Road Trip: National Parks and Minnesota
by Curt Remington
After an exhausting fourteen-hour drive, and a long wait in line, a friendly man in uniform at Yellowstone National Park’s Norris campground greeted us. “Yep, I’ve got your reservation here for next weekend. You’re here kind of early, aren’t you?”
Drats! I thought (or something like that). We must have read the calendar wrong. From the crowds we’d seen, it was apparent this could be a problem. I practiced my grounding meditation technique while he typed into his computer and commented that the whole park had been full every night of the summer. After 10 minutes of computer searching and talking to other employees, he did manage to find us a site for the night. They must hold one or two for such emergencies. Thank God!
The next step, in the check-in process, was listening to a long list of rules regarding camping in grizzly bear country. Rangers can fine you for even leaving a water bottle sitting on a picnic table. Those bears must be hungry. Leaving food or toiletries out is a definite no-no.
Although we camp regularly, we hadn’t used our largest tent for years. Upon setting it up, I was shocked to discover what dreadful condition it was in. Why didn’t I set it up at home first? It almost looked like a bear had already gotten to it. What actually happened is our kids had let it blow into a lake where waves, sand and wind took a terrible toll. The poles were bent. The fly had holes, and worst of all, the zipper would no longer stay closed. The embarrassingly lopsided tent stood open as an invitation to all the bears and mosquitoes in the area. Shortly after we erected the tent, it started to rain.
So, what do you do when you have a faulty tent and nowhere else to go? For five nights of our vacation, four people and our dog crowded into the truck to sleep for the night. This was a character building and bonding family experience that our kids can tell their kids about someday.
The first night, Rachel slept in the front seat, got up in the middle of the night and threw-up. The next night, Heather slept in the front seat, got up in the middle of the night and threw-up. Other than throwing up once, both girls seemed to be in fine health the rest of the trip. They both theorized that the discomfort of the seat raised havoc with their stomachs. On my night for taking the front seat, I slept in a more upright position, avoiding any such turmoil.
In Yellowstone, we covered many miles and saw a vast variety of wildlife, including a grizzly, pronghorn, wolf, elk, eagle and herds of bison. Be sure to bring good binoculars, because much of the wildlife is off in the distance. Along with wildlife, Yellowstone is known for its geothermal features. In fact, half of the world’s geothermal features are in Yellowstone. After dinner, we toured many of these, including Old Faithful, the neighboring geysers and bubbling pools.
We set out early for Grand Teton National Park, with the kids still asleep in the back of the truck. This is a definite advantage to camping in your vehicle instead of a tent. Like in Yellowstone, there were an incredible number of tourists in Grand Teton National Park. It made me appreciate the lack of crowds in Washington’s North Cascades, our home hiking grounds.
After grabbing a campsite, we drove to Jenny Lake, the most popular spot in the park. Jenny Lake is beautiful and is the starting point for many fine hikes. We set out for one of the most popular trails, Cascade Canyon. Our outing started with a quick boat ride across the lake. We then joined swarms of people on the climb up toward Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Many people don’t go farther than these two scenic stops, so the crowd thinned considerably past Inspiration Point’s Jenny Lake overlook. Scenery on this hike is spectacular, including waterfalls, lake views and an alpine canyon surrounded by jagged peaks. That evening, we watched the changing clouds and colors over Jackson Lake, as the sun dropped behind the Grand Tetons Mountains.
While the girls slept in, we stuffed our pathetic tent into a dumpster and set out for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. This place is worth seeing. It covers five acres and includes connected museums with five different themes: Buffalo Bill, the plains Indians, western art, firearms, and the Yellowstone region. My wife Mary and I especially identified with the Plains Indian museum, having had a life as Oglala Sioux, approximately 150 years ago. Near the end of that life, I even toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
The next morning’s adventure included Teddy Roosevelt National Park’s thirty-six mile loop drive. This winding road brings you through rugged badland terrain with wild horses, prairie dogs, deer and more bison. A big bull bison crossed the road in front of us, so I set out after him at a jog. He stopped and turned towards me, giving me a “leave me alone or else” sort of look, then he continued down into a ravine.
When we reached Minnesota (where most of our relatives live), we borrowed a luxurious motorhome from my sister and brother-in-law. This was so much better than sleeping in the truck! Our next two days included large family get-togethers. We ate a lot of delicious food and visited for hours.
On August 7th, Mary and I did a presentation on my book (Simple Meditation) at The Valley Bookseller. The St Paul Pioneer Press had run a great story that detailed my search for solitude, trying to escape a hectic life with 70-80 hour work-weeks. There were far more people than chairs at the event, and participants actually stood patiently through our 45-minute talk. The store sold 26 books, and we received a very warm reception. Amongst the crowd were friends, relatives and classmates that I hadn’t seen for years. It was very heartwarming to get such support.
On their first day of yacht ownership, my sister and brother-in-law hosted a cruise on their 37 foot Carver. This is a very comfortable way to get out on the water, one we could get used to.
Our last day in Minnesota, I finally used my whitewater kayaks for their intended purpose, rather than just as luggage compartments strapped to the top of our truck. Mary’ brother, Jeff Hobbs and I found some great kayak surfing waves on the Apple River in Wisconsin. Later that day, we kayaked again, on the St Croix River.
In Minnesota, Mary and I had become spoiled by luxuries like motorhomes and yachts. On the way home to Washington, we desperately wanted to avoid another night in the truck, so we called every motel for miles and even stopped at a few, inquiring about vacancies. At one such stop, at a truck stop/motel in Montana, we watched a drug deal taking place in the two cars next to us. My wife and kids were all yelling things like, “Hurry up and get us out of here!” I did.
Every motel we tried was full for the night, so we spent our last night in the truck, sharing the wayside rest with bikers returning from Sturgis, truckers and some rugged looking travelers. After another uncomfortable night in the truck, and twenty-eight hours of driving, it sure felt great to arrive at home.