Road Trip: Utah, Idaho, Yellowstone, Colorado, New Mexico

bison in front of steam geysers Yellowstone national park Wyoming

After a couple of days in Reno getting all the playa dust off of ourselves and our stuff, and generally recovering from Burning Man (does anyone ever really recover from Burning Man?), we headed to Utah. We went to Salt Lake City and their awesome Visitor Center (seriously, they gave us espressos, biscotti, popcorn, and great brochures), visited Temple Square, and also spent some time out at Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, where you can float in the salty water, drive amongst bison and sheep, and hike.

Salt Lake City Temple
Chris Floating in Salt Lake
Antelope Island Bison

Heading into Idaho, we decided to stop and see Shoshone Falls, and were glad we did. It’s a beautiful park and not to be missed if you have the time for a quick stop.

Shoshone Falls

Driving east, we stopped next at Craters of the Moon National Park. We camped for a night there, and visited each of the stopping points on the seven mile park loop. What a strange and fantastic landscape! The 750,000 acres of volcanic debris are the perfect setting for NASA’s Mars experiments, and gives the visitor a glimpse into what our world looked like in the time of the volcanoes.

Craters Of The Moon National Park
Craters of the Moon National Park

And then we were in Yellowstone National Park! We were able to get three nights’ at a campground, and we spent the first day going to see Old Faithful and the lower geyser basin.  On our second day, we drove to Lake Yellowstsone (it’s huge!) and also checked out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. On the third day, we went to Mammoth Falls and some of the other mudpots, geysers, and hot springs. And everywhere we went we saw animals, from pronghorn deer, to elk, to bison. Even though it was after Labor Day, the park was still really crowded- and the nights got down to 34 degrees! After three nights I had had enough and was ready to head south.

Chris Capturing the Beauty of Yellowstone
An Elk at Yellowstone
Mammoth Falls

We drove south through Grand Teton National Park, where we saw a huge grizzly bear! Seriously huge, probably 600 pounds. That, coupled with the extreme beauty of the Tetons, made it an awesome day. A park not to be missed.

The Tetons
Wildlife at Grand Teton National Park
A grizzly bear!

We drove through Cheyenne, WY next, and stopped for some excellent barbecue at Tasty Bones, and visited a really great- and free!- museum on Wyoming’s history.  Some surprisingly interesting stuff in there!

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Instead of taking the boring ol’ highway south, we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. We timed our drive around sunset, and saw tons of elk and deer, as well as some beautiful fall colors. We spent the night in Winter Park, a very cute ski town.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we spent a couple of days at Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy. Mike took each of us up flying in a Cessna, so we got to see Colorado Springs from above. We also visited Garden of the Gods and drove to the top of Pike’s Peak.

Garden of the Gods, seen from above
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Chris and Deah at Pike’s Peak

Leaving Colorado Springs, we headed west a little bit and passed through Great Sand Dunes National Park. Huuuuge sand dunes! There was no way I was making it even to the top of the first one. Check out how tiny the people look in this photo below:

Chris at Great Sand Dunes National Park

We arrived in Durango and spent two nights with two old friends of mine, Paul and Julie. We got to catch up with everything that’s happening in their lives, and we also got to drive out to see Mesa Verde National Park. These mesa-top alcove pueblos date back to the 13th century and give tons of clues about life in those times, while still leaving us with basic questions about the cliff dwellers.

Mesa Verde National Park
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A Kiva at Mesa Verde

From Durango we headed to New Mexico, where my friend Karen had invited us for an evening with her family. We spent the day wandering around Manhattan Project National Historic Park, which I really enjoyed. I had no idea there was a boys’ Ranch School on the site previously, and that it was appropriated by the War Department. We got to wander through some homes on Bathtub Row, and then we visited the Bradbury Science Museum– a super hands-on and informative museum about the Los Alamos Research Laboratory.

Los Alamos Ranch School

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Oppenheimer’s house at Los Alamos

Between Los Alamos and Santa Fe, we had time to make a very quick stop in at Bandelier National Park- home to multi-storied alcove cliff homes dating back to the 1400s, as well as the remnants of a larger circular village named Tyuonyi, with over 500 rooms.

Deah at Bandelier National Park
Tyuioni village

We walked around historic Santa Fe, including their beautiful church dating back to 1610, and of course ate tons of New Mexican food. On the way out of town, we spent the afternoon at Meow Wolf, a very interesting and strange immersive art experience. At $25, it’s pretty expensive, but it is such a unique experience that I’d recommend checking it out- there’s one coming to Denver and to Las Vegas soon. It’s too hard to describe in words so here’s a few pictures.

Santa Fe Cathedral
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Red or Green?
Meow Wolf

We took the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, and then stayed with two of our friends from Burning Man, Alex and Debbie, at their home near Sandia Peak. A rainstorm rolled in and we watched it through the massive windows of their house, overlooking the city. We had a great evening with them as we talked about our Burning Man experiences and thoughts on the festival and travel in general.

