The Waterton Lakes National Park Townsite came pretty darn close to being burned to the ground. The only thing saving the park were the thousands of heroic firefighters who worked 24 hour shifts. Despite these efforts, a large campground in the main part of the park and several roads leading from the center of the park were destroyed. The fire also came frightenly close to burning down the historic Prince of Wales hotel. This all occurred during the sleepy part of the summer season (September, 2016) with the entire park evacuated over the course of just one day. It is not hard at all to imagine a scenario where hundreds or maybe even thousands of people were killed while trying to escape via the one narrow road that leads in and out of the park.
I think of this now while typing at my kitchen table with the AC going and a hundred degree heat outside. Sometimes we go through hard things. Switchbacks are a bitch and you cannot always sense the bear around the corner. But we persevere. We go up. And we become stronger.
This was the summer Corey and Henna started to call me Old Man Noel. As in “Old Man Noel doesn’t like it when people travel without maps.” And of couse they say this in an exagerated grumpy old man voice. Boy do I love that.
Henna at Bertha Lake
Truth is that Corey and I have spent 21 years summer road tripping (16 for Henna). Some things have changed for the better (I do not miss calling cards) but other things have just changed. But enough stays the same (like the crazy fact that in every trip there comes the point where the laundry bag is actually greater than the sum of all the clothes actually brought on the trip) to know we are pretty darn lucky to be able to criss-cross over this continent year after year. And there are no two other people I would ever want to travel with (although maybe I wish they had a better nickname for me).
After spending the weekend in Glacier National Park (first at a KOA then the historic Many Glacier Lodge) we came back to what is maybe our second favorite place other than home. Waterton Lakes National Park.
Skipping rocks at Swift Current Lake
What we did not know; in September 2017 a massive wild fire nearly wiped out the whole park. They are still rebuilding and so many of the places we love are not accessible. This includes one of the two campgrounds, Cameron Lake, the road to Red Rock Canyon, and the Bear Hump Hike. Wieners of Waterton though survived as well as the historic movie theater.
So we are bummed. And camping way too far from our car (for some reason they decided to take this time to renovate the sole campground and it is a mess). But we know Waterton will rebuild stronger than ever.
View from hotel window on July 4th, 2019 (Bozeman, MT)
After 9 nights of camping we take a break from sleeping on the ground to celebrate the 4th in Bozeman. Population about 40,000, Bozeman is another mountain college town (and another blue dot in a mostly red state). The views are grand, the local breweries (and kambucha makers) are many, and the place definitely has that special feel that makes you want to come back even before you leave.
At Norris Geyser
We left the always chill Signal Mountain Campground like hotel guests trying to skip out on the bill. 4:50 AM! That is the time we woke up to begin packing away the tent in order to hit the road before 5:30 to make it to the Norris Campground in Yellowstone to then stand in a line through a bit of hail for about an hour to then camp in the same area that Corey and I did 21 years ago on our first trip. Was it all worth it? Hell yeah.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
So we rode horses, dodged rain drops, and did our best not to get eaten by a Grizzly. The horses were something Corey and Henna really wanted to do. As for me, well I was just happy not to fall off. But it was fun sitting on a walking horse that made 3 miles in about an hour with three cowhands making sure no one got hurt. Honestly it made us kind of cocky and now we have a shared fantasy of riding the range (with of course the same three cowhands keeping us safe and never going faster than 3 MPH).
A couple of tents and one kid later we again camp alongside the beautiful Gibbon River at the Norris Campground
WiFi is very spotty in these mountains, which, believe me has been great. The WiFi spot is near the general store, and it can get crowded here while everyone checks in with their respected worlds they “left” behind for this moment in time. But a world without distractions can leave room for….many thoughts, scenarios, pondering, musings and the such.
This years residence in the Tetons has been wonderful-but man oh man the mosquitoes have been a beast. Forget about the black or grizzly bear, it’s the damn bugs that have made us insane. Which has led me to today’s ramble. I always praised myself as a healthy Momma to Henna. I always chose organic foods, went the less toxic route with cleaning products trying to limit her exposure at an early age (the time I had some control of what entered her body). Among the list of items I banned were suntan lotions with chemicals (which left us looking like we had white war paint on) and bug spray containing Deet. As regular campers you may wonder how I accomplished this feat? Well, I’ve tried various oils, wrist bans, long shirts, smoke from the camp fire and cursing. Luckily, we haven’t had too much trouble throughout the years-but when we have it’s been rough. And to top it all off, these pests love Henna. LOVE her. And she doesn’t just get bit. She reacts with massive swells. One year she woke up with a huge swollen eye, like she had been part of a bar fight the night before. We happened to be in Canada at the time and had to tell her to not joke about getting a beating while going throughborder crossing. Anyway, I digress. Back to the present. Henna was having a horrible time here. Her mood was rough. She was sullen and one night said she wanted to just go to bed so she wouldn’t have to be awake any longer (fighting bugs). Ugh. That was the worst. So the next day, I urged her and Noel to buy bug spray. I have often done that over the last few years, urged them to buy it. Use the stuff….my reign of control was over. But they never would. But last night they finally did. They sprayed themselves and their clothes. They walked around in a Deet mist……and guess what? My Happy Henna emerged. She was amazed how the bugs flew away from her. Oh the power she now had. She was elated. But she would comment every now and then about how she felt guilt using it, or it made her feel like she’d done something wrong. Holy crap. I hoNestly had unknowingly brain washed her. Our kids are always listening, watching and taking in our every move and belief. It’s a crazy power we have. I’ve always wanted her to have her own ideas and beliefs on everything, but we’ve shaped her for Better or worse. Of course she’ll go into the world with this first foundation and build upon it. I know that. But as she turns 16 I wonder and to be honest worry what other “ideas” I’ve inadvertently instilled in her. Hmm. Things you don’t ponder while at home with Netflix to sidetrack you. Oh well. My favorite saying is “you can’t go back, only forward”. So, I’m moving forward…..especially as both Noel and Henna are awaiting me to take a hike.
carpenter ants at work. We’ve been watching this over the last few days with wonder. Not missing Netflix at all……well maybe Fleabag just a little.
