Our “places-we’d-most-like-to-visit” list starts and ends with foreign destinations, but somehow a few National Parks in the U.S. managed to sneak in there.
It occurred to us that 2017 would be the perfect time to string together sites we had longed to see in the American West – like Arches National Park and the Grand Tetons. The plan evolved to intersperse visits to the big parks with some quiet and iconic destinations that aren’t so often on others’ lists. (Photo: Capital Reef NP, Utah)
Our version of a road trip was just a little different. The plan did not call for us to jump in the car, start driving, and see where we ended up. We planned to take our time – 7 months actually – and the planning took even longer. (Not to worry, planning is always half the fun.)
Our version paid off in reduced costs: AirBnBs were booked for longer stays to get a discount and allowed us to do our own cooking; we were able to reserve camping sites (so much less expensive than motels); and the motels we did stay in were chosen for high ratings and low prices. (Photo: Missoula, Montana AirBnB where we stayed for a lovely week)
We started in Portland, Oregon with a family visit. In December we headed due south. By July, the trip had ended where it began – in Portland, Oregon. Blue dots mark AirBnB stays of a week (San Jose, California; Tucson, Arizona; Livingston and Missoula, Montana) or month-long stays (Palm Springs, California and Sierra Vista, Arizona). Green dots mark national parks we visited: from north to south: Waterton Lakes NP in Alberta, Canada; Glacier NP in Montana; Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs in Wyoming; 3 NPs in Utah: Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands; and Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Saguaro NP in Arizona.
Weather can make or break a trip. We plotted historic temperature and rainfall as part of our planning, and it worked well.
Somewhere along the way, probably as we drove down a back road with an endless vista of sagebrush plains with layered, red rock mountains in the distance, it occurred to us that the American West was a foreign destination for us.
We expected the landscape to be very different – and it was. (Photo – Yellowstone NP, Wyoming)
The difference was more than just the landscape. Step into a town in the old west and glance at a restaurant menu, or clothing styles, or how towns are strung out along the railroad tracks, and we experienced a place foreign to the east coast.
We saw animals, like bison, we’d never seen at home.
Many miles of state highways were “open range” where cattle roamed freely across the roads.
As grand as the scenery was, the best part of the road trip started when we left the car and started to explore.
We spent time on a number of Indian reservations, including the Navajo and Blackfeet, but the native peoples’ presence was strongly felt almost everywhere we traveled. (Photo: Arches NP – Ute rock art carved between 1650 and 1850)
We walked or hiked at every stop. We saw rock formations, birds, bugs, wildflowers, plants, and many animals.
The huge old trees, especially in the national parks, were impressive. (Photo: Waterton Lakes NP, Alberta, Canada)
If we hadn’t walked by on our hike up to a waterfall, we would have missed this old cabin decorated with license plates in Chico, Montana.
Friends joined us along the way and we stopped to visit others, like Ken, on his cherry farm on Flathead Lake in Montana. The cherries were almost ripe. Next time, we realized, we should plan to be there during the harvest.
Our trip through the American West, so unfamiliar and unknown to us, wasn’t far removed from our trips to foreign countries. The excitement of the scenic, colorful, oh-so-photogenic landscape alone made it one of our best road trips ever. Could we ever be bored driving those roads? With each stop, all the discoveries to be made down paths and roads just made us more excited. This is exactly how travel should be.