Before the trip the drama began. My husband called me at work. He never calls me at work. We had a new radiator put in our monster van, Bluehemoth, and the result was a pressure change in the engine that popped a couple of freeze plugs. The prognosis from the mechanic was that we could drive it locally, but he wouldn't recommend that we drive it in the dessert or anything like that. Um, most of the West is a desert. We rapidly executed plan D or E or Q (I've lost track), found a relatively cheap rental for a mini van on Hotwire, and said we are going on this vacation this year dammit, and that stupid van will not get in the way again. (The computer in the van went right before we were supposed to go last year, so we cancelled and went to WV instead, fun, but not quite what we had had in mind.)
I went home and furiously started paring down the stuff in the pile to pack into the van.
I had had everything organized in plastic tubs, labelled with their contents, etc. It was a work of art. Instead we took tubs jammed to bursting, with stuff crammed in to take up less space. There was a pile in the dining room of the stuff that did not get to go and a pile in the living room that we would attempt to cram into the van.
Then we went to pick up the rental the after work the evening before we are set to leave at 5AM. Because it was a Hotwire transaction, we had to drive 50 minutes to Baltimore to pick up the van at the airport, and then drive back home. They tried to get us to pay for an upgrade for an SUV, but we decided not to go with it. Once we were in the garage waiting for our van, and waiting for our van some more, the attendant came over and broke the news to us that there were no more vans available and would we like a 2017 Ford Excursion instead?
Sure! We got the SUV, but didn't have to pay the extra $$$ for it. An Excursion was an aptly named vehicle for this trip. I climbed up into it, there's a reason they put running boards on the thing, and sat in it for the first time and was terrified by its enormity in the close space of the parking garage. I pulled out of the parking space while warning a family standing nearby to clear the way, because I usually drive a compact car and this was out of my league. They stepped aside and chuckled.
We made it home by 10 PM, packed it to the ceiling until about 11:30 and collapsed into bed until the alarm went off at 4 AM. My daughter's friend, who accompanied us on the trip, showed up promptly at 5 AM and we crammed her stuff into our ginormous shiny black box of a vehicle and began our journey.
Now, every trip of this kind generate some stories and memes. One meme of the vacation was the evil tissue box. It seemed no matter where it was placed in the car it either fell out, landed corner first on someone's head or was no where to be seen when it was needed, right now! By the end of the trip that evil tissue box was mashed and twisted, and pliable from all the bending, but it seems to have ceased to be evil. It sits quietly next to my side of the bed, it seems contrite.
One song that we sang over and over again was Dumb Ways to Die
after hearing over and over again about tourists doing thoughtless things and doing themselves serious damage last year at Yellowstone (5 or 6 gored by bison while taking selfies) or the person who stepped into the acidic water to rescue his dog (who shouldn't have been near the hotsprings--the signs are everywhere--no pets allowed here--dangerous ground)...we saw some potential of the events repeating themselves, but we did not witness any injuries. We drove along watching the huffing bull bison from our car and saw at least two women put their lives at risk to get good photos,
we saw people walking out too far on unstable cliffs, people wrestling with their handbag dogs to keep them from hopping into the beautiful hot springs and mud pots, filled with boiling water. Whenever the girls proposed wandering off a little ways I told them that I didn't want anyone singing "Dumb Ways to Die" for them, so they better think before doing anything.
Some of the trip was a great surprise for me, Nebraska, for instance, the western side of Nebraska had amazing rock formations and fossils.
We were able to see the Cahokia Mounds, a place I had never heard of until I was around thirty. A student in my class, Miguel, did a paper on the Cahokia. Puzzled, I did a search on the brand, new internet connection (we had just had it put in at the school, it was 1994-ish). It turns out that in the late 1100's Cahokia was larger than London was at that time. It had giant man made pyramids made out of what they had, soil. Pyramids made with over 50,000,000 baskets of soil, that must have been some undertaking. Since that time I have wanted to see these North American pyramids that history seems to have ignored, so we stopped in Collinsville, IL, which is near St. Louis, MO and climbed the mounds. From the top, I took a picture of St. Louis.
Then there was the time the GPS sent us on loop-de-loops around a small town, until we decided to ignore it and get back onto the highway. Then "U-Turn in 639 miles"...really?
There are little things we noticed along the way. In order to be a campground host you must have at least one, if not two, cute little dogs.
This pooch was at Boysen State Park in the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming. It is a beautiful spot with a river alongside the sites and the facing canyon wall. There are notes to look for bighorn sheep, but we didn't see any there, we had to wait until we arrived at the Badlands in South Dakota to see those.
Our site in Boysen State Park
One of the most fun stories of the trip is from when we arrived in the parking lot of Old Faithful. We had some time before the next predicted eruption, so we made PB sandwiches and ate them in the parking lot. While sitting there we spotted a couple of ravens climbing all over a couple of Harley Davidson motorcycles, people kept trying to shoo them away, but they kept coming back. A few minutes later we realized that they were rummaging through the packs of the bikes and removing things. They stopped when they scored what appeared to be a bag of nuts, soon other ravens appeared, as if on cue to share the booty.
There were so many things we passed by on this trip that seemed interesting, but we just didn't have time for it all. Maybe next time.