TJE 58: Dear Friend, We had the Most Epic Road Trip (Part 1 of 3)

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Dear Friend,

I want to tell you a story – a travel story.

In 2017, I had the most epic road trip that has not been topped to date. And where else did I experience it, but in the United States of America!

2017 was a milestone year for me. It’s the year when I changed my career path. And with an open-ended life all of a sudden, I naively but not regrettably, joined a very long vacation to the USA.

My cousin who tags me along as usual, at that time really wanted to complete all 48 states in the mainland. So we planned a trip that would pass by all those they hadn’t been to yet.

It was an ambitious plan – one that would demand resources, including our physical energy. Can it be done?

Planning it was challenging, but good thing there was the Road trippers app! (I miss your free services!) I had planned many USA road trips using this app since 2013. And I would need its powers this time.

April 15, 2017 – we embarked on the road trip. As was usually the case with the trip planning app, I pinned the final destination and some major stops in between, but developed the itinerary as the trip progressed. My cousin and I just had to secure the few days ahead – booking motels/hotels and choosing points of interest along the way. We also routed detours based on interesting places, or if necessary. Necessary – something that came up from time to time.

Starting from Chandler, Arizona, we were headed to Springville, Utah as the first pit stop.

The trip was arranged such that we would be driving for 8 hours at a time. That’s 8 hours based on the app, not counting the time for stops. Speaking of stops…

At the north of Arizona is a spot that we were really intrigued with: the ever Instagram-able Horseshoe Bend. We had dreamed of seeing this, especially as Instagram addicts at the time.

It was the first major stop due to a point of interest. We took a lot of photos, thus spending a significant time here. The immensity of the trip hadn’t dawned on us yet.

After that, we hit the road and started aiming for our accommodation. It was getting dark. And as we kept driving along wide spaces with no settlement, doubt of reaching Springville at a healthy time started creeping in. The whole family’s hungry and we were just looking for whatever restaurant was still open. The beam of light was at Kanab, Utah.

During dinner, we made the decision to have an emergency stop right there. Everyone’s tired and we still had a few hours of travel left. So we had to waste the Agoda bookings, and looked for the nearest accommodation as necessary. Since Kanab is a city with provisions for tourists, we found a hotel there.

With how the first day went, I adjusted our itinerary, to have an average 6-hour driving time in between pit stops instead of 8. We consumed considerable time to refuel and stretch, apart from eating, looking for tourist spots and collecting souvenirs. It then meant, this trip would take more days than previously thought. Hmmm, I committed to attending a friend’s wedding in May.

However, the emergency stop opened up a new possibility. The next day, as we resumed moving, we passed a sign saying: Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We thought, hmmm should we check it out? After a quick consensus, we made a U-Turn and followed the sign. This was a pleasant surprise! The pink sand dunes sort of came out of nowhere. We had a fun time walking on it and playing around. The sand was very fine and smooth, and depending on how the light strikes it, it does give off a pink hue.

Our next pit stop was Salt Lake City, Utah. This was largely due to the Great Salt Lake, and Antelope Island in it.

This was the first time we stopped at a big city in Utah. We just passed the lower part of it in previous trips – impressive nature; but this change of scene was great. We were charmed by downtown Salt Lake City, so much so that the elders requested for us to have a two-night stay instead of just one. My cousin and I agreed. And the city’s charm really upped Utah among my list of most favorite states in the USA. It’s not just about jaw-dropping nature, but cool cities as well.

Also part of this trip was to find nice coffee shops, as this was the time I got into the coffee business. My cousin who used to drink lots of coffee was also starting to be particular about coffee quality. So both of us were on the look for interesting coffee shops. I was traveling with a Palakape mug and tumbler – the first branded items for the company. And with the help of Yelp, we found one of the best coffee shops ever: La Barba. Their coffee is great! I also had a nice chat with the passionate barista on duty.

In the afternoon, we pushed ourselves to visit the Great Salt Lake. We entered Antelope Island, and the views in there were stunning. That’s specially true during the window of time when the water was quite calm, reflecting the snow-top mountains like glass.

We had a fun time at Salt Lake City, and before leaving, we grabbed coffee at La Barba.

Time to go further north. Where to? Wyoming. But before our pit stop, we had a detour that we’re hoping would be worth it: Shoshone Falls in Idaho.

We normally wouldn’t let the fuel go very low for good reason: sometimes refueling stations are few and far in between. As we drove thru rural Idaho, we chanced upon an interesting rest stop/fuel station that was aptly named: Middle of Nowhere.

On our way to the falls, we were quite impressed by Snake River, that flows thru a gorge that’s beautiful. Then we entered a winding road going down. And there it was, seemingly out of nowhere, we saw the falls and it’s massive! It was spring time, meaning, it’s that time of the year when a large amount of water flows through the rivers due to ice melting.

Alright, that was fun! The detour was definitely worth it. Time to go to the next pit stop: Jackson, Wyoming. This was the first stop we originally planned for a 2-night stay. Arriving at the hotel in the evening, we instantly felt comfortable as it was clean and cozy. We sure were looking forward to the next day.

