How I Won the West

DescriptionTable of ContentsIntroductionSteinbeck & MeTestimonials

How I won the westJan’s dream was to take a 5-week road trip through the west. So she took a step beyond conventional thinking about older women traveling solo, beyond fear and other obstacles that threatened to interfere with her passion for adventure. What better way to discover the wonders of the west, the world, and herself?

Jan’s Journey of Discovery:

  • 6,400 miles of invigorating new places, poignant memories and helpful travel tips.
  • Road map to planning a trip to the west, traveling on-the-cheap, and packing a car for carefree living.
  • The art of navigating youth hostels, and how networking can lead to meeting locals.



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Part 1: Getting Ready
1Steinbeck and Me9
2The Aha! Moments Are Oh So Good13
3Motorboat Versus Sailboat23
Part 2: On The Road
4Boulder International Hostel, Boulder, CO31
5Rocky Mountain National Park, CO36
6Packing is the Pits41
7Crazy Horse Memorial, S.D.46
8Mount Rushmore National Memorial, S.D. 51
9Folk Heroes of the Wild West58
10From Hostels and Budget Motels to . . .65
11Yellowstone National Park, WY71
12Up Close and Personal in Yellowstone78
13West Yellowstone Hostel, MT82
14Grand Teton National Park, WY85
15Networking Rocks91
16Livingston, MT95
17Great Falls, MT102
18Glacier National Park, MT106
19Green Tortoise Hostel, Seattle, WA111
20Seattle, WA115
21N.W. Portland International Hostel, OR122
22Portland, OR125
23In and Around Florence, OR128
25Redwood National Park Hostel, Klamath, CA 139
26Redwood National Park, CA142
27Sacramento, CA149
28Danville/San Francisco, CA154
29Yosemite National Park, CA 160
30Yosemite Bug Hostel, Midpines, CA166
31Zion National Park, UT169
32Bryce Canyon National Park, UT175
33Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, UT180
34Mesa Verde National Park, CO183
35Durango, CO187
36Strater Hotel, CO195
37You Meet the Most Interesting People . . .198
38Colorado Springs, CO201
39Golden Nuggets From My Journal207
Part 3: The Inside Scoop
40National Park and Mount Rushmore Data221
41Hostelling Overview223
42Living Out of a Car226
43Eating Healthy and Cheap While Traveling231
44Finances and Other Tedious Topics234
45Trip Statistics240
About the Author243


“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.”—  Bishop T.D. Jakes

A Journey of Discovery 

I have had the travel bug since I was a young girl and my mother put me on a bus in Hartford, Connecticut to visit grandparents in Hyannis, Massachusetts. The simple process of starting in one destination and being transported to another was magical. It still is. As an adult, my trips have expanded to some incredible and far away places, yet the child taught me that a journey of discovery does not have to be an exotic trip far from home. I’m still the same kid who gets excited by a five-hour bus ride, a weekend jaunt, or even a day trip in my home state.

One of my most meaningful journeys began quite simply and unexpectedly some thirty years ago. I was in the public library on a Sunday afternoon in January. To this day, I wonder why I didn’t leave when I glanced out the window and saw the snow falling, why I continued to poke around the shelves. After all, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular — or was I?

When I spotted a coffee table book titled, The Country’s Most Beautiful Flower Gardens, I picked it up and flipped through the pages, mesmerized by the color oozing out to brighten the stark white world that was beginning to envelop me. One chapter featured Garden in the Woods, located at the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham, Massachusetts, just over one hour from my home.

The Aha! moment was immediate — a strong compulsion to learn more about this group of shy, delicate flowers and how they are charmed and coaxed into organized and winsome gardens.

That very April, I started my spring wildflower hunt, visiting more than twenty Connecticut state parks, preserves and nature centers. By the time the season ended six weeks later, my notebook was filled with charts of my findings, and my heart was filled with a passion for day tripping. So, I just kept going. For the next two years I scoured the state in search of the finest and most diverse leisure-time destinations.

Part of the excitement of going on a journey is never knowing where it will take me, either physically or spiritually. What I do know is that when my heart is open to possibilities — when I honor my thoughts and feelings, I will find a path in life that fills me with purpose and passion. In this instance, my passion was to learn about wildflowers, which expanded into day tripping. That passion led to a new purpose in life — to write and publish a day tripping book, now in its third edition.

How I Won the West chronicles my latest journey of discovery. Finally, I paid closer attention to the voices in my head from all the places across the country that touched something deep inside me, and beckoned, or sometimes shouted, Here I am, come see!

