August 15 – September 11, 2016
28 days, 7700 miles, 8 states, and 10 national parks
Front cover photo: North Rim of the Grand Canyon,
taken Sept. 2, 2016 from the Cape Royal scenic overlook
Copyright January 2017 Gary J. Wolff
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
Thank you for downloading this eBook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite eBook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support
Dedicated to all the countless, hearty souls in the hospitality industry who cheerfully and graciously devote their livelihood to attending to every need of us tourists who visit their facilities. In particular, I’d like to tip my hat especially to the all the wonderful rangers in both the National Park Service and U.S Forest Service who are true professionals, answering all of our questions and helping make our sightseeing trips more enjoyable!
Table of Contents
GW’s 2016 Wild West Road Trip
Day 1, August 15, 2016, Houston to Big Bend National Park, Texas
Day 2, August 16, 2016, Big Bend National Park to McDonald Observatory, Texas
Day 3, August 17, 2016, McDonald Observatory, Texas to Ruidoso, New Mexico
Day 4, August 18, 2016, Ruidoso to Cowles, New Mexico
Day 5, August 19, 2016, Cowles, New Mexico to Walsenburg, Colorado
Day 6, August 20, 2016, Walsenburg to Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Day 7, August 21, 2016, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Day 8, August 22, 2016, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Day 9, August 23, 2016, Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Pinedale, Wyoming
Day 10, August 24, 2016, Pinedale to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Day 11, August 25, 2016, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming to Glacier National Park, Montana
Day 12, August 26, 2016, East Glacier Park to Logan Pass, Montana and back
Day 13, August 27, 2016, East Glacier Park to Browning and Two Medicine Lake, Montana and back
Day 14, August 28, 2016, East Glacier Park, Montana to Spirit Lake, Idaho
Day 15, August 29, 2016, Spirit Lake to Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
Day 16, August 30, 2016, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho to Arches National Park, Utah
Day 17, August 31, 2016, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Day 18, September 1, 2016, Arches National Park, Montana to Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona
Day 19, September 2, 2016, Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona
Day 20, September 3, 2016, Grand Canyon North Rim to Phoenix, Arizona
Day 21, September 4, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona
Day 22, September 5, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona
Day 23, September 6, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona to Silver City, New Mexico
Day 24, September 7, 2016, Silver City, New Mexico
Day 26, September 9, 2016, Kerrville, Texas
Day 27, September 10, 2016, Kerrville, Texas
Day 28, September 11, 2016, Kerrville to Houston, Texas
Dang! I was hoping to try my hand at my first-ever “enhanced eBook” (with audio/video) so I could incorporate some clips from my 43-minute road trip video into this eBook.
But although some online eBook creators allow indie authors to embed interactive features like audio, video, hyperlinks, and image pop-ups into their eBooks, at the time of this writing, these features are currently available only on some 3rd generation or newer tablets and on free reading apps for Android phones and Android tablets…. and so are NOT available on free reading apps for iPad and iPhone, my mobile devices of choice.
Oh well, I’ll have to give that a shot sometime in the future as the technology develops! As a fallback plan, 34 of the video links in this eBook will take to you to the exact minutes:seconds (00:00) timestamp in my road trip video at YouTube pertaining to the referenced text.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this documentation of what was without question the most magnificent vacation of my entire 6-decade lifetime. As a minimum, it was definitely the longest… spanning 28 days, 7700 miles, 8 states, and 10 national parks.
The main purposes of the trip were to:
1) reconnect with old friends whom I was able to visit along the way,
2) revisit some of my favorite national parks, most notably Glacier National Park where I worked in the summer of ’90, Grand Teton NP, Yellowstone NP, and Big Bend NP, as well as seeing some national parks I’d never been to before, e.g. Grand Canyon’s North Rim (I’ve hiked to the bottom of the canyon twice from the South Rim) and Saguaro NP,
3) check out some of my former workplaces and abodes in Casper, Wyoming; East Glacier Park, Montana; and Phoenix, Arizona, and
4) revisit some spots where I’ve previously mountain climbed or camped as a boy scout in my MUCH younger years, e.g. Pinedale, Wyoming, the launching pad for my Sept. ’79 ascent of Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest; the Pecos River wilderness near Cowles, New Mexico, where my boy scout troop camped in the summer of ’65; Bear Lake, Colorado, where my boy scout troop camped in the summer of ’66; and Farragut State Park, Idaho, where I attended the 1967 Boy Scout World Jamboree.
Here’s the route map as I laid it out in March 2016. It only changed a bit en route:
My road trip route, as laid out in March 2016 on Roadtrippers.com
If you have any questions or comments to share, or, heaven forbid, find any mistakes in this book, by all means please do give me a shout by clicking on the “” button on my website, as I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Okay, let’s get started. Fasten your seat belts!
Today’s mileage: 649
Cumulative mileage: 649
After Mom dropped me off at the Hertz rental car agency bright and early around 7:30 a.m., I hit the road ASAP, as the Monday morning rush-hour traffic was already atrocious and with a 650-mile drive ahead of me, I was anxious to get the heck outta Dodge.
Houston is infamous for its nightmarish traffic jams and this Hertz shop is located on West Loop 610, a 10-lane freeway which is generally regarded as the busiest freeway in the entire state of Texas with around 300,000 vehicles per day. WOW!
Day 1 was fairly uneventful because of the very LONG, 11-hour drive, including about 4 hours in a strong rain in and around San Antonio. But I was thrilled to see all the wind turbines in West Texas along Interstate 10, which as I recall were somewhere east of Ft. Stockton.
My stop for the night was Big Bend National Park, named for the “big bend” in the Rio Grande River which separates Texas from Mexico.
Mt. Casa Grande, Big Bend National Park, Texas
This was my 3rd visit to the amazing 800,000-acre Big Bend National Park, which was established in 1944 and has been named as an International Dark Sky Park, with the least light pollution of any National Park Service site in the lower 48 states. Too bad I arrived only 3 days before the full moon.
Arriving around 7:30 p.m. allowed me to catch an absolutely stunning sunset from the Chisos Basin Lodge where I afterwards enjoyed a delicious chicken-fried steak dinner. I then camped out that night in the Chisos Basin campground for only $7, half price of the regular fee by using my America the Beautiful Senior Pass. Yay!
Sunset thru “The Window”
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Today’s mileage: 162
Cumulative mileage: 811
Today it was rise and shine early as I had plans to climb Emory Peak, elev. 7,825 ft (2,385 m), the highest peak in Big Bend. It was my 3rd time to climb Emory, and there’s an elevation gain of 2500 ft (762 m) from the Chisos Basin visitor center. I started a little after 8 a.m. and the round trip hike took me over 7 hours.
“The Window,” as seen from the Emory Peak Trail
Big Bend National Park, Texas
It was an absolutely perfect day for hiking… clear, sunny, and temps in the 70s. From the summit, I could very clearly see all of the park and Mexico, our neighbor to the south.
View of Mexico, as seen from the summit of Emory Peak
Big Bend National Park, Texas
In the evening, I attended the twilight program and the star party at The University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory just outside of Fort Davis. McDonald Observatory is a research unit of The University of Texas at Austin (my alma mater!) and is one of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research, teaching, and public education outreach. Located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, the observatory offers some of the darkest night skies in the continental United States.
The twilight program was so-so, with a little bit too much “deep in the weeds” information about craters on the moon, but the star party on the other hand was spectacular. I guess there were at least 200 people on hand to attend the initial outdoor orientation session with constellation viewing, before migrating over into the telescope park where they had, I believe, 8 different telescopes where we were able to view the moon, Mars, Saturn, and various other nebula, star clusters, etc.
I must say it was a very impressive program, in spite of the almost FULL moon. The program director even pointed out a very clearly visible passing of the International Space Station, as well as an Iridium satellite flare caused when the antennas of an Iridium communication satellite reflect sunlight directly onto the surface of the Earth.
I ended the evening by camping out in the nearby Davis Mountains State Park for $21.
