Category Archives: Road trip

On the Road with Dave Wiggins

Wiggins on Wheels is new experiential road trip site.

5thwheelHere’s what my friend Dave Wiggins recently posted: “For those of you who may not know it, I’ve become a travelin’ man with no set address or house. My home is a 43′ fifth-wheel trailer named Big Mo. To log my odyssey I’ve created a blog. Check it out if you want: https://wiggonwheels.com/. Happy travels!”

I didn’t know it. Dave is a founding partner o Widness & Wiggins Public Relations . He’s been Colorado,  but now is roaming. Sara Widness remains anchored in Vermont as Dave takes to the road. Since August, he’s been in Montana, Nevada, New Mexico,  old Mexico and Arizona. I looked at his site, enjoyed the pictures and the words and enjoyed all.  Take a look. You might too.

New Utah National Parks Audio App

Audio-guides to five great parks in one scenic state.

JustAhead-logo.pngThe Society of American Travel Writers is holding its 2015 convention in downtown Las Vegas — nostalgic and de-glitzified compared with The Strip. Having grown up in Connecticut, long road trips don’t come easily to me, but still my husband and I thought we’d take a leisurely road trip to Las Vegas, visiting some or most of Utah’s five national parks coming and/or going.

UtahNP-map

I’ve now learned of something we’ll need to take along: “Driving Among Utah’s ‘Mighty Five’ National Parks”, a new GPS-prompted mobile app/audio tour guide from Just Ahead Guides that cover Arches, Canyonlands Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. We’ve been to Moab and its two nearby parks (Arches, Canyonlands) any number of times, summer and winter. Still, more insights are always welcome. But neither one of us has more than driven through Zion or Bryce, and neither of us has been to Capitol Reef.

The good part  is that Just Ahead guides work without an Internet connection or cell phone service. Drivers or passengers simply download the app, turn it on and enjoy what the company calls “a richly narrated tour.”  Just Ahead utilizes GPS technology to identify exactly where drivers are on the road in order to deliver stories and maps relevant to the exact location. Each app points out not-to-miss features as well as helpful driving directions.

The Just Ahead app is a free download available either through the Apple App Store (iPhone) or via Google Play (Android), and each destination guide is available as an in-app purchase. Guides range from $4.99 to $9.99 and include a free trial and free guide updates.

Road Trip on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Sixteen hundred miles around the Emerald Isle with a small adventurous group.

Ireland-mapI can’t possibly write about every group trip that I hear about, but St. Patrick’s Day seems to be the perfect day to write about a really interesting adventure-heavy trip to Ireland — especially since it is well priced and looks to be gorgeous. Turns out that Wild Atlantic Way is the longest defined coastal touring route in the world, embracing Ireland’s wild West Coast landscape, ancient monuments and historical sites.  This  stunning route twists and turns for 1,600 miles along an undulating coastline from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork. A route that long around a very small island seems quite remarkable in and of itself.

The Wild Atlantic Way is not just a driving route, it’s an invitation to adventure with sea kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and even surfing, Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland’s smartly planned multi-sport scheduled trips that take travelers to these authentic, off-the-beaten path areas along the route.  Utilizing custom-designed Land Rovers that take no more than 13 passengers, Vagabond trips explore the area in depth with daily adventures. One day it might be sea kayaking in sheltered waters off the coast of Cork, while another day might be horseback riding along a beach in Kerry. Nightly stays are in coastal villages and towns, in locally owned guesthouses and small hotels. Rates for a seven-day trip along the Wild Atlantic Way start at just $1,340 per person.

Iceland Road Trip Basics

Island nation’s narrow but well-marked and well-signed routes.

IcelandHighway-mapYou might think that national highway #1 in a technically sophisticated nation is a wide divided roadway, but in Iceland, that’s not necessarily the case. Highway 1 is generally a two-lane road with one-lane bridges, minimalist shoulders and efficient highly visible markers that take long dark, damp winters into consideration.

The highway is lined on both sides with yellow reflective stakes every 50 or so meters apart. Bridge approaches are also well signed and have vehicle pull-outs on both ends to provide passing areas. Visitors who rent cars soon become accustomed to these markers, and locals know to depend on them in low visibility. Unless posted otherwise, the speed limit on the open road is 90 kilometers per hour.

P1100330

Highway signs alerting drivers to temperature, windspeed and avalanche conditions are updated in real time.
Highway signs alerting drivers to temperature, windspeed and avalanche conditions are updated in real time.
And at each periodic exit is a map diagramming the small roads and sites available. This one, from Flickr, shows a busy exit. Some exits access just one or two really little country roads and perhaps a guesthouse or farm that accommodates guests.
And at each periodic exit is a map diagramming the small roads and sites available. This one, from Flickr, shows a busy exit. Some exits access just one or two really little country roads and perhaps a guesthouse or farm that accommodates guests.

