Yellowstone National Park hosts more than 3 million visitors each year. While it’s not the most visited park in the United States, (Yosemite achieves numbers between 3.5 and 4.5 million each year) it’s definitely one of the more popular. The park has a range of attractions, wildlife, hot springs, hikes and geysers to name a handful. All of which are very close to one another, and that’s what makes it very different. Where Bryce Canyon may have cool rocks, the Grand Canyon may have a giant canyon, or Glacier is able to boast beautiful lakes, Yellowstone can safely say that it has everything. They have hot springs, cool rock formations, and even a canyon called The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Truly, the national park is a geologist’s dream.
The best part? It’s all confined in small enough area to drive across in less than an hour. I’ve been told Yellowstone is “A park you can see in its entirety without leaving the comfort of your car.” Which is about the most American thing I’ve ever heard. I picture a family of four, ranging between one and two thousand pounds between them all.
“Beautiful landscapes? Bah, I can see them through the window.”
“Smell that sulfur, kids? I’m crankin’ the heater so you can really take in the odor of Yellowstone.”
“Honey, pass me my two liter of Diet Pepsi, this Geyser is making my thirsty.”
My family did not follow by the principle that seeing was experiencing; my family believed that suffering was experiencing. If I had Cliff Bar for every time our family went on a hike without enough supplies, I’d be able to spare my own future children from hunger pangs for all time. Even after I became an adult (in age), we went out on adventures without water or food as if trying to get ourselves on AnimalPlanet’s, I Shouldn’t Be Alive.
All the suffering stems from my father’s desire to see everything. When I say everything, I don’t mean figuratively. I mean literally. The man wants to see everything the park has to offer. Many hikes that were meant to simply last a couple of hours would last until the evening. Whenever an information Kiosk came into view, I’d do my darnedest to keep my dad from seeing it. Because when he did, I could pretty much scratch watching The Three Amigos from my list of things to do in the RV that day.
“Oh look!” he would exclaim. “An information Kiosk!” he’d say it with the same amount of wonder one might use when sighting a unicorn or flying pig. “There’s a map in here, and oh my, we missed Morning Glory, we’ll have to back track.” There’s sternness in his voice, he’s a man that would do well as an Army General, stating with complete conviction that no man could be left behind.
And we’d go back. We’d turn around, take detours and stop at every plaque erected in the park. My dad would read it as if we were illiterate and finish the reading with, “Wow, isn’t it beautiful?” We’d be given approximately five to six more seconds to take the sight in, then it was time to move on. “More to see, only 15 hours of daylight left and there’s still the West Thumb Geyser Basin!”
My father has a condition. There is an ailment that plagues his brain, one that I’ve heard high schoolers call FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. He goes to parks, cities and different countries with a desire to see all that the place has to offer, as if the only reason he got there was by donation from the Make a Wish Foundation and he has three days to live. There are time tables, itineraries and route maps wherever we go. It’s a complex system of routes he sets up, one that provides the most efficient way to see absolutely all things the park has to offer. Who gives a crap if you only see it for three seconds, at least you can say you saw it. To this day, I stand by the fact that my father has been working on his bucket list ever since the purchase of that RV.
When our family hiked, we’d move in three groups. While he would lead the pack like a baton twirler for a marching band – pointing everything out in case we missed the giant erupting geyser – my sister, mother and brother would be in the middle, with me in the rear. I had established that I didn’t want to be there with my words, but I felt also demonstrating my disdain for this trip by secluding myself was not only good, but necessary.
My dad would do his best to be positive, to urge me on and get me enthused, but I was a seven year old well before my time: I acted like a pubescent adolescent amid the strife of independence and acne. Eventually, he gave up. Not only was I a lost cause, but it’s hard to talk to someone when they’re thirty yards away and shuffling their feet.
While my dad pushed on, my mom stayed back to wrangle the kids. My sister was almost of the age of pubescent adolescence, but showed no signs. I was acting the part of both, it seemed. She had her hikers hat on, her binoculars and one of the disposable cameras my parents got the two of us so we could document our trip. My sister took pictures of the attractions, using most of her film on things one might put in a scrap book later. About half of the pictures I took were the inside of my pocket, while the rest were my attempt at photographing a full moon or a cool rock that I found. Needless-to-say, the album of my Yellowstone trip had a whopping half dozen pictures in it.
