My husband and I recently took a glorious two week road trip through Wyoming. We stopped in Idaho on the way over to stay with friends and then continued on to the ranch where my husband used to work. The ranch is in the Gros Ventre wilderness area (French for Big Belly and pronounced “Grow Vont”) and requires about an hour long drive down a gravel national forest road in order to get to the ranch. We spent a few nights at that ranch and then proceeded on to Yellowstone National Park.
I fully intend to do a more indepth review of the ranches we stayed at during our trip, but I really wanted to post these special photos. I love, love, LOVE taking photos of animals, and Wyoming did not disappoint.
If you’ve never had the chance to visit Yellowstone, put it on your bucket list. It’s not to be missed. The first established US national park (thanks Teddy Roosevelt), the thermal features and wildlife are something to behold. I’m not big on crowds, so if you aren’t either, I recommend taking in the sights early in the day and hitting a month that’s less popular with tourists (think May or October). We love heading to Wyoming in September and could not believe the number of people still populating our favorite haunts. We found out that September has become the second busiest tourist month for Jackson Hole/Yellowstone as the retirees wait until school resumes and then come out in force for their own vacations.
Without further ado, here are my favorite photos from the trip. Feel free to share these, I don’t mind. Bring a little joy and nature to someone’s day. I just ask that you leave my signature (yes, the shameless web address) in the photo.
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A few years ago on one of our many trips back to Wisconsin I made my in-laws drive me around the central-Wisconsin countryside so I could take photos of barns. I Say “made” because as I recall, my father-in-law feigned annoyance and bewilderment at such a request, but I know he loved every minute of it. Anyway, I have something of an obsession (Fetish? Love?) with old barns. Part of it I think is growing up without horses and seeing barns without any animals and wondering why the hell you would have all that property and a barn and not have any animals. But I also really just love the thought that these structures are so old and have a history of their own, they supported a way of life, of family and of farming. And they are a part of the landscape that is disappearing. There is a barn that was on Hwy County P in between Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point that about a year after I took a photo of it, was torn down. There was nothing built in its place, I don’t know why it was torn down, but it made me sick.
It’s not that Oregon doesn’t have any old barns, we do. But for the most part they are not nearly as old. Nor do they have that charming fieldstone foundation. And there are far fewer in Oregon than what I see in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a barn.
I love barns so much that we held our wedding at one. The old barn, originally built in the 1870’s was brought down by a tornado in 1993, in 1997 the family began rebuilding the barn as a type of healing after their son died. The place has since sold, it still hosts weddings, but the people who owned it, who rebuilt the barn, and who treated us like family when we were married on their property, have moved on. During the wedding they opened their home to us and made our wedding feel like the party I wanted it to be. I’m sure the new owners are perfectly nice people, but the former owners were absolutely saints in my eyes. I don’t know if you’ve ever planned a wedding, but it can be incredibly stressful, especially planning it 2000 miles away from the actual venue. Their Wisconsin friendliness and hospitality did not disappoint and I will be forever thankful we not only had our wedding in Wisconsin but also at the Cedar Hill Barn.
I’m not from Wisconsin, but with all of my husband’s family there and with how much I have visited in the 10 years since we’ve been together, I definitely feel like it is a home away from home. Partially because the people there really do make you feel welcome and loved. When I worked on the ranch in Arizona, one of the guests found out I was dating Dean and that he was from Wisconsin. She cooed and told me that people from Wisconsin were the best people, that you couldn’t find better or nicer people. I thought she was just being trite. It turns out she was right. If you are feeling low, or not part of a community, seriously, just go visit Wisconsin. I guarantee a stranger will chat you up and befriend you before you know it. I should know, I’m not that friendly or chatty with strangers and people still manage to draw me out there.
I actually think it gives more credit to my love for Wisconsin that I’m not from there, of course people brag about where they live or where they’re from. But I’m neither and I definitely have a special place in my heart for Wisconsin. Right about now I figure my sweet mother-in-law is wondering why in the hell I don’t live there if I love it so much. (I did steal her son away to Oregon for the last decade).
Snow. Lots of Snow. And Ice. And lack of mountains, or ocean, or high desert. I’m not a huge fan of the geography of Wisconsin, I mean, the rolling hills are nice, but I like a little more drama in my landscape. And there are some other more practical reasons, like my career being established in Oregon. Nothing personal about your landscape Wisconsin, it is beautiful; it just doesn’t quite meet my needs.
