by DiAnn Mills
Wow! I’m still swinging on a vacation high. My husband and I just returned from a fabulous eleven day road trip through the northwest. I believe I have enough research material to write historical novels for the next ten years--and that doesn’t include the sequels.
We flew from Houston to Denver and then began our drive northeast to western Nebraska across the Pawnee Grassland. Desolate and eerily beautiful. Before the day was over, we stopped at Scotts Bluff, the site of the Old Oregon Trail. The amazing rock formations there and at Chimney Rock caused me to wonder what the early pioneers thought when they crossed through this part of the country en route west.
Day two, we drove on through western Nebraska. I learned that more men than women died of cholera, leaving the women alone to face the hardships of the western frontier. There’s a story there. We visited Fort Robinson, the site of the last cavalry outpost and where Buffalo Soldiers were sent after the Civil War. From there we drove into South Dakota and Buffalo Gap National Grassland. What an incredible time we had viewing the intricate carved figures at Crazy Horse Mountain and Mount Rushmore.
Day three, we drove through Bear Country USA, a wildlife park that allows viewers to see animals up close - and personal. Bears, arctic wolves, elk, gray wolves, deer, mountain lions, lynx, and many more animals greeted us in their natural habitat. I was grateful that a grizzly couldn’t reach the car. In Wyoming, we drove through Sundance and hiked around Devils Mountain that looked like a huge bear had clawed its way up the impressive rock.
Day four, we were in Gillette, Wyoming. The morning was a cool 57 degrees. Absolutely stunning scenery. In the distance, we could see the Bighorn Mountains. Once in Montana, we were on the Crow Reservation. At the site of Custer’s Last Stand, we took an informative audio tour that shed an unbiased light on what really happened during the controversial battle.
Day five, we toured a highly recommended Lewis and Clark interpretative site in Great Falls, Montana. We continued with a fabulous scenic route through extraordinary country along the Missouri River on the way to Bozeman.
Day six, we drove into Yellowstone National Park. The temperature hovered over 50 degrees in spitting rain. This Houston gal slipped into a coat. Then the skies cleared. I’d never seen so many buffalo and elk in one place. The geysers made me uncomfortable, giant cauldrons of mud, water, and steam. Old Faithful was right on time! Ah, Jackson Hole, Wyoming took my breath away.
Day seven we drove back into Yellowstone and simply enjoyed the natural wonders. The vast canyons with rushing and roaring waterfalls made we wish I knew how to paint. Some of the tips of the mountains were snow-covered. I could only imagine what it would be like to cross them in a wagon or on foot.
Day eight we spent the night in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and spent the morning exploring the Grant Tetons. We intended to hike around Jenny Lake, but it’s a seven mile jaunt, so we opted for part of it. In the afternoon, we drove to Green River, Wyoming, where we drove thirteen miles up a dirt road to the tall bluffs that are the home of many wild horses. It was incredible. In fact it was one of my favorite stops.
Day nine, we left Green River--a place I could live-- and headed south to Flaming Gorge Dam. Now I will admit this was my least favorite spot of the entire trip. I’m simply not a technologically-based person, and generators and walls of concrete don’t excite me. But Mr. Mills loved it. We drove on to Vernal, following much of the same path as Casey O’Hare in Leather and Lace. That drive made me want to revisit stories along the old Outlaw Trail.
Day ten brought us back into Colorado to Steamboat Springs. We drove through the Rocky Mountain National Park, one of our favorite spots, and made sure we ate lunch at Alpine Point. There is something special about a great cup of coffee and chicken noodle soup on a mountain peak that dips to 50 degrees below zero in the winter. Then we drove on to Lyons and Loveland where my current work in progress is set. I had a marvelous time exploring the land, people, and culture of 1880. A Woman Called Sage is a March 1 release, and I’m getting more and more excited about the book.
Day eleven was a reflective time. I don’t know which area I liked the best. But I know for sure that I’d welcome the opportunity to revisit all of them--except the dam!