TJE 59: Dear Friend, We Had the Most Epic Road Trip (Part 2 of 3)


Dear Friend,

I want to continue a story – a travel story.

After the cold, mountainous regions we started our way to the east. Since this was a trip with the goal of passing through as many states as possible, we did not take the fastest route. And with our need to recharge extra from time to time, this inevitably caused a conflict in my schedule.

This was the part of the trip where we strung through the north states bordering Canada. Although it’s springtime already, bouts of cold were not over yet. After all, we were still in the north part of the USA.

Coming from the vegetation-filled Wyoming and Montana, North Dakota felt quite dry. The badlands were interesting and unique for landscape, but it could easily get uninspiring, especially with lack of trees. We did get to see a good view of the badlands while driving because we got lost a little bit. When we were searching for the destination in the GPS, it suggested a couple of ways, and of course we chose the “short” route. As we were getting near, we passed through unpaved roads cutting through the badlands. Then we realized that we were headed to a dead end. By that I mean, there’s a big piece of land that can’t be accessed because it was a private property or something. So we headed back and tried to find the other route passing by the highway.

The place we visited in North Dakota was Medora – an area where Theodore Roosevelt spent time in the 1880s. As usually the case so far in the trip, shops were closed by the time we visited it. But then again, we were late because of the mistake in direction.

Okay, we had to swing by South Dakota in spite of it not a state bordering Canada, because it had to be ticked from the list. There was good reason to swing by anyway, the famous Mount Rushmore is located there. Interestingly, there was a cold swing, making our experience of that place colder than North Dakota.

So it was surreal to see Mount Rushmore. It was one of those famous sites that kids usually encounter in books.

There were more interesting places in South Dakota too. Another one we were able to add to the trip was Sioux Falls. It’s a nice looking waterfalls cutting through edgy red rocks. I mean the rocks seemed to be chiseled. I thought it was pretty unique.

Thinking the cold should be receding, we expected a warmer stay in the next state: Minnesota. So we wore light jacket again. But alas, it was even colder there! No snow, but cold!

In this state, we visited the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It has a good visitor center/museum that the kids enjoyed. I hiked a bit in the short trail nearby to have a feel of nature. Then for more nature, we dropped by Minnehaha Falls. The way towards that also has interesting bits of history, as we passed by old structures, i.e. the house of the first settler of Minneapolis: Col. John H. Stevens. Sprinkled in the suburbs of Minneapolis are these historic houses.

An interesting feature of Minnesota is that it contains numerous lakes. It has the slogan “Land of 10,000 Lakes” after all. In Minneapolis alone, where we stayed for the most part, there were 22 lakes already. So we had to drop by at least one of them. And nearby Minnehaha Falls is Lake Nokomis. It had a nice peaceful feeling, well, it’s still cold after all, hence not much people were hanging out. Brrr… our light jacket was just not enough.

Alright next to Minnesota is another state with thousands of lakes – even more, actually: Wisconsin. In this state though, we didn’t visit any lakes. Instead, we went to the impressive Milwaukee Art Museum. The building itself is art, with amazing architecture. A special feature outside is the wing-like sun breaker on top. It does change position into open wing to closed, depending on the time of day. And inside there were so much artworks to see. My favorite among them is the 3D art Edge of England by Cornelia Parker.

Our next pit stop was 3 states down, along the coast of Lake Michigan. But before that, we stopped by Chicago, where we had late lunch/early dinner, we’re not sure how to call that anymore. We’ve been to Illinois before so we just stopped for food and coffee, knowing that we would have many choices there.

Incidentally, a friend from high school was having a vacation in Chicago. It was an exciting coincidence, so with the limited time I had, I walked quickly to her family’s accommodation to have a 30-minute catch up. Very brief but fun. Then I rejoined my group and we resumed driving.

Another first state for us was Indiana, but we just passed by it.