We just traveled from Reykjavik on the southwest coast to Hafn on the southeast and back — unable to fly  because the small commuter planes were grounded due to dense fog, intermittent rain and wind gusts. The landscape is a succession of grazing land (cattle and sheep), grassy meadows, occasional wetlands, rivers and views north toward mountains and south toward the sea.

Both sides present a captivating landscape, but the driver really needs to pay attention because Highway 1 is narrow and is used by every kind of wheeled conveyance including bicycles, motorcycles, passenger cars, buses and fast-moving trucks.

Wind Cave National Park’s 110th Birthday

South Dakota cave was world’s first under national park protection

NatlParkServiceLogoOn January 9, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation to create Wind Cave National Park between Hot Springs and Custer in southwestern South Dakota. It is an understatement to note that mid-winter is not the prime time to visit this area, but come summer this region offers a lot to see and do. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, the Wounded Knee Museum, Mammoth Site and more.

Skywalk Lake in Wind Cave National Park, now celebrating its 110th year under National Park Service protection. Photo: National Park Service
Skywalk Lake in Wind Cave National Park, now celebrating its 110th year under National Park Service protection. Photo: National Park Service

Wind Cave National Park encompasses 10,522.17 acres, not just the remarkable cave itself — one of the world’s longest — but also 30 miles of hiking trails, camping, interpretive programs and prairieland. In the summer of 2003, Wind Cave celebrated its centennial and the return of the bison. I don’t know what, if anything, might be planned for this summer, but let’s just say that eve though underground temperatures are the same year-round, this national park’s actual 110th will be a quiet birthday.

Good Coffee at Bad Ass

New Mexico café fuels drive back to Colorado.

P1050650Early in my blogging life, I wrote a post called “Caffeine Loading on the Road,” in which I listed some of my favorite Colorado cafés. Most of them are still around — and I still stop there when I’m driving. When I’m elsewhere, I pass every Starbucks and seek out the local. And I always feel triumphant when I find a good one.

Bright mural adorns the side of Bad Ass Coffee.
Bright mural adorns the side of Bad Ass Coffee.

If I were doing a more regional roundup that included New Mexico, it would include Bad Ass Coffee in Bernalillo, north of Albuquerque. The faux adobe with the big moral on the side houses everything I like in a coffee shop: conscience-free coffee (Kona, which has no fair trade issues as developing countries do), an ample menu of espresso drinks, pastries, sandwiches for any time other than morning and local ownership.

Bags of Bad Ass's house-roasted Kona coffee.
Bags of Bad Ass’s house-roasted Kona coffee.

The roadside café along our route back to I-25 across from the Santa Ana Casino (if you need a landmark) offers grab-and-go sustenance from the drive-through window or the inside counter, indoor and outdoor tables for more relaxed coffee-ing, and retail shelves so that customers can buy some coffee, which is roasted there, to take home. We’ll be stopping by again the next time we are down that way.

With miles of roads like this ahead, it's a good idea to coffee-load.
With miles of roads like this ahead, it’s a good idea to coffee-load.

Bad Ass Coffee & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Little Colorado Road Trip

Boulder to Crested Butte over Cottonwood Pass

ColoradoFlagCrested Butte is a bit far from Boulder for a two- or even a  three-day weekend, but it’s a wonderful option for four or more days both in winter for skiing, snowmobiling or snowshoeing, and in summer for hiking and a myriad other warm-weather pleasures. My husband and I came for the hiking amid the wildflowers now at their glorious peak. Of the several routing options, we chose driving through the real South Park and finally over 12.126-foot Cottonwood Pass. Here are some random images from the 215-mile drive:

Antique auto is an eye-catcher in the parking area of a burger stand in the tiny hamlet of Jefferson on the easten end of South Park.
Antique auto is an eye-catcher in the parking area of a burger stand in the tiny hamlet of Jefferson on the easten end of South Park.
US 285 is a mostly straight an rarely crowded highway through the broad valley of South Park. In the distance, the summits of the Collegiate range, the densest concentration of 14ers in the state.
US 285 is a mostly straight an rarely crowded highway through the broad valley of South Park. In the distance, the summits of the Collegiate range, the densest concentration of 14ers in the state.
A rare remaining drive-in theater on the outskirts of Buena Vista, the eastern gateway to Cottonwood Pass.
A rare remaining drive-in theater on the outskirts of Buena Vista, the eastern gateway to Cottonwood Pass.
Above treeline on the est side of Cottonwood Pass. The road in Chaffee County is paved. It isn't on the west sde of the pass, ut Gunnison County is again considering doing that.
Above treeline on the east side of Cottonwood Pass. The road in Chaffee County is paved. It isn’t on the west side of the pass, but Gunnison County is again considering laying down asphalt.
Roadside marmot clearly unafraid of passing cars.
Roadside marmot clearly unafraid of passing cars.
Taylor Reservoir, a popular destination for campng and fishing.
Taylor Reservoir, a popular destination for campng and fishing. In the background is the stunning panorama of the West Elk range.
Roadside cattle with mom leading her two calves along the way.
Roadside cattle with mom leading her two calves along the way.
Slopes blanketed in sunflowers provide a bright yellow welcome to the town of rested Butte.
Slopes blanketed in sunflowers provide a bright yellow welcome to the town of rested Butte.

