My wife and I left home (Houston, TX) Saturday afternoon 09/01/2007around 3 o'clock. We pushed through north Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas before stopping for the night somewhere in the wheat field of Kansas. After couple of hours of shut-eye, we continued on through the corn field of Nebraska and rolling hills of South Dakota before reaching Badlands National Park where we witnessed the powerful force of erosion at work. We slow-drove through the heart of the park to see all the weird rock formations shaped by water over millions of years; it was awesome and breathtaking.
We then drove on to Mount Rushmore National Monument late in the afternoon. I must admit that we were a little disappointed at first with the sun behind the monuments casting shadow on the four Presidents that somehow make them less awesome and inspiring. We took the Presidential trail down to the base of the mountain and up to various view points. The likeness of the Presidents is so incredible; I swear I saw the sadness in Mr. Lincoln's eyes. All the disappointments were gone after the sun went down with the lighting ceremony taking place which set powerful lights on the monument. It was an amazing sight that you have to be there to experience it. We went back early the next morning to see the big guys in the morning sun. It was much more beautiful and awe-inspiring and the whole scenery was overwhelming to say the least.
We headed down to see Crazy Horse Monument in the same black hills area. It was another huge, huge mountain-carving thing that is still in progress.
We then drove up to northeast Wyoming to see that mysterious big old rock Devil’s Tower. It took us an hour to hike around the rock base with many stops along the way. We saw many climbers climbing the almost-vertical face of the big rock. It was pretty neat seeing those tiny figures on that big, old, scary thing.
We then drove some 700 miles to the top of Montana with a detour through Shell Canyon which took us from top of the Bighorn mountain pass down to the bottom of the Shell canyon. We drove through most of the night so we could drive the famous ‘Going to the Sun’ road at sunrise. It was an awesome, breathtaking drive with the morning sun highlighted many glaciers on the top of the mountains that I won’t soon forget. We took a hike at the Logan pass to the hanging garden and the hidden lake overlook; it was quite beautiful.
After ‘Going to the Sun’ road, we drove another 500 miles in the afternoon to the Yellowstone National Park. We arrived very late in the evening with the heavy rain pouring down on our car. We found out that our camp site was on the other side of the park in the Canyon area (40+ winding miles drive after entering the park through West Yellowstone entrance); at one point the fog from the river along the road was so thick that we had to stopped completely as we approached a bend in the road for we could see nothing in front of us. We stayed two days in Yellowstone, visiting all the attractions that can be reached by car and short hike (less than a mile). We liked the canyon section best, with many short hikes to the upper and lower falls. At one point, we had a herd of bison (about 50+ big, old 2000-pound American buffalos) running straight at us; but like water reaching a boulder on a creek bed, it veered off to both sides of our car before reaching us. It was very cool and scary. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is not as grand as the other Grand Canyon but you get much more up close and personal with it; a lot of overlooks take you right to the middle of the canyon; after a short hike, you’re either on top looking down or bottom looking up. As for the Old Faithful, we and a bunch of folks anxiously waited for more that half an hour for the thing to erupt. After many teasers (fall starts), it shot water up in the air 10 minutes after the appointed time and before you know it, it stopped. All I can say about the experience is that it reminded me of someone compared watching the Old Faithful to having sex the for first time; it happens so fast after much anticipations, teasers, and excitements; when it’s all over you’re left wondering what’s the big deal, is that all there is to it… We saw a bunch more geysers at the Wet Thumb and other stops. Not much I can say about them except they were very strange and foul-smell in some cases. Another attraction, the Tower Fall, was also a bit disappointed since the trail to the base of the fall had been washed away by heavy flood.
We took a break from Yellowstone one afternoon to drive the Beartooth Highway, a 60+ miles road way high up in the mountain with many switchbacks, and hairpins where the mountain is on one side and cliffs thousands feet deep on the other. It really scared the heck out of me and especially my wife sitting on the cliff side of the car. The only worse thing is that we had to turn around at the end of the drive to go back the way we came from late in the evening in the rain; other option was to drive 200+ miles on little less mountainous roads which was not very appealing.
