Summer Road Trip 2019 – West Coast

This last summer my husband and I embarked on a 40-day road trip, packed to the gils in our SUV – angling northeast from Arizona, through Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Sonoma County and on up the west coast. Making stops in Bandon Dunes, Portland and Seattle before heading across the border into Canada. This second leg of our trip included stops in Whistler, British Columbia and then across the water (Strait of Georgia) to Vancouver Island to spend time in Tofino and Qualicum Beach. Our third leg took us back stateside where we made our way back down through Seattle, east to Coeur d’Alene and into Billings, Montana. Then we began our southernly descent towards home going through Jackson Hole, Colorado Springs and Durango.

Golf, although not the main driving force of this trip, played a major role in how we organized this trip and deciding where we were headed. Our intent was to see as much of our amazing country, and new destinations in Canada, up close and personal, taking major highways only when time was of the essence. We had to pre-book certain parts of the trip, so staying somewhat to a schedule was imperative, but overall the total number days on the road was left to play out however it played out.

A single write-up of this trip would be labeled a novel, so as not lose my readers attention, I will break the trip up into the three different legs so I can share more details of each amazing stop on this bucket-list filled journey.

FIRST LEG – West Coast

Choosing which way to make our way up to NorCal was a challenge coming from the Phoenix Valley. Not many routes across the national forests that line the eastern border of California, from almost the northern tip down to Bakersfield, north of LA. We wanted scenic – so we meandered our way taking in the following amazing destinations on the first part of this leg.

Las Vegas:

Day 1 – Southern Highlands Golf Club was the first stop on our trip to play this beautiful private club. One of only four courses co-designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Robert Trent Jones, Jr.  RTJ, Sr. passed away during the construction of this course and there is a plaque on the 12th hole commemorating his passing – the last hole he finished. For the first time in our 33-year marriage my husband, a 14-hdcp, played really well and beat my score (I’m a 5-hdcp) – so this is now his favorite course!

Southern Highlands – a lush green oasis in the Las Vegas desert, with amazing views. Every tree was planted during the build process.

Day 2 – Ever wanted to put the pedal to the metal and go as fast as you can – legally? Drive whatever your dream sports car is at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas. A track with multiple turns to test your maneuverability and one long straight away to ‘let it out’ and see how fast you can go! Exhilarating – or so my husband said after driving his dream car – a Porsche. He was amazed at how physically demanding it was driving these cars – for just 7 laps, can’t imagine the exhaustion after driving 500 laps for the pros.

We finished off the day, our 33rd- wedding anniversary, with a fun whimsical dinner at Lakeside restaurant at The Wynn – singing frogs et al!

Exotics Racing – Las Vegas – Porsche 911 GT3 RS – powerful – fast. Bucket list item – check!

The Lakeside restaurant in the lower level of The Wynn sits on a man-made small lake, where you are serenade by singing frogs, bouncing balls and flittering butterflies.

Yosemite National Park:

Day 3 – We hadn’t been to Yosemite in over 30-years, so we were anxious to return. There is no easy direct route into Yosemite National Park. Due to narrow, windy, single lane roads – the last 80 miles took 4 1/2 hours, the last 20 miles took 2 1/2 hours. But with the beauty surrounding this whole area, one hardly notices or cares that you are forced to drive slow and take in the overwhelming aura of this park. El Capitan stands majestic to your left as you approach The Ahwahnee Lodge, Half Dome looms large in the distance, a multitude of massive trees line the roadway, rushing waterfalls thunder in their descent. A magical mystical place.

El Capitan – makes Alex Honnold’s free solo ascent even more impressive when you see this iconic rock structure in person.

Half Dome in Yosemite draws in your with it’s unique shape and just out of reach location.

Day 4 – Up early to drive to a high point in the park to witness the sun rise along El Capitan, bathing the Half Dome in sunlight. Driving out of the park, we stopped to walk through one of the many Giant Sequoia groves that dot the park. Standing at the base of these looming, behemoth trees is mind-blowing.

A high vantage point in Yosemite presents a sunrise show with the sun rising behind El Capitan bathing Half Dome in the morning sun.

Giant Sequoias – aka Redwoods – stand out with their size and robust red color.

Sonoma County:

Visiting Sonoma wine country was another bucket-list item for us. We have been to the Napa Valley multiple times and wanted to see what it’s quieter, smaller sister had to offer. We stayed at the new boutique hotel, MacArthur Place – 5 blocks off the main square in Sonoma. Spacious, well-appointed rooms, a great bar setting, an amazing eating experience at their top-notch restaurant Layla, and friendly attentive service throughout the whole complex warrants a return visit.

MacArthur Place in Sonoma is great new boutique resort that has brought service to a whole new level.

