“Review this list and determine suitability,” is the first line of an email from my father. He also includes a list of four cars as well. I stare at the email for a couple minutes. I walk down the dorm hall to one of my friends. “If you got an email from your dad with four cars what would you think?” I asked. “I was getting getting a new car,” was the response. A call to my father confirmed that I was getting a new car for my cross country US road trip.
In early March, I had accepted a job to spend the summer working in Mount Rainier National Park. I wanted to drive from college in Gainesville, Florida to the Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. I was 19 years old and was finishing up my freshman year of college. I am not sure why I decided to drive but I wanted to. I had just spent the semester exploring Florida with friends and on my own. I wanted an adventure so a solo cross-country road trip seemed like a fun adventure.
The first step was to drive 8 hours from Gainesville, FL to my parents house in Knoxville, TN. I left all college stuff at home, picked up my new car, and spent some time with my parents.
While at home I made a brief outline for my plan to drive to Mount Rainier. I was planning to go camping in Grand Tetons and Yellowstone but was reminded that it was still winterish in the northern half of the country. My plan was to drive about 8 hours a day and make a couple of stops along the way
- Day 1 – Knoxville, TN to Berea, KY – Spend time with my Best Friend
- Day 2 – Berea, KY to Sweet Springs, MO
- Day 3 – Sweet Springs, MO to Big Springs, NE
- Day 4 – Big Springs, NE to Jackson Hole, WY
- Day 5 – Grand Tetons National Park
- Day 6 – Jackson Hole, WY to West Yellowstone, MT
- Day 7 – Yellowstone National Park
- Day 8 – Yellowstone National Park
- Day 9 – Yellowstone National Park to Spokane, WA
- Day 10 – Spokane, WA to Packwood, WA
- Day 11 – Packwood, WA to Mount Rainier National Park
The only things that were set in my plan were the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and my arrival day in Mount Rainier. I had made hotel reservations in Jackson Hole and my mother surprised me with a night in Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. Everything else was flexible.
It was an easy 2.5 hour drive north to Berea to visit with my best friend. She was attending college in Berea and still wasn’t done for the semester. Since I was going away for the summer, I wanted to stop and hang out with her before I left. She spent the day showing me Berea’s campus and its protected squirrels. It is against the rules to chase the squirrels while on campus. My favorite part of the day was exploring the on-campus art gallery.
The drive from Berea, KY to Sweet Springs, MO was about 8 hours. I made it to Sweet Springs and found that I wasn’t tried and wanted to keep driving. I got out my map and deciede that I would push for St. Joseph, MO. It took me two hours to get to St. Joseph and found a hotel room for the night.
I had originally planned to drive 8 hours from Sweet Springs, MO to Big Springs, NE but since I was in St. Joseph, MO I had less driving to do. It took 6 hours to get to Big Springs, NE. I pushed on to Cheyenne, WY. I checked in with my mother and told her I was in Cheyenne. She told me of some cool rock formations just off the interstate near Cheyenne. Its name started with a V. I could find anything on the internet but I didn’t look too hard either.
I was 2 hours ahead of scheduled starting out on my longest drive day. It was suppose to be 9 hours. I drove down I-70 looking for these rocks. About 30 mins from Cheyanne, I started noticing some large rock formations to my right. I figured these are what my mother was talking about. When I passed the sign for Vedauwoo Road Exit, I knew I was getting off. I got off the exit and drove towards the rock formation that I now know make up Vedauwoo section of Medicine Bow National Forest. It was cold and snow so I could only explore a little bit of the area. I marked it for somewhere I wanted come back and explore further.
After spending an hour in Vedauwoo, I kept driving to Jackson Hole, WY. The closer I got the more snow appeared. I had to take a couple of detours due to snow but finally arrived at my hotel in Jackson.
I was excited to be back in Grand Tetons National Park. I hadn’t been since I was 6. I checked in with the ranger and decide to hike the Jenny Lake Trail first and then go see if I had any luck seeing a grizzly return to its recent kill. Jenny Lake Trail was much snowier than the recent trail reports had shown. I made it just over a 1/3 of a way when I slipped and twisted my knee. I made the decision that I would turn around. I was solo hiking so I didn’t want to risk hiking injured on a trail I don’t know. On the hike back, I got surprised by a moose.
I spent the late afternoon and early evening, at an overlook hoping to see the Grizzly Bear. The sun was setting on the horizon when a herd of elk came down into the valley. I noticed they had started acting nervous. I started watching closely and watched a wolf unsuccessfully try to catch one of the elk.
The main road between Grand Tetons and Yellowstone was still closed for the winter season. I had to drive around the park to West Yellowstone, MT.
Day 7 and Day 8
I woke up early and headed into the Yellowstone National Park. I spent the day exploring Mammoth Hot Springs and then headed south Old Faithful Inn.
I spent the night in historic Inn. In the morning, I watched Old Faithful erupt several times.
I spent the afternoon wandering around to the other geysers and watched some baby buffalo from a safe distance.
I woke up later than usual and made the 7 hour trip from Yellowstone to Spokane, WA. The snow had decreased as I moved away from Yellowstone and towards Washington.
This was my last big drive day. The weather was clear and I got my first view of Mount Rainier in a long time. The weather was clear and perfect as I drove through the valleys to Packwood.
I made the last drive from Packwood to Paradise Inn. I had to stay at Packwood since the only entrance to the park that was open was the Ashford entrance. I arrive to 12 feet of snow that wouldn’t disappear until my summer was almost over.