Last summer, we took a family vacation of a lifetime…driving from Minnesota to San Francisco and back within 3 weeks time, stopping at 12 National Parks along the way.  Our first destination was Yellowstone.  I loved all the different topography of Yellowstone, from geysers to canyons, plains to mountains.  The wildflowers were breathtaking.  But there were so many people at the most popular stops that it was hard to take in all its majesty. Only if you went backcountry could you really feel Yellowstone’s majesty, which we were lucky to do.  From an early  morning hike to the Petrified Tree and through a wildflower patch (Imagine Julie Andrews singing ‘The Hills are Alive…”), to a horseback ride with some bear sitings, to a hike atop a mountain where the quick thunderstorm left little rainbows reflecting in its mist, nature’s beauty at its finest.

And then we headed to Grand Teton National Park. Just south of Yellowstone, it is much, much smaller and while it too was crowded, it didn’t come close to the Yellowstone masses.  We only had the opportunity to explore this park for the afternoon and evening, but it quickly became one of our favorites.

The following day we got up at the crack of dawn to embark on a whitewater rafting adventure down the Snake River.  It was an unseasonably cold morning, and the coolness of the mountain-fed river was more of a Minnesota reminder than a summer relief. Our trip had two parts, the first being a sightseeing float where we looked for wildlife and enjoyed very mild rapids.  Along for the journey with us was a family from Iowa, who had two sons aged 10 and 13.  The 10 year old and my daughter quickly bonded over Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and the search for the big rapids.  Their dream came true when we hit the second part of our journey. After picking up another family, we embarked on the whitewater adventure the guidebooks boast as a ‘must do’ for the area.

The kids would chant “Ka-hu-na” as we approached the bigger rapids.  The adults took the front of the raft as well as the bulk of the rapids force, with cold river water pummeling down upon us while we kept the raft in the water.  The kids would yell and scream and the minute one rapid was over, shouts of “Ka-hu-na!” would start up again.  When the trip was over, the two ten year olds shared stories and laughed and reminisced about the fun that was just had.

Fast forward 9 months.  Tonight we received a text that our Iowa rafting buddies were in the area and hoped to get together for a quick visit.  The 10 year old wanted to reconnect with my daughter, but I think we are all excited.  We formed a quick friendship over this shared experience, and just the thought of their visit brings back such wonderful memories of a summer adventure we will never forget.

A few days after our trip to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Jackson Hole, our camera was stolen our first morning in San Francisco.  (There are signs everywhere that say don’t leave anything in your car…and as we learned quickly, they mean it!)  So we don’t have pictures of those Yellowstone wildflowers, or the mist-filled rainbows, or this shared experience of rapids and wetsuits and the ice cream that followed.  But we have the memories of the stillness of a morning hike, the excitement of a bear in the distance, and the sounds of friendships forming through book talks, bus rides, and chants of “Ka-hu-na”.  And those memories have quickly become some of my favorites.