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The senior trip

GAYS MILLS - Our son David graduated from high school in 1988. To commemorate the occasion, he and I took a trip out west, shortly after he ‘commenced.’ It seemed like a fitting thing to do at that important turning point of his life.

We were gone for almost two weeks, riding in style in ‘Old Blue,’ a 1968 Chevy Carryall.  This windowed van, this over-sized station wagon, was a precursor to the SUVs that became, and have remained, so popular. It was a no-nonsense, practical, utility vehicle, pure and simple, and served us well on our journey.

Our trip included three main destinations. The first was Rocky Mountain National Park. We camped near Grand Lake on the western side of the park. It was not crowded. It was early in the tourist season as western schools were still in session. We got a backcountry camping permit and hiked to a campsite further up in the mountains. I believe it was called Cat’s Lair. We still laugh at the reaction of the ranger when we told him where we wanted to go: “You want to go up there TONIGHT?!”  I guess we were the first campers of the season to use the site.

After a beautiful five-mile hike, climbing higher and higher, we found a great spot in the primitive camp area next to a rushing stream.  The stream still had ice on and around it and things cooled off quite fast when the sun went down in the thin mountain air. The sound effect of that ice-cold stream didn’t help. There was all kinds of deadfall timber around the site so we thought we could make a dandy campfire to keep us warm. Not so. For some reason, that wood would not burn. Our first thought was that we were so high up in elevation, eight or nine thousand feet, that the shortage of oxygen wouldn’t support fire. That lea to the coldest night I have ever spent with my lightweight, indoor-rated, ‘sleepover’ model sleeping bag. Dave however, had a great sleeping bag and slept like a hibernating bear. Turned out that, according to a ranger the next day, the type of wood we were trying to burn was practically fireproof.

Another stop on our tour was Yellowstone Park. The Madison Campground near West Yellowstone was a lot more civilized and populated than the one in Rocky Mountain Park. Some of that population was the majestic bison, who felt free to wander around the campground. There was a makeshift hot spring in the Madison River, which ran through the campground. Previous campers over the years had used rocks to form a circular basin right in the river to trap hot water coming out of a spring on the stream bank. It was a memorable experience to be lounging in that hot water on a cool morning in that beautiful setting with the buffalo coming quite close to us.

Did you know you can fish the waters of Yellowstone Park without a fishing license? We didn’t either and we went fishing. All by ourselves, we fished at a great little lake called Grizzly Lake, a short hike off the main road. We kept making noise on the trail, (some people wear bear bells on their boots to alert any ursine critters) and caught enough trout for a fine supper.

There’s more for next week about our last destination.