Over forty days this summer my family and I drove 10,000 miles across the US and back, camping almost all the way. It was awesome. There weren't actually too many travails in our travels, except a few serious downpours, but it sounded good as a title. If there are any genuine travails, they relate to the pain of having to end the trip. This post is really intended as a record of the trip and recollections about the journey. As the trip was forty days long, the entry will have to be built over time.
- July 01: Mystic to Newbridge.
Drove from Mystic to Newbridge, NY during the East Coast heat wave. Did some last minute shopping at the REI in New Haven. The plan was to ease ourselves into traveling and camping by spending two days here and two in the next place.
- July 02: Shawangunks.
Hiked around Lake Minnewaska and visited Stony Kill Falls. Minnewaska is an old haunt of mine from when I lived in NYC. My buddy Brad and I used to drive up to the Gunks once a week to hike in Mohonk or Minnewaska. This time I got to introduce my kids to my memories. Two memories were brand new, however. First, a friendly hiker informed us that if we actually went to the top of Stony Kill Falls, clothing was optional. We, uh, didn't go to the top. Instead, the second new memory was that my wife got us all to stand under the falls, though the dry weather had reduced them to a mere trickle. Still, it was the spirit of the thing and seeing my kids experience something they never expected that was the real treat.
- July 03: Newbridge to Tionesta.
Drove to Tionesta in Allegheny National Forest. This was a long day, as we were working to get out West as quickly as possible. That did not stop us from stopping at the Lackawanna Coal Mine for a tour. The most interesting aspect of the tour was seeing how the miners maximized production by cleaning entire seams while maintaining safety by leaving pillars of coal behind to support the roof. In particular, the Lackawanna Valley had something like eight seams separated by granite, so it was like an eight-story mining apartment building. Plus, it was a well positioned national park. The campground we stayed at was at the base of a huge dam and was home to one of our more dramatic travails. Our trailer site was at the bottom of a small slope, and it rained ferociously for much of the night. So, on our third night camping ever as a family---and my wife and my first time in a long time---I wound up outside in my boxers for an hour (it seemed) digging trenches to try to keep the water from flowing under our tent. We survived. Friendly neighbors asked us how we survived in a tent, informing us that the dedicated tent camping sites across the river had been flooded overnight. So we were lucky, but scarred.
- July 04: Tionesta.
On the holiday, we visited Tionesta and walked around Lighthouse Island, where we met and chatted with an Amish couple fishing. Later, YK and the kids went off to a local fair while I worked on a paper I was supposed to have already finished. It wasn't supposed to rain again that night, but torrential rains came down for a couple of hours and I was out in my boxers again. (I have to admit that while I was a bit stressed, I wasn't really worried, and it was fun to "battle the elements" a bit. I was further scarred and decided that I should buy a hatchet at some point for digging trenches and pounding tent stakes.
- July 05: Tionesta to Union.
A very long drive to a KOA on the west side of Chicago. My wife had to drive through more heavy rain, and I had to drive through Chicago, which was a bit enervating, as I'd only been driving in the countryside for a year. But we did briefly stop in Vermilion, OH to look out over Lake Erie. I believe we also touched Michigan along the way, but I may be wrong. We ate Thai food in Elkhart, Indiana before continuing on toward Chicago and the KOA in Union. Meanwhile, our soundtrack of Jo Jo, Sing, Leap, and later Bruno Mars started to get assembled. I was not often able to listen to my own music selections during the trip, except on my birthday.
- July 06: Union to Pikes Peak, IA.
This was a fairly manageable day. We spent most of it on Route 20, lunching in Lena at a state park and running through Galena and Dubuque and then following the Mississippi River north to Pikes Peak State Park, where the Mississippi meets the Wisconsin River at 500' bluffs and where we camped for the night. Route 20 took us along a stagecoach route through corn country. "Corn again!" my daughter coined to describe how boring the scenery supposedly was. And though I've heard many cross-country drivers complain of the Plains, I found at least this first stretch of "corn again" to be quite attractive and engaging. Perhaps there were more hills than in other areas? At any rate, this was the first time we tried our luck as "walk-ins" without prior reservations at the campground. We were fortunate enough to get one, but the other two free sites were taken within a half hour of our arrival. The campground itself was quite nice and shady, but it was filled with tiny black flies that did not bite but seemed to flock around my face. It was quite unpleasant, and it had us wondering if camping was perhaps a mistake after all! But making our first fire of the trip helped to dispel those worries. The S'mores were tasty!
