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Re: Poughkeepsie, Saratoga Springs, and Big Indian: A Covid Road Trip Love the TR! Thanks for writing it up.
June 12, 2020, 05:47:39 PM
NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 Yes, you heard that right. A solo 4-week road trip from NYC to California and back, hitting as many National Parks as I can along the way.

I'm spending a few days in the Poconos (8/18-8/23), and then heading out for real.

Some preliminary details: I'm allowing for some flexibility in my planning; that said, here's the basic plan:
NYC -> PA. Stay with siblings for a few days in a great Airbnb in the Poconos.
Cedar Point Amusement Park. Yes, it's open.
Chicago. See some friends (with appropriate distancing) and eat some Chicago kosher food.
South Dakota (Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil's Tower Monument)
Wyoming - Yellowstone, Grand Teton
Utah - Bonneville Salt Flats
(I've already been to Arches and Canyonlands. Zion and Bryce will have to wait for another trip.)
Yosemite (Yo Semite!)
Sequoia National Park
Los Angeles
Death Valley
Joshua Tree
Las Vegas
Hoover Dam
Grand Canyon
After that, who knows?
Possibly: Great Salt Plains in OK, New Orleans, Great Smoky Mountains.

I'm happy to take suggestions, especially westward bound between PA -> Chicago -> South Dakota -> Yellowstone, and eastward bound between Grand Canyon and NYC (yes, I know that's a long way).

I'm deliberately skipping some parks that are too out of the way, like Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Crater Lake; and some cities that I plan to visit at some later date for a baseball game (Houston, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Denver).

I'm using my own car, mostly for comfort and nostalgia reasons. It's a 2012 Camry, 97k miles, and a workhorse.

I eat dairy out, so I won't be obsessing around where to get food. Sorry to disappoint. I'll post food pics if there's demand, or when eating at a hechshered establishment.

Let the trip commence!

August 19, 2020, 08:42:15 PM
Re: NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 Trip Report Day 1

Aaaaaand the trip is underway!! I started off with a nice lazy last morning with my siblings in our Tobyhanna Airbnb. All in all, a really nice place for a medium size family to stay - 5 bedrooms, lake view and access, spacious comfortable areas to relax...

View of the Lake

After our non-tearful goodbyes, it was time to head out. I put my first stop - Cuyahoga Valley National Park - in Waze, and off I went.

On the way, I kept my eyes out for Walmart. Because, dear friends, it seems that I have forgotten to tell you about my first roadtrip snafu.

As I was loading my car before heading to the Poconos last week, I noticed that the inside of my trunk was wet. I unpacked the trunk completely, and I saw one of a car owner's worst nightmares: mold. I consulted the Google, and covered the trunk with baking soda. Not sure if that was a good idea or not, but it did reduce the moisture.

Directions: Add one s***load of baking soda to trunk. Vacuum. Pray.

Welp. I was out of options at that moment. I consulted my dad, and then Amazon Primed a trunk liner replacement to the Airbnb. Sadly, USPS decided that the package was undeliverable because the addressee was unknown. Hmm. not sure why that was a problem. FedEx delivered a package to me at the same address two days earlier.

So, I went to Walmart on the way. Walmart #1 didn't have what I wanted, and it was then that I remembered that @JuryDuty had suggested I check for in-store availability. @JuryDuty is always right. I checked online, went to the next Walmart that was on my way, and picked up a suitable replacement.

It was one-size-fits-most, which apparently means that it mostly fits :) I'll get a real replacement when I get back to NY. I left the now-dry, full-of-baking-soda original liners in Tobyhanna for the sanitation and the raccoons to fight over.

I stopped for gas along the way. All rest stops seem to be following a similar policy - put up a sign that masks are required, and not enforce it. Most people were wearing masks, though. Yes, I was wearing one.

I crossed into Ohio...

and made it to Cuyahoga Valley.

It's a nice park, mostly with easy hiking and biking paths through forests. I did the Ledges Trail, as recommended by @crownsbroyal. I was a bit underwhelmed, but if that was the best of the park then I'm glad I chose that trail. Here's a pic of the Ledges Overlook:

I must be spoiled, I guess. As punishment for not enjoying the view, I had an unexpected encounter with a state trooper, and will have to make an obligatory donation to the State of Ohio.

