By the time I returned our rental car today, here were some of the numbers from our trip:
- 4,875 miles
- 18 days
- 11 states (OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, SD, WY, MT, CO, KS, MO)
- 5 National Parks
- Wind Cave
- Grand Teton
- Rocky Mountain
- 1 National Memorial (Mount Rushmore)
- 1 National Monument (Devils Tower)
- 1 National Grassland (Buffalo Gap)
- 7 National Forests
- Black Hills
- 5 State Parks
- Mirror Lake, WI
- Mill Bluff, WI
- Custer, SD
- Keyhole, WY
- Buffalo Bill, WY
- 3 Laura Ingalls Wilder hometowns
- Pepin, WI
- Walnut Grove, MN
- DeSmet, SD
- First National Park in the World (Yellowstone)
- First National Forest (Bridger-Teton)
- Highest continuous road in the U.S. (Trail Ridge Road)
- Top of a 14er (Pikes Peak)
- 2 trains (Pikes Peak Cog Railway and RTD Denver light rail)
- 1 sailboat
- 1 rental car
- Numerous hiking trails
- 7 campsites (Pepin, Ingalls Homestead, Cedar Pass, Ponderosa, Canyon, Grant Village, Colter Bay)
- 4 motels (Janesville, Rapid City, Craig, High Hill)
- 1 covered wagon (De Smet)
- 1 home
- 1 emergency room
- People We Saw
- 1 aunt
- 8 cousins
- 5 cousins’ significant others
- 6 old friends
- 2 photographers
- Several fellow road trippers
- Many hospitable westerners
Things We Learned From This Trip
We can camp in the cold!
Before this, we only camped when the temperature was 50°F or better. When I checked out the weather at most campgrounds in Yellowstone, I saw that overnight lows would almost certainly dip below 40°F. I always insisted on warmer temperatures because of my asthma and because I’m a freeze baby. Over the years, I’ve done things that have improved my asthma though, so I never had any trouble breathing the cold air…yay! And we just brought a ton of blankets to put on top and beneath our sleeping bag. Putting extra insulation between you and your air mattress is critical! While heat does rise, your air mattress will act like a big heat sink beneath you and rob you of precious energy.
Drink more water and less alcohol at elevation!
If you’re spending time a few thousand feet above where you live or work, it is much easier to get dehydrated. First off, a higher elevation means lower air pressure, lower humidity, and therefore a lower evaporation point for water—so you can be working up a sweat and not even realize it because evaporation is so much easier. Second, alcohol can dry you out and depresses your respiratory function. The respiratory part is a big deal because the thinner air means less oxygen is carried by your red blood cells. Don’t do like I did and figure you’ll save trips to the restroom by drinking less!
Also, don’t make the mistake of drinking too much water either, or you could deplete your body of electrolytes. The best rule of thumb with hydration is to make sure your urine is clear or mostly clear—if it is, you’re hydrated, and if it’s pretty dark, you need more water. Also, if you feel a headache coming on, rest and drink more water if you need it….I ignored my headache and probably made my situation worse just because I was clueless.
By the way, dehydration and altitude sickness share some symptoms but are not the same thing—so learn about both and act appropriately on whatever you are experiencing. Water is key with dehydration, but rest and just time to acclimate are the keys to overcoming altitude sickness. Be sure to seek medical attention if you aren’t feeling better.
Check out these articles for more info:
- Does dehydration have anything to do with altitude sickness? from HowStuffWorks
- Altitude Myths from The Institute for Altitude Medicine
Trip insurance rocks!
Whenever I’ve purchased a trip insurance policy, the cost was extremely reasonable. There are several companies that often have a few plans to choose from with various types of coverage. For this trip, I bought a policy from Travel Insured International for a little over $100. It plugged a hole on my regular auto insurance policy’s rental car coverage for a lot less than the rental car company’s damage waiver. It also offered several other benefits, including medical coverage…which is going to come in handy when I get the bill for my visit to the hospital in Jackson, Wyoming. As with any insurance, you have to purchase your policy before your trip.
Plan better next time.
When I’m in a new place with limited time, I want to rush and see all the things! I didn’t spend much time researching and planning activities for each destination…and this lack of organization and my compulsion to go, go, go wore Becky out. For our next big trip, I intend to do more research and better planning to hopefully avoid this.
Getting out early and staying out late rocks!
Since I’m a photographer, my favorite times to be anywhere are the hours before and after sunset and sunrise. Since I’m not a morning person, getting up early is not my forte. But every time we got an early start, great things happened! Besides the light often being best for photography, there is more wildlife out at these times. Weather in high country is usually best in the morning too, with more clouds and volatility moving in during the afternoon. Since most people visiting national parks are on vacation, the crowds are usually thin or nonexistent first thing in the morning. In the evening, most people head back to their campsites or hotels well before dark, so crowds are much better then as well. Better planning next time will allow us to do this more often and should really improve our results.
Tents need to be water-sealed each year.
I was unaware of this until after we had water in our tent several times on this trip! I still think it would be smart for us to upgrade to a better tent, but I do wish I’d known to re-coat ours beforehand to avoid some of the cleanup we had to do in the end.