- July 07: Pikes Peak.
On this day, my job was to work on my paper. So after hiking around Pikes Peak and looking at the old Native American effigy mounds in the shape of animals, I stayed in the campsite trying to avoid the flies. Meanwhile, everyone else went down to the attractive town of McGregor to walk around and shop and to take a ferry on the river, where the girls got a chance to "steer" the boat and where Sienna seems to have lost her pocketbook with her some of her savings inside. But now we were west of the Mississippi.
- July 08: Pikes Peak to Pickstown.
We drove out to the Yanktown Reservation/Pickstown, South Dakota area to camp just below the dam. (NOTE: I need to check the precise location.) Lovely but hot. We saw white pelicans, the girls' first every pelicans.
- July 09: Pickstown to Badlands.
Badlands. For me, the first major stop out West and the beginning of the real site seeings. I had long wanted to visit since one of my closest friends from college and after had told me that his father had visited the Badlands on a motorcycle and told him that it was incredible. As it is. Insanely hot, but incredible. And it was a great introduction to the geology of canyons and the Plains...and, of course, dinosaurs. At the ranger station in the Badlands, you can see researchers cleaning up fossils found in the park. And so began the trip's inevitable engagement with dinosaurs for the girls and geology for me. Volcanoes were soon to come. It was also where we learned about the Junior Ranger Program, in which kids complete a number of tasks that teach them about the park. Upon completion, they are sworn in (often with a joke included, like "I promise to always eat my vegetables.") and receive a badge. Somehow, no matter how frazzled or tired the rangers were, they always made time to sincerely engage the kids in asking about their experience and swearing them in. For the girls, the badge was the major goal, but they had fun doing the exercises, too. We often had to spend extra time somewhere just so that they could get their badge. Ultimately, they acquired quite a collection. I will say, though, that the program is excellent and the I applaud the National Park Service for the commitment to this program. It makes the park a richer experience for both kids and parents.
- July 10: Badlands to Spearfish.
Woke up in the last of the mosquito campsites, the Badlands KOA, where I went for the last jog of the trip. On our drive out of the Badlands, we saw our first mountain goats and bison. The four bison were exciting, but nothing compared to what we would soon see in Yellowstone. The rest of the day was basically spent in the Black Hills. First stop was Mount Rushmore, still one of the kids' favorite stops. Like most of the national parks, especially the hyped parks, Mount Rushmore was cooler than expected. The site is a bit too patriotic, but it still is stunning. From Mount Rushmore, we drove along the Needles Highway, admiring the impossibly tall rock spires. After lunch among lodge pole pines, we drove through Custer State Park, hoping to visit Jewel Cave. Unfortunately, we were too late to get tickets, so on our way north toward Deadwood, I gave in to my wife's earlier suggestion that we stop for a swim at Sylvan Lake, where there were rocks towering up out of the manmade lake. Perhaps one of my biggest regrets of the trip is that I was all too often thinking about saving money and getting to the destination at a reasonable time. When I forced myself to relax and follow opportunities (and my wife's typically excellent suggestions), we had more fun. In this case it was a lovely dip in refreshingly cool water at the end of a hot day. Of course, we then had to drive almost two hours to drive through Deadwood on our way to stay in Spearfish for our first night in a hotel. Thanks to the HBO series, Deadwood was a must for me. I wanted to take a minute to imagine this silver-inspired pop-up city in its heyday and visit the famous Mount Moriah Cemetery, even though we did not have time to look around for specific graves. After all, I was the only one interested. Had a tasty dinner at the Steerfish Steak and Smoke.
- July 11: Spearfish to Devil's Tower.