The next two days we were treated to full days of wine tasting and seeing the sights of Sonoma, organized by Val & Mike Marino, of California Wine Tours. Top notch service and wine tour experience!

Day 5 – Wine tours at: Hanzell, Deerfield Ranch and Repris. All had very unique wine caves.

Hanzell, Sonoma – going into it’s seventh decade of making wine, specifically Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, uses a holistic ‘farming’ approach in caring for their vineyards by growing veggies and fruit trees along wine rows, allowing farm animals to mow, dig, and fertilize the cropland. By appt. only.

The rustic stone barn tasting room at Hanzell offers panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley.

Deerfield Ranch, Kenwood – Red Blends are their speciality, with a focus on low amounts of sulfate and histamines, creating a smoother tasting wine while using less tannins, but also reducing additives that many people are sensitive to and can hamper their wine tasting enjoyment. Open to the public.

The wine cave at Deerfield Ranch opens up into an inviting, well lit, living room style setting.

Repris, Sonoma – wines 125-years in the making, is a well-hidden gem – not even known to most locals. The climate of this Moon Mountain Vineyard creates some the highest quality grapes in the region. Their 18,000 sf cave reveals the natural stone walls left behind the big dig to create this natural wine cellar. By appt. only.

No matter how bad the fires got, the wine cave at Repris would safe coat a major portion of their wine supply. Great place for fun wine tastings too!

Day 6 – Wine tours at: A. Rafanelli and MacRostie.

A. Rafanelli, Dry Creek – sits on some of the most pristine property in Sonoma County, focusing on Zinfandels, Cabs and Merlots. Shelly Rafanelli, 4th generation, is the winemaker and her sister, Stacy, runs the financial side of the winery – continuing the Rafanelli legacy of great winemaking. By appt. only.

The Rafanelli family has been on this property for four generations and it shows! Absolutely gorgeous setting!

MacRostie, Healdsburg, is in the Russian River Valley, the go to AVA for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The property sits with an expansive vista that allows you an opportunity to contemplate life of maybe one day opening your own vineyard or winery. Open to public, but reservations highly recommended.

MacRostie Winery – a great place to contemplate life and take in the amazing vistas.

Bandon Dunes:

Day 7 – Back on the road to make our way to our first golf bucket-list destination, Bandon Dunes. The American version of Irish golf links. Upon our arrival at our cottage that sits at the edge of a lily pond, frogs were ‘croaking’ out their mating calls and on cue a momma deer and her two fawns appeared at the base of our balcony. A great start!

A momma deer and her two fawns made an appearance at the base of our deck at Bandon Dunes, right on cue to our arrival.

Day 8 – Up and at em’ early for our first round at the original Bandon Dunes golf course. The cool breezes off the Pacific had our attention quickly with no trees to break the blustery winds.  With 7-holes fully are partially along the ocean, our attention was focused on those stinger shots to keep our balls low and in play on this naturally created course winding through dunes and natural vegetation.

Are we in Ireland? It’s hard to tell the difference – Bandon Dunes does a great job of pulling off a true links golf experience.

Day 9 – Pacific Dunes became our favorite course at the resort. It was more captivating with its layout – challenging, but not in a quirky way. A playable distance, but an emphasis on shot making. With 7 holes fully or partially along the ocean, the 3-club wind had our attention today.

Probably the most photographed hole in Bandon Dunes is the 10th hole at Pacific Dunes.

Day 10 – Old MacDonald only has 4 holes that are directly affected by the ocean, but with some of the world’s largest greens and deepest bunkers there is no shortage of challenges. We were taking full body turns on some of our putts and hitting backwards out of several bunkers.

Our caddies walking off the back of one of the monstrous greens at Old McDonald. I needed a wide angle lens to have been able to capture the whole green.

Only way out – is backwards! Brutally tough and deep bunkers at Old McDonald.

Portland:

Day 11 – Our first trip ever to Portland – lush green rolling hills welcome you as you wind along the Willamette River and it’s tributaries, which make it very challenging to get around. There are no direct routes to cut through rivers and hills, but tour circuitous route allowed us to experience the beautiful Oregon countryside. We were treated to play on an old course – circa 1896, Waverley Country Club, along the banks of the river. A tight, heavily treed course with wrist breaking rough.

The picturesque 16th hole at Waverly Country Club – aptly named the Punch Bowl. Long shots end up in the Willamette River.

Seattle:

Day 12 – Seattle is similar to Portland in having to work your way around waterways and hills. We stayed at The Edgewater where we were upgraded to The Beatles room – where apparently they stayed back in the 1960’s. After walking to get our morning coffee at the original Starbucks, we headed to our second golf bucket-list experience – playing the famed Sahalee Country Club. Even the greatest players have been brought to near tears with fairways tightly lined with thick stoic stands of woods and greens harder to hold than my living room glass coffee table. Some greens were so tough to hold we just picked up our balls and walked to the next tee.

