We have never camped over a summer holiday weekend. We’ve always figured, let the working folks enjoy the crowded campgrounds – we have the flexibility to go anytime. But, as full-timers, we needed a place to stay over the long July 4th weekend. As timing had it, we would be near Yellowstone National Park so we committed to being there for the holiday, with the crowds.
All of the state parks were booked and, with the afternoon temperatures in the mid 80’s, we needed a campsite with electricity so we could leave the dogs at home while we ventured out. After all kinds of online searching, a woman in an RVing Facebook group said she owned a campground 20 miles west of Yellowstone’s west entrance. I called and we got a space for the entire weekend, from Thursday through Tuesday. Yes, it was our most expensive campground at $58.32 a night, but, compared to the $80+ at all the other options near Yellowstone, it was the best choice.
The park was nice enough, with full hookups, a few trees and, beyond the campground, expansive views of cattle in pastures and mountains. But our spot was narrow and we were so close to the rigs on all four sides of us, with no view, no cell signal, intermittent wifi, and neighbors who barely looked up when I said hello.
Usually, if I am at a campground like this, I amuse myself with making up stories about the neighbors, or I watch TV, play online or read. But the wifi kept dropping, I had finished my last book over the weekend, and Marika and I were both cranky with each other.
And we were there for five days.
We did spend a full day at Yellowstone, learning how pressure builds up under the Earth’s surface, causing geysers and bubbling mud pots, and the technicolor pools of fiery hot bacterial water. We ate our picnic sandwiches along the Firehole River and I even got my feet in the Madison River with Cody and Mabel. But we saw very little wildlife. Friends had shared how the bison had stopped traffic when they were there, but the only traffic slow-up we experienced was for a single elk standing in a river.
The holiday crowds were daunting. I haven’t experienced so much human energy in one place in years. People moving on all sides of me on the narrow boardwalks and walkways, cars crammed on the side of the road despite the No Parking signs, and the sounds of so many foreign languages and young children’s repetitive questions. By the time we found the car and drove out of the parking lot at Old Faithful, we were both exhausted.
On the drive out of the park we did see a single bison standing in a pool of water. He was huge and still, facing sideways and looking just like the buffalo on a nickel. But there was no safe place to pull over and study him, so we kept driving.
When we got back to camp, we took the dogs for a walk outside of the main camp area along the dirt road that separated the property from the acres of cattle pasture. Swallows swooped over the tall grasses, then ducked into their man-made boxes perched every six feet along the wooden rail fence. But we had to cut the walk short because the mosquitoes were feasting on us, even through the layers of bug spray.
Back in the motorhome, both of us were irritated, snarky, and ready to explode.
Over the weekend, we stayed at camp to avoid the Park crowds. It was windy and thundering, which kept us inside. And all of that closeness and lack of outdoor space did something to me. It was like what happens with the geysers. Pressure builds up under the surface until there is a necessary, somewhat violent release.
I stayed in bed for two days, not talking to Marika, only getting up to pee, walk the dogs and make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. I kept the air conditioner at 75 so I could stay tucked under my favorite blue comforter, moving in and out of tears and sleep, imagining every worst case scenario, focusing on all of my disappointments, irritations and grievances. Which is why I didn’t talk to her. I didn’t want to just spew every thought as it came up. I needed the space to just feel it all without discussion.
And I was so far into it that, of course, I couldn’t explain that to her, not even in a note. And so I was very glad that she kept to her plan to go birding early Sunday morning, because it’s what makes her happy, but then that set me off on another burst of envy because she has a hobby that she loves, and can do for hours, anywhere, any time of day, and I don’t.
Finally, on Monday morning, we talked. About the campground, our relationship, what we both wanted for our future. And she heard me. And I heard her. And we were both able to re-commit to this new adventure.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is all new for us, the planning, the traveling, the co-habitating, the communicating. And that I need to share my feelings, my needs, and lean into the power of this partnership, even when it gets difficult.
That afternoon we made a plan, together, for the next stretch of our journey. We decided to stay longer in the Yellowstone area, and the next morning we moved to the campground at Henry’s Lake State Park just down the road, on the lake, with spacious camp sites, a slough for excellent birding, and trails to walk with the dogs.
We went back to Yellowstone that evening for dusk. We drove along the Grand Loop Road to Hayden Valley, looking for movement in the open fields. We were rewarded with a herd of elk, a gathering of trumpeter swans and even a pair of sandhill cranes.
We got back to our new campsite on the lake after dark and took the dogs for a walk. The new moon glowed a bright sliver in the sky and, even in the darkness, I could feel the water, the pastures, the mountains and the gorgeous space around us. I was so glad to be home.