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….from Colorado to Wyoming and on to Montana to the Canadian border.
After Boulder/Colorado we knew we absolutely had to go back up to the Rocky Mountain. The landscape offers so much that you can spend much more time in it. Especially as our next destinations were almost on this desired line of our driving route. Cheyenne/Wyoming was our next stop, which I (Tom) really wanted to drive to; in the end, I was lured by the Union Pacific Railroad museum.
As usual, we didn’t choose the most direct route to Cheyenne, but looked for our “backroads” through the backcountry and the vast National Forests. To our amazement, there were many houses and small settlements in these forests. People seem to love having their homes in remote areas and in the forest. But the further we got away from the urban centres and the high-capacity roads, the lonelier it became.
We reached Wyoming almost unnoticed via a ranch road, the Chimney Rock marked the state border. In the least populated state in the USA, vast farm or ranch areas are almost as normal as the Amen in the church. Only in Medicine Bow National Forest did we find a place to stay for the night in a clearing; otherwise the sign “No Trespassing” was omnipresent.
The capital of Wyoming is a state capital with a village feel and one could feel right at home there. The railway museum, for its part, was very interesting for me (Tom) and the origin of the railway lines was explained in great detail. In addition to the routes through the mountains, the square land division was a big hurdle for the railway companies in those days and the land acquisition for the respective routes extended to the whole square (1 acre).
In Cheyenne we set our compass to Yellowstone National Park; the oldest national park in the USA is almost a must-see, where we also wanted to go. We left Cheyenne in a northerly direction and drove out into the vast prairie. But soon we were confronted with a large “No Trespassing” sign on our planned road. A little later, at a possible alternative route, a heavy iron gate with a thick chain blocked our onward journey. Our map kept showing us paths and routes that apparently run on private property and the respective owners do not want any through traffic. Actually understandable and quite clear when looking at American law, as well as the legal opinion of the inhabitants. By the way, even in Wyoming, people sometimes carry their revolvers with cartridge belts around their waists.
Even getting to certain National Forest or BLM (public) lands was often a gauntlet in certain areas. Many access roads were closed and on the less open roads there were signs with precise instructions from the landowners on what you are allowed to do and what could lead to sanctions.
From Casper we followed the Oregon Trail in a westerly direction and were amazed at the barren area through which the earlier settlers drove with their covered wagons. Where bridges cross the various rivers today, they had to drive their mules through sometimes strong water currents. The many plaques with historical information make today’s travellers aware of the earlier arduous journey westwards, that it was not always as easy as today in an air-conditioned car. Interestingly, it was not the Indians who made the journey arduous, but the road itself as well as the harsh weather conditions. Many of the westbound travellers never saw an Indian on their long journey – according to an information board.
Through a very mountainous landscape and vast forests we reached Jackson. A town surrounded by mountains, where nowadays the tourists are pushing each other’s door handles. It was really a hustle and bustle in the city centre, which is lined by steep mountain sides. We too let ourselves be enchanted by the flair of this western town and strolled over the wooden arbours from one souvenir shop to the next. With the necessary small change, you can, or could, fulfil almost any dream here, and if it’s not enough – you can supplement your budget in the many casinos.
The Grand Teton National Park with its huge rock towers was right at our feet. Actually, this is an area where you should lace up your mountaineering boots and climb some high mountain. But we didn’t have such shoes or the appropriate equipment with us and the coveted permits for the backside tours were already all booked up. Actually very special and for us Swiss very unusual: for a mountain tour you have to get a permit in advance.
Just north of Teton – N.P. is Yellowstone National Park, which is said to be home to around 60% of the world’s geysers, and during the main holiday season 30,000 vehicles a day plough the park roads. We were also part of this convoy of vehicles that pushed their way into the park from the south on this rainy Sunday. The drive along the Lewis River was scenic, but we had perhaps expected something more than just beautiful scenery. The geysers at West Thumb Basin were our first disappointment. Or are our expectations just too high? We were nowhere near the geysers and the “bubbling” in Iceland.
