We’re playing Yahtzee, listening to Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” and Seals and Crofts’ “Hummingbird.” It’s 2021, but it might as well be 1976. Forty-five years have passed since my mom took my sister, brother and me on an epic six-week western vacation. This time, Judy and I are with our ten-year-old granddaughter on a much shorter but still memorable visit to iconic western National Parks. It brings back a flood of memories highlighting all that’s changed … and stayed the same!
The summer of our nation’s bicentennial, my family set out to see a huge chunk of the western U.S. and Canada, four of us in a Dodge campervan. We delayed the trip two weeks so I could finish driver’s training … I gained extensive experience driving the van for about one-third of the trip!
From our home near Los Angeles, we followed the AAA-produced “Triptik” to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce. We crossed the Rockies into Colorado Springs, spending a couple of days with my cousin, then a student at Colorado State. We drove north through Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana, marveling at Old Faithful and Mount Rushmore. We laughed all the way to Wall Drug as we followed the ubiquitous signs. Into Canada, we saw Calgary, Banff and Jasper, taking one of the huge snowcats on a glacier tour in the middle of July. We crossed back over the Rockies on the Trans-Canada Highway, exploring Vancouver and taking the ferry to Victoria. Back in the states, we followed the 101 all the way from Seattle to just north of San Francisco, then back through Monterey, San Simeon and Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and back home to the San Fernando Valley.
Despite the tight fit in the van, there were few fights as we were a pretty easy going family. In the campgrounds, we played games and cards, read John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley to each other, and listened to the Eagles, Loggins and Messina, and the Doobie Brothers on the 8-track. There wasn’t a TV, video game, or mobile phone in sight in this mid-70s world (but we did have a CB Radio!).
In some ways, it’s not much different now. To maximize the National Park experience, we stayed in cabins in Bryce and Zion, blissfully lacking cell phone and internet service. We spent the evening playing games and chatting about our day. Even in our modern hotel room in St. George, Utah, Lizzie talked nonstop about how much fun she had horseback riding that morning. We did, however, order pizza online from Domino’s and ate it in our room. We introduced Lizzie to the classic music of our youth, engaged in tickle fights (my older sister was notorious for these) and ate ice cream before dinner, just as we did 45 years ago.
We do the things we can’t do at home because we’re on vacation. Jumping on the bed is not only allowed, it’s encouraged! We let the youngest person decide what’s for dinner – our diets be damned – because it’s her vacation, too, not just ours.
Judy and I revel in her joy, and reminisce about the times when vacations were all about unbridled fun and not having to “adult” our way past crowds, rude tourists and inattentive drivers. We remember “the good old days” while embracing today and what we can pass on to our grandchildren.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Share your past with the youngest generation and remember what being a family is all about.