Epic Road Trip 2018


I'm writing this introduction at the end of the first week of my 3.5 week roadtrip across America. I'm all done with medical school classes, so I've decided that instead of visiting Asia or backpacking through Europe, I'm going to do a solo road trip in February/March 2018. A lot of people have asked why or what's the point? Three answers:

Because I can. The literal answer is that I have the time (done with med school) and the money (3 weeks roadtrip costs less than other fancy vacations). Plus I have the car, and the 10 day playlist to keep me entertained.

Because why not? Probably the best reason. I've been lucky enough to see 25 of the states, and this trip will add 21 more to my list (I'm still missing Michigan, Vermont, Washington, and Alaska). It's a chance to see parts of America I have never seen, which are sometimes more foreign than a different country. It's also a chance to see amazing landscapes, look at weird fossils, and just do unique/interesting things. Plus, most people wouldn't want to go look at fossils every day, so this might be my only chance to go where I want, when I want, how I want. And why not?

Because...it's a metaphor. In some ways, this trip is a metaphor for my future in medicine. It's long hours, it's occasionally stressful, and if I'm not careful I could hurt myself or others. Plus, I've had people ask me whether I'm making the right choice or if I regret the decision now that it's too late to turn back. And it's sewn a bit of self-doubt. But just like medicine, it sometimes sucks getting up way too early, but once I'm doing what I came for, I have no regrets at all.

Day 1: Cleveland OH to Chicago IL

Stops: Hall of Heroes, Revolution Brewing Company

Started out the trip in Cleveland, left behind sunny 50ish degree weather. The combination of fog emanating off the snowy ground into the warm air and increasing amounts of rain from Toledo into Indiana was less than pleasant. The rain couldn't keep me away from The Hall of Heroes (mile 257), the only comic book museum in the entire country! They have lots of comics featuring the first appearances of your favorite characters, lots of Hollywood costumes and props, and tons of toys (and so much more)! After that, I headed to Chicago where I met one of my future co-residents at Revolution Brewing Company, before ending the day with my aunt and uncle in downtown Chicago.

Day's Mileage: 370

Total Mileage: 370 (370/day)

States Visited: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois

Total States Visited: 3

Day 2: Chicago IL to Manhattan KS

Stops: Iowa City, Joe's Kansas City BBQ

Indiana's weather wasn't the worst part of the drive yesterday: a tiny rock cracked my windshield right in the middle. I was so intent on getting to Iowa City to get it fixed that I didn't take any pictures of Chicago or Illinois in general. Whoops. At least the drive today was super sunny! I passed through the quad cities and met up with some cousins in Iowa City. We stopped by at Micky's Irish Pub for lunch, highly recommend the burgers. I received the grand tour of campus, the architecture of the undergraduate, medical, and athletics campuses are all very unique and my pictures don't do them justice. I headed west and (possibly) experienced "rush hour" in Des Moines (dees moinees?) but I'm not really sure. I blew through Missouri to get to Joe's Kansas City for the pulled pork sandwich. If you're driving through, just order ahead and pick it up! My last two hours took me all the way to Manhattan (the Little Apple) via 75mph highways. I met up with my college friend before he ended his shift at the Wine Dive + Kitchen, grabbed some nacho supplies at the HyVee's, and called it a night. Importantly, I crossed the Mississippi, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas rivers. Whoa.

Day's Mileage: 676

Total Mileage: 1046 (523/day)

States Visited: Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas

Total States Visited: 6

Day 3: Hutchinson KS

Stops: Roy's Hickory Pitt BBQ, Cosmosphere, Bourbon and Baker, Auntie Mae's

I had the chance to sleep in a bit today before heading out to Hutchinson, Kansas. We trekked to Roy's BBQ which had excellent turkey (they were out of beef brisket). We headed to the Cosmosphere to see firsthand the (mis)adventures of the American and Soviet space race. The museum supposedly has the largest collection of US/Soviet artifacts and provides an overwhelming amount of information about how history was made by both countries. We headed back to Manhattan to dine at Bourbon and Baker and finish the night at Auntie Mae's (excellent picklebacks).

