My Cross Country Trip Report

May 4th, 2008 by Greg Goodson Leave a reply »
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Granted that my trip across country was a week ago, I will try to remember as many details as possible, starting with the drive on Monday from Houston to Caprock Canyon State Park in Texas:

Day 2: Houston, TX to Caprock Canyon State Park, TX

The trip got off to a late start, maybe 11:00am or so as we waited for traffic around the Houston area to die down. We hit the road, drove through Houston, hit up a Whataburger (which was actually pretty good!) and finally made it to Dallas/Ft. Worth. It wasn’t before long until we got off the interstate, and hit up state road 287 which rolls through Wichita Falls and Childress.

As small as 287 is, in order to get to Caprock Canyon State Park, we had to get off onto another road for about 20 miles. By this time, the sun was setting low, and the temperature was getting a little cooler (maybe in the low 60s). It did seem like the Texas sun kept getting closer and closer to the horizon, but wouldn’t set. While driving from the town of Estelline to Turkey, TX, I witnessed the “biggest sky” I have ever seen in my life. The 15 miles from 287 to the small town of Turkey, TX was simply beautiful. That’s really the only way to describe it. Just land, fields, farms, the sunset, and again, the biggest sky I have ever seen.

As the sun was setting even further, we came upon the oasis that is Turkey, TX. By oasis, I mean I find it unbelievable that there are towns in the United States that are surrounded by miles and miles of uninhabited land. The “Welcome to Turkey” greeting sign showed a population of 494, and that Turkey was the home of Bob Wills (who is apparently a Western Swing musician). The town was a few antique stores, a few hole in the wall restaurants, maybe a gas station if you were lucky, and about 100 homes.

In the next few days, we passed through many of these towns because we wouldn’t be on interstates for the rest of the trip for the most part. With that being said, the speed limit on all these back roads were still 65 mph which still allowed for relatively quick travel from one destination to the next. Many of these roads were either one or two lanes, but because they were surrounded by land that would seem like you were in “No Country for Old Men”, the speed limit was still high because the roads were so desolate. When you got a mile away from a town, you would read signs that said “reduce speed ahead”. You would have to slow down to maybe 30 mph in these towns with populations of 500 or less, but the town would only be maybe a ½ mile stretch in every 15 miles or so. It made sightseeing interesting, and it really tickled my fancy.

Finally, we drove through a town called Quitaque, home of the entrance of Caprock Canyons State Park. As we approached the park, the sun had just dipped below the horizon. On the way to the tent campsites about 5 miles into the park, the road was literally littered with burrowing owls ; baby owls were all over the road. At one point I saw about 5 of them just walking around. The best part is that they did not move out of the way of the car. Be very careful – don’t run them over!

As we settled on a campsite, we realized that were wasn’t a soul around for at least 3 miles. It’s tough to find solitude now a days but if you ever would like to “get away from it all”, go to a western Texas state park on a weeknight. Once the tent was set up, knocked out a few Coronas and hit the hay. This was probably the first time I had slept in my huge 8 person tent without the rainfly, and it really was perfect timing, as the stars were so bright, you could see your shadow. I kid you not. Our heads hit the pillow around 9:00pm, with the intention to rise early in the morning to hit the road by 7:00am.

In the middle of the night, maybe around midnight, I was awoken by bright headlights shining on the tent door. A little scary as I was pretty sure that there wouldn’t be a soul to be seen all night. I got up to hopefully get a better look, when I realized that the “headlights” was a full moon rising over the canyon wall. Once the moon got high enough, you talk about moonshadows. The moon seemed as bright as the sun. If we had been hiking or running on the trails surrounding the tent, you could leave your headlamp at home. Just incredible!

After starring straight up at the sky for another 15 minutes, I turned over, not to wake up until 5:30am the next day.

Day 3: Quitaque, TX to Great Sand Dunes NP, CO

We were awoken rather early around 5:30am by the sound of the wind against the tent, and the howling of coyotes in the distance (maybe a little less than a mile away if I had to guess). The sun hadn’t risen yet, and it was still about an hour away before the official sunrise, but you could tell where it would break the horizon as the light was getting brighter and brighter as the minutes rolled by. I got up with my cameras to grab some pictures worth a thousand works, and a few videos (maybe worth more than a thousand words?):

We hit the road pretty quickly (maybe 6:30am?) to head towards our next destination, the Great Sand Dunes NP. I don’t know what this place consists of at this point, but it’s a national park and it sounds pretty cool (all national parks are IMHO). We drove on more single lane roads with 70 mph speed limits right off the bat. Just like the movies, there were tumbleweeds constantly blowing across the road. While I don’t have any pictures, I guarantee they do exist!