Today’s mileage: 390
Cumulative mileage: 1201
I awoke bright and early this morning to see 2 deer grazing right outside my car. Wow. I then had a hearty bacon and egg breakfast at the Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park before heading north to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Bacon and egg breakfast at the Indian Lodge
Davis Mountains State Park, Texas
Inside the park is Guadalupe Peak (elevation 8751 ft), the tallest peak in Texas which I have climbed twice. I am standing on top of Texas in Sept. 1977. On August 25, 2016. only 1 week after my visit, they celebrated the Centennial celebration of the founding of the national park system by holding a “Top of Texas” sunrise celebration atop Guadalupe Peak.
El Capitan (left), Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
(Guadalupe Peak, Texas’s tallest, is to the right of El Capitan)
After a short stop in the Guadalupe Peak NP visitor center to reminisce and pick up a few brochures, I headed up into New Mexico where I had lunch at Wendy’s and picked up a New Mexico highway map in the city of Carlsbad. I then drove through 2 different units of the beautiful Lincoln National Forest up to Ruidoso where I spent the night in a Motel 6.
This was very enjoyable, as I was able to take a hot bath for the first time in 3 days, plus use their Wi-Fi to catch up on my email. My Sprint cell phone service was rather spotty (read: nonexistent) in west Texas and southern New Mexico. I also enjoyed a crunchy taco dinner at Taco Bell.
Today’s mileage: 230
Cumulative mileage: 1431
The first thing I did this morning in Ruidoso was to visit the Smoky Bear Ranger District office to try to get some information on the Pecos River wilderness in northern New Mexico, the same place my Boy Scout Troop 43 from Houston camped in the summer of 1965. They didn’t have much information, as that part of NM is in the Santa Fe/Las Vegas Ranger District, but a very nice lady ranger was very helpful and able to give me information on the location of that ranger district office in the city of Pecos.
Smokey Bear and Grizzly Bear
Smokey Bear Historical Park, Capitan, New Mexico
I then drove up to the city of Capitan where I visited the Smokey Bear Historical Park to pay my respects and to see the final resting place of the famous former living symbol of the national forest fire prevention campaign. I felt it was a very well-done museum and a very fitting and heartfelt tribute to the famous bear who was one of my childhood heroes. This clip shows the inside of the museum.
I then drove up to the city of Pecos where I visited the Pecos National Historical Park and the Santa Fe/Las Vegas Ranger District office to pick up some maps for the Pecos River Wilderness.
Pecos National Historical Park, Pecos, New Mexico
After arriving in the wilderness, I picked out a campsite in the Jack’s Creek Campground, just a ways north of Cowles, which I got for only $7, half-price with my America the Beautiful Senior Pass. Yay! I then hiked up the Pecos River to see if I could find where my Boy Scout troop camped out a remarkable 51 years ago. I saw a number of spots that looked familiar and I’m not really sure I found the exact site, but it was a very enjoyable hike along the scenic river (), in fact the very same one that empties into the Rio Grande River in west Texas.
While hitchhiking back to my car at the trailhead, I was picked up by 3very cordial grad students (and a dog) from New Mexico State University who were studying geology, hydrology, and sustainability studies, respectively. As a small token of my appreciation, I gave them one of my souvenir bags of matcha chocolates from Japan.
My campsite in Jack’s Creek Campground
Pecos River Wilderness, Cowles, New Mexico
Today’s mileage: 358
Cumulative mileage: 1789
Rise and shine came VERY early this morning! With the very bright previously-mentioned full moon early in the evening and then rain later on that night, it was a very rough evening trying to sleep in my car, so finally around 3:45 a.m. I gave up and decided to leave the campground and start driving in the dark over to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I was really surprised by ALL of the animals I saw crossing the road which seemed to be attracted to my car’s headlights.… rabbits, a fox, and even a deer which I almost hit but somehow managed to avoid through a miraculous stroke of luck.
First of all, it was a HUGE deer and the whole episode was almost surreal. As the deer sprinted across the road from left to right in front of my car, I hit the brakes pretty hard, not enough to cause a skid, but fortunately only milliseconds before the deer barely cleared the right front edge of my car. The whole affair happened like it was all in slow motion, and now, even months afterwards, I can still recall every vivid detail.
I’m still counting my blessings that there was no crash, ‘cause having to get the damage to my rental car repaired could have thrown a real monkey wrench into the scheduling and budget for the remainder of my 28-day trip.
After my Golden Arches breakfast in Santa Fe, it was just beginning to get daylight, so I hit the road for Taos. My target? Dennis Hopper’s gravesite.
Hollywood star Dennis Hopper’s gravesite
Jesus Nazareno Cemetery, Ranchos De Taos, New Mexico
Yep, that would be the famous Hollywood star who burst into my life (along with Jack Nicholson) in the classic flick “Easy Rider,” co-starring with Peter Fonda. That movie made such a cultural impact on me, that to this day I still own the movie soundtrack.
Dennis’ gravesite in the Jesus Nazareno Cemetery in the village of Ranchos De Taos is very simple and totally incongruent with the actor/director’s fame. Basically, it’s just a mound of dirt covered by a bunch of rocks and several mementos fans have contributed, like empty wine bottles and beer cans and an old cassette tape.
The wooden cross which bears his iron-branded name and birth/death dates is adorned with neckerchiefs, headbands, bolo ties, and American flags.
I had a little trouble finding the Jesus Nazareno Cemetery and had to stop 3 times to ask for directions. If you’re ever in the area and want to check it out, this will show you the way. And here’s the .
Rio Grande River
Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, New Mexico
En route to Taos, I had the pleasure of stopping off to visit the 3-year-old Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument which features an 800-foot deep gorge carved out by the Rio Grande River, the same one which forms the international boundary between Texas and Mexico.
Another noteworthy side trip before leaving New Mexico was to stop by the visitor center for the famous Philmont Scout Ranch. In my scouting days, I knew a number of fellow scouts who did a 1-week summer camp here, but I never had the opportunity myself.
Philmont Museum – Seton Memorial Library
Philmont Scout Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico
My original planned sleeping spot for the day was supposed to be the elev. 10,500 ft (3200 m) Bear Lake Campground in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the San Isabel National Forest in southeast Colorado where my boy scout troop camped in the summer of 1966.
Unfortunately, Forest Road 422 which leads up to Bear Lake is dirt and was in pretty bad shape, and because my rental car insurance emergency road service coverage was only good for paved roads, I had to scrap the idea. Dang!
It was a great disappointment, perhaps the biggest of my whole trip, so my fallback plan was to drive over to Walsenburg where I found a $50 room in the Anchor Motel, followed by a gourmet meal at Carl’s Jr.
Today’s mileage: 315
Cumulative mileage: 2104
Today was one of the most exciting days of my entire trip because around 10 o’clock I met up with one of my old college buddies in the city of Manitou Springs, Colorado which is part of the Colorado Springs metro area. Tom and I used to live in the same dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin.
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado
The first thing we did was make a quick visit over to Garden of the Gods, an absolutely stunning outcropping of gorgeous red rocks in Colorado Springs, before heading over to wait for his wife Amy who was competing in the Pikes Peak Ascent. This 13.3-mile-long (21.4 km), 7,815-ft-elevation gain (2382 m) trail run goes straight up the famous, 14,115-ft. Pike’s Peak, the 20th highest in Colorado.
And guess who was the #1 finisher in her age class? Yep….. AMY! This was the 4th race that she won in 2016. Wow. Superwoman! Here’s a short [+ video+] clip of some of the runners receiving cheers after arriving back in Manitou Springs by bus.
After that, we celebrated Amy’s victory first at the post-race runners’ tent and then with a nice Mexican lunch at the Townhouse Sports Grill there in Manitou Springs.
Tom and Amy, winner of the Pikes Peak Ascent
Townhouse Sports Grill, Manitou Springs, Colorado
Then we hit the road for the 4-hour drive up to Steamboat Springs where Tom and Amy live. Amy drove her own car back, so it was grrrreat catching up with Tom for the first time in a couple of years since we last met.
And as a 2-day, 3-night visitor in Tom and Amy’s pad, I was thrilled to learn that I would not only have a king-size bed in my own room, but a private bath as well. Wow!
