After turning in the final exam and officially reaching the end of the 1L gauntlet, I couldn’t help but thinking where I was a year ago.
One year ago today, my girlfriend and I had three weeks left on our lease on our Hawaiian apartment. With uninterrupted views of the Pacific, we knew it would be tough to leave. We must have been crazy to leave behind that apartment, that view, that weather, and those two steady paychecks to dive back into the world of academia. But we did. I drove my car to the shipping yard to make the trans-Pacific voyage, where we would meet it in Seattle and begin a new chapter. It was an adventure that would culminate with the clicking of a button on ExamSoft to submit my Constitutional Law exam, and the completion of year one of law school.
Since it was a year ago, I realize there is a whole class of students embarking on the same journey just about now, coming from all over the country to join the BU Law Community. It is an exciting prospect for many reasons, and one of the best parts, for those coming from afar, might be the journey out here.
We met the car in Seattle on June 8, and spent the next three weeks driving east, where we ended up in Boston just in time for Independence Day. There was no more fitting celebration then spending the Fourth of July walking the Freedom Trail. It was an amazing trip, so I put together a little list for those of you who might be coming to Boston by car of some stops that are worthwhile. Listed from West to East, here they are:
Arky’s B&B/Redwood National and State Park
After picking up the car in Seattle, we made our way down the Pacific Coast by way of Portland in order to see the famed redwoods. Surprisingly, there is not a huge selection of hotels in the vicinity of the redwoods to choose from, so we happened upon a B&B called Arky’s in the small town of Smith River. It was a true find— set in a waterfront mid-century mansion, complete with its own bowling alley, it is a piece of Americana in itself. From our room, we could see seals resting on the rocks, a beautiful sunset, and a vast ocean that was the only obstacle between us and the Hawaiian islands we left behind.
The next morning, the couple that runs the establishment gave us an extremely tasty and filling traditional Chinese breakfast—fermented egg was something new to us—before we made our way the 20 miles down the road to the Redwoods. It is hard to know when, precisely, you are in the boundaries of the park, but we quickly realized that it was going to be a very long road trip if we stopped as often as we did for every beautiful moment along the way. After talking to some park rangers, we figured out a place we could make a priority—a short 4-mile loop that would bring us to the Tall Tree, one of the oldest and tallest redwoods in the park.
The walk was like entering a cathedral. We passed under arches cut through the trunks of fallen trees, and craned our necks looking at the enormous plants that surrounded us. Like columns along the nave, we were led to the Tall Tree, and the sunlight poked like fingers through the canopy to create the feeling of a sacred space. Words can hardly do it justice—just go.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
One of the things you might notice when driving across the country is that there are a lot more National Parks and National Forests than you might have expected. It is probably impossible to make the drive without cutting through several. Stopping through Lassen was not a part of our original plan, but we were very glad we did. Alive with volcanic activity, the park has plenty of hydrothermal features, and the short hike to Bumpass Hell is a great chance to see the bubbling mudpots and fumaroles up close (along with their strong sulfury smells). The park is at an elevation of over 8000 feet, so even in June, there was snow on the ground despite the 70 degree temperatures. The air is crisp and the land is green—one of the most scenic stops on our trip was a small meadow sitting just below the Lassen’s peak, with an ice-cold stream cutting through the lush field. You could make a whole day out of this place with some of the longer hike, or you could just spend a few hours, but it is a special spot.
Now heading east, we plot our course through Reno and up into Idaho. While there wasn’t much luck at the blackjack table in Reno, our fortunes were a little better in Twin Falls, Idaho. We stopped in for a night so we could get up and see Shoshone Falls the next morning. Called the Niagara of the West, it is a spectacular part of the Snake River—a river which would parallel our journey east for the next several hundred miles. Unfortunately, we did not put aside as much time as we would have liked to hike along the river or see some of the other sites, like the place where Evel Knievel tried (and failed) to jump across on his Skycycle X-2 rocket bike. But the falls themselves are amazing; a reminder of the thousands of years of natural forces that have worked to create the beauty of the American west.