This was the time to spring open the trap door of my orderly and predictable world and soar forth into the unknown. It was certain that when I entered this strange and exciting place my adventurous spirit and cautious nature would bump heads. But I had learned that nothing, not even fear itself, can compete with a strong passion — especially one that would lead me to exhilarating new experiences, the kind that always make me feel so alive I think I will live forever.

Initially, I focused on our national parks: Old Faithful and the wild animals roaming around Yellowstone, the thrill of standing at the base of Mt. Rushmore and looking up at the stone-faced presidents previously seen only in pictures. Eight more national parks and monuments were chosen, but that was just the beginning.

There was so much more I needed to connect with, like the “wild” part of the old west, or what was left of it, and the first time scary-to-think-about drive to mountaintops. But, like John Muir said: “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

I wondered what it would feel like for a grandmother to stay in (youth) hostels, to ride a horse over terrain that I had seen in hundreds of western movies, and to hop on a train that hugged the side of a mountain as it climbed high above the canyon. I longed to stay in little out-of-the-way towns and meet locals, to hear a new dialect, and view the world from a different perspective.

Despite my anxiety about driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on what I was told had “hairpin curves with no guardrails,” I nevertheless had to have this one-time encounter. Besides, I needed to stick my toes in the Pacific Ocean and feel the sand under my feet, just as I had done thousands of times on the East coast. I wanted to tour the major cities on the West Coast by foot, and see for myself the vast differences between the vineyards in Napa Valley and those in the northeast.

Friends and acquaintances thought I was brave to take a five-week 6,400 mile road trip alone. I explained that it isn’t about being brave. It’s about taking risks. Not the “head in the lion’s mouth” kind of risk, but the kind that are uncertain or speculative, the ones that are always in front of us. Someone once said if we don’t take risks in our life, isn’t this more of a risk? What they meant, I think, is that without taking risks, how can we reach our potential? How can we experience everything life has to offer if we hang back playing it safe?

What did I bring home from this newest adventure, other than a pocket full of ticket stubs, wrinkled maps, and tired brochures? Just about what was expected — an increased awe of nature and our remarkable landscape, and a new appreciation for our country and all the people who worked so hard to create our national parks.

What was unexpected was the awareness that everything in my view was unique to the very moment I was standing there, that the structure and design would continue to change from day to day, just as it has for millions of years. I was witnessing first-hand the fragile and delicate nature of our landscape.

At the same time, the astounding resiliency and strength was unmistakable, such as when I came face to face with the Redwoods, the tallest tree in the word, or the Bristlecone Pine, the oldest living thing on earth. And mountains — of all shapes, sizes and colors, to drive over, between, or gaze at in wonder, to climb, watch the sun rise from behind, or host the shadow of a nearby mountain on its face. In between focussing on the mountains, I stood on the fringe of geysers erupting, mud pots bubbling, wildlife roaming, waterfalls rushing, and rivers roaring, all in the world’s oldest national park. Later, I walked over soft coral-pink sand dunes.

Whether I was in the midst of seeking out the romanticized cowboy legends of the past or learning about our poet cowboys of today, I was stepping in and out of different centuries, becoming enlightened about each. When I talked with a man who wears a red nose on his day off to remind himself to have fun, or a woman who rode her horse from Florida to Colorado, I was dazzled at how different people are. Then I spent a day with a woman who lives on a farm, and this city gal realized how much alike we all are.

When my passion burst forth at the sight of a statue of Sacagawea, I was on a new high, just as I had been when I picked up a book about wildflowers. Who knows why something we stumble upon grabs our attention? It begins with a tiny spark that goes poof, igniting our curiosity. As we become more absorbed, the blaze burns brighter, lighting the way, inspiring and fueling our interest even deeper. This new passion demands nothing of us but to stoke the embers for as long as it takes to reach our peak of understanding and satisfaction. Once again, our world has expanded and we have been enriched with the glow of discovery.

Winning the West or winning in life is about being open to the idea that every journey we take, whether across the street, across the country, or across the pages of a book has the potential to lead to new discoveries that will enrich our lives.

Steinbeck and Me

Fellow Wanderlusts

I wanted to travel the country like John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley: In Search of America, except that my destinations would be more specific, and more touristy, which seemed prudent for my first trip across the country.

Although I didn’t have a standard French poodle to keep me company, I would bring Teddy Tripper.

Teddy was a gift from my daughter, Michele, for my first major road trip in 2003. He was appropriately dressed in sandals, sunglasses and a purple tee-shirt, and carried a rolled up map in the zippered pocket of his backpack. In one hand he held a cell phone, and in the other, a cardboard sign that said “Florida or bust.”

That sign was more appropriate than anyone could have imagined, since my choice of vehicles for cruising down one coast of Florida and up the other was an old RV. In fact, it was so old it should have been retired long before. I’m just thankful it held together for the seven weeks Teddy and I spent traveling the Florida loop, not breaking down until somewhere in Virginia, on our way back to Connecticut.

