Friday, October 05, 2007

The Great Family Vacation: Part 1

It only happens in a great while—in fact, the last time we’ve been out on vacation was… was… well, as a family in our current formation, the answer’s never. This is, essentially, our first vacation as a family. Sure, Natalie’s gone with us back East to visit the East-Coast relatives, and we spent a week in Oceanside when she was less than a year old, but since Matthew’s been born, we’ve only had a weekend out and that was Sea World.

So it really doesn’t count.

A few months back, Jason mentioned, almost in passing, that they were thinking about heading up to Yellowstone for a couple of days of “scenery and wildlife fun,” and it seemed like a perfect idea. Kara and I had talked about going to Yellowstone for a few years. It brings back fond memories of long ago when my folks would take us around the country, seeing the things that makes this collection of states such a great place to live. Plus, if I were to list the 10 greatest family moments, they’d probably all be times spent on vacation…and let’s not forget that time that dad chucked a super ball as hard as he possibly could in the garage and when we all looked up to see it bounce off of the ceiling, it clocked him square in the forehead.

Good times. Good times.

So, now, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I’m sitting on a bed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, hotel well connected to the world (and as an unpleasant side affect, to work too). I thought I’d write down a few words about our trip.

Jason suggest that Yellowstone in October would be a fun place to visit. He has a week. Kara’s off for the month. Generally, I’ve got nothing better to do most of the time… oh yeah, work when it’s convenient or when I have a specific deadline, and considering I just had the mother of all deadlines to weeks ago, I deserve a week to myself for a change. Let’s go to Yellowstone.

The next day after Jason mentioned it to me, I made reservations for a few nights at the Old Faithful Inn, the 1903 lodge that everyone thinks of when they picture a sky lodge: big pine logs, huge fireplace, hot chocolate in ski boots. Outside the window is Old Faithful herself, spouting off.

Jason caught up, made reservations too and here we are, on our way, with Jason, Raquel and Baby Alex a day behind us.

It has been a surprisingly easy trip so far. For a couple of weeks before we left, I was worried about going; after all, I fear the unknown and the unfamiliar, and what is more unknown and unfamiliar than packing up the wife and kids and trekking out across the country. Now, we’ve got 800 miles under our belts and we’re old hands at life on the road.

Of course, there’s a 70 percent chance of snow tomorrow (it’s raining now) in Glacier National Park, which means that Yellowstone is going to be cold. If fact, the high for tomorrow is supposed to be in the low 30s. I’m glad I brought my jacket.

We hit the I-15 freeway only 50 minutes behind the original schedule. Actually, we were four hours behind schedule, because the real original schedule had us leaving at 5am, allowing a couple of extra hours for the kids to sleep. However, plans being as they are, we broke them, deciding that being rested ourselves is better than making good time, and I’m happy that we did because the kids were great, quite the couple of road warriors. There were a couple of complaints from the peanut gallery behind my seat, but that was because they were hungry, or Matthew found the capacity of his diaper…or they just needed to get out and run around.

We made good time, but terrible mileage. Since I’m from the school of “Be Prepared,” we packed a lot of stuff, some of which I hope I don’t have to use (tools, chain, some rope, extra gas, etc.), and I’m sure the truck was groaning under the weight. It did sit down in the back end a little more than normal. To save money, we brought a cooler with drinks and a big tote box full of food and snacks, as the first couple of days, we wanted to travel “light” if you’ll excuse the irony of the word.

Soon, we were whisking our way through Vegas, without a moment of traffic, and there is a lot to be said of other people on the road as soon as you leave California. I flipped on the cruise control and set it at 75mph, kicked off my sandals and settled in for the drive. In the back, we set up the DVD so the kids wouldn’t have to sit through the drudgery of the Mohave Desert, and Kara cracked a new book to read. I enjoyed the plight of the barren parts of California.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fault people for driving slower than 75mph on an interstate highway, but what drives me to the brink are people that don’t move out of the way when they see me begin to fill their rear-view mirror. They just sit there, perhaps going 70, oblivious to anything else going on around them or they’re self-appointed freeway monitors, determined to make sure everyone drives under the speed limit, for the sake of society. I run up on their bumper, swerve to the left slightly so they can see me in their side mirror, and then I get drastic. I flash my brights. I don’t do like doing that because it shows my impatience, but I’ve already had to turn off the cruise control and slow down. I’m not only uncomfortable, but I’m losing time, which, to me, is probably the worst thing imaginable on a road trip. That throws off the schedule, disrupts the timeframe and frankly screws up my vacation.

Invariably, the license plate is from California, because, as soon as we left the state, people get out of the way. We even had a big rig pull over and let us by. Now that’s unheard of in the Golden (rule?) State.

We only had to make a couple of stops, which was nice. Our first stop was at a rest stop past Baker (were the big thermometer is), and it was a typical rest stop: bathrooms and a place to look at a giant map to see where you are and how much more you have to go, at least until the end of the map. The kids enjoyed hopping around and balancing on the walls, and getting out of the truck did them some good. We first stopped for gas in St. George, Utah, where we had some snacks instead of lunch, saving our lunch food for diner when we made it to the hotel in Sandy, Utah, a city just south of Salt Lake City. The second rest stop was one of those thankful-they-have-them rest areas out in the middle of nowhere, but it was a nice one, lush green grass, lots of room to run around, but it was incredibly windy, enough to almost knock Matthew down.

