Our second MINI Takes The States, and the first one where we are going all the way started out early in the morning on July 7th. Buster packed we headed north on I-45 saying goodbye to our kitties we wouldn’t see for over two weeks.
7/07 Huntsville, TX -> Amarillo, TX
The drive from Huntsville to Amarillo was nothing special.
We arrived in Amarillo late in the afternoon and checked into our room at Motel 6 on Canyon Drive. A quick cleanup and we headed over to the biggest tourist trap in town, the Big Texan Steak House.
Yes, we knew way before setting foot in the place it was built solely to take as much money from the unsuspecting tourists as possible. This included not only a huge resturaunt area which included a partial second story ringing the massive first floor, but also a large gift shop, games, booths selling all kinds of sundries, people in western costumes, what appeared to be some kind of small museum, and much more. It really was quite overwhelming.
Interestingly enough the service was not bad, people were friendly, and the food was pretty tasty. Am I likely to go back? No, but I am very glad I went to see what it was all about.
Once dinner was over we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep for the next big day of driving.
7/08 Amarillo, TX -> Cheyenne, WY
Getting up early in the morning I walked a few laps around the parking lot of the hotel trying to get a little exercise in since the rest of the day would be spent sitting. The morning was fairly cool and it was remarkably quiet being right next to a highway and a truck stop.
Sue Ann and I drove over to the truck stop and grabbed some fruit and a breakfast burrito for the road.
On our way to Cheyenne, we decided to stop for lunch in Denver at the Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rocks are kind of our thing if we haven’t been to the one in that town before, and sometimes like in San Antonio, even if we have been there a couple of times before. We sat at the bar and had a cocktail and lunch, both were awesome although we both left Denver with a little disappointment as we found the town to not at all live up to what we had seen and heard. It looked dirty, cluttered, and industrialized way more than I would have thought.
Arriving in Cheyenne at our Motel 6 on Westland Road we were pretty exhausted. To make matters worse, this was July and it was extremely hot, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. As we were checking in we noticed that the pool seemed to be closed. When asked why it seems that the pool heater was broken and they were waiting to get it fixed.
That’s right, the pool heater was broken in July and that was a reason to close the pool down. Fine, we went to our room to crash and get some sleep only to find out that evidently the room heater was broken too because the air conditioner did not work worth a flip. OK, that was me being sarcastic, but still, the AC did not work well and had not been running all day as you would expect for the summer so the room was hot and stayed that way for a while.
I didn’t care, I was past my limit and crashed anyway.
7/09 Cheyenne, WY -> West Yellowstone, MT
The next morning I took a morning walk around the complex well before sunrise. The temperature had fallen to a remarkably tolerable level and everything was fairly quiet however the place had become completely packed since I had crashed.
After our morning shower and pack, we were off to the closest gas station to grab some breakfast and head out.
The drive from Cheyenne was when the scenery really started to get nice.
All along the way were cool little features like this little lake shown above. I really liked the weather moving in giving it a really ominous feeling.
Since we were coming up from the south we ran into Grand Teton National Park before Yellowstone. To be honest I really had no idea what to expect and didn’t expect much since what I had read didn’t even really mention it. That was an oversight.
While Grand Teton was very small compared to Yellowstone, it packed in maximum beauty using minimum real estate. The image above is a great example. Beautiful mountains coming right down to the shore of an amazing lake. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating so the images do not come close to doing this place justice.
A short drive later and we were in Yellowstone National Park. I completely agree with people who say you have to make time in your life to see this place, it is indeed breathtaking.
The falls above give you a little taste of what you can see in Yellowstone.
Since we were staying a few nights here I opted to get a little cabin in a small town right outside of Yellowstone. Many people when visiting the park stay in Yellowstone or in West Yellowstone which is the town that runs right smack up to the entrance to the park. West Yellowstone is a serious tourist trap, but if you know that ahead of time and treat it as such, it is a lot of fun. It is not, however, where I want to be to relax.
The cabin we rented was small and quaint. The Drift Lodge & Fly Shop has about ten cabins it looks like and each one seemed to be decorated slightly different according to the pictures. Ours was kind of a western rugged. There is a very small kitchenette with a microwave, coffee maker, sink, and counter, a table with four chairs, the bed, bath with shower, and two end tables. Yes, it was as small as it sounds but around here you don’t want to spend any more time inside than you have to so it’s OK.
Island Park is about ten miles outside of West Yellowstone on a main highway. It is small enough that other than the fly shop where you rent the cabins, there is one gas station about two miles up the road next to a laundromat. That is the extent of Island Park, and that was perfect for where we wanted to be.
