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Trip Report 11 states, 42 days and 6700 miles.

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This is a trip in celebration of my husbands retirement. After months of research and planning, and with the generous input from people on boards like this, we headed out for the adventure of a lifetime.

After a pleasant visit to family in WI, and an overnight in Rochester, MN and Sioux Falls SD, our real adventure began. The stop in Badlands was brief as the temps were soaring into the low 100's that day, but it was a sight like no other on earth and well worth the drive through.

Our next destination was Custer and the surrounding area. We stayed in Custer at the HI Express and were very pleased with both the location for visiting the area and the hotel itself. I have to say that of all the areas we visited, we were disappointed in this one the most. Mt Rushmore was amazing, but the rest was just so-so to us.

Our next adventure was a stop a Devils Tower. It was a very interesting site and well worth the stop.

After an overnight stop in Buffalo, we made our way to Cody, WY, a great little town. I just wished we had planned another day here. There is so much to see and we just did not have the time.

While in Cody we made a round trip up the Beartooth HWY and back down the Chief Joseph. I don’t know if it was the haziness and low visibility, or the fact that we were rushing, but of all the mountain ranges we drove through on this trip, this was our least favorite.

After two nights in Cody, we headed for the east entrance to Yellowstone and Canyon area for a one night stay. We LOVED this area and wish we had been able to spend several nights there. It is located so well for Hayden Valley and the falls area and there is just so much beauty around you. I would like to have had time to soak it all in.

Mammoth was our next area with the overnight in nearby Gardiner, MT. Of all the areas of Yellowstone, this was a big disappointment. The springs are all but dried up and we did not spend much time here. If I had it to do again, I think I would skip this all together.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge was next for two nights. The Lodge itself was great, and we really liked being able to walk right across the parking lot to Old Faithful and the geyser boardwalk.

We could not get lodging in the park for our next two nights before leaving for the trip, so I had to settle for two nights in West Yellowstone to wrap up our visit there. While the drive in each morning was very nice, and we did see elk in the area, we would much rather have stayed inside the park those two nights as well. We used those two days to tour more of the southern part of the park and visit the geyser basins we missed while at Old Faithful.
We also made the hike up the hill at Fairy Falls trail to get the magnificent view of Grand Prismatic. What a difference it makes looking at it from above.

We drove West Yellowstone to Jackson, Wy by way of Idaho. It was an unexpectedly beautiful drive and seeing those Tetons poking through the smoky haze was a wonder to behold. We spent four nights in Jackson for a respite from the constant hotel hopping and are glad we did.

There was a fire on the hill visible from our Homewood Suites room and the town and surrounding area was extremely smoky, but we enjoyed the majesty of the mountains none the less. We figured we were there and we might as well enjoy the vistas through the smoky haze since there was nothing we could do about it.

Our last day there, the winds changed and the smoke cleared out for most of the day. It was amazing how clear the Tetons became in the distance and gave us a taste of what it really looks like.

Other than the smoke, and the 100+ temps through the Badlands and Rapid City we had fantastic weather on this entire trip. What more could one ask?

We left Jackson and drove up through Moran Junction and down 287 to Rawlins. I know some of you are wondering how we chose our stops along the way, so a little explanation here. Our goal was to choose Hilton properties so as to use point as often as possible and build enough time into each travel day so we could stop as often as we wanted to explore and still get to the hotels in time to rest up and recharge for the next day. I feel we accomplished this for the most part.

Rawlins, WY was just a rest stop for us and then on to Ft Collins, CO for a short respite there before heading to Estes Park, CO for a two night stay.

Estes Park is charming little town nestled at the edge of Rocky MT National PK and suited us just fine. We saw elk lounging on the golf course daily and causing roadblocks in the streets a couple of times. Simply amazing to see these creatures up close like that.

After two nights in Estes Park, we headed out through trail ridge road and down through Grand Junction to spend a night in Breckenridge, Co. The views on trail ridge road were amazing. It felt as if we were on top of the world. On our drive this day we saw the first of the of aspens in their full fall glory. There is no way to describe this to anyone and the photos definitely don’t do them justice. Simply amazing .

We enjoyed our short stay in Breckenridge. Nice restuarants and another cute little mountain town. Just the perfect place to rest our heads before heading out the next day.

