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In the 1960s, a typical family vacation was the car trip. Like most every other California family, we headed for the national parks. The itinerary for a week long excursion would weave through several states. Mom undertook the packing – clothes for all of us, sandwiches for the ice chest and a thermos for coffee. Dad gassed up the Plymouth for 32 cents a gallon and perused interstate routes on a gigantic fold out map that never folded back down to its original size. We zipped along highways and crept down gravel roads on our way to exploring canyons, deserts, caverns, and forests.
In late October 1968, Dad got the itch to visit Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border. Putting in marathon mileage, by the end of the first day, he announced he was stopping. The sun was setting and there was no Motel 6 or Travel Lodge in sight. We were miles from the next cluster of roadside diners and street lights. In the gathering darkness, we spotted a lone neon sign ‘Sunrise Motel,’ and Dad pulled off the highway.
More tired than hungry, we gratefully checked in a small, dingy two room cabin. Dad and my brother shared the back; my mother and I in the front room. We settled in, our blankets pulled way up to shield us from cold drafts wafting through the cabin. The wind rattled the window shutters like unseen fingers stroking them, but we fell asleep anyway.
It must have been some hours later that I was startled awake by knocking at the door separating our rooms. My dad opened the door a crack. “Evelyn,” he called softly, “I think a bird got into our room.” Mom was not in the mood for bird catching. “Open your window a little-- maybe he’ll find his own way out.“ The door closed, but moments later, it opened again. “Ev--there’s more than one bird. They’re roosting in here…listen…hear that chirping?” She pulled on her robe and opened the door wide. Desert moonlight filtered into the room, revealing an eerie sight. Rows of bats, not birds, lined the beams of the ceiling. Suspended upside down, they looked like dead leaves shivering in a gentle wind. One of them suddenly broke ranks and darted across the room to a window frame, completely outlined in bats.
Trying to hide her alarm, Mom grimaced and held a finger to her lips, ordering silence. Moving as quietly and smoothly as possible, leaving bathrobes and toothbrushes behind, Dad and my brother slipped into our room, closing the door to theirs, now filled with chirping bats. Dad hugged an open suitcase under each arm instead of clicking them shut. Mom, ever so carefully, lifted the front door latch for our escape.
Outside, still uncertain of our proximity to danger, we tiptoed to the Plymouth, our wonderful big blue, four door, bat-less refuge. Everyone pretended to nap as we waited for sunrise before driving away.