Rumbling and bumbling in the national parks of the west
February 10, 2012
In the Grand Tetons, my family was refused from a “jackets only” restaurant. When we approached the maître d’ in our moist swimming trunks, a rack of black dress coats to our left and a deep mahogany stained bar to our right, it looked like we brought a Tupperware of homemade sin as a side dish. I remember my green-eyed mother in her flip-flops displayed a jocular laugh of incredulity at this misplaced snobbery, “we’re in the middle of the forest for Pete’s sake.”
I was twelve at the time, a point in my life where I didn’t have to be reasonable with my obsessions. Probably around the time when computers were going to “reset” or produce a big bubble that popped. These obsessions fit in well with how the pine trees monopolized the ditch on either side of the road. The sun was waxed crimson over the tips of those alpines as we pulled into another parking lot with a Chuckwagon. A stagecoach propped up on wooden wheels was lined up at the head of the long khaki colored canvas tent with park benches under its eave. There were many places to park here and along the entire road. As I recall, they tried to serve an authentic representation of cooking on the prairie, tater-tot hot dish, potatoes, greens and lukewarm water from the back of the stagecoach.
I niggardly thought the meal was expensive; I always kept things like that in account in my youth. There was a chest back home with all the change and loose bills I found on the ground wherever I went, my view always furrowed at the cracks in the pavement. In a camping excursion once, I came to the realization that one ounce equaled twenty-eight grams by reading the label of a two liter bottle of generic soda. I was saving, but I didn’t know what I was saving.
My family was on a meandering road trip out west visiting such places as Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Cassette tapes were still popular; my mother bought a Jeff Foxworthy tape at a roadside truck stop. We drove many hours a day; Jeff Foxworthy isn’t funny when he tells the same joke 15 times.
Because there are no pictures from that trip the visual elements of Yellowstone have disappeared almost completely off my periphery, yet, I remember the giant sandstone doorframe that stood alone at Yellowstone’s main entrance, in the dull green sage field. It can be seen from horizon to horizon. Upon coming to the main grouping of lodges where the visitor center and hotels were located, a couple of elk grazed in an island of green grass surrounded by a sea of dull grey concrete. As they walked a thoughtful pace, the elk passed by the car unafraid. A dry sheen of cloudiness covered their brown eyes as no glance was offered toward our red car with the many horses housed under its hood. People have been here too long.
Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.