As the day dredged on, and the hike with it, the kids would lose their steam. Where I lost all will to go on three or four minutes in, the rest of the family could last about twelve hours before being tired. Somehow, beyond the realm of possibility for the human body, my dad would still have energy and be rather spritely even twelve hours into the trip. Not only was he in a good mood, but he had the audacity to continue to point things out and describe exactly what we were looking at as if he was touring around his four blind family members.
From a football field length away, my father could no longer motivate us on. He’d wave his hands in the air and point something out, then keep walking. This was our way of experiencing things as a family. With him being nothing but a speck on the horizon, my mom would keep the kids going. She’d hand out snacks and water like an airplane attendant, gather trash and rustle our hair telling us we were doing great. As the hikes reached hour sixteen and seventeen, our feet sore from walking, eyes sore from seeing, we’d walk like soldiers in the Bataan Death March. She’d start to sing a song. It wasn’t some workers song, or a song from her childhood, but a song from Bible series we watched as kids. It was a series that would retell Bible stories, Old Testament and New Testament, with (poor) computer animations. The series was called Veggie Tales, where all characters were vegetables.
In one episode, characters are walking around a wall in the retelling of the fall of the Wall of Jericho. In the story, Joshua and his people walked around the wall for six days. On the seventh day, after walking around the city seven times and blasting some trumpets, the walls fell. God was benevolent, gracious, and possibly OCD.
In Veggie Tales, the city of Jericho was populated by peas with a French accent reminiscent of the French in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Joshua was a cucumber. I’d make a joke, but I think it made itself.
As the people walked around the wall, the peas mocked them. With their poor French accents, they’d sing a disparaging song to them as they did loops around their city. In the same manner, my mother would chant the song with us when we got too tired. When the sun started to touch the horizon, and our father had disappeared around yet another bend in the trail, we’d join in with her. Our eyes heavy, heads hung low and feet shuffling in the dust of Yellowstone, we’d chant the song:
Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall
Keep walking, but she isn’t gonna fall!
It’s plain to see, your brains are very small
To think walking, will be knocking down our wall
Over and over until our throats were sore like the rest of our aching body. But it would keep us going. It would give us the energy to move forward and take our minds off the hike that we were forced on. Without it, there no way I would have seen the things I had seen. As we grew older and went to different places, the song would recite in my mind. When I was sixteen and we were seeing everything Rome had to offer (which is a lot, as it turns out) I sang the song to myself. I recited it on repeat and keep myself from asking the important questions like: ‘how long can a sixteen year old go without water?’ and ‘Is it considered murder, or manslaughter if one’s father walks them to death?’
Where my father was the perpetual tour guide, the zoologist, historian, and plaque reader, my mother was the motivational speaker. My dad might have been the drive and the desire of our group, but my mom was the glue. They were a terrifying duo, when traveling. Both so amazing at their roles, they fit together like grey on a Portland sky. If I were to make a bucket list of things to see, I’d be able to scratch a large part of it off; because of my father’s insane drive to see everything and my mom’s inhuman ability to get a child to walk just three more miles.
I appreciate it now, but as a seven year old I couldn’t help but wonder if my parents were trying their best to kill me. That or the drive for me to jump into the nearest hot springs, and end my suffering once and for all. With Nintendo 64 back at home, Three Amigos unwatched in the VCR in the RV and fresh blisters on my feet, my father mushed us onward. The week had just begun, and we had only seen four dozen attractions. There was so much more to see, we hadn’t even seen Old Faithful yet. And so we went onward: my father waves his arms as if guiding in an airplane, pointing out Morning Glory on our left. Alison snaps pictures while my mom carries my brother Sam in a backpack.
As if abiding a strict yet odd restraining order, I stay exactly 10 feet behind my family. My arms hang at my side and feet shuffle in the dirt. I am the very image of a broken human being.
But there was more breaking occur. While my body was destroyed, my mind was still sound. One park ranger will provide the final force that will enough to break my spirit as well.