Laundry day in Spearfish. Also made my first experiment with dry ice in the snazzy Yeti cooler, which turned out to be an awesome investment, despite the price. My combination of a couple of pounds of dry ice and a ten pound block of icey ice kept the icey ice frozen for two days and the food plenty cold for a couple more...in 100 degree heat. In the afternoon, we drove to Devil's Tower, still my youngest daughter's favorite spot on the trip. She loved it because I explained how it is a baby volcano and because it was the first volcano she'd every seen. And of course it looks amazing with the geometric edges scraping skyward. We were fortunate to get a site in the park campground, Belle Fourche. I think this was the first time that we headed to a campground without reservations, a practice we got much more comfortable with as the trip progressed. From the campground, you could see Devil's Tower and the feeling was awesome. The girls made friends with a young teenage girl traveling with her father to visit the rest of her family (or something like that). The only drawback was that the girl was up until 2 or 3am listening to religious adventure stories about God conquering demons. I didn't hear it much, but it kept my wife awake for a long time. It was definitely bad campground behavior. Don't know how her father failed to notice.
- July 12: Devil's Tower to Cody.
This day was all about Wyoming. We first hustled back up to Devil's Tower so that the girls could get their Junior Ranger badges. And then we got back on the road. Originally I wanted to visit Thunder Basin National Park, but we decided on this day to stage ourselves for entry into Yellowstone the next day, so we made KOA reservations in Cody, WY. This is as good a point as any to mention the advantages of staying at KOAs. They are very much the hotel of campgrounds. You can make same day online reservations up to 4pm. This is awesome if you know you are going to be on the road until dinner or later and want to be sure you have a place to stay. They simply assign you a site (among the class that you designated), like a hotel assigns a room. This is necessarily as nice as letting you assess what is available and making choices that suit your individual preferences, but it is quick and worry free. And most importantly, as my buddy Brad's sister said, they have pools. And playgrounds. And the kids love this. They would always light up when they learned that we would stay in a KOA, because they knew that we would play in the pool and they could play on the swingset while my wife and I set up camp and got dinner ready. And of course, they have laundry and internet (kind of). So the KOAs had their place. As they did this day.
After making our reservations, we took our time driving out I-90 to Route 14. Though I wanted to take Route 16 through Ten Sleep, since our Big Agnes tent was named the Ten Sleep 6, Route 14 is purportedly the most attractive road through Bighorn National Forest. And it was a gorgeous route. From the Plains, you climb and climb up the steep roadway into the Bighorn Mountains, which are a sister range to the Rockies. As the Plains fade away, you traverse wide, alpine meadows and then drop into precipitous, geometric valleys before exiting back out onto the Plains. One the last empty stretches of Wyoming highway, with no restroom for miles and a bladder threatening to burst, my youngest daughter was forced to pee on the side of the road. She refused at first, but her bladder insisted, and then her worries were over. One step tougher. After pulling into the Cody KOA, the girls went to the playground and inflatable trampoline while we set up. After a brief swim at one of the nicest pools on the trip, I pushed us out for one of the few things I consciously planned for: the Cody Nite Rodeo. I'm not a great fan of rodeos, but they have their interesting aspects and more importantly no one else in the family had ever been to a rodeo. And what better place to see your first rodeo than in Cody, the town established by Buffalo Bill Cody, the most famous rodeo man in history? Turns out it is the 80th year of the Stampede. The quality was not the highest, but it was better than I recall having seen. We enjoyed our dinner in the stands. And my older daughter watched fascinated. I think it was the amazement of seeing so many horses. It was also cool to see young girls and women riding and roping and whatnot. (I really should have let my wife get us all out for a horse ride at some time during the trip, but money made me shy.) At any rate, my daughter made us stay until the very end of the show and was ready to go back as soon as possible. The girls even joined the kids' game of trying to grab a red cloth off the back of a calf. I don't think they ever came close, but they were out there in the middle of the stampede field, something I have never done. I'm not sure they liked it. But they got a bit tougher again. I don't want delicate daughters.
- July 13: Cody to Colter Bay.
After an aggravated effort to clear hosts of little tiny sand flea looking bugs out of our tent, we left Cody for Yellowstone. I have always stubbornly rejected the idea of going to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Both are so famous and popular that I thought I needed to resist visiting. In my head I guess it was all Yogi Bear and tourists. But Yellowstone was on the way, so we figured we'd pass through on our way to Grand Teton National Park, which I was confident would be, well, grand. And with some good fortune, I was lucky enough to get us reservations for two nights in tent cabins (two solid walls and canvas for everything else) in Colter Bay. They were a bit expensive ($80/night), but I figured we could benefit from a modicum of comfort since we had stayed in our tent the whole time so far. Plus, they had bunk beds, which I knew the girls would enjoy. To go in through the east entrance of the park, the closest, we got to pass through Shoshone Valley, a reservoir and power plant that gave way to rough, rocky mountains and forests of lodgepole pine. We finally knew we were getting out of cattle country and into the wilds. But our entrance to Yellowstone was anti-climactic, if interesting in its own right. We wound our way down toward Yellowstone Lake, which sits at the heart of the park. The entire landscape consisted of grass and tall blackened sticks of burnt pine. It was disheartening, but it showed what forest fires can do. Indeed, it showed what forest fires must do to keep the forests themselves healthy. But it did not seem to bode well for our visit. At one point, we presumed that the whole park had burned down, reinforcing my belief that Yellowstone might not be all it is cracked up to be.
