14 Day Chicago to Denver Road Trip Adventure with a side of Colorado Springs

Follow along a fourteen day road trip from Chicago to Denver with stops at the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi, America's mountain, one-lane two-way roads, and more.

The drive from Chicago to Denver is approximately fifteen hours. Technically, it could be done in one day, but unless you’re on a tight schedule, why would you do that to yourself? 

For one thing, it’s not a good idea to spend that long driving. For another, I-80 is not the most scenic route.

Despite that, after I was invited to speak and exhibit at the Denver Travel and Adventure Show, Mr. TLT and I decided to drive. Being seasoned road trippers, we made an adventure out of it.

Our fourteen-day Chicago to Denver road trip (technically Lake in the Hills) was a round-about route that included a river town, the oldest continuously-operating restaurant west of the Mississippi, one-lane two-way roads, America’s mountain, and dives into our ancestry.

We stayed in hotels, motels, and one of the country’s most beautiful resorts. We also took it slow. Well, slow for us.

Follow along with this daily road trip log from the Chicago area to Denver and back.

Just be careful: after you read it, you’ll be ready to plan your own Colorado adventure.

Going on a road trip? Don’t miss these road trip essentials.

Chicago to Denver Road Trip

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Day 1: Chicago suburbs to Hannibal and Monroe City, Missouri

Jim christened our Chicago to Denver road trip the anti-FAM trip. FAM is short for familiarization, and it’s shorthand for press trips.

Whether I’m hosted by a destination or exploring on my own, I usually try to do as much as I possibly can, going from sunrise to sunset (and often beyond). When I travel, I want to do and see EVERYTHING.

Not this time.

This time, we decided to go a little slower. Take it a little easier. While I love completely immersing myself, if our first day was any indication, I could get used to this more relaxed style.

Case in point: our unstructured visit to Hannibal, Missouri.

If you know Mark Twain, you’ve heard of this storybook town. Following my own advice, our first stop was to the visitor center, and Trish gave us some stellar advice:

See Samuel Clemens’ boyhood home? Check.

Whitewash a fence? Check.

Tom Sawyer Fence in Hannibal Missouri, boyhood home of Samuel Clemens

Free ice cream cone at the Amish market? Check.

Native American Trading Company? Check.

That last one surprised us, but Trish told us the owner works directly with Native American tribes and has for years.

The gallery was filled with art, jewelry, clothing, and more from Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, and other peoples. Judy (I think that’s her name) told us the owner travels west frequently to work with the artists.

Native American Trading Company in Hannibal Missouri, one of the surprising places we found on our Chicago to Denver Road Trip

She and Donna were a hoot. They were fun and warm, and I’m not just saying that because Judy said I have a pretty face (and Jim’s not so bad himself). It’s because meeting people like those two is one of my favorite parts of travel.

We walked to the river and watched a train roll by. Then we made one last stop at Riverside Park.

Statue of Samuel Clemens at the helm in Hannibal Missouri

By 6:30 we’d changed into our pajamas and were eating Casey’s Taco Pizza (if you know, you know) in bed while watching Wheel of Fortune.

It was a very good first day.

Where we stayed: Fairbridge Inn Express in Monroe City, MO

Day 2: Monroe City, Missouri to Emporia, Kansas

Casey's taco pizza for breakfast

Day 2 was another day in my new slower-travel life. We began with leftover taco pizza for breakfast and then headed west on 36 to Kansas City. As soon as I knew we’d be driving through KC, I contacted Sage of Everyday Wanderer to see if she’d be available. She was!

Knowing that KC is the barbecue capital, I asked her for recommendations. In true travel writer form, she offered several options, and not just with names and locations.

Sage provided details, like this one’s the oldest, this one was founded by a classically-trained chef, this one’s the original spot for barbecue in the city. She also indicated which would be closest to our route.

I picked Q39, the one known for its chef and its brisket. While normally I would have chosen the one that started the whole ‘que craze in KC, it was more out of the way and we had a date with my past.

