Mindfulness and the Open Road

Who wants to go on a road trip?

I love going for drives, I absolutely LOVE them.  I love lengthy road trips too (as anyone that’s followed this blog for a while should know) but I also love just simple drives around the countryside.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of peace and freedom that comes from the open road.  

I enjoy drives by myself on winding roads (just me and my Honda, dancing through turns).  I also enjoy them with Mr. Trekker, my trusty side-kick, and usually, the primary driver.  He’s probably one of the only people I can stand being stuck in a car with for days on end. 😁 (This is another good sign to watch for if you’re considering marrying someone.  The question isn’t just can you tolerate, but do you actually enjoy lengthy car rides with your significant other? 😁 )  

Can you inherit wanderlust?

I maintain it’s not my fault that I have this crazy obsession with the open road, it’s in my genes.  I seem to have inherited my maternal grandfather’s wanderlust.  He used to love to “go for a drive”.  Oftentimes, he’d invite us grandkids along (it didn’t hurt that this usually meant there was a Wendy’s frosty in your future if you went 😉).  I can remember my grandma asking him, “why are you going this way?”  His response was always, “I already went the other way!” (Duh! 😉)  I firmly endorse this statement!

Mr. Trekker even knows if he’s driving us somewhere, we can’t go the same way twice.  Why would we go home the way we came, we already saw that stuff today?! 😝

Can wanderlust be taught?

I don’t think this desire is all Nature though, I blame Nurture, as well.  I went on numerous road trips throughout my childhood, with both my parents and grandparents.  I rode along with my paternal grandparents, one year when they returned to their home in Kansas after a visit to Indiana.  I also rode to Florida for family vacations several times as a child.  I even helped my maternal grandparents drive there on a few occasions, as I got older and they started wintering in the warmer climate.  My parents and I also took numerous trips to New England over the years, to visit family.

As it turns out, there were times Mr. Trekker and I may have been quite near each other, throughout our childhood, as he grew up near where the family we were visiting lived–we didn’t actually meet until college though.  He also shares my love of road trips, probably due, in no small part, to the highway adventures he enjoyed while growing up.  His parents took him throughout New England, as well as to countless Civil War battlefields up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

A dirt road climbs a green mountainside

Songs about the Open Road

There are a few songs that well relate my love of the open road (click on the link on each title to hear the full song):

In “Take a Back Road”, by Rodney Atkins, the lyrics state:

…Gotta get outta here, get it all off my mind
And it makes me wanna take a back road
Makes me wanna take the long way home
Put a little gravel in my travel…

These lyrics speak to me because there are times when I feel like I need to escape from the stress of daily life.

…Tear down some two-lane country who knows?
Get lost and get right with my soul…

We shouldn’t be afraid to go the long way through the countryside, things seem to fall back into balance after spending a little time on the open road.

I’ve been cooped up, tied down ‘bout forgotten
What a field looks like full of corn and cotton…
…I need the curvin’, windin’, twistin’ dusty path to nowhere…

I, personally, could never forget the sight of a field.  I grew up surrounded by them (and still live by the prairie).  But that isn’t the case for everyone.  A lot of people are constantly surrounded by a concrete jungle.  I think this separation between us and our evolutionary roots with the natural world causes angst for people.  Getting out on the open road helps us get back in touch with those roots.

A dirt road leads across the prairie with mountains in the distance.
In “Backroad”, by Granger Smith, the lyrics state:

Barbed wire fence carving out a hillside, cutting holes in the midday sun
Like a postcard framed in a windshield covered in dust
I love the rhythm of an old grey blacktop
Steer the wheel, one-handed on a two-lane, hugging that line
I got the windows down, no one else around singin’…

I used to be incredibly outgoing and extroverted.  I would get re-energized just by being around other people.  These days, I’m still outgoing, but more and more, I prefer quiet and solitude.  Mr. Trekker and I can spend several days in the wilderness, with just each other, the pup, birds, deer, moose, and maybe a bear for company.  We head into “town”–that can mean very different things in different parts of the country–to restock on supplies and get a shower, and within a day we’re both ready to get back to the solitude again.  These days, I get exhausted being around people all the time.

**Working from home the last several years probably doesn’t help my newfound introverted side much.  I spend more time alone (or with just the dog) now than I ever used to, which I am PERFECTLY happy about, mind you.  I have actually found, now that I’m not around people as much, my patience for them (in parking lots, while driving, in stores) has actually increased.  It’s like less exposure to people increases my tolerance level for them! 😂 

We hope to someday get property in the Hills.  Maybe we’ll live close enough to our neighbors so that we can actually see their house from ours…maybe. 😝  We currently live in town, but at least in the summer, our backyard is walled in by green trees, shrubs, and bushes.  I can at least pretend I’m alone.  I see pictures of other neighborhoods where the houses are closer together, or the properties aren’t separated by barriers.  Or I see pictures in large cities where big buildings block out the sky unless you’re looking straight up.  These images just make me cringe!  They get my anxious heart pumping!  I need room to breathe, ya’ll! (Again, not really my fault.  I grew up as a farm girl in Indiana, it only makes sense that I love wide open spaces.) 😁

Granger Smith goes on to say:

Freedom is the miles I’m rollin’ on…
…I feel the wheel like a melody, like a radio dialing in strong
The breeze smells like a summertime hay field’s just been cut
I got the windows down, way out of town singing…

There is freedom on the open road (and the smell of fresh-cut hay is DEVINE!)  Don’t just take my word for it.  There have been some famous people who have shared my love of it too.  John Steinbeck, for example, in his book “Travels with Charlie” (his poodle) comes to mind.  In that account, he and Charley enjoy a country-spanning road trip, sleeping out of his truck camper.

A dirt road runs through a dry landscape covered in scrubbrush, leading to some trees, with mountains in the background.
Another song that reflects my love for the open road is “My Church”, by Maren Morris.  The lyrics of that song state:

…I find holy redemption
When I put this car in drive
Roll the windows down and turn up the dial
Can I get a hallelujah
Can I get an amen
Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya…
…I find my soul revival…
…Yeah, I guess that’s my church…
…When this wonderful world gets heavy
And I need to find my escape

I just keep the wheel rolling, radio scrolling
‘Til my sins wash away

I get this sentiment. I feel the same way about the open road.   I feel refreshed and stimulated when I’m out there.  It’s almost a spiritual experience or a spiritual renewal of sorts.  I feel so much more relaxed after a good, long drive. It’s like I can breathe again, like I’ve been rejuvenated.

**This is partially why I love being out in nature so much.  It’s quiet, it’s natural, it’s solitude, it’s peaceful.  You gotta respect it because it can kill you, 😳 but it can also refresh you in a way nothing artificial can.  Nature and wide-open vistas are my Xanax!  

Oddly enough, I don’t love the Plains because they are too wide open.  It’s a bit overwhelming.  I love the mountains, but I couldn’t live in them, either.  For one thing, the weather can be too extreme.  For another, they block the view!  I prefer to live in the foothills, they are an almost “Goldilocks”-type region.  You get to experience the best of both worlds.  The flatter land that leads up to the base of the mountains is open, so you feel like you can breathe, but it doesn’t continue on endlessly.  It is reigned in by the rocks (and you can also enjoy mountain views, as well).  You also benefit from the protection the monoliths provide from the worst of the weather, and lower altitudes usually also offer more mild weather.

A dirt road travels through a grassy area into some trees, with rocky, tree-covered mountains in the background.

I love taking my car on the winding back roads.  It’s fun to drive and it makes you feel like you’re one with the land, it’s like you can finally relax. I LOVE the smells of the country, yes, even “those” smells.  Manure is natural too kids! 😉

Below are some more pictures of our travels on the open road.  Don’t they just make you feel like you can breathe?:

An empty, paved road travels the prairie with mountains in the background.

A dirt path through a field of wildflowers with mountains in the background

An empty, paved road winds through the hazy mountainsAn empty, paved road rides over tree and grass-covered hills

An empty, paved road winds through towering mountains

A dirt path crests a hill, with mountains in the background

A snowy landscape and a long, railroad bridge over the ice-covered Missouri River

So, the next time you get the chance, don’t be afraid to get out there and enjoy your own back roads a little!

Do you enjoy long drives in the country?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Do you love long drives on country roads? In this post, I explain my love of the open road and why I find long drives to be so rejuvenating.

Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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An Amazing Southeastern US Road Trip

I review our Thanksgiving road trip to Florida, and discuss thoughts I often have on the open road, and why I enjoy lengthy road trips so much!

On an amazing, southeastern road trip over Thanksgiving 2018, the Trekkers experienced 9 days, 13 states, 4,433 miles, 1 snowstorm, 3 seasons and numerous ecosystems.  We were invited to spend the holiday in Florida, with family.  Neither Mr. Trekker, nor I, had been there in the last decade, and we realized we’d never visited together.  We also figured out a route that allowed us, both, to check off another item on both of our “bucket lists”…after this trip, both Mr. Trekker and I have visited all 48 of the continental US states!  {Note: the Trekkers are currently accepting donations to fund trips to States #49 and #50…} 😉

Oil Refineries, Route 66 and the Ozarks!

We enjoyed some unique experiences on this trip:

–We saw oil refineries that twinkle across the bays as they hug the coast.  I prefer green energy, but, there’s a certain beauty connected with these structures (at least at night).  They remind me of the old, steel factories you see in Gary, Indiana, near where I grew up.  There, an eerie, orange glow emanates from them and the reflection glitters on nearby Lake Michigan.  In Louisiana, the bays of the Gulf of Mexico proffer a similar effect.


Some of the refineries are HUGE!


–We drove another portion of Route 66!  I had forgotten it runs through Missouri until we stumbled on it while surveying the map.  We had last seen that route on a trip through New Mexico in 2017.



–I was also able to experience the beauty of the Ozarks for the first time (Mr. Trekker had been there before.)  I had no idea how lovely the majority of Missouri and western Arkansas are with their rolling farmlands and forested hills.  Fall also runs a little later in those states, so we got to enjoy the foliage as well! (Note to the Missouri Department of Transportation, your snow management on your highways could use some work. 😝)

–We experienced multiple seasons on this trip.  When we left South Dakota it was 15 degrees out!  We enjoyed fall colors in the Ozarks and through beautiful, northern Georgia.  Then, at the end of the weekend, we fast-tracked it back to South Dakota to outrun the impending, winter storm that was bearing down on the lower midwest.  😳

THIS is why we drive rather than fly (this, the TSA and the fact that I hate those cramped machines! 😉) 

I’m not afraid of flying, per se, it’s the crashing-to-a-fiery-death-in-a-cramped-metal-tube-from-30,000-feet-up that scares me. 😝

Cross-country travel in a car also allows you to truly experience the varying landscapes and cultures that are present throughout our wonderful country. In addition to the US being a “melting-pot” of various people and religious identities, it showcases a cornucopia of landscapes as well.  On every road trip we take I’m always amazed at the various scenes and inhabitants we encounter.  