I like people from Wisconsin so much that I joined a couple of their horse forums. Actually it was the first horse forum I joined outside of Oregon. I figured they would be gentle with me if they didn’t like my blog posts or writing. And by gentle, I mean they just wouldn’t say anything. Luckily they did like my funny little writings and boosted my courage to join some other forums that were a little more intimidating (read: east coast forums).
So if you’re from Wisconsin, thanks for being so damned friendly! If you’re not from Wisconsin and have never been, go! They have awesome lake side communities, cabins, rolling hills, cheese factories and they make Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’m just going to repeat those last two points: You can get fresh made cheese and beer, what more do you need to know?
If you’re curious, you can see the website for where we were married here
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I am the youngest of 5, and traveling with such a crew was no cheap affair. But my mom likes to travel, so she and my dad would pack us up in their red van, coolers full of meals that could be eaten several days in a row and a camp stove for making eggs in the morning. It wasn’t until I was an adult and in charge of my own road trips that I started to appreciate the adventures she took us on. When I was five we drove all the way to Missouri to stay with my grandmother for a few weeks, the hot vinyl seats sticking to the back of my legs the entire time. As a teenager, the best trip for me was the one where we delivered a queen mattress to my brother in Butte, Montana. I spent the entirety of that drive on the mattress in the back of the van, reading magazines and eating candy bars. I would get a new magazine every time we stopped for gas. I have no idea what kind of beautiful scenery I missed, I just lazed on that mattress reading and eating the whole way there. Even as an adult, it still sounds kind of amazing.
But the most memorable of trips was a different time we were headed to Montana to see my brother. As is customary when riding with my parents, we were on a back road. My parents avoid main thoroughfares. They say it’s because you get to see more of the country when you get off the highway. I think it’s because they don’t like to drive fast. Now, to understand my parents is to understand that they have eclectic taste and have a deep respect for nature. So when we found ourselves on said back road and came upon a partially decomposed elk in the ditch, my parents pulled over and took possession of the ill-fated elk’s head. Someone else had already sawed off its antlers, but its mostly alabaster bone skull did look interesting. I say mostly bone skull, because this thing did still have some fur attached and other, shall we say, material. They wrapped the skull in several black plastic trash bags, strapped it to the back of the van on the spare tire, and then we were back on the road.
I don’t know if you’ve ever caught the scent of a rotting carcass in the heat of summer, but it is a stench that will take your breath away and stick to your hair. Now take that strong odor and multiply it by 1000. That still-yet-to-fully-decompose elk skull was in its very own greenhouse of black garbage bags. You could not go within 20 feet of the back of the van without getting slapped in the face with the thick scent of death. I don’t think I realized at the time that other people’s parents don’t usually pull over and scoop up dead things, so I wasn’t embarrassed. I just hated the smell and didn’t really get the point.
I’m not quite as industrious as them, so I don’t think I would be pulling over for a random skull, especially not one with the antlers hacked off. But if I do, I’ll let you know. I do, however, LOVE to go on road trips. My husband and I drove 33 hours across country to our wedding in Wisconsin. I believe our ability to remain in love after 33 hours in a vehicle together is a sign we will be together for many, many years to come.
Given the number of hours I’ve spent in the car for road trips, I have some tips for you.
Snacks : when the trip starts to get a little slow (I’m looking at you South Dakota, your Wall Drug signs need jazzing up) food is an excellent distraction. Just be sure you know the pull-over rate of your driver, you don’t want to over-hydrate.
Free places to stay: Map your trip according to where friends live along the way. When I was a poor college student and my husband was just starting his job, we really didn’t have the money to stay at hotels. But even now that we’re a little more comfortable financially, staying with friends lightens the financial burden and usually comes with a free meal. Just make sure you at least bring your host a bottle of wine as a thank you for their hospitality.
Physical map: Have an actual, old school, paper map or atlas. I know everyone uses their phones now, but from personal experience, your phone may lead you to some weird places and then all of a sudden you’ll lose the signal and you have no idea where you are or how to get back on track and then your husband may tell you that you have been demoted as co-pilot. Not that I’ve experienced that personally. Use a map. Depend on the map. The map also provides great information about the topography of the land (yep, I just used topography in this blog post) which can provide a brief distraction when you think the road may go on forever and you’ll never reach your destination.
Talk to strangers. We once stayed at a campground in Burns, Oregon and my husband helped the wife of an older couple get into the darkened bathroom. The next day we ran into that same couple at a KOA in Idaho 9 hours away from Burns. And it turned out, earlier in their trip, they had been by the very ranch we were headed to in Wyoming. It was quite the coincidence. You never know who you’ll meet or the stories you’ll hear while out on the road.
Do you have any road trip tips or funny stories? Share them! And drive on.
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