Tom and Amy’s pad, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Today’s mileage: 0
Cumulative mileage: 2104
Today Amy was up for a hike because she needed a little exercise to help relieve her post-race muscle tension and soreness from the grueling Pikes Peak Ascent the day before. Tom would’ve loved to have joined us, but was having some issues with his ankle, so he decided to stay home.
Rabbit Ears Peak, Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest
(about 19 miles southeast of Steamboat Springs, Colorado)
Rabbit Ears Peak is about a half-hour drive southeast of Steamboat and is about a 6-mile, 1.5-hour round trip hike with only a 150-foot elevation gain, from 9604 feet to 10,654 feet. The Rabbit Ears are two 100-high, rust-colored pinnacles that resemble…. well, you guessed it… rabbit ears and lie right next to the Continental Divide.
It was a perfect day for hiking and we were blessed with clear sunny skies and almost no wind. Lucky us!
Amy and Gary, Rabbit Ears Trail, Colorado
We capped off the day with delicious Papa Murphy’s pizza for dinner and watching a little Rio Olympics on TV. What a fantastic day!
An added benefit of today was that for the first time on my road trip, I didn’t have to drive my car… AT ALL! Yay!
Today’s mileage: 0
Cumulative mileage: 2104
I was thrilled that on my 2nd day in Steamboat, my rental car got another break and I didn’t have to drive all day!
Amy, Tom, and I enjoyed a nice morning hike along a short section of the Yampa River Core Trail, a 7.5-mile, paved hike-and-bike trail which runs along the Yampa River through the heart of Steamboat Springs.
Howelsen Hill Ski Area, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Tom and Amy were also kind enough to show me the nearby Howelsen Hill Ski Area, named for Carl Howelsen, the Norwegian immigrant who established the ski area in 1914. The Howelsen Hill Ski Area has produced over 70 Olympians in both alpine and Nordic events, making over 90 Winter Olympic appearances.
It has also been the training ground for 15 members of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and 6 members of the National Ski Hall of fame. As the oldest continuously operating ski area in Colorado, it has the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America.
After that, we enjoyed coffee and donuts in a nice little shop in downtown Steamboat.
Two of the most handsome dudes on the planet!
Near The Sleeping Giant, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
In the afternoon, Tom and I took a very scenic and enjoyable 2-hour bike ride along a farm road just outside of Steamboat in the vicinity of a mountain called The Sleeping Giant. The Sleeping Giant (a.k.a. Elk Mountain) is an 8744-ft (2665 m) peak that stands out prominently above the Elk River and resembles…. well… yeah… a sleeping giant!
Tom had a coupon for a free mountain bike rental, so that worked out beautifully for us. Thanks, Tom! In the evening, Tom and Amy whipped up an amazing dinner of grilled Mexican tacos along with rice and beans. Oh my, it was to die for, it was so delicious! Here’s a short [+ video+] clip of Tom in action on his BBQ grill!
Tom and Amy’s grilled Mexican tacos along with rice and beans
Today’s mileage: 579
Cumulative mileage: 2683
Sadly, today was the day I had to bid farewell to my wonderful Steamboat friends and hit the road bright and early for my target for the day…. Pinedale, Wyoming, the entrance to the Bridger-Teton National Forest which contains the striking mountains of the Wind River Range, most notably the elev.13,809 ft (4,209 m) Gannett Peak, the highest in the state of Wyoming.
Anyone reading this will probably think that I’d lost my mind, but today I drove a remarkable 250 miles out of my way so that I could attempt to track down the place where I lived in the summer of 1975 when I did an internship with Dresser Magcobar working in the oil fields of Wyoming.
Along the way, I was thrilled to see all the wind turbines in southeast Wyoming ().
938 S. Durbin St, Casper, Wyoming
(The left unit (#2) on the 1st floor was my home in Summer 1975!)
Even though on my home PC in Tokyo I’d previously spent what seemed like hours trying in vain to use Google Maps’ Street View to find the house where I lived that summer, believe it or not, I did manage to find the exact house on South Durbin Street. What an incredible streak of luck, as the street name and an approximate location from my 41-year-old memory was all I had to go by.
The 2-story, 6-unit house appeared to be unoccupied at the moment and to be undergoing renovation, but it really warmed my heart to see the outside of the exact same rental unit where I spent an entire summer back in my college days. Wow!
Then I was back on the road to Pinedale. It was a fairly uneventful drive across Wyoming till I reached my camping spot for the evening, the Half Moon Lake Campground next to……yes, you’re beginning to catch on… Half Moon Lake! Before sundown, I enjoyed some tasty buffalo wings at the lodge restaurant right next to the lake.
Half Moon Lake Lodge
Near Pinedale, Wyoming
The reason I chose this particular spot is that it’s on the access road to the trailhead for Gannett Peak, which has very dear sentimental value for me personally. You see, I backpacked in the Wind River Range 3 times… the first time in the summer of ’75 with one of my coworkers when we were up in the mountains for 5 days, the 2nd time in 1977 in an unsuccessful attempt to scale Gannett Peak with my friend Brian, and the 3rd time in 1979 in a successful attempt to stand atop Wyoming’s highpoint with Brian, Tom, and Marion!
The Bridger Wilderness is one of the most spectacular places for alpine hiking anywhere in the states and contains the largest concentration of active glaciers in the American Rocky Mountains.
Today’s mileage: 336
Cumulative mileage: 3019
This morning I couldn’t resist driving the short distance up to the Pole Creek trailhead, which most climbers use to access Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest. It was especially meaningful to reminisce back to the 3 previous times I’d started a backpacking journey from this very same point.
Fremont Lake, the 2nd largest natural lake in Wyoming
Near Pinedale, Wyoming
The weather that day was luckily again clear and sunny, and the views looking down onto Fremont Lake were to die for. At 9 miles long, 1 mile wide, and 600 feet deep, Fremont Lake is the 2nd largest natural lake in Wyoming.
From Pinedale, it was up to the city of Jackson where I spent a little time milling around the town square famous for its elk antler archways. Afterwards, I enjoyed a refreshing cup of coffee at Starbucks. Don’t miss my [+ video+] of the horse-drawn stagecoach near the Jackson town square.
Elk antler archway, Town Square, Jackson, Wyoming
My next stop was Grand Teton National Park, where I backpacked for 3 days back in summer of 1974 when I hitchhiked there all the way from Austin, Texas (that incredible hitchhiking trip will be the subject of my next eBook!). My original plan was to continue directly on up into the adjoining Yellowstone National Park to the north, my final destination for the day.
But because of a huge forest fire west of the Tetons, the visibility was severely limited in the park and so the south entrance access road to Yellowstone Park was closed indefinitely. Dang! This necessitated yet another detour, this time unplanned but requiring only an extra 100 miles, via eastern Idaho.
All the smoke in the Tetons was a big disappointment because you couldn’t even see the gorgeous mountains from the Moose Junction Visitor Center where I stopped off briefly for some brochures. The 3 main peaks, known as the South, Middle, and Grand Teton, were named by French trappers in the late 1800s who called them “Les Trois Tetons,” or “The Three Breasts.”
After making the detour into Idaho, I stopped off at the very impressive Visitor Center in West Yellowstone, Montana to get some brochures and other national park info. I then drove directly to Old Faithful, the world’s best known geyser. My timing was impeccable, as I arrived just about 10 minutes before the next eruption, which occur at intervals from 40 to 126 minutes, but on average, about every 95 minutes.
Because it’d been over a quarter-century since I last saw Old Faithful blow her top, it was a very enjoyable experience which I managed to capture on [+ video+]. I guess it was just my luck that the tourists standing just in front of me were Japanese and appeared to be college students. After that, I had a light buffet dinner at the Old Faithful Inn.
HUGE elk, Bridge Bay Campground
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
My next order of business was to check in at the Bridge Bay Campground near the western shore of Yellowstone Lake, where I had made reservations the previous March and stayed tonight for $26. I was absolutely amazed at the HUGE elk grazing so nonchalantly just outside the campground registration office.
