Great American Road Trip Day 5 – Kansas City

Ribs at Joe's in Kansas City

Ribs at Joe’s in Kansas City

After a good night’s sleep, we hit the road early for the long haul to Kansas City.  We got some lunch fixings in Hays, Kansas and drove hard and fast to KC, hitting town about about 7 pm.  We wanted to have some genuine Kansas City barbecue, and we got a tip that we had to have the ‘cue at Joe’s Barbecue.  Joe’s has several locations, and we chose their original spot which was in a gas station.

The line was out the door, but we soon had a plate of pork ribs and a two-meat plate of pulled pork and beef brisket.  Some folks say Joe’s barbecue is the best in Kansas City, and others say it’s the best in the world.  (Kansas City has such a high reputation for barbecue, these are probably the same thing.)

Kansas City

Kansas City

All I can say is that is that the ribs are some of the best I can remember.  The pulled pork was also excellent, as was the brisket.  I think I’ll give the nod on the brisket to the Hill Country of Texas, where they know their beef and specialize in brisket.  Texas brisket is so flavorful, sauce is generally eschewed.

Tomorrow, it’s on to Nashville!

Great American Road Trip Day 4 – Colorado

We got an early start out of Loveland, CO, on our way to Boulder and Denver.

I got the feeling that Loveland and Longmont are still somewhat challenged by the most recent economic downturn and still in the state of recovery.

Bike sharing in Denver

Bike sharing in Denver

Boulder, on the other hand, is very robust and healthy.  I actually mean “healthy” in two ways, both economically and in the physical health of its residents.  Whenever we do a study involving health measures and health habits (eating, exercising), Boulder comes out as #1 in the U.S.

Boulder is probably the premier city in the country for an outdoor lifestyle and it is the home to many recreation companies and high-tech firms that want to lure the best talent with its recreational amenities with surround the city.  It’s also a college town, home to University of Colorado-Boulder.

When you combine all these attributes with the fact that it’s only about 30 minutes west of Denver, you begin to understand why home prices here continue to escalate.

If you can afford it, it’s definitely one of the best places to live.

Driving to Denver, I wanted to check out what was happening in the “LoDo” neighborhood.  That acronym stands for “Lower Downtown”, and is an of urban renewal featuring the renovation and restoration of many old commercial buildings.  A major league ballpark (Coors Field), a pro basketball arena (the Pepsi Center), and the elegant old Union Station generate activity throughout the year.  It has reached that critical mass that makes it a desirable place to work, play, and live.  Of course, all this comes at a hefty cost.

Bert with Steve Weil of Rockmount Ranch Wear

Bert with Steve Weil of Rockmount Ranch Wear

LoDo is also the home to Rockmount Ranch Wear, which has produced some of the finest and most iconic Western clothing for the last 70 years.  Rockmount introduced snaps on shirts instead of buttons to reduce the possibility of snagging on gear and causing harm.  When you see your favorite performer in a wildly-embroidered Western shirt, it probably came from Rockmount.  I’ve got a couple of their shirts, so it was a real treat to visit the “mother ship”.  Gretchen and I even met with Steve Weil, the third-generation owner of the company who shared stories and insights about their operation.

After checking out the beautiful and vibrant Union Station, we left Denver through the bustling Colfax neighborhood.  Colfax is now known for its hipster culture and that was evident with many music venues and trendy shops.  We noted with amusement that Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts has opened a shop there.  In Portland, we natives enjoy Voodoo Doughnuts mainly to laugh at the long lines of visitors standing in the rain to score some overpriced pastry that can range from weird or unpalatable, to just kind of ordinary.

Apparently the Voodoo phenomenon is spreading.  We stopped in a doughnut shop in Boise but left empty-handed.   I was hoping to find an ordinary unadorned cake doughnut (my favorite) but theirs were all covered with breakfast cereals and other odd ingredients.  Oh well.  Rock on.