Since we couldn’t reserve a place to sleep in advance, we left Yellowstone N.P. the same day, heading east towards Cody. The town of Cody, founded by Frederick Cody, or better known as Buffalo Bill, was also on our wish list. And even Chantal was totally fascinated by the museum visit! She, who usually turns her back on museums, was very enthusiastic about the individual exhibitions in Cody. Actually, you could spend several days in this museum, which is divided into five different areas.
A camp host, as the volunteer groundskeepers at the many state and national park campsites call themselves, gave us the tip that we should definitely drive into Yellowstone N.P. from the north-east. We would see a lot of wildlife on this route. So we followed the road out of Cody in a westerly direction towards Dead Indian Pass. The scenery was wonderful, but the history of this pass is rather a dark chapter of the American past and the treatment of the indigenous people who had lived there for thousands of years.
In the northeast corner we reached Yellowstone N.P. again and headed for the big park loop. The tip from the camp host was really spot on; not only were hundreds of bison, deer and elk crowding the park road, but many more cars whose occupants had probably never seen wildlife in its original environment. In places, the cars were jammed on this wide road, so that it was impossible to get through. Everywhere they stood, the tourists with their oversized lenses.
We dutifully followed the convoy of vehicles through the park and often let ourselves be diverted from the route by the euphonious names of the various highlights. Yes, it really had wonderful and wild landscapes. But even this second day could not quite convince us that this park should be the absolute highlight of every trip to America. On the other hand, we were able to reserve a place at a campsite inside the park for the next night and were glad to be able to interrupt our journey. From the overcrowded campsite we went to the Yellowstone waterfalls the next day and here we said “wow” for the first time. The two waterfalls as well as the gorge were really impressive and the name “Yellowstone” must have come from this impressive area.
On the west side we left Yellowstone N.P., and the further we got away from it, the quieter it became on the road. All the campsites on the west side were still very well occupied, and for us there was no possibility of finding a place for the night in most of them. So we moved on and found a wonderful spot in some national forest for the following night, where the thousands of stars accompanied us into the night.
We drove through wide farmland separated by large forest areas in a northwesterly direction through western Montana. Partly we were again on old routes of the former settlers, or we were roaming through some Indian reservation. At Alpine we turned northeast again to reach Glacier National Park. There we arranged to meet up with friends from the Panamericana trip and were incredibly looking forward to seeing “old fellow sufferers” again 😉
The fact that we couldn’t drive across Glacier-N.P. on our journey, but had to bypass the park far to the south, was due to our late reservation of the transit permit; until “Labor Day” there was still intense holiday traffic. On the other hand, we chose to take an extra lap around the southern and eastern bypass to a panoramic mountain, where the prairie to the east lay wonderfully at our feet. Unfortunately, the return trip to the upgraded road took a little more time than desired, as the inclined drive came close to the limit of our jeep’s centre of gravity. After one and a half hours of shovelling, the road was defused accordingly and we made the jump into safe terrain without any problems.
With a slight delay we reached our meeting point at the eastern edge of the national park and the hello of our Panamericana friends was accordingly huge. There was a lot to talk about and we listened to each other talk about the individual highlights until well into the evening. The next morning, we parted ways again; they headed south and later east and we headed west, with the option that it might work out with Canada after all.
Since we were staying overnight in the park, we also had the option of driving to West Glacier via the park road without a reservation. We used this opportunity accordingly and enjoyed the drive through this alpine landscape, which got its current appearance from the glaciers during the last ice age. Due to the fact that it was Sunday, we were not alone on the road and the parking lots were in a rush hour. Even before crossing the pass, thick clouds came up and a few thick raindrops slapped our windscreen before we reached the lower valley on the west side again. Shortly after Westglacier we found a wonderful place to spend the night on the Flathead River. We ended the day with a campfire and a glass of wine.
Our hope that it would still work out with the possible comprehensive insurance for our car, we stayed near the Canadian border for the time being, so that we could have taken off right away for our short trip to Canada; but only could have. The insurance dealer put us off again and told us to be patient for a few more days. According to his statement, it should have been possible in the next few days. But the few days suddenly turned into two weeks.
So we changed our plans again and travelled – like the earlier settlers – westwards. Maybe it will work out after all; as we all know, hope dies in the end. 🙂
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