Day's Mileage: 270

Total Mileage: 1316 (439/day)

States Visited: Kansas

Total States Visited: 6

Day 4: Manhattan KS to Fargo ND

Stops: Henry Doorly Zoo, Dundee Bombing Plaque, Firebirds, JL Beers, Fargo VA

Today was a little long. I forgot my alarm was still on Eastern Time, so I ended up waking up at 5:30AM instead of 6:30AM, but I couldn't leave early since the zoo didn't open until 10AM... dumb. I took the back roads to Omaha and arrived at the Henry Doorly Zoo. It is definitely worth the trip to Omaha. The indoor exhibits are next-level, and around every corner are tons of new and exciting animals. There were so many bats, frogs, nocturnal creatures, and birds. They also had a very impressive aquarium portion with some fish I'd never even seen before (plus they had 3-4 zebra sharks which was pretty darn cool). The visit took longer than expected so I booked over to see the plaque commemorating the Japanese attack on Omaha during World War 2. Don't believe me? Read about it here. I couldn't leave Omaha without eating a steak, but most of the local places were closed so I had to backtrack to Firebirds, a chain restaurant (but they steak was worth it). I then started the 6 hour drive to Fargo via I-29. I crossed the Missouri river into Iowa and crossed it again to enter South Dakota. I'm 99% sure I saw a bald eagle chillin' in a field in Iowa. South Dakota was pretty exciting, with the 80mph speed limits. It became dark, cold, and very windy when heading up to Fargo, but I made it intact (but driving that fast tanks your gas mileage). After arriving, I grabbed a quick burger bite at JL Beers, then snapped a quick picture with the Fargo VA on the way home.

Day's Mileage: 620

Total Mileage: 1936 (484/day)

States Visited: Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota

Total States Visited: 9

Day 5: Fargo ND to Bismarck ND...via Canada

Stops: KVLY TV Mast, Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, Nekoma Pyramid, Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site, November 33, Bismarck,The Starving Rooster

Well it's only day 5, and I'm already sick of my Great American Road-Trip. So I turned it into the Great International Road-Trip! For some reason I woke up super early (5:30AM) so I just hopped on the road. I made it to the KVLY TV mast right before sunrise. It's the 4th tallest structure in the world, and the tallest in the western hemisphere! Cool. I then drove into Manitoba (Canada) to go to Morden, home of the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre. The customs agent was skeptical that I drove all this way just to look at a few fossils. Obviously she doesn't know me at all. I arrived earlier than anticipated, and was rewarded by finding out it was Family Day in Canada (Louis Riel Day in Manitoba), so the museum doesn't open until noon (10AM on other days). So I wandered around Morden and took pictures with all the fossil advertisements (there's a lot). Finally I was able to see the "largest marine reptile fossil collection"...in Canada. But they also have the largest mosasaur fossil, named Bruce (43ft/13m long). I then crossed back to the US (the US border patrol was even more skeptical of my travels) to reach the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, aka the Nekoma Pyramid. I was able to see it looming from 8 miles away, but it turns out it's pretty small (it's just on a hill). The gates were blocked off but I was able to get pretty close to the fence. There was no phone signal and barely any sound, it was a very serene experience. I then headed south (stopping to photograph some moose in the middle of the road) to the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site, which is a deactivated former nuclear missile control bunker. The guide took me underground to the location where the infamous keys would have been turned to launch a warhead. Only a couple miles away is November 33, one of the places where the missiles were actually stored underground. After having enough adventures, I hopped back on the highway to Bismarck to stay at an AirBNB, with a stop at The Starving Rooster for dinner and bacon ice cream. At approximately 6PM I crossed the continental divide.

Day's Mileage: 520

Total Mileage: 2456 (491/day)

States Visited: North Dakota (plus Manitoba)

Total States Visited: 9

Day 6: Bismarck ND to Rapid City SD

Stops: Timber Lake Museum, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug Store, Mount Rushmore, Dinosaur Park, Himalayan Kitchen

Today was AMAZING. The weather started out as cold, dark, and snowy as I left Bismarck, but quickly cleared up as the sun came out. I took the backroads to the Badlands and pretty much had the roads to myself. This was clutch because I could pull over quickly to take some pics and not worry about messing with traffic. After crossing into South Dakota I passed through Timber Lake and checked out their natural/American history museum. They had a surprisingly excellent and informative collection for such a small location, with tons of ammonites and many other dinosaur fossil fragments. Seeing a T. rex skull (replica) up close was pretty neat. I was almost to the Badlands when I saw a sign for another Minuteman Missile site! I couldn't not check it out... it pretty much had similar info to the Cooperstown site but it was still cool to go. Finally I headed to the main stop: the Badlands. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape and the amazing rock formations. Today was perfect, with clear sunny skies and minimal wind. I wasn't able to go more than a couple minutes without pulling over and taking pictures of everything. This was one of my favorite experiences ever. I even saw a couple deer and lots of sheep, but no bison. Next stop was the infamous Wall Drug Store for the free ice water and 5c coffee. The last leg took me to Mount Rushmore. Seeing those carvings way up on the rock as the sun started setting was impressive. Since this was much earlier than previous days, I decided to add a stop and go to the Rapid City Dinosaur Park. There's nothing like running around in zero degree weather with a selfie stick, taking pictures of dinosaur statues to make you feel alive. Before settling into my AirBNB for the night, I stopped by the Himalayan Kitchen for some nepalese food and conversation with the owner. It's going to be tough to beat this day.

