Typical Yellowstone

Road trip 4: Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California

All good things must come to an end. And for this trip, the end is sadly here. It’s been a wonderful time traveling around. Have definitely had a busy return from Canada. Since then I had my picture of Peyto Lake viewed by over 200,000 people. It is now the most viewed picture that I have ever taken, and I think it’s one of my better shots. Peyto Lake. Shout out to reddit.

2-Sep Glacier, MT

Coming off the previous two days of Jasper and Banff, Glacier was the next national park. I actually ended up grabbing a yearly pass for the national parks at Glacier because I would be visiting so many that it was cheaper that way. I never could justify buying a national park yearly pass in the past but with this trip it made sense.

Our trip to Glacier was a fortunate one. As we pulled up to our place to stay the night before we smelled and saw the haze of smoke in the air. Upon checking in the lady told us about how there were recent fires and they only just opened up the highway that we drove in on.

The fires led to the closure of the Going-to-the-Sun Road which drives from East Glacier to west Glacier and is really the core road you take to visit Glacier’s beautiful views and destinations. Luckily for us the road had reopened and we were able to take the drive.

The drive leads to stunning views such as the following.

Driving through Glacier
Driving through Glacier

Here’s a picture of Lake McDonald just outside of the Lake McDonald Lodge where we stopped for a quick bite.

Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park

After driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road and stopping at a few places to walk around we headed off for the trip to Yellowstone. We stopped for dinner at Casagranda’s Steakhouse in Butte, Montana. With the amount of cattle out here it was pretty necessary that I had a local free range ribeye at some point.

Local free range ribeye
Local free range ribeye

After dinner we finished off the drive to West Yellowstone without any problems.

3-Sep Yellowstone, WY

I’ve been looking forward to coming to Yellowstone for a long time. It’s a place you hear about all the time and wonder if it can live up to the hype. Overall, Yellowstone was the most complete day of nature that I had on the trip. It’s beautiful from the moment you enter. Everything about the park feels right. Everything seems in place. The wildlife is incredible. The views are great. Here’s an example of a typical Yellowstone scene. Bison are abundant and can be seen throughout the park at many portions of the park. We saw them at many ten different locations, sometimes as close as a few feet away.

Typical Yellowstone
Typical Yellowstone

And here’s a zoomed up shot because these guys are awesome. I really hoped to see bison on the trip but didn’t think it would be as easy as it is in Yellowstone. At times the bison blend into the background and look and act like large rocks. They have an ancient presence and aura amongst themselves.

The great bison
The great bison

The geysers and hot springs are spread throughout the park. They give the park an otherworldly sort of vibe. The hot springs seem like something from another planet. Old Faithful went off just as we were walking up to it which was perfect timing.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful

There are many great views of the park. This is Artist Point.

Yellow stone in Yellowstone
Yellow stone in Yellowstone

Another very different looking spot in Yellowstone is Mammoth Hot Springs. The hot springs on this occasion were home to a silly elk that felt like hanging around and posing for pictures.

King of the castle
King of the castle

You have to be careful driving in Yellowstone as there is so much wildlife that it often overflows into the roads. Here are some sheep.

Jaywalkers
Jaywalkers

After finishing both loops we tried to make it in time to check out the Grand Tetons but it was dark and another storm was rolling in. We headed down to Jackson to spend the night, and decided to leave Grand Teton for another trip.

4-Sep Salt Lake City, UT & Las Vegas, NV

We grabbed a coffee in Jackson and got on our way. We were debating spending time in Jackson before heading to Salt Lake City but the vibe of the city through me off. Some people seemed really nice but some people seemed really annoying. Like the guy who couldn’t pay for two coffees because he couldn’t find a card other than his American Express. Of course you can’t use American Express. You can’t use that card anywhere. I almost wanted to just pay his tab so that I could get to my espresso sooner but he eventually found some other card to pay for it. Or maybe I was annoyed by the girl who asked what a cold pressed coffee was, and after the barista told her she asked if she could have a half cold press and half drip coffee. Nooo. That’s not how it works. The barista said she couldn’t do that and eventually she ordered a drip coffee. Who knows what it was but we got out of Jackson and headed out to Salt Lake City.

