My wife’s grandparents rolled into the Black Hills this weekend from San Francisco to pay the family a visit. Though they’re well into their 80s, Grandma and Grandpa did the entire 1,414 mile trip by car, driving their Toyota minivan across the flats and mountains of California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming in just over two days. I hope I’m that spry when I reach octogenarian-hood.
The trip is old hat to the grandparents by now. They’ve been making the California-South Dakota trip by car for about two decades, usually in the autumn, and they’ve got it down to a science. They know that Elko, Nev. works out to be the perfect overnight stop on day one, and that Casper, Wyo. is the ideal stopover on day two. That puts them into Rapid City early on day three, with plenty of time for cocktail hour (this begins promptly at 4:30 p.m. for Grandma).
The first day of the car ride went exactly as expected. A funny thing happened on day two, however. Upon arriving in Casper late in the afternoon, my grandparents-in-law found every hotel booked solid. For the first time in two decades, they had no place to stay in this city of 50,000 people. It was the same story in Douglas, a town of about 5,000 people 50 miles down the road.
Was there a special event going on? A rodeo, perhaps? A powwow? A really well-attended rock show? Nope, said the desk clerks. They were just full.
Thanks to a foresighted clerk in Douglas, Grandma and Grandpa finally found a room in Lusk, a tiny town more than 100 miles west of Casper near the South Dakota border. But they couldn’t believe their situation. In 20 years of traveling, they’d never before needed to make reservations. There was always a hotel room open for them. What had changed?
I think the answer’s pretty simple. More people than ever before are retired and no longer have children in the house, and they’re discovering what Grandma and Grandpa have known for years: that September is the perfect month to travel. Mild weather, few families with children on the road (they’re all in school by now) and spectacular scenery (the trees in the mountains start changing colors in early to mid-September) make it a great time of year. And, since few people traditionally have traveled in September, there have always been plenty of hotel rooms, usually on the cheap.
Although that last bit isn’t necessarily true anymore, September remains a great traveling month, especially in the Black Hills. There are many more hotels, lodges, bed-and-breakfasts and campgrounds out here than there are in eastern Wyoming, which means there are plenty of fall season rooms available, and they can still be had for a pretty good deal. Besides, the weather and the spectacular colors make the trip well-worth it. Grandma and Grandpa agree, even if that means they have to start making reservations along their route from now on.