Leaving Denver, we drove for an hour or so and settled down in the little town of Limon, Colorado.

Day 3 – Over the Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountain High

Ok, we didn’t make it to Denver.  We stopped short in Loveland, Colorado, since it was getting late.  We had spent some time knocking around Laramie, Wyoming after being menaced by a few snow flurries at the pass.

The rocks and cliffs were spectacular leaving Salt Lake City and we climbed steadily with snowy peaks around us.  There were ghostly old mining operations by the highway left to rust, and towns like Evanston and Rock Springs with fresh development.  We fueled up at Little America in Wyoming, which at one point billed itself as the world’s largest truck stop.

On our way over the Rockies, we were concerned by some falling snow but it never got heavy enough to cause a problem and the temperature hovered just about freezing.  I was excited to see the sign announcing that we were passing the Continental Divide, which delineates the Western from the Eastern half of the United States.  The Continental Divide stretches all the way from Canada to the Mexican border, and we had seen its terminus on a recent visit to El Paso, Texas.

Wyoming

After climbing I-80 to nearly 8,000 feet in altitude, we descended through lush grasslands to Laramie, Wyoming.  Laramie is a real Western town, with silhouettes of bucking broncos on pretty much every sign and flat surface.  Locals told me these winter was so mild it hardly counted as such.  It seems like winter in most of the Western U.S. was as mild and uneventful as the East’s was brutal and exhausting.

Since it was late in the day, we stopped at Loveland, Colorado for the night.

Great American Road Trip Day 2 – Salt Lake City

Utah's Lake Powell

Day Two started with a visit to Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro on South Capitol Blvd., which is located in the increasingly hip downtown area of Boise.

Goldy’s delivers the solid hipster breakfast experience, which includes long lines and no reservations.  Food-wise it pretty good, but personally I’m a little hipstered-out right now.  Gretchen’s meal included Hollandaise sauce, and it was really well done – very light and fluffy.  However, it did lack flavor and needed some lemon juice and salt.

Overall, good food but not if you’re in hurry.

We continued out of Boise on highway I-84.  It started raining very hard before we left the city limits, and then the wind picked.  For the next two hours, the heavy rain lashed at the car, driven by winds of 50 mph.  Sheets of rain hung across the sky like gauzy curtains.  The wind also created another hazard – Killer Tumbleweeds.

Tumbleweeds

Ok, the tumbleweeds didn’t really injure anyone, but they really had me worried.  The powerful winds broke them loose from their roots, and pushed them straight across the highway.  The cars were barreling along at 85 mph, and some of these tumbleweeds were at least four feet in diameter.  According to the locals, the weeds usually just break apart without issue, but they can get caught under your and cause problems if ignored.  After two hours of constantly weaving and avoiding the barrage of tumbleweeds, I was pretty frazzled and glad when the wind died down.

The rest of the journey to Salt Lake City has filled with the magnificent views of the mountain, which were often lightly dusted with snow.  Around 6 pm we were driving along the Great Salt Lake.  Development now stretches continuously from north of Ogden to Salt Lake City, and south to Provo and Orem.

It occurred to me that this area may be facing some of the same challenges as the Seattle metro area, in that both regions are forced to develop North and South because they are constrained on the East and West sides.  Seattle has Puget Sound to the West and Lake Washington to the East.  Salt Lake City is more limited, with mountains to its East.

Salt Lake City

The entire Salt Lake region has experienced some of the strongest growth in the United States, appearing on many of our Best Places lists in the last 15 years.  It has been one of those rare areas which have remained affordable, yet with a strong economy and high quality of life.

All this growth is causing some problems however, in the form of persistent air pollution which is magnified by inversions resulting from the geography of the surrounding mountains.

After a nice meal, we settled in our comfortable old hotel to get ready for the next day’s journey to Denver.

Onward to Boise

With ourselves and the car fueled, we enjoyed the drive past snow-covered mountains to Boise, Idaho.

Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains

Boise is the state capital, with big domed building in its downtown area.  We arrived on a Sunday around 7:30 pm and I was surprised that the joint was jumping.  Boise’s downtown has several streets (not just a strip) of restaurants, clubs and interesting stores that were packed with people.

It had been a while since we’d been to a nice restaurant, so we found a highly-rated one a few blocks from the downtown, Richard’s Café Vicino.  It was really excellent, with an innovative take on Italian food without getting cutesy or overdone.  Café Vicino seems very comfortable with what it’s doing, and it’s doing it very well.  We thought our meal ranked among the best we’ve had in the last two or three years.  Highly recommended for a special night out.

Café Vicino is located right next to the Boise Co-op, which started as a typical food cooperative many years ago.  Perhaps you’re familiar with the food co-op which was big in the 60’s and 70’s – housed in a creaky old building, selling bulk lentils, raw honey in bring-your-own containers, and an assortment of a few sad root vegetables.  Wow, how this has changed!  The Boise Coop is now like Whole Foods, only better.  Negotiating this path from communal roots to economic success reminds me of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) in Seattle which now has stores all over the country.

The Snake River in Idaho

Based on what we’re seeing here in Boise, I’d say it’s where Portland was about twenty years ago.  This is actually a very good thing, since Portland is approaching unaffordability for many of the young people who want to live there.  Boise is developing some interesting lifestyle options that would be wise for you to check out.

Now we’re going to check out Goldy’s for some breakfast, which seems to be on everyone’s restaurant list for Boise.  And maybe we’ll grab a doughnut for the road; there seem to be an overabundance (if possible) of doughnut shops in the area.

Great American Road Trip Day 1 – Columbia River Gorge and Pendleton

Columbia River Gorge

Day One of our road trip was a nice Oregon spring day, meaning that it was dry though overcast.  We headed out a little late, just after 10am, Eastward on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge.

The Gorge is one of the most beautiful spots on earth, and it’s no wonder it has been designated a National Scenic Area.  It seems the Gorge always shows up in car advertisements, showing the vehicle perched majestically above a huge river flowing far below.

This Sunday the Gorge was utterly calm, which is really rare.  Even the numerous wind turbines were completely still.  This phenomenon allowed wisps of low-lying clouds to cling to the valleys lining the gorge, which was a unexpected treat to see.

Cowboys at the Pendleton Round-up

We wanted to cross the country as quickly as reasonably possible, so there was no time for side trips.  We had lunch in Pendleton, Oregon at Dickey’s Barbecue.  This is a Texas-based chain of stores, and as much as I try to steer clear of chains, I’ve got to say Dickey’s is pretty darn good.  When you’re hungry for ‘cue, it’s a solid alternative for a grab-and-go meal.

Pendleton is a real Western cowboy kind of town, and home to the Pendleton Round-up, one of the top rodeo events in the world.  There’s plenty of Western wear, boot stores, even a bootmaker and a saddle shop on the main street.

It’s a fine little town with plenty of character, and some handsome older homes which can be a rarity here in the West.  If you’re in Oregon in mid-September, make a point to visit Pendleton during the Round-up.

Our Trusted Steed

Our old Honda Odyssey van was a great road car, but it was getting a little old and unreliable to take on such a long trip.

We downsized to a Honda CR-V mini-SUV which seems to hit the sweet spot between size, cost, gas mileage, reliability and drivability.

By the end of the trip, we’ll be adding at least 8,000 new miles to the odometer.  I’ll give you a report on the CR-V later in trip.

The Great American Road Trip

We started Sperling’s BestPlaces exactly 30 years ago, never dreaming it would ever become so widely recognized.

So, this seems like the perfect time to take a break from desk duties and head out on the road again to revisit our wonderful United States.

Starting from our home base in Oregon, my wife Gretchen and I will be driving across the U.S. in another episode of that great American institution – The Road Trip.

