Just because I said I would make a blog post about my summer road trip didn’t mean I was actually, you know, going to do it.
The Final Numbers Round Trip:
(My guesstimation isn’t perfect. You lose track of these kinds of things!)
Location: Colleyville, TX ———– Cody, WY
When I got a job up in Cody, WY my first thought was ‘where the heck is that’? Despite my broad travels I’m actually pretty geographically challenged when it comes to visualizing locations in my head. Turns out, Cody WY is the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
What can I say about Texas?
There. That should about do it.
They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. And I was. Enchanted, I mean. I was enchanted how much it looked like Texas. Dusty, dry. HOWEVER, their mountains were actually higher than an average hill.
I passed through Santa Fe. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty city. But it was more a Texas pretty, which I guess is good if you like Texas but for somebody who kind of wanted to see something OTHER THAN TEXAS on his trip, then the enchantment wore out fast.
My sleeping system
I guess it would be prudent to explain how I was catching some shut-eye on my trip. You see, I am a cheapskate. Yes, yes, it may come as a surprise, I know, but I do not like spending money.
Anyway, since I didn’t want to risk missing something cool on this oh-so-cool road trip of mine because of something as simple as money, the budgeting department decided to save by camping.
Yes, I did sleep like that every night, except for the nights that the rain followed me, which was pretty much every night. Stupid rain. Stupid, stupid rain.
A couple of tips for people who are thinking of bumming it campwise like I did:
- KOA campsites are NOT cheap. I thought they were. 36 bucks later, I changed my mind. I could have gotten a motel room for that price! And the spots they have available aren’t all that great for camping. The one I stayed at in Amarillo turned into a flood plain after some rain. The one I paid 26 bucks for in Vernal was literally a grassy field out behind the bathrooms. Rip-off.
- You can camp on BLM land for free. Don’t know what BLM is? You have Google, look it up. Simply drive in, find a place that isn’t covered in rocks, ants, cow patties, discarded shotgun shells and pitch your tent for a comfortable night under the stars.
- State Parks are (usually) cheaper alternatives. That depends on the state park. And how late you get in…
Next stop, Colorado. Finally! This was my third time to go to Trinidad. The first time was when my dad, brother and I went on a three week road trip of the west, the second time when my brother and I took a two week backpacking trip, and now, when I guess it wanted me back for some reason.
Trinidad used to do a lot of mining, but, like most old mining towns, it ran out of coal now focuses a lot on tourism.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Colorado. I’ve been there before (wanted to move there, for a time) and it always seemed like the go-to destination for any adventure. Wellll…I guess things changed. It was still as beautiful a state as ever. The area around these two cities is unmatched, including Garden of the Gods, aptly named. Unfortunately, both cities were WAY too crowded for my taste. Boulder in particular was different. When I went there with my brother a couple years ago, we must have gone to the less populated side of town. I remember a quaint little main street, quiet and beautiful, running right past a sprawling college campus and on in to the mountains.
That was NOT what was here, but again, that could have just been me.
Things I did here:
- Olympic Training Center. This is one of the two or three Olympic facilities in the US. I know the other one is in New York, but some athletes like to come here to get some high altitude training. There were no big names like Michael Phelps or Gabby Douglas while I was here, but it was still cool.
- Garden of the Gods. Though mostly of rocks, they were at least pretty rocks. The Garden of the Gods really is set up almost like a garden, except that the plants are replaced with hundred foot rock pillars with humans scaling them like monkeys.
- Pike National Forest. I didn’t actually stay the night in Colorado Springs. Like any good tourist stop, lodging was astronomical and I couldn’t exactly stealth camp (look it up, you’ll want to do) very easily with my truck. For those who don’t know about National Forests, they’re these nifty little places the government have set aside for us, the common people, to play in, use and generally frolic around in. They also provide free camping and, in my experience, are rarely used by many people. It’s a shame, but then it leaves more to me.
It didn’t get dark until nineish so I had a nice hike in and found a great place to sleep.
There was much of this over the next couple of days.
Wyoming, never one to break tradition, greeted me the same way every other state had on this trip:
With rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Fortunately, the last night I camped out I was adopted by a family setting up their campsites for a family reunion they were going to be having that week. I’m sorry to say that I can’t remember this family’s name, but I remember how awesome they were to let me stay with them and sleep in the bed of their truck so I didn’t get rained on.
And so I was there in Cody. I can’t say too much about the summer except that it was in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Easily.
Cody is a tourist town. He’s also a kid I knew in elementary school, but for the sake of this post we’re going to assume it’s a town.
There are quite a few things to here in good ol’ Cody:
- Buffalo Bill Museum of the West. Five museums in one. I cannot recommend this enough. You will definitely get your money’s worth.
- Yellowstone National Park
- Gun Fights in the street
- Yellowstone National Park
- Fishing in Newton Lake
- Yellowstone National Park
You may have noticed I was a little biased towards Yellowstone. I don’t know if this was the first National Park I ever visited, but it was by far the best, and actually held up pretty well like I remembered it.
As much as I would have liked to stay in Wyoming, the fact that it was a tourist town meant that consumers and businesses alike shriveled up during the winter. It wasn’t uncommon for two or three stores to bite it if sales went south during the summer. This meant I was hard pressed to both find a job, and find a job that paid enough to actually support myself with the ridiculous cost of rent and food.
And Back Again…
My route home differentiated from my route up. This only made sense: why would I want to see the same thing again when there’s a whole ‘nother path to explore? My return trip took me through both Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks, down the (thankfully) less populated western side of Colorado (I had grown accustom to the quiet serenity away from people), across the northern southern easternish part of New Mexico and on to the drab and dry west Texas I’ve come to know and tolerate love.