We got to Salt Lake City and Summer Jam was going down. The Game and some other artists were performing. We talked about going but passed in favor of some Thai food. While eating we decided to head out of Salt Lake instead of spend time trying to find something to do. Our next stop was Las Vegas so we decided to zoom out of Salt Lake and make the drive out to Las Vegas and spend the night out.

We got into Vegas around 12:30 AM, just after midnight thanks to the time change. We took turns trying to nap in the car so that we would be ready to hang out in Vegas. Those couple hours were the only driving I didn’t do on the trip. It worked well enough. We checked into the Venetian thanks to a sweet deal from Hotwire which was an awesome stay.

Don’t really have many pictures from our time in Vegas because I didn’t want to carry a camera on me but here’s a pretty lousy shot of one of the halls we had to walk through to get to our suite.

Our hotel
Our hotel

We spend the night playing some roulette. Started to lose a couple bucks but fought our way back to make over 150% after tipping the cocktail waitresses and the dealers a bunch of our winnings. We walked the strip a little but mostly hung at the Venetian as it is one of the best casinos in the area.

5-Sep Las Vegas, NV

We got back to the hotel at 6:30 in the morning, but with a late check in were able to get plenty of sleep. We decided to spend the next day in Vegas over some southern food. Deviled eggs, biscuits, fried chicken, and grits.

Don't have too many shots of Vegas
Don’t have too many shots of Vegas

After fueling up we strolled the strip. We went in and out of shops. There was this one shop called Bauman Rare Books that had some sweet copies of some rare older books. I asked if they had any first edition Tolkien but they did not. The lady said they occasionally get them and they sell for $20,000 to $70,000 for copies of the Hobbit or the full Trilogy. I remember looking at these not too long ago and they weren’t that expensive but Tolkien is hot right now.

We went to the Bellagio and saw the water fountain show. There’s an Eiffel Tower in Vegas. Just like the faux works at the Venetian, the faux Eiffel Tower really makes you appreciate the real things. Vegas makes a good attempt but these works look cheap in comparison.

Fountains of Bellagio
Fountains of Bellagio

We decided to check out of the Venetian and head to the old strip. Everyone we talked to who visited or lived in Vegas told us we had to check out both the new strip and the old strip. So from the Venetian to the Golden Nugget we went.

We walked the old strip for a minute in search of food. In a sea of cheap looking buffets we stumbled upon Carson Kitchen, and with it, an entirely different Las Vegas. Carson Kitchen is an awesome local eatery with both inside seating and rooftop. It’s an example of what people are trying to do in the city. It’s an attempt to go from the flashy lights to a more subtle and authentic experience. The people working at that place all believe in what they are doing and we had a great meal there.

On recommendation from someone at Carson we headed to Atomic Liquors to grab a drink. It’s a dive bar with a hipster vibe three blocks off of the old Vegas strip. The flashy lights are there, but the locals are there talking about the various things they are doing to build the new Vegas.

We eventually made our way back to the old strip and back to the Golden Nugget. The differences between old Vegas and new Vegas are pretty apparent. Different people. Different vibes. Both worth experiencing. It’s flashy vs. gritty. Regardless, the money is won and lost in the same way. After a whole bunch of spins of the roulette wheel we end up calling it a night. It was around 3 in the morning and we had another drive in the morning.

6-Sep Death Valley, CA

In the drive from Vegas to Yosemite we didn’t have any destination picked out. We decided to head out to Death Valley. First we rolled back through the area near Carson Kitchen and grabbed some brunch at a place called Eat. It’s another local restaurant that has that authentic vibe that the area seems to be building on. Food is on point and the house coffee is even pretty awesome.

After fueling up went from one desert to another even more serious desert. Here’s a view of the valley from the peak at Dante’s View.

Death Valley
Death Valley

The drive around the valley looks otherworldly. The temperature seems that way too. At the hottest the thermometer in the car read 106 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature shifts around so quickly depending on exactly where you are. The high for the rest of the week was 115-117. Nights dip back down into the 70s here. I couldn’t imagine too many things living here but saw a pack of about four coyotes. No picture as I was driving but they seem like really cool animals.