I decided that I would drive West until I got tired. I pulled up the IHG app (more on IHG later - basically I've decided that IHG would be the best bet for this trip) and found a few hotels along the I-80. A few podcast episodes and phone calls later, I arrive in Fremont, Indiana, which is where I currently find myself, typing at a hotel desk in a hotel suite.

That sign says Indiana!

For tomorrow, plan is to see two clients over Zoom in the morning (hotel WiFi seems good), head to Indiana Dunes SP, then Chicago for late lunch/early dinner with friends whom I have not yet texted, and then head further West. For now, good night!

Day Totals: 562 miles driven, too many hours to count. Filled up on gas twice.

August 23, 2020, 11:31:42 PM
Re: NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 Ok, it is HARD to keep up the pace here, but I’m going to try. Day 3 TR, here we go.

I woke up in the Staybridge Suites Madison, Wisconsin (coincidentally also where I went to bed last night), had breakfast…

...and then I saw five clients from 9 AM to 2 PM Eastern standard Time, a.k.a. 8AM to 1 PM central time. It was exhausting! Thank G!d for hotel WiFi, though.

I feel like working is a necessary evil on this trip, and I don't think I could take the trip without doing so, but it's killing my vibe a bit. I really do like to sleep in! I was exhausted. I pushed late check out as far as I could, until about 3:30 PM, and then I headed out on the road.

But first, a stop for gas (the Milt’s barbecue sauce had run out). I had a long drive ahead of me – I was basically going to head toward Badlands national Park in South Dakota, and get as far as I could.

Gas is really cheap here! It was $1.99 a gallon. Thanks, Wisconsin!

Something else I noticed - I’ve been having a windshield bug problem. I don’t know if this area has more bugs, or I’m covering more miles, or the higher speeds lead to more bug squashing, but my windshield was becoming messy. The wipers and fluid weren’t helping as much as I would have liked. More on this later.

I headed west on the I-90, passing into Minnesota.

You can really see the bug streaks on the windshield!

To my surprise I crossed over the Mississippi River! I knew it runs north to south but I wasn't expecting it this far north. Hey. Geography.

On a gas pit stop, I saw a carwash place, and my car desperately needed one (especially the windshield). I stopped in, and - to my surprise - it was fully automated, with no attendant! I used the kiosk and pulled in. It was definitely a fun experience! Too bad there were no attendants at the end to wipe down my windshield, I could have used it.

[this is supposed to be a video, can anyone help me troubleshoot?]

I amused myself with music, phone calls, and an audiobook until I got to Blue Earth, Minnesota. I was there to see the Jolly Green Giant, he of the corn and green beans - neither of which were served at the statue. Not that I eat green beans, but that’s a story for another time.

While exiting the highway in Blue Earth, I was once again welcomed by a representative of the state, this time Minnesota. He traveled in a car with flashing lights. We had a little chat, and he thankfully did not obligate me to make a mandatory donation to the state. I was very grateful.

At the statue, I met two fine gentlemen from the East Coast, one from Albany and one from New England. I asked them to demonstrate their photography skills with my camera, with me and said Giant as the subjects. Then I reciprocated and demonstrated my photography skills with their respective terms. Surprisingly, they are also on a road trip to the West Coast, planning to visit as many national parks in the camp. We compared notes, laughed at the unpredictability of the universe, and drove away.

My (mostly) clean car and the Jolly Green Giant. If you look closely, you can see the Toyota letters that I ordered for free from Toyota by way of a tip from @Dan a bunch of years ago. Anyone remember that post? And if yes, did you order letters as well? I have named my car Fezzik, after the Princess Bride character played by Andre the Giant in the iconic movie. Fezzik, meet Jolly Green. Jolly Green, meet Fezzik. I will henceforth refer to my car by name.

Back on the I-90, I headed west once again, and stopped at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the night.

Two gas fill-ups, one car wash, one pull-over, and  437 miles of driving (6.5 hours). Long day. I’m wiped. Staying at the Candlewood Suites in Sioux Falls, SD.

