In September of 2013, I sought out to continue my United States journey from 2012. When I returned home from that trip, I was skeptic I would get to see the US again for years. But my desire to return was simply too great. Not a day passed by since I returned home in 2012 that I did not think of being back on the roads again, passing from town to town, national park to national park, and just being free. The final decision (or excuse) to return was made when Riot Fest announced that the Replacements were going to play that year.
With the knowledge I gathered from my previous trip, I was hoping I could make this one even better, despite the fact I would be traveling one less week (3 instead of 4).
Originally, my plan was to fly to Las Vegas, rent a car, drive northeast onto Denver, stopping along the way to hike through several national parks. Once in Denver, I was to go enjoy Riot Fest, which had a Denver location this year along with its main Chicago location that I visited last year. I then planned to visit the local breweries in Denver and hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, before driving northwest to Yellowstone National Park, and finally returning to finish the trip in Las Vegas.
As my departure date loomed forward, I began to realize my planned route was too long for my three week trip, and that driving up to Yellowstone and back down would be crazy. On the other hand, not going to Yellowstone would free up too much time. Also, as time passed by and the Riot Fest lineups continued to be announced, I became disappointed that I was going to miss Riot Fest Chicago, which had a much better lineup than the Denver one. And so, less than two weeks before leaving, I decided to change my plans and land in Chicago instead, so I can go see Riot Fest there again. From there, I would fly to Las Vegas, rent a car, drive northeast to Denver, and return to Las Vegas after two weeks.
Even that plan had to be changed a bit, while on the trip, due to the devastating Colorado floods that began just a few days before I left (though I have not been made aware of them until my trip had already begun). While I still drove northeast towards Denver, I decided to make for Aspen, hiking along the way, and then return to Las Vegas to finish off the trip.
In order to not be "chasing after my next destination", as I felt in my previous trip, I have not booked any accommodation, nor have I purchased any ticket to any event, apart from my first days in Chicago. That way, my road trip could be as flexible as possible. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, just as long as I return to Las Vegas in time for my flight back home. As opposed to last year's trip, where almost all of my accommodations were AirBNB locations, this time I mostly stayed at motels. Only my first four days in Chicago were at an AirBNB apartment.
A list of the places my trip passed through is provided here, starting from my home in Tel Aviv and back again. Following it is a map of my road trip, after I flew from Chicago to Las Vegas.
- [09/12] Tel Aviv, Israel
- [09/12] London, UK
- [09/12] Chicago, IL
- [09/16] Las Vegas, NV
- [09/17] Williams, AZ
- [09/18] Grand Canyon North Rim, AZ
- [09/18] Tuba City, AZ
- [09/18] Kayenta, AZ
- [09/20] Monument Valley, UT
- [09/20] Blanding, UT
- [09/21] Canyonlands National Park, UT
- [09/21] Monticello, UT
- [09/22] Colorado National Monument, CO
- [09/22] Grand Junction, CO
- [09/23] Glenwood Springs, CO
- [09/23] Aspen, CO
- [09/26] Independence Pass, CO
- [09/26] Maroon Lake, CO
- [09/26] Grand Junction, CO
- [09/27] Cedar City, UT
- [09/28] Las Vegas, NV
- [10/03] Miami, FL
- [10/03] Madrid, Spain
- [10/04] Tel Aviv, Israel
Road Trip Map
Total Kilometers Driven: 3600
My first stop this year ‒ as in the previous one ‒ was Chicago, for Riot Fest. This year the festival ran three days, again in Humboldt Park. I landed at O'Hare Airport at around 8pm on September 12, almost 24 hours after leaving my apartment in Tel Aviv. Walking off the terminal towards the Blue Line station, my spirits soared high; I could hardly believe I was in Chicago again.
Back home I booked a room for four nights via AirBNB at a nice Chicago apartment where three students were living together. It was raining when I arrived, and after meeting the guys at the apartment I took a quick shower and immediately went to bed, as I was exhausted from the trip.
I spent the next morning making some necessary arrangements, such as buying a local SIM card and needed toiletries. I spent a few more hours walking downtown before heading to Humboldt Park for the festival.
