Epic Road Trip, Part III: Away We Go to Idaho!

Tetons in the distance.
One of the greatest feelings in the world: driving towards mountains.

Welcome to Part III in the epic road trip series. To recap the previous installment, we saw the sights in Boulder, Colorado and I kept my distance from a tripped-out street performer.

Day 4
Starting Point: Boulder, Colorado
Destination: Ashton, Idaho
Distance: 581 miles

Monday (Day 4) began with us saying goodbye (temporarily) to Mr. and Mrs. Boulder and hitting the open road towards Ashton, Idaho. This leg of the journey took us across and up Wyoming. “The Cowboy State” is the 10th largest state by area, but is the least populated. We saw lots and lots (and lots) of open land on our drive, because the state only has around six people per square mile (to put that in perspective, Iowa has a huge-sounding 54 per square mile).

Beautiful Wyoming.
Beautiful Wyoming.

I love the Wyoming landscape: no shortage of unique rock formations, plus the Grand Tetons come into view as you venture north. Our route took us through Jackson, where we daydreamed about running into Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford or one of the many other celebrities who use the area as a scenic retreat. We had no such luck, but we did talk to a nice antique shop owner who mentioned that western art sells fast in Wyoming while turquoise jewelry practically goes unnoticed. So for those of you who are thinking about going to Wyoming to sell your turquoise, you’ve been warned.

Long after dining on a gourmet meal of Pepsi and gas station chicken strips, we made our way into Idaho. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Idaho is the most underrated state in the country. I developed that theory a decade earlier when I crossed its lush borders for the first time. This year’s trip reaffirmed it.

Be prepared to stop... and admire Idaho.
Be prepared to stop… and admire Idaho.

How can you not love Idaho? First and foremost, Idaho gets mistaken for Iowa all the time, and vice versa. If you think people can distinguish a western state that grows potatoes from a Midwestern state that grows corn, then you’re sorely mistaken. If there was such a thing as Geography Olympics, I’m convinced the U.S. would be like Kazakhstan at the 2014 winter games: one bronze medal and just happy to finish ahead of all the countries that didn’t win anything.

Along with being Iowa’s kindred spirit in geographical misplacement, Idaho has an unending array of attractions to keep you occupied: Craters of the Moon, Hells Canyon, Table Rock, Sun Valley, the quirky nuclear-related stuff in Arco (first city in the world to be lit by atomic power!), several national forests, and enough clean air to make you never want to drive by a hog farm ever again.

More of scenic Idaho.
More of scenic Idaho.

We pulled into the small town of Ashton sometime in the early evening. We really liked Ashton. It reminded me of small town Iowa… except for with mountains in the background. Everyone was friendly: from the grocery store to the gas station to the drive in (*cough* shameless plug for Frostop Drive-In), it felt like home. And if there’s anywhere you want to feel at home when you’re on vacation, it’s at your place of lodging. We made reservations a few months in advance for a cabin at Rankin Motel, and we were not disappointed.

Rankin Motel in Ashton, Idaho.
Rankin Motel in Ashton, Idaho.

Rankin Motel has been around for 90 years, and has been a family business for all nine of those decades. It is the quintessential example of roadside lodging, a throwback to the non-cookie cutter places of years past. We checked in at the front desk with Robert, who is basically an encyclopedia, concierge, and GPS all rolled into one. He gave us maps. He recommended restaurants in town. He told us about area attractions and advised us of construction zones on the way to Yellowstone. That’s the kind of service you usually don’t get at the chain hotels. Rankin has four quaint cabins, each with their own character and furnishings. It was exactly what we were looking for: quiet, clean, and cozy (oh, and reasonably priced, because, you know, we find deals).

The inside of our cabin.
The inside of our cabin.

The next day (Day 5), we were up early again, anxious to see everything that Yellowstone had to offer. After taking a scenic route to avoid some construction (thanks Robert!), we arrived at the doorstep of one of THE. Most. Beautiful. Places. On. The. Planet.

Hello again, Yellowstone. I've waited 10 long years to see you again.
Good morning, Yellowstone. I’ve waited 10 long years to see you again.

Would Old Faithful give us a powerful performance? Would we be able to locate some of the spots I saw a decade earlier? And most importantly, would we see lots and lots (and lots) of bison? Stay tuned for Part IV, where the photos will absolutely make your jaw drop.

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