17 Days, 7 Ski Towns, 3000 Miles: Part 3

My 40th birthday road trip

Written by Julie K.

HomeTravel BlogDestinations & Adventures17 Days, 7 Ski Towns, 3000 Miles: Part 3

17 Days, 7 Ski Towns, 3000 Miles: Part 3

Past the half way point of the trip, it was time to head north again. Along the way, I picked up A, one of my best friends from college. Our goal was to take a scenic route towards Jackson, Wyoming.

Julie K and Giulia with rocks in Utah

Along Highway 40, we discovered Blue Mountain, where competing hang gliders often launch at Cliff Ridge. As I live adjacent to the Blue Mountains in Washington, this was a poignant find. Unfortunately, there were no hang gliders to watch on this day, but the area is geologically and ecologically diverse. The mountain is considered an anticline in which there are many upturned layers of rock visible. To the north there is forest and to the south it is desert.

Blue Mountain in UT

We also stumbled on Red Fleet State Park and Reservoir. Red and gold rock formations shone magnificently in the evening sunlight, asymmetrical and glowing. We enjoyed an evening stroll with the two white dogs, capturing some picturesque light on the rocks and water.

Just after sunset, we passed by the Flaming Gorge and crossed both the Cart Creek Bridge and the Flaming Gorge Dam. Built in 1962 before the completion of the dam, Cart Creek Bridge is another design style in the collection of bridges Giulia has crossed. Here the highway actually passes over the thin, 502-foot arched Flaming Gorge Dam. The view point around the curve from the dam shows the expanse of the concrete wall holding back glimmering water.

Our final adventure for the night occurred as we were driving in the dark on the high plateau before arriving into Rock Springs, Wyoming. I dislike driving in the dark because of the lack of depth perception, as well as worrying about wild life on the road. But Giulia was cruising along when I spotted some large animals ahead. Elk? I braked. Nope, wild horses! Welcome to Wyoming.


My last day of 39

We enjoyed the lonely Wyoming scenery and the already snow-capped Wind River Range of mountains. Giulia navigated a few unpaved side roads to chase herds of antelope in an attempt to capture a good photograph. Mostly, I just captured their white rear ends running away.

Wind River Range Mountains

We stopped into the inviting and rustic little town of Pinedale, about 75 miles from Jackson with a backdrop of the Wind River Range. We saw a sign for the Pine Coffee Supply, a roaster and café voted the best coffee in Wyoming.

I love local companies that roast their own coffee so we had to stop and visit. The space was industrial inside and the coffee was warm and rich. A perfect stop to support the local economy.

Pine Coffee Supply in Pinedale WY

In our attempt to park at the Pine Coffee Supply, we needed to make a U-turn around the block. Here we encountered a city park with a large female moose enjoying a mid-day snack of fine park grass, kneeling on her front legs to more easily feed on the grass.

Moose kneeling in Pinedale WY

Along the drive from Pinedale to Jackson, the willow branches along the streambeds flamed with many shades of purple, red and orange, ever-changing and stunning.  But the lack of safe places to pull over, thwarted my attempts at a good photograph.


We headed up to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for the continued survey of ski areas in the off-season. Just a dusting of snow-topped the peaks, winter teasing us as we gazed up the giant tram cables.

Giulia got another off-road and muddy adventure through a portion of Teton National Park connecting the ski area to Moose, Wyoming. There’s actually a tiny post office for Moose (population 181), although we didn’t spot any actual moose here. Finally, we enjoyed dinner and a walk along the boardwalks of the iconic cowboy and ski town of Jackson.

Guila at Moose WY post office

My favorite part of my birthday and our visit to Jackson was staying at the Fireside Resort in Wilson, between Jackson and the ski area. The cabins are LEED-certified and are efficient, modern, and rustic all in one. Each Wedge Cabins features a small kitchenette, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, a patio with a picnic table, and an outside firepit with log seats. The trees and lighting between cabins were delightful, conjuring up the festive feeling of German Christmas markets. I couldn’t think of a more cozy and charming place to turn 40.

Julie K and dogs on patio at Fireside Resort cabin

Waking up 40

A is all about exercise and coaxed me into a jog along the river to start my first day of 40. This turned into a four-mile run for my 40th birthday. I despise jogging but it made me feel good to meet a challenge as I started a new decade. I am thankful for friends who share their passions and push my comfort zones a little.

Julie K and white dogs with Moose sign after 40th birthday run

Our drive on my birthday took Giulia and us through Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The skies were cloudy and the wind was biting, but we stopped for several hikes in Yellowstone to enjoy seeing the hot pools and geysers. Thanks to the clouds, the Prismatic Pool was not prismatic and colorful. But the minerals and hot pots made for some great photographs for the texture collection.

We even randomly parked next to another Alfa Romeo in the gigantic parking lot at Old Faithful. Giulia also got to meet some more wildlife as we drove through herds of bison and elk, who couldn’t care less about the cars and humans trying to pass through their territory. Both of these incredible national parks deserve a week or two each of exploration.

Old Faithful sign Yellowstone National Park

We continued into Montana to check off the ski town of Big Sky. Despite the gray clouds, seeing the majestic shape of Lone Peak is always an inspiration to me and added another motivational boost to my day. It is so tall, both rough and elegant. Knowing the exhilaration of skiing off the summit adds to the endorphin boost. We celebrated with Mexican food at Alberto’s.

Julie K and dogs with Lone Peak at Big Sky, MT

What a 40th birthday, road-tripping through two of America’s iconic national parks with my dear friend and my two white dogs. My heart was full of gratitude and the inspiration to live fully in the next decade.

Full Circle

The next day Giulia made a full circle, rejoining Highway 93 outside Missoula, Montana. I left A to visit some of her family and continued to my happy place at Priest Lake, Idaho. Time for a couple of quiet days of relaxation, reflection and introvert recharge before heading home. There was an early season dusting of snow on the ground. The seasons were beginning to change.

Giulia on snowy road

As the last adventure and as is typical in North Idaho storms, the power went out about the time I was leaving to drive home. The large garage door of the house is too heavy to open manually. So I had to utilize some creative thinking to string an extended power cord from the generator to the electric garage door opener.

Giulia stuck in garage with power out trying to rig door open

I had to alter my goals and travel plans for my 40th birthday, but it was a trip to remember and celebrate. As the two white dogs were both over 10 years old, I was happy to include them in my travel and see them enjoy new places to sniff. I am humbled and honored to call so many incredible humans my friends and to have them part of my travel and life’s journey. I am blessed to live in a country with such incredible landscapes and diverse cultures. And I am eternally grateful for the freedom to travel.

Rossi dog laying on down coat and boots

P.S. In July of 2021, I had to say goodbye to my sweet Rossi dog. This has been a painful loss for me. As I have spent many years traveling by flight without the dogs, the pandemic brought me the gift of time and road travel to create many wonderful memories with the white dogs. I have been deeply grateful and comforted by the knowledge that the dogs and I shared this beautiful road trip together.

Check out Part 1 & Part 2.

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