This is where I go when I've done something bad
They can't see me here ha ha ha.
Life post-road trip is a bit dull. I've returned to sweeping up dog hair twice a day, to paying bills, to getting the kids where they need to be, to fearing the garbage disposal. That last one has been my truth for years. I wince every time I hit the switch for the disposal, brace myself for the sound of crusher blades on silver heirloom spoon or whatever else has had the misfortune of falling down there.
Sometimes I stick my hand down in before turning it on to make sure nothing lies in its bowels. Those are tense moments. I cringe, convinced the blades are about to spring to life by themselves and pulverize my hand. Alex has observed my disposal song and dance many times and often comments on my contorted facial expressions; he has rightfully observed the appliance appears to cause me great anguish.
Here's Lucien as Donald Trump.
Can't unsee that.
There was a five-year-old boy named Ziggy also enrolled in summer guitar camp. Ziggy enjoyed doing his own thing; he liked to wander off stage suddenly or stop playing his guitar in the middle of a song to have a good look at the ceiling for a few minutes.
Ziggy did a solo. He stood center stage, stared at the floor and played the same chord softly and repeatedly for twenty seconds or so. He stopped mid strum and walked off to do whatever. The camp director jumped onstage and said, "And that was Ziggy performing a tribute to the great state of Ohio!"
My sister, Auntie Raba, attended the recital, too. Upon the conclusion of Ziggy's tribute to the great state of Ohio, Raba and I were hopelessly overcome by the giggles. We laughed as silently as we could, tried so hard to stop but could not get our shit together. The giggles got worse every time Ziggy moseyed up the aisle past our seats, hands in his pockets, as camp counselors fruitlessly called for him up on stage. I couldn't look at Raba for the rest of the recital for fear of snorting aloud.
We kissed our menagerie of animals goodbye early the next morning and hopped into the Winnebago. The road trip plan was ambitious this year: nine states, eight national parks and over 4000 miles to travel in 16 days. It didn't start out so jam packed. The problem with planning these trips is there is too much to do in the areas we're visiting. I think, "Well, if we're already there, we should go see THAT and then if we're near there we should see THAT and do THAT and then of course THAT THAT THAT THAT."
Our itinerary grows more and more dense and soon allows only a handful of minutes at each place. Then Alex is over my shoulder giving me the stinkeye and telling me my plans are "not very relaxing."
I never know where to stop, likely because I long to never stop at all.
We did not tire of national parks even after eight of them back-to-back. It was the opposite. They were fascinating and only grew more so. Each one had its own flavor, its own personality. The vibes were different, the visitors different, the landscapes and light and colors different. Most of them were so wild and surreal, it didn't feel like visiting eight different national parks; it was more like visiting eight different planets.
We take national parks very seriously
Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California was our first stop. Lassen is beautiful but not in a jaw-dropping kind of way. It has interesting geology (four different types of volcanoes in one place, sweet) but doesn't blow your mind. It's a lesser Yellowstone with some active geothermal features on a much smaller scale. It has an edge but stops short of being scary.
Me and Ms. Cokes hanging in front of a bubbling mudpot.
If all the national parks were a family, Lassen is the stereotypical eldest child. It's responsible, solid, dependable, does what it's supposed to do without being flashy. It's a straight-A student, a class president, is likable but doesn't push boundaries. You'll walk away wishing Lassen would let loose just a tad, show you some crazy, dance on a table sometime.
We were at Lassen over the Fourth of July holiday weekend so were far from alone. It was crowded with people darting everywhere and parking spots parked several cars deep. We couldn't pull over at most of the popular viewpoints so had to settle for the B-and-C list viewpoints. Instead of an impressive cascading waterfall, we pondered a large rock.
Driving a motorhome is a bit like being a turtle. Your house is on your back. It's convenient to have your dental floss at the ready when you need it (and you never forget your sunscreen or bug spray) but it's also cumbersome to carry everything you have around with you. You're big, bulky, not very agile. If there's no room for you at the park viewpoints, well, there's no room. You're a house and can't exactly squeeze in.
We did nudge a few people aside to visit this slushy lake
Lucien bullshitted his way to junior ranger status at Lassen. The junior ranger programs at the national parks are on point; kids collect a booklet at the visitor center and complete the park-related activities inside. They learn about conservation and recycling and how to act responsibly around wildlife. They then turn the booklet back in, answer a few questions posed by a ranger and raise their right hands to pledge to take care of the national parks and remain curious about the natural world. They receive a plastic badge and a handshake for their efforts.
Lucien, however, found a way around the system, as I fear Lucien will always do. He half-assed his Lassen badge. When the ranger asked, "What are two things you learned at our roadside exhibits?" Lucien responded, "I saw two deer." Alex and I glanced at each other -- not only was seeing two deer not in any way related to Lassen's roadside exhibits, but as far as we knew he hadn't even seen two deer at all.
After Lassen, we drove straight into the middle of Nevada. Our route took us across the state on Highway 50, which is known as "the loneliest road in America." It's an appropriate label. We didn't see anyone in either direction for well over 200 miles.