Watching the rain pass over Albuquerque

In Albuquerque the next day, we strolled through historic old town. Our favorite part was the Albuquerque Museum, which has seven galleries, of which the New Mexico Jewelry exhibit was our favorite. Amazing craftsmanship of both old and new jewelry, ranging from silver and turquoise to feathers and other found materials. Worth going to, and a very inexpensive museum at $6.

Albuquerque Museum

That was our furthest point west for this leg of the trip- we turned east and passed into Texas (my home state). We stayed the night in Amarillo, where we visited Carhenge (also known as Cadillac Ranch), a series of 10 Cadillacs that were buried in a farm field back in the 60’s. From there we went through Lubbock, keeping an eye out for fun street murals and Buddy Holly memorabilia (he was from there). And then finally we arrived in Arlington, Texas, my hometown, where some catching up with family and friends will now occur!

Carhenge

We fly to Nepal on October 15, so click the “Follow” button down below to get a post about our trekking there!

Have you been to any of these states? What was your favorite things to see there? What part of vacations do you like best- wild animals, beautiful scenery, or catching up with friends and family?

Road Trip Week Two: South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana

Roadtrippers map

South Dakota is a surprisingly fun state with lots of interesting- and free- attractions. First up on our list was the Corn Palace in Mitchell- this civic auditorium creates huge murals made of corn products each year (this year’s theme is weather). They also serve some delicious popcorn s’mores balls, which I highly recommend.

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Next on our list was the Akta Lakota Museum– a free (donations welcome) museum that tells the story of the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee, as well as general information about the Sioux (the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota tribes) way of life. The museum has some beautiful art work as well some props from the Dances With Wolves movie. At the same exit, but across the highway, a 50 foot tall statue entitled “Dignity of Earth and Sky” has been installed as of 2016, and is really beautiful. She’s visible from the highway but I’d definitely recommend stopping for a look.

The following day, we started off with a tour of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It is crazy and scary to think of how close we came to nuclear war- not once but on several occasions.

We picked up our National Parks Access Pass ($80, good for one year) at the entrance to Badlands National Park, and spent a few hours driving through there. We got lucky at one of our first pull-offs and encountered a bighorn sheep crossing the road right in front of us. I always thought the Badlands would be fairly monochrome but in fact they were colorful and variable in really lovely ways.

We took the off-highway road through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands on our way down to Mt Rushmore. We were worried at first because it began to rain, a lot, and the temperatures dropped and it was pretty miserable. But the weather app promised it would clear up, so we parked at Mt Rushmore, dodged the rain, and went and toured the museum and watched the video, and when we came out, the rain had stopped and the fog lifted and we got a nice view of the mountain with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt carved on it.

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The next morning, we visited the Crazy Horse Memorial– my parents had gifted us with a special tour to the top of the arm, where you can really see the work being done on this colossal carving project- the largest in the world, in fact (the four profiles in Mt Rushmore easily fit on the side of Crazy Horse’s head, and when finished, it will be taller than the Washington Monument). Learning about the history of both Crazy Horse and the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, was really awe-inspiring. Imagine being so committed to a project that you knew would be finished in your lifetime!

From there, we drove through the Black Hills and did a quick drive by of both Deadwood and Sturgis. Even a month before the Sturgis motorcycle rally, there were plenty of bikers all over the Black Hills roads. It’s a fun drive. We also stopped in at Belle Fourche, which claims to be the geographic center of the United States.

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We made it to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, in the afternoon, and went for a walk around the monolithic magma butte- what a cool landform. So unique. We also got to sit for a while and laugh at the prairie dogs, which are really hilarious to watch.

That night we camped in the Bighorn National Forest- we drove in to the park, turned on one of the side roads, and wound up following the road until we were 7800 feet above sea level and we had arrived at a horseman’s camp. But they had empty spots so we pitched our tent there and enjoyed the lovely, if chilly views. The national forest campgrounds provide a picnic table, fire ring, toilets, and water, and are a bargain at only $10.

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With that, we left Wyoming and headed north to Montana. We stopped and spent half a day at the Bighorn National Battlefield Monument, a monument to all the men who died there. The battle is often called “Custer’s Last Stand”, but really, it was the last stand of the Indians who surely knew it was their last chance to avoid being contained on a reservation. The ranger giving the talk was so knowledgeable and obviously really enjoyed his work- this was his 30th summer at that national park.

“Warriors, we have everything to fight for and if we are defeated we shall have nothing left to live for; therefore, let us fight like brave men”. — Sitting Bull

That night we drove into the Lewis and Clark National Forest and camped- we weren’t so high up this time but it was still cold- down in the 40’s- and it rained a bit that night. But our tent stayed dry and we were able to catch the most amazing sunset (still light out at almost ten pm).

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We decided, with this being Fourth of July week, that we will wait to see Yellowstone National Park on our way back after Burning Man in September. Anxious to get on up to Alaska, we passed through the border at Sweet Grass Montana and into Canada this afternoon. Stay tuned for the next blog post in a week or so, which will be about Alberta and Yukon Territory. Got suggestions for these Canadian territories? Let me know.