mesa falls image from visitidaho.org

Image by VisitIdaho.org

Last weekend we took our first trip into the mountains of the spring.  It wasn’t long, a three hour loop up to Mesa Falls, through Island Park, and back.  The weather was gorgeous, the snow nearly gone, the hills green with new spring, and hardly anyone on the road.

The overlook from where this picture of Mesa Falls was taken only had two or three cars in the parking lot. Without the crowds it was easy to strike up a conversation, one with a young couple from Rexburg with a cute little baby girl and another with a young couple from California who flew into Jackson Hole, rented a car, and drove around to the back side of Tetons.

We saw deer, and an elk, and a “cute little marmot.”  It was a very pleasant trip.

sandhill crane US Fish and Wildlife

 Sandhill Crane.  Image, US Fish and Wildlife

If we had had more time we would have packed a lunch, found a perfect spot, and soaked up the newness of the spring.  Maybe along a creek with ducks and geese, and the haunting call of Sandhill cranes in the meadow or so high overhead that you can barely make them out buried in the deep blue sky.  It’s a perfect time to get out.

How to Pack for the Spring Road Trip

Weather is always a consideration.  Where we live, it’s too early for mosquitoes but the roads can be muddy and a bluster can blow through anytime.  So pack warm clothes, maybe an emergency quilt, and matches.

grand tetons

 Spring in Teton Valley.  Image from SummitPost.com.

For food, bring plenty of beverages, maybe a warm beverage in a thermos.  In the cool air, you won’t feel as thirsty but you’ll need to hydrate.

If the weather turns nasty, you’ll want snacks you can eat in the car and maybe look for a roadside lodge or diner.

Here are some other suggestions.

  • The nice thing about road trips is the freedom. It’s nice not to have a set schedule or not feel like you focaccia sandwichcan’t explore some scenic byway.  Give yourself as much time as you can.  The trip is the destination.
  • In the spring, a fire often feels good so we’re likely to roast hot dogs, cook a brat, or maybe fry some burgers.
  • We often opt for sandwiches because they are quicker and easier.  Our favorite picnic sandwiches are meat and cheese on focaccia bread. Maybe we’ll include a potato or pasta salad stored in plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.  With sandwiches, we have the option of eating and getting back on the road quickly.
  • The most difficult task of a picnic is remembering everything. Make a list on the computer of everything you might need for a picnic.  Then as you pack, check off the items that you really need.  Save the list for the next picnic or camping trip.  When you return, add items that you wished you had taken.  Eventually, you’ll have the perfect list for your family.
  • Pick your picnic spot strategically. Choose a higher, drier spot that is in full sun and protected  from cool breezes.
  • Think safety. If you have kids along, make sure there are no hazards nearby: busy roads, deep water, or cliffs. If your kids are small, make sure that you can keep an eye on them.
  • Everyone likes to lounge on a picnic blanket but the ground is going to be wet. Bring along a plastic tarp to put underneath the blanket.
  • Don’t forget the tablecloth. Inexpensive plastic coated ones make great picnic equipment, especially with kids, and you’ll use it all summer long.
  • Don’t forget paper towels for those spills and cleaning wipes to cleanse dirty hands and faces. Put a dry towel and a wet washcloth on your list.  Stick the wet washcloth in zip-type plastic bag.
  • Include fruit in your picnic basket. It keeps well, it’s nourishing, and it’s refreshing.  Often fruit satisfies a craving for something sweeter.  Add fruits and fruit pieces to green salads and turkey or chicken salads.
  • Bring along a small cutting board and a couple good knives. You’ll be surprised how often you will use them.  Cutting boards are especially useful if you are without a picnic table.  The hard plastic types are great for picnics.  For cleanup, just stick the cutting board in the dishwasher when you get home.
  • Perishable foods must be kept cold. Even if it’s cool out, bacteria will grow above 40 degrees. It takes plenty of ice in a cooler to keep foods below forty degrees.  Perishable foods should only be allowed to remain above forty degrees for a couple hours.
  • Consider adding folding camp chairs to your arsenal. They are comfortable, inexpensive, and compact.  With these, you can stop anywhere and have a comfortable picnic and even in the best park, these beat a picnic bench.
  • Stick a first aid kit in the car and leave it there all the time. If you have kids, chances are you will need it.
  • If you are going into the mountains or woods—off the beaten track—be sure that someone you trust knows where you are going and when you plan to return.  The side roads will be muddy, there won’t be a lot of traffic, and the weather is unpredictable.  Remember that you may not be able to use your cell phone in more remote areas or in the mountains.

Happy road-tripping!

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