Four Weeks on the Road in a Minivan

 Casey Backenstoe's Family Vacation

On June 15,2000 our family of five crammed into our over-packed Chevy Astro and headed west on a one-month journey that was sure to bring memories which would last for years to come. My mother had been planning this vacation for over a year, hence she had every detail planned out to the hour. So with the aura of summer in our minds, we buckled up and hit the road. We started out with three solid days of driving, which inevitably brought about bickering and short tempers among my brothers and I. Our vacation was not off to a good start.

Casey Backenstoe, Author
Hello, my name is Casey Backenstoe, author of this article.  I am currently a senior at Northampton High School, Pennsylvania.  I plan to study medicine after graduation.  I feel medicine would provide a stimulating career while allowing me to help people in a time of need.

Once we reached our first destination, Colorado Springs, the arguments came to a halt, as it was necessary to work together to set up our camper and other accessories. Over the next few weeks we all became accustomed to setting up and tearing down our campsite. I was already starting to miss my home-life with microwaves, telephones, my friends, and most of all, my own bed. While in Colorado Springs, we toured Garden of the Gods Park as well as took the Cog Railway to the top of Pike's Peak. Both offered breathtaking views, which were enjoyed by our entire family. In nearby Denver, we found the US Mint to be a real disappointment due too lack of information provided. On the other hand, when we stopped by the Air Force Academy, we found it very insightful into the life of an officer in training. Since these tourist attractions got our minds off the grudges that formed on the trip out, we were all a little more easy going and morale was high again.

Our trips between locations were very interesting to say the least. We were frequently required to stop for bathroom breaks, gasoline, and food, let alone that my mother is a photography fanatic who insisted on pulling over anytime something caught her eye. Then it was out of the van as my brothers and I were positioned in perfect poses before she snapped a picture or two. My mother always did have a great talent for turning a two-hour drive into three. Over our entire vacation she ended up using over forty rolls of film. Between stops like these, my brothers and I read books, listened to cd's, and slept while my parents took turns driving.

One very interesting aspect of our western journey was the different and unusual wildlife we were able to see while hiking on trails or even from the roadside.. They ranged from your everyday ground squirrels to herds of female elk to brightly colored insects and so forth. Yellowstone by far had the most abundant wildlife of any stops along our path. Bull elk became an everyday sight while we were thrilled to see an adult grizzly bear feeding on a hillside. One very interesting experience was to follow a black bear thatA Bear was just lazily walking down the middle of the road. Lizards were so common that my brother Cody decided to buy a retile identification booklet that allowed us to identify over 15 of these quick and elusive critters. In Le Gran Tetons National Park, a special road was built for the purpose of viewing herds of wild buffalo in their natural habitat. Although they were numerous, binoculars were still needed in order to view them from our vehicle. While these animals may seem normal to a westerner, we are from Pennsylvania where animals like these are almost never seen except in captivity.

Whether to the top of a cliff, the bottom of a canyon, or to a natural wonder, hiking was an everyday event that provided a constant change of scenery and challenges. Hiking is one of our family's favorite pastimes back home so it is no wonder we all enjoyed it on our trip out west. Our hikes usually ranged from 4-6 mile, half-day adventures and consisted of a packed lunch, frequent water breaks, and of course several rolls of film worth of pictures. We were able to take all our necessary equipment in two small backpacks, which my brothers and I took turns carrying. Over the course of our vacation we ended up hiking in places such as the Grand Canyon, part way up Pike's Peak, the hot springs in Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, and Jenny Lake in Wyoming.

One of my favorite things we did on our trip was the three mule rides we took at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion national parks. All three offered breath-taking views accompanied by a tour guide who knew endless amounts of information about the area and tour. One interesting thing was that the mules were trained to walk on the outside of the trails so to give the right of way to hikers. This sometimes provided the mule riders with a great view of the canyon floor that was right beneath them. Mules are used instead of horses because mules are stronger, have stronger joints, and are much smoother to ride due to the lack of one vertebra. Although costly, these rides were very entertaining and easily enjoyed by all.

At first, I believed our trip was going to be one solid month of boredom while looking at different rock formations. But as our trip progressed so did my curiosity about each area we visited. My brothers and I found it amusing to compare and contrast characteristics of the land, weather, and wildlife from each individual park. I think one day I would like to return to some of the same areas so that my future children may be able to experience some of the wonderful things my family and I were able to this summer.

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