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Road Trip 2015

The Air Force Academy + Pikes Peak (Day 37)

After a L-O-N-G day in the car, and a solid night’s sleep, we woke up Friday morning ready to explore Colorado Springs! The weather reports threatened thunderstorms, but the sky over our hotel was bright blue and cloudless when we headed out.

Our first destination was an exciting one for me: the US Air Force Academy, my dad’s alma mater!

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The campus, nestled in the foot of the Rocky Mountains, is absolutely gorgeous. The buildings look very modern, even though it was built in the 1950s.  I thought it was cool that the aluminum building exteriors were intended to suggest the outer skin of aircraft or spacecraft.

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Most of the buildings on campus are very low profile, which I loved because they didn’t distract from the beautiful scenery.

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And the low profile of the surrounding buildings makes the striking Cadet Chapel’s row of 17 spires an instant focal point.

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The inside is gorgeous too, with unique, modern stained glass.

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And of course we had to stop and take a picture of the impressive B-52 Stratofortress at the North Gate. The plane, Diamond Lil, served in the Vietnam War, and flew over 15,000 hours and more than 200 combat missions from 1957 to 1983.

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Once we were done touring the Air Force Academy, we headed towards Pikes Peak, the 14,115 ft “fourteener” just outside Colorado Springs. The gorgeous blue skies had turned cloudy, and we weren’t sure what the weather held — but we were determined to try to drive up the mountain anyway.

At the bottom of the mountain we were told we could only travel about 13 miles up the 19 mile road to the top — a little over 11,000 feet altitude. The upper 6 miles of road were blocked off due to snow.

While the lower portion of the mountain looked like this …

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… suddenly, around mile 9, it started to look like this:

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And soon it looked like this:

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We were just getting to the point when fearless driver Ryan was starting to think it’d be smart to turn around when we encountered the ranger blocking off the road at mile 13. He told us the barrier was about to move back to mile 11, confirming our suspicions that conditions were getting worse.

In New Hampshire, bumper stickers proclaiming “This car climbed Mt. Washington!” are very popular. I had told Ryan we should get one boasting about our trip up Pikes Peak … but sadly, it would have to read, “This car climbed 75% of Pikes Peak!” #fail

After descending the mountain we headed back to Colorado Springs, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Hacienda Colorado. Then we returned to our hotel room for a little R&R. The long days of exploring and driving were starting to catch up with us, and the rainy weather made it the perfect day to relax in our cozy hotel room. (Did I mention it has a fireplace?!)

A Morning in Salt Lake City (Day 36)

After arriving in Salt Lake City late Wednesday night, we got yet another late start on Thursday morning. After grabbing a quick breakfast, we headed to downtown to check out Temple Square, the 10-acre complex in the center of town owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Salt Lake Temple itself is imposing and beautiful.

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Temple Square is the most popular tourist destination in Utah, drawing 3-5 million visitors a year. In comparison, Utah’s five National Parks typically have a combined total of 5 million visitors annually!

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From Temple Square we drove uptown towards the Utah State Capitol Building. In the visitors center across the street Ryan happened to overhear that there were hourly tours of the building, so we headed inside to learn more about the building.

We were absolutely blown away by the gorgeous architecture inside.

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Our tour guide said that when the architect was designing the building (it was finished in 1916) his main priority was ensuring it had as much natural light as possible.

He absolutely succeeded. In the main hall, in particular, gorgeous sunlight flowed through glass in the ceiling.

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The marble in the main hall came from Georgia — those pillars are solid marble and weigh about 25,000 lbs apiece. And throughout the building, gorgeous murals depict important scenes from Utah’s history. (The picture below is called Discovery of the Great Salt Lake, and shows Brigham Young discovering the Great Salt Lake.)

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This is the State Reception Room, where important guests are received. It’s nicknamed “The Gold Room” because of the lavish use of gold leafing throughout.

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Perhaps most amazing was the attention to detail throughout the entire building.

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This chandelier weighs 3,000 lbs, and the chains suspending it weigh an additional 1,000 lbs.

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It hangs from the dome above the center of the main hall.

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Those marble flowers are hand-carved, and about three times the size of my hand.

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The paintings were tremendous. This painting was in the Senate chamber, and represents northern Utah. (On the other side of the room is a painting of southern Utah.) And look above it … more glass paneling to let in light!

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Our tour of the Utah State Capitol building was definitely the highlight of our morning! We were just blown away by how beautiful it was.

After leaving the capitol building, we took a drive through some of the neighborhoods in the city. We loved how varied the architecture was, and oohed and aahed over some pretty swanky houses nestled into the mountains!

After a quick stop at Chiptole for lunch, it was back on the road. It was about 2pm and we had nine hours of driving ahead of us to get to Colorado Springs. The trip was largely uneventful, until rain turned to snow in the Wyoming mountains! When we arrived at our hotel we were more than ready for bed.

California-Nevada-Utah: Interstate Cruisin’ (Day 35)

San Francisco was our last destination on the west coast. Wednesday morning we made breakfast in the campground, packed everything up, and hit the road headed east!

It took us 34 days — almost five weeks — to travel from the east coast to the west coast, then make our way down the coast to San Francisco. Hopefully it won’t take us as long to get home! 😉 We only have a few stops planned on the way home (Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, and Peoria), and with 3,100 mile still ahead of us we have some long days on the road ahead of us!