I knew I should go back to Wyoming. 2 years prior, during a road trip where we had a quick stop in the state, I bought a Wyoming-inspired mug to remind me that I should go back. Well all of us really wanted to go back because of the national parks located there.

We went to Jackson to see Grand Teton National Park. Waking up, we had a challenge of looking for a place to eat. Most shops and restaurants were closed. Later we learned that it was still the off/lean season as the national park was not fully open yet. It was the in-between, when winter sports were over; but summer’s not quite there yet.

After solving the meal problem, we finally started exploring the national park. We loved seeing the elks – first time we encountered them. We did a bit of hiking, but the main goal was to just have a good view of nature. As our group had young kids and elders, we couldn’t really hike a lot in the parks. And we didn’t have long stays for the young adults to allocate hiking time. So we were barely touching the surface, so to speak. But seeing grand views was satisfying enough, considering the extent of our trip. The Teton range was just beautiful to look at.

We imagined the Teton Range at night with stars at the backdrop. It would definitely be amazing! So in spite of the difficulty in keeping ourselves awake and getting out of the comfortable bed, a few of us headed out to capture the night sky.

The Grand Teton National Park is connected to Yellowstone National Park. I thought that would be our way up, already including stops within Yellowstone before our next accommodation. However, at that time of the year, the access road was still closed. Our timing was generally off for the area. (On the plus side, we were traveling with only few tourists!) So, we went to check if we could enter Yellowstone at the west entrance. Time to go back to Idaho.

At a town in Idaho, we thought of inquiring at a hotel if by any chance the West Entrance was open, before we took our chance driving all the way there. I entered the hotel and asked at the reception if we could go to Yellowstone National Park, through that way. A man said, “If you walk.” His colleague laughed at the remark. Basically, it’s still not open for cars, as the road was filled with ice.

What? Then how could we go to Yellowstone National Park?

Prior to that, we met another traveler at Grand Teton who mentioned that the north gate was open. He just came from Yellowstone National Park. So he was right, we ought to go there instead. This was confirmed by another hotel staff. So, fine, that’s the gate we had to go to then. We’re headed further north of Montana sure, but accessing the north entrance of Yellowstone was through a long arching detour. Well, we wanted to see the park whatever’s accessible for us, so we drove on!

After a seemingly endless drive through nature (which was beautiful, not taking the scenes for granted), a town emerged. It was the town right outside the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park: Gardiner. And we booked a nice looking lodge quite near the entrance. We loved it the instant we arrived.

Finally, Yellowstone National Park, we’ve met. Seeing the valley while driving was already awe-inspiring. And every time we saw the local animals, we were excited, haha!

We were only able to reach up to Mammoth Hot Springs. The next day, we tried to go further, hoping we could see bears, as overheard from other tourists the previous day. Nothing. So we just enjoyed the snowy scenery. And we had an awe-inspiring encounter with bisons. What can I say, those creatures look so majestic!

Now Yellowstone was great, and we had many reasons to go back at a better time. But we’re not done with the mountains yet. Off to further north of Montana. And we’re pretty excited for it. Because next was the stop that we decided to spend a bit more money on accommodation: by renting out a cabin.

On the way, I miscalculated the tank capacity as during the last progressive city, we didn’t refuel. So the elders got worried when the miles ahead was almost the same as the estimated mileage left for the fuel. We were just driving through zero civilization. The views were amazing, but we needed to refuel ASAP. So, we checked the GPS to look for the nearest gasoline station. We had to go a bit out of the way for that.

Good thing at this point of the globe, the day is longer, the sun doesn’t set till around 8:30 in the evening. We left Yellowstone late, and one of the risk factors when driving at night in National Park territory is coming across wildlife. My aunt was a bit furious earlier that day because the kids took too long to get their junior park ranger badges. Collecting such badges in the national and state parks was a goal for the kids at that time. 😀

And then it happened, just as dusk was ending. A deer crossed the road all of a sudden, we slowed down. But the deer stopped. We didn’t swerve as it could be more dangerous considering how heavy the van was with all of us there. Bump. We bumped on the deer. It was swept aside. We knew it was alive, but injured for sure. We drove on after a quick stop, feeling all sorry for the poor creature that most likely died slowly. Sorry 😦

We arrived at the cabin. It looked so nice and we were quite happy with it. It’s official, we were in love with Montana.

Waking up in the morning at the cabin and then making coffee was just hygge. That put my cousin and I in quite a good mood, as we also took good photos of the moment.

Visiting Glacier National Park was our primary agenda. This is connected to the Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and together, they form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. It could have been a good meeting place with my few friends in Alberta, had I told them earlier. I couldn’t, because of the uncertainties we were encountering, I could not commit a date.

With the generally slow pace of our morning preparation, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the park. And again, the timing meant not all roads were open yet. But the beautiful sceneries just driving to and from our destinations were already a great experience. And at Glacier National Park, a relaxing time by Lake McDonald was a good way to cap this leg of the trip.

Alright, time to go east. Way east. This story was not yet half of the trip – far from it. So what happened next?

I’ll get back to you my friend.

– Jerico

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