The trip may have only been 2 weeks long, but we packed in a lot of miles! Check out Road Trip 2015 :: Part 1 for the first part of this story. Continue with part two, as we begin our drive from Boulder to Salt Lake City on 70!
Day 6: Sunday June 14
On Sunday morning, we said goodbye to Colorado. We had a quick brunch with Matt and hit the road. Next stop, Salt Lake City, Utah! We took I-70 just about the whole way there. It was without a doubt the most scenic and beautiful drive we have ever experienced. Around each mountain bend, the scene would seem to completely change. It was 9 hours of fresh landscape views, new rock formations, different types of plant life, and alternating color schemes at each turn. By the end of the drive we joked that we were just sick of all the beauty. I mean, enough is enough. Am I right?
By the time we were in Utah, we stopped off at a scenic view point and happened to meet this little lizard. It was a long stretch of desert out there, so it was nice to run into a local.
Really beautiful, the colors of the landscape had certainly changed from earlier in the day. From the top of this rock, it seemed like the land went on forever. Where is everybody? It appears there was no one for miles!
Utah felt very different than any place we’ve ever been. It was about 100° hot and beautiful. While there was still plant life, there seemed to be many lengths of land that were just layered with rock. From the road it looked like beautiful landscape, but I wonder about what’s living over there. I’m sure there is a lot of life packed in those shrubs.
We watched a storm roll in for quite some time. Once it reached us, there was a quick downpour. I love watching stormy skies roll in. It was a treat to see the darkness move in on such a sunny day.
After a 540 mile drive, we finally arrived at our Airbnb studio apartment in Salt Lake City. The place was great. We stayed “downtown” which, coming from Chicago, seemed to a be very desolate area. It was a Sunday night, but the town still seemed surprisingly empty. Just down the block was Sage’s Cafe, a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that was recommended by our friend Rita who is from Utah. It was so great that one of the places we had intended to stop was right down the street from where we were staying. We enjoyed the meal and a local stout before passing out from the long day behind us.
Day 7: Monday June 15
We decided to check out Donut Falls in the morning, a nice hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We parked pretty far from the trailhead, so it was a couple mile hike up to the destination. Check out this view from our parking spot! Gorgeous day!
We were heading to see the waterfall, where Cottonwood Creek flows through a donut like hole in the rocks. Here is the first sighting of the fall, you can barely see the water flowing through the donut hole way up the creek.
Of course the hike was full of beauty, there were lots of wild flowers, aspen, insects, and interesting rocks to see along the trail.
On the way up to the the waterfall, we were happy to find a web of Tent Caterpillars up in the tree. It’s fascinating to see this structured web, or home, it looks like a perfect place to grow. Apparently these caterpillars come and go from the tent while they forage for the right meal, generally fresh leaves. The tent offers protection as they grow in the safe and social environment, eventually turning into beautiful moths.
The path we traveled was mostly distinct and well worn, but at some point it wasn’t going to take us to where we wanted to go. We were aiming towards the top of the fall. So we branched off into the forested area where there were tiny paths to roam around, ultimately leading to this spectacular view! The hills are alive!
We had been walking for quite a while and thought this would be the ideal rock to enjoy our packed lunch on. Well, we just hung out for a bit instead, as there were already hundreds of red ants occupying this space, I imagine they must have been doing some sort of group lunch as well. Can you blame them? We ended up eating near the creek down below, which was quite alright. In a place like this you have a lot of options.
We were near the top of the the water fall, it was quite an impressive view. We decided to check it out from above, but next time we’ll have to be more adventurous and try to get underneath, like those people in the rocks are aiming to do.
This trail is quite popular, the path is easy to walk, and the destination is remarkable. We went in the morning, so it didn’t seem too crowded, we were able to wander off and explore. It was certainly worth the hike, a perfect way to spend our day.
I loved the clusters of Aspen we would come across in both Utah and Colorado. They’re just stunning trees. Fantastic in color, texture, shape, and height. They stand super tall yet strong with branches that don’t reach too far away from their trunk. The bark is black and white bark with knotty eyes peering out, and the leaves always seem to be some of the brightest green around… and in the fall, they turn to intense golden shades. I have never seen them in the fall, but one day I will.
