Best of the Best

For our last post, we thought we would wrap up with a list of our favorite places and experiences… with a few other superlatives thrown in.

Here are our favorites… 

State: Tennessee

City: Santa Fe

Restaurants/Food: This list could probably take up an entire post, but we’ve narrowed it down to two…

– Soulfish in Memphis, TN — a very casual place with great catfish. Served in a basket with cornbread and collard greens… what more could you ask for?

– Orlando’s in Taos, NM — supposedly the best New Mexican food in the state. We won’t disagree… It’s all about the green chilis.

National Park: Zion National Park in Utah and Crater Lake in Oregon

Campsite: Treebones Resort and Camping in Big Sur, CA

Sunrise: Grand Canyon, AZ

Sunset: Sedona, AZ

Music Venue: 3rd and Lindsley’s in Nashville, TN

Hiking: Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

Non-camping Accommodation: we stayed in some pretty awesome places, but here are two that stood out to us:

– Delta Queen in Chattanooga, TN — a riverboat converted into a hotel… now permanently stationed on the Tennessee           River.

– Sky Ranch Lodge in Sedona, AZ — this low-key lodge has the best view of sunset in all of Sedona, and is located on top of a Mesa looking over the red rocks

Stars: Zion National Park, UT and Eagle Lake, CA

Other items of note: 

Most Surprising Destination: Sedona, AZ. We had no idea what to expect from this “new age destination” in the middle of red rock county. But it did not disappoint, and had some of the most interesting and beautiful landscapes of our trip.

Most Beautiful Drive: since driving made up a big part of this trip, it was hard to figure out which were our favorite drives. But here are two that stand out to us… if you only have a few days to travel, both of these would make for great trips!

– the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina

– the Pacific Coast Highway up the coast of California and Oregon

Hottest Temperature: 115 degrees(!) in Las Vegas, NV

Coldest Night: Big Sur, CA… not sure whether it was the cold temperatures or the wind off the cliffs, but it was freezing!

Highest Elevation: 7,000 ft in Taos, NM

Friendliest People: impossible to tell, we met amazing people all across the country.

Thanks to all of you who have followed our trip! If any of you find yourselves traveling across the country and would like any suggestions on places to go… let us know. We would be more than happy to talk about our travels… likely for much longer than you are willing to listen.

Washington

Bellingham, WA: It was a beautiful, sunny day as we made our way up from Portland to Bellingham to meet Torrey’s brother who goes to school at Western Washington University. Timmy was staying there for the summer working a few jobs and we were spending the night before leaving him the car and heading to Seattle. The sky was so clear that we were able to see both Mt St. Helens and Mt Rainer that day… a rare occurrence for the northwest!

As we pulled into Bellingham, the odometer read 6,000 miles and we had reached the most northern stop on our trip. We realized that we didn’t have any further to drive. It was a sad, bittersweet moment after six weeks of driving and exploring new places… but impressive all the same! Bellingham is located 17 miles south of the Canadian border, so I think it’s safe to say that Dicken covered as much land as he could without actually crossing the border (which he is currently not allowed to do). It is also right on a bay overlooking the San Juan Islands and only an hour away from Mt. Baker, the mountain where Timmy spends all of his time snowboarding. It’s a great, outdoorsy college town with lots of fun bars, restaurants and parks all along the waterfront.

No we didn’t take this photo… but its a great view of Bellingham from the water!

As only would happen with Timmy, we had to do some kind of extreme sport within an hour of getting there. He drove us to nearby Lake Toad, where there was a very high rope swing that he said was a right of passage in Bellingham… even though he tried it for the first time three days before. Needless to say, it took us a while before we actually got the courage to climb up the fifteen-foot tree to the platform, grab the rope and jump; but we did it! There are some pretty embarrassing videos of our attempts, but luckily this site doesn’t allow video postings.

View of Bellingham Bay from Western Washington U.

After our near death experiences, we went out to dinner with Timmy and his girlfriend Melissa at Boundary Bay, a brewery that had great views of the bay and the sunset- another rare occurrence for Bellingham. Like all of the places we have been to in the northwest, it had great food and awesome craft beers… the east coast really needs to catch up here.

