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¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 6:31 a.m.

About 5 years ago, Sara and I got married and had a somewhat disastrous honeymoon roadtrip (sorry for broken photos) involving a craigslist RV, a Penske truck, and a whole bunch of the southwestern USA.  On that trip we asked ourselves a number of times whether just using a car and a tent would have been a better move, so in preparation for our 5 year anniversary we bought a bigass Cadillac and developed an extremely vague plan to drive it to a series of national parks over the course of a couple weeks- and I do mean vague, this was effectively planned on the fly by Sara, who spent a lot of the trip with a map and two cell phones in front of her figuring out where we were going to be able to get to next.

So in late September, we put the dogs in the car atop a custom built platform which replaced the rear seat cushion, filled all 20 cubic feet of trunk with everything we and the dogs would need, and set off for adventure:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 6:44 a.m.

Day 1

PA to "How Far West Can We Get?" (Iowa)

The name of the game on the first day was just putting in miles- we wanted to see how the Cadillac would handle this sort of extended use, and wanted to get out into the western states as quickly as possible, so this was mostly just boring highway driving.  70mph indicated on the slightly pessimistic speedometer seemed to be about all the car would do comfortably, so that was our cruising speed and we were rewarded with something just short of 13.5mpg as a result- we later discovered that reduced speed has little effect, and the 425 and 3 speed combo returns the same fuel economy regardless of incline, altitude, velocity, throttle position, or seemingly any other factor.  It's also worth noting that I never managed to fix the ancient cruise control in this thing.

We broke the long highway haul up slightly by stopping at Indiana Dunes National Park for a little exploring on the coast of Lake Michigan:

Also stopped for dinner and met the owner of this excellent '61 Thunderbird, who was quite enthusiastic about both the Cadillac and our trip:

After dinner we made our way to our accomodations for the night, the cheapest available motel across from the largest truck stop in the world.  It sure was a big truck stop... as previously mentioned, this day was about distance, not scenery.

~900 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 7:07 a.m.

Day 2

Iowa to Badlands National Park

We got up nice and early and made good our escape from the largest truck stop in the world, which disappointingly is not a 24/7 operation and as a result had no breakfast options.  Most of the day consisted of boring highway and seemingly endless Wall Drug advertisements, although we did have some excitement when we learned a neat new thing about the Cadillac's fuel tank- apparently once you climb to a slightly higher altitude, if you leave the nozzle in the tank after it clicks off you have about 10 seconds before gasoline starts pouring out onto the ground.  This mistake was made several times, each one resulting in us having to put the car in neutral and push it out of the fuel puddle to avoid possible ignition upon starting the engine.  Fun.

Eventually we made it to our destination, Badlands National Park:

We got up close with some prarie dogs and buffalo, took in the views, and generally enjoyed the rewards of our two days of nonstop highway slog:

We set up the tent in the surprisingly wide open camping area, and took the dogs for a brief pre-bedtime walk which was made even more brief once we realized we were being stalked by a coyote and scooted back to the campsite at a quick but "please don't chase us" pace.

After some truly incredible stargazing, we turned in for the night- as we made for the tent, Kila (yellow dog) locked eyes with something in the dark and Sara basically had to push her in after Ridley (red dog) and I were already through the flap.  Moments later, we heard coyotes yipping and howling all around, which continued on and off for most of the night.  Some of us were more relaxed about this than others, but eventually we all got some sleep:

~700 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 7:19 a.m.

Day 3

Badlands to Somewhere Near Grand Teton

Yet again we were up nice and early and, after a little time spent on one of the overlooks, back on the road- it's easy to do this going west, since you keep gaining extra hours thanks to time zone changes.  Our first stop was Mt. Rushmore, which seemed like a necessity- we didn't pay to go in, the view from the shoulder was just fine:

It was around here that we started to discover what the Cadillac is really good at- by modern standards, it's actually not a particularly great highway cruiser, but with plenty of torque and a transmission that really, really likes to hang onto whatever gear it happens to be in, it's pretty great at chugging up and over mountains at about 55mph.  We did some of that up to about 8000ft and eventually made our way to Thermopolis to see some neat hot springs and grab lunch:

Our campsite for the night, a few hours further down the road, was Falls Creek Campground and it had a pretty good view:

More stargazing, a quick dinner in the car since we had entered "armored trash cans because bears" territory, a little walk, and we turned in for the night.

~550 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 7:33 a.m.

