The summer after I graduated High School my parents took me and my sisters on a vacation to Steamboat Springs, CO. Overall it was a great trip; I got to see a hot air balloon rodeo, call my girlfriend long distance (this was still a thing back then) from a ski shop’s phone, and I got rewarded with Chinese food for saving my mom from drowning. All in all, a fun vacation.
There was, however, one part of the vacation that I still have nightmares about: Dinosaur National Monument.
You see I come from a long line of nerds and when my dad discovered that their was a museum about dinosaurs in the Utah desert, multiple hours away from our air conditioned condo and the rest of civilization, he decided that we all had to go. And why wouldn’t we want to go: dinosaurs…in the desert…hours from people…what could possibly go wrong?
The 5 of us loaded up into our Chrysler Pacifica, which should be a solid foreshadowing of the fun to come, and headed from a perfectly great place out into the wilderness of Western Colorado on the hunt for the nerdiest museum that side of the Mississippi, disc-men (these were still things back then as well) and books in hand.
We were on the only road, a 2-lane highway, for long enough that anything resembling society had long since vanished when we came to an abrupt halt.
Something Went Wrong
Looking up from my book (I’m glad I can’t remember what I was reading because I know I’d be embarrassed to tell you what it was…probably Wild at Heart.) I saw a line of cars in front of us, surely the only humans we’d seen in quite sometime, and asked my dad what was going on.
“A oil-tanker truck jackknifed and is blocking both lanes” he said.
It was like the Lions had won the Super Bowl! We were going back to the condo….or so I thought. Much to my chagrin my father pulled out his Atlas and found a road that went around the blockage. And just like every Fall, my hopes of going home went the way of the Lions’ playoff chances…down the toilet.
We back-tracked and found this ‘road’. I say ‘road’ because it, while technically speaking was a road, was actually more like the Oregon trail…I’m pretty sure people have died of Diphtheria along this road. It was dirt the entire way with steep hills, deep cliffs and no guard rails. And remember, we were in a Pacifica, not exactly the off road vehicle of choice.
I thought we were going to die. My life was going to end at the bottom of a ravine somewhere in the desert of Western Colorado or Utah, I can’t be sure where we were at this point. This was not how it was supposed to happen.
But Then Something Unexpected Happened
We came over a crest and in the valley below we saw a huge mass blocking the road. Construction we thought! Everyone but my dad was elated.
”We’re going back!”
”We aren’t going to die out here!”
”Wild at Heart won’t be the last book I read!”
My dad, intent on seeing this Dinosaur Museum, approached the road blockage to investigate. As we drove closer we realized it wasn’t construction. It turned out that it was a herd of cattle, probably 100 or so. The cowboys: grandpa, son and grandson, had built the cow pen with the road cutting right through the middle of it…because that makes complete sense.
I would have loved to have been a part of that conversation:
”Well our farm is in the middle of nowhere, with literally nothing for miles, I say we build our cow pen so that the ONLY road goes right through the middle of it. Yea, that seems completely reasonable.”
At this point my dad was unwilling to quit. He parked the Pacifica and in his Polo shirt, khaki shorts and Birkenstocks (we call this the ‘dad uniform’) approached the 3 generations of cowboys and said,
“Hi, we’re not from around here.”
My friends, truer words have never been spoken. The cowboys, unfazed by my dad’s suburban flare, simply told my dad “drive through the pen, the cows will get out of the way.”
This had to be a prank. They smelled the yuppy-ness from a mile away and they were going to screw with us, they almost had to. When was this ever going to happen again!?
Well, it turns out we really did have to drive through and the cows did get out of the way. Although they were not happy about it.
Longest Day Ever
Unfortunately, we did make it to Dinosaur National Monument and stayed there for hours. My dad and the oldest of my two younger sisters read every single word on every plaque and sign. Meanwhile my mother, youngest sister and I sat on the sidewalk outside trying to find ways to erase the boredom.
This, friends, is how I came to hate dinosaurs.