While Americans in general are getting out less and less, the family vacation in the big outdoors is alive and well among Sierra Club members. Sierra asked readers of the Sierra Club Insider e-newsletter to send us their stories about family holidays that changed their lives; a sampling follows.
Want to share your own story of a transformative family vacation? Click on the link below, and we'll post the best in coming weeks.
Our family vacations began in the summer of 1951, when Dad decided it was time to join the "national trend" and take a summer trip. It comes as no surprise to me now that the maps and plan for the road trip were provided by the local Texaco gas station. Of course! They were building a market to consume the product they sold. But that was far from our minds as we were filled with excitement at the thought of buying new clothes for the trip and stocking up on comic books (Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman, etc.) for the long trek across the West Texas semi-desert brush country and the California deserts.
Most thrilling was the thought of actually crossing a state line into another state! Imagine being out of Texas for the first time in your life! I was fourteen at the time and ready to see the world with my sister and parents.
On our way through West Texas, we were treated to an unexpected surprise as we came upon what we thought at first was a train wreck. Just outside Marfa, Texas, we happened upon the filming of the train scene for the movie Giant, then in the making. There, in person, were Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson (hubba-hubba!). Lots of cars and people had come out to watch. We were among them, overcome by our luck!
At the one and only ice-cream cart, Rock Hudson walked up beside us and bought a popsicle! We stood in speechless awe at this giant of a man, who was at least six foot four! I thought I would faint. We had our 8 mm movie camera ready, but it ran out of film just as Rock walked up to buy his ice cream. We have it on the tail-end of the film, with sprocket holes making their entry on the screen.
As we drove off, he crossed the highway in front of us, and of course, Dad slowed down. Meanwhile, in the front seat, Mom carefully documented each stage of our vacation trip in her stenographer's notebook along the way. It is great fun reading it today, 57 years later.
California proved to be everything we hoped. We were surprised, however, as the highway ran through the desert. On one side, the desert was obviously untouched, but on the other, it was filled with cotton at least three feet high, thanks to irrigation methods that made the fertile soil come to life. Further on down the road came orchards of giant peaches, grapefruit, grapes, and other fruits larger than any we had seen in Texas. Then we spotted the black cherry stands--with fresh black cherries and cherry cider. It quickly became our favorite, and Dad granted our wish to stop at every stand we saw. After about the first four, he also honored our wish to stop at every bathroom we saw! He let us learn our own lesson in overindulgence and we never forgot it.
In San Francisco, we stopped at a small restaurant on Market Street and had a strange new item: pizza. This was before Pizza Hut hit Texas towns! We loved it and it was one of the main topics of conversation upon our return to school in the fall.
California brought us our first experience of the awesome redwoods, Giant Sequoias, Highway One's fabulous view of the Pacific Ocean, Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard and a glimpse of June Haver standing in front of a studio talking with someone. Unfortunately, neither I nor my sister were "discovered" by talent scouts, so we returned to Texas to our regular job of getting an education, marching in the local high school band, singing in the school choir, and preparing for college. Elizabeth Riebschlaeger
One of our best vacations was spent right here at the house. I know that sounds less than ideal, and it is not my favorite vacation, but it was actually very good for all of us at the time.
We slept late, ate when we wanted, watched movies, went out to our favorite restaurants, and were tourists in our own home town.
We took long walks in the evenings and saw our neighbors for the first time in a while. We rekindled our romance. We had leisurely conversations over coffee and with the kids. We had relaxed visits with our elderly parents.
Like most people, we have schedules that get too full, too many tasks on the "to-do" list, and too many people to care for. We stayed home and got some things done that would have continued to weigh on us, tasks that would have been a real impediment to the typical weekend or work night. We were able to enjoy working together on our chores, to make it fun, and stand back and admire our work together. Getting things done also made our lives much easier for those times after vacation.
When you think about the exhaustion of racing off to a far-away place, rushing around to take it all in a short period of time, jet lag and long stints of "are we there yet?" (all of which lead to the sense that one needs a vacation from one's vacation), the at-home vacation becomes more appealing. We returned to work and our regular lives at home feeling rested and refreshed. Isn't that the point of vacation? Susie Bell
My story happened quite recently and I felt it was IMPORTANT to share with you. It was NOT GOOD, but was a TREMENDOUS learning experience of sorts and what I'd consider a PERSONAL and ENVIRONMENTAL AWAKENING. Two days ago I took our family to Orlando for a trip to stay at the NIKELODEON HOTEL and visit SEA WORLD.
When we arrived at the hotel, our room had been "PRE-CHILLED" to the tune of 65 degrees. We ended up changing the room for a variety of reasons, and arrived at our second pre-chilled 65 degree room. WHAT A WASTE OF ENERGY! Besides all of this, the swimming pool was OVERCROWDED and had far too much STIMULUS going on. It was TORTURE and something I'd NEVER PAY TO EXPERIENCE EVER AGAIN!
