It’s no big secret how much I love road trips with lots of rules. What you may not know is that I learned everything I know from the master road tripper himself, my dad. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and throwing us all in the van and going exploring was inexpensive and satisfying for him. I didn’t set foot on an airplane until I was 20.
This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.
Over the course of this sad summer, my dad and I spent lots of time together watching over my mom, and in that the idea for a long road trip was born. Dad had spent several years planning and preparing to spend his retirement years exploring the US, and now his road-trip partner wasn’t going to be there with him. I also know that my dad will be way more likely to follow through if he has someone to oblige to, so I told him I’d be his buddy for this one. He spent hours poring over atlases, trying out phone apps, and taking notes. He needed this distraction during the long slownesses of my mom’s steady decline.
Mom passed away in late August. The entire month of October was clear for me, and we both knew that dad was going to need to get away by then, so the plan was on. Dad was also worried about weather (our route actually changed a lot while we were on the road). We did a practice run in September, worked out all the kinks, nailed down our route, and chose the campgrounds we planned to stay at. We were ready.
I should mention that the primary rule of roadtrips is no freeways. We stay on backroads and regional highways as much as possible. My dad takes this rule so seriously that he apologized to me for 5 solid minutes when at one point we were forced to take an interstate for a couple of miles!
Note: if you want to see our route on a map, scroll to the bottom!
Another note: The little collage view doesn’t do the photos justice. But you can click on them and go through the slideshows!
Day One: Washougal, WA to Lewis & Clark Trail State Park, WA (242 miles)
We began on Saturday, October 1, at dad’s house in Washougal. We had found an app called Roadside America (“Your Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions”), and were determined to mark of as many as we could along our route. In White Salmon was our very first opportunity: the Bavarian clock tower on city hall! We had a fantastic lunch, and started our habit of buying enough so we could eat leftovers for dinner. Another Roadside America stop: Sam Hill’s Stonehenge, near Maryhill.
Soundtrack: we started our first audiobook: Rabid. It’s about rabies, and it was in turns fascinating and disgusting.
We arrived at our stopping point for the day at Lewis & Clark Trail State Park, which has no spots with hookups. It was then that we discovered that the propane heater didn’t work! That night was cold.
Day Two: Lewis & Clark Trail State Park, WA to Hamilton, MT (315 miles)
We found some metal sculptures on the side of the road near Petaha. My dad is a good sport.
We visited Costco in Lewiston for picnic supplies and waaaay too much San Pellegrino soda. We both managed to forget our smoothie blenders, so we picked up another one, and had smoothies for breakfast every day for the rest of the trip.
Turns out my dad lived in Lewiston as a kid, so he shared a bunch of stories that I’d never heard. Like the one where his family lived in an abandoned church for a while(!). While stopping for gas, I picked up some Spud Bites, which triggered a wave of nostalgia for him. He ate most of them.
After a lovely picnic lunch along the river, we visited the Lolo Pass visitor center and hiked the interpretive trails. We came down the other side into Montana, and set up camp for the night in Hamilton. This campsite had hookups.
Soundtrack: still rabies (the audiobook is 8 hours long). Evening entertainment: started on The Great British Bake Off, which became something of an obsession.
Day Three: Hamilton, MT to Ennis, MT (241 miles)
Darby is an adorable little town, and as we drove through I saw these funky statues and shouted at my dad to stop! He’s such a good sport. Stretching our legs along the old-timey main street, we came across a gigantic candy shop, and we bought way too much.
The highlight of this day was Bannack State Park. When it was donated to the state, the provision was that only structural stabilization could be done, no Disney-fication. We got a map, and were just allowed to wander through these decaying 1860s houses that had barely been touched since then. We later found out that the hotel is famous for being haunted. It felt weird, and we found ourselves whispering a lot. Utterly fascinating, so glad we stopped.
At this point, finding campsites became routine. We even started looking for KOAs. I googled ahead of time to make sure our planned destination was (a) open during this time of year and (b) had hookup sites. Several plans changed because of this.
This was the night when we had to decide not to go to Yellowstone, where we had planned to spend three nights. A giant snowstorm had just blown through, and we had the trailer to worry about. So the rest of this trip was planned on the fly.
Soundtrack: still rabies. Entertainment: still British Baking, and I’m going to stop mentioning it because that’s what we watched every night.
Day Four: Ennis, MT to Garden City, UT (313 miles)
We took a detour to go see Mesa Falls – my dad and I can’t resist geological formations that are right off the highway. Frostop is another Roadside America find, an iconic giant-root-beer sign with a burger joint attached. We had burgers and root-beer floats.
Next stop: the Teton Geotourism Center (also via Roadside America), which ended up being reasonably interesting – more interesting than the name would suggest. And it was free! And, in the same town, there’s a giant potato/drive-in theater! (By this time, my dad was getting really good at quickly pulling the truck-and-trailer over when I hollered.) Further along, we spotted the world’s largest elkhorn arch. It really is magnificent.
This night’s KOA had a giant slide. We made it a habit every morning and evening to wander whatever trails the campground had, so you’ll occasionally see random photos of us just strolling around.
Soundtrack: more rabies. Almost done.
Day Five: Garden City, UT to Manila, UT (200 miles)
We started the day with a pickup-only circumnavigation of Bear Lake, which is where we found the shoe house. It’s a regular-sized actual house, and our biggest question was “why?” There’s no story to be found on the entire Internet, we have no idea how this thing came to be.
We decided to head into Fossil Butte National Monument, and we had an intensely cold picnic. There was a 2½-mile trail just off the picnic area, and we thought it would be a perfect excuse to stretch our legs, take in the scenery. You can see what happened in the photos below (start with this one) – we saw the dark clouds gathering, and then we were caught in a surprise snowstorm!
We hustled back to the truck, and drove to Little America and found a penguin! Neither of us had been here since 1987 (when the ice cream cones were 25¢) but we managed to recreate a photo from back then.
By the way, we started and ended this day in Utah, but spent most of our time in Wyoming and Idaho. We were only barely in Utah.
Continued in part two.