My wife and I just Prius’d acrossed the USA. Yes. I’m using Prius as a verb. After two successful cross-country trips (overloaded and overstuffed, might I add), I’m allowed to brag about my Toyota. Aren’t I?
Nine days, six stops. And affordable gasoline! Guess how much gas we spent?
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our most recent trip was actually a move: Rochester, New York to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (or the close by Spokane, Washington, where I’ll be working).
That’s a bunch of map
Rochester -> Louisville -> Nashville -> Memphis -> Kansas City -> Denver -> Yellowstone -> Ceour d’Alene
It’s a crazy mess of a road trip. I know. Here was the thought process:
Kansas City and Denver had family. Admittedly, Nashville was completely out of the way, but we really wanted to see it. And if we timed it just right, we could lock down two nights in Yellowstone. Louisville and Memphis were convenient stops in between.
Most nights we would camp, others we’d stay with family.
Little did we know what we’d discover along the way; little would we see out of our blind spots.
A quick note on the photos: We shot hundreds, some with our new Cannon Rebel T5, others with our iPhones. My wife took all the good pictures. I took all the weird, squirrelly ones. Also, since there are so many, and we just go home, please excuse the lack of editing.
Okay, so, you ready? Me neither. Let’s go!
Let me first add that we had a sexy chicken along for the ride. #jakessexychicken. She’s an Instagram sensation. Our friend Jake gave us the poultry gift and we promised to mount her to the dashboard, documenting her in our travels.
Here she is at our first camp site: a KOA outside Louisville.
Our first day was a 10 hour drive, and it rained THE ENTIRE TIME. It was like New York was crying for us. Then it was like Pennsylvania was crying for us. Then all of Ohio. By the time we got to Kentucky, it was like, get over it already, okay?
The KOA was dark when we pulled up. We didn’t realize how pretty it was until the next day. A tree did an amazing job of blocking the rain, so really, we were decently dry. Go nature.
We didn’t stay in Louisville long, but we did find coffee at a cool little hipster place called Please & Thank You, which of course had a record shop in the back. From there we heard about an art gallery downtown called 21C, so we drove a few minutes and hit the brakes when we saw a giant golden statue of a naked man (i.e., David).
We didn’t know what we would find in Louisville. If it wasn’t raining, I’m sure we would’ve found more, but we were desperate to get out from under the giant black cloud. We did the best we could with the few hours we had.
To get to Nashville we had to drive quite a distance through Kentucky. What a beautiful state! There are caves everywhere, and I want to go back and explore. One is called Lost River Cave. I almost swerved off the highway.
On to Nashville
We had friends from Idaho living in Nashville, so we made plans to spend the evening with them. First, of course, we had to check into our campsite. A very classy campsite — called Jellystone. It’s Yogi Bear themed.
After we could no longer BEAR it, we left our wet campsite and headed for the city. We had dinner with our friends and their lovely family (thank you Kellys, you guys rock n’ roll and we miss you), and after we were taken downtown.
Everyone says it but it’s true: downtown Nashville is actually quite tiny.
But you know what else is true: it’s not the girth of your hat’s brim that makes you a cowboy.
I had never listened to so much country music in all my life. And I must admit that hearing “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” live was quite exciting. These musicians, or cats (or cows?), who play downtown, are on the top of their game. It was an honor to watch them. Every group we saw was impressive. It’s amazing to me that these venues get away with not paying their musicians.
The bands survive 100% on tips, so if you ever visit Nashville, bring cash (thanks Obama).
The next morning, before we left Nashville, we headed back downtown to revisit some places we passed the night before. Union Station (an old train station repurposed into a high scale hotel) and Jack White’s (of The White Stripes) Third Man Records.
Memphis, Tennessee a.k.a. BBQ Town a.k.a. #slabme
Memphis was only three-ish hours away from Nashville. The rain, of course, was still not letting up. We thought, maybe Memphis will be the place where the sun comes out! And for brief moments, it did.
Our first stop was Graceland. #jakessexxychicken was begging us to take her.
Tickets to Graceland were a little out of our price range (we settled for the “free” walking tour). We were a little late anyway, showing up at 5:00, which happened to be when the tours finished. We enjoyed walking around a bit, soaking in the atmosphere. I bought a magnet. We moved on.
Before heading into town for BBQ (we were recommended to Central BBQ from a Rochester friend who grew up in Memphis), we set up camp at a KOA over in Arkansas, about 20 minutes from the city. Our tent was 50ft. from the interstate.