The next day we got to SEA WORLD--WAY TOO MUCH STIMULI again, waiting, crowds, and overpriced food, let alone the PRICE of GAS to and fro. For my 4 year old son, fortunately or un, this is the LAST TIME we are going to any of these TYPES OF PLACES. We will opt for the comfort of our OWN HOME/BACKYARD or GO CAMPING, staying in tents or a quiet cabin.
Luckily, my boy has already experienced the NATURAL ways of entertainment: Hiking, climbing, canoeing, skiing, sledding, skating, biking, reading, cooking-in, etc., and most of it has been FREE OF STRESS and easy on the pocket book. My advice: GO to the woods or stay at home and APPRECIATE the SIMPLE things in life. Chris Basar
I suppose one could argue that our family vacations were not typical of what a person would expect a vacation to be. Every June back in the 1950's and 1960's, my parents would drive ten miles from our home in the north end of town to our summer cottage in the south end of town. The cottage was located on Fogland Cove on the Sakonnet River in the small town of Tiverton, R.I. Even though it was only ten miles to our house it seemed to us to be hundreds of miles. The Sakonnet River is actually a tidal strait, about 14 miles in length and averaging a mile in width.
There my brothers and I would spend countless hours swimming, sailing, exploring, and enjoying the natural world surrounding us, disappointed when Labor Day approached because we knew we'd soon be returning home and to the confines of school. There was a continual flow of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends visiting, some for a day, others overnight. Evenings were spent enjoying sunsets and then watching the fireflies in the fields surrounding the cottage. Sometimes we'd lie in the grass and watch for shooting stars. Other nights we'd walk along the cobbled beach and stir up the water hoping to see phosphorescent organisms in the water.
Rainy days were spent playing board games on a porch that wrapped around two sides of the cottage. From that same porch we could watch thunderstorms moving up and down the river. We learned the names of the many shellfish, crabs, gulls, terns, egrets, osprey, grebes, ducks, and other creatures that inhabit the tidal zone and the salt marshes. And not too far up a dirt lane that connected the cottage to a town road was another world of woods, frogs, turtles, deer, foxes, wildflowers, blueberries, elderberries, black raspberries, and wineberries.
The house is still in the family and still being enjoyed by many family members. We still gather there often for summer cookouts and family events and my own adult sons, their wives, and my grandchildren have come to love the cottage as much as I do. I'd like to think that I instilled in them the same love of the natural world that was instilled in me so many years ago during those family vacations.
As I grew older, my horizons were expanded. I worked in Yosemite one summer. I've traveled, hiked, and backpacked all over the US and Europe. But I have to say that my heart is at that cottage on the Sakonnet River. There are times when I pick up a scent (particularly honeysuckle or freshly mown hay) or hear a bobwhite calling in the fields, and suddenly I'm transported back to the 50's; I'm a child again, and in the gentle breeze I hear the voices of my parents and aunts and uncles. Bob Del Deo
In 1962, not many climbers were ascending Mt. Washington, the mountain known to have the most unpredictable weather in the world. My five kids and I hiked up the first part of the ascent through Tuckerman's Ravine, a winding wooded trail, as if ruts and rocks were as easy on your feet as marshmallow fluff. Within an hour, however, a chilly breeze gave us warning that a dense fog might come rushing through.
When the sky darkened, the kids darted into what appeared to be the cloud from nowhere. By two o'clock, we were wandering in a twilight zone, battling the elements. In the dense fog I could barely see the twins clutching their sweaters tight around their slim bodies, skipping along as if they were playing hopscotch, without a care in the wind-tossed world. The children's strong legs could carry them to Siberia, but my weak knees were aching, my blood was congealing into icy platelets, and my nose was about to freeze off. I was beginning to think about how lovely it would be to take a very long nap.
While I was mentally bidding my farewells, the kids were wiping their noses on their sleeves and yelling for me to catch up, as if this torture were pure nirvana. The cairns were nearly invisible. I was on my last legs, but the kids sang as they galloped along, full of vigor.
I was about to whine, "Are we there yet?" when my daughter, Leslie, shouted, "This way, Mom. Come on. We're almost to the top."
The grim mountainside suddenly gave way to an apparition eerily swirling in the clouds: the Mt. Washington Observatory. Hallelujah! We were about 6300 feet higher in the sky than Plum Island where we should have spent that weekend. We had climbed 4,000 feet above the base at Pinkham Notch. And we were seven huffing, puffing hours older than we had been at breakfast.
"How are we going to get down, Mom? Wanna run?" asked my son, Gary.