Day's Mileage: 395

Total Mileage: 2851 (475/day)

States Visited: North Dakota, South Dakota

Total States Visited: 9

Day 7: Rapid City SD to Worland WY

Stops: Dinosaur Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Museum of Geology, Devil's Tower, Bighorn National Forest, Rumors

Today I rocked out, literally. I woke up slightly before my alarm and headed back up to Dinosaur Park in time to catch the sun rise over Rapid City. After seeing Mt Rushmore yesterday, I decided to head back that way to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the largest work-in-progress Mountain Carving (not sure if it will be the largest carving once finished). It stands as a memorial to the unfortunate history of the Native Americans and their land. Only his face was visible but it was still impressive. I then drove back to Rapid City to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology's Museum of Geology. It's the epitome of old school, with well-organized and informative displays that aren't overly flashy, think more low-key. They had some super cool fossils and many were displayed as if they had just been unearthed. My favorites were the shark and ray teeth (never seen fossil ray teeth before). After a couple more hours of driving I arrived at Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Words cannot describe what it's like to be in the presence of that structure. It's like the natural version of the Nekoma Pyramid. Why is it here, and why am I so impressed? It was cool to walk around the base and take in the view of the tower and the surrounding area. No alien sightings though...darn. I was feeling homesick, so I drove to Buffalo Wyoming but it didn't remind me that much of home (same name though). I then took highway 16 through Bighorn National Forest, where I saw a few deer and one moose wandering around. There were also a couple bald eagles flying around throughout the day, but they're way faster than my camera. I ended the day by staying at an AirBNB in Worland, dining at Rumors Sports Bar, and getting gas at the ol' Loaf n' Jug.

Day's Mileage: 366

Total Mileage: 3217 (460/day)

States Visited: South Dakota, Wyoming

Total States Visited: 10

Day 8: Worland WY to Idaho Falls ID

Stops: Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Jackalope County Store, National Elk Refuge, Krung Thep

Today was my first day sleeping in. I made it until 6:15am. I took my time getting up so I could take my car to get its oil changed, which was fun because there was a classy espresso bar in the mechanic's building. From there I headed to Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, which has free hot springs (only 20 minutes every 2 hours but it's more than enough). After rejuvenating, I drove around to see some bison in their semi-natural habitat but made sure to not get gored. Down the road was the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, one of the best fossil museums in the country. They had tons of great dinos, but the best part was how well the museum was laid out with excellent explanations of each fossil. Plus, each fossil had a short title that gave off the same vibe as my picture captions. I was sad to leave Thermopolis but I had a 5hr drive to Idaho Falls. Two hours in, I went to stop for gas and discovered the world's largest jackalope store! They had a giant jackalope and tons of jackalope gear, and made sure not to leave without bringing along a new friend (don't worry he's synthetic). After heading through a variety of national/state forests and some canyons, I ended up by the National Elk Refuge. I pulled over when I saw 3 elk; no way! Took a bunch of pictures, got back on the road... and saw hundreds of elk. Whoops. They're pretty cute lookin' dudes! I then survived the traffic in Jackson to make it the rest of the way via the mightily steep Teton Pass and landed in Idaho Falls to visit a friend from college. We obtained some delicious Thai food at Krung Thep and finished the night with drinks at Tap n' Fill.

