Large Hairy Animals, Rodeos, 4 Big Heads, and A Whole Lotta Nothin’: Lake Tahoe to Mt. Rushmore

10:23 AM Tuesday, Aug 7

For those keeping track, our van has so far driven 9,024 miles since we left home. We passed the 9,000 mark yesterday, 13 miles west of Cody, WY. This is the 42nd day of our trip. We have 13 days left to go.

I can’t believe I’m in a hotel in Wyoming. Wyoming! To me it seems so far away and unlikely, it’s almost like being on Mars, except with cowboys. We went to an old-fashioned photo place in Jackson Hole, WY a couple days ago and had this photo taken:

Look at Lucy and Zoe’s faces in particular. Don’t they look like they’d shoot you as soon as look at you?

Not a lot of bookstores since my last update—not only because there aren’t a lot of antelope, rattle snakes, or bears who care for YA literature, but also (okay, mostly) because I didn’t schedule much for this leg of the trip—I wanted to make sure we enjoyed the national parks and cool cowboy stuff while putting some miles behind us.

Let’s catch up.


When we got to Lake Tahoe, Evan still wasn’t feeling very well. Thankfully a very generous friend, Michael Zifcak, had let us use his condo in Tahoe for a couple of nights so we had a little time to rest and let Evan get back on his feet. (Thanks, Michael!) But the first night, he had a fever of 103.5 F so we ended up taking him to the local urgent care clinic. The doctor said he just had a virus and that the only thing to do was to let him ride it out. Almost immediately, Evan had a miraculous recovery. I’m not sure why, but there you are. He’s been fine, fine, fine ever since (and that was almost a week ago), and we were able to enjoy beautiful Lake Tahoe. We only wished we had more time there.

Here I am at Neighbors Bookstore, a local independent, with bookseller Sue Ottman. Support your local independents! 🙂


…Then back eastward through Nevada, heading toward Idaho.
One thing that has impressed me as we’ve driven through the western half of this country is how much nothing there is. You can drive for hours and hours and only come across maybe one little town made up of a gas station and a couple of trailers. Really.

We drove through Carson City, the capital of Nevada, and were surprised by how little the state legislature building was. To my eye, it looked only a tad larger than your standard McMansion. It was tiny! We’ve seen a lot of state capital buildings on this trip, but this one warranted a photo. These are not big government fans…


I hadn’t realized we were going to go through Oregon, but there it was. We ended up cutting through the southwest corner—which was another long stretch of nothing. But it counted as a state! I think that brings us up to a total of 37 for the trip??


I didn’t know much of anything about the state except for the B52’s song and the movie Napoleon Dynamite. But the truth is, Idaho sneaks up on you. The drive from the Oregon border to Boise is one of the most stunningly beautiful that we’ve had the whole trip. Farmland, green hills, lovely countryside, lakes, clear blue skies and beautiful, sunny weather, which I’m told they have almost every day. I’m not surprised why so many Californians are moving out there. 

We stayed with our friends Glenda and Bill, who live in Meridian just outside of Boise. We met them in Alaska last year in a hot tub (along with their daughter Melissa and their son-in-law Leighton—who are off somewhere eating Swiss chocolates in the Alps now), and they invited us to visit them sometime. Well, here we were! 🙂 They fed us and gave us comfortable places to sleep. After breakfast in the morning, we met their brother-in-law Tony and the kids got to jump in a trampoline. Thanks so much for your kindness, Glenda and Bill! See you in Boston sometime soon! 


Wyoming made a dramatic entrance. The pictures can’t do it justice, but here they are:


Here’s Karen…

KAREN: Jackson Hole is a cowboy village just south of Grand Teton National Park. I loved it. My favorite part was the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which was packed with cowboys, drinking, and two-stepping. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us in with three children. (Note to self: Come back another time without children!)


KAREN: We left Jackson Hole and spent the next fifty miles driving slowly in the dark trying not to hit any large animals who might suddenly leap into the road. There were bright blinking signs everywhere warning us about frequent fatal collisions with wandering elk and buffalo! Nice relaxing ride!