Jim went with the burnt ends burger and I chose a combo of pulled pork and brisket with white bean cassoulet. Delicious, but even better was spending time with a colleague and friend whom I like and admire.

combo of pulled pork and brisket with white bean cassoulet at Q39 in Kansas City, Missouri

People are why I love travel, and Sage is one of those people. (You should follow her, if you don’t. Her photos will give you INSANE wanderlust!)

After lunch, we continued to Emporia and the Lyon County History Center. I’d recently discovered during my trip to Fort Wayne that my great-great-great-great-grandfather built the first house in Plymouth, just west of Emporia.

I contacted the history center and William did some research. He didn’t find a lot, and one of the books was the one Elizabeth at the Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne had found, but it was more than I could have found on my own. Plus, they sold that book in their gift shop.

Yes, I bought one.

Lyon County History Center in Emporia Kansas

We then found John and Achsah’s graves in Cottonwood Cemetery. If you’d told me a month ago that I’d find the graves of my ancestors in a tiny cemetery in Kansas, I would have thanked you for the story. 

And yet, there they were. My ancestors.

Gravestone of Achsah Carter, my great-great-great-great-grandmother
Achsah Carter, my great-great-great-great-grandmother
John Carter gravestone
John Carter, my great-great-great-great-grandfather

Across the road was Cottonwood Friends, and I’m assuming it’s the Quaker house my family attended.

Heritage travel is cool.

Both Sage and Roxie of Roxie on the Road had recommended Radius Brewing for dinner. We made it in time for happy hour ($3 pints and discounted small plates). It was only five and we were still sated from our barbecue, so we had a small plate and ordered a dinner to go.

Beer at Radius Brewing in Emporia Kansas

Once again, we were checked in and wearing our pajamas by 6:30. 

Is this how I want to travel every day? No. But for this trip, this foray into my past and towards an intense tradeshow weekend and speaking event, it was perfect.

Day Two. Another good day.

Where we stayed: Comfort Inn & Suites, Emporia, KS

Day 3: Emporia to Goodland, Kansas

Kansas blew us away – almost literally!

The day began with a super exciting visit to Walmart and ALDI for ice and soft drinks. I also needed a brush. I have so much hair I needed to buy a brush! Pretty soon I’m going to need a ponytail holder. I may buy a bottle of bubbly to celebrate that milestone.


We passed my ancestors’ cemetery and continued west. Intense winds buffeted the car. We saw a brown sign: historical marker! Imagine my delight when I realized it was the same one my good friend and I had stopped at in 2010.

Theresa posing with an historical marker on the backroads of rural Kansas

At Strong City, the Flint Hills Scenic Byway took us to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. We’d hiked there in 2017, but there was no way we were hiking this time. The wind was blow-curly-hair-straight strength.

Instead we explored the visitor center, which is temporarily in the Spring Hill Ranch House, built in 1881 by Stephen and Louisa Jones.

Inside the Spring Hill Ranch House, built in 1881 by Stephen and Louisa Jones, now the site of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Next: lunch at the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi.

Seth Hays, Daniel Boone’s great-grandson, opened a restaurant and trading post on the Santa Fe Trail in 1857.

Hays House 1857 Restaurant & Tavern has been feeding people in Council Grove ever since. We found his house, as well as a bur oak that first sprouted in 1776.

Hays House 1857 Restaurant & Tavern

We left Council Grove and drove through a fierce, but quick, rainstorm on the way to I-70. After that it was smooth sailing with blue skies and another rest area cum tourist attraction.

A random stop for gas took us off the highway and right past a giant sculpture of Buffalo Bill aiming his rifle at a bison.

Statue at the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center in Oakley, Kansas

Finally around 7pm, 6pm Mountain Time, we made it to Goodland. Checked in. Made the obligatory visit to the giant Van Gogh. Revisited Jim’s childhood with carry-out from Taco Johns.

Van Gogh painting and sculpture in Goodland Kansas

Our accommodations the first two nights were decent. On the fourth night, they’d be extraordinary.

Where we stayed: you don’t want to know.

Day 4: Goodland, Kansas to Colorado Springs, Colorado

I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll start at the beginning.

It was only 7 in the morning when we got back on I-70. We were both excited to get to Colorado Springs and anxious to get out of our hotel.

