Our 2021 Road Trip #42: Ten Days, Nine Hotel Windows

Gardiner motel view!

Best window view of the trip was in a motel across the way from Yellowstone, which proved impossible to top.

It’s fun turning our vacations into extended travelogs threaded with a sometimes weird, often self-deprecating personal narrative that ensures I’ll never be invited to write for a travel magazine. This year I thought I’d also toss in our answers to a question no one asked: “How did the world look from the vantage point of our middle-class accommodations?”

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

For this trip we stayed in a different city every night. I took a photo out the window from each room based on the hypothesis that the resulting gallery might add up to something in the end. This project-within-a-project might’ve been more appealing to the average reader if we’d stayed in four-star downtown skyscraper hotels entrenched in upscale architectural beauty and light pollution, or in wood-carved wilderness retreats deep in the heart of National Geographic country, or maybe even in Dollar Inns and Motels 6 where every window faced mortal danger in Crime Alley. Alas, my reservation choices tend to be based more on budgetary moderation than on adventure. Not always, but often.

Much of the gallery could be titled “A Midlife Crisis Crossover Non-Star Salute to Parking Lots”. Such was the quotidian ambiance captured here.

NIGHT ONE – CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA: We were in a commercial area full of restaurants, all crippled by road construction that doubled the drive-time for our protracted hunt for dinner.

Cedar Rapids hotel view!

Just a block over the horizon was the mom-‘n’-pop diner where we had breakfast the next morning.

NIGHT TWO – SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA: The fanciest hotel of the entire vacation was stood amid multiple medical complexes, strip malls, and square miles of sterile retention ponds and corporate-standard greenery devoid of any lifelike character.

Sioux Falls hotel view!

The clouds were more interesting than the ground.

NIGHT THREE – RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA: By sheer coincidence we were in the exact same hotel we’d used the last time we visited Rapid City in 2009. It’s affordable and minutes away from copious attractions, so the odds against staying in the same hotel twice weren’t astronomical. This time we skipped the indoor water park.

Rapid City hotel view!

I’m still not a fan of their diagonally divided parking lot up an acute hillside.

NIGHT FOUR – CODY, WYOMING: Our second-floor room had convenient escape routes that failed to compensate for the drawback of their breakfast buffet being located in a separate building a block away.

Cody hotel view!

How enchanting, a used car lot across the street.

NIGHT FIVE – GARDINER, MONTANA: Our lead photo wins the Best Hotel Window contest. Due to its location minutes from Yellowstone’s north gate, our motel was the most expensive of all nine places, and yet the most cramped room. The lone A/C wall unit was in a separate alcove that only cooled half the room. The bathroom was behind the end of one bed. We ran out of outlets for recharging our devices, so they had to take turns. On the bright side: that gorgeous view in our lead photo. Also, their man Alan was one of the friendliest and most informative clerks we’ve ever engaged in any overnight stay ever. Poke him, and candid advice on local businesses would just pour out of him. He was worth more to us than the room was.

Travelodge lobby bear!

Also, they had a happy wooden bear in the lobby, which is one more bear than we saw in all of the national parks we visited in 2021 combined.

bear ice sign!

For those just joining our bear-counting contest in progress: cramped tourist-trap motel 2, national park system 0.

NIGHT SIX – GLENDIVE, MONTANA: It was The Northernmost Point We’ve Ever Been To so far, and the smallest town of all these nine nights, but we were still in the land of western scenery.

Glendive hotel view!

I’d rather stare at farmlands than at used car lots.

NIGHT SEVEN – FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA: It took me two laps around the surrounding highways to find the blasted place in the middle of a clutch of nondescript businesses and strip malls. They put us on in a first-floor corner room next to the side door. I thought noise might be an issue if lots of other guests came and went through that same door all night long. That was never an issue.

Fargo hotel view!

Not the most awe-inspiring panorama, you betcha.

NIGHT EIGHT – ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA: More office-park tedium. By this point we were so exhausted from 3000 miles of driving that too much stimulation would’ve injured us anyway, so it’s just as well that I remember absolutely nothing about this night.

Rochester hotel view!

A thick line of trees and shrubs are a naked ploy to distract from the drab offices next door.

NIGHT NINE – ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS: After the sock monkey exhibit we arrived at the hotel before our room was ready and had to loiter for half an hour in their cavernous but tastefully decorated lobby. We’d experienced worker shortage issues in restaurants throughout the week, but this was the only hotel where we got the same feeling. I would’ve cheated and opened the window for our final pic, if only I could’ve.

Rockford hotel view!

Note how my magical +3 Camera of Hard-Hitting Journalism preferred to focus on the crusted window filth than on the empty back lot and an Illinois “forest”.

…so yeah, welcome to our anticlimax. This idea worked out far better on our 2018 road trip, where we stayed in a different urban setting every night, most of them in downtowns. Or you can check out a short Best Hotel Windows So Far mini-gallery from the year before. Better luck next vacation, I suppose.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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