Day 4

Grand Teton and Yellowstone

We kicked the day off with an overpriced breakfast in Jackson Lodge in Grand Teton, which was worth it because of the lodge itself.  Apparently I failed to get a good picture of the place but it was basically the Hogwarts of National Park lodges.  Then we wandered around for a bit:

We also drove down to the Snake River boat launch, which had a short but memorable 18% grade as well as some nice but cold water for the dogs to play in, before heading out of Teton and into Yellowstone for some neat hot springs and smelly thermal features:

Sort of on a whim, before heading to our hard-fought Yellowstone campsite at Lewis Lake (they're few and far between, even this late in the year) we drove down to Yellowstone Lake where we found an amazing sunset to enjoy while we ate overpriced park food outside of a boarded up general store:

Once back at the campsite, Ridley picked something up off the ground and started chewing on it- it turned out to be a piece of steak, since some previous campers had apparently thought it would be cool to scatter bits of meat around in bear country.  Fun.  Between that and the elk bugling all night (they sound like a freaking horror movie soundtrack) we didn't get the best sleep, but hey- still camped in Yellowstone!

~275 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 7:43 a.m.

Day 5

Yellowstone to Missoula

We hadn't covered all of Yellowstone the day before, so naturally the moment we were up we were moving.  This turned out to be an excellent way to see some wildlife, although the combination of cold and altitude meant the car had a little trouble starting:

We only had one close call with an Elk crossing the road by surprise.  Drove a sketchy, especially in the Cadillac, gravel road.  Saw several geysers, some more famous than others:

And just like that we were through Yellowstone and headed north at full speed- we had our first really, really good meal of the trip in Bozeman Montana, which very nearly knocked me out so Sara drove the next leg while I got a little rest.  We ended up staying at a motel in Missoula since we were both pretty wiped out and it was going to be COLD- we had missed a 20deg night in Yellowstone by just one day.

~390 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 7:58 a.m.

Day 6

Missoula to Glacier to Liberty Lake

Up and out before the sun and headed north yet again- we drove along Flathead lake, on a wonderful route suggested by our server at the restaurant in Bozeman, and made our way into Glacier National Park.  My phone started yelling at me because it thought I was in Canada- almost but not quite.  The water in Glacier is amazingly clear and amazingly cold, which didn't stop Sara from going straight down to a river the moment we were close enough:

And then shortly thereafter we were headed up the Going to the Sun Road.  Ice, snow, clouds, amazing views, and a whole lot of keeping the Cadillac on the road took up the next hour or so:

And then back down, to a very cold and windy lake where the dogs couldn't quite keep their eyes open for this photo:

A brief stop at the visitor center where an older Ranger gave us some advice on the most enjoyable road to visit Two Medicine Lake:

An ice cream stop at Sweet Peaks:

Somewhere in rural Montana, the Cadillac crossed what we can only assume is the 150,000th mile on its' 5 digit odometer:

We then headed west, stopping only for fuel:

And eventually settled at our campsite for the night, after crossing the northern part of Idaho into Washington.  I remember it was at Liberty Lake State Park and it had showers, but that's about it.

~530 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 8:09 a.m.

Day 7

Liberty Lake to Diamond Lake

Straight from the campsite to the best freaking diner I've ever been to.  It was made out of a train car, service was fast, the food was amazing, and my coffee cup was never empty no matter how hard I tried:

Eastern Washington was pretty boring to drive across, and the same goes for Oregon until reaching the Columbia River Gorge at which point it becomes awesome, other than the wind trying to push you off the road.  Once through there, we drove up Mt. Hood but it turned out that the parking lot was about 50ft below the bottom of the cloud cover so we couldn't see much.  Oh well:

We had a nice little walk with the dogs up there, and Ridley got to roll in some snow before we drove back down so it wasn't a complete loss.  We drove some more:

Scored a campsite at Diamond Lake, which was in a wonderfully quiet pine forest and made for a really nice night of camping:

Ate dinner on the shore with some ducks who were absolutely convinced that we were going to share:

~570 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 8:21 a.m.

