Monday, March 15, 2010

Journey of American West

Our cat hates our travel trailer. Can't you tell? If the wide eyes and non-stop mewling during the night was not an adequate clue, his relentless, sneaky attempts to escape make it clear. If not for my daughter’s swift action in chasing him around the trailer, brave risk of abraded skin by throwing herself under the diesel pusher parked next to us, and firm grip to a furry tail, he would still be a permanent resident of Yellowstone Park. Or long since digested bear food.

The rest of the family, however, loves taking our modest 27-foot trailer to parts unknown! In the patriotic aftermath of 9/11 we, like many others, freshly considered this wonderful land we are blessed to dwell in. It isn’t like we were spending our vacations in exotic locales across the globe, but after decades in California there really weren’t too many places in this excellent State left to explore. So, we decided to take the plunge. We purchased our trailer and planned our first big extravaganza for the summer of 2002.

And what an adventure it was!

In retrospect yours truly – crazed itinerary plotter extraordinaire - probably got a bit carried away. In a two week period of time, in a trailer we had never taken anywhere before, we traveled across 7 States! It was a whirlwind holiday, but I am happy to report that we encountered no major hitches. Perhaps my neurotic prearranging paid off!

Day 1 we traveled over the 7000-foot high Donner Pass, stopping for what would be a multitude of halts for “historical markers” and places of American interest. Can I pause here for a moment to thank the creator of digital photography? I think we have five CDs containing all the pictures we took! Northern Nevada isn’t terribly exciting (sorry any Nevadans) but I am one who loves desert terrains and rock sculptures so I wasn’t disappointed or bored. Our first real surprise was the vast eye-piercing expanse of salt in Utah. The Bonneville Salt Flats were not on my list of Must-Sees, yet it was one of the coolest, most amazing places encountered on this trip.We did not pause in Utah except for photo ops and necessary leg stretches, and I regret that. Utah is a gorgeous state. One of these days we will visit again. Our first planned rest was Wyoming. We camped outside of Jackson Hole, spending one day touring the Grand Tetons before moving on to Yellowstone. Wow! I shall say it again – WOW! I currently live at the base of the Sierra Nevada and my youth was spent in the Las Padres forest, so I know mountains. The Grand Tetons blew me away! We were there on an overcast day in July, with snowy patches alongside bright yellow wildflowers and tall green grass. The towering, nearly 14,000-foot Tetons overwhelmed our senses, even though we could not see the summits as they were draped in grey clouds. We picnicked in the meadow, silently staring in awe.
Next stop, Jellystone… I mean Yellowstone! We did see a bear, but Yogi he was not so we steered clear. We also saw herds, and I do mean herds, of buffalo up close and personal as they roam freely, including right across the roads. And they roam veeerrrryyyy slowly and very close. We were not foolish enough to exit the car, as some did, thus not getting chased like those idiots! Elk, deer, moose, wolves, raccoons, and more make their homes in Yellowstone and do not seem to be all that shy. Geysers, grand canyons with roaring rivers, petrified wood, sulfur hot springs, volcano calderas, lava formations – Yellowstone has it all and we made sure to see every bit! Aside from almost losing our stupid cat, it was amazing.
Leaving there we traveled across the very empty fields of Wyoming. No cell service, very few towns, and even fewer gas stations (serious yikes when you are pulling a trailer). We stopped in Cody, eating lunch at Buffalo Bill’s historic Irma Hotel. The hubby had a buffalo burger, but none of us were brave enough. We did buy a bunch of elk, venison, and buffalo jerky and salami that was so good we now order it online several times a year! Wyoming Buffalo Company, in case you were salivating.

Here is where the trip got tough for me. Time was an issue, so eventually we had to stop moving east and turn around. But there is always another place just a tiny bit further! I was forced to restrain myself from adding in Badlands National Park in South Dakota, instead having the Black Hills area our eastward terminus. We spent four days enjoying the rugged landscaping with too many rivers to count. Naturally we toured Mount Rushmore and all I can say, again, is WOW! This history buff was in her element. Truly astounding and one of those places that photos cannot do justice. The entire area is inundated with so many fascinating places that there was no way we could do it all. Picking and choosing was the hardest part. We spent one day in Deadwood, checking out the old saloons and visiting the ancient cemetery, Mount Mariah, where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. The silliest surprise was Bedrock City in Custer, the oldest Flintstone related theme park in the US! Have to admit we could not resist and it was crazy fun!

