Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An Unforgettable Road Trip through the Wild West

America is a country of vast and diverse landscapes.  One can travel just 30 minutes from home and experience a completely different culture and climate or drive for hours without seeing the horizon. 
To truly understand and appreciate America, you need to take a road trip.  There’s no better way to experience the charming little towns, stunning scenery and America’s varied landscape than from behind the wheel of an automobile.

The beauty of the road trip lies in its simplicity.  There are no fixed schedules and to-do lists.  It’s all about going with the flow and discovering what lies ahead just around the bend, over the rise, or beyond that distant horizon.  And with a little luck, you’ll witness a spectacular sight like a herd of bison crossing the prairie.

Someone once said that to understand America, you need to understand baseball.  I would argue that to truly understand America, a road trip is in order, to see and experience the diverse people and places that make up this great country.

I really enjoyed every road trip I’ve taken in the U.S.  I’m always mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape, and the large expanses of countryside carved up by the highways and freeways are just as iconic as any skyline I’ve seen. 

From breathtaking sunset over a purple desert in New Mexico, picturesque shorelines of the Pacific Coast Highway, to the stunning expanse of salt flat in Utah, being on the road has always enabled to me to discover the simple beauty of life.  And our road trip from San Francisco to Yellowstone National Park through the Wild West was no exception. 

The western half of North America is often described as a land of contrasts, and no route across it gives a sharper sense of the region’s extremes than Highway 80. Starting in the west, just outside San Francisco, winding up northeast through the Great Desert Basin in Nevada to the Great Salt Lake in Utah (where it splits into I-15 or I-89), this route traverses some of the wildest and diverse landscapes imaginable.  Besides offering up-close looks at mile after mile of magnificent and almost completely untouched wilderness, we were privy to the breathtaking nature of Montana and Wyoming. 

It was an absolutely spectacular trip, and with help of YELP, we were able find wonderful little mom and pop restaurants and hidden treasures along the way.

San Francisco, California to Carson City (or Reno), Nevada
Enjoy the stunning view of the newly renovated Bay Bridge.  Stop at Saul’s Deli in Berkeley and pick up the best pastrami sandwich and latkes in the West Coast and have a picnic in Live Oak Park.  The drive through Donner Pass is absolutely breathtaking and definitely worth the 20 minute detour.
Carson City, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah
The drive from Carson City to Salt Lake City through the Great Desert Basin in Nevada is long (a little over 7 hours).  Appropriately nicknamed “the Loneliest Road”, it passes through a largely barren uninhabited region.  However, the road, the actual driving surface is excellent, and there are a few interesting sights along the way: a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that sells delicious homemade pies in Elko, B.J. Bull Bakery, Steve’s Homemade Ice Cream in Fernley, and a decent selection of Mexican restaurants in Winnemucca. 

Definitely must see: Thunder Mountain Monument in Imlay, Nevada and Bonneville Salt Flats near the Nevada Utah border.
A Day in Salt Lake City, Utah
Spend half a day in the city strolling (or take a tram) around Temple Square and downtown.  Then, be sure to take a drive out to Antelope Island State Park.  It’s not only the most scenic place to see the Great Salt Lake, but also the landscape is absolutely idyllic!  We felt that we were in the midst of a National Geographic photo shoot. 

Take a leisurely drive around the island and enjoy watching herds of bison or magnificent antelopes crossing the prairie, and stay and watch breathtaking colors of the sky as the sunsets over the lake.

Hyatt Place and Hyatt House are located smack dab in the middle of downtown SLC and provides comfortable accommodation, and be sure to check out R&R BBQ and their finger licking ribs!
Salt Lake City, Utah to Driggs, Idaho
There are two routes you can take from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, and depending on exactly what you want to see in between and how much time you have will determine the optimal route.

The most direct route is to take I-15 North via Idaho Falls, which is about 320 miles (4½ hours).  The more ambitious and adventurous route is via I-89 that takes you through Jackson Hole (about the same in distance but twice as long).

Although every travel forum recommends the second option, after spending 7½ hours on the road only few days back and recovering from road fatigue, we opted for the quicker route.  However, next time, I would definitely take the I-89 route and stay in Jackson, WY.

Nevertheless, we found a fun stopover, Idaho Potato Museum, in Blackfoot and Pitmaster BarBQue Company in Idaho Falls, where I had the best barbecues.

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this majestic park.  Yellowstone is so grand that it covers three states: Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. 

Take a short hike around Lower Geyser Basin, where you can see variety of geysers including the Fountain Paint Pots.  Grand Prismatic Spring located in Midway Geyser Basin is a must as the vibrant colors of the bacteria that inhabit the geyser's interior is absolutely stunning!  Have lunch at Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria or Dining Room while waiting for Old Faithful to erupt, which can take 45-60 minutes. 
After lunch, take a scenic drive along the Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in all of North America, and on to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone where there’s a spectacular view of the waterfalls.  It’s an iconic view that has been captured in numerous paintings.
One thing I do not recommend is staying in West Yosemite at the entrance of the park.  Although it may seem convenient, the town is flooded with tourists and lacks infrastructure or decent restaurants.

Glorious Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
It may be just a stone’s throw away from Yellowstone, but Grand Teton National Park is a visual masterpiece in its own right.  Not only is it the home of the major peaks of the dramatic Teton Range, 13,775-foot Grand Teton, but also the West’s most defining wildlife, although we didn’t spot any during our trip.

The best part was hiking the scenic trails to the Inspiration Point with the stunning view of Jenny Lake.  Also, make sure to take a drive along the Jackson Lake with beautiful vistas and stop for a swim in the glistening lake, which was a remarkable experience.   
On your way out, stop at Jackson for dinner.  It’s a charming little town straight out of a Western movie set that offers a surprisingly great selection of restaurants.  Our favorites were Bunnery Bakery, which had great food and atmosphere, and Teton Thai Plate, where we had one of the best Pad Thai Noodles!
It was a real treat finding all these little hole-in-the-wall places, restaurants and sights during our road trip, and I can’t wait to go back on the road again!


Post a Comment