Jackson Hole/Grand Teton/Yellowstone
This may have been the best part of our trip. The GPS showed our ascent as we made our way up the western face of the Rocky Mountain range. Shortly after crossing the state line into Wyoming, a sign greeted us: “Howdy Stranger, Yonder is Jackson Hole.” In front of us, the road descended into a valley of verdant evergreens, surrounded by snowcapped peaks. The cool air was invigorating.
While the town of Jackson Hole is clearly aimed to please the rich and famous who frequent it during the winter, it retains a western charm and has some great shops and restaurants. We decided to stay for a couple nights so we could relax for a few days before getting back on the road, and it gave us the chance to do some whitewater rafting on the Snake River. The water was chilly, to say the least, but the 8-mile trip gave us a chance to see ospreys, bald eagles, deer, and otters up close. It also made for an awfully nice glass of whisky that evening, and a good night’s sleep.
We got up early so we could head up through Teton and see Yellowstone. If I had to do it over again, I would have spent a day in each park, even though they border each other. Grand Teton is perhaps one of the most spectacular vistas in the country, and there are a dozen ways to see it. Since we had a destination goal for the evening’s stay, and all of Yellowstone in front of us, we just spent an hour or so moseying around Jenny Lake, but it was a lovely stop. It could have easily been a full day’s worth of hiking and sightseeing, but we had a plan and we were (sort of) sticking to it.
Ahead to Yellowstone!
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe how much we accomplished in just six or seven hours through Yellowstone. We saw Old Faithful erupt, looked into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, walked among resting elk, saw a Grizzly and hundreds of bison. The park was magnificent, and it seemed like every mile or so we were stopped in a line of cars that pulled over to see something exciting. (We were also the heroes of the park that day, as our Hawaii license plates completed the license plate game for several families—we were even asked for a few photos.)
It would have been nice to stop and stay for the evening, but unfortunately all of the lodges were sold out. Darkness fell as the park spit us out into a tiny town in Montana, which had a few cabins available. Stopping might have been the smart choice, but we pushed ahead to make our goal for the day. It was a long, winding road without a town for forty or fifty miles, and not a car in sight. Even our destination of Cody was sold out (or exorbitantly overpriced) so we kept going to Powell. The lesson here? Plan a little extra time in Yellowstone, and have a backup plan for lodging!
Mount Rushmore/Wall Drug Store/Mitchell Corn Palace
It seems a little unfair to put some of South Dakota’s best features into a single category, but at this point on the trip, you are probably hoping to cover some ground as quickly as possible. With the continental divide in the rearview mirror, the landscape is going to be a little more flat for the next thousand miles or so. That’s why these stops were so much fun. They were quick, interesting, and a nice change of pace from the open road. Mount Rushmore, of course, is a must see for a roadtripper. The sculpture itself was neat, but the best part of the stop was the museum which told the stories of the men who worked on the crafting of the rockface. It was a feat of both scientific and marketing ingenuity. The surrounding town is a real throwback to the era of first post-war holiday-goers, and would probably be a fun place to spend an evening—unfortunately we found in the summer months, prices were in excess of $300 a room.
So we kept driving, and spent the night in Rapid City.
Next day, we were on the road again, heading for Sioux Falls. But about 50 miles in, we stopped at one of the great American rest stops—the Wall Drug Store. With free bumper stickers, free water, and 5 cent coffee, it was designed to pull drivers in since 1931, and has grown into a small town dedicated to letting people stretch their legs and distract themselves for a few hours with trinkets, jackalopes, and old western themed Americana. As a bonus, we managed to save a turtle who was crossing the highway nearby.
And if you liked the Wall Drug Store, you will love the Mitchell Corn Palace. Lindsay had fallen asleep somewhere along the way as we traversed the great state of South Dakota, so she was somewhat surprised when she woke up in front of the Corn Palace. While it’s a little out of season in the summer, the Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota is the ultimate pitstop. For 120 years, the Corn Palace has drawn in visitors off the road to showcase the local crop’s diversity and utility as an artistic tool. Covered in corn, the murals change on a yearly basis. Inside, a giant arena hosts a shopping area where you can buy just about any corn-related product you could want. And if you aren’t interested in corn, you can walk across the street and visit Valtitory’s Walk-Thru Ancient Bible World. Definitely worth a stop—we have a corn mug and a corn pen the will remind us of our day in Mitchell.