Day's Mileage: 328

Total Mileage: 3545 (443/day)

States Visited: Wyoming, Idaho

Total States Visited: 11

Day 9: Arco ID

Stops: Craters of the Moon National Park, EBR-1, Idaho National Laboratory, Atomic City, Pickle's Place

Today's main goal was to check out Craters of the Moon National Park. I slept in a bit and took off for the site around 9am. Although I hit a small bit of snow, the drive was overall sunny with great scenery. The park itself did not allow driving on the loop during the winter but I was able to march around in the snow for a bit before running back to the car as frostbite set in. I took a few pictures but it was mainly just lava rocks with snow on top. I took my time on the way back, stopping in Arco, the first city to be powered by nuclear power! I also tried the Atomic Burger at Pickle's Place and didn't get radiation poisoning. With still more time to kill, I stopped to take photos with the Idaho National Lab signs (the highway takes you through the region). I also drove to EBR-1, the original nuclear reactor which can be toured in the summer. Obviously it was closed (as it is not currently summer) but they did have some gigantic experimental aircraft nuclear reactors near the parking lot. I got back on track but was distracted again by signs for "Atomic City." It sounded interesting, so I braved 5 miles of gravel road to find myself in a tiny disintegrating town of less than 30 people that used to be a stopping point during the nuclear age, but no longer. I finally decided to drive for a distance without taking pictures, getting back into Idaho Falls in time to watch Black Panther. We then got indian food at Tandoori Oven, and stopped at Idaho Brewing Company and The Celt Pub for after-dinner drinks.

Day's Mileage: 204

Total Mileage: 3749 (417/day)

States Visited: Idaho

Total States Visited: 11

Day 10: Idaho Falls ID to Jackson WY

Stops: Grand Teton National Park, Liberty Burgers, Merry Piglets, Melvin Brewery, Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

Today my friend and I headed back over the Teton Pass to Jackson to check out the Tetons. We met up with his girlfriend and ate at Liberty Burgers for lunch. We then headed into Grand Tetons for my first time cross-country skiing (thank you Skinny Skis for the rental). I fell on my face twice, so it was a good day. When we came back to the apartment we were surprised by a mule deer, who proceeded to hop/bounce away into the sunset. We kicked back with mexican food at The Merry Piglets, tried some beer at Melvin Brewing, then went to Million Dollar Cowboy Bar to see the bear "killed with bare (human) hands" before calling it a night.

Day's Mileage: 118

Total Mileage: 3867 (389/day)

States Visited: Idaho, Wyoming

Total States Visited: 11

Day 11: Jackson WY to Park City UT

Stops: Persephone Bakery

After a restful evening in Jackson, we had a quick breakfast at Persephone Bakery before heading back over the snowy pass to Idaho Falls. I picked up my car and got on the road to Salt Lake City. The weather turned sunny in Utah but I didn't have any chances to stop and take pictures either of the mountains or the Salt Lake. I ended the day by meeting my parents in Park City for a couple days of skiing.

Day's Mileage: 280

Total Mileage: 4147 (377)

States Visited: Wyoming, Idaho, Utah

Total States Visited: 12

Day 12+13: Park City UT

Stops: Park City

I spent both days skiing with my parents, aunt/uncle, and family friends in Park City. The first day was a little colder and a lot more windy with poor visibility. The second day had great visibility plus lots of sun, making for some great pictures. Park City has these strange metal monsters scattered around the ski slopes, so I tried to take my picture with as many as possible.

Day's Mileage: 0

Total Mileage: 4147 (319/day)

States Visited: Utah

Total States Visited: 12

Day 14: Park City UT to Moab UT

Stops: Vernal Dinosaur, Dinosaur National Monument, Dinosaur CO, Kokopelli Petroglyphs, Arches National Park, Moab Brewery

I left Park City early this morning with a bit of snow falling. Fortunately it cleared up quickly and the sun came out. It seems my luck with the weather is continuing. I made my way through northern Utah, stopping in Vernal to take a picture with the welcoming giant pink dinosaur. I then headed towards Dinosaur National Monument, stopping along the way to take pictures with a couple more roadside dinos. Dinosaur National Monument has a building which is built around an exposed fossil bed, offering a view at fossils that have not been excavated. It was super cool to see how the fossils were laid out in different layers, and the park ranger was great at explaining the history of the site. There's a lot of neat non-fossil rock formations as well, just a short drive from the visitor center. I back-tracked a bit and drove into Colorado, driving through the town of Dinosaur CO. The Colorado detour offers a faster way to Moab, and allowed me to pass through a borderline-treacherous mountain pass (fortunately the weather was perfect and it was no issue). There were also some ancient petroglyphs along the way, and I stopped to take a picture at the Kokopelli site. I then headed back into Utah, with a couple stops for the beautiful scenery before ending up in Arches National Park. Arches has miles and miles of amazing scenery, landscapes, and weird rock formations. I was barely able to see them all before the sun set, but I made sure to see the Balanced Rock, Windows, and the Delicate Arch (but I didn't do the 3 hour hike). As the sun set, I headed back to Balanced Rock to attempt some pictures of the full moon...a couple came out in good condition. That was more than enough for one day, so I stopped by Moab Brewery before ending the evening at my AirBNB. Pictures to follow shortly.

