I have an embarrassing parental oversight to cop to. We’ve never taken our kids to Yellowstone. All the traveling we’ve done and one of our most cherished national icons has never even been a consideration.
Technically it’s not my fault we’ve never considered this possibility. Although I was born in Boise, we lived in north Idaho for my formative years. Our family trips were mostly by boat, through the locks of the dams on the Lower Snake River to the Columbia, all four of us crammed in a 28 foot Bayliner for hours of quality time.
I swam a lot.
When my parents loaded us into the car it was to go further north, to places like British Columbia or Seattle. Crammed in a car, we wove our way through scenery I mostly ignored because I was trying not to barf.
Both boys have inherited my propensity for carsickness, so we don’t look for opportunities to drive to far-flung places. Still, we’ve taken them on weavy roads plenty of times to camp or visit our alma mater – a drive of six hours, which tends to test the effective duration of motion sickness medicine. Even doubling up on Meclozine, we have to tuck multiple plastic bags in strategic locations throughout the vehicle for certain stretches. We’ve learned to take time to check the bags for small holes first, and pack a kit of paper towels, wet wipes and a change of clothing. We know all the places along Highway 21 where there’s space to pull to the side of the road without risking life and limb, and a few places where it’s questionable but will work in a pinch.
When the kids were really young they didn’t necessarily warn us in advance of a problem. We had to learn their tells. I have become really attuned to a sudden dip in conversation, or sounds of restless fidgeting from the back. Every sigh or yawn could mean something terrible and messy was on the way. Colin used to just complain about being too warm a split second before erupting. Mike is convinced that my asking the kids repeatedly if they’re feeling okay somehow plants the suggestion in their heads, and tries to shush me when I get anxious.
Still, we brave car travel several times a summer. We’ve also learned the boys aren’t as prone to motion sickness by train, plane or boat. We’ve taken them overseas where we still find people who speak a little English and then to places where they don’t, and for which Americans need a long list of vaccinations. It’s not like we’re some anxious homebodies, worried about kidnappings or uprisings or whether or not we’ll have to bribe some customs agent to leave the country.
But, yesterday morning I was writing something completely unrelated – well, actually it was about the adventures of family travel, with a special lack of emphasis on the barf, so it wasn’t completely unrelated – and I looked up the time it would take to actually drive to Yellowstone from Boise. I was floored. And then embarrassed.
For years, Mike’s family has been traveling here from Ohio, and we’ve entertained guests from locations further east. We’ve hosted exchange students from places in Europe where you could either be in Germany or in Switzerland depending upon which side of the bed from which you rose. A lot of these people have a sense of the Intermountain West as being as close together and accessible as everything they’re used to.
These people come here and think places like Seattle and Salt Lake City and Portland are just day trips. I mean, why would anyone live in someplace so remote that the next metropolis is a full day’s travel away? Maybe two? Why would someone build a city in the middle of nowhere?
That’s a question I ask myself all the time. But we tell others we’re from hearty pioneer stock. Our ancestors walked here, with stuff like oxen and mules, with cast iron stoves strapped to their backs. They wandered until they were tired and then settled in a place where the endless high desert vista was interrupted for once by foothills, which slowed the winds, and a river and a few, friendly trees the likes of which they probably hadn’t seen for days.
So, yeah, you want a day trip, and we’ll take you someplace like Idaho City where you can see a reenactment of a drunken gun fight and dress up in old timey clothes and get your picture taken as a gunslinger or a hooker. It’s a hoot. Or we can go the other way and take in a little class three whitewater. Just don’t forget the barf kit.
But Yellowstone? Really, that’s a long way away. Like a full day’s drive, or maybe two if you’re stopping to take in the sights or pee or in the vain hope that your kids’ stomachs will settle. Sure, there’re bears and geysers and stuff. There’s also a bajillion other people, and traffic. That may be par for the course some other places, but if what you want is scenery and maybe a little wildlife, why not go somewhere closer, where you can actually get out of the car?
Over the years of having this conversation, I realize that I’ve made the drive to Yellowstone sound as unrealistic as a trip to the moon. And, other than saying you’ve been to the moon, what’s the real attraction anyway? If I’m going to risk wearing barf, I mean, if that’s a prospect at all at any time, I want more bang for my buck. I want a night out with friends, or the chance to take in a football game, or hike up a mountain and eat dinner by a lake. I don’t want to drive through some real-life equivalent of Jurassic Park with thousands of other schmos, and have that be it.
But yesterday, I was writing something about traveling through five countries in five days and how our perspective is skewed because actual points of interest around here from a tourist’s perspective are as distant from each other as we are from the moon. I was going to use Yellowstone as a point of reference, so I Googled directions.
Some of you already know this: Yellowstone’s about six hours away. Seriously. Most of the trip is nice, straight freeway over which our kids can likely hold onto their cookies. Hardly a journey to the moon.
Like I said, embarrassing. I’ve bragged about taking our kids to see six or eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in one trip – the names for half of which they’ll never remember – but we can’t even back out of the driveway to see one of the few natural wonders in the US that’s practically in our own back yard? How totally un-American of us.
Still, hold up on the trip advice. We may be the only ones on the planet who haven’t schlepped with our kids off to see bears and geysers with thousands of other tourists. But, as far as I know, we’re not planning to head out any time soon. You can judge all you want. I mean, when it’s all said and done, it’s bears. And it’s geysers. It’s not like there’re dinosaurs or astronauts or anything.
I’m just saying I’ll think of another response when someone asks about the possibility of a “day trip” to Yellowstone.