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I may not have really left the country until I was in my twenties, but that doesn’t mean my family didn’t experience their fair share of adventure. We were a mostly quiet and sedentary nuclear squad throughout the year, but that all changed for two weeks in the summer.

It was the summer of…1999

One of these fateful school vacations, my mother, father, younger brother and I completed an epic trip across the American West in an RV. We traversed through Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico (maybe New Mexico, I can’t remember, come on it was 1999 people) and managed to avoid bloodshed despite being confined to a tiny camper. I was around 15-years-old and in high school, excited about seeing the unknown but just as annoyed to leave my friends for too many precious days.

Some of the trip memories are more vivid than others. I remember being disappointed at the dinky little arch features on all the Utah license plates. Up close, after a three-hour hike in the sweltering heat, I was unimpressed. I did love stopping at roadside trinket shops filled with trendy turquoise jewelry (and lots of dust) that even my meager babysitting money could afford.

An American natural wonder

What is strong in my mind is that big old hole in the ground called the Grand Canyon. My brother and I stumbled out of the RV after hours of playing Pokemon on our Gameboys, shielding our eyes from the blistering sun. I adjusted my plastic choker necklace and wire-rimmed glasses to get a somewhat disinterested look at whatever nonsense attraction my Dad was overly excited about.

But it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.

I leaned on the precarious metal railing to gaze over at endless view of craggy cliffs and ravines. This was July (I think) and it looked much different than photos, as everything was covered in green. The quiet and stillness surrounding the canyon was like nothing I’d known – even the whining kids and rapid fire photo clicks and whirs from disposable cameras couldn’t distract me.

As soon as the moment was there it was gone again. I realized my family could see my sullen teenage face soften and we were having none of that. So it was there, and gone again, quickly replaces with a scowl or aloof look in all the pictures from that day. But what I remember was something much more magical, if even only for a minute.


family at the Grand Canyon in 1999 - photo by Rick Cotter


When we moved further into the West I did brighten up a bit, trying out some white water rafting crazy class five rapids. I’ll never forget my well-to-do mother losing a gold earring when she pitched out of the raft, fuming but sheepish because the guide had mentioned maybe she should have left the bling at home.

Traveling near and far is always an adventure

Now, with my thirtieth birthday on the near horizon, I look back on our Grand Canyon adventure and know it was something really special. Sure, my arms were crossed for most of the trip, but I was a very lucky teen to explore our massive country at a young age. If nothing else, it was inspiring to witness how diverse the United States is – only fueling the fire for future global travel plans, and ultimately, my career.

Photos are courtesy of my Dad, who didn’t think I was ‘responsible’ enough to handle a fancy new digital camera. I’m still not over it, obviously. This post is in partnership with Grand Canyon Deals.

Eileen Cotter Wright

Author Eileen Cotter Wright

Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel journalist and owner of Pure Wander. She's our resident expat extraordinaire and falls down a lot in yoga class. Follow her on Instagram @Pure_Wander.

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