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Wanderlust Part 4: The Journey West

After leaving Boston, I drove west through Massachusetts and New York surprised by the amount of money I had to pay for tolls on the freeway, nearly $30 to get to Niagara Falls! I arrived there late and found a place to park and spend the night close enough to hear the roar of the falls. I walked around the falls area the following morning on the U.S. side amazed by the beauty and power of the water and also the ability to stand at the edge of the dropoff with only a short railing as a barrier. I drove across the bridge to the Canadian side to admire the falls from there as well. Parking is more regulated on that side I'm guessing since the falls face that direction ($20 vs. free on the U.S. side).

I drove that day through Canada, crossing the border in Detroit which took 2 hours. It was the longest and most invasive border crossing I have been to yet. I chose the bridge route but was told the tunnel was just as bad. They even made some people get out of their cars during the search and rummaged through my things, not bothering to put anything back in its place. The evening, I met up with a friend for dinner in Kalamazoo, MI and stayed with his family that night. After breakfast the following morning, I drove to my parent's house in Gibbon, MN. They were in the middle of harvesting so I helped out driving people and tractors to and from fields and did a little bit of stock chopping myself. The weather there had changed from hot and humid in September to cold and snowy in early November.

My longest day of driving was 14 hours from Gibbon, MN to Longmont, CO where I would stay with relatives that evening. After hundreds of miles of a flat landscape of fields of corn, soybeans, wheat, etc. I arrived near the base of the Rockies in the dark. I caught up with my aunt, uncle and cousins and saw some of the damage from the flooding in September. I lucked out on crossing the I-70 pass since there was very little snow and a clear road. Driving on toward canyon country, I camped near Canyonlands National Park that evening. 

I explored southern Utah for a week, hiking in Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, Corona Arch, Arches, Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion, Buckskin Gulch, and Grand Staircase-Escalante. I also entered the lottery for the Wave twice but didn't win (70 people for 10 spots!). Mid-November was a great time to be in the desert since there were fewer tourists and the weather was warm during the day, though a little cold at night with temps in the 30's, but my 20 degree down sleeping bag kept me warm! This was the second time I have traveled there and the next time I plan on spending more time in the area around Kanab and Escalante.

After Zion, I decided to drive to Vegas because I could find a cheap hotel room to spend the night and shower. I was exhausted when I arrived but wanted to walk the strip and see the fountain show at the Bellagio before heading to bed. The following day, I continued to drive west through the desert through Death Valley and then to the eastern base of the Sierra's. I slept in my car near Bishop that night and then drove north to the eastern entrance of Yosemite. Luckily, not much snow had fallen yet and the road was clear. I had only visited the valley before so it was a treat to experience the high country and to drive through the elevation changes. I also passed through the area where the fire raged this summer, the trees eerily covered with fire suppressant.

I continued on to Sacramento where I stayed with my friend for a couple of days, packed up my things and then drove north on I-5 to Portland. The Siskyou pass was clear of snow although quite foggy which was really disorienting to truckers who couldn't decide which lane to be in. I made a mental note to explore more of southern Oregon and Northern California on a future adventure since the scenery is so breathtaking. During the summer though so I don't have to worry about snow. The rest of the drive was smooth sailing and I arrived in Portland that evening and settled into my new home where I would be work-trading for rent and temporarily living without a full kitchen during the remodel. More on that later.

Wanderlust Part 2: Eastward Journey

In Part 1, I wrote about my travel accommodations. In Part 2, I will be writing about some of the places I explored as I traveled from California to Vermont.

After staying with my friend in Sacramento for about a week, we decided to go hiking at Lake Tahoe on my way out. This was in early September so the weather was perfect and the scenery a wonderful escape from the city. I was somewhat surprised by the amount of development around the lake as well as the campground rates (around $40!) as it was my first time there, so after we parted, I continued to drive around the lake, through Reno at night, eventually sleeping in my car at a rest stop somewhere in Nevada.

I spent the next day driving through the desert in northern Nevada and Utah, passing through Salt Lake City and watching a spectacular sunset at the Flaming Gorge in Wyoming where I camped that night. I drove through the rolling hills of southern Wyoming the following day near the route of the Oregon Trail, stopping for a break at Independence Rock. As I neared the Black Hills area that evening, I found a place to park my car and slept inside once again, wrapped in my cozy 20 degree down sleeping bag.

In the morning, I watched the Bison roam through Custer State Park and saw Mt. Rushmore from a distance. It was my third time in the area so I didn't check on the progress of Crazy Horse, hike down into the caves or drive on the Needles Highway, all of which I recommend checking out if you haven't been there before. Since I was traveling with a limited budget, I decided to spend my money on things I hadn't yet experienced. I had purchased a National Park Pass earlier this year (a great investment), so I decided to check out some of the Badlands before heading east.

The remainder of the day I drove through fields of corn in South Dakota and southern Minnesota until I reached my parent's house late that evening. In that following week, I spent time catching up with family, eating lots of home cooked food, going to a car show, and learning about the Minnesota wine development at a winery in the area. Apparently there are cold season grapes native to Minnesota that they cross with European grapes to make varieties unique to the area. Wineries have been popping up all over the state in the last 10 years with a current number around 50.

Heading north from my parent's farm in southern MN, I drove through Minneapolis, the downtown skyline and U of M exits still familiar. I decided to take my route through Duluth and the UP where I had yet to travel and was treated with forests and spectacular views of Lake Superior. Fall was at it's beginning with the leaves just starting to turn. I can only imagine what it looked like a few weeks after I passed through. I crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie and after a few questions about who I was, where I was from, where I was going, and why I was in Canada, I continued on my way.

Canada was beautiful. Most of the landscape I drove through in Ontario and Quebec was full of forests and lakes with scattered towns and cities. There is a large Amish community up there and the shoulders of the freeway are extra wide to accommodate their horses and wagons. I stayed the night at a hotel in North Bay and drove through the cities of Ottawa and Montreal the following day before crossing the border back into the States in New York. At some point, I would like to go back and spend more time up there. 

Soon after I crossed the border, I refueled since I had tested my luck with the size of my gas tank due to the high cost of gas in Canada. I found that my tank actually holds at least 14.2 gallons, possibly even more since my gas light didn't come on. I did also consider that it may not be working. After I filled my tank, I drove on a narrow two lane highway across the islands of Lake Champlain, catching the sunset and then driving the remainder of the way in the dark to my destination: Yestermorrow Design/Build School near Waitsfield, VT where I would be taking the Tiny House Workshop.