Santa Fe, via Yellowstone, Missoula to Portland, Or. – 0Km cycled but 2200 miles driven (Total 4570km cycled)
Highlights : Endless roads, Dinosaurs, Old Faithful, The two J’s, Glacier National Park and back to our second home in Portland.
Day 210-211 – 5-6 August : Route 66
The All American Road Trip started with yet another trip to the ER after we’d only managed to make it from Santa Fe from Albuquerque. First stop was Urgent Care with unusual symptoms accompanying Peli’s wheezing. The doctor said we’d better get her checked out by ER as soon as possible, so we spent another delightful night strapped to machines. Peli got the all clear after blood tests, an EKG and x-rays, though we – and the medics – are still not sure what kicked off her asthma. At 3am we found a crap motel with cigarette burns on the bed sheets and an air conditioning unit that made more noise than cold air. Yes, it was definitely time to get the heck out of New Mexico.
We jumped into the car after a few hours sleep and headed north in hope of better motels and lower altitudes. Peli felt OK in our little air conditioned cocoon, so there were not many stops to enjoy the views as we tried to flee the desert. The car told us that it was 94F (34C) outside and James (our GPS) told us that we still were over 2000m, as we drove past miles and miles of sagebrush.
We even managed to drive on the famous Route 66 and I later learnt that we even cycled a little bit on it too, so we can tick that off our bucket list :-) Oh yes, and I managed to see the Rio Grande that was featured in a TV series that my mum and I watched years ago.
We knew that we had to get up and over the mountains to get to lower altitudes, and the sooner the better. We went past 3500m – higher than either of us have ever been without the help of planes. At that altitude I could feel the lack of oxygen and Peli struggled even in the car. Luckily we got up and over the high pass and as soon as we dropped in height Peli started to feel better and could start to enjoy the views again. The Rockies are serious and beautiful mountains.
We did have another warmshowers host lined up for Durango, but Peli’s breathing being as it was, we decided at the last minute to cancel and press on. This also meant we didn’t get to stop and try the malt, brewery and chocolate shops in Durango.
In Montrose, Colorado, we found a motel with breakfast included and a nice, clean room with air conditioning. We were now down at around 1600m and Peli could breath better but the strong drugs were now taking their toll, making her extremely tired and achey.
Day 212 – 7 August : God explain this one to me
The roads in the States are full of “Historical Sites” ranging from old Indian site to a place the Europeans either built or killed the locals. One historical site had cave drawings which some numpty had used as a target for his rifle. These rock drawing has been around for thousands of years but because of this idiot they will be gone in a few more, as water seeps into the cracks caused by his bullets.
This part of the USA is the same whether you’re in Colorado, Utah or Wyoming – flat, altitude and desert. Though coming from the south to Dinosaur National Park, on the border between Colorado and Utah, it was like driving into a wall, even if we were nearly at 2000metres. A big lot of nothingness, then the continental plates have hit and pushed each other up, like two stacks of pancakes.
In the little village of Dinosaur we spotted a sign for a church, can you see the irony here…? This reminded me of a church in the UK which had an advertising campaign on quite a few billboards in London. One of them asked “If you could ask God one thing, what would that be?” And someone had written on the poster: “Dinosaurs?”
At the Visitor Center the car told us that if you stayed outside for more than 20min you’d resemble a well-done roasted bit of meat. It was 99F (37C) and very dry. As soon as you turned the car’s air con off you could feel the heat building up. So, we parked Peli in the cool visitor centre where she watched the welcome film on a loop again, again, again and again while I took the not air-conditioned shuttle bus to the dinosaur quarry. The bus drove up and through the many layers of dirt and rock that had been cracked opened by the continental shifts over a few years.
In the back of my mind of course I knew that the Earth was still moving around, creating the continents, before and after the dinosaurs. But I’d kind of taken it for granted that mountains were there before. So reading that this high desert used to be an ocean before the dinosaurs walked around here and around ten million years before the Rockies were created, put it all into perspective. The Park Ranger I talked to at the quarry said that looking at these bones made him feel humble every day. We’re just so tiny in the Earth’s massive history.
In Vernal, Utah, an ugly oil town, we found only full motels and hotels. But also little bit of green, not a sagebrush in sight and a campsite and again at a low altitude. We waited for darkness and the cool evening air, well let’s just say it was a bit colder, when we pitched the tent.
Peli thankfully had a good sleep in the tent, no reactions, and we left early before it got too hot in the morning and headed north. Car camping is so easy compared to cycle touring. You just throw your gear in willy-nilly and set off!
Day 213 – 8 August – Feeling small
The Flaming Gorge National Recreational Park was just utterly amazing to see, much smaller than the Grand Canyon but well worth a visit. Peli managed a little walk before heat and side effects of the drugs called for a retreat back to the car.
