Friday, August 6, 2010

See the USA — it’s a lifelong journey!

Cameron Falls, AB Canada
August 4, 2010 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

See the USA — it’s a lifelong journey!

I vividly remember my growing-up family’s first (and only) road trip vacation. It was the early 1950s. Dad had bought mother a new Oldsmobile and wanted to road test it. He had paid $3,000 for that car and wanted to get it out on the highway. So, our family of five packed up and headed for Yellowstone National Park.

It was quite a trip. I'm not sure how old we were but I was about 12 years old and shared the back seat with my then 8-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother. Once we left Los Angeles, it was all open roads and hot, dusty countryside — no air-conditioning. It was on this trip that I learned my dad’s middle name was “Lead-foot.” Boy could he put the pedal to the metal! There were no Motel 6’s or McDonald’s. Lunch was from a cooler in the trunk of the car and motels were few and far apart. It was often after dark before we found a place to stay.

As we drove narrow roads far above the Snake River my terrified sister put her head in my lap and cried. We kids were bored silly until we reached Cody, Wyoming. Suddenly, we were in cowboy country. My little brother was a huge Hopalong Cassidy fan and we passed the time looking for Hoppy and his sidekick Gabby as we marveled at real cowboys on real horses, roping real steers.

The highlight of the trip, of course, was Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park. Old Faithful was nice but the wildlife was fascinating to this city girl. Sitting at breakfast, gazing out the hotel’s massive windows at herds of elk or buffalo was more entrancing than any movie. I knew then that I wanted to see more of this wonderful country and its national parks.

Many years would pass before I could begin that quest. After Chuck and I married and had children, our one-week’s yearly vacation was usually spent at a mountain cabin in the Sequoia — Kings Canyon area. Our horizons expanded during the 1970s as the kids got old enough to travel around the western states.

Our first road trip as a family was in a friend’s canvas tent trailer. Chuck had accumulated enough time for us to tour Northern California state parks. The kids and I had a blast swimming in rivers and exploring the redwoods. Chuck, not so much. If asked, he will explain in detail why hauling and setting up that trailer was almost a camping deal breaker for him.

But Kathy, Jeff and John and I prevailed. The next year, we purchased an upscale model with a separate tent for the boys and headed for Yosemite. We admired Half-Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and endured clouds of mosquitoes on the way to Mirror Lake.

The night before we left, a large black bear came too close for comfort. It slept in a campground tree during the day. After a late snack of s’mores, we all turned in for the night. Suddenly, I heard a terrified, “Mom! There’s a bear outside. Mom! It’s under my bed. Mom! What about the boys? Do they have any food in the tent?”

I immediately elbowed Chuck and said, “There’s a bear outside and the boys are in the tent with food!” He jumped out of bed, flung open the door, peered into pitch-black darkness and said, “Nope. No bear. Go back to sleep!” And he did.

Kathy and I, however, did not sleep. We could only pray as we heard the bear snuffling around. In the morning we discovered that the boys hadn’t left food outside. We had — a picnic basket full of marshmallows. Thankfully, Mr. Bear had neatly sliced open the plastic bags, eaten the marshmallows and gone on his way.

Our national park adventures started accumulating when friends of ours moved to Colorado. A couple of times, we visited them at Thanksgiving. When the snow was deep and ice crystals decorated every cave and crevice, the usually dusty and desolate Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon took on a whole new aura.

Our move to the Pacific Northwest stretched our national parks discoveries but still, we have only been to 25 of the 64 parks. So last month we decided it was time to add another park to our cache. We packed the RV (good-bye tent trailer!), gathered a gazillion maps, programmed the GPS and headed for Glacier National Park in Montana.

Glacier is the world’s first peace park and we share it with Canada. It welcomes over 2 million visitors a year, many of them from outside the United States. In fact, if you sit quietly in any public place, you will probably hear as many foreign languages being spoken as English.

The absolute highlight of our time in West Glacier was taking a 7-hour Red Jammer tour bus trip over the going-to-the-sun road that runs through the park. We learned all about the park’s history, flora and fauna as we made our way past Lake McDonald and Bird Woman Falls and headed for Logan Pass and the Continental Divide. The top of the Jammer rolled back and we passengers could pop up and get a close-up of those famed Big Horn Sheep.

Next, we crossed the blowing sands of the Blackfeet Nation Reservation as we headed for Waterton Park on the Canadian side of Glacier. Waterton Village is absolutely charming and bike friendly enough to reach nearby trails and waterfalls.

A boat trip around the lake, overlooked by the magnificent Prince of Wales Hotel, gave us a bird’s eye view of how the glacier carved out this beautiful area. We turned around at Goat Haunt to get our passports stamped and soak up solitude. We were almost at the dock, sitting in the fantail, when a Filipino gentleman tapped me and pointed, saying, “Bar! Bar!” Sure enough, we were looking at two grizzly bears that were looking at us.

Life is good when you’re seeing this land we live in. So if you’re planning a trip, I suggest that you see the USA. America's still the most beautiful land of all.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 
Read her weekly in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

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