In the early evening we decided to check out Red Butte Gardens. I always enjoy going to any sort of garden or conservatory. If it’s not already obvious, I’m generally very impressed by plant life, so any chance to observe or discover something new in the plant world sounds fine to me! This place was quite nice. We didn’t stay all that long because it was raining for most of our time there, but we still enjoyed our visit. Here’s a couple shots from our walk.
For dinner we stopped at a local brewery, Epic Brewing Company for a bite and some brews, and called it a night.
Day 8: Tuesday June 16
Antelope Island, beware of the “no-see-ems.” As we entered the park there was a disclaimer posted, “The no-see-ems” have hatched, no refunds.” Well, we didn’t see ’em… until we did! These little guys are tiny biting gnats, we were visiting Antelope Island at peak “no-see-em” season, but it didn’t affect us much. It was a really cool (hot!) place to explore.
Antelope Island is a Utah State Park, located in the Great Salt Lake, you can get to the island on the causeway, a small 2 lane road raised above the shallow water and salt flats. It was a nice drive with a view of seemingly nothing for miles, there was the lake, the salt flats, and the mountains in the distance.
One of the first stops we made was to Buffalo Point Trail. There was a scenic viewing area that allowed you to look around from above or have a picnic on a wooden deck. Down below, not pictured were 4 American Bison standing in what appeared to be their own personal “standing spots.” The scene felt eerie to us, that in this huge field area below “Buffalo Point Trail” there would happen to be 4 Buffalo standing in direct view, each on their own patch of dirt. This would suggest they stand there quite often, maybe too often. It was too far away to notice any sort of tether, but we were wondering if there was one. However, I doubt they were actually tied up, this start park is interested in keeping a healthy population of these animals safe. It’s possible they are given food or some sort of treat to attract them to the area, but I don’t know! It was a bit strange… maybe the heat was already getting to us.
At this scenic stop, there was a lot of plants and rocks to check out on the paths. We also, ran into this beauty, a brightly colored dragonfly who held pose long enough to snap a picture.
The island is huge, so it would be rather difficult to get around without a vehicle. Especially since we were visiting during prime no-see-em season. So we drove around and were lucky to catch several glimpses of wild life from the road side. Although there seemed to be a lot of flat expanses of land, there were also a lot of shrubs for the animals to hide in and hopefully catch some shade. We spotted a few antelope bouncing around not far from the road.
While we were there, the temperature was topping 100° of relentless heat. It sure felt like we were in the desert! The sky was a bit hazy in the distance which added to the muted array of colors this island had to offer.
This was one of the hottest days of our whole trip. There was a little cafe and lunch spot near a beach like area to stop off. We wanted to see the Great Salt Lake up close. The distance from the car to the lake was probably about 2-3 city blocks long, but boy did it feel further. The salty sand was scorching hot with no shade to be found. Bones scattered along the way.
We had intended on floating in the Great Salt Lake for the first time, but when we finally made it to the water, we quickly discovered where the the no-see-ums were partying. Millions of little bugs everywhere. We ran into a couple who regretted their dip in the water as they were being hassled by the bugs far more after jumping in. It was an inhospitable situation out there, so we didn’t stay for long. We still had fun trekking out there and experiencing the lake up close though.
We drove around a bit more stopping off at different areas searching for more wildlife. We spotted a couple different groups of buffalo. That was pretty exciting, they were really not all that far from the road. Occasionally we would see one sitting alone hidden in tall grass or walking solo on the salt flats. We had never been so close to such large wild animals!
We enjoyed our trip to Antelope Island, it was unlike anywhere we’ve ever been. It’s hard to imagine surviving in the wild out there, conditions seemed harsh, relentlessly hot, and arid. There were signs posted that said things like, “Great Salt Lake Valley, a place no one wanted.” or “The Road to nowhere.” Seemed legit.
We got back to Salt Lake City in the early evening, so we headed downtown to check out Temple Square before dinner. It was a nice area, well kept and bustling. Our experience in the visitor’s center was satisfactory. There were lots of tours in progress, though we opted for the self guided.
After leaving temple square we walked around the down town area for a bit before heading to diner at Tekashi. On a Tuesday night at 7, there was about an hour wait. Clearly this is a desirable place to be, it came highly recommended from our friend. It was worth the wait, everything was delicious. The best meal we had in Utah!
