Go West, Young Man

In May, I took my two teenaged sons on a trip I didn’t know I was dreaming of. The excuse was my older son’s graduation from high school, but really it took shape shortly after I returned from the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque last fall. Taking a trip always makes me think of what my next destination will be. I thought it would be Iceland. But after traveling, hiking, and sightseeing in the southwest, I was overtaken by the fact that I had never been able to take my kids on an extended trip out west like my parents had done during my incredibly impressionable summer between eighth grade and high school. Several years ago, I had plans to spend three months in a Winnebago doing just this with them but that fell apart through no fault of my own. Fault or not though, I had not gotten my kids the experience I had such fond memories of. The trick, of course, was how was I going to swing it? I didn’t have the courage or the time to travel across the country in my parents’ camper as my sister had. This left me with flying, getting a rental car, and hotel rooms. And that was going to be pricey. I didn’t want to skimp on my boys, but coming up with the money I would need stunned me when I priced it out. Fortunately for me, I had a stack of U.S. Saving Bonds from my grandmother and that made all the difference in being able to afford it.

I planned the trip for the week between Evan’s college courses – 9 precious days in the beginning of May. The route I picked was to fly into San Francisco, drive from Yosemite → Sequoia → Joshua Tree → the Grand Canyon, and then fly out of Phoenix. I didn’t get the kind of pre-trip excitement from the boys that I would have wanted, but during the trip, they were wonderfully engaged, active and pleasant in everything we did, and genuinely appreciative of the adventure we were having. The last night I had the sweetest exchange that simply melted my heart – I knew it was perfect that we had done this. I was so happy to experience my kids and think “hey, I like them” again.

Some stand out moments for me included watching the moon rise from the front porch of our house at the Grand Canyon, taking a plein air watercolor class at Yosemite, and making a very profound life decision while driving through the California desert listening to Bear’s Den. I also collected a lot of experiences and phrases from the kids and created this:

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One unexpected joy was watching the kids’ excitement when we flew over the Rocky Mountains. They had never been west of Ohio and I just forgot how magnificent that mountain range is. Evan said it was in his top three things of the whole trip! Another surprise bonus was that they were completely turned off by the dry, non-verdant environment of everywhere that wasn’t the actual National Parks of Yosemite and Sequoia. “It’s so brown” and “there’s no grass” was a common refrain. This spurred both of them to announce that they never wanted to live anywhere other than the east coast. Score one for close future grandchildren!

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Half Dome enshrouded
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This is a BIG tree!
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Sequoia National Park
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Kyle using his Life Straw to drink directly from the stream
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Rock climbing at Joshua Tree
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Mighty, mighty Evan
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This is as far down the canyon as we hiked
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Hiking under the rim at the Grand Canyon makes all the difference

I am thrilled beyond measure that I was able to take them on such a wonderful trip. We got along well, we were great traveling companions, we got to see majestic sights, and it gave us some special shared memories that I am pretty sure will remain with them for years to come. I am also hoping that it will inspire them to take their own children on a special trip out west some day as well. Even though teenagers can be tough sometimes, I love my boys.

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