View Finding – Tent Camping Road Trip Across the West

This is part of a weekly series about view finding, those moments when you take a deeper breath and savor the sights, then fumble for your camera. Whether you’re running, hiking, biking, four-wheeling or skiing, take a moment to enjoy the view.

I should add road tripping to that list. In 2008 we squeezed the family into an efficiently packed mini van for a two week “pillage the west” tent camping adventure that led us to views in 7 states (8 if you count New Mexico at Four Corners), 6 national parks, 2 national monuments, 10 different campgrounds and a lot of state highways. Highways are always prettier than the interstate.

This trip was magical and we discovered more views than I could possibly photograph. In fact, much of the time I didn’t even try. Neither a camera nor words can capture the soul-searing beauty we found or the memories we made.

In Montana we breathed in the peace of a Douglas fir forest where the only sound was the thunk, splash, gurgle and giggle as my boys chucked rocks into the stream.

In Yellowstone we marveled at the wildlife while navigating the trails and boardwalks between the pulsing river, gushing geysers, and steaming hot springs. This was offset only by the stifling spoiled egg smell of sulfur.

In the Grand Tetons we swam, swatted mosquitoes, then floated down the river while watching eagles and moose as the sun set.

Later, an adrenaline jolt of instinct punctured our evening when a neighboring camper stupidly poured gasoline on his fire. Hungry, the fire jumped, arcing up the accelerant.  He dropped the can and flames rocketed toward the sky.  He kicked the can, spreading the fire like butter on toast. Running, we beat the burning dirt and sacrificed two beach towels. That night we imprinted our children better than any fire safety lesson possibly could and collected another story to tell around the campfire, one they invariably pull out each summer like a deck of cards.

In Colorado we drove through mountain passes without guardrails, our mouths agape at the rocks and trees jutting on one side and dropping into nothing on the other. We thanked God our brakes went out on day 1, not day 7. We also rafted the rapids of the Animas one day and rode the Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad the next.

If I could return to any place from this trip, it would be Durango. We missed so much of it, though I’m glad we didn’t see the two bears who prowled our campground and the hail that pummeled the area only hours before our arrival.

Throughout this trip we cooked and ate outside, the aroma of bacon and coffee mingling with pine needles, campfire smoke and mountain air. Always in bear country, at the end of each meal we packed with meticulous efficiency. We followed the commands of our bodies rather than a clock or schedule but worked as a team to make or break camp in 30 minutes. We only showered every three days, not often willing to give up the pristine and private beauty of primitive sites for plumbing that came with crowds, our own aroma a small tradeoff.

We talked and read, hiked and drove. We stared at the campfire with its dancing flames and pulsating embers. We searched for constellations, counted satellites and made wishes on falling stars. And that’s just a taste of a trip I’ll treasure forever. Here’s an even tinier taste in 28 pictures:

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  • Beautiful. I love these View Finding posts, Jill!

    • Thanks Kitty. The only problem is that I develop a huge case of wanderlust when going through the pictures.