Day 9: Wednesday June 17
It was our last full day in Utah and although it was nearly 100° again, we wanted to visit some hot springs! We headed to Diamond Fork Canyon, a great hike up to Fifth Water Hot Springs.
The trail travels along the Fifth Water Creek and leads to a nice little waterfall surrounded by the hot springs. It was a beautiful hike, only a few mile each way, but with the sun, heat, and elevation, I have to admit, it felt like it was much longer on the way up. It felt good to be there and be so active for this entire trip.
Once we arrived to the first hot springs, we knew the trek was well worth it. There was a sweet little waterfall flowing into the springs. You could go behind it and on top of it, the temperature of the water fall was rather cold while the temperature of the hot springs varied from area to area, very hot to warm.
It was the first time we had ever been in natural hot spring and the first time we ever got to stand directly at the top of a waterfall. A bit beyond this point were more private hot springs.
A bundle of small tree trunks made a bridge over the creek. This group of pools were sectioned off with stone barriers to hold the warm water in. There were seats made of stone in and out of this pool. It smelled of sulfur and rotten eggs. The water was quite hot in these pools, but relaxing.
We didn’t see too many animals on this hike, however we did hear and encounter some rattle snakes! A couple slithered by us just ahead of where we were walking. Watch your step!
After our visit to the hot springs and the drive back to Salt Lake City, we were exhausted! But we had to make one last stop before heading back to our AirBnB. Rockpick Legend Co., another amazing rock shop located just around the corner from where we were staying. This was our last chance before heading out of town in the morning. Loved this place, but wish I had the energy to stay longer. I picked up a few specimens unlike any of my other picks from the trip, but I regret not snagging up some Topaz and a few other items I had my eye on. Loved this place, lots of great options.
Day 10: Thursday June 18
It was time to say good bye to Utah! We spent the day mostly driving through Wyoming. This was officially the start of our long drive home. We wanted to make a few stops along the way. The drive was beautiful but monotonous. The endless rolling hills of grasslands with mountains in the distance were full of antelope. If we would have started a count of all the antelope we would have easily topped over 200 sightings over the course of the drive. I imagine the population can be compared to deer in Michigan.
We mainly drove on two lane highways through small towns. Signs read 75 miles until next gas station, and for the next 75 miles there would appear to be no one around. We passed a lot of oil rigs and a rather large oil refinery, which seemed to be busy.
Eventually we ended up in South Dakota. As we were approaching the Black Hills National Forest area, it was clear that this was a major destination, or tourist area. We came this way so we could stop by Mount Rushmore. But on one of the main roads read a sign “Rock Shop,” which Joe actually spotted and suggested we stop! Yeah! Of course I wanted to stop, and I’m so glad we did. It was another fantastic shop full of exactly what I wanted. The ladies in there were super sweet and there was so much to look at. I picked up some of my favorite finds of the whole trip here. The Shop was called Miners Mercantile, in Custer, SD.
After a quick stop we were on our way to Mount Rushmore! Neither of us have ever been, so we thought it would be fun to make it a destination on our way home.
While Mount Rushmore is obviously a huge tourist destination and a million people were there, it didn’t feel overwhelmingly crowded. There was plenty of space for everyone to check out this spectacular National Memorial.
This was the last leg of our trip and we spent it mostly driving with a couple sleeping stops. After visiting Mount Rushmore, we spent the night in Rapid City.
Day 11: Friday June 19
We drove through the rest of South Dakota, Minnesota, and then stayed the night in LaCross, Wisconsin. We didn’t take any pictures on these last couple days, we drove and drove home while listening to podcasts.
Day 12: Saturday June 20
Our final day of driving home was short and easy until we got to Illinois, which offered by far the most traffic of the whole trip. Home sweet home. There was construction and accidents throughout the entire Illinois ride. We live only a few miles from the highway, but it took about an hour to navigate through to our neighborhood. It was Puerto Rican Independence week and the parade lines up a block from our house, we got home with about 30 seconds to spare before the official celebration parade took off. It was nice to be home after such an adventure. It was a fantastic trip out west and we can’t wait to get out there again! So much more to see!