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Published August 29, 2011, 05:23 AM

Family bonding on the great American highway

TOWNER, N.D. — There’s nothing like 3- or 4,000 miles together in a minivan to bring a family closer together, but you do have to get out of the van once in awhile or you’ll surely be driven farther apart.

By: Ryan Taylor, Special to Agweek

TOWNER, N.D. — There’s nothing like 3- or 4,000 miles together in a minivan to bring a family closer together, but you do have to get out of the van once in awhile or you’ll surely be driven farther apart.

Four-fifths of our family just finished a great American cross-country road trip from North Dakota to Oregon with several circular tours in between. We left one-fifth of our family, the 3-year-old girl, with Grandma to even up the odds for wife and I to keep track of the 5- and 7-year-old boy critters on our adventure.

Even at that, I’m not sure the odds were even, but we kept up as best we could. When the back-seat boy energy was about to boil over, we’d locate the closest city park or playground and siphon a little of that off so we could get back in the van and make another few hundred miles.

Resting our heads

We had a mixed bag of lodging on the trip, ranging from benevolent relatives to questionable tenting spots to motels driven by pure greed at the height of tourist season. We were treated best by the benevolent relative. No contest.

The city parks we found for playground time were pretty nice, but the RV park and city park we found to pitch our tent late at night seemed a little shady — and I don’t mean shady like under a leafy tree.

One was bordered by chain link fence, piles of crushed asphalt, steel buildings and heavy equipment. I think the city figured their park district should group the industrial park and the tenting park together. We built a fire that night, hoping that there weren’t enough flammable fumes wafting over from the industrial side to cause a problem. The donation box suggested $10 per tent, so the price was right.

Another tenting spot was located late at night on my phone’s Internet connection and was one of those RV cities next to the interstate. We pitched the tent by the glow of our headlights, were lulled to sleep by the roar of the interstate traffic and woke up under a high-voltage power line. Our tent sites really weren’t bringing us very close to nature, but they were affordable.

Long days, long drive

Luckily, there were plenty of other nature opportunities for the boys and us. We made a couple of swings through Yellowstone National Park, did some caving and hiking at Craters of the Moon National Monument and soaked up the serene beauty of eastern Oregon’s high desert.

The boys got to see and do some favorite boy things — looking at, but not touching, live, poisonous frogs on display at the museum in Bozeman, Mont.; walking by burning hot, steaming water in the Yellowstone geyser basin; climbing around on some big, sharp rocks; and going down into cold, dark, slippery caves.

They got to play with a whole bunch of other kids in an old barn at our beef co-op’s 25th anniversary celebration. A homemade rope swing hanging from the barn rafters, along with a barrel of water and some water pistols, made for a full day of fun that would rival any amusement park.

We got to spend time with good friends like my cousin and his family in Montana, my wife’s cousin and her family in Idaho, our cattle ranching and retailing friends from the beef co-op in Oregon and our good friend who is 28 months into a diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer at his high-desert ranch.

The trip was both meaningful and memorable. It’s hard to ask for much more. Except maybe a shorter drive to get back home.

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