Day 8

Dimaond Lake to Crater Lake to Pacific Coast Highway

By this point we were so good at packing the camping gear in the dark that I think it was done before I was fully awake- but then I woke up fast, because we were driving around Crater Lake and it was high up, cold, icy, and foggy and we needed a '77 Cadillac with horrible tires to stay on the road.  It was breathtaking for both the views and the potential for accidentally making the car a permanent part of the scenery:

The moment we left Crater Lake, seemingly everything became Bigfoot themed, which was fun.  We drove through more beautiful Oregon woods, with a lot of twisty road that the Cadillac was not really suited for, into northern California, where it got twistier and less suitable and more filled with big giant trees:

Until we emerged from the redwoods onto the legendary Pacific Coast Highway:

The dogs got their first ever dip in the Pacific Ocean, we got some incredible Mexican food, and scored a campsite where we could hear waves crashing all night- driving across the country always feels weird, but it has never hit me as hard as it did when we first emerged onto that cliff above the ocean.  We just missed the sunset by our campsite but got some amazing views anyway:

~450 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 8:30 a.m.

Day 9

PCH to Santa Cruz

If you intend to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, I recommend windshield sprayers and the ability to corner at a decent speed.  The Cadillac has neither, so it was slow but still enjoyable progress as we repeatedly stopped to clean salt spray off the windshield or let faster traffic pass:

We made a stop at Muir Beach as well for a little hike along the water:

Before heading away from the coast for a bit to visit some friends near San Francisco:

Followed by yet more friends down in Santa Cruz, where we enjoyed a sunset view, Thai food, and a much needed break from driving:

~260 miles

Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
10/11/21 8:32 a.m.

I love it!  Looks like a fun adventure and mad props for going after it (again) in an old rig.  You are more brave than me!

Erich UberDork
10/11/21 8:34 a.m.

Great trip writeup so far, I've visited a number of these places and no photos can really capture them. What's your favorite stop so far? We loved Crater Lake, Yellowstone, and Redwoods. 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 8:45 a.m.

Day 10

Santa Cruz to Lake Tahoe

I changed the oil filter on the Cadillac out for one that I had shipped to Santa Cruz, electing not to drain the oil since we had already burned about 2 gallons of it at this point so it was effectively self changing.  Then we went out for breakfast, and got a hike in the wildfire damaged woods before departing in the early afternoon:

We even stopped at In-N-Out for dinner, a first for Sara:

I think at this point in the trip I was feeling a little too confident- things were going well, we were rested, had just had a fun visit with friends, we were all full of cheap burger energy, and probably some other excuses I can't think of right now.  So I was pushing it, and it bit me- I was attempting to hold a steady 80mph over Donner Pass when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw smoke- a LOT of smoke.  I pulled off immediately and found transmission fluid dripping onto the exhaust, branding the inside of my forearm on the catalytic converter in the process of figuring out where it was coming from.  I cooked my freaking arm on Donner Pass.

As luck would have it, there was an O'Reilly's closing in 5min 20miles away and Sara had one bar of cell service so we called ahead and had them leave some trans cooler line outside for us after they closed.  I determined that the excess fluid was coming from either the dipstick tube or one of the trans lines, topped up the fluid level, and we were off.  The car didn't lose any more fluid, we picked up the extra trans cooler line that we didn't need, and decided to keep it to a cool 65mph when crossing big scary passes from then on.  Thunderbird guy from way back in Indiana also came to the digital rescue, providing us contact information for his family in the area, but luckily we didn't need it.  The car was fine, I had just pushed it too hard.

We found a cold campsite at Lake Tahoe, set up in the dark, and got some rest.

~270 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 8:46 a.m.
Erich said:

Great trip writeup so far, I've visited a number of these places and no photos can really capture them. What's your favorite stop so far? We loved Crater Lake, Yellowstone, and Redwoods. 

Glacier all the way for us- if we had to pick one to go back to for a full week that would be it.  They're all incredible though.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 8:57 a.m.

Day 11

Lake Tahoe to Craters of the Moon

We got a very brief sunrise glimpse of Lake Tahoe and took off across Nevada.  For some reason the entirety of the Nevada portion of the trip felt unfriendly, but we were just crossing a big desert on a pretty empty highway so who knows, leftover ghosts maybe.  Grabbed some food at "Cowpoke Eats" before turning north again to get back into Idaho for just a bit, turning off of the big highway onto a two lane road that the wind kept trying to push us off of.  I'm pretty sure this is also where the crack in the windshield came from, as there were a large number of hay and mining trucks in the oncoming lane throwing all sorts of crap off of them as they passed.

