Yellowstone Changes Everything
Chapter 6 of my work-in-progress camping memoir
I started working on a camping memoir five years ago but abandoned it after a year of detailed work because the time just wasn’t right. Now I am ready to get back to the work I started and turn it into a true memoir of the first 21 years of marriage and parenting. If you want to get regular updates on this project, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.
The first time we decided we had to leave Sierra at home was the third summer after we got married. We had been discussing vacation plans, but we had very little money, Jeff didn’t have real vacation time, and I was going to be teaching summer school for at least a couple of weeks during the summer break. Then Jeff threw me a curveball in early June.
“Let’s go to Yellowstone.”
“You mean, like, Yellowstone National Park? In Wyoming?”
“Yeah, I’ve never been.”
I tried to not be a patronizing know-it-all, but I’m pretty sure I failed miserably. “You know that Yellowstone is one of the most popular national parks in the country, right? Do you honestly think that we can find a place to stay? There isn’t much time to plan. And do we really have the money to go to Yellowstone? I mean a trip like that wouldn’t be cheap.”
“Sure it would. We could camp.”
Now there was something I had never considered before.
Unlike my husband, I had been to Yellowstone National Park, once. When I was twelve, my maternal grandparents flew out from Michigan to visit us in Wyoming. On the top of my grandmother’s wish list was a trip to Yellowstone. So our family of six traveled several hours north with my grandparents where we stayed for a few nights in hotels in the park while we drove around and visited the major sites. I had three primary memories from the trip.
First, I remember driving past forests that had been recently destroyed by the wildfires that had ravaged northern Wyoming only a couple of years before, and the tiny wildflowers blanketing the ground underneath charred tree trunks and baby pine trees poking out of the earth, ready to grow and replace the pines that had gone up in smoke only a couple years earlier.
Second, I remember my photography loving grandmother as she insisted that we stop for every photo opportunity, including one particularly humorous incident when my mom chastised her own mother for wanting to get out of the car to wander into the field so she could risk life and limb to get a better picture of the bison that freely roam the park.
Third, I remembered Old Faithful Lodge and the birth of a dream that someday I would be able to afford a room at the historic hotel and do more than just take photos on the porch. It is this final memory that probably explains why I wasn’t immediately jumping at the suggestion that we camp our way to and from the far corner of Wyoming.
But Jeff finally convinced me.
The truth was, the more I thought about traveling back out to the Rocky Mountains, the more excited I became. And after dragging him all the way to western Nebraska the summer before, I honestly felt like Jeff deserved to pick the next big vacation. I could make it work and I dove into planning the cross-country trip.
When I calculated the cost of driving out there with our little Ford Focus and the per-night cost of camping every night, I realized that my summer school pay would more than pay for the trip, even with the week of lost wages for Jeff. The truth was, we needed a vacation for just the two of us. We had been married for two and a half years and we hadn’t been on a vacation with just the two of us since our honeymoon. We were living in Indiana and going separate directions five days a week for work; I drove to Illinois and Jeff drove to Michigan. And my teaching job was sucking the life out of me. Weekend camping trips were great, but we were young and we needed time away from the distractions of work that often kept us away from each other.
So I mapped out our trip. I calculated how far the two of us could drive in a single day and still get to a campsite with enough time to set up our tent in the daylight. We talked about the stops that we wanted to make along the way and determined that the two places that Jeff really wanted to stop was Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. Anything else along the way would just be a bonus. I made reservations at KOAs along the way, we researched camping hacks for a long-term camping trip, and I finished up summer school teaching and grading so that I could enjoy a vacation with my husband.
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