L.A. to Toronto Roadtrip Notes: Day 8, Tundra

We leave our campsite on the sunnier west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and drive east along the U.S.'s "highest paved road," directly over the peak of the cordillera, not knowing what to expect, nor having read much about it.

Soon we hit Milner Pass at the Continental Divide, where the water of the Americas splits east and west.

Up there we see elk with "huge racks," a guy with binoculars and fingers that look used to pulling triggers tells us, and longhorn sheep clinging to cliffs, though too far away to really see well.

Above us, in the peaks, is snow, "but I don't think we'll get anywhere near it," I announce.

In the backseat, the kids read a pamphlet and inform us of the various regions—montane, subalpine, alpine—just as we pass from one to the next. Quickly we hit the tree line. "Okay, maybe we will see snow."

We keep ascending. The treeline passes and we definitely see snow. In fact, it starts to snow. We get out and climb a peak to 12,000 feet. Grey clouds swirl. A marmot shuffles by. It's hard to breathe, and we're freezing in shorts. One daughter declares that she hates the tundra, right after she trips on a rock and falls. But the mountain flowers are an inspiration, and the view is exquisitely, superlatively exciting.

On the way down the western side, it storms, with wind so strong it feels like our car will pull a Dorothy. The temperature drops to 6 Celsius according to our car thermometer, which I bang, like  Fonzie, convinced it's broken.

We're supposed to camp in Lake Ogallala, Nebraska, but decide instead to book a night in a motel. Oh, it's glorious, and we spend the rest of the day reminiscing on why.

Some of the things you take for granted when you're camping:
  • Walls that insulate you from rain, cold, noise (especially hillbilly rock and the air brakes of big rigs), and pesky animals
  • Breakfast you can make in under an hour without throwing out your back
  • A shower
  • Warm water and a sink in which to wash dishes
  • A toilet that isn't a five minute walk away up a hill and over a rocky path, without trip lines from tents that cause your kids to fall and cry
  • Lights that turn on with the flick of a switch, so you don't stub your toes looking for a flashlight
  • A fridge not just to cool your food but store it, rather than have to string it up a tree because of scavengers with fangs
  • A mirror that isn't a dented piece of metal affixed to the wall, even if looking at yourself while camping may not be the best decision
  • A proper soft, dew-free, debris-free bed, with no insects in it
  • Kids that don't look feral
  • Not seeing white families with deluxe RVs and a Walmart of goods try to recreate the suburban homes they've just left behind for a few days
Tomorrow, Omaha!