Eventually this detour paid off in the form of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, a big expanse of lava rock in the middle of nowhere:

The scenery was amazing and it is so incredibly quiet there, I assume because of the porous rock eating all of the sound.  There were also bats everywhere the moment the sun went down, so we hung out and watched them, observed the almost perfectly clear sky, and had the quietest camping experience ever- I remember the zippers on the tent jingling in a light breeze as the loudest thing, other than a single owl in the distance.

~580 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 9:06 a.m.

Day 12

Craters of the Moon to Somewhere in Nebraska

Leaving Craters of the Moon sends you past the Idaho National Lab and some experimental nuclear reactor sites, which was neat but wow does INL apparently employ a lot of people who head to work around 5am- we had oncoming headlights the entire way out!  Then we crossed through Wyoming again, taking some of the Oregon Trail Scenic Byway, and stopped by Bear Lake in Utah for a bit:

Everyone seemed to enjoy it:

It was good that we had that fun stop, because driving across Nebraska is pretty awful.  Most of it smells bad too, and I was a little jealous of the back seat occupants who got to just sleep it away:

We camped just off the highway at some place we probably shouldn't have bothered to pay for- the constant truck noises was a pretty unpleasant contrast to the silence of the night before.

~900 miles

Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter)
Snowdoggie (Forum Supporter) Dork
10/11/21 9:07 a.m.

Nice set up for hauling the dogs. Mine like a matress in the back of the Jeep XJ.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 9:13 a.m.

Day 13

Somewhere in Nebraska to St. Louis

We got breakfast at a small 24hr diner, which was actually pretty good considering the cook/server/only employee's warnings about the inedibility of some of the menu items- taking his recommendations on what to order paid off.  Once we escaped Nebraska, we took a slightly more rural route into St. Louis, where Sara grew up, to visit family and friends.  Other than the tires beginning to get alarmingly worn, the Cadillac was doing just fine and we had a pretty nice drive into town:

Oh, and Kila is from St. Louis too:

We got some toasted ravioli too, a must when in town:

~580 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 9:19 a.m.

Day 14

St. Louis

The whole day was spent cruising around St. Louis, where the Cadillac received many thumbs up and we saw more family and friends.

And finished the day off right with some dessert:

~90 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 9:24 a.m.

Day 15

St. Louis to Kentucky

It's possible, but not fun, to drive from St. Louis to our home in eastern PA in one day, so we broke up the drive with yet another friend visit down in Kentucky.  This also let us drop by the big Horse Park, where Ridley was adopted during a horse show something like a decade ago:

We spent the night at a horse farm which was converted from its' original use as a tobacco farm in only a few months:

~400 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 9:27 a.m.

Day 16

Kentucky to Home

I know the posts have gotten shorter and shorter, and this is no exception.  We wanted to get home, so despite the now almost completely bald tires and a rainstorm we made good time through the states in between:

Arrived, snapped photo, grabbed dinner, slept for 12 hours straight.

~620 miles

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 9:32 a.m.

Some Numbers

Total distance: 8245 miles

Fuel burned: ~611 gallons

Oil burned: ~3.2 gallons

National Parks and Monuments: 15

State Parks: 3

Nights Camping: 9

Avg. Lodging Cost: $24/night

Avg. Speed across 15 days driving (exclude STL break day): 23 mph including time spent sleeping

Max Elevation: 9658 ft

Max Grade: 18%

Warning zones traversed: Tsunami, Fire, Tornado, Avalanche

volvoclearinghouse PowerDork
10/11/21 10:04 a.m.

900 miles in the first day is...impressive.  We've found 3-400 to be a good sweet spot for a day's worth of driving, especially in a road-going vehicle "of a certain age". 

A friend of mine in high school had a '77 Caddy.  The 2 door version, 425 big block, triple brown.  We called it "Opulent Splendor".  I don't think he ever managed double-digit fuel economy with it, but then, he also wasn't reknowned for his mechanical proficiency.  The car died an untimely death when he forgot to check the oil...for like 6 months. 

irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/11/21 10:06 a.m.

So what I hear you saying is that it was an awesome trip but you should have borrowed my Porsche to do it for all the roads that it would have made more fun and double the MPGs :) not sure the dogs would have fit as well though!

I am taking notes for the continued planning of my trip that I will probably never get around to doing.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
10/11/21 10:10 a.m.

In reply to irish44j (Forum Supporter) :

What fuel does the Porsche require?  In some parts of rural Wyoming all we could get was 85 octane, which could be a problem for some stuff.

But yes... next time, faster and more efficient car.  Luckily there is a lot of stuff that checks both those boxes.  cheeky

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