Epic. Awesome. Inspiring. These are the words I have been using to describe our recent road trip to Montana. And I thought today I would share some of our adventure with you. Starting with the driving part…because naturally, any kind of road trip sort of implies that there was some ‘road’ involved. And in this case, there was a A LOT of road.
Our basic itinerary was to drive to Jackson, Wyoming and spend a couple of days exploring the charming, old-west town. Next, we would drive on, up through Yellowstone National Park, to Emigrant, Montana and stay for a few days in peaceful Paradise Valley before circling back home to Oklahoma. So with our old-school road atlas and plenty of Peanut M&M’s, we backed out of our driveway for our epic adventure.
We left Tulsa on Saturday, June 29th around 8:00 a.m. (CDT) and by 11:00 we were smack dab in the middle of Kansas heading west on I-70. The Great Plains stretched out in front of us like a carpet as far as the eye could see. Every 10 or 20 miles, a little town would come into view in the distance. Its grain elevator and church steeple would rise up out of the horizon over the vast patchwork of corn and wheat fields.
Tripp and I passed the time in the car by checking off the license plates of the other vehicles on the road from our list of the 50 states. (Note: Truckers didn’t count, but RV’s did.) In all, we saw 43 of the 48 contiguous United States represented on the road missing only states from the Northeast part of the country. The rest of the time we listened to music or talked about the scenery. And sometimes we just rode in a comfortable silence just looking out at the road ahead.
We also stopped to take pictures of storm clouds in the distance. And by “we” I mean “me”.
We made it to Denver around 4:30 (MDT), grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then and spent the rest of the evening planning the next day’s route. The glorious sunset outside our hotel room was a nice bonus.
The next morning, we got up early and got back on the road. Another long day in the car, but something about crossing the border into Wyoming felt like we were entering into a whole different, wild part of the county.
I loved watching how the landscape changed as we continued west in Wyoming along I-80. The short grass prairie with its grazing herds of buffalo and pronghorn in the eastern third of the state gradually gave way to the sagebrush grasslands and foothill scrublands as the terrain rose westward toward the Rocky Mountains.
As scenic as the drive was, coming into Jackson that afternoon was a welcome sight.
After spending a few days in Jackson and Emigrant (more on that later), Tripp and I said farewell to the mountains and made our way home eastward through the Shoshone National Forest towards Cody, WY. As we drove along, we would would mutter a humble ‘wwwowwwwww‘ at every turn along the two-lane road that took us through the jagged peaks and craggy remnants of the ancient volcano fields that make up the Absaroka Mountains.
We then turned southeast and travelled through Thermopolis, Shoshoni, and Casper. Traveling east along Highway 26, we set the cruise on 85 mph and flew through the treeless, arid plateaus of the Wind River Basin. All the while being chased by ominous storm clouds looming behind us. Those big storms caught up with us just south of Glendo, WY as we drove through not one, but two hailstorms as we made our way to Cheyenne.
Sidenote: If Tripp was writing this blog post, he would tell you that we drove from Gardiner, MT to Glendo, WY (423 miles) on one tank of gas which averages to about 25 mph which is the best mileage we’ve ever had on my car.
That night we stopped in Denver around 6:00 p.m. (MDT) for dinner and decided to drive on a few more hours to shave some time off of our drive home the next day. So at 8:45 p.m. we drug our road-weary bodies up to our room at the local Best Western in Burlington, CO and promptly went straight to bed.
The next morning, we were up bright and early for the last leg of our road trip. A quick stop for fuel at the neighboring Love’s and we were homeward bound. The high plains of Kansas greeted us once again and the cheery sunflowers waved to us from alongside the interstate. And although this part of the country might not have the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains, these Great Plains have a unique beauty all their own and a rich farming heritage to which we all owe a great debt of gratitude.
About the time we crossed the state line in Oklahoma, more big storms were looming off in the distance. The drive east along Highway 412 was another white-knuckle experience with intense rain and wind. (thankfully no hail). And with great relief, we pulled into our driveway at 3:50 pm (CDT) just in time to dodge the next round of thunderstorms heading our way.
Over the course of our eight day road trip, we covered 2850 miles and 4 states on 8 tanks of gas. Something about seeing it numbers like this really hits home to me just how much ground we covered.
Since Tripp and I have been home for a bit and have had a chance to reflect on our experience, neither of us would have changed anything about our road trip. I mean obviously…there are a lot faster ways to get around than by interstate and highways. But there is absolutely no substitute for having a front row seat to the spectacular beauty and diversity of this great land we live in.
And I am forever grateful to have been a witness to it.