25 States: Our Xterra’s Journey Across an Ocean and Across America

Grand Teton National Park

“Hey, look! A Hawaiian license plate!” a little boy said while pointing at our Xterra.  We had just parked at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming when we overheard the conversation.  It wasn’t the first time we heard that excited statement on this trip.  The license plate game is a popular road trip past-time here in the U.S.  It’s not surprising that the Hawaii plate is such a sought after prize.

Driving through Capitol Reef National Park

We were on our way to Seattle moving from Honolulu where our journey with the Xterra began. In the summer of 2008 we were in need of an SUV that could handle our active lifestyle; hiking, backpacking, scuba diving, surfing, kayaking and camping.  We bought the Xterra brand new there in Hawaii with about 20 or so original test miles on it.  One of the first memorable trips we took it on was to Maui that August by way of the now defunct Hawaii Superferry.

On that trip we drove up to the top of Haleakala Crater for an amazing backpacking adventure into the moon-like landscape of the crater.  It was an incredible trek and one of my favorites.

About a year later in the summer of 2009 we bid farewell to Hawaii and started our journey to Seattle. We loaded the Xterra on a container ship bound for Long Beach, California where our road trip began. We had  a few weeks before we needed to get settled in to our new home state of Washington, so we planned an adventure through some of the Western States.

picking up the Xterra in Long Beach, CA

picking up the Xterra in Long Beach, CA

 

Instead of driving straight north to our destination we headed east out of LA towards the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nevada. Along the way we camped and hiked at the breathtaking Grand Canyon in Arizona and learned why Utah rocks by visiting several of its National Parks like Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Arches.  We then drove north into Wyoming and Montana to explore Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and on into Idaho before reaching our new home state.  It was an amazing trip where we explored as much of the western states that time would allow.

By the time we arrived in Washington we had driven through 9 states.  While living in Seattle, in addition to exploring much of the state, we made several weekend trips to Oregon as well as a longer road trip down to Northern California through the Redwoods and on into San Francisco.  While in the Pacific Northwest the Xterra also gave us the opportunity to venture north into British Columbia, Canada to Vancouver, Whistler and Vancouver Island. We had a number of amazing trips to our northern neighbor.

Four wonderful years later, we planned yet another road trip, this time to the east across America with a move to North Carolina.  While there was so much we hoped to see on this cross-country journey our time was limited. Our first planned stop was at Glacier National Park in Montana.  The sharp mountains, cliffs and glacial lakes were truly spectacular!

yoga at Glacier National Park in Montana

Just after visiting the site of Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana the Xterra’s odometer hit the 100,000 mile mark.  Turning up the music we celebrated and reminisced about all the great adventures we have had together in the Xterra and vowed to make the next 100,000 just as fun.  I think it’s quite an accomplishment!  After several pictures (while going 80 mph) we continued on to the east into Wyoming.

Our next stops were Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.  Crazy Horse is still a work in progress, and is scheduled to take many more years to complete.  Once finished it is expected to be the world’s largest mountain carving and dwarf nearby Mount Rushmore Monument.  I still think the carvings of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore are very impressive and worth a visit.

After Mount Rushmore we continued east in the Xterra through Rapid City and on into Badlands National Park.  The summer heat was extreme and we were happy that our air conditioning was working well. The stark contrast between the green grassy prairie and the vibrant yellow and red hills is breathtaking.

Badlands Panorama

 

Driving through the Badlands

 

To the east Minnesota and Wisconsin were next.  I showed Josh the small town where my father grew up near the MN-WI border and the Mississippi River.  It had been ten years since my last visit when the family gathered for my grandmother’s memorial service.  In town we found the old swinging bridge over the creek where I would play with my sisters and the house where my dad grew up both still standing.  It was a sweet stroll down memory lane.  That evening we stopped for the night in Madison and visited with my cousin.

Early the next morning we were off once again into Milwaukee to check out a few breweries and a Brewers baseball game. It was a fun night partying with new friends.

Miller Valley, Milwaukee

Miller Valley, Milwaukee

We heard deep dish pizza calling our names so our next stop was Chicago, Illinois. With our bellies filled we began to grow anxious to reach our destination so we speeded past the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana and on into Kentucky. We couldn’t resist a quick side-trip to Lawrenceburg for a tour of the Wild Turkey Distillery.  We then breezed through Tennessee before finally crossing the North Carolina state line hitting the Xterra’s 18th state.

