The Fords Go West

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Day 1 was fairly easy. We were excited to go and still had clean clothes and a full cooler.

States traveled - Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri.

Highlights - SO. MANY. TURTLES!

Staying on east coast time means getting on the road super early. We watched the sunrise in Missouri, then crossed into Kansas for the longest, flattest, most boring section of the trip. Seriously, is there any state more boring than Kansas? We didn't even get to see a tornado, and I'm sure those are required for all visitors. Finally, after a billion hours in stupid Kansas, we crossed into Colorado, which was also flat and boring.

States traveled - Kansas (snooze) and Colorado (mostly snooze).

Highlights - ending the day in Denver because it meant we were done with Kansas forever. 

FINALLY! The landscape changes. We headed north out of Denver into Wyoming. Just north of Fort Collins we found rolling hills, rocky outcrops, and scrubby brush. It was cool! We stopped at the Flaming Gorge Rec Area in Wyoming for lunch, eating by the river and enjoying the view. The visitor's center had all kinds of information about the wildlife of Wyoming, including a giant taxidermied wolf that was killed after it bothered local cattle. 

States Traveled- Colorado & Wyoming

Highlights- We saw a coyote! And antelope! 

Things I learned from today - snow fences. Ranchers put up snow fences along road and gullies to trap blowing snow. This keeps the roads passable and helps create a water supply for the spring. Also, in Wyoming and other states, the interstates have snow gates to keep travelers off the roads during blizzards. 

Today was also the only day we encountered rain on the trek west. And of course, it came down as we wound our way through Hoback pass in the Bridger-Teton mountains. The runoff from the rain turned the Hoback River pink. Like Pepto pink. No time for photos though, we had to get checked in and eat dinner before crashing for the night. 

We finally made it to the Tetons.

Again, staying on east coast time means getting up between 5 and 6 am ready to go. We picked up breakfast at Cowboy Coffee (delicious croissant sandwiches and donuts from Nom Nom Doughnuts), gassed up the truck, and headed out to see what we could find. 

One of the most photographed barns in the world in found in the Tetons. Found on the Kelly Loop, Moulton's Barn is leftover from an 1890 Mormon settlement. In fact, there are still cabins and other structures from those families still standing. 

It seems that everywhere you go around Jackson, amazing scenery is just outside your window. I kept taking photos of the mountains, and at one point thought I should probably stop (because really, who needs that many photos of mountains), but they are just so impressive that I couldn't help it. 

Part of our tour through the Antelope Flats included a drive up Shadow Mountain. We couldn't get to the very top, but we were able to gain enough altitude to really appreciate the beauty of the area. The flat plains sit right next to the mountains, divided only by the Snake River. 

After exploring the local areas, we headed to Moose to eat lunch at Dornan's. This restaurant was recommended to us because it has some of the best views of the mountains of any place around. Plus, the food is pretty good too! 

That evening, we stopped by the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar where every barstool is a saddle. It was dark in there and photos were difficult to get, but trust me, we sat in saddles. We also caught the 6pm shootout. Almost every evening in Jackson, they hold a shootout in the town square. It was loud and ridiculous, but we're glad we watched it. 

The only "thing" I scheduled in advance for us was a nature safari through Eco Adventure Tours. I knew Teton National Park was huge and had many secrets that we would have trouble finding on our own. So on Saturday morning, we dressed in layers and met up with our safari group. I wish I would have taken a photo of the van because it was cool! Every seat was a window seat, and with three roof hatches, we could see 360' at every stop. Our guide first took us to Schwabacher's Landing that, thanks to beaver dams, had mirror-flat ponds and an abundance of waterfowl. 

Side note - should you decide to visit the Tetons, go in spring. All of the animals have babies and they're just too much fun to watch!

We saw bison and elk as we headed up into the park with the hope of finding a bear. One of the most famous grizzly bears, called bear 399, had been seen in recent days with her cubs and we were hoping to catch a glimpse. 