We had a great night seeing the town and meeting some of Timmy’s friends; it’s not hard to see why he loves it here! But Timmy, come home every once in a while, OK?

Timmy and Torrey at WWU

Seattle, WA: We reached our last destination on our road trip not by car, but by greyhound bus. After a great breakfast with Timmy, we left him the car and headed onto the bus for the easy hour and a half drive down to the city. Upon arriving we were picked up by a family friend (and my mom’s good friend from high school), Dottie and headed to the Microsoft headquarters outside Seattle to visit her husband (an engineer at the company) for lunch. This was an awesome experience and one that you don’t get to do every day! It was made even better by the annual “new product” fair going on, where all of the employees were given a preview of new Microsoft products coming out, as well as free food carts, massages and live music.

The Microsoft campus was HUGE, complete with ten food courts, bars, a gym and an indoor mall that sold everything you could possibly need. We also got to sample the new Xbox, that requires no cords, remotes or footpads… all you do is move your hands and Tiger Woods swings a golf club for you! It was a pretty cool to experience the Washington state empire that employs 60,000 people, all of whom are probably some of the smartest people in the country.

Pikes Market

Later that afternoon, we spent our time walking around Pikes Market and the piers along the water. Pikes Market covers nine acres of space along the Seattle waterfront and came into existence about a century ago. At the time, the cost of food had risen tenfold and outraged citizens decided to cut out the middleman and have farmers sell their food to the public directly. Today, everything from fish and pasta to flowers and handbags are sold at the market. Our favorite part was watching the fishermen take an order and then toss the purchased fish around the hall until it was packaged and ready for the customer.

Sailing off one of the piers in Seattle

The piers along the water stretch out into the bay so you can look back and see the skyline of the city. There are tons of restaurants, bars and coffee shops along these piers, as well as a new park that has plenty of space to bike, run and just hang out. We walked around for a few hours before meeting up with Torrey’s cousin Sarah and heading out to her aunt and uncle’s cottage on Lake Sammamish.

Dicken on one of Seattle’s piers with some Pikes Market flowers … practically a local

We couldn’t have had a better night out at the cottage. It was great to see Annie, John and Sarah and check out their new place on the lake… especially since we were able to grill and eat dinner outside all while watching the sunset! Not a bad place to spend the summer…

Nice touch by Annie! We loved the welcome scrabble

The next day was our last day on the west coast, and we all got up early so we could catch our flight back to New York. As fate would have it, we woke up to emails from United saying that our flight had been delayed three hours… so more time for us! We got a chance to kayak around the lake and spend some time with Annie, and then headed up to SEA-TAC to leave.

Usually, the story would end there and we would have gotten on our plane and gone home. But that’s not quite how it worked out. After about two hours of waiting in line to check our bags, and then SPRINTING through security to catch our flight that was due to leave in 20 minutes, it was cancelled as soon as we got to the gate. It was a painful three hours of waiting in lines and getting hotel vouchers for the night, but we were given one more Saturday on our trip!

Not wanting to waste our ‘new last day’, we headed back into Seattle to check out Pioneer Square and have a fun night out in the city. We weren’t walking along the water for more than five minutes when we heard a women yelling over the loudspeaker about a half-price harbor cruise deal going on. So we grabbed some fish and chips and made our way onto the boat to catch a glimpse of the city from the water. The cruise took us all around the harbor and into Seattle’s shipping yards where dozens of large cargo ships were being loaded and unloaded by giant cranes. It was also such a clear night that we could see Mt. Rainer off in the distance, as well as Bainbridge Island across the bay.

The Space Needle from the water

We spent our last night in a hotel right by the airport, and had to wake up the next morning at 3:45 to catch our flight. It was a little bit of a hassle, but it did allow us one extra night in Seattle, so we can’t complain! This time, everything went smoothly and we made it back across the country… quite a different experience than our outbound journey! What took us six weeks to cover now took us six hours in the other direction.

If it were up to us, we would take the long way every time.

Stay tuned for our last post on all of our favorite experiences and places from the trip! We’re going to post a “superlatives page” that covers them all.

Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon: We spent the next two days making our way up through northern California and into Oregon, with a one-night stop in Eagle Lake, CA. One striking part about this drive was the number of dried up lakes in the area. Even Eagle Lake, normally a popular and alternative destination to Lake Tahoe, was low enough to see lines along the rim of where the water used to be. Locals said that the lake was getting lower each day, and that it much of the wildlife typically found in the area had moved on – including many of the Bald Eagles (the etymology of the lake).  Despite the somewhat depressing news, it was a very tranquil and calm place to spend the night.

Well done, never thought he’d get that started

The next day we arrived at Crater Lake, which was anything but empty. In fact, at 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and seventh deepest in the world. The lake was formed over 7,700 years ago when a volcanic eruption caused Mount Mazama to collapse into itself. The eruption formed a large caldera (a cauldron-like feature) that was filled with water over the course of hundreds of years. Today, it holds the bluest and clearest water we have ever seen. There are no streams that feed into Crater Lake and so the only water present comes from rain and snowfall, which also adds to the clarity of the lake.

“Phantom Ship” in the middle of Crater Lake

Oregon is known for its expansive and organized state parks, and Crater Lake National Park is no exception. We had a huge campsite, our biggest one yet, surrounded by tall pine trees and open sky. It was about 5 miles from the rim of the lake, which we promptly drove to after arriving. That afternoon, we did a beautiful hike up Mt. Scott, the highest peak in the park. The hike led us 2.5 miles up to a watchtower at 9,000 ft that used to be a lookout for forest fires in the area. Today, it serves a more casual purpose, boasting incredible views of Crater Lake and the surrounding area.

View from the top of Mt. Scott, overlooking Crater Lake

That night was our last night of camping on the trip, as the next three days were spent in Portland, Bellingham and Seattle. We had great weather, made our last dinner our two-burner stove (by far the best purchase for the trip) and sat by the campfire to watch the stars come out. The simplicity of cooking, hanging out and sleeping outside in a beautiful park should not be overlooked, and I think its safe to say that our nights camping have been better than any other accommodation we’ve had throughout the country!

View from the rim of Crater Lake… doesn’t get any bluer than that!

Before heading to Portland the next day, we did one last hike around the rim of Crater Lake, which allowed us to get much closer to the water than our previous hike. Due to its freezing temperatures and lack of access, there is not much traffic on the lake aside from a single boat that shuttles visitors from the rim to an island in the middle of the lake. While we didn’t go for the boat ride, our hike still had beautiful views of the lake’s clear blue waters, as well as a surprising amount of snow left on the trail (we couldn’t actually reach the summit due to the remaining snow… even at the end of July!).

Wizard Island in the middle of Crater Lake

Portland, OR: After 5 long hours on a VERY winding and slow road from Crater Lake, we arrived in Portland. The city is known as the most bike-friendly in the country and sure enough as soon as we pulled off the highway, we were met by droves of bicyclists. They were everywhere! Almost all of the streets have separate lanes and it seemed like everyone was using bikes to get places.

Portland at sunset

For some reason, unknown to us at the time, there was not one single available hotel/motel/inn/B&B/patch of grass available to stay at that night. After calling at least seventeen places, we finally found the Painted Lady Inn, a small Victorian B & B in a nice residential area in the middle of a cool NE Portland. After getting settled, we hopped on our bikes and went out to explore the city…. we were only in town for the night so we had to make the most of our time there. Like anyone new to Portland would do, we made our first stop at a brewery to sample the local beer. The northwest has as many kinds of beers as it does people, so there was plenty for us to try.After, we warily jumped back on our bikes and went across the bridge into downtown NW Portland. The riverfront reminded me a little of Chattanooga, TN with its pedestrian and bike friendly bridges, revitalized architecture and open spaces along the river.

biking acros one of the many bridges in Portland

Thanks to the many suggestions from Kate and Mike Wallace and Dylan Page, we had a lot of places to check out! Since Dicken had yet to have sushi on the west coast (and brought this up point at least 10 times that day) we stopped at a Japanese restaurant on Pearl Street for dinner and had some great sushi. Now that we were true locals, we biked back across the bridge and headed to the Beech Street Parlor at the suggestion of Kate and Mike. This was an awesome, vintage bar in a cozy two-floor house. It also had some of the most amazing cocktails we ever tried… with various infused vodkas and different herbs such as fresh thyme and rosemary. If you ever find yourself in Portland, you should definitely go for a drink!

