Destination is 1% of a trip. The journey is the other 99%! It is for that reason I prefer to travel via the road trip. Sure it takes longer, but you see and experience so much more. Purely on accident and thanks to my handy AAA TripTik, several years ago I discovered a better way to road trip. Drive the secondary roads!
Secondary roads are more often than not the shortest distance, but longer in time. Secondary roads typically have lower speed limits and fewer driving lanes than highways. Secondary roads go through towns, not around them. Going through towns is what makes traveling the secondary roads preferable.
For years I traveled by highway and was perfectly happy doing so, I didn’t know any better. I got to where I was going in the fastest way possible, but still believed I was seeing my country. I was in fact seeing the country, but I wasn’t experiencing it.
In 2007 the kid and I took a trip from Detroit to West Virginia, a trip I had taken several times in the past, but had never myself driven, and therefore hadn’t paid attention to the route. I used to sleep a lot as a passenger, mostly due to boredom and probably due to freeway driving. As always, I relied on AAA to plot my course and didn’t pay much attention to the route until we were actually driving it. I have driven through Ohio many, many times, but always on the highway. This particular trip was mostly secondary roads. What a surprise! I had no idea that Ohio had such a large Amish population. Driving the secondary roads took us through all the small towns that the highway bypasses. I have since made it a point to use the secondary roads as much as possible.
Recently I discovered US Highway 89. The southern section of Highway 89 is 848 miles, beginning in Flagstaff, Arizona and ending at the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Highway 89 is often called the National Park Highway because it links to seven National Parks and 14 National Park areas, mostly monuments. We stopped at five on this trip, but that’s another post.
We drove parts of Highway 89 at the beginning of our trip but we experienced it at the end. It’s a 17 hour drive from the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park to Phoenix. It took us four days to drive those 17 hours!
Leaving Yellowstone through the south entrance there is only one place to go, straight into Grand Teton National Park. We made two quick stops in the Tetons. The first at the Jackson Lake Dam and the second at the Mountain View Turn-out. A panoramic view of the entire Teton range can be seen from the turn-out. Due to several fires in the Teton/Yellowstone areas, the entire region was covered in a haze of smoke, regardless, the views were spectacular!
Moving on from the Tetons we stopped in Jackson, Wyoming were we had the opportunity to have lunch with a cousin I had never met. Meeting a family member outside of a family function is not something I had ever done before. I hope to do it again! We stopped at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for a quick drink before moving over to the Silver Dollar Bar & Grill inside the Wort Hotel. After a two-hour lunch, we dropped my cousin back off at work and walked around the town square before heading back to the car.
We crossed into Idaho at Montpelier. I would have loved to stop at the National Oregon/California Trail Center, but it was late in the evening on a Sunday and the museum was closed. We ended our day in Logan, Utah.
I was pleasantly surprised by the town of Logan. Logan has a small town feel while still maintaining a population of about 49,900. It reminded me a lot of home, almost as if they had picked up my neighborhood and transported it there. Living in the desert I am devoid of what I refer to as “real” trees, maples and oaks, etc. I was very excited to see real trees and grass, the things you take for granted until you no longer have them. I have a leaf from one of those trees dried up in my car. I had planned on crunching it once fall arrived but I didn’t have the heart to destroy it.
We continued south on Hwy 89 passing through Brigham City, Ogden, Layton, Bountiful, Santaquin, Nephi and many other small towns just like those stopping here and there to photograph the odd barn or old homestead.
Our fun really began when we reached Gunnison! From Gunnison south to Kanab, Utah is a world of small towns and perfect forgotten places. As we move south town populations get tremendously smaller. The population of Gunnison is roughly 3300. In Gunnison, we came upon the first of many old homesteads we would stop to photograph. This first homestead consisted of four or five buildings and a trailer. Surrounded by mountains, the perfect amount of clouds and a dirt road with a tree at the end, the scene was quite serene.
Two miles south of Gunnison is Centerfield, with a population of close to 1400. Centerfield has a very large, very abandoned chicken farm. Sadly we were only able to photograph the farms perimeter. According to the farmer next to the chicken farm the people who owned it were a bit “weird”.
He did however suggest we visit a house just across the road. I will thank that old farmer for many years to come for that suggestion! The house was actually a one room log cabin. At some point a small addition was added. The property also had another small building, presumably a storage shed. There was a border of giant trees separating the buildings from the farm area.
Seventy-five miles south of Centerfield is the town of Junction, Utah with a population of 184. An old store is what initially caught our eye in Junction. It was a cow in the front yard of one house and goats in the front yard of another that really grabbed us! The Heritage Wood Shop was closed but the Junction Motel had vacancy.
Fifty miles and six towns separate Junction and Hatch, Utah. We stopped six times! First at a falling down farm. Next a homestead straight out of Little House on the Prairie caught our eye, complete with a stream and grazing cows.
Our third stop was at a location with five buildings. Two were houses, one a barn, one a workshop, and an outhouse. A water tank completed the picture. A second homestead was our next stop. The overgrowth was so tall I could only visit the periphery. Another set of falling down farm buildings and a very unusual trading post rounded out our day. We stayed in Hatch for the night.
Hatch, Utah has a population of 133. It is the smallest town we’ve been in on this trip and it offered the best surprise. Hatch is 30 minutes south of Bryce Canyon so we also stayed there on our way to Yellowstone. We had driven all day and it was getting late and we were beyond tired. We had called ahead to a couple of hotels directly outside of Bryce Canyon and they had no vacancies. Since Hatch is one of the last towns before the canyon, we decided it would be best to stay there. There are five motels in Hatch, all roadside motels. One had no vacancies. One had some unfavorable looking people sitting in living room chairs outside one of the rooms. So we decided to take a chance on the Mountain Ridge Motel & RV Park. They had one room left, the King Suite, at a rate of $145. For a roadside motel? Are you kidding me??? But after driving 12 hours they had me, I was ready to pay whatever they wanted. Fortunately, I have AAA so the room cost $128! The surprise was this was no ordinary motel room. It was a large, one bedroom apartment, complete with granite counter tops in the kitchen! Note to self, do not judge a book, or a motel in this case by its cover. We stayed in the King Suite on the way home too!
We had breakfast at the Cactus Cowboy served to us by a real cowboy complete with Wranglers, a giant belt buckle and cowboy boots before moving on to our next destination, Page, Arizona. It is normally a two-hour drive from Hatch to Page, it took us five hours! In addition to several abandoned homesteads, we also stopped at the Moqui Cave just north of Kanab, Utah.
We finally arrived in Page sometime in the late afternoon. After checking into our hotel we had just enough time for dinner before leaving for a tour Antelope Canyon.
Our final day on Highway 89 would take us to Wupatki National Monument. There are five separate areas within Wupatki with several pueblos to visit, all accessible. The National Park Service website recommends two hours to visit the park, we of course were there much longer!
More photos from this trip are at Perfectly Damaged Photography