July 8, 2003

Maryland, Tennessee, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon

taking a walk above timberline with my great uncle elvin

I took the following road trip between June 10 and July 3. During that time I covered over 4000 miles with stops in McMinnville, TN, Lincoln, NE, Buena Vista, CO, Grand Teton, WY, Yellowstone, WY, Walla Walla, WA, Columbia Gorge, OR and finally the Portland, OR area. I was driving a diesel Volkswagen New Beetle for my friend Ann who wanted to move it to the Portland area. It was a nice little car and averaged 46 miles per gallon for the entire trip.

coasting down cottonwood pass
After picking up my luggage and clearing customs at Dulles International airport near Washington, DC I made a couple of phone calls to find out where my sister had parked her van the day before. I barely missed seeing her since she flew out the day before I arrived, but she left the vehicle at the airport so that nobody would have to drop her off or pick me up. It took a little longer than expected, but I did find the van and drove myself directly to the General Conference office, with a quick stop at Taco Bell to satisfy some cravings. In the office I visited with a few different people including the person who had the Volkswagen New Beetle that I would be driving across the country. I arranged to get the vehicle later in the evening and then headed to the small basement apartment in my parents' house to repack my bags. I left much of the stuff I had carried from Cambodia in Maryland since I would be coming back in a few weeks. After getting the Beetle and taking a refreshing shower I finished sorting my stuff and then went out to eat with several friends.
my great aunt esther playing the piano in church
By the time we got to the restaurant it was 10:00 pm and I hadn't even had a nap yet since landing at Dulles around 11:00 am. We had a nice meal and then I crashed at a friend's house for the night. On the plus side when I'm that tired I can sleep through the night so I didn't wake up too early in the morning due to jet lag.

Wednesday morning I got caught up on a little email and then headed over to visit with some relatives (Monte, Jackie, Miranda, Aubrey, Summer and Amber) before hitting the road. I left Maryland early in the afternoon but still hit a little bit of the rush hour traffic. It wasn't too bad though and once I got off the beltway the rest of the trip went fairly smoothly. I got to my grandparents house in McMinnville, TN quite late and collapsed into bed.

view along the road in colorado near tennesee pass
In Tennessee I mostly just relaxed and visited with my grandparents who of course spoiled me with lots of good food that I had been missing from the US. On Sabbath we went to the McMinnville church and saw some old friends there and I hit the road again on Tuesday.

The drive to Lincoln, NE took another long day but since I started earlier in the morning I arrived well before dark. The drive was also easier since I got caught up on my sleep while in McMinnville. Along the way I drove through St. Louis and had a nice view of the arch, although I didn't stop this time. In Lincoln I stayed with some friends who lived in Russia when I was there with my family. It was fun to catch up with them and some other friends who also live in the area.

on the border between colorado and wyoming
On Wednesday my friends took me to see the Union College campus where I looked up a few entertaining photos in the old yearbooks. After lunch we visited the Nebraska state capitol building which is one of the tallest state capitals in the US. The building is quite striking and is full of symbolism from farm life including lots of corn. They also have a lot of intricately carved and painted furnishings. The Nebraska state government is unique in that it is unicameral, meaning that they only have one law making body. Most states have both a Senate and a Congress, but Nebraska just has one smaller body to do the same job.

my campsite with a view of the teton mountain range
On Thursday I drove down to Buena Vista, Colorado where I enjoyed spending time with some relatives. Friday I drove up Cottonwood pass with my great uncle and took a walk. There was still some snow on the ground and I wasn't used to the thin air at over 12,000 feet on top of the pass so we kept the walk fairly short. On the way down the pass I rode a bike while my uncle drove the vehicle down behind me. There wasn't really much effort involved on my part though since nearly the entire ride was downhill. It was a lot of fun to coast through the beautiful mountain scenery, while enjoying the fresh mountain air. On Sabbath we went to church with my great aunt who just had her 90th birthday. She played the piano for us in church and after church we all went for a drive to the top of Independence Pass which is on the way to Aspen. At the top of the pass we took another short walk and enjoyed spotting and photographing some mountain wildflowers.

