Diggin' Mandi

Nine States in Nine Days: An American Road Trip

Nine States in Nine Days:

Road Trip in the U.S.A.

 

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore. It was a foggy day, but the ol’ chaps were still visible.

The United States is a huge chunk of land. So, for those who are wanting to visit the States, don’t be surprise when you realize how much time you are going to need just to travel a fifth of it! Granted, a person can take flights to get to their destinations a little faster, but when doing so you will be missing out on so much the country has to offer.

So, any trip less than a month will leave one rushed the whole time. Take me and two buddies for instance – we traveled nine States in nine days. This was no easy feat. Although the trip was AMAZING, it was non-stop GO! Keep reading, you’ll see what I mean.

picture of me and two friends

Three silly gals being silly.

…And we’re off!!

When my good friend, Jaimee, who is from Australia, told me she was coming to the States for Holiday, I think I was more excited than she was. Instantly, I started researching options for her and I to do together. Ideally, I wanted to road trip with her for the three weeks she was here. Sadly, she was coming during the field season on my end which meant I was going to have to miss work if I wanted to make this happen.

Fortunately, it worked out to where I was going to have a full week of work off due to a break between archaeology projects. So, I told her I was going to commit to at least seven days of her twenty-one day American adventure!

So now I had to start planning an epic trip for her.

She had main destinations she wanted to visit – LA, Las Vegas, Minnesota (because I live there), Chicago, Niagara Falls, New York City, New Orleans, and Texas. With that in mind, I decided to join her at the beginning of her trip in Las Vegas. From there we would make our way to Minnesota where I would say goodbye and she would venture on East and South.

I knew she was flying into Los Angeles. Since her time was limited, I encouraged her not to spend too much time there for it is really a letdown for most and to head to Vegas as soon as she could. During that time, I would be making my way in my car to her to meet her in Vegas.

What really added to the trip is my best friend, Krissi, was able to come along for the adventure! She was going to be my copilot for the journey to Las Vegas from Minnesota, and then some!

Day One: Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado.
Total miles: 1175. States: 4.
Silly smiles with coffee mug.Sorry, Terrie, I stole your favorite coffee mug. Krissi and I still trying to wake up after the sun woke up.

Sorry, Terrie, I stole your favorite coffee mug. Krissi and I still trying to wake up after the sun woke up.

Krissi and I begin our journey at 3:00 A.M. in the morning. We were both tired and needed coffee. We found out real quick that we have a great love for Loves truck stops! Conversation was great and before we knew it, the sun was coming up! I choose the early start time because if all went according to plan, we would miss rush hour traffic for the major cities we would be going through on the interstate; it worked out well!

We had a goal to reach Grand Junction, Colorado by the evening so we could enjoy Utah in the daylight the following day. We had never been to Utah, so we didn’t want to miss a thing! And just as planned, we made it Grand Junction. But that wasn’t before we had the pleasure of driving through the Rocky Mountains

The beginning of the Rocky Mountain Adventure. Just outside of Denver.

Even though conversation was hopping, Iowa and Nebraska had proven to be uneventful. It wasn’t until we reached Denver, Colorado, where the excitement really got a boost!

Photo of Iowa landscape. Essentiall, grass and nothing else.

Literally nothing going on in Iowa and Nebraska.

I lied. There is something…a turbine!

Denver is where the beginning of our Rocky Mountain adventure began! We had no idea the interstate we would be taking would bring us to an elevation of just above 11,000 feet! We were driving in snow covered mountains and were forced to put on our coats when we would stop and get out to take pictures. This gave me the opportunity to put on my new hat and sport it. I love that thing!

My hat. Still a favorite photo of me and Jaimee. The conversation… #haveyouseenmynewhat Photo courtesy of Krissi

It was so beautiful and amazing, and the towns had an old-soul kind of feeling. A must do if ever visiting the States.

Snow capped mountains in the rockies

Snow capped mountains in the Rockies

We could not have picked a better time of the year to drive through the Rockies; the road was clear and non-slippery. If you plan to drive the Rockies, I suggest going in May. Driving the mountains with great roads is slightly stressful in itself, so I can only image less-then-perfect road stress levels.

Rocky mountain stream

These streams were everywhere.

We managed to get to the bottom of the large mountains and make our way out of them when the sun began to set. This was when the excitement of the Rockies was wearing off and we started to get tired. Just a small jaunt to Grand Junction left and we could finally get some sleep.

We decided to sleep at Loves Truck Stop because, well, we love them. We found a good place to park the car, made our beds in the front and back seats, and then passed out! I must say I slept rather well that night.

