Monday, March 25, 2013

Bears, Oh My! Slice of Life Challenge 25 of 31

This post is part of  
Thanks Stacey and Ruth:  Two Writing Teachers
#slice2013   25 of 31

It's Memory Monday so here's a little story about our trip out west.

It's spring break and I'm sitting on my couch looking at a backyard blanketed in snow.  At least it's a pretty snow with white fluffy flakes piled in layers on the trees and covering the still brown ground.  All of this snow is making me want to take vacation someplace warm.  We've been fortunate to take some great vacations with our kids, but the best was the year we traveled out west.  

It was hot July when we packed our van with our three kids and all we would need for several weeks of travel.  The sun sizzled as we put the final items into the van and closed the doors.  We were traveling from Ohio to Washington state, then through Oregon, down to California, over to Arizona, and home.  To cut down on the cost we planned to rotate between camping and staying in hotels.

The kids were excited when we placed them in the van with a cooler of food packed for the journey.  We were headed out west to see my aunt, uncle and cousins living in Oregon and Washington.  This part of our family had lived out west all of my life, but I'd never been there.  I think I was as excited as the kids as we jumped in the van with our maps, snacks, and gear.

We drove for days through Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota (Badlands, Rapid City, Mount Rushmore), and into Wyoming (Cody).  We were getting closer to my family.  We stopped, as planned, at Yellowstone National Park where we were camping for two days before heading to my cousin's house in Seattle.  It was July, but the air grew chilly as we drove into the mountains of the Yellowstone National Park.

We wove our way around mountains, past sections of trees that had been burned by fire, through herds of buffalo and into Yellowstone.  We searched for a place to set up our tent.  There were several places to camp so we selected one that was close to the sites we wanted to see and seemed to have places for tents to be set up.  I walked up to the ranger managing the site and began to secure a place for our tent for a couple of days.  The ranger looked at me and nonchalantly smiled, "You're here at a good time.  We haven't seen a bear since Sunday evening."  Keep in mind it was only Tuesday morning.  "Just keep your food put away and you shouldn't have any problems," she advised.

I'm fine with camping as long as I can avoid bugs and wild animals - a little bit of a challenge.  I took a deep breath and walked back to the van.  Logic told me most people survive camping in the wilderness,  and I had three kids in the car that needed my best game face.  We drove to our site and set up our tent.  I tried not to notice the site behind us with tons of food out on tables.  I tried not to notice our proximity to the restrooms and trashcans.

After setting up the tent, we got back into the van and went to see the sites.  We saw bison, moose, and elk roaming the park.  Later that evening, we came back to our site and ate dinner.  We set up our sleeping bags and began to call it a night.  I listened for the sounds of bear.  I don't really know what I was listening for as I have no idea what the sound of bear entering camp to grab the food from the careless campers behind us or the trashcans beside us would sound like.

We settled into our sleeping bags as the night grew colder.  It was July, but we had come prepared for cooler temperatures.  We were all sleeping in warm clothes with our sleeping bags and mats under us.  We had added a blanket for warmth, but it was still cold.  Soon we were grabbing our coats.  We had warmer coats with us, but not our winter coats.  It was July and we thought this would be enough, but the temperature continued to drop.  We huddled closer together in our tent trying to get warm, but the cold ground below us and the cold air around us began to sink into our bones.  Finally we got up and all piled into the van to warm up.  We decided to sleep in our van for the rest of the night.

The next morning we got up, quickly packed the tent, and were back on the road.  We stopped to see Old Faithful and the other geysers on the way out of the park.  We decided one night of freezing cold was enough.  Who knew that a bear wouldn't be our biggest concern, but instead the biting cold of Yellowstone in July.


  1. Thanks for this trip down memory lane with your family. I brings to mind our own trip out West, visiting those same landmarks, even heading to the same final destination, with two small boys. Cathy the camper...hmmmm.

  2. My goodness, should have borrowed my nice warm down sleeping bag that I would take backpacking. We would wake up with frost on the bags and still be nice and toasty. What a fun memory though...and I would have worried, too, about the people close to you who seemed to not worry about leaving food...and the trash cans too. It was a funny vision...and the ranger saying they hadn't spotted a bear since Sunday...and it was only Tuesday. Fun times. (We opt to stay at hotels/motels now)

  3. This is great! You were the inspiration for us going to Mt. Rushmore and what a great trip it was. I love the pics of the kids and the bear warning. Thanks for a great memory!

  4. I'm shivering just reading this...maybe it's because it's spring in Ohio and it feels like dead of winter, but I think it was actually that line that said, "We huddled closer together in our tent trying to get warm, but the cold ground below us and the cold air around us began to sink into our bones." Brrrrrr! Take us somewhere warm next Monday, huh? :)
    Love it!

  5. The best way to take a trip with small children--camping, family, and sometimes that hotel with a pool! We did our share of camping and the cold was one aspect that was unbearable for us, too. Your family will never forget this trip--thanks for sharing.

  6. Just finished reading Will Hobbs' newest survival book, all about a kid and his older brother who is a wildlife photographer trying to take pictures of caribou migration. They end up encountering a grolar bear (hybrid grizzly and polar bear). And then I read your slice and I kept waiting for a bear to come out of the trees and tear up your campsite. Yikes! My favorite kind of camping is still the motel kind!

  7. Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?

    I see people looking for me.

    People, people what do you see?

    We see a warm van waiting for thee.

    Warmed people, warmed people what do you see?

    We see a geyser, that's what we see...

    :) Glad you didn't see any bears!

  8. I love the memory Monday idea. We have great family stories about camping one year when it was so cold and rainy that we lined our cots with newspapers. This was before the days of down sleeping bags. It was so cold, but the memories warm us and make us laugh fifty years later.

  9. My body physically felt colder as I read this - in my bones. I can imagine that feeling and have been there. You took me back.

  10. The way you wrote it made me anxious, Cathy. I've been to Yellowstone with students & we had a big coyote scare, attacked a student while we were at a stop & were journaling. It is a big tourist spot, but wild! I'm sorry you were so cold. It is rarely warm at night there. What a memory to keep, though.


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