Can I just take a moment and talk about how friendly the people at the West Memphis/Arkansas KOA were? It was my first glimpse of southern hospitality, I think. Super nice people. Talkative. Almost too talkative. I’m like, Okay. I’m from New York. We barely look at each other.
So we left the campsite and headed back to downtown Memphis.
Central BBQ. Holy smoked BBQ, this place is good. Better than good. It reconfigured my soul. I might be Buddhist now, I don’t even know. Everything has changed. That’s how good.
After Central BBQ (did I mention it was good?), we walked across the street to the Lorraine Motel. This is where Dr. King was assassinated, 50 years ago. Technically, the building has been retrofitted into the National Civil Rights Museum, but most of the building looks the same.
It’s an awe-inspiring/eerie sight to see — as is usual with most historic sites (I had a similar feeling after seeing the 911 Memorial in NYC). The Lorraine Motel was fresh in our minds.
In Rochester I critiqued “The Mountaintop,” a play about Dr. King’s last night on earth, which took place at the Lorraine Motel. After seeing the actual setting in person, I’m even more astonished with Robert Koharchik’s gorgeous and haunting set design.
We paid our respects to the legend on this sacred ground.
After the Lorraine we ventured all down to Beale Street. There, we paid our respects to another legend, one who more recently passed away.
The next morning, before leaving for Kansas City, we drove back down to Memphis one last time. I still had Sun Studios on my list, and I wanted to dip my hands in the Mississippi River.
Sun Studios, in case you’re unaware, is where Elvis, Jonny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and many, many others cut their iconic records. The studio is still churning out records, and you can take a tour if you have the time. Unfortunately we did not have the time. Kansas City was a good eight hour drive, and we needed to make dinner. It’s alright. Next time. It was an honor to even walk on the grounds. We went inside and saw the shop and bought a couple souvenirs.
Then we went to the Mississippi River and sat inside a catfish.
Kansas City a.k.a. stay in a real bed a.k.a. family spoils us time
It was hard to leave Memphis, for me at least. I loved the city. I felt like I could’ve done a week there, maybe more. I could live in any town with BBQ that good and a music scene that drenched in history, tradition and blues.
But we had to move. We had to get back into the car. Our Prius. Good ol’ that thing.
Kansas City was a pretty drive. We spent a few hours in Arkansas (gorgeous) and most of the time in Missouri (also surprisingly nice).
When we reached KC, we met my Aunt Debi and Uncle Joe at a steakhouse. There, I listened to music from the house band and also tried the BEST FRIED CHICKEN OF MY FRIGGAN LIFE. My Aunt Debi joined the house band and dedicated a song to my wife and me. It was sweet, and she rocks.
I wasn’t sure which was better: the music or the fried chicken. Let’s hope I never have to decide. Truth be told, I might need to go back to conduct more research.
Family time was wonderful: familiar faces, beds, couches, shelter (it was still raining, off and on).
Did I mention dogs? Dogs everywhere! I love dogs.
We were given a tour of KC. I didn’t know much about the city, to be honest, which is always exciting. I didn’t know what to expect. The only sightseeing I requested was the Kansas City Star. Like the sacred grounds of Memphis and Nashville, the Kansas City Star holds special significance for me. It’s where Ernest Hemingway got his start in the early 20th Century.
We were also shown the Plaza, all throughout KC, and of course, we stopped for more BBQ.
I’m not sure if KC and Memphis have a friendly competition for best BBQ, but they should. Arthur Bryant’s was delicious. These guys gave Memphis a run for their money.
On the walls were pictures of presidents and celebrities. In my mouth was another slab, alongside one of the best pulled pork sandwiches, NO, the BEST pulled pork sandwich of my life.
There, I said it.
My family (wonderful tour guides!) showed us Kaw Point. It’s where the Kansas and Missouri rivers meet. It’s also where Lewis and Clark once docked their boat to catch some z’s.
Denver, Colorado a.k.a. more time with family a.k.a. omg this bed a.k.a. STOP RAINING a.k.a. flash flood central
We did more in KC, including more dinner, sightseeing and family time, but we didn’t take many pictures for some reason. I think it was because we were so comfortable; it was nice to rest.
Then came Denver.
And the closer we got home, two things happened:
- The views were increasingly beautiful
- The regions were increasingly dangerous
Leaving Kansas City we had to drive through all of Kansas state. It was pretty, but we had tornados on the brain. There were some warnings in Colorado. And Kansas, well, has a bit of a reputation.