7-Sep Yosemite, CA

Yosemite is the final stop of the trip. We wake up to the smell of smoke. Fires are back in the area. The haze from the smoke covers the whole air. The smoke definitely obscured the views of Yosemite but the visit was still beautiful. The park was packed for the Labor Day holiday.

The drive through the park is pretty subdued compared to some of the other parks that we saw but there is some wildlife around. We saw another bear. Apparently they are something to watch out for. This one pretty carelessly crossed the road a little while in front of us.

Bear
Bear

The drive through the park leads you to the valley. The iconic walls of the cliffs out here are gorgeous. Although the layout of the park is a little weird (they advise you to park in the Village and take busses around), you can still see some pretty awesome views.

Yosemite
Yosemite

There were some mule deer in the area.

Deer
Deer

8-Sep Fly back from San Francisco

So that’s about it. Have to be up in about an hour to head to the airport to head home. The trip has been both very fast in that we are leaving for home soon but very slow in that some of these memories seem so long ago. The trip was awesome. We stuck mostly to a pretty rigorous schedule and saw and experienced some of the greatest things this country has to offer. It’s a trip that I will draw inspiration and experience from for the rest of my life. I look forward to spending some time reflecting on the trip and getting back home to see everyone.

In case the beers get lost or break in transit, here’s what I’m attempting to bring home.

Hope these don't break
Hope these don’t break

Will get a final write up done when I’m unpacked and settled back home.

Cheers,
Joe

2 thoughts on “Road trip 4: Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California”

  1. Trip sounds awesome. Im curious how much a trip like that cost? Did you book your hotel rooms prior to you traveling to the different city? I just booked a trip to vegas for 1 week in may but i really would like to visit many if the things you did. Any suggestions in changing my trip?

    1. I give a full break down of the costs of this trip in this Summary of the Road Trip link. I’m not sure if you saw the previous Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this trip but they are on this blog as well. This Part 4 writeup you commented only talks about 7 of the 19 days. The cost for two people for the 19 days was about $7,300 or about $190 per person per day. Again there are full details of the cost breakdown in that link. Cost is always one of the most mentioned things in regards to travel but I will say that you can probably do the same 19 days trip for $700 or $70,000 depending on what luxuries you will give up or what additional luxuries you want to have.

      Whenever I go on a road trip I like to sketch out an outline that includes the places I want to see and make sure the driving is a reasonable amount between them. Once I do that I only book the first day. When I am on the trip I only book hotels when my mind is made up as to where I am staying. These days you can book a hotel last minute without issue, and if all the hotels in a town are booked or too expensive, you can easily drive 15 minutes away and get a room on the outskirts. Sometimes if I am unsure about a city I will drive in, walk around and see whether I want to spend the night. I often book hotels over dinner for the same day so I can make sure it’s a place I want to be. But sometimes I know the city or destination is a must visit. I’ll book this hotel the night before or in the morning. Good sites or apps to use for me have been Kayak which searches all of the sites for you, Hotwire which gets you some great deals if you don’t care about the specific hotel you want, and then a general travel site like Orbitz or Expedia.

      Personally for me 1 week in Vegas would be too much. There’s only so much partying you can take before you’re bored of it. I also like to spend no more than a day in most places before moving on. I certainly can’t see everything in a single day but I like getting a quick flavor or a place and seeing a lot of them. You have to find what is appealing for you. For a week trip I would say there are some good loops you could take. Trip 1: Vegas, LA, San Diego, Phoenix. Trip 2: Vegas, Yosemite, San Fran, LA. Trip 3: Vegas, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Zion. Etc. Pull up Google maps, see the distances between these places and see if there are stops along the route that are appealing to you. Another option would be to spend 3 days in Vegas and then 4 days in another location. Ideally you want to leave from the same place you started as it is cheaper with the rental car and flights, but if money if not an issue there are a lot of other routes that are available to you.

      That should point you in the right direction, but feel free to ask any more questions. The planning part of travel can sometimes be frustrating as it is a lot of work, but I think it is an exciting time as well. You have a map of the world laid out and you are dreaming about places that you will soon be seeing.

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