Day's Mileage: 414

Total Mileage: 4561 (326/day)

States Visited:Utah, Colorado

Total States Visited: 13

Day 15: Moab UT to Durango CO

Stops: Ken's Lake, Canyons of the Ancients, Hovenweep National Monument, Four Corners Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Steamworks Brewery

Today I tried to get up a little early to see the sunrise over the beautiful Moab landscape. Someone recommended Ken's Lake so I drove there in time to just barely miss seeing the incredible colors, but early enough that it took an extra hour just for the sun to come over the mountains. I packed up my camera and shot past Hole N' the Rock, which looks like a very interesting place and somewhere I should stop someday. I then tried finding Canyons of the Ancients but both my GPS and phone failed to find the right spot, so I instead ended up driving to Hovenweep National Monument (while also passing through Canyons of the Ancients) to see some ancient pueblos and walk around a tiny canyon. I briefly entered New Mexico to see the Four Corners Monument, but I'm not counting my short journey into New Mexico or Arizona as "states visited." I took at break for Mexican food at La Casita de Cortez before finding myself in Mesa Verde National Park. Seeing ancient pueblos was interesting, but the view from this park was unbelievable. Each viewpoint offered a better view of the landscapes, and I spent way too much time here taking pictures at every stop. Finally I ended the evening with a stop at Steamworks brewery before ending the night at my AirBNB.

Day's Mileage: 271

Total Mileage:4832 (322/day)

States Visited: Utah, Colorado

Total States Visited: 13

Day 16: Durango CO to Santa Fe NM

Stops: Pinkerton Hot Springs, San Juan National Forest, Lone Spur Cafe, Chimney Rock National Park, Echo Amphitheater, Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos, Harrell House, La Choza

I had nowhere to be early, so I slept in a bit before trekking to Pinkerton Hot Springs, a natural hot springs literally sitting next to the highway. It's a pile of rocks gurgling hot water, hard to miss. I picked up my official San Juan National Forest stamp before dining on a delicious breakfast at the Lone Spur Cafe. Having enough of Durango, I left town to stop by Chimney Rock National Monument. It was closed but I still took some great photos from the entrance. I drove to New Mexico, stopping at Echo Amphitheater in Carson National Forest, which is super cool (it actually echoes). I made it to Los Alamos to see the Bradbury Museum, which honestly had a small exhibit on the Manhattan Project and then talked a lot about the other research going on in Los Alamos. It was a little anti-climatic, being in the town where the atomic bomb was developed and designed, but the views on the drive up were amazing. I also stopped by the Los Alamos branch of the Manhattan Project National Park. I finally made it to Santa Fe, where I went to a shopping mall to see the Harrell House, a collection of live bugs, pinned bugs, and other animals. It's amazing how many arthropods they packed into one small area. They even let me hold some of the animals! Sadly I didn't get a picture of the tarantula, but it was an exciting experience. Dinner was at La Choza, which has excellent Mexican food (technically New Mexican) and great margaritas. Make sure to ask for Christmas, AKA red + green chiles. After a long day, I ended the night at my AirBNB.

Day's Mileage: 262

Total Mileage: 5094 (318/day)

States Visited:Colorado, New Mexico

Total States Visited: 14

Day 17: Santa Fe NM to Albuquerque NM (via VLA)

Stops: Turquoise Trail, Jumbo Historic Site, Very Large Array, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, New Mexico Natural History Museum, Rattlesnake Museum, El Patio

I woke up way too early today to drive past Albuquerque to the Very Large Array in southwest New Mexico. I took the scenic route to Albuquerque via the "Turquoise Trail," checking out a beautiful sunrise (plus awesome full moon) in the process. I stopped in Socorro to see a fragment of "Jumbo," the containment unit used during early nuclear tests, which chills in the center of town. The Very Large Array has the most radio telescopes (those big dish things) which they use to take images of space objects via radio waves. They had a small vistor center with a short walking tour. I was able to walk up to one of the telescopes, and even saw it move! I made the trek back to Albuquerque, stopping at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, which honestly was a bunch of desert, shrubs, and some tiny birds. I made my way to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. They did a great job of explaining the development and use of nuclear weapons (I think they did a better job than the Bradbury museum) and also discussed nuclear usage in medicine, pop culture, and power generation. There are a ton of nuclear missiles and planes just sitting behind the museum. I then drove across town to the Natural History Museum, which was just alright. I guess it's good for New Mexico, but it didn't compare to some of the other museums I've seen already. My last planned stop was the Rattlesnake Museum, which has a great collection of rattlesnakes with a few other critters thrown in for good measure. It's a great place but I blew through it in 30-45 minutes. With a little extra time on my hands, I wandered around Old Town before eating at El Patio and driving past Cornell St (way more important than Dartmouth St) before ending the evening at my AirBNB.

