Thursday, August 31, 2017

Camping - or Sightseeing?

Finding time for a nap on Two Jack Lake - Banff
I think I've figured out the difference between camping and sightseeing. Either one is fine with me - how they meld together into one ten day trip is harder to pin down.

Banff - Glacier - Yellowstone National Parks. That was the plan and it was way too late for me to change the timing of these trips when I realized that August was the worst possible month to put that trip into action. I was calling it a camping trip; however, it ended up being a strategically planned sightseeing trip where we had to plot out our choices and arrive at particular spots by 7 am in order to go enjoy the national park's beauty - but sleeping in a teardrop trailer every night.

Best campground south of West Yellowstone:
Upper Coffee Pot Campground
As empty-nester's - as people who can travel to these locations any time of the year - why were we there in August? That epiphany came months too late.

The good news is that each of these iconic places are worth sightseeing in. We plotted out what was important to us and got to those locations early enough to enjoy the vistas and glaciers and waterfalls without the hordes of people that would clog the trails and roads by 9 am. We hiked and took too many pictures.

Two Jack Lakeside Campground - Banff

But this didn't feel like camping.

Sure, we used our wonderful little T@b trailer - which everyone everywhere wants to talk about - but it wasn't easy to actually enjoy the camping experience when rangers will literally come and take your stuff left laying out around a campsite due to the inordinate amount of bear activity they have had. I respect the policy but part of camping is setting up your campsite - and leaving it set up to enjoy your outdoor living space.

And that was part of the price to enjoy these particular locales - and perhaps always will be. When you build at campsite in a berry patch - in bear country - chances are likely that if humans are careless they will find their belongings torn into itty-bitty pieces - perhaps while you cower in the depths of your trailer. No, that has never happened to us but the warnings were clear and ruthlessly enforced.

The other issue this summer was smoke. Perhaps it will be wildfires that mark a true summer spent in the west as fire seasons become longer and more devastating due to a warming climate. I thought about all the communities, homes and businesses that have been destroyed, the folks evacuated, the firefighters battling the many fires here in the west. I thought about those tragedies while I tried to catch my breath, my throat sore, eyes stinging, nose bleeding. I thought about all the devastation as I didn't bother taking a picture of Glacier summits or Grand Tetons mountains made hazy with hazardous air quality ratings. There was no way I could measure my annoyance against the painful devastation around us. Two days after we enjoyed a lovely meal at the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier - the lodge was closed due to fires. The iconic Sperry Chalet lost the battle.

So there was all that going on...

We certainly had our camping moments. Playing cards after dinner. Paddle boarding on the lake next to our campground; sitting around campfires down in Idaho where the fire restrictions finally allowed us to have said campfire - all worthy camping experiences.

Yellowstone - Midway geyser basin
Many Glaciers - beautiful morning hike ...
and only saw one mama grizzly

There were wonderful hikes and new places to see. Bear encounters to be had...

It was our own inability to relax and slow down that made this camping experience feel like it wasn't quite meeting expectations. We felt bound to the sightseeing within each national park - the must see locations - but did we actually sit in the awesome beauty and majesty and breathe it in? I can't say that we did. And with the smoke being so thick and permeating most of our travels - breathing in deeply was the last possible thing we could do.

Fountain Flats - Yellowstone... around 7 am...
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

No, somehow this trip was wonderfully hard. Perhaps it was packed too tightly, bound up in campground reservations fought over at 7 am on a cold January morning. And yet, we did get to places that were stunningly beautiful; we had our encounters with bears on trails and elks bugling into the night. We watched geysers erupt and gazed on vanishing glaciers. Each of these places is a national park for a reason and millions of people from around the world come to see the same things that I found wondrous as well.

Tea House Hikes in Banff

Tea House resident...

Its a balancing act - this whole notion of preservation and conservation - and the National park system has done what it can to mitigate the desires of the human horde. Having just been a couple clicks on the visitor counter at all three parks, I'll plan future trips very differently in order to balance my needs with those of everyone else.

This was a sightseeing trip masquerading as camping. Holding that thought puts my expectations in perspective.

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