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Our Best Family Trip — National Parks of the U.S.

Author: Bob W.
Date of Trip: July 2001

Our best family vacation took us to many national parks on a circular route through the USA. I had been invited to attend a week of meetings in Seattle hosted by the Conference of State Legislatures. My unused vacation time totaled five weeks. So we planned six weeks of driving around the country. Our son (14) and daughter (approaching 10) were the perfect age to enjoy the trip. Imagine — they were at peace with each other and with us for the entire trip!

The initial drive west from New Jersey was hard slogging. Two days put us in Madison, WI, where we visited the capitol building (easily one of the most beautiful in the nation) and stayed in a motel that was hosting a group driving some of the finest custom cars and hotrods I’ve seen. Then to Minneapolis to visit relatives. From there to South Dakota where we visited Hell’s Half Acre, Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park (which has over 2,000 free-roaming bison).

Our first major park destination was Grand Teton where we spent two nights in a cabin facing Jackson Lake. The kids loved to paddleboat, while we admired the spectacular view. We drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, late afternoon, visited the great Wyoming State Fair, and saw our first coyote. If you’ve never seen pig wrestling or a mule race, don’t miss the fair! And you haven’t experienced anything until you’ve ducked fireworks overturned by a dust storm! The “pig rasslin” was hilarious. Picture a round enclosure holding foot-deep mud with the consistency of pudding. After a large pig is lowered into the enclosure, a team of two men or women contestants climb or dive into the enclosure. Slipping and falling in the mud, they try to beat the clock while lifting the struggling, mud-covered pig into a barrel, hindquarters first.

We greeted the dawn beside Jenny Lake and Spring Pond, photographing the spectacular mountains and foliage reflected in the calm waters of early morning. From the Tetons, we entered Yellowstone National Park. For three days we drove the loop drives, seeing bison, mountain goats, a grizzly bear, elk and moose close up. Aside from the cascading lower and upper falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, there was beautiful Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful and other geysers, and fumeroles, hot springs and steaming cauldrons enough to satisfy everyone.

We bypassed Glacier National Park to conserve time. Driving west we stopped in Montana towns with posted populations of 5 and 7 people. For folks from NJ that was an unusual experience. Then on to Washington state where we detoured north into Canada. When we resumed travel the next morning, we realized that it was a Saturday and every Canadian with a travel trailer or motor home was in front of us on the winding two lane highway! We arrived in Vancouver late afternoon and visited Granville Island the next morning (where the kids were fascinated by the floating houses). Then into the busy international customs area and on to Seattle. While I attended five days of meetings, the kids rested from all that driving, enjoyed watching TV and thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Seattle’s Science Center and aquarium.

Next destination was Crescent City, California, and Redwood National Forest. Driving our car through a tunnel in a tree and seeing how far our arms would reach around the circumference of these ancient and magnificant trees kept the kids entertained. Then to San Francisco. We hiked from our motel to Fisherman’s Wharf, then boarded a cable car to Chinatown for a great meal — or were we just ravenously hungry? The next morning we again hiked to Fisherman’s Wharf to watch a gathering of great ships celebrating the 40th anniversary of VJ Day. Cruising the bay were the carrier USS Enterprise, the Battleship New Jersey and the Missile Cruiser Arizona, among others. We boarded a passenger ferry for a close view of these great ships.

Having entered San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, we left via the Oakland Bridge — both spectacular! Then on to Yosemite National Park where we stayed for two nights in a platform tent in the midst of the park. No need to tell anyone how beautiful Yosemite is. From Yosemite, we drove through rolling hills covered with vineyards to our destination in Santa Monica where we enjoyed the beautiful beach and visited with old school friends. Next stop was Anaheim for a visit to Disneyland. Of course, we were lined up buying our tickets at noon on an August Sunday. Crowded? You bet! But fun.

On Monday we headed on to the Arizona desert. Then to spectacular Grand Canyon where we stayed near the rim. I think we must have hit every stop along the canyon, finally staying on the north side for a night. From there we went on to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon, each with its own incredible geological features. We continued north to Arches National Park where we viewed and climbed the red sandstone arches.

Still not satiated, we next drove to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. We were lucky to be able to rent a room in a park motel on the mesa. The kids loved feeding crackers to the tame deer (bucks and does) who came up to our deck for a handout. We spent the next day climbing down to the amazing anasazi cliff dwellings.

There were long day’s drives and interesting views on the return trip, with a stop in Evansville, Indiana to visit friends. Despite a total of six weeks and 9,500 miles of driving spent in a small car crammed with all manner of items, we and our kids look back on this trip in awe of the many experiences and sights we enjoyed together. The trip album is opened often many years later.

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