We loved our first US trip that we made in 2005, but felt that we had left some great parts of the US out. We therefor decided to make our third US trip to a road trip covering those parts. When the planning was done it was stretching over seven states, starting in Colorado and ending in New Mexico. We covered just as many national parks and had the time of our lives.
This is our story, 23 days and 4026 miles later …
July 29th Driving from Denver to Hot Springs
We woke up early at our airport hotel outside Denver. Why on earth did we say we were going to pick up our car at 10 AM? Hello, jetlag… Even though we checked in after midnight, we never sleep much the first nights anyway.
After spinning around in bed the usual couple of hours we got up with a deep sigh. We took a shuttle to the rental office after breakfast and faced an enormous queue. Lucky we went early. When we finally got the car it was way past 10 AM. Johan didn’t approve of Jenny’s choice of car and rented another one, twice as expensive. Ironically the SUV was so small that Jenny couldn’t drive it. Her long legs made it impossible so she ended up being the mapreader as usual.
We made our way out of Denver without getting stuck in road tolls. The Denver area was the only area for 23 days that had tolls. AVIS’s system for managing road tolls would get triggered and be activated for our entire road trip, even though we wouldn’t use it. We thought it unnecessary to pay 5 USD a day for something that we wouldn’t use so we were glad to get out of the area without getting stuck.
Our first day was a long drive. We drove through the prairie and faced enormous landscapes. Our Hyundai Santa Fe that would be classified as a rather large car back home felt like the smallest around. We continued our way through Wyoming before entering South Dakota. We came to the Black Hills area from the south. Really cool to drive up and down through the valleys.
Totally exhausted we checked in at our hotel in Hot Springs. We took a walk and grabbed some food before going to bed.
July 30th Mt Rushmore-Keystone-Rapid City
We checked out after a horrible breakfast and started driving towards Mount Rushmore. The area was really special. Up and down, up and down. The mountains were beautiful. We spotted our first buffalos in the Wind Cave National Park. It was quite a sight, so we just parked our car and stood there watching them for a while. It was something extra.
Our automatic gearbox started to show it’s true quality in the hilly area. It totally refused to gear up! So irritating, but this was just the beginning of our very hilly trip, so it hadn’t seen nothing yet!
We passed the Crazy Horse monument on our way to Mount Rushmore. It will become gigantic when it’s finished. Much larger then Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore on the other hand was much smaller then expected. We walked along the presidential trail before moving on to Keystone, an old boom town. It was a pretty cool town, it was like walking in an old western movie. We had a really nice steak before driving to Rapid City.
July 31st Rapid City-Deadwood-Hardin
Some jerk had put the alarm clock on before leaving the hotel. So it went off at 5 AM. We had a long breakfast before driving through the Black Hills forests towards Deadwood. We planned what roads to take from back home to avoid the largest highways and get some scenic roads instead.
Deadwood was everything we expected and more. The location amongst the mountains made it easy to understand why the authorities back in the old days had trouble finding the illegal town. From another perspective it gives it an outstanding setting. So beautiful!
It was really hot outside so we looked at the town for a couple of hours and visited a very nice museum. We also went to Kevin Costner’s place Midnight Star before continuing towards Hardin.
The scenaries was just as beautiful as it had been the previous days while we were leaving South Dakota, continuing through Wyoming and entered Montana.
August 1st Little Bighorn-Great Falls
Early bird. Our first national park was Little Bighorn. Since the US was in serious financial trouble we didn’t know if they were going to close down all the national parks the following day. We had a plan b to go to Canada if that happened, but for now we payed a one day ticket fee at Little Bighorn in case they closed down. Wouldn’t be such a great idea to buy a seasonal ticket if we couldn’t use it.