hot spring pool near old faithful
Sunday I packed up and drove north through some beautiful country to Grand Teton National Park. It was getting late by the time I arrived at the park entrance, so I got directions to a nearby section of national forest that the rangers said would be a good place to camp for the night. After following a small road into the woods I wound up on top of a hill with an excellent view of the Grand Teton mountain range as well as the valley below. I couldn't have asked for a better spot to spend the night. Before drifting off to sleep I enjoyed a warm campfire and beautiful sunset accompanied by the distant howl of wolves.

two geyser eruptions that I saw while waiting for old faithful
On Monday I drove through Grand Teton National Park, stopping several times to admire the views. In the afternoon I continued on up into Yellowstone National Park and spent a couple of hours watching several geysers erupt, including Old Faithful. I stopped by one of the ranger offices and got an overnight permit for backcountry camping at a site about 3 miles from the nearest parking lot. After stopping to see a few more sites along the way, I hiked out to my campsite. On the way to the camp site I passed several bison, a dear and a few thermal features including a bubbling mud pot. At the camping area I set up my bivvy sack (kind of a sleeping bag shaped tent) right on the rim of Yellowstone Canyon. I could hear the rushing river far below me from my bed and slept quite peacefully in the cool night air. I didn't fully realize just how cool that night air was until I woke up the next morning to the awesome sight of falling snowflakes. It continued snowing well into the morning, although it didn't stick in the area where I was camping.
my campsite on the rim of yellowstone canyon
After packing up my gear I hiked back to the car and continued driving north through Yellowstone. As I drove over an 8,000+ foot pass the snow began to stick just enough to dust the trees, green grass and blooming wildflowers with a thin coat of white. It was a truly beautiful sight and I was thrilled to get a little winter weather after spending over a year in the tropics. After stopping to visit a few more thermal pools, hot springs and geysers I headed into Montana and out of the park.

waterfall in yellowstone national park
I spent the rest of the day driving through Montana and a very scenic part of Idaho before eventually making it to Walla Walla, Washington a little after dark. In Walla Walla I stayed with my dad's cousin and his wife and mainly just enjoyed visiting with them. I also spent some time catching up on email before leaving on Thursday for the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon.

At a boat launch area on the river I met up with some friends and headed out to an island in the river for a fun evening of camping. The next day we were able to do some wake boarding and a couple of us also climbed to the top of a rock island. We then had fun jumping back into the river from some ledges on the lower half of the rock formation. In the evening I drove the last couple of hours in to the Portland area and arrived at my grandparents' house just in time for supper.

snow covered wild flowers
On Sabbath I got to see both of my mom's sisters and spent the night with one of them on her boat. Sunday we all went for a cruise to downtown Portland and back on my aunt's boat, which was both fun and relaxing. When we got back to my grandparents house we picked raspberries and cherries from their garden, both of which really hit the spot. On Monday I got some plane tickets sorted out and basically just had a day to catch up on things. In the evening I met up with one of my old room mates for supper and had a nice visit with him and his wife. Tuesday I went up to Mt. Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument with my grandparents since I had never been there before. We enjoyed the exhibits about the eruption that took place back in 1980 and also enjoyed a picnic with some excellent views of the mountain. On the way back we met my mom's two sisters for supper. Wednesday morning we went and picked fresh blueberries for me to take back to Maryland and then I packed my bags.
rock island in the columbia river gorge
In the evening I drove over to my other Aunts house and spent the evening with her. In the morning she drove me to the airport and I flew back to Maryland with a stopover in Denver, arriving in Baltimore just after midnight.

Overall I had a great trip and really enjoyed catching up with so many people that I hadn't seen in a long time. I had originally hoped to visit a few more national parks and at one point even wanted to drive up into Canada, but ended up spending more time visiting friends and relatives instead. I guess I'll just have to visit some of those places another time.
with my grandparents at mt. saint helens
I learned that I am much better at driving long distances without getting too bored than I used to be. Perhaps I've gotten more used to long waits from my travels in Asia, although I suppose the books on tape helped make the drives seem shorter too.

That's it for now!


Posted by andrew on July 8, 2003