Day 1 – Tuesday, June 7, 2022 – Waupaca, WI to Des Moines, IA
Well hello, strangers and friends! (The two people who read this blog, whatever). The Durst-Kolinski family is off on the (occasionally) annual road trip we take in the summer. Finally, this is the year we are heading somewhere besides the northern tier of the US. Yes, tis true, we are heading to the Southwest. We are a tad bit nervous – Sarah has never been southwest of Colorado ever, and Matt’s last turn here was when he was 7. We expect it to be full of large blonde families, influencers for Instagram, hot temperatures, sand and scorpions.
So our plan is to head on over to Moab, Utah and spend a few days around southern Utah and check out the National Parks, sweep down briefly to the Grand Canyon, then make our way through southern Colorado and head home. We won’t be spending much time at any one place – we figured we would check it all out this time, and if we love any one area, we will head back and spend more time there another year.
Our day started June 7th with Sarah staggering home after 3 hours of sleep on call, and being wished happy birthday by the kids. Off for their last day of school they went, and the packing and furious home maintenance began. Matt is amazing. We grabbed the kids from school (although to be fair, have the kids done any real work in school for the last week? (yes, children, we knew you would read this)) – loaded up the car, and off we went!
Our journey took us across Wisconsin, hit up the Culvers in LaCrosse (hey, it’s mom’s birthday), and down into Minnesota. Then the rain and storms began (of course). Sarah’s friend Jenny texted her a happy birthday and reminded her it was the 25th anniversary of their high school graduation. Yes, thank you for THAT reminder, Jenny.
Into Iowa we went – we hit up Des Moines at about 11 pm. We loaded into the Hampton Inn and Suites. Forebodingly, the layout of our room is EXACTLY the same room we last had… March 2020 in St. Louis for spring break. Hope that isn’t an omen of something to come. Huh. We all collapsed after eating popcorn and a beer. We have now hit the point where the kids are old enough that we can all sleep in one room, fight just a bit, and go to bed at the same time. We no longer need complicated black out curtains, and we no longer need to hide in a bathroom to have a beer after the kids are asleep.
Miles driven: 426.2 miles
Random fact of the day: Iowa’s tallest building is taller than Wisconsin’s tallest building
Day 2 – Wednesday, June 8, 2022 – Des Moines, IA to Lakewood, CO
We all slept in waaaay later than we normally do on a trip. As in, past 8. I think this is coupled with having a teenager, getting in late, and lack of ambition to drive through Nebraska. We straggled downstairs and barely made it in time for the continental breakfast. Pickings were slim but reasonable.
We loaded up and then hit a Caribou Coffee and we were on the road. Iowa is notable for having many many wind turbines. And it didn’t smell as bad in Minnesota weirdly from an agricultural point of view, at least on the highway.
We spent our time downloading the Roadside Attractions app onto three different devices so we could each download a different area of the US for free, instead of the confiscatory pricing of $6.99 for the entire US. We have used this app before and found some bizarre things with it, recommended! Well, it’s free.
We used the app to find a metallic spider made of a VW bug in some random neighborhood in Avoca, Iowa. It was in someone’s side yard. The kids LOVE to slap each other repeatedly and yell slug bug, and this was no exception. Definitely unique.
We passed through Council Bluffs, the creepy bizarre city (apparently figures prominently into Mormon history too??) in Iowa, which is across the river from Omaha, NE. We crossed the border, and immediately life got worse. Our only memories of I-80 were semis that slowly leap frogged each other on the highway, driven by completely inept drivers, and lots of fields. Well, nothing has changed. Except traffic was way worse than we recalled, the semi drivers were completely incompetent and all from Tennessee (where apparently they have extra low reg fees to encourage companies to be based there), and they really need a 6 lane freeway, not a 4 lane. Well, good news, they are re-doing their 4 lane freeway so it was only 1 lane in each direction.
AND the agricultural smells were horrible. There were no wind turbines, weirdly, despite the horrific winds. Nebraska, you suck.
