Tennessee Couple Experiences Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on Road Trip

John M. Dabbs

Dives on VacationJohn Dabbs/Photographer

You can take the people out of the hills, but not the Hillbilly out of the people. My wife and I went on a road trip late in the summer, and had a real experience in the western U.S. that many wouldn't believe. We not only stayed at some real dives that I normally wouldn't stay at, we also ate at some places I would never have eaten if I'd been given an option. Such is life when you plan a tight-schedule vacation with someone who doesn't like to be tied down too much to a schedule.

Not scheduling meals or hotels can be an issue

In the photo above, you can see where we stopped at one point during our trip at the cafe at Buffalo Bill's grave, museum, and gift shop on Lookout Mountain in Denver Mountain Parks. The views were beautiful, and coffee and fudge weren't too bad either. I'd rather have had a more solid breakfast, but our schedule didn't allow it.

We stayed at some of the finest hotels in Jackson, Wyoming and and in Estes Park, Colorado during our trip. It wasn't that we wanted to splurge, it was that we arrived in the area late in the day and no other accommodations were available for hours in any direction. We spent well over $300 per night for a simple room at luxurious facilities. The place in the Rockies had us holed up there, as we'd spent most of the days driving through Rocky Mountain National Park looking for wildlife, only to fine some elk way off in the distance. We opted to stay in the area and go horseback riding the next day. The only room we could find was - you guessed it - a very handsome fee. We booked online via expedia.com and as we approached the hotel we saw three large elk walking beside the road. Maybe we should have stayed closer to the hotels to look for wildlife.


We thoroughly enjoyed our drive through Wyoming, seeing big horn sheep, bison, and pronghorn. We made our way into Cody late in the day and someone wanted to look at some of the gift shops before we had dinner. (It was already 7:30 P.M.) After looking through about ten tourist gift shops, we began looking for a restaurant to eat dinner. Only two were open and that time, and one was no longer seating people. We ended up eating dinner at a four-star hotel that was once a favorite destination of Buffalo Bill Cody. The buffet had prime rib. Unfortunately, the buffet closed just a few minutes before we arrived. We ended up eating burgers and greens with a baked potato.

Just the night before, we had eaten at the Longhorn Saloon & Grill near Devil's Tower National Monument, were we saw what looked like Paul, the alien, sitting in a chair near the wall. It was decent food at a decent price. We stayed at Best Western-Devils Tower that night. The room was very nice and the rates were good. We enjoyed a nice continental breakfast after everyone came back inside from the fire alarm going off at 5 A.M.... it kind of sets the tone for our whole road trip.

Thankfully we found reasonable accommodations near the edge of town, almost directly across from the rodeo arena. The small motel room was simple, adequate, and reasonably priced. No frills were offered or needed here. We left the next morning Yellowstone National Park.

Our trip through Yellowstone was nearly a blur. We stopped a few places long enough to take photos and look at one gift shop. We saw some bison and pronghorns, and lots of other tourists. I could have spent a week here, but our drive had us at most of the sights by 7 P.M., and we began looking for accommodations only to find none were available within a three hour drive.

We made our way toward Grand Teton National Park. There were no restaurants to be found, at least none that were open, and we saw no accommodations on the way which weren't already booked up. We found ourselves pulling into the edge of Jackson, Wyoming about 10:30 and found a small convenience store beside a lodge with a large "no-vacancy" sign lit up.

My wife and I dined on refrigerated sandwiches and bottled water. We did heat them in their microwave, which probably helped some. After inquiring with the cashier about where we could stay, she helped us locate a nice place just a mile or two down the road, called the Lexington. We found the hotel easy enough and managed to book their last room for nearly $400 for the night. It was a lovely room and very cozy. We awoke to find they had a full breakfast bar with made to order eggs, and fresh juices. To say the breakfast alone was worth the price would be a stretch, but it was delicious and worth the gratuity we left.

We said "adios" to the Lexington and made our way to Jackson Hole, were we found a stable to take us through a horseback ride through the Grand Tetons. The wranglers and horses were great, as was the view. We finished and made our way to a local retail area to find lunch. We ate at a place called "The Mangy Moose." The decor was very nice and the atmosphere was very chic. We enjoyed the burgers and fries, okay, but didn't feel it was worth the nearly $100 we were charged. Such is life when you're hanging out in an area well above your means.


Denver was lovely. It wasn't as bad as our stay in Estes Park, price-wise, though we did run into another fiasco after leaving Buffalo Bill's museum. We found ourselves making our way back to our hotel on the outskirts of Denver, when we looked for a nice steakhouse near the edge of town. We found a nice place. It was very upscale, and I figured they'd have a nice steak. We arrived to find they were serving brunch. The brunch was a buffet which included mimosas and all we cared to eat.

The food was wonderful, although the service was slow. The price was higher than I imaged, at nearly $50 per person. Boy, was I ever out of my element. I am more used to eating at convenience store prices.

Big B's Soup & Grilled CheeseBig-B's Soup & Grilled Cheese/Facebook

While in Colorado, probably one of the best meals we had was in Idaho Falls, when we were going to the Argo Mine for the tour. We found a place called "Big B's Soup & Grilled Cheese." I had the tomato bisque soup and a grilled cheese. It was perfect, and at a reasonable price (by my standards).

It just goes to show, you can find quality food on a budget, but you might also end up spending way more than you anticipated if luck isn't going your way.

I hope your travels are better and more economical than our trip was. Happy Trails!

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN

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