Just Call Us Lewis and Clark

While reading Margaret Roach’s And I Shall Have Some Peace There, I came across a quote I’d used in a photo book of my 2007 cross-country road trip.  Seeing the quote in Margaret’s book inspired today’s post, one in which I’ll hold you captive and force you to look at photos from my vacation! Mwa ha ha!

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain

I love to travel but am married to a man who refuses to fly on airplanes and reads books with titles like Commercial Aviation Disasters that feature planes nose-diving to the earth with their tails engulfed in flames.

By 2006, we’d been together 14 years and had traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard but had never ventured west of Philadelphia as a couple.  Things were about to change.  That fall, an article in the now-defunct Cottage Living that detailed a drive up the Gallatin River Valley to Livingston and Bozeman, Montana got me to dreaming of wide open spaces, buttes, and plains–things we don’t have much of here in New Jersey.

The more research I did, the more destinations I added to our itinerary.  What started out as a week-long trip to Montana snowballed into an odyssey of more than 8,500 miles, 20 destinations, and almost the entire month of July, 2007.

Yes, it was a loooong trip.

We decided to rent a car for this little jaunt because both of our cars were relatively new and a bit small for a trip of this magnitude.  We scored a sweet baby deal from Budget, though the car we ended up with was a bit larger than the one we’d reserved.  I worried that a CDL license was required to pilot the boat!

A foxy Mercury Grand Marquis--very popular with the AARP set.

Some highlights of the trip were Craig’s Popcorn Shop in Portage, WI.  Coincidentally, that’s the hometown of Elizabeth Eulberg, author of Prom and Prejudice.

A drive-thru popcorn shop!

How could a road trip be complete without a stop at The Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD?

2007's theme was A Salute to Rodeo!

When we crossed into South Dakota, we realized we were truly ‘out west’.  In addition to a real, live cowboy tipping his hat to me at a gas station, there were BISON everywhere!  This guy was meandering along the road next to us in Yellowstone National Park.

We did make it to Montana and visited all of the places recommended in the magazine article.  We stayed at Howlers Inn–a wolf sanctuary–and even got to visit with some wolf pups who enjoyed gnawing on my bracelet!

Nom, nom, nom!

The innkeeper with one of the pups.

One of our favorite spots–it was so over the top we thought it might be a joke–was The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.  We enjoyed a colorful meal and our room (Swiss Belle) featured a rock shower and partially rocked walls.  We had reserved The Cave Room but it had to undergo last-minute repairs so we were moved.  The dining room is awe-inspiring…


One of the most challenging things about our road trip was crossing the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.  We have nothing like this in New Jersey, and I white knuckled it all the way up (and down!) the pass.  I was driving in the middle of the road, my speed topping out at about 25mph, with a line of cars, trucks, and RVs stacked up behind me like I was grand marshalling a parade.

They are taller than they appear!
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Have you ever taken a road trip or visited any of the stops we made on our first road trip?

Road Trip Stops

  • Monroeville Mall(Monroeville, PA–Filming location for Dawn of the Dead)
  • University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN)
  • West Bend, WI (Visited friends)
  • Mitchell Corn Palace (Mitchell, SD)
  • Wall Drug (Wall, SD)
  • Mt. Rushmore (Rapid City area, SD)
  • Cody Rodeo (Cody, WY)
  • Yellowstone National Park (WY)
  • Livingston and Bozeman, MT
  • Reno, NV
  • Lake Tahoe, CA
  • Oakland, CA (Stayed with friends)
    San Francisco, CA
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
  • San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Santa Barbara (visited a friend)
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Universal Studios
  • Pasadena, CA (Filming location for Halloween)
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Albuqueque, NM
  • Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo, TX)
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Pittsburgh, PA

Memorable Road Trip Hotels and Inns

*Highly recommended–we stayed in the Swiss Belle room!


  • At 2011.02.18 00:23, Jess - A Book Hoarder said:

    Oh man I have so many things to say…

    Car-awesome! Popcorn corner-uhh I love popcorn and want to go to there. Bison-holy crap there is one walking down the road! Wolf pups-can I keep one? San Luis Obispo-my grandma lived there, love it!

    I can’t believe how many times I have visited and traveled through TX and I still haven’t seen Cadillac Ranch! And how is it I have family in Pasadena and yet I never knew Halloween was filmed there?

    Awesome post Nat!

    • At 2011.02.18 00:31, softdrink said:

      Fabulous post!

      I would love to take a road trip across the US, but Hamburger hates spending time in a car. Maybe I’ll have to talk my mom into it someday.

      And you should come back to the Madonna Inn at Christmas. There’s nothing like gaudy all decorated with more gaudiness for the holidays! And did you visit Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo? That’s another must see.
      softdrink´s last blog post ..The Great Gatsby

      • At 2011.02.18 01:07, rhapsodyinbooks said:

        What total fun! We also went to the Madonna Inn when we went to visit Softdrink Jill last year! I hope you went in the men’s room to see the famous urinal in there…

        Cadillac Ranch reminds me of Fridgehenge, a Stonehenge made out of old refrigerators outside of Santa Fe, which we spent HALF A DAY trying to find and never did! But it’s supposed to be very cool, although not as colorful as Cadillac Ranch!

