Elk in Yellowstone National Park

Road Trip America: Oregon to Colorado

I’ve seen quite a lot of Western America in the last two weeks. In fact, I’ve traveled over 1,500 miles by car and by raft, in what started as a three-day float on the Snake River in Hell’s Canyon, before crossing that same river by bridge in several more states across the country. On the river, we saw a black bear, big horned sheep, and plenty of rapids that threatened to overturn our boat, or sink us all together. Hells Canyon

I was home for nearly 48 hours between three days and nights of sun, rapids, drinking and camping, and a five-day road trip from Oregon to Colorado. In my hungover state, I packed my Nissan Xterra with clothes still on the hanger, bags filled with random items and, as I would discover upon unpacking, far more recreational equipment than items necessary for moving into a new house. I should have packed more road trip essentials, but instead I simply packed my car full and called it good, hoping I had everything I would want when I arrived.Packed Car

I was leery in thought, worrying about packing up my life into a car. Then I reminded myself: For the past two years, I didn’t need any more than what fit in my backpack.

Soon, when the windows were covered and there were only two holes left, one for my dog and one for my friend, I felt disappointed that I had so much stuff. So much unnecessary stuff. All I really wanted was my snowboard and boots, my computer, camera, dog and a few clothes. Unpacking all the rest, however, was far too much work.

This is probably not a normal reaction to moving across the country…

I’ve been talking about this move for two years now, but the timing just never seemed right. When moving to Colorado first popped into my head, I hadn’t yet realized my dreams of traveling to Asia, but I knew something was amiss. Then, after nearly seven months abroad, in April 2012, I was forced to decide between travel and graduate school while I overlooked the river in one of my favorite cities, Luang Prabang, Laos.

Travel won.

Not long after I was home last summer, China summoned me with a job offer I couldn’t pass up. Then India seduced me before Thailand called me back and reminded me our relationship wasn’t yet over.

The past two years have been unforgettable, and they’ve proven to me how important travel is and will continue to be in my life. I still have many more destinations on my USA bucket list, but for now it’s time to check off another item on The Life List: a Master’s Degree.

However, I couldn’t just move to Colorado without seeing some of America The Beautiful on the way down. I said goodbye to family and friends in Condon, Oregon, picked up my friend Autumn in Bend, and hit the road. That first day, we stopped for lunch in Boise, Idaho and drove all the way to Pocatello. It took us nearly 10 hours to reach the small college town in Eastern Idaho where the cows smell and the entire town closes on Sunday, but the journey was full of laughter, girl talk and horrific singing (on my end. Autumn’s actually pretty good).

Sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination, but boy did we show Pocatello a good time! We caught a live band, ate some delicious Chinese food, and hit up the town bar before crashing with a good friend.

We started the next day slowly, with way too many Bloody Marys and a nap. Then, we were off to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and it didn’t take long to realize I was in love with Jackson.

And Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton Park

And Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone Park

All are within an hour drive, and all are uniquely stunning. Before arriving, we had envisioned digging our cowgirl boots out of the back and finding some cute cowboys to take us out dancing, but the Tetons, with all their splendor and wildlife, enchanted us before those cowboys ever had a chance (a love letter is coming shortly). Then, in Yellowstone, an elk crossed the road right in front of us and Old Faithful proved her faithfulness with a brilliant show of spouting hot water before a crowd of hundreds. That night, we couchsurfed with some pretty cool guys in Jackson, who guided us toward the scenic route to Fort Collins.

We knew that Wyoming is the least populated state in all of the U.S.A., but we were unprepared for the vast nothingness we encountered. Nothing, that is, except nearly every kind of mountain formation, including rock, red clay, rolling and pointed. We had lunch and another bloody in Lander, where friendly locals were happy to have us and a blind man sold me a rotten CD (we were desperate for some new music by this time. Anybody ever heard of The Tibor Brothers?).

When we finally arrived in Fort Collins, my new home for at least the next two years, we were exhausted and thrilled to have reached our destination.

Welcome ColoradoIn the past few days, I’ve been acquainting myself with the city, getting settled into my adorable little house, and meeting up with old and new friends in Denver. So far, I think I’m going to like it here. It might even be love.

And thank goodness for good first impressions, for this road trip as a whole was just as much about the destination as it was the journey. And so far, both of exceeded my expectations.

If I have to be ‘stuck’ somewhere, I’m glad it’s here.

Dog stuck in car

Have you ever been on a road trip? Where did you go? What was your favorite part about the journey/destination?

Road Trip America: Oregon to Colorado
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

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  1. Autumn Curtis says:

    Love this girl! I had so much fun. Maybe next summer we should start in Colorado and work our way East. Oh, and with us, it really is mostly about the journey.

  2. Frank says:

    Love the post Jessica, some great photos. And the dog’s cute!
    Frank (bbqboy)

  3. globalmouse says:

    That’s an amazing river! (and that is a very full car!!) Great road trip 🙂

  4. rajesh says:

    Take care,may god bless you !

  5. Driving down the Oregon Coast was my favorite road trip!

  6. Jennifer says:

    “Vast nothingness”…we’ve made that exact statement a time or two driving between Arizona and California and Nevada and California. LOL!

  7. I lived in Colorado for a while, WOW is really all you can say. I never did the route you did, actually Oregon is the only state I haven’t been to on the West Coast, but Colorado was simply god’s country.

    Funny enough if you enter Colorado from the other side, east, it is flat as a board and you can’t believe that there are these mountains and parks for the first 100 miles if not more.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Hi, Marina! Colorado is beautiful, and there’s so much of it I have yet to see. However, if you think this is God’s country, you certainly shouldn’t have skipped Oregon! I know I’m biased, but I think it’s the most beautiful state on the West Coast, possibly in all the PNW as well. We really have it all there; mountains, lakes, rivers, ocean, more breweries per capita than anywhere else, the dry east (check out the Painted Hills!) and the wet west (Portland is funky, with the patented saying, “Keep Portland Weird”). I hope you get the chance to go one day!

  8. Colorado looks so beautiful! Love the photos. I’ve done road trips along the great ocean road in Australia and New Zealand. These places were just so gorgeous and I loved the freedom of self drives.

  9. Marsha says:

    Gorgeous photos and one very packed car! Good luck on the Master’s – they’re hard work but so worth it. Awesome for choosing travel first!

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks so much, Marsha. I’m all set to start classes tomorrow (eeek!), but I’m really excited about it and I’m really glad I took another year to travel and make sure I was really ready for school. Now, I just gotta get through a few months so I can hit the road again!

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