Our last major stop was Little Big Horn. Have I said enough times how much I adore history, all history? Well, this was the icing for my cake. I can’t place into words how moving it was to walk across the battlefield where Custer was soundly beaten by the combined Native American forces. The area is unchanged, the simple white markers where each of the 268 men fell dotting the fields for miles. Our guide was Cheyenne, a descendent of a battle survivor, and hearing him tell the tale was chilling.

From there it was a hasty rush to get home. We stopped briefly at the Snake River site of Evel Knieval’s failed jump attempt, and I insisted on checking out as many roadside historical markers as possible, but other than the really freaky and scary dust storm that hit us hard in Nevada, it was uneventful. Can you believe we did all that in 2 weeks? Neither can I! And I didn’t cover a third of what we saw! Since then we have kept our excursions shorter, but they have been just as fun. And the cat has continued to hate each one.


  1. Wow! I haven't seen as much of the American west as I would like to. I envy you not only the trip, but for having the energy to make the trip.

  2. Sharon~

    Thanks for the trip and the pics. I love the west, especially the North West. Too bad you didn't get to Glasier National Park. Having been through Yellowstone, the Tetons, I found Glacier National Park to be almost as stunning. It's simply amazing. Maybe you should think about it for your next trip.

  3. I've never been to Wyoming, but obviously I need to make the effort. I will, however, leave my cats at home!
    Great post, Sharon!

  4. Great post, Sharon! We've done similar family vacations where we cram a lot of sight seeing and traveling into a week or two, as well, and it's always an adventure! But we left our nightmare of a cat with friends! He sheds like crazy and howls with nervousness whenever he gets in a car, even if it's to the vet about 5 minutes away :-) The western US is beautiful--thank you for sharing!

  5. Your trips sound like those my parents took me on. One year we spent two weeks driving from Texas to Montana and back. We were in the car 8 days out of 14. The next year we went to Wyoming. I was 13 and 14. I did not want to go to Montana and Wyoming for vacation, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to see that part of the country.

  6. Sharon - Glad you made it to my home state! I came out here on a similar vacation when I was 8 years old, and never forgot it. That's why I live here now! Loved your photo of the Tetons with the flowers and the stormy sky - that's making the best of a bad (weather)situation!

  7. That was a great story. You owe your daughter big time for the tail grab, ah, ok, so the cat owes her too. The pictures are lovely. Thanks for the travel ideas.

  8. What amazing adventures, Sharon! And brilliant photos! Thanks so much for sharing.

  9. Mary Margret, It is beautiful out this-a-away with the differing terrains from lowest deserts to highest mountains - all in California! But then I am sad to have never traveled beyond the edges of the midwest. One of these days we hope to take a month or so and go further east. At least that is the hope!

  10. Robin, we have tried a couple of times to work Glacier into one of our trip to the north, but it is always just too far away to manage. I suppose we need to drive straight there rather than stop at some other place along the way, which is inevitably what happens once I get the atlas out and start scoping!

  11. Thanks Cheryl! We leave poor Belgarath home as often as we can as he SO hates traveling. I would like to think he hates seeing us leave and pines for us while gone, but alas that would be a hopeful delusion!

  12. Oh yes, Danielle! Don't get me started on the shedding! It is bad enough here at home, but in the trailer it is really noticeable. Same with the cat box! LOL!

    I am a big "crammer" when it comes to our vacations. The family just rolls their eyes and joke about how I am going to kill them with the constant activity. But, as I remind them, if not for me and my obsessive need to see it all, they wouldn't have all these great memories. :)

  13. Hi Shana! The long drives between some of these places can be quite boring. I love open spaces, but literally hundreds of miles without ever seeing a single house or telephone pole is a bit much! Kinda creepy too. I have driven through Texas a few times. The last trip my sis and I made was from Lubbock clear to Shreveport and it rained cats and dogs the entire way! Unbelievable. But at least we did not have to stare at boring brown nothing for 8 hours!

