by Dhruv Jagan, 9th Grade, St. Johns High School
Once upon a time, there were these 2 parents who had this crazy idea to drive across the country. Well, these 2 parents just happened to be mine! It happened just a few weeks ago, this summer of 2021. At first, I didn’t really want to go because I wanted to hang out with my friends here in my neighborhood. But after my mom told me that the scenery would be nice, and I could see some cool new places and, of course, the added incentive that I could use the pools at the places we would stay, I decided to go.
I looked at the map that my father showed and the trip looked LOONNGG! We were going to take the Oregon Trail that traverses the north of the country starting from Massachusetts all the way to Oregon. We were going beyond Oregon to see my aunt in San Francisco. Basically, we had to cover the full 3,000 miles. To do that we decided we needed to drive around 8 hours every day. We also made sure to be flexible and have an open mind to accommodate my 3-year-old sister, Uruvi’s patience for the ride.
STOP 1: NIAGARA FALLS
Our first stop: Niagara Falls. When we reached Niagara Falls, we were stayed at this hotel called “Aarya Hotel,” which had an outdoor pool. We were excited to go and play in it. We rested, and the next day, we went to see Niagara Falls. I remember looking at it from the Canadian side, but this time, we looked at it from the American side. The first time I saw the falls I was amazed by Mother Nature! Having seen many smaller falls, this fall reminded me of the impact of the power of Mother Nature. We were about to leave, when my mom decided we should experience the Maid of the Mist ride. I was a bit skeptical about going because I had no idea what to expect. The last time I went on it was when I was 7 years old, so I didn’t remember what it was like. But my mom didn’t give us a choice, so we went. The next thing I knew, I was standing on the top deck of the boat. When we were on the boat, I felt a surge of happiness as we went near the falls and got super wet. It was really refreshing on that hot day. Even Uruvi liked it! I had never expected that we would go so close to the falls! We were so close to the falls that the whole boat was engulfed in mist. I couldn’t see anything but mist around me!! There were moments where I felt like I was in a whole different world.
Next stop: The windy city, Chicago!
This article is part of a series that details my experiences on our cross-country road trip across the different states.
STOP 2: CHICAGO
Our last night at Niagara Falls, I did a Google maps search of the distance between Niagara Falls and Chicago. 556 miles, 8.5 hours! The big question; will Uruvi be able to handle going to Chicago as well? She was enjoying the car ride and she was overall comfortable. She was also happy and excited, and she didn’t want to go back home because of the swimming pools. Knowing my mom, I was dead sure that she would say “If we start something, we should finish it”. So as I guessed sitting on that hotel bed, without thinking twice, she decided we are going to continue. We got in the car, ready to head to Chicago. I was mainly excited to go because my elementary school teacher and our former neighbor, who is from Chicago, had recommended an awwesssome place to eat the world-famous Chicago style deep dish pizza!
The drive was uneventful nature-wise as we didn’t see much scenery on this part of the car drive compared to the last one. But it was still fun to see different cars and trucks. We even played a game called the word game, where someone starts with with a random word, and the next person has to say a word that starts with the last letter of the word that the person said before. It was fun, but it got boring after a while. Totally not because I couldn’t find some words….J Anyhow, I was watching YouTube on the iPad when we had to take a break to eat. We all didn’t know what to eat, so we just got quick subs from Subway. When we arrived at our hotel, we saw that there was this very nice Mexican restaurant just across from our hotel called “La Fogata.” We arrived late, so we ate there.
The next morning, my mom had another 5-hour meeting which she needed to attend undisturbed . My dad saw this natural history museum near us, so we decided to go there. We arrived and it took us a while to find it (somehow) because it was a little bit hidden. We paid for our tickets, and as soon as we entered, it was like a WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD. There were so many dinosaur skeletons, bugs and beetles, and even an underground, ancient Egyptian maze! We first saw all different kinds of bugs and beetles. They were all so creepy and crawly, I would probably get nightmares if one of them came into my bed. After that, we wanted to go see a presentation about history, but you had to pay again to go through it, so we just went through the Egyptian maze. It showed us many things including King Tut’s golden covered tomb, how they built the pyramid, and more! After that, the gem exhibit. This one contained all the different kinds of gems, shiny, and non-shiny. I personally liked the ruby and the blue sapphire the most, since they were my favorite colors. My brother liked the diamond and, well, my sister liked everything! We didn’t want to eat there, so we went to this very big hall, in which many people were taking pictures with dinosaur skeletons that couldn't fit in the normal exhibit. There was a giant brachiosaurus and a T-rex.
