July 21, 2009

My Favorite Road Trip: DC to Yellowstone

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me to describe my favorite road trip. I had to think a bit because I LOVE road trips and every couple of years I mark out a section of the country, load "Stella," my car, with maps and books on tape and family members and hit the interstate. We've covered a lot of territory over the years but here's one of my all time favorites.

Starting Point: Washington, DC
Ending Point: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

First stop: Chicago, Illinois
I grew up in this town and, though I may be biased, it tops my list of best cities in the US. I think it's the combination of architectural interest, gorgeous lake, abundant cultural happenings and very friendly residents. These are a few of my family's favorite spots:
Sears Tower (yeah, yeah, they changed the name but I'm still calling it Sears. Check out the Sky Deck 103 stories high, and the brand new glass-bottom Sky Ledge),
Millennium Park (beautiful fountains, the Cloud Gate--aka "bean" sculpture, outdoor concerts), Buckingham Fountain (regular water displays & nightly light shows),
Magnificent Mile (walk this vibrant stretch of Michigan Avenue),
Tribune Tower (the base of this building features stones from around the world: the Great Pyramid, the Great Wall of China, the Parthenon...),
State Street (Chicago's traditional retail shopping district), Water Tower Place (upscale high-rise shopping with fun fountains on Michigan Ave),
Navy Pier ( great city view from huge Ferris wheel, events & food),
Museum of Science and Industry (all kinds of cool stuff!),
Wrigley Field (once a Cub's fan, always a Cub's fan),
Garrett's Popcorn (when I was a kid they only had one location and my friend, Pam, and I spent a lot of time in the line outside that store).

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Imagine combining a town, an amusement park and a carnival and you have the Dells. Lots of fun, water and fudge. A great stop on your way to...

the Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota
You don't have to be a fan of potted meat products to enjoy this kitchy place. Interactive exhibits, goofy games, a solid sense of humor and the occasional sample mean that you'll spend more time in this museum than you thought possible.

Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota
More than a century ago, someone in Mitchell thought creating a mural from the local harvest would be a good idea. It was such a hit that the citizens have kept the tradition ever since -- designing and assembling brand new images each year. The artists use 13 different shades of corn give the enormous work of art it's distinctive appearance. I can tell you that the Corn Palace is worth a look.

The Bad Lands, near Wall, South Dakota
If you have never been to the Bad Lands then you will have a hard time imagining this exotic landscape. Shaped by erosion, the region is a great sweep of hills and valleys, subtle hues and bursts of color. It is seemingly barren but surprisingly full of life (we had an interesting encounter with a rattle snake). Since there's no way I can describe the Bad lands, I'll send you to blogger Seabrooke Leckie who has some nice images in her post about the region. Click here to see her pictures.

Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota
One of the craziest tourist traps you'll ever see, Wall Drug with its famous ice water and ice cream is perfectly positioned just off the road through the Bad Lands. There's no way you can miss it because you'll have seen at least one of their hundreds of signs before you come within 50 miles of the place. I saw a Wall Drug sign in Amsterdam the last time I was in that city.

Custer State Park in South Dakota's Black Hills
I love this park! Herds of buffalo and plenty of other wild life are just part of the attraction. The cabins are comfortable and quaint and give you access to hiking, biking, and fishing. There are a number of caves in the area if you're a spelunker and of course it's right next to...

Mt. Rushmore, Black Hills, South Dakota
Amazingly, it looks just like every picture you've ever seen.

Devil's Tower, Devils Tower, Wyoming
Be sure to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind before you visit. President Teddy Roosevelt made Devils Tower the first national monument in 1906.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
You could spend the entire summer in Yellowstone and only see a tiny bit of this stunning wilderness area. There are so many geothermal phenomena in this one park that it's hard to know where to start. Old Faithful is popular but I enjoyed the little mud pots and hot springs even more. Of course there's also the wild life; Yellowstone is know for it's wolves, bears, moose and bison. The waterfalls and lakes worth the hike/drive. Yellowstone is one of those places that you MUST visit at least once in your lifetime.

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Gaelyn said...

When do we leave and can we reverse the trip? I too was born near Chicago and would revisit all those places. I bought drugs at Wall Drugs when moving west and sick along the way. A funny place. And of course, I love all those parks. I'm packed.

Rita said...

I have never been to Chicago, but it is on my list of places to go. And your roadtrip sounds like such fun, now I have a reason to go AND venture beyond Chicago too.
OMG they really have a spam museum?? And it's free! I definitely won't miss that. Spam was a staple food back in the day when life was a lot simpler.
Thanks for the great post

Michaelle said...

@Gaelyn, you leave from your end and I'll leave from here and I'll meet you at Wall Drug!

@Rita, you've GOTTA see Chicago. It's a wonderful city and SPAM is a must see!

Bridge said...

Hey there, stumbled across your blog on google. My sister and I are planning the same trip and would like to know which roads you took. Thanks so much!

Michaelle said...

Hi Bridge,

We picked up 70 north of DC and took it through Breezewood to the Penn Turnpike, then 80 west to 90 west into Chicago.

For the Chicago/Wisc Dells leg, we took 90west to 94 West to 12 West

Generally speaking, 90 West will take you across the country past the Spam Museum, the Corn Palace, the Bad Lands, Wall Drug, to Custer State Park & Mt. Rushmore and Devil's Tower all the way to Yellowstone. The best way to plan this trip is with Google maps.