The first week of summer vacation- finally! Yes, one of the perks of teaching is the long summer break, which is much needed. My daughter told me that she doesn’t think it’s fair that I have the summer off and her Daddy doesn’t. I can’t say I disagree with her, compared to several European countries, Americans have the fewest days of vacation. The average American receives 10 paid vacation days, while workers in the E.U., France, Denmark, and Sweden have twice that amount.
Whether “fair” or not, being a teacher means that I have a lovely, long summer break and it affords me the opportunity to take my children on lovely, long road-trips. This week the learners are my own children. I have the chance to teach them geography and appreciation for the true distance displayed on a map, a chance to visit historical places, explore geological formations, and experience different ecosystems. This is our chance to bond as a family unit: to fight, laugh, and explore- forming memories that will tie us together. My hope is that when my children are back at school, what they learn out of a textbook will seem more real, and when facing the pressures of fitting in, they will know that they have a group of people that love them and accept them. People that are woven into the fabric of their childhood, a safety net that will be there for their adulthood as well.
A few years ago I took my children on a road-trip, alone, to the Grand Canyon. I have a bucket list of several places I’d like to visit and the Grand Canyon was first on my list. My husband had not accrued enough vacation time to travel with us, and we could not afford to fly. One of the ironies of teaching is a wealth of time to travel, but not enough money to take advantage of it! If I want to visit places with my large family, our only option is to pile in the car and drive, and so that is what we did. My long-suffering husband was not thrilled to be left behind, so this year we are going back, and taking him with us.
The year after my Grand Canyon trip, a friend and I took our children on a road trip from Texas to Wyoming to visit the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, so I’ve earned my stripes on long car trips with multiple children. This car trip I was afforded some extra planning time since we waited a week after school let out, which I put to good use. I found some helpful websites with car trip ideas for keeping children occupied, in addition to the requisite DVD players, portable electronics, audible books, and gallons of snacks. Despite what one may think, children will grow tired of watching movies and playing video games- it takes a few hours, but it will happen. Besides that, road-trips are for bonding, which doesn’t take place when everyone is staring at a screen. Momsminivan.com had several free printables including some scavenger hunts and the game “battleship” (without the tiny pieces that get lost and scattered everywhere). I put a spin on them and placed them inside clear folder sleeves so the kids can write on them with dry erase markers and then wipe them off for re-use. I also printed out daily maps of the ground we will cover, with the expected time in the car at the top. (Mapquest.com allows you to type in comments before printing out the maps). I put these in plastic covers as well so that the kids can trace our route as we go, outline the states’ borders (a nice geography lesson), and count down the hours left in the car. The final sleeve includes a blank piece of paper that they can doodle on, play hangman, or even Pictionary. Additional games that I included were a bunco score card and Yahtzee score card. I placed dice in a small clear container (found in the jewelry section in Wal-Mart) that my kids can pass around and roll without losing the dice in the car. The winner will “earn” a piece of candy. I placed all the sleeves in a three ring notebook and duct taped a package of dry erase markers to the inside pocket. My son remarked that “We have so many fun things to do, we won’t want to get out of the car.” I doubt that will be the case, but it’s nice that he is anticipating a fun car ride.
When visiting the Grand Canyon, the first thing to be aware of is that there is a North and South Rim. If you are coming from Texas you will most likely be visiting the South Rim. If you have heard of the amazing glass bridge that goes out over the Grand Canyon, it is only accessible from the North Rim side, near Las Vegas. It is not run by the National Park service, but the Hualapai tribe, and costs $82.37 for the package that permits a stroll across the bridge. I didn’t realize this, and when I got to Grand Canyon National Park was slightly disappointed to find there wasn’t a skywalk at the part of the Grand Canyon I was visiting. Staying in the Grand Canyon National Park itself is slightly expensive, and the food choices and air conditioning are lacking. This time we are staying in Williams, Arizona, “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon”. The accommodations are much more reasonable, there is a thriving downtown with bars and restaurants, and there is a train that travels daily to and from the Grand Canyon rim. I thought the kids would enjoy the train ride, but if we decide to drive up for the day it is only an hour drive. Tusayan is a little town directly south of the Grand Canyon, about 20 minutes drive from the rim, which is another option for lodging. This is primarily a tourist town and a little more pricey than Williams since it’s closer to the Grand Canyon. Tusayan is on the shuttle bus route, which is a good option for avoiding parking at the Canyon.
Speaking of shuttles, there is a free shuttle service that goes along the South Rim, within the National Park. I was a little worried about the kids getting tired, Rylie was only 3 when we went, but the bus shuttle was a great option when they couldn’t hike anymore. We were still able to enjoy the spectacular view and get out at the stops to enjoy the look-out points. My grandmother also used this to her advantage when she visited after a knee replacement.
Several hiking trails, both along the edge of the canyon and winding through the woods, give some space from the crowds. This part of Arizona has beautiful pine forests and occasional moose wandering across the path.
There is a story about the Kolb brothers, who were so enamored with the beauty of the Grand Canyon that they built a studio overlooking the Bright Angel Trail and remained there, taking photographs and selling them to tourists. On my last day at the Grand Canyon three years ago, I remember having that feeling they must have experienced, of never wanting to move from that spot. The magnetic draw of watching a sunset moving down the canyon walls, illuminating the different colors of the layers in such a way that my eyes could not look away. The religious feeling of awe and peace looking at a geological structure that formed over millions of years. Visiting these special areas gives me a sense of my place in time. I was not sentient when the canyon began forming, and it will remain long after I have passed. What are we, but a passing sunbeam, illuminating and warming an area around us, and then sliding below the horizon? This visit, I’m looking forward to sharing the majestic view and our moment in space-time holding my husband’s hand. And extra hands are always helpful when you have small children a hairs-breadth from a miles deep chasm!