A former student who attended the same college I did first got me interested in seeing Yosemite National Park. Naturalist John Muir took his first botany lesson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under a black locust tree on Bascom Hill, although we were enrolled about a 110 years apart. I had always taken such pride in the fact that environmental visionaries such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold (the man who formulated a “land ethic”) and Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day, were fellow students and teachers at my alma mater. So visiting the place that Muir had written about so eloquently in his book The Yosemite (1912) seemed like a natural pilgrimage for me.
A few weeks before my husband and I left our home in Wisconsin to travel to northern California, my 26-year-old son Travis, who lives in San Francisco, asked if he could tag along. I was surprised that at his age he would even want to travel with us. Living within driving distance of the park, he could have gone anytime he liked—with same-age friends. Pleased that he would ask, we took him up on his offer.
Tips for traveling with older children: forget them
There’s no shortage of tips in books and online for “traveling with an adult child.” But one of the most repeated ones is to make sure you each maintain your privacy with your own hotel rooms. Or alternatively, share a hotel room, but then spend your days separately to avoid suffocating each other. Except for one day during our Yosemite adventure when father and son took a long, morning hike up to Yosemite Falls—halfway through which my husband turned back and Travis went on alone—we threw such tips out the window. We did share a hotel room, and we did spend the vast majority of our time together. We slept, ate our meals and hiked as a threesome.
We had three days in the glorious surroundings of El Capitan and Half Dome. There were many families in the park—most with young children; half of which were still in strollers. While I admired the parents for taking their young children out to experience such a wondrous, natural place, I was happy not to be burdened with all the paraphernalia that’s inherent when traveling with babies and toddlers.
I knew I had the better end of the deal. I didn’t have to plan my child’s activities or carry his stuff. He didn’t cry when he was hot and tired. In fact, when the trail got a little too narrow and the drop-off a little too steep for my liking, Travis positioned himself so that he was walking on the “outside” side of the trail. That’s admirable in my book.
And when my husband and I wanted to walk the two miles to Mariposa Grove (the road was closed due to spring thaw) and then another mile in to see the giant sequoias, Travis was happy to wait for his father and me on the porch of the Wawona Hotel for four hours. At the end of our six-mile hike, he was there to pick us up in his car long after the shuttle buses had stopped running.
The maturity to make memories
When our two children were 10 and 12 years old, we visited the Grand Canyon. Our family stood on the top of the South Rim, took a Grand Canyon Railway ride and came home with T-shirts. We did the things young kids like to do.
In Yosemite, however, our pace was slower. Now in his mid 20s, Travis wanted to linger a while at the spot in front of lower Yosemite Falls where John Muir built a sawmill and lived for a few years. On the Happy Isles Trail, he stopped to gaze at the rushing Merced River for a very long time. I stood silently beside him at both places and sensed we shared a peace we never had before. Eventually, we talked about what John Muir must have felt, seeing this place for the first time. I mentioned some of Muir’s writings, and I saw my son in deep contemplation. If Travis were 10 years old, these things wouldn’t have happened.
Of course, there were times when I wanted to slip into Mom Mode. I had to fight the urge to tell Travis not to sit on the stone wall overlooking the valley for fear he’d fall. And I failed to resist buying him a Yosemite T-shirt.
Another one of those often-repeated tips for traveling with older children is to split up the activities you’d like to do between you, so that as a family you’ll feel as if you’ve seen and done twice as many things.
Although we didn’t go separate ways, I’d say that on that spot where John Muir had once spent his days and wrote, my son and I covered a lot of ground.
Have you ever traveled with your adult children, or traveled with your parents when you were an adult? If so, how did your experience differ from travels when your family was younger?
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,