Road Trip Diaries Part II: Dinosaur Discovery


During the last week in August, Ryan and I dropped the dogs off at boarding, packed up the Versa and embarked on a 5-day road trip through the southwest. Thousands of miles and 35 hours of driving took us through 5 states: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. Part II picks up as we were leaving Las Vegas.

High off of the stoke from learning that my iPad was returned safe and sound, I offered to drive for the first leg of the day as we headed from Nevada through a tiny corner of Arizona and into Utah.

The rest of Nevada was fairly desolate... Flat stretches of nothingness until we hit Mesquite, a border town between Nevada and Arizona which is full of golf courses, spas, and retirement homes. I felt like we could see all of Mesquite from the freeway and it wasn't too impressive. Which is good to know since I always see Groupon deals for weekend getaways there. Guess I can cross it off my list!

As we moved through Arizona into Utah though, the landscape started to get interesting. Gorgeous rock formations with bright colors lined the highway. In some sections, we drove on roads that felt like they were carved out of the rock, like little pavement rivers.

Entering Utah at the two hour mark, with even more stretches of rock before us, Ryan turned to me and said, "Do you think there were ever T Rexes walking through this exact place?" And thanks to road trip magic, a few miles later, we got our answer.

While we were busy debating what was or wasn't occupying Utah in the prehistoric days, we saw a sign on the side of the road that said, "Dinosaur Tracks Next Exit."

Um, done.

St. George's Dinosaur Discovery is tucked about 2 miles off Exit 6 on the 15 right after you enter Utah from Arizona. Driving through the quaint little town of St. George, the museum appeared pretty unceremoniously on the left side of the road. We were the second car in the parking lot and when we stepped inside the blissfully air conditioned space, we were greeted by a nice kid at the gift shop register.

After paying our $6 admission fees, the guy showed us over to a little seating area partitioned off by curtains where we watched a short movie about the history of the site. The site was discovered in 2000, when optometrist Dr. Sheldon Johnson was leveling his property to develop it. In the process, he discovered perfectly preserved tracks in the sandstone. And while they weren't T Rex tracks, they were still pretty awesome.

Today, the best preserved and most numerous dinosaur tracks in the world exist at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery. The Johnson family eventually donated the land so that scientists could study the fossils and tracks discovered there and so that the public could enjoy it.

We spent about 45 minutes at the museum, exploring the exhibit, touching real dinosaur footprints from a kabillion years ago, and checking out other neat/terrifying things like perfectly preserved skin impressions that suddenly made me want to rewatch Jurassic Park. All in all, it was well worth the detour... this little roadside attraction definitely made me feel like a kid again.

After I narrowly escaped a dinosaur attack, we headed out to explore a bit more of St. George, stopping first at the post office to mail ourselves a postcard, then at a nursery to see if there were any cool Utah plants we could bring home (there weren't).

And that was the last cool thing we saw in Utah.

Four or five hours of driving later, through flat grassy plains and past strange abandoned farmhouses that were almost certainly haunted or home to meth cookers, we stopped in Salina, population 2,393, to grab a bite at the "last place to eat for over a hundred miles."

There were the familiar options for food, like Burger King and Subway, but like good little road trippers, we continued into town about a mile to try some authentic Utahian food at a place called Mom's Cafe.

Besides.... Mom's has "the best food in town."

Pulling up, I literally felt like we were on a movie set for either a cowboy movie or some incredibly depressing indie film. The stretch of strip mall across from the cafe was largely abandoned, with for lease signs up in all of the windows. The only storefront that was operational was a video rental store... the first one I've seen in years. An older man with a white beard that was about a foot-long appeared out of nowhere and slowly ambled over to his truck, decked out in overalls and a cowboy hat.

A dry breeze came through and I half-expected a tumbleweed to roll across the street. When it didn't, we ignored the super creepy vibe and headed into the mostly empty restaurant.

Mom's, founded in 1926, seemed to be Salina's hot spot, since it contained about 15 people between staff and customers... which is almost 1% of population. The few patrons that were there were mostly older and they knew all the workers in the cafe. One family that was seated in the back room with us consisted of two parents and a teenage daughter. None of them talked to each other and the mother stared at me the whole time. A few grandparent-aged diners made their way back and forth to Mom's famous salad bar, full of canned everything and iceberg lettuce. Yum.

Our waitress, who was probably our age, was a refreshing burst of energy and conversation. I couldn't help but imagine what her day-to-day life is like in Salina and wonder why she stays there. I ordered the special of the day, a Chicken Pot Pie, and was later told I got the last one. And lucky me, it was a secret recipe that the cook doesn't share with anyone.

Decent in flavor, I ate it quickly, trying hard to not think about nutritional reality of what I was putting in my mouth. Ryan had some chicken noodle soup which he said was good but nowhere near as good as his actual Mom's soup and after a bite, I agreed. With that, we were done eating the best food in town.

Although, not quite... when we were done eating, Ryan noticed some kind of roll thing on a small plate in front of me. It had been served with a cold bottle of Honey and Butter flavored topping, a condiment that was new to me! I chipped off the smallest bite possible with my fork and was confused. With my stomach already expressing its uncertainty about what I ate for dinner, I decided to pass on this mystery food, which I later learned was one of their "famous" scones.

I promise... I'm not disappointed.

Two mediocre dinners and a tank full of gas later, we were on the road for our last six hour leg to Aspen. The next hundred miles or so gave a new meaning to the word nothingness and as soon as the sun set, I handed over the reins to Ryan and spent the next few hours fighting sleep while he listened to audiobooks.

We pulled into our campsite at Difficult Campgrounds a bit after midnight and drowsily put together our car camping set up, then promptly passed out, without any idea what we would wake up to.

Check out Part III: What We Woke Up To