04 July 2009

Paleo Road Trip '09: The Journey Home

It's always hard to sum up a road trip, especially one of the magnitude of Cincinnati-Seattle, without falling into the trap of just recounting everything you did in excruciating detail. In the interest of saving everyone's time, then, I present to you this cop-out: a series of bulleted lists inspired by the sights our trio of paleontologists saw en route.

Best Road Signs
  1. "Prepare to Meet Thy God/Maker;" we saw one of each version, and both were equally inexplicable.
  2. The multiple series of rhyming pro-gun-rights signs across Illinois.
  3. "Spelunk This!" and "Get Lost;" from billboards advertising a cave and maze, respectively, in the Black Hills. You could tell both from the wittiness of the slogans and the quality of the signs that these two were real winners
  4. The countless signs - especially in the Northern Rockies - peppered by bullet holes from recreational gunfire
Best National/State Parks
  1. Yellowstone; don't really know how it could be otherwise. It's always jammed with gawking tourists for a reason.
  2. Ashfall Fossil Beds, Nebraska; according to the signs advertising it, it's "America's Pompeii." Not really sure that's accurate, but anyone passing through Nebraska should make time to see it. Think the Dinosaur National Monument quarry, but with rhinos and horses (which of course makes it even cooler).
  3. Badlands; if you like pictures of craggy rocks in low-angle afternoon sun, this is the place for you. If you want to see genuine fossils in situ...not so much.
  4. Ginkgo, Washington; the reason that Washington's state gemstone is petrified wood, but the real reason to go is for the views of the Columbia. Also, there's wineries nearby!
  5. Mount Rushmore; it still strikes me as odd that anyone would look at a mountain - especially one in South Dakota, of all places - and say to themselves, "Hey, you know how I could improve this stunning natural vista? By adding the faces of three incontrovertibly great presidents and Teddy Roosevelt for some reason!"
  6. Missouri Headwaters, Montana; given that we were loosely tracing Lewis & Clark's trail most of the way back, there was just no way we could have missed this one, and it's a good thing we didn't, since we saw some migrating pelicans there.
Best Attractions
  1. Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana; it's ridiculously dinosaur-heavy and far too prone to presenting Jack Horner's word as gospel, but it's one of the best paleo museums in the West and has only gotten better with time.
  2. Dinosaur Park, Rapid City; it's pretty much the best one out there, provided you're not looking for accuracy (or imaginative color schemes) in your dinosaur models. The panoramic views of Rapid City and the Black Hills are a big plus.
  3. Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana; it's an old pit mine! It's home to the most polluted body of water in North America, with a pH slightly lower than that of Coke! It kills migrating waterfowl (though not immediately, as the tourist literature points out)! Someday it will reach the water table, at which point being a citizen of Butte will become even more miserable! If nothing else, it provides plenty of conversation fodder for road-trippers.
  4. Snoqualmie Falls; they're very close to home and easy to overlook, but there's a reason David Lynch put them front-and-center in the Twin Peaks credits.
Best Quotes
  1. "Daddy, I hate this place." -Remarkably perceptive kid at the Berkeley Pit
  2. "Can I join you?" -Extremely drunk southern gentleman who entered our hotel elevator in the lobby, pushed the button for said lobby, waited a few seconds, realized he actually needed to go to the 9th floor, and talked to us the rest of the way about how much his sister had to pay for a room there.
  3. "Arrive at Wendy's, on right." -My GPS; imagine, say, Richard Attenborough pronouncing 'Wendy's' to see why this was so funny.
  4. "Turn right." -My GPS, directing me to turn into the middle of a prairie dog town, which was occupied by several ground squirrels but by nothing resembling a road.

Best Scenic Drives
  1. Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; the literal high point of our trip was also one of the figurative high points
  2. Yellowstone; again, kind of a no-brainer, though the most scenic highways in the area tend to be the ones running through the canyons and valleys just outside the park.
  3. Lake Couer d'Alene, Idaho; The lake really is gorgeous, but between the houses clustered along the shore and the fairly thick forests that cover the area, there are disappointingly few good vistas.
  4. Mountains-to-Sound, Washington; I-90's path over the Cascades has always been a sentimental favorite of mine, and it certainly is one of the more impressive routes into Seattle.
  5. Pintler Scenic Byway, Montana; a nice enough alternative to I-90, though the interstate's course through the mountains north of Missoula is in many ways more impressive.


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