As we got into the park, we saw cars lined up on the road and rangers directing traffic - tell-tale signs of a bear jam. On our first pass, we knew there was a bear somewhere close by, but didn't see anything. We turned our bus around and sure enough, on the side of the road, we saw 399 and her two cubs! I couldn't get a photo of the cubs, but I'm thrilled to have caught a grizzly with my camera. 

After our tour, a quick lunch, and a brief siesta, we packed the car with some clothes and headed up to Yellowstone via Grand Teton Ntl. Park. The "slow road" through the park takes you past Jenny Lake, Jackson Lake, and Signal Mountain. We drove to the top of Signal Mountain and got an incredible view of the Gros Ventre Mountains, Jenny Lake, and Grand Teton. Seriously, you can't find an ugly part of this area. 

We knew Yellowstone was going to take us some time (which we didn't have enough of), so we made the decision to focus on the lower loop, and see it over two days. Our goal for this day - Old Faithful and the sulpher springs. 

Did you know some lakes in Yellowstone stay frozen for most of the year? Neither did I. Some places still had 1-2 feet of snow on the ground!

Elk and bison were everywhere, and it's easy to forget how cool they are. I wish I would've taken more photos. 

Old Faithful was pretty cool, but I thought it was going to be louder. I guess I was a little disappointed, but the other hot springs were really neat (although Dalton was less than impressed). To think that there is so much geothermic action below your feet that it's bubbling to the surface is pretty incredible. What's more amazing is how prevalent these thermal spots are (hint - they're EVERYWHERE!). 

On our way out of Old Faithful we spotted a big, blonde wolf trotting back into the woods. Couldn't grab a camera fast enough. 

We crashed for the night in West Yellowstone, Montana at the west entrance of the park. The Three Bears Restaurant had some of the best pot roast I've ever eaten. 

I can't stress how great it was to wake up early every morning and get started before most of the crowds. We ventured back into the park before the rangers were at the station, so we didn't even have to show our pass. Also, there were no crowds or traffic jams. 

Almost immediately we found elk having breakfast in the stream and bison wandering on the road. 

Our goals for the day were the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, and Yellowstone Lake. 

The Grand Canyon was unbelievable! The lower falls, the colors of the rock, it was all so striking at sunrise. Even here, if you look down into the canyon, you can see steam rising out of the walls. 

Hayden Valley opens up and is home to all kinds of wildlife. All we saw were bison, but lots and lots of them. And baby bison. 

Yellowstone Lake is HUGE! And all we wanted to do was sit and enjoy the view before heading back to Jackson. What we got was swarms and swarms of mosquitoes. It was gross and really disappointing but homegirl does not hangout with mosquitoes. 

This short trek through the lower loop of Yellowstone took probably 4 hours, so we headed back to Jackson to eat dinner and relax before Monday. 

Monday was our last day in the Tetons and we spent the day doing what we hadn't yet had the chance to do. This meant taking the tram up to Rendezvous Mountain (ele. 10,000), souvenir shopping, and trying to find a moose. 

The tram ride was probably the most thrilling/terrifying experience of the trip. In 12 minutes, the tram takes you up 4,100 vertical feet where you can see 360' around Jackson and the Tetons. It's 15 degrees colder up there, and it smells of waffles (thanks to Corbet's Cabin, who makes "Top of the World" Waffles). In the winter, the tram takes skiiers to the top of this mountain. Which means they have to ski down! Off a mountain!! I got sweaty palms just thinking about it. 

We descended the mountain and went back into town looking for souvenirs to take home. We're not big shoppers, but it was fun trying to find just the right gifts for ourselves and others. Jackson has some amazing, high end shopping that we looked at from afar, but most of our money went to the fun, cheaper things in the shirt shops. 

The only animal I had yet to see was a moose (Dalton swears he saw one on our safari, but no one else could confirm his sighting). We were staying in Teton Village, which is located on Moose-Wilson road, which is supposed to be the best place to see moose. But alas, despite all our efforts, I had yet to see a moose.

