Four States, One Day: From Colorado to South Dakota

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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.

COMMENTS
  • June 8, 2011
    Ris

    Fun story about Cabela’s: my high school boyfriend was/is HUGE into the outdoors (hunting/fishing/hiking) and during his freshman year at Iowa State he actually drove to Nebraska just to visit that Cabela’s. Luckily we now have one right outside of Austin and a cross-country drive is no longer necessary.

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Ahhhh really? Another reason to come to Austin! I love that store. Since I packed totally wrong for this crazy weather, I was able to buy several North Face and Columbia vests and hoodies for $35 each! Didn’t know you could buy anything from either brand for so cheap.

  • June 8, 2011

    Your post is up on June’s Uniquely Your City!

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, Rose!

  • June 8, 2011
    k

    We have a Cabella’s between Seattle and Portland and I have definitely made a few pitstops there. Last purchase was a pie iron, which I absolutely love for camping trips (my favorite is making pizza sandwiches with it). I’ve driven all the way across Nebraska in one day (from the middle of Illinois, through Iowa, then Nebraska and into Wyoming – whew!) and I agree – a lot of nothing! Although I did think it was interestingly pretty.

    Are you doing any of the driving – or only your hubby? One my last whirlwind trip across the country (I had to get back to start grad school, so we made it from NY to Seattle in 3-1/2 days), my dad and I did 3 hour shifts, but I always ended up with the last shift. We were driving through Nebraska, due west, and because the state is so damn flat, I was totally blinded by the setting sun. I had to position myself behind a truck (probably right in its blind spot) just so I could see where I was going!

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      I think our next camping purchase will be a crepe maker! Do they even make portable versions? No bother, I’d be willing to haul around a full-sized one if it meant I could have Nutella and banana crepes while on the road!

      And Scott has been driving 99% of the time. He taught me how to steer the trailer, but so far I’ve only driven twice in Yellowstone and once in South Dakota. I’ve offered, but he likes being behind the will, so I’ll let him have it =)

  • June 8, 2011

    I get claustrophobic driving across Nebraska. All that open space and the enormous sky without a mountain or hill building or tree to hold it all up gives me anxiety and I feel like the world is collapsing around me. (Rocky Mountain-bred, much?)

    xox

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      I totally know what you mean! I feel claustrophobic, too, in San Francisco when the fog is too heavy and I can hardly see my surroundings.

  • June 8, 2011

    Oh my god, you just gave me a terrible flashback with that Wyoming sign. Sean and I both CLIMBED it upon our arrival in Wyoming and were picking splinters out of our skin for days. In fact, I can STILL feel them if I concentrate hard enough. On the upside, we have some great pictures of both of us shimmying up the outside, hanging on for dear life.

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      HAAAA. Oh my God, I have such a mental image of that right now. What on Earth possessed you two to CLIMB a state sign?? On second thought, maybe I’m better off not knowing!

  • June 8, 2011

    wyoming is in fact the windiest state in the US (or so i was once told). i lost my tent there once – it just blew away. but it’s gorgeous. western south dakota too. nebraska leaves a little to be desired but they do have a state capital building called “the penis of the prairie”…seriously, how do you beat that? happy travels!

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Haaaaaa. that name is awesome. I can definitely believe your tent flew off after having spent the past two weeks driving through South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. And I thought the tornado winds we got in the South were wacky!

  • June 8, 2011
    Abby

    Have you visited Maine on your quest to visit all 50 states? If not, I could give you a couple suggestions for some fun things to do… and we have a Cabela’s (and an L.L. Bean!!!)

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Abby, I have indeed! I visited Portland a few years ago with my best friend, Lemon. We had a wonderful time! We definitely cleaned out the L.L. Bean store, as well as the outlets nearby! I’ll be passing through that way on a cruise with my family next month and we have a day stopover in Bar Harbor. Any suggestions? We were thinking of just renting a car and heading to Acadia.

      (My two remaining states are Idaho, which we’ll be visiting next week, and Iowa, which I’ll be passing through in August.)

  • June 8, 2011
    SVV

    Thanks for that honey. 🙂

  • June 8, 2011

    I love the fact that even though you have a knack for attracting bad traveling luck, both you and SVV manage to keep a sense of humor. I think it’s one of the reasons you guys are able to do something as asinine as take an epic road trip in a camper without ending up dead or divorced.

    Also, I love pictures of Ella running. She looks like Bartok, the bat from Anastasia.

    • June 8, 2011
      Kristin

      We try to take all of our–er, my–bad luck with a grain of salt and laugh it off, but today, Day #26, when it started pouring rain and dropped to 35 degrees (with snow predicted for tomorrow, AGAIN), I about lost it. Then again, the Jackson Hole Rodeo tonight is still a go, rain or snow or shine, so there’s that if we’re looking on the bright side! =)

  • June 8, 2011

    That gif has just made my entire week!
    🙂

    • June 9, 2011
      Kristin

      I was wondering when someone would reference the GIF =)

  • June 9, 2011

    You guys are covering a LOT of ground fast. I love the photo of your dog flying through the air in the tall grass.

    • June 9, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes, it definitely feels that way! It’s because all the places we want to go are soooo far apart. But then we’ll drive a really long way and stay in one place a week (we’ve been in Yellowstone/Grand Tetons for a week now!).

  • June 9, 2011
    Shannon

    hey hey! Thanks for stopping by our little slice of the Front Range. Was great to see you again and meet scott and ella. Arlo and Lobo were both so bummed when she left. Enjoy the road. See you next time!

    • June 9, 2011
      Kristin

      You guys were great hosts, and I’m so glad I finally got to meet Emily and your other fur baby! And I’m happy Arlo’s still around and kicking (and chasing younger women at that) =)

  • June 9, 2011

    Wow you covered so much ground in 1 day, I’m impressed!!!

  • June 9, 2011
    Marisol

    Oh no! Bummed about all the rain you experienced while in Boulder. Chataqua would’ve been great for you all. Guess you’ll have to plan a return. 🙂

  • June 9, 2011

    The flying pup photo is so much fun! Love it.

  • June 9, 2011

    Those amazing photos are making me want to road trip it up…and I get car sick. Hahaha!

    • June 9, 2011
      Kristin

      Kristin, I too get carsick/seasick/motion sick all the time, and I’ve been fine this entire trip! Funny enough, Ella the pup vomits regularly from carsickness while just driving around San Francisco, and she’s also been 100% fine the whole four weeks we’ve been gone. Meaning, come out West–it’ll cure your carsickness in no time flat! =)

  • June 10, 2011

    And I thought my hubby and I were crazy, that is a whole lot of driving! Glad you made it and I love those long days as well!

    • June 10, 2011
      Kristin

      And we still have two weeks and two days left!

  • July 13, 2014

    Omfg, thank you so much for posting this! It is going to help me when I am thinking about going to Lyric Cinema Cafe in Fort Wayne! I am from Ottawa so I am not familiar with Fort Collins. Next time I see my family will be so much better! Cool!

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