Father Daughter Road Trip Part 2: Utah to Montana
By Dawn S.
After driving from Florida to Arizona, John and Sara turned and headed north from Utah to Montana. See the blog “Father-Daughter Road Trip Part One” for details about that leg of the trip.
Day 6 (continued)
Page, Arizona to Moab, Utah
With the van restocked on groceries, they traveled toward the beautiful cloud covered the La Sal Mountains. The snowcapped peaks grew bigger and bigger on the horizon. They passed through some cool little towns and places along the way… Valley of the Gods and Twin Rocks at Bluff, and Blanding, whose town motto is “Base Camp to Adventure.” After driving through twisting mountain roads, they parked the van for the night at Hole In The Rock Rest Area outside of Moab.
Arches National Park, Utah
The drive through Arches was stunning. They saw awesome red rock formations, petrified sand dunes, desert vistas that stretched on for miles and miles, with the La Sal Mountains standing as a contrasting backdrop. They entered the park at first light and cooked a hot breakfast at a picnic area with a spectacular view of Balanced Rock. It was chilly and breezy as they check out The Windows. They had the easy one-mile trail to Double Arches all to themselves. Sara wanted to face her fears, and they committed to the 3.6-mile round trip hike up slick rock to the park’s most famous arch, the one featured on Utah’s license plate, Delicate Arch. There were small groups of hikers sharing the trail, and they appreciated traveling in the offseason. John was even able to stand solo underneath the 60-foot arch and pose for a picture. As they were sitting and relaxing, soaking up the gorgeous scenery, a nice photographer offered to snap a pic, it turned out to be one of my favorites of their entire trip.
They drove toward Salt Lake City with their heads on a swivel, mesmerized as the desert scenery turned into looming mountains. At times the snow-dusted peaks encircled them. They reached Antelope Island State Park at dusk and picked a campsite near the restrooms at the Bridger Bay Campground.
Antelope Island, Utah to Big Sky, Montana
It was a chilly, overcast morning, as they set out exploring the park roads to look for wildlife. From Buffalo Point, they spotted bison down below near the flat beach area. On the drive down to get a closer look, they had an up-close encounter with a herd of ten pronghorn. They saw two young bucks sparring, and the group crossed the road right in front of the van. On the way out of the park, Sara spotted a dark, grey, bushy-tailed animal running from the brush through the salt flats and along the shoreline out to the tidal area. The fox (or coyote?) moved with a purpose. They decided coyotes were more common in the park, but it seemed to scamper like a fox… another unsolved mystery. They heard and spotted meadowlarks, then two chukar partridges along the roadside.
It was a long day of driving north through the rest of Utah, then Idaho, and into Montana as their final destination for the night. The weather took a turn for the worse and they encountered their first snowy, icy, mountain roads and snow flurries in Idaho. There were 15-foot snow drifts as the road climbed in elevation, and Sara saw her first snow plow (ever). The wildlife was abundant; they saw at least 150 mule deer in a ten-mile stretch.
The campgrounds along their route were all closed for the season, not opening until May or June. So they made a stop at the Flying J truck stop in Idaho Falls to do laundry and enjoy hot showers before venturing deeper into the white wintry wilderness. Freshly showered with clean clothes, they felt invigorated and blew past their original goal, West Yellowstone, and rolled into Big Sky, Montana right at sunset. After dinner at a local pizza place, the nice cashier at the Conoco gas station said they could park there for the night. It was their coldest night yet, real feel temps were below zero degrees. John had huge chunks of ice in his water bottle, and they woke with frost on the inside of the windshield.
“Sea of snow” – Yellowstone National Park, Montana
During springtime, you can only drive into Yellowstone from the North Entrance near Gardiner, MT, and can only travel about 20-30 miles. You can enter from other places but by guided snow coach only. John had been to Yellowstone previously, but not Sara. She told him she didn’t think they should go so far out of the way, with the weather being so bad. But John insisted, and they agreed that they shouldn’t pass up the chance to see such iconic places like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone if they are so close by. Their efforts to get there were rewarded with a fun snowball fight during snow flurries at the steaming Palette Spring. Black and white magpie fluttered around, which was a stark contrast to the white landscape.
Along the drive through Caribou-Targhee National Forest, they finally saw elk, elk everywhere! There were big bulls, and large herds lying in the snow, meandering across the road, and just hanging out in pastures with deer and horses around hay bales on a ranch. Sara was excited to see a herd of bison digging their faces in the snow to reach the grass below. They somehow looked even larger against the white background. Bighorn sheep climbed the rocky slopes near the park entrance, as they were leaving. Sara never fathomed that so much snow could be in one place for only part of the year. Her phrase for Montana was, “It’s a sea of snow, it’s snow, literally snow as far as you can see!”
On the road again
After eating cold egg and cheese English muffins in the van (it was so cold the cheese wouldn’t even melt) they got back on the road with the goal of reaching Monarch, MT. They shot right past their mark again and landed in Great Falls, Montana at a noisy truck stop/travel center. They put up the Reflectix in the van windows, closed all of the curtains and blinds, put in their earplugs, and settled in for another night in the van, their refuge from the bitter cold and falling snow outside.
Their epic Dad-Daughter road trip has taken them 4,000 miles through 13 states so far, stay tuned for their adventures after they crossed the border into Alberta, Canada.