Things you’ll notice when you visit the “Lower 48”: 

The South

This region is characterized by cotton fields, salt marshes and flat, coastal plains.  Comprising a portion of the “Bible Belt”, folks here are friendly, though they’re often quick to spot that, “ya’ll ain’t from around here are ya?” 😉

The Northeast/New England

Highlighted by rolling, hilly, farmland, heavily forested mountains and flat, coastal plain; many think of this region as sporting “city-folk” with fast-paced lifestyles.  There’s plenty of “country folk” outside the urban centers who may disagree with that assessment, though.

The Midwest and Great Plains

This area is comprised mostly of flat farmland.  Many think of it as boring, flyover country.  It may not be as exciting as other regions, but this area has a unique beauty of its own.  Being that I grew up there, its charmingly simple way of life will always hold a piece of my heart.  And you can’t beat their sunsets over the “amber waves of grain” (and cornfields). 😉  The folks who live here, residing fully in the ‘Bible Belt”, are known for their friendliness (and tornadoes!  It’s THE place to be, in the country, for storm chasing! 🌪) 

The West

I would define the borders of this area as the country west of the Missouri River (excluding the West Coast) and north of the Desert Southwest.  In my personal opinion, you can’t beat the beauty of the craggy mountains that are found here.  They don’t call this area “God’s Country” for nothing.  

In my experience, some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered live in the rural West.  This is an interesting contrast to, what can be, a difficult life. Living in the West is a whole other ballgame.  The land is rugged, the weather is harsh, and its residents have to be tough.  It’s a place that, even in the 21st Century, has to be survived.  Maybe this fosters kinship among those who choose to brave its challenges?  Here, the weather and nature–both flora and fauna, can, quite literally, kill you.  But the people who call this, immensely beautiful and often desolate place, “home”, won’t make you regret a visit.

The West Coast (ie: the western halves of the West Coast states)

It’s amazing how different the various sides of these states can be!  The eastern halves of Washington, Oregon, and California are comprised of more rural, scrub and farmland, and the people trend toward a more conservative ideology.  The western halves of these states are flatter, far wetter, coastal plains; sometimes ranging to a temperate, rainforest climate.  The people who reside there are usually categorized as metropolitan.  I was, pleasantly surprised, though, by the light-hearted lifestyle of the LA area.  

Texas/the Desert Southwest

This is the one area I can’t speak much to, as we haven’t spent enough time there for me to get a feel of it (a problem we’re hoping to correct). 🤞  I do know it’s hot and dry, though.  😅

The statements above are just generalizations, of course.  As we’ve traveled around the country, I’m always amazed how cultures vary within these local regions, as well.   As you traverse the states, rural areas are usually more conservative, and the larger cities tend to trend more liberal.  The change from urban to rural can be stark and often occurs quite quickly.  Many living in the rural areas of Illinois, Virginia or New York may not feel they have much in common with their counterparts living in the DC suburbs, Chicago or New York City.  “Transplants”, people who move from places like NYC to more conservative states, like North Carolina (and others), make those places a melting pot of cultures and ideologies within their own right.  One place we visited several years ago was the small town of Willits, in northern California.  It was one of the first places we’d visited in the state, and I was surprised how charming and “Midwestern” it felt.  

Let’s embrace our similarities!

What am I trying to get at here?  The bottom line is, none of that sh*t really matters.  I think we often forget that we’re all in this together.  We all vary, but we all share similarities as well.  Often times, those similarities aren’t categorized by skin color, religion, politics, etc.  Regardless of where we live, what church–or synagogue, or mosque, or temple–we attend (or don’t); who we vote for, or who our favorite sports team is, we’re all human. We all live in the same, magnificent country.  I firmly believe, we’re all, for the most part, good people (one generalization we all share).  As our country remains divided on numerous issues politically, religiously, racially, culturally, I think it’s important to keep this fact in mind.   THIS is what makes road trips so enjoyable!  I LOVE traveling the country, and experiencing how much we all have in common!

The late chef and world-traveler, Anthony Bordain, felt food bonded us, that our connection with it could bridge divides between cultures, religions, politics, etc.  I think we need to seek out other “bridges” like this as well.   Whether that be a common love (or hatred? 😳) for a specific sports team, a love of the outdoors, whatever.  I don’t care if you voted for Trump or Hillary (or neither); if you cheer for the Yankees or Red Sox; if you say “pop” or “soda”.  


Those things aren’t important in the long run.  What is important, and what we need to focus on, are the commonalities we all share.  We need to seek out the things that unite us, not those that divide us.  During this season of Thankfulness we need to realize how blessed we ALL are to live in this incredible, messy, complicated place.  We’re all stuck on this big, beautiful, blue ball, hurtling through the dark, cold, emptiness of space.  We’re all in this together, so let’s make the most of it, be kind and try to get along, yeah?  🤠  

See below for some more pics from our cross-country adventure! (Thanks, as usual, to Mr. Trekker for some of these):

Is it just me…
…or does this bird look like Bernie Sanders?  😳
I love the moss!
State #48 for the Trekkers!
The lowest altitude we reached on the trip. You can see my foot is in the Gulf of Mexico if you look in the lower left corner…
…contrast that with the highest altitude we reached on our road trip this summer, at the top of Independence Pass, in Colorado!
“I got my toes in the water…”


Florida Beaches:


Beach Trekkers!


Goodnight Florida!


What have you learned from traveling around the country (or world)?  Let me know in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Do you love road trips? In this post I review our Thanksgiving 2018 trip to Florida, and what I've learned traveling around all of the Lower 48 states!

Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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Car Altimeter and Sun Shower Review

I review one of my favorite gear items (a car altimeter), as well as a piece of gear no long-term camping trip should be without (a sun shower!)

The car altimeter and sun shower are two items the Trekkers use fairly regularly when car camping/traveling.  Neither are must-have’s, per se, but they make the trip more comfortable and more fun!

What is a Sun Shower?

A sun shower is simply a reusable, robust, vinyl bag and tube, with a spout and black backing, that you fill with water and leave out in the sun–it looks like a giant water bladder.  When you return to camp after a day on the trail, you have warm water and a spigot you can wash with.  The device is gravity-powered, so you’ll need to keep this in mind when you’re picking a spot to hang it.  

There are various brands and versions of this apparatus, this specific one holds four gallons of water.  We’ve found this system works well even to just rinse off, or to have hanging around camp to use to help keeps hands and feet clean. (We have found this setup also works well to make sure your fire is out at the end of the evening as you can direct the water more easily than using a bucket).

What is a car altimeter?

The car altimeter indicates the elevation you’re currently residing at.  This may not be a necessary piece of gear for the average hiker, but it’s fun on a road trip to see just how high (or low) of an altitude you’ve achieved.  It’s also one of my favorite gear items, even though it isn’t, usually, essential to regular hikers (those venturing to the truly high altitudes–10,000+ feet–may find it more useful.)

The device responds to changes in barometric pressure caused by weather, as well, so you may have to recalibrate it a little, each day, to maintain the most accurate readings.  

Other versions of this instrument are digital, but I like the classic feel of the dial.  For amateur interest, this is a fun, portable, way to keep track of changes in elevation.  It also mounts to the vehicle using velcro, so it can be easily removed and taken on a hike if you’re so inclined. 

Below is a close-up picture of the altimeter:


So, if you’re wanting to maintain a higher level of hygiene on your next camping trip, or you want to know exactly why you’re breathing a little harder on the mountain top you’re currently standing on 😳, check into these devices!

Have you used either of these products?  What were your experiences?  Tell me about them in the comments!

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I review one of my favorite gear items, a car altimeter, as well as a a sun shower (something no camping trip should be without!)


Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota

I review a trip we took to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.

On a quick trip to the east side of our large state, to enjoy a Metallica concert (the pyrotechnics weren’t tranquil but they were VERY cool!*) we were able to knock another item off my South Dakota bucket list.  We visited the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota!  I have to say, while I was expecting something a bit campy and hickish, it was actually pretty cool. 😁

*A note on heavy metal concerts, they wouldn’t appear to be “tranquil” at first glance.  However, I find them to be almost meditative…in a sense.  As long as you aren’t being jostled too much by the screaming throngs 😳, the blaring music envelops you and blocks out your other senses.  If you close your eyes and let the music take you, it’s almost like being underwater.  I find the sensation of sensory deprivation to be calming.  It’s like you’re floating, in a sea of sound, gently drifting on the sonic waves.        

Is the Corn Palace really made of corn?

The Corn Palace was originally constructed in the 1890s to help draw people to the tiny town of Mitchell, SD.  It was built in response to other, similar sites that were cropping up (no pun intended) around the Midwest.  It has showcased stars ranging from Arlo Guthrie to Brittany Spears!  

To clear up any confusion, it’s not actually constructed entirely of corn.  Apparently, the original palace was fabricated with more corn but was also a haven to rats and not very warm during the–many–cold months on the northern prairie.  It’s been rebuilt several times, but, it’s a typical steel and wood building with walls that are covered in variously-colored corn cobs and husks on the outside in designs that change each year (for 2018 the walls celebrated South Dakota weather, much to the delight of the meteorologist, Mr. Trekker).

I thought this depiction of a tornado was so cool! (You can see that they’re in the progress of transitioning the mural into the next year’s design.)    

What is the Corn Palace like on the inside?

When you first enter it, it looks like the lobby of your typical high school (or small, college) gym.  That then opens into a larger gymnasium/auditorium area where some local college/high school teams play.  The scene took me back to my country roots.  The gymnasium reminded me of the one I spent many a Friday night in during my high school years back in Indiana (basketball is big there too, in case you were wondering). 😉

I was impressed by the wide variety of themes that have been showcased on the walls of the palace throughout the years, relating to natural phenomena, worldwide events (such as the World Wars) as well as the culture and activities familiar to the Northern Plains.  I was also intrigued by the effort required to design and construct the various murals that cover the walls every year. (I can also recommend the YUMMY popcorn sold at the concession stand! 🤤 )

For more information on the Corn Palace, please visit the attraction’s website here.  If you’re ever near Mitchell, SD (it’s right off I-90), I’d encourage you to stop in and check out this relic of the past.  I think you’ll be glad you did!

Have you ever visited the Corn Palace?  Tell me about your experience in the comments! 

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Are you looking for a unique place to visit in in eastern South Dakota, in the small town of Mitchell? Check out the Corn Palace!


Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming

In this post, I discuss an ancient medicine wheel in the Bighorns!


There is a prehistoric Medicine Wheel hidden in the northern, Bighorn mountains.  It was built by the ancient ancestors of today’s American Indian tribes.  More than 80 tribes claim the wheel in their oral traditions so it can’t be attributed to any one group or culture, though it’s, obviously, a very sacred site.  

What does the Bighorn Medicine Wheel look like?

This is one of the largest, stone medicine wheels in North America (there are at least 150 spread throughout the continent).  It’s constructed with a center cairn with spokes emanating from it to an outer circle that connects six, smaller cairns that appear to be strategically placed.  

Archeologists aren’t sure of the wheel’s exact age, most estimates date it back at least 800 years, but it could be far older.  Archaeological evidence shows human habitation as far back as 12,000 years in this area!  

