Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Rocky Mountain High

I remember back in the summer before I went to college, my family took one last vacation all together to Mackinaw Island. I was 18, and my youngest brother was 3. Now, as my 18yo daughter prepares to go to school in August, and my youngest turns 3 in a week and a half, our family is doing the same. We're taking our longest road trip ever, to Yellowstone National Park. Nine people, twelve seats, eleven days.

We are determined -- DETERMINED -- to leave the house by 6am on Sunday, which is why this week has been a crescendo of preparation. At the moment, the sounds of the van being vacuumed out are drifting in through the window (as well as the kids shouting at each other while they vacuum the van). Someone has to be on baby duty to make sure that the young man doesn't slip out the door at every opportunity and stand by the tree out front -- the same place that his brother, at the same age and level of impulse control, was when someone called CPS on us. Remember that? Our washing machine was just replaced yesterday, so I'm working through the laundry mountain before we go to the Rocky Mountains. Sneakers have been ordered. Goodwill has been visited. Presents have been salted away for the children turning 10 and 3 over the course of the trip.

Our first big stop will be DeSmet, SD, to visit the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. On our drive, we'll be listening to On The Shores of Silver Lake, and Little Town on the Prairie. Fortunately, we're not likely to be struck by a freak blizzard in the last days of June, so we'll just have to imagine being lost on the snow-covered plains.

We'll also be driving through Badlands National Park, and passing near where the Battle of Little Bighorn was fought. This is especially timely, because Joseph Medicine Crow, the last Plains Indian War Chief, and the last living person to have heard an oral history of the battle recounted by a participant (his uncle was a scout for Custer), just died at age 102. We may also stop at Pompey's Pillar, a sandstone formation covered with Native American petroglyphs, as well as the carved signature of William Clark, dated July 25, 1806 -- the only physical evidence along the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Clark named the feature after Pompy, the son of Sacagawea.

Yellowstone is important, of course, but one of the absolute highlights of our trip is the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT, where resides the skeleton of Big Al, the allosaurus, subject of a Walking With Dinosaurs special narrated by Kenneth Branagh. (My 6yo can recite it in Sir Ken's accent.) We've been fans of Big Al for years, so this is in the nature of a pilgrimage. I expect a tear or two to be shed in his presence. 

From there we head to our house by the north entrance of the park. I dunno, maybe you like roughing it on vacation, but we are not roughing it. We are renting a charming old house that has been tastefully restored, and it has ambience and nice bathrooms and a balcony over the kitchen from which you can lower a basket so that someone can send you up sandwiches. We had debated whether, if the north entrance of the park were still closed in July due to COVID-19, we should just drive the whole way and stay in our lovely house anyway. But now the north entrance is opened and we get the best of both worlds.

Then, Thursday and Friday in Yellowstone! It's not enough time, of course, but it's more than we've ever had there. I'm not set on seeing Old Faithful erupt. I want to walk some trails and see some gorgeous scenery, and see a bison from far away, and a bear not at all. It's going to be chilly at nights, so we're digging through the coat closets now.

Saturday we drive 2/3 of the way up Idaho to visit a college friend on her farm. Sunday is a birthday, so it will be farm fun and celebration, and then Monday we're trekking back across America. We'll wave at you all as we go past.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I envy you the visit to the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, though not the trip there. The only traveling my family ever did was when the Navy transferred our family from one spot to another. Traveling for pleasure is still an alien concept to me. Definitely with you on not roughing it and having access to nice bathrooms. Have a good time!

The River Yeti said...

Give yourselves plenty of time at theLIW homestead. We stopped there last year on the way home to Michigan from the Black Hills. We were there perhaps 3-4 hours but could have spent the whole day just enjoying the place. 6 of our 7 kids were with us, ages 4 to 16, and they all enjoyed it immensely. It is...uh...a little off the beaten path and absolutely positively worth it. We listened to Silver Lake and The Long Winter, which made it come alive for the kids. Enjoy!

mandamum said...

Oh, one of our favorite places in the world - Yellowstone! I hope the weird state of the world means you'll have less traffic. As attractive as your home by the entrance sounds, I think the next time we go we will probably try to stay in the cabins in Old Faithful area, just to avoid the drive into it. Usually we camp in Madison, but even the trek from Madison to Upper Geyser is now ridiculous....

If you have time, you might consider a trek down to Grand Tetons as well. And the tiny church there - Sacred Heart? Sunset behind the mountains over Jenny Lake is amazing.

Our favorite geysers are in the Old Faithful/Upper Geyser basin area, but not just Old Faithful. Grand, Castle, Beehive if you get lucky :) Grand and Castle are pretty predictable, although with potentially more wait. My 14yo says Grand is her favorite because it's "like a fireworks display" (it pulses at some point of the eruption) but "beware if there's wind, you may get wet". Oh, yeah. My backpack buddy and I got DRENCHED once at Grand, when the wind shifted and more than just spray came down on my hatted head. Good thing it had travelled far enough to cool! And my husband and older kids went out to Castle at night once when we were in the cabins, just because it was SO COOL to see.

(We LOVE the Museum of the Rockies too - now that we've moved, our route doesn't take us by it, so we haven't been recently, which is a pity.)

On your way over to Idaho, if you go through Missoula and are ready for a stop, they have "the fastest carousel in the country" (certainly felt like it) which is also a family favorite. (hmm, guess it probably would be a bad plan for this year, but just in case....) It sits next to a big wooden playground down by the river that makes a great lunch spot.

And I don't know if your route will take you anywhere near it, but Wind Cave is a favorite of my family of origin - younger kids marked off the years until they were old enough to go on the spelunking tours on our trips back east to see family :)

Have fun!! What an exciting trip :)

DP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DP said...

Sounds like a great journey!

I hope it is safe and memorable--the latter in the best possible sense.

Our four hour trips to my parents' are often temper-taxing, so the thought of caravanning to the Mountain West leaves me with a slight sense of vertigo...

Emily J. said...

What a grand adventure! That's a part of the country I have never visited, but I am hoping that if we ever move east again, we take the northern route and see some of those places ourselves. I am guessing you'll get a lot of good listening in on the road. I'm kind of sad we aren't going anyplace distant this summer just because the family time in the car, although tiring, becomes part of the family lore.