The Long Way Home

May, 2016
By Jack Welsch

After a magnificent winter in Sun City, we set off for the drive home.  When we decided to winter here, we agreed that we'd avoid the TSA nonsense and use the opportunity to see part of the US that we'd missed.  The planning for this trip from AZ to PA centered on "knocking off" my 50th state, Utah. With that in mind, we agreed to visit the Hopi reservation (AZ), then Monument Valley, Arches Nat'l Park and Canyonlands Nat'l Park (UT) and Grand Teton Nat'l Park (WY) before dashing for home in time for our grandson, Julian's, college graduation.

Saturday, May 7, 2016 – Sun City to Kayenta, AZ

We were both up early, finished shutting down the house, said goodbye to John & Pat and were on the road a few minutes after 8. Weriginally planned to just grab breakfast at McD’s but then figured we’d have time for Mimi’s Café. Part way there I remembered it was Saturday and, as I feared, people were stacked up waiting to be seated so we ended up at a McD’s anyway! We were headed up 75th Ave before 9:00.

The Hopis have long fascinated me, partly because of their colorful and artistic katsina (AKA kachina) dolls. A visit was definitely called for. Our route was north on I-17 to Flagstaff, then East on I-40 to Winona, after which it was a delightful drive through the boondocks to Second Mesa in the Hopi reservation. Their reservation is an island in the center of the Navajo nation. We had lunch at the Hopi Cultural Center, then browsed through the attached shops. My lunch was called Tsili’Ongava and was essentially beans and hamburger cooked up together but much waterier than chili. There was also chopped green chilis to be added. I added them all and it was still not as spicy as I’d have liked.

Everyone was amazingly friendly and I bought a small pot in one of the shops. In another, a woman suggested we stop at Orayvi village on Third Mesa to look around but to first “check in” at Hamana So-oh’s gift shop. We stopped at the shop and talked to other vendors outside but decided against a walk through the village; it was pretty dismal. Here again, though, everyone was really nice.

The woman in the shop in Second mesa had also suggested we stop at Hotevilla to see the katsina dancing. Unfortunately, the place was absolutely mobbed. There was no place to park and the crowds were such that it was unlikely we’d have seen anything anyway so, reluctantly, we split.

Unfortunately, photos of the places we visited were prohibited so all I have are some landscapes and my memories.

Leaving the Hopi reservation, we headed for Kayenta via tuba City. The entire ride, from shortly after Winona to Kayenta was fantastic; amazing and varied vistas. I stopped a few times for pictures but they are not likely to tell the tale and, had I stopped for every beautiful shot, we’d never have made the hotel.

We spend the night at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta and, amazingly, they have a restaurant and a very nice gift shop. Lin had salmon and I fajitas. Not outstanding but not bad, either. No alcohol, though, since we were still on the Navajo reservation. The trials of life on the road!

We set the clocks ahead an hour since the Navajo nation uses DST while the rest of Arizona does not. When I started to prepare for bed, I remembered clearly that I’d put my pajamas back in my night stand in Sun City. Brilliant move!

I went back to the gift ship to see if maybe they had a workout suit or some such that I could press into service. They did not, of course. I asked where I might find something like a Walmart. The answer I got was, “Depending on which direction you head in, it’s 3-4 hours away!”

Doing an internet search, I discovered that the first time I’d be close to even a Walmart would be Tuesday and we could not find an alternative. Damn!

Sunday, May 8, 2016 - Kayenta, AZ to Moab, UT

With the time change, I awoke about 7:15 to see that it was mostly cloudy and had rained during the night.

By the time we ate breakfast and got on the road at about 9, it had started to clear and the short drive to Monument Valley was beautiful.  We paid the $20 entrance fee and stopped first at the visitor’s center to use the restrooms and take some overview pictures from its high position.  Leaving there, we took the dirt, 17-mile loop road.  The road was pretty good for the most part but had a few spots that seemed rough to Lin.  Compared to those I experienced in Kajo Keji, however, the roads were fantastic! 