The ranger we spoke with stated the six rock cairns that dot the outer portion of the circle are believed to have a celestial purpose, but the exact function remains a mystery–it is thought that they may have been used during vision quests.  The last time the six cairns matched up with celestial markers was at least as far back as the 1700s!

Medicine Wheels are Sacred Sites

Religious ceremonies are still held at the wheel on a regular basis as many tribal members make religious pilgrimages to the site.  Some of the ceremonies involve large groups, while others include only a few individuals–two, small, private ceremonies occurred while we were there.  Anyone with American Indian heritage can participate in a ceremony.  

It’s always enthralling for me to observe religious practices that I’m not familiar with.  I’m fascinated by the emotions you see play out on the faces of the participants, and how descriptive their movements can be.  I find their actions evoke emotions within me as well.  You can actually feel the peace and tranquility emanating from them as they dance, pray, or worship in their own way.  

A tour of the wheel may be delayed if a ceremony is occurring, though they usually don’t last longer than 30 minutes, so please be patient and respectful during this time of worship.  Numerous religious offerings are tied to the fence that rings the site (or are placed within the wheel itself).  Please do not touch or photograph these items directly as they are sacred.  It is also requested that people not take photos or videos of the ceremonies, as they are occurring, to respect the privacy of the participants.  

Where is the Bighorn Medicine Wheel?

The wheel is located on Forest Road 12, off of US 14A, in the northern part of the Bighorns.  It’s about 20 miles from Burgess Junction (where 14A branches off from US 14 to the east) and about 30 miles from Lovell, Wyoming, to the west.

Related posts: Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; 4 Don’t Miss Sites in the Bighorn Mountains of WyomingWest Tensleep Trail, Bighorn Mountains, WyomingCamping in the Bighorns

The parking lot is a mile-and-a-half walk from the wheel on a graded, dirt road.  The hike isn’t bad, though it is uphill both ways (seriously 😝) and the altitude is over 9,000 feet, so take your time.  The site is also above tree line so bring a hat, water, and sunscreen, and be prepared for the ever-present, Wyoming wind.  It usually takes an hour or so to complete the entire route.  The site is free to visit, though donations are appreciated.  Because this is a sacred site, pets are not permitted and must be left in the parking area.

The only thing that marred the experience was the large, FAA radar placed on the adjoining peak (because none of the numerous, other peaks in the surrounding area, that were a little farther away, wouldn’t have worked?  REALLY?!)  Federal Government, do better! 😤      

Panoramic view of a rocky mountainside. Tree-covered mountains spread in the distance under a crystal clear, blue sky
The incredible view of the Bighorns from the Medicine Wheel site (to the right is the road you hike to reach the wheel)
Small stones on the ground form the center and outer portions of a wheel with stone spokes connecting them
The Medicine Wheel (you can see one of the rock cairns in the foreground to the left)

The Backroads of Wyoming

I’ve suggested before, to always take the scenic route, when time permits.  We enjoyed a good bit of that on this trip!  We started by taking Route 24, west, from where it branches off near the Island Park campground.  We then took Forest Road 408, to BLM Road 1117, on to Hyattville.  

This route is listed in the gazetteer as being Hyattville Road, but we saw NO signs reflecting this.  Similar to what we’ve found in Colorado, even though a road may be listed as a “major connector”, especially in the gazetteer, this could easily mean the road is actually dirt (sometimes wide and graded, other times little more than a narrow, two-track, high-clearance road that I wouldn’t be comfortable taking an Outback on). 😝 

We used three separate maps–the gazetteer, a Bighorns map we picked up at a local, outdoor store, and a road atlas–to gather a–somewhat accurate–estimate of the roads’ actual conditions.  Part of the difficulty was the roads traversed National Forest and BLM land in this area, and each department names and maintains their roads differently.  

Overlooking a rocky cliff with pine trees growing up from below
A view from our backroad trip

The drive was very manageable with Mr. Trekker’s Tacoma (any high-clearance, 4WD vehicle could handle it in good conditions).  There were no steep drop-offs and no, real, technical obstacles like what we’ve encountered on some of the roads in Colorado.  It was also beautiful, ranging from alpine, spruce forests and aspen groves, to dun-colored high prairies dotted with tan and red clay mounds, adorned with the varying greens of the diverse foliage.  Rock-rimmed canyons with their gaping mouths open onto prairie grasses far below, while rocky cliffs of various colors traverse throughout, all with the imposing Bighorns as a backdrop.  

Here is a video I made that showcases the beauty that is eastern Wyoming.

After leaving the Medicine Wheel, we decided we were game to try a few more back roads.  We took another scenic trip, east, on US 14A to Burgess Junction, where we picked up US 14 and took it west.  We took that road to Route 17, another “major connector”, that we then took to Alkali Road/BLM Road 1111/Route 228, back to Hyattville (this is a back way to reach the Medicine Wheel from the south).  

Again, these road numbers and names were listed on the gazetteer and one of the maps–some of these roads didn’t even appear on the Atlas–but were NOT shown on the actual road.  We just trusted the signs that directed us back to Hyattville.  You always need to be flexible when taking back roads, as you never know what kind of obstacles or conditions may cross your path.  I should also note, there was NO cell coverage in this remote location (and GPS can often be inaccurate), so maps are often times your only option–time to go “old school” folks!  

Another road we could have driven was labeled in the Gazetteer as the “Red Gulch, Alkali National Back Country Byway”.  We didn’t actually drive it this time–though we returned at a later date to check out the fossilized dinosaur footprints it leads to! 😯  

The Back Country Byway is more of a two-track, high-clearance path, at least in spots.  I certainly wouldn’t call it a “main road”.  Funnily enough, the roads we took back to Hyattville ended up being in better shape than the back road we brought out from the campground.  They were graded, gravel roads that one could expect to travel 30 – 40 mph on (if the rancher in front of us hadn’t decided a slower speed was better.  Unfortunately, on those roads, that are only about 1.5 lanes wide, passing really isn’t an option unless the person in front of you is feeling charitable and pulls over.  This man didn’t. 😜)  So, we enjoyed a leisurely, scenic stroll through the beautiful Wyoming countryside.  😁  

After reaching Hyattville we took Route R54 (another graded, well-maintained, gravel road) to Ten Sleep and then got to enjoy the, INCREDIBLY beautiful, US 16 east through Ten Sleep Canyon, back to our campground. (Did I mention, almost all of these roads, despite their varying conditions–with the exception of the highways–had the EXACT SAME indicators on the map? 😜)

Peering through the trees across tree-covered mountains out to the dry, high prairie far in the distance

The topography of Wyoming is very unique.  It’s characterized by the towering Bighorns in the northeast, to the Grand Tetons that criss-cross Yellowstone and the Rockies, in the west.  A drier, large, bluff-filled basin sits between Yellowstone and the Bighorns.  

Some parts of the state are prettier than others–while the dry, scrubland that surrounds the mountains can be pretty and green in spring, it usually turns rather drab in the later months.  The basin area is dotted with oil fields and sketchy-looking, government sites with warning signs plastered on the fences, which can be rather intimidating. 😳

Below are some more pics of our scenic drive:

Dry, green meadow with trees and rocky mountains far in the background, under a clear, blue skyWhite, rocky cliffs rise high aboveA dry, scrubland canyon with a dry, high plain in the far distanceDry, grassy meadow with dry, high plains and bluffs in the distanceDry, grassy meadow with dry, high plains and red-rock bluffs in the distanceDry, grassy meadow with tree-covered, white cliffs and dry, high plains and mountains in the backgroundDry, grassy high plains with pine-covered mountains in the background

MOOSE in the Bighorn Mountains!

Earlier that summer, we spent ten days in the Colorado high country during peak season and we didn’t see one moose.  Later that fall, we spent ten seconds in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming (literally), and TWO moose were waiting to greet us when we arrived at our campsite!  Bighorns for the win!   

Two moose in a field as seen through the trees
Our ungulate friends (this year it was Maggie and Megan)

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m always surprised at how much this part of Wyoming reminds me of the Colorado mountains.  The scenery and critters are very similar, with the added benefit of being half as long a distance from the Black Hills and FAR less crowded than Colorado. 😉  

If you’re looking for an amazing, historical site to visit in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, check out the Bighorn Medicine Wheel!

Have you ever visited the prehistoric Medicine Wheel in the Bighorns?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

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Small stones on the ground form the center and outer portions of a wheel with stone spokes connecting them. Pin reads, "A Prehistoric Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming"

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7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost Towns

I review several ghost towns we toured around the Colorado High Country as well as our drive up Independence Pass.


The Trekkers LOVE visiting ghost towns! We try to include them whenever possible on our trips.  During our 2018 road trip, we got to check out several awesome ghost towns in Colorado.  

Ghost towns give you a true, visual understanding of how people lived “back in the day”.  I’m a very visual person so this helps me fully appreciate what the lives of the inhabitants of these towns must have been like.  I prefer the towns that are restored, with at least several buildings remaining that you can view.  Sometimes, however, the places that are comprised mostly of ruins allow you to use your own imagination of how they must have appeared in their heyday.

Click here for a list of ALL the ghost towns the Trekker’s have visited around the country!

Below is a list of seven ghost towns we visited in central and western Colorado…

Teller City Ghost Town: 

This was the first ghost town we visited and the one that required the most effort to access.  The townsite is near State Forest State Park, in far northern Colorado, around nine miles south of Gould, on Route 740 (Baker Pass Road).  You reach it by driving on a, somewhat rough, 4WD shelf road. (The Guide to Colorado Backroads† book that I mentioned in a previous post, rates this road as “easy”.  I would rate it as “moderate”.  A high clearance, 4WD vehicle should be all you’d need to access this site in good conditions).  

We didn’t actually complete the 4×4 road all the way to Baker Pass, though we spoke with a local who said it was worth the drive.  Alas, daylight was waning (and the mosquitoes were starting to bite!) 😝

 The way was fairly well-marked and obvious, but be watchful.  The road branched off several times and the correct route was only marked with orange, snowmobile trail markers (this is a snowmachine trail in the winter months).  

An old cabin sits amongst small trees in a grassy, open space. Tree-covered mountains are in the background.

An old, abandoned cabin without windows or a door

One plus with this site is that there’s a designated parking area and then you hike a Nature Trail loop to view the remains of the town.  Not much is left, but you could almost hear the voices of the patrons visiting the busy shops, and smell the dust kicked up by the wagons as they rolled along–what used to be–a bustling Main Street.  

At various places along the trail, markers describe the history of that home or business.  At one of the stops, the words of a young girl who came into town one winter night, via the pass, were noted.  Her description of the twinkling town lights flickering through the evening shadows was incredible.  

Below are a few more pics of the ruins at Teller City (as usual, thanks to Mr. Trekker for several of these):

The ruins of an old cabin sits amongst small trees in an open space. Tree-covered mountains are in the background.
The ruined walls of an old cabin sit in an open space. No roof or door remains. Tree-covered mountains are in the background.
The ruined walls of an old cabin sit in an open space. No roof or door remains. Tree-covered mountains are in the background.

