Karmel Kids head west to Utah…for work, fun, and new adventures

The thought of cross country road trips always made me cringe. Being in the car for hours at a time, driving through a place you’re not familiar with. What if the car breaks down? What if we run out of gas? While these thoughts continued to run through my mind, I tried to remain positive about driving the 22 hours from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Cedar City, Utah with my partner, Nick. Being with the person I admire the most made this trip incredible and I don’t regret one second of it. 

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So why were we insane enough to drive a total of 22 hours across four states?

Nick and I both work in theater. He had a job at Milwaukee Repertory Theater as a props artisan. While I was taking a much needed break from theater working at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the events department. Theater contracts typically go from September to April. Then there are companies which we call summer stocks, which are theaters that run from May to August.

Nick’s contract was up in April and we both got jobs in Utah for the summer… in different cities. We’ve found it incredibly hard to get into the same company together, so we settled for being in the same state. Nick received a job from Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City as a props artisan. While I got a job in Logan, Utah at Lyric Repertory Company as an AEA (Actor’s Equity Association) stage manager.

The theater company I am working with offers to pay for a flight out to Logan. But what’s the fun in that? We packed as much as we could in the car and said goodbye to our first apartment.

The first stop was Omaha, Nebraska, where we would spend the night in an Airbnb. We drove a total of eight hours through Wisconsin and Iowa. If you’ve ever wondered about taking a trip to Iowa, don’t. There was NOTHING to look at. Flat land and a couple of cows for miles and miles. That’s the Midwest for you.

We finally made it to Omaha, more specifically Blackstone, and were over the moon about our Airbnb. The cutest little details and it had such a warm homey feel to it. They had everything from personal robes to a sound machine, with extremely clear check in procedures (frequent Airbnb-ers know the struggle).

Considering we had been driving all day and were there for less than 24 hours, we did not get to see much of Omaha. But from what we saw, there were dozens of small parks, many local eateries, and it had a city AND small town feeling to it. We ended up eating takeout from a local Chinese place and calling it a night. 

The next morning, we headed to Denver, Colorado which we were most excited for. It was another eight-hour drive. We stopped to stretch our legs in Kearney, Nebraska and stumbled upon The Great Platte River Road Archway. What is that? I’m still trying to figure it out myself. It was a small museum, had a gift shop and it also had one of those indoor rivers where you can buy a bag of dirt and try to find the gems in the dirt.

A couple of hours later, we made it to Colorado, then the drive was no longer boring. Beautiful mountains that didn’t seem real. Pictures cannot do it justice, it was breathtaking. 

The beautiful mountains along the way.

When we arrived in Denver, we stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn just outside the city. The Airbnbs and hotels closer to the heart of the city were way too expensive. This Hilton was…fine. Maybe it was because I adored our Airbnb in Omaha, but this Hilton was not up to par. The thing that caught me off guard: NO FREE BREAKFAST. I’m spoiled when it comes to hotels, I have never been to a Hilton or a Hampton Inn…or any other kind of chain hotel…that did not offer free breakfast. It was $16 per plate if you wanted it. No thanks. 

Our first night in Denver we went to the Downtown Aquarium, with a twist. We got tickets for the Downtown Aquarium wine fest. That’s right, 21 and up, no screaming kids, just wine, appetizers, and a gorgeous aquarium. I have been wanting to do something like this forever.

On our first official date, Nick and I went to an aquarium. It was ruined with school field trips and screaming children running around. At one point we were actively running away from the kids and missed half of the aquarium. But this was perfect. We were able to take our time while sipping on a very wide selection of wine.

We loved the aquarium!

They paraded around animals like turtles, iguanas, and even a porcupine during the event and shared interesting facts and encouraged interaction. There were performing mermaids and divers, interactive pools, a live painter and two tigers? We did not expect the tigers in the aquarium, especially cool because they were quite active due to the time of day. Appetizers included a variety of seafood like prosciutto wrapped shrimp with cous cous to a steak burrata bruschetta toast, the desert spread did not disappoint too. There were wine and drink booths probably every 10-15 feet. This was an event we had been chasing for a while. 