But then we approached the lake. On the way down, we passed a waterfall that tumbled downward for 300m or more. Then we saw an elk walking along a spit projecting into the lake (and followed by 20--30 people!). We had sandwiches for lunch under some pines overlooking the lake. Suddenly it felt like we should stop the car and get out at every corner and turnout. We visited the ranger station to get Junior Ranger activity books and saw our first up-close bison and were warned about bears. And then we headed for Old Faithful, because if you're going to be in Yellowstone for one day in your life, you obviously have to see Old Faithful. I expected a disappointment (still!), but I wanted my daughters to be able to say that they had seen it. And they did. And we all loved it. I must mention again here how amazing the National Park Service is. They have done a fantastic job of spreading the crowds out around Old Faithful and protecting both them and the geyser from damage. We were also fortunate to be seated at the spot that a roving ranger came and explained how the pressure builds up inside the chamber below the surface and leads to the eruption. It also served as their ranger activity for their Junior Ranger books, which was convenient since we were trying to finish the activities and get their badge before we left the park in a few hours. One of the activities was to use a simple formula to calculate when Old Faithful's next eruption would take place, a great bit of math practice for my older daughter amidst the fun. We marked the time when the geyser started and timed how long it lasted, and my daughter was able to make the exact prediction that the rangers made. The eruption itself was also pretty cool. Not necessarily awe-inspiring, but definitely satisfactory. I probably would have pushed to move on, but the Junior Rangers saved us. The girls had to do a hike to get their badge, so off we went on the one-mile walk among the geysers and hot springs adjacent to Old Faithful. The clear water filled rock formations were amazing. Precipitated calcium formed jagged snow-like bluffs around the edges, and the sulfur tinged other spots a fascinating orange. And just as we returned from our hike, it was time for Old Faithful to erupt again, 5:39pm according to my daughter's calculations. She was exactly right. Awesome. In a few short hours the girls had finished their Junior Ranger activities. They were quite determined. So we went in to get their badges. When the ranger asked how many elk and bison they had seen, they responded just a couple. The ranger was surprised, so I asked where we should be going. Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley was the answer. Suddenly I had a feeling we would be back.
But by now it was time to head south to our tent cabin in Grand Teton. The drive down was lovely all over again. There is just no end to the magnificence up there. The kids loved the bunk beds while my wife and I worried about mosquitoes flying in through the gaps between the canvas roof and the walls. The mosquitoes turned out to be a false alarm, since it is so cool at night there. But we did have to worry about bears for the first time. Everything that smelled vaguely edible had to go into the bear lockers, even make up and toothpaste. I expected to run into a bear at any moment, especially when I went out to pee in the middle of the night. But we didn't see any...until the next day.
- July 14: Grand Tetons.
