Vacay 2014: The Getting There

“Life is a pilgrimage.  The wise man does not rest by the roadside inns. He marches direct to the illimitable domain of eternal bliss, his ultimate destination.”  ~ Swami Sivananda

This is the first post of its series.

He’d been bugging me about it for some years now.  Being the household barber, and lately having little weekend time to work him and kids into the “other” mounting chores, Scott finally broke me down.  I just didn’t have the time to fight — the hair needed to come off.

“Just think of it as a vacation cut.  You’ll have two weeks to get used to it, and if you absolutely hate it, it’ll be halfway to back-the-way-it-was by the time we get back,” Scott explained convincingly.

Fine then. Go get me the clippers before I change my mind.

Ginny took the video camera and Angie the still camera to memorialize the event, and Dad’s hair finally all came off. As hair is compost-able, cutting hair outside in the backyard meant zero clean-up for me. Bonus.

It was weird at first, looking at my beloved with his new do. Then he put the signature ball cap on backwards and I was immediately transported back 20 years to the time when we were just buddies, hiking in Big Bend Country. Aside from a few grays, he really hasn’t aged much.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Dad’s New Do

Turns out I don’t hate it. Several weeks’ adjustment and the vacation cut is finally growing on us all.  Mom likes the fuzzy feel of the top of his head, so the New Scott is here to stay.

DonutCounterFew traditions mark the end of a great week like a trip to the donut shop at sunset.  Since three of four kids made the Honor Roll for the entire school year– straight A’s, no less — and our family was packing and gearing up for another epic journey out west, this particular day called for not only do-nut holes but bear claws too. Straight off the bus on the last day of school — the Hummer already packed up and ready for travel — we all hopped in the van to celebrate the kick-off of Summer 2014. A home-based on-school for all on the horizon, no kitchen remodel or PTA commitments looming in the distance, and an awesome road trip on our radar screen, it’s already looking to be seriously better than last year’s.

You may notice Angie has a style all her own with an old Malaysian sarong, do-rag, and boots.  To be sure, I haven’t dressed my girls since they were about 3 years old.  My boys, on the other hand…

HummerGetting ready to travel across the country with four children, apparel for questionable weather, and hiking gear in a short-wheel-base SUV — albeit a roomy one — takes a bit of planning. First, the check list. Non-essentials go on top, everything else in the back “boot” space. It’s necessary to keep this small space open enough for a grown woman (a/k/a/ me) to comfortably climb back to to pee on route. Real estate usage is optimized with things stored to the sides or underneath or in the doors. (Disposable diapers help to keep pee from sloshing in the potty.  Go ahead. Use your imagination.)

Any flight attendant would be proud of our cargo usage. Inside includes:

  • Smallish plastic bins for food (2), stacked
  • Briefcase with laptop/electronics, ear plugs, chargers
  • Misc toys in reusable shopping bags
  • Two gallons of water
  • Baby Bjorn potty, wipes, diapers
  • Pillows and blankets
  • Binder with hotel confirmations, birding check-lists, trail maps
  • Camera bag (a/k/a/ Mom’s purse)

In our rush to leave early the next morning, we totally left Gnomie behind on the fireplace mantel, realizing this before we were so little as 10 miles from home. Not wanting to reverse momentum for such a silly old thing, we would have to do our first vacay without him. (Boo hoo.) He was even on the check list.

On top in 3 large and 2 medium plastic bins are clothing (mostly for warm weather), winter jackets (just in case), hiking shoes, bear spray, laundry detergent, toiletries, and backpacks, nestled into a vinyl bag and double-strapped to the crossbars.  Bins are easier to pass up/pass down for the frequent overnight stays, plus you can see through them for a quick-get in the room. The vinyl bag protects everything from weather and is easy to put up and take down, too.

With Cartoon Network as the hotel babysitter (which we don’t have at home) and two parents to load the dolly and roll it up to the room, camp “set-up and breakdown” takes only minutes. Mom and Dad conclude each day with a glass of red wine and planning for the next day. The alarm goes off at 6:00a, repeat.

I honestly can’t say we’d miss the Texas heat. High humidity notwithstanding, the normally sweltering temps in the Houston area have been, well, bearable these last few months. It wasn’t until we hit north Texas that the real hot stuff arrived.