(Let’s just say we bought a candle to diffuse the smell.)

It worked out, because by 10 we’d reached one of the most luxurious and iconic resorts in the country:

The Broadmoor.

After the madcap rush that is valets and bellhops at a place like that, we were in a shuttle on our way to Seven Falls. We’re suckers for waterfalls.

This one? (Or seven, I should say.) It’s claimed to be a National Geographic International Waterfall. We tried to arrive early because it was supposed to rain in the afternoon. It didn’t.

It snowed.

But during our walk towards the falls from the entrance, which is about eight tenths of a mile, the snow was gorgeous. Certainly better than rain.

We got to the falls and looked at the stairs. 224 of them. Could I do this? Could I climb them? I highly doubted it. I’m ten months post-radiation and still not in the best shape. Where I live, the elevation is 869 feet. Colorado Springs? Nearly 7,000.

I’ll try it, I thought.

The first steps were harrowing. I’ve never been afraid of heights in my life; suddenly I couldn’t look down.

But my fear of dying was less than my fear of not living, so I climbed. And climbed. And climbed.

Hike to Seven Falls in Colorado Springs Colorado
Seven Falls in Colorado Springs Colorado
Halfway up Seven Falls in Colorado Springs
This is only halfway!
Seven Falls from Eagle Point

My cheeks still hurt from grinning. I did it! I climbed to the top of The Broadmoor Seven Falls! I climbed back down! And I saw something absolutely breathtaking, and (more important to me) did not keep my husband from seeing something absolutely breathtaking.

We got back to the hotel and our room was ready. We relaxed for a bit. I went to the Hotel Bar, got a martini, sat in the shadow of a Maxfield Parrish (which may or may not be real) and watched teenagers in tuxes and gowns pose for pictures.

Then, dinner. A delightful multi-course meal overlooking Cheyenne Lake at Ristorante del Lago. One of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Prosciutto-wrapped salmon at Ristorante del Lago

We retired to our room. Lounged in our robes and ate chocolate covered strawberries.

Decadent. Magical.

Our day ended as it began: with anticipation. But also with gratitude and a feeling of accomplishment, certainty, and love.

That’s how each day should end, I believe. Hope for tomorrow and satisfaction with today.

Where we stayed: The Broadmoor

Day 5: Colorado Springs, Colorado

We woke up to snow.

Instead of eliciting the grunts and complaints of home, this display evoked wonder. I flung open the French doors and marveled at the fairy-tale setting of white-topped evergreens and a pink sun rising across the lake.

Sunrise over The Broadmoor

I couldn’t dally, though. We had a 7:30am tour of The Broadmoor on our agenda.

It was a quick tour. We learned about the resort’s founder, Spencer Penrose, who was by all accounts quite a character. We learned about the grounds, the golf courses, the swans, and Bottle Alley.

With every new fact, I grew more enchanted.

The Broadmoor in the morning

Our tour was short because we had tickets to ride the The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Upon arriving, we learned the train would not reach the summit due to weather.

While we could have elected to ride partway, we knew we’d be here the rest of the week, so we pushed our tickets back a day.

We drove to Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum and learned about the people who were in Colorado way way way before Europeans and way before there was a Colorado.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum

While the dwellings are original, their location isn’t; they’re originally from the Mesa Verde area.

We explored the museum and the dwellings, and then drove back to The Broadmoor to have lunch and check out.

Lunch was at The Golden Bee, a 19th-century British Pub that was moved lock, stock, and panels from England by way of New York. (There is some question about the specifics. I’ll have to dig into it. Oh, darn!)

Crackers with cheddar spread, French onion soup, cheddar ale soup, and a shared serving of fish and chips filled us up before walking back to the resort for sorbet, raspberry for him and pear champagne for me.

French onion soup at the Golden Bee

We picked up a jar of the honey we’d had with our fontina the night before, checked out, and said goodbye.

Sigh. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Except… We were headed to our rental house for the next four nights. I’ve never rented a vacation home before so I didn’t quite know what to expect. I hoped the place matched the pictures.

It did! It did!

Dining room of rental house in Colorado Springs

We got settled in. Jim rested and I walked half a mile to a local brewery and had some of the best beers I’ve tried.

