Squabbling in the back seat, wearing no seatbelts, our skin sticking to the vinyl seats of our station wagon, my brother, sister, and I kept asking our parents, “When will we get there?”
“It’s a mystery,” my dad wisely said, and our family weekend car trips became known as “Mystery Trips.”
Throughout the year, Dad perused the newspaper’s travel section and kept a file on unique and unusual destinations in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. When it was time to pack for the trip, Dad gave Mom only enough information to pack the right clothes. We never knew where we were going until we arrived.
Equipped with a cooler full of potato, macaroni, and ambrosia salads, hot dogs and hard boiled eggs, our clothes in suitcases tied to the top of the car, we climbed into our gold and wood paneled Ford Country Squire, and eagerly awaited the first mystery of the weekend.
I remember the dry heat of Death Valley as we drove through the desert with no air conditioning. I remember the sounds of our dog’s nails as she slid across the metal floor of the far back seat of the car, Mom’s voice as she read aloud to Dad, my brother and sister’s giggles interspersed with the inevitable whines and accusations of sibling rivalry. We read and fought, completed Mad Libs, looked out the window, slept, or listened to Mom and Dad talk. There were no DVDs and no iPods.
Then we arrived. I remember visiting ghost towns, panning for gold and drinking sarsaparilla in Columbia State Park, finding bits of garnet outside Ely, Nevada, eating chocolate on a tour of Hershey Chocolate Factory, seeing elephants in Las Vegas, and peering over Hoover Dam. I remember my brother’s yells when he sat on a cactus and my mom’s disbelief when he told her he saw a rattlesnake right after she said to watch out for them. I remember waiting by the side of the highway in the Nevada desert at dusk while Dad walked to the nearest gas station for a gallon of gas.
I remember a crazy driver flying past us only to point out that one of our suitcases had opened and was spilling clothes across the highway. I remember begging Dad to stay at a motel with a pool and passing no vacancy after no vacancy signs before we finally found a place to stay.
We ran and climbed in playgrounds in places like Winnemucca and Elko, Nevada. We ate all our meals in public parks (blackened hot dogs and salads) and always slept in a motel, one of us sneaking our dog into the room. We were up early the next morning, eating our breakfast of hard boiled eggs and bran muffins in our room or sometimes scrambled eggs and burnt toast over a campfire at a nearby park.
When I was in high school, we traded our station wagon in for a VW Camper Bus. Now we slept in the bus, my brother and I in the pop up tent, my sister on the hammock over the front seat, Mom and Dad in the back with the dog. We cooked fish my brother caught in a nearby stream on the camper’s stove and played cards around the table in the back.
The trips were no longer a mystery. We could read road signs and maps. We didn’t need to ask where we were going or how long it would be until we got there, whether it was to Yosemite, Yellowstone, South Dakota or off to college, and eventually we even helped to drive.
Happy Birthday, Dad! Thanks for all those mysteries.