By now, I think everyone would agree on one thing – 2020 has been strange at the very least and a tough year for the majority. I’m pretty sure no one would have imagined this year kicking off a new decade. There are too many ongoing plot points to cover, but of course, one of the biggest life changing events was the pandemic. With quarantines and extensions upon extensions of restrictions becoming the new norm, Covid-19 has undoubtedly changed the way people view travel and took a huge toll on the industry as a whole. However, given that we now have an indefinite amount of time off, we were confident that we could travel responsibly this summer while social distancing from others, and so we planned a road trip through nine western states.
We left Seattle with a car packed with food, camping equipment and our entourage (Audrey & Finn). It wasn’t the first time we had left to wander around the US but this time was obviously quite different. We were traveling with two dogs (for the first time) during an ongoing pandemic that continues to affect the world in very significant ways. We didn’t quite know what to expect but what we found was a bit surprising and at the same time, expected. This is one account of what it’s like to travel during Covid-19.
The familiar highway stretched out in front of us, anticipation escaping from the rolled down windows. We had driven the route between Seattle and Boise a million times. The same landmarks passed by one after another as we inched closer to our first destination. While the route wasn’t new, knowing that we were embarking on an extended road trip sparked the rush that often comes with a new adventure but also a little anxiety not knowing what to expect. We sped through Yakima County (at the time a Covid-19 hotspot) and dropped down across the Columbia River and up over the Blue Mountains.
Although it’s been four years since I left Boise, as we crossed the border at Ontario and started through the corridor of urban sprawl, it was a bit like stepping into a time capsule; each component neatly left in its place. Once we arrived downtown, there was certainly evidence that Boise had expanded with new structures dotting the skyline, but overall, the feel of the city was the same – an urban oasis far from anything else.
When we checked into our hotel, the first thing I noticed was no one was wearing a mask although the front desk staff were positioned behind a piece of plexiglass. Given where we had traveled from, it was quite the contrast to our usual routine, where masks were now the standard daily accessory. As we walked the dogs along the greenbelt and the sun dipped down below the skyline, people happily drank on the patio of a local restaurant, barely two feet from each other, enjoying the last of the summer sun. The locals didn’t seem all that concerned with the pandemic, but it was Idaho after all. Still, we continued to take all precautions necessary to protect others.
Since we both lived in Boise at one point, we spent the majority of our time seeing friends and ordering take out from a few old favorites – Andrade’s Restaurante Mexicano and Bittercreek Alehouse. After a few days, we said farewell and left Boise eager to begin our trip for real, with a distinct feeling that we would likely run into a range of Covid-19 guidelines as we made our way through the west. Again, we transported to another time as we traveled along the dusty backroads to Atomic City on our way to Jackson, WY.
Leading up to the trip, I spent a lot of time researching pet-friendly hotels along with campsites to make sure we were selecting hotels that were committed to safety standards and also that had green spaces nearby. Ultimately, the level of safety precautions ranged at each hotel. At a few of the hotels, there was no contact check in and almost always no housekeeping service except upon request (which we actually liked). We appreciated the privacy and hotels were happy to replenish amenities like coffee packets, towels, and toiletries if needed. At check-in, guests were asked to wear masks, although the staff at some hotels didn’t seem to care. At all of the hotels except for one, there was no hot complimentary breakfast and instead, staff handed out bags of snack items such as bananas and granola bars. (Extra points to the Sage Inn – the only hotel who came up with a safe way to serve a hot breakfast item, breakfast burritos). There were also differences between states as to whether the pool, gym and other amenities at the hotels were open, and in most cases, the extra perks were closed. Really it was a non-issue for us though since we were traveling with our dogs.
We didn’t want to leave our dogs alone for a variety of reasons (mainly they’re huge babies), so we didn’t eat in at any restaurants (although many of them were open) and only ordered take out. We socially distanced as much as possible, being cognizant of the 6-foot boundary between others, and wore masks inside of the hotels and in public. We always washed our hands or used hand sanitizer after being in any public place. As expected, we discovered that each state was at a different stage of reopening and had varied regulations in place that would often change with little notice. In all the states we visited, museums were still closed including most visitor centers but national parks were open along with amended gift shops.
As we explored each pit stop, we walked the dogs a lot and enjoyed the scenery. We often caught the sunset (they’re amazing in the Southwest) and probably ate way too much In-in-Out throughout the trip. We camped under the stars and fought off bugs. We cranked up the music and watched as the road reached out towards the horizon with no end in sight. We took the backroads and were happy to just be on the road, content to be in the car, our new roaming home, traveling to somewhere – anywhere, outside of the bubble that we’d been living in for months.
In truth, what we found was that it was easy to forget at times that we were traveling in a new era. The sun still set each day; the Grand Canyon was still there. Vegas was still insane. The roads were often packed with traffic (albeit less than normal). The rest areas and scenic pulloffs were full of cars and in at least a few states (Idaho, Arizona and Oregon), it seemed like nothing had really changed at all. Throngs of people still enjoyed the long summer days – hiking, camping, and lounging at the local swimming holes – as if it was just another summer. There were at least two states (Idaho & Arizona) that it seemed like masks were completely disregarded all together aside from flashing road signs at the entrance to town. It was a constant crapshoot as to whether people would be wearing masks.
It was evident that traveling around the country wasn’t quite the same, but it really wasn’t that much different either. Stemming in part from sensationalized headlines, fear and uncertainty are certainly powerful weapons to deter against anything. But as soon as we stepped outside of the invisible walls surrounding the Puget Sound, on the surface, life was pretty much going on as it always had, though with a few new tweaks. Does that mean that it’s safe to go anywhere freely without considering the associated risks? Of course not. We are now living in a new reality that we can’t be oblivious to and completely disregard ways to keep everyone safe, no matter if you’re 250 miles from civilization or in the heart of Vegas. People need to take their own health risks into account too. But is it possible to travel safely? If all you want to do is see the country and you’re content just being on the road, after driving roughly 6,800 miles through nine states, I would argue yes.
There’s much more to come on visiting the national parks and a few of the cities we traveled through but for now, here’s a peek at the trip as whole and maybe a little travel inspiration for when you want to venture out again. There’s also a list below of the best dog friendly hotels & our favorite restaurants that we found on our route.
Parks & Cities featured in the video:
- Capitol Reef National Park – Utah
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP – Colorado
- Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado
- Great Sand Dunes National Park – Colorado
- White Sands National Park – New Mexico
- Sedona, Arizona
- Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
- Death Valley National Park – California
- Monterey, California
- Crater Lake National Park – Oregon
- Monterey, California
Top 5 Best Dog Friendly Hotels:
- Poco Diablo Resort – Sedona, Arizona (They even have a menu for dogs at the resort’s restaurant and a goodie bag for the pups when you check in!)
- Sante Fe Sage Inn – Sante Fe, New Mexico
- Casa Munras Garden Hotel – Monterey, California
- Sonoma Creek Inn – Sonoma, California
- The Rim Rock Inn – Torrey, Utah (Outside of Capitol Reef NP)
Our Favorite Restaurants (for takeout):
- Andrade’s Restaurante Mexicano – Boise, Idaho
- Fired Up Pizza – Durango, Colorado
- Fire on the Mountain – Denver, Colorado
- The Pantry – Sante Fe, New Mexico
- Los Cerritos Mexican Kitchen – Roswell, New Mexico
- Rudy’s Barbeque – Las Cruces, New Mexico
- Hattie B’s Hot Chicken at the Cosmopolitan – Las Vegas, NV
- Genova Delicateseen, Napa, California
- And of course, In-N-Out at all locations.