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  • Writer's pictureDonna Brown

Tales from a two-month trip around the U.S.

We are finally home after driving 9,000 miles in two months. We visited 15 states, eight national parks, four presidential libraries, multiple state parks, the John Deere Museum, the Largest Truck Stop and Museum, the Idaho Potato Museum and the Official Buffalo Museum. We survived blizzards, tornado warnings, rattlesnakes, elk, bears and bison. The natural beauty was overwhelming, and the places we saw more different than New Jersey than I ever expected. We are so tired we now need a vacation from our vacation.

It was colder than expected. When we left home on April 4, it was a pleasant spring day. The daffodils were just beginning to bloom; our deciduous trees were bare. We left in early spring and returned to summer weather. Along the way we experienced mostly winter.

I didn’t realize that a normal Memorial Day in Michigan was 55 F, and their lilacs were beginning to bloom. As we camped on a beach on the shores of Lake Michigan, I wore a sweater while children were playing in the waves of the frigid water. Who knew lakes can have waves large enough for surfing?

People keep asking me what my favorite place was, and I keep changing my mind. How can you compare any other experience to riding a boat across a glimmering lake where the snowcapped Teton mountains reflect in the calm water, only to leave the boat to hike uphill in snow to find a hidden waterfall? Or the thrill of viewing a herd of bison for the first time? Or witnessing the tranquility of the Redwood Forests?

I do believe the best campground location was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming because it is situated between Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park, and allowed us access to alternate visits to both national parks over several days. In 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park and was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. It has 10,000 hydrothermal sites and half the world’s active geysers.

Yellowstone’s vastness and beauty is breathtaking and to see Old Faithful burst forth with such force in early morning fog was one of our best memories. We were told that visitors in the early years would toss their dirty clothes into Old Faithful and when it erupted clean clothes would be tossed out around them.

Seeing the mud bubble up and the steam blast all around you as you walk on ground level boardwalks leads you to imagine what is below. There are no rails on the boardwalks and there are signs warning visitors to stay on the paths because the acid can burn through your boots within minutes. Yet, we saw footprints in the soil. Fools should not be allowed in national parks.

Bison, which I kept calling buffalo, are magnificent creatures who weigh up to 3,000 pounds and look amicable, but don’t let that demeanor trick you. When agitated they can run three times faster than a human. In several of the parks, herds of bison roam at will, including standing in the middle of the road blocking traffic. At one point as we rounded a pathway a lone bison was unusually close. Eyes averted, we walked on and there was no mishap.

We were told that recently a ranger witnessed a woman trying to put her toddler on a bison for a photo. This past week a woman was gored by a bison in Yellowstone. Between 1978 and 2015, 81 people were injured by bison in Yellowstone and two died. Apparently, in encounters with bison you should watch the tail. Dangling is good, if it goes up watch out.

We didn’t do as much hiking as we would have like to, because there were signs warning that it was the season for grizzly and brown bears to have their young out which causes them to be more aggressive. They recommended hiking in groups of eight or more and caring bear spray. Bear spray was sold in every store for $75. We decided to save our money and stay in more developed areas of the park. We did see a mama brown bear nibbling on shrubs as her two babies clumsily climbed a nearby tree.

Spring was a cold but enjoyable time to visit northern national parks because they were just opening, and the summer crowds were yet to come. In Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park most of the roads were still closed. We saw their snow blowers which are larger than our trash trucks, and we climbed a bank of snow to see the crystal-clear lake formed in a collapsed volcano. I would like to return there in summer, stay in the historic lodge and ride the boat that crosses the lake each day.

I will continue with stories of our western trip, but for now I need to tackle the waist high weeds in my flower beds and rehome the family of tadpoles living in the pool. Oh, it is so good to be home!

Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to


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