I sure as hell wasn't going to let my intrepid kids talk me into tackling that ravine again, like the time they bamboozled me into camping another night at Yellowstone after our close encounter with a grizzly. No sir. We'd hitch a ride back to civilization with the sissies who had those bumper stickers on their huffing puffing Chevrolets: "This car made it up Mt. Washington." Elizabeth Larrabee
BENNETT SPRING STATE PARK, MISSOURI
To see the anglers all in a row
In the cool, clear summer morning,
With mist rising off the cold flow
Of the stream. To hear the starting
Horn that signals they can go
Fishing, the trout waiting below.
To watch my fly-fishing father,
Here is the daughter,
the audience admiring his skill
In casting, his fine line
An endless arc into the clear water.
To witness the hooked fish flapping,
Flying out over the rolling stream
That sparkles and flows away,
Leaving his cold cold home.
To wonder if the trout knows his fate,
Or only the barb in his mouth.
To witness the fish made ready,
Blood washed away in freshness,
Coated in milk and cornmeal
And fried until crisp. We know how
To take out the fine bones, and
Enjoy the delicious fresh taste.
To catch our own food
is to share its place in the earth
and make it part of us.
To value this creature's life, and death, and
To respect the earth in this way;
That was the lesson of the father.
Mary Ellen Maxell
Our friends and family members deemed it nearly impossible to begin backpacking with our kids--Dave (6), Eric (4), and Doug (2)--when they were so young, particularly with Doug still in diapers. In 1967, good lightweight outdoor clothes for children were generally not available. Pampers came out a year or two later, but disposable diapers would not have been feasible in any case. Young Doug consistently spread or spilled part of his meals on his clothes. How many changes of clothes could we take? How far could the older boys walk? Would the boys tolerate one-pot dinners with no choices once we were away from our car? The Sierra Club Family Outing trip was our ticket, and preparations for the trip were our primary entertainment for six months.
Our largest task was to prepare our two older boys to hike the long 8 miles from the trail head to Crater Lake. The youngest would be in our well-used, 1961 version of the Gerry Kiddie Carrier, which lacked today’s padded shoulder straps, waist belt (which we added), and extra under-the-seat pockets for kid/baby gear.
Every weekend beginning in March we went on increasingly longer training hikes. We started with 1½ mile picnic walks and increased to all day hikes up to 7 miles. March in Wisconsin meant there was still snow on the ground, so we took a backpack stove, instant soup, crackers and cheese, and hot chocolate with marshmallows for lunch. None of the boys' friends were going on winter picnics and they thought this was very special. We walked 2 miles, then 3, 4½, and by June the two older boys managed 6½ - 7 miles very well.
My husband, John, designed an "Eisenhower flack suit," a one-piece rip stop nylon coverall for our youngest. It had 2" arm and leg hems, a 2" stitched fold around the waist to accommodate growth, and it "zipped up" with Velcro. The pant legs were wide enough to allow taking it on and off without removing boots or shoes. This bright orange coverall went on Doug every morning to keep him dry and clean in morning dew and through breakfast. If needed, it was sloshed off in a lake or stream to dry again before the next meal. I made nylon wind pants and ponchos for the boys, and had previously made warm jackets and knitted wool pants for the Wisconsin winters. (My husband suggested that I go into business.) We were ready for day hikes, rain, hail or snow, and the boys were eager to find out where they could play in the snow in July.
That summer, our group of 10 families camped at Crater Lake, Colorado, at an elevation of 8,000 feet on the west side of the Continental Divide. It was a grand week. We hiked in small self-selected groups based on age and ability. Kids ranged in age from 2 to 15, and parents 29-65, including a grandfather with his 15 year old grandson. After breakfast each family packed their own lunch from the general food supply and we spent the days hiking. One extra camp duty for us was daily washing diapers in a bucket and spreading them in the sun to dry.
When John and a couple of other climbers attempted nearby Lone Eagle Peak, they spotted a large permanent snow field above Triangle Lake. A "snow cone hike" was organized for the next day. Tang and strawberry Jello worked fine. We also had a good snow ball fight in July. Dot Christenson
Our family consisted of dad, mom, and us kids: my sister age 13, me age 11, and my brother age six. In 1970, our family needed a change for our summer vacations, so we decided to try backpacking. Our adventure trips prior to this venture were based in campground areas, at sites that had a running water pump, outhouses unfit for anyone, and picnic tables. This was our idea of camping.
We found a trip offered by the local recreation and parks district. My parents took classes and got all the required equipment--Sierra cups, flashlights, freeze-dried meals, matches, band-aids, etc. We bought fishing poles with Blue Chip stamps for the week-long trip.
In a 1965 Plymouth station wagon, we went zipping up the dusty road to Granite Creek campground in the Sierra National Forest. The gang of hikers ranged from age six to age 45. Joe, my younger brother, was the hit of the party; he carried the lightest load, but what a trooper. He was the charmer of the trip. We hiked to Vandeberg Lake (8650 feet) through forests of lodge pole pine, yellow pine, and red fir, which enhanced the beauty of the small mountain lake.
