railroad which we didn't take this time.  But it was so fun and a delight!  It had rained most of the day so we went to two HUGE antique marketplaces they have here.  I'm not talking huge...I'm talking HUUGGGEEE!!!  I had so much fun and bless Cesar for sticking in there until I went down every aisle.  AND...we got to have lunch at my very favorite Mexican food place...Mi Mexico!  Go check it out!  So scrumptious!

Next day it was over to Garden of the Gods.  Another amazing achievement by Mother Nature.  Such a wonderful park to get out and see nature and the rock formations.  The Indian Trading Post is a great souvenir shop brimming full of cool trinkets, shirts, amazing original art, jewelry and other hand crafted goodies, and a great little cafe in the back.  We then drove to Manitou Springs, Colorado.  Another place I want to go back and stay and explore.  I don't know if it was the overcast rainy day, but I immediately felt like I was in a mountain town and it was cold outside and I had found a cafe to sip a hot chocolate.  That kind of place.  Again, I want to come back here in the fall when the air is nippy and explore.

Manitou Springs, Co.

It was at this point, I started to miss home and my pups!  There was just this pang of,  I'm ready to go home.  We had such a great time and wonderful journey.  We saw so many amazing things, places I had always wanted to see and also left some treasures to uncover for next time.  It was homeward bound back to Texas.

We decided to just drive all the way through.  We left at 8:00 a.m. Mountain Time from Colorado Springs, Colorado and arrived home in Granger, Texas just about midnight.  Yahooo!

Again, I hope you may have picked up some helpful information and a few tips.  If you are on the quest for a road trip in the future, I hope you have a safe and fun time!

The Gentleman Crafter