Goth Panda

February 16, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – St. Louis Arch

St. Louis Arch

January 5, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – Legoland


July 29, 2014

Cross Country Road Trip Wrap-Up

Everyone asks us what our favorite part of the cross-country road trip was, and it’s a tough question to answer. In some ways, the whole trip was the best thing; actually making the drive all of the way there and back and seeing so many different parts of the country. I worried a lot about being bored on the trip or getting sick of being in the car and neither of those things happened. I bought a bunch of books for my Kindle and ended up not reading any of them.

That said, there are a few experiences that I would recommend to others, and there are a few places that I’d like to visit again.

I liked Tucson, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Big Sur, and I wish we’d had more time to spend in each of those. I would definitely consider going back and spending more time in each. I’d recommend the Gateway Arch, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands National Monument, and Arches National Park to others, although I’m not sure I need to visit any of them again. We had fun in Roswell, but I’m not sure everyone would like it. I liked Iowa in general, and Des Moines in particular, more than I expected to, but I’m not sure we will ever be in that area again. I’m sad we missed the chance to see Hearst Castle. I didn’t really like Las Vegas, although we plan to return there for another Utah/Colorado road trip sometime in the future. Maybe we can find something to like about it then.

All in all, everything went more smoothly than I could have hoped for, with only one serious disruption in Oklahoma. Since coming back, we have even talked about doing it again sometime, with a different route. I have a few other plans for long road trips, but I don’t think we will be crossing the country again for a while.

June 19, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Days 14-17: Heading Home

The final four days of our road trip were full of driving and driving and not much else, so in the interest of brevity, I decided to condense them into one post.

I woke up on New Year’s Day feeling even worse. We were outside of Denver, and the plan for the day was to drive east in just about a straight line until we reached Lincoln, Nebraska. We ended up spending these four days right behind a huge snow storm, but the worst weather we got was this first morning, when we hit some snow leaving Colorado. We made this drive right in the middle of the “polar vortex,” however. Most of the days, the high temperature was in the single digits.


Nebraska is flat and seemed to be nearly empty. The most promising spot we found for lunch was a diner attached to a full service truck stop, one of the largest I have ever seen. It boasted showers, two separate shops (one a gift shop and one a convenience store), a video game arcade, and a gas station, in addition to the diner. After we got back on the road, I made a note when we passed an exit with TWO gas stations, the first we had seen with more than one in quite a while. I also noted the condition of the car’s passenger side carpets, which combined dried red mud from Arches with sand from White Sands and cookie crumbs. “Lots of cows,” I wrote.


We stopped in Lincoln for the night and tried to find a restaurant that wasn’t closing early for New Year’s Day. We ended up driving downtown and stopping at a sandwich shop that was open for only a few more minutes. The temperature when we got there was 8 degrees F. I don’t know much about Lincoln, but it seemed like the city mostly consists of the University of Nebraska campus, and they were clearly celebrating some kind of football victory.


We stopped the next morning at a grocery store to get me cough medicine. We made it into Iowa, our final new state, which I liked much better than Nebraska. Iowa had small hills and trees and farms, compared to Nebraska’s flat emptiness.


We had a “social media” moment in Iowa. We posted on Facebook about being there, and one of our friends commented that we should stop at the Historic Danish Windmill, which he remembered from his own past road trip. I checked the map and found out it was about a half an hour ahead of us, so we made the slight detour to see it.

Historic Danish Windmill

I bought some windmilled rye flour as a souvenir. Then we stopped in Des Moines at Raccoon River Brewing Company for a late lunch. We were charmed with both the brewery and the city, and we ended up taking home growlers of ale (for Mike’s brother; neither of us drinks beer) and cream soda. We crossed into Illinois and ended up at our hotel in Joliet behind schedule. We ate at a sports bar near our hotel, which turned out to be much better than either of us expected. Mike ordered a local brand of cider that was served with cinnamon sugar around the rim of the glass. The waitress had a strong Midwest accent, kind of like the Minnesota accents in “Fargo,” and I had to ask her to repeat some of the things she said because of it.

