Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Great Family Vacation, Part Five

Day Seven: This was our last day in Yellowstone. Because we stayed up late, it took a while to get started. We had breakfast in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room again, took a picture in front of the fireplace, and I go the truck loaded up. It took four trips, but I was surprised that I was able to remember how I had everything placed; each thing had a specific place, and if any one thing was out of place, it would mess up the whole jigsaw puzzle. We made a new two-day bag (so we would only have to take out one bag for all of us instead of all the bags), restocked the cooler for inside the truck, and got ready to check out.

We took a couple of family pictures in front of the Inn and in front of Old Faithful, and as I was walking back to the truck, I stopped by to talk to some of the workers outside the Inn. While we were there, they were redoing the roof of the Old House (what they call the original 1904 Inn before the 1913 East addition and the later West addition), and being the scrounger of history’s artifacts, I asked if they had any of the original building they were going to throw away. He asked how big a piece did I want, showing me a rather large log that used to support the roof overhang. It was perfect for me, so I found a place in the truck for it. He also gave me one of the original nails they used when they built the Inn.

We got gas and said good bye to Yellowstone, taking the East Entrance toward Cody. Since we got such a late start and it took quite a long time to reach Cody, the day slipped away quicker than I had planned. Along the way, we stopped at William F. Cody’s hunting lodge just outside the park (now the Pahaska Tepee gift shop and gas station) to use the bathroom, and we then took a small detour at Newton’s Creek, a small campground that we used to stay at many years ago. Site 18 hadn’t changed much from how I remember, and we took a family picture near the spot where an old tree stump had been, a site of many family pictures.

Finally reaching Cody, we pulled into Trail Town, which had closed for the season. We still could have walked around the “town,” but it misses some of its allure if you can’t look into any of the buildings and also when it feels like you’re trespassing.

By the time we pulled into the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, it was almost 3pm, giving us just two short hours to tour five museums under one roof. It was nearly impossible, but unfortunately, we scurried around to do it. The kids best liked the newest museum, the Draper Museum of Natural History; it was Wyoming-centric, but one of the best interactive natural history museums I’ve ever been to, hands down.

The museum closed at 5pm, and when we visited the gift shop (I love gift shops), I noticed that they were also selling the Bierstadt Old Faithful painting—after all, the original was hanging in their gallery—but the kicker was that it was on sale for only $7.50. Oh well.

We drove through town and since we didn’t have enough time at the museum, decided to stay in town for the night, so we could go to the museum again the following morning. The woman at the front counter told us that it was good for two days, which was convenient. Driving down Highway 20/14/16 through Cody, we contemplated staying at the Irma Hotel, a turn-of-the-century place that was built by Buffalo Bill, but we guessed that it was expensive and that it lacked private bathrooms, so we found a Holiday Inn down the road and checked in. Our room, though non-smoking, still reeked of smoke, so we left the window open and the air on full blast and went out in search for a place to eat. The front desk suggested a couple of family restaurants that were good for children…one was Granny’s across the street, and she mentioned the Irma but suggested that it was fine dining.

With Natalie on my shoulders, we decided to walk down to the Irma and check it out, at least getting to see the hotel, if not eat there, and if it didn’t look like something we’d enjoy, we could always see what Granny had cooking up. The Irma seemed just fine, and they put us at a big table next to the original bar, underneath one of the buffalo heads that Buffalo Bill himself probably shot. Our waitress was this gravelly voiced old lady who was probably Irma herself. She had a rhinestone belt, a semi-sleeveless Irma Hotel shirt that she probably shouldn’t have been wearing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, after work, we would have found her at the local watering hole with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other looking for a cowboy to rope. She was funny, and certainly gave the place a western, kick your boots up on the bar, kind of atmosphere, suggesting that the women get some whiskey instead of sasparilla, and chided Jason because he couldn’t think of the name of the beer that had the beer on it from the day before. She even gathered around a couple of other waitresses for their opinion. We ended up getting something from Alaska that was good. The kids had spaghetti and meatballs, while Jason and I had buffalo steak. Kara had something called a chuck wagon; it was all pretty good, and when you got used to the smoke in the air, you didn’t mind it too much.