For me, it was heaven, a road to myself and scenery on all sides. For Al, it was nerve wracking and he got antsy. That's the difference between an introvert and an extrovert on a roadtrip; when it gets remote, the introvert goes warm and cozy but the extrovert worries there's no one to talk to.
She shares my intense love of being in the middle of Nevada while wearing hilarious glasses.
I mentioned in my last post my apprehension about having Alex along this year. The kids and I have a well established routine on these trips and I was concerned Al was going to unknowingly cramp my style. My worrying was for naught. My Al was a perfect traveling companion, a co-pilot to my pilot, a cheerful lunch-maker and podcast-finder as I stepped on the gas and covered major ground.
The only annoying part was he kept saying somberly, "MJ, I feel we're at a crossroads...." every single time our rural highway intersected another rural highway. It was funny the first time but got old fast.
The second park was Great Basin National Park in middle-of-nowhere Nevada. If we're still sticking with the family metaphor, Great Basin is the middle child with a hefty case of middle child syndrome. Every ranger with whom we chatted mentioned (with a sniff) that Great Basin is the least visited park in the U.S. national park system. Great Basin is trying to get noticed but its placement in the world is making it hard.
Our park campsite was dotted with prickly plants and strange bugs. Lucien shoved Coco ahead of him as they set about exploring the tall brush around the campground. I hollered, "Lucien, stop making your little sister go ahead of you all the time!" and he responded, "Well, in my defense, if someone's gonna fall on a cactus, it's gonna be her."
Al wanted to eat dinner in the tiny town at the park's entrance that night. He was insanely curious about it. Who lived in a town three blocks long, with no other towns around for a hundred miles?
We first stopped at the "grocery store" to stock up. There were only three aisles in the grocery store so it was a quick trip, made even quicker by Alex continually whispering in my ear, "She scares me" about the woman standing behind the checkout counter. The woman never said a word to us but watched us the entire time with charcoal-rimmed eyes.
The restaurant across the street was called The Electrolux and featured several vintage Electrolux vacuum cleaners hanging from the ceiling. It was a cute place, quirky but warm and brightly colored. A gruff older man welcomed us, seated us, handed us menus. He took our drink order. I wanted a beer so he handed me a bottle opener and directed me to a fridge in the back to choose and open my own. I really liked that, made me feel at home.
Alex ordered a cocktail so the man walked behind the bar and made him a drink. I jokingly said to Al, "Is this guy gonna make our food, too?" just before he took our order, walked into the kitchen and began cracking open cans. Yes, he made our food, too. And it was awful.
Bad food aside, we liked him so much. His no nonsense, no apologies, no frills self was refreshing in its honesty. The guy is just doing his thing all alone in the middle of nowhere in his vacuum cleaner restaurant.
Great Basin National Park is certified by the Dark Sky Association. There's no light from civilization to interfere so the stars are brilliant come nighttime. It's mind blowing how many there are up there, who knew?
We attended the Great Basin astronomy program after dinner where we viewed powerful things through telescopes the size of Lucien's body. The astronomers showed us Jupiter and its four moons, Saturn and its rings, the M13 star cluster, and the something-something nebula (it was very very late by then so the details got fuzzy) imploding on itself or whatever.
When we returned to camp after astronomy, we laid on the picnic table at our campsite and stared up into the sky. We saw a handful of shooting stars. which made Coco squeeze me and say, "I saw my first shooting star here, Mom! I'm never, ever gonna forget that!!"
I smiled and thought, "Girl, you're six years old. It's very likely you're going to forget it, and soon, but I love your optimism."
The Lehman Cave tour is the star attraction of Great Basin and worth every minute and every dollar, even if you're a semi-basketcase claustrophobe like me. Trust it, you'll be so entranced by the caves you'll forget you're stuck under the ground in a suffocating hellhole with no obvious escape route.
You're a weirdo, Great Basin, but we like you.
Our third park was Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. If Lassen is the oldest child being solid and dependable and Great Basin is the middle child with an inferiority complex, Bryce Canyon is their snobby popular neighbor -- male or female, it doesn't matter, it just knows it's better than you.
Bryce Canyon is more stunning than you can imagine but it knows it's more stunning than you can imagine. Its admirers are numerous; there are people hanging all over it despite its $30 entrance fee, one of the highest in the national park system. Posted warnings about full parking and overflow lots and crowded trails are in your face before you've even passed the entrance.
Bryce Canyon doesn't have to work hard for its visitors. Its importance is unquestioned, its beauty unparalleled. It's impeccably maintained. Everyone wants to be enveloped by its particular brand of special and hugged by its hoodoos.
Bryce Canyon, you preening snobby gorgeous bitch.
The hike we did was nearly four miles. It's the longest hike Coco and The Loosh have ever done yet there was no complaining. That's the magic of Bryce. When even a six-year-old says, "Daaaamn, this place is amazeballs," you know you've found a natural winner.
Even if you are far from the only one who knows it.
Oldest sibling and middle sibling and snobby neighbor down.
Other characters to follow.