Few places can match the Tetons in terms of sheer scale. Though they are not the broadest mountain range I have seen, their height alone inspires awe and majesty. (Listen to me prattle on. I’m like Ken Burns or something). At the foot of these peaks was the town of Jackson, otherwise known as Jackson Hole or Blue Hole.
Don’t be fooled! Jackson Hole and Blue Hole are synonymous and simply refer to the same area surrounding the Grand Tetons.
There wasn’t much to do in Grand Tetons National Park other than trails and spending time staring at the mountains. Jackson itself has become mostly a tourist location. This wasn’t nearly as bad as places like Colorado Springs or Boulder, and there was even a market the morning I visited, filled with goodies from local residents.
However, since lodging was all booked in Jackson, I scurried on out to the Grand Tetons National Forest and popped a couple miles in the find a spot. The next morning I discovered:
Jackson is cold.
I had dealt with an unusually cold summer thanks to my stint in Wyoming. This was especially true for a kid who’s used to 100+ degree weather on a daily basis. Temperatures where I worked frequently dipped to forty degrees or below at night and stayed that way until about ten in the morning. Jackets were common as were wind jackets even during the hottest parts of the day.
But my sleeping bag was covered in ice when I awoke. And my water bottles were half frozen solid. And my poor cereal bar I was going to eat for breakfast was now uneatable…
And I was freezing! I had acclimated to colder temperatures while up there, even now in Texas I find I can’t resist the heat quite as well as I used to, but that was even colder than I anticipated. My sleeping bag held up fine (shout out to GoLite!) and that proved to be the most weathered night back.
At least until the rain found me.
The mountains kind of tapered off after Jackson. That’s not to say they weren’t there. They were. But, like a pair of weeds, the Tetons had sucked all the height from anything surrounding it.
And so began a backtrack of our 2006 family vacation. I was following nearly the same route back as we took when we took our other massive road trip.
Wonkie McConkie. This is the sight of dead men’s rock scribbles, called petroglyphs by the scientists who study them. Apparently these particular ones are famous petroglyphs, but the ranch itself was so nondescript I wasn’t even sure I was on the right road. The reason I had to stop here was that the ranch has a shed, and inside said shed are tacked hundreds of sticky notes. My brother stuck one of these sticky notes up back during our massive road trip and we wanted to see if it was still there.
Because they clear out the sticky notes every few years or so. Oh well.
Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaurs! RAHGHGHGH!!! I used to want to be a paleontologist, until I found out that being a paleontologist was nothing like what they got to do in Jurassic Park and you didn’t actually get to see real dinosaurs. Bummer. However, I still love dinosaurs and Dinosaur National Monument is a sure stop for those who do.
It is part quarry, part park, part campground. The quarry here houses the largest collection of dinosaur bones ever seen in one slab of rock, and when we were here in ’06 they were preparing to shut it down for serious renovations. Supposedly the foundation of the building was cracking preluding an imminent collapse or something minor like that.
Well they got it fixed and wow does it look cool! It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that the things you’re staring at on the wall were there MILLIONS and BILLIONS of years before I was even a regretted decision in my parents’ minds. Granted, they’re still technically rocks, but these rocks are cooler than your average rock.
Ouray/Million Dollar Highway
If there’s one place I would choose to live, out of all the places on my trip…it would most likely be Yellowstone.
BUT! If there’s any place that’s a close second then Ouray would be it. Nestled deep in the mountains, this is another mining town similar (albeit, more beautiful) than Trinidad and Silverton. Granted it did turn a little touristy, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the places I’ve been. The price of living here is pretty high so really only young billionaires and rich old people live here. But you can’t beat the scenery!
I never asked why the Million Dollar Highway was called that. Maybe it cost a million dollars to build? Maybe they found a stash of outlaws’ gold while building it worth a million dollars? Who knows? I sure don’t. But the view and drive through the pass from Ouray to Silverton is by far one of the best drives I have ever taken. The only downside is you can’t really look around too long without risking careening off the road and plummeting a hundred feet to your fiery demise.
Ouray was also another fun spot to play my favorite game while on the road: Find-a-Place-to-Sleep-With-No-Prior-Planning! Ahhh….good times…good times. In all honesty I did have an idea of where I wanted to stay, I just couldn’t find it. Eventually I stumbled across another National Forest, just off the Million Dollar Highway and stayed there for the night.
Durango/ Mesa Verde
Ah…back in New Mexico. I can’t really say I was happy to be back, especially since the killer storm of death had it in for me the last three days or so, but Mesa Verde was another fun trip down memory lane.
Warning: this will take most of the day. The entrance to Mesa Verde right off the highway is actually an hour away from the actual thing. The good thing is you have the option of taking many different tours offered. I chose the Cliff Palace one, which I’m sure is the most famous.
Carlsbad Caverns and the Curse of that Stupid, Persistent Rain Cloud
My last stop before home. Carlsbad is truly awe-inspiring. It’s incredible how isolated you feel from the rest of the world when you’re down here. Every creature that lives down here goes on with their daily lives, unaware of anything happening on the surface. It really was a peaceful place, despite the storm of death thundering above our heads.
So I’ve mentioned this storm a couple times now. I swear it’s only one massive cell, and it has a personal vendetta against me. On my drive up I was hit with rain EVERY SINGLE DAY. Not only that, but I would drive AROUND the cell, going miles out of my way to avoid it, and it would still follow me. It was like a dog I couldn’t get rid of. Same thing happened on the ride back and I couldn’t even camp out that night. So I called it quits and drove the rest of the way home.
So a wonderful trip. One I can hopefully do again in, oh, say a week and a half.