WARREN RESEN – Member North American Travel Journalists Association
You know you are not in Florida anymore, or the southeast for that matter, when the landscape changes from green to brown. Roads run arrow straight and you can see tomorrow’s weather coming over a table-top flat landscape and mile after mile of highways are devoid of any other traffic. For this article, I’d like to offer a few hints on survival in these foreign climes.
Out west, in those states with the square borders where humidity levels generally run under 5%, be sure to bring a supply of lip balm. Severely chapped lips can be very painful, especially when smiling. I say this from personal experience. Also bring body lotion, eye drops, sunscreen and carry plenty of water. If traveling the higher altitudes remember to bring a heavier jacket or sweater, even in the height of summer. It can snow in Yellowstone any month of the year.
When starting out each day be sure to have a full tank of gas. You might find yourself on a road going through federal lands, Native American reservations, pasture lands and mountain passes where you can drive hour after hour without passing a gas station or convenience store and at times, not even another car. It’s not someplace you want to run out of gas. And of course make sure your car is in top condition.
Leaving Carlsbad Caverns, with its awesome caves, we headed west to White Sands and then into the New Mexico desert. The only thing I didn’t check out was my car’s a/c. As far as I knew a car’s a/c either worked or it didn’t. In the high desert of New Mexico, with the outside temperature at 98 degrees and the wind blowing at 40-50 mph, my a/c died.
We had to resort to the old 470 AC/c; driving with 4 windows open at 70 mph. Of course conversation was impossible and with a minor sand storm blowing outside, the interior of the car started silting up. Oh well, that’s one of the “joys” of travel. But then the humidity was only 4%. You really gain new respect for the pioneers who crossed this land in their covered wagons.
If you are like so many people today who won’t leave home without your GPS be warned, they are not infallible. When leaving the Interstate to take a more scenic route, should your GPS direct you to leave a paved road and turn onto a dirt road, ignore it and use your better judgment or refer to a map.
In today’s society, movies and television have been blamed for homogenizing our culture. Regional differences have supposedly been eliminated by the media. That’s not entirely true. Along our route of travel, the different cultures we encountered were amazing. In New Orleans, LA it was French architecture and cuisine and American Blues. Santa Fe, NM is all about their Spanish and Native American heritage. Jackson Hole, WY has some western and Native American thematic materials but it is mostly about nature and the great outdoors. Regional foods, prepared locally, are always a treat.
The cities mentioned above will be covered more thoroughly in future articles. In Cody, WY we intended to only spend one night and stayed for three. In the old days, Cody boasted 13 saloons and no houses of worship.
There is a great deal more to do and see there then we had imagined. This is literally COWBOY TOWN USA. The people live the cowboy culture. Local hero William Cody, a/k/a Buffalo Bill, accomplished amazing things here, especially public works. Did you know he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor?
The Buffalo Bill Historical Museum is a must see stop. There are four different wings representing the area’s past. The Cody Firearms wing houses the most comprehensive assemblage of American firearms in the world. The Winchester Collection, the heart of this museum, was transported from New Haven, Connecticut, to Cody, Wyoming, in 1975.
We drove for several days through the high deserts of New Mexico and Utah. The terrain is desolate until just south of Arches National Park. The Interstate would have been a better choice. The scenery reminded me of driving through the deserts of the Middle East, except with less sand.
In the Middle East, small isolated Bedouin camps pop up in the most remote desolate locations. So too do Native American clusters of housing and campers. It was only when we got further into Utah and of course Wyoming that the scenery took on the grandeur for which this part of the country is famous. And what magnificent scenery it is.
A requisite photo stop is the Four Corners marker at the confluence of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. It’s on Navajo land. The marker is surrounded by stalls in which Navajos sell trinkets to tourists. Entry fee currently is $3pp. Stop, take your photos, use the restrooms and get on your way.
In Yellowstone, we were talking to a couple from England while waiting for Old Faithful’s performance. They were raving about the beauty of this country. Having spent years on foreign travel, we had to agree with these Brits.
A trip to Yellowstone for most people is all about seeing its star performer. Old Faithful erupts on the average of every 90 minutes with a plume that reaches a height of 145 feet for perhaps a couple of minutes. I have to tell you though that it is just a kid brother to its less famous neighbor.
Just beyond Old Faithful in the same viewing area is its big brother Beehive. When this geyser erupts, it goes off about twice a day, it sends a column of steam and water up 200 feet into the air with an eruption lasting up to five minutes and a roar that can be heard a quarter mile away. The major difference though is Old Faithful’s dependability. The Old Faithful Inn is definitely worth a visit and prices for lunches in the main dining area are very reasonable.
Almost every major National Park has a visitor center offering a wealth of information about that facility. Don’t just stop in to buy a trinket and use the restroom. Take advantage of the exhibits and movies, if one is offered. It will enrich your visit.
Yellowstone National Park is breathtaking. There is no other way to describe it. The scenery and terrain changes every few miles. At almost 3.5 million acres (63 miles north to south and 54 miles east to west) the park is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Driving through Yellowstone is not something that can be hurried.
Maximum speed is 45 mph with many areas being posted at 35 mph or less. Visitors slow down considerably or stop when wildlife is visible or when herds of bison amble slowly down the middle of the road and pass just feet from your car giving you scant notice as you busily snap away with your camera. When a grizzly sighting is confirmed, just park and forget about any forward motion. Cars are abandoned as motorists jockey for position with cameras and binoculars.
Leaving the Yellowstone area and returning to the low country, where you are still more than a mile above sea level, the scenery changes completely. There are still mountains to climb, but not as high, and the terrain starts changing to prairie and grass lands. After traveling through 13 states, to this point, I woke up one morning and said to my wife, “What state are we in?” It did happen.
Ahead of us was The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and The Black Hills. Then it would be on to Denver to get my a/c fixed before driving to Asheville, NC and on to the humidity of Florida.
There will be one more installment of this odyssey before writing individually about the major cities in which we stopped and our stays at 5-star hotels that are members of Historic Hotels of America. I will not discuss the look-alike, unremarkable chains or the flea bags. Yes, we experienced it all including sleeping in a tent and a cabin with no running water.
Watch for the next installment in this series.