A large, dark hole in the ground is circled by rocks and covered by a wrought-iron cage
An old well pit

Coalmont, Colorado: 

After leaving State Forest State Park, we visited Coalmont on our way to the Flattop Wilderness area.  Only the schoolhouse remains of this dusty hamlet, but from what we could see through the grime-spattered window, it appears to have been restored inside.  It would have been neat to be able to view it in more detail! 

The townsite is located off of Route 14, southwest of Walden, Colorado and can be reached via either Route 24 or Route 26 (they form a half-moon-shaped loop here).  The site is directly off of Route 26.

Old, white-boarded schoolhouse building sits in an arid landscape. Dark mountains are seen far in the background

Remains of an old ranch at Grand Mesa National Forest:

This site is located on top of the mesa, off the Land’s End Road.  It is the remains of a ranch that operated in this area long ago. Several cabins, one of which you can walk inside, and an old livestock corral, have been restored.  They can be viewed on a Nature Trail loop (it is part of a cross-country ski trail in the snowy months).  

A two-story cabin sits amongst tall, green grasses. It is a grey, cloudy day

An old, wooden fence-surround sits in a grassy, open space just outside a deep woods surrounded by tall pine trees
The old corral

Yellow wildflowers in a tall, grassy meadow. An old cabin can be seen down the hill

Pitkin Ghost Town: 

This “living” ghost town is located about 27 miles east of Gunnison Colorado.  Take US 50, east, from Gunnison, then turn left onto Route 76 in Parlin.  

As an aside, we enjoyed several good meals in Gunnison.  We had a wonderful breakfast at the W. Café, and, I can attest that the High Alpine Brewing Company makes great pizza!

Old, freshly-painted, one-story building sits on a plot in town. A statue of a prospector sits out front. The sign over the door reads, "Pitkin Assay Office"

Letters read "Pitkin Hotel" on the glass front of the building. Modern-day trucks sit on the street out front

At about the halfway point on Route 76, you will pass the “living” ghost town of Ohio City. (I call them “living” because some hearty souls are still living in both of these locations!) 

The rain was falling fairly heavily as we passed through Ohio City, so we chose not to stop, but Pitkin should definitely be on your list of places to visit!  It was one of the more “real-feel” ghost towns we toured as it wasn’t crowded with visitors, and enough of the old buildings have been restored that you felt as though you were actually walking down the town’s Main Street.  

The Silver Plume General Store, located on the east side of town at the corner of 9th and State Streets, is a great place to stop for lunch.  We certainly enjoyed our burgers from the outdoor grille! Note: Pitkin is the last chance at civilization if you’re venturing onward to Tincup, Cottonwood Pass, the Alpine Tunnel, or St. Elmo ghost town via Tincup Pass.

We didn’t make it to Tincup on this trip, being that Cottonwood Pass was closed for paving.  We are hoping to, one day, try the Tincup Pass between Tincup and St. Elmo and hike to the Alpine Tunnel.  Another journey for another time, I don’t worry that we’ll be back in Colorado soon!  😁

A two-story building with a belfry on top sits in front of a tree-covered hill. The sign under the belfry reads, "City Hall 1900"
Two old, single-story buildings with false fronts. One reads, "Pitkin Bank". A modern car sits in an alley nearby.
Two old, very small cabins sit so close they appear to connect. One sign reads, "Road Kill Cafe", the other "Stage Stop, Pitkin 1880"
An old, white-clapboard church and steeple

Below is a short video I took of the hummingbirds near the Pitkin Hotel.  I’ve always liked hummingbirds, but I’ve never heard them make this noise outside of Colorado…

St. Elmo Ghost Town: 

Everyone we talked to (and all the guide books we read) told us we HAD to visit St. Elmo, and it was, definitely, worth the visit!

The only disappointment I had with this site is that vehicles are allowed to park in the town itself.  Its spirit seems to be somewhat ruined when there’s a modern Audi parked in front of Town Hall. 😝  Also, they were restoring several buildings while we were there—which I’m sure is necessary and will be wonderful when it’s completed—but it meant that construction equipment was parked along Main Street.  *sigh*  Guess we’ll have to visit another time! 😉 

Two old, single-story buildings that look like they were once shops. One appears weathered, the other freshly-painted. A very tall, rocky mountain can be seen in the background

Two old, small, weathered cabins sit next to the dirt road

As I mentioned previously, if you’re daring, you can reach St. Elmo via Tincup Pass.  If you’re looking for a tamer route, you can do what we did and take the long way.  For this trek take Route 50 east of Gunnison through Monarch Pass (another great view) and turn north onto US 285 at Poncha Springs.  Then take Route 162 west–an out-and-back road (for the less daring among us)–toward the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs resort and on to St. Elmo.  

Near this area, there’s also a turnoff for Hagerman Pass Road to the site of another ghost town, Hancock.  From there, you can hike to the Alpine Tunnel from the east, though it sounded as though the hike is longer and the view isn’t quite as good as hiking from the west side–we chose not to complete the hike at this time due to time constraints and the monsoon-fueled thunderheads that were threatening.  

As I stated previously, since we missed a few ghostly spots this time around, we’ll be putting this area on our “must-visit” list for the future.  It’s always a shame when you visit a location and find out you HAVE to come back to explore further (that happens to us regularly on trips, especially in Colorado…have I mentioned that I enjoy vacationing in this state? 😉)

An old, wooden cabin with two chimneys. Two very tall mountains, one rocky, the other tree-covered, can be seen in the backdrop
Two old, wooden cabins sit amongst the trees
An old, one-story shop that reads, "Miners Exchange, St. Elmo General Store"

Much to the Tranquil Trekker’s dismay (we DON’T feed wildlife) one unique feature of St. Elmo is that visitors are encouraged to feed the WAY-overly-friendly and almost-aggressive local chipmunks. You can buy food for them at the General Store. 😝

The Cascades Waterfall near Buena Vista, Colorado:

After leaving Saint Elmo, on our way east, back to US 285, we stopped at The Cascades.  This is a lovely waterfall that’s just off the side of the road.  It’s a beautiful, peaceful location where you can walk right up to the base of the river that creates a picturesque waterfall in this area as it cascades across boulders–hence the name. 😉  

A creek runs over rocks and down a hill, creating a waterfall amongst the mountains and trees
Water from the creek dribbles over large boulders
A creek runs over rocks, creating a mini waterfall amongst the boulders and trees
A creek runs over rocks and down a hill, creating a waterfall amongst the mountains and trees

Gothic Ghost Town, Crested Butte, Colorado: 

I was a bit disappointed by this town.  The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory bought the town and did an exceptional job of restoring many of the old buildings which the lab uses for its work.  This we knew going in… what I hadn’t realized is that the lab has taken over almost the entirety of the townsite.  As it’s now, mostly, all private property, it’s almost impossible to tour around and browse the various buildings. 😒

I’m glad the town is being used for something, and I’m thankful to the lab for helping to save its structures, I just wish the historical features were easier to access.  And a note to the general store in town:  you close by four? In the middle of summer?? On a Saturday???  REALLY?!  Afternoons are a good time for people to eat ice cream you know!  😝😳😉

Sign at the edge of town reads, "GOTHIC site of The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory founded 1928"

No trespassing/no pets signs on a wooden fence. Old cabins sit in an open field within the fence. Rocky mountains are in the far background
Signs regarding the lab dotted the entire town 😕

You can reach Gothic by taking Gothic Road, Route 317, north of Crested Butte and the ski village.  You can’t miss it, this is, literally, the only main road going north of town! 😉  This will also lead you to Schofield Pass that I discussed in this post.  

Old cabins sit in front of a rocky mountain. Modern day cars and a construction cone are parked on the dirt street
Old cabins sit in a grassy field in front of a rocky mountain

Modern cars line both sides of the dirt street. Old cabins sit in front of a rocky mountain far in the background
Main Street in Gothic

Old cabins sit in an open field within a wooden fence. Tree-covered mountains are in the background

Old, brown, two-story building. Sign on front reads, "1880 Town Hall"
The General Store with its questionable hours of operation 😝

Old cabins sit amongst short trees with the forest in the background

Independence Ghost Town and Independence Pass:

Independence ghost town is located on Independence Pass (Route 82), around 16 miles east of Aspen, and around 21 miles west of Twin Lakes.  

It’s just east of the peak of the Pass itself, and is, actually, easy to miss.  It’s below the grade of the road and the two parking pullouts are small and not well-marked.  There are, blue, “Places of Interest” signs, but you have to be watching for them.  We actually saw the ruins of the mill, on the other side of the road, first.  

The townsite is located in a valley, along the Roaring Fork River, framed by the towering Sawatch Range on both sides.  

Independence Ghost Town:

This was my favorite ghost town of the entire trip!  It’s easy to access as the site is located directly on Independence Pass.  You actually park at a pullout on the Pass road and then hike out to the site, so no vehicles marred the view. 

The walk into the town site is about one-mile in each direction, on an old, two-track, dirt road. (The hike is pretty easy as there is almost no elevation gain.  Beware though, the town site still sits at about 10,000 feet in elevation.)  You can see the town from quite a ways off, which helps you to imagine what it must have felt like riding a horse or wagon along that route during the height of the town’s life.

This would have been an incredibly beautiful place to live! (Had it not been so isolated and suffered such extreme weather.)

Related Posts:  Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails: Book ReviewThe Best Hidden Gems of Northern ColoradoThe Backroads of ColoradoThe Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

The wooden remains of an old structure sit on a hill with a tree-covered mountain in the background
The old mill in Independence, Colorado. (This is the first building we saw to clue us in that we were “there”.)

The wooden remains of an old structure that has no roof. Trees are in the background

A two-track dirt road leads over a small, grassy hill. Old cabins in a grassy meadow can be seen far in the distance with tree-covered and rocky mountains in the background
I don’t imagine this view was much different when the town was thriving

An old cabin sits in a grassy meadow with a tree-covered mountain in the backgroundThe wooden remains of an old structure that has no roof or doors. Trees are in the backgroundThe wooden remains of an old, in-tact structure. Trees are in the backgroundA grassy meadow leads down the hill into a valley. Tree-covered and rocky mountains are in the backgroundThe remains of two old cabins sit on a grassy hill. A tree-covered mountain is in the background.

Independence Pass:

Independence Pass was incredibly beautiful, as well.  This one has been on my Colorado Bucket List for some time and it did not disappoint! (It was also the highest altitude we reached on this trip, maxing out at, just over, 12,000 feet!)  The scenic overlook and hiking area at the top of the Pass offer, almost, 360-degree views of the Continental Divide, which the Pass spans.

Looking down into a grassy, mountain valley. Rugged, rocky peaks and tree-covered mountains stretch to the horizon where they meet a blue sky filled with white, puffy clouds

Sign reads, "Independence Pass, elevation 12,095 feet, Continental Divide"

An analog device sits on a vehicle dashboard. It's dial is pointed to just over 12,000 feet
We finally topped 12,000 feet!