As a fisherman, I wanted to camp where there was good fishing. I fished for dinner--or at least for a small brook trout with my name on it. I enjoyed gathering firewood with my father, and we spent probably two hours gathering enough wood for dinner and breakfast.
Chipmunks scurried around the trees and the campground. We learned how to hang our food on a clothesline to keep them away. Mom took pictures of all the fun. She got carried away sometimes, but she brought the memories back.
As the years passed, we went on five or six more backpacking trips. Those family adventures sleeping on a slab of granite with my brother and sister and watching the stars were the best of my life. Alan Williams
My parents took me and my three sisters on a truly amazing adventure in 1954. We left Connecticut in June and drove to Alaska and back; the trip lasted two-and-a-half months and covered some 16,000 miles. We camped the entire way. People thought we were either crazy, or brave. Back then, the Alaskan (Alcan) Highway was still a gravel road. Driving was difficult with incessant dust, broken windshields, and flat tires a daily concern. At one point, we were marooned for a week at an army construction camp on Muncho Lake in British Columbia. But what might have thrown others for a loop merely added another layer of adventure for us. By catching a few fish from our self-contained camp, we made our stay at Muncho a delight. One thing that made an impression on me was the 24-hole outhouse left by the military.
The northern limit of the trip was Circle, Alaska. We then drove down to Anchorage and onto the Kenai Peninsula, camping on the spit at Homer. That trip was no doubt one of the most important things I have ever done; it set me on a series of adventures with my own children and a long, still-active teaching career.
While our children were growing, we would spend two weeks every summer on a remote island off the coast of Maine. Their experiences carried over into their adult lives. One was an Outward Bound instructor for ten years and works in the ski industry. Another is a nature photographer and alpine ski coach. Every year, we all, grandchildren included, spend time together outdoors in Maine. Even today, I spend, on average, thirty days a year sleeping outdoors.
I returned to Alaska in 1998 to do a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) sea kayaking course. Using the 1954 trip as a basis for my lifelong love affair with the outdoors, I have developed a successful outdoor education program; in the classroom, I offer a course in environmental philosophy.
My experiences living in the outdoors and traveling extensively throughout the United States flow out of the summer of 1954. I am an inveterate wanderer and cannot get enough of natural beauty. Whether exploring the northern reaches of Newfoundland, or the desert southwest, I need to be outdoors. As an educator, it pains me to see so many of today's youngsters suffering from what author Richard Luov defines as nature-deficit disorder. There is so much more of life to be experienced away from the tentacles of electronic media. David Rockwell
My parents took my two brothers and me on a two-week camping trip to the Lochsa River in northern Idaho in 1952. Dad packed his pickup and Mom the car with supplies for all of us. We drove along the Lolo Trail, the route taken by not only the Nez Perce Indians, but Lewis and Clark, and eventually turned a bit south to go to the river. We camped in a forest service camp near the river. Since there was no road at that time along the Lochsa, the fish almost fell into our baskets. Dad taught us how to fly fish, Mom showed us how to identify squiggly things in the river such as periwinkles. We took a drive to a remote resort and saw a moose along the way. Dad taught all of us how to cook and make a fire, then showed us how to make a whistle from a willow stick. We were all responsible for cleaning our own fish, but I liked it so much that my brothers let me do theirs. Since my dad worked a six-day week, this trip was most unusual for us; as the boss, he didn't often give himself time off.
Fifty years after that trip, my brother, husband, and I took the same trip. We were amazed to find the Lolo Trail road still a one-lane, dirt road, the pristine nature of the forest the same. A road has been built along the Lochsa, but that was all. We took with us the journal that my dad kept on our first trip, and often remarked and laughed at those wonderful memories. Carroll Reitz
From the time I could walk, we spent our summer vacations at a lake in Idaho. Our family lived in the heat of eastern Washington, so getting away for the summer was almost a necessity. With no air conditioning back in 1950, it was such a pleasant experience to head for the lake and cool breezes, pine trees, and foot-and-a-half-thick log cabins, which were 60 degrees when it was 90 in the woods. We would get up, have breakfast together (usually huckleberry pancakes) and head for the beach, where we stayed all day.
We became lifelong friends with the families that returned to the lake each summer for the last two weeks in July and the first two weeks in August. We swam, water-skied, hiked, picked huckleberries, and fished. At night, since there was no TV, we'd head for the garbage dump to watch the bears "feed." As we matured from kids to teens, we sat around on rainy days and played cards, and watched movies on the beach with the lake behind, the moon shining on the water. There were bonfires, snipe hunts, and marshmallow roasts - it was heaven.