The closer we got to Colorado, the scarier the weather turned.
These may just look like normal rain clouds, which, admittedly, these shots are. HOWEVER, once we strolled into Colorado, I saw a storm front churning into the form of a tornado. I looked over at Megan and said, “Nice knowin’ you.”
It was so strange.
To the left, blue sky and puffy white clouds. To the right, the harbinger of death. We drove through fine, but the next day I saw on Slate that a tornado had landed near there.
Why didn’t we take photos? Cut us a break. We were scared sh**less.
The rain wouldn’t even stop in Denver. It did stop, occasionally, for an hour or two. But it would come back, and boy, would it come back. Denver, as my brother-in-law would tell us, is quite temperamental.
While waiting for our sushi table to open, somewhere in West Denver, the skies opened up and the streets flooded. Two hours in Denver and my shoes were soaked.
It was crazy and we were literally trapped.
The next day we ventured downtown to the 16th St Mall. Guess what? IT RAINED MORE.
But I’m not complaining, because though we were sick and tired of the rain, we were happy to be in Denver. Denver, as it turns out, is a super cool city. I can’t wait to go back.
Tyler showed us Boulder too.
Wyoming (the drive to Yellowstone) a.k.a. the Wild West
Coming into Wyoming, the welcome sign read, “Forever West.”
We could tell we were getting closer to home, and it felt good. Even if we were sick, sick, sick and tired of the car. But hey, look at that sky! See any rain? Neither did we.
There was one moment, at a gas station in Wyoming, where I briefly considered protesting the whole trip. The benefit of traveling with all your possessions is that you can live wherever you stop. I stood outside the car, waited for my wife to look up, and let my fatigued posture say, “You can’t make me.”
Spoiler alert: I got back in the car.
Yellowstone: 2 Nights — East Entrance through West Entrance
The east entrance of Yellowstone requires the summit of an 8000(+) ft. mountain. Our car — packed to the gills, exhausted and whiny — was like, really guys?
There were moments when I sincerely doubted if we’d make it up. I’d be like Desi Arnaz, trying to reach the top in a Long, Long Trailer, throwing rocks out of the door that Lucille Ball had collected from around the country. (I knew watching that movie would come in handy someday!)
The good news is that we made it. The Prius was making funny noises and moving slower than it had the whole trip, but we made it. At the top were bighorn sheep, bison and Yellowstone Lake.
The first night we stayed at Bridge Bay Campground. It’s near the East Entrance and right across from Yellowstone Lake. If you ever stay here, and you tent camp, I recommend the E or F Loops.
We didn’t do much that night, however. We wanted to rest up for the second day, so we built a fire, grilled hot dogs on our s’more skewers and went to bed (i.e., ground).
The second day we knew we wanted to see Old Faithful. That’s near the West Entrance, so we drove around the caldera (yes, as in volcano caldera), stopping occasionally for hot springs, bison and giant, grand canyons.
I hope I don’t offend anyone, but… Old Faithful was just okay? Maybe we had a below average performance (it happens). It didn’t help that, while we were waiting, the Beehive Geyser erupted. The Beehive Geyser is like 50ft. to the south, near all the hot springs and viewable from the Old Faithful sitting area. It was way better. So by the time Old Faithful went off we were like…
WE WANT BEEHIVE. GIVE US BEEHIVE! WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?
Okay, we really didn’t care. It was what it was.
The surrounding hot springs in the Old Faithful area were well worth the trip.
Why is the water boiling? Oh right. We’re standing in the middle of a super volcano. SO COOL!
Our second campsite was at Madison Campground, near the West Entrance. Bridge Bay was a good campsite, but if I were to return to Yellowstone (and I hope I do), I would do all my nights at Madison. It is peaceful, spacious, and, oh yeah, there’s an incredible river about 50ft. away.
Montana -> Idaho a.k.a. Idahome a.k.a. get me out of this car a.k.a. oh yes
Think this is a long blog post? Try driving this blog post!
We’re almost there. But first, #jakessexychicken almost hit a cow in Montana.
We finally made it home to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have nothing else to say.
Here are some pictures of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Oh yeah, final mileage for the trip: 3449 miles. $180 in gas. Considering we moved everything we owned in one trip, across the country, I’d say that was pretty good.
Thank you, Prius. Thanks for making it.
Thanks for reading!
Coming soon: A new internship and a job hunt — amidst memories of my worst job ever.