When most people think of a relaxing family vacation, a cross-country adventure through nine western states plus a Canadian province doesn’t automatically come to mind. However, my parents weren’t looking for relaxing as they organized our summer vacation this year. My dad seemed to have taken it upon himself to plan the modern teenager’s worst nightmare: the ultimate family bonding trip. “Not enough people do this anymore!” was the line he and my mother spouted in the weeks leading up to our vacation as my twin brother and I shot each other horrified glances that screamed, “Well, there are probably good reasons why!”
Mid-June arrived. We crammed our SUV full of suitcases, coolers, and a wild assortment of clothing to combat whatever Mother Nature threw at us. Though I was thrilled, I was sure going to miss my privacy for the next two weeks. With barely enough room left for us inside the car, we set off on “The White Family Great American Road Trip”. As we left behind our spacious home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in favor of more “cozy” accommodations for the next five thousand miles, I wasn’t the only one in the car wondering what we were getting ourselves into…
We shot straight west, out through the Oklahoma panhandle. Though still close to home, we were not without our fair share of adventures. My family finally stopped for the night near Black Mesa, Oklahoma, under the darkest star-filled skies in the nation, but only after nearly being blown off the highway in a dust storm. We quickly learned the rule of the road: livestock gets the right-of-way! The next day, we were up at dawn and moving again. I sensed a pattern forming.
Desert gave way to mountains. The days began to blend together, but each adventure was still distinct. We left our footprints in the Great Sand Dunes, where a reenactment of The Mummy was necessary before moving on to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The heavy smell of sulfur in that friendly tourist town gave us a taste of what we were going to experience down the road in Yellowstone. Clinging to the mountainside near Ouray, Colorado, we learned that Jeep roads are best left to Jeeps. The fusion of ancient and modern could be seen everywhere we stopped. Dodging construction traffic became routine. Disappointment turned to laughter as we posed by the enormous “CLOSED” signs in front of the Four CornersMonument. We passed countless wind farms on our way to watch the setting sun cast its shadows over ArchesNational Park near Moab, Utah. “Bear jams” were simply expected while driving through Yellowstone, and a close encounter with a bison (and an anxious park ranger) left us with some unforgettable memories. As we drove, life back home faded away. The Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, Montana, is a creaky ninety-five years old and has no internet or cell phone service. However, in exchange for these trappings, I got to experience the most magnificent place I have ever seen.
But all good dreams must come to an end. After watching a rainstorm blow through from a cozy perch in the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta, my family and I made our free-fall south. It was bittersweet to be home, but I hadn’t killed my brother in our one hundred hours on the road! Three thousand photos chronicling our crazy journey waited to be sifted through and rediscovered. My parents had been right. You don’t have to escape to some exotic foreign land to discover something remarkable– it’s right here in America.
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