Our Penultimate Vacation

Ellie S. Thomas   

© Copyright 2012 by  Ellie S. Thomas

Photo of a moose in a stream.

No way around it, we were travelers- vacation takers… and while most had been successful, others… not so good. Our last venture hadn’t been much of a pleasure with five people and a caged canary in a small camper trailer; however, hope springs eternal and here I was again: sewing vacation clothing at a furious rate.

Much of our time was spent trying to decide WHERE to go this time and we all made foolish, untenable suggestions until the baby probably made the funniest. ‘Cop Cade’ she offered. We stared at each other in bewilderment. It DID have a familiar ring but we just couldn’t quite put our finger on where it was until her next older sibling interpreted. ‘She means Cape Cod,’ we were informed scornfully.

Of course! We’d gone there recently and since we all had such a great time, she probably thought it might be smart to go again. The problem was, the older children had been studying their country and its history, so we thought we ought to take advantage of their new knowledge. Yellowstone here we come!

We crossed into Canada in mid-June and headed towards Ottawa, travelling route 17 west. There was all sorts of construction going on and Murphy’s Law prevailed and we soon had a rock bounce off a huge truck and it almost went through the windshield. Luckily I repeat ALMOST as it didn’t quite penetrate all the way through but we were stuck with a worrying almost-hole for the rest of our trip.


The children were getting bored by this time and our son KNEW he wasn’t going to like this at all until a bear appeared in the ditch. That made him sit up and take notice! They scanned for more bear and would willingly have settled for a moose, or any other wild animal and while the excitement lasted, we were able to make 400 miles.

We found a site, bone weary travelers, and while the youngsters ran for the shower rooms and lavatories, I prepared our evening meal. Since lunch had been so sketchy, (torpedo rolls filled with cheese slice and cold cuts and enhanced by a pickle courtesy of a supermarket along the highway,) I wanted something more wholesome for us tonight.

I’d cooked and frozen foods for days, packing it in milk cartons rather than bringing ice and it worked. Tonight our chili was thawed out and I made noodles and a salad and Bob’s your uncle! Before long the sounds of sighs and snores were all that broke the silence.

The next morning we awakened to rain and a landscape impossibly dreary. If I never get to see a lunar landscape it won’t matter because this area was surely its replica. How anyone could live, or yet, anything grow on these slag heaps defied imagination. Perhaps it was as well that the rain continued to slash down because who wanted to look outside? We endured much of the same until afternoon when we crossed into Michigan at Sault Ste Marie.

We found an enchanting spot at the J.W. Wells campgrounds and knew we would never have gotten it had the weather been fine. The spot was idyllic: a gigantic, spreading tree and breakers rolling right up to our doorstep! Throughout the night it was hard to distinguish between the surf and the crashing thunder and when morning was just a repeat of the same, we pulled our sodden rig down and headed out. At Green Bay the rain came down in torrents and it rained so hard we feared going on but daren’t stop in case someone rear-ended us. Where was the road??

We plowed forward until we reach Red Granite and quickly checked into the closest slot and slept away the rest of the storm. The next day the skies cleared and we continued on only to make camp early. Everything needed to be aired out and dried and we needed a nutritious meal so while the kids went for a swim, I began to peel potatoes.

My mind roamed idly back home and I wondered how everyone was doing and I continued to peel. My mind registered a lot of hooting and hollering in the distance, some sounded like cries for help and I thought ‘someday they’ll do that once too often.’

That’s when I saw my spouse coming with a bedraggled girl under one arm and her ashen faced brother tagging along behind. My knife dropped to the floor.

Whut happened?” I choked out.

They’d gone for a swim in a cup-shaped little farm pond and the ground was gone beneath their feet before they expected and she’d panicked. Now I had to squeeze water out of my husband’s driving license, money, etc and hang same over the curtain rods to dry. I endured a lecture about not-responding while I changed into MY suit and insisted she get back into the water. No phobias here, thank you!

The next morning we started out, bolstered with the finest resolutions: the youngsters were going to be much more careful, I would be more alert and respond immediately, and my spouse would be more patient and understanding. Ha ha.

We hadn’t got five miles down the road when the wildest caterwauling broke out in the rear. It was our youngest member and she was in a fury that nothing would satisfy. My husband grimly turned around and we started back. E.R. was missing!

Surely most families have possessed an E.R. This one had started out as a lovely, fluffy, well-stuffed Easter Rabbit and he was an indispensible member of our group. Certainly he was unrecognizable now, his stuffing had leaked out despite many darnings and patchings, he had lost one of his glass eyes so the missing spot was embroidered over, and he was grimy looking, his fuzz all worn off and he was really a disreputable item…but we could go no where without him. Now we were headed back to rescue him and pray that no one had thrown him out.

After The Rescue, we started our journey once more and had a fairly calm afternoon. We were now headed southerly and entered South Dakota. Once more, we fought through severe storms and detours so we camped early, eager to get off the road. The hectic day had taken its toll and we were tucked in out beds in record time. Alas, rest was not for us this night.

