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Old 11th February 2024, 10:03   #1
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An Epic Road Trip in the US

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Excited to write my first travelogue (a brief one though) in the forum. Due to new job requirements, I had to relocate from the West Coast (Davis, California) to the Midwest (Madison, Wisconsin). I looked at the route map options and found I could travel through several scenic routes and national parks. So, I did not want to miss a rare chance and ended up buying the VW Arteon. I have compiled my ownership experience in the other thread, please check it out. All the photos were taken either with my Nikon Z8 DSLR + Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S line all-rounder or Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 tele. The non-dash cam videos are from the Samsung S22 Ultra

Some Stats
Travel Days: 7 days (Aug, 2023)
Distance: ~2500 miles or ~3800kms
Number of States Travelled: 9 states (California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin)
Number of National Parks Covered: 4 National Parks (Yosemite, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Badlands)
Number of Mountain Pass: 3 (Tioga Pass, Teton Pass, and Beartooth Pass)


Day-1
Travel time: 10hr
Distance: 530miles (~870km), Davis, California to Ely, Nevada
States covered: California and Nevada
Scenic Drive: Tioga Pass (8000-9945ft elevation MSL)

We started our journey in a packed car. There was no place except for me, my wife, and my daughter. I had the easiest route to reach Idaho Falls through Lake Tahoe, California, and Reno, Nevada via Interstate-80 but I chose to travel through the Tioga Mountain pass (State highway 120), a ~35mile drive at a peak elevation of ~9945ft in the Yosemite national park, the highest Mountain pass in California. Tioga Pass is considered one of the most scenic routes in the US with a couple of glaciers. Although Davis, the place I lived in California is close to Yosemite National Park, I never drove through this Mountain pass since it is closed during the winter season due to snow (Nov-Apr). The year 2023 recorded one of the heaviest snowfalls in the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges. As a result, the mountain pass was not opened until mid-August, 2023, just a week before my trip. Though the views are great and the road is pretty good, I felt it was overhyped to some extent.


Tioga Pass scenic drive


Half-dome of the Yosemite National Park as seen from Tioga Pass
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Tuolumne meadows at Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park, California
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We had our packed food at Tenaya Lake, Tioga Pass, one of the most scenic picnic spots en route.
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Once we descended the mountain range, I covered nearly 300+ miles in the next 5 hours to reach Ely, Nevada where I booked my night stay. Even in the remote rural Nevada, most of the gas stations are run by Punjabis!

Day-2
Travel time: 6h 40min
Distance: 420miles (~660km), Ely, Nevada to Idaho Falls, Idaho
States Covered: Nevada and Idaho
Scenic Drive: Barren Lands of Rural Nevada and Idaho

Started our day 2 journey at 9 am and I was prepared for one of the boring drives in the deserted Nevada state for the next 300 miles, but I was wrong. The small bushes with large mountain backdrops, and straight roads that can run for 30-40 miles without any curves made this drive beautiful in its way. The maximum allowed speed is also higher (75mph) than in California (70mph). The roads have very little traffic and are deserted. At one point, I saw a sign indicating that the next gas station was 130 miles away! By afternoon we stopped at Twin Falls, Idaho. It has one of the nice-looking manmade waterfalls called Shoshone Falls. We reached it in the afternoon and spent around 1 hour exploring the place. After having lunch, drove straight to Idaho Falls, Idaho, and rested for the day

Shoshone Falls at Twin Falls, Idaho
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Agricultural lands, Idaho
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Day-3
Travel time: 5h
Distance: 200miles (~320km)
States Covered: Idaho and Wyoming
Scenic Drive: Grand Teton National Park

We planned the day to be the shortest in drive as we must explore the Grand Teton National Park. We traveled through one of the less popular Mountain passes, Teton Pass which has a peak elevation of ~8500ft and close to 18 miles. It was one of the unexpected scenic drives on the route. We had no idea of it until I drove there. This pass comes at the southern edge of the Teton mountain range.