We were very much alone when we came in the morning. We had the park pretty much to ourselves and we walked around, just savoring the atmosphere. The area is rather large so we went by car to the most remote places. We were rather upset that general Custer was treated like a hero all over the park. Later on we overheard the guides that were guiding tour groups. They were talking in the same way. We couldn’t help but notice that all the guides we saw were white. And all the people that were picking up trash were Indians. That says everything you need to know …
The heat was getting heavier and the park was crowded when we left by noon. It felt pretty good to sit in an air conditioned car all afternoon. We drove through enormous flat landscapes and came to Great Falls 6.30 PM. Our hotel had a mall just across the street so while Johan stayed at the hotel relaxing, Jenny went to Michaels to do some shopping. 🙂
August 2nd Great Falls-Glacier National Park
Since the government managed to save the day we stayed in the US. We left Great Falls in the morning, driving towards Glacier National Park. We had a highly needed second breakfast in Browning before continuing towards Glacier. The nature was outstanding! It was SO worth the extra drive to go to Glacier and not straight to Yellowstone. We passed St Mary and went straight to the Many Glacier area to do some hiking. We purchased bear spray, changed our clothes and shoes in the car and went straight for the Iceberg Lake trail.
It started out with a steep climb that really payed of when you had conquered it. The view was spectacular! Since we were walking on the afternoon the paths were crowded, but we had a great hike anyway. We spotted a deer that was just lying next to the trail, making no move or sound. People were just passing it without even noticing it. We saw mountain goats at a distance, otherwise it was mainly the views that made the hike worth while.
After a long walk, we drabbled through snow and were finally there. The lake was truly something extra, situated just below the mountains, letting the icebergs float in the middle of the summer. We rested for a while before heading back to the car. We had a great dinner before checking in at St Mary’s. That was without a doubt the worst hotel we’ve ever stayed in. Ok, we’ve had worse. But we didn’t pay 200 USD a night for those places. Since everything else was booked we didn’t have much of a choice when we booked it a couple of months in advance. We highly recommend you to book much earlier then we did. Our room was dark, extremely dirty and small.
August 3rd Going To The Sun Road
Early bird again, don’t want to spend a minute in that horrible room. We had some breakfast and went to Going To The Sun Road. The views were incredible! We just stopped the car by St Mary Lake and enjoyed ourselves in the sun before continuing. We took an entire day (14 hours) to drive back and forth the road. We stopped wherever we felt like it and made small hikes from the main road. The sites that were close to the road were exquisite. Definitely not a b option. You don’t get the same feeling as you get on the longer trails, but they are well worth to discover. We made several small hikes before lunch. We came to the Logan Pass area by lunchtime and it was a zoo! It was impossible to find a parking space and people were driving like nuts! We gave up and continued to drive south. As soon as we passed Logan Pass the crowds disappeared again. We had pizza by Lake Mc Donald before continuing with our small hikes on our way back north. We stopped by Logan Pass. The place was deserted! What a difference a couple of hours can make. We parked the car and went to take a look at the Highline Trail. 3 ft wide, mountain wall on one side and a dip on the other. Add a mountain goat that was standing in the middle of the trail like a guard on duty. Not for us with our vertigo.
We went back to St Mary’s and ended one of the best days of our trip.
August 4th – Grinnel Lake
We went back to the Many Glacier area again. We were heading for the Grinnel Glacier trail but it was closed since they had sighted bears. We chose to walk to the Grinnel Lake instead and it turned out to be a good choice. Not many people around and beautiful surroundings. We passed several lakes on our way and it was a nice hike.
We had lunch and spent the afternoon reading books and relaxing.
August 5th St Mary-Gardiner
We just couldn’t get away from our disgusting room fast enough! We checked out very early and left the Glacier area. We had a long boring drive to do so we might as well get started. We set course on the Yellowstone area and just drove … We came to Gardiner in the late afternoon, checked in at our hotel and rewarded ourselves with a fancy dinner. We did some grocery shopping to have some snacks with us in to the park the following day. Felt kind of exotic to meet people in full cowboy accoutrement, spurs and everything. We had seen it before during our trip, but there were more of them in Gardiner.
