What is it about hitting the open road that creates a sense of newfound freedom; the feeling that the future lies out ahead with no need to look behind? Having the opportunity to drive cross country in any direction is not only a beloved American pastime, but it’s also a history lesson, the cure to an explorer’s endless need to feed his own curiosity and a visual masterpiece as the puzzle pieces of the diverse American landscape slowly fit together. America is blessed with a myriad of settings from the coast to coast habitats to the mountains to the desolate rows of corns fields in the midwest. It’s also remarkable what you’ll find while crossing the country when you’re not looking for one thing in particular. It opens your eyes to the unexpected and what often results is a true adventure, a life experience, one to always remember, to be placed in the record books.
This year, I had the opportunity, along with a few friends, to drive cross country to Chicago. We started our trek headed west out of Boise, ID towards West Yellowstone, MT. Although driving across Idaho was unremarkable, we made it to West Yellowstone with plenty of time to explore. We didn’t know it at the time but stubbling across Big Guns would be the first of many odd and wildly touristy activities we would find along the way. Big Guns was exactly what the name implies, a chance to shoot a gun of your choice at shooting targets. A group of foreign tourists packed into the shop awaiting their turn to fire a weapon. One of the tourists, who was obviously ready to pack some heat, walked out of the joint straight out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, shades and all. We carefully observed the tourists fire their guns as the language barrier was questionably interferring with safety guidelines. Nonetheless, I sat back as my other two travel companions picked up their weapons next and dutifully fired at their targets. Because what else would you do in an American West town? After having fun with guns, we grabbed some pizza at Petes Pizza and called it a night.
The next day, we woke up to wolfs howling from afar. We then hopped in the car and sped across Yellowstone National Park. We stopped off at major sites such as Yellowstone Canyon, Yellowstone Lake and even saw a wolf sauntering through a meadow but had little time for much else. (See Park Beat XI: Yellowstone National Park for more info on Yellowstone.) We were due in Rapid City, SD that night and had a long way to go. Still, there were a few attactions we weren’t willing to miss.
Along the way we stopped off in Cody, WY to dress up as outlaws running across the west. We adopted the name the Badlands Gang and kept treking.
As we sped through the rest of Wyoming and the Bighorn National Forest, the bright green hills that rolled out in front of us could have been uprooted directly from the lush hills of Ireland. As we drove through the countryside, I half expected a hobbit to come skipping out of his hole in the hillside.
The landscape was beautiful and increasingly so as the sun eventually dropped to the horizon, but not before we made it to Devil’s Tower. We were determined to stop off at the infamous rock structure straight out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As Devil’s Tower loomed up out of the fading light and into the darkness, there was something sacred about it even to us as strangers. Now a National Monumment, the monolith has long been sacred to the Plains Indians. (See Park Beat XIV: Devil’s Tower National Monument for the story behind the rock)
We walked around the tower in the little light that was left as the wind around Devil’s Tower fiercly whistled. Once we reached the east side of the rock formation, it went completely quiet. If we had been there at any other time, I’m not so sure we would have had the same eeiry experience. But there is no doubt that the place beckoned us to return soon as we headed out on our last stretch for the day to Rapid City. What an adventure it had been for the first day and there were seven days left to go.
Our Route on Days 1 & 2
View Driving Directions in a larger map