Monument valley is even more magnificent than I’d hoped.  There are numerous places to stop to take pictures of the stunning formations. Had I been using a film camera, I’d have been broke!  By the time we made the loop it was almost noon and we decided to eat at “The ViewWest & East Mittensrestaurant in the visitor’s center.  As we parked, a tour bus was unloading so we dashed through the shop to the restaurant while the tourists were shopping and using the restrooms.  Consequently, we had a table by the window overlooking West and East Mittens, probably the most recognizable of the formations.  The meal was so-so but the view made it a great experience.  It’s worth saying that the motel at the visitors’ center looked pretty good and the views from the rooms would be fantastic at sunset; we need to research it for our next visit.

Leaving Monument Valley, we drove directly to the Hampton in Moab, Utah, stopping only for gas in Bluff.  We got to the room at about 4 and, thankfully, the desk clerk told Linda we could get pajamas at Shopko just down the road.  Shopko was amazing; they sold just about everything imaginable.  With that purchase out of the way, we chilled in the room.

Unfortunately, we’d neglected to figure Mother’s Day into our dinner plans and struck out at both Jeffrey’s Steak House and Desert Bistro.  We ended up at the Blue Pig.  The food was simple but tasty and the ribs were really meaty.  There was WAY more food than we could eat, though. 

Having learned a lesson, we made reservations for Jeffrey’s for tomorrow before heading to bed.

Monday, May 9, 2016 - Moab, UT

I was up at 7:30 and read while Lin slept.  The sky, sadly, was totally cloudy.  Fortunately, by the time we had breakfast it had started to clear and it was nice when we got on the road at about 9:30. When we got to Arches Nat’l Park there was a line about half way from entrance station to the highway but by the time we got through the gate and started the climb up the mountain switchbacks, we could see that it extended out to the highway. 

Arches is absolutely fantastic and I stopped innumerable times for photos.  Lin mostly stayed in the car and I sometimes walked a bit to a viewpoint.  At the Delicate Arch viewpoint, Lin came with me to the “Lower Viewpoint” but then waited in the car while I slugged my way to the upper one.  It was tough going but worth it both for the view and the experience. 

It was almost 1:00 by the time we left the park and we figured we’d grab lunch on the road while driving to Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky but had no such luck.  As a result, we just munched on some snacks.  Starting at the Islands in the Sky visitors’ center, the vistas were amazing.  These canyons are WAY bigger than I’d imagined. We drove all to the Grand View Point Overlook without stopping and then stopped at the many viewpoints on the way back. This park was really something to see.

Back in Moab, I parked on Center Street and we strolled around town a bit, buying 2 place mats at one shop.

Dinner was at Jeffrey’s Steak House and was delightful.  Watched TV a bit before bed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 - Moab, UT to Idaho Falls, ID

I was up at 7:20 and Lin shortly thereafter.  After breakfast at the hotel, we were on the road at about 9:00.  This was strictly a travel day.  Grabbed lunch at a Wendy’s in Spanish Fork, UT and arrived at the Hampton in Idaho Falls. ID at about 4:00.  Most of the drive was pretty but some not terribly so.  Traffic was fairly heavy through Salt Lake but not unbearable.  We experienced some rain in Idaho but most of the rain we saw were squalls in the distance.

We stayed at a Hampton near Grand Teton mall and had a delightful dinner at “The Cellar”.  There, we were greeted by owner Brian Hewett who gave us a tour of the restaurant so we could choose where we wanted to eat. We chose one of the small, more formal dining rooms and, since it was chilly, he lit the fireplace for us.  The meal and service were both very good. 

We got to bed at about 9.

Wednesday, May 12, 2016 - Idaho Falls, ID to Jackson, WY

I slept poorly and was up early, then read while Lin slept.  We were on the road about 7:30 and drove through Teton Pass. I’d been concerned about snow in the pass, especially after the previous day’s bad weather but needn’t have worried; we enjoyed clear skies and a beautiful ride.  There was still a fair bit of snow at the pass but the road itself was clear. 

Not knowing any better, we entered the Grand Teton National Park at the Granite Canyon entrance and drove for 20 miles before finding ourselves exiting again.  We then re-entered at the nearby Moose entrance only to find that we'd missed the visitors center, which is outside.  So, went back out again to the visitor’s center.  It was all very confusing.

At the center, we bought a shirt for me and a necklace for Lin.  The clerk convinced us to support the park by buying a family membership to The Grand Teton Association. The fee and resulting discount about cancelled but I got a free hat and a chance to support the park.

