Regular readers of my blog know about my goal to visit the national parks. We bought an American Eagle Pass for $10 when Jim turned 62 which allows us entry into all national parks during his lifetime and we’re definitely getting our money’s worth! Each September we try to do a road trip within the U.S. coinciding with our wedding anniversary. In 2015, that road trip was to Utah because they have 5 national parks in close proximity to one another. While I thought we’d previously been to at least one, I couldn’t remember which one. It turned out we’d ducked into Zion National Park briefly, but we’ve now fixed that omission.
One of the great things about a road trip is stopping along the way. It’s not just about the destination. And one of the great things about retirement is we’re not hampered by a schedule. We can take as much time as we like.
Our first stop was the Strategic Air & Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska. Well, actually our first stop was in DesMoines to see our kids as we drove through but other than our awesome sons and a decent breakfast while we had the oil changed in the car, there was nothing particularly noteworthy to report. Anyway, if you’re a fan of military aircraft and history, the SAS Museum is for you. I’m not especially fond of military aircraft but I do love history. Jim, on the other hand, is a big fan of this place. This was our third visit.
My favorite was the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders exhibit. On April 18, 1942, a group of 80 volunteers led by Jimmy Doolittle took WW2 to Japan’s homeland for the first time on a daring mission to bomb Tokyo and other cities. The object was to show the Japanese they were not invulnerable after their attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The successful mission raised American morale tremendously.
The nose cone from a nuclear-tipped ICBM caught my eye because it looked like a pencil. The U-2 plane like the one flown by the American spy, Gary Powers, also intrigued me having just seen the movie, Bridge of Spies, about swapping spies with the Soviets.
I can’t tell you the maximum speed of the world’s fastest aircraft, the Blackbird, because it’s still classified, but the cruising speed is 1320 mph. Lockheed built just 32 of this craft to replace the U-2 for high-altitude strategic reconnaissance, i.e., spying.
After traveling 530 miles on the first day, we spent the night in North Platte, Nebraska. The following morning we made straight for Chimney Rock. Along the way, we discovered a historical mile marker at Windlass Hill Pioneer Homestead and stopped for a look about.
The first scenic landmarks we spied were Courthouse Rock, named for the courthouse in St. Louis, and nearby Jailhouse Rock.
It’s no wonder Chimney Rock was the most famous landmark for pioneers traveling the Oregon, Mormon, or California Trail. With a height of 325 feet from base to tip, you can see it for miles. It marks the end of the prairie and the beginning of more mountainous terrain ahead. When I saw Courthouse Rock, I thought, “Is that it?” But when I saw Chimney Rock, it was unmistakable and it would have been for pioneers, too.
Believe it or not, Chimney Rock was originally called Elk Penis by early Native Americans. Here’s a photo of the actual explanation at the visitor center for doubters.
Our plan was to stay in Estes Park, Colorado and get an early start the following morning driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. This was the first of several challenges looking for accommodations. After numerous calls and internet searches on my smartphone, the closest city with a vacancy was 33 miles away at Longmont, Colorado. We took it.
We chose The Rib House for dinner. What a find! With outdoor seating in a lovely residential neighborhood on a beautiful evening and a feast of tasty BBQ, we left full, restored, and ready to take on the mountains the following day.
Based on events of September 2015.
Next time: Rocky Mountain National Park