Steinbeck mused that besides being good company and assuming the role of protector, “a dog, particularly an exotic dog like Charley, is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with ‘what degree of dog is that?’” Since Charley was born in Bercy, on the outskirts of Paris, and trained in France, he was a shoo-in for eliciting questions. “Questions lead to answers which often result in additional dialogue between a traveler and a local, something every travel writer depends on.” And every solo traveler.

Teddy Tripper does not have a pedigree like Charley; he has authenticity papers from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. But, like Charley, he not only caused heads to turn, but elicited plenty of conversations, especially when I asked fellow travelers to photograph us in front of notable mountains. This was not surprising, since he did look rather sharp in his new suede cowboy boots and yellow bandana.

Steinbeck’s and I chose different vehicles as well. His self-contained Rocinante, named after Don Quixote’s horse, was a three-quarter ton pickup truck with “a little house built like the cabin of a small boat.” I would be renting an economy car at the Denver Airport and didn’t think five weeks on the road would be enough time to develop a relationship with my vehicle — especially one on which I would be inclined to bestow a name, exotic or otherwise. As for overnight accommodations, for the most part, they varied between hostels, budget motels, and private homes.

There is one thing that Mr. Steinbeck and I did have in common — a “lifelong wanderlust,” which he called an “incurable disease.” My earliest memory of this thing called wanderlust is hanging out with friends as a young girl and being asked the question, “If you die and come back to life what would you want to be?”

“A bird!” If I was a bird, I reasoned, I could leave the nest whenever I had an urge to soar to mysterious and far-away places.

Another similarity was that we both had friends and acquaintances who yearned to take a similar trip, some even suggesting they might accompany us. While each of us privately longed for the comfort and companionship of a fellow human traveler, the fact that we were each planning to write a book about our experiences made it necessary to take our trips alone.

Steinbeck said “. . . two or more people disturb the ecologic complex of an area.” I didn’t know about disturbing the ecologic complex, but because I intended to gather material for a book whose focus at the time was undetermined, Teddy Tripper was the only passenger who would be equipped to put up with me.

We also had people in our lives to remind us of the possibility of “attack, robbery, and assault,” as if we didn’t already have concerns about safety, hence, the benefit of Charley riding shotgun.

My shotgun companion was pepper spray. I never had the occasion to use it; I only held the canister in my hand a couple of times, just in case. Other times it was within grabbing distance, especially during long periods of driving on deserted roads or walking on lonely paths. Thankfully, neither Mr. Steinbeck nor I ever had cause to be fearful, except for the ghosts conjured up in our over-active imaginations.

One of the most important aspects of Steinbeck’s trip was to connect with the inhabitants of the small towns he visited. I also felt the need to meet locals. The challenge was that because my concentration was on the national parks and major cities on the west coast, it would be more difficult. The solution was online networking, a tool that would not have been available in Steinbeck’s time.

To accomplish our individual goals, Steinbeck traveled 10,000 miles through thirty-four states in three months, while I covered 6,400 miles, staying overnight in ten states in five weeks. One of us would journey in 1960 at almost sixty years of age, and the other in 2009, with more than a few additional years behind her.

Ah, Steinbeck and me. We travelled in separate worlds, yet, I well understood his awe at the immenseness of this country and the joy of meeting colorful characters along the way.

And, there is that lifelong wanderlust thing.



I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan Mann twice on my CT talk radio show while she traveled across country. As she shared some of her experiences, her passion for travel came through with great clarity and enthusiasm. I loved listening to her tales of exploration. In How I Won the West, Jan shares her personal stories in a way that easily resonates with others, and evokes nostalgia and memories for both her and her readers. This book is about much more than travel. It’s about life.

 — Mary Jones, former talk show host, WDRC – AM, Hartford, CT  

Jan Mann took a five-week, 6,400-mile trek out west with a container of pepper spray and a whole lot of trepidation. As it turns out, she used neither. If you’ve ever looked longingly at a map, or thought about doing a geographic, “How I Won the West: A Journey of Discovery,” is your book. Come along with Mann as she steps in and out of centuries, and steps into her daydreams of traveling. As with all insightful travel writing, Mann’s interior journey is every bit as exciting as the exterior. Buy this book and then be prepared to take a journey of your own.

— Susan Campbell, Author

 Here’s a tantalizing odyssey through some of America’s greatest landscapes. Jan Mann tempts us to discover our earth-wanderer within and Steinbeck-like go ‘in the direction you are meant to go’. Her book is a timely reminder of the brevity of our lives and the need to follow our bliss.

— David Yeadon, Adventure Travel Author