Although the focus of our trip was on the various parks we visited and the outdoor activities we did, the road trip itself was also interesting in itself. As I also mention in the main trip story, driving from your doorstep to far-flung places gives one an interesting sense of continuity. There is also the experience of noticing not only the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle change landscape, but also in the local culture, highway infrastructure, and even the weather.
Our driving started at noon on Thursday, July 17. Our route headed west from Ottawa to Sault Ste Marie, then into the states and west to northwestern Wyoming. From there we headed north to Northwestern Montana and into Alberta. In Alberta, we visited the cities of Lethbridge and Calgary and toured the icefields parkway up to Jasper. From there we took the Yellowhead highway back east to Winnipeg, and then from there the trans-canada, all the way back to Ottawa. Our driving ended in the evening of Saturday, August 2. And now, the details....
July 17 - Ottawa to Camp Amogla
A beautiful clear warm day in Eastern Ontario. Myself, Ewart, Caroline and Peter fill up the Dodge Grand Caravan rental van that we have rented for a really good price from Hertz here in Ottawa. Markus and Luc have gone ahead in Markus' car (a 2001 Acura EL 1.7). We have a really comfortable setup in the van, since we have removed the third row of seats and the second row of seats are captain's chairs.
417 west out of Ottawa is a nice smooth dual carriageway - very
nice for making good time. Unfortunately it isn't long before the
417 peters out into the congested 2-lane of highway 17. When will
THE trans-canada highway through Ontario finally be divided highway
all the way?
Highway 17 north of Lk Nippising
Still, the weather is pleasant, and the company good. There are some nice views here and there of lakes and of rugged canadian shield scenery. Sudbury's desolate moonscape is slowly growing back but is still kind of eerie looking.
The Big Nickel
We are desperately low on gas near Sudbury so we head in for a fillup... and then realize we are really close to the famous 'big nickel', so we stop by and snap a few shots of us with it.
From there it is another few hours of busy highway to Markus' parent's Camp Amogla (near Sault Ste Marie), where we spend the night.
Total mileage for the day: 752 km. Total elapsed time: 8h 53m, including all stops.
July 18 - Camp Amogla to Watertown, South Dakota
Pictured Rocks NL
is to make a good amount of distance west on this day, so
we are up and off at 4:30 am. We cross into the US at Sault Ste
Marie, and from there head west on Michigan hwy 28. We stop off
for a couple of hours to check out Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- very nice. From there we continue west, more or less staying on
Michigan hwy 28 / US 2 all the way to Duluth. The scenery here is
very similar in many areas to northen Ontario scenery. Duluth is
quite the industrial hub/port, being at the very western end of
the St. Lawrence seaway. Impressive dockworks.
hoping to eventually make our way to the I-90 corridor heading west.
Unfortunately there is no easy direct way to get to there from the
Duluth area. We choose a zig-zag route, trying to combine as straight
of a route as possible with taking advantage of Interstates and
avoiding major cities (ie -
Paul). Although culturally and scenically interesting, we find that
many of the major 2-lane highways in this area have a lot of low-speed
areas where they go through small towns. Through this leg we notice
the land changing to a more open farmland, and in some places it
is definitely starting to have that "prairie feel". Also
of note is how the population density is decreasing as we head west.
Weather continues to be perfect and sunny.
Eventually we find ourselves on Interstate 29 in South Dakota, heading south to intersect the I-90. The land here is open and flat. The Interstate itself is smooth, wide and in excellent shape, has a nice high 75 mph speed limit. And to top it all of, it is nearly deserted! Such a contrast to the slow congested two-lanes of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Sunrise in Watertown
Dusk is approaching, so we consult our GPS-based maps to look for a campsite of some sort in the area. We decide to explore a couple of small parks near Watertown, South Dakota. We are in luck and snag the last spot at Sandy Shore State Park on the shore of Lake Kampeska.
All in all, we've managed a total distance of 1381 km. Total elapsed time: 18h 35m, including all stops and visits. And we are now in the Central Time Zone.
July 19 - Watertown, South Dakota to Sheridan, Wyoming
West at sunrise
Another day of "just driving", but along the way there are several attractions that divert us! We are up and off shortly after 5am, continuing south on I-29 to intersect the I-90.
Unfortunately some pea-soup fog slows us down until we get to the I-90. Then, as we head west on the I-90, we emerge into a hot sunny day (again). Very much in prairie-type landscape now. It is noticeable more arid, and we can tell that the relative humidity is lower. I-90 is busy but fast, and we make excellent time. When we reach the southwestern corner of South Dakota, where there are many
interesting attractions, we stop off to visit Badlands NP and Mount Rushmore, and then we continue on I-90 into Northeastern Wyoming where we visit spectacular Devil's Tower. From there we continue west on I-90 as far as we can before the daylight gives out near Sheridan, Wyoming. The landscape has changed from flat prairie to open ranch-and-mountain-type western scenery. Just what you'd expect from a state that has a cowboy riding a bucking horse on their license plates.
In sheridan we find a sleepy local motel (the Parkway Motel) to crash for the night.
Total distance for the day: 1256 km. Total elapsed time: 18h 16m, including all stops and visits. We are now in the Mountain Time Zone.
July 20 - Sheridan, Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
drive starts at 5:30am from Sheridan, where we leave I-90 and head
directly west over the Bighorn Mountain range on US 14. Finally
some good twisties! Lots of elevation gain and excellent vistas
as the road climbs to over 9000 feet. There is a lot of open range
with farm animals all over the road up here, too. US 14 descends
to the west off of the Bighorn Mountains through a very desert-canyon-like
area and with some even more excellent twistyage. From there it
is more western-ranch like terrain straight west to Cody.
Is this the Colorado Plateau?
Cruisin' in the Markusmobile
US 14 continues west to the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is a very large and interesting place, with a large variety of scenery and attractions. One of the biggest being, of course, geothermal features. Our driving day ends as our Shoshone Lake Backpack begins at about 1 or 2pm.
Total distance: 444 km. Total elapsed time: 7h 54m, including all stops.
July 21 - Yellowstone National Park to Grand Teton National Park,
This driving segment is a short hop between our Yellowstone Backpack and our campsites in Grand Teton NP, where we are planning to climb Teewinot Mountain. Although the drive is short, it is very scenic, with interesting views of the burned areas from the 1988 Yellowstone fires, a deep gorge (lewis river gorge?), and of course spectacular views of the Teton range. We camp for the night at Colter Bay campground in Grand Teton NP.
East entrance, Yellowstone NP
Grand Teton National Park
Total distance 86km. Total elapsed time: 1h 45m, including all stops.