After two days in Yellowstone, we were ready for the natural grandeur of the Grand Teton. We camped on the shore of the beautiful Lake Jackson one night. We took the South Landing trail early in the morning with Mount Moran across the lake in our sight most of the hike. The Teton range is so huge and beautiful with many blue lakes like a string of jades at the base of the mountains. After the hike, we drove down the Lake Jenny scenic byway, had lunch and did few short hikes there. In the afternoon, we drove up the Teton pass 5 miles past Wilson, Montana outside of the park where we gained probably few thousand feet in elevation in less than 5 miles. My poor, old Baja had a hard time making its way up but it’s all worth it standing on top of the pass looking down the Jackson Hole Valley and across to the Teton range; very awe-inspiring and breathtaking, again.
Next day, we headed south 234 miles for the Flaming Gorge Recreational Area on the border of Wyoming and Utah. It was beautiful looking down the dark-green river from the top of the gorge of the Red Canyon. The color of the rock face of the canyon is flaming red in the morning sun. We took the Sheep Creek Geological loop which was very interesting by itself.
On the way home through Colorado on I-70 we made an un-planned stop at the Colorado National Monument late in the evening. It’s another version of Beartooth, 23 miles of winding, up and down on the side of the mountains. The next morning, we drove up Mount Evan, near Denver. We were supposed to drive up to the 14,260 feet summit but the road was closed due to bad condition 5 miles before we got to the top. I was glad I did not have to drive all the way down from the summit anyhow since my nerve was getting so frail now with all the wonderful drives that we’ve already done during the trip.
We still have an extra day so we decided to make a detour to Taos, New Mexico and I remembered reading in the RoadTripAmerica forum about the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I found it on the map which is not too far from the road toward Taos so we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to spend a night there instead. We found a big, old pile of sand many miles across and some at 700+ feet high at the foot of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains late in the afternoon with the thunderstorm and heavy black clouds and lightings threatening in the distance. Luck was with us this time, after we found a camp site, the thunderstorm went away and we were able to hike up a few sand dunes in the park. It was very cool walking up the crest of a ridge where one side was warmed by the late sun the other was cooled by the strong breeze. It was very beautiful looking back at the cream-colored Great Sand Dunes with the black mountains in the background and the late evening sun all over them from the picture window of a restaurant 5 miles up the road.
Next Morning, we make a one and a half hour drive to Taos, New Mexico for our last fling. We stopped at the 100% smoke-free Taos Pueblo Casino to try our luck at the slot machines for couple of hours then drove to downtown to take a lazy stroll around the Taos Plaza with a bunch of art galleries and craft shops.
After a buffalo burger for lunch, we left Taos around 3PM and headed for home through Santa Fe, Roswell, Carlsbad, and Fort Stockton where we hooked up with I-10 east to take us home through San Antonio. The US 285 between Santa Fe and Roswell was so desolate that I was able to average 95 miles per hours for a few hours with no cop in sight and very few other cars either direction. It was raining most of the way home so we had to stop at a rest area after getting on I-10 for the night. We got home exactly at 3PM Tuesday. So the trip was 11 days/nights, to the minute. The trip meter showed an even 5,800 miles, two third of those were mountain and back roads.
All in all, it was a great, wonderful, refreshing trip. There were a lot of driving, hiking, and sight seeing in general. We took no picture at all for we don’t want any action that would interfere with our sense of completely being there. We brought a lap top but it never left the case; brought a few movies but none was watched. We slept very little as you can tell. We brought the camping gear but never put it up for we found the back sits of the Baja was better at keeping grizzly bears, bisons, and other wild animals away. Besides, we could take off as soon as we got up in the morning and it did not take much to get it ready at night. I can’t wait to start on a next trip…