Summer Vacation = Road Trip

It’s week three of summer vacation. In years past, when the kids were younger, we would be well on our way on our annual summer road trip. Since we had family in Montana, most of our trips were out west to Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, and some trips we managed to squeeze in South Dakota, Utah, and the Four Corners area as well. Each summer our entire family became national park junkies, so for me, summer vacation still means road trip.

Both the Oregon Trail and the Pony Express went through this pass

There’s something about a road trip that speaks to most Americans, especially a road trip out west. It’s part of our national mythology. Nothing stands as a symbol of American independence and hardiness more than the pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail. I can’t imagine the difficulties and hardships of traveling such a distance–especially for women, many of whom were pregnant or gave birth during the trip–but what a grand adventure it must have been! Whenever we’ve crossed the Trail in Wyoming, through landscape that is bare yet breathtakingly beautiful, I’m struck by the fact that very little has changed. Other than the thin lonely ribbon of highway that snakes past Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, and South Pass, the land looks much the same as it must have over a hundred and fifty years ago. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, I think of those pioneers optimistically marching across a harsh land towards a new, uncertain life.

One of the geyser basins in Yellowstone NP

My favorite national park may be Yellowstone. Yellowstone is a place that reminds me that nature doesn’t need us. Despite the hordes of tourists that clog the park in the summer, once you get off the road and hike into the interior you realize how petty and small your life is compared to the life all around you. When I’m there, I’m reminded how much we need wild places, places where grizzlies and eagles and bison roam free, to remind ourselves that we truly are a part of nature and the cycles of life and death. We’re not separate from nature, and wild places act as a balance to our man-made city wilderness. There’s also something exciting about knowing you’re walking on top of a massive active volcano that scientists say will–not if–explode again one day. When I’m feeling disappointed in mankind and yearn to leave the city, I think of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Canyon

If there is such a thing as sacred spaces, then southern Utah is that place for me. Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Natural Bridges National Monument are where I truly feel the presence of something holy and sublime. The emptiness and deep silences seem eternal there, and being confronted with the deep mystery of the universe at night when the sky lights up with more stars than you’ve ever seen before is beyond words. Canyonlands is a place to find yourself, a place to question all that you value and what you want your life to be. When I’m feeling lost and stressed out by the demands of work and relationships, I think of southern Utah.

If I had my way, I’d spend the rest of my life doing nothing more than traveling from one national park to another. In the meantime, there’s always summer vacation.


  1. atomsofthought

    “My favorite national park may be Yellowstone. Yellowstone is a place that reminds me that nature doesn’t need us. Despite the hordes of tourists that clog the park in the summer, once you get off the road and hike into the interior you realize how petty and small your life is compared to the life all around you.”

    You put it so well! I agree. I think the national parks have done their job when they remind us that they don’t need us, that we can leave and they’ll be just fine without us, that for all our destructive tendencies we can’t destroy nature, even if we CAN mangle it.

    I think of the national parks of Utah and Southern California, too, when I need to find peace. Something about the desert parks soothes me in ways other parks can’t always match.

    For reasons of nostalgia, I think Yosemite will always be my favorite park, because I lived there for a season and it clobbered me with the force of its beauty. The desert parks of the southwest, to me, are somehow more subtle even though they’re equally grand. Yosemite screamed at me when I first saw it, though in time it merely sang. In my life I’ve never slept better than I did when I lived there.

    The parks of southern Utah whisper with a voice that carries quiet strength, age, mystery… and peace.

    Well, that ran on. Great post! I’m glad you’re enjoying your summer. Oh, I wanted to ask: Have you gone to Big Bend or Guadalupe Mountain National Park? I’ve lived in Texas most of my life, but I barely passed through Guadalupe Mountain and I have never seen Big Bend. Something to rectify in the future.

    • Mind Margins

      I haven’t made it to Yosemite yet, but it is on my list. I’d like to go out of season when there are less people. I know I will love it.

      I’ve been to Big Bend many times and love it. Unfortunately there are days with air pollution from Mexico, but it is still beautiful.

      I have been to Guadalupe Mountains NP once and was surprised to find such a jewel in Texas that I had heard very little about. I was there when the Hale-Bopp comet first made its appearance. I had heard nothing about it, but nature called on our first night of camping in Guadalupe. I unzipped the tent and noticed something strange in the sky above me. I fumbled around in the dark for my glasses and was amazed to see a comet! I woke up the entire family (and probably the whole campground) to make them look at the sight. That was a great spring break trip!

  2. atomsofthought

    Wow, what a treat! I haven’t seen ANY comet, EVER! I’m such an astronomy fanatic that I’m sad that the year of my birth prevented me from appreciating Haley’s Comet. It would be hard to find a better place to see Hale-Bopp than out there in the Guadalupe Mountains. I’m sure everyone, family and strangers alike, is glad you woke them up.

    • Mind Margins

      Well, you can’t be THAT young! It was visible in 1997, so you would’ve at least been a little kid, right? (I can’t believe it was 14 years ago . . .) It was amazing, and that comet hung around for MONTHS. We could see it from our front porch here in Dallas, and we live very close to downtown. I, too, love astronomy, and couldn’t believe how few people were aware of the comet in the sky, night after night. It had a beautiful double tail and was clearly visible for the longest time. The strange thing was, there was no advance warning that it was going to appear. Suddenly, it was just there, and it was nice that it stayed for so long. I feel very fortunate to have seen it.

  3. atomsofthought

    Oh yeah, Hale-Bopp definitely was visible in 1997, but I think Haley’s came through in 86? That’s the biggie and I’m bummed I missed it! I can’t explain why I missed Hale-Bopp. I have no excuse!

    • Mind Margins

      I was living in Switzerland when Halley’s came back around and it wasn’t visible there, so I missed it, too. Almost everyone missed Hale-Bopp and I never understood why since it was visible for so many months.

  4. atomsofthought

    You’re right. I remember reading about it, too. I was a teenager then and could have seen it… I was the kind of kid who would have gone out to see it, too, but I didn’t. It makes me wonder what was going on that year that distracted me so much! I remember following the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet with rapt attention when it smashed into Jupiter, just a few years before Hale-Bopp. If only that were visible to the naked eye! For the time being I’ll have to content myself with meteor showers 🙂

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