The wildlife in Yellowstone is used to being around people and cars. This makes for some amazing viewing as long as you remember that these are indeed wild animals and can easily take out you and your car. I also learned the hard way that if you see a Bison in the road, do not stop unless he is actually blocking your path. The slightly annoyed Park Ranger made that very clear, sorry.
As I said before, if you have not been to Yellowstone you really need to make sure you do it at least once in your life. Nowhere else in the United States have I found this kind of beauty and diversity all in one place. Personally I think Yosemite is actually prettier from a mountain/lake/valley point of view but you don’t get the prismatic pools, geysers, and as many big animals such as Bison walking right up to your car.
Like all of the big National Parks, Yellowstone is are getting a little overrun with tourists as is illustrated n the image above, if you go during the regular hours there could be ten or more buses and a hundred cars in the parking lot for this one feature. This can make it loud and crowded, and complete with some serious idiots.
The trick here is to go very early in the morning, way before sunrise, way before they start charging at the gates. You will have absolutely no one there with you and the animals will be out and playing. Not to mention seeing things like the fog rolling across the lakes that no one else will see.
The morning we did this was probably my favorite morning of the entire trip. I had a badger come out of the water and right up to my feet scaring the crud out of me. It turns out he was just as curious about me as I was about him so it all ended well.
Getting up early in Island Park and taking walks was also a treat as you were sharing your morning with amazing sights and sounds such as the calls of the Moose that seem right next to you because in a lot of cases they actually are.
7/12 West Yellowstone, MT – > Cranbrook, BC Canada
Getting up this morning we were both sad to be leaving Yellowstone and excited to be heading to another country. For us, this would be the second time visiting another country and the first time driving and also the first overnight stay.
Getting into Canada was about what I expected; we pulled up to what looked pretty much like a toll both that had a Border Patrol Officer in it who asked us a few questions while looking at our passports. I think I had over-prepared as I offered to show him our reservations for the hotel and the reservations for the following night in Portland to prove our itinerary. He was very polite and said none of that was necessary, then welcomed us to Canada.
In true tourist fashion, we pulled up to the sign about fifty feet up the road and took a ton of pictures, all the while I am sure the Border Patrol Officers were shaking their heads. Heh.
Several signs warn you at this point to make note of the fact that speed limit signs were in kph, not mph, and there is a big difference between 90 kph and 90 mph so make sure you do the conversion or set your speedometer to the correct setting.
I really don’t know why but I did not expect this part of Canada to look this beautiful. Sure, I knew they had areas just like our National Parks, and I knew that Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains both extended from the US into Canada, but the pictures above were just driving down the road to the small town of Cranbrook pretty much in the middle of nowhere special. Amazing.
As funny as it may sound Sue Ann and I love to play Miniature Golf and Cranbrook had a course on the north side of town. After checking into the motel we made a beeline for it and played a round on one of the nicest courses we have ever played. The image above gives you a little taste of how unique and well kept up this course was.
We wanted to get some souvenirs but didn’t really know where to go, so we went to Walmart! Of course, they had a lot of things with Canada themes, particularly hockey hats, shirts, and more. I picked up a hat, shirt, small Canada flag, and a larger Canada flag. Two interesting notes about Walmart in Canada; the people who work there are friendly and helpful, and your Walmart Credit Card from the US will not work up there.
Finally heading back to the Lazy Bear Lodge on north Cranbrook Street we settled down for the night.
7/13 Cranbrook, BC Canada -> Portland, OR
We decided to eat breakfast at the motel this morning and it was pretty good although just your basic continental with some very fresh fruit. Interestingly enough we met a couple from Scotland and had a great conversation.
Our first stop, besides a gas station, was the Duty-Free store just before the border as it seems there were more signs for it than speed limit signs.
The Duty-Free store was fairly small and not as packed as I had expected. There was, of course, a good selection of liquor (predominately Crown Royal), cigarettes with extremely graphic pictures on them, and the standard fair of clothes, hats, stickers, and trinkets. The people here were, just like all the people we met in Canada, extremely friendly. At the time I thought we bought way too much Crown Royal, however, I wound up wishing we had been able to buy more.
Once you make a purchase at the Duty-Free you don’t load it up into your car, you drive away without it. This was a little odd. They follow you in a car with a set of flashing yellow lights on the roof and you stop in a specially designated area where they walk up to your car and hand it to you. All of this occurs under the watchful eye of a half dozen cameras.
Once this transaction is complete you pull up in line just like you did on the other side when you came into Canada. The difference here is that now you are talking to the US Customs and Border Patrol officers. I still do not know why coming back into my own country, where I, my father, his father, and their fathers before them were born all the way back to the colony of South Carolina, felt like I was an illegal trying to sneak into the country.