We then headed down through Buena Vista, and up across Independence Pass to Aspen and eventually Glenwood Springs for another one night stand. Buena Vista was a pretty little town, but I don’t think I would go out of the way to go there again. We were surprised by the heavy traffic going through Aspen and all the way up to Glenwood Springs. After all the back road driving we had done, the traffic just annoyed us to no end. I wish we had just stayed in Aspen or Snowmass for the night and not gone so far out of the way to Glenwood Springs. Hindsight…..

Leaving Glenwood Springs the next morning we were heading for Montrose, CO and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Black Canyon was nice, but it was late afternoon by the time we made it there, and the light was just not good into the deep canyon. We were tired and just ready to head to the corral for another rest and a good nights’ sleep.

The next morning lead to one of the most beautiful parts of the trip. Down the San Juan Skyway. We thought scenery along this drive is more beautiful than anything I have ever seen in all our travels, and this includes Italy and the Mediterranean. It may have been partly due to the magnificent timing and weather with the aspens in their full glory and the skies a brilliant blue, but it just blew us away.

The GPS had our trip as taking a little over 2 hours, but with our stopping every mile or so to gawk at the beauty, and pulling out our picnic blanket for a roadside lunch, it was well over 6 hours before we pulled into Durango for our 2 night stay.

Following our extended drive down the San Juan Skyway, we arrived in Durango, Co. We really enjoyed our time here. It is a nice town with lots of options for restaurants and cute little shops in the downtown area.

The following morning we were up bright and early for our drive to Mesa Verde. We were the first group for the ranger led Cliff Palace tour. It was drizzling rain while we waited for the start of the tour, but stopped just in time for our walk into the site. While it was a very nice tour and interesting to see the ruins up close, both my husband and I decided that those types of places are just not for us.

We have now been to several of these sites on vacations and have never been really thrilled with them. I am not sure what it is that interests others, but for us it’s just……seen one, seen them all. I know most people are enthralled by them, especially Mesa Verde, but that’s what makes the world go round.

The next day was our drive to Alamosa and the Great Sand Dunes Nat Pk. The drive is very pretty. While Alamosa was not exactly an exciting town, it sufficed for the night, and we loved the Sand Dunes. This was a place we had planned to visit since it was near our route down to New Mexico. I have to say that it really wowed us. We climbed the to the top of the dunes and stood there looking around at the immensity of the place. When you are standing there looking at all those grains of sand, it really makes you realize how tiny you are in perspective of the whole universe.

After a restfull night, we got an early morning start on our drive to Taos, NM for another one night stay. I am not sure what I had pictured in my mind for Taos, but I can’t imagine spending more than one night there. We just were not thrilled with the area. We did make it out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. It was quite a sight to see and well worth the short drive out of town. I can’t say we would return to Taos any time soon.

After a short drive the next morning, we arrived in Santa Fe. We got an early check-in to our hotel and walked to the downtown square for a nice lunch. This is a town we both loved and will likely come back again. We spent two nights right in downtown, and then moved out to the Buffalo Thunder hotel for the next two nights. This gave us the opportunity to really explore Santa Fe without the parking problem, but also have time to wind down out at a resort. This worked perfectly for us. We had been on the road for such a long period and just need those two days down time just relaxing at the pool and chilling out.

We were recharged and ready for our next adventure when we left Santa Fe for our drive to Amarillo. We drove along Old Route 66 for much of this drive. Tucumcari, NM was especially charming in that route 66 way. Very cool!!!

Amarillo was nothing but a stop on the road and a place to lay our heads for the night, so we really did not see much but the interstate there.

We spent the next night in Oklahoma City and did enjoy the bombing memorial there as well as a walk through the Bricktown area.

Our last two stops on the road, Springfield, Mo and just outside St Louis in a little suburb in IL were just rest stops to get us back home.

A few closing thoughts on this trip.

This was indeed a fantastic trip and I can only think of a few things I would have changed. There were a few times we wished we had stayed more than one night, but only in hindsight. I can’t say there was any way I could have predicted which areas we would have liked to explore more before we actually got there.

There were some places we spent the entire day of our supposedly short drive and would stop so much along the way, that we got into a town with no time to explore it. We always got up early and headed out to our next town, so no time to explore then either. I think next time I would build a two night stay in a few more places, just for the down time now and then.

I would like to thank everyone on these boards for all of your help when planning this trip. I can’t imagine doing it without all the input. We would have missed so much.

Signing off for now.
Jan

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