The Beech Street Parlor in NE Portland

The next morning we had planned on going to the International Rose Test Garden, as Portland is also known as the city of roses and has a HUGE garden in the middle of the city. It actually has a pretty cool history…   in WWI, gardeners in Europe sent roses from around the world to Portland’s garden to keep the new hybrids safe from being destroyed by the bombing in Europe. Today, you can find the latest roses being tested and created… who knew it was a science? Alas, just as we were heading down to check it out, we heard from a policeman that Obama was in town and the whole area was shut down by security. He also told us that the highways were going to be closed within the hour, so instead we hit the road not wanting to get stuck in all of the commotion. Even Torrey agreed to leave, knowing her chances of running up to him and introducing herself were pretty slim.

 

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe: The drive from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe took about three hours, with a mandatory stop at In-and-Out Burger along the way – Dicken, Mary and Kiera are obsessed. Our house was situated on Old Greenwood golf course (designed by Jack Nicklaus) in Truckee, about ten miles from Lake Tahoe. It was a beautiful spot with plenty of room for everyone, as well as an awesome outdoor fire pit (perfect for s’mores). We spent the next day hiking up by Emerald Bay, swimming in a nearby lake and checking out local spots for dinner… we found one place to sit outside where they actually provided us with blankets for the cold night.

Torrey, Mary and Kiera in front of Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee

Hiking around Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe (thanks for taking the photo, Dicken)

The following day we rented a motorboat and went out onto Lake Tahoe. Mary and Timmy were brave enough to go wake boarding in the freezing water, but all the rest of us could do was jump in and get out as fast as possible.

 Lake Tahoe is actually one of the coldest waters we have ever swum in, and is likely around 50 degrees. It is the third deepest lake in North America at approximately 1600 feet deep and holds over 39 trillion gallons of water… enough to cover the state of California in 14 inches of water. It is also incredibly blue and clear, and in certain places objects can be seen clearly 67 feet below the surface.

The clear, blue waters of Lake Tahoe

Yeah Mar!

The following day Dicken, Bud, Timmy and Dan played golf on the stunning Old Greenwood course. Dicken and Timmy took on the “mature golfers.” It was very fun to play at 7,000 feet (Timmy was driving further than Bubba Watson), but it was unbelievably hard with very narrow fairways, 96 sand traps, and roughs that made the Old Course at St Andrews look easy. After losing countless balls and scoring far too high to note here, it was all square at the end of 18 holes. A chipping showdown on the range decided it and Dicken and Timmy demonstrated a fine display of poise under pressure to win.

On the 18th green

Sadly, after lunch we had to leave the fam, but luckily we still have two more states to go! On to Oregon…

San Francisco

San Francisco: After leaving Santa Cruz and a GREAT breakfast with Johnny (who had been up for about 32 hours straight) we continued north to San Francisco. Before getting into the city we stopped for lunch with Dicken’s dad’s roommate from college and his family. The McBurnies could not have been friendlier, and we had a great dim sum lunch with Anton, Bernadette, Lauren and Kirsty. Bernadette works for an amazing company, Nikken, that makes magnet therapy products… we are definitely looking into ordering some, and you should too! Check out the site: http://www.nikken.com/

Then we headed up to San Francisco where we met Torrey’s family! Bud, Mary and Kiera were all waiting at the Inn at the Presidio, a cool hotel that used to be Officers’ quarters. While Dicken went to see his friend Eddy Nadel back in San Mateo, Torrey and her family went to look for some authentic Chinese food in the country’s largest Chinatown. Everywhere we had intended to check out was surprisingly busy, so we decided to wander around and find one with the best window display… after I spotted one with pictures of Obama from a recent visit, I decided that this was where we were going. It didn’t disappoint, and we had great salt and pepper crab, Szechuan chicken and dumplings… followed by froyo down the street (because what else do you do in Chinatown?)