Day's Mileage: 332

Total Mileage: 5426 (319/day)

States Visited: New Mexico

Total States Visited: 14

Day 18: Albuquerque NM to Roswell NM

Stops: Pistachioland, White Sands National Monument, Viva Nuevo Mexico, Alien Zone, UFO Museum, Roswell Museum and Art Center, Taqueria Jalisco

Woke up pretty early to drive down to White Sands National Monument. About 30 minutes before arriving, I saw a giant pistachio sitting by the road and decided to stop at Pistachioland, home of the world's largest pistachio statue and maker of delicious pistachio brittle. After eating my delicious brittle breakfast, I made it to White Sands. I didn't plan ahead otherwise I would have brought a sled. I headed out into the dunes, which are made of fine gypsum sand which doesn't get hot. It was pretty quiet so I was able to take a dune all to myself and sit there and run around in the sand like a 3-year-old. It was super fun! I stopped for some Mexican food at Viva Nuevo Mexico before driving to Roswell. I used to be a hardcore alien fan, so going to Roswell was a bit of a dream for me when I was little. First I checked out the Alien Zone, where for $3 I was able to take pictures of myself with posed aliens in different scenarios. Cheesy but fun. Then I walked to the next block to see the International UFO Museum. You can go and make your own opinions, but any interest I had in becoming a UFO-ologist is dead and buried. Finding myself with extra time and needing to go to a "real" museum, I checked out the Roswell Museum and Art Center. I'm not a big art museum person, but they had loads of different artwork by local artists and people that did an "art residency" in Roswell at the museum. There was a great variety of artwork, even some I enjoyed. I then drove to find the "Welcome to Roswell" UFO sign before getting some more Mexican food at Taqueria Jalisco. I think I'm Mexican food-ed out for a couple days. I finished up at my AirBNB where we swapped stories about our road trip adventures.

Day's Mileage: 383

Total Mileage: 5809 (323/day)

States Visited: New Mexico

Total States Visited: 14

Day 19: Roswell NM to Oklahoma City OK

Stops: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, OU Stadium, Oklahoma City Memorial, Bedlam BBQ

For some reason I woke up super early again so I could make it out of Roswell to see the sunrise (worth it for the great color show). I drove a couple more hours into Texas to see Palo Duro Canyon State Park, supposedly the second biggest canyon (next to the Grand Canyon). It's cool because the driving trail takes you down into the canyon itself, then you can hike up some of the walls. I only did a couple tiny hikes but it was awesome to see the rock layers readily apparent, and an adventure to avoid all the spiky plants and cacti that were everywhere. I then ambitiously drove all the way to Norman OK to the campus of Oklahoma University to see the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. I was super impressed, it had an old-school feel with lots of murals and dioramas, but had up-to-date displays that were informative without being too flashy, and even some unique fossils I'd never seen before. They even have the world's largest dino skull (Pentaceratops)! I was heading to dinner downtown but took a detour to the Oklahoma City Memorial, site of the 1995 bombing. I made it in time to get a National Parks stamp for my collection, but stayed to walk around the beautiful memorial and take pictures of the sunset. Now practically dying of hunger, I drove to Bedlam BBQ, which has excellent BBQ. Once again, I ended the day at my AirBNB.

Day's Mileage: 550

Total Mileage: 6359 (335/day)

