Leaving Connecticut at the crack of dawn. We start with a happy send off, and head out on our adventure. The only task ahead? Drive as far as we can and get as close as we can to our first official stop in Wisconsin. We’ll be on the road for about 12 hours through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and the very beautiful but wide state of Pennsylvania, before we rest our heads in Wauseon, Ohio for the night.
Discovering a beach at the shore of Lake Michigan. A personal request that we stop in Gary, Indiana (any Music Man fans out there?), yielded this unexpected find! While our route took us just south of two of the Great Lakes, a little clever navigating led us to Marquette Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, home of the Gary Bathing Beach Aquatorium, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. After two full days of highway driving, and a stop at the Mousehouse Cheesehaus for provisions, we end our day in the lush, rolling hills of Spring Green, Wisconsin, along the Wisconsin River.
Spun around by the House on the Rock, Spring Green, Wisconsin. Our hotel, Spring Valley Inn, is the former Visitor’s Center for Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate. Built by Wright’s architectural firm, the Inn has gone to great lengths to mirror the popular arts and crafts style in its furnishings and decor. It offers a quiet respite after our day-long visit to the eclectic, cacophonic House on the Rock and its sprawling collection of dolls, music machines, mannequins, carousel creatures, and oh-so-much more.
Jolly Green Giant Selfie, Blue Earth, Minnesota. Day Four presents a free-form driving day from Spring Green to somewhere between Wisconsin and the Black Hills of South Dakota. We’ll enjoy a leisurely ride along a flooded Lower Wisconsin Riverway, then across the Mississippi River into Iowa and north to Austin, Minnesota (home of the Spam Museum) and Blue Earth, before resting “6 feet under” at the unique Earth Inn in Jackson, MN.
Marking the halfway point between the Atlantic and the Pacific, along I-90 in South Dakota. A rainy start does not deter an early departure on a day whose highlights include a pilgrimage to Walnut Grove and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Pipetstone National Monument, Porter Sculpture Park, and the iconic Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. At day’s end, after hundreds of miles of prairie and farmland, the road dips down dramatically to meet the Missouri River, our stop for the night.
Exploring Badlands National Park in South Dakota. We wake to the sun rising over the Missouri River and an easy 300-mile agenda. Today. we’ll explore Badlands and the famed Wall Drug, before making our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The juxtaposition of the other-worldly National Park with the vapid consumerism of Wall Drug is startling; we are happy to find our way to Hisega Lodge, nestled creekside just far enough away from everything.
Finding Art Alley on a Sunday in Rapid City, South Dakota. After six days on the road, we welcome this day of rest. Relatively speaking. Gourmet breakfast with fellow guests in the common room of this charming lodge begins the day. Then a load of laundry before we explore Chapel in the Hills, a stave church with Norwegian influences, and enjoy lunch and shopping in downtown Rapid City for the afternoon.
Monumental moment at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. An interesting discovery about the Road Trip genre of travel is that very often “attractions” are road trips themselves. Take, for example, our journey into the Black Hills to see the Crazy Horse Monument and Mount Rushmore via the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, Needles Highway, Wildlife Loop Road, and Iron Mountain Road. With no regrets! We’ll drive through the one-lane Needles Eye Tunnel, catch our first glimpse of bison and pronghorn, and wind around “314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtail bridges, 3 tunnels” before heading back to Hisega some 10 hours later.
Searching for the landing strip near Devils Tower, Wyoming. We leave Hisega soon after sunrise for what USA Today’s Jodi Thornton O’Connell calls “the most scenic route from the Black Hills to Yellowstone National Park.” Today’s 400-mile leg will take us north through Deadwood and Spearfish Canyon along U.S. 14 Scenic Byway, into the wide open grasslands of Wyoming for a stop at Devils Tower National Monument, then west toward the Big Horn Mountains. We find the most challenging part of our journey here, along the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway. Entering Bighorn National Forest, we are enveloped by a dense cloud bank that stays with us up and over the mountains. When it finally lifts, we have climbed up to and back from an altitude of more than 9,000 feet, some 3,000 higher than New Hampshire’s Mount Washington! We rest well in Cody for the night.
Classic photo opp, Artist Point in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Continuing on the “most scenic route” into Yellowstone, we leave the Big Bear Motel in Cody for a day-long drive. Without a doubt the most breathtaking drive of this trip, we’ll travel along the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, 47 miles through Shoshone National Forest over the Absaroka Mountains, connecting to the Beartooth All-American Road, and into the snowy wilderness of Montana’s Gallatin National Forest. After lunch in Montana, we dip back down into Wyoming and cross into Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance. Along the way, we’ll see herds of bison and pronghorns, spot a lone wolf and a bald eagle, then sit idling while a grizzly bear forages curbside some 50 feet away.
Crossing into Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming. Author Rossiter Raymond once wrote of Yellowstone that “Nothing can be lovelier than the sight, at sunrise, of the white steam-columns, tinged with rosy morning, ascending against the background of the dark pine woods and the clear sky above.” Indeed, except if it were highlighted by a rainbow such that we saw as we made our way into Yellowstone from its eastern entrance. So blessed, we’ll witness the wonder of Old Faithful before driving south into Grand Tetons National Park—our final destination. Along the way, we see evidence of the wildfire that moved our accommodations to Jackson Lake Lodge, with no complaints. We’ll spend the next three days with a front-row view of the snow-covered Tetons!
Reflecting on an amazing journey’s last stop, at Colter Bay in Wyoming. The last days of our adventure, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, are too beautiful for words. We have seen more beauty and wonder, experienced more moments of awe, than any one photo or paragraph could do justice. This morning is no exception—at sunrise we listen to the call of an elk family that wanders into view, while we watch the harvest moon set behind the mountains. The word of the day is “saturated,” as we are filled-up with sights, experience, memories…and gratitude.
Celebrating a successful adventure, dinner at Jackson Lake Lodge, Moran, Wyoming. As is tradition now, we end our journey with a celebratory feast. This one included whiskey, sweet corn and smoked trout soup; beef tenderloin with purple Peruvian potato puree, grilled asparagus and a huckleberry demi-glace; Colorado rack of lamb, wild mushroom bread pudding, Brussels sprouts and a huckleberry gastrique; a “deconstructed carrot cake” that included roasted carrot cake, a cream cheese diplomat, carrot caviar, pineapple coulis and a rum raisin walnut strudel; and lavender champagne crème brûlée topped with a caramel cage and lemon cotton candy. Cheers!
Sunrise over the Grant Tetons and a final selfie says it all.