‘Storybook’ Yosemite post comes to life

Little R, seeking a cozy hideaway.

Little R, seeking a cozy hideaway.

As I have noted here in the preceding weeks, we’ve just come back from our biggest trip of 2014—a family excursion to Yosemite National Park.

We took the trip as part of an assignment from Expedia, for whom I serve as (senior editor and) a contributing writer to the Expedia Viewfinder blog. Now—finally, IMHO—my main narrative piece from the trip has been published for all to read.

The piece, titled “Family adventure in Yosemite” appeared on the Expedia blog today—just one day after Earth Day.

It kicked off the blog’s “Storybook” campaign.

In the story, I detailed the best parts of our four-day excursion from our home in Northern California to Yosemite. Some of these highlights:

  • Our day “hiking” with the girls to Mirror Lake
  • Our game of “Pooh Cones” in Tenaya Creek
  • Our trip to Lower Yosemite Falls
  • Our rock-tossing session on the banks of the Merced
  • Our nighttime stroll under the starry sky

Perhaps the biggest personal milestone: The trip was the first time the four of us had visited a national park as a family, and the first time my lovely bride ever had stepped foot in the park (considering she has spent nearly half of her life in California, this is a big deal).

Yes, regular readers of this blog have read portions of the Viewfinder recap before. But there’s new stuff in there, too. And there’ll be more; I plan to publish two additional installments over the next few weeks. Please give it a read! Please check back often! And please follow along with the rest of the campaign, as my colleagues will be writing their own “Storybook” posts between now and July.

Doing is believing

Tossing rocks (and pinecones) into the Merced.

Tossing rocks (and pinecones) into the Merced.

There are logical reasons why touch tanks always are kids’ favorite part of the aquarium. The exhibits are at kid-level! They’ve got stuff kids can reach in and grab! Most important: They are one of the only places in the facility where kids can DO instead of just SEE.

This last reality is one we traveling parents often overlook. Yes, it’s amazing to expose our kids to international cities and world-class museums and great music and all sorts of cultural phenomena like that. It’s also a big deal to let ‘em get down on their knees, roll up their sleeves and interact with stuff for themselves.

I was reminded of this last weekend, during our storybook family vacation to Yosemite National Park.

Sure, the kids loved it when we hiked to Mirror Lake. And yes, they loved it when we traipsed around Yosemite Valley for different perspectives on Yosemite Falls, the highest measured waterfall in North America.

But they were happiest when they were able to get their hands on the nature around them.

The first example of this came during our hike (from The Ahwahnee hotel) to the lake. About halfway out, L and R insisted on wandering off-trail, exploring the granite boulders around us for “cozy hideaways” for fairies. I monitored these activities closely; technically they weren’t supposed to be off-trail at all, and the terrain wasn’t exactly easy to navigate. Still, amid the boulders, picking at moss and leaves and all sorts of other stuff around them, the girls played for hours (literally).

The second example of the importance of doing came toward the end of our visit, on a day when L and I went out to explore while R and Powerwoman napped back in the room.

My older daughter and I wandered out of the hotel and back toward the Merced River. There, along the riverbank, we spent 15 minutes tossing pinecones into the current and watching them head downstream. I could tell L was curious about something, so I asked her if there was anything else she’d like to do. Her response: “I want to feel the water, Dad.”

And so, I let her. I held her jacket while she leaned out from the side of the bank and dipped her hands in the Merced. Once her hands were wet, she pulled them back and wiped the water on her tiny face. As the droplets ran down her cheeks, she stuck out her tongue and giggled.

“It’s cold!” she commented. Then she dipped her hands in again. And again.

To be honest, I had no idea how meaningful that moment was until the drive home. Somewhere around Mariposa, my wife turned around and asked the girls what they liked best about our trip.

R’s answer was simple: She loved the waterfalls. L’s response, however, caught both of us grownups off-guard. “My favorite part was feeling the river,” she said. “It was fun to see the waterfalls but touching the water itself was amazing.”

I’m not sure I could have said it better myself.

The yin and yang of family travel

Outside The Ahwahnee, right after we arrived.

Outside The Ahwahnee, right after we arrived.

Five days have passed since our family excursion to Yosemite National Park and The Ahwahnee Hotel. Though the trip was, by its very nature, a dream come true, the adventure included stratospheric highs and horrendous lows.

Chronicling the highpoints is easy. On the list: Watching the girls seek “cozy hideaways” for fairies as we hiked amid granite boulders on the way to Mirror Lake, hearing the kids sing songs from “Frozen” as Little R experienced snow for the first time in her life, taking them to the Curry Village Pizza Deck, helping L put her hands and face in the Merced River to see what it felt like, and, of course, spotting a bobcat slink by less than five feet away.

Of course watching my girls watch Yosemite Falls also was pretty amazing—the baby could not get over the fact that the waterfall never “shut off.”

The lowpoints are just as easy to enumerate.

Like the mid-brunch tantrum on the last morning that featured L scratching her mother like that aforementioned bobcat. Or R’s insistence on being carried for the duration of a 3-mile hike.

Both of these experiences paled in comparison to the indisputable nadir: The night when my 2-year-old daughter kicked me out of the bed we were sharing and screamed like a banshee until I agreed to sleep on the floor.

(At first this scene amused me; then I realized I was paying close to $500 a night to camp in a hotel.)

Personally, I expected the trip to have a little yin and yang—this is what happens when you travel with two humans under the age of 6. Still, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t at least a little surprised by just how much yang there was on this particular adventure, especially considering how well the kids did on our last major adventure in London.

Overall, the experience was a perfect reminder of what family travel really is—beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating, and exhausting. Yes, there were low points. But there also were high points, and all it takes is one of those to make a memory that can last a lifetime for any of us.

All about the storybook(s)

AAcover

Inside spread, Alaska Airlines magazine

This is shaping up to be the biggest week of the year for those of us here at Wandering Pod, and it’s all about the placements.

First, on Tuesday, the April 2014 issue of Alaska Airlines magazine hit seat-backs with a cover story written by yours truly. The story, which runs nearly 4,000 words, spotlights family travel in Hawaii. In it, I pulled together anecdotes and experiences from five years of visiting the Aloha State with (at least one of) the girls.

Check it out by clicking here (and then scrolling to page 34, where the piece begins).

Next, later this morning, Powerwoman, L, R, and I will hop in the Prius and head out to Yosemite National Park, where we’ll spend the next four days disconnecting from the world and exploring as a family.

This trip is part of a HUGE package of articles I’ll be writing for Expedia’s Expedia Viewfinder blog. The effort is in conjunction with Expedia’s new “Find Your Storybook” advertising campaign; during the promotion, each Viewfinder will create content about a dream trip.

The first of *my* storybook stories is slated to run on the Expedia Viewfinder later this month. I’ll be creating oodles of content for this site, too. Stay tuned!

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