In Washington State, I lived for 18 years surrounded by the Cascades and almost in the shadow of the 14,411 foot Mt Rainier.
Where I live now, by comparison is positively flat.
When I first came to live in New York, though, it was on Long Island. At a max altitude of 401 feet it really is flat.
Standing on the playing field of Syosset High School, I have a vivid memory of feeling overwhelmed by the sky.
It took getting used to.
For the longest time, I thought mountains were my favourite sort of scenery. It’s not really that I changed my mind, but I have seen so many really beautiful other places.
The Grand Tetons, Wyoming. 13,775 ft. One of my favourite places on the planet. I had always longed to go there so when my brother and I decided to take our dad on a road trip for his 90th birthday, I added it to the itinerary.
Dad had expressed a wish to see the Badlands of Dakota which were some 1,200 miles from where I was then living, near Seattle. It was left to me to plot the route and navigate while my brother drove a comfortable hired car. I always did like reading maps…
The route I plotted took us to:
Yellowstone Park, Montana.
Arriving there on Jun 2nd, it was snowing. The Smith men moaned while I could not stop smiling. I had really wanted to see Yellowstone in winter.
The next cause for moaning was a traffic stoppage. What could be wrong?
Seeing evidence on the road, I guessed and my smile got wider.
Bison. They go where they choose.
We hear stories all the time about tourists approaching these animals for photographs.
All I can say about that is they must be mad to take on a wild beast this size.
Those reports seem to become evermore numerous, so one asks, are people becoming stupider?
Apart from the many wild animals, Yellowstone is a beautiful park.
This is The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
There is so much to see in this park.
We had a pitifully small amount of time and an 90-year old man’s needs to consider.
But it was a privilege to see it at all.
We made numerous stops on this long journey which inevitably took us to the Little Bighorn Battle Memorial.
25th-26th June, 1876.
When my brother and I were small, Cowboys and Indians were all the rage in films and comic strips. All good fun.
Then one grew up and did some reading and learned the truth, or its various versions.
A few days later, my navigation took us to Wounded Knee.
Long ago I had read Dee Brown’s book: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, and I couldn’t not go there.
As we drove across this vast country, my thoughts went to the people in those times, so very recent by comparison to European history.
Contemplating this stunning land and trying to imagine how it felt to have it taken by intruders who slew the herds and cared nothing for Nature, it was impossible not to be affected.
In Custer State Park, there were more bison and I thought them a bit different.
Perhaps it was just that these animals were warm and dry, as no reference anywhere supports my observation!
Maybe also they were happier, there being fewer tourists gawping at them.
Even the Smith men were entranced by prairie dogs (gophers).
These were at a Sioux City zoo, but they were everywhere!
We had seen lots of prairie dogs at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
It is a butte, composed of igneous rock, it stands 867 feet from base to summit
Back in South Dakota, we could hardly drive past Mt Rushmore without stopping.
Begun in 1927, completed in 1947 under direction of Gutzon Borglum and son.
Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt/T and Lincoln.
The faces measure 60 feet.
Dad’s interest in the Badlands I am sure went back to those old movies, as he was a great fan of the film industry and a photographer himself.
This would have been a hard place to traverse in a covered wagon.
We all got a kick out of road signs.
Leaving Yellowstone, we had passed by the Grand Tetons and I’d been crushed that the peaks were obscured in cloud.
But I had the map. I was the navigator.
So I re-routed the return journey and booked a night-stop, right there.
Rising early next day, I witnessed the Tetons lit up by the rising sun and as I gazed, awestruck, I heard a sound.
Looking to my left I saw a moose, right up on the walkway, not 20 feet away. These immense creatures can be very dangerous, but I was not afraid. I stayed still and watched it walk on down to the creek.
Planning a road trip in this country is so much fun but can be challenging when there is a time limit.
The return to Seattle took us through Idaho and Oregon.
This wonderful rock formation was at Salmon Falls Creek near Castleford, ID.
It stands 48 feet in height and balances on a pedestal measuring 3 feet by 17 inches.
Our last night was in Hood River, at the Columbia Gorge Hotel and the next day we drove along the Columbia River, stopping to view a whole series of falls.
We took Dad on another trip a year later, visiting Glacier State National Park and crossing into Canada, as the park lies both sides of the border.
Those two trips were the most time I ever spent with my father and brother. We all enjoyed ourselves and I am glad for the memories.
In 2005 my brother and I took Dad on his final journey, scattering his ashes at Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah. He had been enthralled by it when I took him there in 2000. He had used a lot of Kodachrome film in his time and it seemed a suitable place.
We scattered his ashes playing The New World Symphony on the car’s audio system. It had been a favourite.
In life, I never managed to please Dad, but I think his final arrangements were OK.