Hidden Gems Heading Westward

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When I plugged the directions for Winter Garden, Florida to Portland, Oregon into MapQuest, the fastest route would have been 3000 interstate miles and taken 45 driving hours-Route A. Then I sat down with a U.S. road map to plot our route westward from Florida. I connected highways in a diagonal direction back to Portland- Route B. After formulating the perfect path using triangulation, physics, and a little celestial navigation, 3800 miles northwestward and six weeks later we arrived in Portland-Route C.

rocks of dinosaur monument

We had planned stops along the way but it was the unplanned stops that we took advantage of that made this trip worthy of the month and a half exploring westward travel. It’s places like these, these hidden gems, that we may have missed traveling with Carlos. It’s places like these others miss by choosing Route A or Route B.

Mississippi Blues Trail

Never heard of it. No one told us about it. We more or less stumbled into it. 100 miles west of Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis, and 100 miles south of Graceland are the crossroads of Hwy 61 and Hwy 49 ~ Clarksdale, Mississippi.

We checked into the Shack Up Inn for a couple days and enjoyed some deep south BBQ and live delta blues. With the exception of the BBQ, a place we would have never considered stopping with Carlos.

Our accommodations in Clarksdale were probably the most comfortable concept for a roadside inn we’ve ever come across. The Shack Up Inn where rustic is spelled with a capital RUST. A former working cotton plantation scattered about with sharecroppers shacks we called home for a couple days. Simply an unexpected gem.

Sharecropper Shack at Shack Up Inn

Steamboat Springs

A week before we were due to be in Colorado, Hali gets a random call from Catherine who says she’ll be in Steamboat for her “retirement party”. It would be just her and Rick (Hali’s stepbrother) and us. So we took the 150 mile detour through The Rockies to join this party.

view from a home

Rick’s “cabin” overlooks the cute town of Steamboat where its name originated from early French fur trappers who thought the local hot springs sounded like a chugging steamboat.

hot springs early am


These hot springs are about 15 miles uphill from Steamboat and we wanted to see why the locals told us Strawberry Hot Springs is a must stopAlthough there are the day trippers from Steamboat and can get busy, you’ll want to stay the night.wagon at hot springs The covered wagon accommodations were booked but there was one drive up camp site available, ours for the taking.van on camp pad

For $60 we got this primitive campsite with a million dollar view of the snowcapped Rockies. Plus, an afternoon soak, a starry night soak, and best of all, the early morning soak. A totally worthwhile detour.

Dinosaur National Monument

The moment we crossed the border from Colorado into Utah, I knew we were finally in the west. Colorado has The Rockies sandwiched by the high plains of Kansas and foothills west of Steamboat, but when we arrived in Utah with its vast vistas of desert-like landscape we were excitedly aware that the mountains and the midwest were behind us.

We set up camp for a few days along the Green River ready to explore Dinosaur National Monument. This large area of land includes one of Earth’s richest known dinosaur fossil beds. Fossils from 150 million years ago that we were permitted to touch.149 million year old dinosaur bone This is a fossil bone from an Allosaurus.

During a drought, many dinosaurs died near the river’s edge. When the rain came, floodwaters carried the jumbled bones of over 500 dinosaurs, representing ten species to this area.

Besides exploring the fossil beds, this National Monument hosts some of the best hiking we encountered this side of Yosemite.

Our favorite hike was the Sound of Silence Trail, which included a little of everything for the hiking enthusiast: loop, elevation gain and descent, wildlife, scrambling, rain, and silence.

granite boulder hiker


For five miles we never saw another person. Halfway though a canyon, down into a gulch, and around a few fins, it was perfectly silent. No road traffic, no wind, not even a bird sound. This hike lived up to all expectations. It ranks up there with Half Dome and Mount St. Helens.

Painted HIlls

Another extraordinary adventure. So much to offer even with an inordinate amount of time. These are the unexpected surprises we could only find by taking Route C. Would I go out of the way again to see these hidden gems? In a heartbeat.

Proof that that the fastest route is not always the best route. Even without the dog, our road mantra holds true~~~ Slow & Steady.

About Woody

We are a couple who took the first step toward a life of traveling in May, 2015. Staying within the continental US, we amp'd the adventure-factor by traveling in a VW Vanagon, circa 1985. Our mission is to share irresistible and compelling stories conceived from this lifestyle of travel.

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