Category Archives: road trips

Scrapbookin’ the Road Trip: Page the Final

After visiting the Great Sand Dunes, we continued to drive through Colorado, towards Wyoming. Before we could really gun the car and head north, however, we needed to pull over for gas. And Jocelyn might have needed a bag of beef jerky. As is her way.

As soon as we turned off the engine, we glanced out the window–and saw this:

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And this:

DSCN2068Plus, a bunch of other runners dragging llamas went by. Part of me wanted to shrug and act nonchalant, like this was the stuff of every Saturday. Most of me wanted to shout “What in the holy mother of pack animals is going on here?”

Turns out it was “Burro Days.” Which apparently means “Llama Races.” Of course.

Well fueled by fossils and jerky, we continued to drive. Getting around Denver took insanely long. My overriding impression of the population centers of Colorado, both from living there and from traveling through, is that there are too many people, and all those people are driving cars around, and it is just frustrating and blech. I just don’t want to spend that much of my life sitting in a car, watching the same light turn from red to green to yellow to red to green to yellow to red to you get it.

Providing the perfect counterpoint to the traffic of Colorado is the wide openness that is Wyoming. As we neared our destination for the evening, Guernsey State Park, the terrain began to look more and more like Home to this Montana girl.

Dear The West: You can give me all the browns and beiges and taupes in the spectrum, and I’ll find them dazzling.

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Dear The West Some More: You can also keep painting the sky with pastels every night.

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Because we were doomed on this trip to have terrible nights’ sleep in campgrounds, the lovely Guernsey tent site offered up eleventy kajillion bugs, rampant cow manure smell, and coal trains running along nearby tracks from, um, Sleep O’Clock to Wake A.M.

Fortunately, our tired selves were restored the next day in South Dakota–a state with plenty of its own natural beauty but which, inexplicably, has tried to up its appeal by schlockifying every possible pull-over.

Case in point:

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Fortunately, as much as I thrill to a beautiful landscape, I also lurves me some schlock.

And twist cone soft serve featuring half vanilla ice cream and half lemon-lime sherbert. You know, as ice cream occurs in nature.

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We needed a sugar infusion so that we could be at the top of our energies whilst viewing a major American attraction. See it, off in the distance?

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Here’s another hint:

Four by Four

I’ve seen Mt. Rushmore at least a handful of times, if not more, and every time it’s moving and majestic, and I’m not one to get soppy over presidents, except for the first time I saw Barack Obama on Jay Leno, way back before the presidency was on his radar. Watching Obama work the interview, I turned to Byron and said, “I would date that man. You are invited to come along.”

After a night’s rest in a real room with real walls, our whirl across South Dakota continued to fluctuate from fake crap to majesty and back to fake crap again. That is to say, we stopped at the legendary Wall Drug. While I’ve probably been there at least fifteen times, the kids didn’t remember our last time through, as they were too young. Paco was very excited to try Wall Drug’s famed “free ice water”; gulping down his first swallow, he clutched at his throat and cast about for a place to spit dramatically while yelling, “YUCK. That water is terrible! There is no water like Lake Superior water!”

The only way I could calm him down was to pose him and his new l’il-cutie-fluffy stuffed bison in front of its inspiration.

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In the meantime, Allegra had found a girlfriend. She’s a quiet girl, our Allegra, but I got the sense these two could sit side by side on the porch for decades, exchanging only the occasional, “You cold? You need sleeves yet?”

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After bolting from Wall Drug, we headed into the Badlands, a place where one can stare at the earth and think about them fancy striated Fourth of July Jell-O dishes that Aunt Mabel likes to bring to the family gathering.DSCN2177

We pulled over multiple times in the Badlands; after about the first five stops, the kids lost interest and energy for getting out of the car and staring at beautiful erosions. By the end, we were hard pressed to peel them out of the back seat, away from their books (Allegra ended up reading almost ten books on the trip).

There are worse problems to have.

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So those of us with the will got out of the car repeatedly and applied our best oooohs and ahhhhs to the landscape.

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After exiting the Badlands, we pulled over at a sod house that has been restored. I really wanted our family to stop here because my grandma Dorothy was born in a sod house on the family ranch in Montana. When I was in junior high, I had an assignment in biology to collect as many wildflower specimens as possible and compile them into a labeled collection. One Sunday afternoon, we walked around the ranch with Grandma, picking wildflowers. She saw flowers I didn’t even know how to notice, and she knew the lay person’s name for almost every one of them. At one point, casually, she gestured across an open expanse at a caved-in-looking hill and said, “That’s the sod house where I was born.”

So, yea, I wanted the kids to get a feel for their great-grandmother’s beginnings. Plus, I always like a chance to bring history to life.

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On our last evening of the road trip, before our last long day of driving, we stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota, to meet up with my aunt Geri and uncle Gale. It was fitting that we stopped at Culver’s on the last night of our trip since we had spent the first evening of our trip (in Austin, MN) having Culver’s with a loved one as well. Thanks to Culver’s and its amazing frozen custard, we were given the sense of coming full circle.

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After a night’s sleep in Sioux Falls, we pushed our way to Duluth the following day. One of my favorite moments of any trip away is when we pull up to our house and crack open the doors of the car, for the smells of pine and water are distinct markers that we are Home.