        Those wolf babies are so totally cute! I wish we had gone there too! We love road trips although planning them kind of stresses me out! But on one of our road trips we listened to “The Road to Quoz” by William Least Heat-Moon, which is about him and his wife taking road trips to see weird things, so it was totally perfect!

        I guess I’m saying totally a bit much…. but your post TOTALLY makes me want to go on another road trip!

        • At 2011.02.18 09:50, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

          I would love to take a trip like that, stopping whenever something struck my fancy.

          • At 2011.02.18 16:58, Meg said:

            Nat, your post has me wanting to hop in my imaginary convertible and hit the open road! What fun. I wickedly envy your adventure and loved reading about your stops. What’s better than a good, old-fashioned road trip?

            I went with my parents and sister on what we affectionately call our “Great Southwest Vacation” when I was 11. We flew to Denver, Colorado, where we first rented a car, then started our jaunt through New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, flying home from Las Vegas two weeks later. It was a crazy adventure topped only by visiting England Italy a decade later. Such fond memories of the open road!
            Meg´s last blog post ..My Borders isn’t closing- but I still feel sad

            • At 2011.02.18 17:42, Dishy said:

              I’ve been to Pittsburgh. What do I win??!
              Dishy´s last blog post ..Spicy Red Lentil Dal with Winter Vegetables

              • At 2011.02.18 23:06, Jenners said:

                That is one serious road trip!! I love it! I think this is the way that the country should be seen. It gives you a sense of the scale of things. When I lived out West, it always amazed me that it was in the same country as New Jersey as it is so wildly different. And how can you not visit Wall Drug after you’ve seen all those signs!!!??? I really want to visit Cadillac Ranch because it was featured in a book I just read/listened to (Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson). Fun post! I love it!
                Jenners´s last blog post ..Writer’s Workshop- A “Memorable” Vacation

                • At 2011.02.19 08:45, Beth F said:

                  What a great trip! I’ve been to most of the places you listed, but not all in one go! Sounds like a dream.
                  Beth F´s last blog post ..Weekend Cooking- Focaccia with Greens from Lora Brody

                  • At 2011.02.19 19:35, Ladytink_534 said:

                    I hate flying but I adore traveling! Wow! I would love to have seen some of this. I’ve never been that far west. Those cars are awesome.
                    Ladytink_534´s last blog post ..Taking Chances in Tuscany

                    • At 2011.02.19 20:54, Oh said:

                      This was fun! Glad to see Mt Rushmore – we’ve been talking about visiting there for ages…I’m thinking we should head out as soon as winter snows begin to melt!

                      • At 2011.02.22 09:19, Care said:

                        Just awesome. I love roadtrips but since I lived in those wide open spaces, we tend to keep going til we get there. Always want to stop at the road side attractions and we never do. Now I am in New England and people think you are crazy to drive ANYWHERE if it’s over 2 hrs away (except, for some reason, it is always OK to drive to Florida.). I really need to take daytrips to see all the cool things around here but wish I had a buddy to do these with.
                        Care´s last blog post ..The Imperfectionists

                        • At 2011.02.22 09:33, Coffee and a Book Chick said:

                          I absolutely would love to do this type of a road trip. I travel frequently, but it’s always for business or a personal trip that has a specific destination already selected, itinerary prepared, etc. I’d love to do this kind of trip, and just stop wherever I wanted to. For some reason, I’ve also been called by the dream of heading to Montana, and especially Wyoming. This country is so beautiful and every state is different – now I’m motivated even more so!
                          Coffee and a Book Chick´s last blog post ..Devotion- A Memoir- by Dani Shapiro

                          • At 2011.02.22 16:25, Kathleen said:

                            I love road trips. Me and my sweetie try to take one every year. There’s just something about seeing the country from the road vs. the air that can’t be duplicated any other way. Sounds and looks like your trip was a fun one!
                            Kathleen´s last blog post ..A Look Ahead

                            • At 2011.02.26 12:16, toothybooks said:

                              i love this post!!

                              i’ve taken two road trips with my family and by family, i mean aunts, uncles, cousins, all crammed into a 15-person van that we rented. it was probably the best family vacation ever and my cousins and i still talk about the trip to this day. of course being in a car for that long with that many people really tested our patience too!

                              • At 2011.02.27 01:11, Alita said:

                                That was an ambitious road trip! I cannot get over the Madonna Inn – Wow, just… wow. I think I’ve look at pictures for just about every room.
                                Alita´s last blog post ..Soundtrack Saturday – Swoon At Your Own Risk by Sydney Salter

                                (Required, will not be published)

                                CommentLuv badge