After spending a week in Denver flying, Ashley and I took a road trip through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It was quite a trip. We saw three national parks and two national monuments on the trip (ticking off a few more national parks on my bucket list item to see all U.S. national parks by age 25 [prior to turning 26]).
We drove from Denver, through Wyoming to camp in Yellowstone National Park the first two nights. It was absolutely beautiful. Ashley and I backcountry camped the second night in the Lamar Valley in Northeastern Yellowstone. This turned out to be the best place to camp due to the lack of people and the higher elevation. The second night camping it got down to 6 degree Celsius… my kind of weather! After we packed our camping equipment in the car and were getting ready to drive away, Ashley spotted two small Black Bears. Whoa! Luckily, they were quite a distance away, but it fulfilled our wish of seeing a bear from a comfortable distance. We did all the fun touristy things in Yellowstone the second day. First, we went to the Upper and Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River, which despite all the people, are magnificent. After a few morning hikes around the falls we then drove to the geothermal area. As luck would have it, we timed the geysers just right. As we were walking up Old Faithful began to go off, and we were able to get a front row seat for the 5-minute eruption. Right after Old Faithful finished we walked over to Grand Geyser (which is the tallest predictable geyser in the world that only goes off ever 14 – 24 hours) and it started going off! The neat thing about Grand Geyser is that along with it, two other geysers go off simultaneously. After seeing all the erupting water we could handle we finished our walk around the geothermal area, seeing quite a few other boiling crystal clear pools, and multi-colored ponds.
After exploring Yellowstone, Ashley and I headed south to Grand Teton National Park. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. The Tetons are spectacular. They seemingly rise right out of the plains of western Wyoming. They are jagged and rugged, a mountaineers paradise. Grand Teton, in my opinion, is quite a bit more fun than neighboring Yellowstone. There are endless hikes, bikes, lakes, and scenery to choose from and there are half the people. Our first day in Grand Teton we drove all around visiting the different lakes and taking multiple short hikes. That evening we headed down to Jackson for dinner then we drove Teton Pass into Idaho to visit one of Ashley’s high school friends and to have a drink at her family’s brewery. Unfortunately, cell service is not wonderful in this part of the country and we ended up missing her friend but we still had a drink and met some new friends from Twin Falls, Idaho. The next morning we woke up at 4am and drove back to Grand Teton National Park to score some incredible sunrise photos over Grand Teton Peak. The early wake up is always a bear but once the sun’s rays began to crest the horizon and turn the peaks all shades of red, waking up early is SO worth it. We found a great viewing spot, sat and enjoyed the sunrise and the chilly morning air; counting our numerous blessings.
Later that morning, after an incredible breakfast in Teton Village (where Jackson’s Hole Ski Resort is located), we went for a few hour hike to Taggart Lake and back. Trying our best to drown out the sound of disrespectful families and their LOUD children and enjoy the nature surrounding us in every direction. After that we packed the car and headed north east to Montana and across to Devils Tower National Monument.
Devils Tower is a weird monument. I can understand why the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” used it… it looks quite alien from afar. In fact, it was just a spot, which used to be under the ground, where hot magma filled a crack in the earth’s crust, cooled then cracked. As the softer ground has been washed away over millions of years, the harder magma has stayed creating Devils Tower.
Next, we drove to Deadwood, South Dakota… a famous mining town with a neat history. After exploring the town, we took the scenic route through the Black Hills of South Dakota down to Mount Rushmore National Monument. Mount Rushmore is a neat place. It is not the natural beauty, which I love so much but it is still worth visiting. The history and beauty in the Black Hills is breathtaking. After taking a few small hikes around George, Thomas, Teddy, and Abraham, Ashley and I were on the road again further east to Badlands National Park.
Badlands is out of this world. All we had time for was the northern loop through the park. In order to get to the entrance to Badlands we had to drive through endless grasslands. Then all of a sudden, the grass ends and this wild, bizarre landscape starts. It has what I refer to as desert beauty. The desert is dead, dry, and not really that pretty but somehow it is still beautiful in its own way. That is what the Badlands are… beautiful in their own way. One of the cooler parts of Badlands National Park is the visitor center and reading all the Dinosaur history, they have found in the park.
After that, we drove all the way back to Texas… through hours and hours of grasslands in Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. I have to admit though; all the gas and food stops we took in Nebraska we never met a single person who was not extremely friendly and kind. I have a new appreciation and love for the people of Nebraska.