So in case you didn't catch it here on the website, on Instagram, or elsewhere - SURPRISE! We moved across the country from Seattle to the Hudson River Valley region in upstate New York. Big change? YES. Very needed? YES. I won't get into all the details here as to what led us to the decision, that's perhaps something I'm still refining in my own head for the time being. Instead, I'll focus on what this post is - a wander log of all our favorite places that we came across on our drive across the country.
This was my first time driving across the country and really my first time driving away from the west. While there were a few priorities to hit along the route - one stood above the rest. Arguably, it may have been the scenes from Back To The Future III, but I've wanted to visit Monument Valley ever since I first saw it featured in that movie. Second on the list was to spend a few days in Santa Fe and so with those two points plotted, we planned our route accordingly.
A note of caution/planning for those attempting a similar route at a similar time of year (cough, January, cough): the only lodging we booked in advance for the entire trip was our AirBnB in Santa Fe. We planned and came prepared to sleep inside our car most of the way - expecting snow and all. What we didn't expect, in growing up on the West Coast, was the plethora of closed campgrounds once we left Idaho. In Utah and Colorado, we found campgrounds simply barred up and closed for the season. Even as we ventured into the plain states, usually reliable KOA Campgrounds were closed up for the season. Coming from the West Coast this was simply mind boggling, but it was what it was - not even an if you can get there, you can camp there situation. A bummer it was and our route didn't allow for much variation, so there you have it. Just a heads up and all.
We spent just one day driving through a state I've come to love the most over our seven years spent exploring the northwest. Mostly, for me at least, it was a goodbye tour. We drove through Boise and stopped at one of my favorite places to eat, The Basque Market. Where they ever so kindly heated up some paella after finding out we were looking for a quick gluten free dinner to go. It was maybe one of the best dinners of the trip.
Pushing late into the night, we took the risk and drove out to the very quiet corner of southeast Idaho where the City of Rocks National Reserve can be found. It was too late to call the Park Service for conditions and so we took the risk. Pulling through the gates, the road appeared to be have been plowed at some point in the recent past, but a good foot plus of snow had since fallen. In the darkness we quietly made fresh tracks up into the reserve, spotting familiar rocks, passing campsites lost in snow drifts. We made it up to the main parking lot by Bath Rock and found what appeared to be our only option for camping.
We set up camp, alone in a completely snowy paradise. Our first night sleeping IN the Xterra, could not have been more perfect. The morning on the other hand, well, it was almost perfect. We realized that evening, settling under our sleeping back and wool blanket, that we had no extra water which most importantly meant, no hot morning beverage. Despite all that, the City of Rocks continues to be one of my favorite places I've ever been.
Of all the new-to-me places we spent time in on this drive, the one which keeps taking up space in my head is Utah. Granted, I still despise Salt Lake City for anything other than grocery shopping and one last dose of In'n'Out. Specifically though, it's Moab taking up space in my head. We'd hoped to spend more time, especially in the National Monuments, but a short one night stop had to do. On a whim, after passing gate after gate of closed campgrounds and forest roads, I pulled a random listing from a Lonely Planet guide book and took a chance on the Red Cliffs Lodge. I didn't bother to look up exactly where it was it was, just that it was pet friendly and had a king bed (oh those not so little luxuries). Pulling into Moab to fuel up, we were greeted with cell service and a 20 minute drive down a winding canyon, north of town, to a dude ranch style hotel.
We may have been the only guests and it was glorious. Our room was more like a suite and had a view down the Colorado River. Complete perfection. I'd come back to stay here any day I have a chance to.
After not lingering nearly long enough, we stopped by a coffee roaster in town - where they were actually roasting coffee in a corner, and made tracks for our next destination. Making sure to stop at dog friendly Wilson Arch on our way. (Utah's National Parks are NOT dog friendly, some of the off-road drives don't even allow dogs IN the car.)
Ah, the premier destination of the trip. I wanted to get here so badly that when I did, I just about cried at the site of the mitten buttes. Again, I can't say if it was because of Back To The Future III, but this felt like the one and maybe only place I absolutely needed to visit at least once in my lifetime. I so wish we could have spent more time here, but being able to take a self paced drive along the dirt roads in our own car was sufficiently magical.
