I originally planned to split our vacation recap into two blog posts, but I’ve decided to turn it into three because after five wonderful nights in Jackson Hole, we spent three days moseying our way on down to Estes Park, Colorado so there’s plenty to talk about. We could have done the drive in one day, but we decided to split it up, take our time, and see some sights along the way.
We started off on a foggy morning in Teton Village and headed south through Wyoming. We drove out of the fog and into a lot of ranch land that looked like this:
We made a pit stop in a very small town in Wyoming called Daniel (population 150—the smallest town we drove through!) and encountered this sign above the Daniel Junction Foodmart:
I didn’t take many photos on that leg of the trip because I did almost all of the driving, but suffice to say it was a lovely, scenic drive. We ended our first day of driving in Rock Springs, Wyoming, a town of about 23,000 located an hour’s drive from the Utah border. The town is big enough to have a Walmart and a bunch of chain restaurants and hotels, but not a whole lot else. We had picked the town in advance and booked a hotel room at the Best Western Outlaw Inn, which was charming but deserted when we checked in. I was expecting to learn that the zombie apocalypse had begun and that we were going to have to hole up in there for a long time. Also, our room was on the bottom floor…and it had no windows to the outside. I don’t know who constructed the hotel, but having rooms without windows feels illegal. The rooms did have windows and doors opening out into the main atrium space, so it’s not as if we were sealed in coffins, but it was still a little unsettling (though probably handy in a zombie apocalypse).
By the time we arrived in Rock Springs it was too late in the day to nap but way too early to eat dinner. We started downloading the season finale of Mr. Robot but it was going to take awhile, so we took our Farkle dice to the indoor pool area and played a few games to pass the time.
While we were playing, more people started checking in to the hotel and it began to feel a little less like the zombies’ arrival was imminent. We went back to our room and watched the Mr. Robot season finale (WHAT HAPPENED EVEN?!?), then headed to the hotel restaurant, Open Range, for dinner. The restaurant was actually quite packed, which made us feel a lot better about the place. The food was pretty decent—they even had a vegetable sandwich for us non-meat eaters—and we had a post-dinner drink at the hotel saloon.
The next morning we took advantage of our complimentary hotel breakfast, which, by the way, was the first time I’ve seen a hotel chain offer complimentary eggs cooked to order (they’re usually pre-cooked and served buffet-style). Then we hit the road again. Destination: Steamboat Springs, Colorado!
For the second leg of our trip, we chose a straight shot south into Utah and then east into Colorado. We could have taken a more direct route to Colorado, but there were some sights in Utah we wanted to see along the way…and we definitely made the right choice! First, we hit the Flaming Gorge scenic byway not long after leaving Rock Springs.
We drove south along the western side of Flaming Gorge for probably at least an hour, and the scenery was quite spectacular. Once we hit Utah, we started seeing signage with facts about the surrounding Uinta Mountains. We learned that many hundreds of million years ago the area was completely underwater, and all kinds of prehistoric fossils have been found there, from creatures like corals and squid. After the water level dropped, land-dwelling dinosaurs like Stegasaurus and raptors lived there. How cool is that??
At one point (I believe not long after we passed through Manila, Utah), we saw a turnoff for a lookout point and decided to stop there. It ended up being the best decision, because the spot ended up being one of our favorite places of the entire trip!
The area was completely silent, and just so, so beautiful. However! As we stood there in complete silence, we heard some low grunting in the brush below us. My skin prickled a bit and I turned around to look behind me to make sure there were no predators creeping up on us from behind. We stood still to listen, but we didn’t hear the sound again. Later on, we tried describing the noise to park rangers and did a little research online, and we are pretty sure that what we heard was a bear. AAAAAGHHHHHH! Good thing it decided not to show itself.
We continued on the road and took a small detour into Jensen, Utah so that we could visit Dinosaur National Monument. Guys, if you ever find yourself in the vicinity, please take the time to see this place. Like Jon Snow, I knew nothing about DNM before we went…and it was a very pleasant surprise. Plus, who doesn’t like dinosaurs?!
At 329 square miles, the monument is quite large and might as well be considered a national park (though I guess it doesn’t meet the size requirement). It takes up a decent chunk of real estate in northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado, and the Green River and Yampa River meet up inside the area.
We entered through the Quarry Visitor Center at the western edge of the park and took a 5-minute tram ride up to the Quarry Exhibit Hall. We entered the exhibit hall and were faced with a huge wall of approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones.
The wall contains bones from a number of dinosaur species including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus, and Stegosaurus. The wall even has two mostly intact Camarasaurus skulls, one of which is very easy to spot from the upper viewing deck (I unfortunately didn’t get a good photo of it).