The USA is right in the middle of a drought and we were driving right through the high desert which is full of – nothing and sagebrush. You really get the feel of how big the States is, you drive for hours and nothing happens or changes as you clock up the miles. As far as your eyes can see there is nothing but the dead straight road that you are on and that went on for hours.
On our way into Jackson just south of the Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone National Park we spotted a brown bear by the side of the road eating road kill. Sadly we were travelling to fast to take any good pictures. We have read in the park literature that you do not stop and take pictures from the car let alone get out to do so, because that makes the bears used to humans and also more dangerous.
Day 214 – 9 August : Old Faithful
The Grand Tetons are well worth a visit if you are heading that way, and if you like mountains you are in for a treat. Yellowstone is pretty too, but is teeming with tourists and mostly forested with few great views, whereas the Tetons is less so. When you enter Jackson and the park entrances it is made clear that this is wild animal country you are about to enter. Bears, bison, elk, wolves and mountain lions are among the dangerous ones you could see. Don’t think that elks are not as dangerous as the others, apparently they tend to run at the tourists, they get up to a fair speed and you probably want to avoid being run over by a 500kg angry Elk with sharp antlers.
We arrived just in time to see the Old Faithful Geyser with 20min to spare. You could easy end up waiting over 90min for it to go off, but not to worry it is a proper tourist trap so there are restaurants, museum and souvenir shops to kill time while you wait.
We even got stuck in a herd of bison, they dictate when and where you can drive. They cross the roads when they want to and take their time doing it. It is sad to know that back when the first Europeans arrived here a herd would not just be 60 of them but hundreds of thousands. Back in the day they used to give rifles to the passengers on the trains to shoot at the bison, just for laughs, and didn’t stop to pick up the kills.
Peli was doing OK so we dared to camp at altitude again, and we found one of the few free spots in a campsite just outside Yellowstone. The sites in Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks fill up before noon in high season.
Day 215 – 10 August : Scoobydoo
We arrived at Bannack, a ghost town left over from mining days, and now a state park with attached campgrounds. There was indeed gold “in them there hills” but only for a short time before everyone packed up and left leaving the town empty. This town is ‘preseved, not restored’ with the houses exactly as they were when the last inhabitants left. It’s rather eery to wander around the intact houses and imagine the lives once lived here.
Though, the ghosts may be old but they are certainly up to date with technology, because we enjoyed free WiFi at the campsite.
That night we got treated to one of nature’s best shows, a massive thunderstorm that came back for encores two times as it rolled up and down the valley. At one point the rain was only hammering on one half of the tent, hehe.
Day 216 – 11 August : Chez the two Js
We headed towards Missoula via another ghost town which was very remote and had all but fallen over bar a few of the houses. This place we so remote that we drove for an hour on tarmac, then 45min on gravel and then walked for 15min (with Peli clapping her hands and singing loudly for the benefit of the bears) right into the thick forests. How they found the gold there over 100 years ago and managed to go out and get the equipment to build the mine and houses there and then come back to the mine again, I do not know.
In Missoula we meet up with the two Js who we’d met a good few times on the Pacific coast. They took us for a Mexican and we had a good old catch up. Sadly both of them had come down with giardia (from water on the coast, not the Mexican meal) and had just about got over it.
Day 217 – 12 August : zigzagging
We headed up to Glacier National Park to drive the stunning Highway to the Sun Road. This is definitely a park we want to visit again someday. Stunning views, beautiful mountains and a fantastic road to drive and hopefully one day cycle. If we can we would also like to to a hike or two here.
American Adventure Cycling Association also has its headquarters here, so we had to swing by to say thanks for the help they have given us via twitter, website and emails. If you are ever planing a ride in the States do not forget their maps, they have over 41,000 miles of fantastic routes, campsites and cake stops. If you are in Missoula a stop at their offices is highly recommended: there is bike porn to look at at their newly renovated office, and free ice cream.
Day 218-220 – 13-15 August : Lewis and Clark
Driving out of Missoula we went over Lolo pass and clocked up 103F, let’s just it was a wee bit warm and we for once were happy to be in a car with air con. The pass then turns in to a valley which snakes its way along Clearwater river. From before Missoula we had been zigzagging the Lewis and Clark route, which also is a ACA route. Lewis and Clark you can’t miss out on in this part of the world. Other than pointing at things*, they found a way across the Rockies and the sierras before anyone else. *) every poster, painting and brochure about the Lewis and Clark Route, they were depicted pointing at things in the distance, a faraway look on their faces.
We had made up some time driving to Portland that we had time to have an early day and visit Mount Hood just outside Portland. A stunning mountain that just sticks up right out of the earth. We camped at Trillium Lake which lays below Mount Hood and had to pay $20 for a spot. Not too bad but not what we have become used to on the hiker biker sites we have been using. It’s funny how when you’re in a car you part with cash far more readily than when cycling.
After the scary upheavals of the previous weeks it was a delight and a relief to make it back to the safe haven of Portland, and our original warmshowers hosts Laura and Stephen, and their pups.