Road Trip Souvenirs
- June 17, 2019, by Julie -
We had been riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route for about one month when in early October it started to snow and it was forecast to keep snowing for the next week as we would climb into even higher mountains. On a cold morning waiting for the ice on the road to melt we decided to turn back to the last city on the route where we could come up with a new - and warmer - plan for our adventure travels.
In Butte (Montana) we contacted Jamie and Gabi, another bike-traveling couple from Australia we had met two months earlier in Haines (Alaska) and took our one-day-in-the-middle-of-the-road friendship a leap forward by renting two vans and continuing down the road together, heaters blasting. It was a locally appropriate way to travel - and still have our adventure.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Bison. We first saw them through frosted car windows as little dots out on the frosted landscape. Our first real encounter though was on foot, separated only by the mist of our breaths. We were walking back to the car after celebrating the pack of wolves we had seen with the owners of the tripod-stabilized spotting scopes. The wolves had appeared in the distance just visible to the naked eye but crystal clear through the scope - one at first, then two, three, then the whole pack running out from a dip in the valley, backs long and straight, a grey one, a brown one, a black one - each and all running purposefully together somewhere into the hills. A wildness I had not anticipated. I was absorbing the magical, wild, shared moment when suddenly, entering stage left, a herd of bison was running down the hill, their wary eyes looking our way and at the place in the road where if we both continued we would all cross at the same time. We stopped, they didn't, backs bucking, legs flailing, they ran right in front of us, nostrils blowing white mist. Bison are not elegant. But they are majestic -- they have survived, just, after being driven nearly to extinction 150 years ago. In Yellowstone, the US's pioneering first national park, there is now a place on our planet for these huge wild animals to run and gallop freely and safely. It is both the sight and the story that brought life to life that cold first morning in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is like Disneyland for nature lovers. We saw a pack of wolves, herds of bison, mud bubbling, boiling hot water shooting out of the ground and technicolour geyser pools. Click here for the Yellowstone photo album
Southern Wyoming and northern Colorado
In northern Wyoming our vans drove past the famous Grand Teton Mountains through driving rain and snow and saw nothing of them at all. Instead we stopped in Jackson Hole and ate Mexican tacos naked under our rain gear while all our clothes tumbled to cleanness in the laundromat next door. Driving on, southwest towards a setting sun, we watched wild horses run along a bluff on the prairie, silhouetted against the distant Wind River Range mountains you have seen in Ansel Adam's beautiful black-and-white photos. After a dizzying night-time snowstorm, late-night pancakes at a diner, and a surprisingly luxurious shower in a very clean truck stop, we pulled up in the dark at the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. In the morning: this. Crisp sunlight illuminated rock towers as we wandered out over the crunchy windblown snow to admire our private amphitheatre.
We drove on through the beautifully snowy river landscape, eventually arriving at Dinosaur National Monument in northern Colorado. This was Gabi's idea, and admittedly not a place I would have detoured to, but I was blown away. The sight of the ancient huge leg bones and vertebra scattered there in their original resting place spoke to me far more powerfully than any complete dinosaur skeleton in a museum ever had.
Photos were tricky, but we took a few, including some night-sky shots that you can see here in our Wyoming and Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado album - or take a look at Jamie's photos and descriptions.
Careening around the bends on the trails of the north Fruita desert on our touring bikes was fun. We parked the vans on the public land at the trailhead of the network of mountain bike trails and ended each day with a campfire and dinner under the stars. Finally, it was warm and dry - we felt free.
The Kokopelli Trail: biking from Colorado to Utah
Wide vistas over brittle grasses and dusty roads. Snowy peaks thankfully distant. Broad skies. These were our rewards after the show-stopping mud of the first day on the first attempt of the route. The mud had clung to our tires and shoes, adding kilos of weight and stopping any hopes of wheels actually turning. We were forced to carry the bikes for a kilometer or two, taking each bike in turn, sometimes four of us lifting a single bike through the narrow rocky trail. Jamie's derailleur was a casualty of the ordeal so the next day Adam towed Jamie back to Fruita for repairs with the rest of us following behind, a sad and silly convoy of five bikers on the shoulder of the highway. Restored by sunshine and famously delicious pizza, we set off again the next day and made it successfully to Moab a few days later, dusty, sweaty and happy.
Arches National Park, Utah
There are days when you go on a hike with friends and you think this is the best hike of my life. This was one of those days.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
This is Canyonlands National Park. In the distance you see the round pale slick-rock of Moab and behind that the La Sal Mountains. After enjoying Moab's spectacular scenery and food for a few days we were ready for the long-awaited adventure on the White Rim Trail. We had secured a permit, figured out logistics and we were twitching with anticipation. We descended into another world, a Martian landscape filled with laughter and long lunches. Five days later on the way out of the park we looked back and saw this - the sun setting on our success.
Biking or driving the White Rim is a popular but challenging trip. We wrote a story on the blog and you can also see all of our photos here: Canyonlands photo album. Jamie and Gabi also wrote about it and shared their stunning photos.
Valley of the Gods, Utah
On our way to the more famous Monument Valley in Arizona we stopped to camp here in the Valley of the Gods in southern Utah and liked it so much we stayed two nights. It was completely quiet and peaceful and we sat in our camping chairs staring at the Milky Way for hours over the silhouettes of the buttes and mesas while a cute kangaroo rat darted in and out from under our feet.
Utah may be our favourite US state for the quality of the scenery and biking - you can see our Utah photo album here.
We drove past Monument Valley, the site of some famous movies, but the poverty of the Navajo Indian Reservation in which it sits left a stronger impression on us. Then we camped on black volcanic gravel at the base of cinder cones surrounding the buzzing city of Flagstaff. In Sedona, dismayed by the signs selling spirituality to hordes of hungry tourists in search of the "energy vortex", we camped outside the town and rode a few trails before leaving earlier than planned. We finally found our "this is it" spot for Arizona in the Sonoran desert where we rode around the Saguaro cacti dotting the barren land.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Wandering the landscape of pillowy but sharp boulders and Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Trees was a welcome change of pace. The boulders were high and scary but the campsite was comfortable and Jamie and Gabi biked through after they had returned their van so we had an amazing wild night together.
Mojave National Preserve, California
We camped at the base of this huge sand dune and we were visited by a desert fox and kangaroo rats. On our walk up the dune the next day we saw their footprints and many others in the fine, white sand. Jumping down the dune we triggered the sound that gives these dunes the name "singing sand dunes". A low, bass-y vibration you feel as much as you hear it. It was our last big open space before we would drive into the urban jungle of Las Vegas to return the van.