They questioned everything and acted like every answer was a lie. They did not want to believe we were only there one night because we thought it would be a cool addition to our trip, and that we had never been there before. We had to be drug dealers, right?
We finally made it in, feeling a lot dirtier than we had just an hour previously and were on our way.
The scenery here for a good portion of the day was rather confusing. If I had been a passenger and just woke up to look outside I would have bet good money we were in west Texas. It was hot, really hot, the ground was flat and barren with little more than short scruffy trees, a few cacti, and some tumbleweeds. This went on for hours and again, reminded us of home. Weird.
Once we crossed the river however all that changed as if you had flipped on a switch. There were mountains, valleys, and the temperature dropped far below the previous Death Valley levels.
One serious issue we ran into in Oregon is that you are not allowed to pump your own gas. Being from Texas, and driving a MINI Cooper, it almost got really interesting when I pulled up to a gas pump and someone started opening the fuel door and removing the gas cap from Buster. If it was not for Sue Ann warning me a while back that there was somewhere on the trip where we could not pump our own gas Oregon might have needed to replace that fuel attendant. Touch my MINI? I don’t think so! That can and does result in people being shot in Texas.
We continued on to our Motel, the Bridgeway Inn & Suites on NE 181st Ave to get some much-needed sleep for the start of MTTS in the morning.
7/14 Portland, OR -> Ashland, OR
The first day of MTTS started off with less of a bang than it had in 2016. There was no racetrack filled with MINI Coopers, and no skydivers. The parking lot was gravel behind some stores and restaurants on the outskirts of town. This was a little of a letdown but we quickly forgot all of that and started meeting people from all over the US, getting our MINI pancakes, and checking out the vendor booths.
The first drive of MTTS was OK but fairly boring compared to the rest of the trip. I suppose that was a good thing, getting us into the groove before the big stuff started.
Once in Ashland, we navigated to the Timbers Motel on Ashland Street.
7/15 Ashland, OR – > Sacramento, CA
Overall I am not that big of a fan of California. I don’t like earthquakes, I don’t like huge forest fires, I especially don’t like the traffic in many places and the too easy to find rude people. That being said, this was probably the single most beautiful part of the trip.
Just driving down the road there are designated places to pull off, park, and walk into the surrounding woods. You should absolutely make the time to do this as you will not believe some of the things you can find on their trails.
The roads up here look like they were made for MINI drivers. Wonderful twists and turns surrounded by the most beautiful terrain you could ask for. Even in the middle of summer, it was sunroof open weather.
No hiking needed, just pull off to one of the many designated stopping points on the road and snap a picture that looks like a postcard complete with clouds, rivers running over rocks and tall majestic trees.
Step off the road onto one of the trails that guide you through part of the only rain forest in the continental United States complete with stairs and accessible routes for those who can’t manage the stairs.
Even with nothing but your phone you can get some absolutely amazing photographs simply because the area is just breathtaking. The hardest part of this day was not stopping every mile and spending half an hour exploring.
In an amazing change of scenery, we emerged from the mountains and rivers to the coast.
Heading down the coast to Sacramento we made sure to stop off at one of the drive-thru redwood trees and get Buster’s picture taken.
We finally found our way to HI Sacramento on H Street which turned out to be a hostel which we did not know and were not too keen on so we found a nearby Motel 8 and got some much-needed rest.
7/16 Sacramento, CA -> Los Angeles, CA
I have a love, hate, hate relationship with Los Angeles; there are some really cool things to see in LA, but I really hate the traffic and the place just seems dirty and overcrowded to me. You really have to throw me a bone to get me anywhere near this place.
Fortunately, the La Brea Tar Pits has a lot of bones! It is also a place I have always wanted to visit. Since we had to be in LA for MTTS this seemed like the perfect opportunity to go by and check it out.
While I expected to see the tar pits, some outside displays and probably a huge souvenir shop, I was unprepared for the amazing museum on the grounds. This was probably the most impressive display of prehistoric fossils I have ever seen and they throw in tours of the area where they clean and preserve them, as well as areas where they were actually found (and still find them!).
The pits themselves were just as impressive as I had thought they would be. Obviously they were fenced off so that in a thousand years they were not pulling out fossils of young Homo Sapiens but that took nothing away from their impressiveness. You could really see how these seemingly innocuous pools could lure in and trap animals of all sizes.
Since the previous day was my birthday and there was little to nothing to do in Sacramento in the time we had, I opted to have my birthday dinner here in LA at Benihana.
From there it was time to call it a night and head to our motel, the Comfort Inn on E Colorado Blvd.
