Lisa Cooper, Director of Visit USA (UK) reminisces about marking a milestone in the USA...
Mountains and Monoliths - Five from 50!
50 is a big number … half a century...we decided the best way to celebrate a big birthday when you’re deep in denial is to take the road trip of a lifetime! My husband and I decided to make a big dent in our #bucketlist and head west to Montana, Wyoming and Utah! After 3,000 miles here are some of my absolute highlights:
Number ONE: Glacier National Park
We started in our trip in Whitefish, Montana so we could tick off my long awaited visited to Glacier; and she didn’t disappoint! She brought all the twinkles between the lake and beautiful mountains. This park is truly magnificent and has so much history. We took one of the heritage Red Bus tours across the park and along the impressive ‘Going to the Sun Road’. To think this road, literally in the side of the mountain is manmade, makes me shiver, but as we drove through the low hanging cloud and excitedly spotted mountain goats and even grizzlies on the side of the road, we quietly thanked the men that made it possible.
Number TWO: Wolf Watching in Yellowstone Park
The tiny town of Gardiner, MT, sits at the tip of the park, and is home to the famous Yellowstone gate. This is where we met our guide from Wolftracker at 5am in the morning to drive to the Lamar Valley in search of wolves. Despite being early September, it was chilly, but that makes no difference to the wolves. Through the five hours we were in the park we were privileged to see two packs of about 11 wolves through a scope and got thoroughly excited when we saw a lone wolf heading right towards us along the river. Roughly 100 meters way from us, he decided to switch direction. We were not disappointed, to be that close to such a glorious beast was well worth the early start and the extra layers!
Number THREE: Dead Horse Point State Park
Remember the end of Thelma and Louise when they go over the edge … this is the place; but it’s so much more! This was the first park we visited when we arrived in Utah and it really set the scene for what was to come. After driving for 30 minutes from the main road to get to the park entrance, we parked up and walked towards the viewing platform.
We had absolutely no clue of the incredibly breath-taking view we were about to encounter as we stepped up to the edge! It is – and I rarely use this word – awesome! Looking down into the valley and seeing the river meander in a dramatic u-shape loop is mesmerising. This is a state park … what would the Utah’s famed ‘Mighty Five’ have to offer????
Number FOUR: Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park
Almost midway between Hickman Bridge and Cainville along Highway 24, there is a dirt track near Deep Creek. Going ‘off map’ and ‘off road’ and our adventure began in search of some of the most amazing monoliths we’ve ever seen. Seeing Temple of the Sun rise up as we drove closer truly took my breath away; it’s smaller brother Temple of the Moon was equally impressive; and not forgetting Solomon’s Temple too; which has the look of a roman forum. I had to keep reminding myself that all of these incredible structures have been formed naturally…. not a pick or hammer in sight! Amazing!
Number FIVE: Mitten Shadow festival at Monument Valley
Monument Valley has been one place I’ve wanted to visit since watching John Wayne movies with my dad as a child. The monoliths loom towards you as you drive down Highway 163, also known as ‘Forrest Gump Road’ towards the valley; but experiencing
the shadow of the famous mittens on the other mitten at sunset was so very special. As this happens only twice a year in mid-March and mid-September, and with a pink tinge to the sunset, I was really privileged to be in the #rightplaceattherighttime.
It was such a challenge to select a shortlist of just five as we had so many wonderful experiences … Walking the Narrows in Zion National Park, hiking down to see ‘Queen Victoria’ in Bryce Canyon, seeing the sunset and moon rise at the same time in Moab, and viewing Canyonlands by hot air balloon all have to get a mention too.
The feeling of being so small against these mighty natural structures is an experience to be cherished forever. Unforgettable memories only available in the USA.