I got up and checked on the room rates for the hotel, and they were about 40 dollars cheaper than the crappy Holiday Inn room we were staying in, and each room had a bathroom. So we kicked ourselves for not checking first, as we could have stayed in Buffalo Bill’s private room, which we all agreed would have been pretty cool.

A gift shop was still open on the main street as we walked back, and Jason found a photo album that would be perfect for our pictures, so we bought one too. Again, I slept terrible, waking up with a back ache and a pain in my neck.

Day Eight: We were back again to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, where we toured the firearms museum. A sign said that it was the first time they had all of the collection on display, and they weren’t kidding. It was two floors, containing nearly 3000 guns, everything you could imagine from a hand cannon from the 1300s to modern commemorative rifles produced only a few years ago. The kids wanted to do the Natural History museum again, and Natalie wanted to see the Indian museum. We went outside to see Buffalo Bill’s boyhood home that was moved to the museum site, and we had a snack in the Mustang Grill.

Back on the road, we had a long day ahead of us. Wyoming is a big state. On the map, it doesn’t look big, but it most certainly is. Our destination for the day was Independence Rock, a giant rock mountain jutting out of the plains that Oregon Trail travelers of the 1850s stopped at to carve their names. It was about 300 miles away, but along the way we drove through a couple of nice towns. Thermopolis was quaint, but as we got more to the south, the towns were becoming less so and more like a truck stop. We paused in Casper for lunch at Wendy’s drive thru and were at Independence Rock by 3:45pm. We walked around about 50 percent of it, trying to find an easy place that we could climb with the kids in tow. The women-folk decided that it wasn’t safe for us to climb, although Jason and I was sure that it would be easy. Well, guess who won? Jason and I climbed up the side of it to the summit by ourselves, and the view was spectacular. The sun was setting, and you could see to every horizon. We took some pictures and some video of some of the older names… some yahoos in the 70s and 80s carved their names in the rock too, and we decided, going back down, that it would have been treacherous for the kids. Gloating and told-you-sos were enjoyed by Kara and Raquel when we got down to the ground.

After that, around the corner, we stopped at Devil’s Gate, and kept our eyes open for some of the Oregon Trail wagon ruts, but couldn’t find any. The sun was going down so we headed for the next big town for the night, which happened to be Rawlings at the intersection of Highway 287 and I-80. It seemed Podunk the moment we entered… and got worse before it got better. Kara found us a place, the Oak Tree Inn, and when we pulled in, I circled around the whole building without finding an official entrance. It was just a big block of rooms, and it wasn’t until I got out and read a sign that says you check in at Penny’s Diner, a Route 66-inspired diner that looked like it had promise. That was quickly changed as soon as we walked through the door. We were meet by three lackadaisical people behind a counter who gawked at us with indifference, led by a guy who had what could only be described as Summer Teeth… some are here, some are there… and he told us, through the holes where most of his front teeth should have been, that the hotel was “full up” and “good luck finding a place in town” because of the truckers, the oil rig workers and the fact that this one intersection Wyoming was the cosmopolitan hub of the state, a place where people come, far and wide, to visit. His tidings of luck seemed rather sarcastic, so we drove across the road and saw a vacancy sign on a Holiday Inn Express.

Given the Holiday Inn experience we shared the night before, we had some apprehension about staying there. Plus, they tend to run a little expensive. Jason and I went to check in and we met the General Manager Sara, a bubbly woman, whom we charmed into giving us an excellent rate. Apparently, she admitted, all she needed was a good laugh, which we handily provided her. Instead of the regular rate of nearly $130, we paid about $110, but were upgraded from a normal room to a corner suite. And sweet it was. The room was extra big, with a fridge, microwave, flat-panel TV, couch, dining room set, desk with an executive chair and a nice big bathroom. Plus, there was a full breakfast waiting for us in the morning.

Natalie invited Jason, Raquel and Alex down to our room (they had the suite in 302 right above us…which we had him jump up and down so we could hear him) for a pizza party. We ordered Pizza Hut, which took over an hour to get there, and the kids played with the Play-Dough and Natalie and Jason told jokes…which were so funny, Natalie didn’t even wait for the punch line before laughing hysterically. We watched some normal TV for a change (no local high school football reports) and went to bed, though I ended up sleeping on the couch because the bed was way too small for me to be comfortable.