A few days after our return home, Byron finally finished the blackwork embroidery (his first) that he’d been experimenting with throughout our journey.

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He’d stitched a picture of the second night of our trip, when we’d camped in Nebraska. Plagued by a fearful thunderstorm, we’d all huddled in the blacked-out campground bathrooms for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. Look at our little tent there, getting battered by the elements!

Ultimately, our weeks on the road confirmed what my heart already knew:

If I have to huddle anywhere for an extended period of time,

my husband, son, and daughter are the people I want to be leaning against in the darkness.

Honey, I Can Tell Something’s Bugging You



In college, I had a friend who was gifted nostrilly. I mean, he had some seriously large nostrils. Some nights, to wow The Crowd at dinner, he would take a quarter and stick it up one of his nostrils.

At this juncture, some of you are probably thinking, “Yea, big deal. I stick quarters up my nose everyday, in a very particular and private kind of consumeristic self gratification.” But read on, Mugsy; I mean he’d stick a quarter up his nose, not sideways, but straight on—with good old George Washington and his fake teeth facing directly down to the floor. Then he could just leave the quarter hanging in there, a little booger shelf. In short, his nostril was pretty much the same circumference as a quarter…hence my assertion that he was uniquely gifted in the nostril department. Personally, I’d be hard pressed to get an almond up my nose, much less make it serviceable.

Don’t start assuming this type of stuff is on my mind all the time. I do sometimes have thoughts about books (don’t get me started on Horton and how he heard a Who that one time!), and occasionally I take a look at a newspaper and think, “Anne Coulter. Wow, you crazy beyotch. Keep saying mean things about that John Edwards; donations to his campaign skyrocket every time you call him a faggot.” So, see, I’m a deep thinker about many, many subjects.

But today I will admit I am musing, in focused fashion, on the awesome capabilities of orifices. Go ahead: insert your bawdy joke here. I’ve made about ten and deleted them all while typing this for I am, you see, very, very couth, in addition to being a deep thinker.

Now let’s move on. I’m thinking about orifices because our latest travel adventure required that my Groomeo have a gaping hole in his head, and not just his yammering maw. Rather, this adventure required that he have a really accessible and welcoming ear canal—that he be aurally gifted. I’d never noticed it before The Ear Event, but he really does have a good-sized cave up there, above his ear lobe.

To backpedal a bit: after a luscious week in Colorado, where we saw lots of folks, biked, avoided the Spirulina WheatGrass Soy Protein Shakes, had terrific trail runs (heat and prickly pear notwithstanding)…


…and got the kids out in a canoe…


…we quit the state and headed for Wyoming, where we garumphed around for the last couple of days. The change in terrain brought the camera out, even at 75 mphs…


…and after camping under a very fertile cottonwood tree one night outside of Casper (where the most curious little monkey roamed our campground)…


…we struck camp the next morning, during which The Event took place. Get this: a bug flew into Groom’s ear–and tunneled in for the duration.

Throughout the day, his hearing was plagued by loud fluttering sounds and burblings (which I posited was the noise a bug makes as it lays eggs, which, after gestation, would turn into a winged migration that would exit through his nose and mouth). First, he tried flushing it out with copious amounts of water poured into his ear canal. No luck. So then I broke out the tweezers, testing our love as I maneuvered past clumps of ear wax to extract any living thing. Sadly, our efforts were a bust. So we carried on with the day…


…toodling, amidst our mountain of car-crap, over to Thermopolis, where we visited the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Our 4-year-old Niblet melted in the heat during the tour, to the point that he proclaimed “That was vewy boring for me” minutes after having seen Stegosaurus vertebrae (uh, the plastic model isn’t to scale, btw)…

…but Girl was able to appreciate an Allosaurus footprint when she saw one.


During all this, with scary-alien-brainsucker-bug still alive in his skull, Groom went for a sweaty run, ate a hamburger, and hung in there gamely for 8.5 hours before announcing, “I think we need to go find a doctor.”

Turns out, the Thermopolis hospital, in a town of about 3,000 souls, has bug-in-ear experienced docs who greeted my beau with a reassuring, “Oh, we see this all the time.” (I suppose if you’re a rancher who lassos little dogies while riding horseback in the chapparal for sixty years, the bugs do have ample opportunity to score the hole in one of your ear canal.)

So the White Coats stuck a water pick in Groom’s ear and started flushing. Hmmm, said they. More flushing. Bigger HMMMMs. Then a very long, narrow tweezers came into play, and, as the gathered staff looked on, gasping and murmuring, THIS bit of horror…


…was eventually extracted from my true love’s ear, very much alive and aflutter. The docs gave him his trophy in a container, where it continues to flap its wings, even now, two days later.

To get rid of remnant moth dust in his ear, the professionals flushed the canal a few more times and left him with this homespun prescription: “Tonight or tomorrow morning, put a few drops of cooking oil into your ear, and that’ll clean you out real good, son.”

Since it’s been very hot (still 95 degrees at 8 p.m.), and since we were heading into Yellowstone Park the next day, where restaurants were scarce, I saw a way to make my groom’s huge and inviting ear hole into something functional at last. We needed to carbo-load before taking on Old Faithful, so I let the vegetable oil heat up in his ear…

…and then fried up some mini-donuts in the oil and ear wax.

Tasty.

Boy howdy, but Krispy Kreme ain’t got nothin’ on us.