Long before Earl and Barbara set off on July 4th to cruise the country, Earl sent Barbara and me a detailed itinerary prefaced by a cover letter. A portion of that letter reads:
The trip includes majestic mountains, fantastic forests, limpid lakes, gorgeous geology, ancestral abodes, shifting sands, restless relatives, and a liberal dose of America Deserta – central Nevada. It should be fun.
Mountains. Upon my arrival we dove headlong into the Gallatins, Big Belt, Bitterroot, and the Cascades. Down the road we found the Coastal Range, the Basin and Range, the Colorado Plateau, the San Juans, Colorado Rockies, to name very, very few. Each majestic indeed.
And the forests! The subalpine forests with their lush understory of ferns just daring the firs to block out the sunlight. The alpine forests whose moist but crunchy bed of decomposed needles and cones crinkle and sink under your feet at the same time. The severe ridges and valleys of the Great Basin host sagebrush, needlegrass, and pinyon pines that look thousands of years old. You wonder where they get the water that sustains them, and then you realize that only the human race lives but on the surface of the planet, with little idea of what lies under foot.
Lakes that make you tear up they’re so beautiful. Lake McGregor in MT has not one house, dock, or tire swing among it. It makes you want to have one of each just to yourself. Pend Oreille Lake in ID teems with activity, but its restless beauty is not diminished in the slightest. Crater Lake in OR typifies that the most violent acts in nature often inspire photographs that we use to soothe our spirits. Lake Powell, one of the innumerable man-made lakes provides for millions. Yet how many treasures have we lost in the canyon country as a result of its capture?
Geology. Don’t get me started.
The ancestral abodes of the clan Monroe. Ours, like many families, is peppered with delightful stories and terribly sad ones. The interweaving of these is what makes families stick together, split apart, empathize and criticize. But in the end, each home, apartment, office building, boarding house, scout camp, airstrip, college campus, medical practice, ranch house, and Quonset hut that the Monroe boys and their parents called home adds its own ingredient the unique Monroe flavor.
The shifting sands of the Columbia and the San Juan Islands are just a prelude to what you see in the Desert Southwest of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. You see these shores in the rock record from the California Sierras all the way to the ancient, eroded, folded, and faulted Appalachians. The Great Sand Dunes National Park of today is the petrified sand dune of Canyonlands National Park from hundreds of millions of years ago. Is that Elton John’s “Circle of Life” I hear playing in the background?
Restless relatives, after all, are the reason for this excursion in the first place. We’re blessed that we are so fond of each other that we come back, whether it’s three or five years, every time the clarion calls for another Monroe Reunion. Let’s consider Earl’s plea to focus less on the day trips (guilty as charged) and more on spending time as community, cooking and eating, reminiscing or getting to know one another, enjoying memories of the past, but also focusing on one another’s present and future. Monroe Reunion 2013 is just around the corner. Work on your GORP recipe. We’re going camping.
Earl looked for a specific subset of people to join him on this enterprise. He didn’t pick Barbara and me because he likes us. He picked us because we’re unemployed (me during the summer and Mom until the dividends stop paying). So, you could say that we are in a special position to take this sort of trip where others are limited to vacations of limited duration. Whatever your case, if you’re ever offered the opportunity to criss-cross the country with family, my advice is to not think twice. Just go. I never imagined myself being able to have a three-hour conversation with my grandfather that ranged from the stock market to differential erosion, but by God, it happened, and it kept me up way past my bedtime! And it was great!
In Earl’s cover letter to us, he also mentioned the “meek and manicured West.” I must respectfully disagree with my grandfather on this point. The west that I’ve come to know both on this trip as well as while teaching the Field Geology course, is anything but meek. In fact many parts of it are coiled in suspended animation. We put up sign posts and build catwalks and fences in the name of safety and stewardship. But it is not at all difficult to imagine this land as raw and undressed and primordially violent as it once was, and no doubt will eventually be again. After all, as our friend on the DVDs Dr. James Renton is fond of saying, “in geologic time, time is irrelevant.” So, though it may be a bit manicured, to me it’s still the “bold and bountiful” west, the “pure and powerful” west, the “noble and natural” west.
So, there it is. The Monroetorhome 2008 blog has come to an end. The next reunion will be on the East Coast, so it is doubtful that I will be saddling up for another cross country motorhome trip for the next one, that is unless I feel like taking the long way to NC, or VA, or wherever it takes us. Oh, wait. Mom and I are planning the next one. Well, I guess I’d better wrap this up and call Mom. Thanks for tuning in, all three of you! It was a pleasure recounting our travels, and thank you for allowing me my indulgences, as faulty and inaccurate as many of them may be. Maybe for the 2013 Monroe Reunion we can set up a wiki, that is, a blog in which all participants post (instead of being relegated to the “Comments” section). We’ll see. We’ve got five years to come up with ideas.
Another talent show anyone?