But it looked so great on the website!

Are We There Yet? • LORI CLINCH

The family vacation. Just the mere mention of the word conjures up thoughts of a family sedan packed to the brim with fishing gear, floaties and Prozac.

The planning of the trip is certainly no picnic for the parents. It’s a job for the diligent, the creative and the adventurous at heart.

There are reservations to be considered, meals to plan, entertainment to organize and somebody had best be scheduling caffeine breaks.

Around the Clinch abode, the job of scheduling and planning the family vacation rests squarely on my shoulders. I could dole out the tasks and hand off some of the responsibility to other constituents, but I take my job as planner seriously and shudder when I consider the ramifications of letting someone else pick a location.

So, as the eve of our summer vacation drew nigh, I made checklists, itineraries and meticulous shopping lists. Paying attention to detail and ironing out any possible dilemmas, I mapped out our retreat with great efficiency.

Although I’m not one to honk my own horn, I must say I thought I had done a bangup job. I had planned menus, compiled a fine set of lists, and took pride in the fact that I’d left no stone unturned.

I even made reservations at a lovely campsite that appeared to be on the edge of the mountains and yet conveniently close to the big city.

Our campground was none other than St. Vrain.

The website for the campground showed a happy family roasting marshmallows on the fire as other campers happily looked on. It displayed babbling brooks, swaying trees and trout-filled streams.

It even promised that we could beat the heat in the high altitudes and enjoy filling our lungs with fresh, thin air.

“This,” I said as I added a five-day stay at St. Vrain to the website’s shopping cart, “will be the vacation that the unorganized can only dream of.”

We set out early as the efficient vacationers always do. We piled into the car according to my fine seating chart, passed out beverages and nuts and patted ourselves on the back for having purchased each of the kids an iPod.

As we neared the campground and prepared to embark upon our site, the anticipation built. Some were puzzled as to why the mountains seemed so far away when St. Vrain was so close, but some refused to be dissuaded.

As we turned the corner and pulled around the bend, the wide-open expanse of space that we thought to be ours was not there. Instead of picturesque beauty, there was a truck stop. Rather than meadows, there was a weigh station and right smack dab in the middle of our access to a babbling brook was none other than the proverbial fast-food restaurant

Oh sure, there were fellow campers, but I must admit that they looked more like they had lined up their RVs for an auction than set up for a quiet weekend of watching the deer and the antelope play.

As we pulled up and paused to take it all in, the first question came from the back seat. “Uhhhhhhhhhh,” it went for a minute then was followed by, “so like, tell me that isn’t our campground.”

“Well no,” I said in my defense, “our campground is St. Vrain campground and that isn’t St. Vrain.”

“Uhhhhhhhhhh,” came another long drawl from the back seat, “so like the sign says ‘St. Vrain campground’— does anyone else see the sign saying ‘St. Vrain campground?’ ”

Quickly I pulled out the map, started going through guides and flipping through the brochures. “That isn’t it,” I said with more confidence than I felt. “St. Vrain campground boasts of happy places, smiling faces and immense spaces.”

“It’s not so bad, boys,” my husband of many years responded. And just as I was about to look at him with love and adoration for speaking in my defense, he added, “Maybe we can go on a nature hike to McDonald’s.”

“Yeah,” chimed an affiliate in the back seat, “maybe I can even see a mosquito on the way there.”

“At least the neighbors will be handy,” some other wisecracker joined in.

“Yeah, you gotta get away from the city to have that.”

And so the Clinch family vacation of 2009 went. We were short on patience, ran low on paper supplies, and some cluck forgot the mustard.

They say that next time someone else gets to plan the family vacation and I say, “More power to ’em!”

Let them consider the ramifications and see how it feels when no one honks their horn.

Lori Clinch is the mother of four sons and the author of the book “Are We There Yet?” You can reach her at www.loriclinch.com.