I walked back. We ate cheese and charcuterie while relaxing on the couch with a fire blazing.

This day could have gone sideways when our morning plans changed, but we knew there were other things we could do. Flexibility is key. As long as we were together, we knew we were going to have fun.

Where we stayed Days 5 – 9: Sleek Old Colorado City Home

Day 6: Colorado Springs

We tried to ride the cog railway, but on the way they sent a text message letting us know that they wouldn’t be going to the summit. We elected to reschedule, again.

One, I really wanted to see the summit, and two, there are no bathrooms on the train cars. It’s wise to drink a lot of water at that elevation, so…

Jim noticed we happened to be right by the Manitou Springs Visitor Center when I got the text. We pulled into the parking lot next to a giant green question mark.

Inside, Kayla gave us tips on exploring her town, including recommending Rocky Mountain Beignets. She said that once they opened, she started noticing powdered sugar all over the sidewalks. I thanked her for the heads up because now I knew not to wear black on the day we’d be exploring.

Before we left, she gave us a couple collapsible cups so we could try the famed mineral waters ourselves.

That would be another day. We’d originally planned to drive to Royal Gorge Bridge before the cog rescheduling, so that’s where we went.

Wow. The first sight of that gaping chasm carved by the Arkansas River and the suspension bridge floating 1,000 feet in the air shocks the system. And to think they built that bridge in 1929, with no deaths or injuries.

It’s quite the complex, with a zipline, a giant swing, a playland with a carousel, and a gondola. The ticket taker advised taking the gondola first because it stopped at the highest point.

Trams over the Royal Gorge Bridge
Royal Gorge Bridge

We watched the short film and walked across the bridge. At eighteen feet wide, it’s not scary in the slightest (at least, it wasn’t for us).

After a quick stop in Cañon City, Colorado for a smoothie, we drove the short, but SUPER narrow, Skyline Drive. It’s only 2 ½ miles long, but what a 2 ½ miles.

At the top we chatted with a couple of dudes on motorcycles. One of them’s going to Chicago this summer, so I gave him some tips.

Then, back on the road. An hour later we were at the grocery store buying provisions for dinner. There was more I wanted to see, but one thing I’ve learned is to pay attention to my body.

I was exhausted. Sun, wind, altitude, climbing, thousands more steps daily than I’d walked at home all added up to one tired Theresa.

I’m embracing this slow(er) travel mindset.

Plus, this entire trip, while fun and providing loads of material for stories, was entirely centered around the Travel and Adventure Show.

The next day we’d try to ride the cog again. Would the third time be the charm? If not, we had one more day and plenty to keep us entertained.

Day 7: Colorado Springs

How do you cap off the first week of a Colorado road trip? By summiting Pikes Peak, that’s how.

Breakfast was ham, egg, and white cheddar on toasted sourdough rounds before driving towards Manitou Springs, fingers crossed. On the way I could see the peak of Pikes Peak, so I was optimistic that we’d be able to take the cog railway to the top.

And we did! We could feel the altitude change almost immediately. I’d get slightly queasy and feel a headache coming on, and that would be my cue to drink more water.

(Until I learned not to let it get to that point. It was hard to focus on drinking when the views outside were so stunning.)

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway

The seating is tight. Basically, you hope you like the people you’re with, because you get real cozy on the ride up.

We happened to be seated with three staff members on their way to work. Talk about a commute! We learned they make the coffee and hot chocolate and it takes about half an hour to get it all ready. We’d already been advised to skip the “world famous” doughnuts.

You only get about forty minutes on the summit, and believe me, after going to the bathroom and refilling your water bottle, you’ll need every one of those. Even moving quickly, we didn’t make it all the way around the top.

At the peak of Pikes Peak
View from Pikes Peak

TLTip: visit the interpretive center inside, but take pictures to read the placards later. The views are the point of this ride!

We’d talked about driving up to the summit as well, but as soon as we saw that tiny narrow strip of asphalt, we both said no freaking way. So did the powers that be, since it wasn’t open.

Because we’d left the staff at the peak, we had open seats in our row and invited our neighbors across the aisle to spread out if they wanted to.

