All summer my roommates Graham, Lina and I had been planning to drive up to Glacier National Park for an end of season photo road trip. As our intended dates grew closer the fires in Montana grew larger. So the night before we were supposed to leave for Northern Montana, we put together a road trip that would take is over 1,650 miles through Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Mesa National Forest, Arches National Park and Moab and finally through the High Uintas Wilderness of eastern Utah.
We spent our first night camping in the raina couple hours south of Jackson, just outside Pinedale, WY and from there set out to Colorado. Thanks to @roundtheworldgirl for the site recommendation!
Rocky Mountain National Park
RMNP is a land of extremes. From deep valleys to a paved road that runs as high as 12,050 feet, this park has everything a mountain lover could want.
We didn't get a lot of time here as it was the first stop on our trip and came at the end of our longest travel day of the trip. We got into camp (easily the most crowded campsite I've ever stayed at) around 7pm under big clouds and scattered showers. We set up camp and drove up to the ranger station near the top of of the park and hiked up to a 12,000 foot elevation sign. In a small canyon below us there was a small heard of 20 or so elk bugling and sparring as the light faded away. We made our way back down the steep mountain drive to our camp site and cooked dinner.
The next day we drove across the entire Trail Ridge Road, which in many places is terrifyingly beautiful. After crossing one of the most amazing roads I've been on and some of the most powerful winds I've felt we made it down to the Dream Lake trail head and hustled the just over 1 mile hike to the lake. We didn't get a chance to really explore much of this park, but now that I've gotten the lay of the land, I'll certianly be back.
Grand mesa national forest
Grand Mesa, Colorado is the largest flat top mesa in the world. So large in fact, the top is home to an entire national forest full of lakes, camp ground, cross country ski areas and more. Towering over 11,000 feet - and rising 6,000 feet above the Colorado River valley that is home to Grand Junction, Parachute and Rifle, CO - we fell asleep under the stars and woke up under a light blanket of snow.
It was in the 40s when we got to our site and near dark. We had rain and snow storms following us nearly our entire trip and were pretty happy to be out of the downpour at our campfire for the first time in our 3 nights of the trip. Burgers and beers over the campfire rounded out our night at the highest elevation I've camped at yet.
Arches national park
Other than driving through the middle of Nevada, I'd never really been to the desert before. I've always referred to myself as a 'mountain person' but holy shit was this place amazing. The color of the sand and rocks is unlike anything you'll see outside of the heart of a desert. These were especially fun photos to edit.
The craziest part of our Arches adventure was a night hike out to Delicate Arch. The trail can be a little hard to follow in the dark to make sure you have a bright headlight and an additional flashlight on hand. When we got to the arch itself we found ourselves next to some foreign tourists, who didn't seem to much appreciate us joining them at one of the most popular photo sites in the country. It's strange exploring a place at night in pure darkness and not really having any idea of context of the surrounding area. We drove back past the trail head the next morning to learn that we could actually see Delicate Arch from the parking lot! A view I never would have expected to see based off the feeling of the night hike.
Arches is a small park, with one road and a number of parking lots, but I cannot recommend it enough. The town of Moab is about 10 minutes from the park entrance and has a low-key hippie vibe you'd expect to find in Santa Cruz or Humboldt, California.
High uintas winderness
I'd never been to the mountains behind Salt Lake City before. So on a trip of firsts, we camped in the national forest about an hour outside of the city. After we had set up camp, we realized we were on open range, which are large areas of land where cattle graze and roam freely. We heard a neighboring camper arguing with what we thought was one or two cows who had wondered into his site. Once the cows moved in towards our site, we realized there were more like 20 cows than two. Graham spent 10 or 15 minutes yelling at and herding the cows away from out site. Once darkness set in, we realized it wouldn't be our only animal encounter that night.
Just before darkness, as we were unloading dinner supplies from the van, we realized a small ground squirrel had made it's way into our van and frantically jumped around looking for a way out once we'd made it clear we were onto him. About 30 minutes after he'd run off, he returned and tried to jump back up the back of the closed van. The problem was, of course, the van has a smooth surface that his little claws cannot attach to and we spent the next 45 minutes crying with laughter as he jumped over, and over, and over and over and over again, in a world class display of determination.
The next morning we drove up to Wyoming through the rest of this incredible mountain range. If you get the chance, get out the Uintas.