Anyway, we chugged along and used our fun little app to find the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, located between Omaha and Lincoln. Matt LOVES military history so we pulled in. The parking lot was weirdly full of painting trucks and there were painters milling about. Okay… So apparently there was a Sherwin Williams promotional event and every painter in Lincoln and Omaha showed up to get free swag and a meal. So there were elderly veterans being wheeled around to look at military aircraft and families like ours and hundreds of painters in paint splattered clothes carrying bright red Sherwin-Williams bags loaded with treats, mingling about. It was surreal.
On the bright side, definitely recommend a stop. Matt really enjoyed all the aircraft, Sarah enjoyed the hydrogen bomb and the Russia spy history. Kids enjoyed a game area for kids. Overall, a good choice!
We powered on through Lincoln, then eventually hit up a rest stop to eat. We ate in a concrete barricaded picnic table and the gale-force winds tried to blow us away. Sandwiches and La Croix for the win. Zoe ran circles around the rest stop.
We got back on the road, looking at blown over irrigation equipment and the numerous sheriff K9 units facing traffic coming back from Colorado heading east. So when you go to Colorado to buy your drugs, don’t be a nitwit and speed. They are waiting for you.
We stopped at another rest stop, and there was a guy on a stationary bicycle pedaling away next to his truck. He watched us creep around in the brush and trees bordering the back of the rest stop – hopefully he knew we were geocaching and not weirdos. Whatever, he was on a bike at a rest stop. We powered on to Ogallala, Nebraska – hit up Mickey D’s there and struggled on. Finally gained an hour too so it wasn’t so late.
Mr. Stationary Bicyclist passed us on the highway and we googled his name (on the side of his truck) – he is a motivational speaker and does work with sports team and wow, he was a fascinating dude! From Minnesota. He died in the whitewater park in Wausau for 27 minutes a few years ago too – he loves white water kayaking. There was a kayak on his truck too. Wish we would have chatted with him – other people at the rest stop came up to him.
Anyway, on we went. You could tell when we hit the Colorado border. Weirdly, all the really terrible Tennessee semi drivers vanished and just normal traffic and normal semi drivers were left. And the wind turbines reappeared. And the factory farms got worse. Driving tip: do not look at the farms off the highway in eastern Colorado – you will never eat again.
We crested the highway into the Denver metro area around 7 pm. Holy s***. Urban sprawl. It was like when you fly into OHare over Chicago. It was nothing but housing, more housing, strip malls, etc. Things have changed since we were little, we guess. We pulled into the Springwood Suites in Lakewood and piled our stuff into the room.
Miles driven: 680.6
Random fact of the day: The first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the mainland was in 1935 and it was Amelia Earhart.
Day 3 – Thursday, June 9, 2022 – Lakewood, CO to Moab, UT
Oof, what a day. We rolled out of bed at a decently reasonable hour and popped down to the continental breakfast. Well, well. This was a step up from Des Moines! There were prepared quiches, slices of lemon poppy seed bread, an oatmeal and yogurt bar that contained sliced almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, ground flaxseed, etc. WOW. We ate outside near a fire table. Matt took off to pick up some food from the Target next door, and Zoe and B played in out outdoor pool. We all showered up and off we went!
We were heading to Caribou to get some coffee, and Zoe said “I don’t feel good. My head hurts and my stomach hurts.” We rolled our eyes, knowing she inhaled half of the pool at the hotel. And up it all came. Again and again. Poor little Zoe. We tried to give her ibuprofen, and up that came. Umm… Well, here we go, kids, up into the mountains!
We drove west on I-70, hitting up the Eisenhower Tunnel. We cannot stress how miserable and yet beautiful this drive was. It was literally 10 am on a Thursday, and it was bumper to bumper. As we headed west on I-70, literally every valley was chock full of new construction, cars everywhere, people everywhere. Colorado is beautiful, but there are SO many people. Everywhere.