The next day, we had a great day of exploring in San Francisco. We did the touristy (yet awesome) hop-on, hop-off bus around the city… that took us from Fisherman’s Wharf, down by the Golden Gate Bridge, over to Haight Ashbury, through Little Italy and Chinatown. At the end of the tour, we took the bus back to Fisherman’s Wharf where we hopped on a ferry over to Alcatraz! This was one of Kiera’s favorite stops on the trips, and she took so many pictures of the place that we thought she might like us to leave her there.

San Francisco Travelers! Standing in front of the Full House row… which they happen to be blocking

Alcatraz has a deeper history than many think. Featured in the movie “The Rock”, we almost always remember the island as a maximum-security prison known for its infamous prisoners and even more famous escape attempts. However, the area has had many other uses as well. After the U.S. acquired California in the Mexican-American War, it was used as a military garrison by the Union Army in the Civil War to protect the area against Confederate sympathizers. The island then went through its many years as a military prison before it became too expensive to maintain. The most surprising use of Alcatraz, in my opinion, was when Native Americans took it over in 1969 as a means of protest against new federal laws against their customs and ways of life. They occupied the island for nearly two years, and now if you ever visit the island, you will see spray painted letters on the main building saying, “Indians Welcome”.

Alcatraz Island from the ferry boat

That night, we went out to a great Italian dinner with Torrey’s cousin Dan and his wife Mary, also joined by Johnny again who came up from Santa Cruz. Given the large number of family members present, we underwent a “photo war” with the east coast cousins. With three hours on them and some new Australian friends that we met at a local bar, think it’s safe to say that we won:

Photo wars commence… we are not really sure who that guy on the left is

The next day in San Francisco was beautiful, and we all rented bikes and went across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Despite the incredible amount of pedestrian traffic on the bridge, we made it across… white knuckles all the way. We had an amazing lunch, somehow lost Mary for an hour, did some shopping and headed back across. Johnny then managed to secure a sailboat in the bay (he’s quite the jack of all trades) for us to use that afternoon. Oddly enough for such a nice day, we were one of the only boats out of the harbor.

The crew’s all here!

That afternoon, Johnny managed to find a sailboat for us to use so we all went out for a cruise around the bay. Oddly enough, we were one of the only boats out there! We sailed around checking out all of the cargo and tanker ships anchored in the bay and enjoyed the beautiful weather and nice wind as the sun set over San Francisco.

For our last night in the city, we went over to Dan and Mary’s, had some great Mexican food and got to spend some time with their kids (Torrey’s second cousins) Danny and Jack. A note to you all: please move back to the east coast so we can see you all more!

Danny and Jack… no caption necessary.

The California Coast

The Pacific Coast Highway: We finally made it to the Pacific! After driving west from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara, we suddenly ran out of road. Before us stretched the Pacific Ocean, a huge expanse of blue reaching as far as we could see. We quickly jumped out of the car and ran to the beach. All of the surfers in the area had head to toe wet suits on, but we had to jump in despite knowing how cold it was. It was a very liberating feeling after waiting four weeks to see the west coast! After our dip, we went out and explored Santa Barbara, which reminded us a little of a Hampton’s town. Everything was meant for summer, from the outdoor bars and restaurants to the surfer shacks along the main road.

Our first view of the Pacific, right off Route 1

As we got closer to sunset, we picked up some sushi for dinner (because what else do you eat in California?) and went a beach near our campsite for sunset. It was quite an idyllic way to end our first day on the west coast; sitting on the beach and looking out at the ocean we had driven so far to see!

The next day we headed up Route 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, to get to Big Sur. This is an incredible road traveled by many for its amazing views of the coast and the ocean. The speed limit is only 35 mph, so while it takes longer to get places, it allows you to look around and see the cliffs descend into the rocky coast along the pacific. The road alternates between hugging the coast and meandering through rolling hills of vineyards. The road hugs the coast so closely that at times we could look out of our car and only see ocean.

Beautiful cali

Later on we arrived at Treebones Resort, a unique lodge right on the coast of Big Sur. Instead of hotel rooms, the lodge offers fully furnished yurts for people to sleep in. While we are not at the point in our lives yet where we can stay in one of these awesome yurts, we did take them up on one of their five campsites. This campsite was the most amazing place we have stayed yet, and we had our own little part of the cliff that descended down to the ocean. From our spot we had an unobstructed view of the sunset.  To make it even better, the lodge was equipped with its own sushi bar, pool and hot tub. People here call the experience “glamping”… it was definitely the most glamorous camping we’ve done yet!