After settling in to our new home in NC we had some time left before starting work and made the drive up north to see Josh’s family.  We had driven this route many times before but this was the first with the Xterra.  Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and our 22nd state; New York were added on this trip.  An overnight drive put us in town just in time for breakfast.  The ten-hour trip seemed short when compared to our drive across the country.

Kayaking Jordan Lake, NC

 

On a recent trip south to visit more family for Thanksgiving we added three more states South Carolina, Georgia and number 25; Florida to the list.  Our new pup Lager joined us for the trip this time and he handled the long drive like a champ.

You can see all the states highlighted in the map below.  Florida will not be the last new state our Xterra will venture through.  It has been an incredible journey so far with now over 138,000 miles behind us and we know there will be plenty more to come.

Highlighted 25 States driven through with the Xterra

 

An Overdose on Arches

Yoga at Delicate Arch

With over 2,000 natural arches in Arches National Park, it’s easy to overdose on your arch intake.  We lost count on how many we saw during our visit, but know we did not see all of them!  This natural collection of arches lies north of Moab, Utah and worth the trip.

Driving through Arches National Park

Delicate Arch has to be the most recognizable and prominent arch in the park.  This massive and vibrant red stone structure dwarfs any visitor who makes the trek to it.  Its impressive grandeur can only be felt while standing right underneath it.  Just look at how tiny we are in this picture!

feeling small at Delicate Arch

And Delicate Arch can be seen from miles away.

yes, that's Delicate Arch in the distance

Landscape Arch may be the next most popular arch in the park.  Some people say that the names of Landscape Arch and Delicate Arch were accidentally switched years ago.  I can believe it since this arch looks like it would collapse at any moment where Delicate Arch has the best landscape view in the park.

Landscape Arch

We hiked through several trails leading up to and through plenty of arches such as Double O Arches, Pine Tree, Navajo, Window and more.

I was so arch inspired that I tried to create one of my own while taking a dip in the Colorado River.

my Water Arch

If you do plan a trip to Arches National Park, I would recommend camping there for a couple of days and pace yourself.  Every arch is unique and beautiful so allow yourself plenty of time to soak in the beauty.  When they start to all look the same, you may have overdosed on arches!

The Jagged Cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, Hawaii

Jagged Cliffs of Na Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s north shore is famous for its picturesque steep cliffs.  Many visitors take helicopter tours, catamaran rides or hike in to explore this scenic coastline.  Several years ago Josh and I backpacked the Kalalau Trail from Ke`e Beach to the remote Kalalau Beach.

On the way to Kalalau

The hazardous 11 mile trail hugs these jagged cliffs with various narrow spots that made it tricky to navigate while carrying a 50lb pack.  Many times the trail was so narrow that I could only fit one foot on at a time.  To my left was the cliff wall while to my right was a steep drop into the rocks and rough waters churning below.

Steep drop below

Shortly after sunset on our first day on the trail we arrived at the Hanakoa campsite.  We were exhausted so once our tent was set up, we went straight to sleep.  The first set of helicopter tours woke us in the morning and motivated us to get back on the trail.

Sunset at the end of the first dayBy the time we got to Kalalau beach we were relieved to discover it was not too crowded.  Hawaii State Parks requires campers to have a permit and allows only a certain number of backpackers on the trail.  We grabbed a good campsite and let the relaxation begin.

The Beach

A nearby waterfall created a perfect shower for everyone.  A few campers opted to go naked when they probably should have not.  Some people really should cover up!

Nature's shower

While exploring the caves on our third day, a guy from a zodiac ran on shore and warned every one of a massive storm headed right for the north shore.  I thought about the rugged trail on the way in and how difficult it was to hike during perfect weather. Then I tried to picture how it would be during a storm.  Not a good idea.  So we packed our bags immediately and got back on the trail out.  We camped at Hanakoa one more night and made it out just before the storm hit.

Inside one cave

Kalalau Beach

In the Hawaiian language “pali” means “cliff” and it is amazing to see just how many sharp edges the north shore of Kauai has.  It was a breathtaking backpacking experience that will always be one of my favorites.  If you want to make the trek, click here to learn more about how you can register for a permit.  I do caution you however; this trail is not for the novice hiker or those afraid of heights.

