Friday, July 8, 2016

The Big Move

From June 26 until July 2, we drove across the country, reversing last year's move from Ohio to California and tacking on a bit more distance for good measure. Two cars, four people (my parents flew out to California and very generously made the drive with us), two pet rabbits and a turtle, and way too many house plants... and all this for ~3,000 miles, over a planned six days that turned into seven when one of our cars required mechanical attention in Wyoming. My goodness. I still can't quite believe we pulled it off.

Having done an almost-as-lengthy move last year, I had at least some idea of what I was getting myself into, and this time I decided to take greater advantage of the sights along the way. After all, when will I be driving across the country again? (If I have my way: never, ever, ever.) We were on a pretty tight schedule, so there wasn't really any time for serious sightseeing, but we planned our brief rest stops at as many scenic places as we could (mostly along I-80), and we ended up seeing lots of cool things. Here's a map of the trip -- red dots are overnight stops, black lines are places where the pictures in this post come from... and for a spoiler of what's coming next, look at where we ended up!

About halfway through our first day of driving, we stopped off at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, in the Sacramento Valley of California. It was blazingly hot in the refuge (goodbye temperate coastal climate), and a family of very noisy Western Kingbirds was panting in the heat:

This stop also featured the briefest glimpse of a Black-tailed Jackrabbit as it loped across the path:

By late afternoon that same day, we were up in the mountains at Donner Pass, near California's border with Nevada. This was the first of several rest stops where we found abundant and active rodent populations -- I'm sure the presence of people and their food was a big factor in this! Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels were particularly plentiful here:

Large rocks in the glacial meadow at this rest stop were popular lookout spots for these little creatures:

Several chipmunks (I'm unsure of the species) were running around in this meadow as well:

Halfway through the second day -- again, in blistering heat -- we stopped at Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah. I don't know that I've ever seen such an alien landscape:

While this place looked entirely barren at first glance, there was actually quite a bit going on. A Common Raven flew overhead, panting:

A female dragonfly -- with the male dragonfly attached -- was depositing eggs on the surface of what I assume was a very salty pool:

From some angles, the two dragonflies looked more like one super-bug:

And I was absolutely delighted by a little Wilson's Phalarope who was foraging in this same pool; this was a totally new bird for me, and its (her?) costume and manner made her very endearing:

She kept swimming in tight circles and snatching up bit of food. I learned later that phalaropes spin to create whirlpools that bring small invertibrates up to the water's surface. What an awesome bird:

Here's a brief video of this phalarope hunting like phalaropes do:

Later that afternoon, we stopped at Echo Canyon in northeastern Utah, where the landscape was about as different from the salt flats as possible:

This place was such an interesting combination of inviting green brush and dramatic cliff faces:

Continuing the theme of rodent abundance, the Echo Canyon rest stop was home to a thriving colony of Uinta Ground Squirrels, which are also apparently called Potguts. :)

These little creatures were very bold and VERY loud, emitting ear-piercing tones right at us from a few feet away. Ah, the life of a potgut looks pretty good from here:

Our planned overnight stay in Rock Springs, Wyoming became a day-long visit while we waited for my car to be fixed. Well, that just gave us the chance to explore another totally bizarre landscape. These rock formations were across the street from our hotel:

I'm certainly not used to seeing cactus flowers in the wild, and this cactus's serious spines were a cool bonus:

We also met a lovely cottontail rabbit (species unknown) during our further adventures in Rock Springs:

On Day 6, we made it to the Mississippi river:

And this was where I really started to feel like we were returning to the east, with Blue Jays calling and other familiar sights all around. A male Indigo Bunting sang from his mostly-concealed perch:

A damselfly snacked on a smaller (newly molted?) bug:

But of course we weren't entirely back in the east yet. An American White Pelican glided in a perfectly smooth and straight line overhead, and it took us all a moment to realize we weren't looking at a plane or kite or something mechanical:

And there's my snapshot of our cross-country trip! A more leisurely pace -- with more time for side adventures, especially out west -- might have been nice, but we were eager to make it to our destination. I'm so very grateful that the trip went as smoothly as it did. And now it's over. And now we're here. And there is so much to explore! More soon!


  1. A pelican? I thought they were much farther south than you guys went. Where did you see him?

    Love that indigo bunting and the kingbird and the jackrabbit!

    1. The pelican was at the Mississippi River, on the border between Iowa and Illinois. I'm looking at a distribution map and it looks like these guys are pretty common in the northern midwest. It was a big impressive bird!

  2. Looking forward to hearing about your destination!