The Grand Tetons are quite simply gorgeous, and we were fortunate enough to have clear skies that showed them off to their best advantage, even if we didn't wake up for sunrise. Still, I was excited. We were going to go on our first real hike. We stopped by the grocery store in Colter Bay to pick up and pack up lunch. Most of us wound up with mediocre pulled pork sliders. We then stopped by the ranger station to pick up the Junior Ranger activity book and get some advice on trails. After some discussion, we settled on walking along Jenny Lake up to String Lake for lunch and then I would probably return alone to get the car and pick everyone else up. But the chief advice we received was to be wary of bears and that the rangers "recommend" carrying bear spray, available at the low, low price of $50--70. To be honest, they weren't pushing the bear spray sales; they were simply trying to keep people safe. If it had been just my wife and I, I would not have thought too seriously about the bear spray. But we were with the girls, and parental instincts urge you to protect. Still, since the cost was so high, we resolved with some nervousness to simply go for it. Never having encountered a bear in the wild, I was imagining that just seeing a bear would result in three-inch claws flying everywhere and ripping us to shreds. Needless to say, I was uncomfortable. And observing other people on the trail only added to my concern. Those trail runners who passed us? Small canister of bear spray strapped to the lead runner's shorts. The couple that passed us going the other way? Holster full of bear spray. It seemed that each of the four or five groups we passed were carrying bear spray, and I started to get very worried. Then, 20 meters away up on the hill above us, I saw the black fur of a bear's back as it walked by. We immediately aborted the mission, turning around and heading back to the car. Looking back now, I know I was over-reacting and things would have been fine, but it was the first time encountering a bear in the wild and it freaked me out. My feeling quickly changed. On our drive up to Jenny Lake for lunch, we stopped with others to watch a bear foraging in the trees nearby. As we walked along the lake, someone let use their binoculars to look at a grizzly on the other side of the lake. At the picnic area, we saw someone alerting an entirely nonplussed ranger that they had seen a bear a few hundred meters up the path. It became apparent that the bears were much less of a danger than I had imagined.
In the afternoon we returned to Colter Bay. My wife insisted that we go canoeing on Jackson Lake. Ever money conscious, I was opposed to such an extravagant expense for such minimal returns. After all, we could canoe for free back in CT if we really wanted to. But my wife prevailed. We had a small heated debate when I learned that we would have to rent two canoes and our cost would double to $70 for two hours. As we debated, the counter person faded away. Eventually I realized that canoeing under the Tetons would be a unique experience and that $70 would not matter much in the long run. So off we went. One daughter and one parent in each canoe. The views were fantastic, and my wife and daughters had a brand new experience. Upon our return, we moved north to the Colter Bay beach of small, smooth stones. The water was chilly, but there was no way I wasn't going in. After all, I had jumped into the water off Elihu Island each day through the end of October. I could handle and even thrill in cold water. So in I went. What I didn't expect was that my younger daughter would so happily follow me, while my wife and older daughter entertained themselves on the shore. I was so proud of my daughter for being so bold and for enjoying the challenge of the cold water. It was a serious bonding moment.
- July 15: Yellowstone.
There is no way to "finish" one of these incredible parks. There is only moving on when the time comes. And it came. We headed out of Grand Teton after breakfast and headed for the Yellowstone South Entrance to see if we might be able to get a campsite for night. On the way up we passed a bear, some elk, and a bison by a steaming geyser. And there were indeed a few open up by the Northeast Entrance. We aimed for Tower Fall. We traveled through Hayden Valley. It was fairly uneventful, but I was focused on Tower Fall and wasn't ready to stop and look around. We were fortunate enough to get a site looking across the valley to another hill. The view was not exceptional, but it was a view and air was clean and we were going to sleep in Yellowstone. We didn't have to leave yet after all.
After lunch, we visited Tower Fall and hiked down the hill to the Yellowstone River, where we waded and cooled down for a while before heading back up. After that, we headed out Route 212 to Cooke City through the Lamar Valley, which I had seen billed as one of the best drives in America. And, indeed, one wants to stop at every corner and pull out as you wind through the steep, pine valley alongside Soda Butte Creek. And then we discovered why the ranger was so surprised that we'd only seen a couple of bison. We saw at least two huge herds. Males were fighting. Dust was flying. Calves were munching. And all were on the move. Not far away, there were countless elk. Exactly the kinds of things you seen in nature documentaries. We later learned from a ranger (at th eGrand Canyon, I think) that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone had significantly impacted the ecosystem. I had already seen How Wolves Change Rivers. The short film shows how reintroducing wolves had cut down the populations of herd animals and that this had allowed the grasses to grow more lushly, which in turn countered the erosion caused by the river. And one simply assumes that the causal mechanism is hunting, but the ranger told us that they now think the biggest impact is due to fear. Because the herd animals fear being hunted by the wolves, they pay more attention to their surroundings, which means that their heads are up longer and more frequently, so they do not eat as much.