The ride down seemed much shorter, probably aided by friendly conversation, and before we knew it the train was back at the depot.

That altitude is no joke, and we decided to take Jim back to the house. I drove six blocks to Old Colorado City, and after walking around a bit, found brewery number two out of the three near our rental home.

Kristina helped me pick a beer I’d love and I sipped on that, ate fennel apple salad and fried bread-and-butter pickles and sent out my weekly newsletter.

I was back at the house by five. We had a quiet evening, and were so tired could only be bothered to make a bagged Caesar salad for dinner.

The next day would be a doozie. I loved this slow, more relaxed way of traveling, but It would be our last day in Colorado Springs and I had a LOT to see. I had to be careful not to overdo it, though. The next day we set up for the show.

Day 8: Colorado Springs

It was our fifth day in Colorado Springs. Besides visits to see our parents, we’d never stayed in one place for that long.

My plan was to see Helen Hunt Falls. I plugged it into Google Maps and it took me down a one-lane red dirt road. I probably should have followed my own advice and used a paper map, or at least had an idea of where I was headed.

Or maybe not, because instead I got to drive Gold Camp Road, a winding narrow road up the side of a mountain, through tunnels and around blind bends, passing the rare cyclist, pulling over to hear the silence high above the city.

At first I was nervous because this one-lane road was not one-way, but I managed to get to a parking lot at the top without passing a single vehicle.

Entrance to Gold Camp Road in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Lone cyclist on Gold Camp Road

From there I could have hiked to the falls, but the sign said it was a mile and a half and I had no service; Jim would have no idea where I was. The road that would have taken me closer was closed. So, I turned around and made my way back down.

This time I encountered a few other drivers, and it was then I noticed the several pull-offs. We all followed one-lane etiquette: wait patiently and wave and nod as we pass.

My adventure complete, I picked Jim up and we drove to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. That hadn’t been terribly high on my list, but Krista from The Broadmoor had told us not to miss it.

Giraffe at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

I’m glad we listened, because that zoo is AMAZING.

You’re immediately greeted by giraffes. For $3, you can feed them. There are lions and zebras, meerkats and wallabies. The zoo’s name is descriptive: it’s on the side of Cheyenne Mountain. This flatlander felt every step of the incline, but it was worth it.

After communing with the animals, we drove through the zoo to the Shrine of the Sun. Spencer Penrose, founder of The Broadmoor, built it to honor Will Rogers. The cowboy philosopher is buried there.

Shrine of the Sun

It’s pretty to look at from the outside, but be sure to go inside and climb to the top. There are rooms with displays every couple of flights so you can catch your breath.

And then lose it again when you see the view.

View of Colorado Springs from Shrine of the Sun

Next up: Garden of the Gods. We ordered bison burgers at the historic trading post, then drove to the Visitor Center. That initial sight – Pikes Peak shining in the distance, slabs of red rock jutting from the earth – is to behold the very forces that shaped the earth.

Then we got up close and personal with those vertical skipping stones, strolling paved paths as the sun began to set.

Garden of the Gods

We made one final stop for beignets and from-the-source mineral water in Manitou Springs before heading back to the house for our last evening at our rental house. This was such a fantastic place that I asked the owner if I could interview her.

I’d say our last full day in Colorado Springs was a good one.

Day 9: Colorado Springs to Denver

Last day in Colorado Springs. I’d been getting up at five anyway, but this time I put clothes on and headed out. I wanted to see the sunrise.

When our server at Radius Brewing in Emporia found out where we were headed, she said I had to get Dutch Bros. Coffee, so that morning I did.

Coffee in the center console, I drove the ten minutes to Garden of the Gods Overlook, plucked my blanket from the back seat, and found a seat on a rocky bench. The sun slowly painted Pikes Peak, then the tree line, then the red fins jutting from the earth.

Sunrise at Garden of the Gods

I drove through the park, tempted to take Rampart Range Road, another one-laner, but I didn’t have all day. Instead, I stopped in Manitou Springs and finished locating all the fountains for which it’s named.