After we returned from a night out with our teen friends, our parents would be reading books together, without television. That was a good example for us kids. I have since taken my kids back there to the same cabin, like my parents did. The last time I returned was with my older sister. As we are now in our sixties and seventies, we return less frequently, but will continue to go back because we love it so much. Mary Anne (and Travis) Merritt
It was a strange and magical place, Pine Island, New Hampshire. According to Mr. Brown, whose family ran the nearest marina, some of the oldest and tallest trees in the entire region protected our island. Lake Winnipesaukee, in which our island rested, was one of the largest lakes in New England. Carved out by advancing glaciers millions of years ago, its quartz bottom attested to the crystalline energy within. It was the perfect place for a game of hide and seek.
My favorite building on our island was the cottage, a weatherworn, carefree place where my family stayed during our summer vacations. I made it my business to name every chipmunk, turtle and fledgling I found on the property. Each morning, I made the rounds of burrows and bushes, ensuring all babies were secure and accounted for. Later, on hot afternoons, I caught sunfish with baited hooks from the edge of the dock and then gleefully released each before their pink-gilled panic could get the better of them. Twisting, wriggling rainbows – what glorious trophies, even if only to be raised overhead for an instant.
Each year, a new freshman class of Canadian goslings grew into their smooth, silver-grey uniforms just before earning their wings at flight school. At the end of the season, after a few faltering touch-and-go's, they sounded a loud, triumphant, "Goodbye, see you next year!" and away they flew, circling once with their wings dipped low in salute to the island they, too, called home.
Late at night, as I lay in bed, the trees would whisper to me, telling tales of magnificent dawns and mystic creation, telegraphing messages from the farthest reaches of the lake. As loons called across the water during what was to be my last summer on the island, I reveled in my first love's kiss. Abby Ingraham
Charlotte, North Carolina
As our world becomes busier and busier, the family vacation has gone the way of cassette tapes and rotary phones. Instant communication has eroded the sense of adventure on the open road. Luckily for me, the importance of spending time with my family in far-off lands is still a constant value that we hold dear. My parents took my sisters and me all over the world; wanderlust was one of the first words I knew or understood.
On my fortieth birthday and my mother's seventieth, my mother took me on a grand escapade to Argentina. I had spent many trips over the years with her, from riding horses across Morocco to visiting her childhood home in Taxco, Mexico. Always kindred spirits, we shared the need for adventure and travel.
On this trip, I realized the frailty of my mother for the first time. She needed more help getting up the stairs; I worried about her falling and hurting herself. But as I rode horses across the Patagonian landscape, I felt like a girl in her twenties and my mother a woman of her fifties. How many adventures did we have left together?
One evening on our trip, my mother recounted a tale of cruising down the Amazon in 1952 with her mother with a boatload of fruit and exotic animal skins. Her mother now gone, all she has is the memories of traveling through life's adventures as mother and daughter.
What I treasure most are memories of traveling with my mother, lost on some dark highway in the middle of South Africa or in lockdown in a prison in Mexico. My mother was always there with encouragement and a sense of adventure, wanting more. After traveling for forty years with her, I know that traveling is what binds us together and makes us whole. Nicolette Dodge
Every year during the 1950s and '60s, my family went to the old Sierra Club campground at Tuolumne Meadows in the upper reaches of Yosemite. We three sisters ran free pretty much all day. We floated the river alone on air mattresses down to Delaney Creek, made forts near our camp out of chunks of granite, and hid under the old wooden bridge while pack trains clomped over us.
As young teens, we hiked up Lembert Dome by ourselves, searching for arrowheads, animal bones, and flowers. At night or during afternoon thundershowers, we joined the adults around the fire, hearing memorable mountain stories and enjoying the camaraderie. Later, I would hunker down in my sleeping bag and wait for shooting stars, hearing the distant murmurs of adult voices.
Our family always included a backpack trip in our stay, hiking out from Tuolumne for four to ten days, sometimes twice a summer. I loved the forays into the high country. We girls scrambled over rocks, made "houses" in the stunted white bark pines, circled shimmering lakes, and wiggled into talus "caves." We also learned from our parents the names of familiar alpine plants, tried to creep up for close looks at marmots and picas, raced frogs, and, if we were lucky, saw a bear.
I looked forward all year to those summer Sierra trips. My husband and I have carried on the tradition with our own two kids, moving our operation to the National Park Service camp at Tuolumne. We have never missed a summer backpack trip, starting when our girls were two and four. They still backpack with us each year, and most recently, as young adults, joined us for a memorable month-long trip hiking the entire John Muir Trail. Cantelow-Lubetkin family
In the summer of 2005, my wife and I decided to take our son and daughter on a trip we'd all remember forever. We piled into the car and took off for a grand circle of the American and Canadian west: 51 nights in sleeping bags; 9,188 miles; 12 states; 2 provinces; 25 U.S. national parks and monuments; 6 Canadian National Parks; 26 mammal species; and countless birds and trees.
By the time we reached home, we were all ready for our own beds and shower. But somewhere between the swarm of ladybugs at Devils Postpile, the orcas off the San Juan Islands, the caribou crossing the road between Banff and Jasper, waking to the whinny of wild horses outside the tent in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, hearing stories from the great-great-great-grandson of Chief Red Cloud at the Agate Fossil Beds, seeing playful river otters in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, and the sweeping vistas of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, our kids forgot to miss television, Nintendo, even our annual visit to Disneyland.