When we arrived back, my mom had set us up for a boat ride at the Navy Pier, which was just going to do a big circle in Lake Michigan. I was a bit tired from the museum, but my mom dragged me out. When we arrived there, we got onto the boat and saw an amazing view of Lake Michigan. It didn’t take long before the boat was on its way. When we were about halfway through the sail, the sun was setting, and we saw the amazing skyline of Chicago. At that exact moment, my friends facetimed me!! I answered and told them I was on a boat, and I also showed them the skyline. They told me that it looked sick and told me don’t drop the phone.
At the end of the day, we decided to have some yummy, mouthwatering deep-dish pizza at this place called Gino’s Pizza. It was recommended by my 4th grade teacher and former neighbor, Mrs. Spangenberg, who hails from Chicago. You could actually write your names on the wall, so no one can forget that you were there. My father kept listening to songs from the Blues brothers, an old time Hollywood classic which highlights Chicago with the song “Sweet Home Chicago”. I kinda liked the tune but after a few times I was done! And that, my friends, is what we did, in the amazing city of Chicago.
STOP 3: SIOUX FALLS
Well, we’ve gotten to Chicago, why not just keep going ahead? We are all feeling fine and not overly tired, and so it was decided that we would soldier on. What’s the next stop though was the question? My dad mentioned he had read about a waterfall in South Dakota that was kinda fun stop. At first, I heard it as “So falls”! I was intrigued that a waterfall could be named in that way, but a quick search proved me wrong. The word is Sioux Falls!
Reading through the history of the falls, made me really want to go there. For all you geography and history lovers, the Sioux falls is an important geographical attribute of the Big Sioux River and formed 14,000 years ago! It seems the early settlers had found the land close the falls very appealing. So we embarked on our drive to South Dakota, to see Sioux Falls. Our drive was the same, nothing different except for the amazing sunset I captured from the car. We reached our hotel on the outskirts of Minnesota.
The next morning, we drove to Sioux Falls. At the entrance to the Falls, we found a engraving that said that a time capsule lay there and would be opened in 2064 to mark the 125th anniversary of South Dakota. I really want to come back then to see the opening of the time capsule. I will be 57 years old, HAHA! The Falls also had a nice park to play in, and there were many rocks inside of the ground! The rocks were emerging from the ground and my dad told me the rocks were quartzite. They were bright red in color. It was crazy cool! We wanted to take as many pictures as we could, and we were doing the most unique poses on the rocks. Some nice people offered to help take some of our pictures, and that was very kind of them. Uruvi was showing off my mom's sunglasses to everyone and everyone smiled and loved her.
There was also a small waterfall that was in the middle of it. It was a blistering sight to see a bright waterfall in the hot weather. It was scorching hot that day, so we decided to take some pictures with the waterfall and the geese that floated inside of it as quickly as we could. There was a small bridge over the river that led to the falls, that connected the park and the restaurant. My mom went into “photo frenzy mode” and I lost count of how many pictures she took ON THAT BRIDGE. There was a restaurant just next to it, but we had already eaten before, so we didn’t go there.
Uruvi, of course, didn’t want to go back in the car as she actually wanted to swim in the lake! She is sometimes such a whiny girl. We had to drag her across the park, just for her to get in the car and bawl her eyes out. We gave her the phone, and she immediately stopped crying. It's as if she knows that if she cries a lot, we will go to our last resort and give her the phone. Arush and I were a little annoyed that she was getting everything and anything she wanted.
We still had 4 hours left of our drive, and our arrival time was already an hour late. We couldn’t find a fancy hotel near our next destination, so we had to stay in a simple motel called “Super 8.” Arush and I kind of wanted a fancy hotel, but we were caught by surprise by how comfy the MOTEL was! It had big beds, an even bigger TV, and they had an amazing breakfast! We were happy and had a good night's sleep. The next morning, it was very sunny and hot, so we got up earlier to quickly get ready and on the road to North Dakota. Stay tuned folks!
STOP 4: MOUNT RUSHMORE
So here’s the thing about road trips, you get involved more and more as the number of days you travel!. Trust me, true fact! and I vouch for it. As the third leg of the journey finished, I was like where to next! So where did we drive to? Our next stop was in North Dakota, living just only one hour away from Mount Rushmore. I had read so much about Mount Rushmore in my History class, that the idea to see it in person made me giddy with excitement! Believe me when I say this, travelling in the back row of a car with my two siblings, anything would seem exciting! Haha. jokes apart, I do like them but spending a major part of the day in the back row is a test of my patience! We started our drive, and our drive an hour shorter than usual. This was due to the time zone changed. As my father explained, as we go west we gain an hour because they are behind us.