Grand Teton National Park is a cascade of Rocky Mountains that also has several glaciers. There are 10 peaks over 12000ft in height (3700m), out of all, Grand Teton is the highest peak (13775ft or 4199m). Grand Teton National Park is just a few miles from the great Yellowstone National Park. One can take a scenic drive from Moose Junction to Jackson Junction via Jenny Lake. There are other small lakes too which are very clean. Boat rides and other activities are available on a rental basis. There is also plenty of wildlife (Bears, Moose, etc.) but sighting depends on your luck. By late evening, we arrived at our hotel in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Teton mountain range with Grand Teton in the middle, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
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Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
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Jenny Lake scenic drive



Day-4
Travel time: N/A
Distance: N/A
States Covered: Montana, Idaho and Wyoming
Scenic Drive: Yellowstone National Park
All day exploring the geological wonders of Yellowstone National Park


Scenic foggy mornings in Yellowstone
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Scenic drive


Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the US with a vast area covering 3 states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho). Yellowstone is a geological wonder with roughly 10000 hydrothermal features which must be experienced in person. The hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots are all because of the nature of the Yellowstone basin which was a super volcano (a volcano several times bigger than a normal one, here the Yellowstone volcano dome was some 45x50 square miles!) that erupted 6.3 lakh years ago and the magma beneath the surface is still hot. Most of the year, the temperatures are below the freezing point, yet the hydrothermal features are still boiling due to the heat underneath. Many microbial archeological studies were conducted here and found microbial life in the hot springs (>90 C. Useful applications have been developed from these microbes like enzymes required for polymerase chain reaction test (The test behind many diseases, most popularly for the recent CoVID pandemic).

Thermophilic bacterial mats near Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
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Yellowstone boasts the country's most breathtaking waterfalls.

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
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There is also plenty of wildlife, particularly the Yellowstone Bison, the largest living land animal in North America. Many numbers are on the park's northeast side.

Herd of Yellowstone Bison on the northeast side of the park
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Pronghorn Antelope
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The main attraction point of Yellowstone is the odd 500 geysers some of which erupt periodically. The park has prediction times for each of them Old Faithful - Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov). Old Faithful, the most predictable geyser, puts on a show every 90 minutes and reaches a height of 100-180ft. Besides the geysers, there are hot water pools and fumaroles. The best point of interest, according to me, was the Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s the largest hot spring in the park with a bright orange to green color appearance at the edges. The colors are because of various thermophilic (heat-loving microbes) organisms growing due to differences in the pool surface temperature.

Old Faithful during an eruption
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Excelsior Geyser Crater
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Grand Prismatic Spring
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Fountain Paint Pot Trail
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Fountain Geyser
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Blue Bell Pool on the west side of the Yellowstone
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We planned for a 2 full-day tour of Yellowstone National Park, but the park and the number of points of interest are so huge that we could not cover a few (Mammoth Hot Springs) on the north side.


Day-5
Travel time: 13h 30min
Distance: 540miles (~870km)
States Covered: Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota
Scenic Drive: Beartooth Pass (Elevation 11000ft!)

Mountain driving proved to be the day's toughest challenge. The shortest route to exit the park to Midwest states is via Buffalo. But before my trip, I came across an article that mentioned some of the best mountain pass drives in the US. I found that the Beartooth pass is very close to Yellowstone, and I could take it to reach Rapid City in South Dakota if I don’t mind an additional 2-hour drive. But I was not sure if we would have that additional 2h time as the journey for that day is already coming around 9 hours without Beartooth Pass. Finally, I decided to take it through the mountain pass on the day. Beartooth Pass (US State Highway 212) is a high mountain road in the states of Wyoming and Montana at an elevation of above 10000ft. It is situated between Silver Gate and Red Lodge, Montana. Beartooth Pass is usually open only for 5 months in a year due to heavy snow and is ~15 miles in length. As described the views were breathtaking. It's situated at such a high elevation; that I started developing symptoms of altitude sickness in no time which forced me to descend quickly. The entire route is well-maintained and excellently laid. This route should be on the bucket list if you like mountain drives.