I then drove over to the Yellowstone Lake Hotel where I saw some grazing bison near the road. After a quick take-out cup of coffee and doing a little window shopping in the gift shop (here’s my panorama [+ video+] inside the hotel), I went over to the nearby Yellowstone Lake Lodge where I purchased temporary Wi-Fi access to catch up on my email.
Gorgeous scenery inside the Yellowstone Lake Hotel gift shop
After driving back to my Bridge Bay Campground, I attended the interesting 9 p.m. ranger program in the amphitheater, just a few minutes’ walk from my campsite.
Today’s mileage: 438
Cumulative mileage: 3457
Even though I’d already been to Yellowstone National Park a number of times in the past, I wanted to check out a few places recommended by my daughter and her husband on their travel blog when they visited the park back in 2009.
Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming,
taken from Artist Point (here’s the [+ video+])
These places included the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and in particular, the Upper and Lower Falls. The 308-ft Lower Falls were especially impressive, which I first viewed from afar at Artist Point and then again up close and personal at the Brink of the Lower Falls, which you can hike down to from the North Rim Drive where I captured it on [+ video+].
I also had a chance to observe the Upper Falls from Uncle Tom’s Parking Area ().
One of the most bizarre and heartwarming things that happened to me in Yellowstone Park was not long after I left my campground this morning, I passed a HUGE bison walking down the road…. the wrong way against traffic. When I drove past him very slowly, because he was only about 10 feet (3 m) away, I was able to make an amazing [+ video+] of him, so you’ll definitely have to check it out when you get a chance. It was, without question, one of the most interesting experiences of my entire road trip.
My bison buddy, walking the wrong way down the road
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
There were so many things I wanted to see in Yellowstone National Park, America’s 1st national park established in 1872, so I did make a few more stops along the way to see some mudpots, geysers, and other hydrothermal features, as well as a quick visit to Canyon Village for a cup of coffee and some souvenir shopping. Here’s my [+ video+] of the Mud Volcano.
It wasn’t until around 10:30 that I finally left the park thru the north entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs before hitting the road for Glacier National Park where I would stay for 3 nights.
Glacier National Park, which lies just south of the Canadian border in northwestern Montana, was combined in 1932 with Waterton Lakes National Park just across the Canadian side of the border to form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the world’s first international peace park. Both parks were designated as World Heritage sites in 1995.
It was a LONG drive across Montana up to East Glacier Park, a small village which lies on the east side of Glacier National Park, but I found the scenery very enjoyable, including when I passed through the Blackfeet Indian Nation, whose commercial and business activity is centered around the city of Browning.
After I checked into the Sears Motel in East Glacier Park, I had dinner at the historic, 103-year-old Glacier Park Lodge. Also known as the “Big Tree Hotel,” the lodge was built with 500-year-old Douglas fir logs from the Pacific Northwest by the Great Northern Railway.
Inside the historic, 103-year-old Glacier Park Lodge
East Glacier Park, Montana
Against all odds and in spite of skeptical colleagues and the U.S. government, the visionary father-and-son team of James and Louis Hill, owners of the railway succeeded in not only building a transcontinental railway along the northern border of the United States, but by building their show piece Glacier Park Lodge in 1913, also in attracting the tourism and wealth of both the East and West coasts to the wonders of Glacier National Park.
The lodge has a very special sentimental value for me, because I spent the summer of 1990 working there as the Head Bellman in my last summer in the states before moving to Japan in 1991. We bellmen worked VERY hard (including having to haul 100-pound suitcases up to the 3rd floor in a lodge with no elevators), but on our days off, we had a million acres in our backyard and over 750 miles of hiking trails to explore. Definitely God’s country.
Actually, the opportunity to revisit Glacier Park Lodge for the 1st time in 26 years was one of the primary reasons for making my 28-day, 7700-mile road trip. Be sure to check out my short panorama [+ video+] clip filmed inside the lodge, if you get a chance.
Today’s mileage: 125
Cumulative mileage: 3582
This morning I decided to take my daughter and her husband’s advice once again and to hike the Highline Trail, which starts from the elev. 6646 ft (2025 m) Logan Pass, the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road where it crosses the Continental Divide.
The appropriately-named Going-to-the-Sun Road is a truly phenomenal 50-mile (80 km) road that was built in 1932, spans the width of Glacier Park between the east and west entrance stations, and has been designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Mt. Jackson, Glacier National Park, Montana,
taken from Going-to-the Sun Road
Even though I spent an entire summer working and hiking extensively in the park 26 years prior, I’d never done the Highline Trail, so after reading my daughter and her husband’s exciting story on their 2009 road trip blog, I was pretty pumped to do this trail.
My original plan was to join a 9:15 a.m. ranger-led hike because of a high concentration of bears in the area and the park’s recommendation not to hike alone. But after I arrived at the Logan Pass trailhead and noticed how many people were hiking on their own, I just decided to go ahead and hike by myself.
Clements Mountain, Glacier National Park, Montana,
taken from Going-to-the Sun Road
It was a bit crowded on the trail that day, because it had been closed for about a week due to a mama grizzly bear and her two cubs feasting on a mountain goat carcass only 50 yards or so from the trail.
On an absolutely perfect day for hiking… clear, sunny, warm, and almost no wind… I hiked in about 4 miles below the Garden Wall and the Continental Divide until I got to the 7337-ft pass, the high point of the trail near Haystack Butte, before returning back to Logan Pass. Here’s a [+ video+] clip of a tiny trailside mountain stream I saw along the way.
Highline Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana
I decided that the 8-mile hike was a good enough workout for me, because I wanted to save time to mill around Glacier Park Lodge in the afternoon, so after doing a little shopping in the Logan Pass gift shop, I began the 1.5-hr drive back to East Glacier Park, including a short stop for a ham sandwich lunch in St. Mary’s Lodge.
Back in East Glacier Park, I spent a little time checking out the Glacier Park train depot where many tourists and employees still arrive twice a day via Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, which runs only from April to October. I was also thrilled to successfully track down my old apartment unit in the employee housing complex behind the lodge and next to the pool where I lived in the summer of 1990.
I wrapped up this very busy and gratifying day with dinner at the Firebrand Pass, just a few miles out west of town along Highway 2, which used to be a live music and dance venue the summer I lived there.
Today’s mileage: 78
Cumulative mileage: 3660
After the rigorous exercise from my hike the day before, today I felt like I would opt for more low-key activities closer to East Glacier that didn’t require a lot of driving. So I kicked off my day with a delicious huckleberry French toast breakfast across the street from my motel at a cozy little place called The Whistle Stop.
Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, Montana
After that, I drove over to the town of Browning, the headquarters of the Blackfeet Indian Nation, looking for a place to wash my car for the first time on my road trip, and because I struck out doing that, I decided to take time to stop off at the Museum of the Plains Indian there, which I found very interesting. The nice gentleman who collected my entrance fee was a Blackfeet Indian who also once worked at Glacier Park Lodge.
In the afternoon, I drove up to Two Medicine Lake in Glacier Park and took an easy hike up to Aster Falls, where I ran into some funny college girls from Utah. You can see them in the [+ video+] clip I made there.
Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
In the evening, I had dinner at Serrano’s, the famous Mexican restaurant in East Glacier, and then drove over to the Summit Mountain Lodge & Steakhouse, where Highway 2 crosses the Continental Divide west of town, and had huckleberry cheesecake and coffee for dessert. Twenty-six years ago, the place was a night spot, where I often hung out with my lodge coworkers.
Huckleberry cheesecake and coffee dessert
Summit Mountain Lodge & Steakhouse, Montana
On the way back into East Glacier, I encountered an eastbound traffic jam on Highway 2. At first, I thought, “Oh, NO…an accident!” But when I got a little closer, I realized there were about 10 cars stopped in both directions to view a roadside mama bear and her 2 cubs. How cute they were! (from a distance) You can view the 3 of them in my road trip [+ video+].
In the evening, I hung out in the Glacier Park Lodge lobby, where I caught up on email and listened to some live music right there in the lobby by a fella named Benjamin from Austin, Texas, the same place I spent 4 years of my life in college. Wow, what a coincidence! You can watch Benjamin playing his guitar in my road trip [+ video+].