Something to know if you do decide to visit, lodging options in the area are scarce save the on-site park hotel and a few campgrounds that seem to book up very far in advance. Know that you're also on Navajo Nation land and that means treating it with the utmost respect and following the rules and guidelines laid out by the park. Most of the hiking here is only to be done with a park guide, but driving the loop road is something you can do on your own. There's a modest fee to enter the park, but it's not unlike anything you'd encounter at any other national park.
My one recommendation is save your picnic lunch for Artist's Point. Worth it.
- Eat: Kakawa Chocolate House | The Shed | Radish & Rye | Iconik Coffee | Izanami
- Shop: Palace of the Governors Native American Artisans Program
- Sleep: Walk Everywhere AirBnB (yes, really)
- Relax: Sunrise Springs Spa Resort
I really wanted to like Santa Fe. Like I mentioned at the beginning, it was one of two places we prioritized for the drive. The reality was slightly less perfect then I'd dreamed up in my mind, but still very worthwhile.
I loved our little AirBnB, it was a perfect size to share with our friends who met us there (another couple and dog lovers, thank goodness) and was in fact walking distance from the part of Santa Fe you want to walk around. The architecture was gorgeous and only became more enchanting on the one day it snowed. Both Kakawa Chocolate House and Capital Coffee were a five minute walk down our dirt street (be prepared for serious mud and puddles in the winter). Kakawa's thick drinking chocolates are both gluten and dairy free, in fact most aren't even made with cows milk unless you special order them that way. I highly recommend a daily stop and if you can tolerate the dairy, do get the whipped cream on top.
Santa Fe was really our luxury indulgence stop of the trip, so we opted to go all in. I spent half a day at the Sunrise Springs Spa Resort for one of the best facials I've ever had and had some pretty darn good soup to boot in their restaurant - while Zeke went snowboarding in Taos. On another evening we all opted for a private tub at the Japanese spa complex, Ten Thousand Waves. I'm not much of a "tubbing" person, but the food that evening at Izanami was absolutely delicious - I even went in on the sake (it's the good stuff here). There was some debate about the gluten free nature of the fryer here - so I'd recommend against any of the fried foods.
In terms of other gluten free options in Santa Fe, I have to say in the end I wasn't that impressed and may have gotten a bit gluten-ed at the Shed. The food from Radish and Rye was excellent, albeit spicy, though it seemed everything in Santa Fe had an extra level of heat to it.
On a final note, I did a lot of research before the trip on where the best place may to buy locally made jewelry would be. Meaning, direct from a Native American maker (pass on the culturally appropriated counterparts) and not something mass produced overseas and shipped in. The sidewalk market outside the Palace of the Governers delivered and then some. Getting to purchase a couple of beautiful hand made pieces directly from the makers was ideal and also, way more affordable than the plethora of jewelry shops around the square.
- Eat: Bailey's Range | New Day Gluten Free Bakery
- See: American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog
- Sleep: 1 Bedroom Dogtown Apartment
St. Louis was an impromptu, we're-exhausted-from-driving-through-Texas, stop. A couple hours outside of the city, I started looking for last minute options on AirBnB and found the most adorable and affordable duplex apartment in Dogtown. We ended up with a comfortable space, with one of the best book and movie selections we've seen, and time for a good Netflix binge.
We found a gluten free bakery cafe that we had brunch at twice (waffles!) and hoarded snacks for the road. Definitely stop by New Day if you find yourself in the area, it's a bit outside the city but worth it - and make sure to try the Gooey Bars. Another night we ventured into the downtown core got some delicious gluten free burgers, shakes, and fries (gluten free fryer for the win!).
Always up for some dog friendly silly sightseeing, we headed further out of town to visit the American Kennel Club's Museum of the Dog. It was quirky for sure, but the local art collection was really enjoyable and included etched stained glass portraits. Only thing it needed more of, or even one of was Vizsla art!