August 6th- Lost Lake and Slough Creek
The staff recommended us to get up early to get a seat for breakfast. Didn’t help much. We brought it to our room and had it there instead. We drove towards the northeast part of Yellowstone. Didn’t take long before we were out of the car taking photos of animals. The surroundings were beautiful. The mountains were much smaller then in Glacier and the area was very green. We parked the car and took the Lost Lake trail. We always tend to pick the steep trails and this was no exception. We started out by playing mountain goats. When we had passed the steep climb it turned out to be a very nice trail, hardly any people at all and beautiful surroundings. The lake was incredible and we were fascinated by a strange insect that made a really strange noise when it flew. We saw it in the entire park the coming days.
We met two nice ladies who warned us about a buffalo that was blocking the trail further ahead. We continued, carefully not to bump into it. It was kind of cool to see it standing there in the forest. Unfortunately we were at the end of the trail and close to a parking lot. The rumor had spread and there were people on the other side of the buffalo, throwing sticks at it to get better photo opportunities. The buffalo was starting to get irritated and went in our direction since we were the ones he saw. So we had to turn around and walk the entire trail again. But at least we didn’t get attacked. We went to a picnic area for some lunch and rested a bit. We continued to the Slough Creek trail. It was a really nice hike, despite all the irritating insects on our way to the creek.
We were amazed by the solitude we found on the different trails. We had read so many warnings about going to Yellowstone in August. It was supposed to be absolutely crowded, so our expectations were low. Still we managed to find our own spots that were more or less desolated.
A storm was coming in so we turned around after following the creek for a while. Lucky, the rain was pouring when we drove back to our hotel.
August 7th-Norris, Grand Canyon and Old Faithful
Heading for the great tourist areas, so we went to the park early to avoid the worst crowds. We drove on mountainous roads to Norris to check out the thermal activity. Very cool, but it felt like old news since we’ve already seen it on New Zealand. Unfortunately that was the impression we got from Glacier as well. Stunning views, really beautiful. But. It looked a lot like New Zealand. On the other hand we really loved the scenery on New Zealand so that wasn’t necessary a negative thing.
The thermal activity on the other hand was so much better on New Zealand, so we were not that impressed.
We went on to the Grand Canyon, that was spectacular. You really have to see it in real life, there are no photos to make it justice. We walked along some smaller trails along the canyon. Absolutely deserted. We could really enjoy it on our own, just us and the nature. The vantage-points were really crowded. We went there as well, but the best way to savor the nature is truly off the beaten track.
We had some lunch and then decided to skip the Cascade Lake trail and go to Old Faithful instead. The geyser was a true tourist magnet and we got rather shocked when we saw the crowds. Even the road to get there was so crowded it was like rush hour in a larger city. Finding a parking spot was the hunt of the day and to be honest we didn’t quite get what the fuss was about. Yes, it is a geyser. And yes, the eruptions are high (44 m in average). But if you have seen a geyser before you’ll probably not be that impressed. It’s the same thing. Thousands of people were standing on each other in the middle of nowhere to see some water. If we had trouble getting there it was even worse on our way back when everybody were leaving at the same time. It took hours to get back to our hotel while the thunderstorm was dancing over the skies. Once back in Gardiner we found a really cool cowboy restaurant that had great food. A nice way to finish our second day in Yellowstone.
August 8th- Mammoth Hot Springs and Mt Washburn
Early bird again. Went to enjoy Mammoth Hot Springs in the early morning sun. Great way to avoid the crowds. It was really cool to walk along all the hot springs and feel the heat. We spent a couple of hours and then went on to Mount Washburn. We were going to walk what is considered one of the best hikes in Yellowstone. We saw a lot of wildlife along our path and the view when we reached the top was great. You could see the Grand Canyon and all the way to the Grand Tetons. But afterwards we felt like it would have been nicer to take the Cascade Lake trail instead.