Day Two: Utah and Nevada.
Total Miles: 500. States: 2.

Utah landscape

Krissi and I woke up at around eight in the morning, grabbed our coffee, and hit the road. Waiting to see Utah during the day was a good life choice for sure! The state was so beautiful! I had never seen landscape with those kinds of colors in person before.

There were plenty of scenic pull-offs along the interstate. Naturally, we had to stop at a few to grab some scenic photos and, of course, some selfies!!

Cruising down the interstate in Utah.

We made it to Las Vegas at the time I had expected; around two in the afternoon. It was so hot! It’s funny how the previous day we were freezing in the Rockies with our coats and hats on, and then we were wearing minimal clothes and still sweating. We loved it!!

For as long as I had known about the Luxor hotel in Vegas I had always wanted to stay. This trip I was able to make it happen! It was exactly what I had expected. This girl was in heaven!

Jaimee wasn’t due into Vegas until late that night via the Megabus, so Krissi and I had some pool time to catch up on!

Jaimee made it!! Our first selfie together! Clearly tired and goofy.

The time came for me to go pick up Jaimee from the bus depot. I was so excited! It was around midnight when her bus came in. After the chaos of the bus unloading was done, I tracked her down and gave her the biggest hug! She made it!! Yay!

Next goal: drinks and food! Hotel bound!

How Jaimee wasn’t ready to crash was beyond me, but she wasn’t going to let sleep get in the way of experiencing Las Vegas. We ate and went to gamble. We were in Las Vegas after all. Somehow, I kept winning on the slots…Jaimee not so much. That’s ok, though, the beer is free!!

We finally went to bed at around three in the morning. Day three came quick!

Day three, four, and five: Las Vegas, Nevada.

Fancy bathroom selfies. Just cause.

Taking in the sites and drinking overpriced drinks seemed to be our theme while in Vegas. Jaimee had never played black jack, so that was a must-do.

I had been to Vegas several times, so I knew that a visit to the Fremont Experience was in order. This is where Jaimee played blackjack; and won! She came out ahead with eighty dollars. What is really cool, is she had won some free play on our way out of the casino, which is what she used to begin her long winning streak at the blackjack table. The suggestion I gave to her was, “walk away the second you lose a hand”. Fortunately, she didn’t lose until her eightieth dollar!

slot machine

Jaimee’s first slot machine. Big winner!

We walked the strip, saw the free water shows, watched dueling pianos, took drunk selfies in the bathroom, got insulted at Dicks Resort (it’s the theme), went to Hoover Dam, and did some more wondering around Vegas.

Really, big winners that night!!

About two in the morning on the last day we decided to head back to our beds and rest for the LONG day that was ahead of us. The coming morning meant it was time to hit the road and begin heading northeast to Minnesota; but, not without a few days of adventures and sites along the way.

Day six: Arizona, just the corner of New Mexico, and back to Colorado.
Total Miles: 550. States: 2.
Piece of the Grand Canyon Southern Rim

Piece of the Grand Canyon Southern Rim

Hit the road early so we could make the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon by the afternoon. After that, we were hoping to hit Four Corners before sundown. Four Corners is a spot where when standing upon it a person is, at that point, standing in four states at one time – Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. We would then journey on to Mesa Verde National Park and camp there for the night. I know realize I bit off more than I could chew.

Another piece of the Grand Canyon Southern Rim

Another piece of the Grand Canyon Southern Rim

Perhaps if we had gotten on the road earlier it would have been perfect. However, the sun beat us and we were too late getting to Four Corners National Monument. Additionally, with the sun being set earlier than I had planned (I didn’t factor in the time zone change), we were forced to make the climb through the Mesa Verde National Park’s mountainous entrance in the dark. I will admit, IT WAS TERRIFYING!!! I strongly recommend making the drive during the daylight if you are not familiar with the park.

Me and Jaimee at Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon was more than I had imagined. I have seen so many photos of it, but seeing it in person is more than words can describe! It is not only visually impressive, by there is an emotional aspect to it as well; perhaps even spiritual.

At least that is how it was for me. You will have to go there to see what I mean.

Unfortunately, we only had a few hours slated for the Southern Rim, but our route out of the park allowed us to see other parts of the Canyon. I cannot wait to go back and spend a few days camping along all of the Rims and see what each ones personality is like!

Finally arriving to our campsite at the Mesa Verde National Park at eleven at night only meant one thing – time to set up our tent and pass out! Fortunately, I have the easiest tent for setting up. Jaimee and I got to spoon in my two person tent while Krissi got the back seat of the car. Not sure who won the round with the sleeping arrangements, ha!

