Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wife Rule #67: National Parks Rock (or, Ten Quick and Easy Ways to Die While on Family Vacation)

I understand exactly why my kids like to throw rocks at each other.

Or more accurately, they like to throw rocks, but their aim is poor enough that some of the rocks inevitably end up being hurled in the direction of a beloved sibling's skull.

So on our family vacation to Yellowstone National Park last week, I tried to remember that there is a delicate balance between allowing my children to experience the Wonder of Nature--in the form of chucking large pieces of Mother Earth into the calm, placid waters of the various rivers in Yellowstone--and how quickly we use up our first aid supplies in the small kit we keep in our glove compartment.

Besides, rock-throwing provides opportunities for me to teach my children important Life Skills, such as how to skip a rock. One day while waiting for the pit toilet to become available (this would never happen if there were separate Men's and Women's pit toilets), I spent a few minutes teaching five-year-old Scott how to select the optimum skipping rock:

Me: "It should be round, flat, and thin, like this. Now you find one.... Nope, not thin enough. It should look more like a Frisbee, not a Winnebago. Try again.... Nope, that one looks too much like Ralph Nader. It'll sink right to the bottom.... There, that one is just right."

Scott: "Wow, you know everything, Dad!"

So my elevated ego and I watched with joy as he eventually got the hang of it. I am comforted in the assurance that if Scott is ever stranded on an island out in the middle of calm, placid waters, he will be well-equipped to amuse himself by skipping rocks for hours on end while he waits to be rescued.

So you can see that National Parks, being chock-full of rocks, are good for memorable family vacations, despite the risk of being knocked in the noggin by a large stone, hurled lovingly by one's own kin. But to make a good family vacation truly great, the kids must encounter situations that evoke a genuine fear of dying. Nothing screams "REMEMBER ME!" quite like experiencing the potential for accidental death.

I should know. I spent many family trips as a young boy hiking among even more dangerous rocks, such as those found in Arches National Park. In this sandstone playground, two-hundred-foot thick slabs of bedrock are criss-crossed by deep fractures that have molded the rocks into a giant maze of fins. There are nearly infinite opportunities to fall to your doom, more than enough to make deep and lasting impressions on a young child's mind. My shrink says the twitching might eventually go away.

But the rocks at Arches don't just wait around to be fallen off of, or to be chucked into calm, placid waters. They seem to have a death wish of their own, actively crumbling and falling all by themselves in spectacular, highly-publicized displays, kind of like Britney Spears.

In fact, while Scott and I were busy skipping rocks at Yellowstone, one of my all-time favorite rocks at Arches, a beautiful, 71-foot natural ribbon of rock called Wall Arch, gave up the ghost and came tumbling down. Probably depressed about the recent performance of its 401K, I can only suppose.

When I heard about the collapse, I immediately felt grateful that I had taken pictures of each of my kids sitting underneath Wall Arch just last year, both so that they can always remember the arch itself, and so they can know that Dad took a picture of them sitting in a spot where only a few months later, 5000-pound boulders fell from a height of 33 feet. Talk about memories!

So rocks provide many family-friendly ways of getting killed while visiting one of our spectacular national parks. But Yellowstone offers so much more. Here is a short list of other memory-building ways to die that I thought of during our trip to Yellowstone last week:

1) Wandering off the trail and falling through thin dirt crust into a brand new thermal water feature. There were literally dozens of signs posted around the geyser basins alerting my children to this danger. They each featured a young boy who left the boardwalk and now had steam and superheated, acidic water hissing up to his face out of the hole in the ground his feet had just made. He had an expression on his face similar to what a boiled lobster would be wearing. His parents, observing safely from the boardwalk only a few feet away, had expressions on their faces that seemed to say, "I told young Timmy not to make any new geysers. If he survives, I'm going to ground him for at least a week." These signs were very effective at helping to keep my kids close in the thermal areas.

2) Being gored by a bison. This happens every year. During our week in Yellowstone we drove past dozens of good candidates for a goring, who had pulled over within ten feet of a grazing bison, had left the safety of their vehicles, and were waving their arms in an attempt to get the bison's attention for a picture. The temptation to quietly pull in behind them and honk was almost overwhelming.

3) Driving off a cliff while trying to avoid a bison on the road. This really happened to us. We were on one of those narrow, one-way roads along a high cliff with no guard rail, where every ten feet or so there is visible evidence of a partial cave-in along the cliff edge of the road, when we encountered a bison sauntering ahead of us. Bison saunter at about five miles per hour, so we eventually had to pass the beast. This one elected not to nudge us off as we passed.

4) Falling into one of the plenteous pit toilets scattered throughout the park. Trust me, don't try to imagine what this would be like. Just keep reading.

5) Impaling one's self on a sharp branch connected to a log one has just fallen off of, because one got bored during the picnic and decided that traversing narrow, dangerous fallen logs is a good idea. Each and every child in our family attempted to die this way during our trip.

6) Climbing over the safety wall and plunging to one's death from the top of a 500-foot cliff overlooking spectacular natural scenery, such as that found at Artist's Point. Each of my kids also attempted to try this, but I managed to stop them in the act.

7) Slipping off the hiking trail that has no guard rail, sliding down a steep, sandy slope, and then falling off a 500-foot cliff overlooking spectacular natural scenery. My kids had enough sense not to try this.

8) Going over a 300-foot waterfall in a canoe. It gave us all chills just to imagine it. Only my two-year-old son actually requested to try it. I need to work on his fear of heights and drowning.

9) Being anywhere in North America when the Yellowstone super-volcano explodes. We learned all about this exciting impending doom while at the visitor centers at the park. Celebrating the moose and the elk and the bear are OUT. Apocalyptic volcanic eruptions are IN. There were graphic illustrations of how much magma lies beneath Yellowstone. The most memorable one was a little fist-sized cube representing how much ash came out of Mount Saint Helens, sitting next to a cube the size of an industrial meat freezer, representing the lethal magma bubbling under our feet. When this thing blows, we won't even have to be on vacation to die.

10) If we manage to survive the super-volcanic holocaust, we are likely to be bitten by one of Yellowstone's rabid chipmunks and die. We all know that any surviving varmints will undoubtedly turn wild again and started hunting whatever big game is still alive, including leftover tourists. The cute little scurry-around-the-boardwalks-and-beg-for-potato-chips gig is just an act to lull us into a false sense of security. Don't fall for it!

So there you have it. We're all going to die. But when my family finally goes, at least we're going to have some fantastic memories to take with us, thanks to our spectacular national parks.

And especially because of the rocks.

1 comment:

Shell said...

Thanks for the giggles Matt. I'm glad I'm not the only one in this family who can see the potential to die around every corner at a national park :)