One of the hardest aspects of planning and executing my recent cross-country move was trying to sort out the logistics of actually, you know, getting there. Fortunately, my mom is a complete and utter rockstar, and volunteered to make the drive with me – cementing her status as Better Than Your Mother Since 1989. (If I could insert emojis in a blog post, I’d throw the hair-flip girl in right here.) 33 hours in a car with me? The woman is a saint. She deserves a medal. Or a spa day. Or a medal AND a spa day.
When we started to plan the route we wanted to take, a few points of interest made the list: first, neither of us had ever been to Mount Rushmore, and it was right on the way if we took a route through South Dakota. We also decided we wanted to detour a bit to see Yellowstone National Park. Serendipitously, both Rushmore (#6) and a national park (#15) were on my second 101 in 1001 list, which just sweetened the deal.
Our initial goal was to make the 33-hour drive in about 4 days, thinking we would take our time, explore, stop to smell the roses, et cetera. With that in mind, we mapped out the route below:
Heading west this way automatically checked off my 101 in 1001 #2, “Visit a new state.” In fact, every state we’d pass through (South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada!) on the way would be new to me! With grand visions of playing tourist in our own country, we loaded up the car the night before we left and set our alarms for like…4:40 am (Jonathan was home, and had a craaaaazy-early flight, so we got up with him!). Of course, it’s me, and my best-laid plans never fail to go awry. So in reality, we departed on Monday, June 5 at around 5:30am and were crossing the Bay Bridge by Wednesday, June 7 around 1pm. WOMP.
I can’t think of a more fun way to check off my 101 in 1001 #8, “Take a girls’ trip,” than with my favorite girl in the world: my mama bear. Stories and details below:
I’ll confess to being a bit of a wreck the morning we actually left. Saying goodbye to my dad was a total heartbreaker, and I’m pretty sure I hysterically and uncontrollably cried on and off for the first hour of the trip. Another tear-jerker: seeing the “Welcome to South Dakota” sign and watching the Minnesota sign recede in my rearview mirror.
South Dakota, guys. It’s flat and kind of awful for the vast majority of the drive. When I found myself playing passenger, I got so bored with watching empty fields roll by that I started to play “emoji artist” just to pass the time.
WALL DRUG. Oh my god can we talk about Wall Drug real quick? Every couple miles or so for the entirety of I-90 there is a Wall Drug billboard, and they are all kind of off-the-wall insane and hilarious. Wall Drug has a large dinosaur.
Wall Drug has a large jackalope (a fictional creature that is a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope, of course). According to the locals, they are “fearsome critters,” but we didn’t seem to have a problem when we started climbing all over this guy.Wall Drug was a great little interlude to break up the trip, as was a quick stop at the Rapid City Panera for lunch. Next stop: Rushmore!
I was not entirely sure what to expect of Mount Rushmore, but I have to say I was really blown away by how well-done the monument and visitors’ center are. Some famous historical locations (coughcough STONEHENGE) have left me feeling underwhelmed after years of seeing photos, but Rushmore is definitely worth seeing in person. The drive there is winding and hilarious – a lot of steep grades and adventurous climbs that kept us laughing incredulously the whole way there.
As for the monument itself…
Couldn’t resist this oh-so-opportune photo of my future home’s flag with the stony visages of the presidents.
The walk up to the monument overlook is lined with the flags of each of the states, and was incredibly picturesque, paved in local stone and full of information. We were racing to beat the incoming thunderstorms, however, so contented ourselves with a quick walk around and a few photo ops, of course.
We also had to snap a photo of George in profile…”it must be nice to have Washington on your side,” as
“Hamilton” so appropriately puts it!
Post-Rushmore, we still had about seven hours of driving ahead of us to reach Cody, Wyoming, our planned stop for the evening. Little did we know how aggressive that plan was…especially after prairie thunderstorms and the crazy-winding roads through Bighorn National Forest slowed us wayyyy down. By our last rest stop of the day, I was seriously debating buying this sexy coyote cap and settling down in rural Wyoming forever just so I wouldn’t have to get back in the car. (Please note: this is the prettiest photo of myself that I have EVER put on the Internet.) We arrived in Cody around 10:45 at night, checked into the Beartooth Inn (you can’t make this shit up), and promptly passed out.
Day Two was our Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks morning, and we had a blast – taking almost six hours to cover under 200 miles. I refused to let Mom drive – I was having too much fun with the peaks and curves – and we totally basic bitched out and listened to the “Pocahontas” soundtrack anytime we had enough service to run Spotify…I mean, duh, why wouldn’t you? Favorite photos below:
My sole disappointment is that, despite the numerous roadside warnings to be on the lookout for mama bears with cubs, the Jodester in her Cubs shirt is the only one we spotted. Next time, I guess!
We had ambitiously booked a hotel in Elko, NV on HotelTonight because it was really highly rated and really cheap, but I had a mini-meltdown when we stopped for lunch in Jackson, WY at 2:30 and we realized we still had 7 hours of driving ahead of us. After 16 hours the day before, I was NOT looking forward to another marathon day, especially as we had planned to take it easier. My mom bought us car trip cookies and took over driving, and I chilled out as soon as we hit the road again…
…until I took over and Google Maps suddenly took us way, WAY off the beaten path. There really is no direct route between Jackson and Elko, NV, so we spent about four hours driving through literal no-man’s land. There were no speed limit signs. There were no other cars. There were no lines down the middle of the road. There were tumbleweeds, literally. There were rattlesnakes – literally (ick). There were moments where we honestly thought we were going to die in the wasteland that is southeastern Idaho/northern Nevada. We could not stop laughing - total incredulity, campers.
And then we got to the Stockmen’s Casino and Ramada Inn, and you could cash your chips in at the same counter where you checked in. And I died laughing in a hysterical, surreal, punch-drunk-from-too-many-hours-on-the-road fit of complete insanity.
The next morning, we woke up and our sole goal was to get to the Bay Area as efficiently as possible. We got gas, washed the car, grabbed coffee, and pounded through Nevada and Northern California, falling in love with Tahoe on the way. I had my first Bay Area driving experience, which probably took years off my life, and before I knew it, we were:
Drinking alcohol at the biggest Anthropologie in the country (DEAD. I DIE. I STILL DIE EVERY TIME.) (also, #basicselfie, obviously)
Taking first roommate selfies
It had been a hell of an adventure, but it was over.
- If for any reason you ever find yourself in Cody, WY, stop at Cody Coffee Roasters. Utterly charming, amazing people, made-to-order crepes and excellent coffee.
- Bears do not respond to humans’ requests for them to show themselves, not even if you roll the window down and literally yell “HEY BEARS WHERE ARE YOU?”
- We saw a baby elk or caribou thing and I about died.
- If you, like Jodes and me, are into Broadway and have 33 hours in the car to pass, I cannot recommend the “Broadway Musical” approach more highly. We listened to 21 musicals in 33 hours – and it was amazing. Full list:
3. Spring Awakening
4. The Book of Mormon
6. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
9. Mamma Mia
10. Pocahontas (not technically a musical, but WHATEVER, haters)
12. Dear Evan Hansen
13. Les Miserables
14. The Last Five Years
17. The Phantom of the Opera
18. In The Heights
19. Legally Blonde
20. La La Land (also not technically a musical but GUYZ ALMOST BEST PICTURE OMG)
21. Hello, Dolly!
- Finally, if you ever have the opportunity to road trip one-on-one with a parent, I highly encourage it. To be fair, I adore both my parents, and love spending time with them, but I seriously will always treasure the memories of this trip with my mom (and couldn’t be more grateful to her for her patience, forbearance, and support the entire way!).