In the summer of 1985, having been married for 15 years and never having taken a vacation, we planned a trip with our five children (ages 4-14) from Vernal, Utah to Lake Louise, Canada. We rented a 32-foot camper to pull with our dual-tank Chevy truck which already had a regular camper in the truck bed. This was when gas was about $1.20 a gallon. If you’ve ever seen that old Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz movie “The Long Long Trailer”, you can just call me Lucy.
The truck only had one long seat, so we traded off on who sat in the front with us and who got to enjoy family togetherness in the truck camper. Basically, it went like this: We drove until somebody was crying loudly enough for us to hear it, then we pulled over. For some reason, I was the main driver, except for when we had to back into a campground spot.
I was terrified that one of the kids would break something in the trailer, so I was like a camper Nazi, "Don't touch that! Don't do that! Keep that out of there!" When we stopped off in Idaho Falls to eat some fast food. Jason & Jared got horsing around and Jared chipped a front tooth on one of the propane tanks on the camper. We just kept going...VACATION BOUND OR BUST! We stopped in at a cute little store near West Yellowstone and bought ice cream cones, scooped with their patented rectangular ice cream scoop.
The original plan was to pull off the road the first night in Yellowstone and just enjoy the trailer. The problem was that the Rocky/Bullwinkle crowd had built curbs all along the roadside to prevent such camping. Keep in mind, this was the week of July 4th and we hadn't even conceived we would need a reservation to camp. We stopped in to see Old Faithful and get some more ice cream. Thankfully we were all too terrified of the walkways to get close to the hotpots. (We may have been crazy but we weren't stupid.) The most interesting thing about Old Faithful was that we spotted our next door neighbor's vehicle in the parking lot, though we didn't spot them.
We got the last parking place in some campground and took off for Canada the next morning, passing through Wyoming to buy fireworks. The reason that we didn't get to Canada the second day was that Montana was in the way; there is a reason it's called Big Sky Country. We decided to take a back road, thinking for some reason that the main highway might be too crowded. Jason kept holding up signs about needing to get out and go fishing. He also held up signs about needing to use the bathroom, wanting to eat, or that Sherry was crying. Occasionally he would light a ladyfinger firecracker and throw it out on the road, scaring us out of what was left of our minds. Every time he would swear it was the very last one and every time, he was flat out lying! We would swab the deck a couple of times a day to get rid of chips and red punch. (That was before scientists warned us about children and red punch.)
Both tanks were on fumes when we pulled into Buffalo. We stopped to eat, gas up and use the facilities. On the way out of town, one of the truck tires blew out, sounding like a musket shot. I still shudder to think of what could have happened had that occurred any other time that day; we had driven almost 6 hours without seeing one other vehicle. Somewhere south of the Continental Divide, we gave up and camped in the Montana wilderness for the evening. During the night, a spider bit poor little Nik on his cheek, resulting in swelling that closed his eye shut.
When we arrived at the Canadian border, a man came out and asked us where we were from and if we had any booze, rifles or fireworks. No, No, and Yes. He also commented on how some people from Vernal had just come through a few vehicles before. Turns out they were our neighbors. He didn't ask for our passports, because back then Canada was considered an extension of Idaho or Montana rather than another country, and regular people didn't carry passports anyway. He said we had to turn around or leave our fireworks with him, to be forfeit if we didn't return for them by nighttime. That put a real crimp in our travel plans, since we had invested a week's wages on them. What we did was leave them with him temporarily, but crossed the border just so we could say we had. I'll never forget pulling that long trailer up the road to St. Mary or Martha's Lake by Waterton Park, where coincidentally my son-in-law now works.
The gas pedal was to the floor and we were barely moving. Since it was straight uphill, the gas tank register sunk like a rock. For once, everybody was quiet; nothing like fear to silence the crowd.
We were happy to see a KFC and decided to get lunch and eat it by the beautiful lake. Since we weren't going to be able to make it to Lake Louise, this was a decent option. We went into KFC, but they didn't have any of the regular stuff. The only thing we recognized was chicken and rolls for $15, (roughly the equivalent of $150 today), so that's what we had for lunch. We walked through the little town of Waterton, had ice cream and purchased some souvenirs. I bought a wooden plaque with a gold deer on it labeled "Waterton Park". The kids got candy and some little plastic faces where, if you put your fingers inside them, they made all sorts of wacko expressions. Jason says he still has his somewhere. (Incidentally, when we got home, I noticed that all our souvenirs were stamped "Made in Japan.") We drove back across the border, got our fireworks and found a nice campground with laundry facilities. Do you know how nice it is to have laundry facilities?
The next night we made it to Deer Lodge, Montana. It was packed and we ended up camping next to some mountain men in teepees. They were probably as unnerved by us as we were by them. Personal fireworks were not allowed, but the town had a small display of its own. By that time, I did not care either way. Two days later, we were pulling the camper up the hill between Heber and Duchesne when the truck overheated. Jason got out and fished in a stream til the motor cooled off, and we finally limped back into Vernal. Vacation accomplished!
The next day I tallied the trip and realized we had averaged six miles to the gallon. We could have driven the kids to Disneyland in our car, stayed in a motel and had enough left over for a trip for the two of us to Hawaii. I kid you not, but who wants to have fun on a vacation anyway, right?
Our neighbors returned a few days later and told us about their wonderful spontaneous trip to Lake Louise.