It was an awesome morning I assure you, and the sight of a Sonic’s after 60 miles of empty road was a blessing. After a refuel of a breakfast burrito and a tank of gas, we headed north towards Amarillo. After maybe a 45 minute drive on I-27, Amarillo came and went. Talking about a boring town (no offense!) – I was expecting cowboys and stuff. All I got was a 15 story building and a few gas stations. Hey, no complaints – at least there was no traffic. In 10 minutes, we entered the town and left. Heading north towards a small town called Dumas, we passed some gigantic windmills. As we approached them, they just kept getting bigger and bigger. They really weren’t moving, but man they were something else.

It was funny going through Dumas. It was a small town, maybe population 10,000 (I guess a large town in comparison). The funny part was the GPS, as we were driving through town, said “turn left in 400 feet.” Finally when we approached the turn, which was at a tiny stoplight in the town (keep in mind we are not on any major interstate, but some backroads again) we turned left onto another road. As we turned left, the GPS says “good, now that you turned left onto this seemingly unimportant road, travel 129 miles on it. I guess this sums up why people call travelling across country “boring”. Just long stretches of road, not a whole lot of changing scenery:

Soon we hit New Mexico – the Land of Enchantment. While we were only in NM for a few hours, at least I can say “yeah, I’ve been there”. We drove through Kiowa National Grasslands, past Clayton Lake State Park, mailed a package to my Uncle from Des Moines, drove past Capulo Volcano National Monument, and finally hit I-25, headed north into Colorado.

Right before we hit I-25, driving down state road 87 in NM, we could see in the distance the Rocky Mountains. After driving through so many miles of plains, I’ll have you know that the mountains look scary and intimidating. Still snowcapped, rising above everything else, staring you in the face. As we hit I-25 heading north into CO, we were in them, driving on some steep grades and sharp curves. Generally, a treacherous stretch of highway.

It wasn’t very long before we hit Walsenburg, where we would again turn onto some “non-interstate roads” once again. At this point, we were surrounded by 3 or 4 peaks that were higher than 14K feet however it didn’t look so high because we were probably 8K feet in elevation ourselves. After a few miles on state road 160, we approach the Great Sand Dunes NP – great timing! It’s only 2:30pm (granted we did move into MST, giving us an extra hour.

If you’ve never been to Great Sand Dunes NP, I’ll tell you it’s quite an interesting place. I didn’t get a great explanation of why there is just a billion sand dunes everywhere, but it was one heck of a sight. These dunes were no joke, some of them getting close to a thousand feet high. On top of that, they are surrounded by two 14K peaks (Crestone Peak at 14,294 feet and Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet). After learning that you can in fact go wherever you want in the dunes as if it was a free-for-all playground, and realizing that it was a great time to in fact climb up the highest dune in the park which was only about a 4 mile hike round trip, you better believe we had to give it a try.

As if I was going on a 15 mile long run, I suited up, bringing 40 oz. of water, a camera, flip video camera, long pants (in case it got too windy for protection against all the sand) and a few Clif Bars. The dunes were wild; it seemed just like what I would imagine the Sahara to look like (minus the mountain range around the border of the dunes). After constantly changing routes to get up to the top as it was very hard to keep up a god pace just going in a straight line as the sand, we finally made it. The top of the dune was something else, only because you could see the entire national park and all the dunes that were there. Only videos and pictures can describe the top of Great Sand Dunes NP:

After poking around the park for a while, and realizing the $17 camping fee, we decided to push on down the road to knock out some of the miles while it was still light. We drove though Alamosa, where we stopped at a hotel and after smelling how bad the room was, we got a refund and kept driving. Probably in another hour or so, just as the sun was setting, there was a campground in South Fork, CO that was “right on the Rio Grande” (which it was). For $10, we set up camp for the night, and went to bed probably immediately as the cold air was beginning to come in. It was 60 degrees at that point, but a low of 28 degrees was forecasted.