7/17 Los Angeles, CA -> Flagstaff, AZ
Travelodge Flagstaff, E Route 66
The morning meeting in LA was outside a huge sporting center which gave us a lot of nice paved area to park and walk around on.
LAPD was right behind me, but I dropped them like they were standing still (cause they were).
On the way to Flagstaff from LA you just about had to drive through or around Las Vegas, and who doesn’t want to stop in Las Vegas?! You do NOT want to know what it took to get the image up above! We stopped right on the strip at the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch.
After lunch, we walked over to the MGM Grand and lost a little money in the slot machines. It has been quite a few years since we have been to Las Vegas and it seems that it had gotten way more crowded and way more of a tourist trap than it used to be, and I wasn’t sure that was even possible.
7/18 Flagstaff, AZ -> Santa Fe, NM
Once before we managed to get to see the Grand Canyon, but only from the southwest side on Indian Land and only minutes before sunset. We were at the time staying in Las Vegas and rented a car to drive out and see Hoover Dam and the rim of the Grand Canyon. While that was a fantastic day, it really did not let us see much of the Grand Canyon so we thought we would give it another try since we would be only a short distance from the main park.
Just like in Yellowstone we needed to be there around sunrise, not only so the park would be more enjoyable, but because we needed to be back in Flagstaff for the morning meeting by 9 am. We hit the ground running and really let Buster stretch his legs on those long, straight, wide-open roads with no traffic for miles.
The sun started rising as we headed north towards the Canyon. If you look closely at the image above you will notice that the foreground is very blurry, but the clouds and ridgeline are very sharp, we might have been doing a teeny tiny bit over the speed limit trying to make this side trip.
Rolling into the park just after sunrise we were greeted by this fellow. No, I did not have to zoom in to get this photo, he was that close and could not care less that we were right behind him, in Buster of course, he is like two feet off the edge of the road.
The nicest thing about going to the park this early in the morning is that there are no crowds. Sure, the park is way more beautiful with the sun low in the sky, sure the traffic is a lot less, sure you get into the park for free, and sure you get to see more animals because they are more active in the morning. All of that pales in comparison to the fact that you get to park right up front and don’t have to deal with a bunch of screaming kids running underfoot. In the photo above there has to be parking for at least two hundred cars and several designated bus spots, Buster is parked in #3 because I wanted to leave an empty spot between him and the next car in the #1 spot.
We were not the only people there this early in the morning, although it was close to empty we did find a couple who took our picture in exchange for us taking theirs.
The other thing about the early morning trips besides the fact that there was almost no one there but us was that the lighting coming in at that low angle is just amazing. If you have been to the Grand Canyon and seen this view, did it look this good? I am betting probably not because the midday sun made it have far less contrast and color.
Dinner was at our favorite restaurant in Santa Fe, The Patio. The food is great, the drinks are great, the people are nice, and there is a really cool gift shop in the patio area with lots of local hand made items that are just amazing. I picked up a great little leather wristband with buffalo nickels running around it that I continually get compliments on.
After dinner, we headed over to the King’s Rest Court Inn on Cerrillos Road which was just as cute as could be. It looks a little sketchy from the road and is not in the best section of town, but inside was just adorable and comfortable as could be. I really liked the fact that every unit had its own carport so Buster had his own place to sleep.
7/19 Santa Fe, NM -> Durango, CO
Into and out of Santa Fe is a pretty flat and boring affair. It isn’t long though before the roads start to turn up and the scenery really starts to get pretty.
One of the planned events for MTTS was a stop at a lavender farm. Sue Ann was all about this stop, and I can’t imagine why 🙂
Once we arrived at the Days Inn Durango on Main Avenue, we unloaded and I started thinking of what could be causing Buster to run so poorly. This wasn’t a rough running issue like it is when a coil goes out, this is when the engine runs just fine and there are no idle issues or check engine lights, but Buster had no power either. When I say no power, making a left-hand turn across traffic was utterly terrifying.
The only thing I could think of is poor airflow through the air filter because we had put so many miles on him and done some driving in really dusty areas. I decided to go by the auto parts store and get a filter cleaning kit for my K&N and fortunately they had one.
Once back at the hotel I removed the filter and took it into the bathroom. The shower worked very well at cleaning the filter and I used the hairdryer to help dry the filter out enough to apply the oil. This did clean a lot of crud out of the filter but it did not improve Buster’s performance at all. I decided that in the morning we would leave early and take him to the area where they have mechanics to look at your car. Fortunately, I had already removed my plugin tuner to make sure that it was not causing the problem.