Chicago is on the way! If you can, take a few days in Chicago to take advantage of even a little bit of what the city has to offer—a boat ride on the river, a walk along the riverfront, or nice dinner downtown.
Our whole schedule, believe it or not, came down to us trying to make a ballgame at Wrigley Field on June 22nd. It was the only hard date on our schedule, so it was good that we had it, otherwise we might have still been wandering the national parks back west. Since you are heading to Boston, you’ll be able to see games at America’s oldest MLB ballpark, Fenway. So why not take in a game at the second-oldest park in Chicago? Tickets might be a little harder to get this years since the Cubs are on a tear, but we had the chance to get some good seats for a good price and enjoy the history of the stadium. The park is a throwback to another era, not just for the early 20th-century architecture inside, but in the way that the stadium sits, like any other building, in the residential neighborhood of Chicago’s North Side. Unlike the modern mega-stadiums of the 21st century, Wrigley just appears as you walk down the city streets, and you feel like a part of history in the old-timey ballpark. And of course, there is nothing like a hot dog and a beer on a summer night after a long day on the road.
Ok, so Toronto might be a little bit out of the way, but it’s still kind of sort of on the way, and it gives a little international flair to the road trip. After trying to explain to the border guards that we were technically homeless because we were moving to Boston, followed up by his suspicion of our Hawaiian license plates (“So you drove from Hawaii?”), we were let into Canada, and being a good tourist, I decided to attempt to drive the speed limit. Bad idea.
If you were expecting Canadian politeness on the roads, forget it—they drive like maniacs and use the horn like its cool, so ignore all the French/English signs on the side of the road that threaten fines for going 20 km/hr over the speed limit. The locals were easily doing 50-60 km over the posted limits. No need to leave your American road aggression at the border—they seemed to have adopted it in Toronto.
Despite that, the city has some really beautiful spots to check out. Perhaps the most exciting one is a walk around the exterior of the CN tower. I somehow goaded Lindsay into joining me for a walk on a five-foot ledge 1168 feet over the city of Toronto. Strapped into a cable, you can put your feet over the edge and hang out over the city, with views in miles in every direction.
From that viewpoint, we actually picked out a few places we wanted to check out in the city, and the next morning we took a trip out to Toronto Islands, just a short ferry trip away (and I mean short—just a few hundred feet). The park is a great change of pace, as reflected in the signs, “Please Walk on the Grass.” We rented a bicycle-built-for-two and rode the length of the island, with some of the fun historic stops along the way, including an old lighthouse and, while we didn’t participate, a naturalist beach. As far as summer spots, you can’t ask for much more.
But that’s not all the city has to offer. We went for a beautiful walk through Queen’s Park in the middle of the city to get some dinner near the University, and capped off the night at a whisky bar which served nothing but Canadian whisky products in the lobby of the Delta Hotel. I would highly recommend a Canadian detour on your Great American Roadtrip.
The Freedom Trail!
As much fun as it was to be on the road, we were also looking forward to finally getting settled with a place to stay and getting ready for the year ahead. We took a day off from apartment hunting to hit the Freedom Trail on the Fourth of July. I have talked to plenty of my classmates who have yet to do much venturing in the heart of Boston, and there is no excuse!
The best way to get familiar with the town than to follow the red bricks of the Freedom Trail. Starting in Boston Common, the 2.5 mile trail takes you by the government buildings, homes, churches, and cemeteries of the people who built this city, and this nation. With almost 400 years under its belt, Boston has a lot of history in its bones, and it is on full display on the Freedom Trail. There are sites of political significance, such as the scene of the Boston Massacre and the Old North Church of Paul Revere’s Ride. There are sites of military importance, such as Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution. And some of the most interesting things, in my opinion, are the reminders of everyday life long ago, like the commons where sheep would graze, or the Bell in Hand, where locals would meet for a drink to discuss the matters of the day.
Boston is a great city, with lots to be proud of. As I learned about Boston, I came to know a little more about Boston University, as well, and it made me proud to be a member of a school that has been ahead of its time in many ways. As we go through law school, learning our country’s jurisprudence and working to make it the best it can be, I think it is important to stop along the way and remember how great (and gorgeous) this country already is. There are a thousand ways to get here– this was my way, but I hope you find your own– and I hope you take some time before your journey in law school begins to take it all in!