Powering Strong Communities

Disconnecting (Intentionally)

Earlier this month, I took a “bucket-list”-checking vacation with my family to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Mount Rushmore. And did so — crucial detail here — in an RV. We rented the RV on the assumption that it would sleep six, as advertised, but we neglected to verify whether they meant six babies or six adults/older children. Despite the cramped accommodations, this will go down as one of the best vacations we’ve had, and maybe will ever have. 

For those of you who’ve been to these places, apologies for stating what you already know and have experienced.

We started in Jackson, Wyoming, which abuts Grand Teton National Park, and proceeded to rent the RV from Krazi, formerly of Russia, who, after going through the details of the rig, let us know how much he appreciates being able to take his RV across multiple states and never having to show papers to government officials. Despite the tight sleeping quarters, the RV was in impeccable shape and served us well throughout the trip.

We immediately set up camp at an RV park and cooked our first meal outside. My husband, two daughters (ages 13 and 9), and my first cousin who joined us from Boulder, geared up for our first adventure. While hiking at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton, we got it. Casually coming down the path toward us, and maybe 15 yards away, was a black bear. And following that black bear were two cubs. After a few moments, the momma bear just as casually veered off the path and the cubs moseyed along after her, frequently nibbling on berries. In addition to this thrilling encounter (yes, I did make my girls get behind me), the weather was incredible and the scenery stunning.

Breathtaking mountain sceneryOver the next few days, we made our way through Yellowstone and briefly up into Montana. The visit to Montana included a trip to a historic hot spring and let me check off another bucket list item: visiting all 50 states. At the end of those few days, we had gone back and forth through all four entrances to the park (North, South, East, West), witnessed the eruption of Old Faithful, seen and smelled the other sulfurous geysers and mini volcanos that characterize the park, witnessed another bear, many elk, a moose, a marmot, many chipmunks, and bison, including one hanging out and chewing his cud about 20 meters away from us. We also spent too much money on souvenirs that we’ll likely get rid of in a few years, but that might be part of the experience! What I learned is that Yellowstone is a place all Americans should visit. It is spectacular and unexpected. We all loved it.

Before summarizing the last part of our trip, I want to pause and try to answer the question that you may be asking yourself — and that I would be asking if I were you: what does this have to do with public power or APPA? I’ll try to answer the question this way: while in the park and driving around southern Montana, many parts of Wyoming, and the western part of South Dakota, none of us had cell phone service. I mean, none. No texting capability, even, much less calls, much less any internet service. These vast areas of our nation are remote, rural, and provide many resources for the rest of the country. Yet, there is no cell phone service, even on major interstate highways. It is hard for many of us living in or near urban areas to absorb that lack of connection. 

I urge you to visit these areas to experience them yourselves and to witness the areas that provide natural resources to the rest of us. For example, while coal-fired power generation has been reduced in our country, about 30% of our actual power generation still comes from coal. Much of the coal that is produced comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. As I was driving us back from Mount Rushmore to Jackson at the end of our trip, by chance, our route took us by one of the mines in the Powder River Basin. The infrastructure surrounding those mines reminded me of how mindful we need to be of impacts on industries and people as we continue to make changes to our generation fleets. It is heartening to hear lately about developments on hydrogen and carbon capture sequestration and storage, given that these technology innovations may enable us to use existing fuel sources and infrastructure while also meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

The second part of my answer to the question about why I am even talking about this trip in relation to work is that disconnecting for a brief amount of time is a wonderful thing. I empowered my excellent team at APPA to make major decisions in my absence if needed, and I did so without any qualms. They handled things beautifully. And knowing that I couldn’t get in touch with them was perhaps a bit of a vacation for them as well.

As we approached the last leg of our trip after lots of driving through some incredible country – the Black Hills are stunning and home to some bighorn sheep – we didn’t know what we were in for.  We stayed at a pretty fancy KOA campground just a few miles from Rushmore (still no cell phone or internet service) and observed the hundreds of bikers who were headed to or from Sturgis, South Dakota. The next day was gorgeous and helped us appreciate the grandeur of Mount Rushmore and the vision, work, and artistic precision that was required to complete the statues in the mountain that were designed to honor the first 150 years of our great country and look toward the future. It was stunning and emotional. I also give huge kudos to the National Park Service for the booklets they give to kids at Rushmore to engage them in learning about the historical elements of the park. If kids answer the questions and complete the other challenges in the booklet, they get sworn in as “junior park rangers.”  Our girls obsessively did theirs and got sworn in at the end of our day at the park. So cool and such a great incentive.

As we rounded out our day and prepared to head back across western South Dakota and Wyoming to turn in our RV, we decided to go into the Crazy Horse memorial – which is also a mountain sculpture not far from Rushmore. While decades in the making, the scale of the monument is such that it won’t be completed for decades more, but the face of Crazy Horse has been done. The entire monument speaks to the history of Native Americans, and the museum and other elements around the monument are excellent. I was not aware of the way the monument came to be until that day and it is an amazing story that I commend to you. Visit crazyhorsememorial.org to learn more.

We made it back to Jackson exhausted, happy, and very much ready to reconnect!