One of the mineral springs in Manitou Springs

When I walked in the door, Jim said, “I’m calling an audible.” While checking my location, he’d noticed something we simply had to visit.

But first, we stopped at the Pikes Peak Attraction Center. We’d checked in at so many places that I won a nice stainless steel water bottle.

After that it was a short drive to Penrose Heritage Museum, where we oohed and aahed over Spencer and Julie’s collection of phaetons, drags, and other carriages.

A large portion of the museum tells the story of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, including a dramatic wreck in 2012. Miraculously, both the driver and passenger walked away from the crumpled heap.

Inside Penrose Heritage Museum

We drove east, towards the airport. What Jim had found was the National Museum of World War II Aviation. His uncle had flown a P-38 in the Asian theater and never came home. Jim had never seen one of the planes in person. No wonder, since there aren’t many left.

This museum not only has a flying P-38, it has one that flew in the war.
It was an emotional visit, made easier by conversations with the veterans and volunteers who keep those memories alive.

P-38 at the National Museum of World War II Aviation

Our last stop in Colorado Springs was at Costco to pick up several pounds of candy, a.k.a. bribery, for the show and to fill the gas tank. We set up most of our booth, checked into our hotel, ordered dinner in, and went to bed early.

The next day the reason for this trip would begin. Were we ready?


Where we stayed Days 9 – 11: Hyatt Place Denver Downtown

Days 10 – 11: Denver

Here it was – the reason we’d made the drive from Illinois to Colorado. But just like our 2017 cross-country trek to San Diego and back had resulted in my first book, I knew this road trip was more than just transportation to a trade show.

We’d uncovered multiple stories, both about places and my past, and I looked forward to getting back home so I could tell them.

But first, the show.

We didn’t know what to expect. The San Diego crowd is slightly different from the Chicago crowd. What would Denver be like?

Turns out, Denver folks are pretty nice. We met hundreds of them, including a woman who grew up in the same Indiana town I did and several who were planning their own epic road trips.

The Local Tourist booth at the Denver Travel & Adventure Show

During my presentation I mentioned our visit the day before to the National Museum of World War II Aviation, and a man in the audience came to our booth afterwards to tell us a P-38 pilot had saved his dad’s life.

These are the stories that connect us, that fill my soul.

We didn’t see any of Denver besides the convention center, the parking garage, and the Rockies out our hotel room window, and we’re fine with that.

Day 12: Denver to Omaha, Nebraska

Monday was a driving day. We needed to be in Omaha that night and were on the road by nine. Rain fell. Then turned to snow.

For the next several hours we drove through gentle swells with dry grass sprinkled like powdered sugar. Occasionally we’d pass green fields. There wasn’t a tree in sight until somewhere in Nebraska.

Snow covered fields in northeastern Colorado

We made it to our hotel in downtown Omaha, walked a block to Upstream Brewing Company, and had a delightful dinner with Lisa and Tim Trudell of The Walking Tourists.

Before we knew it, it was after nine and time to turn in. The next day would be a busy one. It would be Jim’s turn to explore his family’s past.

Where we stayed: Hyatt Place Downtown Omaha

Day 13: Omaha, Nebraska to Fort Dodge, Iowa

Day 13 had an alarming start – literally.

I’d been up about an hour when suddenly a horn blared and a recorded voice told us to get out of the building immediately. So what did I do? Start packing.

Jim, being the voice of reason that he is, very calmly suggested that I might not want to carry my suitcase down ten flights of stairs.

We left our room and passed two hotel employees as they approached a door three down from ours. I could hear the alarm from inside the room. We kept going, exiting at street level.

When we filed back in with a few other guests, we learned that the steam from the shower had set off the alarm.

That’s one heck of a shower.

Definitely awake, we collected ourselves and got ready to leave. It would be a shorter drive – only three hours to Fort Dodge. Along the way, we followed Tim Trudell’s suggestion and visited the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball.

We met Kerrie and Tiffany from the Fort Dodge Convention and Visitors Bureau at Tea Thyme for lunch. It’s an adorable, family owned restaurant and boutique.

My broccoli cheddar soup and salad with chicken and raspberry vinaigrette were great, but the desserts stole the show: brownie with mint chocolate chip ice cream and Thin Mints for me, and Snickers cheesecake for Jim.