Typical Texas summer

Ugh.  Thankfully, we were only passing through this place just somewhere north of Hades.  Only a few hundred miles to go to make it into solid 60’s and 70’s territory.  A favorite stop for the kids is near the Texas/New Mexico border where we found horned lizards the year before.  This time, it was a very long, very large centipede. I didn’t have my camera, but if you’re really brave, you can see what he looked like here. Seriously creepy critters.

Watch for Rattlesnakes
Watch for Giant Texas Centipedes, Too.

Food on the road for a vegan family is always the greatest challenge.  We knew from previous trips to the west that there is only so much we could do to avoid efficiently (if thoughtlessly) processed beings as food.  We were about to enter the heart of meat-eating USA, where grasses convert grazers into calories, convenient calories in the form of flesh, where home gardens and fresh greens the exception rather than the rule.  Suffice it to say, we went off the vegan diet for several weeks.  We did what we could, where we could. When in Rome, you could say.

Stored pre-purchased road munchies are always veggie-based since we control the purchase. Even Walmart carries some great accidentally vegan condiments (which require no refrigeration) like Loeb’s Pickle and/or Onion Crunch to spice up our usual hummus road burritos, convenient cello-package of spinach or field greens feeding the whole family in one sitting  — no leftover to refrigerate. Tomatoes, apples, avocado, nuts and bananas are easily stored at room temperature.

When burritos and PB&J sammies get old, we let the experts cook for us.  Outside of the Wichita Falls Cracker Barrel, Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs was our first stop for outstanding vegan food:  kid-approved. The Vegan Seitan Buffalo Wings and Vegan Corn Dogs wowed the boys, and Mom tanked up with an Awaken Chicory Coffee Stout.

It felt weird serving the only kids in a bar full of loud, drunk, crazy adults. Funny how they fit right in.

Speak No Evil, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Have No Fun

Good thing we stopped for food — we had just missed the tornadoes that touched down near Denver ahead of us, causing the traffic jam we were now in. It was only last year that the Manitou Springs flash flood put us in a similar situation. Darned our luck.

We hoped this wasn’t foreshadowing. The weather in the Rockies can be quite unpredictable, so when we safely arrived to this beautiful sunset in Cheyenne, Wyoming — and a stiff cool breeze upon arrival — we got a little excited. Tomorrow would be the last leg of the journey “there.”

Wyoming Sunset
Hotel Sunset — Cheyenne, WY

The last few hundred miles is the fastest, it seems; everyone’s anxious to arrive.  On the way, Ginny wanted to check the elusive Jack-a-Lope on her wildlife check list, so we stopped at the Jack-a-Lope’s store to see one up close.  Of course.

Jack-a-Lope Sighting with Bling

The scenery out the windows on this last stretch of driving is nothing short of spectacular. After days being bored by the flat, expansive, wind-farm-laden fields of north Texas and southern Colorado, Wyoming was a breath of fresh air. Mom shot a lot of photos from the passenger seat with a new Canon EOS 60D and 15-55mm wide angle lens (in manual mode, of course) all while zooming along at 75 mph, window rolled down.

Whenever the sun shone brightly — and sometimes even when it wasn’t — I set the camera using the Sunny 16 Rule, a useful trick shared with me by my good friend, Bob. Perfect exposure every time.

Wyoming Geology
Wyoming Geology — 1/400, f/16, ISO 400

By the time we reached the Beaver Rim and Wind River Range stop off, everyone was anxious to get the wiggles out. The kids ran for the hills — literally — and Mom and Dad went birding and exploring nearby. It’s easy to feel small in such a vast, people-less, car-less space, seriously nice to be back to the wilderness again. So we delayed our arrival by another hour or so, just to breathe fresh outside air and soak the extraordinary panorama all in.

Wind River Range
Run, Forest! Rrrrruuun!
Woo Hoo!
Woo hoo! *Woo hoo!* [echo]
Wildflower Ridge
Wildflower Ridge
Grotto Hidey Hole
A Grotto “Hidey-Hole” to Explore
Mommy Loves Daisies
Cloudy Butte
A Cloudy Butte

The birding, of course, is an on-going thing for our family.  We logged a few in between stops.

