After our lovely, relaxing two nights at Sorrel River Ranch—a visit that concluded a full nine days in Utah—it was time to hit the road for another long stint of driving. So many of the destinations we really wanted to hit this trip unfortunately lie thousands of miles apart. Utah was a high priority as it was a place I’d once visited and loved, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say we felt like our trip really began when we hit Montana. And if we were going to go as far as Montana, why not squeeze in visits to the Dakotas since neither of us had ever been and one of us (ahem, me) will complete a lifelong goal of visiting the 50 states later this summer?
But first, we had to actually get to South Dakota, no quick or easy feat from Utah. Seeing as Rapid City is a solid 738 miles from Moab—and we would prefer to stay together long enough to see our second wedding anniversary—we decided to break up the drive a bit (towing a trailer takes double the time, at the very least, as driving by car does) and pad it with a couple days in Boulder. While this still meant a looooong day of driving ahead, it was one of the prettiest stretches of this country we’ve experienced thus far; the interstate hugged the Colorado River and snaked its way in and out of the Rocky Mountains.
I’ve had this lingering love affair with Colorado since I first visited when I was 12 years old. My family—the four of us, plus my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and my three (favorite) cousins—spent a week at a Young Life family camp, Trail West, outside of Fort Collins. I guess I’ve always been accustomed to long road trips, as we made that drive out from Tennessee by van—a 1,300-mile route, one way, if you were to drive it in a straight shot—and made some serious detours to stop at pretty much every monument, no matter how big or small, and Native American site of interest (to my mom) en route. But it was Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods that really captured my fancy. From then on out, I would tell anyone who listened that when I was old enough to make my own decisions, I would relocate to Colorado.
That never happened, alas, but at least I made my way in that general direction when I moved to California three-and-a-half years ago. While we had visited Denver and spent a few days the Rockies in March skiing, I’d still never been to Boulder. An old friend from my days on the ranch is now one of the top editors at Backpacker magazine, which is headquartered in Colorado’s most artistic city, so we made our base nearby in Longmont for two nights. We had a lovely cookout in his backyard with his beautiful wife and their two dogs, Arlo and LoBo, whom Ella just adored (if butt-sniffing is any indicator, the feelings were mutual). But sadly, Mother Nature did not want us to see Boulder, as she poured her wrath down on us the following day. And then again the next. Since the rain prohibited us from taking pictures in Boulder, here’s a GIF of SVV doing the robot instead:
So, having seen little of Boulder beyond a stroll down Pearl Street, in which we darted in and out of storefronts avoiding the sporadic rain showers, we left Colorado planning to stop somewhere along the way for the night, as we still didn’t think driving all the way to Rapid City in a single afternoon was achievable.
Mother Nature struck again. While the sun was out—finally!—and the skies were a brilliant shade of blue, appearances can be deceiving. We reached the Wyoming border to find the nastiest of winds, winds so powerful I’ve never seen anything like them (and I come from the storm-riddled South), at least nothing outside of my television while watching The Wizard of Oz. In fact, many of the roads around Cheyenne were even closed to vehicles towing light trailers like ours.
But again, road tripping is all about adaptability, so instead of taking I-25 up through Wyoming, we changed directions entirely and drove due east on I-80, which put us right in the heart of Nebraska. Now, even Nebraskans will tell you (as they did me, via Twitter…all three of them) that there’s not a whole lot going on in the western half of their grassy state. Sure, there’s the home of Kool-Aid and the world’s largest ball of postcard stamps and even the fact that the state spawned every high school slacker’s savior, Cliffsnotes, but none of that was of use to us way over on the other side of the state in Sidney. What Sidney did have, though, was an RV car wash (we cleaned up after all the snow and national park grime we were carrying around), a Subway (eat fresh), a Dairy Queen (my first Blizzard in years!…OK, year), and an awesome outdoor chain called Cabela’s—all just off I-80 in Sidney. We killed three hours more than we intended to at that exit, then got back to driving.
From there, we went northbound through miles and miles of sand hills—all which looked all too similar to the next—looking for a campground where we could pull over and call it a night. In fact, I think this photo pretty accurately sums up a good portion of Nebraska:
There were often 60-mile stretches—maybe more—when we didn’t see a single other car. It was a bit eerie, especially given that we were traveling through around 5pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend (Memorial Day) and also that we had no cell service. I’ve seen far too many horror movies go down in a similar fashion. We drove and drove and drove some more, searching for these awesome looking national grasslands that were highlighted on our map—to no avail—and just like that, before we knew it, we’d reached the South Dakota border with nary a place to park our trailer. So we got out right on the border, and let the pup frolic in the luscious grass before we carried on any further.
She rather liked Nebraska, I’d say.
She told me it was her second favorite stop after Rapid City and its geese residents.
Luckily, South Dakota is rife with campgrounds; we were barely over the border before we started seeing signs for RV parks every couple of miles. And so, although it wasn’t our intention, we managed to traverse four states—Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota—in one day and still arrive on the fringe of by nightfall (gotta love the 9:30pm sunset in the northern states). And to think, most people only assume that’s a feat achievable in the Northeast.