Now for the festivities of the Fourth.

Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road Opens

 The opening of the road in this Montana National Park signals the start of summer

The Conservancy funded plowing of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The Conservancy funded plowing of Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The monumental task of plowing out Glacier National Park’s 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road has been completed, despite federal budget cuts that promoted last-minute funding from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. Plow crews ran on schedule despite high elevation snows just two days ago, and the road is expected to be fully open this afternoon — that is, if weather forecasts calling for rain showers, wind gusts up to 40 mph and more possible snow. It is still winter on Logan Pass, but the Visitor Center is supposed to open tomorrow, June 22, though operating hours may remain limited.

The temperature at Oberlin Bend, just west of Logan Pass, was reportedly 30 degrees on Friday as crews continued to remove mud and rocks from the road. The pass crests at 6,646 feet, not much higher than where I live, but northern Montana’s latitude makes winters longer and summers shorter than Colorado’s.

With the plowing completed, Going-to-the-Sun Road will see vehicle traffic rather than only occasional cyclists.
With the plowing completed, Going-to-the-Sun Road will see vehicle traffic rather than only occasional cyclists.

If weather and imperfect road conditions are not enough of an early-season challenge, visitors need to know that construction on the west side of the park will be happening between Logan Creek and Avalanche Creek through August, and on the east side, construction will happen between Rising Sun and Siyeh Bend, beginning July 8, with activity occurring 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday morning.

Sun Point will also be closed to the public beginning June 30 due to construction. Visitors should expect 40-minute maximum construction delays for one-way travel across the entire road. Still, the visitor shuttle system on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is scheduled to operate from July 1 through Labor Day between transit centers near Apgar on the west side and the St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side.

Colorado High Roads Plowed Out for the Season

Winter road closures being lifted

Super-plows work to open Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.
Super-plows work to open Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Memorial Day Weekend is not the only sign that winter is really over when the high pass roads are open for the season, and where plows do their work, RVs will soon follow. The amount of plow power and man hours to open key routes over the Rockies are really quite staggering. No time to add them here, but a quick search can lead you to the stats and the stories. Here are some key highways of interest to road-trippers. In addition to these paved highways numerous unpaved state, county and Forest Service routes in the high country are not yet open.

In Colorado, the three signature high-country roads are open for Memorial Day Weekend: Independence Pass(CO 82) between Twin Lakes and Aspen; Trail Ridge Road (US 34)  through Rocky Mountain National Park between Estes Park and Grand Lake, opened today with the annual ceremony on the west side, and the Mount Evans Road (CO 5) from CO103 between Evergreen and Idaho Springs is open and once again fee-free. For the first time since 1997, visitors can make the 15-mile drive for free, thanks to the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition which been battling the U.S. Forest Service over what it believes are illegal fees for access to public lands. Don’t expect this victory to extend to units of the National Park Service, which unlike the Forest Service, are not “land of many uses” and rely on visitor fees and concessionaires for revenue.

Other mountain states (Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Montana) also have seasonal road closures — notably Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming and Montana), where openings of Dunraven Pass within the park and the Beartooth Highway at the northeast entrance have been delayed. In northern Montana, Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is still being plowed out.

Addendum: Here’s a video right after Trail Ridge Road opened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0reVefrumdA

New Year’s Footsteps in Nebraska

New Year’s Day is a good time for something new

Nebraska-flagColorado, where I have lived for nearly a quarter of a century is bordered by Utah to the west, New Mexico and a bit of the Oklahoma panhandle to the south, a lot of Wyoming and a bit of Nebraska to the north and a lot of Kansas and a bit of Nebraska on the east. Nebraska, in fact, is the only state with borders on two sides of rectangular Colorado. I’d never been there at all — until January 1, 2013.

Nebraska-map

My husband and I spent New Year’s Eve in Cheyenne, and as we were set to drive home on a cold, clear cloudless day, I commented for the umpteenth time that I had never been to Nebraska. We both had the impression the state line was really close to Cheyenne — no more than 20 or 25 miles, we thought. We thought wrong. Nevertheless, we drove east on I-80 from Cheyenne for roughly 40 miles to the east past a mostly flat landscape with sparse signs of human habitation.

P1010553At last we crossed the state line. We got off the highway at Exit 1, crossed the overpass on and pulled over along the on-ramp (no traffic) so that I could get out. I opened the door, stepped out of the car, got back in and we headed home. Had we stayed on I-80, we would have paralleled the South Platte River for many miles across the plains.P1010546

Silly? Certainly. But another modest way to celebrate a New Year. And another state (my 45th) by a few few hundred feet. All I’m missing is North Dakota, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas — and I imagine I’ll check off Mississippi next fall when the Society of American Travel Writers holds its 2013 convention there.