We spent the evening planning our next day. Since we were going to drive through the Grand Tetons national park we might as well spend the day there …
August 9th- Lake Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Jackson
We took a second round in Mammoth Hot Springs before heading south towards the Grant Tetons. We didn’t get that far. Two huge buffalos were blocking the road while the herd were watching. It took a while but we managed to pass them eventually. We didn’t get far until we had a third one on the road, acting like a traffic police. He walked back and forth, taking his time before he eventually let the cars pass.
We stopped by the Lake Yellowstone and just sat there and enjoyed the atmosphere for a while. We continued south and stopped for lunch after leaving the Yellowstone park. The Grand Tetons were magnificent. We drove a scenic drive for a couple of hours before heading for Jackson. What a place! 8000 inhabitants and traffic like a larger city! It felt like we were never going to get to our hotel, but we eventually did.
August 10th-Driving from Jackson to Salt Lake City
We checked out early in the morning and headed for Salt Lake City. We were driving scenic roads all the way, avoiding the large highways. We had great sceneries and a fantastic day. We took the 89 through Afton and Montpelier before stopping by the Bear Lake to try out the famous milkshakes. Those milkshakes alone are worth a detour! The raspberry shakes are their trademark, but we tried the strawberry and they were definitely the best strawberry shakes we’ve had. The burgers were not bad either. 🙂
We continued through the wondrous landscape until we reached the I-15. Since we arrived in SLC rather early we decided to go shopping. SLC is the scrapbooking capital since it was started there, so we went to Orem so Jenny could run around all night from one scrapbooking store to the other. We checked in at our hotel by 10 PM and went straight to bed.
August 11th-Shopping day!
Hardly slept due to the heavy traffic outside our room. Switched rooms and went to an outlet to do some serious shopping. We spent the entire day at the outlet and left our purchases at the hotel before going out for a fancy dinner. It was after all Jenny’s birthday …
August 12th-Salt Lake City
Sightseeing in Salt Lake City. We went to the Temple Square and bumped into at least ten bridal couples. We lost count! It was only Friday at noon and there were so many marriage ceremonies. We noticed that they all looked very young and half of them not very happy. We sat there for a while and just studied the enormous surroundings and the people. We couldn’t find any weeds in the entire area, still they had enormous flowerbeds and plantings. The gardens and the buildings were really beautiful, but it felt kind of weird to see the luxury and the beggars standing just outside the gates. We just strolled around and looked at the city for hours. We went to dinner and grabbed some nice blueberry beers before heading back to our hotel.
August 13th-Antelope Island
We had breakfast in a jammed breakfast area and went to pack. The road to Antelope Island was amazing. It was so nice crossing the lake through the fairytale mist. It felt kind of dreamy. We drove around the island, watching the beautiful nature, bisons and deers.
Jenny made an attempt to take a swim, but the beach was so full of sand flies it was disgusting. We had fun imitating the movie scene from The Mummy where all the scarabs are fleeing the bracelet. The sand flies were moving away in the same pattern. Kind of cool.
When we got back we went to a mall to find some make up and books. We found an awesome bookstore that we spent hours in. They have such nice book stores in the US that we don’t have back home. We had some dinner and headed back to our hotel.
August 14th – Zion National Park
Went up early to go to Zion. Had breakfast, checked out and were on our way to load the car when we found out that the battery was dead. We had not left the lights on, but still it was dead silent. We called Avis and a mechanic came by an hour later to jumpstart the car. He told us that our car model was known to more or less eat batteries. He jumpstarted them all the time, for no reason. We had a long drive to make and we were rather late so we went away as quickly as possible, an hour later then expected.
