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Comes Full Circle

TripMaker: The Great American Road Trip
Comes Full Circle

Final Adventures on a Road Trip out West Using Rand’s New Online Trip Planner

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Hello from the road—again! Now 15 days into a 21-day road trip, I’ve driven more than 2,300 miles through seven out of eight states on my road trip out west. After mapping it all out on Rand McNally’s new TripMaker®, a free online trip planning tool, I’ve found and added many Things to Do to the My Trip list. I also popped my trip into a Rand McNally GPS device, which, by the way, has not once lost its signal—even when my smartphone did on those long, desolate mountain or desert highways.

It’s time for the final segment of my road trip itinerary from Boise, ID, to Butte, MT; Cheyenne, WY, via Yellowstone and several towns; and back down to Denver. Check out my earlier TripMaker road trip planning accounts and reports from the road in Mapping, Creating, and Taking the Great American Road Trip and The Great American Road Trip Takes Some Turns.

Adventures in Cowboy Country

On this leg, I saw more wide-brimmed Stetsons than I could count. From Boise, ID, I headed north to burly Butte, MT, with a TripMaker Things to Do detour to Twin Falls, ID. The beautiful cascades for which the town is named made for one of the best hour-long diversions of my entire trip. I also loved Butte’s National Historic Landmark District, with its original storefronts, preserved signage, and rusty-brick buildings leftover from a mining heyday. A cool arts culture also lends the town some flair.


Chico Hot Springs Resort

South of Butte was my next, highly anticipated stop: Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa, in Pray, MT. This lovely (and reasonably priced) hotel is on the road to Yellowstone National Park. Its main lodge opened in 1900 to accommodate those taking advantage of a pair of pools fed by natural, mineral-rich hot springs. In addition to taking a curative soak (or two), you can get a massage or go horseback riding or hiking—all amid gorgeous mountain views.

No Fish Cleaning!

After one last hot-springs dip, I set off on a day’s drive through Wyoming. Good thing I had allocated plenty of time to motor through Yellowstone—America’s first national park. Chilly, hazy weather led to sluggish traffic and road closures. The latter included the park’s South Entrance, which meant skipping a visit to Old Faithful. The drive through the East Entrance, however, led me past geysers, waterfalls, peaks, the Sulphur Cauldron (stinky!), Yellowstone Lake, and lots of roaming bison.

Given the timing of things, I decided to bypass Devils Tower. Instead, as the plains skies cleared, TripMaker and my Rand McNally GPS steered me through Cody, Thermopolis, and into Shoshoni, where I laid my head down at the very modest Desert Inn. Among its humble charms were a classic neon MOTEL sign and some truly unique house rules taped to the door, including: “Absolutely no fish cleaning in rooms!”

Magic City of the Plains


Cheyenne was just a few hours south on I-25. Today, Wyoming’s capital is low-key, with just 61,000 residents. But it once competed with Denver as the region’s economic hub, thanks partly to being a key Union Pacific Railroad outpost. You can learn all about this aspect of history in downtown’s Cheyenne Depot Museum. There’s also an hour-long trolley tour covering local lore (including haunted spots), Native-American legacies, and Wild West legends like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. This heritage is also celebrated every July during an event I happened to find listed in the Festivals category of Things to Do: Cheyenne Frontier Days features rodeos, live music by entertainers big and small, local-art shows, and chuck-wagon cook-offs.

I had booked a room at Nagel-Warren Mansion Bed & Breakfast, itself a piece of Cheyenne history. Built (circa 1888) in the heart of Cattle Baron’s Row by local millionaire Erasmus Nagle, the mansion stands today as one of the city’s most beautiful structures. Kudos go to the dedication of owner Jim Osterfoss—a former chef, who restored and converted the mansion in 1997.

Back On Down to Denver

Hard as it was to leave Cheyenne, I still had one last capital city to see and several other stops to make—some planned, some not. Without TripMaker, for instance, I never would have found the Quirky & Oddball Swetsville Zoo, in Fort Collins, CO. This zany attraction (for me, a trip highlight), was built by a former farmer and is filled with animal sculptures made of car parts, farm machinery, and other bits of scrap metal. What a weird, rusty, and wonderful sight!


Swettsville Zoo

In Loveland, my TripMaker drive-bys included the Red Man carving, artist Peter Toth’s 37-foot-tall wooden sculpture. It’s one of 74 such carvings of Native Americans across the nation in his “Trail of Whispering Giants” series. At long last, I cruised into Denver, where I’d begun my trip 19 days prior, and checked into the Capitol Hill Mansion Bed & Breakfast. Owner and rodeo-man Carl Schmidt II welcomed me into his marvelously restored Victorian inn. I left my car parked at the B&B and walked to a couple other great TripMaker suggestions: Colorado’s gilt-domed capitol and the Golden Triangle Museum District, anchored by the gleaming, angular, Denver Art Museum.

TripMaker Brings It All Home

And there, in the Mile High City, my three-week journey, ended. I had driven roughly 3,700 miles, arriving at the Grand Canyon in time for my 40th birthday, taking in my targeted eight states, and following reliable driving directions to many of the must-see destinations in my original road trip itinerary. TripMaker helped make the journey just a bit more special and unique, with suggestions for stops that I wouldn’t necessarily have found on my own. Exporting my trip to a Rand McNally GPS helped keep me on track or take detours when necessary. TripMaker really did help me to plan and take the great (and milestone-marking) American road trip! It’s your turn now.