In May, I had the opportunity to visit Northern Utah and its surrounds, including parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana while en route to Yellowstone National Park. Let me just say... whoa.
I saw so much beauty I hardly know where to begin, but the first thing that jumps to mind when I think of this trip is the sheer scale of the landscapes I travelled through.
Coming from New Zealand, I am not unfamiliar with relatively large mountains, so the Rocky Mountain Range which passes through this part of the country didn’t take my breath away the way it would someone from England, say – as stunning as it was. More than the mountains, the landscapes they formed a part of were what blew my mind.
During my whirlwind tour, I was driven hundreds of miles and every step of the way, every way that I looked, the landscape stretched itself away from me as far as my eye could see, and much further beyond. I can’t compare it to any landscape I’ve walked through in New Zealand or in the U.K... The scale blows our island nations out of the water.
In a part of the country with so many lingering ramshackle relics from the pioneer era, it’s not hard at all to imagine the settlers who travelled through this way; the exasperation they must have felt when they came over one mountain range only to be faced with another at the end of a sweeping valley. I have a newfound respect for those who made this unfathomable journey.
With the absence of the hardship they had to endure though, it’s easy to appreciate that this is phenomenal landscape. There are Utah’s endless salt flats, blinding white and once part of the capital’s namesake, the Great Salt Lake. Also the scene where Kiwi motorcycle racer Burt Munro broke the world record for land speed on an Indian motorcycle that stands to this day.
There’s a 74,000 acre migratory bird refuge at Bear River, where shallow glassy waters reflect mountains on every side. This is where birds flying south from Canada to Mexico for the winter stop to rest and feast on the multitude of flying insects that make this otherwise beautiful spot impossible to hang about in too long.
There are sprawling green fields in every direction bordered by snow-capped mountains, where bison and Appaloosa horses dwell on ranches. The American West Heritage Centre is one of the spots where you can stop and enjoy this scenery and way of live, rather than just speeding through it on wheels. This is proper cowboy country, after all... stop and soak it up.
There are the gently curving, endlessly expansive roads through equally endless countryside that soon turn into wide, flat roads sleepy country towns, sidewalks under facades straight out of a John Wayne western. Undoubtedly my favourite was Logan, Utah, where the people are friendlier than any I’ve meet, and the food is to die for.
There are the steamy springs of Yellowstone with their icy lakes beyond them and the snowy mountains beyond those still. The towering jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons with their cold rivers winding out of sight... if you’re lucky, you might even spot a bear who onlookers have been lined up roadside waiting hours to see, and he saunters out to say hi the very moment you reach the river banks.
I have tried my best to use words, but I know they don’t do any of it justice. These are landscapes that need to be seen to be fathomed; they need to be stood in to appreciate the true might of their magnitude. They’re a poor representation, but let these photos do their best...
A note on the title: while on the road, I was introduced to a song called ‘In a Big Country’ by – get this – Big Country. Not familiar with it at all, by day eight I was belting it out at the top of my lungs along with the rest of the van. Turns out it’s the band who sings it is Scottish, but it will forever be cemented in my mind as the ultimate American road trip song. Give it a listen.