In some ways, I think this day may have been the climax of the trip. We felt so fortunate to stay another day in Yellowstone, and we had seen all the nature one imagines when one imagines Yellowstone. We had seen the river, bear, elk, bison, rugged valleys, water falls, broad alpine meadows. It was unbelievable. So we made a nice, big fire, and my wife and I sat around a while in the coolness of the mountains' night sky and had a beer.
- July 16: Tower Fall to Pocatello.
The day was a bit gray, but that was fine, since we were ready to get on the road. Or at least we had decided it was time to get back on the road. After all, we were already about halfway through our time and still far from the Pacific. We drove out to Mammoth Hot Springs, where rain started to drop lightly and we were able to marvel at the mineral deposits from the hot springs. Of course, there were water falls and elk and bison and breathtaking scenes. What else would you expect from Yellowstone? How could I ever have doubted how amazing the place is? Anyway, the intricate and unique patterns the hot springs created fascinated me. I couldn't stop taking close-ups of just parts of the mineral mounds. I think this is when my older daughter started to also zero in on the coolness of the small details of the landscape. By the time we hit southern Colorado, she was taking close up pictures of rocks and dirt and trees and things.
Originally we planned to simply sneak out the North Entrance of the park, but since Yellowstone continued to deliver, I decided we might as well drive down the one stretch of road we hadn't covered yet. Also, around this time, my buddy from long ago Korea bailed on us. He and his son were supposed to meet us in the northern Rockies for a drive out to Haida Gwaii. This promise may well have been the final weight that tipped the scale in favor of actually getting on the road. But after a week or two of failing to convince us to go through more empty plains to a family house on a lake, where we have "lost" a week of seeing North America's greatest hits, he told us that he had rented the place and wouldn't be able to meet us. While a big disappointment, since I haven't seen the guy since 9/11, the original promise helped get us on the road and breaking it freed up my family to do our thing. All good in my world. Cosmic determination in his. So rather than head north to Glacier National Park, Kootenai, Banff, and beyond, we decided to get to the West Coast as soon as we could. I was starting to thirst for those big waves, long beaches, salty winds, and ocean sunsets. So we headed south to Norris and then out the West Entrance to West Yellowstone, Montana. Perhaps we should have gone north. We got held up by multiple bouts of road construction. But by the end we had basically seen "everything" (at least as far as roads go), and our pizza in West Yellowstone was a total delight. From here, we jumped on Route 20 and then took I-15 south to a KOA in Pocatello, Idaho.
- July 17: Pocatello to Twin Falls.
I think our initial plan was to visit Craters of the Moon National Park and then high-tail it into Sawtooth or something. After dawdling in Yellowstone, I was starting to feel pressure to cover some ground so that we could actually get to the Pacific Ocean. My wife suggested that maybe we didn't have to go all the way across the country, but what did she know? There was no way we could come this far and not touch the Pacific. That said, we held out the possibility of staying at Craters of the Moon, since it was in the middle of lava and volcanoes are my youngest's thing. Though sites were available, it would have been to hot, so we decided we'd push on.
But not without checking out the lava fields and climbing an old cone volcano. We would also have visited lava tubes, but unfortunately we had visited Lackawanna and did not have shoes we could wear without threatening the local bat population. While visiting various spots, though, a couple from the region strongly recommended that we visit Shoshone Falls on the Snake River, which they said was called the "Niagara Falls of the West". So we made reservations at the Twin Falls KOA and headed for a visit. To my mind, though, Niagara Falls should probably be designated the "Shoshone Falls of the East". While Niagara Falls, which we visited in October 2018, exhibits sheer power, Shoshone Falls tumbles in strong staggered steps around rocky parapets and thereby expresses more character.
- July 18: Twin Falls to Deschutes.
Having burned the last of our Yellowstone wood the night before (so as not to spread parasites or disease), we hit the road in earnest, following 84 west to Route 20 and Deschutes National Forest. Route 20 is basically the historic Oregon Trail, and it is a barren, forbidding stretch. We camped amid pines at Gull Point Campground on Wickiup Reservoir. Due to the drought, the reservoir water was low, but it was a calm, quiet site where we basically alone. We were finally within striking distance of the ocean, but it was clear that we wouldn't have time to drive down the coast and visit friends. We still had to get back.
- July 19: Deschutes to the Oregon Coast.
