What Long, Strange Trips They’ve Been
Laura Rosen (Washington State University) was an undergraduate research intern in astrophysics at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2018 and 2019. She wrote this article just as she left River Falls in 2019.
Two years, two trips. Every summer when coming to work at UWRF, they ask you if you wish to fly or drive there. Both years, I made the decision to drive. Coming from Washington state, this wasn’t the easiest drive to make, but there were many benefits to having a car in River Falls. Apart from it being awesome to take day trips to state parks, Lake Superior, and the Science Museum of Minnesota throughout the summers; I made the decision to bring my car so I could make road-trip vacations out of the drive home.
The first summer I made pit stops at the Corn Palace, Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, and Yellowstone National Park. Every single part of the trip was incredible. My favorite stop was Yellowstone by far. Right after my friend and I passed through the park entrance, we encountered a lone bison strutting down the road. From there, we saw breathtaking scenic views and herds of wild bison, a few bears, and a lone elk. It is incredibly difficult to put in to words the peace that overwhelmed me the entire time in Yellowstone. We would wander 10 minutes into a hike, and the crowds would disappear, and it was just us alone in nature. The other stops on the trips were cool in their own ways. We went to the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore, where at sunset they do a ceremony before illuminating the monument. It was by far the most patriotic I have felt in probably my entire life.
This summer (2019), I decided to try something I have always wanted to do: backpacking. I backpacked through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and it was quite the experience. Teddy Roosevelt National Park wasn’t nearly as pretty as Yellowstone, but the cool part about it is that park rules do not require you to stay on the trail. The plan was to stay two nights in the park. The first day hiking in was incredibly pretty and scenic, though the only animals I encountered were deer and free-range cattle. The second day I encountered bison, a wild horse, multiple fields of prairie dogs, and what looked like a lone elk in the distance. I thought it was interesting that last year at Yellowstone I almost always saw bison in herds with the exception of a few wanderers, but at Teddy Roosevelt I saw two bison that were both alone. Unfortunately, on the second day, a massive lightning and rain storm wrecked my plans of staying two nights in the park. Park rules require backpackers to set up camp at least a quarter mile off of the trail, and to be hidden from trail-view. The only place to do this on the second day was in the petrified forest, whose ground was made up of clay. After a storm, the forest became a slip and slide. Some of the downhill paths were very narrow as well, with cliffs on either side, so there was no choice but to just sit down and slide through the mud. I ended up hiking 15 miles that day to get back to my car. The drive home was also an experience, battling young free-range cattle that were revving their legs as if they were going to charge my car. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a ton of fun and one of the best experiences of my life (and also if anything, a cool story to tell), but I was pleased with my decision to get a hotel room and take a hot shower after it all. The next day I spent exploring the Montana Dinosaur Trail and glamping on the Yellowstone River at a KOA campsite. Montana has active dig sites for dinosaur fossils, and half of the T-Rexes that have been excavated have been in Montana. They have free museums across the state, of which I stopped at a few, where you can see skeletons of dinosaurs along with other neat historical items. My final days were spent in Bozeman, MT visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. I impulsively bought a longboard there and rode around town, went on a few hikes, and relaxed at the lake.
If you have the opportunity to come to UWRF for an internship, and have the ability to drive there, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Along with being able to explore Minnesota and Wisconsin on the weekends throughout the summer, River Falls is in a perfect location for road trips (especially if you live on either of the coasts). It was also a healthy mental reset before heading back to the school semester. These were two of the most incredible trips of my life, and all it took was taking a few minor detours from my direct route home.
Throughout my first summer in River Falls my cohort and I would all guess the height we thought various bridges and cliffs we passed were, drop a rock that we thought dense enough to neglect air resistance, and time how long it would take for the rock to hit the ground. We then would calculate the height to see who’s guess was closest.
Black bear we encountered; we also encountered a grizzly cub the day prior but thankfully it was while in the car so we just drove away as to not run into Mama Bear.
Above: Crossing the river to get to a water source. At Teddy Roosevelt National Park, you have to pack in all of your own water because the water from the rivers breaks filters. There was supposedly a water faucet in the parking lot across this river, but when I went it wasn’t turned on (the horses’ hose was though so I just filled up my water bottles from it).