August 29, 2020, 11:30:30 PM
Re: NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 Day 4. I do NOT like Candlewood Suites. They don’t have breakfast, and the layout is weird - small bathroom, no sink in bathroom. I may come again only when I need to do laundry, as they have complimentary laundry services available for guests.

COVID doesn’t seem to exist much here. No sign about masks at the hotel. Just sneeze into your elbow, please.

Short Zoom meeting with colleagues in the morning, and then headed out. Just me, Fezzik, and the I-90. Before I got on the highway, though, I stopped for gas and windshield cleaner wipes. The carwash just did not do the job. Lots of bugs were leaving their mark!

I decided to take the advice of @Kobe bryent and stop at the World’s Only Corn Palace (mostly because I’m trying to get myself to slow down and enjoy more of the sights, and maybe not stick exactly to my schedule. Also, I was starting to get really tired. More on this later).

It’s mostly just corn mosaics and corn gift shops! Corny jokes abound.

I wouldn’t say it was a-maize-ing, but shucks if I didn’t enjoy it just a little.

Some unhappy livestock…

And then it was a few hours to Badlands National Park. I settled in.

Some nice views…

Heading into Mountain Time!

And finally arrived at Badlands National Park a few hours before sunset. I opted for the National Park Annual Pass for $80, as opposed to a day pass for $35. I should able to use the Annual Pass a nice amount on this trip.

Badlands is otherworldly….I got out my “real” camera for much of the park, so I don’t have too much to upload just yet (don’t have an sd card reader for my new laptop). That will have to wait until I return to NYC.

Right after the NorthEast park entrance…

Near the visitor center..

I chose to drive through the park and not hike, since I was short on time and tired too. I did stop at the Fossil Viewpoint…

And Pinnacle Point for sunset…

...where I met those fine gentlemen from the Jolly Green Giant again! We had another laugh - them, me, the universe...and Fezzik.

I met a herd of big-horned deer, or something…

They stopped traffic.

And then headed out to Rapid City, SD, for the night. I was back to Holiday Inns, no more fancy Candlewood or Staybridge stuff. I need a sink in my bathroom.

Summary: 363 miles, 5.5 hours of driving, one National Park. One stop for gas.

August 30, 2020, 12:29:24 AM
Re: NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 TR Day 5

I had 3 clients this morning, from 10am-1pm...or 8am-11am Mountain time. I woke up early to get some breakfast. The hard boiled eggs were vacuum sealed and OU :)

I tried to get out at 12, but I just fell asleep when I laid down for “just a few minutes”. The travel was really getting to me! A big part of this trip is personal adventure, which for me means exploring both the amazing natural world, and my own internal self. Sorry not sorry for getting all therapist-y on you. So I took a breath, and allowed myself to leave late. Thankfully, the front desk let as well :)

I left after two, and headed to Mount Rushmore, a scant 40 minutes away. I entered the Black Forest, and enjoyed the rolling hills and thick trees. Passing though Keystone, I noted a bunch of touristy things I wanted to come back and see, like chainsaw wood carvings and fresh taffy.

I tried to get in with my Annual Pass, but I was informed that “admission is free, but parking is ten dollars”. Cute. You have to pay for parking at a kiosk, kind of like at a mall.

It’s about a 5-10 minute walk to the monument, slightly uphill. You can see the faces upon approach, and it does look pretty cool. There’s also a nice spirit of patriotism in the air.

I had a great random conversation with a Texas police officer about America, New York history, Israel, and the current social unrest around police brutality and Black Lives Matter. He said that he’s a police training office and he teaches Krav-maga, has been to Israel...definitely an interesting fellow.

(Please note that I say all of this without political comment. I ask that you show similar restraint on this thread.)

From there I stopped in Keystone, and saw the sights…This would NOT fly in NYC! Again, posting without commentary, as a curious observer.

I got bored pretty quickly. Most of these tourist attractions are the same.

True story.

In general, I would say Mount Rushmore is a good stop on a larger trip, but don’t plan to spend much time here. There’s not much to do. Take a few pictures, stop at the gift shop, move on.