At Humboldt Park, I spent a few hours just walking around and taking it all in. I watched Screeching Weasel, Joan Jett and others. The evening's main act was Fall Out Boy. The crowd was absolutely wild during the show, which was awesome. A funny thing happened when a guy crowd-surfing from the back landed on my head and my glasses just flew off me. It was very dark and crowded so I was sure my glasses were history, which would have been quite a big problem for me. Reaching with my hands down to the grass, I immediately felt a pair of smashed down glasses. Dismayed, I picked them up to get a look up close, and realized they were not mine. Dropping down again, I immediately felt another pair. They were broken too, but upon closer inspection I found they were sunglasses. Some guy to my left noticed me and turned the flash on his phone. The sight that was revealed was unbelievable - dozens of smashed glasses laying on the grass, most of them sunglasses. And there - between some guy's legs - lay my glasses unbroken but completely bent. I managed to pick them up before anyone stepping on them and spent around an entire song bending them back so I could put them on my face.
The next day I managed to get a ticket for "The Book of Mormon" musical comedy at the Bank of America Theater. I wanted to see it last year but it was simply impossible to get a ticket. I was happy the show was still on. The theater was adjacent to Millennium Park, so I spent a few moments there before heading to the show, which was extremely funny.
After the show I made my way to Humboldt Park, for the second day of the festival. It seemed like there were a lot more people than the first day. I watched the Lawrence Arms, Rancid and others. The night closed with blink-182, and they gave a much better performance than the one I saw in Las Vegas last year.
The third day of the festival rain was pouring non-stop all day. I watched Bob Mould, Rocket from the Crypt (though I didn't like them), and most importantly the Replacements, reuniting after many years. Back at the apartment, I prepared myself for my flight to Las Vegas the next morning.
I had a great time in Chicago this year, as I had last year. I find Chicago to be a much nicer city than New York, people-wise.
Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona
I left Chicago on the morning of Sep. 16, and flew with American Airlines to Las Vegas. After landing, I picked a rental car at the airport and drove around to make some arrangements towards my road trip. I spent one night at South Point hotel, and left the following day towards Arizona and the south rim of Grand Canyon.
As I left somewhat late on Sep. 17, I arrived in the evening to a city called Williams in Arizona, a small touristy place with lots of motels, restaurants and souvenir stores. I spent the evening gulping down local beers at a pub, slept at a motel, and drove the next morning to Grand Canyon.
At Grand Canyon, I walked the Rim Trail for a few hours. I was hoping the south rim will afford me some more hiking situations than the north rim I visited in 2012. The wasn't the case. Unfortunately the only hiking trails available - aside from the Rim Trail - are those that go down into the Canyon and require you to stay overnight and get a permit. So after a few hours walk I returned to the car and drove away towards my next destination - Monument Valley.
Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, Utah
After visiting the Grand Canyon on Sep. 17, I drove towards Monument Valley in Utah. I was finally made aware of the news of the Colorado floods, and was contemplating how I should continue my road trip after visiting Monument Valley. Originally, I was planning on driving east into Colorado and then north onto Denver, and finally Rocky Mountain National Park, before heading back west.
From Grand Canyon, I drove east on route 64, then north on 89, and east again on 160. I reached Tuba City, a small Navajo town. As the sun was just starting to come down I was hoping to find a motel room there, but couldn't find a vacancy in the two motels I found in the city. Finding accommodations in the entire Navajo Nation proved difficult, as my phone lost all connectivity the moment I stepped into Grand Canyon, and I couldn't get into any booking websites. Hoping to find a motel in the next town, I drove 75 miles east to Kayenta, another small city on the way to Monument Valley. During the entire drive countless thunders lit up the sky in the distance, and I was concerned the bad Colorado weather had made its way to Arizona too. Thankfully, the bad weather seemed to have been farther east, and the weather in Kayenta was okay. Unfortunately, they had no available rooms there too, and as there were no other towns relatively close in any direction, I resigned myself to spending the night in my car.
After wasting away the evening at the local McDonalds, and being asked nicely by local police to leave the parking lot (as loitering is not allowed), I decided to return to Tuba City, where a room was available for the next night. Seeing as how pulling an all-nighter and then continuing my road trip wasn't a very smart choice, I decided to spend the next day resting before going on. So I returned to Tuba City, booked a room for the following night, and spent the night at the local Denny's and my car. I checked in early to the hotel on Sep. 18, and spent most of the day sleeping. After a 15-hour sleep, I woke up very early on Sep. 19, did some laundry in the local laundromat, and drove east again to Monument Valley.