This was a huge day. We started by visiting Crater Lake National Park, where there is a volcano inside a lake inside a volcano. This was destined to be one of my youngest's favorites, and perhaps it was. We were blessed with beautiful weather. As a result the lake's color was a brilliant azure and the pines a lush chartreuse. The endless photos we took fail to do the place justice. We wound up driving all the way around, which turned out to be a bit longer than we'd hoped.
Fortunately, we did not have to stress out. I had managed to make reservations for the night at William M. Tugman State Park. The campground was a bit crowded, but the facilities were decent and the sites were separated by dense redwoods. Most importantly, one could feel and smell the moisture of the Pacific. Perhaps it's just nostalgia my days back in SF, but there is something about the smell and feel of the Pacific that energizes and embraces me. Somehow it just feels right to me.
When we arrived, though, I was in a hurry. Sunset was approaching quickly, and we had to get out to the dunes to see the sun go down. We quickly set up camp, ate dinner, and then rushed off to dunes. The kids loved it. They had never seen so much sand, never seen a sand dune. We climbed up the closest dune just in time to watch the sun hit the horizon. My youngest daughter and I watched it closely and were rewarded. We got my favorite kind of Pacific sunset. As the sun goes down, the bottom edge widens out into a trapezoid and when the last sliver is about to drop below the horizon, it turns ever so slightly green. To have my arm over my daughter's shoulder and point out the whole transformation was a special moment to share.
For the kids, the best was yet to come. I taught them how they could do what I called moon leaps down the dune. With a heave and huge steps it feels like you're defying gravity as you run down the dune. The kids loved it. I think they climbed all the way up the 100m dune two or three more times just to run down again and finally collapse on their butt. I don't think they would have stopped if my wife hadn't made us all go back.
- July 20: The Oregon Coast to Portland.
We got a bit of a slow start and then headed up the Oregon Coast. Again, for me, it was like coming home. The big sweeping beaches stretching away under the bluffs. The stiff breeze mixing salt and pine in the air. The crash of waves occasionally obscured by a splash of fog. Just heaven. We made three major stops, benefiting from low tide. First, we visited a wide beach and walked out to the waves to officially touch the Pacific. My youngest misjudged a wave and got a shoe soaking wet. After changing her shoe, we moved on to a random area of tidal pools. The girls loved jumping from rock to rock and looking for life amidst the streaming seaweed. Our third stop was the top of a bluff to get some lunch (in the wind). After one woman kindly pointed out that we had left our engine on, we got yelled at by the landscaper for parking too close to the exit (never minding that he had occupied half of the parking area!).
I had made reservations in Portland for Saturday night. It was to be our first and most expensive hotel. So, all too soon, we left the coast to turn back east toward Portland. On the way, we stopped for a coffee at Wild Rain, where the proprietor's ocean paintings demonstrated some skill. With only one night in Portland, we got there while it was still light and headed out. For me, the main destinations were books and beer. First it was off to the Deschutes pub for dinner. After all, we had stayed in Deschutes National Park... The beer was, of course, tasty. Then we made the obligatory stop at Powell's Books, which thrilled everyone since we all got a book. For the kids, I tried to head over to Voodoo Donuts for dessert, but the line was ridonkulous and we pushed on. My wife wanted to go down to the riverside park, and so we did. She was amazed at the number of homeless people, though I don't think it affected my kids too much. The evening ended by watching the beginning of Wonder Woman in Pioneer Square.
- July 21: Portland to Umatilla.
- July 22: Umatilla to Ogden.
- July 23: Ogden to Spruces Campground.
- July 24: Spruces Campground to Cedar Breaks.
- July 25: Cedar Breaks to Zion and back.
- July 26: Cedar Breaks to Grand Canyon North Rim.
- July 27: North Rim to Flagstaff.
- July 28: Flagstaff to South Rim.
- July 29: South Rim to Cortez.
- July 30: Mesa Verde.
- July 31: Cortez to Black Canyon of Gunnison.
- August 01: Black Canyon of Gunnison to Dinosaur National Park.
- August 02: Dinosaur National Park to Rocky Mountain National Park.
- August 03: Rocky Mountain National Park.
- August 04: Rocky Mountain National Park to Limon.
- August 05: Limon to Kansas City.
- August 06: Kansas City to Hoosier National Forest.
- August 07: Hoosier National Forest to Cambridge.
- August 08: Cambridge to Hersey.
- August 09: Hersey to Mystic.