Then and Now

This time of Coronavirus has really hampered our ability to travel. Since most of our planned vacations this summer have been cancelled I thought I would take a trip down memory lane with not one, but two trips. What makes this worth sharing is that both trips were to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone but separated by about 33 years.

When I was around 8 or 9 my family and I took an RV trip around the country. We started and ended in Philadelphia and took a slightly interior route hitting a lot of the big national parks and outdoor attractions. Oddly, I remember being sick when we came to Wall Drug and the Badlands. It’s funny the things that stick with you. My memories are piecemeal at best but something that stuck out was a photography walk around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, lead by a park ranger.

My parents remind me of the little things that I don’t remember like staying up late, hitting the pools at the RV park and my brother being afraid of the coyotes howling at night. I wouldn’t say my dad was an avid photographer but he always took photos while we were on trips which helped add some context to those stories.

Now fast forward about 33 years. My partner, my son and I made a week long trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Living in Denver meant it was a days drive away. We spent the nights in tent cabins and lodges rather than an RV. While I didn’t remember a lot from my trip as a kid I knew it left a big impression on me. My son was about the same age I was when I went with my parents and I am hoping that it will stay with him the way it did with me.

Some of the planning was inspired by the trip we took when I was young. I knew there were things I wanted to see with him. But the planning was not where the similarities ended. I’m going to share a handful of photos with you that were taken by my dad (or mom) and by me (or my partner). Two were planned but the others were not.

While we were in the Tetons I booked a float trip down the snake river. I remember being very afraid of this when I was a kid but I don’t really know why. My son, being much braver than I was, was very excited. I knew I had this one photo of me and I thought I’d try and recreate it.

side view floating on the Snake River

I think we all tend to take “typical” family photos on our trips which is how things got a little weird. Here’s the photo my mom took of my dad and my brother compared to the photo my partner took of my son and me.

After leaving the Tetons we headed up to Yellowstone. It’s pretty obvious that if you’re visiting Yellowstone you’re going to hit Old Faithful during an eruption. What is striking is how similarly these two images are composed while being 33 years apart. I guess both my dad and I were intrigued by the crowds gathered with us.

use the slider to compare the two photos

There are memories that I have from our family trips that I’m not sure if they’re actual memories or extrapolations from the photos that my dad captured. Our visit to Mammoth Hot Springs on the north side of park is one of those memories. There are images and snippets that I have in my head that may just be based off the photos or stories that my parents tell. But when I took my son I wanted to try and recreate a photo that my dad took of my mom, my brothers and me. I didn’t have the image with me when we were there but I had the rough idea of the scene. My partner took this photo of my son and me. You can tell that it’s in almost the exact same spot.

The previous image was planned but these next too were a complete surprise. I think it speaks to maybe how similar my dad and I think. Now I have to admit the outing I booked was completely taken from the same outing back when I was a kid. Again, my memory of the event is murky at best. I don’t recall details but I do remember it raining (I think).

We made a reservation for a traditional chuck wagon dinner that left from the Tower-Roosevelt area of the park. You join a bunch of others and ride out to a remote spot for a steak dinner. There are specific reasons why they do this event that I won’t get into but my dad and I took almost identical images when we got to our destination. You can hardly tell 33 years has passed.

When I got back home after our trip with my son I dug up the old photos from the trip when I was a kid. I’m so lucky that my mom has scanned most of our prints and slides so we have them all accessible on the computer now. I highly recommend doing this or paying to have this done with your old, precious memories.

I was completely shocked to see this photo that my dad took while riding in the stage coach. While I took many others, having the benefit of a digital camera, we both felt the need to capture our host on the ride. It looks as if we were even sitting in the same seats. I remember from our recent trip that she asked if anyone had any jokes. Everyone remained quiet and that’s when I think a little of my dad came over me. He’s always more than willing to make friends with anyone around or speak up in front of a crowd, especially if it’s for a laugh. Here’s the joke I told (adapted for the current locale).

Q: Why don’t you see bison hiding in trees?
A: Because they’re really good at it.

Anyways, here are the two photos.

The similarities are uncanny. Maybe it’s human nature but I like to think it’s more than that.

Finally, there’s a pair of photos that show my son and me at the same age about 33 years apart. There was so much different between the time when I went as a child and when I took my son but some things stay the same. I remember my brother’s and I each getting our own Kodak Disc camera to use on the trip. When I took my son I was only a few years into shooting with my Nikon D3200 and I made sure he had a camera of his own for the trip.

Apparently, I wasn’t inspired at the Grand Prismatic hot spring but my brother (in the background wearing the blue and white shorts) was. I do recall being jealous of his camera because it had a zoom function. My son took a variety of photos and his interest in shooting waxed and waned during the trip, much like mine probably did.

I’m still constantly impressed with my dad’s film photography of when we were growing up. As I mentioned I don’t remember it being a major part of our trips but from the memories he captured he clearly was doing it and with good purpose. I’m sure many people my age and older can recall sitting in the living room, with the lights off and a slideshow carousel going. I guess it was the Facebook of our day. It was the way we shared the experiences of our family vacations with our friends.

This has been a nice trip down memory lane although it has really made me miss traveling. I think when all of the concern around the Coronavirus is over it will be refreshing to get out and see something new. Heck, I’ll be happy to revisit some of my favorite destinations too. Limiting my travel has really made me appreciate all of the trips I’ve taken throughout my life and I look back on them with a new sense of fondness. Alas, summer is over and I feel this urge to get out and have new experiences but I’m going to just have to wait a little longer… and I’m realizing that’s a hard thing to do.