We don't know whether or when we'll be able to pull off another family vacation like that one, but every few weeks one of the kids will say, "Remember on the trip when . . ." and we know it's time to take off again, if only for a weekend. Jared D'Onofrio
In the summer of 1993 between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I left Northern Virginia to spend the summer with my dad in Colorado. My 18-year-old brother came out for part of the summer, and for about three days we took off to the mountains. At the time, I had never heard of a "fourteener" or a "treeline" and didn't know of anything called mountaineering.
We visited the abandoned mining town of St. Elmo and camped at about 11,000 feet near a stream. (I'm omitting the part where my dad tried to force our borrowed pickup through a narrow pass partially covered with snow, almost rolling it down the mountain. Luckily, he had turned to my brother and me before the maneuver and said, "Genetic material, out of the car!" We were all unscathed, except for my dad's ego.)
This was the first time I'd been camping. We spent the days eating breakfasts cooked on a Coleman stove in the open air and saltines with sardines for snacks. We scrambled on boulders, explored green valleys, and drank in the view. I was fifteen, and a whole new world opened up for me.
How did that trip affect my life? I ended up abandoning the East Coast to attend the University of Colorado, then came to California to work and become a climber and backpacker. I discovered that watching the sunset is more fulfilling than watching television, that moving a great distance under my own power feels better than any joy ride, and sleeping under the stars can be more cozy than sleeping under a roof. Meredith Moseley
When I was 15 years old, my parents took my younger brother and me on a five-week trip across the country in a borrowed camper. I insisted on going to Carlsbad Caverns to see the bats and we went to Four Corners, Betatakin, the Mittens, and the Grand Canyon. While standing on an outlook on the Grand Canyon, there was a thundershower and our hair stood on end from the electricity.
My favorite place was Yosemite, which was amazing, its beauty almost surreal. We returned through Nevada, driving north to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands of South Dakota, and came back through the Midwest. Then we had to drive straight home to Maine.
On that trip, I saw my first coyote and we drove through Bryce Canyon by moonlight. The trip allowed me to have an understanding of the wisdom of the people who founded our national parks. Today, I fear they would otherwise be covered with condos and theme parks.
In recent years, I took my daughter to the Everglades. It was sad to learn what is happening to the ecosystem there. My daughter is now a freshman at the College of the Atlantic where she plans to learn to become a biology teacher to influence future generations. Leslie Gatcombe-Hynes
I did not want to spend my last week of summer before my first semester at college with my family. However, this was my first backpacking hike up a mountain. My family and I had spent the night in a quiet little cabin in Estes Park, Colorado with a creek flowing through our front yard. Our destination was Glacier Gorge Trailhead near Bear Lake.
We began heading towards Jewel Lake, high in the mountains. After about thirty very long minutes, we made it to Alberta Falls. The water fell almost thirty feet to a pile of rocks below where water was misting around. Our next stop was Glacier Falls. We continued our walk, climbing steadily upwards and circling a small mountain. There is no way that someone can walk in the mountains and not be moved by their beauty and learn to appreciate the nature around us.
Hearing water again, we made our way to Mills Lake. There is something astonishing about lakes thousands of feet above sea level in the mountains.
Jewel Lake was our final destination. We slowly returned to our vehicle a little after 1 p.m. I looked at the sky, darkening as clouds rolled in over the mountains, and was relieved to be back.
I feel honored to proclaim that I hiked up a mountain, 10,000 feet above sea level. As a result of my hike into the mountains, I feel a personal responsibility to educate people on environmental issues. We need to slow down and enjoy our planet. Kristin N. Mrozs
For several years when I was a child, my parents and I would drive from Florida to the North Carolina mountains to spend a week or so camping. I have memories of places like Mile High Campground at Balsam Mountain and Mount Mitchell, of me bathing in a plastic trash bag full of warm water supported by an old inner tube, and of wind and rain that we thought was going to knock the tent down.
We were camped somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway and hadn't been in the tent long. There were still plenty of other campers up and about, so there was a bit of light. We heard a grunt outside the tent, not far away. I rolled over in the direction of the sound and saw it: a bear, silhouetted on the side of the tent.
We stayed in the tent. The bear wandered off in search of food. He or one of his cousins eventually found some dog food in the back of an SUV that hadn't been properly secured. I don't remember much more about that night. I'd just as soon not have a bear so close to my tent again, but I wouldn't trade the memory for anything. Dave Baldwin
Our three Florida-born-and-raised kids had never played in snow. Seeing snow on TV only, Jaclyn, 9, and Logan, 10, seemed to expect something more like the white sand of Siesta Key Beach. Seventeen-year-old Jared was about to leave for the University of Florida and this was our last good chance for a spring break together. I felt guilty that we had not exposed him to the chill of a good sled ride or snowball fight. They loved a few days in the mountains of Utah. Joel and Caren Weber
My son and I just got back from a ski trip to Steamboat, Colorado. I was very impressed with their efforts in recycling and using wind-generator power to run some of their lifts.