There had been a series of fires in Southern Utah, and some of the land we drove through had been scorched black. We came up over a hill, looking over into a valley and it looked as though the whole place was covered in smoke, only it was a dust storm, larger than I had ever seen. They closed the freeway and detoured us through the little farm community of Kanash, which looked like all five of its residents came out to see the people drive through, and I wagered that there was probably some old toothless man sitting on a porch somewhere, saying “I haven’t seen this many cars come through Kanash since the stampede of ought-five.”

We stayed the first night at a Best Western, picking it because it had an indoor pool, which was good because it was only about 55 degrees out and that’s not good swimming weather. However, the pool was off limits to kids under five-years old thank to some bacteria that was going around. Nice. The bathtub became our pool and the tikes enjoyed it just the same.

Matthew had a heck of a time sleeping, perhaps because of the strange environment, or maybe because all the excitement of being on vacation. Either way, I think he fell asleep before I did, at about 10pm, which is unusual for me.

Back on the road, the following morning, we had 560 miles on the odometer and that just didn’t seem right. According to Mapquest, Salt Lake City was around 675 miles from our house, so why did I only clock up 560? I had some time to think about it while we drove north near the Great Salt Lake toward Ogden, our jumping off point into Idaho and Wyoming. I think it is because of the tires. Now, I’m no physicist, but I think that the big tires have thrown off my speedometer and my odometer. For example, I had the cruise control set at 75mph, but I was still passing most everyone on the road, and I did a little experiment. When I passed through a pair of mile markers, I checked my odometer, and it only showed nine-tenths of a mile passing. My speed is showing slower than I’m actually traveling which has thrown off my odometer, because the larger tires travel a farther distance over less time than do smaller tires. Who knows. Maybe I’m wrong.

In Ogden, Utah, this morning, we visited a dinosaur museum that had a collection of fossils in their main building and life-size recreations of a couple dozen dinosaurs outside. Of course, finding it was no small feat. What attraction doesn’t put a map on their brochure? Kara thought it was one way. I thought it was another. There was construction on the 15 so the exits were mixed up (Utah, as it turned out, is the Land of the Orange Cones, there’s so much road work going on). I won a $10 bet from Kara on the museum’s location (I’ve always been good with directions). Natalie was a little freaked out by the roars and the thunder inside the museum, but once she got used to it, both kids enjoyed themselves.

After that, it was lunch at the slowest Wendy’s I’ve ever seen. It was Twilight Zone slow. Coming from Southern California, I was dumbfounded that they could have a meaningful operation running at such leisurely speeds. It almost seemed deliberate, but nobody else standing in the line that reached the door, seemed fazed; at least, where I’m from, fast food isn’t an oxymoron. Apparently, it isn’t a phenomenon either. Just a couple of hours ago, I got some Taco Bell… all I wanted was six burritos and two tacos… and apparently I first ordered six tacos and no burritos, then no tacos and two burritos and then 16 burritos and no tacos. Finally, at the window, I held up my fingers, “this many burritos and this many tacos,” to which I heard him tell the guy next to him, “six burritos” and the other guy responding, “oh, only six, okay.”

And it was still nearly twice as expensive as in SoCal, and then I got honked at for rushing the light. I was turning left across an intersection and I had to share the green light with oncoming traffic, but it was a big intersection and I knew that if I got the jump on the light, I’d beat the cross traffic. Well, I did, but some guy turning right on the other side, didn’t appreciate my Los Angeles move and honked. Okay fine, in the wilderness, we take it slow. I’ll be patient in the future. Did I mention I had Taco Bell in the seat next to me? It does crazy things to a hungry man on the road.

We passed ugly Salt Lake City—too much industry, too much construction, too many dirty buildings in faceless industrial parks—we made it up to Idaho, with our sights set on the Oregon Trail Museum in Montpelier on the 89, but it was closed by the time we got there. Oh well, it would have been cool to see how the pioneers trekked these exact roads. The country at this time of year is beautiful. Everything is changing colors, all the trees are exploding in reds and yellows and it’s so nice to see.

I expected that we’d have to stop every 100 miles so one of them could get out and stretch their legs, but the kids have been great on this trip. It is fun to see their excitement as we say, “Look, a cow!” At least, the first time I said that. The 100th time, not so much, but they’ve been good sports.

It took us a long time to go from Ogden to Jackson Hole; even though it was only about 250 miles, it took most of the day, but here we are in The Trapper Inn, just back from the pool and the bath, and now we’re settling in for the night. Kara’s reading. I’m doing this and the kids are asleep.

It’s raining. It started about when we stopped at a scenic lookout over Bear Lake, but it just sprinkled on us for the next 100 miles, not really raining until we pulled into town. It’s pouring, which is nice, considering the triple-digit weather we left back home.

Tomorrow, the weather said 70-percent chance of snow, and since I’ve never really driven in the snow, I’m a tad nervous about it. But we only have about 50 miles left until Yellowstone so it should go easy. After that, they said clear weather until Tuesday.

I’m not sure if the Old Faithful Inn will have Internet or not, so this might be the first and last part of our trip you get to hear about until we get home…

1 comment:

Tris said...

Funny, I too noticed that in areas other than SoCal fast food is something less than fast. I guess in smaller towns it's harder for employers to threaten slow employees because nobody else in town wants their job.
Good to hear you are all having fun.


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