You may have noticed I’ve been enjoying using a Sun Company altimeter† in many of these posts.  It responds to changes in barometric pressure caused by weather as well as air pressure at-elevation, so you may have to recalibrate it a little each day to maintain the most accurate readings.  But, for amateur interest, it’s a fun, portable, way to keep track of changes in altitude–it connects to the vehicle using velcro so it can be easily removed and taken on a hike if you’re so inclined. 

A paved road winds down and around a hill. Rocky, rugged and tree-covered mountains are in the background and line both sides of the road

I made another video of our drive up Independence Pass.  I think my videographer skills got a “little” better with this one! 🤔

If you’re looking for something fun to do this summer, definitely check out the ghost towns of the Colorado High Country! 

Have you visited any of these amazing places?  Tell me about it in the comments!


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Four pictures of old buildings at ghost towns and Rocky Mountain passes. Pin reads, "The Ghost Towns of Colorado's High Country"


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The Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

In this post, I review our trip to Marble, Colorado, the renowned Crystal Mill, and the Crystal ghost town via a thrilling trek over a 4×4 road.


My palms are damp, my heart is racing, my stomach is churning as I grab the truck’s “Jesus handle” and see my life flash before my eyes!…Mr. Trekker slowly inches the vehicle ever closer to the drop-off….

Let’s back up and start this story at the beginning…

Crystal Mill

The Crystal Mill is one of the most photographed sites in all of Colorado (and a key reason we embarked on this road trip to begin with.) 

First off, let’s just get the technicalities out of the way.  The well-known structure that everyone takes pictures of and calls Crystal Mill…isn’t actually the mill (even though that’s the common name for it).  It’s actually the powerhouse for the mill.  This is all that remains of the abandoned site.  The actual mill lost its battle with nature many years ago.  I just wanted to get that out of the way for all the “sticklers-for-detail” out there, now for the fun stuff!  😁

After spending several days in the Grand Mesa National Forest, and enjoying a wonderful breakfast at Connie’s in Cedaredge, we were off on our long-anticipated adventure to Crystal Mill! 

We traversed a beautiful gorge dotted with coal mines and then a spectacular canyon on Route 133.  The drive into Marble, Colorado (the departure point for our adventure) was a sight to behold in itself!  This was the first real alpine view we’d had on that road trip in 2018, and the drive over McClure Pass and down the switchbacks into town was incredible.  

Before reaching the pass we could already see the dichotomy between opposing ecosystems; the drier scrubland on the western slopes and the wetter, alpine peaks on the eastern slopes of the pass.  As we rounded the first curves and began our descent down the eastern side of the pass, the yawning chasm of the valley opened up in front of us, edged by the towering peaks of the nearby mountains…

Colorado’s Alpine Beauty

THIS is why I love the mountains so much!  That first glimpse of the majestic, alpine peaks is what keeps me coming back time and again, never tiring of their pristine beauty.  It’s a humbling experience, feeling so small next to those gigantic monoliths that continue on, one after another, for miles on end, standing the test of time eternal.  How many eons has the rock that forms them been in existence?  How many more years will it continue existing, affected only by the passage of time?  It makes our puny, maybe-a-century-long, human existence on the planet seem paltry in comparison. 

Related Posts:  Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails: Book ReviewThe Best Hidden Gems of Northern ColoradoThe Backroads of Colorado7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost Towns

Viewing vast expanses like this, for me, is a transcendent experience.  My spirit is refreshed more by a day in the mountains than a week in a church pew.  Being allowed the privilege of experiencing creation on this visceral level; as you breathe in the damp loam of the forest floor, and feel the competing elements of heat from the sun and the cool, mountain breeze that simultaneously caress your skin.  For me, these experiences leave no doubt of the presence of a Creator.  What better way to appreciate said Creator than by encountering its creation?       

The tiny village of Marble, Colorado

Marble, Colorado is the nearest town to the Crystal Mill.  A tiny hamlet with a permanent population of little more than 100 people, it is nestled into the Rocky Mountains along the Crystal River.  Its claim to fame is the marble–hence the name–in its quarries that has been used for a few well-known places.  These include portions of the Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington DC!  

Where is Crystal Mill?

The Crystal Mill is located approximately five miles east of the tiny town of Marble.  You can drive to the mill when the road is open and conditions are good.  This is a fairly technical, 4×4 road.  You should NOT attempt this road unless your vehicle has 4-wheel drive, is high clearance, and you are experienced driving off-road.  There are places this road can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing!

Have no fear though!  If you don’t feel your vehicle (or your nerves) are up to the challenge to drive this road, you can hike it!  The road doesn’t offer much by way of elevation change but beware you are at an altitude of almost 8000 feet in this area.

The mill is also only about 6.5 miles to the west of Gothic, Colorado.  You can drive this route from Gothic via Schofield Pass on Forest Route 317…however, this is an EXTREMELY dangerous and technical 4×4 road that should ONLY be attempted by EXPERIENCED off-road drivers! 

This is NOT an exaggeration! This route is extremely narrow, exposed, and difficult.  In many places, it only allows room for one vehicle and there are no turn-around options.  So, if two vehicles meet, one will be forced to back up for a potentially lengthy distance on a dangerous route. (The Devil’s Punchbowl is found on this route.)  I do NOT suggest anyone take this road unless they know what they are getting themselves into.  This is known as one of the state’s most dangerous 4×4 trails.  People have died while attempting this road! 

The Road to Crystal Mill

The main road to Crystal Mill, Forest Road 314, is listed as “moderate” in the 4×4 book I mentioned in this post.  It’s about a 10-mile, round-trip excursion from Marble to the mill, and then the ghost town of Crystal, beyond.  So, be prepared for a several-hour adventure, especially depending on your mode of transportation.  The road is open for hiking, biking, and vehicles, so all should proceed cautiously and be ready to encounter others along the way.  

I approached this route with a bit of trepidation.  We knew this would be one of our more challenging 4×4 adventures to date, so, with sweaty palms and a pounding heart, we passed Beaver Lake and headed toward the unknown.  

As it turned out, the technical difficulty of the road was completely manageable, our earlier drive on Montgomery Pass Road, as outlined hereactually proved more challenging.  The road was rocky, for sure, with a water crossing or two in places, but any high-clearance, 4WD vehicle could manage it in good conditions.  

The difficulty arose when you met people coming the other way on this one-lane, two-way, shelf road! 😳  The smashed cab of the ancient truck I saw lying at the bottom of one of the ravines didn’t help to quell my nerves any!  😕

A one-lane, dirt road through the trees. Tall, rugged mountains can be seen through the trees
The road to Crystal

There was only one, truly nerve-wracking moment when we were forced to hug the edge of a cliff as we waited for an ATV to pass us. (This is the moment described in the opening lines of this post!)  Fortunately, this was an area with a bit of a turn-off where the road “widened” to about 1 1/2-lane width, so it was actually the perfect place to meet an oncoming vehicle. 

As we hovered on the rim of the canyon, several hundred feet in the air, my acrophobic tendencies spiked as Mr. Trekker had to inch towards the drop-off to make room for the other car.  These conditions are a normal part of driving back roads in the mountains so, while manageable, these roads are not for the faint of heart! (Did I mention this was the “safe” and “easy” portion of this road?)  😜   

We did arrive safely at Crystal Mill, and it is, truly, all it’s lauded to be.  There’s a reason why this is one of the most photographed sites in all of Colorado.  The mountains provide a picturesque backdrop and aspens frame the Crystal River as it courses down a small waterfall and edges the side of the mill before continuing on to Marble, farther down the valley.  The water roars as it rushes past, caring naught for anyone or anything that gets in its path.  It presses on with one purpose, to obey the demand of its master–Nature–to continue on to where the call of gravity slackens.

An old, wooden structure sits on a cliff on the edge of a creek. Green trees and a creek surround it. Rugged mountains can be seen in the background
The iconic Crystal Mill (powerhouse) 😉

Crystal “Ghost Town”

The ghost town of Crystal is located only a few hundred feet beyond the site of the mill and is not, truly, abandoned–at least in the summer months.  Many of the old buildings have been restored and are now privately owned as small, mountain getaways.  

The town itself makes for a good turn-around point on the road for those of us who are less brave (wiser?) and are not willing to take on the Devil’s Punchbowl.  We returned to Marble, the way we had come, without further incident.       

An old, wooden cabin sits in a grassy field with trees around. Rugged mountains can be seen in the background
Crystal ghost town

The ruins of an old, wooden cabin sit in a grassy field with trees around. Tree-covered mountains can be seen in the background

“Just Groovin”!

After that adventure, we decided we had earned a celebratory meal (also, we were hungry!)  There is a cool BBQ restaurant, in Marble, called Slow Groovin BBQ.  The food was wonderful and was just what our appetites had ordered! (You can visit their website here, they also have a location that is open year-round in Snowmass, Colorado.) 

I liked the message they had printed on the bottom of their menu (see the pic below).  I took the message to mean we should focus on the present, appreciating the potential joy that every experience has to offer us.  So, we adopted this “just groovin'” attitude for the rest of our trip!

Now that we’ve returned home, this is something I’m trying to implement into my everyday life as well. (I always try to garner insight from our trips, and I always come away inspired when we visit Colorado–have I mentioned I LOVE this state? 😉)  It’s a struggle for me, particularly with my anxiety, but I’m always trying to be more Present…not rushing from task to task, not constantly being worried about how the next item on the list is going to get accomplished (or even what it is); “just groovin'” through the current moment.   

Logo of a restaurant includes the silhouette of mountains over an orange sky. Overtop of that it reads, "slow groovin BBQ"

A blown-up image of the bottom of the Slow Groovin menu. At the bottom it reads, "Slow Groovin - (Verb) To let go and live in the moment. Dining out should be an experience, not just a meal. Dining with us is a lifestyle. From the moment people step foot in Marble, time stops. Historic buildings remain, dogs roam free and cell phones stay in the car. What better place to appreciate great food? Our mission is to create an atmosphere that embraces the important things in life: Family, Nature, Community and of course ridiculously good BBQ. We take pride in every item on our menu. So kick back and Slow Groove your way into something to remember. --The Slow Groovin Crew"
This is the message that is printed at the bottom of the “Slow Groovin” menu that I found so inspiring (reprinted with permission).

To Conclude:

We had planned to camp at an RV park we located on the map in town.  Unfortunately, it was full for the night.  Since there is no cell service to speak of in the valley, and we were fresh off our life lesson to “just groove”, we decided to press on to see what camping options awaited us in the Gunnison National Forest.  We were SO glad we did!  

It turned out, merely 20 minutes down the road, we came upon a National Forest campground that was nestled against the Crystal River.  There we found, what ended up being, one of our favorite campsites of the entire trip (have I mentioned National Forest campgrounds are AWESOME?) 😉  

We happened to arrive shortly after the most scenic campsite in the entire campground became available, early.  So, we snatched it up!  Sometimes, “winging it” works out for the best!  It was located mere feet from the river itself!  Due to the Stage 2 fire ban, no campfires were allowed, so we enjoyed a relaxing evening riverside, dangling our feet into the cool water, and reading the books we brought along while enjoying the sounds of the bubbling river.  

