Melissa's Travels

Family Trips Out West

This year when we polled our members on where they most wanted to travel in 2015, the American West topped the list. Although the term can encompass everything from coastal California up to British Columbia, for this issue we have focused on the American West of national parks and cowboy mythology.

I took my first family trip out west at the age of twelve, when my grandmother brought her three sons and their broods to Idaho for a rafting trip down the Salmon River. We were flown to a remote part of the park and hiked for two days to the river. It was the first time I had slept in a tent, ate meals cooked over a campfire or understood the awe that true wilderness can inspire. We didn’t cross paths with anyone else for days, and my cousins and I forged ties and shared memories that bind us still.

Since then I have visited dude ranches in Wyoming and national parks in Montana, Arizona and Colorado but the trips that stand out are the ones with family. I brought my own children to Montana and Wyoming a few years ago. We hiked, white-water rafted, rode horses, tried to fly-fish and toured Yellowstone, where we saw buffalo and Old Faithful. We sat around the campfire, just as I did for the first at their age, and roasted marshmallows while marveling at the night sky.

I remember my daughter commenting one night how strange it was that the stars and moon were such a big part of our days in the West. “I mean, we are underneath the same sky every night,” she said, “but here we pay attention to it.” Yes, I thought, because far from the city lights and distractions, we can see it all so much more clearly. I think that same vast isolation allows us to focus in the purest possible way on our family and our deepest wishes. That is a large part of the beauty for me of the American West. It is also a place that crystalizes things for me. As one of my favorite authors, Wallace Stegner, wrote, “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed. . . . We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”

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