Since this blog is still relatively new, it occurred to me that there are so many great trips we’ve taken since moving to California in 2010 that should be included too. So I am going to travel back in time a bit to our first cross country road trip which took place in June of 2010 when we moved from Massachusetts to California. We did not take the most direct route at all, I customized this particular route to hit a lot of the states, national parks and attractions we wanted to visit. This is by no means a complete list of everything we saw and did, but these were the things that were our favorite. The things that after nine years we still talk about and look back on. Here is a brief overview of the trip:
Details: 15 States, 9 Days and 3,840 miles Traveled
Route: Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and California
We had quite a few spots on the trip where our reaction was, we wish we had more time to spend in this place! The first time that occurred was when we stopped through Saint Joseph, Michigan. Saint Joseph is a city in the southwest of Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan. There is a beautiful beach, a carousel and pavilion from 1910 and lighthouses dating back to the early 1900s. We didn’t get to explore this area enough, but we wished we could. It is definitely worth taking a look at if you are planning a trip to this area.
Next up is South Dakota. We didn’t build too much time into our trip to spend in South Dakota, but it ended up being our favorite part of the entire journey. We weren’t expecting how many attractions there would be, so we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. I think we only scratched the surface of how many hidden gems are in the area but here are the ones that we visited.
Note: Although this trip took place in 2010, the majority of locations I’m discussing are landmarks and national parks that have not changed since then. Anything that isn’t a national park, I have verified to still be open and in operation.
Buffalo Ridge is a in interesting roadside attraction that was built in the 1960’s by a former history teacher. There is a country store as well as animated mannequins reenacting history from the 1800s. There are over 50 exhibits, a buffalo herd and country store. We didn’t have too much time to explore this exhibit but we did stop into the country store. If you’re a fan of quirky roadside attractions, this one might be worth a visit. I have read online that since we were there in 2010, Buffalo Ridge has fallen into a bit of decay so I can’t speak to it’s current state.
Oacoma is a town of 451 people in Lyman County, South Dakota. In 1804, Lewis and Clark camped on the spot where Oacoma is now located. Today it serves as a rest stop for travelers on I-90 where you can find food, shopping and a campground at Al’s Oasis. After a long drive this area was a beautiful spot to rest in.
Hands down my favorite attraction of the trip was our visit to Roberts Prairie Dog Town. Right outside of Badlands National Park is an area where you can get up close and personal with prairie dogs. You can even feed them! These are some of the cutest animals I’ve ever seen and getting to be so close to them was a unique experience. This is an absolute must do for your trip to South Dakota.
Badlands National Park was another one of our favorite attractions. This national park is a striking 244,000 acres of prairie land where bison, prairie dogs and bighorn sheep roam. Words don’t do it justice, you have to see and experience it for yourself.
We couldn’t go to South Dakota and not see Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is of course the famous landmark baring the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln that we are all familiar with. We didn’t get a chance to explore the memorial too in depth because we had our dog, Khloe, with us, but what we did see was beautiful. The contrast of the memorial against the Black Hills of South Dakota is striking. Located at the base of Mount Rushmore is the town of Keystone. Keystone was originally built as a gold mining camp and is now a tourist destination that offers shopping, lodging and attractions. It provides a nice home base for those looking to explore the attractions near Mount Rushmore.
One of the things that fascinated us so much about South Dakota was the amount of roadside attractions and things to do. We really didn’t expect to have quite so much fun there. The further we traveled the more signs we came across advertising different things to see and do for example, the town of Interior, an old west town with a population of 94!
Some of the best marketing I’ve ever seen is courtesy of Wall Drug. We had absolutely no idea what Wall Drug was but after seeing signs on the side of the highway counting down our distance to Wall Drug for hours, we had absolutely no choice but to stop and check it out. Wall Drug is a tourist attraction located in Wall, South Dakota. It is a cowboy themed shopping mall that attracts two million visitors annually. In the book, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, author Bill Bryson wrote about Wall Drug, “It’s an awful place, one of the world’s worst tourist traps, but I loved it and I won’t have a word said against it”. I think that pretty much sums it up!
We moved pretty quickly through Wyoming and Colorado and on to Utah. There were quite a few of attractions we wanted to see in Utah, but to keep on our timeline, we selected only Monument Valley and Arches National Park.
Arches National Park has over 2,000 natural stone arches along with many other breathtaking geological formations. Prior to coming on this trip I had really never seen or experienced anything like this in person and the size and magnitude of these rock formations is something everyone should have on their bucket list.
Monument Valley is a desert region on the border of Utah and Arizona which boasts towering sandstone buttes that reach heights of 400 to 1,000 feet tall. The road to Monument Valley is one of the most photographed places on earth and has been used in countless movies and has become a sample of the American West. I think that is why when you visit, you get the vague sense you have been here before.
As with many things on the trip, I wish we had a little bit more time to experience this area but since we were on a schedule, it was time to move on.
Next up was the Grand Canyon. I think I have a unique perspective on the Grand Canyon due to my fear of heights. While I thought it was beautiful and I’m so happy I got to experience it, the height of it all did make me a little nervous. The enormity of it is kind of overwhelming, but it is stunning. We checked that off the bucket list and then it was time to move on to California.
In California we visited Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park. This too was a beautiful landscape although in the June heat, it wasn’t the most ideal time of year to visit. I highly recommend taking a trip out this way in the winter and experiencing the beauty of the national park.
So that’s it, the highlights of our first cross country road trip. We have since gone on to do many more road trips where we have been fortunate enough to see some amazing sites. I will work on getting those uploaded next!