UTOPIA – wine and no kids!

Our second day in Denver was very busy. Since we were only spending two days there, we wanted to make the most of it. We started by not eating free breakfast at the hotel (still mad about that one). Our first stop was the Denver Botanical Gardens. It was huge, I’m still not even sure if we saw it all. Most of it was outdoors and then they had one dome indoors for tropical plants. We were able to score student tickets for 13 dollars and probably spent two hours walking around on a beautiful day. Nick loves plants and gardens so it’s always enjoyable for me to see him so excited about something he loves. 

We of course got hungry and wanted something local. We found a diner called Pete’s Kitchen that has been open since 1942. Since I’m from New Jersey I’ve been to tons of diners. Nick is from Ohio, so this was his first real diner experience. It was very small and looked like there hadn’t been much remodeling since it opened 81 years ago, which was perfect.

Whenever I go to a diner, a BLT is almost always my go to. Nick got a steak sandwich and of course gave me his pickle. The food was to die for, we didn’t speak for maybe the first two minutes of the meal because we just had to eat. Classic diner style food can’t be beat. Not to mention they have been using the same old cash register for 70 years and it was in perfect condition. 

After lunch we went to a butterfly garden which, of course, had more screaming children but it was worth it. We spent a lot of time there trying to get butterflies to land on us and finding all the different types of butterflies they had there. There was also an indoor bug exhibit as well as a small aquatic exhibit, we certainly got our fill of nature in Denver, even if it was exotic.

Bonnie Brae Ice Cream

It was time for something sweet so we stopped at Bonnie Brae ice cream, we passed it driving to the butterfly garden and knew we had to stop back. Another classic style, old establishment with an assortment of flavors. We each got chocolate dipped cones, mint chocolate chip for me and some kind of chocolate explosion for Nick. Delicious.

A nice treat!

The next morning we set out for Utah, happy to be out of that crummy Hilton. We stopped for breakfast at Snooze. Of course I had to get a Denver Omelet in Denver, duh. Nick had eggs benedict on toast with prosciutto and a balsamic glaze. It was the perfect meal to start our short five-hour drive to Green River, Utah.

I don’t think I stopped looking out the window once on this drive. It was amazing. Snow-capped mountains and canyons that were breathtaking. It was something straight off of a postcard. The closer we got to Green River the more we realized we were truly in the middle of nowhere. The town of Green River has no other surrounding towns, it is in the middle of the desert right off the interstate. We were convinced this was the town the Pixar movie Cars was based off of. 

We stayed in a Bed and Breakfast that night. It was attached to a restaurant called Tamarisk. The bnb only had three rooms and we were lucky enough to get one. It was very private and overlooked the Colorado River and the town of Green River. There were hummingbird feeders right outside our room. It was a great experience. We had takeout from Tamarisk for dinner splitting some nachos, Nick getting enchiladas and me getting tacos. Then FREE breakfast in the morning from anything off the menu at the cutest restaurant (Take a hint Hilton). 

We finally had just a three-hour drive to Cedar City, Utah. Right as we got on the interstate, we saw a sign that said No stops or services for 100 miles. 100 MILES? Not to mention there was a wildfire warning on our route. It was a rough drive. We drove uphill for almost the entire drive. At one point we saw a sign that the altitude was 7,000 feet. We were literally driving on top of a mountain. But the views were again so worth it.

I lived in Utah last summer as well, working with the same theater company. I thought I would have been less fazed by the mountains but you never get used to it. After what seemed like hours, suddenly Cedar City emerged from the vast desert plains and we had finally made it…22 hours, our first cross country trip. Oh and did we mention it was also the week of our one-year anniversary? It was a wonderful way to spend our last couple of weeks together before being apart for the summer.

Now the question is: where are we going on the way back?

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