At the beginning, Eddie and Elizabeth Yountz were simply making plans to attend a family wedding in Los Angeles.
But as long as they were traveling so far west — the Yountz’ live in Lake Lure, N.C., — Eddie wondered if they could include a stop to see the Grand Canyon, a destination he had long wanted to visit.
And then Elizabeth figured, if we’re stopping to see the Grand Canyon, why not squeeze in a few more stops along the way? Maybe, she thought, she could fulfill one of her longtime goals — to visit each of the 50 states.
Indeed, the Yountzes decided to use the family wedding as an occasion to see much of the country, including a stop in each of the seven states that Elizabeth had yet to visit. They planned a three-week road trip that took them from Lake Lure to Los Angeles and back — with stops at attractions ranging from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to Graceland in Memphis, Tenn.
They saw the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and the the Hoover Dam on their way to Las Vegas. They rafted the Snake River, visited the mill in Utah where Kevin Bacon filmed a dance scene for Footloose, and took in the acclaimed fountain show at the Bellagio on the Las Vegas strip. They drove down California’s Highway 1 along the coast of the Pacific Ocean and along parts of legendary Route 66 through Arizona. They saw the Hearst Castle in California, Mark Twain’s house in Missouri and visited the Wall Drug Store in South Dakota.
And, yes, they spent a couple of days visiting the Grand Canyon.
“I really enjoyed the Grand Canyon,” Eddie says. “Pictures don’t do it justice. You just don’t realize how beautiful it is until you get there.”
But then Eddie — and Elizabeth — say they enjoyed just about everything about the trip. Sure, they liked some stops more than others (Eddie wasn’t a fan of the traffic in California, and Elizabeth says the Four Corners Monument at the point where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet was underwhelming), but the trip was full of highlights for both of them (Eddie enjoyed Monument Valley in Arizona and got a kick out of Cadillac Ranch in Texas, while Elizabeth found South Dakota to be stunningly beautiful, was amazed by Devils Tower in Wyoming and found an “absolutely stunning” wood and glass chapel in Garvan Memorial Gardens in Arkansas).
They had fun watching folks try (and fail) to earn a free meal at The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo by eating a 72 ounce steak, a shrimp cocktail, a baked potato, salad and roll in one hour. They were not tempted, though, to try it themselves. “No, we’re old folks, we can’t eat like that,” says Elizabeth.
They both gained a greater appreciation for the diversity and scale of the United States.
“I think everybody needs to do this trip,” Eddie says. “You can’t appreciate this country until you do that. It’s just an absolutely beautiful, beautiful country.”
Or, as Elizabeth says, “It floors you, just the expanse of some of these places. In Iowa, you see all the cornfields and windmills. Then you get in the desert — lower Utah is stunning. Just gorgeous.”
Eddie and Elizabeth found a unique way to share their trip with others — one that fellow Wolfpack fans should particularly enjoy. You see, Eddie and Elizabeth are season-ticket holders for NC State football games, often traveling to away games as well (even though Elizabeth is a graduate of the University of South Carolina). So being lovers of all things NC State, they decided to bring a bit of the Wolfpack with them on their travels.
They made the trip in a red Jeep, with a large block-S on the spare tire cover on the back of the car. And at each significant stop, they found a way to feature their car and its Wolfpack logo in a photo showing their location.
“I said, ‘We ought to take pictures of this thing traveling across the country,'” recalls Eddie. “She said, ‘We ought to take the logo on a vacation.'”
They had a few challenges along the way — it was tough to find a place to park near the Arch in St. Louis and the steady stream of traffic around Graceland made it difficult to hop out and get a photo — but Elizabeth says it usually wasn’t difficult to find a good spot to park the car for most of their photos. They had to drive through several Los Angeles neighborhoods, though, before they found a suitable angle to get a good shot of the car and the Hollywood sign, and an executive with the San Diego Chargers tried to shoo them away as the team (and NC State alum Philip Rivers) was coming in for practice at the team’s facility.
“We had a lot of fun taking the photos of the car,” Elizabeth says. “He would jump out and take the picture. We had to grab our moment.”
(To see all of the photos — and they are worth taking the time to do so — visit our Facebook page to see the gallery from the Yountz’ epic summer road trip.)
By now, you probably suspect that the Yountz’ are seasoned travelers, with Elizabeth having visited all 50 states now. (Eddie still has seven to go to finish his list.) But they say that’s not the case, that they had never taken a trip remotely like this before.
They say that a couple of simple ground rules (and a GPS that told them when and where to turn) were critical to the success of the trip. As they were pulling out of their driveway on July 20 to begin their trip — one that wouldn’t bring them back home until Aug. 13 — they stopped briefly to stress that back-seat driving would not be allowed. They both took turns driving — Elizabeth typically took the morning shift and Eddie drove in the afternoons — and agreed that they would only speak up if the driver was tailgating or the passenger saw a potential disaster unfolding.
“We’ve been married for 34 years,” Elizabeth says. “We weren’t sure how we were going to be able to handle being enclosed together that long. But we came back feeling closer. We had a ball.”
Eddie agrees: “We got along great, the best we’ve gotten along in years. I think everybody needs to do this trip.”