Evening view from our room at The Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, show cases the Seattle highlights with Mount Rainier lurking in the background.

Does anybody have a chainsaw?? As if the greens aren’t hard enough, they have to line the fairways with these monstrous trees, just to test your golf mettle a bit more.

Can you say tight? It’s hard to envision trying to pipe down the tight fairways at Sahalee CC, just outside of Seattle.

Almost a third of the way through our road trip, my husband and I were still talking to each other, we had already experienced enough amazing adventures to fill a life-time, but were energized and excited about the next two legs of our trip to visit new destinations and revisit old favorite destinations.

Check the Global Gallery in the near future to see more pictures from the first leg of our summer 2019 road trip. And stay tuned for ‘leg two’ of Summer Road Trip 2019.

 

Yosemite National Park:

Yosemite National Park, Yosemite, California. Virtually unchanged in the last 30 years. If there is one thing I have to give our government credit for, it is making strident efforts to leave natural beauty of our National Parks basically untouched. That may be because there is not enough funding to make many changes, but if keeping the effects of mankind to a minimum helps in keeping places like Yosemite replete in its natural state, than so be it.

Twenty-seven years ago, my husband and I set up home in Stockton, California, where his first job took us after being newly married. Stockton itself, is not a destination location, but as mentioned in a previous post, it is a great central location to many other parts of must see destinations in Northern California, such as Yosemite National Park.

We were 22-years-old and had a gutless wonder of a car. We were young and naive and inexperienced as to what lay ahead of us in visiting Half Dome and El Capitan, the two main rock formations in Yosemite that draw in rock climbers from all of the world. We are more of the floating down the river types, peering up at those more adventurous types scaling the rock faces that line the river valley in Yosemite.

In my thirty years of road travel, throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East, I have come across some pretty scary roadways. The winding roads between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo had me nauseous for almost four hours straight. The drive up around Jerome, Arizona, with its narrow two-lane roads and severe drop-offs left me feeling light-headed from my fear of heights. The switchbacks through the high country in Italy left me in a constant state of trying to catch my breath. The desolate roads along the spine of the Abarim Mountain Range in Jordan had me on the lookout for rock slides.

The rugged terrain along the roadway from the Dead Sea to Petra - watch for rock slides

The rugged terrain along the roadway from the Dead Sea to Petra, Jordan  – watch for rock slides

But no where, in all those years of road travel, have I felt as fearful as I did during the drive into Yosemite. The steepness was so severe that I was seriously concerned our gutless wonder of a car was going to sputter out and we would roll back down the road taking out every vehicle behind us like a plinko chip. Luckily that did not happen, and the heart pounding trek into the park was worth every beat exploding in my ears.

I had assumed that in the last 25 plus years, that nasty steep curvy road would have been updated to a more traveler friendly roadway. But when I received a communication from friends who just recently took their rock-star sized bus into the park, I realized that had probably not happened – the text read, “Beautiful, but those roads are not for the faint of heart….” When my 23-year-old daughter told me last week that she and a girlfriend were going to visit a friend who worked at Yosemite, the only advice I could give them was to get a powerful car that’s good on the curves. For once my daughter listened:

My daughter's friend behind the wheel of a mustang to drive to Yosemite - powerful and good on the curves (the car that is!)

My daughter’s friend behind the wheel of a Mustang to drive to Yosemite – powerful & good on the curves (the car that is!)

Once in the park the sights and views are breathtaking – in a very healthy way. During our trip to Yosemite my husband and I took the more leisurely route to sightseeing – we rented inner-tubes, one for each of us and one for our cooler of “refreshments” and took a lazy float down the calm part of the Merced River that bisects the towering rock faces of Yosemite. Lining the riverbanks are the Giant Sequoia Cypress trees, aka California Redwoods.

Half Dome overlooks the river valley where we my husband and I floated down the Merced River.

Half Dome overlooks the river valley where we my husband and I floated down the Merced River.

Grizzly Giant Sequoia - between 1900-2400 years old; 30' in diameter

Grizzly Giant Sequoia – between 1900-2400 years old; 30′ in diameter

Grizzly Giant Sequoia - so big at 210' tall it needs to be taken in two pictures

Grizzly Giant Sequoia – so tall at 210′ tall it needs to be taken in two pictures

The exposed root system of a Gian Sequoia

The exposed root system of a Gian Sequoia

My daughter and two friends fit comfortably in the base of a Giant Sequoia

My daughter and two friends fit comfortably in the base of a Giant Sequoia

 

Another interesting rock formation in Yosemite National Park.

El Capitan rock face flanking the slow-moving Merced River in Yosemite National Park

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture