“Mom, Scooter pooped!” So said a kid who could be anyone’s kid, walking their dog at the KOA before loading up for another day on the road in their RV.
As I write this, we’re on our way back to the most populous state in the country after visiting the least populous state, Wyoming. What’s clear is that we’re more alike than different in these United States of America.
Lots of friends of ours ended up in Yellowstone at nearly the same time as us. So did folks from Vermont, Quebec, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Australia and more.
Our national parks are hugely popular. On the trails we all heard “how much farther” and “my legs are tired” – kid code for “when can I get back to my wi-fi?”
We gaped at the sights. We stressed about parking. We tried to catch a glimpse of wildlife. Most of us succeeded in seeing elk and bison.
I saw a total of four moose but regret not spying a grizzly, California’s symbol that’s ironically extinct in our state.
Tourists and locals alike muttered about the weather, which featured rain, sleet, and 29-degree temperatures and snow on the first day of summer.
A week later we were in T-shirts and shorts.
The RV pilots told tales of low bridges, twisty steep descents, and shared notes on good campgrounds. We marveled at those taking a month or more off in the summer and pondered those with the fortitude to make it from Pennsylvania to Wyoming in two days.
I chatted with a guy who had 1,000 miles under his belt, riding only a mountain bike with a few bags strapped onto it, hoping to reach the Mexican border before he needed to head home.
Whether by plane, bus, car, RV or bike, we all arrived in one gorgeous place at the same time, connected, and then headed on our way, richer for it all.
Jackson, Wyoming, had a population of 10,532 in 2017. Wilson, Wyoming, where we stayed, had a population of 1,482. The entire state of Wyoming, at 577,737 residents, is just over two and a half times the population of Santa Clarita Valley’s 210,000 folks.
Some Californians like to talk about getting away to another state, but even sparsely populated Wyoming had similarities to the Golden State.
Traffic was amazingly heavy, even far from the national park gates. One spouse at an adjacent campsite commuted into Jackson by bike every day not because he was an environmentalist, but because it was faster. The other spouse lamented that sometimes it took them an hour and a half to get “over the hill” to their hometown in Idaho.
The region did have an amazing 70 miles of well-designed bike trails and we saw a lot of e-bikes and cargo bikes (for carrying kids or packages).
The local paper reported ongoing debates about traffic, road widening, and growth. There were apparently long-standing disputes between neighbors over bike lanes, paving of gravel roads, and community preservation. How Californian.
The shocking real estate prices were also similar. Even in tiny Wilson, two modest two-bedroom, one-bath 895-square-foot cabins were being sold for $1.9 million. Condos in town were over half a million dollars, with luxury townhomes approaching $4 million.
Newspaper discussions on home size limitations, water rights and parcel taxes sounded just like what we’d talk about back home.
Just like California, people worried about the upcoming fire season. They debated the merits (most viewed it as positive) of Wyoming’s heavy reliance on tourism and “wealthy visitors.” They had banned plastic bags and were strong advocates for wildlife.
Like California, though, the West is not one-sided. We saw a lot of mining operations and met several hard-working oil and gas industry contractors. Yellowstone was open-carry for firearms, which led to some double-takes, no doubt.
Complex public issues exist in states large and small, but if you want to feel better about the country, hit the road.
You’ll see the just-met-each-other kids playing in the pool. The working folks trying to fit it all in and the retirees living on the road. The people gawking at dinosaurs in the museum or waiting for geysers and grizzlies in the early morning mist. The parents talking way too much about computer time and who has the dog poop bags.
The more you travel our country, the more you realize how much we share in common.
Happy 4th of July!
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among several local Democrats.