EVAN: We ended up getting to Teton National Park at 11PM and we went to a park ranger and asked him where the cabins were. The park ranger said all the cabins were full. We protested because we had a confirmed reservation. (MARK: This is true!). The ranger said sorry but we could still camp. And so at midnight my mom and dad set up the tent by the headlights of the car. The next morning when we were ready to leave we tried to turn on the car but the car battery was dead! And so we had to get the park rangers to get a truck to jump-start our battery.


Zoe will now describe Yellowstone Park. Note: She did this in English, so no words were changed:

ZOE: I saw a lot of buffalos and I couldn’t stop looking at them. I saw a buffalo that was in the water and it swam all across to the other side. I saw tons of buffalos and I saw just right now some cows
(MARK’s comment: She means now, two days after Yellowstone Park, because we’re now driving through central Wyoming now as she’s talking and I’m typing) but not a lot of cows, just a teeny bit. And we were about to see wolves (MARK’s comment: She’s talking about Yellowstone again) but we couldn’t because we needed special binoculars ‘cause they’re far, far away. And we went in a bridge where we could see a bunch of volcanoes (MARK: Not really—they were steaming geysers with very hot springs and bubbling mud) and they were really, really stinky (MARK: from the sulphur) and we couldn’t touch them because they were lava and they were hot and if you touch them that would be weird.

Camping in Yellowstone was quite the experience…

: Karen was very nervous about sleeping in a tent in bear country. Who can blame her, right? There were signs on every corner warning about bear safety. But Karen was way nervous. I mean way. She kept jumping at the slightest sound. And then at 4:30 A.M. she woke me up by pounding hard on my chest several times and then whispering urgently in my ear that she’d heard some kid in a nearby tenting screaming and that there was a bear outside. Now, it’s possible that there was. I don’t know. But in the morning I asked the nearby campers and nobody knew anything about it. But there I was at 4:30 in the morning, wide awake and freezing in my underwear wondering what the heck I was supposed to do about the possible bear outside our tent.

Still, she’s cute so we’ll keep her.

: Ok, I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to sleep with bears (especially after hearing about how some kid in Utah was pulled out of his tent by a bear a few weeks ago!). So, here I find myself putting up a tent at MIDNIGHT in the middle of bear territory…which I was constantly reminded of as I saw warnings (don’t leave food for bears, every year people are attacked by bears etc..) posted at the camp entrance, the women’s bathroom etc! On top of that, I got lost in the pitch darkness trying to find our tent…lovely. Night one without sleep. Then the next night we camped in Yellowstone and I decided not to be a wus and go with the wildlife adventure.Yeah right! Not only were there signs warning about bears everywhere, there were signs warning about getiing gored by buffalo too!! Mark thinks I’m insane, but YES, I did hear a bear growl in the middle of the night which scared the @#$% out of me!! Granted, it might not have been close by, but I heard it loud and clear! I had to pee very badly all night long, but there was no way I was leaving the tent! Later I heard a child screaming insanely (maybe he saw something, maybe the bear I heard? ….he is probably ok, but I know a kids cry and a kids scream of fear!!) Enough said, I woke up Mark and was completely panicked! But really, what can one do at 5 am in a national park, there is no where to go except to meet more bears and buffalo which come out especially at dawn! Night two no sleep. I loved Yellowstone during the day, but I think I’ll take a break from camping for awhile!


So, since we’re driving through sagebrush and tumbleweed land, we decided to assign ourselves native names that we’d use until we left cowboy country. Did you ever see Dances With Wolves? There was much discussion and controversy, but in the end here’s what we came up with:

Karen: Flees From Bears
Me: Brakes for Buffalo
Lucy: Screeches Like Cockatoo
Zoe: Little Deer With Barbie Laptop (Zoe came up with that on her own)

Evan was difficult. We considered Pees In Woods, and Tinkles on Prickers, but we wanted something less bodily. We tried Annoys Like Mosquito but, while it does suit him (sometimes), it still wasn’t quite right. In the end we settled on Acts Like Monkey.


Three hours west of Yellowstone is Cody, Wyoming where, last night, we got to go to a rodeo.