For this part of trip, my mom was prepared, and had bought some cards to play inside of the car. I wanted to be on my phone, because I wanted to facetime my friends, but she said, “Stop being a teenager and enjoy time with your family!!” I had to agree, so we played war, which is the simplest card game I know. The game was to split the card evenly between the number of players. All you must do is flip the card that's on top of your deck, and whoever has the biggest one gets all the cards. Last person who has cards wins. We played for a little bit, then it got boring because we were arguing which card was worth more. I then watched Naruto for the rest until we got there.
When we arrived, it was late evening, around 7pm. Our arrival was actually 8 pm, but since we go back an hour, from central time to mountain time, we got an extra hour. My dad checked us in, and me and Arush went to our room, and within A MINUTE, we were ready to go into the pool, oops sorry a WATER PARK! This was the coolest, a waterpark next to our hotel! It was like a dream come true. Dad dropped us at the waterpark, and we quickly got comfortable with all the different kinds of water obstacles. We played around with Uruvi and I raced her for a while. When we got tired, we went back to our room and turned on the TV.
When Dad and Mom came back, we were excited for our Indian dinner. Indian Food in North Dakota, that was surprising for me. But as my father in his professorial tone (yeah, he is a Professor of Neuroscience) said, North Dakota has a huge immigrant population from Nepal, a country which happens to be India’s neighbor. Hence there is no shortage of Indo-Nepalese cuisine.
After dinner, Arush and I went to bed early that day, so we could have full energy for the waterpark tomorrow morning. The next morning, we quickly had our breakfast, and changed so we could go to the waterpark. We wanted to get there and spend as much time as possible, because in the afternoon we had to go to Mount Rushmore. There were a lot of people already there, and we decided to start with the lazy river. The water in the lazy river was warm, so it was relaxing to get in on a chilly day. We found a donut float for two people, and almost slept on that lazy river! We went on the waterslides and the normal pool for so long that we didn’t even realize it was 1pm, and we had to go back to the hotel room to leave for Mount Rushmore! We rushed back, relieved that my parents weren’t there, and we quickly showered and got ready. My parents arrived, happy that we were already done getting ready, and we quickly jumped back into the car, and went on our way to Mount Rushmore.
We had arrived in North Dakota on July 2nd, two days before Independence Day. The whole route was covered with American Flags, and I could hear our National Anthem being played everywhere. It reminded me of school where we would sing it during Morning Assembly. The drive to Mount Rushmore was a short one, but the terrain was hilly and the drive was slow. We arrived at the Gates of Mount Rushmore, which was more than 5000 feet above sea level. When we got there, we had to walk up a few stairs to a walkway that had all the state flags on the side of it.
At the entrance was a wonderful lady, who was asking all passersby to put a pin on a world map, indicating where we come from. I put my pin on Massachusetts and Dad and mom put a pin on India. The lady was so nice and asked me several questions about school and if I am liking it.
As we walked up the stairs, there in the middle was the world-famous Mount Rushmore. It was a sight to behold and I for once was left spell bound. My parents on the other hand, were taking picture after picture after picture. Yes, the repeat is to reiterate the number of pictures they took! I also learnt some more historical facts; that Massachusetts was the 6th state to be inducted into the Union.
When we finally got to the closest location to the monument, we saw how big it was. It was MASSIVE. The faces of the four presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln) looked about 100 feet wide, AND LONG!!! I overheard a tour guide mentioning some very interesting facts about the monument. Don’t ask me to recite what all he said, but a few things I did remember. The whole mountain is made of granite and erodes 1 inch every 10,000 years. The other fun fact that I could recollect was that each of the noses of the Presidents is 240 inches long ! Lastly, the most amazing fact, that if you turn the mountain 90o, you can see another face!! I tried that and did not see any face. If any of you find a face, do let me know.
We took many selfies and pictures, and I even did a vlog there! On our way down the mountain, we enjoyed some ice cream, and started our journey to the next stop, knowing we would be on the road, only for three more days till we reach California! Till Then, Enjoy!
STOP 5: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
At this point, me, my dad, my brother, and my sister were all getting a little tired of all the driving we had to do every other day. My mom on the other hand, miraculously was full of energy and wanted to continue as if we just started. Of course, we were back on the road at 8:30am that day and were headed to Nevada.
Our drive wasn’t any different from the others, but we started to observe that the roads had way more desert-type vibes rather than a normal highway with fields on the side. This wasn’t good, because it meant that there would be no service for almost the whole ride. But, yes there's a But, I knew that beforehand, and downloaded a few episodes of our favorite serial so we could watch it offline.
I was chilling watching, and my dad went through and exited, and I wondered why. Well, my stomach answered that question. I had totally forgotten that all I had in the morning was 2 waffles and milk, and I was starving. We stopped at a Subway as a last resort, ate quickly, and jumped back on the road. When we arrived at our hotel, we were all tired, and decided to grab some quick Pizza Hut, and sleep as soon as possible.
