Growing up in the northeast, I’m used to a certain size of state. An 8 hour drive can take you through that many states or more. On my drives to Vermont I would regularly go through 3 or 4 states depending on traffic on the Tappan Zee. Texas is different. Granted if I drive east from Houston I can be in Louisiana in 2 hours (By the way the raised highway over the swamps between Texas and Louisiana is my favorite stretch of road in the US, and I have driven a LOT of road in the US. Route 10. Check it out.) Getting out in any other direction is a challenge though. To the south is an ocean and then Mexico, getting to Big Bend was a 9 hour drive. West is 10 and a half, north is 6-10 hours depending on which part of Oklahoma you’d like to explore. So road trips have been a commitment. Last summer I went west and hit the 4 corners area, which was an 8 hour starting drive to Palo Duro Canyon State and then up to the National Parks. This summer I’ll be going north. In my planning I was horrified to see that if I drove due north it would take 18:30 to hit my first National Park, the Badlands.
Like last year I’ll be stopping at a state park that I’ve never heard of but has a lot of potential to be highlight of the trip: Wilson State Park, Kansas. It’s about halfway to the Badlands, and once I get to South Dakota all of the National Parks are pretty close together. The general itinerary is as follows:
Houston, TX → Wilson State Park, KS → Badlands National Park, SD → Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD → Crazy Horse Memorial, SD → Devil’s Tower, WY → Shoshone National Forest, WY → Yellowstone National Park, WY → Bridger-Teton National Forest, WY → Grand Teton National Park, WY → Wind River Mountain Range, WY → Rocky Mountain National Park, CO → Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, CO → Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO → Guadalupe National Park, TX → The Alamo, TX → Houston, TX
The Sand Creek Massacre and Crazy Horse are both sites that I’m visiting in part because I want to be able to teach them better (and the Indian Wars are a historical topic that I personally find interesting and under covered in US History classes). I also haven’t driven through the Black Hills since I started teaching US History, and I’m looking forward to having a new perspective, having watched and taught using Aaron Huey’s TED Talk on the Lakota and Pine Ridge Reservation, which I highly recommend (here).
In terms of the camping I’m excited to try out a few new sleeping systems on this road trip. Last year I brought my UL 3 person tent which I love, but it had a run in with some barbed wire and I ended up sleeping in the car for most of the trip. This was fine, I can fit semi-comfortably, but there wasn’t really a breeze to speak of and it got pretty hot (Adventure Prius). I bought a single Big Agnes UL tent which was intended for my JMT hike which will not be happening (explained here) so I’ll be bringing that and tying it down securely. I also got a hammock for christmas and will actually be in some forested areas so I’ll try hammocking for the first time. In some cases I’ll be driving pretty late and staying in dispersed camping areas so I will once again be sleeping in the car. The only place I will under no circumstances be sleeping in the car is Yellowstone. I need redemption from when I was 13 and went on a road trip with my mom. In Yellowstone the picture at the ranger station to warn about bear activity showed a bear in our exact campsite. I’m ashamed to admit that I slept in the car and made my mom sleep in the tent. So now I’m going back to Yellowstone to sleep in a tent and once I’ve done that I will have no regrets in my life. Actually I also have to climb Mt. Washburn, I failed to reach the top on that same road trip. Lots of redemption for me this year.
If anyone has recommendations for hikes or food (especially breakfast places) en route I would love to hear them. I’m bringing a cooler full of food but nothing starts off the day like a fresh cup of coffee and a bear claw (or other pastry). Seriously I really love breakfast, oatmeal makes me sad, please help.