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Survival of the Fittest

Sep 08, 2016 03:34PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Peri Kinder


I’ve always associated Yellowstone Park with abject terror. A childhood vacation to this national park guaranteed me a lifetime of nightmares.

It was the first time we’d taken a family vacation out of Utah and we were ecstatic. Not only would we stay in a motel, but we’d see moose, bears and cowboys in their natural habitat.

We prepared for a car ride that would take an entire day, so I packed several Nancy Drew mysteries, and some Judy Blume and Madeleine L’Engle novels just in case. Because my parents couldn’t hand us an iPad and tell us to watch movies for six hours, we brought our Travel Bingo cards with the transparent red squares that you slid over pictures of silos, motor homes and rest areas. 

For more car fun, there was the license plate game, the alphabet game, sing-alongs, ghost stories and slug bug. Even then, we got bored. Dad decided he’d prepare us for the Yellowstone Park adventure that lay ahead of us. 

That’s when the trouble started. 

He told us how beautiful the park was. Then he explained if we fell into a geyser, the heat would boil the flesh off our bones and bleach those bones bright white, and those bones would never be found. He told us when (not if) we encountered bears, we had to play dead or the bears would eat us. We even practiced drills in the car. 

Dad would yell “Bear!” and we’d all collapse across the station wagon seats (we didn’t wear seat belts) until the danger had passed. (It usually took an hour or so.) 

He said if we wandered away, it would take just a few days until we died of starvation—unless the bears got us first. He warned us to stay away from every animal, describing in detail the series of rabies shots we’d need if a chipmunk bit us.

We were cautioned to avoid high ledges (we’d fall to our deaths), moose (we’d be trampled), buffalo (again with the trampled) and the requisite stranger warning (we’d be kidnapped). By the time we reached Yellowstone, dad had thoroughly instilled us with horror. 

When we arrived at the motel, we frantically ran to our room, afraid there were bears, moose or chipmunks waiting to drag us off into the woods.

That night, as we climbed into bed, Dad tucked us in and said, “Technically we’re sleeping on a huge volcano that could erupt at any time and blow up the entire state of Wyoming. See you in the morning. Probably.”

The next day, he was perplexed when we didn’t want to get within 125 feet of a geyser, when we didn’t want to be photographed near a bison or when we refused to gaze into a boiling hot spot. My sister started crying, “I don’t want to fall in and have bleached bones.”

Then there was Old Faithful. Dad had built up our expectations to the point that anything less than a geyser that spewed glitter, fairies and candy would be a disappointment. 

We were underwhelmed.

But the souvenir shop redeemed our entire vacation. We were each given $5 to spend, which was a wealth of frivolity. I chose a doll in a green calico dress with beautiful red hair—because nothing says “Yellowstone National Park” like an Irish lassie. 

As we left the park (with my sister quietly weeping because she’d changed her mind about which souvenir she wanted), we were thrilled to be returning home in one piece. But then my dad said, “We should visit Timpanogos Cave. Have I told you about the bats?”


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