Jagged cliffs meeting the beach

Red Hill

entering Kalalau Beach

Paradise in Punta Cana

Punta Cana Beach

Paradise can be found in many places around the world and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic is one of them.  With exquisite beaches, gentle breezes and rolling waves it is a perfect place for rest and relaxation.  Our friends choose the Excellence Punta Cana, an all inclusive resort for their destination wedding.  We were excited to join them and celebrate with friends and family.

bride and groom

The Excellence took great care of us with stiff drinks at the swim up bar, plenty of relaxing areas at the pool and gourmet meals prepared throughout the day.  My favorite drink was the coco loco.  It’s like a Pina Colada using coconut water.  Some mornings I would order one without rum to cure my hangover.

Local vendors set up shop just around the corner from the resort. We picked up some jewelry and new artwork to hang in our house to remind us of the good times we had.

Shopping

Our week long celebration ended too soon and we bid farewell to the newlyweds.  I still dream about Punta Cana and can’t wait to plan our next trip to the Caribbean.

bed on the beach

5 Must Eat Foods in Prague’s Old Town Square

me in Prague's Old Town SquarePrague’s Old Town Square is known for it’s history, amazing architecture and the world famous Astronomical Clock.  We were surprised to find so many tasty treats from local vendors around the square.  Here are five of our favorites that we went back to several times during our visit and would definitely recommend you give a try.

1- Trdelnik.  Let’s start with dessert!  Our first clue that these toasted slinky looking pastries were going to be sweet were all the bees swarming around the stands.  The dough was a perfect blend of crispy and soft with sugar, almonds and walnuts sprinkled all over.  A few bees followed us away from the stand to continue munching on our trdelnik, but I shooed them away before they ate too much.

2- Grilled Cheese. Now you may be thinking what could be so great about grilled cheese? I’m not sure the type of cheese this is but I do know that it is unlike any cheese I’ve had before.  It’s a harder cheese shell with softer cheese in the middle.  They press these “pockets” of cheese into perfect portion sizes and grill them right in front of you.  They serve the cheese on top of a slice of bread, which is not necessary since the cheese is so flavorful by itself.  I lost count how many we ordered while in Prague and have dreamed about them ever since.

3- Peasant Potatoes.  Served at multiple vendor huts in so many different ways.  One stand had a massive skillet which the cooks kept adding ingredients to it while it continuously cooked.   Another stand had smaller skillets with several types of mixtures. Some with sausage, cheese, ham, peppers and onions with different sauces.  They all smelled so good and the ones we tried tasted awesome.  They do charge by weight so make sure they don’t load too much on your plate.

4- Potato Chips.  These light and crispy chips were served in a paper cone and fun to eat.  They went great with a Pilsner Urquell which you can find pretty much everywhere you go in Prague.

5- Ham.  They slow roast these massive hams over a wood-fire and slice off a huge chunk when ordered.  They also charge by weight so be prepared to empty your wallet and fill your belly!

Ham

The Hotel Lippert, in the heart of the Old Town Square is a great place to stay to explore Prague’s tasty treats. They have awesome views overlooking the bustling square. We have so many good memories from the short time we visited and definitely want to go back to explore more.

Overlooking the Old Town Square

Top 15 Travel Moments in 2013

The year 2013 was filled with exploring new places and seeing familiar faces.  With visits to Cabo, Hawaii, Europe and a road trip across the U.S., it was tough to narrow down our highlights of 2013.  Here are 15 moments that stick out when I look back over another amazing year.

1- Ringing in the New Year in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where each day ended with a magnificent sunset was a perfect way to start the year.

1-Cabo Sunset

2- We took the ferry to Orcas Island for a weekend of camping and hiking. This view over the Rosario Strait to Mount Baker was breathtaking.

1-Mount Baker from Orcas Island

3- This is my favorite beach in Hawaii.  We made sure to fit a day in here on our trip back to Hawaii in February.  Waimanalo State Recreation Area has a long beach with the softest sand to stroll down.  The surf sometimes can be rough, but the waves are fun to play in.

3-Waimanalo Beach

4- Who doesn’t love a Hawaiian sunset?  We had an awesome time hanging out with old friends during our last visit.

