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Our Road Trip West – The Park Tour | Get Out and Go Camping

Our Road Trip West – The Park Tour

Enjoying the outdoors is one of the things we really enjoy doing on our vacations.  To incorporate that part into our trip we wanted to visit multiple historic sites and National Parks.  In visiting the ones that we did, I was impressed by how different the landscape is from the Midwest through the Great Plains and into the Rocky Mountains.  We saw some incredible scenery and really enjoyed this part of our trip.

Illinois

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site – Archeology really interests me, so this was an obvious stop for us.  Cahokia is definitely not the most well known ancient city in the Americas, but it is the largest archeological site in the United States.  What is left of the once great city is random artifacts and ancient man made mounds, including the largest, Monks Mound which has steps to allow visitors to climb to the top.  The visitors center includes a museum and tours.  We did not go on a tour, but we did take time to explore the museum.  The museum has a good size collection of artifacts from the surrounding area including a layout of some ancient buildings that the visitors center was built on top of.  The mounds are incredible.  I am used to the mounds in Wisconsin, that aren’t much more than small hills a few feet off the ground, but the mounds a Cahokia are large and majestic.  It was neat to climb to the top of Monks Mound and imagine what the surrounding area must have looked like along side the Mississippi River before the city was abandoned.  We ended up spending a few hours here and it was well worth the stop.  If you enjoy history, this is definitely a place you will want to visit.

Utah

Arches National Park – Just south of I-70, inside the Utah border, lies Arches National Park.  Upon entering the park and the visitor’s center, I was not sure what to expect.  The map showed a road that went through the park and I wondered if we would just drive though, take a couple of pictures and be done.  It was not long before I realized that the park is a lot larger than I had anticipated.  It consists of miles and miles of the most unique rock formations I have ever seen.  For starters, we decided to drive out to the far end of the park and hike to Landscape Arch.  This is the longest natural arch in the world.  It is predicted that this arch will collapse in the near future (geological years, so it could be a while) so we wanted to go see it while it was still standing.  It is simply amazing how these things form.  There are many places to stop and look around.  If you only have a few hours, like we did, I recommend marking the most interesting spots you want to see on the park map and go from there.  There may be additional spots that look interesting, so leave a little extra time if you can.  I am really glad that we stopped at Arches.  This is a really unique area and it is worth the visit.

Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park – The Grand Tetons are some of the most recognized mountains in the world.  I had heard of this park before, but I did not realize it was anything more than the mountain range.  It truly is a beautiful park.  The different landscapes combine to make for some incredible views.  I thoroughly enjoyed our time at Grand Tetons and would love to go back for another visit.  One of the things that surprised me in this park was the amount of wildlife that we saw there.  Bison and elk were plentiful, but we also wanted to see a moose while we were there.  As the late afternoon approached, we drove to an area where a moose was said to have been spotted recently.  We looked around quite a bit, but only managed to find yellow bellied marmots.  Then, on our way back, while I was taking yet more photos of the mountains (as if I hadn’t already taken enough), Mary noticed a moose head just over the hill behind me.  We were excited to see one even if we just saw the head.  Little did we know we would see two more that same evening, including a bull moose with horns!  We drove around until the sun set behind the Tetons and then we set off to our campsite.  From there it was on to Yellowstone.  The Grand Tetons are just majestic and certainly worth a visit.

 

Yellowstone National Park – Where do I begin with Yellowstone.  I knew this was a popular destination and I had heard there was a lot to see, but these are understatements.  The first thing that struck me was how large the park is.  I can see how one could easily spend a week there.  Unfortunately, we only had two full days to spend at Yellowstone, but we managed to fit quite a bit into those days.  As we got into the park I was enamored by its natural beauty.  The waterfalls, the forests, and the mountains were all very scenic, but that was just the beginning.  Then we got to the visitors center and hiked around the many geysers, colorful hot springs, and unique rock formations and I felt like I was on a different planet.  The different patterns and colors around the geysers were also very interesting to look at.  As we moved towards the center of the park I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon.  It was very windy when we went to the observations decks, but I am glad we took the time to take in the scenery of this amazing canyon.  That is one spot that I would definitely like to spend more time at.  We also saw some mud pits, and steaming streams.  Again, it is like a different planet.  Near the end of our time at Yellowstone we really wanted to see a bear.  We had seen a lot of other wildlife, but not a bear.  Near the end of the second day we happened to catch a view of a grizzly bear off the road, not far from Mammoth.  A ranger was at the site trying to steer the people to a safe distance.  It was neat to see, but all the other people around made it hard to appreciate the moment.  The next morning though, we left early in the morning and around one of the bends we spotted another grizzly bear coming down a hill.  This was so much more interesting to watch him as there were only a few other people around quietly taking photos.  We all watched him calmly come down the hill and eventually he was out of sight.  It was a really neat experience.  At one point he was only about 50 yards away from me.  They certainly are massive creatures.
There is so much to appreciate and explore at Yellowstone.  I am grateful it was preserved as a national park early on.  After visiting, I am surprised that I had not visited this park already, but that’s okay because I plan to go back again soon.

South Dakota

Badlands National Park – This was the final park that we stopped at.  The only reason we thought to stop here was that it had been recommended to us by several people.  We entered the park from the west and similarily to Arches, I thought we would just drive through, take a few pictures, and be on our way.  I honestly didn’t think it would take more than 30 or 45 minutes to drive through.  Well, we ended up spending the whole afternoon/evening there.  As we got into the park, I really understood why this had been preserved as a national park.  The landscape is incredible!  Fortunately, Mary was patient with me as I wanted to get out at each overlook and take pictures.  Ironically, some of the best drive was near the entrance to the park (which is on the east side) which we got to after the sun had already set.  We did not take the time to do any hiking, but we experienced enough to know that we want to return to explore more.  Badlands is truly a unique landscape and definitely earns its spot among the great National Parks.

We really enjoyed all the stops we made.  Throughout the trip it was incredible to see all the different and unique landscapes.  For those of you that enjoy the outdoors, I strongly recommend that you get out and experience this countries national parks.  They are definitely a thing of beauty.

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