Today’s mileage: 330
Cumulative mileage: 3990
The thought of leaving the “Crown of the Continent” and the pinnacle of my road trip was a bit sad, but I already had my sights set on Farragut State Park, Idaho, my main target for the day and site of the 1967 Boy Scout World Jamboree which I was lucky enough to attend.
So after a hearty eggs and bacon breakfast at Luna’s Restaurant across the street from my motel, I checked out and hit the road westward along Highway 2 around the south side of Glacier Park en route to the state of Idaho.
It was just my luck to catch the eastbound Amtrak train as it was departing the West Glacier Railroad Depot at the western terminus of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you check out my road trip [+ video+], you can see the friendly Amtrak train conductor waving as they departed.
In Kalispell, Montana I finally had a chance to wash and vacuum my rental car as I headed westward toward Idaho. The drive thru this part of western Montana and in the panhandle of Idaho was quite beautiful.
Boy Scouts of America signboard near the Friendship Poles
Farragut State Park, Idaho
I arrived at Farragut State Park, Idaho around 2 p.m., with ample time to check out some of the various venues that were used for the 1967 Boy Scout World Jamboree, including the campsite where my scout troop from Houston, Texas camped in the Gödöllő, Hungary sub-camp of Area 3 (now called “Bennion”). I also spent time checking out the scouting exhibits in the new wing of the Museum at the Brig, the park’s commemoration of the Farragut Naval Training Station used during World War II.
Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake and the 4th deepest lake in the Pacific Northwest
Farragut State Park, Idaho
I also saw where the all of the jamboree swimming and other aquatic events were staged at Beaver Bay Beach on the 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake and the 4th deepest lake in the Pacific Northwest. I also revisited the famous friendship poles which display the jamboree motto “For Friendship” in the English, Spanish, and French languages.
Friendship Poles with “For Friendship” motto in English, Spanish, and French
Farragut State Park, Idaho
I was also lucky to catch a huge flock of wild turkeys strolling at a leisurely pace across the road as I drove along North Road near Scott Field. You can watch these wild turkeys in my road trip [+ video+].
After leaving Farragut State Park, I drove over to the city of Spirit Lake where I had dinner and rented a $50 room in the White Horse Hotel. Including the $9 fee to use their online state park registration system, Farragut State Park wanted to charge me 30 some-odd bucks for a tent-only site, so I figured for just a few dollars more, I might as well get me a bed and a private hot shower.
The end of Day 14 meant that my 28-day road trip was now already officially half over.
Today’s mileage: 532
Cumulative mileage: 4522
Today I drove 532 miles over a 13-hour period down thru Idaho (and a bit of western Montana) to see the 750,000-acre Craters of the Moon National Monument.
En route I stopped off in Hamilton, Montana for an A&W burger and to mail 3 postcards. Some of the roadside scenery I saw along U.S. Highway 93 today was absolutely stunning, including the elev. 7014-ft Lost Trail Pass, Montana, where Lewis & Clark once passed, and the elev. 12,662-ft Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho which I scaled back in 1990.
Interesting Highway 93 roadside scenery in Idaho, south of Lost Trail Pass
In the same area, I also passed a road sign marking the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole.
The volcanic region encompassed by Craters of the Moon is very appropriately named, in fact in 1923 geologist Harold T. Stearns described the area as “The surface of the Moon as seen through a telescope.”
After stopping off briefly at the Craters of the Moon visitor center for a brochure and info, I took an hour or so to drive around and explore the various volcanic features, including crater flows, cinder cones, spatter cones, and lava tubes.
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
After that, I drove over to nearby Arco, Idaho where I spent the night in the KOA Campground after having a nice dinner at the Golden West Cafe. Arco is the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power.
Today’s mileage: 543
Cumulative mileage: 5065
Today was another very LONG day on the highway as I passed down through Pocatello, Idaho and Salt Lake City, Utah, and then on down to Arches National Park for my first-ever visit. Yet once again I relied heavily on an excellent write-up about Arches in the blog prepared by my daughter and her husband about their 2009 road trip when they also passed through Arches.
Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park, Utah
Along the way to Arches NP, I stopped off in Springville, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City, for an Arby’s roast beef sandwich. Yummy! We no longer have Arby’s in Japan, so I can assure you this was a real nostalgic treat.
I guess it’s a bit difficult to describe exactly, but when I first drove through Arches on the way to check in to my Devils Garden Campground on another absolutely beautiful day, the way the late afternoon sun was striking the beautiful red rock formations sent an unbelievably exhilarating thrill through my entire body. To see these beautiful red rock formations for the 1st time was definitely a slice of heaven which I will never forget!
Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah
In the evening, I enjoyed a delicious Pizza Hut dinner in the bustling city of Moab, which is adjacent to Arches. I also attended a very interesting ranger program near my campground presented by Ranger Matt Smith.
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
(Without question, the most famous arch in Utah, as it’s on license plates!)
Today’s mileage: 153
Cumulative mileage: 5218
This day would turn out to be, without question, one of the most exciting and gratifying days of my entire 28-day road trip. I awakened just before sunrise and hiked about 10 minutes from my campsite to view Broken Arch, one of the prettiest arches in the park. Because of the special tinted rays of the sunrise, it had an especially beautiful color to it which I was lucky enough to capture with the camera on my iPhone 6 Plus.
Broken Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
At 9 o’clock, I joined the Fiery Furnace Tour led by Ranger Lisa, which I’d actually signed up for and reserved my spot back in March. The Fiery Furnace is a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between towering sandstone walls.
Because there are no trails, signs, or cairns in the Fiery Furnace, and GPS units do not work well due to the towering sandstone walls, entrance to the Fiery Furnace is limited to the ranger-guided tours or by hiking permit only.
The Fiery Furnace Tour led by Ranger Lisa, Arches National Park, Utah
I guess we had about 20 or so folks, including some very young German kiddos, joining the tour and it was very interesting and slightly dangerous, as there were a number of places that required some very tricky scrambling. Ranger Lisa was a true professional and expert communicator, and you can see her in action in my [+ video+]. This $16 tour was one of the most enjoyable things I did on my entire vacation.
In the afternoon, I visited the nearby “Island in the Sky” district of Canyonlands National Park which was also very enjoyable, as I drove around to visit the various viewpoints and scenic overlooks in the park which reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon. You can see a panorama from the Grand View Point Overlook in my [+ video+].
Island in the Sky district, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
For dinner, I couldn’t resist the discount prices at Pizza Hut again in Moab, and in the evening I attended another Ranger program in the amphitheater near my campsite led by Ranger Justin.
Today’s mileage: 461
Cumulative mileage: 5679
Before leaving Arches National Park, I got up early enough to hike over to the 306-ft-long Landscape Arch in time for sunrise, so I could film the arch all bathed in those beautiful orange-colored rays. It was an easy 1.6-mile (2.6- km) round-trip hike from the Devils Garden Trailhead, not far from my campground.
Landscape Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
On my final pass through Moab, I stopped off for a Big Breakfast at McDonald’s and then hit the highway, driving down through the beautiful scenery of southeast Utah and northeast Arizona, including the familiar, yet stunning, rock formations in Monument Valley that we’ve all seen a million times in western movies and TV commercials.
The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park asks $20 for the entrance fee (more than many national parks), including just to see their Visitor Center, and because I was anxious to get over to the Grand Canyon, I decided to just skip it this time.
When I passed through the small town of Kayenta, Arizona, I had a very nice surprise when I stopped off for lunch at Burger King. I ordered my first-ever and only-ever “ ." In the words of Burger King, "The WHOPPERRITO™ is made with savory flame-grilled 100% beef and seasoned with a special blend of spices to deliver the ultimate burger-burrito mashup. It’s stuffed with a creamy Queso, pickles, diced onions, juicy tomatoes, and crisp lettuce all wrapped in a warm flour tortilla."
WOW! Besides, of course, being totally DELISH, it only set me back $2.90 plus tax.