Dubois, Wyoming, was the last fill-up with gas and lunch, yet another [surprise] vegan outing at the Cowboy Cafe — and some of the best black bean burgers I’ve had to-date. Scott chatted up a resident as the kids began scaling what appeared to be an old mine shaft outcropping, the cave of which apparently used to be perused as the town’s freezer. I love the things you learn from talking to the locals.

By now we were all in layered clothing and wearing outer flannels, temps solidly in the 60’s.  Judging from blue skies so far, it’s looking to be a fantastic two weeks spent outdoors on the Rockies.  Or so we hoped.

A Quick Climb in Dubois, WY — City Freezer

Within just a few hours, we arrived within the park boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.  The kids were seriously antsy and wanted to get out and about. With time enough for one spot before the sun went down, Mom chose Grand Prismatic Spring, because the summer crowds prevented us from seeing it last August.  It was fantastic, grand even.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Sunset
Grand Prismatic, Clear Pool
Steamy Hell
Waiting for Fog to Lift

Three full days of travel and we had finally made it.  Having spent the last visit at Yellowstone’s more touristy places, we planned instead to explore the lesser traveled roads on the east side of the park.  We wanted to make it a point to see more wildlife and wide open spaces on the east side of the park, avoiding people where we could.

Grand Prismatic Spring did not disappoint us for birding.  We checked the Mountain BluebirdWestern Bluebird, and the Lazuli Bunting off our list, and headed to motel to unpack and crash for the night.

No need to get up early the next day to drive. We were already there.

Next Post: Yellowstone: Part 1

Go to SmugMug Galleries to
view all the photos in this post in hi-res.

Go to Rocky Mountain Birding to view the
birds only in this post.

16 thoughts on “Vacay 2014: The Getting There

    1. So nice to have you drop in, Steve. Nope, it’s rather flat down here, even if it’s green, nice and hilly over there, but it’s dry. There’s always Big Bend Country for wide open spaces, but even that doesn’t compare to the Lamar and Hayden Valleys on the east side of the park.

      If you’ve never been there, it’s a must-see for nature photographers. We ran into many — who stay as long as three months — toting big lenses and tripods in a variety of configuration. I even saw a few laying on the ground with their lens pointed up at some wildflower. Yeah…you’d fit right in, Cheers.


      1. Eve (my wife) is from the Philippines, but even over there she’d heard about Yellowstone and wanted to visit. Finally in about 1998 we flew from Austin to Salt Lake City, where we rented a car and drove on up to Yellowstone (and around to other scenic places). I wish I’d had then the photo equipment I have now—maybe that means a return trip is in order.


  1. It takes a serious dedication to the schedule to squat in the back of the car.

    I don’t think I have ever driven further west than the Appalachians, but this post makes me want to.


    1. With an H2 and all its cab room, the climb back is much easier from the front for a 120-lb lady than in the mini-van. The practice is a holdover from travel alone with a baby, two toddlers, and a pre-schooler while Dad stayed back to work during the summer. Who wants to cart all THAT into an Exxon restroom just to cop a squat on a dirty potty inside? “Don’t touch anything, kids! John!! Get off the floor! Nnnnoooo! Don’t eat that!”

      *shiver* No thanks.


  2. Hi Shannon & Family, enjoying vacationing with you. I feel like I’m in the back seat with the kids. Have a fantastic trip. Look forward to the rest of “our vacation”. Safe travels!


    1. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment, Olga. Being in Glacier reminded me of when B took me out to Muir Woods in San Fran, with its beautiful trees, so many years ago. It was also the last time I saw a Stellar’s jay. Never stop thinking of you guys. Cheers!


  3. Wow! Shannon, you have been outdoing yourself with these posts. Gosh, so entertaining. I like Scott’s new haircut, reminds me of my own and I love the way you have described your trip so completely, and great photos. You nailed those exposures, I am proud to say. I won’t use my imagination on your toilette practices. Too much information there. 🙂 I’ll be looking forward to the next post.


    1. This is only the first of what will probably be four or even five posts on the trip. There was just too much to fit into one. So glad you enjoyed; perhaps one day you and Ann will make it there too. Thanks for the awesome photography tips! I took more than a couple thousand photos.


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