LUCY: We got the best seats in the rodeo. And suddenly lots of cowboys, horses and bulls came on and got knocked over. And then they were chasing baby cows and they tied them up by their feet and their heads and it was unbelievable because all the cowgirls lost and all the cowboys won. I wished at least one of the cowgirls won. Then this clown called out for all the kids to come down to the rodeo stage and me and my brother and sister went down there. There was lots of dirt. The clown said for all the kids to roll around in the dirt. Me and my brother did but Zoe didn’t. It was fun. There were lots of baby cows running around with ribbons around their tales and I was chasing after them but then my new cowgirl hat blew off and kids were about to step on it so I went back to get it. My brother would have caught the cow but he had flip-flops on. And then we went in line to get our hats autographed and the three cowboy clowns signed my hat. It was really good. It made me really happy.

EVAN: What was really interesting was that they put little kids on the bulls and they did bull riding and barrel racing. I think I’m going to do that when I get back to Cody.


I’m going to gripe just for a moment.

So, the rodeo MC made a political joke putting down a major presidential candidate (I don’t want to get political here so I won’t say who the put-down was directed at, but it rhymes with Shmillary and it involved a cow) and then he asked the crowd, “Anybody here from the east coast?” A huge roar followed—I’m guessing more than half of the people in the stands. Then the MC followed up with, “I’d like to welcome you to the United States of America. This is the real America.” Huh? So, the east coast isn’t the real America? What’s up with that? And I might point out that the vast majority of the space in the middle of the country is empty. Empty as in nothing at all. Nada. No people. No towns. No buildings. Nothing. Shall we review?…

So, yes, of course Wyoming is part of the real America—and a lovely part, too—yet I can’t help pointing out that if you look at where the majority of the American people actually live, well that’s nearer to the coasts. And we citizens of the coasts represent the real America as much as that rodeo MC does.

Okay, I’ve said it and now I feel better. Thanks for humoring me. I’m done griping.


4:34 PM: We’re driving again, roaring down I-90 near Gillette, Wyoming heading toward South Dakota. Flees From Bears is at the wheel. Penelope, our minivan, is still doing okay. I think the occasional rattling is coming from her exhaust pipe, which shakes a bit when we’re idling. Its probably missing a screw or something, but every now and then I push the exhaust pipe in with my shoe and the rattling gets better. All good. 🙂


12:09 AM Wednesday, Aug 8:
We made it into South Dakota around 7:30 this evening and then booked it over to Mount Rushmore before the sun set. We made it!

Here we are doing the obligatory impression of Mt. Rushmore:

We didn’t have any hotel reservations (we’re living life on the edge) and it turned out that this week just happens to be the huge annual Sturgis motorcycle rally, attracting about 100,000 Harley Davidsons in around the Mount Rushmore area. I have to admit, we were sweating it out for a little while, but in the end we did manage to get the last room available in the last hotel in Keystone, SD, where I’m posting this blog. It’s biker heaven out there. There’s loud partying, loud engines, and more bikes in the parking lots than I may have ever seen before. Karen, Zoe, and I walked around outside a few minutes ago and talked to a few bikers.


We have a wake up call for tomorrow at 7:30 AM. We have 650 miles to drive through the badlands. I can’t wait!  Next stop…Minneapolis! 

–Brakes For Buffalo

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)



  1. Lucy’s and Zoe’s faces in the old photo reminded me that “the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

    The REAL America is everywhere in the country. But it sounds like you had an emcee from a red(neck?) state, which is a shame. Rather like the comedian on the cruise ship I was recently on, who seemed opposed to Latino immigrants and pissed me off big-time. Even though I’m clearly not Latina. Mean people suck.

    Oh the places you’ve gone! Your trip is certainly going to be one remembered for a lifetime by all five of you. How wonderful.

  2. Do not come home

    Please. Do. Not. Come. Home.

    Because I will miss this journal so much! I have loved every minute.

    I love the Native American names especially Little Deer with Barbie Laptop.

    Your wife is a saint.

    And I loved Lucy’s post about the rodeo and her hat and her brother’s flipflops.

  3. Mark: I am so sad this trip is over. I have loved every minute of it!! What a wonderful family you have and what a grand summer full of memories.

    Looking forward to seeing you again. Welcome home!!

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