Of all the trips I’ve taken in my life, one journey still stands out as the best ever: a family vacation to the Grand Canyon National Park in the summer of 1964, when I was 12 years old.
Instead of one of our family’s typical road trips, we took the Santa Fe Super Chief from our hometown of Pasadena to Williams, Arizona where we changed to a local train to ride to Grand Canyon Village. We stayed in the park for five full days, in a cabin at the Bright Angel Lodge (The cabins are still there! It brought a rush of memories when I saw them when we visited in 2016). We hiked all over the park, together or in small groups, and went to many ranger talks and other presentations. I saw my first elk and my first skunk, which crossed right in front of me one night as we walked back to our cabin (and scared the living daylights out of me). The highlight of the trip for me was the one-day ride to the bottom of the canyon and back along with my mom and older brother – an awe-inspiring and amazing experience (painful too – can you say saddle sore?). We ate all our meals at the Bright Angel Lodge coffee shop or another cafeteria in the park, which was heaven for me and my siblings.
Whenever I think about that vacation, these are the things that make it stand out, and why it continues to be the most memorable and my favorite:
- The destination was a surprise. We knew we were going on a vacation, but my Mom and Dad kept the destination to themselves.
- The train ride to the canyon and back was another surprise, and a very special treat for four kids who were used to (and sort of tired of) long road trips.
- While our vacation was not what anyone would call “upscale,” it was very comfortable, and my parents made sure we never had to hear about meals, experiences, and even some souvenirs being too expensive (which we often heard on other trips).
- My parents made sure we each had unique experiences intrinsic to the Grand Canyon, like the mule ride for me and my brother, and a horseback riding trip for my younger sister and brother.
- Unburdened from the constant need to organize us all, get us into the car, and get from here to there, etc. both my mom and dad were more relaxed than on other trips. One of my favorite memories is my mom, who had studied under an expert in Southwest Indian jewelry while she was in graduate school, spending one-on-one time with me showing and explaining how to identify techniques and styles used by different tribes in their jewelry. I still have a deep appreciation for the jewelry because of what she taught me on that trip.
That vacation to the Grand Canyon, a place our family had visited before and were to visit again, had a great influence on how I planned my own family’s travels. Besides making sure the funds were in place so we could have the experiences we wanted (like staying at the El Tovar on our trip to the Grand Canyon, or taking the mule ride with our girls), I loved to plan surprises and/or something unexpected for the family during each trip; find interesting and memorable activities for all of us; and make sure Brett and I had as few “administrative duties” as possible so we could concentrate on family and the place we were visiting. It’s those things that help make a trip great versus just good.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for that wonderful vacation – it’s still the best trip I’ve ever taken.
(updated from a 2017 post)