    Hey Joanne! You are in Wyoming? Gorgeous state, although quite desolate in places. We nearly ran out of gas a dozen times when the big black dot on the map ended up being nothing but a town population 100 with no gas station! But my husband loved it as he saw thousands of potential hunting expeditions. I lost track of the times he said, "Good eating there" every time we drove by a moose or elk!

  14. Yep, Jessica, shed save the wretch for sure. He is a good cat, if a bit uppity. Often we still threaten him with a trip back to Yellowstone when he misbehaves.

    I strongly recommend Yellowstone. The park is incredible. Really all of that part of the world is stunning and there is so much we haven't seen. We took another trip through Idaho and on another holiday we went to Mt. St. Helens, Ranier, and other parts of Oregon and Washington. It was fabulous as well.

    Hi Kathryne! I am happy to share. It was tough to pick just a few and I got lost for quite some time looking at all the memories. My son looks so young! He was 9 on this trip and is now 17 and 6'3"! Time sure flies by.

  15. I remember those trips when I was growing up, Sharon. We took them every summer and every fall we travelled to Death Valley for their Forty-Niner Days.

    You're giving the kids great memories.

  16. Sharon,
    I've made the trip you just described and LOVED it! (without cat) Thanks for reminding me of the wonderful time I had seeing the Great American West. Though, I have to admit that seeing the sprawling grounds of the Battle of Little Bighorn made me weepy.

  17. Great shots and story, Sharon. I loved how clean your vehicle was. :) My cat loved to travel. Even when the AC went out on a move during summer. Of course. :) Looks like you had a great time!

  18. Sounds like an incredible trip! I'm glad the kitty didn't become bear food.

    Hubby and I sometimes lament the fact that we seldom travel in the U.S. like this. With access to free/cheap airfare for huge international trips and a lust for different cultures and languages, we end up missing out on seeing things closer to home. I'm sure we'll eventually spend more time exploring our own backyard, so thanks for the inspiration!


  19. Sounds like a great trip! I'm always amazed when I do a road trip just how BIG the United States is. Man, there's a lot a country out there! And you get extra courage points for traveling with a cat!

  20. Linda, We took the trailer to Death Valley three years ago, in the spring. It was one of the few places in CA we had never been to. That winter had seen major floods so the wildflowers we spectacular! I love desert terrains so enjoyed it so much.

    Amelia, I cried at Little Bighorn. It was overwhelming. Especially the monument with all the names. I could have spent hours in the museum there, but the kids were getting tired of museums by this point!

    Terry, so glad your cat likes to travel. Belgarath mellows down after the first few days, but he is never having a good time. And LOL on the clean Tahoe! My husband is a bit neurotic about shiny vehicle! Ha!!

  21. Tawna, I envy you being able to fly to faraway places! Although very happy to see the great places and diverse landscaping of the USA, I sure could make a long list of foreign locales I would give anything to see.

    I think the same thing, Amanda! I have a friend who lives in the Netherlands and it still blows me away that they can travel through a dozen countries in a couple of weeks! I can't wrap my head around that, especially out here in the west where the States are so big.

    And I think we all deserve points or a special place in heaven for putting up with our brat-cat for the past 9 years! LOL!

  22. Utah is indeed beautiful. But Yellowstone has to be one of my favorite places of all. Lovely pictures. Sounds like a great trip.

  23. Ah, Sharon, we're doing that trip this year, but in reverse of yours. We're starting in Denver, hitting the Black Hills/Rushmore/Mt. Crazy Horse, then onward toward Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

    I did this trip in a Winnebago with my family back in 1979 - we drove from PA to LA, CA and back again in 28 days. We're only doing 12 with the kids and staying in hotels, 3 days of which will be in the middle of Yellowstone. I can't wait to revisit sites I saw 30 years ago and introduce that part of the country to the kids. (PS, sending the link to this to Hubs so he can read your itinerary since he's our Itinerary Master for this trip.)

  24. Dear Sharon,

    You have been to some really awesome locations. I love the pics and the storytelling! You know I think you should delve into a personal biography (including pics) and publish that amazing tale!
    Always an extraordinarily fun read
    TSBO devotee