I reached Monument Valley around noon, and immediately entered the visitor center to check out the hiking options. The huge Navajo guy at the visitor center directed me to the only hiking trail at the park - The Wildcat Trail - which goes around the West Mitten Bute and takes between 1-3 hours. There was a sign in/sign out sheet for the trail, and I was happy to find out hardly anybody takes the trail, even though the place had a lot of visitors that day.
I set out on the trail listening to some punk rock on my cell phone. The trail was pretty easy and I completed it in exactly 2 hours. I then immediately boarded a guided tour around Monument Valley with a local Navajo indian, as entering with a private vehicle was very dangerous. We toured for a few hours, before returning to the visitor center. By then I had decided to cancel my plan of driving east to Colorado, and chose instead to drive north through Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, and then a little east to Aspen, which is in Colorado but not inside the flood area. Therefore, I drove north-east and stopped for the night in Blanding, Utah. The moment I reached the city, my phone regained cellular service, after a few days with no service whatsoever.
Canyonlands National Park
On Sep. 21, I drove to the Needles region of Canyonlands Nation Park. Consulting with a park ranger at the visitors center, I chose the Chesler Park hiking trail. I asked for a difficult trail that would take no more than four hours, and got exactly what I asked for. The trail was pretty difficult, with lots of climbing up and down, and terrific views. At a certain point during the trail, I seemed to have spooked a huge snake that emerged very quickly from under a rock, passed next to my foot and "ran" off. Though I did not need to use it, I was happy I decided to take my Aspivenin with me. I managed to take a picture of the snake, which you can find in the following block of pictures.
I returned to the car a few hours later, very satisfied from the challenging trail. I drove to Monticello, another small city in Utah, where I booked a room for the night. I spent the evening at a local restaurant slash bowling alley.
Colorado National Monument
After Canyonlands, I was hoping to hike in Arches National Park. However, on the night of the 21st, a flash flood alert was issued for the next day in the area. Even though the weather during the day in Canyonlands was absolutely wonderful, it did start raining in the evening.
Not wanting to take a chance, I decided to wake up early, quite a few hours before the flash flood alert was in effect, and make my way north to I70, where I would drive a little east to Colorado National Monument, which is just near Grand Junction, the city where I already booked a room for the night.
The weather was indeed bad when I left Monticello, and it was already raining. An interesting phenomenon occurred while driving north on Highway 191: a large cluster of raining clouds was located immediately to the right (east) of the road. The road was dry for most of its length, but whenever the road swerved to the right a little bit, I would get below the cluster and into the rain.
Reaching I70, I felt good returning to the interstate after several days in the quite slower highways. The scenery also changed considerably, as I was leaving the deserts of Utah and entering colorful Colorado, with all its greens and wine fields and the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers.
I reached Colorado National Monument before noon, and set off for a few short hikes, as a park ranger advised me to take several short routes instead of one long route, so that I'm never far from my car should it start to rain heavily.
After spending a few nice hours there, I drove the road that goes around the entire park and into Grand Junction, where I spent the night.
On Sep. 23 I continued east towards Aspen. Seeing that my route passes through Glenwood Springs, I checked up a bit about the city on the internet and decided to stop there for a few hours, to visit the Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park, located on top of Iron Mountain. Aside from offering some nice rides, the park offers great views of Glenwood Springs, and guided tours of the cave system inside the mountain.
I reached Glenwood Springs around noon, bought a ticket for the park, and took the aerial tramway which takes you from the ground all the way up to the amusement park on top of the mountain. During this time of the year, the number of visitors was very small, which made me feel as if I had the whole park to myself. I spent a few hours enjoying the rides (one of them probably the scariest ride I've ever been on - the giant swing), and took one of the guided tours into the cave system.
After leaving the park, I walked around town for a bit, had lunch, and continued on my way to Aspen.
The sun was still up when I entered the city of Aspen on September 23. I checked in to the Limelight Hotel, where I booked a room for three nights a few days earlier. I immediately went out again and walked around a bit to familiarize with the vicinity of the hotel. When I returned the sun had gone down already, and I picked up one of the hotel's complimentary bicycles to cruise about town some more. Riding in Aspen, I learned quickly that the city is small enough to walk anywhere in it.
