My most epic road trip was a 4000 mile drive through the Mountain States of the US.
The road trip went something like this: Fly into Denver. Buy groceries. Drive. Explore nature. Drive. Explore nature. Drive. Sleep. Wake up. Drive. Explore nature…ya, it was pretty exhausting.
It was a road trip that changed the way I take road trips now, as I had tried to to do too much in too little time. I haven’t totally gotten over that compulsion, but I have definitely taken more time to chill out on road trips since then.
Alright, so here are some photos from five of the crazy moments I had on my most epic road trip and the lessons I learned from them.
Scoring the Last Campsite
If you skip Alaska, the greatest wildlife destination in the Americas has to be Yellowstone National Park. This was the number one reason I took this epic road trip, and I spent more time here than anywhere else on the road trip.
Waking up before sunrise, exploring all day and getting to sleep after midnight, my days in Yellowstone were adrenaline-filled adventures of hiking and wildlife watching.
Now one day I didn’t have a campsite booked for the night. It was summer, so it was packed. With a bit of luck and a chat with a park worker at Norris campground he said if I showed up right at a certain time I might be able to snag one of their blocked sites that are reserved for backcountry trekkers. Awesome.
Sure enough, I roll in at twilight and there is one site that hasn’t been claimed. The last site. At the end of a path, just beside a meadow and forest. Pure paradise.
At least it seemed like pure paradise, until I saw the Bear markings on trees nearby and had to keep an eye on some Bison that were wandering around the campground. That wasn’t so much scary as it was intimidating, since I was camping solo. With my tent up, darkness had fallen. I was damn hungry by now – so I tried to enjoy some heated up chili over a camp fire and a bottle of beer. The problem was that there were constant noises nearby freaking me out.
Aside from my fire, everyone else was sleeping in their tents. It was pitch dark. I didn’t know where those Bison were. I could hear things in the forest behind me.
After my nerves were totally shot, I scampered into my tent and had a restless sleep…maybe there was a reason nobody else claimed this campsite on the edge of the forest?
The next morning I woke up early and discovered a Bison had left a fresh present for me just outside my tent. Thanks Mr. Bison. Lesson learned here was to secure a camp site early in the day to avoid having after dark nightmares!
Dizzy and Dehydrated in a Desert Canyon
Thanks to Bryce Canyon National Park I had my first lesson in how not to hike in the dry heat of the desert.
I took off on a short trail to head down towards the valley. As I was short on time that day, I figured I’d just do part of a trail and didn’t worry that it was already scorching hot out at 12:30 in the afternoon. So down I go, along a path. Within 10 minutes the sun is piercing the canyon and the rocks are getting blazingly hot. It’s dry, rough and nobody else is around. Pushing on to get some photos, my water supply is already being drained way too fast.
After only about halfway down, I see a super amazing lookout further on. But it is also getting hotter and hotter by the minute. I want the photos, but I’m melting, so choose to turn around.
I begin the trek back up. Having underestimated how steep the trail was, I quickly drink all my water and struggle the last mile or so. It’s a steep wall of rock on my right, a narrow path to walk on, and a deep, deep canyon on my left. As I start to slow down and get a bit dizzy I stumble, lose my footing and am about to fall into the deep canyon. With a last-second shot of adrenaline, I dig my hiking boots into the loose ground and get enough traction to scramble back onto the path. Without looking down, I force myself to hike out of there as fast as I can before the adrenaline wears off.
It was one of those moments I barely remembered later, as it all happened so quickly and I prefer not to dwell on such near-misses. One more step in the wrong direction and I would’ve been splattered on the bottom of Bryce Canyon.
Overheated, with heart and head pounding I made it to the top a short time later, drenched myself in water, cranked up the AC in my rental car and drove away. Disaster averted, but now even when I plan to be on a short hike I take extra water and supplies, just in case.
The Lost Keys Hike
Another hike, another lesson learned.
This time I was in Arches National Park. I decided to take a popular hike just before sunset, as the red glow on the rocks would make for some stunning photos. The hike itself was amazing, lots of weird rock angles, odd desert plants to look at and little lizards running around.
I stopped twice along the trail to drink some water, relax and just enjoy the scenery as the sun got lower and lower on the horizon. After about an hour and a half, with the sun nearly gone I made it back to my rental car.
Reaching into my pocket for my keys, I found my camera lens cap. Hmm. No keys. They were in my pocket, but I had also put my camera filters and cap in that pocket. So, I instantly knew that the keys must have fallen out at one of the spots I stopped for photos.
Looking back at the nearly gone sun, I knew I had to do a quick re-hike now or I’d never find the keys. Off I go, jogging most of the way this time. Spot one – no keys. darkness starting to set in now, I reach the next couple of spots – still no keys.
One last place I think they could be, I get there and search around on the ground, but still – no keys.
Dejected, I head back to the trailhead, hoping perhaps a ranger or somebody will be nearby. I have no phone on me, so I can’t call anyone to get extra keys either. Thinking it is going to be a fun night locked out of my car in Arches National Park, I walk the last part of the trail in the dark.
As I approach my car, I notice a young couple sitting on a nearby picnic table. Wandering over, we chat – they had found my keys and were waiting for me to return. Amazing! Again, disaster averted. Lesson learned since then? Always put my keys somewhere secure in my backpack while hiking, never in my pockets.
Going after a Grizzly Bear
The first Grizzly Bear I ever saw in the wild was on this road trip. It was in Grand Teton National Park. A big, lumbering Grizzly was strolling across a field. Cars began to stop, parking on the side of the road. By the time the Grizzly got to the road, there must have been 25 cars stopped.
Without hesitation, he simply crossed the road and kept on meandering through a field on the other side of the road. As he got farther and farther away, people began to leave.
I noticed a side road nearby that went off in the direction of where Mr. Grizzly had been going. So, I head down the road, keeping an eye out for him. After 10 minutes of searching it seems he has gone off into the bush, so I get out and wander around the field of flowers.
After taking some pictures and wandering a good distance from the car, it isn’t until I am ready to leave that I realize if Mr. Grizzly was still anywhere nearby I would have been an easy meal if he was so inclined.
Just because you can’t see something as dangerous as a Grizzly doesn’t mean they’re not there. After that little bit of stupidness I paid extra attention to any bear warnings I saw on my travels.
Driving 4000 miles in 10 Days
In 10 days I drove through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. I visited 7 National Parks, 2 State Parks, 1 Tribal Park and drove through countless National Forests.
Realistically this road trip should have been cut into 2 or 3 road trips. Outside of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons the rest of the trip felt rushed and I had to sacrifice skipping some hikes (and meals) just to keep on moving.
It was an epic, awesome road trip, but lesson learned – I should have slowed it down and saved some parks for another time.