Friday, March 23, 2012

Family Vacation

This is the time of the year when I start thinking seriously about summer vacation.  It’s also the time of the year when I realize it’s almost too late to think about summer vacation.  Back when we used to go to the States almost every year, March was about the last chance to find five decently priced seats on flights across the Atlantic. 

Delicate Arch.  Courtesy: National Park Service.
Maybe that’s still true, though I wouldn't know as we’re no longer often in the market for such trips.  Our summer travels to Georgia – trips to give my kids and parents a chance to spend some time together – are now a thing of the past.  My parents have passed on, and my kids are no longer kids.  The last trip we made to the States together (and maybe the last ever) was eight years ago, which somehow doesn’t seem possible.  It’s a shame it’s already been so long, but at least it was a great vacation. 

On that holiday, we combined, as we often did when the kids were small, a visit to Georgia with a trip to a meeting that my wife was attending.  As a university researcher, she is expected to attend once a year an international scientific meeting in her field, most of which are held in the summer, and often in North America at various locations.  Each summer there were several meetings to choose from, almost all equally relevant and useful for her work, so she has often been able to pick the one with the most promising vacation possibilities.  Over the years, we’ve used this model to weave our holiday plans into my wife’s conferences at such places as Maine, Maryland, Montreal and Oregon. 

Usually, I’d fly over with the kids to spend a week or two in Georgia, before meeting up my wife for the second phase of the holiday.  That’s what we did in 2004.  After, a week in Georgia with the kids, the four of us flew to Denver to meet my wife, who was flying in for a meeting in Utah.  We, however, took our sweet time (and the scenic route) getting to Salt Lake City. 

The boys on a beach in Maine, 1994.
It had long been my dream to take the kids to Yellowstone National Park, one of the true wonders of nature and a place I had not visited myself since a trip there with my parents 25 years earlier. 

It was one of the best road trips ever.  We crossed Wyoming in a day and a half.  We stopped at the grave of Sacagawea (the Lemhi Shoshone woman who as a teenager helped guide the Lewis and Clark expedition across the Rockies).  We made a side trip, at my insistence, to South Pass (exactly the kind of natural gateway for wagon traffic across the Continental Divide that Lewis and Clark were hoping to discover, but didn’t). 

In the Grand Tetons, we saw grizzlies and bison, drove through deserted sagebrush on torturously slow roads, and walked a trail freshly littered with bear scat.  (Also, in a grocery store in Jackson, we happened to meet a Finnish man who apparently has lived there for decades – lucky guy.)  In Yellowstone, we saw all the world-famous geysers, hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles and waterfalls.  We took a rafting trip on the Yellowstone River just north of the park and saw more bears and bison, plus some wapiti. 

It was completely satisfying, and hopefully something the kids will remember fondly.  Leaving Yellowstone, we drove south to Utah and the site of my wife’s meeting at Snowbird, a ski resort situated at almost 8000 feet (2400 meters) at the head of a steep canyon in the Wasatch Range east of the city.  

While my wife attended talks and panel discussions, me and the kids hiked along nearby ridges and visited the Timpanogos caves south of Snowbird.  In the evenings, we hung out in the resort’s heated outdoor swimming pool while the air temperature hovered in the 40s.  Jesus, that was a great place! 

The kids in the Wasatch Range, 2004.
On the return trip, we stopped at Moab, Utah, home to Arches National Park, a kind of Mecca for me since it was here that one of my favorite writers, Edward Abbey, worked as a park ranger, a period of his life he immortalized in his classic book of nature writing, Desert Solitaire.  

We also visited nearby Canyonlands National Park, with its immense views of stark canyon landscape surrounding the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers.
  At Canyonlands, we navigated our rented Dodge Durango down the scariest stretch of jeep road I have ever been on, down into a world of naked sandstone carved by the course of the Colorado River.  After reaching the bottom of the escarpment, we didn’t see another human being until we finally emerged once again on paved road near Moab four or five hours later. 

Before finally returning to Denver to catch the plane back to Europe, we made a quick trip to the prehistoric cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, a spot my wife and I had visited in the early 80s.  We also saw a bear there. 

It was an epic trip, a trip of a lifetime, really.  I’m hoping to do something similar again.  Maybe a road trip from Los Angeles to Colorado via the Grand Canyon.  It won’t happen this year.  The only meeting my wife is thinking of attending this summer is in Ottawa, which means that perhaps a road trip around the Great Lakes is in order (I’ve never been to Michigan!). 

Even if we do have a chance to make that California trip someday, I have to face the fact that it won’t be with the whole family.  They have already mostly left the nest, flown the coop.  And maybe it wouldn’t be that easy to talk them into it anyway, even if they were all still living at home.  As much as I loved the trip to Yellowstone, I’m sure not all the passengers enjoyed every minute of sitting in the car on a 3000-mile (4800-kilometer) drive, no matter how spectacular or historic the scenery passing by might be.  
Delicate Arch, and the raven who 
kept a close eye on us.

View from Green River Overlook
Canyonlands National Park

Driving on the Shafer Trail jeep road
Canyonlands National Park 

The Goose Neck bend of the Colorado River


  1. What were you using to shoot those videos? Amazing clarity and smooth telephoto.

  2. I guess we were using our Sony Handycam at the time (120x zoom). One thing I've learned in the last few months, as I've been reviewing and editing old tapes, is that I often move the camera around way. way too fast. It's hard to watch afterward.