At recommendation of the store clerk, we took US191 northbound outside the park first. We’d planned to continue on to the south entrance of Yellowstone but that entrance was still closed from the winter.  We went as far as Coulter Bay,then headed south again along the Teton Park Road, stopping at Signal Mountain Lodge for lunch.  Once again, I stopped innumerable time for pics.

Back in Jackson, we checked in at the Rusty Parrot Lodge, which Linda had found online. It was absolutely delightful; nice property and amazingly friendly staff.  At the suggestion of Jay, who was serving as bellman, we drove to the Elk Preserve where we saw lots of whistle pigs and bighorn sheep but no elk.  Nice ride and mountain view, though.

Stopped in town and shopped near Jackson Town Square. At Jackson Hole Jewelry we bought earrings to match the neckless we’d bought at the visitors’ center.

Upon our return to the Lodge, we sat on the deck with a bit of wine. Lin eventually went to lie down while I stayed out there to read.  I also talked to a guy who was working on a patent during off hours as he was driving his father from Palm Desert to MN. 

Dinner was in the Wild Sage dining room at the Lodge.  Both of us had lamb and it was great.  Seated next to us was my patent friend and his father so we got talking to them.  We had had a fair bit in common and really enjoyed talking to them  The father had had a remarkable career and we talked so much (a lot of it somewhat technical) that Lin eventually excused herself and went to bed.

Thursday, May 12, 2016 - Jackson, WY to North Platte, NE

I slept a bit better but was still up at 6:30. Had breakfast in the dining room and were on the road by about 8:30. Knowing that we'd be on I-80 for EONS, rather than head south directly for it, we headed north on Rt. 26 towards Dubois.  That it put us in front of the Tetons again and the sky was CAVU (Ceiling and visibility unlimited) so I got some great pix.  It was a beautiful ride over a Togwotee Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide at 9,658 feet.  Back at “normal” elevations, we carried in through the plains on a 2-lane road with a 70 MPH speed limit. There was virtually no population and little traffic.  Lunch was at McD’s in Rawlins where we picked up I-80. We dealt with traffic and construction on and off but it was not terrible.  Stopped at Hampton in North Platte, NE and had dinner at Whiskey Creek nearby.

Friday, May 13, 2016 - North Platte, NE to Portage, ID

Slept until 7:15 and set off in nice weather but after a few hours the rain started and increased until it was torrential.  All in all, the drive was horrible, made more so by an accident on I-80 near Gary that had things at a virtual standstill.  I’d chosen Portage, ID as a halfway station between North Platte and home and because it was past Chicago and Gary.    From what we saw, Portage is not the greatest place in the world. 

We were both haggard after the grueling drive and wanted to just grab something close to the hotel.  There was a Denny’s across the street but we were not THAT desperate.  Just up the road was a place called Shenanigans but we were not favorably impressed so beat a hasty retreat.  Ended up at a Longhorn a little over a mile away.  I’m not terribly fond of Longhorn but we both had lamb chops and they were absolutely outstanding! We stayed at a Best Western Plus and treated ourselves to a suite.  Not too bad.

Saturday, May 14, 2016 – Portage, IN to home

We were up early, grabbed breakfast in the hotel and were on the road at 7:20.  I made a wrong turn getting on I-80 and ended up headed west rather than east so had to loop around and start over.  The error cost me 10 minutes and rather set the tone for the day.  I’d hoped the weather would be better but I was to be disappointed. We had some pretty good weather and even a bit of sun but for the most part it was rainy and sometimes torrentially so.  Construction across IN and OH was incessant so, coupled with the traffic and rain, it made for a “wonderful” drive. PA construction wasn’t quite as bad, though, and by the time we got close to Danville we ran out of rain. 

At about 6:30, we stopped at the dollar store in Moscow for something to eat for breakfast. After stopping by the house to turn the water on, etc., we went to Elmhurst Country Club for dinner.  Unfortunately, there was a Holy Communion party going on with a DJ playing horrible “music” at deafening volume.  Even in the restaurant, the noise was awful.  Perfect end to a perfect day.

I usually end these journals by saying it’s good to be home.  Not this time; it’s cold here and I want to go back to Arizona!!!

I enjoy creating my own pages but one of the limitations is space for pictures. If you want to see a map and many more pix from this trip, check out my blog on TravBuddy.