States Visited: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma

Total States Visited: 16

Day 20: Oklahoma City OK to Hot Springs AR

Stops: Museum of Osteology, Ouachita National Forest, Hot Springs National Park, Maxwell Blade's Odditorium, Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Today was one of the few days where I actually "slept in," so that I could show up right when the Museum of Osteology opened. It was one of the coolest museums of the trip, with hundreds of skeletons and skulls displayed in a refurnished warehosue. My favorite part (of course) were the baculums! There were loads of weird animals I'd heard of, and many I hadn't. They also had a neat section on bone pathology, and a small display of domestic cat skulls with weird diseases. I got on the road for the 5hr drive to Hot Springs National Park, which was less mountainous than the Rockies but way more hilly with lots of turns, taking me through Ouachita National Forest. Once in downtown, I quickly checked out Maxwell Blade's Odditorium, which was mildly entertaining with lots of weird things/stuff from around the world, but maybe not worth the $10 cover charge. But I briefly met Mr. Blade and he seems like a cool guy, so maybe I'll come back for a magic show someday. After picking up my park stamp, I went to the Moutain Tower to enjoy the view. It seems I picked an unusually windy day to visit, because it was like being in a hurricane at the top of the tower. But it's a great view of the entire area! The tower is on the North Mountain, so I drove to the West Mountain and picked out a spot near the top to watch the sun set over the hills. I descended back to civilization to get BBQ at Smokin' in Style, before dining on some homemade bread with my AirBNB host!

Day's Mileage: 327

Total Mileage: 6686 (334/day)

States Visited: Oklahoma, Arkansas

Total States Visited: 17

Day 21: Hot Springs AR to Memphis TN

Stops: Buckstaff Baths, Sims BBQ, Civil Rights Museum, Mississippi River, Central BBQ, Beale Street, BB King's Blues Club

Today I slept in and said goodbye to my awesome AirBNB host, taking the rest of the homemade bread with me. Hot Springs used to be THE place for using the healing powers of the spring waters, but now there's only a couple bathhouses still open. I figured I'd give it a shot at the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which tries to maintain the decor and style of the original bathhouses. First I had a hot bath, then I was loofahed by a bath attendant (weirdest experience ever). Then I sat in a Sitz bath, which is supposedly good for my prostate (who knew?). I then had 2 minutes (no more) in the toasty steam room, before being wrapped in a sheet like a burrito. I then received a nice shower with an overhead nozzle and 50 jets coming from the sides, before receiving a full body massage (also very interesting experience). Not sure if going to the spa is my thing, but it was a unique experience that I'll remember forever (no matter how hard I try to forget). Now cleansed in body and mind, I wandered up the street a little to see the different bathhouses and hot springs, and was lucky enough to look into one when the water quality was being checked (they're perpetually capped to prevent contamination). I drove an hour to Little Rock to drive past the Clinton Presidental Library (yep it's a library) and get some Sim's BBQ. Memphis was another two hours away, but I made it to the Lorraine Motel, now home of the Civil Rights Museum. It was one of the most moving and well-done museums I've ever been to, up there with Yad Vashem in Israel. The museum is actually at the site where MLK was shot, and his room and balcony are part of the exhibit, visible both inside and outside the museum. It was a very powerful experience. I drove to the waterfront to take pictures of the sunset over the Mississippi then ate some ribs at Central BBQ. Feeling adventurous, I went to Beale Street (like Bourbon Street but less gross) and was able to hear a couple jazz songs at BB King's Blues Club before calling it a night at my AirBNB.

Day's Mileage: 207

Total Mileage: 6893 (328/day)

States Visited: Arkansas, Tennessee

Total States Visited: 18

Day 22: Memphis TN to Birmingham AL

Stops: Petrified Forest State Park, Medgar Evers Library Branch, Medgar Evers Home, Bully's BBQ, Edmund Pettus Bridge, Lowndes County Visitor Center, Civil Rights Memorial, Civil Rights Institute, 16th Street Church, UAB Hospital, The Vulcan, Dreamland BBQ

I had initially considered just driving straight to Birmingham from Memphis, but I was inspired by the Civil Rights Museum to do a little more exploring. I woke up pretty early to drive down to Flora where they have a Petrified Forest State Park. They have a short (and fun) walking trail with live, dead, and petrified trees. It was fun, but the best part by far was the earth museum at the end. It was honestly one of the best geology exhibits I have ever seen. They had more variety of gems, minerals, and fossils in one tiny room than I've seen at large museums. I wish I had spent more time looking at each specimen, but it's one place I'll definitely have to travel back to (highly recommend). From there, I drove to Jackson Mississippi. If you're like me, you've probably never heard of Medgar Evers. Not sure if he was ever mentioned in my history class. He was an NAACP activist in Jackson and was shot in 1963. Worse, he was shot in his own driveway, and was supposedly refused service at the nearby hospital which only served white people (he was eventually admitted but by then it was too late). Something about his story spoke to me, so I visited his statue located at the library named after him. One of the volunteers started talking to me and was so excited to have a visitor from "up north" that she showed me around the library. Evers's house is only a couple minutes away and is a historic landmark, but I wasn't able to go inside (sometimes there are tours). Feeling hungry, I checked out the excellent Bully's BBQ before leaving Mississippi behind. I made my way to Selma to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the "Bloody Sunday" march. I also stopped in Lowndes County, which has a National Park site as many of the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers camped in that region. I arrived in Montgomery too late to see the Civil Rights Memorial Center, but I was able to visit the beautiful memorial outside, and see the Alabama capitol building where they marched to in 1965. The final drive of the day took me to Birmingham, where I was lucky enough to get a stamp at the Civil Rights Institute even though it was closed (thank you awesome security guard). The 16th Street Church is next door, the site of the 1963 bombing that took the lives of 4 young girls. Kelly Ingram park is also nearby but it didn't look inviting in the dark, so I decided to revisit in the morning. I drove to UAB to take pictures since my friend liked it there so much (just looked like a hospital to me), then drove up to the Vulcan statue, the largest wrought-iron statue in the world with a great view of downtown. I went back down the hill to Dreamland BBQ (my least favorite ribs of the trip) before ending the night at my last AirBNB of the trip!

