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Mountains. Desert. Ocean. One Epic Road Trip. 

Grand+Teton+National+Park%2C+Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

On Nov. 17, 2023 I set out on a journey that would take me across 10 states in just over 10 days. It would take me over mountain ranges, through snowstorms and across deserts. The trip started with a jaunt to Bend, Oregon, roughly eight hours from my home in Central California. While in Bend, I had my SmartCap Evo truck cap installed to my 2019 Ram Rebel, a vital accessory for my trip. I also toured the Oregon State University – Cascades campus, the college I will be attending in the fall. I organized my truck camping setup, which included blankets, pillows, a zero degree sleeping bag, a small portable propane heater and other cold weather related gear. My next stop would be my uncle’s house in the town of Hermiston, Oregon. In an attempt to make up time after being reduced to 30 mph due to fog, I was pulled over by an Oregon State Patrol officer. He issued me a speeding citation, which I will have to drive nearly 600 miles to appear for in court in January. This obstacle aside, I continued on and arrived in Hermiston later that night. 

After spending a couple days with my uncle, I set out for my next stop of my trip, Jackson, Wyoming. The journey proved to be quite eventful. First, I encountered over 10 wind turbine blades being transported from Canada, which was truly a sight to behold. Then, after doing some off-roading in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, I crossed the border into Idaho. It was exceptionally windy, and forced me to use both hands in order to keep my truck on the road. Just before the town of Pocatello, a massive snow storm hit which reduced my progress dramatically. After two white-knuckling hours later, I decided to spend the night in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Fortunately, Walmart lets you overnight camp in their parking lot. So, the first night in my new truck setup was there, and it reached temperatures well below freezing. 

I woke up before the sun and set out to complete the previous day’s goal of reaching Jackson, Wyoming. This required crossing the Teton mountain range, which separates Idaho and Wyoming. The thermometer displayed nearly 12 degrees Fahrenheit as I crested the peak at nearly 8,000ft elevation. The snow had finished coming down, however, a few inches had accumulated on the road. Thankfully, I crossed the Tetons without incident, and entered the amazing Jackson Hole Valley. With Zach Bryan playing on the radio in the background, I set out on my search for wildlife, especially bears, who I had seen in abundance in the summer prior. Unfortunately, there was no wildlife to be found, aside from a few otters playing on the ice of the frozen river. After walking the shores of the cold, windy Jackson Lake, I drove back into town and bought a Stetson cowboy hat, and met a mentor of mine, Isaac Spotts, who is a famous wildlife photographer in Wyoming and Montana. I ventured back into Grand Teton National Park, and, thanks to a $20 tripod and a bluetooth clicker, I got some photos at Mormon Row that I am pretty proud of. After my personal photoshoot, I drove to one of the scenic overlooks, and met Trenna, who is an elopement and family photographer. She explained to me how she was going to photograph a proposal for a couple from Texas. The girlfriend did not know it was happening, and was caught by surprise. But, without hesitation, she said yes. It was a very special experience. I made my way back to town, and slept in my truck in the Hampton Inn parking lot. It reached 13 degrees Fahrenheit, and caused ice to form on the windows of my camper shell. It was then that I decided that I’d be sleeping in hotels the rest of the way until I got a diesel heater installed back home. 

Jackson Lake

The next morning, I meandered my way back and forth between Wyoming and Idaho before I reached the border of Utah. After visiting the smallest store in the state, and driving through the famous ski town of Park City, I arrived in the off-roading hub of Moab. I was excited to explore nearby Arches National Park, which I had explored in April of 2023, but it was severely hailing at the time which restricted my exploration. This time, however, I was more fortunate, and I was able to do some off-roading after eating at a local diner, and took some cool pictures at the north and south window in Arches. In the early afternoon, with Treaty Oak Revival blaring, I headed south towards St. George. En route, I filled up with gas that was $2.99 per gallon, which is a staggering five dollars cheaper than over the border in California. I made a pit stop at Butch Cassidy’s childhood home in Circleville, Utah and Bryce Canyon National Park. The sunset at Bryce was incredible, and I stayed until dark to watch the stars. Bryce Canyon received dark sky certification from the International Dark-Sky Association in August, so the stars were amazing. 