I tell you, that dessert is a Peanut Buster Parfait in cheesecake form and four days later I was still dreaming of it.

Snickers cheesecake at Tea Thyme in Fort Dodge

I had to leave them in the restaurant for a bit while I took a call in the car. That morning a national publication had emailed me asking if they could interview me about saving money on a road trip.

“I understand you’ve even written books about it.”

Why yes, yes I have:

Planning Your Perfect Road Trip cover

Planning Your Perfect Road Trip

Are road trips in your travel plans? Lucky you! Planning a road trip is exciting. The freedom. The anticipation. The lure of adventure. It’s all part of the experience.

What shouldn’t be part of the experience? Stress! Planning Your Perfect Road Trip will make planning your adventure easy, whether you’re going away for a weekend or taking a much longer getaway.

Forty minutes later, we drove to the star of our Fort Dodge show: the library.

Kerrie had arranged appointments with both the Webster County Genealogical Society and the Historical Society so we could look into Jim’s ancestry. Susan had already done some research and had a folder ready for him.

Then the fun really began. Jim got to look through stacks of Assessor’s Records from the late 1800s. We were both trepidatious and felt like we should be wearing white gloves.

Assessor's records for Webster County

There he was. Jim’s great-great-grandfather. As we looked through the frail records, we could almost trace from one year to the next quantifiable aspects of his ancestors’ lives.

Jim finds his great-great-grandfather

After these discoveries, we ogled a house designed by Solon Spencer Beman (Chicago’s Fine Arts Building) then toured Vincent House, the oldest structure in Fort Dodge. Its first residents included Iowa’s first suffragette.

Then we went on a headstone hunt. While we didn’t find Jim’s great-great grandfather’s, we did find several Goodriches.

Dinner was a true treat: Korean at Gaga and Hoo, followed by two desserts. One to eat and one to hear; the owner serenaded us.

Korean at Gaga and Hoo

Fort Dodge’s new brand is Dodge the Ordinary. Definitely appropriate.

Where we stayed: Sleep Inn & Suites Fort Dodge

Day 14: Fort Dodge, Iowa to Home

The final stretch. This was the day we’d get home after two weeks on the road. Jim would stay and I’d turn around and leave again the next morning. Because of that, I was anxious to get going, but I knew we had a couple more things to see.

Fortunately the alarm that woke me was one I set, not one that had been tripped like the day before. We ate breakfast in the room, filled up the tank, then found the famous Fort Dodge Grain Silo Mural.

Fort Dodge Grain Silo Mural

I’d seen countless pictures of this mural, but nothing captures the grandeur of seeing it in person. At 110 feet high, it’s the largest mural in Iowa. Australian artist Guido van Helten completed the mural in 2018, portraying residents holding pottery in astonishing detail.

I imagined that if I could get close enough, I’d feel like I do viewing Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. The realistic images would become something unrecognizable. It takes distance to gain the proper perspective.

To me, a road trip does the opposite. By experiencing big cities, small towns, and rural destinations first hand, I get the bigger picture: we’re all more alike than different.

I’ve said often that people are my favorite reason to travel. Before we left, we needed to say goodbye to two that were perfect examples. We hadn’t gotten a picture with Kerrie and Tiffany from Fort Dodge’s convention and visitors bureau the day before, so we stopped by the office.

Bonus: we met Geneva, too! While there, we learned they were launching the new website she’d designed based on their new brand, Dodge the Ordinary.

A quick picture by Chronicle, a sculpture by Dan Perry, and we were off. Well, not before an even faster glimpse of The Fort Museum and Frontier Village. It was closed, but that was fine.

I needed to get home.

We pulled into our drive around four, I think. Jim ran out to fill the tank and pick up pizza while I did laundry. I packed, again, and fell asleep by 8:30.

It felt odd; we were home, but for me it was just a rest stop before I turned around and left again. But, because this was the end of that road trip, so ends this road trip log.

I’ll tell you about my Door County adventure another time.

I hope you enjoyed my Chicago to Denver road trip. Follow me on Facebook for more of my adventures.

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