2-Hawaiian sunset

5- Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area is a unique area west of the Tri-Cities.  It’s bare landscape is very different from most hikes in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest.  Over Memorial Day weekend we bounced around the dunes before a storm rolled in.

4-Juniper Dunes

6- On the Fourth of July we climbed to the top of Mount St. Helens.  While standing on the cornice seemed scary, it was worth it to look down into this sleeping giant.  We saw steaming vents and heard many rocks crumbling into the crater.

5-Into the crater at Mt St Helens

7- On a ferry ride to Seattle from Bainbridge Island we had an awesome view of Mount Rainier in the distance behind Safeco Field, Century Link Stadium and the cranes of the Port of Seattle Shipping Yard.  I miss this view and riding the ferries in Washington State.6-Ferry ride from Bainbridge

8- Glacier National Park was our first stop on a road trip across the U.S. The peaks here are spectacular!

7-Glacier National Park

9- On the other side of the Continental Divide the sharp peaks turned into flat lands quickly.  Here is a storm cloud rolling in at the border of Wyoming and South Dakota at sunset.

8-SD WY border

10- While I may not remember everything we did in Milwaukee, I can tell you that these people know how to party!  We visited a couple breweries, saw a Brewer’s game and then joined a pub crawl with Milwaukee natives.  The next morning we woke up with a cowbell in our possession?  Don’t ask me how.

10-Miller Park

11- Shortly after we moved to North Carolina we hopped on a plane headed to Europe.  We packed in so much during our time in Paris. We visited the Louvre, Versailles, the Arc de Triomph and of course the Eiffel Tower.  The night we spent chilling on the lawn at Champ de Mars is still one of my favorite memories in Paris.
11-Eiffel Tower midnight light show from Champ de Mars

12- Munich was next on our trip in Europe.  This scene in the Hofgarten at sunset was gorgeous.  The Theatine Church in the background may have been one of my favorite buildings in Munich.  At night it was lit up so perfectly.

12-Germany

13- The Riessersee in Garmisch-Partenkirchen is home to a beautiful resort near the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany.  We enjoyed a couple afternoons swimming in this lake during the warmest days of summer.Riessersee2

14- Our view over Prague’s Old Town Square looking towards the Tyn Chruch may have been the best view out of all the hotels we stayed in Europe.  Here is a picture of how it looks just after sunrise and before the square fills with vendors and tourists.  We had the best food in this square.  Two words: Grilled Cheese!
14-Prague's Old Town Square2

15- September arrived and we have been settling into North Carolina.  We bought a couple kayaks and have already spent a few weekends exploring Jordan Lake.15-NC-Kayaking Jordan Lake

Whew! It will be tough to fit this much in to next year.  We’re looking forward to traveling around this corner of the country.  The south is very different from the Pacific Northwest, but I think we are adjusting well.  I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Not-So-Badlands

Badlands painted hills

on the road through the BadlandsIt’s surprisingly beautiful in Badlands National Park east of Rapid City, South Dakota. Before entering the park we were surrounded by what seemed like endless flat lands and prairies for many miles.

Badlands entranceVibrant reds, yellows and orange hues painted the canyons and buttes in the Badlands.

BadlandsWe stopped here on our road trip moving from Seattle to North Carolina.  The heat was strong and sweltering on the day we visited.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like for early settlers to navigate through the canyons on a hot day like this hundreds of years ago.

Badlands yellow hillsAfter wiping the sweat from my forehead, I hopped back into the car where we cranked up the air conditioner and got back on the road heading east.

Badlands 2

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizons from Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar

hammock at Kendwa Beach

Looking out to the horizon from Kendwa Beach was very peaceful.  My husband took this picture of me in a hammock and I love how the horizon lines up with the beach.  The simplicity of the tree and the single boat just reminds me of how relaxed we were at this moment.  That’s why I choose it for this week’s photo challenge: horizons.

Kendwa Beach sunset

Kendwa Beach is on the northwestern tip of the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania.  We went there for some much-needed rest and relaxation after our safari and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  It’s been over five years since we went to Africa, yet I can still vividly remember our trip.

boats offshore at Kendwa Beach

Interested in the Weekly Photo Challenge?  Follow the Daily Post to get the weekly theme every Friday.  Make sure to tag your posts with “postaday” too.