This was the first Thanksgiving I spent away from my family, so I was expecting the day to be a bit gloomy. However, it wasn’t at all. Of course I was missing my family very much, but the experiences the day brought definitely got my mind off of it. Driving through the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona was very eye opening since I didn’t know that Arizona had forests, especially to the capacity of the Kaibab. Then the forest morphed into a “high desert” esque landscape before exploding into a huge red rock canyon in less than five miles. It was jaw-dropping. 

Dinosaur Tracks in Arizona

I passed a sign that said “Dinosaur tracks, turn right”. This piqued my interest, so I decided to venture down there and check it out. It was on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and a native man greeted me after pulling into the parking lot. He guided me around the desert landscape, showing me dinosaur tracks dating back millions of years. He explained that utahraptors and other dinosaurs used to rule the land before going extinct. My travels then took me to the Grand Canyon, which I was surprised yet again to have forests surrounding it. I saw a big 10 point elk walking adjacent to the road, which I read is common in Grand Canyon National Park. At one of the viewpoints, I met two couples from France. Their story amazed me, since they had their Toyota Land Cruisers shipped into Halifax, Nova Scotia before driving 6,000 miles to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. After Alaska, they drove cross-continental to the tip of South America in Ushuaia, Argentina. They are making their way back to Halifax to have their rigs shipped back, putting an end to their nearly five year expedition. Their journey is truly my dream, and I hope I can recreate something similar at some point in my life.

Still on Thanksgiving day, after meeting the couples from France, I caught one of the best sunsets ever, overlooking the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and that evening showed me why that is. I continued on to Flagstaff, Arizona to the only restaurant open in town, Cracker Barrel. I met an older couple from Havre, Montana, who ended up paying for my dinner. It was an incredible end to an astonoshing day. I woke up bright and early in Sedona, Arizona the next morning. Sedona is a beautiful desert town that is surrounded by red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. It began to snow as I hiked down to Oak Creek, and with the trees bright with fall colours, it was one of the most beautiful scenes from the trip. 

Newport Beach, California

That day I would drive back to California via historic Route 66. Along the path, I stopped in the famed towns of Williams, Seligman, and Kingman. It felt like it was the 1950’s again. Old cars mixed with 50’s themed diners provided a very nostalgic feeling. After crossing back over into California, the only other mishap of the trip occurred when my sun visor fell off. It was quite comedic since it seemingly just fell right into my lap after hitting what I would argue was a rather small bump. But the comedy ended after I was blinded by the sun for the next two hours, forcing me to hold my own sun visor, which I thought was a pretty classy look. Passing Palm Springs and some of Los Angeles, I arrived at my aunt’s house in Newport Beach. Her house is directly in front of The Wedge, a famous surfing spot that cranks out 30-foot waves frequently. The next day I spent with family, and went swimming in the ocean at night with my little cousin. It was a very unique experience, swimming in the ocean at night, and a bit unnerving. The next day I hiked up to the Hollywood sign, and of course ate at Bob’s Big Boy, a family tradition. The drive took me an extra two hours due to traffic, but I was relieved once I got home and was reunited with my family and friends. 

All in all, I drove 4,000 miles, traveled to 10 states and four national parks in just over 10 days. I spent 85 hours behind the wheel and nearly $1,000 on gas. I gathered some amazing experiences, watched some incredible sunsets and completed a journey I had previously thought was unachievable. I am forever grateful for this trip, and I am looking forward to what the future will bring. Keep on truckin.

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About the Contributor
Alex Gray, Travel Lead
Alex Gray was born on March 13, 2006, and is currently a senior at Tracy High School. He enjoys taking road trips, ATVing and exploring new places. This past June he spent 42 days driving across six states and two provinces. During this 9,000-mile road trip, Gray encountered over twenty bears, mostly grizzlies, and was fortunate enough to see five wolves in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. Wyoming was his favorite state on the trip, with Montana being a close second. He also enjoys doing animal rescue, which his family has been doing his entire life. Gray is a huge basketball fan, and expresses his support for the Minnesota Timberwolves, even after a lackluster season. Alex Gray aspires to be a game warden in Wyoming and plans on going to Oregon State University to reach these goals.  

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