The Best Trip I Ever Took

One of the Bright Angel Lodge rim cabins at the Grand Canyon

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 in the summer of 1964, when I was 12 years old.

The Super Chief

Instead of one of our family’s typical road trips, we instead took the Santa Fe Super Chief from Pasadena to Williams, Arizona and then changed to a local train to ride to Grand Canyon Village. We stayed at 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 last year). We hiked all over the park, together or in small groups, and went to all the 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 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 (painful too – can you say saddle sore?) experience. We ate all our meals at the Bright Angel Lodge coffee shop or at another cafeteria in the park, which was heaven for me and my siblings.

Mules head down the Bright Angel trail into the canyon (mule rides no longer use this trail)

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 location 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 souvenirs being too expensive (which we often heard on other trips).

    The Bright Angel Lodge coffee shop in the 1960s.

  • My parents made sure we had unique experiences intrinsic to the Grand Canyon (such as the mule ride for me and my brother, and horseback riding 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 me how to identify techniques and styles used by different tribes in their jewelry.

That vacation to the Grand Canyon, a place we had visited before and were to visit again, continues to influence how I plan our family’s travels now. Besides making sure the funds are in place so we can have the experiences we want (like staying at the El Tovar on our trip to the Grand Canyon last year, or taking the mule ride), I love to plan surprises and/or something unexpected during each trip, find interesting and memorable activities, and make sure Brett and I have as little “administrative duties” to do as possible so we can concentrate on family and the place we’re 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.

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10 thoughts on “The Best Trip I Ever Took

    • Laura says:

      LOL – I’m sure you can picture the four of us kids in the back of our family station wagon. Mom always came up with the best vacations, but this one was tops. I bet you also remember the Santa Fe station in Pasadena, with Prebles Market right across the street.

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  1. Isabella says:

    Sounds like a wonderful vacation. Our family vacations were never quite as ambitious as this. (And extremely cost conscious!) We pulled the camper trailer that my father and his five brothers had bought together behind our station wagon and drove 30 miles out of town (Madison) to a small, rustic Wisconsin lake. Nevertheless, our vacation at this lake was a magical time for my five siblings and me. Swimming all day, picking wild berries for Dad’s pancakes, family bonfires every night with roasted marshmallows and s”mores, food that tasted so good in the outdoors. Even with such a short drive out of the city, we thought we would never arrive! Such excitement and anticipation. I thank my parents, too, for those happy memories of our simple camping trips.

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    • Laura says:

      Your camping vacations sound perfectly wonderful. Our grandparents owned a house in San Clemente, California (it was designed and built by my uncle – my dad also helped) and that’s where we spent most of our time off. I have so many memories of being there – it was simple and relaxed. There was no TV, and besides daily trips to the beach we were required to keep ourselves entertained, so we invented lots of games, and did lots of reading. We always loved going there.

      My mom loved to travel – she was still going places into her late 80s. Almost every year she planned a “big” family vacation. They were all great, but that trip to the Grand Canyon really stands out. Believe me when I say it was not upscale – we were not an “upscale” kind of family in any sense of the word. We mostly took car trips, stayed in cheap motels, ate breakfast and lunch in the car or at a rest stop, etc. We stopped at every historical marker – that was sometimes our only entertainment for the day. But, we had fun, and got to see almost the entire country over the years.

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  2. UnwrittenLifeBlog says:

    I can so see the influence of that trip in your adult vacations! I cherished vacations with my kids when they were younger because they got to see fun, relaxed mom instead of boss mom. I hope they remember those times as fondly as I do. ❤

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  3. Vivian Gibson says:

    I envy you. I didn’t go on my first vacation until I was 21. My parents, my aunt and uncle and my cousin rented a motor home and traveled out west ( including the Grand Canyon) for two weeks. That was my parents first and last vacation. I gave them the money to go to Hawaii for their 25th wedding anniversary but they never went. Daddy had been all over the world in the military and didn’t care to go anywhere else. He always considered my vacations a waste of money but I’m still glad I went. Great memories.

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    • Laura says:

      I can understand your Dad’s lack of desire to travel. Brett was the same way for awhile after he retired from the navy. I sort of dragged him along to places, and I think our trips to China to get the girls put the bug back in him, maybe not as strong as me, but it’s there.

      Travel is all about making memories – it doesn’t matter when you start. You’ve had some wonderful experiences and I know you’ll have more!!

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  4. Janette says:

    We lived 70 miles from the Canyon and never stayed the night there!
    Instead our vacations were always to a beach location.
    Southern Arizona was a great place to escape every summer.
    Great memories. Thanks for showing us how your passion started!

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    • Laura says:

      Your story is ours for every place we were stationed – we usually didn’t visit ‘the sights’ until we were ready to leave, let alone stay overnight.

      So agree with you about escaping southern AZ in the summer. I stayed one summer in Tucson to take classes at UA and it was BRUTAL. Every day it felt like you were standing in front of an open oven door. We had a swimming pool at our apartment, but it got too hot for swimming. Arizona is beautiful, but I couldn’t take the heat.

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