Day's Mileage: 572

Total Mileage: 7465 (339/day)

States Visited: Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama

Total States Visited: 20

Day 23: Birmingham AL to Nashville TN

Stops: Kelly Ingram Park, US Space and Rocket Center, Tennessee Aquarium, DawgHouse, Two Bits

Woke up early-ish to get to downtown before traffic picked up. Went back to Kelly Ingram Park to see the statues in the daytime. THey tell the story of the marches that took place in 1963 up to the 16th Street Church bombing. The statues are moving; one shows snarling police dogs and allows you to put yourself in the position of a protestor about to be attacked by the dogs. Needing some science to clear my mind, I drove to Huntsville to the US Space and Rocket Center, one of the locations integral to the development of the rockets used for the Apollo space missions. They had a huge outdoor area with rockets and other military technology, and a giant hangar containing a Saturn V rocket with loads of info about the Apollo era missions. A separate part has a space shuttle mock-up attached to the gigantic rocket boosters, making you feel tiny underneath. From there, I went to Chattanooga to the Tennessee Aquarium. They have two separate buildings, one for saltwater and one for freshwater. The have enormous tanks in each building with exhibits that wind around, so you can see the different critters that hang out at the different water levels. I got to pet a stingray, horseshoe crab, and a sturgeon! Plus I saw one of my personal idols, Miguel the Electric eel (he has his own twitter account). I made my way to Nashville (technically Franklin) to stay with my friend, his wife, and his 3 cats. We went downtown to get dinner at DawgHouse and play some Yahtzee at Two Bits.

Day's Mileage: 370

Total Mileage: 7835 (341/day)

States Visited: Alabama, Tennessee

Total States Visited: 20

Day 24: Nashville TN

Stops: Kitchen Notes (Omni Nashville), Martin's BBQ, Tootsie's, Jackalope Brewing Company, Hattie B's

I took my first Lyft ride in over 3 weeks to go back downtown to see some family friends for brunch. I wandered around the nice area in front of the Predator's stadium before meeting back up with my friend. After much discussion we decided to go to the Science Center, but found it was closed for the day for a "special event" (poor luck). Instead, we decided to get some Martin's BBQ, which has the best dry rub spices I've ever tried. His wife had to leave us to our own devices for a few hours, so we listened to some live music at Tootsie's for a while before walking to Jackalope Brewing Company to try the beers during a brewery tour. Not having enough food/drink, we waited in line for 90 minutes at Hattie B's for some hot chicken. I'm not usually a chicken fingers guy, but it was amazing! Highly recommend. Finally having enough, we headed home to play with the cats before bed.

Day's Mileage: 54

Total Mileage: 7889 (329/day)

States Visited: Tennessee

Total States Visited: 20

Day 25: Nashville TN to Cleveland OH

Stops: Crumb de la Crumb, Wyoming OH

The last day of the roadtrip! I've had an awesome time but I was looking forward to getting home. We ate breakfast at Crumb de la Crumb before I had to hit the road. I stopped in Cincinnati (technically Wyoming) to see some family friends, then drove the rest of the way to Cleveland, getting back by 9ish! Sadly, I did not take any pictures, since the goal was get home ASAP and sleep in my own bed. Operation: Road Trip - complete!

Day's Mileage: 534

Total Mileage: 8423 (337/day)

States Visited: Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio

Total States Visited: 21

Places for the Next Road Trip

I couldn't make it to every place I wanted either due to distance or timing. Here are some places I'm looking forward to visiting on my next road trip.