Next stop was Crazy Horse Memorial, which I don’t recommend unless you’re super interested in Native American history and trivia. This may have been related to my being more and more tired as the day went on, but I really didn’t enjoy this stop.

The next stop was going to be Devil’s Tower Monument, but I nixed it. Too tired and too much looking at weird rocks all day. (Come to think of it, I WAS pretty grumpy).

The sunset was really nice, though.

I pulled up my IHG map, found a Holiday Inn in Gillette, Wyoming, and headed there full speed ahead. Which is pretty fast.

No state representatives were seen.

Summary: Some gas I’m sure (don’t remember), Less than 4 hours on the road, 172 miles driving.

August 30, 2020, 12:52:18 AM
Re: NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 TR Day 6 and 7 - Friday and Shabbos

In Gillette, Wyoming, I woke up early and saw a bunch of clients over Zoom. And then I promptly went back to sleep. I am slowly discovering that I’m a human being. This traveling is exhilarating - and exhausting. I took my sweet time and got on the road in the early afternoon.

I was planning on staying in Billings, Montana for shabbos (I ditched Bozeman because it was too far and I wanted to use the Beartooth approach to Yellowstone). My dad suggested that I stay in Red Lodge for shabbos, which was an hour closer to Yellowstone. I found a bunch of dumpy places, and then had a conversation with @JuryDuty. He has a real knack for finding the needle in the haystack. A few minutes later, I had a couple of good suggestions, and off I went.

It was a pretty uneventful trip, taking about 4.5 hours for the 300 miles. I made all my shabbos calls, which was nice.

Anyone know this person?

I missed the Welcome to Montana sign. Siri let me know that I had entered Big Sky Country.

I had some trouble finding the hotel, the Rock Creek Resort in Red Lodge, Montana. For some reason Waze sent me down a dirt road a few hundred feet away from the turnoff. It’s on the 212 itself, no need to turn off.

I say this because I really hope that some of you take my suggestion and stay here. It was a really great place to hunker down for shabbos. It’s quiet, very peaceful, clean. And I could not believe my eyes and ears when I saw the patio of my room:

What a gorgeous, peaceful view. And the roaring of the river was a beautiful soundtrack for relaxing and falling asleep - I kept the door open all night for mountain air and river sounds. There was a screen door to keep the bugs out.

Where I spent most of shabbos afternoon:

Views of the lobby saturday night, and from the main lodge before shabbos:

Other things to consider: they have manual (actual) keys, so that helps for shabbos as well. Continental breakfast included hechshered oatmeal with hot water. Ask for a room with a river view!

Once again, thank you @JuryDuty for finding this place!

Ok, I’m only one day behind on my TR. Not bad.

August 31, 2020, 12:42:09 AM
Re: NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 TR Week 2, Day 1 - Sunday

It’s Beartooth time! At the suggestion of @Something Fishy and @BCL I set myself up for the most scenic way to get to Yellowstone: The Beartooth Scenic Byway. I left my weekend resort early in the morning, after a last goodbye to the river and views…

And then was off. It was a long, winding way through the mountains…

And I had to stop many, many times to take pictures.

You are beautiful... matter what they say.

Is that the Beartooth?

Truly worth it to take this windy road to Yellowstone.

At Silver Gate, I stopped to fuel up..

And then on to Yellowstone!

I used my Annual Pass to get it. Ka-Ching! If you’re going to any large National Park, I strongly recommend downloading the NPS app, and downloading the maps before you go (while you still have service). I used the maps function extensively - it was very helpful to know where I was on the map at any given point on the long, windy roads.

I did a great deal of planning to make sure to get as much in as I could in one day. This site was most helpful:

I entered through the Northeast entrance, and traveled through Lamar Valley - one of Yellowstone’s best places to see wildlife. I was NOT prepared for what happened.

I stopped and took a picture or two and kept driving. Suddenly, the car in front of me stopped, and then began just inching forward. I did the same, and soon came across something huge flailing around on the side of the road. Eventually I realized that it was a bison, scratching itself on the dirt hill on the side of the road. I had no idea how large and powerful bison are! I caught myself with my mouth open as I inched past and tried to take some pics. Wow.