It took me just a few hours walking and riding across town to fall in the love with the place. The views of the encircling mountains, the ski paths, the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the buildings, the ambiance, it was just great, and I could only imagine how the place looked during high winter and high summer, when it's bustling with tourists. At the moment though, the streets were almost empty. After training in the hotel's gym that night, I went out to a pub to drink some local beers.
I spent the next two days hiking in/near the city. At first, I took the easy Rio Grande Trail that goes around the edge of the town, mostly offering you views of the rich people's houses on the slopes of the mountains. The day after that I felt the need for a challenge, and decided to climb the Ute Trail, which is a difficult trail climbing up from the city onto Aspen Mountain, with many switchbacks and never a level ground. The trail reaches an elevation of 2800 meters above sea level.
Climbing up the Ute Trail was probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, physically. I was in good shape when climbing the trail, and yet I had to make frequent stops to catch my breath and rest my legs. Only when I reached the top of the trail, and spoke with some locals who were there, did I understand that it was the thin air that made it so laborious. The view from the top was absolutely magnificent, and well worth the effort. I had a nice chat with the locals, and stayed a while after they left to enjoy the view more, and refresh with a snack. After that, I had to climb back down the way I came, which was faster but no less difficult than climbing up, as the slope of the mountain is a constant strain on the knees. I was absolutely thrilled when I reached the bottom again for having completed this challenging trail.
Independence Pass & Maroon Lake
On September 26 I was set to leave Aspen and make my way back to Las Vegas, where my trip ends. Back on top of the Ute Trail, talking with the locals, I expressed my dismay over the fact I did not get to see any snow (up close that is). I have never experienced snow in Israel, and the only time I did get to see some snow was back when I was nine, on top of the Swiss Alps, on a trip with my parents, and I've forgotten about that experience years ago. The locals recommended I try either Independence Pass or Maroon Bells. The former is a high mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains, just 19 miles east of Aspen, at an elevation of 3,687 meters. The latter are two similar looking peaks in the Elk Mountains, 12 miles southwest of Aspen. The Maroon Lake that overlooks the two peaks is said to be the most photographed spot in Colorado. You can find hundreds of photos of basically the same scene on the internet (and you can find my take on it in the next block of pictures).
I decided to try both of these, and drove first east to Independence Pass. It was an interesting drive, going back and forth and climbing up the mountains. At a certain point, snow was piled up on the sides of the road, which was a good sign. When I finally reached the pass, I was happy to see there was no lack of snow. Going out of the car, I immediately felt the effects of the high altitude. Every step seemed strenuous, and the tourists around me seemed to be suffering the same effects, judging by their heavy breathing. I spent some time walking around a bit, taking in the views, and obviously playing with some snow, before returning to the car and driving back west towards Aspen, and then southwest to Maroon Bells.
I reached Maroon Lake a short while thereafter and was simply stunned by the beauty of the place. The pictures on the internet are stunning enough, but seeing this in person is that much better.
Las Vegas, Nevada
After leaving Maroon Lake, I started making my way to Las Vegas. It was my intention to complete the 1000 kilometer trip within as few days as possible, so I can have more time in Vegas. I stopped for the night in Grand Junction, where I was just a few days earlier, and checked into the same motel.
I spent the next day mostly driving, first on I70 and then on I15, and stopped for the night in a Utah city called Cedar City. The following morning, September 28, I completed the short distance left and reached Las Vegas. I was hoping to check into my favorite South Point Hotel, but I did not expect to arrive until the 29th, so my reservation only started on the next day and they were fully booked for the 28th. Instead, I checked into the Platinum Hotel, located close to the Strip. The hotel doesn't just offer "rooms", but what could justifiably be called an apartment. As can be seen in the pictures, the apartment has a full size kitchen, a living room with a big screen TV, a bedroom with a double bed, and a bathroom with a whirlpool tub.
The next day I checked into South Point Hotel. I spent my remaining days in Vegas playing Blackjack in the casino (returned home with a 500$ profit), going to shows, watching movies at the cinema, walking around downtown, etc.
All in all, I had an amazing time on this trip. I consider the 7 weeks I spent in the US on 2012 and 2013 as some of the best times of my life.