A Road Trip to Salt Lake City
Story & Photos by John Sapper
Just about every year Gerda and I drive to Salt Lake City to visit our daughter Michelle and her husband Karl. We get off of the interstates and go out of our way to visit and enjoy the magnificent Western United States. This year we wanted to visit Glacier Park as part of this drive. As Glacier Park is on the Montana border with Canada, we had to go a long way north as well as west. We drove our 1997 Jaguar XJ6 Van den Plas.
Leaving Knoxville, we took I 75 north to Ohio and then I 74 west through Indianapolis to Danville, IL, where we spent the first night. The next day we continued across Illinois on US Routes 136 and 34, crossing the Mississippi River at Burlington Iowa and the Missouri River at Council Bluffs, Iowa. We spent the second night at Freemont, NB, just outside Omaha. We had covered just about 900 miles and my only comment this far is about the gas available in the corn producing area we had been traveling through: we could not find the ninety plus octane gas that the Jaguar is used to. The third day we continued north and west, mostly on US Route 20 to Sturgis, SD, where we spent the third night. The Check Engine light came on this afternoon, probably caused by the gas we had been forced to use the day before. The car continued to run fine and without any indication of reduced power or increased gas consumption.
The next, fourth, day was a little longer and took us to Great Falls, MT. If you are following me on a map, we used US Route 212 to MT Route 59 to Miles City, Montana where we picked up US Route 12 and followed it west to I 15 north to Great Falls, and the fourth night. Gerda had never been to Great Falls, and we drove along the Missouri River overlooking the falls and dam the next morning before an easy days drive north on US Route 89 to Browning, MT and then US Route 2 to East Glacier. MT. We had traveled 2,219 miles, the check engine light was still on and the Jag continued to run fine.
East Glacier, population 396, is the eastern entrance to the park and a stop on the Burlington Northern railroad between Chicago and Seattle. Two trains continue to stop here every day and the Glacier Park Lodge is located here. The Lodge was built by the railroad around 1913 when the railroad was about the only way to get here. These trains are booked full about one year in advance. We stayed at the Lodge because it was handy for us and because it is such a spectacular place to see. The main building is supported by 40 foot long Douglas Fir logs brought in from Oregon. We also wanted to take the bus tour through the park and this was a good place to get the bus. US Route 2 follows the southern boundary of the park and the only paved road through the park is known as Going to the Sun Highway. This is a steep, narrow, congested two lane black top road that goes through the beautiful and spectacular heart of the park. The busses themselves are historic and interesting. They were built in the 1930's and seat 16 people and there are about 30 of them that connect the various lodges and motels in the park during the time of year that the park is open. I believe the busses stopped running on September 20 this year. The busses were all refurbished in the last few years by the White Motor company in Ohio. The original bodies were carefully removed from the old frames and mounted on new RV chassis with modern brakes and Ford power. The canvas convertible top was also retained and opened on the beautiful day we were on this tour.
The bus follows US Route 2 south west from East Glacier over Marias Pass and north west to West Glacier, the western entrance to the park. The train stops here and the Going to the Sun Highway starts here. The bus tour heads back east via Going to the Sun Highway, stopping at several lodges and points of interest along the way. When the park first opened, all travel was by horse or horse drawn carriage and lodges were established about every twenty miles; a days travel for a horse. The bus tour took up the entire day and was one of those “must do” things when in a place like Glacier Park. Glacier Park is not named for huge Ice age Glaciers. The park was named for its glaciated landscape which was caused by the action of Ice Age glaciers and is now so visible. Only a few small glaciers remain. We spent our last night in East Glacier at a very nice motel just outside the park entrance.