We’ve taken road trips across the country before, starting with our families when we were still kids.

Road TripWe’ve crossed the country by plane, rail, and Greyhound but there is something uniquely American about having a car, a full tank of gas, and no particular place to go.

The general plan is to travel smartly to the East Coast, somewhere south of the Washington DC area, and then knock around the South, trying to find that seam in the weather between freak snowfalls, heavy rains and flooding, tornadoes and oppressive humidity.  It’s been a tough year weatherwise for much of the U.S.

From there, we’ll travel Westward through the Southwest, before that region heats up in earnest.  Finally, we’ll travel back up through California to home.

Sperling’s Chill Cities

What are the best places in the U.S. to spend a cool, comfortable summer?

Summer heat and humidity can seem relentless, with no relief in sight.  Even moderately-high temperatures can be unbearable when combined with high humidity and nighttime temperatures that refuse to dip.

But there are places around the United States which are reliably cool and comfortable, even during the warmest months – July and August.  I used our new Sperling Heat Index to identify the places with the desirable combination of moderate daytime temps, low humidity, and cool temperatures at night.

Of the 50 largest metro areas in the United States, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco have the most comfortable summers, with mild temperatures, cool nights and humidity so low it’s barely noticeable.  (A full ranking of the 50 largest metros is at the end of this post, plus a ranking of  all 361 U.S. metros.)

Top Ten Chill Cities (of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas)

Rank Metro Daytime  high temp Nighttime low temp  Dew point Relative humidity at high temp
1 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 74.9 52.9 50.8 43%
2 Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA 79.2 53.2 51.6 38%
3 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 78.5 55.6 52.6 41%
4 Denver-Aurora, CO 83.3 53.4 46.3 28%
5 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 83.4 55.6 53.5 36%
6 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 80.3 60.0 59.3 49%
7 Salt Lake City, UT 88.5 57.1 39.8 18%
8 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 81.6 60.6 60.2 48%
9 Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 82.3 60.8 59.3 46%
10 Pittsburgh, PA 82.7 60.3 60.2 47%

(full list of 50 at the end of this post)
Click here to get the all the supporting data in a spreadsheet, including high temperatures, nighttime temperatures, dew point and relative humidity

Continue reading “Sperling’s Chill Cities”…

Sizzling Cities ranked – our new Heat Index

Which metros suffer through the summer, and where do residents just chill out?

We just released our new Sperling Heat Index, and I’m pretty excited about it.  It not only uses the average summer high temperature, but also includes the nighttime low temperature and dew point (a measure of humidity).

Of the 50 largest metro areas in the United States, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Houston have the hottest summers, and Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland have the coolest. (A full list of the 50 metros is at the end of this post, and a ranking of all 361 U.S. metros is available for download here.)

Top Ten Sizzling Cities (of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas)

Rank Metro Heat Index Average high temp Nighttime low temp  Dew point Relative humdity at high temp
1 Phoenix-Mesa, AZ 97.7 104.5 77.0 55.7 20%
2 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 94.4 103.1 75.2 42.2 13%
3 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 92.4 94.9 73.1 67.5 41%
4 Houston-Sugar Land, TX 92.3 92.0 74.3 72.9 54%
5 Austin-Round Rock, TX 92.2 94.8 72.3 69.1 44%
6 San Antonio, TX 92.1 94.4 72.6 69.3 44%
7 Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL 92.0 90.3 75.3 73.1 57%
8 New Orleans-Metairie, LA 91.7 90.7 74.5 73.2 57%
9 Orlando-Kissimmee, FL 91.6 91.9 73.3 72.4 53%
10 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL 91.5 90.8 73.9 73.0 56%

(full list of 50 at the end of this post)
Click here to get the all the supporting data in a spreadsheet, including high temperatures, nighttime temperatures, dew point and relative humidity.

Continue reading “Sizzling Cities ranked – our new Heat Index”…