On the ground level of the exhibit hall you can stand next to an adult Camarasaurus femur. That thing is basically me-sized:
They also have an Allosaurus skull that’s one of the best-preserved intact dinosaur skulls ever:
Of course we had to pose for a photo with the Stegasaurus outside the Visitor Center on our way out.
From Dinosaur National Monument we had another couple hours’ drive to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Once we arrived in Steamboat Springs we checked into Hotel Bristol, a charming, historic downtown hotel.
Our room was teeny tiny (the king bed took up most of the space), so we didn’t spend much time in there and instead chose to wander up and down Lincoln Avenue, the main drag. Unfortunately, because it was after 5pm on a Sunday most of the shops were closed or about to close for the day, so we didn’t have a chance to go inside many places. We played a little Pokémon Go and enjoyed stretching our legs in the beautiful weather after our longest driving day of the whole trip.
We’d gotten into the habit of eating dinner early and we were starving after driving all day, but we managed to hold out until 6pm. We chose the restaurant in the basement of our hotel, Mazzola’s, because it’s said to be one of the best Italian joints in town. And we were not disappointed. I was in the mood for pizza (TBH, when am I NOT in the mood for pizza?!) so I ordered their delicious Bruschetta pizza.
I highly recommend eating at Mazzola’s if you ever visit Steamboat Springs! After dinner we chilled in our little hotel room and rested up for the next leg of our trip to Estes Park, Colorado.
Before we left Steamboat we had a tasty breakfast at Creekside Cafe, a cute spot just off Lincoln Avenue. The drive from Steamboat to Estes took us right through Rocky Mountain National Park, so a good chunk of the day’s drive involved sightseeing our way through the park. Prior to entering RMNP we drove up the west side of Lake Granby along the western edge of the park, then once we passed Grand Lake we entered the park proper and stopped at Kawuneeche Visitor Center. I was doing the driving and once we got to the visitor center I realized I was feeling really spacey—maybe it was the altitude—so I let John do the driving for the rest of the way.
We drove north on Trail Ridge Road up to Farview Curve (elevation: 10,120 feet), where we stopped to look at the Never Summer Mountains:
We also made a stop at Milner Pass (elevation: 10,759 feet), the site of the Continental Divide, where water drainage separates and ultimately heads either to the Atlantic or the Pacific. This was the first place we visited that had snow on the ground—it’s no wonder, because we were at quite a high altitude.
From there we pushed farther on up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center (elevation: 11,796 feet, the highest facility of its kind in the National Parks!). As we got closer to the center we saw a sign telling us we could listen to an AM station for weather conditions, so we tuned our car radio in to a very staticky station with a looped recording of a man describing the alpine tundra ecosystem and offering advice on how to recognize signs of altitude sickness. The static plus the scenery made us feel like we were entering an entirely different world.
The Alpine Visitor Center’s parking lot was packed, but we managed to find a spot and went to an overlook by the Trail Ridge Store & Cafe:
From there you can hike a short 0.6 mile Alpine Ridge Trail on up to its peak at 12,005 feet. This trail is nicknamed “Huffer’s Hill” for good reason—the air at this elevation is so thin that it’s very hard to catch your breath. We began walking up the trail and I could definitely feel it, so I went verrrrry slowly. This is likely the highest altitude I’ve ever been in in my entire life! I had to stop and rest at one point while John pressed on to the very top. I managed to go a little farther but didn’t end up going all the way up to 12,005…I probably made it to about 12,000. Compare that to the peak of Everest, which is 29,029 feet above sea level. NO THANK YOU.
Side story: on the way up the trail there was an older couple with a young adult daughter. The mom was struggling to walk up the stairs because she was wearing heels. As in, 4-inch platform spike heels. SERIOUSLY! The shoes actually had rubber lugs on the platform soles, so those must have been her “hiking shoes.” The daughter was wearing wedge heels, but she seemed to be having an easier go of it. They both looked ridiculous and it was very much something you’d see the Kardashians do. I just don’t get people.
Anyway…here’s a photo looking up at the Alpine Ridge Trail from the bottom:
What a gorgeous day we had for that little hike! It was crystal clear and the sky was so blue. It wasn’t even as cold up there as you’d expect, especially not after laboring so hard to gain 200 feet in elevation up that short trail.
Driving around the upper reaches of the alpine tundra in the park was beautiful but a little dizzying, and it’s a good thing John handled that part of the drive because I was not up for it. The altitude and curvy roads even made him a little uneasy, but he handled it like a pro! From the Alpine Visitor Center it took probably another hour or hour and a half to get to our bed and breakfast in Estes Park, which was located just outside the main Beaver Meadows entrance on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.
That about does it for the road trip portion of our vacation. Stay tuned for the third and final part, coming soon!