They had Derek on the run. With sharpened sticks and a blood curling yell they chased him into the woods and past our campsite. Tired of watching this crap go on, I grabbed a flashlight and walked toward the mob. And just like that a dozen ten year old boys scattered in mock terror.
Chilling at Gros Ventre Campground
The boy scout troop camped next to us really sucked. Picture, I don’t know, maybe 3000 ten to twelve year old boys and one well meaning but absolutely inept dad. They cut down live branches, ran recklessly through the campground, were way too close to a ledge, and chased a poor buck around. The kids went to bed way too late (and way too loud) then were up at the crack of dawn mostly to yell at one another. And for some reason they were out to get Derek and thought it was a good idea to threaten him with spears.
Sunset at Gros Ventre (above) and Signal Mountain (below)
By noon they left and Signal Mountain Campground reverted back to its peaceful, calm self. And then they returned back to get Derek.
Playing cards (moment made possible by Ray’s nifty carpentry skills- thank you Ray!)
Writing you from Laramie, WY which is home to one of the highest (sorry Madison) college campuses in the country; University of Wyoming. Home of the Cowboys it was established on a land grant in 1886. Nice place. Laramie is a very nice college town with stunning views of the Snowy Mountains. It also is the kind of place where almost every bar is flying a multitude of Pride flags. I even spied a few “Hate has no home here” stickers. Which is why we like to drive. However tempting it would be to fly into Jackson and rent a car, there is something about traveling 1,000 miles through the Midwest and then suddenly coming to a great mountain town like Laramie. Howdy y’all!
The “Library steps” – a cool brewpub in Laramie (great beer, mediocore food)
Laramie’s answer to the High Line (NYC) and the 606 Trail (Chicago)
And just like that we find ourselves again in Lincoln, Nebraska. A nice place, Lincoln is probably the place we would choose to live if for some reason we had to live in Nebraska (2nd choice is Kearney).
There is a lot of empty in the 500 mile space between here and Chicago. A few urban dots too, but mostly a gentle rolling landscape of corn and other crops. This trip is going to be a bit of an odd one for us. For starters it will be about three weeks. And we will probably not see many new places. The plan is to get to the Tetons and then sit awhile. Maybe if we have time we will drive north to Waterton Lakes National Park. Or maybe we will get bored and head to Yosemite.
On this, the holiest of holy days i.e. Hennacornoeliday (which is wedged each year between Hanukah and Chistmas) we bring you sad news. Blue Eyes is no more. At least for us. After nearly seventeen years of taking us everywhere from Alaska to Nova Scotia to most places in between it was finally time to say goodbye.
That ain’t apple juice we were drinking.
A nice, very mechanically inclined couple purchased him yesterday. Their skills will surely be tested. Both times they came to check out the truck they had to jump it. Dark clouds billow from the exhaust and the gauges don’t always work. But it is a project they are excited to begin and I wish them the best of luck.
As for us, well, we are doing fine. It’s been over twenty years now since Corey and I first met. Baby makes three and soon she will be the one driving the Millionaire Highway (or maybe just Route 20 through Nebraska). After some self-reflection we upgraded our gear. The Outback is now an Ascent (bigger by 50% but also more fuel efficient). We also bought a new tent that is remarkably similar to the old one but with a lot less duct tape needed. Other essential we hope to gain include a car awning and a new bike hitch which is something we have never really traveled with before. What I am trying to say is that although we may be in our mid-40s/mid-teens with all the growing pains you would expect, we ain’t going nowhere. And by that I mean we are going everywhere.
“We are a country defined as much by distance as by culture,” says Keisha (Jasika Nicole) in “Alice Isn’t Dead”. I know the feeling. After twenty summers crisscrossing North America it all can feel so… big. And separate. With everyone mistrusting everyone else.
Garrett’s Desert Inn (Santa Fe, NM)
A few days ago we stopped to get gas somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha. At the pump behind us were three people solemnly staring at their smoldering car’s engine. After asking them if they needed help they answered no but thanked me for the offer. One said he was not worried because he had broken down in a “good place.” Another said there was no way anyone would have stopped to offer help in Miami. I think it is safe to say that “Miami” here was code for “city.” And “good place” likely meant any area filled with people looking like themselves (so my good place would be a city of mostly tall white people with poor motor coordination and questionable fashion sense).
The lead story in the local paper for Sterling, Colorado
Twice this trip our car sputtered in the middle of nowhere and twice people helped us as best they could. The second mechanic even called us a couple of days later to make sure we made it to our next destination. And outside of San Diego at a discount gr ocery store, where no one looked like us, a bottle of wine slipped away from our grocery cart a moment after we had purchased it. It made one heck of a dramatic mess. A long silent moment passed before the scary looking security guy asked if we were OK. A cashier told us to get another bottle and then told us not to worry when apologized for our carelessness.
The squirrels stand guard outside the Museum of Nebraska Art (or MONA) in Kearney, Nebraska
After six weeks and over five thousand miles (and also twenty years and fifty states) we know some things. It is a big country out there. Not everyone agrees with one another. But it is still a nation of people trying to do the best they can. Maybe in the end that is all we can ask for.