Day 4: South Fork, CO to Moab, UT

It was cold in the morning! But alas we arose at 6:15am, quickly packed, and hit the road once again. No point in sticking around – after getting out of the sleeping bag, its rush to pack and get into the heated car. After about 20 minutes, it was on the road again.

Straight off the bat, the drive consisted of driving through snowy peaks and some more steep grades and sharp curves. In an hour, we were at about 11K feet, driving through Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains. Then down, down, down through Pagosa Springs, past Chimney Rock (not the one on the Oregon Trail), and finally into Durango, elevation 6500 feet.

In the next few miles, we hit Mesa Verde NP – you know, the place with all the ancient cliff dwellings. Not discovered until maybe a little more than a hundred years ago, Mesa Verde consists of the largest cliff dwellings in North America. It was a pretty cool sight. A few pictures and a quick toward around the visitor center, we hit the road once again.

Fortunately, the day’s drive was a very short one (in comparison to the last two days) as we knocked out an extra 100 miles the night before. We drove through Cortez, a small town a little west of Cortez called Yellow Jacket, Colorado (cool, eh?), and Dove Springs. Finally, we hit the sign “Welcome to Utah”. The scenery changed in the next few hours from mountains to red rock country. After getting onto state road 191 in Monticello, we drove past the southern entrance to Canyonlands NP, and finally hit Moab, UT – just on the border of Arches NP. We checked into Big Horn Lodge (very nice!), crashed for a little bit, and then hit up Arches for the last half of the day (unfortunately with a camera with no batteries!)

After a takeout pizza, and a few Coronas, my head hit the pillow and didn’t wake until 9am the next day.

Day 5: Moab, UT to Park City, UT.

Today’s drive was exciting because it was a short drive, and also hit Park City, the ending point (finally!). We probably didn’t leave until 10:00am or so as the beds in the room were definitely comfortable (the first time I had slept on a real bed in the last week). The drive, while for the most part uneventful, was still definitely a joy. Driving through SE Utah on up into the mountains was a sight for sore eyes.

The drive, while only 4 hours long max, took us through some great red rock country, on up through the towns of Price, Provo, Orem, past BYU, all of which are just outside the Uinta National Forest. As soon as we passed Deer Creek State Park, the skies turned from overcast/partly cloudy to snow. A pretty good wake up call to say the least! Here is a storm coming over some of the mountains in the Uintas as we get closer to Park City:

The last few miles from Heber City to Park City were all in the snow, and the snow was coming down pretty hard! However, the drive was finally over.

The first sights of Park City were something else – you can see all the slopes from the three local resorts, and they were all snow-covered. The temperature was maybe 35 degrees – I unfortunately only had a tee-shirt on, as it was probably 35 degrees warmer in Moab when we left.

Update: It is about 10 days after the fact of arriving in Park City and after a few days of work, I feel like I am finally settled in. The movers dropped off all my stuff, my room is arranged, I am learning the ins and outs of the town, and meeting some very nice people. And oh yeah, the trails here are unbelievable. I ran about 8 miles yesterday on some great terrain about 7000 feet elevation, and saw a moose! Kind of scared the crap out of me, but I think I scared him more than he scared me. This post took a while to write, so I apologize for the delay! Anyways, thanks for reading.

My photo albums for the cross country trip can be found here:

Album 1 – Atlanta, GA to Quitaque, TX

Album 2 – Quitaque, TX to Great Sand Dunes NP, CO

Album 3 – Great Sand Dunes NP, CO to Park City, UT

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4 comments

  1. David Ray says:

    Wolf Creek Pass. Classic.

    C.W. McCall sang about that one way back when.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Rv4Lwg8b4I

    Enjoyed the videos. Kinda disappointed with no moose pics though.

  2. Jon says:

    Greg,
    Great write-up man!!! I feel like I just traveled across the country by reading your descriptions & viewing the vidoes. Brought back some memories from back in 97,when I went out west. Beautiful places. Cheers

  3. Barbara says:

    Loved it, specially the video of Sand Dunes NP!

  4. Wow, that just looked amazing! Sounds like it was a great trip. How is the adjustment to Utah going?

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