This trek to the Crystal Mill was definitely one for the Bucket List. If you’re even in the central Colorado High Country, I’d encourage you to visit it as well.  You’ll be glad you did!

Have you visited this incredible, Colorado landmark?  Tell me about your experience getting there in the comments!

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An old, wooden structure sits on a cliff on the edge of a creek. Green trees and the blue water of a creek surround it. Pin reads, "Crystal Mill Marble, CO"


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The Backroads of Colorado

This post outlines our adventures on several Colorado backroads, including some at State Forest State Park and around the Crested Butte area.


On our 2018 road trip in the Colorado High Country, we really wanted to improve our 4×4 driving (and navigation) skills.  Fortunately, there are a number of backroads in Colorado that are perfect for this! 

One series of books we found to be incredibly helpful is A Guide to Colorado Backroads.  It’s actually a series of books covering the northern, central, and southern regions of the state.  These provide helpful information on the roads and trails including their difficulty level, equipment needed to successfully complete them, and details on each of the routes’ conditions.  

Below is a listing of the new roads we enjoyed:

Montgomery Pass Road, State Forest State Park

The first road we mastered, the Montgomery Pass Road at State Forest State Park, ended up being the most technical route we attempted on the entire trip. This out-and-back trek is listed as “moderate” in the guidebook.  It was fun, though, definitely, challenging.  A high clearance, 4WD vehicle is required and skid plates are an added benefit–we were VERY glad for them as we scraped across one particular rock.  Several spots even required me to exit the vehicle and play “spotter” for Mr. Trekker to assist him in navigating the obstacles…it was fun!  😁  The road was wide, with room to pass in most spots, and mostly traversed the forest, so, it lacked the stomach-churning shelf roads we experienced on much of the rest of the trip.  

The road ends before it reaches the top of Montgomery Pass, and the final half-mile or so must be completed on foot.  It’s an easy hike (minus the altitude) as the trail is an abandoned forest road.  It was windy at over 11,000 feet, but the incredible views of the Never Summer Mountains and the promise of the 360-degree vista at the top provide motivation despite beleaguered lungs.

Hand holding an analog dial showing a little over 11,000 feet elevation
Made it to the top of Montgomery Pass!

The wildflowers had begun to carpet the surrounding meadows while snow still blanketed portions of the nearby peaks (in early July!)   Another quality of this wilderness area is that we felt like we had the entire mountain to ourselves on a Monday morning, seeing only two other groups for the duration of the excursion.  You can also hike the entire way to the peak from the other side of the mountain.  The trailhead is found off Route 14 on the eastern edge of the park.   

A small, rock cairn in the foreground with a grassy meadow spreading out behind. A spine of grass and tree-covered mountain peaks can be seen in the distance with occasional spats of snow
The view from the summit

Bockman Road, State Forest State Park

We supplemented the adventure above with a side trip down Bockman Road which intersects the Montgomery Pass Road farther down the mountain.  This road was easy, I think my CRV may have been able to handle it if you were careful on a few of the bumpy sections.  It was dirt, but wide enough for two vehicles and mostly graded.  It made for a fun, relaxing afternoon as a bubbling creek accompanied us for much of the trip, as well as countless more wildflowers (have I mentioned the wildflowers are beautiful in Colorado this time of year?) 😉  

Gothic Road near Crested Butte

Probably the most nerve-wracking drive we completed was Gothic Road, from Gothic ghost town to Schofield Pass–I discuss Gothic in this post

The road is in good condition–a sedan could probably negotiate it.  The problem we ran into was that it is a 1 1/2-lane shelf road with a significant drop-off at one side and no barrier–a frequent condition we encountered on Colorado back roads.  

When we were there it was also INCREDIBLY busy; filled with 2-way traffic in addition to hikers and mountain bikers.  Part of the trouble was that we were there on a weekend in July (our fault, it was just the way the trip itinerary worked out).  But the horde of visitors combined with people who are unaccustomed to driving in those white-knuckle conditions made for what felt like a genuinely unsafe situation from time to time.  

From the top of the pass, a dangerous 4×4 road continues on through the acclaimed “Devil’s Punchbowl” to Crystal Mill–one of the worst 4×4 accidents in Colorado history occurred on this road.  We chose NOT to take that route, 😝 but check out this post for the 4×4 adventure we had on Forest Road 314 from Marble to Crystal Mill!

Schofield Pass and Slate River Road

Once we reached Schofield Pass, we completed the loop via Slate River Road (Forest Road 734) through Paradise Divide.  This section was not only FAR quieter and more relaxing, but it was also one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever been on (it made the other half of the loop worth the gray hairs). 😉  

Pine trees frame the rugged slopes of green, tree-covered mountains in the background
Paradise Divide

Showcasing towering mountains donning green meadows, grass-covered avalanche chutes, and streaming rivers fueled by snowmelt, this drive is incredible!  We were fortunate enough to grab one of the last remaining dispersed campsites in this area that was nestled right next to a small canyon.  We fell asleep listening to the water coursing through it that night!

Short, green, tree and grass-covered canyon walls with a small stream/waterfall flowing among them
Waterfall along Paradise Divide
An orange rooftop tent sits on a trailer in front of a truck with an awning. This is in a clearing with tall pine trees surrounding it
Our campsite

Below is a video I took of the Divide.  Be patient with me, my videographer experience is minimal, the road was bumpy, and this was taken on an iPhone.  But…this valley was so INCREDIBLY beautiful, I had to share this with you!  You can see why they gave it the name they did! 😎

The drive from Rifle to Grand Mesa Colorado

Even when not looking for a 4×4 adventure, we learned that travel on Colorado back roads can be an interesting experience.  We drove the back route from Rifle to Grand Mesa National Forest, taking Dry Hollow Road from Silt.  Then we continued, via Route 270, into Colbran and then took Route 121 to enter Grand Mesa the back way.  

The drive was lovely!  The eclectic scenery transitioned from desert-like scrubland in the Rifle area to aspen forest in the higher elevations, then to rolling farmland in the valleys (that reminded us of Pennsylvania) before ending in the spruce forests that comprise the Grand Mesa area.  

Related Posts:  Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails: Book ReviewThe Best Hidden Gems of Northern Colorado, 7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost TownsThe Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

I mentioned earlier that the gazetteer didn’t always differentiate road surfaces well.  We found the regular road atlas (and the 4×4 book mentioned above) gave far better indications of what to expect for the actual conditions of the roads…

…In this situation, these routes were indicated to be “major connectors” (and I’m sure they were for that, extremely rural, area). However, this indication included roads that varied from paved and painted to those that are dirt/gravel, with some being extremely rough due to a washboard surface.  They were, often, also, narrow and winding (where two, full-size vehicles may struggle to pass).  Many also hugged the sides of cliffs on shelf roads.  They offered incredible views but may be alarming to people who aren’t accustomed to those conditions.  

We had a great time, but I note this so people are aware these conditions can make travel more difficult and may require you to budget additional time to complete the drive.     

Green grass and trees in the foreground spreading out to rocky, tree-covered mountains in the background. White puffy clouds on a blue sky
Viewpoint on the road to Grand Mesa from Silt

These portions of our trip were thrilling, nerve-wracking, and challenging.  However you manage to do it, whether it be machine-powered by a 4×4 vehicle or using your own two feet, I’d encourage you to venture out onto these lesser-traveled routes (as you are comfortable, of course).  You’ll see sites and experience adventures that the average person misses on the more well-traveled highways.  It will give you a whole different appreciation for the nature that surrounds us.

Have you ever tried out any of these Colorado backroads?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!


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Four pictures of a green, grassy meadow and a dirt road meandering around grass-covered mountains. Also a meadow filled with wildflowers and a lake in the background. Pin reads, "The Backroads of the Colorado High Country" 

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11 “Don’t Miss” Sites in Colorado

Our adventures in Colorado on our 2017 road trip.


We spent the second week of our 2017 Road Trip enjoying 11 Don’t Miss Sites in Colorado.  That state is, by far, one of my favorite locations in the entire country to visit (and we’ve seen the 48 Continental US States!)  Its beauty is indescribable and pictures don’t truly do it justice. 

The following is a rundown of the highlights of our tour around the state.  Thanks again to Mr. Trekker for some of the pictures!

Trinidad, Colorado

Trinidad is an old-school, Western town in far Southwestern Colorado, only about 15 miles from the New Mexico border.  It’s a cute little community that’s been well-maintained and has seen some modern updates in recent years.

I’m still adjusting to the whole “pot legalization thing” in Colorado. 😂  It’s not my fault, I was a DARE child of the ’90s, I grew up being taught that it was bad (of course this was by the same people who also taught us that Pluto was a planet–and people wonder why I have a skeptical nature!)  Then there’s the issue where it’s legal in the state but not in National Parks within that state because that’s Federal land and it’s still illegal Federally.  Like every good Libertarian, I’m willing to tolerate it but *sigh*, does this make anyone else’s brain hurt?

The next day, we headed West from Trinidad on Route 160, bound for Mesa Verde National Park!  12 years ago we visited the park and parts of Western Colorado on our very first road trip, so it was cool going back.  Some of it we remembered, but it had been so long that there was plenty that we were seeing again “for the first time”. 

Related Posts:  10 “Don’t Miss” Places for your Great Plains Road TripLessons Learned on a Road Trip; 5 “Don’t Miss” Places for Your New Mexico Road Trip 

Having just recently survived a bout with an aggressive flu, I was still not my best self at this point, though, as we were entering some beautiful country we wanted to do a little sightseeing.  The first pass we arrived at (and the first overlook) we stopped to take some pictures.  I stepped out of the car, took one step on the unsteady gravel in my flip-flops, and skidded to my knees.  The fall left a lovely road rash in its wake (because this trip just hadn’t been adventurous enough!) 

At first, I figured it was nothing, till I looked down and saw red rivulets running down my leg *sigh*.  So, back to the car, we went, with Mr. Trekker coming at me with the first aid kit.   Unfortunately, it only had alcohol swabs in it and we were FAR from any modern bathroom with water and soap.  Needless to say, Mr. Trekker was NOT my favorite person that day!  But, kudos to him, he bandaged me up well (albeit painfully) and I now only have a minor scar to show for my misfortune. 😝

Mesa Verde National Park: 

This unique park showcases cliff dwellings from the civilizations who lived there thousands of years ago.  Some you can view from overlooks, and some you can actually tour (self-guided and ranger-led).  They’ve also got a great campground with spectacular star-gazing opportunities. 

Our first trip to the park was one of my first camping experiences out West where there’s far less light pollution.  I remember being astounded at the light show the night sky put on (and that’s coming from a girl who grew up on an Indiana farm).  It was on my first visit to this park that I fell in love with Colorado and “the West”.  I didn’t know then that in six years I’d become a “Westerner” myself! 

Unlike many of the national parks (such as Rocky), the campgrounds have modern bathrooms—read, flush toilets, and showers.  I’d recommend at minimum a 2-day stay to really get the most out of the park.