There were a fair amount of bison herds along the road, though none quite as close. At one point, two elk raced along the plains, parallel with my car. It was surreal.

Lamar Valley continued to amaze.

Some bison in the distance there.

I continued along to Mammoth Springs (out of my way, but there was a road closure) and headed toward the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Again, surreal views. The pictures just don’t do it justice, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I focused on the South Rim here, I didn’t make it to the North Rim.

I drove and walked around with my mouth open, like a fool. Like a glorious, happy fool.

Next, it was time for the Midway Geyser Basin. The entire Yellowstone is on top of an active volcano. At some point it will erupt again and we’ll all be toast. Until then, we get to enjoy the volcanic activity bubbling to the surface in the form of geysers and springs.

There’s a boardwalk past a bunch of the springs. Naturally-occurring colors that you’ve never seen before. Don’t step in - you won’t make it out alive.

Luckily I knew when Old Faithful was going to erupt next, thanks to the NPS app and their predicted eruption times! It amazes me that we have this ability and technology.

I got to Old Faithful early and got a good seat. A middle-aged Mormon couple sat down next to me (a few feet away, COVID style) and we caught a good shmuz while we waited.

Soon enough….

I stopped at the gift shop. Had to get some goodies. They sure do like their huckleberry here...

By then, I was tired. I nixed West Thumb, and continued south to where I was staying in Grand Teton National Park. More on that next post!

September 10, 2020, 01:47:23 AM
Re: NYC - CA - NYC Solo National Parks Road Trip Summer 2020 TR Week 2, Day 2 - Monday

Waking up in the forest, in a bungalow, next to a lake, inside a National Park = not bad.

I rose, made coffee, saw clients (the internet speed was blessedly fine), and checked out. Oh, I skipped the part where I begged for late checkout. They weren't too charitable.

The room was expensive - I paid $304 for the night - and was fairly basic. Again, location wins.

It was cloudy and chilly, with rain in the forecast. And it was just as well, because I wasn't up for a full National Park day! Even though I was literally in my second National Park in two days.

First, a trip to Jenny Lake, which I was told not to miss. It was only 15 minutes away.

Obligatory through-the-windshield pic:

It was only a short walk from the parking lot to the lake:

And then, the most breathtaking view, even in the mist:

You can see the ferry here.

I didn't have the energy to hike around the lake, and it was cold and rainy too. So I sat and ate my lunch and pondered the view. Definitely a nice place to eat lunch. 5/5 Stars, would go again. The wait service was a bit grumpy, though. Must have been the weather.

Another do-not-miss, according the internet, was Mormon Row: a bunch of quaint houses with the Tetons in the background. The mist put a bit of a damper on the views.

At that point, it started raining in earnest, and also the longest line of Corvettes I've ever seen started arriving and promised to cause a major traffic jam. I was told to avoid the livestock, so I hoofed it out of there!

I got the sign on the way out, since it was dark when I entered.

And then it was off to Jackson, Wyoming.

I had to stop at the horns:

Jackson is a tourist attraction and a major travel destination. I found that out when I googled the town and one of the first results that came up was "Where do celebrities stay in Jackson?" (Answer: at least four places where rooms start at $900 a night. Nice to dream about as I cozy up at my Holiday Inn.)

Fun fact: Tetons is adapted from French. It means "teat". Take that one home.

It was mostly horns, gift shops, and a 20-person line to get into Starbucks. And it was raining. I got moving south. It was a truly scenic drive:

With some colorful rest-stops:

And then - Utah.

The scenic byways continued.

It was a long drive, but I'm glad I pushed through all the way to Salt Lake City. After a hopefully restful night and a morning full of clients, it would be time to head East.

Oh, and laundry. It was laundry day, so I made sure to stay at the Candlewood Salt Lake City Airport, so I would be able to wear clean clothing. I wouldn't say it was effortless (my dryer kept stopping), but eventually my clothes were clean. I fell asleep dreaming of grand tetons. I mean, The Grand Tetons.

Totals: 307 miles, about 5.5 driving hours, and no Tshirts bought because they didn't have good ones in my size.

September 21, 2020, 12:40:58 AM