From Sea to Shining Sea
From my childhood days of reading Little House on the Prairie and watching Wagon Train on a black and white TV, experiencing the endless expanses of plains, desert and mountains that comprise much of the United States has been a constant fixation, but one rarely realized due to the even more pressing magnetic pull of Europe, and lately of Africa.
But the draw of the American West is enhanced by the fact that no airport is necessary. I do like to fly, but the parking, the security lines, the schedules, the waiting, the cramped seats and horrible food really do have a deleterious effect on the charm. And the idea of hopping into a car and driving endlessly toward the setting sun has always intoxicated me. It’s true that I had previously had a couple of occasions to drive across vast swaths of the central plains of the US but never from coast to coast. So when the glimmer of opportunity arose, I jumped, and Ray was fortunately on board with the zany nature of my scheme.
The mission was to deliver a Honda Fit from Tolland to Oregon to deliver it to our son Dan, who had recently moved to the Oregon coast to accept a great job as a silviculture forester for the Bureau of Land Management . The car, with incredibly low mileage (and no GPS), was a gift from my late father-in-law who wanted Dan to have it. Since we were eager to see Dan in his new habitat, the plot was afoot. Problem was, between our recent trip to Morocco and Dan’s own schedule, we had a very small window in which to accomplish our mission.
So on Friday, March 23, 2018, armed with provisions and courage, we headed out. In seven days we drove 3,433 miles and lived to tell the tale. It was an insane amount of driving! We encountered snow in Indianapolis, fog across much of Kansas, a scary few hours of white-out in Wyoming, and smoggy traffic jams in Denver. But we discovered exciting new cities like St Louis, Kansas City and Boulder. The still gray fields of Kansas, dotted with small clusters of weather-beaten farm houses and twisted trees were soulful and mesmerizing. The sunny snowscape of the forested Rockies outside of Boulder was as majestic as the city’s culinary scene was vibrant. The Oregon Trail through Idaho and eastern Oregon was treeless but awe-inspiring, and the final descent towards the coast from the snow-capped Cascades along the Columbia River with its steep slopes cloaked in gigantic evergreens was breath-taking.
- We routed ourselves through St. Louis mainly to visit friends (and in late March the weather can make a more northern route a little dicey–it was treacherous enough as it was), but we loved the Art Museum, especially the exhibit on ancient Egypt (a current passion of mine) and we would love go back to see the Botanical Gardens and hear some jazz.
- We did not have enough time in Kansas City for a proper evaluation, but the Raphael hotel, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, was a grand old hotel from a bygone era. It was beautifully up-dated, well-staffed and extremely comfortable. And it was not expensive! Easily the best hotel of our trip.
- Boulder was initially a little off-putting because it seemed so soulless with the sprawl of its suburban malls and box stores like every other American city. But as we probed a little deeper, we were captivated by the buzzing central pedestrian zone with its many, many restaurants. Fortunately the daunting task of choosing one was aided by some sage advice from a former colleague. The Kitchen Bistro , a farm-to-table establishment with a wine list to impress my fussy oenophile husband charmed us from beginning to end. We love the current trend of small plates to share and had in sequence:
- Grilled BBQ Pork Skewers with roasted tomatillo salsa verde, cumin crema,
- Blistered Beets with homemade labneh, pistachio granola, dill, and orange vinaigrette,
- Roasted Carrots with Fruition Farms ricotta, and a dill gremolata,
- Roasted Half Chicken with curried couscous, apricot, toasted almonds, and sumac yogurt and finally
- Sticky Toffee Pudding served pecans and vanilla ice cream.
- Fort the most part we eschewed restaurants unless they were somehow special. With the exception of one McDonald’s stop on I-70 in Kansas because we needed more coffee and bathrooms, we did not eat in a single chain restaurant. Looking for local color (and OK, we were hungry), we did stop in two diners. The first, the Chuck Wagon, was just across the Colorado/Wyoming border in Laramie. I had one pancake and coffee. Ray had the full cowboy breakfast. The place was friendly and pretty corny, but it was fun, and it did make us feel like we were there and not just passing through. The blinding snow outside helped. The other was Mollie’s Café in the middle-of-nowhere Utah (actually in Snowville, same thing). There we sat on red leather (probably fake but whatever) covered stools at the counter and had a quintessentially American experience. We ordered patty melts (should have split one) on marble-rye and I actually drank a diet Coke–first one in many years–but it seemed appropriate. The friendly owner chatted away. Outside the sun gilded the vast fields and the purple mountains rose in the background. With smiles on our faces, we headed on to Idaho.
- Two spectacular drives; one on Flagstaff Road in Boulder, the other chasing the Columbia River near Mount Hood.
- Netarts and Oceanside, Oregon–Dan’s new hood and the site of the most breath-taking mountain-to-ocean scenery you can imagine. Can’t wait to go back!!
- A culminating and spectacular visit to Willamette Valley Vineyards, where we were treated to a VIP tour and private dinner with the owner, Jim Bernau
What we did well:
- We started early on the long-driving days (6-7am)
- We brought fruit, Kind bars, yogurt and water (and wine) with us – this avoided stopping at bad restaurants for indigestible food and saved us money to spend on good meals when we could enjoy them
- We only ate three dinners in restaurants, and none of them were at the end of a long day of driving. On those days we instead heated up meals in our microwave (a requirement for booking hotels for us) or ordered food to be delivered to our room and relaxed with a bottle of wine. Trader Joe’s was a great help as was the Thai take-out in Twin Falls.
- We tried to stay in a suite-like hotels whenever possible because they offer a place to sit down that is not a bed and enough of a kitchen to warm up food and chill down wine.
- We planned the distances we wanted to travel each day and booked hotels ahead of time. With the address in our Google Maps, we glided in each evening with the minimum amount of stress.