This guy! Found him at a gimmick gas station outside of Las Vegas on our way to the Canyon.

Day Seven: Mesa Verde National Park and Denver.
total Miles: 400.
Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

The ONLY perk to driving up to our campsite at the park during the night was the surprise view that greeted us that following morning! The sight was another jaw dropping moment! I even had the pleasure of seeing a group of deer prance through our site while I was standing right there. So peaceful and beautiful they were.

The archaeology, sites, and history this park has to offer is amazing! People are even able to participate in touring a few of the intact dwellings. Unfortunately, I was unaware of how much there was to do there when I made this express nine day journey, so we only were able to see a few hours worth of the Park. But in those few hours we were able to experience a lot of what the park has to offer. If you ever are in the area I strongly recommend visiting this impressive and exciting place!

These sites are everywhere on the Park!

After seeing as much as we could at the Park, we continued our journey through Colorado to where our day would close at my cousin’s house. He lives near Denver, which was convenient since Krissi was to fly back to Minnesota the next day out of Denver. Jaimee and I were to continue onward, via car, toward Minnesota.

I was extremely excited to see my cousin. And I must say he is one of the best hosts out there!!

 

Day Eight: Wyoming and South Dakota.  
total Miles: 665. states: 2.
Me and Jaimee at Grand Canyon

Me totally geeking out at the Mammoth Museum

Jaimee and I dropped Krissi off at the Denver airport at around nine in the morning at the Denver airport. From there we began our journey up to Mount Rushmore through Custer National Park.

I am so happy in this pic!

Prior to entering Custer National Park, we stumbled upon the Mammoth Site Museum in Hot Springs, South Dakota. I had driven past it before and regretted not stopping. I wasn’t going to let that happen again!

Science taking place at the Mammoth Museum

Overall, it is a pretty awesome museum. If you are into that sort of thing it wouldn’t hurt to stop in and see the science behind it all.

Cool stuff!

Next, the route we took through Custer Park proved to be a good life choice. Why? Well, because we came upon about fifty roaming buffalo and their calf in the Park. They were leisurely strolling down the middle of the road as if they hadn’t a care in the world…and heading straight toward us! I decided to shut my car off because I didn’t want to spook them. Probably not the smartest thing, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. They walked right next to us. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time! Overall, it was amazing!!

Momma’s and babies!

Bison up close

SO CLOSE!!! SO COOL!!

We arrived at Mount Rushmore and stayed for only twenty-five minutes. It was freezing and wet outside. On the plus side, there was no crowd due to the less than desirable weather, but it makes for a short visit.

We drove through South Dakota for a few hours before stopping at a truck stop and getting some sleep. Yes, we slept in the car. If you have a large enough vehicle, sleeping in it really isn’t that bad.

 

Day Nine: Home stretch. Back to Minnesota.
total miles: 315

Besides taking Jaimee to Buffalo Wild Wings, the final stretch was uneventful.

The following day I was to take Jaimee to the bus station where we said our goodbyes. She was to venture off to Niagara Falls, via Chicago, solo. Leaving me behind wishing I was continuing on as well. Until next time, my friend!

Total miles: 3,605

 

And so there it is! My jam packed adventure that took me and two fabulous gals across nine States in nine days. It definitely can be done, but if I was to do it over again, I would either extend the journey from Las Vegas to Minnesota longer so I could spend the needed time at the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde, or I would have cut out a few stops along the way with less time in Vegas.

The new rule I have for road trips is this: I will never travel more than four hours in a day during a road trip. Anything more than that creates an exhausting trip as well as missed opportunities.

Nonetheless, this trip was epic and I could not have done it with two better travel buddies!

I wonder where the next one will take me?

What is the best road trip you have taken? What should be avoided?

 

 

Tidbits:

ROCKY MOUNTAINS

  • I strongly suggest giving yourself a full day to drive the Rocky Mountains on I70 – Sun-up to sun-down! There are so many photo opportunities and cute little towns you will want to stop at. Also, this will allow some buffer time if the roads are closed due to dangerous icy roads near the top of the mountains during certain times of the year.

GRAND CANYON

  • When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, plan at least two FULL days. There is so much to see and experience. Seeing only one part of it will leave you with regrets.
  • We took the AZ-64 E/Desert View Dr. to US-89 N route out of the Park. It wraps around the Canyon and provides amazing views of the Canyon along the way.

MESA VERDE

  • Drive through Mesa Verde during the day time. However, the mornings at the campground are breathtaking due to the high altitude that allows you a scene you could not imagine.
  • Mesa Verde is another two FULL day adventure. There are so many sites and activities to do there that nothing less than two days will allow you to cover it all.

 

 

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