My son and I love to ski/snowboard. It was the greatest trip just hanging together — not always easy with a teenager. I know that it wasn't just the naturalist setting.
I am involved with ski racing with the North American Airline Ski Federation and get to many ski areas. I have never been so impressed with the commitment to environmental concerns as with what is displayed at Steamboat. Na Pittaway
It was 1988 and we were on our way to the West Coast on a family vacation. I was 15 and by this point in my boyhood my parents and I had explored much of our home state of Wisconsin. This trip was going to be different.
You could tell something was up by the months of preparation that my father put into packing the car. He had hitchhiked to California back when he was just out of high school. This was a sort of reunion tour for him I suppose and we were his roadies.
When we finally approached the entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the sign read, "Park Closed." More than 793,000 acres (36% of the park) were affected by fire that year. $120 million was spent and 25,000 people participated in the firefighting effort.
I remember realizing the scale of it all. There was more to life than skateboarding and the ongoing popularity contest at school. These were still important things to consider but they didn't compare to those fires in Yellowstone or those giant Redwoods in California. Those vast plains, mighty rivers and towering mountain peaks helped me realize that there was more to life than what my high school ecosystem suggested.
I went on to obtain a degree in Environmental Science and then quickly submerged myself in that Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. For the past ten years I have guided people through some of the world's finest national parks. My job is easy; the parks do all the work. All I have to do is introduce a few facts here and there and then let curiosity and wonder take over. Reno Walsh
I spent every summer vacation from the time I can remember in summer school. This was not your ordinary summer session spent cooped up in a schoolroom. This was live education, consisting of long field trips led by my parents. My father, a research chemist, went to professional conferences all over the country. Instead of taking an airplane, he packed up the whole family and drove us there. By the time I left for college, I'd been through all 48 continental states, plus Canada and Mexico.
Father was a storyteller. Everywhere we went, from Cape Cod to the Serpent Mounds to the La Brea Tar Pits, he had a tale to tell, sprinkled with facts about megaliths and moraines, dawn redwoods and dinosaurs, mini balls and arrow points. Sometimes the facts seemed a little suspect, like the story about the hairy catfish that climbs into trees, but that just made summer school all the more enchanting. Our mother, a lover of birds and plants, added fascinating tidbits about tufted titmice and hoary puccoon, burrowing owls and saguaro cactus, as well as the various uses of herbs and native plants.
Family vacations continued when I had a family of my own. Many summers were spent at Stony Battery Lodge, a rustic Ozark cabin overlooking a creek where a Civil War battle was fought. The boys experienced the same the delights I did as a child – bouncing across the swinging bridge, listening to coyotes at cry at night, hunting for mini balls along the creek bottom and arrow points along the banks. Grandpa taught them how to fly fish and how to identify mushrooms. Grandma showed them where to find the tastiest watercress in the springs that feed the creek. I took them for their first whitewater canoe trip down the Current River.
The kids have grown up and moved away, but we still continue the tradition of family vacations, with 4th of July at my sister's cabin in Kansas. The men and young ones set off of fireworks piled on long tables set up by the fire ring, while the women sit in lawn chairs to chat and enjoy the show. Now I'm a grandmother and it's a down-to-earth, made-in-heaven joy to watch my grandson chasing fireflies along the banks of Oakley Creek. Carole Connet
I'm 19 years old. And so far, my generation has to figure out ways to clean the air, preserve water, stop global warming to save the glaciers, and rescue the rainforests. And now, we need to find a way to preserve another precious resource, the family vacation.
Our vacations have been truly life altering. Learning to appreciate and enjoy nature was a small bonus in comparison to the family bonding and great memories that we all have.
My first memories of an outdoor adventure were in Boulder, Colorado. My parents drove us out there, from North Carolina, to visit some friends and hike around. It was an extensive drive, but worth it. We hiked every day, visited a local gold mine, and I experienced large amounts of snow for the first time. I remember the snow was up to my parents' knees! It is there that I picked up my love for being outside and being with my family.
We still laugh about the number of times I fell while hiking (I was at an awkward and clumsy stage) and how disastrous meeting up with their friends was (they were the messiest, most unorganized people ever). But it was a great vacation and we all had a good time.