By the evening, again, we arrived at our hotel in Michigan. We stayed at East Lansing, because it’s near Michigan State University. My cousin was taking an online photography class at the time, and she wanted to visit the providing university. It was also an opportunity to meet her photography instructor.

Now the group was feeling the exhaustion of traveling for miles and miles that we made the decision to stay for 2 nights in Michigan. It’s getting clearer that we would have more delays in this trip. So I would not make it to my scheduled flight back to Manila.

I was slated to fly back to the Philippines in the middle of May. That’s because I committed to attending a friend’s wedding. So I had to make the big decision of: rescheduling my flight. I apologized to my friend as I wouldn’t be able to attend his wedding anymore. And then I rebooked my flight to the same date as my relatives would go back to the Philippines, which was in early June.

Before leaving Michigan, we visited a town with a very interesting name: Hell. There wasn’t really much in there. It’s just funny to stop by a town named Hell.

After that we got the hell out and drove to Ohio, to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Per usual, we were late to arrive in the area, that the museum was closed already. We just had a bunch of photos outside. It still looked nice there.

We continued the road trip, pushing on to our next pit stop, which was in Pennsylvania, near Lake Erie. We arrived at night already. The next day, we dropped by Presque Isle State Park to get a good view of Lake Erie. It was just a nearby point of interest, before resuming our drive to the east. We would later explore a slice of Pennsylvania anyway. So eastward, our next stop was New York.

Of course, at upstate New York, we had to see the Niagara Falls! On our way, it rained quite hard and it was slowing us down. We arrived in the area of the falls, but we couldn’t visit it yet due to the heavy rain. We decided to make an emergency stop in Grand Island, nearby the Falls. We found an accommodation, checked in, and decided to wait the rain out. We were supposed to visit the falls that day and travel further east for the next pit stop. But we had to change the plan.

The advantage of this emergency stop was that we got to see Niagara Falls at night! When the rain finally stopped, we thought of visiting the park in the evening. Ignoring the dead feel of the area, the Niagara Falls with lights looked so good. It was amazing.

The next day we went back to the falls, to see it in daylight and to enjoy a livelier state of the park. It’s funny, that at one point, my phone signal changed to a Canadian provider. And my carrier gave an automatic text mesage welcoming me to Canada. LOL.

Niagara Falls is largely at the USA side, thus, you could see the stream up close. The disadvantage of that is, you can’t have a nice panoramic view of the falls from afar. And that advantage goes to Canada. It’s no wonder, the Canadian side is noticeably livelier, from a tourism perspective. We wished we had Canadian visa at the time. For several minutes we were at the gate wishing we could cross to Canada just for that moment.

Whew, time to move to another state bordering Canada, Vermont. We found this state quite interesting as this had a very quaint feel to it. The parks, churches and cemeteries speak history. There were many old houses. The antique shops sit well in this area I must say.

Next to Vermont is the small New Hampshire. We didn’t intend on exploring it anymore. But we of course stopped at the state sign. We kept on driving afterwards.

And finally, after more than 5,000 miles, we reached our farthest destination: Maine. We set a two night stay there as a main pit stop. It’s a milestone destination, we were so excited to see what’s in it, and generally just happy for the achievement.

Again, this big group was slow to move, that we could not visit all those interesting places we pinned. So we just had ensure visiting Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park.

We visited a few more corners of Maine, but apart from the famous lighthouse, we just enjoyed downtown Portland. One notable thing was the fun vibe at the capital. The people seemed to be quite chill and friendly. Which was great, considering how cold the place was. I guess the ocean really makes people feel good. And speaking of ocean, fresh catch from it was definitely another highlight of the trip.

In this nice downtown, it’s no surprise that we found one cool coffee shop. And it’s one of my faves in the trip: Bard Coffee.

Maine was definitely a state we wanted to see more of. But as much as we wanted to stay more, we had to go back. However, with the trip’s main goal in mind, it was definitely a long way back.

I’ll tell you the rest of it friend.

– Jerico

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