We’d barely closed our eyes when someone tried to tear our door down. ‘Tornado alert, tornado alert,’ he roared, going on to awaken the next residents. ‘Everybody up to the office!!’

We sat around the office until the sheriff came in and gave us the procedures and ‘if it comes this way, I want you’al to get across the road and down in the ditch!’

Now I am willing to comply with almost anything from an official but this I would not do. I’d take a chance on a tornado rather than snakes in a muddy ditch! Luckily, I wasn’t tested. Wearily, we decided there was little use trying to sleep any longer so we had a quick coffee and left the area.

As we drove, we tried to figure our mileage and how we were doing. Did we count the backward loop we made to rescue E.R.? That certainly had added to our mileage although we hadn’t gone forward at all. It was puzzling but we finally agreed, it had taken time and cost us extra gas, so we added it in. And now for the Badlands.

This was what it was all about- we studied the fossils, looked at the ice cream sundae striations in both landscape and huge logs lying about and snapped picture after picture. And on to Wall-

In Wall, the sparkling cold water, the mannequins of old time desperadoes lurking in the corners, the Indian craftwork. What an anti-climax after a week of worry! And we slept at the foot of Mount Rushmore; how can you top that? You haven’t lived until you’ve viewed the four Presidents by night. It was difficult to pull ourselves away but Old Faithful awaited.

We lived on the edge of excitement as we watched a mother moose and her baby....and what a baby. And then another big bear sitting in the ditch appearing to welcome us. And people stopping to hand out bread and yelling ‘bear jam, bear jam!’ We drove on away, not wanting to see someone get mauled.
We drove on past the Devil’s Tower when there was suddenly a voice from the rear once more.

I can tie my shoes,’ E.R’s mother called excitedly. ‘I can tie my shoes.’

After that anticlimax, we looped up and down, back and forth, the car chugging and steam coming out of the radiator in a dismaying spurt. Now what?? We wanted to hurry down to Sheridan but there were no guard rails , only a dizzying drop below. No place for hurrying-

Sheridan was a true-blue cow town, getting ready for a rodeo and we were welcomed and urged to stay. A wannabee mechanic announced there was nothing wrong with the car, we simply didn’t have the right thermostat for the enormous heights we’d just passed through. It should be ok now; and it was.

 The following day was memorable: route 14 through Greybull and the BigHorn Mountains is breathtaking. We travelled through stupendous canyons with sparkling Bridal Veil waterfalls starting way up out of sight only to drop in shimmering cascades a couple feet in width to depths far beneath the perilous roadway. The car was still heating up but, high in the mountain pass, we waved to a family playing snowball on this bright summer day!

We descended through coruscated canyon walls of pastel tint. Ribbons of mint green and cotton candy pink alternated with beige, off white and sky blue on the serrated cliff edges. A tumultuous little creek raced along beside us, leaping and dancing over fallen logs. There was a certain reverence about this place, so awe-inspiring; surely hallowed ground to Native Americans.

The highway seemed to follow narrow ledges, goat trails high on the mountain sides and we heard the children continuously ‘braking’ as we swung around curves, doubtful that we’d ever make it but continue straight out and on forever into eternity.

Late in the afternoon we reached Yellowstone and were greeted by a huge black bear sitting in a snowbank like a one man welcoming committee. A bit further on, a bull moose stood knee deep in a pool of water. He shook his huge rack as he swallowed a dripping mass of vegetation. Down the road a mother moose anxiously herded her calf across in front of us and into the bushes. We were delighted- until we reached the booth and were told all the camp sites were taken!

What now? We hadn’t come all this way to be so easily intimidated so we drove around until dark, photographing Old Faithful and many bubbling caldrons.

After dark, we pulled into a picnic area where we were joined by several others and although it was off limits, no one bothered us. We ate a sparse supper and crawled into our chilly beds. No one dared go outside after seeing so many bears.

About this time, we’d decided we were pretty well worn out from our vacation and decided to turn backwards towards the east.

We descended to Grant Village where we disconnected the trailer so we could drive over the park at ease. It was wonderful; strange and awe-inspiring and we enjoyed every minute but time was running out.

Next morning we left the park and found our way to route 80 and headed home like lemmings go for the sea.

It was strange: now that we’d decided to head for home, we were hit with a feeling of nostalgia. Were we making a mistake, cutting it short NOW when we were so close to the Grand Canyon, and other things we’d been dying to see? Would we ever get this far West again? Or should we save some for another time?

It hadn’t been a total loss, we comforted ourselves. We HAD seen Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Wall Drug Store…and our youngest HAD learned to tie her shoes (by holding her tongue towards Grandpa’s, she explained away her sudden success,) and we were all weary…it was time.

And so ended another vacation. By the time we’d gotten home and reported our save arrival to all and sundry, collected the pets from long-suffering friends, and got everything aired out and put away, we’d decided the end was just the beginning of the next one. What’s YOUR choice?

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