Beartooth Pass, Montana
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Scenic drive


Day-6
Travel time: 6h 30min
Distance: 410miles (~650km)
States Covered: South Dakota
Scenic Drive: Badlands National Park

We started our day in the morning and while checking out the hotel a notification popped up by the Google app showing nearby places. I was surprised to see that the Mount Rushmore Rock Memorial is only a 40-minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota. Having seen these pictures on the internet several times, I decided not to miss them and made a sudden change of plan to cover this important point of interest. Mt. Rushmore Memorial is famous for sculptures of the famous American presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln (left to right), surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota. These four presidents represent the nation's birth, growth, development, and preservation, respectively. The face sculptures are around 60ft tall and it’s a sight to behold. Fortunately, the time we visited, it was about to rain with black clouds in the background, a photographer’s delight. We spent an hour time there and resumed our journey to the next national park.

Mt. Rushmore Memorial, from left to right George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln
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Before my trip, I was not aware of Badlands National Park. It is one of the less popular and less explored national parks in the country. The park is famous for its rock formations and fossil beds which are mainly formed from volcanic ash. The process of these rock formations, trapped several lives during the event period and hence home to a lot of fossils. Many of the extinct animal fossils have been found in the park and it is one of the most interesting sites for a paleontologist. The rock formations are of various types, but the most promising ones are the Chadron’s and Yellow Mounds. One can take a scenic drive by entering the park from the west side near Wall and drive to Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the east side through the park. This is a surprise drive of the trip. The drive-through rock formations are great (check the video below).

Chadron rock formations of Badlands National Park, South Dakota
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Ridges and canyons of Badlands
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Yellow mounds of Badlands on the west side of the park
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A mountain goat on the rock formations
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Badlands scenic drive
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Day-7
Travel time: 6h 30min
Distance: 420miles (~665km)
States Covered: South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Scenic Drive: None

The boring day of the entire trip. All the landscapes and views disappeared as soon as we entered the Midwest. All we could see was the huge corn or maize fields on either side of the freeway. However, the destination city Madison welcomes us with a lot of greenery. The summer weather and the greenery reminded me of Bengaluru, and it certainly has the same vibes.

I hope you enjoyed reading this travelogue and don’t hesitate to PM me for any additional information if you need it. I am always here to help. Thanks for reading.

Last edited by vb-saan : 12th February 2024 at 14:26. Reason: Photos alignment
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Old 12th February 2024, 07:29   #2
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12th February 2024, 10:10   #3
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Thanks for sharing. Brings back many memories.

I remember the first time we came across a herd of bison on the Kansas Prairie. Magnificent creatures!

You can do road trips in almost any country. But doing road trips in the USA, always felt a bit special for some reason. Part of it probably comes from the sheer vast- and emptiness of it.


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Old 12th February 2024, 13:13   #4
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

This is amazing. This reminds me of my cross country trip from California to Maryland in 2018-2019.

Me and my wife did this adventure as we were leaving the USA for good and moved back to India in my very much beloved Nissan Altima SL.
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Old 12th February 2024, 19:20   #5
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Beautiful!
Having lived in the US for 5 years bring back so many memories, especially YellowStone as lived in SF. Kudos to covering diverse landscape in short period of time owing to the move!
Goodluck with the move!
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Old 12th February 2024, 20:30   #6
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rajamass View Post
I hope you enjoyed reading this travelogue
Lovely travelogue, thanks for sharing!

Glad you drove down; such road trips are a tremendous opportunity to explore the diversity of a country. And the one you've taken crosses through significantly different topographies and ways of life in the US; shows such a different side of the US than most see/know of.

Could you add a route map please.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post
But doing road trips in the USA, always felt a bit special for some reason. Part of it probably comes from the sheer vast- and emptiness of it.
True. And as boring and largely uneventful as they are, there is a poetic comfort in the consistency of them. The look and feel and experience on most highways will always be the same. For all you know, you might be driving in loops!
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Old 12th February 2024, 20:38   #7
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by libranof1987 View Post
Could you add a route map please.
Thanks for your lovely words. Here is the route map which I forgot to add in the original post
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Old 13th February 2024, 07:38   #8
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Ah you beat me to it, I wanted to post a guide to hiring cars for Indian visitors in the US. My trip was forced by flight cancellations and more logistically easier as i had meetings in multiple places along the east coast. It was through a rare Arctic freeze and my companion was a trusty 3 Series.
My travel was from Newark all the way to Auburn, Alabama and back. A total of about 2150 miles /3450 KMs over a period of 6 days.

