Thursday, August 9, 2012

Where the buffalo roam

Eight days, four states, 1,700 miles in one car with three people. Vacationing with a sometimes sullen teenager is an adventure. Somewhere between uncontrollable giggles and vacationing with the Grinch.

We recently returned from our most interesting and unusual vacation thus far. Every year we try and plan one big trip, although some years we just can't get it done, with time constraints, and let's face it, going on vacation just ain't cheap.

But my darling husband, East Coast native that he is, had never visited the middle part of our country. Going for a convention in Denver when he was stuck inside for the better part of a week didn't count. And suffering through his obligational visits with his in-laws once a year in Chicago also wasn't like getting him in the great outdoors and big sky.

So with my blessings (not Earbaby's though, more about that later) he planned a trip to Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. We flew in and out of Denver, and made our way by car through the other states in about a 1,700 square mile area.

It was fun, more for some of us than EB. My husband had never seen a real rodeo. So he was awed by the strength, courage and amazing athleticism of cowboys at the Frontier Days rodeo in Cheyenne. We stayed in Laramie, near the campus of the University of Wyoming and of course had to buy our souvenirs there on campus. And we drove through Curt Gowdy State Park, turned off the car and just listened.

Now for city folk, we don't know what nothing sounds like. We are so bombarded by noise every day, we just tune everything out, neighbors' music and shouting, horns blowing, cars speeding by, airplanes overhead. We are so used to hearing everything all the time, we think a din is actually silence.

So when you're out in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, you can actually hear complete and utter nothing. We just couldn't believe how great that sounded.

Of course, EB wasn't nearly enthralled with this vacation as we were. But in her defense, it started out on a couple of sour notes for her. For one thing, she was missing her favorite two-day dance workshop, which fell during the week we were gone. It's a grueling two-day seven-hour one day, six hours the next, dance-a-thon. She looked forward to her favorite hip-hop teacher, who had noticed her and complimented her two years running, including the first year when she was way in the back. 

But that wasn't the only sour note. EB didn't want to go to where everything "sounded lame." The rodeo? Lame. Frontier Days? Lame. Mount Rushmore? Lame, lame, lame. As for going to Nebraska to visit mom's friends in the town where she started her journalism career, double ditto on the lame part. Especially when EB's friend was going to Bermuda and her cousins were going to Hawaii.

But we also wanted EB to see other parts of the country. My wish is that she visit all the states in the union before she gets too old to want to travel. I don't want her to be like most of the people in her hometown (her dad included) who never live, go to college, or work more than 40 miles from where they were born. I want her to experience new places, people and things. And then decide where her life will end up, by choice, not by default.

So off we went into the wild, blue yonder on her dad's dream trip. Of course his dream was that we would go along with him.

The first half of the week was rough. Not only was EB determined not to have a good time, she had a bad chest cold that zapped her energy and stole her appetite. She was miserable physically as well as mentally. We tried different cold medicines to try and assuage her discomfort, but she more or less checked out in the back seat, either listening to her music, sleeping, or texting her friends to let them know the horrors she was being subjected to. Like I said, vacationing with the Grinch.

She didn't like the smell of the rodeo, lots of cows and horses (city slicker!) and worried that the calves being wrestled to the ground and roped were being hurt. I had seen my share of rodeos and I have to say, I admire anyone who can drop from a horse that is in full gallop, bulldog a calf, ride a bucking bronco, hold on to an ornery bull's back, and rope anything that is also moving at a full gallop. I joked to my husband that I don't want to do any sport that has me walking off limping.

EB did come away with her share of souvenirs despite the hardship of vacationing with two lame parents. She got a nice bag she'll use for school (until it falls apart, I already have to replace the zipper) and a rabbit fur cap with a coonskin tail, that she promises to wear to school. Other than the dog, it's the only real fur in the house. Hope there won't be many PETA protests.

From Wyoming we traveled to South Dakota to visit the presidents. We stayed in Keystone, about two miles from the monument, which we saw on our way to the hotel we were staying in. Both my husband and I thought it was smaller than we had imagined. I noticed there's room for President Obama right there by Lincoln (hey I can dream, can't I?). We went through Custer State Park in search of buffalo the next day. We also drove through the badlands, a beautiful, desolate area of rock and sand and emptiness. And as EB's health improved, she got her sense of humor back.

Maybe it was the prairie dogs that first got her back to herself. These chubby little creatures live in cities and squeak out warnings to each other as they burrow into holes. We imagined Cocoa would have a field day chasing these little things that sounded just like her squeaky toys. And just as we were headed back to Custer State Park, we saw our first buffalo. He was on a ridge overlooking the highway and I spotted him to my right just before we were ready to turn left.

This was my husband's wish, to see wild buffalo (mine is to see a moose, hopefully before it comes crashing through our windshield). Custer State Park has 1,300 head, but we had gone all day in search of one with no luck. So this was wonderful. We watched it head back over the ridge after taking a few pictures then turned back through the park.

And we became great buffalo hunters. A huge, majestic male sauntered in front of our car, not 10 feet in front of us. We stopped, gawked, snapped pictures and got extremely excited. EB couldn't stop laughing and making fun of us. And later, as we looked and found even more, she admitted that this was kind of fun, even if most of it came from her laughing at us!

After a couple of days when we saw more buffalo than you can shake a stick at, we were off to Nebraska, to a little town called Broken Bow. We visited my friend, whose husband coaxed all three of us on a gentle horse (it was also my husband's first horse ride and he even got to wear a cowboy hat) and we toured the area and met new friends as well as an old one from my days back there more than 20 years ago.

This part was tougher on EB, who enjoyed the horse ride, ate well finally, and was polite but quiet. She was the only kid there, so she buried herself in the computer playing games. Finally, it was the long ride back to Colorado, which was mostly a rest day before we turned back home. EB had a good time, and a bad time. She was bored, she was stimulated. One thing I had to give her credit for, even when she was exasperated at having to sit through hours and hours of driving and visiting with people she didn't know, she was unfailingly polite to everyone.

I told her next year she gets to pick the vacation spot since this year was for her dad. She said we're going to Bermuda. I say thanks for giving me a whole year to get into bathing suit shape.

We hope in time EB will appreciate this last trip. Eight days, four states, three people in one car. In years to come, she'll either reminisce with fondness or cry about it on a therapist's couch. But I'll bet she'll never forget about going out to where the buffalo roam.

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