We dined for lunch at the Grizzly Creek rest stop, enjoying the river and our sandwiches. We then then descended into Glenwood Springs, Sarah catching view of a naked elderly man riding a bike into town along the highway. Yes, it was a regular bike seat. Yes, she is quite confident he had no underwear on. He was very tan. No, Sarah didn’t tell Braden – until she was knew he was far away in the distance.
We continued to descend and the tall mountains turned into flatter scrubland, eventually getting to Grand Junction. Note: multiple dry creek beds and the reservoirs we saw were down considerably from what looked like their norms. It was startling to see.
Then…into Utah we went! We hit up a rest stop with a beautiful little trail and temperature of 101 degrees.
Off to Moab – it was weird how immediately upon entering Utah, all the traffic seemingly disintegrated. Then when we got into Moab, it was like every other little National Park border town we have been to. Hundreds of people roaming everywhere, most people wearing bucket hats (we missed that trend) and some influencer types (expected).
We are staying at the Best Western Plus – it was the only one of three hotels with rooms still available when Matt was looking at places. 6 months ago. He found a winner though! It is downtown, so walkable to various restaurants. It has a lovely second floor breakfast patio and outdoor pool. We are spending three nights here, with plans to check out each of the parks around here.
Kids immediately went to the pool and despite us telling them “inside voices” devolved into screaming and flinging around a small football and ball. Sarah was chatted up by a guy there with his two kids, who was visiting from North Carolina – he gave her travel tips for the parks and North Carolina. Meanwhile, the kids and Matt whipped a ball around. It really is gorgeous here.
We ended up getting pizza and salad from the place next door – Pasta J’s – or something like that. Thumbs up! After all fighting, everyone is now collapsing asleep.
Miles driven: 341.8
Random fact of the day: the cannabis industry sponsors the clean up of more Colorado highway miles than any other industry! (note: today Sarah kept seeing adopt a highway “Clean Colorado” signs along the interstate and most were dispensaries – she googled around and apparently there are strict cannabis advertising rules so these companies sponsor highway segment clean ups right before the exit for the dispensary as a loophole around the advertising rules. Ha! love it)
Day 4 – Friday, June 10, 2022 – Moab, UT
We bounced out of bed around 6 am, ready for our day at Arches National Park. It finally feels like vacation! We’ve heard the crazy stories – influencers everywhere, massive lines, poor parking, and one of the smallest and yet most visited national parks. We. Were. Ready.
We had continental breakfast upstairs, sitting on a balcony outside overlooking the red cliffs surrounding us. It was excellent. Truly – fresh and warm food, wide variety, etc. We heard lots of different languages (wow, the Best Western Plus really brings all those cultures together), and sat near some Australians outside.
After eating, we packed up. Temperatures were going to peak over 100 degrees today and we brought more water than we ever have before, along with the second biggest Yeti cooler available for purchase. No regrets.
This year, Arches NP switched to a timed entry system – the NP system determined this was the best way to stagger entry into the park. It failed spectacularly in Glacier NP last year, so why not roll it out elsewhere, right?? 3 months ago, Matt timed it exactly (with Mountain Time Zone) to get the 8 am entry. From 6 am to 5 pm, 150 vehicles an hour are allowed into the park. You can go at or after your time. So we hung around in our Subaru just outside the entrance like the creepers we are, waiting for 7:50 am to get into the line.
We timed it beautifully, entering the park at exactly 8:02 am. What happens if you come too early or don’t have the timed entry ticket? Well, they had a turnaround and there was a ranger pointing people out who tried. The rule followers in us were pleased to see justice being exacted on the line budgers. That being said, come on, it’s a NP. Just let the people in.
Our initial goal was clear: hit up the Delicate Arch hike, and if able, the Devil’s Garden hikes. Both are felt to be iconic hikes, and this is our only day there. We ambled through the park in the car, surprised by the relative lack of cars. Huh, maybe the system IS working? We hit the Delicate Arch hike trailhead parking lot. Oh, that’s where all the people are. It was a pretty big lot, but there were a half dozen spots available, which was great.