Glen Canyon Dam, Page, Arizona
From there, I drove on over to Page, Arizona where I stopped and visited the visitor center for the massive 710-ft-tall (216 m) Glen Canyon Dam, constructed from 1957 to 1964, and which is the 2nd highest concrete-arch dam in the United States (only the 726-ft (221 m) Hoover Dam is taller). Dedicated by the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, in 1966, the dam forms the 266-square-mile (68,900-hectare) Lake Powell.
I also visited one of the most incredible geological creations I’ve ever feasted my eyes on… a place just south of Page called Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River loops around in a horseshoe shape. This amazing sight is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and I’d already seen and read up about it on the internet, but to see it with your own eyes is pretty amazing. And so is the [+ video+] that I made of it in which the nearby female tourist loudly exclaims, “Holy sh*t!!”
Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, south of Page, Arizona
From there, it was over to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where I spent a couple of nights in the Kaibab Lodge, located about 20 miles north of the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge.
After checking into my hotel, I drove down to the Grand Canyon Lodge for a very simple dinner in the lodge’s cozy fireplace room that overlooks the canyon. The North Rim’s elevation is about 1000 feet higher than the South Rim, so the view is absolutely breathtaking. We were all treated to an amazing sunset to the west and a double rainbow to the east.
7:57 p.m. sunset from the Grand Canyon Lodge
Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona
In the evening, I attended the interesting 8:30 p.m. ranger program in the lodge auditorium by Ranger Kira. What a grrreat day!
Today’s mileage: 121
Cumulative mileage: 5800
This morning I rose early enough to drive the 20 miles down to the North Rim in time catch the sunrise from Bright Angel Point, an easy, quarter-mile hike down from the Grand Canyon Lodge. The views were sensational!
Sunrise from Bright Angel Point
Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona
After a western omelet breakfast in the lodge restaurant, I joined the 8:30 a.m. daily nature walk around the lodge led by Ranger Rachel, whom you can see in my road trip [+ video+].
Ranger Rachel leading the 8:30 a.m. nature walk
Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona
After that, I drove around to a number of scenic overlooks in the park, the 1st major one being Point Imperial, which at elev. 8803 ft (2684 m) is the highest viewpoint in all of Grand Canyon National Park, and then over to Cape Royal. At Point Imperial, you are an astounding 6,000 ft (1830 m) above the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.
View from Vista Encantada scenic overlook
Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona
In the late afternoon after a short nap, I had a light dinner at the Grand Canyon Lodge Deli and again watched a beautiful sunset from the lodge’s outdoor patio, along with yet another double rainbow, even more brilliant and spectacular than the one from the day before. WOW!
Sunset double rainbow from Grand Canyon Lodge
Grand Canyon North Rim, Arizona
Today’s mileage: 396
Cumulative mileage: 6196
Today I arose around daybreak because I had a long drive ahead of me down to Phoenix, my resting spot for the next 3 nights. Phoenix is not only Arizona’s capital, but was also my former home and workplace.
Historic Route 66, Flagstaff, Arizona
Along the way, I stopped off in Flagstaff, first to drive along Historic Route 66, as well as visiting the Lowell Observatory, a very impressive campus which houses numerous telescopes, museums, libraries, and research centers. But most importantly, it’s where Pluto, the famous former 9th planet of our solar system was discovered in 1930 with a 13-inch astrograph telescope. This was my 2nd time to visit the observatory, but since the previous time had been 44 years ago, I felt it was about time to refresh my data!
The Pluto Telescope Dome, Flagstaff Arizona,
where the former 9th planet Pluto was discovered in 1930
On my way down to Phoenix, I passed thru the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona area, world-famous for its red rocks and widely recognized by psychics as a prime spot for vortexes, places where people have reported feeling inspired by beneficial sources of energy and healing.
World-famous red rocks in Sedona, Arizona
When I first arrived in Phoenix in the early afternoon, it was too early to check in to my hotel, so I drove directly over to the new office location for the transportation engineering consulting firm where I worked for a couple of years back in the late 80s before my divorce. Even though the office was closed up tight on the Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend, it was good to see their new location even though I never worked there.
I also tracked down my old home in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale where my family used to live, after which I then checked in to the Crossland Economy Suites motel on Black Canyon Highway (Interstate 17).
For dinner, I couldn’t resist chowing down on a delicious steak at the Texaz Grill steakhouse, a place which opened 32 years ago by a Texan and famous for its Texas cuisine as well as for ALL the Texas memorabilia exhibited extensively throughout the restaurant… it’s almost kind of like a Texas MUSEUM! If you get a chance, you can check out the short [+ video+] clip I made inside the restaurant there.
The doorway to the restrooms inside the Texaz Grill, Phoenix, Arizona
Back when I lived in Phoenix, I belonged to a university ex-student association known as the Texzonis, which was open to any former university student from Texas and not necessarily just from my alma mater… the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns. But we Texzonis would often patronize the Texaz Grill, so for me, it was a VERY meaningful reunion of sorts!
Today’s mileage: 92
Cumulative mileage: 6288
My first full day in Phoenix was a leisurely catch your breath day. Because I didn’t have to get on the highway and drive somewhere, I slept late and then had a nice breakfast at the Denny’s across the interstate highway from where I was staying.
And for only the 2nd time on my road trip, I did some laundry. After that, I went to see the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, home of the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League (NFL) and the annual Fiesta Bowl, and which has hosted 3 college football national championships, 2 Super Bowls, and 1 Pro Bowl.
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Phoenix
Also in Glendale, I visited the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which is now part of Arizona State University and where a number of my former Japanese colleagues and students attended early in their careers as international students.
I then had lunch at Max’s Sports Bar, also in Glendale, which is kind of like a sports museum with an uncountable number of professional and college football team helmets exhibited in numerous display cases. It was a bit of a homecoming of sorts, because I once ate there with my parents and sister when they came to visit me in Phoenix
NCAA College Football team helmets, in order of final 2016 rankings
Max’s Sports Bar, Glendale Arizona
In the late afternoon, I went to the Thirsty Lion Sports Grill in Tempe to meet up with the University of Texas Longhorn ex-students association for their Game Watch party to view the Longhorns whup up victoriously on Notre Dame. Yay!
You can view some short clips of those exciting UT Longhorn Game Watch festivities in my road trip [+ video+].
University of Texas Ex-Students Association Game Watch Party vs. Notre Dame
Thirsty Lion Sports Grill, Tempe, Arizona
Today’s mileage: 110
Cumulative mileage: 6398
Yesterday when I had breakfast at Denny’s, on the sales receipt was a coupon for a free stack of pancakes with the purchase of any drink. Well….. how could I resist THAT, so guess where I went back to have breakfast again today?
My plan for this Labor Day Monday was to climb Camelback Mountain, Phoenix’s tallest, which I had previously scaled a number of times back in my days of living and working in Phoenix. But after I drove over to the Camelback trailhead and arriving around 7 a.m., perhaps because it was Labor Day, the very tiny parking lot was already filled up and it was illegal to park on the nearby neighborhood streets, so my fallback plan was to drive over to the elev. 2608-ft (795 m) Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
Piestewa Peak, Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Arizona
Formerly called Squaw Peak, it was renamed in honor of Army Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa, the first known Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military and the first female soldier to be killed in action in the 2003 Iraq War.
On another absolutely gorgeous day, I made my way up to the top of Piestewa Peak, which has a magnificent view of the Phoenix metropolis. The trail was very crowded as one might expect for a national holiday, but most everyone was very friendly including a number of folks who commented on my Texas Longhorn cap and shirt, as a result of the Longhorns’ victory over Notre Dame the day before.
Summit Trail #300 is only a little over a mile long, but it involves an elevation gain of 1200 feet (366 m), so it was a fairly good workout and very enjoyable. On the summit, I was treated to not only the absolutely stunning, 360-degree panoramic view of Phoenix, but among the 20 or so folks up there, was also a very interesting young girl doing yoga poses while being photographed by her friend. Now THAT scenery was not too bad either!
Yoga girl, summit of Piestewa Peak, Phoenix Mountain Preserve, Arizona
Be sure to check out all the exciting Piestewa Peak action on my road trip [+ video+]!
