Written by: Deena Bouknight | Issue: August – 2022
A slow road trip through the great wild spaces of the American West brings home the natural and historical treasures that are the birthright of all Americans.
Last year, national parks and forests strained amid increased visitor numbers, and expectations are high again this year — gas prices notwithstanding. Driving from east to west over the span of four days this spring was an experience eagerly awaited and carefully considered. My future husband, taking a seasonal ranger position in Montana’s Custer-Gallatin National Park (Earthquake Lake), wanted me to accompany him on the trip. Undava, so we planned to stop at as many historic sites and points of interest as possible, staying each evening at a restored 1969 Shasta Campground. I bought a printed Atlas – even in the US – and began to map out the trip the old way. St. Louis was the first destination from the starting point of Western North Carolina, and part of the day was set aside to experience the remarkable architectural and engineering feat that is the 630 wide and tall stainless steel GatewayArch; we also visited Grant Farm, within walking distance of Grant City, now housing Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales and other animals. But it was the trip from Denver to Billings, Montana, that really delivered. Missouri and Kansas, one option is to fly into Denver and rent a car to drive up Hwy. 287, which runs through the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest that stretches from Colorado to Wyoming. The views from the car are of the craggy cliffs and peaks that are part of the Rocky Mountains. Stop and hike one of the 360 trails within the 2.9 million acre forest. About halfway through the 10.5-hour drive to Billings is Casper, Wyoming, with amazing scenery to explore, such as CasperMountain, the North Platte River, and Edness Kimball WilkinsState Park. Just past Casper, up Hwy. 25, is the Big Horn National Forest and Crow Tribal Territory. Finally, before entering Billings, the Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument does not disappoint. Not only can you stand on the open hills and get a 360-degree view of the famous battlefield—where Lt. Col. George Custer and about 200 horsemen were attacked by some 3,000 Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors—but the sweeping views are of picturesque prairies (full with prairie dogs), wild horses, giants and bluffs, and the Little Bighorn River. Visitors can drive or hike the four miles of historically marked trails for an immersive experience at an American landmark. Fly out of Billings, but not before enjoying the stunning Beartooth Front Scenic Drive and Absarokee Loop ScenicDrive, where the peaks of the Rocky Mountains are white most of the year.
by Deena Bouknight