A dirt path traverses a steep hill covered in green, sage grass with a brown, rock wall towering above.

Expansive view of a tree-covered, rocky mesa. More grass and tree-covered mesas are in the background with mountains making up the far background.

A dead tree sits on the side of a cliff with rocky, tree-covered mesas and mountains in the background, all under a blue sky.

Rocky ruins of an ancient residence sit in a slot in the cliff wall. Tree-covered rocky slopes are above and below the ruins.
Cliff dwelling
Dry canyon with sage brush and trees covering the canyon walls
Navajo Canyon

Route 550, the Million Dollar Highway: 

On our first trip to this area, we stumbled upon this highway accidentally, completely unprepared for what we were about to experience (it was just the most accessible option to get us where we wanted to go).  The second time around we knew what we were in for…and were still awed. 

Route 550, in western Colorado, runs north to south between Grand Junction and Durango.  It is called the Million Dollar Highway because it is so beautiful it offers million-dollar views as it traverses many mountain passes.

If you’ve never traveled this route, I STRONGLY recommend it, though I’d suggest navigating the road from south to north starting in Durango.  This ensures your car is on the inside of the sharp turns the majority of the time. If you’re coming from the north you will find yourself frequently perched along cliff edges with nothing between you and the gaping maw of the canyon below than some thin oxygen (there are no guardrails the majority of the drive as the snowplow drivers need space to push the snow off the cliffs in the winter months). 

If you can handle the drop-offs, this drive is a must!  This area is referred to as the “Switzerland of America” because its incredible mountain vistas rival those found in the immensely beautiful, European country. 

I can testify the views here rival those we saw in Glacier National Park on the Going to the Sun Road (though these are more accessible, depending on your location). Also, this road is open all year, weather permitting.

The most popular portion of the drive (between Durango and Ouray) is less than 70 miles in length, but plan for it to take several hours (that was our big mistake the first go-around).  It’s a slow drive, in some areas the suggested speed limit on the curves is only 10 – 15 mph (and trust me, they aren’t joking).  It can be slower if you find yourself traveling behind larger, slower-moving vehicles. 

The most intense (and most beautiful) portion of the route runs the 25 miles between Silverton and Ouray.  Stops are frequently caused by construction in the summer months as workers are constantly fighting the ongoing battle with natural erosion.  Rockslides are also common (as well as avalanches in the winter). 

This drive can be frightening for us acrophobes with its steep drop offs but the immensely beautiful views are worth it!  There’s plenty of skiing, 4×4 trails, hiking, camping, rafting, and a slew of other activities available in this corner of Colorado, so be sure to put it on your “must-see” list.

Green, mountain valley leading to snow-covered mountains in the background.

Tree-covered mountain sides in the foreground, snow covered, rocky mountains in the background.

Telluride, Colorado: 

Telluride was about what I would expect from a ski town (the Trekkers are uncoordinated and therefore not downhill skiers).  It was lovely, though we were a little early for the summer season so the upper roads weren’t clear of snow or open yet.  We walked down the road to view a staple of the town, Bridal Veil Falls.  The road up to it was open for hiking, but as I still wasn’t at my best we decided to skip that option this trip.  Instead, we opted for lunch at Brown Dog Pizza, a local joint where I can honestly say I had the best cheese calzone I have ever eaten, hands down. 

The ricotta cheese seemed as though it had been whipped into an airy froth.  I’m no food connoisseur, but it was incredible.

Peering through a frame of spring-green trees, a tall waterfall cascades over a cliff with snow and tree-covered mountains in the background.
Bridal Veil Falls

Ouray, Colorado (pronounced U-Ray): 

The drive into town from the south is one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.  THIS I remembered from 12 years ago.  You descend from the harrowing Million Dollar Highway and this small oasis of civilization opens up before you in the valley, beckoning you down from the peaks. (If you’ve seen the show “The Ranch” on Netflix, this town is the one used in the opening credits).

Ridgeway State Park: 

Ridgeway State Park has one of my favorite campgrounds we visited on the entire trip  (part of the reason we spent three days there!)  It’s located just north of Ridgeway on Route 550 (north of Ouray, so out of the peaks).  They have a lovely, shaded, tent-camping area that’s back off the road, complete with level, graded tent sites, modern restrooms (and showers!), all surrounded by cedar trees. 

This brings me to another point.  Apparently, it’s perfectly legal to smoke pot in Colorado State Parks, but don’t you dare hang a hammock from a cedar tree!  I’m sure there is a good reason for this due to the risk of damage to the trees, and I’m all about protecting nature, but this just seemed to be a bit of a misalignment of priorities to me! 😝

The park surrounds a picturesque reservoir set against a backdrop of snow-capped Rockies to the east.  Its location makes it an ideal base camp for numerous day trips and activities. 

Sunset. Dark silhouettes of trees in the foreground with a lake and dark silhouettes of mountains in the background.
Ridgeway State Park
Green trees and a lake in the foreground, tree-covered mountains behind with snow-topped, rocky mountains in the background
It was so strange to look to the east and see the Rockies

Green trees in the foreground frame snow-covered mountain peaks in the background

True Grit Film Sites

The park also happens to be near the filming location of the original western, True Grit (the one from 1969 with John Wayne, not the new version).  If you’re a good enough detective there are numerous filming sites you can locate in this area (though please be aware, many of these areas are located on private land and you are trespassing if you travel on them without the owner’s permission.  Please be respectful of private property!)  Click here for some help finding the sites!

We were able to view Mattie Ross’ Ranch, Courthouse Mountain, Chimney Peak, and the meadow where the shootout scene was filmed, without difficulty.  The last three can be found off of Route 8 (to reach this travel east from Route 550).  You’ll reach The Meadow about ½ mile before the summit of Owl Creek Pass.  Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Peak are visible from The Meadow and Sleeping Rock is located at the summit of the pass. 

Two large rocks sit leaning on each other amongst trees in the forest.
Sleeping Rock (the rock Mattie Ross slept on in the 1969 version of True Grit)
Green meadow surrounded by trees with early, spring-green leaves. A tall, chimney-like mountain and a box-like mountain sit side-by-side in the background.
Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Peak

Mattie Ross’ Ranch is located off of Last Dollar Road which is found off of Highway 62 (the road from Ridgeway to Telluride).

Several ranch buildings (barns, an old house) sit in a field behind fences. A grassy hill rises in the background.
Mattie Ross’ ranch
Green meadow surrounded by trees with early, spring-green leaves.
Deb’s Meadow (where the final shootout scene was filmed)

Grand Mesa National Forest: 

Grand Mesa National Forest is another “must-see” location in the mountains east of Grand Junction.  It’s primarily used for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter months.  It’s got some great campground/fishing/hiking opportunities as well, but we were, unfortunately, too early in the season to really take advantage of these options.  The hiking trails weren’t yet open as there were still feet of snow drifted on them in some places. Click here for more info on our return trip to Grand Mesa! 

During the peak of summer, this would be a prime place to escape the heat though, the day we were there it was near 90 in the closest town on the valley floor and it was in the ’40s, and raining/snowing large glops on us at the summit.

A snowy field with gray, cloudy skies
Snow on the summit, this was June 6th ya’ll!

Rifle/Rifle Falls, Colorado: 

We spent our final hotel stay of the trip in the small town of Rifle, Colorado.  This is an adorable, little town with an awesome state park!

Rifle Falls State Park was absolutely beautiful.  It was the only place I’ve ever been where you can traverse walkways that stick out over the TOP of the falls!  The caves at the bottom were picturesque as well (and provided a cool respite from the summer heat).

Three small, short waterfalls cascade over rocks covered by trees into a pool of water surrounded by green grass
Rifle Falls
A side view of a waterfalls cascading over rocks covered in trees. A smaller falls is in the background
A different view of the falls

State Forest State Park: 

$20/night for a campsite; going several days with no indoor plumbing (or showering); a DISGUSTING pit toilet (seriously, it was an upside-down pail sitting over a stinky hole in the ground); BUT…eating dinner while a cow moose and two calves eat theirs, in a field, a few thousand yards away with the Rockies as a backdrop…PRICELESS!!! 

We spent the last three nights of our trip at State Forest State Park which is renowned for its moose sightings (many were re-introduced here back in the 90s.). The park actually claims to be the “Moose Viewing Capital of the World!” 

It definitely offered the best moose sightings we had ever experienced…until our Labor Day camping trip in the Big Horns later that year…you can read about that here!

Tall, snow-peaked, rocky mountains with pine trees and grass in the foreground.
This view reminded us of the Garden Wall at Glacier NP.
A tent on grass, surrounded by trees in the foreground. Rocky, snow-topped mountains glowing a light pink in the sunset in the background
Alpenglow over the Western Rockies (Rocky Mountain National Park and the Never Summer Mountains are basically due east from here, right over those mountains.)
A lake, surrounded by pine trees with a rocky moutain with spots of snow in the background
Ranger Lakes
Green grass field with pine trees in the background. Three large, dark, shapes that appear to be moose are emerging from the trees. Mountains dotted with snow are in the far background
Moose from the campsite

CLOSE ENCOUNTER of the Mountain Lion Kind!!!

The final night of our trip I had a true close encounter (at least I think I did, it was dark and it was over fast!)  It was late and we were the only people still up in the half-full campground.  Our campsite was perched on a hill backed by the forest and fronted by a lake. 

The first night, we spied a moose family skirting the campground using a gully to get to the lake for their evening drink, so we knew it was a popular thoroughfare for the local wildlife.  We were waiting for the fire to burn down and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted movement in the empty campsite across the road (maybe 30 yards away and downhill from our site).  At first, I thought it was a deer I had seen meandering around earlier that evening…and then I realized the “deer” had a long tail…

Interesting side note, many stories I’ve heard of people spotting mountain lions start with, “I thought it was a deer till I realized it had a long tail…” 😮

…then I thought it was a dog from one of the neighboring campsites, but I was pretty sure he was in the tent with his family…and the creature I spotted didn’t move like a dog…

Its movements were stealthy, fluid, and sleek; beautiful actually.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  It almost glided across the ground.  It reminded me of watching a cat jumping onto a high shelf when you’re sure any minute it will send objects flailing into space but instead it glides gracefully around them. 

It was visible for only a few seconds, once it saw me it hightailed it out of there (which is exactly what we WANT wild animals to do!), and I wasn’t able to get Mr. Trekker’s attention quickly enough for him to see it.  We looked for tracks the next morning and didn’t find any but the ground was very dry and hard so this wasn’t a surprise.  I can’t prove it but…I think I saw my first mountain lion that night (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 😉)

Oregon Trail Ruts, Guernsey, Wyoming: 

On the last day of our trek, we stopped for lunch in Guernsey, Wyoming at the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site.  There we viewed wagon wheel ruts left forever engraved on the landscape by the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail. 

You could almost hear the lowing of oxen, the clanking of household items, and the creaking of the wagons as they slowly made their way across the prairie.  You could almost smell the rank odor of animal and human sweat mixed with the constant cling of dust stirred up by the plodding of the animals’ hooves. 