After my 2-hour hike, I drove over to Old Town Scottsdale, the original townsite of Scottsdale with an old western town theme and many southwestern cultural attractions, including fashion shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The lively, pedestrian-friendly zone contains the major nightlife for the city and is a major art center of metro Phoenix.
I window-shopped and visited a number of the stores, and had mid-morning coffee and scones at the Great Australian Bakery.
Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona
In the afternoon, I enjoyed a nice dip in my motel swimming pool, but on the way, I stopped off for lunch at Del Taco, a California-based fast food Mexican food chain similar to Taco Bell. While waiting on my tacos, I got a chance to see a couple of Phoenix’s Valley Metro light rail trains arriving and departing from the station on N. 19th Ave. at W. Northern Avenue ().
In the late afternoon, I visited the Arizona State Capitol building in downtown Phoenix and drove out to South Mountain to have dinner at Rustler’s Rooste, which has a beautiful view of the Phoenix skyline, particularly at night.
But after being seated at my table immediately upon entering the restaurant, I waited for at least 10 minutes and no one ever came to greet me or even acknowledge my presence, so I decided to cut out and instead have a nice steak over at a nearby Sizzler.
Before leaving the Rooste, I took time to film the live country band and all the kids playing on the slide (). It was another great day in this vibrant city that was my home for 3 years!
Today’s mileage: 367
Cumulative mileage: 6765
Because today was Tuesday, the 1st workday after Labor Day, I wanted to hit the road early before the morning crush-hour began. For the most part, I was fairly successful. Even though I was staying in the near north side of Phoenix, for the most part I was leaving town in the off-peak direction, going against the major flows of traffic coming into the Metropolis, so I luckily managed to escape any serious traffic jams.
So not having had a proper breakfast, I stopped off in Casa Grande, about 50 miles south of Phoenix, at where else?…. at DENNY’S, of course, so I could use yet another coupon for a free stack of pancakes!
After that, I drove down to Picacho Peak State Park which was a revisit for me, and which is a very beautiful place with some small peaks and a very interesting history as the site of the 1862 “westernmost battle of the Civil War” and the only Civil War battle fought in the Arizona Territory. The interpretive trail signs in my [+ video+] explain the fascinating history of this place.
Picacho Peak, Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona
I arrived before the visitor center opened, so I filled out a registration card along with the required fee and took a quick one-hour hike on the Calloway Trail up to an elev. 2274-ft (693 m) vantage point which overlooks the interstate highway down below.
From there, it was off to the eastern Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park just outside of Tucson, dedicated to the preservation of the famous saguaro cactus and other fragile desert trees and shrubs. The saguaro cacti are indigenous to the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, which has been featured so prominently thru the years in old western films.
The saguaro cactus, often called the “supreme symbol of the American southwest,” can live to be 150 years old or more, when they may tower up to 50 feet (15.2 m) and weigh 16,000 pounds (7257 kg) or more. Generally, their first branches, or arms, don’t even appear until they’re 50-75 years old.
These durable cacti are an amazing case study for desert survival, where summer midday temperatures may reach 100℉ (37.8℃) and where less than 12 inches (305 mm) of rain fall in the average year.
Saguaro cacti, Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona
Because I still had a long drive ahead of me today, I basically just made a quick drive-thru tour along the 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive, but by all means, don’t miss my panorama [+ video+] clip of the very impressive saguaro cactus landscape I filmed at a pull-out along the scenic drive.
After leaving the national park, I had lunch at a nearby Dairy Queen and then drove on to Silver City, New Mexico to meet up with my old Denver hiking and climbing buddy, Brian, who I hadn’t seen in a remarkable 37 years. Brian is fairly new to the area and lives with his brother Randall in a beautiful home they are renovating.
In the evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner together, courtesy of Brian, at the Buckhorn Saloon in town.
Randall, yours truly, and Brian
Buckhorn Saloon, Silver City, New Mexico
Today’s mileage: 0
Cumulative mileage: 6765
Beautiful New Mexico wildflowers in Silver City, New Mexico
Today unfortunately was one of only 4 days that it rained on my entire 28-day road trip, but Brian, Randall, and I made the most of it with a nice little nature walk around their property. We saw lots of nice colorful flowers as we hiked up to a scenic point overlooking the property and surrounding area.
Brian’s place from scenic overlook, Silver City, New Mexico
After that, we went shopping in Silver City, primarily for me to get some New Mexico souvenirs, and also for Brian to check out a secondhand shop where he was looking to buy a guitar amp.
Brian enjoying the great outdoors, in spite of the rain
For lunch, I treated my buddies to a nice meal at La Cocina Mexican restaurant, and in the afternoon because of the rainy weather, we just hung out inside Brian’s place and had a friendly chat to reminisce old times.
We had a lot to discuss for the 1st time in 37 years, because Brian and I twice hiked together in the Wind River Range….. the 1st time in an unsuccessful attempt to scale Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest, and a 2nd time successfully along with good friends Tom and Marion.
One of the highlights of our time together today was Brian playing some music for us on his guitar. This was quite a pleasant surprise for me, because even though I knew Brian was a very accomplished artist with an entire collection of paintings, I had no idea he was so musically inclined as well!
You can hear Brian’s singing and guitar playing together with Randall dancing along to the music in my road trip [+ video+]. Funny guys!! Immediately following that is a panorama [+ video+] clip of the amazing New Mexico beauty on Brian’s property.
Another great thing about this rainy day was that for the first time in over 2 weeks, I didn’t have to drive my rental car!
Day 25, September 8, 2016, Silver City, New Mexico to Kerrville, Texas
Today’s mileage: 650
Cumulative mileage: 7415
Today I had a very LONG driving day ahead of me, as my target was Kerrville, Texas where my old college friends JW and Maura’s ranch is located, plus I knew I would lose an hour crossing from the Mountain Time Zone back into the Central Time Zone.
So I bid farewell to my New Mexico buddies almost at the crack of dawn, and as I drove away, I jokingly yelled out to Brian that I would see him again after another 37 years! Ha-ha.
Gary and Hector, Good Luck Café, El Paso, Texas
As I drove through El Paso, Texas, I had breakfast with Hector, an old Aggie buddy of mine from the Texzoni ex-students association in Phoenix a remarkable 28 years ago.
Being the nice guy that I am, I treated us to huevos rancheros in the Good Luck Cafe and it was a great time, because I hadn’t seen him in 4 years and so we had a lot of catching up to do.
Massive cumulonimbus cloud along IH-10 in west Texas
After a Burger King lunch in Fort Stockton, Texas and even MORE driving (West Texas is HUGE!), I arrived in time for dinner with JW and Maura on their 263-acre ranch in the gorgeous Texas hill country. Maura had whipped up a wonderful venison and avocado chef salad for us. Deer are VERY abundant on the ranch, so they provide a steady, reliable food source.
JW and Maura’s deer antler Hall of Fame, Kerrville, Texas
After dinner, Maura showed me the map and descriptions for her hiking trails that she had laid out on the ranch, the result of a casual, not so serious, suggestion that I had made at last year’s DubFest. Wow, good job, Maura!
I was very excited to see my dear friends for the 1st time in a year. This was my 5th yearly September visit to the ranch, arriving 1 day early for the 4th consecutive annual reunion of our University of Texas at Austin friends named DubFest IV.
In our college days, a number of us had last names beginning with ‘W’, so we were called nicknames like GW, JW, etc.
After a while, that got shortened to Dub (instead of Dubya) and eventually all in our circle of friends got nicknamed Dub for their last name. Essentially, we all became members of the Dub family, so that’s why our annual get-togethers are referred to as DubFests.
Today’s 650 road miles took 1st place as the longest travel day of my entire trip, edging out the 649 miles I drove on Day 1 from Houston to Big Bend National Park! But the good news is that my Hertz Chevy Malibu rental car would get a well-deserved breather for the next TWO days! Yay.
Today’s mileage: 0
Cumulative mileage: 7415
Maura’s hand-made trail sign, Kerrville, Texas
Well, today I arose before sunrise, because I was anxious to try out a few of Maura’s 6 new hiking trails. I couldn’t help but be so very much impressed that she even went to the trouble of making wooden trail signs to guide hikers around her newly-created trails.
