The first sign appeared a few days ago, when I rolled out of bed and pulled on my usual short sweat pants and T-shirt, only to find it necessary to grab my thick, fuzzy winter bathrobe in order to stop shivering. This being Wyoming, though, I took it off about an hour later, when the autumn-like temperature was replaced by summer-like heat and I began to sweat.
A more universal sign of autumn’s approach was the packs of big yellow buses funneling kids into several buildings around town and returning six or seven hours later to spread them around the countryside. School is now in session.
For most of my life, that school thing marked the beginning of the year for me. First I was going to school, then I was teaching it, and, finally, up until four years ago, reporting on it.
Well, that ended with an emergency flight to Billings in 2012, and for the next three years, neither the start of school nor summer was very significant. We made no trips to Yellowstone, no drives over the Chief Joseph and Beartooth highways and spent no days in the Big Horns.
We loosened up a bit last summer, attending a family get-together in Colorado and having a grand time with our kids and grandkids in Kentucky. Both were successful, despite a bad experience in the Detroit airport, and encouraged us to do more this year. We toyed with, but ultimately discarded the idea of meeting our son’s family when they vacationed in Italy, but we logged considerable road time here in the USA.
This summer, we put in a lot of car time. We began in June, driving to Cheyenne for the high school graduation of our niece Tammy’s daughter, Morgan, the oldest of our generation’s grandchildren. We came home, only to embark on the drive I spoke of in a previous column, across northern Nebraska and Iowa to Minnesota. We spent a week with our grandchildren before taking the road across South Dakota to home.
In July, we took a shorter trip, to Casper, to see our nephew, Jake, who we hadn’t seen since he moved to Georgia, married and became a father. We met Jake’s wife and visited with his sister Becky’s family as well as my brother and sister-in law and the five boys, all under 5, who call my brother Grandpa. Karen and I took the whole bunch out for dinner, resulting in the biggest check I’ve paid since my son’s rehearsal dinner before our son’s wedding.
This month, we went back to Cheyenne, because our daughter and her family decided to spend a week’s vacation visiting her cousins in southeast Wyoming and an old friend in Colorado, giving us another chance at our grandkids.
Closer to home, we reacquainted ourselves with Yellowstone National Park and drove the loop to Red Lodge, over the Beartooths and down the Chief Joseph Highway. We had not taken those trips the last four summers, and we missed them. With our usual awe, we looked down Clark’s Fork Canyon, gazed at the view from Dead Indian Hill and sniffed the thin air at the top of the Beartooth Highway. It was an experience omitted for too many years.
We did have a few hiccups along the way. We spent two hours trapped in a long queue of vehicles in Wind River Canyon. A truck had crashed at the worst possible place to block the road. When we stopped, the cars in front of us had been sitting there for nearly two hours, and it was two more hours before we moved. The truck driver was killed, making our inconvenience trivial by comparison.
I had planned a stop at some Indian mounds along the Mississippi, but the park closed just as we arrived, so we missed it.
I lost my cell phone in Sioux Falls, and didn’t realize it until we arrived at home two days later. A message on my wife’s phone soon revealed that it was at the Denny’s where we ate one evening. A call to the manager led to a promise that he would mail it to me. It took a month, but he did as promised.
I experienced some sort of stomach discomfort while crossing South Dakota. That’s not a good thing to happen in a place where rest rooms are many miles apart.
We saw no animals except bison on our day in Yellowstone.
Worst of all, our Minnesota trip produced only ordinary pictures, even though I hauled nearly all the digital camera equipment I own and we made numerous stops to shoot what should become extraordinary landscapes or depictions of unusual buildings. Fortunately, I have extraordinary grandchildren, so those pictures, while they may not find their way into museums as fine art, are extraordinary. My photo skills, needless to say, still need to be sharpened.
We still owe ourselves a day or two in the Big Horns, though, and we’re considering a drive west to Oregon this fall. No grandchildren will await us, but unknown adventures lie ahead out there, especially if my stomach and my cell phone behave themselves.