Anyway, Wednesday was a dedicated driving day. The original plan was to drive from our campground near San Francisco to a state park midway through Nevada, then travel the rest of the way to Salt Lake City the next morning.

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Ryan thought the northern Nevada scenery was beautiful; I thought it was pretty bleak. We did see some snow on the mountains, though!

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We were about an hour from our campground when Ryan suggested we just keep going and make it all the way to Salt Lake City. Our original plan was an 8 hr day — I think the longest day we’d done yet. Heading on to Salt Lake City would add an extra 3 hours to the trip … and we’d be going across a time change.

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In the end I was persuaded because I found the Nevada landscape a little creepy, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to camping in it (especially after we saw a number of coyotes running across the highway!) … so it was on to Salt Lake City!

A Beautiful Day in San Francisco (Day 34)

Tuesday morning we headed south from our campground towards San Francisco. It was the perfect day — sunny, clear, and 75 degrees.

Our first stop was at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on the headland north of the city, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. The views were absolutely spectacular. You could see almost the whole city, but of course the bridge itself was the center of attention.

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After a quick drive through Golden Gate Park, we headed back to the waterfront — down below the bridge to Fort Point. Once again, the views of the bridge were breathtaking.

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Ryan was transfixed by the architecture of the bridge and the fort (those are his pictures above) but I just loved the surf crashing up against the sea wall!

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Next we headed into town, a little trepidatiously — everything we’d read had said driving and parking in the city would be a nightmare. Fortunately Ryan is an excellent city driver (he drives fearlessly through New York City and Philadelphia) and was unmoved by the steep hills, the tourists in the road, and the tiny parking spots.

We made a point to drive past Lombard Street, the steep, one-block section of San Francisco with eight hairpin turns and beautiful gardens. I couldn’t get up high enough to get a picture of all the turns, but I did capture some of the lovely homes along the block. (One woman out trimming her hedges looked seriously displeased with all the tourists traipsing up and down past her home.)

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Our next stop was Coit Tower, a 210-foot tower in Pioneer Park. We’d already seen some great views of the city, so we opted not to take the (expensive) elevator ride to the top — but we did enjoy the interesting murals inside depicting life in San Francisco in the 1930s.

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By this time, it was well past lunch time, and we decided it was the perfect day for a picnic in the park. We headed down to the Beach at Presidio and fixed up a delicious lunch. (Bonus of having all your stuff in the back of the car: sandwich fixings are always at your fingertips!)

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Ryan makes a sandwich (you can see the Golden Gate Bridge off to the left) …

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… and I enjoy a delicious Greek salad from Safeway.

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And then we took a walk on the beach!

Before we left San Francisco, we had one more stop to make: the gorgeous tiled steps on 16th Avenue.

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They were absolutely beautiful — for me, definitely one of the highlights of our day in San Francisco. You can see in the image below more of the detail. The moon and stars section is at the very top; the sun section is just below it; then the bottom steps have a gorgeous flow from land to sea. (You can see the wave running through the center of it.)

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The only stop in San Francisco we skipped that we had been really looking forward to was Alcatraz Island. We didn’t buy our tickets for the boat to the island early enough in advance, and we decided not to take a whole extra day to make the trip. We’re planning on coming back this way later this winter and will visit Alcatraz then.

Finally it was back to our campground to enjoy a quiet (and chilly) evening at the campground. Ryan had a grilled steak dinner, and we sat around the campfire and read and worked — a thoroughly pleasant way to end the day.

A Sunny Afternoon in Wine Country (Day 33)

Monday began with a late start. Ryan had slept poorly, I had work to catch up on, and we ended up leaving one minute before our hotel’s 11:00am check-out time.

Our original plan was to find a place to stay, then spend a half day or so in San Francisco, but our late start and some difficulty finding a campground nixed that idea. Instead we took a scenic detour through Napa Valley on our way to the campground.

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It’s kind of terrible but I was so overwhelmed by how many wineries we were passing that we ended up stopping … at none of them. I know. But it was fun to see some familiar names on the signs we were passing (Bonterra, Beringer, and Robert Mondavi, to name a few). I think I didn’t want to stop at one of the big wineries, but at the same time I was afraid I’d choose to stop at the one bad winery in all of Napa Valley. That’s how my mind works.

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Probably a perfectly lovely vineyard.

Before setting up camp some housekeeping stops were in order: a much-needed trip to the laundromat, and a quick grocery store run for some camping essentials (oatmeal, wine, paper towels …).

This may have been the earliest we’ve set up camp yet, but we were both pretty ready to be done for the night. The campground at Samuel P. Taylor State Park is pretty nice, although it isn’t ideally set up for car camping. Most of the tent camping sites had parking spots on the road, with a picnic table, fire ring, and tent spot down below in the woods. It would have been pretty cozy if we’d been tent camping, but we had to make a few laps before finding a spot to suit our needs — somewhere we could comfortably park without being in the road.

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Our campsite is off to the left, but we’d have to share the parking pad with other campers if anyone shows up for the spot on the right. (You can see the trail to their site going up the hill.) Fingers crossed no one shows up!

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And here’s our little site. They even have a nice charcoal grill and a food storage box to thwart hungry animals. (I hear the raccoons are pretty bad here, too.)

And I’d like to point out that, after an afternoon in California’s wine country … I’m drinking Washington state wine. Sorrynotsorry.