Sunday, August 21, 2016
Prior to this month, I hadn’t taken a vacation in two years. It was time.
When we lived in New England, we made a point to take a week each summer to take a vacation in one of the New England states. (TW’s fave was Maine, but I was partial to Vermont.) Last year we didn’t get a vacation, with the summer consumed by moving. So this year we doubled down and did a massive trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
None of us had ever been to either, so it was a bit of a leap of faith.
The kids, bless their young hearts, looked forward to flying. Our New England trips didn’t require it, and they hadn’t flown recently enough to remember it. We made sure to get them window seats.
A few thoughts and observations on Yellowstone and the Tetons:
If you ask most people to name a landmark at Yellowstone, they’ll name Old Faithful. We saw Old Faithful, but it wasn’t all that interesting; as one nearby onlooker put it, “we came all this way to see...steam?” The Grand Prismatic Spring, on the other hand, is worth it. It’s sort of a cross between a mall wishing well and a portal to hell. It’s an otherworldly blend of colors with a sulfurous steam on top from which you don’t want to be downwind. (Trust me on that one.) It features shades of orange and blue that don’t usually occur together, especially in nature. The water is supposed to be highly acidic, which explains the colors along the sides. It’s crossed by a series of narrow pedestrian walkways that don’t forgive much; we were collectively mystified as to how those walkways even got built. (“I’ll just put this heAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!”)
Moose were mostly missing, but the bison were out in force. Several times we had to stop and wait for them to cross the road directly in front of us. One bison took up shop just outside our hotel room -- we were alerted by the sound of grass ripping from the ground as he ate it. We named him Bernie. Bernie hung around for a couple of days before moving on. TG bought a stuffed Bernie to commemorate the trip. He joined the menagerie in her room, apparently without incident.
We did an hour-long horseback ride, during which we collectively discovered that “saddlesore” is a real thing. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
We set the alarm for 1:00 one morning to catch the Perseid meteor shower. Living in New Jersey, light pollution, trees, and buildings reduce the quality of stargazing, but out there, you can really see a show. We were concerned when it rained early in the evening, but the weather cleared in time for a perfect view of the meteors. And they didn’t disappoint. It was weirdly cold at night, and you’d be surprised how quickly your neck can start to hurt from craning it backwards to look up. But the meteors with tails were worth it. I even saw the Milky Way for the first time. It was one of those rare and cherished moments in the overlapping part of the Venn diagram covered by both “nerdy” and “cool.”
The food in the park was...um...reminiscent of an earlier time. The cafeteria featured variations on shrink wrap.
Pro tip: if you tell a 15 year old boy the translation of “Grand Tetons,” be prepared for two solid days of giggling. Just roll with it.
Apparently -- and I consider this a sign of the Decline of the West -- other people aren’t nearly as fascinated as I am by the fact that Evel Knievel once tried to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle. We took a rafting trip on the Snake River, and when I asked the guide about it, he brushed it off with a curt “that was in Idaho” before changing the subject. Even TW and the kids rolled their eyes! Idaho, Wyoming, whatever -- it was a Rocket. Powered. Motorcycle.
Sigh. Without Evel Knievel, would Gonzo the Great have even existed? Nobody appreciates the classics. But I digress.
The eastern side of the Tetons lacks foothills, which makes for a striking visual. The real issue there was parking, which was weirdly scarce, considering that we were in Wyoming. You’d think the one thing that wouldn’t be lacking in Wyoming would be parking. Alas, no. But once we found spaces, the hiking was glorious. Highly recommended.
We met a couple from northern Iowa on the rafting trip; they called themselves “simple farm folk.” (Seriously. That’s a direct quote.) When I mentioned our meteor shower adventure and how much bigger the sky seemed here, the woman from the couple mentioned that she felt confined there by having mountains on either side. She was used to being able to see clear to the horizon. She was also amused by my reference to Jackson Hole as “small.” She found it intimidatingly large. Perspective, I guess.
We spent the last night in Bozeman, Montana, which is a pretty artsy place. It had a “music night” downtown while we were there, so we checked it out. I was charmed by the banner for “The Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus.” It turned out to be a sort of bait; anyone who took a picture of the banner got hit up for a contribution to the local food bank. I considered it a fair exchange.
The kids discovered that views from airplanes can be great fun, but that air travel as an experience can be a bit of a nightmare. By the last leg of the journey home, TG announced that she was done with flying for a while. We all agreed.
Now back to our regularly scheduled blog, and regularly scheduled job. It’s time.