Our campsite at Treebones

We spent the next day hiking around the cliffs, hanging out at one of the local beaches and watching the surfers on what is known to be some of the best surfing on the west coast. We tried to join them but there was nowhere to rent surfboards and wetsuits…. Probably better for everyone’s sake. At the suggestion of some local travelers, we also did some “Jade hunting” while in Big Sur. There is a cove in the area called Jade Cove that has some of the only natural jade that you can find in the world. We spent about an hour walking the beaches with our heads down, picking up every single rock and stone that had the slightest shade of green. We collected a ton of what we like to think is jade… and a giant bag of green colored rocks is now sitting in the back of our car.

Santa Cruz, CA: After a self-determined successful jade hunt, we headed up to Santa Cruz to see Torrey’s cousin, Johnny. Johnny is a paramedic and sailor extraordinaire, and lives on his boat Breezy in the Santa Cruz harbor. Unfortunately he could not get off work for our visit; but we got to see him long enough to learn a little about the area, get the keys to his boat and see him save a woman who had fallen to her face and couldn’t really get up. “Just another day of saving people’s lives” said John before we left him.

The Santa Cruz harbor is a beautiful inlet with a few great restaurants and bars right on the ocean. It lies on the north side of Monterrey Bay, and is almost always sunny. As John explained to us, the south side of the bay in Monterrey constantly has cooler and cloudy weather during the summer, and as soon as you get to the north side by Santa Cruz, the sun suddenly appears! Sure enough, this is exactly what we experienced and we had a great night eating and drinking outside by the beach while listening to a Rolling Stones cover band. We’ve both decided that California is the place to be.

The Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, CA

Las Vegas

Las Vegas: How about that ride in? I guess that’s why they call it Sin City… As we drove down the strip on our way to our hotel we realized that all the stereotypes of Vegas were spot on: the heat, the lights, the vulgar but awesome structures, the Elvis wedding chapels, and the hedonism that seeps out of every corner. There were also slot machines EVERYWHERE, from gas stations to liquor stores and hotel lobbies. We were excited. Checking in to the MGM Grand was an experience in itself- it felt more like an airport check-in than a hotel, with 20 lines 10 people deep and a 500 inch TV screen behind the desks blaring out the latest music videos.

Light show in the front of the Mirage Hotel & Casino

On our first night we stayed mostly within the MGM complex because we were afraid of the heat. After eating dinner and losing a few singles in the slot machines, we went back to our room briefly before heading out.  Suddenly, as we were taking in the view from our window of Paris, New York and the other famous sites, the power went out in the entire hotel. We thought we were on the set of Oceans Eleven with someone trying to heist the casino vault! Unfortunately we think it was the result of some construction mishap, but you never know…

Paris, Las Vegas style

The next day we braved the heat and hung out by the pools at the hotel, particularly enjoying the continuous lazy river on our tubes with frozen margaritas in hand. Later on we went to a great Italian restaurant called Dal Toro at the Palazzo.  The best part of this restaurant (and I don’t mean to belittle the food, because it was excellent) was the unobstructed view of the show at the Treasure Island hotel across the street. The tall ships, crewed by scantily clad men and women, battled fiercely until one of the ships actually started to sink. The special effects and the choreography were spectacular.

High roller at the casino… in case you can’t see, that’s a voucher for $5.50. Solid win

After dinner we went to a comedy show at Harrah’s hotel, which was hilarious—Dicken got called out for being his British self… why does he still have an accent after 5 years in the states? Then we traversed our way down the strip, taking in all the sights and stopping at the famous hotels such as Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio and Paris.  Everywhere we went was extremely elaborate and impressive, from the gondolas in the canal outside the Venetian to the indoor Parisian market at Paris; Vegas really is a Disney World for adults. Although neither of us are big gamblers, or more to the point, can’t afford to be big gamblers, we tried our luck on the blackjack tables and to our surprise had a little bit of success!  All in all it was a very cool experience.

With our wallets dented and energy drained, we continued west for the last time on our trip…