Yellowstone National Park -- one of the stops on the Wild West road trip.
Yellowstone National Park -- one of the stops on the Wild West road trip.

Indians fondly remember their train travels during childhood. Summer was the time when schools would be closed, and every kid would dream of going to a distant place, many would travel by train to their family homes.

Train travel in India has a similar kind of charm to road trips in the US. A vast, continental landmass that is well-connected with an intricate network of freeways, highways, and county roads, the country seems to be built for road trips. Train travel in India has a similar kind of charm to road trips in the US. The summer is here and I’m vaccinated — what better time to discover new places?

I had just finished reading the travel adventures of Ted Simon in his book Jupiter’s Travels when I decided I should plan my own road trip. I wanted a new adventure, as the world was gradually opening up after the pandemic, and become acquainted with the US western states — Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho. 

Every journey begins with a single step into the vastness of place and time — some known and lots of unknowns. I didn’t have the route entirely laid out and thought that it would be an adventure to leave a few things up to the serendipity. Also, I knew that I didn’t want to take the same route back. So with some light packing, hiking gears, lots of water, and some chutzpah, I set out to explore the wild west of America and make memories.

I set out from SF south bay and my first stop was going to be Winnemucca in central Nevada, an adventure hub and almost midway between SF and Salt Lake City. The highway I-80 has straight roads that are a pleasure to drive on, especially with wide, open spaces of rural Nevada decorating the highway.

After an overnight rest in the local hotel, I set out to explore the sand dunes the next morning. Driving through sand dunes and taking some breathtaking pictures was delightful and so was getting to know about the Basque culture in the area. I decided to explore Nevada more on my return journey and set forth on I-80 towards Utah.

Bonneville Salt Flats (Image by Author)

Right near the Utah-Nevada border, I was greeted with a vast expanse of white landscape that seemed dazzling from the distance. Upon checking, I realized it was the Bonneville Salt Flats, the second largest salt flat in the world after Bolivia.

Cottonwood, Utah

Reaching Salt Lake City in the evening, I was immediately struck by the dramatic setting of the city in the midst of mountains — Wasatch Range (which is the western end of the greater Rocky Mountains) was dominating the landscape. The mountains just seem to rise from the valley floor in a majestic way, enveloping the city around it in a panoramic fashion. After checking in at my hotel, I set out to explore the Ensign peak from where I heard the view of the city was stunning. And indeed, I was greeted with some marvelous views after a short hike. In the next couple of days, I explored Park City, Cottonwood Canyon drive, Antelope State Park known for the Great Salt Lake, and the satellite towns of Draper and Provo. I also had a fun time zip lining at Sundance mountain resort, which is apparently owned by Robert Redford, the Hollywood thespian.

After having my fill of Utah’s dramatic landscape, downtown nightlife (somewhat muted due to pandemic), and adventurous activities, I set out further north to explore the states of Wyoming and Montana. The immediate destination was Jackson Hole, that quintessential ‘wild west’ town with a mystique and charm of its own. As I drove through Wyoming’s undulating landscape passing myriads of small towns, ranches, and rodeo establishments, I felt excited to be taking in all the sights and sounds. The drive took me through the gorgeous Star Valley and across the scenic towns of Alpine and Afton. As I reached Jackson Hole in the late evening, my first impression of the place was that it was unabashedly charming, captivating, and seemingly distant at the same time.

The next day, I was off to explore the Grand Teton National Park. The Teton Range has a landscape that stirs the imagination, and just admiring it even from a distance seems uplifting and serene. The area has a lot of history around rock climbing, mountaineering, and ranching, which I gathered after making a jaunt to the Visitor Center. I couldn’t help but think that those who dare to climb the Tetons must be attracted to it by the spirit of mountaineering to take on the challenge, compelled by the opportunity to grow even in the face of adversity. The national park has several scenic outlooks, and I was especially captivated by the one near Jackson dam and the Snake River Overlook, made famous by Ansel Adams; it was one of the images included in Voyager 1 flight into Space in 1977. 

Next, I drove to Montana on my way to Yellowstone. After an overnight stop-over at Bozeman exploring the downtown and cool coffee shops, I headed on I-90 towards Livingston. From there, I passed through the scenic Paradise Valley, thoroughly enjoying my trip, and eventually entered Yellowstone National Park through its northwest gate. Little known fact: Yellowstone was the first national park (in the world). Many of us recall seeing the eye-catching, multi-hued pictures of its various springs and geysers including the Old Faithful. I had a gala time exploring the multiple geothermal features, canyons, lakes, and falls that the park contains within its boundaries. I even had a brush with its wildlife of bison and elks. I missed seeing any black bears though. 

Perrine Bridge over the Snake River Canyon.
Perrine Bridge over the Snake River Canyon.

After a couple of days, it was time to head to Idaho, making my first stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, to admire its lunar-like landscape consisting of lava flows and volcanoes. From there onwards, I headed to the town of Ketchum nestled in the Rocky Mountains, a well-known celebrity hotspot for its picturesque location and ski resorts. In addition, I got to explore the town of Twin Falls, the home of scenic Snake River Canyon and gorgeous Shoshone Falls (known as ‘Niagara of the West’). The Perrine Bridge crossing the canyon is known to attract base jumpers year-round for its dramatic nearly 500 ft drop. 

The journey was almost nearing its end and I entered back to Nevada from Idaho, merging onto I-80. Before traveling further west, I decided to spend a day exploring the city of Elko, NV. Elko is fascinating — a place where gold country, cowboy country, and Basque culture collide, creating a distinct mix. I also drove to Ruby Mountain to explore the very scenic Lamoille Canyon.

I took Hwy 50, dubbed ‘the loneliest road in America’, to make a jaunt to the Burning man venue Black Rock City. I entered California the same evening, making a night-stay at the picturesque Downieville area, and drove back home the next day.

It was an amazing trip overall, to say the least, and I got to enjoy nature, wilderness, and long drives, satiating my adventurous spirit. Driving in the wilderness, surrounded by picturesque landscape, almost felt like watching a grand theatrical performance in an open amphitheater where the sights, sounds, color, and smell changed every minute. And unlike watching theatre, driving in a panoramic setting demands active involvement in the scene and you are in control of the story! During this trip, I found myself driving during early morning hours or evening twilight hours when the drives are really memorable for the way the sun rays would play on the countryside vistas.

Sunrise (or twilight), open countryside road, blaring music and coffee – isn’t that the romance of life?

Lalit Kumar works in the Technology sector but retains an artist’s heart. He likes to read and write poetry, apart from indulging in outdoor activities & adventure sports. Recently, he started curating famous works of poetry (and occasionally his own).

Lalit Kumar works in the Bay Area's tech sector and enjoys writing prose and poetry. He published “Years Spent : Exploring Poetry in Adventure, Life and Love” in April 2022. Contact Lalit on Instagram...