Days Inn Durango, Main Ave
Buster started running like crap, washed-out air filter in the bath tub
7/20 Durango, CO -> Keystone, CO
Check-in for Buster was easy and they looked at him while Sue Ann and I beeboped around the vendor’s area and grabbed some breakfast. Soon enough Buster was out and their diagnosis was that he just wasn’t acclimated to the high altitude yet. I will say they were probably right because everything sorted itself out shortly once we were back on the road but I will also say that MINIs are terrifyingly underpowered when they are not used to the altitude.
Off we went through the mountains of Colorado headed to the ski resort of Keystone. I had never been to a ski resort like this so I was looking forward to it. Sue Ann and I one time went to the Inn of the Mountain Gods in Ruidoso, NM and skied but that was a tiny little thing compared to this.
We had decided to book a room right down the road from Keystone at the Quality Inn & Suites Summit County, on Silverthorne Lane. It was maybe ten miles right down the main highway from Keystone and was far less expensive than trying to stay at the actual lodge. The image above is from one of the Windows in our hotel. Not too shabby!
Funny enough there was a nice brewhouse right next door to our hotel which not only served excellent drinks but some excellent pub-style food as well.
7/21, 7/22 Keystone Co
The next two days were filled with drives, events, live music, presentations, and much more. Unfortunately, a good friend of ours, Betty, did not react well to the altitude and after making a trip to the local hospital, wound up having to head home. We missed you, Betty!
Literally thousands of MINIs filled the parking lot as we completely took over the entire lodge. To be honest, lodge doesn’t cover it, this was a ski village. There were at least a dozen restaurants, clothing stores, sporting goods stores, a small grocery store, pools, hot tubs, bars, stages, and much more.
In the picture above you can see one of the stage areas and several of the vendor canopies. The people you see here are just a small fraction of the people attending.
From the backside of the village, you begin to get a sense of how large this place really is. We climbed up a pretty good hill to take this picture, as some other people did. The building to the left is one of the bar/restaurants with a stage just on the left, there are several white vendor canopies dotted around and a bunch of people milling around. This was the first night there.
On the last night there they had a silent disco. When I first saw it and realized what it was I thought this had to be one of the stupidest ideas ever. You put on headphones that are wirelessly hooked to their audio system. The headphones can receive three different channels denoted by the colored light on the side; red, green, or blue. Each color is a channel for a different live DJ. Everyone is dancing, but only you hear your music.
Without headphones, it is just a dead quiet area where all you hear is the shuffling of people’s feet and the occasional “whoohooo” or “yeah!” from some people wearing the same color headphones. Could you imagine a more idiotic scene? Neither could I until I put on the headphones.
This turned out to be a lot of fun. I learned very quickly that when you are dancing to music, it can be a completely different type of music and the dancing is all about the same. We were dancing with people on all three channels and it seemed completely natural and very cool. The worst part was when it ended. These people need to know how to close down a club!
With that, we headed back to our hotel for the night.
7/23 Keystone, CO -> Dodge City, KS
Getting up early in the morning we headed back up to the lodge for the send-off. There was one last morning meeting where they talked about MTTS, how many miles were driven, how much money was raised for the cause, and how much fun was had by all.
One very interesting thing was that it was quite cool outside according to the thermometer, and yet in the bright morning sunlight, everyone was huddled together in the shade of the big trucks that brought in the vendors. In the shade, it was pretty cool but in the sun it felt like you were getting a sunburn in real-time.
We took a huge group picture and then everyone starts saying their goodbyes. Time to hit the road!
Since this was our first full MTTS we had decided early on that we were going to do as much of it as possible and since we did the entire western route it was time to do some of the eastern route as well so we headed off to Dodge City, KS.
Dodge City was the last stop for the people coming from the east before Keystone. It was their version of Durango. When we arrived in town and headed to the Dodge City Inn on West Wyatt Earp Blvd the town was pretty much closed up. When we checked in we got the first room right off the lobby as the hotel was completely empty.
At this point, we were pretty tired and just ordered a pizza delivery and hung out in our room. We needed the sleep more than we needed to explore the small town.
7/24 Dodge City, KS -> Huntsville, TX
We got up early in the morning to head out on our last day of driving back to Huntsville. This took us through Oklahoma City which was another stopping point for the people coming from the east coast, but we didn’t stop. At this point, we were too exhausted to do much of anything.
We arrived back late in the afternoon and went in to say hi to our fur babies who were quite happy to see us. Unpacking would wait for another day as we promptly crashed for a long hard sleep in our own beds for the first time in almost three weeks.
The trip was long, hard, and exhausting but it also was a trip like no other. I was both glad it was over and extremely happy we had gone. I am sure this will not be our last MTTS.