We drove through fantastic sand coloured landscapes towards Zion. We had no idea Utah was that beautiful. We were amazed the entire day. When we got to Zion we took a scenic drive in the northern parts of the park. Really nice. When we got to the main entrance we had to use a shuttle since cars were not allowed in the park. Gosh, it was crowded. And hot. It was over +40 degrees outside and it turned out that people used Zion as their bathing place. You couldn’t really enjoy the nature, because people were really loud and absolutely everywhere. In every creek, every waterfall. It was such a contrast compared to what our experiences had been like in previous parks. It felt like Disneyland! We spent about four hours in the park before we had it and went back to the car. It was about 8 PM and we still had +38 degrees outside.
We took the scenic drive towards Panguitch. Amazing. You are allowed to drive through certain parts of Zion and the road to Panguitch went through it. You drove up the mountains, it was so steep it was scary. And when you got higher up you had to go through very narrow tunnels. It was claustrophobic. We got to Panguitch, checked in and picked up some sandwiches at Subway.
August 15th- Bryce National Park
Went to Bryce in the morning. We passed the Red Canyon on our way so we stopped and just enjoyed. We parked our car strategically by the store in Bryce to be close to our trails. It was a beautiful day, couldn’t be any better. We went to the Rim Trail and were completely alone for hours. It was fantastic. The views over the rim was extraordinary. We could just stand for half an hour at the time and listen to the wind.
When we got back we were completely starved and had a great lunch at the lodge before heading down the canyon. We went to the Sunrise Point and down the Queen trail. It was so steep! But it was really cool to climb down the canyon. Instead of climbing the same way up again we walked through the canyon to the Wall Street. We can definitely recommend that approach. No matter where you decide to climb up the canyon it will be steep (and HOT in the summer). But we felt it was easier to climb the Navajo loop then actually turn around and climb the Queen trail.
When we got up from the canyon we just sat on a bench for an hour, enjoying the views. We went back to our hotel to pack and get some sleep.
August 16th – Arches National Park
Driving day. We started early and stopped to get some gas and some proper breakfast. The hotel breakfast was a mess. Jenny actually got her best coffee ever in the US at The Silver Eagle where we fueled. Her day was saved …
We drove through deserted rows through Utah’s fantastic landscape. Parts of the route from Panguitch to Arches has really has stuck on our minds. No cities or towns, just the infinite mountains and … blown tires. We have never seen so many blown tires in our lives. Mile after mile. Everywhere. We managed to get lunch eventually and headed on towards Arches. When we got there it was +40 degrees again and we really didn’t feel like hiking in the heat. We considered Arches the bonus it was. We were passing it anyway and we had a national park pass so we might as well take a look. We didn’t have time to stay for an entire day, but we could spend a couple of hours so we did that by driving scenic roads and get out for short tracks. We actually got to see much more then expected by doing so. We were rather satisfied when we left. We drove towards Grand Junction, checked in and relaxed after we had some food.
August 17th – Silverton and Durango
We passed a Hobby Lobby on our way to the hotel the previous day so Jenny convinced Johan that it was absolutely necessary to go there. 😉
We continued our trip towards Silverton. We thought we’d never get there. The smallest roads up in the mountains with a 20 km/h speed limit. Silverton was a cute little western town. Since we had read that Durango was the place to aim for we didn’t stay long. We should have. Durango turned out to be like any other town. For the first time on our trip we were disappointed. We should have spent the day in Silverton instead. We spent the day trying to kill time.
August 18th – Santa Fe
We couldn’t get out of Durango fast enough. I guess we were just sick of driving, the road to Santa Fe felt like the dullest road on our entire journey. It felt endless.
After checking in we spent the day in the city.
August 19th – Santa Fe
Our 5th anniversary! We had some breakfast and parked our car a km from the city center. The largest Indian market in the US was due this weekend so we expected it to be crowded. We were right. It was. We walked around in the city center and enjoyed the atmosphere. It was so beautiful with it’s Mexican houses. We headed back to the hotel to rest by the pool for a couple of hours before having dinner.
August 20th – going home
It felt pretty good loading the car for the last time and head for the airport. We were soon on our way back home.
Photos from USA 2011