As my family navigates countless echoey byways of the American West, people worth remembering, oddities worth experiencing, and stories worth telling never fail to emerge from the deceptively quiet landscape. Our exploration of Idaho, Yellowstone National Park, Salt Lake City, and northern Colorado yielded a surplus — and I am glad to share the bounty with you.
1) Frostop Diner — Ashton, Idaho
I begged my wife to brake as we zoomed past the vista of a gargantuan twirling frosted mug. I am a sucker for an icy root beer, especially if it is locally crafted. I rummaged a couple of fives from her purse and galloped inside for a frozen mugful. I asked the waitress to tell me about their version of the crafted soft drink, to which she replied, “Uh, it’s just A&W. Do you still want some?” I tucked my tail between my legs and wallowed back to the car — just as thirsty as when I arrived.
2) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
After a full day of exploring the volcanic instability known as Yellowstone National Park, we ran into a traffic snag just shy of the exit gate. Unlike any other jam I have ever sat through, this one was caused by a stream of Buffalo — at least 40 — marching single-file down the road. Unlike the Atlanta gridlock I have endured on countless occasions, this parade of bison quickly became my favorite sight of the day (and among the best moments of the trip.)
3) Thousand Trails Campground — Centralia, Washington
Before dusk, a somewhat frantic fellow camper scampered over to our site. Through quick breaths, she heralded the urgent message that she spotted a cougar sprinting through the campground. Though we never actually saw the beast, I have never sprinted through the dark for a restroom as madly as I dashed that night.
4) Strawberry Hot Springs — Steamboat Springs, Colorado
The hot springs atop a long mountain climb a handful of miles from Steamboat Springs are touted to be among the best in the world — and I heartily agree. The drive up the mountainside to its parking lot, however, is not quite so pleasant. After spinning our wheels in the dirt, we made the decision to drop our beloved 1969 Shasta travel trailer on the side of the gravel road. Even minus the extra weight, our elderly Honda Element barely made the summit. With the hot springs parking lot finally in view, I hit the brakes and hung my head, suddenly remembering that our bathing suits and towels were all folded neatly inside the trailer, now two sinewy miles in the rearview.
4) China Star Restaurant — Duchesne, UT
Riddle: where can you order a bowl of chicken chow mein, a patty melt and fries, carne asada tacos, and a chocolate-banana shake? Answer: at the China Star restaurant — Duchesne, Utah’s ONLY restaurant (unless you consider roller hotdogs from the Chevron station legitimate dining). Jacks-of-all-trades are generally thought to be masters of none, but the whiz-kid chef at the China Star aptly rose to the challenge. For twenty dollars, we tore through a pan-continental lunch and washed it all down with a tall, thick, gooey shake that rivaled the best I have ordered from much more famous, aluminum-and-neon-clad diners across the country.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped in Ogallala, Nebraska and headed toward Omaha. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!