It disturbs me that the vacation is disappearing. I'm going to try my best to drag my kids around the outdoors, because in the process, they'll learn to love the planet. And they might even get closer to their family. And that is a very valuable resource. Katherine Harding
When I was young my family took regular trips to Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive in Virginia, and our favorite spot to hike was along the Appalachian Trail near Beagle Gap. The sky was so wide and bright above us, and the sea of grasses and wildflowers we hiked through rippled and eddied in the strong winds. We gathered fallen milkweed pods, split them, and let the seed whisk along the trail ahead of us in drifts of white. Once we visited the very cusp of a new spring and it was bitingly brisk. Bumblebees clinging to early flower heads were too cold to fly or even move, and we stroked their fuzzy backs while they sat insensible. On another trip I found a musket ball left over from earlier times, and realized that many more before me had walked the same trail on quests of their own.
From an early age I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a biologist. And I never wavered in my desire. Today I work at a university studying the effects of environmental toxins on freshwater fish, and I know I owe the direction of my professional path to the hiking and camping I did on our family vacations when I was a child. More importantly, I owe to those trips the very personal and spiritual feeling of being connected to a larger world, of being a part of something wide and grand and wonderful. Standing on the top of a mountain, looking out over Beagle Gap, winded from my ascent, I felt like a very fragile piece in an infinitely intricate puzzle: somehow both insignificant and integral to the whole. Without these wide-open spaces and the determination of my parents to show them to us, I may never have had these experiences. Christie-Sue Cheely
Raleigh, North Carolina
Growing up in Bolton, Connecticut in the '60s and early '70s, I don't remember us ever staying put during vacation time. My father liked to explore new landscapes. My mother enjoyed people watching and was a lover of nature. We primarily divided our winter, spring and summer holidays within the Northeast: Long Island and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but twice we ventured beyond the Mississippi on two cross country family trips. I was always happy to get away and see more of the world.
We had the best of both worlds. My father had a geography background and a scientific bent. He would teach us about the contours of the land on vacation trips--about how tides work when we spent summers in Cutchogue, Long Island, and that glaciers had formed many of the mountains in New Hampshire. My mother was a poet. She taught us the power of observation. Her subjects were often living things and objects of nature: weather, wildlife, mountains, and oceans. On the shores of Long Island beaches, we would collect shells and listen to the ocean with the shells held up against our wet ears and find sand cookies to serve our make believe mermaid friends, along with a bit of seaweed salad sprinkled with pebbles of sand.
Usually at least once a year we would gather all the slides from the previous vacations and watch--nodding off sometimes at the landscape only slides, but perking up when we'd see ourselves or some interesting character we'd met on our trip or at the sights we'd seen or how young and silly we all looked those previous summers.
I can't imagine what our family memories would be like without those family vacations. They are so much a part of us and our conversations . . . and continue to be an essential part of the stories we retell when we get together. Johanna Young
I'm on a personal mission to convince families to eschew Disney World in favor of "real" vacations--holidays that celebrate our natural world and ourselves, rather than a fictional rodent in a fairy-tale world.
Two years ago, my husband and I took our two older kids (then aged five and seven) to Belize to visit a series of eco-resorts. I'm a travel writer who focuses on environmentally and socially responsible travel and we'd "won" the trip at an eco-auction. So . . . off we went, wondering if our city-slicker kids were ready for a week without air-conditioning, television, or processed foods. That trip changed their (and our!) lives. I remain more convinced than ever that families can better reconnect without all the noise of our commercialized consumer world. My kids were fascinated by real-life dolphins (that hadn't been trained). Stingrays! Clown fish! Crabs! Wolf spiders! Sea turtles! And so much more.
My five-year-old son learned to cast a rod. My seven-year-old daughter spent hours beachcombing, careful to replace any overturned stones or shells to ensure that critters' homes were preserved. They tried food they thought they "hated." They never once asked for television. They collapsed into bed each night and awoke each morning to the otherworldly chorus of howler monkeys outside our windows. We spotted toucans, macaws, parrots. . . . It was at least as colorful as a Disney movie, but this was real life! In short, it was a spectacular vacation that my children still talk about. And that my husband and I cherish. Leslie Garrett
In the summer of 2006, my husband and I took our then five-year-old triplets on a weeklong camping trip in Estes Park, Colorado. We stayed at the wonderful Estes Park Campground, located in the foothills of the Rockies.
After a long drive from Illinois, the kids reveled in the beautiful surroundings and fresh air. We spent cool mornings watching the sunrise over the mountain peaks while enjoying breakfast, and filled our days with long hikes, bike rides, and relaxation surrounded by the most amazing scenery.
Our kids could not believe how blue the sky always was and how big the mountains really were! The highlight was climbing up to a snow-capped peak and having a snowball fight in the middle of July!
Evenings were spent roasting marshmallows and looking at the most gorgeous star-filled sky we've ever seen. Listening for the rustling of animals at night always kept the kids (and mom) on their toes as well.
The best part of the trip was the time spent together with no television, computers, or video games. We enjoyed each other's company, the wonders of nature and became really good Uno players!
This is a trip the kids still talk about and we are hoping to recreate it again in 2009. Sarah Gusewelle