I thought I’d take some time to document a few of the awesome highlights of this trip so far. This is by no means a complete list. It seems like every day I see something that causes me to pull over and take a picture, or stop and stare in awe. This country is so crazy beautiful and I still can’t believe that I’m spending the summer touring it.
*pardon the brevity and any typos in this post as I’m writing from the Groveland, CA. library balcony with a quickly deteriorating laptop battery!
TLDR: So far I’ve visited:
- Glacier National Park, MT.
- Big Sky, MT.
- Yellowstone, MT./WY.
- Grand Tetons, WY.
- Provo, UT.
- Salt Flats, UT.
- Elko, NV.
- Tahoe, CA.
- Yosemite, CA.
Glacier National Park:
Amazing. Breathtaking. Mountain views with thick forests and clear blue streams. This place was amazing and I wish I could have stayed longer! I camped at Apgar near the bike path (the only place in the entire park where dogs are allowed) and loved it. Clean campsites with flushing toilets, sinks and fire-pits after dirt-bagging it for a week felt like staying in a resort! I read an entire book about early settlers Wild River Pioneers and found myself seeking out places I had read about, imaging what it had been like to homestead out in Montana when it was purely wild. Trekking up and down treacherous mountains and crossing violent rivers with just wagons and horses, or often times, just a solo person. A lot of the people who lived out here were hermits/trappers. And they legitimately walked out into the woods with their gear, found a spot in the mountains, built a house — BY THEMSELVES — and lived for years. Blows my mind.
One standing testament to the hardworking people of Montana is Polebridge. Specifically, the Polebridge Mercantile.
This place is a general store/trading post that dates back to 1914. It’s adorable, and so worth the hour long drive on dirt roads from the park. You’ll find basic general store items (jerky, locally made cheese, sandwiches), as well as the best damn huckleberry bear claw donut I’ve ever had, gifts made by local folks (think pottery, mugs, t shirts, jewelry, etc.). and beer and wine. It’s amazing. Also, there’s a beach volleyball court out front, cabins for rent and a saloon. If it wasn’t a total downpour when I visited, I would have stayed all day and stuck around for the entertainment.
Big Sky, MT.
A high school friend of mine was kind enough to put in me in touch with a few college pals and they showed me around Big Sky for the night. Such a fun little town! It’s built around a couple of ski resorts so most of the folks there work at the resorts or in town at the many shops. Liv, Kirby and Zach showed me a great time.
One place to check out if you find yourself driving through there is Beehive Basin Brewing. They brew a mean Carmel Rye IPA and were cool with me bringing Chalupa in there — 5 stars!
I gotta say, I was a bit underwhelmed with this. While the park itself is BEAUTIFUL, and seeing Old Faithful was every bit as amazing as I hoped it would be, the crowds were a real bummer. Probably my own fault for going on a Saturday afternoon, but seriously — it felt like rush hour Seattle traffic. Brightside? I saw buffalo! Like, an entire herd! It was crazy.
The Grand Tetons:
Can I move to Wyoming? For real. This has been one of my favorite spots. The Tetons are breath taking. There’s no build up to these mountains, so it’s legitimately just valley, and then these massive mountains that come out of nowhere. So, so gorgeous. Sunrise and sunset are amazing, as you might imagine.
If you are lucky enough to drive through the park make sure to check out the following:
- Jenny Lake. I tried for 3 days in a row to get a campsite here and it was booked solid. If I had the time I would have waited another day to get a site. It’s that cool. Campsites are a bit crowded, but tucked away in the woods with the (main) Grand Teton in your face. Add lake views, it’ll blow your mind.
- Cunningham Cabin. Conservationist, hay farmer and game warden, J.P. Cunningham and his wife lived in this 2 room cabin in the Wyoming wilderness in 1885. It’s since been preserved as a historical landmark and it’s the coolest. Best part? Across the street there’s a sign for “Bridger Teton National Forest,” which means free camping. I spent the night here with the Tetons all up in my face and it was the best.
- Curtis Canyon. More free camping! More Tetons! + the added benefit of amazing hiking trails through a canyon and solid rock climbing. Yeah guys, I climbed my first rock here. It was special. And terrifying. But I met some really nice folks while camping who were nice enough to let me borrow their gear and show me the ropes (see what I did there?). Thanks to my new pals @Boundfornowhere @byriverpine @whynotnow_van. You guys rock. To anyone reading this with an Instagram, give them a follow!
Spent my first night at a Walmart. Not so exciting.
Second night, I met up with an old volleyball teammate from college and she and her family were kind enough to host me for dinner and conversation and a shower and a bed. It was the best. Seriously. I can’t believe how wonderful people in general have been throughout this entire trip. Thank you to all!
Kortney’s family gave me some great pointers on things to see, including Bridal Veil Falls just outside of Provo. It was a fantastic way to start my drive to the Salt Flats.
Speaking of, the Salt Flats are so….flat. and bare. And weird. But pretty. I have no other way to describe it other than strange. Miles and miles and miles of salt. Plus it was so hot that you could see heat waves coming off of the salt.
I tried to drive to the Devil’s Playground in California after the Salt Flats but the road was closed, which was a huge bummer. So I ended up driving to Elko Nevada and I’m so glad that I accidentally happened upon this place.
The cutest damn western town ever. Driving through, it might not look like much, but I urge you to walk through it and talk to the locals and find yourself delighted by their hospitality.
I camped at the South Fork reservoir and was pointed towards Lamoille canyon by a nice man who worked at the western wear store. HOLY MOLY. Nevada has a whole new special place in my heart. The canyons are gorgeous. The town of Elko is already at about 5k ft. Elevation, so by the time you get to the canyons, you’re about 8k ft up and can see the glacier and all the runoff and waterfalls. Check it out.
Also notable: the California Trail Interpretive Center. I spent a while here. My conclusion? The Pioneers were some crazy mother-f*ckers (sorry Mom if you’re reading this). Seriously. Who walks out into the wilderness with no GPS, no way to receive messages from parties ahead of them, no proof that California is the utopia they think it is and BRINGS EVERYTHING THEY OWN. I mean, technically, I’m doing a similar thing. But still. They crazy.
On my way to Yosemite I stopped in Tahoe for 2 days and enjoyed the bluest, clearest lake views I’d ever seen. Fun fact: Tahoe has visibility 67 feet down.
While here, I camped in Blackwood canyon and met a few nice folks who were also van-people. “Uncle” Jack Pauly from Hawaii and a nice guy named Paul who traveled full time in his truck. Both gave me some great pointers on trails and coveted van life things — like where to bum a cheap shower in town. They were awesome.
Next time I visit Tahoe, I think I’ll spend more time in Donner Lake area rather than Tahoe proper. It’s a bit less touristy, less crowded, and equally gorgeous. Clear blue water and stunning views of the mountains. As I thought about settlers traversing this terrain in covered wagons and mules, I was in awe of their determination.
Where I’m at now! The park itself is amazing with sky scraping rock formations jutting up from the ground, and waterfalls cascading down the rocks into valleys. It’s everything Ansel Adams led me to believe it might be.
That’s all for now! More to come.