Friday, October 29, 2010

On the Oregon Trail Once Again!

Some of you may be beginning to think it's an annual event for me to jam pack my Mini Cooper full of stuff and drive cross country to Oregon. Well, this year is a little different. My road trip to Oregon is of the permanent kind. My boyfriend Bobby and I set out from Fort Worth, Texas to commence our one way trip to Albany, OR.

We quickly blew through the Panhandle of Texas eager to get to Colorado, stopping for lunch at a peculiar, yet somehow famous restaurant in Amarillo called The Big Texan Steak Ranch. They are known for their food challenge, offered to any guest who is willing to risk major indigestion and heartburn, to eat a 72 oz steak in under an hour. Neither of us dared to attempt the challenge, but cheered on the one guy who did- he threw in the towel with a little more than 5 minutes left on the clock. We were back on the road, looking to beat our own clock and be in Denver by nightfall. Since this is a permenant move, I brought my adorable Goldendoodle Bailey with me. He was wedged between the window, my giant suitcase, and our camping gear. Traveling with a dog means quite a few more stops and longer duration at each stop, which also meant we only made it to Pueblo, Colorado our first night. Somehow, Bobby was able to find a brewery in Pueblo walking distance from our hotel! and the icing on the cake was that they allowed dogs!

Bailey and me in the Big Texan wagon

Waking up well rested the next day, we piled back into the car and turned our sights north to Boulder. Not a long drive, but we had a busy day of brewery tours planned. Last year my friend Kevin and I focused on California wineries, this year is all about the beer. We grabbed lunch and a monster taster tray at Boulder Brewery. Next, was a mean game of Scrabble and samplers at Avery's Tap Room. And just for the record, I finally beat Bobby- there is a photo of the
scoresheet to prove it! Turns out we enjoyed our time in Boulder far too long and there was no way we would make our next goal of Yellowstone Park by a reasonable time. So, upon recommendation of the friendly staff at Oskar Blues Brewery, we decided to camp in Lyons, CO. Dinner on the small town's main street and a sweet spot by the river made for a lovely evening.

Our enormous taster tray at Boulder Brewery- good thing we shared this!

Tired of being stuck in the back, Bailey decided it was his turn to drive

It was FREEZING the next morning when we woke up! No matter what Bobby did, he was unsuccessful in getting me out of my sleeping bag. I finally pep talked myself out of the tent and we were on the road yet again. The drive from Lyons to Estes Park is beautiful! You'll wind your way through canyons and along mountain roads. The road then opens up to the gorgeous town of Estes Park. Much to Bobby's delight, Elk greeted us almost immediately upon entering town. A bull elk playing in the brush, while a cow elk cooled in the lake. We came to a quick stop for another elk to cross the street, hop the fence, and enjoy the perfectly manicured grass of a golf course fairway. Clearly, he didn't read the sign that only golfers were allowed on the course. Now, a day behind schedule, we had to keep moving through Estes Park despite our desires to stay and explore. We were determined to reach Yellowstone by that afternoon. We powered through most of Wyoming, stopping in Laramie for lunch. Lucky us, we discovered Altitude Brewery in downtown. After a delicious sandwich and yet another taster tray, I decided I needed more of their seasonal Pumpkin Ale. We walked out with a growler. Where to stash more beer, as we had picked up a few beer souvenirs at some of the other breweries? After a day of hard driving across Wyoming, we decided to stop for dinner and stay overnight in Dubois, just an hour outside the park. We didn't want to drive through the Grand Tetons and part of Yellowstone in the dark, so thought it would be better to leave from Dubois first thing in the morning. We stayed at a cute motel that was comprised little log cabins. They even had a horse corral.

The stunning view of Aspens turning colours and the Grand Tetons from Jackson Lake

After a good night's rest, we were on the road headed to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. End of September is a phenomenal time to visit both parks. All the trees were on fire with yellows and reds. The Tetons were lightly dusted with snow at the very peak of the mountains. We soaked up the stunning views and moved on to Yellowstone with high hopes to see some animals. Another benefit to traveling to Yellowstone in the late fall is the far less traffic you have to deal with as compared to the summer. Less people. More animals. We drove the south loop of the park and enjoyed the scenery. Then headed to a Yellowstone must- Old Faithful. We waited about an hour for eruption. I got terrible video, but some great photos. It was definitely worth the wait. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around checking out other geysers, including the Grand Prismatic Geyser, and I got my first glimpse of a bison herd. At one of the stops we encountered two people and their van with a gnome strapped on top. They were fellow bloggers tracking their travels: Late afternoon we got our tent set up and then headed back to the lodge for dinner. How appropriate that Bobby and I camped on our one year anniversary! Our first date was a camping trip in Oregon. On our way to dinner, we were held up in a bison traffic jam! A herd was crossing the road and held up quite a few cars. One buffalo came within a couple of feet from our car. Too bad our camera died and the iPhone photos didn't come out that great due to the low lighting. At night we were lulled to sleep by the sounds of elk calling to each other. What an amazing sound to hear in the wild.

Bobby watching Old Faithful erupt

Close up of a bison, he was mere feet away!

Grand Prismatic Geyser

The next morning was spent exploring the northern part of the park. We spotted several elk, more bison, and to our delight a black bear. We ended up getting within 150 yards of the bear while he ate and scratched his back on a tree. He did not seem to care one way or the other if we were there. Probably the closest I'll ever get to a bear- what an incredible experience! At the very northern part of Yellowstone, we spotted a few sheep on the rocks. Another animal off our checklist! The only animal we did not see was a moose. We took the North Entrance out of the park and headed into Montana, stopping in Bozeman for lunch. Bozeman has a fantastic little main street with lots of streetside cafes, shops, and galleries. We decided that Montana is
definitely on our list to return and explore more of. Over lunch we chose make the beeline home in one day. We were tired and it was now day five of being on the road. We only had one remaining stop to make- Big Sky Brewery in Missoula. Squeezing in just 30 minutes before they closed, we sampled four beers and bought yet another growler to add to our collection. This particular growler was filled with Moose Drool Brown. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. We blew through the rest of Montana and into Idaho. We wound through mountain roads with switchbacks and s-turns, the kind of driving the Mini was built to do. We finally stopped in Cour d'Alene, Idaho for dinner and to watch the remaining few minutes of the Oregon Ducks game. It was back in to the car for another 7 hours after the Ducks' victory. At long last we arrived home in Albany at 430am. I don't even remember my head hitting the
pillow. Only to awake a mere three hours later by four dogs demanding our attention and space on the bed.

2, 478 miles traveled

It's good to be here.