The second to last day, my cold got worse and I spent most of the morning asleep in the car while Mike was driving. We stopped in Indiana at a local restaurant for lunch, but then in the afternoon, Mike started feeling sick, too, so I took over driving. It really feels like we limped home the final two days because of the state we were in by the end of the trip. We were just focused on getting home. It seemed like we had been on the road forever. Although I never reached a point where I was truly sick of it, I was definitely relieved to finally be home. The fact that I was sick only made it worse.

We stopped at an Ohio turnpike rest stop for dinner, which I was really impressed with. They had a Panera! And then we pushed on to Pittsburgh.


I kept both of us awake for the most of the final night, coughing. We did not have much longer to drive, so we left later than usual. I noted that the weather felt much warmer, but then I realized it was still only 33 degrees F, which seemed sad. We found a nearby diner for breakfast, most of which I couldn’t eat, and then we got on the Pennsylvania turnpike for the long, boring, and familiar drive home. Mike drove the whole way, and I tried to sleep. We made it home in time to order pizza for dinner, and then for me to fall into bed and sleep for nearly twelve hours.


April 28, 2014

Cross-Country Road Trip Day 13: Arches National Park

This was New Year’s Eve. I woke up in the morning with a scratchy throat, the first sign that for the rest of the trip, I was going to be sick.

When I was trying to decide where to stop in Utah, I picked Arches from the bunch of awesome-looking National Parks because it looked like the smallest, and I thought we might be able to see most of it in less than a day. We did manage to fit in almost all of the major highlights, but we still wished we could have stayed longer. Especially since we didn’t get to do any real hiking.

We stopped at the Visitors Center to get a stamp for our National Parks passport. We do actually have an official passport and everything, but we almost always forget to bring it. I usually end up getting the stamps on scrap paper and pasting them in later. This trip was no exception.

The Visitors Center also showed photos of the hiking trails to give you an idea of what the conditions are like, and the trails looked worryingly icy.

moab not ca

We stopped at all of the park’s greatest hits:

Arches NP

The Organ and Courthouse Towers

Arches NP

Three Gossips

Arches NP

Balanced Rock

Arches NP

The Windows

Arches NP

Turret Arch

Some of the paths were icy, especially around the Windows. I was glad we were there in the winter, though, because I can only imagine how hot and crowded this park gets in the summertime.

We stopped at Delicate arch, and first went to the lower observation point, which still pretty far away from the arch. We decided to do the short hike up to the upper observation point. This trail wasn’t icy, but halfway through it turned into mud. Bright red mud, deep enough that our hiking boots sunk in over soles, and we had to fight to pull our feet out of it. We made it to the top, only to discover that the upper observation point was not all that much closer than the lower observation point. I took the photo below from the upper observation point, and Delicate is still pretty tiny.

Arches NP

We wished we had time to hike up to Delicate Arch, but we did not.

After Delicate, we drove up the rest of the way to the Devils Garden area, stopping along the way to take photos at some of the rock formations. At Devils Garden, we parked and hiked in a little bit. By this time clouds were covering up the bright blue skies we’d had in the morning.

Arches NP

So we decided to leave and get on the road. We stopped back in Moab at the Moab Diner for a late lunch before we left. Mike promised Moab we would definitely return. I drove us out of Moab, a little deflated. The rest of the trip was mostly going to be driving after this. Arches was the last big stop we had planned. We did have a few new states to look forward to, but not much besides that.

On the road to Denver after lunch, I started to feel the need to stop at a bathroom. However, Utah did not cooperate.

no services

I wasn’t able to find anything until after we crossed into Colorado. By the time we did stop, it was a pretty desperate situation. I joked that I was holding a slight grudge against Utah for that last leg of the our trip in the state.


By the time we got to the ski areas of Colorado, it was after dark. For some reason before the trip, I was really apprehensive about driving this section. I thought for sure we would have horrible weather and I was worried about the roads. I should have known that any highway that goes to some of the best ski resorts in the country would be kept in decent shape. We had clear weather, and the roads were better in Colorado than they were in Utah. I wished we could have seen the towns as we passed by them. One of the most annoying things about a winter road trip was the limited amount of daylight.

We stayed in a suburb of Denver, and by the time we reached it and started looking around for a restaurant, many were closing up for New Year’s. We managed to find a pizza place near our hotel that was still open. Since we come from what may be the epicenter of pizza on the East Coast, we were not sure what to expect, but we agreed that the pizza was not bad at all.

denver nye