The next morning we followed US Route 2 west through West Glacier to Montana State Route 83 south. We stopped by Hungry Horse dam, a big one, but there was no one around and all was closed for the season. After an easy drive through a lovely valley, SR 83 ends at SR 200 just east of Missoula, MT. Here we picked up US 93 south into Idaho, a very scenic drive going through Salmon, ID, which is known for great white water rafting, and continuing south to Arco,ID There is not much here, but the town claims to be the first city to be powered by nuclear generated electricity, which came from an AEC experimental site nearby. This had been a long day, covering over 500 miles with several stops. In the morning, we took a little side trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument. This is an area where lava rose out of the earth over an 1,100 square mile area dating back 15,000 years. Early observers thought the cinder cones and vents of solidified lava looked like the moon. It really doesn't, but I have wanted to see it for many years. Returning to Arco, we took US Routes 20 and 26 to Blackfoot (The Indians do not have a word for “feet”) where we joined I 15 south to Salt Lake City, a short day of only 268 miles. We had now covered 3,113 miles since leaving Knoxville. The kitty was purring perfectly, but the Check Engine light was still glowing and I had lost the gas cap.
We spent a week with Michelle and Karl who live to the east of Salt Lake City in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains. I took the Jag by the local dealer for a new gas cap and a check of the engine light, which proved to be minor and likely caused by the low octane gas available earlier in the trip. The light has been off for several weeks now and there has been no sign of trouble or reduced performance. There is much to see and do in Salt Lake City, and we have done most of it. This time we mostly stayed around the house and just visited with the kids.
On leaving Salt Lake City, we headed east on I 80 to Cheyenne, WY, where we spent the night. We have been in Cheyenne before and enjoy staying at the Plains Hotel. This 1911 hotel has been modernized and is very comfortable while retaining much of the original flavor. In the morning, we were discussing the way to take us south and east when Gerda suggested we try to go through Central City, Colorado, as it seemed quite close on the map and we had enjoyed previous visits there. To get to Central City, we took I 25 south for about 50 miles to US Route 34 west to Estes Park then Colorado Route 7 to CO 72 to Nederland and then CO 119 into Central City. It was a very pretty drive along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. The roads were clear, but there was a lot of snow in the fields and on the slopes. Sadly, Central City was closed for the winter. The restored opera house, the Teller House (the Face on the Bar Room Floor is here) and other old museums in the down town area were locked up. Roads leading out of Central City lead through interesting mining areas that a few years ago looked like it was 1875. It was lunch time and we had a very nice meal at one of the new casinos. Central City was an interesting, original and out of the way place a few years ago. The main road here from the east (Denver) follows a stream up a narrow canyon and just a few years ago you could drive either way and see very few cars. Guess what it is like now with the casinos. After lunch we drove into Denver, about 35 miles, and visited the Forney Museum of Transportation. Their collection includes cars, bicycles, motorcycles, locomotives, etc. in a large warehouse. This is an interesting stop and many of the cars are those makes that were exceptional in one way or another, but did not last long. We took I 70 east to Limon, CO and CO 71 south to US route 50, which follows the old Santa Fe Trail, and to Lamar, CO for the night.
US Route 50 is also US 54 and US 400 and generally follows the Arkansas River, although not close enough to see much of it, taking us through Dodge City, KS and on to Joplin, MO for the night. This is an easy and pleasant drive through rolling farmland and is downhill all the way from Denver, dropping about 4000 feet. Near West Mineral, KS is an old abandoned drag line at a worked out coal deposit. It is too big to be moved, but is kept up as a tourist attraction. I enjoyed seeing this machine, having worked for Bucyrus-Erie in the 1950's when drag lines just like this one were being made. We continued east on old Route 66 into Springfield, MO where we picked up US Route 60, which was a very pretty and pleasant drive across Missouri to Poplar Bluff. At Mansfield MO, we enjoyed visiting the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. Laura moved here from the prairies of the Dakota Territory in 1894 with her husband and daughter. This place was a fruit farm and it was here that she wrote the “Little House” books. At Poplar Bluff we took MO 53 south to US Route 412 into Tennessee and a motel in Jackson. Our last day was an easy drive across Tennessee on I 40 to Knoxville.
We had been away for 20 days and driven 5,217 miles at an overall average speed of 54.8 miles per hour. This required 206 gallons of gas for an average of 25.32 miles per gallon. The cat seemed to enjoy the run, never complaining or asking for special treatment; not even when I lost the gas cap or used inferior gas. The only preparation for this trip was changing the oil and filter. Even with 120,000 miles showing, an old Van den Plas is a pretty nice way to get around.