Day Nine: The next morning we gorged on breakfast, loaded up the car and said good bye to Jason, Raquel and Alex. Kara wanted to head down Highway 13 into Colorado so we could go to the Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado on our way home. However, figuring it would add a couple of days on our trip we changed our minds in route and decided to take the I-80 to the I-15 and head home.

We drove and drove and drove, through Rock Springs, Green River and Lyman. We stopped at Fort Bridger just east of Evanston and walked around the grounds a little. They charge $4 to use the facilities, but since it was Friday, the museum and the buildings were closed… and since there was nowhere to put the money, we didn’t pay (hey, it wasn’t open!). We used the bathrooms and headed back to the freeway toward Utah.

It was part of our new plan to stop at the Wheeler Historic Farm in Salt Lake City because we thought the kids would enjoy seeing a “working” farm, and it took us forever to find it… nice directions AAA. But finally, we stumbled across it, and it was pretty fun seeing the pigs and chickens and feeding this giant drought horse some grass. Since we were in a big city, we found a Chili’s to eat at to give us some semblances of home, and if there was a bookstore and a Target nearby, it would have been a typical weekend night for us.

Instead, we needed to get on the road. We wanted to be back home by Saturday afternoon, so that meant we had one more night out. Natalie was insistent that we stay in another “home-tel” as she was calling them, and that’s exactly what we had planned.

Of course, it being Friday night on Interstate 15, lots of other people were doing the same thing. We stopped in Nephi at a really sketchy looking Best Western, where the parking lot was filled with trucks and the second floor walkway was littered with yelling kids and cigarette smoking cowboy hat wearing truckers. To my relief, they were booked. We then drove down toward the next “big” town, Filmore, and about 10 miles out of town, Jason calls to tell me that his gas light was on, but we just made it into Filmore and to a Chevron station. The hotel next door only had one room left, a king-size bed, smoking. I’d rather sleep in the truck.

The kids were getting cranking, and our babysitter, the DVD player, had quit working for some reason. On top of which, the computer I had brought to do some work on, didn’t get a full charge the night before and only had about 25 percent of its power left, which was dissipated rather quickly. We drove on south to Beaver, where we finally found a Best Western (called Paradise Inn… must have been someone’s joke).

As the days and night wore on, we became more tired. The kids’ excitement for a new city and a new hotel seemed to wane, and after a beer on the second floor walkway (without the cowboy hats, of course), we went to sleep.

Day 10: The last day. Absolutely nothing happened the entire ride home. It was that boring monotony a traveler must suffer through in order to get home, the final reward after a long trip. We all stopped in Las Vegas because we wanted to go to the M&M store and tour the Coca-Cola museum and taste some sodas from other countries. I remember it being fun… well, my memory is all I have because they no longer have the museum and the M&M store was mobbed with tourists (being Saturday in Vegas, everything was crowded and they wanted $9 a pound for M&M!). We went into the Coke store and bought a Taste of the World, a 16-cup taste test of different sodas from around the world. It was enough for all of us to share, but Natalie, who doesn’t like to try new things, would only smell one of them, only after we promised that it smelled good. At the end, I mixed all 16 of the sodas together (even the horrifically hideous Beverly from Italy) into one and drank it… dubbing it the “International Terrorist” in the same vein as the Suicide. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either.

We saw the Tigers in the MGM and then went over to the New York, New York and ate some pizza.

Jason stopped for gas and I waved good bye as we headed for home.

Elsa was glad to see us. The house was still as we left it, and it feels good to sleep in my own bed for a change.

On this trip, we went 2,414.5 miles (probably more because of my odometer/tires), visiting six states, staying out for 10 days, using 171.5 gallons of gas, costing us $514.95, for an average fuel economy of 13.02 miles to the gallon or 4.6 cents a mile, not including hotels (which averaged about $110 a night) or food (which was about $10 a meal on average) or souvenirs (about $200).

It was fun, but expensive, so next year, we’re getting a trailer to save some money…which probably won’t be too likely.

1 comment:

Ryan or Kara said...

Being the fact checker that I am: We ate breakfast at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, I didn't say climbing the rock wasn't safe for you - there was just no way I was letting the little ones up, and we saw lions at the MGM. Oh well, you did pretty good remembering it all!


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