Since the DubFest didn’t officially begin until late that afternoon, I helped out JW with some morning preparation chores, including hauling some trash from the ranch to the Kerrville recycling center and shopping at Spec’s Liquor.
JW on his tractor, Kerrville, Texas
I also needed to take a little time to edit my academic paper that was written in July and currently under review. So I spent an hour or so respond to some peer reviewer comments I’d received today by email.
In the afternoon, my longtime good buddy LJ arrived, and so Maura, LJ, and I took a little hike around Ranch Trail #4, the Ridgeline Trail. This was very scenic because we were able to pass by the ranch’s famous moon rocks and because the trail gains enough elevation at one point to provide a scenic overlook of Goat Creek, an upper tributary of the famous Guadalupe River, as it flows through the ranch.
Moon rocks, Ranch Trail #4, Kerrville, Texas
Later on, James, my good buddy JP’s son and who was a UT university student at the time, arrived after which a number of us enjoyed swimming in the lake and playing some dominoes.
James and Maura enjoying a swim in Goat Creek Lake, Kerrville Texas
In the evening, we enjoyed JW’s famous grilled venison burgers. Yummy!
Today’s mileage: 0
Cumulative mileage: 7415
LJ and Freya atop Simba Point, with ranch house in background
This morning I had another enjoyable sunrise hike, this time with LJ when we hiked up to Simba Point, a scenic overlook where you can look back down onto the ranch house and lake house. I hike up to this overlook every year, as it is one of my favorite spots on the entire ranch.
Deer hunting compound bow training by JW
Today was when most everybody else arrived for the big annual DubFest IV, including Cubs, Big Harry, Milo, Fog, the rest of LJ’s family, and Swede. It was a very enjoyable day full of swimming, hiking, dominoes, compound bow training, and even a little harvesting from Maura’s very lush garden.
Maura’s lush garden, Kerrville, Texas
This magnificent day was capped off with JW’s famous BBQ chicken and most of us watching the Longhorns vs UTEP football game on TV. The next-to-last day of my road trip had been yet another thrilling day for the record books.
Texas Longhorn fans watching football game vs UTEP
Today’s mileage: 279
Cumulative mileage: 7694
On the last day of my 28-day road trip and my final day on JW and Maura’s 263-acre Kerrville ranch, I woke up around daybreak for yet another sunrise hike… this time with JW. To get a real feel for the magical beauty of this slice of heaven in the Texas hill country, be sure to check out my [+ video+] highlights of this year’s visit to this amazing piece of property.
Sunrise hike #3, this time with good buddy JW
Afterwards, we were treated to a gorgeous breakfast prepared by Big Harry, the older brother of my good friend JP.
Big Harry, busy at work preparing a killer breakfast for us all!
After milling around the ranch house for some last-minute chatting and pleasantries with all my friends, Milo and I hit the road for Houston. He needed a lift back to his mom’s house there and so we had an enjoyable 4-hour visit on the final leg of my incredible 28-day journey. And this was only the 2nd time on my entire road trip that I had a copilot!
Last minute ‘chewing the fat’ before hitting the highway for Houston
After dropping off Milo and washing my rental car, I arrived back at Mom’s house to a warm welcome and in time for her delicious pot roast dinner and mud pie for dessert. Yummy!
So, the most magnificent vacation of my entire lifetime had now sadly and officially come to an end.
Road Trip…By the Numbers
Days spent traveling: 28
Total mileage: 7,694
Most miles driven in 1 day: 650, on Sept. 8 from Silver City, New Mexico to Kerrville, Texas
Nights spent sleeping in my rental car in campgrounds: 9
Nights spent staying in motels: 10
Nights spent staying with friends: 8
Cost for Chevy Malibu 28-day Hertz rental: $692
Cost for gasoline: $544
Cost for lodging: $855
Cost for food, drinks, snacks, fees, souvenirs, etc.: $899
Total road trip cost: $2990
Money saved with my $10 lifetime America the Beautiful Senior Pass: $217 (wow!)
Most northerly latitude: 48.73° N, Moyie Springs, Idaho (in the Idaho panhandle just a few miles east of Bonners Ferry)
Most westerly longitude: 116.86° W, Spirit Lake, Idaho (just west of Farragut State Park)
Simply said, in the words of Tony the Tiger, it was an absolutely grrrreat road trip. It was not only the longest vacation of my life, but without question it was also the BEST. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading this documentation of my 2017 summer road trip to America’s Rocky Mountain States. I also hope that you found at least part of it informative or interesting, just as if you had taken the trip with me! If you’ve never been to any of the beautiful places I had the privilege of seeing, I hope you have a chance to go there someday.
It’d be great to hear your feedback, so please do let me hear from you by kindly leaving comments on the product webpage where you downloaded this free eBook! Intelligent reviews help other customers make better buying choices. And because I read all my reviews personally, they will help me to write better books in the future.
If you discover any errors, including typos, that I may’ve missed, I’d really appreciate your giving me a heads-up by dropping a note on the “” page of my website, so I can correct them ASAP. Thanks so much!
Thank you for hearing my story and please stay tuned in the future for a few more publications I have up my sleeve. My incredibly exciting hitchhiking trip in the summer of 1974 all the way from Austin, Texas to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming will be the subject of my next eBook. Don’t miss it!!
If you enjoyed reading this book, you might also be interested in my 2 books on climbing Japanese mountains. The 1st one, published in the Fall of 2012, is entitled The View from the Top of Japan: My 2-decade-long quest to scale the nation’s 25 highest peaks.
The 2nd one, published in the Fall of 2013, is entitled Climbing Mt. Fuji: Tips, Q&A, and Climber Stories.
The above 2 books are available as paperbacks in at least 6 countries, as well as eBooks at a number of major online booksellers worldwide.
Thanks for your support!
Gary Joe Wolff is a Tokyo-based university professor, corporate communications consultant, actor/model, and all-round nice guy. From Houston, Texas, USA, Gary earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas and worked 12 years as a registered professional transportation engineer before moving to Tokyo in 1991.
For the past 17 years, Gary has taught both undergraduate and graduate engineering and science students in the School of Science and Technology at one of Japan’s oldest and most prestigious private universities.
Also, since first arriving on Japanese shores, he’s served as a specialist in intercultural corporate training for Japanese engineers and managers in preparation for their overseas assignments, and has taught at over 80 different companies, schools, and agencies.
In his free time, Gary enjoys mountain climbing and has scaled all of the .
Japan’s 45th highest peak
Shakespir author page:
GW’s 2016 Wild West Road Trip, taken August 15 – September 11, 2016, was without question the most magnificent vacation of my entire 6-decade lifetime. As a minimum, it was definitely the longest... spanning 28 days, 7700 miles, 8 states, and 10 national parks. This eBook includes not only my story, but many trip photos and links to video clips. The main purposes of the trip were to: 1) reconnect with old friends whom I was able to visit along the way, 2) revisit some of my favorite national parks, most notably Glacier National Park where I worked in the summer of '90, Tetons NP, Yellowstone NP, and Big Bend NP, as well as seeing some national parks I'd never been to before, e.g. Grand Canyon's North Rim (I've hiked to the bottom of the canyon twice from the South Rim) and Saguaro NP, 3) check out some of my former workplaces and abodes in Casper, Wyoming; East Glacier Park, Montana, and Phoenix, Arizona, and 4) revisit some spots where I've previously mountain climbed or camped as a boy scout in my MUCH younger years, e.g. Pinedale, Wyoming, the launching pad for my Sept. '79 ascent of Gannett Peak, Wyoming's highest; the Pecos River wilderness near Cowles, New Mexico, where my boy scout troop camped in the summer of '65; Bear Lake, Colorado, where my boy scout troop camped in the summer of '66; and Farragut State Park, Idaho, where I attended the 1967 Boy Scout World Jamboree. In this eBook, readers will be treated to 87 photos and 34 links to my road trip video at YouTube. I sincerely hope you will enjoy reading this documentation of my 2017 summer road trip to America's Rocky Mountain States, and that you will find at least part of it informative or interesting, just as if you were taking the trip with me!