It was humbling to think that we traveled almost 3500 miles on our two-week road trip, crisscrossing across eight states and visiting countless places in our air-conditioned, all-wheel-drive car, with a suspension that gently glides across any bumps in our path (on the paved or graded gravel roads we drove on).  Whereas these people traveled thousands of miles in a wagon train, a trip that took MONTHS as they slowly crept their way across the bumpy, muddy, rutted, rock-strewn ground, and lived under constant threat of death by exposure, disease, or attack. 

When I got sick we drove five minutes to the local Urgent Care, it took maybe an hour to get seen, then we went to the Walgreens across the street for medicine and I was back in the hotel room on the road to recovery 20 minutes later.  Back in the days of the wagon trains the same ailment likely would have meant DAYS of misery as the best of potential outcomes.

Two parallel ruts in the rock, green grass and tree-covered hills in the background
The Oregon Trail Wheel Ruts

A few final pictures from our jaunt around Colorado.  If you haven’t been there, I STRONGLY encourage you to put it on your bucket list.  You won’t regret it!

Green, grassy meadow with snow-capped mountains towering in the background
The Rockies
Lake surrounded by scrub brush and tree-covered mountains
Rifle Gap Reservoir
Dash of a car shows a mileage reading of 3501 miles
Odometer reading as we pulled into the driveway (No!  We didn’t drive around the block an extra time to get it to 3500, I don’t know what you’re talking about!) 🙂

Have you visited any of these places?  Tell me about your adventure in the comments! 

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3 picture of green mountain vistas with blue skies and a triple waterfall. Pin reads, "11 'don't miss' sites in Colorado"


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10 “Don’t Miss” Places for your Great Plains Road Trip

I review our adventures while traversing the Great Plains on our 2017 road trip.

The Trekkers had an adventurous, 2017 Road Trip.  It included 3500 miles (only 185 on Interstate and that was by choice); 2 days sick in a hotel with 1 trip to the urgent care; a nasty road rash; difficulty locating firewood; countless cows; interesting people; beautiful countryside and one “Close Encounter of the Furry Kind”!  We spent two weeks roaming a landscape that spanned almost 1000 miles north to south and almost 700 miles east to west.  It was an interesting, frustrating, challenging, exhausting, wonderful trip that I can’t wait to share with you.  So, without further ado…lets get started with our first portion, The Great Plains!

Note:  This was more of a sightseeing trip rather than our usual recreational adventures.  We did some hiking, which I’ll touch on, but I’ll mostly be drawing attention to family-friendly, roadside attractions available in small towns throughout the Great Plains and the West.  I hope this will inspire you to visit these sometimes little-known areas, and that the challenges we faced will encourage you to persevere when the going gets tough (or well-intentioned plans get altered) as grand experiences may be waiting just around the corner.

Carhenge and Chimney Rock in Western Nebraska

On the first day, we visited Carhenge and Chimney Rock (we learned throughout the trip there are several Chimney Rocks in the country).  Carhenge is a unique art sculpture in the middle of the Nebraska plains near Alliance.  It looks exactly as it sounds.  It is a sculpture made of old, half-buried, American cars arranged in a pattern resembling the ancient European relic, Stonehenge.  It’s been on my Road Trip Bucket List for some time, so I was thrilled to visit, and it did not disappoint. 


We also stopped at Chimney Rock near Scottsbluff, a key landmark used by pioneers on the Oregon Trail on their westward trek into the frontier.  It looks about like the name sounds (the old American Indian name for it basically translates to “elk penis” which is apt as well…hey, I’m just the messenger!)

Chimney Rock

Enders Reservoir State Recreation Area, Enders, Nebraska

The first night we arrived at our pre-determined stop, Enders State Park in southwestern Nebraska.  The park is nice, though the website was a bit misleading.  It highlighted “showers and modern toilets”.  We never found the “modern” toilets–unless in Nebraska a pit toilet is considered “modern”–and the only “showers” we saw were outdoor cement slabs, with drains, that would be suitable for hosing off.  As we didn’t arrive until after six on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, there were no attendants on duty and registration was self-pay.  That was fine, though it was confusing as to where exactly you should pay as there were multiple entrance points/camping areas. 

A Frustrating Road Trip

We encountered quite a few frustrations on the Great Plains portion of our Road Trip.

Lack of Firewood

Unlike the Black Hills, where firewood is available at just about every corner gas station/grocery store, we found locating it in the Plains to be almost impossible.  As it turned out, the camp store just outside the park sold firewood, but it closed at 7 pm.  We arrived around 6:50, not knowing when the store closed or that it was our only option to acquire firewood.  Needless to say, by the time we realized our error…it was about 7:15 (this lousy luck would become a pattern over the course of the trip). 😝 

Lack of nice tent camping areas

The park provides plenty of tent-camping areas, the problem was they were difficult to locate, all terribly overgrown and extremely primitive–to the point where you’d have to walk a large distance or take your car to reach the nearest pit toilet.  Fire rings were also not available in the tent camping areas. We ended up disperse camping in a nice picnic area which allowed us a covered picnic table to prepare dinner (there were no signs forbidding us from pitching our tent there and the ranger we saw the next morning didn’t chastise us for our choice). 

A surprise event!

Needless to say, by this point, we were getting rather frustrated…not a good way to start the trip.  That was until we were packing up for bed, and we noticed faint blue flames in the northern sky, wisps dancing from left to right…the Northern Lights!   At one point they resembled pillars rotating around a cylinder, like a campfire.  They were eerie, awesome and utterly beautiful.  Needless to say, our bedtime was delayed that night!  Sometimes lousy luck is just a prelude of grand things to come!  If we had found a different campsite that wasn’t as isolated or had sat by a roaring fire that night, we may have missed the pale light show dimly burning in the night sky…

Related Posts:  Lessons Learned on a Road Trip11 “Don’t Miss” sites in Colorado5 “Don’t Miss” Places for Your New Mexico Road Trip 

Monument Rocks and Dodge City, Kansas 

On Day 2 we visited one of the most interesting sites I’ve ever seen, Monument Rocks near Oakley, Kansas.  These are large, sedimentary rock formations that rise out of the middle of the Kansas cornfields!  They reminded me of those found in Badlands National Park.  They loom oddly out of place as they rise from the Kansas prairie, though they are quite beautiful.  

Monument Rocks

The Keyhole at Monument Rocks

Later, we visited Dodge City, Kansas.  For anyone who’s been to the tourist trap that is Keystone, SD, that’s what I was expecting, but on a grander scale.  Sadly,  I was disappointed.  There was an interesting “Pioneer Town” which offered a museum you could tour, but it was in the middle of town.  You could literally see the double arches at the McDonald’s across the street through the clapboard fence. 🙃  The town did have a nice downtown area with trendy shops, but we decided to press on.

Meade State Park, Meade Kansas

That night we attempted to stay at Meade State Park in extreme southern Kansas, but to no avail.  It was our own fault for not making reservations on Memorial Day weekend (and as it turned out it was one of the only state parks in the area), though I was rather glad we didn’t. The place was absolutely packed!  The park was lovely, shaded and situated around a lake.  Unfortunately, not just every campsite was full, but people were also pitching tents almost on top of each other in picnic areas, music was blasting from every corner, and people were milling about so badly it was difficult to drive through them in some spots…not very tranquil.  Needless to say, due to this and the fact we still hadn’t located any firewood*, we ended up having a lovely dinner at Arby’s and staying at a hotel in Liberal, Kansas that night!

*It’s not that we’re terribly unprepared, we intentionally planned to acquire firewood along the way rather than bringing it with us.  This is because many parks that we’ve visited out West don’t allow firewood from outside the state due to the concern of spreading pests.  As we learned, this was not the case in the Plains.  Not sure if the lack of firewood is due to fewer trees on the Plains, or if it’s just that the regulations are so lax everyone just brings there own, but either way, come prepared!

Liberal Kansas

Day 3 was one of the highlights of the trip, we visited Dorothy’s House (along with the Coronado Museum) and the Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, KS.  As it turned out, not camping the night before and having already made the hour drive to Liberal meant we could start the morning touring straight from there!  

Dorothy’s House and the Coronado Museum, Liberal Kansas

Dorothy’s house was as cheesy as you can possibly imagine such a place would be…and I absolutely LOVED it!  I was impressed with how in-depth it was.  You actually tour a historical home from that area built around the time the book, Wizard of Oz, was originally written.  It was laid out just like Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s home from the movie.  Then you meander through the Land of Oz, complete with Dorothy as a tour guide.  She gave us the choice of hearing the story again or getting random trivia from the making of the movie.  The group agreed that we’d all seen the movie so we opted for the trivia!  There was a good amount of movie memorabilia, including the actual model of the home used during the tornado scene.  Our tour guide gave us plenty of unique tidbits, but I won’t ruin those surprises.  You’ll have to visit this fun roadside attraction yourself if you’re ever in that area and offer patronage to Liberal’s Historical Society to boot.  We also toured the neighboring Coronado Museum and saw many unique figurines from that era, including some disturbing medical/dental equipment!

Mid-America Air Museum, Liberal Kansas

If you enjoy air museums, this place has quite a bit to offer.  Started by a former pilot from Oklahoma City who donated his collection of over 50 planes, the museum offers a mixture of military and civilian aircraft in a spacious, air-conditioned hangar.  They put on quite a show for such a small non-profit. 

**I was also able to knock two more items off my Road Trip Bucket List in the early part of the trip.  I can now say that I’ve visited both Oklahoma and Texas.  We only drove through the panhandles of both states, they were flat. 😉   

The “Mother Road”, Route 66 in New Mexico

We ended the 3rd night on the famed Route 66 in northeastern New Mexico.  Otherwise known as “the Mother Road”, Route 66 was one of the first highways to span the country, connecting Chicago with the California coast, and it’s definitely worth a visit.  Locating it can be difficult due to the current highway systems (sometimes it runs with a current highway, other times it almost disappears completely).  The road has also been re-routed throughout the years, making its “true” location even more cryptic.  Truly enterprising adventurers can track it, though a high clearance, 4WD vehicle may be required to navigate what’s left of the pockmarked, scrub-covered pavement in some areas.

Fortunately for us, where the route traverses northeastern New Mexico is one of the easier portions to locate.  It serves as the main drag for several small towns—including Tucumcari and Santa Rosa—and parallels I-40 as a service road in this area.  There are still some signs of life on this section of the old road, some still-functioning hotels and gas stations lit with neon lights that maintain the motif of ages past.  Without the large, classic cars of that era though, it’s hard to imagine the atmosphere is anywhere near comparable.  Unfortunately, most of the still-standing buildings are dilapidated skeletons of their once great selves, frequently forming ghost towns with other structures of that bygone era.  We ended our 3rd night, traveling Route 66 westward into a bank of thunderheads in Tucumcari, NM.

Route 66, Tucumcari, NM


Stay tuned for Part 2: New Mexico!

Have you visited any of these places?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Check out some of these cool sites on your next, Great Plains, road trip. They include Route 66, Carhenge, Monument Rocks and Chimney Rock!


Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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