Sunscreen was slathered, water was packed into backpacks, hats and sunglasses put on. We were ready! It’s only 3 mile hike but each person is recommended to have 1 quart water each for the hike. We were prepared. The hike starts on a well maintained gravel path, which then transitions to slick rock. “Slick rock” is a term for shiny sandstone, but honestly, it is kind of like walking on shiny granite (for you midwesterners). We hoofed it uphill in the blazing hot sun, with no shade. Welcome to vacation, kids!
Sarah was a bit nervous, having read about some point at which people scared of heights might have issues on the trail up, but once you made it around the corner to the Arch at the end, you would be fine. We entered the narrow path with the steep drop off. (Note: Sarah is like, low grade not loving of heights – but she has done many hikes in the mountains. This trail was fine, it wasn’t that much of a drop off). We hiked around the corner, and there the Arch was! And it was shit show, in only a way that an NP can be. Had to be like 50 or more people, precariously balanced on a ride of stone that led around in a semi circle to the Delicate Arch. Kids hopping all over, midriff baring millennials wearing flip flops, a lady having a panic attack (Sarah’s soul mate) over the drop off in front of the Arch. We sat and enjoyed the view and had a snack. It was very pretty.
Also there was no way in hell we were going to go stand under the arch. That area looked scarier than the hike (to Sarah, who is writing this, anyway – if she hadn’t been there, 100% Matt and kids would have been under the arch).
After resting for a bit, we made our way down the trail. There was a small arch, that if you scrambled up some shiny slippery rock faces, had a perfectly framed view of the arch within it. Of course, Zoe immediately started climbing up there (darn, those climbing lessons gave her confidence and skills), then B (same thing). Everyone skittering up while Sarah looked up. Up she went too, Matt helping her. Matt took pics of all the kids in the little openings, and down we all went.
Hoofed it down the bare, slick rock, non-shaded hike down, watching all the sunburned folks around us. Done!
We then rode in wonderful air-conditioned comfort to the Devil’s Garden in the northern most (and back-most) part of the park. We ate some sandwiches and wraps in the car, then got ready to hike a bit more. Zoe was not pleased. At all. We went and looked at Tunnels Arch, Pine Tree Arch (very cool!), and then went back on the trail to Landscape Arch, selling to the kids at the arch that we needed to see now before it collapses into nothing. We mean, it could collapse tonight and then we would have missed it, right? ANY SECOND it could collapse.
After much cajoling and water breaks, we made it back. 105 degrees. Another 2.5 miles done. We melted. We then let the kids have electronics time while Matt happily zigzagged from overlook to overlook. It really is so beautiful here! We didn’t really see anything else that we wanted to stop and hike, except for possibly the Windows area. That looked beautiful!
We ended at the Visitor’s Center, where Zoe purchased her requisite animal, a small bobcat kitten. Who knows if they even have bobcats here. We did see some lizards when we hiked! She already owned versions of basically all the other animals available. Matt happily swept up more magnets for the refrigerator and stamped the ever present passports. There was no ice cream at this visitor’s center, a fact that Matt and Sarah duly noted.
We motored back to the hotel, immediately changing into swimsuits and getting into the pool. It was blistering outside, and the pool was amazing. We played around for a while, then got showered up and hit up the Moab Food Truck Park. Huh. Clearly Matt was intrigued as well as the kids. It is still unclear who this was aimed at – tourists? Locals? No one knows. It was a motley crew of food trucks and random people.
B and Noah got food from the “Fresh 2 Go” which was really burgers and fries. Sarah and Matt had sushi rolls and gyoza – they were excellent! Z had a hot dog. Then everyone got shave ice after. We walked back to the hotel, and we were trying to figure out what to do. Everyone was tired, but bored. So back to the pool (and laundry).
Then after a couple beers and the most delicious secret recipe Meltaways ever, we all collapsed after watching multiple episodes of a show called “Insane Pools: Off the Deep End”. Yes, we are sad people.
Mile driven: only 64… seems like so little
Random Fact of the Day: The opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed at Double Arch at Arches National Park!
Tomorrow? A day on the river…