Dry Ice and Billy the Kid

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    The family vacation has evolved over the years. Today’s kids hop on a plane with mom and dad, or close friends and fly to Mazatlán, Vegas, or Hawaii. It’s either evidence of a wealthier culture, or more likely, one that lives via the credit card and exists grasshopper style for the moment.

    It wasn’t always that way. Family vacations in the 50s and 60s resembled the Chevy Chase classic, “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” more closely than many of us would like. The foils, foibles, and mistakes made on a cross country trip are annoying when they happen but are the stuff of memory.


    Speaking of memory, the first of National Lampoon’s vacation films celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

    As a kid, our family vacations only came in the summer, with one notable exception, a flight to Riverton from Sacramento in 1968 for Christmas.

    Those summer vacations were extended road trips covering thousands of miles in my parent’s 1962 Chevy Nova station wagon. Riverton and Grandma and Grandpa’s house were the destinations most of the time, along with an epic trip from Sacramento, down the Pacific Coast and across the southwest on Route 66 to Arkansas, the summer before my 8th-grade year to visit Grandma Sally and Grandpa Tucker in Marianna.

    The trip to Arkansas was a one-time experience, but the trips from Arkansas to Riverton, and then California to Riverton as my dad was transferred to different Air Force Bases established familiar landmarks along the route.


    Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, enticed his kids with seeing the world’s biggest ball of string at one roadside tourist trap, but the ones we saw along Interstate 80 and Route 2 weren’t much different. In those days every town along Interstate 80 in Nevada had a detour down Main Street, a practice that took an act of Congress to eliminate.

    Names live on long after the people associated with them have gone, Cody is a great example of the heritage left by Buffalo Bill, but lesser-known sites once dotted the arid plains of the isolated west.

    Until the construction of Interstate 80 knocked much of the commerce out of the little town of Rock River, there was a tourist attraction called “Billy the Kid.” While it had little to do with the life of Henry McCarty, and evidence is sketchy if “The Kid” ever visited the area, it was a popular spot on the Lincoln Highway.


    Billy the Kid featured a motel, bar, restaurant, and a small roadside zoo, similar establishments were common across Wyoming until the 1970s. I can only imagine what Billy the Kid held inside since my father never stopped when we headed up old US 30 towards Riverton from Arkansas back in the 1960s.

    It’s gone now. I’ve stopped a few times to look at the weathered remnants, and a section of it was destroyed in a fire, but I remember the place.

    As a kid growing up watching Rawhide, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, and The Rifleman, a place named after the most famous outlaw of movie and TV fame was irresistible.


    After we moved to Wyoming permanently in 1971, another roadside attraction caught my eye. My family never stopped there, but my coaches fed us there a few times at tournaments in Shoshoni.

    Does anyone remember Lakeside?

    For those of you that do, here’s a trip down memory lane. For those that have never heard of it, it was an almost identical design of the “Billy the Kid” stop in Rock River.

    Lakeside lived up to its name, located on the east side of the causeway across Boysen Reservoir where the Wyoming State Park rest stop now sits on the north side of the highway.

    Lakeside featured a restaurant, and a zoo, yes a zoo. There weren’t convenience stores as we know them today in the 60s and 70s, but there may have been other amenities at Lakeside. I just remember the tired bear, a few deer, a bobcat, and some goats in pens outback under the shade of the cottonwood trees. The restaurant had a main dining room and a second floor. Our basketball coach Jack Draxler threatened us with our lives if we acted up when a handful of us had to eat upstairs without a coach to watch us since the place was full.

    We were playing at the annual Wrangler Invitational Basketball tournament and fans had given Lakeside a little economic bump by filling the place between games.

    It was destroyed in a fire a few years after that, and no one was interested in rebuilding the facility.

    I’ve run into a few people from other parts of the country who remember Lakeside, and many more who remember the “little town with two incredible steakhouses sitting right across the road from each other.” They rarely remember Hudson, but they can describe Svilar’s and the El Toro with precision. Those were tourist stops for others as they traveled to or from Yellowstone and Jackson Hole.

    When we traveled to Riverton, the Teepee gas station was still operating on the south side of town, near the Knight Drive-In. It was an iconic image of the West in my juvenile mind, tying in well with those Westerns I loved so much, but once again, Dad never stopped there. But, then again, he never stopped at Stuckey’s, Howard Johnson’s, or Holiday Inn, they were all too expensive.

    Meals on our family trips came from a cooler filled with sandwiches and pop, and a few bags of chips and cookies. Roadside tables, usually just a pull out along a two-lane highway, were our picnic areas and it was great.

    We introduced our kids, a new generation, to the same practice, but in watching our grandkids when they’re on vacation, I don’t think it caught on.

    Perhaps it’s not Brian and Staci’s fault. One of our final old-style family road trips had us heading to Branson, Missouri over spring break one year. With limited time, the plan was for me to drive our GMC Astro Van as far as we could on the first day, so we’d make a few shows in Branson the evening of the second. That meant only fuel and restroom stops.

    Sue packed our green Coleman cooler, just as my parents backed theirs a generation before. We tried an innovation though. I picked up a couple of pounds of dry ice from Safeway in Riverton to keep the drinks, condiments, and sandwiches cold.

    We stopped somewhere in western Nebraska at a roadside table and discovered that dry ice in a well-sealed cooler can drop temperatures dramatically. In this case, well below freezing. We had exploded cans of Shasta cola, orange, and grape soda all over the inside of the cooler, but it didn’t ruin the sandwiches since they were frozen solid too. At least the mess was self-contained.

    Fast food, chain motels, and corporate marketing have taken the family vacation to a new, more glamorous height, but the old days remain a nostalgic treat.


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