The next day we thought that we had come so close to one of the natural wonders of North America, we should not skip the Yellowstone National Park even though it was far from the hotel. Well, the reason for us to stay so far from the park was because of our impromptu nature of going on the road trip. Needless to say, it was going to be the most amazing part of the natural beauty and so all the hotels in the 300-mile radius were all booked. Hence, after a lot of thought we had our lunch and we departed to go see the Yellowstone National Park, which was almost 4 hours away.
Yep, another long drive. We left at 2, which was late, and arrived around 6:00 pm. When we got there, we had to drive slowly though the wavy and curvy road. When we saw Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring, we were AMAZED. It was a cold atmosphere, but the blows from the geyser warmed us up with some warm and moist air. Pretty sure we took around 100 pictures just at Old Faithful. When we saw the Grand Prismatic Spring, it almost looked fake! It was a very shallow pond-like place, with rainbow colors inside of it! This wasn’t a geyser, it was more like a steaming hot pond, which let off warm air every now and then. We were amazed to see all the different colors inside of it and took many more pictures!
We walked around more, looking at the big trees that were there. When we looked at the time, we were suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of distress. It was 8 pm, and we all forgot that it was going to take us 4 hours to get back as well! We had no choice but to drive back, and arrived back at 1 am, ending our second to last part of our onward trip!
STOP 6: CALIFORNIA!!!!
Almost there! Almost there! These were the words my mom kept repeating the morning of our drive. Well, we were all excited to be so close to reaching our destination, so we all jumped into the car as enthusiastically as possible. Leaving Reno Nevada was quite a different feeling. No more hotel stays but the comfort of getting to a home was exhilarating. After six nights in hotels and pools, the comfort of a home and my parents yearning for some chai (Indian tea) was a tempting one.
Our drive was just the opposite as the last drive. Instead of going from greens to desert, we went from desert to greens! This time I was so excited to reach there that I totally forgot I hadn’t eaten, and my stomach was rumbling like a bear! After a quick munch, we drove, and drove, and drove, and drove. Why did this LAST drive feel so eternal?
The temperatures outside were soaring in the low 100s! I was getting tired, and I got even more exhausted after I found out we were only 3 hours in! Of course, as if it was a habit, I went on my phone and chilled while watching some Netflix and Face Timed my friends. They told me they were playing outside and were going to have a sleepover that night. I was a little jealous, but I didn’t say anything. I mean, you would be jealous too if your friends were having a sleepover, and you weren’t, right? I hope so because sleepovers are the best. Anyhow, 1 hour had passed quickly, so that cheered me up! I told them to have fun and ended the call.
We finally arrived in San Jose, CA at my aunt’s house. It was early evening, and our little cousin Vilohit was waiting outside to greet us. The house was big, with a nice backyard we could play some mini-basketball in. We all greeted each other and were excited for all the things we would do there.
Our first day, we had some sausage and eggs for breakfast, and there wasn’t a solid plan of what we were going to do that day, so me and my brother played some basketball with my little sister and went for a walk as well. We went to a beach near our house (Half Moon Bay Beach) as I love water. The water was so warm, compared to the beaches in MA. I did not want to come out of the water.
As the evening was setting, we decided to visit another very interesting spot in CA. It is called the San Andreas Lake Trail. My uncle (Rajesh kaka) told us about how the lake formed from the earth’s crust via a tectonic ridge called the San Andreas Fault. This geological feature extends all across California and as per reports, causes some of the major earthquakes in that region. The name of the fault is derived from the lake. We walked a mile-long stretch of the lake and of course took pictures! By now, you must know that we are a family of picture takers . It was very serene walking along a lake. At times during the walk, me and Arush would do a small sprint just to see who is fitter.
As the day came to an end and we watched the sunset near the lake, it was an amazing sight. It was an amazing beach with the sun in the back and a beautiful view. We took hundreds and hundreds of photos and ended the night with some amazing tacos!
The next day, was nice and sunny weather, (what else can we expect from sunny CA!), so my mom told us to spend as much time as possible playing outside. We got tired after just an hour, so we came in and had some dinner. My aunt is an avid gardener, and we spent time tending her garden that evening. She grows everything from garlic to squash. Having a home garden is so much work but it is fun when you can eat the produce that you are growing. In the evening, we had dinner at a local Indian restaurant. There are many of them there and I found out that CA has the second largest population of Indians outside of India.
The week passed so quickly, and it was time for us to pack up and start the journey home. The whole trip to CA was such an amazing experience. Given my initial inhibitions, I am glad we did this road trip. I have memories that I will cherish all my life. In addition, writing this travelogue was fun. It kinda made me relive the moments with you all. I hope you enjoyed it!
As they say in Spanish, Adios mi amigos!