This was the second massive trip I’ve done around North America – in 2008 I completed a 15,000 mile ‘loop’ challenge finishing and starting in San Francisco mostly via buses, this was a 9,500 mile trip with me behind the wheel.
Contiguous states challenge & who is not complaining about gas prices
When initially planning this road trip, the main focus was seeing the Colorado/Utah states and also Yellowstone NP – areas I haven’t really covered in the approx 8 years of visiting and living in the USA. When mapping this out, I realized that I only had a small geographic block of states left to finish the ‘contiguous USA states’ challenge (all states on the mainland directly connected to each other). I quickly made that a side challenge of this trip – the block of states remaining were approximately in the middle of the USA, starting from Tennessee and going up to North Dakota. After some google searches I quickly realize this would be easily achievable on this trip – the USA has a extensive, well laid out national highway infrastructure that is perfect for road tripping.
In additional the price of gas / petrol was extremely low at this time which made a massive road trip even easier, the price for a gallon was hovering around the $2 mark! That is well less than a dollar a litre! (around 60c).
Coast to coast (and back) challenge behind the wheel
To complement finishing this challenge, I set myself another challenge to drive back and forth in a big loop between probably my two favourite spots on each of the costs, Astoria, NYC on the East coast, to San Francisco on the West Coast (and back). I was going to be putting in some serious hours behind the wheel!
Detroit and North Michigan
I started the trip blazing my way up to Detroit, a city that makes a strong impression on what can happen when booming city goes bust in a big way. Detroit recently declared bankruptcy, the once mighty car industry only has a shell remaining, and the city is filled with empty housing lots and massive abandoned buildings. It felt a bit like a post apocalyptic world.
Out of the great plains into the mountains
After stops in Northern Michigan (a beautiful remote part of the USA), and Minneapolis, I made quick time to get to North Dakota (just in the border, a chilled College town Fargo), then I dipped down to Omaha, Nebraska, and Ohio, before steaming my way across South Dakota and into a whole region that is incredibly beautiful, starting with the Badlands NP. Hitting this area I was out of the ‘great plains’ of the USA an expansive flat farming area, and into the beautiful mountain ranges which include the Rockies. I then headed down into Boulder, and Denver in Colorado and drove through the Rockies towards Salt Lake City where I picked up a friend who I’d be traveling with for the next couple of weeks.
On the way through the Rockies I ran into intense snow storm, quickly most of the roads in and out of the Rockies were being shut down, I managed to squeeze my way north from Silverton, and get out just before the last road was closed! Phew! It was a little crazy, it was Friday night, and many people were gambling on if they’d make it through, I saw around 10 minor crashes in the space of around 90 minutes as cars brakes turned out to be close to completely useless on the icy road.
National Parks Week! Bonus!
Just before arriving at Yellowstone NP, we discovered that it was National Parks week in the US – this basically meant that all National Parks were free to enter during that week. Bonus!! This was a great co-incidence, we ended up saving around $200 as we covering a lot of National Parks (including Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, National Bridges Monument, Zion and others).
Incredible Utah / Arizona / Colorado / Arizona area + Yellowstone and Grand Teton
Wow – this was really a special two weeks. This part of the USA is my favourite and I think the most beautiful. We quickly traveled our way through a lot of terrain, trying to strike a balance between staying long enough to get a feel for each site, and keeping on the move. The main highlight from Yellowstone where the colourful and hot geysers, were were lucky enough to see one particular geyser that only goes off once every 5 days. Grand Teton I feel was more physically attractive, and I can see why Jackson Hole is such a popular ski town (even though we didn’t do any skiing). We then took the more scenic, back roads down south towards Arches NP in southern Colorado.
I’ll just pause here to say, I’d strongly advise anyone planning a road trip in the USA to budget additional time to take the back roads, I did this on most parts of my trips, and in every case I the scenery was far more interesting, the locals at the stops were much more curious and happy to see you. It really is a different experience to just sitting on a major highway where every stop across the country is the same!
So we continued down to Arches NP, and were hit with some awesome scenery to start with, driving alongside the Colorado River, in a deep dark red canyon, with snow capped peaks of southern Colorado off in the distance. I started pulling over every 5 minutes to try and capture a pic of it, but the sites just kept coming. They would keep coming pretty much the next full week. I was completely shocked at beautiful it really was. I think this is the most beautiful part of the USA, and easily one of the most beautiful places (I’ve seen at least) in the world. WOW. I put more compact camera through its paces that week, but this is one place it would be worthwhile to bring a more serious camera.