On our way back from Jackson, as we rocked out to Van Halen, we turned onto Moose-Wilson road and saw the signs of a wildlife traffic jam. We safely parked the car (all four wheels off the road) and in the bushes by the road was a young, male moose chomping away. Day complete!

Before the sun rose on Tuesday, Dalton and I headed east out of Jackson. It was interesting watching the Tetons slowly disappear behind us as we drove toward the rising sun. Many of the places we drove through in northern Wyoming were still covered in snow and it was clear that most of the gas stations and motels were better equipped for snowmobiles than vehicles. 

Our ultimate goal for Tuesday was to swing by Devils Tower then end the day in Rapid City, South Dakota. 

Devils Tower is the first national monument ever established in the U.S. by Teddy Roosevelt. While scientists can't seem to agree what the tower used to be, they all agree that it is related to ancient volcanic activity that was once under an enormous ocean. Once the ocean drained, the rock and soil around the tower slowly eroded, leaving the tower as we see it now. Fun fact - in the 1940's, a man parachuted onto the top of Devils Tower on a bet and he had to wait 6 days for rescue to arrive. 

We didn't enter the park itself, choosing instead to just view and photograph the tower from the road, but apparently there are lots of hiking trails in the area, and you can even climb you way to the top. I vote 'no thanks' to that. 

We made it to Rapid City pretty early in the afternoon and decided to hit Mount Rushmore before stopping for the night. We had both heard that Mount Rushmore was small and disappointing, but the park as a whole was pretty darn cool! First, you have to drive through the Black Hills National Forest, which is beautiful. Then, you walk under all 50 state flags on your way to the viewing platform. To think, some guy looked at this mountain and said, "I want to put faces up there." 

With more time, you can stay past dusk to watch the evening illumination of the faces, or watch one of the performances in the amphitheater at the base of the mountain. It's a pretty neat park, but definitely one to visit when it's not busy. We had to wade through a ton of people and it wasn't quite peek season yet. 

We ate elk ravioli in Rapid City then crashed for the night to get ready for more excitement Wednesday. 

A month before we left for this trip, I applied for a job and I knew I would probably be called to interview on the road. So early Wednesday morning, Dalton and I setup a makeshift office in our hotel room so I could Skype into the interview and have my notes handy. I thought we had a great conversation and we'll see what happens next!

Once the interview concluded, we headed out for the Badlands, and ultimately Kansas City. 

I have always wanted to go to the Badlands. It's remote and a far departure from the flat prairie the covers most of South Dakota, and as soon as we entered the park, I was excited by the new landscape.  

One of the first things we saw was a small herd of bighorn sheep lounging on the rocks and cliffs in the morning sun. We had heard bighorns lived in Yellowstone, but we never saw them and I was sure we had missed our opportunity. Luckily, the Badlands gave us our last chance and it was incredible. In fact, as we drove the loop road through the park, we found ourselves face to face (or car to face) with a large male. As cool as it would be to say our truck was dented by a bighorn sheep, we choose instead to let him pass at his pace. I could have touched him from the window of the car. 

The hills and peaks and valleys of the Badlands are ruggedly beautiful. Given the chance, I would love to return and explore more. Apparently, there is quite a collection of petroglyphs and fossils found in the park. 

As we drove, we passed many, many prairie dog neighborhoods. Every time we stopped the car, at least one guard dog would stand at the front of the group watching us until we drove away. 

After leaving South Dakota, drove through Iowa and a small part of Nebraska, passing through a short hail storm, before stopping unscathed in Kansas City. Two more days and we'll be home. 

The final two days were spent traveling through states we had already seen. We were ready to get home and see the dogs, and ready to get back to some normalcy. 

It was an amazing trip! We saw things that were like nothing we've seen on the east coast. I can't say we're itching to get back in the car anytime soon, but we definitely enjoyed this experience. 

Final breakdown:

11 days - 13 states - 5 national parks/monuments - 7 hotels/condos - countless tanks of gas = 1 amazing life experience

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