Wanted to put in some pointers on hiring cars with a B1/B2 visa and an Indian driving licence.

1. Don't go by a few dollars of savings, choose a good car. I chose a Beemer as the weather was absolutely crazy
2. I chose Sixt as my rental agency, absolutely the best maintained cars and they mostly have Beemers/Mercs/Jeeps and high end Toyotas
3. You can drive in the USA without an IDL , as long as you have your chip card licence and the details are in English. good idea to carry your passport with your visa too. Big cities are not a problem, however, rural areas they may want to check your papers fully.
4. You will have to buy liability insurance for the duration of your hire, this is mandatory in all states
5. If. you book using a service provider like Priceline/Kayak/Expedia etc then you can pay in Indian Rupees, be sure to select your licence issuing country as India. This will auto add some protections to your hire. You will need a credit card with the driver's name to pick up the car. A hold/block might be placed on your card for the duration of your trip
6.Choose a smaller airport/pick up location, saves some $$. Example: Picking up the car from La Guardia/Newark is cheaper than picking up from JFK in New York
7. City locations for pick up are more expensive
8. Choosing the same pick up /drop off location is ideal and saves money too
9. Buy unlimited toll pass its about USD 6 per day with Sixt, else you will be charged the toll and an admin fee every time you pass a toll and it can be a pretty packet
10. Buy the unlimited mileage option, you will get a full tank of fuel. be sure to return it with a full tank of fuel, any gap will be filled by the agency at a much higher cost
11. When you get the car, its a good idea to walk around, take pics of any damage that you notice. If you feel that it is more than you expect, it is ok to ask for a different car. Agencies are very polite about it.
12. If possible get a car with inbuilt Maps/Navigation, trying to use your phone with an Indian data plan or a tourist data plan can have lags/gaps due to speed issues and you could be back tracking after missing turns or exits
13. Adjust mirrors, IRVM before you start driving. Also note the position of all buttons etc
14. Drive safe, the US is a driver's heaven and you will really enjoy the vast countryside while having the convenience of going anywhere you please. While you may witness some cars going over speed limits, it is not a great idea to do so.
15. Don't break rules, even if you are not fined immediately or caught the rental agency has the right to charge you for any infringement during your hire.
16. Get familiar with parking rules and charges, example you cant leave your car parked at certain hours due to street cleaning, it is your responsibility to move it or you cant park in certain zones like near fire hydrants.






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Last edited by skrao : 13th February 2024 at 07:42. Reason: image inserted twice
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Old 13th February 2024, 18:41   #9
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rajamass View Post
Excited to write my first travelogue (a brief one though) in the forum. I looked at the route map options and found I could travel through several scenic routes and national parks.
Hi Rajamass,

Beautifully captured and elaborated. Some of those routes have been on my bucket list for a long time, like Mt Rushmore, Badlands, Yellowstone and Beartooth.

Was Devils Tower National Monument enroute as well ? That's one place I have been yearning to go, ever since, after watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as a child.

Will PM you for some specifics on the route. Thanks for sharing and happy and safe mile munching in your new VW Arteon.
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Old 14th February 2024, 09:38   #10
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by nikhilarni View Post

Was Devils Tower National Monument enroute as well ? That's one place I have been yearning to go, ever since, after watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as a child.
I just checked and it is indeed very close to the route I took but I missed it
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Old 14th February 2024, 10:18   #11
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rajamass View Post
Excited to write my first travelogue (a brief one though) in the forum.
Wonderful travelogue; thank you for sharing! Looking forward to many more travel stories.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post
You can do road trips in almost any country. But doing road trips in the USA, always felt a bit special for some reason. Part of it probably comes from the sheer vast- and emptiness of it.
Totally agree! I have done only one road trip in the US (the Pacific Coast Highway), and that magic is yet to be replicated.
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Old 14th February 2024, 15:18   #12
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Re: An Epic Road Trip in the US

That is some awesome photos for a first travelogue, thoroughly loved going through the thread, the place is indeed very scenic, keep posting more.
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