Western Road Trip – Part One

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It is sort of ironic that I am just now, at the end of summer, blogging about our June vacation.  Typically my husband and I prefer to go away for a week to an all-inclusive resort where we would become beach bums for 7 days.  But, this year we wanted a big adventure and were planning a trip to Greece which ended up getting postponed. Sooooooo, we changed plans and landed on western road trip.  We started with a VERY long list of amazing places to visit but due to time we had to narrow our destinations.  After a month of planning we decided to visit South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho in a 10 day time frame.  To save us driving time we cashed in our Southwest points for flights to Denver (where we would rent a car and start the drive) and home from Salt Lake City.  Here is what our first 5 days looked like:

FRIDAY

We had an early morning flight to Denver where we landed about 8:30am, picked up our rental car and headed for Fort Collins.  We have heard so many great reviews about the college town that we wanted to stop for breakfast and groceries before heading to South Dakota.  We had been awake for about 10 hours by the time we had our first meal,,,this is a case my eyes actually were as big as my stomach.  We ate breakfast at Snooze (I highly recommend) were I ordered and finished the biggest breakfast burrito I have ever seen AND a peanut butter pancake.

We walked around town for a bit but believe it or not my stomach was too full to shop!  We hit the Walmart quick to grab groceries/car snacks and started our trek to South Dakota.  It was about a 4 hour drive from Fort Collins to  Crazy Horse where we stopped before checking into our hotel.  We stayed in a little hotel called Roosevelt Inn just down the road from Mount Rushmore.  The hotel rate was very decent and breakfast was included however this was not the typical breakfast you would expect it was mostly cereal, fruit and pre-packaged pastries.

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SATURDAY

On the agenda for the day was to visit Mount Rushmore, hiking and a nice dinner out on the town.  Only this day went all kinds of sideways quickly!  We did start off at Mount Rushmore, it was very impressive!  And so hard to believe that all of the President heads fit in Crazy Horse’s head. Whenever Crazy Horse is finished it will be massive!  There is an educational walking trail which gives you different vantage points of the monument and ends at the gift shop.  If you have time I recommend the walking trail. We ate lunch just outside of the entrance while we were deciding what trails we would hike.  My idea was to hike a medium level trail that had a good bit of distance and my husband thought we should hike the most strenuous one which was listed as 5 miles.  Back in Maryland I am used to our trail maps listing the distance in round trip miles.  We were not aware that the South Dakota map we were using listed miles in one location.  And to add more to it we could not access the trail from the road so we needed to hike a mile on one trail to meet up with the trail head that we were looking for.  We really enjoyed the first few miles… the scenery was absolutely breathtaking!!!  Shortly into our hike we passed a couple who was on their way down who looked like they had the worst day of their life.  I just thought maybe they were not experienced hikers???  Long story short the total round trip hike was 12 miles!!!!!!!  We brought three bottles each which would have been perfect for a 5 mile hike but as soon as we realized the length of the trail at about mile 4.5 we started to ration our water and eventually ran out on the way down. (That was the worst part!).  When we finally reaches the top at mile 6 we had been hiking for about 2.5 hours and gained 2300 vertical feet!!!! However, the views were astonishingly gorgeous and we saw wild mountain goats about 50 yards away from us.  After enjoying the reviews, eating a few snacks and sipping on drops of water we headed back down the dreaded 6 mile hike down.  Once we got to the bottom I guzzled two bottles of water, tore off my boots and laid in the grass next to the car for 30 minutes.  A nice dinner was out of the question!!!!  We went back to the hotel, grabbed food quick and went straight to bed.  I am glad we had the experience of that hike but I do not think I would opt to do it again…and if I did I would certainly pack more water!

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SUNDAY

This day would be our longest travel day driving from Mount Rushmore (South Dakota) to Teton Village (Wyoming)… a total of just under 9 hours.  With plenty of road tunes and snacks  we only stopped once for gas once and twice to take pictures along the way (including the Welcome to Wyoming sign – I know such a tourist thing but we were on vacation – had to do it).  I was surprised by how the land changed vastly ever hour or so from burned down forests to rolling hills to red rocks.  We saw tons of deer, antelope and even a wild black bear eating on the side of the road.  We stayed at Grand Teton Lodge and Spa – it was absolutely beautiful with their interior rustic decor.  This was by far the nicest hotel we stayed at during our trip.  When I booked the hotel they had 1 studio “full” size bed available and that worked for us – I like to cuddle!!!  Only once we arrived we quickly learned that the full size bed was a Murphy bed… it worked out just fine but comical that we paid a decent amount per night and got a murphy bed.  That evening we ate at the hotel restaurant SPUR  …… and it was delicious!

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MONDAY

The weather on Monday started with a little bit of sun trying to peak through a cloud covered sky.  We headed to Singer Lake at the base of the Tetons for some hiking and possible fishing.  Singer Lake is just north of the more popular Jenny Lake and was recommend to us for a more serene hiking and available parking. The views were gorgeous and our hike too much longer than usual because we kept stopping to take pictures and enjoy a few moments within nature.  We were about 3/4 around the lake and the thunder started.  It wasn’t soon after that where we quickly pulled out our ponchos as the rain poured on us.  Luckily the storm was quick and once it passed we were in the perfect area to capture one of our best pictures of the trip.  We are planning on framing the picture in our house.  After finishing our hike the storms seemed to roll back in and remained off and on for the rest of the day.  We decided to skip fishing and head back to the hotel… on our way back we saw a wild moose off the side of the road near a streams edge!!  In the afternoon we rested at the hotel a bit, walked around the village and dined at the well know restaurant LOCAL in Jackson Hole.

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TUESDAY

Unexpectedly we ended up driving 6 hours this day… Yellowstone was our destination and I thought staying in Teton Village would put us in close proximity.  And, it did to the southern entrance but all of the sights we wanted to explore were a good bit away from the southern distance. (Something to keep in mind if traveling to Yellowstone – its massive).  On our way and in the park we saw so many wild buffalo… that was on my husbands bucket list and we must have seen over 100 throughout the day. We arrived at Old Faithful just in time to hang out for about 20 minutes and then she went off… pretty remarkable sight!  We then ventured to the hot springs and canyon waterfalls.  All of the sights were amazing!  We had to hightail back to the Tetons because we had dinner date plans with friends who happened to be in the area.  We ate at Snake Rive Grill – this is a MUST if you are in the Jackson Hole area!!!

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That wraps up the first half our Western road trip vacation!  Part Two coming soon!

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